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28th February

That's not a drill bit... This is a drill bit:

I'm running some network cabling from my home server cabinet to my desktop PCs, and as usual the shortest distance between two points is through a wall. Or, in this case, several walls. I believe in future-proofing, so 20mm holes lined with length of white plastic water pipe to keep things neat seemed to be the best way forward. I didn't have such a macho drill bit to hand, as it happens, but thanks to an unbelievably quick delivery from Screwfix (ordered at 2pm on Sunday afternoon, delivered at 5pm Monday!) I'm now looking at just the right tool for the job. I drilled pilot holes yesterday, so this coming weekend it will be out with the big guns to finish it off - which will probably be a great relief to my cleaning woman, as I don't think she's at all keen on having CAT5 underfoot while she's trying to vacuum.

Meanwhile, Dan is still doing what he does best: mixing extremely informative and helpful technical advice with a dry sense of humour that really tickles me. I was talking to one of my PFYs about CPU heatsink goop, today, and mentioned Dan's comparative test between expensive silver or aluminium-based compounds, and Vegemite or toothpaste - definitely one of the all-time great technical articles, and typical of Dan's wonderfully gonzo style of IT journalism.

As often, the throwaway links in Dan's articles are gems, and this one is no exception - on a bulletin board for airliner enthusiasts, a serious enquiry about the mythical country of Elbonia from the Dilbert strip brings exactly the sort of responses you would expect. Incidentally, the same site has a large collection of the sort of pictures of airliners that one is much happier viewing online than experiencing in the flesh.

Elsewhere, a collection of hundreds of scanned advertisements from 1980s computer magazines. They're in Italian, as it happens, but the images and layout are exactly the same as the ones I remember from my own salad days - especially those for the Commodore Pets and Sharp MZ series, which for some reason have really stuck in my mind. Boy, but those take me back...   <Lsigh>

 

27th February

It's been a busy weekend, so just a few random links...

Sticking it to The Man! - at the CoCo 'blog, how to remove the artificial forced expiry date of HP inkjet cartridges. There's currently a class action suite brewing over this issue, as well...

Loki puts donations toward MPAA payoff - having spectacularly backed down from its earlier "we'll fight to the death" stance, the ex-torrent site Loki is playing fast and loose with the money it raised.

Underwater bike ride to launch crime spree - two Cornish students intend to break as many bizarre or absurd America laws as possible. I'm still scratching my head over this one, I have to say...

MP warns marketing industry about silent calls - telemarketing call centres often set up more calls than they can handle at once, and the overflow is now becoming increasingly unpopular with consumers.

European Commission investigates iTunes pricing - in the UK it costs 1.14 to download a single track, but the same costs only 0.99 when downloaded from Apple's other European music stores.

iPod well and truly 0wned - by configuring it to dump its firmware as a series of musical tones (how clever is that!) an enterprising hardware hacker has effectively opened the platform up to the future.

eBay in court over shill bidding - another class action suit alleges that eBay is artificially running up bids in order to maximise the charges they can levy. eBay says that it's just confused users...

Darl McBride not going down with his ship - as the SCO vs. Linux court case becomes increasingly tenuous, SCO's fortunes are looking far more uncertain than those of the lavishly-paid McBride.

Lords and Ladies - a small-budget German production of Terry Pratchett's novel, with some really cheesy digital effects and a dreadfully miscast Granny Weatherwax. Hmmmm.

Scanner trailer online - the trailer for the forthcoming movie of Phil Dick's "A Scanner Darkly" has been released, and it looks brilliant. The stills really didn't do justice to it, but the effect is stunning!

 

25th February

So Veritas have released a service pack for Backup Exec V10, already. That has to be a new record, as the product was only released on January 18th, and since then we've had four patches containing six hotfixes, and now a service pack - not bad for five weeks! Admittedly, the service pack seems to be mostly the existing hotfixes bundled into a single file (although there are a couple of new tweaks), but still... A little more beta testing called for, perhaps?

My own bug, where over-writable tapes are sometimes not correctly highlighted in blue, is still under investigation - but if that turns out to need a hotfix of its own it will bring my score to two from Veritas and three from Microsoft. What it is to be an early adopter...

A quick note - if you have one of the unusual laptops that only use a single internal Wi-Fi antenna for their mini-PCI card, and you're having all sorts of puzzling problems with intermittent connectivity and poor wireless performance, it's important to check that Antenna Diversity is disabled in the card's advanced driver settings. I'll explain how I know this when I have a little more time.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

Tiki god USB enclosure - as if to punish me for my recent comment about silly USB devices, one that defies both description and belief. You name it, someone will put a USB interface on it...

Hitch-Hiker's Guide revisited - in the wake of the renewed interest in the Hitch-Hiker's opus, the original Infocom text adventure game is now online at the BBC website - complete with fan art!

Mike's Classic Cartoon Themes - just what it says on the tin... Theme music, stills, logos, and more - and I haven't yet been able to think of a cartoon that he hasn't included.

Hard drive wind chimes - turn those dead disks into something pretty with this clear and comprehensive set of instructions. Keychains, too!

Star Wars Landspeeder - up for auction at eBay, this converted Harley Davidson trike chassis proves once again that there are no limits to the twisted imagination of an engineering geek.

Ursula K. LeGuin apologises for Earthsea - following a particularly disappointing production of the classic "Earthsea" stories on American television, the author explains what went wrong.

Russian police probe cheap downloads site - I warned last week that the AllOfMP3.com music downloads couldn't last long, and sure enough...

Steal This File Sharing Book - reviewed at The Register, "a guidebook to trading music, movies, photos, software and just about any other type of file" - and how to get away with it in the face of increasingly intrusive and deceitful behaviour on the part of the RIAA and MPAA.

And talking of which - do you know your online rights? The 21st century's equivalent of the classic Citizen's Guide When Busted pamphlet, the Chilling Effects site (a joint project of the EFF and various high-powered law schools) aims to provide advice for anyone who has been threatened over content they have written or hosted online. It's more appropriate for America than Europe, of course, but fascinating and informative all the same.

And, finally, British Telecom are now under fire from both sides - hot on the heels of their recent decision to stop proactively barring the scammers that use rogue diallers to fleece the consumers, a move that has just been roundly criticised by the Citizens' Advice Bureau, BT are actually being sued by said scammers for cutting them off! I guess that when you're an incumbent monopoly with a decades-long history of stifling technological innovation, holding prices artificially high across the board, and making it impossible for the competition to compete on a level playing field, friends are few and far between.

 

23rd February

One of those days... So just a few quick links.

Some of the best Hunter Thompson obits - Susie Bright, Ralph Steadman, TalkLeft, the Denver Post, and, finally, Rolling Stone magazine.

And, just as a counterpoint, something less complimentary - Why artists should stick to art...

Elsewhere:

Frozen sea found on Mars - near the equator, what seem to be icebergs covered in volcanic ash!

Puredepth's multi-level LCD monitor - truly an application searching hard for a purpose...

Just when you thought USB gadgets couldn't get any sillier - a thermal wrist protector.  <sigh>

 

22nd February

I don't have an iPod (am I now the only one?), and considering that I'm extremely happy with my Palm Tungsten T3's audio abilities, as well as everything else it does, I'm not especially interested in acquiring one either - but the latest gadget from speaker gurus Bose is certainly an impressive beastie. The SoundDock is basically a large Wave speaker with a slot for one's iPod in the front - as the saying has it, plug and play. Everybody raves about the Wave technology, and although I've never actually heard it in the flesh I'm quite happy to believe that it's as good as the reviews. The downside is the cost, which at 250 is just as extortionate as the rest of Bose's Wave offerings (and the main reason why I've never heard one in the flesh) but if I did have an iPod and was feeling extravagant then it would be an easy decision...

One reason why I'm less and less likely to own an iPod, aside from the aforementioned Tungsten T3, is Apple's continuing descent into the tenth layer of Dante's hell, newly created this century and reserved for corporate bastards. This is not the first time I've said it here, and it won't be the last, but Apple are no longer the cool, hip, 'insanely great' company of the eighties, committed to its users and to hell with the industry. These days they're more than happy to sue even their most ardent supporters at the drop of a hat, and are also starting to spend significant time in court on the other side of the dock. This week sees them both taking action against a keen Mac enthusiast for "accidentally" leaking a beta version of the Tiger OS, and also defending against a multi-faceted class-action suit accusing them of scamming their customers with shortened warranties and second-hand hardware. Interestingly, the former has provoked co-founder Steve Wozniak to speak out against what he sees as corporate bullying, and he has even pledged $1000 towards the hapless student's legal costs. The worms are starting to turn, it seems, and without their fanatically loyal user base Apple are just another over-priced niche hardware company. Let the seller beware...

Another company which doesn't seem to have its users interests at heart is British Telecom, which this week has announced that it will stop proactively blocking premium rate numbers used by rogue dialler scammers, instead waiting until enough consumers have been caught by these pernicious frauds that regulatory body ICSTIS obliges them to take action. This is a real step backwards, as far as I'm concerned, and makes a mockery of last summer's commitment to protect the consumer - they were prepared to play along while the attention of Parliament was on them, but as soon as other issues distracted the MPs the telco has gone back to its old ways of taking the money and running. Shame on them.

Meanwhile, elsewhere...

Dead pixels in the headlines again - the story resurfaces at News.com, and things aren't getting any better... Complete with a handy tool for spotting dead and stuck pixels of your own.

HP laptops hardware whitelist - more corporate bastardry, with HP restricting which mini-PCI wireless cards will work in their systems. Apparently IBM are up to the same tricks, too. Tsk!

Hacking your coffee machine - yet more corporate bastardry, with even coffee makers now restricted to using their own brand of refills. As usual with DRM mechanisms, though, there's a way around it.  :-)
[Update: it seems that the original story may have exaggerated the situation, somewhat]

Oh, look, corporate bastards being sued - the state of New Jersey is less than happy about Blockbuster's "no more late fees" policy, which it claims is less than truthful.

Relics of computer history - back before anyone had even heard the term "digital rights", there were still computers; and a bunch of them are up for auction at Christie's in New York next week.

Dan on cassette MP3 players - I used to use the Digisette Duo model Dan criticises in this article, and believe me he doesn't know the half of it. Anything else has to be an improvement...

At gaming site 1UP.com, the essential fifty computer games of the last four decades - from Pong to Grand Theft Auto, it's a comprehensive list.

Office romances in the IT age - beware, as the network is watching you! [And as someone who has just installed a dozen networked CCTV cameras around my office, I can testify to the truth of that...]

The Overlook Hotel as a video game level - if you're a fan of Stephen King's novel The Shining, and a fan of the game Duke Nukem 3D, then boy do I have a link for you! Some people, too much time, etc...

3D laser carving - with an ability to sculpt solid materials down to a resolution of around 20nm, this is another major step forward in developing the tools necessary for honest-to-goodness nanotechnology.

 

21st February

"He who makes a beast of himself, gets rid of the pain of being a man"  - Samuel Johnson

Hunter S. Thompson  1937 - 2005

So long, Dr Gonzo.

 

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like "I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive..." And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas.

A decade or so ago a friend lent me "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas", and I started to read it travelling home on the tube. I can't remember ever laughing out loud in public the way that F&L made me laugh, that day - it was outrageous, witty, bizarre, depraved, and outrageous all over again... I'd never read anything like it before, had no idea that anyone wrote books like that in the first place, and could barely believe that anyone would publish them even if they did!

I've read nearly all of Thompson's books, since then, but I never found anything else that enthralled me the way that story did. Hell's Angels came close, thanks to some not dissimilar adventures in my own misspent youth, and the gonzo-autobiography of The Rum Diary brought a marvellous sense of inevitable doom, but although I enjoyed the political writing that was Thompson's bread and butter I'm not a political junkie and I have to admit that I found some of it rather obscure. Even so, there is something compelling about all his work - whether partying with the Angels, fleeing Vegas one step ahead of the law, sharing beer and fries with Bill Clinton, or talking football with Nixon, I eagerly absorbed it all - and I'm glad that I still have his last few novels yet to enjoy.

As expected, the tributes and memorials to Thompson are already stacking up in the mainstream media, and this evening it's hard to open a left wing 'blog anywhere without finding something poignant by someone who was impressed in some way by his work. Conspicuous by its absence in the list, however, is Rolling Stone online - as I write this there isn't even anything on the news page, let alone the front page of the site, an unexpected omission for a magazine that undoubtedly owed a large part of its popularity throughout the seventies to Thompson's unique style and content.

I was disappointed, this morning, to hear that he'd actually killed himself. When I first saw the news of his death from a gunshot I assumed that it would be a tragic mishap - even the most experienced shooter can fall victim to a moment's clumsiness or inattention, and firearms are notoriously unforgiving of mistakes. Nobody seems to be suggesting anything other than suicide right now, though, and I have to admit that (just as with Papa Hemingway, one of Thompson's admitted influences), it seems like a sad and ignominious end for such a giant of a man. I wonder if it will turn out that he'd had news of some horrendous medical development - given his punishing lifestyle, sustained for longer than anyone had a right to expect to get away with, that doesn't seem out of the question. As Hunter himself would say, selah.

The Great Thompson Hunt          ESPN's sports archive          HST at Wikipedia         Interview at Salon

 

19th February

I've just finished re-reading (or re-listening, rather, as this is an excellent unabridged audiobook from Audible, read by Christopher Hurt) Robert Heinlein's classic but controversial SF novel Stranger In A Strange Land. I first read this story around the age of twelve, having just discovered science fiction in the shape of some of Heinlein's "juveniles", and after reading and enjoying (if I remember correctly) Space Family Stone, Rocketship Galileo and then Space Cadet, I approached Stranger confidently expecting more of the same.

I was surprised, but not disappointed - as any Heinlein aficionado knows, Stranger is a very different type of novel. In fact, it marked something of a turning point for the author, as although he did write a handful more of the space adventure stories that had made his reputation in the forties and fifties, the majority of his novels from then on dealt with (often rather badly, many would say) considerably more mature and metaphysical themes, and by the eighties he had apparently fallen very much into the role of what can only be described as a dirty old man - the unusually frequent references to nipples in one particular story, for example, have lead to it being widely known in fandom as "The Number Of The Breast"...

Stranger is coming up to forty-five years old, now, but in many ways the book has not aged significantly. The morals and customs that Heinlein challenged at the dawn of the sixties are just as firmly ingrained and accepted at the start of a new millennium, and one can't help but think that if The Man From Mars set up church in 21st century London his reception would be equally forceful. Indeed, even after all this time I can dimly remember feeling, as the final segment of the story opened, a growing sense of unease that my inexperienced twelve year old mind was incapable of translating into "oh, no, that's not the way the world works - this is going to end badly, I just know it..." And sure enough, it did.

I could write a lot more, but of course after all this time the novel has been discussed and analyzed almost to death elsewhere. Indeed, SparkNotes has a guide so voluminous and comprehensive that you barely need to read the book itself... Well, that approach worked for me with Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, at least!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch... I decided to buy another pair of TMD fans, in the end, as in spite of my rather painful encounter with the failing one last weekend, I realised that they had survived fifteen months of almost continuous use in a hot, dusty home environment - which really isn't too bad. My future plans the the PC include a move to water cooling, and I expect the TMDs will keep me going quite happily until then. They've changed colour from gold to black, since I bought the first pair, and thanks to the dire warnings about short circuits and run-away failures I've also bought a set of small rubber washers to insulate them from the metal heatsinks. At the risk of tempting fate, I don't expect problems from the installation, and it will buy some time while I puzzle over the intricacies of pumps, reservoirs, water blocks and radiators. Water cooling is certainly going to be an interesting challenge.

 

18th February

Friday at last, but not quite the end of the week - I have to be in the office tomorrow to shut down the entire network so that electricians can do whatever it is that electricians do. I wouldn't mind, only apparently they didn't do it properly last time, and this is their second attempt... There's a bunch of stuff that I can be getting on with while the power is switched off, though - we've just started upgrading the infrastructure that connects our branch offices, so there's a lot of new firewall, bandwidth shaping and intrusion detection hardware to move from a temporary home in the middle of a rat's nest of cables to space reserved for it in a nice, shiny new cabinet. If I have to work on a Saturday, I can think of worse things to do than play with cool network toys.  :-)

Meanwhile, some links:

The Top 100 Gadgets Of All Time - a fascinating and eclectic collection, fully illustrated, ranging from the Zippo lighter to the abacus, via the Tickle Me Elmo and Harrison's H4 marine chronometer.

And talking of fascinating and eclectic collections, The Lost Museum attempts to reproduce P.T. Barnum's famous American Museum in New York, destroyed by fire in 1865.

Looking forward rather than backward, the students of SF author and (apparently!) university lecturer Bruce Sterling are designing newspaper and magazine covers to illustrate the world of 2010. "2010 has to seem at least as weird to 2005 as 2005 would seem to people in 2000". Work forwards from the link above to see the later work.

Equally weird, Kaden at Eccentric Genius has a marvellous line in fine-art tabletop weaponry - trebuchets, ballistae, and mangonels - as well as miniature Guillotines and Hypnodisks. Marvellous.

Right up there with the Hypnodisks, buy yourself a classic movie style Brain In A Jar - complete with bubbles, wires and a eerie glow. It's a touch expensive, though, at over two hundred bucks...

Another I Robot - from Boing Boing founder and Disney guru Cory Doctorow, the latest in a series of short stories with the same titles as famous SF novels, intended to challenge the totalitarian assumptions that underlie some of the originals.

At the aptly named Rabid Hardware, a hotplate made from a handful of obsolete Cyrix CPUs. Seven of them, totalling around 1.1GHz, provides enough heat to cook bacon and scrambled eggs!

Threadless T-Shirts - submit an original design for peer review, the other users vote on it, and the most popular are printed and sold as a (quite reasonably priced) limited edition. It's a really neat idea.

And, finally, via The Register - Microsoft's guide to online slang for parents of connected teens. D00d, that's so l33t! ! Micro$oft rox0rs!    <grimace>

 

17th February

Is this a link which I see before me
The HREF toward my hand?
Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.

Dan has spoken out about the evils of batteries before, but instead of the fiendish NiCd, this time he has the monstrous Lithium Ion cells in his sights. The horror! Oh, the horror!

Via a casual reference in Dan's article, Wikipedia has a nice little potted history of the Colt 1911 automatic. I usually link to the comprehensive Modern Firearms site, but I have to admit that the Wikipedia entry rather impressed me. Dan pointed to an excellent FAQ on watches, as well - his throwaway links are often as interesting and informative as his actual articles, and that's saying something...

Epicycle has always had a soft spot for traditional ASCII art, and this site certainly has it in spades - art, animations, and even clips from recent Hollywood movies. Until you've seen the bullet-dodging scene from The Matrix rendered in ASCII, you haven't lived.

I may have a 40U server cabinet full of computer hardware in my kitchen, but that doesn't mean I approve of technology flagrantly invading such a traditional part of the house - and this new gadget from Black & Decker is an example of exactly the sort of thing I want to go on record as not approving of: "The Lids Off Jar Opener takes the struggle out of your hands, opening the stickiest jars at the touch of a button". Indeed.

Something I do approve of, however, is the work of SF/fantasy author China Miville, and Boing Boing (via Teresa Neilsen Hayden's Making Light) links to his list of fifty science fiction novels for socialists. Miville is an unusual and esoteric sort of person, and I'm not surprised that I haven't read (or, indeed, heard of!) a fair number of them - but it was nice to see old favourites such as Iain Banks' Use Of Weapons and Phil Dick's A Scanner Darkly, both of which I seem to remember mentioning here in the last few weeks. Good stuff!

 

16th February

Que es mas macho?

Iceberg

or

Volcano?

 

I've been feeling in the mood for some difficult listening, tonight, and who better to provide it than the diva of alternative music, art, performance and electronics, Laurie Anderson. So I'm currently listening to the webcast of her 1999 Moby Dick concert from London's Barbican Centre (I was there in the flesh, too, and it was remarkable!) and here are a few links to keep my fingers busy while the almost overwhelming bass from her heavily-modified cello is vibrating up and down my spine:

Firstly, the lyrics from one of her seminal albums, Home Of The Brave, including the song Smoke Rings from which the "Que es mas macho?" line is taken. There's a live video of a date from the tour, too, which has to be the best place for a new fan to start - as well as a collection of excellent songs, it provides an excellent introduction to some of her highly unusual musical instruments - flexible guitars, tape bow violins, a keyboard embedded in a necktie, and the remarkable Voice Of Authority.

At Keld Bach's weblog, a pair of recordings in MP3 format - the first is an interview before a live audience where Laurie discusses songs from the album Mister Heartbreak, the second is on the origins and variations of her "hit" song, O Superman. Big downloads, but fascinating for the enthusiast.

One of Yahoo's discussion groups, Laurie Anderson Club has a fair collection of pictures from the Moby Dick and Happiness tours, as well as some of the classic publicity shots and some considerably less formal. The chat seems to be lively and mostly spam-free, as well, and looks to be a useful source of information and trivia.

Her own official web page (if unfortunately rather static and lifeless), the excellent fan site Homepage Of The Brave, a list of articles from Wired magazine that feature or reference Laurie in some way, and the dates of her current touring schedule (she's back at The Barbican in May of this year).

The teaser from City Lights Media on their forthcoming video of the Moby Dick tour - although, unfortunately, this has been forthcoming since late 2000 and has so far resisted all my efforts to find out what the hell is going on! Come in Mike Figgis, your time is most definitely up!

And, finally, questions and answers about Laurie's role as NASA's first "artist in residence", which will apparently culminate in a film to premier at the World Expo in Japan later this year. As so often with her  work, though, the answers given somehow leave one with more questions than at the start...

 

So here are the questions:
Is time long or is it wide?
And the answers?
Sometimes the answers just come in the mail
and you get a letter that says all the things you were waiting to hear
The things you suspected, the things you knew were true
And then in the last line it says:
Burn this.

 

15th February

A little late, but this is just too good to save for next year:

Roses are #FF0000
Violets are #0000FF
All my base
Are belong to you

To a geek, that's funny - and clever - on so many levels.  :-)  [Update: Apparently there's even a T-shirt!]

Meanwhile, I'm currently connected into the office via VPN, pushing the new Backup Exec V10 client to all thirty-something local servers. It's boring and repetitive, but needs just enough attention that I can't do it on autopilot, and so is turning into rather a long, trying job. The overtime will come in handy to pay for all the furniture I've been buying for the new house, especially as I've just found out that I'll also have to be in the office for most of Saturday to shut down and then (eventually) restart all the network systems while yet another bunch of electrical wiring is replaced. There will be plenty to do while I'm waiting, though, as I need to move a bunch of network hardware from a small cabinet to a much larger one, and the users do fuss so when I power off half of the infrastructure in the middle of a working day...

Elsewhere, as predicted, the latest corporate bastardry perpetrated by the media industry is continuing to arouse ire - at ShutDownThis.com a group calling itself The MPAA vs. An Army Of Mice has created an angry response to the poster that appeared at the now defunct torrent host Loki, the Marv On Record 'blog has a guide on turning Napster's day free trial into a large stack of music CDs, and a quirk in Russian copyright law (a quirk big enough to drive a truck through, it seems) means that for the moment it is apparently legal for the e-commerce site AllOfMP3.com to sell a whole raft of online music that isn't available elsewhere, such as the entire Beatles catalogue - and for around 20 cents per track, at that. As the saying has it, walk, don't run, before global IP legislation catches up with them!

Animals in space - a collection of animals used in early space flight tests, including monkeys, cats, fish, spiders and, of course, dogs. And then, oddly, the gallery is rounded out with two covers from Cliff Simak's SF novel City, presumably because of the story's highly-evolved dogs.  <shrug>

And talking of animals - I watched this twice, and was more mystified the second time than the first. Via The Sideshow, et al, and the best way to describe it does seem to be a line from noted SF editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden: "The expressionist dream-life of Kermit the Frog". It has to be seen - at least once, but probably best not more than once. Trust me on this, Ok?

 

14th February

All the news that's fit to 'blog...

From the people who brought you the excellent FaxYourMP and TheyWorkForYou services, which provide all sorts of useful information about UK members of parliament and their activities, and allow you to contact your local MP by fax, comes a new site called WriteToThem. This provides a similar facility for local government councillors and the London Assembly, as well as MPs and MEPs, and like its predecessor is sure to become an invaluable resource for the politically aware in the UK. The group behind these sites, mySociety, is a non-profit organisation staffed by volunteers and, surprisingly, is actually funded by the government. More power to them!

Via Boing Boing, the new Napster To Go is reviewed and discussed, and fails to impress. For a flat fee of $15 per month, users can download as much music as they like - but once they stop paying the monthly fee, the DRM insures that they'll no longer be able to play anything they've downloaded! Another point worth noting is that Napster is informed every time a file is played, or transferred onto a portable device, or played on that device, and other statistics doubtless up to and including the colour of a user's underwear. It's interesting to look at the service in the context of the RIAA's claims of massive financial losses due to illicit downloading, though, if they themselves value unlimited music tracks at only $15 per month per user...?

National Lampoon tests simultaneous release - moving away from the staged releases in cinemas around the world, and then later on DVD and ultimately on television, their new movie Blackball will be available on DVD a mere four days after the theatrical debut. This is partly a response to the fact that last year cinema revenues in the US amounted to $9.4 billion, while DVD sales substantially exceeded that at $15 billion, and partly a tactic designed to cut the losses of a movie that is not actually expected to do very well in the cinemas anyway - but either way it's an extremely interesting precedent.

Multicore licensing terms annoy CPU makers - with Intel's dual core chips just around the corner, and AMD and IBM's own offerings due later this year, the software manufacturers have to decide how they're going to implement licensing for a single chip containing two or more discrete CPUs. I've been interested in this since the introduction of Intel's HyperThreading gave the illusion of dual processors, but as far as I'm aware all the software firms treated this (rightly, in my opinion) as a single CPU. Now, however, Oracle and some other companies have announced that their software will need to be licensed per core, which is likely to increase the cost of running their applications significantly. Microsoft and Novell have committed to sticking with their current per-chip licensing mode, though, and this may bring them some headway against the competition in the aggressive enterprise database arena.

And, finally, for (and by!) the truly obsessive - a diagram charting who kissed who in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and a catalogue of scanned MAD Magazine covers since the very beginning, complete with a summary of the contents of the issue. Some people have far too much time etc etc...

 

13th February

I've added another entry to the page where I gripe about online shopping, with a write-up on my experiences with adult toys supplier Bluesnake.com. Writing an unfavourable review of an online supplier really is a last resort (for all sorts of reasons!), but I've given them plenty of opportunity to redress the situation over the last four months and although they were happy enough to take my money, all my many efforts to contact have have been completely ignored. Definitely a company to be avoided.

Elsewhere - now here's a clever thing, spotted at Arnie's: from Mad Bull Airsoft, a design for a drop-in CO2 mechanism that replaces the electric gearbox in a Tokyo Marui AEG, using 12gm gas caplets to provide a claimed 470 fps complete with "recoil". At $200 it's not exactly cheap, and it's not clear whether any of the products detailed on their new site are actually available as yet, but it's certainly one to keep an eye on.

Meanwhile, over the last week I've been noticing a slight oscillation in the fan noise coming from the PC, and today I finally gave in and pulled the side panel off to see if I could track it down. With ten fans in the case locating the noisy one was not an easy job, but after a while it became apparent that it was almost certainly one of the wonderful YS-Tech Tip-Magnetic Drive fans on my Xeon CPU heatsinks, and sure enough a gentle pressure on the central hub caused the noise level to escalate to slightly past the pain threshold. Unfortunately, relaxing the pressure did not return the noise to its previous level of merely annoying, and it was clear that something would have to be done.

Incidentally, while desperately trying to undo whatever I had just done to the bearings, I discovered that it is really quite easy to stall a TMD fan completely by accidentally sticking one's fingertip into it - which was painful enough in itself, but it was the same fingertip that I'd carelessly burned on a hot drill bit earlier in the day so the air was temporarily blue as well as filled with PC dust. Ouch! Once my fingertip had stopped complaining I powered down and pulled the fan off the heatsink for maintenance: It's often possible to revive a noisy bearing with a careful clean and a few drops of oil, and as the TMD design means that all the complexity is in the rim rather than the hub I was quite hopeful of being able to affect a repair. Unfortunately my efforts were completely unsuccessful, and it was clear that this particular fan was now a deader.

A quick look suggested that YS-Tech has now ceased production of the entire TMD range, and although they are still available online (my old friends Kustom PCs have them in stock as I write this) it's obvious that in spite of their innovative design the product is now dead in the water. In fact, during my search I came across all sorts of rumours and reports about run-away failures caused by the metal casing shorting onto the heatsink, and at one point there was even a suggestion of a product recall!

Fortunately I had built up quite a collection of fans during the initial build of the system, and once I'd determined that the TMD was beyond repair it only took a few moments to put the standard Akasa back onto the heatsink. The CPU temperature is a few degrees higher than with the TMD fan, and the noise level is a touch higher too (which goes to show how good the TMD design is in principal) but nothing that will cause any problems until I can come up with a better solution. I do still have that pair of JMC Phoenix 70 coolers tucked away somewhere, which is certainly very tempting as I've always been a sucker for orb designs... We shall see.

 

12th February

The new version of Backup Exec seems to have fixed a number of small but annoying bugs that have been present all through version 9 - the DLT-7000 tapes I use in the server are no longer described as having a capacity of 1.6Tb, leading to wildly inaccurate compression statistics given their real capacity of 35Gb, and the hardware data compression ratios on the VXA library are now calculated correctly at an average of 1.5:1 across a full backup rather than languishing down at around 0.8:1. These two problems seem to be related, so I imagine that a media handling module has been re-written from scratch and now works as intended...

On the other hand, even after applying four hotfix sets (how can anyone complain about Microsoft's code when Veritas can write an application that needs six patches within a week of release!) another annoying little quirk has emerged - tapes that are ready to be over-written are no longer highlighted in blue, this colour now apparently being reserved for tapes that can be appended to. This isn't nearly as much use, in my opinion, and is going to make choosing the next batch of available tapes from the three hundred or so in use at the office rather a chore. A very similar problem occurred early in the V9 lifecycle, though, so I'm hoping for a cure in the next batch of hotfixes - and given the timing of the last set I don't expect I'll have to wait very long to find out!

Meanwhile, last night on a whim I installed Microsoft's ClearType Tuning Wizard onto the laptop, and the effects were so spectacular that I put it on the desktop as well. I've never really paid much attention to ClearType, for some reason, but I have to say that I'm impressed - the display on both the 19" Iiyama LCD of my desktop and the comparatively miniscule 13" of my venerable Dell Latitude CPi is generally clearer, more readable, and somehow just more satisfying than before. ClearType is easy to enable and disable, especially through the Tuning Wizard - which lets you choose better or worse like an optician's test - and if you're using an LCD display it is definitely worth a look.

Elsewhere...

Beware the unexpected attack vector - we shouldn't fall into a sense of complacency, says The Register, especially in light of certain recently unearthed security weaknesses - last week it emerged that thirty security products from Symantec are vulnerable to a flaw in the component used to scan UPX compressed files, and a few days ago a very similar issue emerged in nineteen products from F-Secure, this time in a library used to scan ARJ archive files. When one's anti-virus, anti-spam or firewall software can be attacked by rogue code, it's time to worry...

Banking Trojan disables MS Anti-Spyware - "BankAsh-A" is the first malware to attack Microsoft's new security utility, although its main function is to steal passwords for UK online bank accounts. it remains to be seen how effective it will actually be, though, as Anti-Spyware is a fairly keen little tool and won't go down without a fight.

Meanwhile, a group calling itself the "419 Flash Mob" has started taking the online law into their own hands by attacking web sites hosting the fake banking and financial sites used by phishing scams. Their first targets are mostly hosted by one ISP in China, which is probably a smart move - it will be as hard for their dubious customers to take action against the attackers as it is for law enforcement agencies to take action against the scammers themselves.

Given the general mood of militancy amongst the ethical hackers, right now, it seems likely that the RIAA and MPAA will find themselves back in the line of fire sooner rather than later. The MPAA, especially, has aroused considerable ire by not only taking down the web site of the previously defiant torrent host Loki, but then proceeding to post a smug, confrontational message in its place. They may live to regret that when their own site is 0wned in revenge...

After last week's revelation that the Eiffel Tower at night is copyrighted, it has now emerged that Chicago's Millennium Park has fallen victim to the corporate greed-heads as well - and to make matters worse over-zealous security guards are harassing members of the public who try to take photos of the area. These are signs of a worrying trend, if you ask me...

Another worrying trend is the slow but steady erosion of any and all civil liberties in America. The latest development has come when the Supreme Court upheld a conviction obtained by what would have traditionally been thought of as an illegal search - and although apparently unrelated, this may actually have huge ramifications for online privacy as well.

On a considerably lighter note, I followed a link from Boing Boing to indie movie site Kontraband, and found one of the funnier amateur films I've seen recently - a pastiche of the classic training montage from the movie Rocky, reproduced by someone with a lot of moxie and no sense of dignity. I loved it...

And finally, not something for the faint hearted, a weblog devoted to Ugly Breast Implants. I'm not a fan of augmented boobies, myself (I much prefer them as nature designed them, whatever the size, shape or sag) and the images here only serve to reinforce that preference... Approach with caution.

 

11th February

I've been having major problems with Backup Exec on my home system since I installed Windows XP Service Pack 2 last autumn, and Veritas have been about as much help as a chocolate welding mask. In spite of the fact that the evidence clearly pointed to an issue with the newly applied service pack (I ran a perfectly successful backup immediately before installing, and the problems started immediately afterwards) they seemed to want to blame everything from my tape hardware to the phase of the moon. I ran out of patience with them sometime in December (they kept asking for reams of job logs, system logs, diagnostic logs, and eventually even Yule logs, in spite of the fact that they were all functionally identical) and eventually I became a touch terse with them. At that point they started sending me an automated notification every couple of weeks, saying that a senior engineer had been assigned to my case and would contact me soon - but then that was the last I'd hear until the next, identical, automated email.

However, this week the new BE version 10 was released, and as usual I installed it on my home systems to see what horrors were in store before upgrading the rather more critical systems at the office. The upgrade was relatively smooth (although both times the installer refused to display its summary log at the end of the process) but in fact it doesn't seem to have brought any significant changes over the previous version. There are a handful of new enterprise-level features that seem interesting if one can justify the additional licensing costs, and a few cosmetic enhancements to the user interface, but very little that is going to change the way the application works for the majority of SME installations.

One significant change on my home network, though, is that the problem on my Windows XP system now seems to have gone away - although I doubt that Veritas will ever admit it, it seems quite likely that there was some basic issue with V9 and Service Pack 2 which they didn't feel like fixing given the imminent release of V10. I can't say I blame them, as its fairly standard behaviour under the circumstances, but mostly I'm just glad to have my data nice and secure again - I've been running disk-to-disk backups onto the server, but to an old fogey like me it's just not the same as a nice library full of VXA tapes.

[Update: There are already four hotfixes out for the product, by the way, and one of them fixes quite a nasty cataloguing issue. Run, don't walk, to Veritas Update and do that thing...]

 

10th February

Anyone who wants to catch me with a phishing scam is going to have to do better than send an email purporting to be from MSN's administrators using a CompuServe address - especially if they choose to start the message with "Darling MSN user"...   <DING>  Next!

So, the deranged rant at SFgate.com by Mac fanboy Mark Morford, which had me shaking my head in disgust a few days ago, has been met with an interesting and surprisigly balanced response around the web. Leaving aside the enthusiastic bleating of the other fanboys, threads at both Slashdot and Ars.Technica, neither of which are generally known as hangouts of Windows evangelists, are generally critical of Morford's deluded "Macs are immune. Period" attitude. Many contributors have linked, as I did, to the warnings of critical vulnerabilities at Secunia - at least two of which both remain unpatched and have sample exploit code circulating in the wild. The Ars thread follows on from an interesting article by staff writer Caesar, who discusses some of the social aspects of human-computer interactions in the light of the original SFGate column.

Elsewhere...

Panoramic images from the Apollo missions - 360 interactive panoramas in Quicktime, almost as good as being there yourself!

The lost 1984 videos - Steve Jobs, resplendent in a bow tie, at the Mac launch event, and several adverts that were under consideration instead of the classic "1984" sequence.

At Boing Boing - apparently that old dog Fidonet is still alive and well in the 3rd world, and is even being linked into the regular WWW via cunning gateway applications.

Finally, also via Boing Boing (it really is a directory of wonderful things!) how to turn an old favourite T-shirt into a cushion or - and I swear I'm not making this up - a pair of panties. Um, yes.

 

9th February

When I was starting out in IT, sometime back around when dinosaurs roamed the earth (or, at least, the computer room) I nurtured a dream of one day managing a huge fire safe full of neatly labelled data tapes. Well, it's taken twenty years, but I finally have one of my very own (the company thinks it's theirs, but I know better!) and although they're not the quarter inch reels I envisioned back then, I have to admit that LTO is rather more convenient in every way.

Ten tapes per row, six rows per shelf, and (when the tape library is emptying out at the end of a month) six full shelves. With around 150Gb per tape, that comes to something over five terabytes of data in a rolling archive - I think that's a sign of a proper, grown-up network.  :-)

Meanwhile, to offset yesterday's exclusively techy entry, here are [FX: looks around furtively, dons wig and dark glasses] a couple of political and cultural snippets:

Should we jail deep throats? - the legendary Watergate insider is critically ill, it seems, so after three decades of secrecy presumably we'll soon learn his identity. This is bound to reignite the long-running argument over the anonymity of journalists' sources, especially considering that a US District Court judge is currently handing out contempt of court sentences to journalists in the investigation of the leak of the identity of CIA operative. Given the speed of the US Government's descent towards a right-wing totalitarian dictatorship, this is not a good sign. Thanks to The Sideshow for the pointer.

The Parastone Mouseion collection - also via The Sideshow, a remarkable and (in my experience) unique idea - sculptures taken from great paintings, including the works of Hieronymus Bosch, Breugel, Dali, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Edgar Degas and many others. They're wonderfully executed, and the demonic figures from Bosch's triptychs Garden Of Earthly Delights and Temptation Of St Anthony are especially effective - and spooky, too!

 

8th February

It's been an amazingly busy few days, but I have to admit that they've been alarmingly low tech ones, too - since Thursday I've assembled and installed two large office desks, four waist-high pedestals, four bookcases, an entire wall (floor to ceiling!) of metal workshop shelving, and heavily modified a corner shelving unit to fit a very unusual corner - complete with a standard lamp passing up through the middle. Add to all this traditional carpentry and manual labour the fact that I only scored a paltry 68% on one of those spreadsheet geek tests that circulates around, compared to my IT Director's far more respectable 78%, and I think I'm in danger of losing the knack. I shall have to do something plausibly technical to compensate, and very soon - possibly getting my motion-following webcam setup working properly at last...

Meanwhile, in a desperate attempt to retain some tech credibility - some tech links:

More ultra-high-res photography - a home-made camera constructed from surplus U2 spy plane hardware, with a resolution of four gigapixels. As the Wired article puts it, that's enough to photograph four football fields together and capture every single blade of grass. It certainly sounds like an impressive and unusual piece of hardware.

"Why does Windows still suck?" - at SFGate, a long rant from an another Mac bigot who seems depressingly ignorant about the realities of either Mac or Windows computing: "The Mac really has few, if any, known viruses or major debilitating anything, no spyware and no Trojans and no worms ... For the most part and for all intents and purposes, Macs are immune. Period." Oh, the confidence! Oh, the hubris! I wish I could be around to see the smile wiped off his face, but one thing is certain: sooner or later it will be - no computer is "immune, period", and anyone who believes so is an idiot. Period.

Kazaa is a nuisance - What's that you say; tell you something you didn't know? Well, the latest detractors are the employees of Kazaa's owner, Sharman Networks, who according to an internal memo at management level hate installing their company's software because of the detrimental effect the bundled adware and spyware has on their PCs! What a giveaway...   :-)

Napster vs. iTunes - and talking of P2P apps, a recent article at The Register prompted some... ah... enthusiastic letters in response. Opinion seems evenly divided as to which service will win out in the end, which makes me wonder whether either of them will! The development of the services running over the Web has been nothing if unpredictable, historically, and I think it's far to soon to be as sure as some of the correspondents sound.

MCI in spam profit horror - according to Spamhaus' Steve Linford, MCI are making $5 million per year by selling services to known spammers, including hosting a website selling software that is integral to the illegal trade in compromised PCs. The software, Send Safe, is being widely used to distribute junk mail by PCs infected by viruses like SoBig, and Linford says that MCI knows this but just doesn't care. For shame...

Intel seeing double - after much speculation and anticipation, the chip manufacturer has officially announced their dual core CPUs, with availability planned for the second quarter of this year. The initial product range will contain both regular and Extreme Edition units, the latter of which will be Hyper-Threaded like the current Xeon CPUs - meaning that a single package will be able to process four threads simultaneously. This will have significant implications for server hardware, of course, but such high thermal density processors are going to be a challenge to keep cool.

JunkScience.com - an extremely worthy site, dedicated to debunking the pseudo-scientific myths that proliferate in politics, the media and the law. On the front page today: why we shouldn't demonise the insecticide DDT, that sweet drinks are not actually linked to children's obesity, Scotland's public smoking ban and it's likely cost to the NHS, and of course a whole bunch about climate change. Take a look - this is excellent stuff...

And, finally, caffeinated beer - Budweiser (the bad one) brewer Anheuser-Busch's new brand "BE" contains caffeine equivalent to half a cup of coffee, together with ginseng and guarana - as well as a respectable 4.5% alcohol. It is intended as a rival for non-alcoholic Red Bull, but critics of the "fast beer" warn that the drink will leave users more dehydrated and with worse hangovers. Caveat emptor, indeed.

 

6th February

I have no brain, and I must link...  [Incidentally, did you know that there was a computer game of Harlan Ellison's famous short story? It even had Ellison himself as the voice of the AM. What an odd idea!!]

Anyway...

Colourful ballistics - shooting various pretty things with a .22 rifle. The exploding crayons are especially nice, I thought.

Space elevator, just say no! - classic geek humour, mysterious flyers opposing non-existent plans to build a space elevator in the Williamsburg district of Brooklyn. Brilliant!

Smart wheels - straight out of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, Michelin's "Tweel" has flexible spokes supporting a flexible rim, deforming to absorb shock without any kind of conventional pneumatic tyre.

Apple more bastardly than they have to be - not content with conforming to the usual annoying restrictions on DVD player region changes, Apple actually impose their own, tighter limits instead!

And Quicken are bastards, too - disabling online features to force users to upgrade, and charging financial institutions a hefty fee to move to their new file format. It's a risky strategy, I think...

The RIAA, however, are merciful - they've decided not to proceed with a file-sharing lawsuit brought against an 83 year-old woman who didn't own a computer - and who had died a month earlier.

The emperor's new hump - further discussion on the mysterious bulges under Dubya's jacket during last year's campaign debates, including digitally enhanced photos. Whatever lurks under his jacket, though, we don't need image enhancement to know that his pants are on fire...

Musicplasma.com - via The Sideshow, a fascinating (and pretty!) system to suggest music similar to your favourites. It makes some unexpected links, certainly, but  reasonable ones nonetheless.

Periodic table displays - far too expensive for mere mortals (museums and universities are more their target market) but Element Displays' installations are just so beautiful...   <sigh>

Airsoft Innovations propane adapter reviewed - some time ago it became clear that the expensive airsoft "Green Gas" was actually just propane, readily available cheap and in bulk from local DIY and camping stores. As a follow up to their comprehensive analysis work, the Canadian wizards are now marketing an adaptor to allow GBBs to be filled from a standard disposable propane tank, and also a flow reducer to allow the use of this higher powered gas in fragile Western Arms pistols. Clever stuff indeed.

And, finally, not for the faint-hearted - The Saga of BloodNinja. One of the classic online trolls, usually found in AOL sex chat rooms, BloodNinja's style was sad, outrageous, funny and original in equal parts. Only for the broad-minded...

 

4th February

Following encouragement from friends I've been watching a lot of superhero movies recently (both Spiderman films, both X-Men, DareDevil, The Phantom and probably some others that have blended together by now) so last night's Mystery Men brought a welcome sense of balance. I'm still giggling over the wisdom of The Sphinx... "When you can balance a tack hammer on your head, you can head off your foes with a balanced attack". Marvellous stuff.

Meanwhile, some random links.

Spam, spam, spam, spam - anti-virus experts think that the next generation of worms will use the host PC's local settings to send out spam via the SMTP server of the ISP in question, rather than directly to the target. This will make it impossible to block infected systems without blocking entire ISPs, and this is likely to cause yet another rise in the amount of spam globally. Meanwhile, it now seems certain that the Can-Spam act enacted in America last year has lead to an overall increase in unsolicited email, exactly as the critics of the original bill predicted. Some figures suggest that over 80% of worldwide email traffic is now junk...

Unexpected Media - I've always enjoyed "The Pyjama Game", but I have to admit that "Breasts of Passion" sounds even better. I loved the way that they kept watching to the end in spite of the fact that they were "very shocked" - evidently cheap Italian porn has some kind of hypnotic effect on aging Baptists, and they completely lost the use of their TV remote control finger.  [Update: Ros is curious about what sort of "small child" would buy 1950s Doris Day movies, anyway? It doesn't actually sound very likely...]

Truly evil RAM - for sale on eBay, one of those excruciatingly annoying memory modules that passes all diagnostics flawlessly and yet fails horribly in everyday use. I hate those, especially when I have to try to prise a replacement out of a dubious server support company...

More quizzes at BBSpot - and as often from BBSpot, they're a little better than the majority of web quizzes elsewhere... Which Website Are You?, Which OS?, Which Nigerian Spammer? and Which File Extension?

Corporate America strikes again - major defence contractors are demanding huge royalties from the manufactures of model kits to create representations of their aircraft and fighting vehicles. These royalties often run as high as $40 per kit, and considering that the average kit only sells for between $15 and $30 it's obvious why the kit manufacturers are now turning to older and foreign originals. As Cory at Boing Boing puts it - "Nice going, defense contractors, you took our tax dollars and used them to rid the market of all military toys except Nazi tanks and planes".

Just to prove that it's not only America that is suffering from corporate greedheadedness, though - in France it emerges that the Eiffel Tower at night is now subject to copyright. SNTE, the company that maintains the tower, adorned it with a distinctive lighting display and then promptly copyrighted the design. As a result, suddenly it's no longer legal to publish night-time photographs of the Eiffel Tower, one of the world's most popular landmarks, without permission. Indeed.

Soviet Calculators Collection - an online museum of calculators, ranging from huge, mains-powered systems with wonderful nixie tube displays, to hand-helds that look indistinguishable from the Casio and Texas Instruments models that I used in school during the 1980s - and given the USSR's long history of highly effective industrial espionage, there's probably a very good reason for that!

Stacked & Packed - I was in two minds whether to post this, but in the end it does have a certain kitsch value - Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy's annual calendar featuring himself, scantily-clad girls, and firearms. It has to be said that Liddy does not become more photogenic with time...

And finally, the wonderful South Park Create-A-Character page has been expanded and improved. It's now so good that as I write this it seems to have been driven offline by the unexpected level of traffic, but wait a few days for the fuss to die down and then give it a go.

 

3rd February

I've just finished reading Iain Banks' latest SF novel The Algebraist, and as usual I found it an extremely enjoyable and compelling story. Several of Banks' "Culture" novels have been so spectacularly good (especially Consider Phlebas, The Player Of Games, Look To Windward and Excession, where the Culture itself is a major aspect of the story) that my first feelings on discovering that The Algebraist was set in a different universe were disappointment and some trepidation! However, this passed within the first few pages of the story, and I was soon caught up in the course of events - in spite of my initial fears, I quickly remembered that one of his other non-Culture SF stories, Against A Dark Background, is just as spectacular as any of the Culture series.

As a reader I've never seen an overwhelming reason not to have written Against A Dark Background as a Culture novel, in fact, but The Algebraist is very different - although the basic plot line would have been quite compatible, there were clearly good reasons for creating a brand new universe: apart from a fundamentally different approach to interstellar travel, the major alien species, the Dwellers, are startlingly long-lived organisms with a civilization stretching back billions of years, and their history just doesn't mesh well with what we already know of the Culture.

There are a couple of weaknesses in The Algebraist, which I suspect are to do with the story's considerable length - a sub plot involving the central character's past seems to have been pruned to the point of being almost irrelevant, and one of the major antagonists also has the feeling of having been trimmed down to save weight. Both may well be a result of over-enthusiastic editing, and although they are certainly noticeable, they do nothing to detract from the main characters or the general sequence of events.

If you enjoyed Excession or Look To Windward, I think The Algebraist will have equal appeal - the hardback edition is weighty enough to stun household pets, but a quick look on Amazon reveals that the paperback is just becoming available as an import and that there's even an (abridged, sadly, as usual) audio CD version too. Recommended.

 

2nd February

Is that a 19" rack in your kitchen, or are you just pleased to see me?  So I acquired a surplus cabinet from the office (tall enough at 40U, but only 60cm wide and 80cm deep so very little use for our rack-mount servers), and lugged it home at lunchtime today with the assistance of a colleague's amazingly spacious people carrier. It may be too small for a working computer room, but for a home network it's absolutely perfect, and I've lusted after a "proper" cabinet from the moment I first set up an NT4 server in a living room. I'd managed to arrange the hardware into a stable pile after I moved house before Christmas, but although a fairly aesthetically appealing pile, it was a pile none the less and it just wasn't the same...

Can you tell what it is, yet?  I drew up a meticulous diagram of where everything was going to go, before hand, and what sort of shelves I would use in which orientation, but within five minutes of starting out I screwed it up and threw it away... This sort of project is perfectly straightforward when one is fitting a dozen identical Dell servers into a Dell rack using Dell's wonderful RapidRails, but with assorted hardware of uncertain vintage and dubious parentage it's a very different story indeed... Nevertheless, I've been bolting bizarre hardware into inappropriate racks for over a decade, and as always necessity and a very large screwdriver are the mother of invention.

Naked and unashamed.  In the end, everything fitted in extremely well. The cabinet is effectively  full, as it stands, although with some re-arranging I could free up at least another 4U. That would require removing everything and rebuilding it completely, though, and at the moment I'm content to leave a few rough edges. Said edges are well hidden behind the panelling, though, and the smoked glass front door makes everything look really elegant and professional. It noticeably reduces the fan and bearing noise, too, and thanks to twenty hard disks the latter is not inconsiderable... It only took about four hours from start to finish, and I'm very pleased with the result.

The colour scheme, according to manufacturer Meridian, is Pearl Grey and Oyster Grey... I don't know about that, but it certainly fits in very well with the cream walls and light-wood floor of the kitchen - so well, in fact, that I think it could start a new trend in interior design. Look out for domestic server racking on the upcoming series of Changing Rooms.

 

1st February

One twelfth of the way through the year already, and the pace at the office has really picked up. We have a daunting number of major projects in hand, this year, including a major upgrade to the WAN links feeding our regional offices (out with the tired old leased lines, in with SDSL and VPNs) and more VPN links to other business units in France and America. It looks as if 2005 is going to the year of connectivity, for sure. Meanwhile, we're adding new servers at such a rate that I'm beginning to suspect that my managers are undercover agents for Dell.

We've completely filled the first cabinet with twenty PowerEdge 2650 servers (one is on holiday in France, at the moment) and have started on the second. Unfortunately the 2650 has now been superseded by the 2850, and Dell have decided to redesign the front panel as well as the internals. Apart from looking like something of a odd man out, right now, I can also reveal that the new fascia is actually plastic rather than the cast aluminium of its predecessor, and at the moment opinion is divided within my team as to whether the extra hard disk bay is enough to compensate - it's just not the same, somehow, and there was considerable muttering in the ranks when we unpacked the first one. Dell, I hope you know what you're doing...

Meanwhile - gosh! A sudden leap forward in the stats, last month, with half as many again visits and page views as in December. There's no one particular cause, I think, but instead a combination of a few references from The Sideshow and better indexing in a wider range of search engines. The latter includes a surprisingly large number of hits via AltaVista's image search function for "Dolly Parton topless", for some reason, even though I don't actually host the image in question but only link to it... The photo is widely considered to be a fake, by the way, even if a relatively convincing one. Still, I'm not proud, and I'm quite happy to absorb traffic from a search engine's quirk and a bogus photograph - keep 'em coming, and nobody will have to mention anything about ice weasels.

 

 

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