Just a few snippets of news, tonight:
Up for sale at eBay - is it art or is it just a dead laptop? I'd like
to think the former, but anyone who has heard my spirited defence of the
Tate Gallery's infamous "pile
of bricks" would expect nothing less.
Unwarranted disclosure - a Russian "security" company has unearthed a
vulnerability in Windows XP SP2, but although they notified Microsoft of
the flaw just before Christmas, they chose not to wait for a fix before
releasing full details - presumably because they are selling their own
security solution to the issue! I can't see how anyone can complain about
Microsoft's anti-spyware strategy, for example, when third parties are
playing dumb-ass tricks like this... <sigh> What a shower of
Ars.Technica, the inside skinny on the MPAA's new software,
designed to scan your PC for file-sharing applications and unauthorised
media. It's not a terribly clever bit of software, it seems, and can't
actually tell whether content is licensed, pirated, or home-grown!
Personally, given the
desire to attack and destroy our PCs, I wouldn't trust the thing
within a mile of one of my networks...
regulators butting in again - not content with forcing Microsoft to
ship a version of Windows without Media Player and associated components,
the EU has now forbidden them to use the name "Reduced Media Edition"
to describe the product. What do they want,
for Bob's sake? Blood?
elsewhere in court, Hormel Foods has lost their lawsuit to prevent an
email filtering company from using the word "Spam" in their product name.
"The proposition that someone who encounters computer programming
services under the mark Spambuster would think any less of the
applicants' luncheon meat product or be discouraged from purchasing that
product is more than a little fanciful". Well, quite.
I've just finished the audiobook of the first part of
Bob Dylan's autobiography, Chronicles, and I have to admit that in
spite of high expectations beforehand I wasn't overly impressed. If I had
to sum the book up in a single word, it would be "uneven" - periods from
which one would have hoped for a mine of fascinating anecdotes, such as
his time in Greenwich Village during the late sixties, are dismissed in a
few terse paragraphs. On the other hand, he writes in such an overwhelming
level of detail about the New Orleans recording session that produced the
1989 album "No Mercy" that if I hadn't been doing 90mph along the
M4 motorway at the time I would have been banging my head against the wall
One incredibly annoying quirk is the almost complete
omission of the sort of information that the readers of biographies
usually take for granted. Firstly, he rarely mentions the date of the
events he's writing about, and as he darts madly from decade to decade and
back again that's not a trivial omission - even an occasional reference to
the year would help to keep the chronology clear! Secondly, he is
equally vague about song and album titles, both his own and those of
others. To be told that a specific Robert Johnson track was a key early
inspiration, for example, or that he wrote a particular song in memory of
a dead friend, but not to be told which one, is somewhat
I would like to blame the editing for both the
unevenness and the foibles, but it seems likely that Dylan's own
bull-at-a-gate writing style is just as much to blame. I'm told that he
refuses to use a word processor, and so probably hammered out the bio on a
typewriter in the same way he used to write songs - a process that does
not lend itself to the techniques of modern publishing! Also, as a friend
pointed out, he may not actually remember certain periods of his
life very well - you know the old saying about the sixties, after all...
Either way, at this stage I'm not at all sure that I'll
bother with the second part when it finally reaches Audible, and I really
couldn't recommend the first segment to anyone except Dylan completists or
particular devotees of the album "No Mercy". As his contemporary
Hunter S. Thompson might say, selah...
[Elsewhere, author and Rolling Stone writer Jim
Kunstler has published his
own review of the book,
in which he takes several thousand words to say "uneven".]
Meanwhile, the news...
The annoying MySQL worm has been effectively neutralised after the IRC
servers that delivered its payload were isolated from the net. It's been a
bit of a damp squib, in spite of early fears, and all that's left now is
for the pundits to argue nomenclature - is it a worm, is it a 'bot, is it
a bird, is it a plane?
On a related note,
the hapless "Teekid" has been sentenced to eighteen months in prison
for releasing a variant of the 2003 Blaster worm. Attaching your own
widely-used screen-name to a worm version is
the height of stupidity (he even
owned the t33kid.com domain name) and I can't help feeling that he
got exactly what he deserved. On the other hand, the actual author of the
original Blaster code was never found, and it could be argued that Parson
is more of a scapegoat than a protagonist... Apparently geek site [H]ard|OCP
has sent him a soap-on-a-rope, which I found simultaneously tasteless and
French Python hits
London stage - I'm still trying to get my head around this one: a
French stage version of Monty Python's Flying Circus, in French with
English subtitles (huh?), and which has apparently really tickled the
surviving members of the cast. But "Le Perroquet Mort"?
Hmmm. Elsewhere, Eric Idle's own contribution opens on Broadway in
February - "Spamalot" is a musical based on the movie "Monty
Python and the Holy Grail". Again, Hmmm...
Intel's mystery trademark sparks intrigue - Intel has filed various
trademarks based around the text VIIV, and as could be expected
speculation is rife. Six and four, representing a 64 bit CPU? Two fives
separated by lines, for a dual-core Pentium? Or just a logo for the
presumably upcoming Pentium 5? Intel has declined to comment, so we'll
just have to wait and see...
Finally, something I missed last year - an April Fool's
prank at the wonderful airsoft geek site
Unconventional Airsoft: allegedly a conversion of a real-steel RPAK-5
Assault Rifle (the Romanian cousin of the Kalashnikov AK-74) into a gas
blowback airsoft weapon. It's a wonderful idea, but alas...
I was adding a few touches to my M4 RAM assault rifle
this morning while waiting for a delivery (although I went upstairs after
I realised that if the courier arrived and found me stripping down a
large, impressive gun the next delivery I could expect would be a police
armed response unit, and that I probably wouldn't have to wait very long
for it, either) and thought that I'd post a photo to show off the current
state of the art.
The core is an Asia
Paintball M4 RAM shell-ejecting paintball marker, converted by the now
defunct Area 51 Airsoft to fire solid 6mm BBs within the UK power limits
and then fitted with the controversial "DeadByDawn" after-market 11mm
barrel. The front end has been modified with a
Mosquito Molds M4 RIS
handgrip/rail, and an XM177-style flash hider from
RAP4 to add some length.
The optics are a
army-surplus Cobra reflex sight, and although not traditionally found
on US weaponry (its last home was probably a real-steel AK-74) it's a
wonderful piece of hardware and I'm rather fond of the look. The sling is
the infamous Mil Force 3-point tactical (I still get occasional emails
from perplexed users trying to install one) and the Knights Armament logo
is a sticker obtained from
Tokyo Model -
the latter is what I was fitting today, and it really does add that
When fired it makes a sound like hell is breaking open
(the closest thing would be a .22 LR on full auto), the air is full of
flying brass shell cases, and 11mm rubber balls shoot off randomly in all
directions - unfortunately the DBD barrel really isn't up to much,
in spite of the massive hype, and accuracy is very disappointing. At some
point I'll probably re-install the original front end and go back to
conventional 6mm BBs. It's still great fun, though, in spite of
all the problems, and never fails
to bring a broad grin! :-)
The end of the week at last - although I had to check
with a colleague just before I left work to make sure that it was actually
Friday. It's definitely been one of those weeks...
USB disco balls
- we've seen everything else to plug into a USB port, I guess, but I
really do think that USB mirror balls are probably taking it too far.
Digital satellite radio? Who knew this even existed,
but suddenly there are reviews of
different providers, and FAQs on
how it all
News.com predicts the death of the email virus - I don't think so,
Tim, especially with
Bagle starting to spread this week.
MS Office crypto flaw - PGP guru Phil Zimmermann speaks out on what he
considers to be a significant vulnerability in the RC4 algorithm used in
Word and Excel.
all happy with Tiscali - DSL performance problems, clueless and
unhelpful customer service, discounts that aren't passed on to existing
users, and "unlimited" broadband access that definitely isn't... An ISP to
avoid, by the sound of it.
its users to find out what they consider reasonable policies - I
wasn't especially impressed by my last
contact with PlusNet, and in fact decided to take several sets of
business elsewhere, but this is certainly a step back towards professional
Pretty network cables - braided silver shielding, a clear UV-reactive
outer coating, and blue LEDs embedded in the connectors. It's clear that
these are not your regular CAT6 cables...
And, finally, it looks as if the
Royal Mail is following through on their plans to prohibit the
shipment of anything even vaguely firearms related - including anything
that "resembles" a firearm, which will cover all sorts of replicas and
airsoft guns as well. Given that the majority of other carriers already
have restrictive policies in this area, this could cause real problems for
all concerned. The CyberShooters
community and pressure group is writing a response to the proposal, and
plans to assist others to do so as well. Even as a replica collector I can
feel the hobby being gradually nibbled away from all sides, but of course
the few remaining real shooting enthusiasts have that in spades.
Difficult times, indeed.
Busy busy! Just some quick news links, tonight...
in sudden U-turn - defiant BitTorrent hub Loki, having raised at least
$40,000 dollars in donations towards their fight with the MPAA, is now
advertising itself for sale as a going concern. Needless to say, the
contributors are not amused...
government has no sense of humour - they've banned The Sims 2, and 49
other games (many with a military or combat theme) in order to provide "a
good environment" for Chinese children. Totalitarian with a capital "T"...
And a capital "otalitarian", too, for that matter.
Military robotics proliferating - giant battlemechs in Iceland,
remote-controlled sentry robots in Iraq, and cybernetic rats in University
of California. Dangerous stuff, from the look of it, and this is only the
contemplates doing the dirty - just as the detractors predicted,
Microsoft is still contemplating charging for regular updates to their
anti-spyware utility at some future date, but no decision has yet been
group denies virus link - Fathers 4 Justice has distanced
itself from a set of recent mass-mailing viruses which contain messages
supporting the group. I can't say that I'm convinced, though, I have to
government suspicious of IBM sell-out - Prompted by concerns over
industrial espionage, the Committee on Foreign Investments in the US is
examining the sale of IBM's PC business to Chinese manufacturing group
Dell joins the ranks of bad guys - the PC giant is hounding a small
website design company run by a Paul Dell (no relation) but it's very hard
to see how the similarity of domain name has affected Dell's recently
announced $23 billion revenues, and really this is nothing more than
Microsoft preps WMP-less Windows - they won't appeal further against
the EU order to create a version of Windows without Media Player... It was
a thoroughly dumb ruling, though, and I can't see how the end user is
going to benefit at all. Free bundled software is a good thing,
I covet this... New from Japanese custom airsoft
a limited edition replica of
from the movie Blade Runner. Although based on the Tanaka Bodyguard
revolver, the Pegasus gas mechanism is well disguised inside a stunning
custom shell, complete with red LEDs under the barrel. In the UK
Airsoft Dynamics appear to be
the sole distributor, and they're taking pre-orders now. If you listen
carefully, you can actually hear me drooling. [Update: more
Meanwhile, links... But just a few, as there's a war on
and the rationing is starting to bite.
speaking - I mentioned definitive geek site Dan's Data,
yesterday, but it should be remembered that his partner Anne has a 'blog
as well, appropriately titled Anne's Data. She's an interesting
columnist, and it's worth dropping in once in a while to see what she's
kvetching about now.
testing - another of those online tests, this one to determine one's
Nerd Quotient... It's not quite as fatuous as the usual varieties,
however, and I didn't have to repeatedly choose between two options,
neither of which are at all applicable. Needless to say, I turn out to be
distinction - according to an article in The Register,
Londoners lead the way in leaving electronic equipment in taxis. In the
last six months 63135 mobile phones, 5838 PDAs and 4973 laptops have been
left behind, comfortably beating the figures from Helsinki, Oslo, Munich,
Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Chicago and Sydney.
Back at the silicon face, today, after a long weekend
break, and back hard at work here as well. There's no rest of the wicked,
as usual, and after a quick update today normal service will doubtless be
Dan at Dan's Data
has been busy, too. As well as moving house and maintaining a popular
weblog (and boy, do I know how he feels, there - except for the "popular"
bit, of course) he's managed to acquire another cat. I'm prepared to
forgive that, though, as long as he
Meanwhile, closer to home... For several years the
front page of this site has had a "coming soon" reference to my brother's
medieval and civil war period leatherwork, and it looks as if we're
finally getting to the stage where I can showcase some of his creations.
He has firmly put his money where his mouth is, these days, doing it for a
living, and in the cut-throat historical re-enactment equipment industry
any publicity is probably good publicity... I've spent the last while
scanning a portfolio of photographs he provided (above is an ornate
leather sword hanger, without which I'm told no 17th century military
officer would consider himself properly dressed of an evening), and
when time permits we'll start to put together something in the way of an
online catalogue. Watch this space for further updates.
It's been an exceedingly busy and unpleasantly busy
time at the office, hence the lack of updates here - and as the weekend
looks to be equally full, it's likely that there won't be much here until
next week. In the meantime, though...
iPod Shuffle - Apple's new music player under the knife - although it
doesn't look as if it survived the experience.
contentious - the president of Harvard University has suggested that
women lack any natural ability in mathematics and the sciences. Hmmm.
.net domain up for grabs - five companies, including the
annoying VeriSign, are bidding for control of the third biggest domain
registry. It would be nice if it went to one of the non-US firms, for a
Backlash against online music - the major online music services have
been criticised for poor site design, and proprietary formats, software
The vagaries of the market - eBay returned record profits again this
year, but their forecast wasn't quite as bullish as the analysts wanted
and so the share value fell by 11% after the announcement!
Opportunity still going strong - over a year after it touched down
on Mars, NASA's rover is still very much alive and kicking, and recently
discovered an unexpected meteorite on the surface of the planet.
Controversy over HTML tag - growing support for the rel="nofollow"
tag will either prevent annoying 'blog comment spam, or destroy the entire
point of searching and linking. Only time will tell...
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - there have been a number of
abortive plans to make a movie of Douglas Adams' classic since the 1980s,
but it looks as if it's finally imminent. HHG fans have high standards,
though, and it will have to be something very special in order to
Pratchett File is an incredibly voluminous and comprehensive
resource, covering all Terry Pratchett's published works and hinting about
the ones that he hasn't even written yet. And for fans of the Patrician,
His Lordship's Library excerpts only those scenes in which he appears
- unusual, but potentially useful.
The Sims on TV - I've yet to be even slightly impressed with
any of the computer game to movie conversions (why would anyone think that
would be a good idea?) and I'm equally dubious about an interactive
television show based around The Sims. It isn't clear to me what
the target audience would be, really, as I would assume most people would
just play the computer game!
Bluetooth sunglasses - something else that seems to be a bizarre
product looking desperately for a market... A collaboration between
Motorola and eyewear manufacturer Oakley, the plan is to allow users to
control electronic devices directly from their sunglasses. I'm sorry - can
you run that one past me again?
faces court showdown - the disgraced former boss of the telecoms
company Worldcom is due to face criminal charges in court this week,
following the $11bn accounting scandal that lead to the company's collapse
in July 2002. Ebbers, who left the company only a couple of months before
the improprieties came to light, is charged with fraud and conspiracy.
Panix recovers from domain hijack - the veteran New York ISP was
hijacked on Friday, with the ownership of the panix.com domain
being moved to a company in Australia, the DNS records moved to a company
in the UK, and the MX records redirected to yet another company in Canada.
Needless to say, this had a catastrophic effect on Panix's users and
services, but the records have now been recovered and most systems are now
back to normal. Nasty!
My space-head friend Mike has expressed surprise that I
haven't covered the recent progress of the refreshingly successful Cassini-Huygens
mission to Saturn's moons, so here's the ten cent tour...
Firstly, clear evidence that the moon Iaptus is
artificial, and in fact not even finished. A ridge up to 13km high (taller
than Mount Everest!) extends right around the equator, showing where the
two halves were joined during manufacture, but apparently the seam was
never smoothed off to complete the job.
Given that the moon also contains a giant round
structure identical to its neighbour Mimas (seen right), it seems
clear that they were originally intended as a matched pair. Possibly
Left, the view from the driver's window of the Huygens
probe as it descended towards the surface of Titan. From 8
kilometres up it looks quite pleasant, but in actual fact it is cold,
dreary, and spattered with whale meat. So cold, in fact, that all the
oxygen and water has packed up and moved to a more hospitable environment,
leaving only surly pools of methane, ammonia and an unidentified tar-like
substance. Richard Branson's Virgin Galactica is expected to
announce scheduled tourist flights within the decade.
All picture credits: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of
Arizona - and apologies to all concerned, especially Mike... Further
coverage is, as always, available from
ESA, and the
Get yer links here! Lovely links! Links inna bun,
links onna stick! Get 'em while they're hot!
Five years of Ballmer - have things changed since Bill stepped down
and Big Steve took over as chief executive? Not particularly, it seems,
except for some rough edges smoothed down in the (apparently unsuccessful)
hope of placating governments and pressure groups...
Unified Windows coming with Longhorn - no more "Home" and "Pro"
variants, once the next version of Windows finally ships,
and the functionality of the Media Center and Tablet
PC editions will be built-in as well. That's good news, I think, as long
as the licensing model isn't too perplexing...
FBI retires Carnivore - the legendary Internet and email interception
system has snooped its last keyword, it seems, as reports suggest that
over the last two years the FBI has turned to commercially available
Oracle and the culling of the 5,000 - now that the
long, hard battle to acquire Peoplesoft is over, to nobody's great
surprise Oracle have announced massive redundancies. It seems likely that
the victims will mostly be sales and back-office staff, with middle and
senior management somehow escaping.
Verizon persists with email blockade - ISP Verizon have decided that
Europe is a dangerous source of spam email, and since 22 December their
mail systems have been configured not to accept any connections from
European servers. Amazing. I could talk about eyes, here, and motes and
worm comes complete with Tetris - the Cellery trojan distracts
users by offering them a basic Tetris game while it sneakily scans for
network shares in the background. It's not
worm to purport to be a game, and given how gullible most users are I
doubt it will be the last, either.
A new tool In the spam war - Ethan Preston thinks that a
carefully-bated honey pot of email addresses combined with a
strongly-worded license agreement binding the harvester to local legal
arbitration will help, but I have to admit that I'm dubious. Is it
actually wise to face-to-face with some of these people?
MS rubbishes DRM flaw - following the recent scare story about media
files carrying trojan code, Microsoft have confirmed that Service Pack 2
will prevent the download and installation of this kind of malware, and
that in fact even older OS versions are safe if the Internet security
settings are sufficient.
Napster under attack - Again! In spite of it's aspirations to legality
and respectability, the online music distribution company is about to find
itself in court again, following the failure of negotiations with
SightSound, a company that holds a number of somewhat dubious but
sucessful patents in the area.
Dangers of UK's DNA database - advisory group Genewatch has warned
about the implications of the fast-growing National DNA Database, now one
of the most substantial in the world. Given the high rate of errors in
both police data storage and DNA-based evidence itself, it certainly is a
Toilet brush wins
absurd warning contest - the label "Do not use for personal hygiene"
has sufficiently impressed US consumer watchdog M-LAW that it scored over
other dumb warnings on childrens' toys, thermometers and food processors.
be remade - the classic eighties geek movie is going to be given the
full Hollywood treatment and, like Ceasar at Ars Technica, I am
simultaneously enthused and terrified. Rather than the innards of a
mainframe, it seems that this time the hero is trapped in an online
adventure game. Hmmm...
launches blamed for illness - children living near the Baikonur
Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan are more likely to suffer hormonal problems and
blood disorders, according to a Siberian study leaked to the journal
Nature. The authors conclude that unburned hydrazine fuel is
In the wake of the recent capitulation by Infinium Labs
in their lawsuit against tech site [H]ard|OCP,
an enterprising fanboy is selling
commemorative T-shirts featuring the order from Judge Kaplan that
officially ended the case. Interestingly, it appears that some of
Infinium's staff had
T-shirts, too, which they delighted in wearing secretly under other
clothes while representing their company at trade shows. Needless to say,
they are not very complimentary of [H]ard|OCP
and its owner, Kyle Bennett... Infinium have
denied that any staff member has ever worn the garment in question, of
course, but frankly at the moment their record on truth and falsehoods
tends to speak for itself. [Update: It looks as if Kyle has removed
the images "for the time being". Interesting...]
Meanwhile, back in court, it looks as if the Mac rumour sites that
were speculating on forthcoming hardware releases and so provoking Apple's
were completely right... Tuesday's official launch of the Mac Mini, a
thoroughly barebones entry-level system, and the flash memory-based iPod
Shuffle, was no great surprise after Apple filed a civil lawsuit against
the MacWorld web site for suggesting that those were likely future
the online specifications for the iPod Shuffle confirm that either
Apple or its users are even more dumb than I'd previously suspected - is
it really necessary to warn users not to eat the expensive hardware
they've just purchased?
Elsewhere, the site of US telecoms operator
T-Mobile has been hacked
so completely that the admins might as well have copied their
confidential databases onto an LTO tape and couriered it over to the
hacker themselves. Twenty-one year-old Nicolas Jacobsen, currently on bail
awaiting trial, had access to internal servers for at least a year, during
which he monitored US Secret Service e-mail, obtained customer passwords
and social security numbers, and downloaded candid photos taken by users
of the Sidekick photo messaging service. Jacobsen was arrested in October
2004 following a sting operation, but the Secret Service are offering a
generous plea bargain if he will help with similar stings to catch other
hackers, and so have kept the entire case at a very low profile.
And talking of horrendous hacks, it seems that messages
sent via Google's GMail system have been
extremely vulnerable to
interception. Messages sent with a missing ">" character at the end of
the sender's email address would arrive in the destination mailbox with
some or all of a completely different email message embedded in the "Reply
To" field. Needless to say, this is an extremely serious flaw, but
fortunately Google are on the ball and although they haven't revealed how
long the weakness has been in place, it seems that they patched it very
soon after the original announcement on the hacker community
HBX Networks earlier this week.
Additional JPEG compression - a new algorithm from Allume, creators of
the "Stuffit" compression software, promises lossless compression of JPEG
images by up to 30%. This is quite remarkable, as it was traditionally
assumed that the structure of the data in a JPEG would not lend itself to
any further compression, but
show size decreases close to those promised. Impressive!
Equally impressive is a
cunning USB SD memory card from SanDisk. It isn't the first SD card
with a built-in USB interface, but
doesn't have that neat hinged design and I think SanDisk's product is
going to be a winner - although I expect a whole raft of similar designs
in the next few months, as this really is a very clever idea.
Elsewhere, more news has emerged concerning the
upcoming film of Philip
K. Dick's wonderfully disturbing novel "A Scanner Darkly". Starring
Keanu Reeves, the movie uses
an unusual technique of live action photography overlaid with
techniques, and the first few images
can be seen here.
I am really looking forward to seeing this movie...
Finally, the classic (if fundamentally erroneous)
question what of happens when
an unstoppable force meets an immovable object may soon be answered in
the South Atlantic. An eighty mile long iceberg is on a collision course
with an equally massive floating glacier near the McMurdo Research
Station, and although the best view can be gained from orbit, for the next
few days all eyes will be on the earth science satellites that are
tracking the area. I wonder if I'll be able to hear the bang from Essex?
Midweek... Tired... Quick links...
apparently made in two parts - new photos of Saturn's moon by the
Cassini spacecraft have revealed a geological formation running around the
equator that looks for all the world like the join between two segments of
a plastic model kit. Almost as much fun as
Fugitive in Circuit City - an escaped convict has finally been
recaptured after hiding out in a disused electronics store in Charlotte,
North Carolina, since June 2004. He'd settled in very nicely, it seems,
with water piped in from an adjacent store, and entertainment provided by
a DVD player and a basketball hoop... he'd even installed a smoke alarm
UK fires several staff - seven employees have been dismissed, and the
police notified, following what appears to be abuse of the internal
purchase program. Microsoft products are available to staff at a discount,
but only for personal use, and in this case the products appear to have
been sold on the open market. There are also suggestions of some kind of
shenanigans concerning internal security, too. Mysterious stuff...
Sketching art prohibited - a museum security guard in the North
Carolina Museum of Art apparently stopped a six year old schoolgirl from
sketching masterpieces by Picasso and Matisse on the grounds that the
paintings were copyrighted. The guard was mistaken, as it happens, and the
museum has now apologised - but I'm afraid this is very much a sign of the
Modern art all a trick of the CIA - Ken Macleod, noted SF author and
part-time blogger, exposes the shocking truth... In an attempt to distract
from art with a social or political content, the CIA funnelled significant
sums of money through Nelson Rockefeller's Museum Of Modern Art to the
abstract expressionist painters that they saw as an antidote to communist
ideology. It's bizarre stuff, even for the CIA in the sixties!
EULA puzzler - the license agreements of malware that pretends to be
legitimate software, such as Claria's Gator adware pest, usually
prohibit the removal of the product via any other means than the tortuous
and often malicious online operation triggered through the Add/Remove
Programs utility. An article at Infoworld suggests that removing such
programs via specialist software such as Ad Aware, SpyBot S&D, or indeed
Microsoft's new AntiSpyware product, is likely to violate the agreement,
thus bringing down plagues of boils and rains of frogs on the unwary user.
Fortunately Microsoft, great proponents of EULAs themselves, are one step
ahead of the game - the EULA of the AntiSpyware product specifically warns
about this risk, and places all responsibility firmly back with the user
of the software. Caveat emptor, indeed.
And finally, more on what is rapidly becoming a
cause célèbre - the sacking of Waterstones
employee Joe Gordon for comments posted in
his personal weblog, and
there's more to the affair than meets the eye, it seems,
according to Charlie Stross. I expect the senior management of
Waterstones are following the
spread of this story with some considerable annoyance, but it remains
to be seen whether they will find a way of repairing the growing damage to
their reputation amongst some of their most hard-core customers...
We've been without an Internet connection at the office
for the last week, thanks to an unprecedented mistake by our provider
UUNet (now a part of MCI). For reasons that they have so far declined to
reveal, they suddenly decided to cut off our 2Mbit leased line, and so we
have been limping along since then on the 64Kbit ISDN backup circuit. As
you can imagine this has not been a very satisfactory solution for a
company of seven hundred employees, and the outage has certainly
demonstrated exactly how dependent most segments of the business really
are on Internet access. When UUNet make a mistake, however, it seems that
they really go to town, and the only solution is for BT to provide a
completely new leased line! I have no idea why the existing circuit can't
simply be reactivated, but apparently this isn't possible and so tomorrow,
after an outage lasting a week, an engineer will be arriving to install a
replacement NTE box on the wall - and with luck after that we'll be
rolling again. You can bet your bippy that we'll be pursuing a claim for
Meanwhile, elsewhere... It felt like ages since I'd
bought a gun, so apparently my subconscious lead me back to an old
favourite supplier, Airsoft Kit
(suppliers of my custom-built M4 CQB)
who have been holding a closing down sale for the last year or so. They're
coming very close to actually closing, now, and prices on
the last few oddments have plummeted even lower than before. One such
oddment caught my eye on Saturday, and thanks to the proprietor Tree's
customary rapid shipping it's now nestled safely in my hot little hands:
This is a Western Arms replica of the
Beretta M84FS, and
very neat it is, too. Rather reminiscent of the classic Walther PPK,
bloated to incorporate a double-stack magazine, in actual fact of course
it is closely related to the larger Beretta M92 model. The replica has the
usual WA build quality, and although as usual the majority of the
components are ABS plastic the look and the heft of the gun
certainly live up to expectations.
Seen next to the more usual
M92 model, also a Western Arms
replica and my first airsoft purchase, the M84's compact size is quite
obvious. Designed for concealed carry on the civilian market and as a
lightweight sidearm for the military, the real firearm nevertheless
manages to squeeze in thirteen rounds rounds of .380ACP / 9mm Short -
impressive, considering that the replica only manages twenty of the usual
I don't actually have the opportunity for a worthwhile
test, right now, but as soon as I come across one of those mythical free
weekends I'm intending to pull the entire gun collection out of storage
and make some poor cardboard box's life a real misery. And one day I may
even get around to writing up the rest of the replicas on
the airsoft page here, too. Watch
this space - but don't hold your breath...
It's only Monday, but thanks to having worked all
weekend it feels more like a Wednesday... And as I've now discovered that
I'll have to work at least some of this coming weekend, too, I hate to
think what next Monday will feel like. To match my mood, therefore, here
are some depressing news items:
technique clogs DNS servers - by sending spam from an un-registered
domain in the middle of the night, then registering the domain in the
morning, spammers are now hoping to retain a low profile and escape
prosecution. I have to admit that I don't quite see the logic behind this,
but the trick has the unpleasant side-effect of clogging up servers
providing the DNS lookups that are now an integral part of most anti-spam
And talking of annoying scam-artists,
four Australian teenagers have been charged with being the middle-men
in an East European phishing scam. They were promised of a share of the
profits for allowing their bank accounts be used for laundering the stolen
funds, and are implicated in the theft of almost half a million US dollars
from more than sixty victims. Time to start hefting that book, all ready
Still on the topic of fraudsters, Enron scumbag Ken Lay
desperate to re-write the history of the scandal, it seems, that he's
paying search engines to point to his own revisionist version of events.
Searches on phrases such as "Enron scandal" or "Ken Lay" are being
weighted to return Lay's propaganda site, where presumably the truth can
be found... Fortunately, a Boing Boing contributor has
provided an appropriately constructed link to the site, and at the
moment every click will cost Lay between five and twelve cents. As Cory
says, "click early, click often!"
Today's entry seems to be full of thieves and bastards,
so here are some more of the latter... The author of the little-known
The Woolamaloo Gazette (based in Edinburgh, in spite of the name!)
has been fired from his job at UK bookseller Waterstones for allegedly
bringing the company's name into disrepute. The wisdom of mentioning one's
employer in a satirical online journal is questionable at best, and
regular readers will have noticed that I have never named or even
described my own company, but for an employee of eleven years'
standing to be fired without any warning or an opportunity to remove the
text in question is thoroughly out of order. Unfortunately this is
becoming a common occurrence, and Waterstones are just the latest entry on
growing list of firms who have fired, threatened or disciplined staff
because of their weblogs. It's food for thought, certainly...
Ros has just reminded me that today is the 3rd
anniversary of this weblog. The first
month brought a whole ten visitors, presumably all of whom were people
that knew me personally; last month bought over six thousand, the vast
majority of whom found the page via Google and have absolutely no idea who
I am! I'm still enjoying writing here, though, so for those ten loyal fans
who still visit regularly, I'm afraid you're stuck with me for a while
longer yet. :-)
I've spent most of the weekend in the office
patching-in wallports and running drop cables, so I have no energy for
anything very substantive to make the anniversary - but here are a few
snippets to reward your persistence:
sneaks in unexpected price rise - by quietly moving the start of the
higher daytime tariff from 8am to 6am, around the 15% of callers who
habitually make calls this early will see increases of up to 110%. BT deny
that this will actually effect anyone, but of course they wouldn't have
done it if they didn't expect it to bring in additional revenue!
Phantom wins hands-down - Wired have announced the winners of their
2004 Vapourware awards, and although my suggestion of the iBIZ Virtual
Keyboard didn't make the finalists, as expected the aptly-named
Phantom games console easily
reached No 1.
Apple are still shooting themselves the feet by attempting to suing
people who leak "trade secrets" about upcoming products. Although they are
obviously desperate to prevent speculation circulating on the web, by
filing the suits they have to identify the particular secrets that have
been leaked and so confirm which rumours are actually true!
However, just to prove that the boot can be worn on
both feet (in spite of the bullet holes, one assumes?),
user is suing Apple for anti-competitive behaviour, claiming that they
force customers into using iPods by refusing to let other music-playing
hardware work with their iTunes online music store. Apple seems to be
spending as much time in court as Microsoft, these days, and having been a
major part of the anti-trust suits of the nineties, I damn well hope that
they're enjoying the experience...
And talking of Microsoft, their much-heralded
AntiSpyware application is now in public beta. Ignoring the
controversy about whether they'll charge for updates at some future date
(a more plausible business model than suing people for a living,
surely?) anything that helps keeps the great masses of non-technical
Internet users from becoming unwitting sources of spam and malware can
only be good!
Finally - I missed this story before christmas, what
with one thing and another, but the New York Times
published a comprehensive article on
Penny Arcade, my favourite
There are ten million stories
in the naked city.
But no-one can remember
which one is theirs.
Anderson, City Song.
The worst of my 'flu bug is over, now, and I slogged
through a day of packing and moving at the office without keeling over
more than a couple of times... But I had no idea that I'd collected so
many papers and gadgets and cables and CDs and things and stuff
over the years until it came time to sort it all out and pack it into
However, I got home to discover that the
V3 update for my Navman in-car
navigation gizmo had arrived, and spent an entertaining hour upgrading
firmware, applications, maps, and speed camera databases. The management
software that runs on the PC is rather an eccentric creature, tending to
crash at least once during a set of updates, and Navman's obsession with
online product activation (involving at least two long serial numbers and
a whole bunch of DRM-like license key synchronisation) doesn't help. The
justification for the latter is rather mysterious, actually, as the
software can only be used on their own dedicated hardware and the risk of
piracy would seem to be minimal - so the only real result, as usual with
over-restrictive licensing mechanisms, is that honest users are forced
into a whole bunch of annoying fiddling and fussing...
Once all that was out of the way, though, as expected
the V3 software seems to be another worthwhile upgrade. It provides
topographical map views, a new mini-map plus turn directions
display mode, increased flexibility in setting the routing preferences, an
improved time-to-first-fix, and support for customisable Points Of
Interest sets such as the
speed camera database
provided by the excellent Pocket GPS
World web site.
There are full details of the new features in their
review of Navman's other V3 devices, such as the
iCN650 - but note
that the current equivalent to my 630, the recently announced 635, differs
only in the addition of an IR remote control and the V3 software
pre-installed... If you can live without the remote control, the cost of
the older 630 plus the upgrade is noticeably less than the cost of the
current model, and if you can find one as remaindered stock they currently
represent excellent value for money.
I'm coming to the conclusion that 'flu is like
seasickness, in that even if you're not likely to die from it, you
certainly wish that you would... I've spent the last three days running
through the entire range of annoying and uncomfortable symptoms (today's
main feature being a sore throat that has turned my voice into a
creditable impression of Charles Bronson) and so have had to stay at home
under a blanket in spite of the million and one things that I ought to be
doing in the office. With my whole department moving to a different floor
at the weekend, this is not a good time to be ill - if I'm still
not up to going in tomorrow, I'm likely to find myself working in a
cubicle on the roof next week!
To distract myself, then, a few more links...
No one knows which
diets work best - with the exception of the classic Weight Watchers
calorie counting, a summary of more than 1,500 diet studies has failed to
draw any significantly positive conclusions. Food for thought,
cunning disguise for your laptop - to avoid the risk of having a
laptop snatched while travelling, this carrying case looks like a pizza
box. In fact, it is a pizza box, with only the addition of a bit of
foam and a couple of straps to justify the £12.99 cost. [On closer
examination it seems to be a hoax product, but that didn't prevent a
very long thread at
before anyone noticed...]
"Spam King" ordered to cease and desist - in advance of his trial, the
FTC has instructed arch-spammer Sanford Wallace to stop infecting
computers with spyware and advertising trojans in order to sell useless
anti-spyware software. About time, if you ask me...
vs. Phantom, a win! - The long-running lawsuit between geek site [H]ard|OCP
and alleged-console manufacturer Infinium Labs has ended, with Infinium
withdrawing all their objections (in a remarkably badly-spelled
document!) to the
article that prompted the suit, and calling it a day. As Kyle Bennett
points out, though, there is still the little matter of the $200,000 he
spent on legal fees, and hopefully he will be able to recover at least a
proportion of this
Sims 2 hacks spread like viruses - unfortunately the features
that make it easy to exchange Sims objects and entire houses
between players allow any hacks and mods to propagate with them, whether
the destination user wanted them or not. At the moment it's just an
annoyance, but it seems likely that sooner or later some genuine malware
will be released in the same way, and by that stage users will be lucky if
the game is the only subsystem affected...
I gave up on the office at lunchtime and came home, as
I was spending more time blowing my nose than working. Damn, I hate having
a cold! Just a few odd links, then - and think yourself lucky you're
getting that much! <grumble> <mutter>
A free science fiction calendar - courtesy of The Website at the
End of the Universe, the images are from the classic Ace Doubles
And talking of classic SF -
a movie of The
Call Of Chtulhu. Filmed in black and white for that authentic
period spookiness, it sounds wonderful. The trailer is online now...
And talking of classic stories in general,
The Sherlock Holmes
Society has made available as MP3s hundreds of radio broadcasts -
although after a link in the increasingly popular
Boing Boing weblog, it looks as
if the entire
downloads section of their website is currently offline!
And finally, something lewd...
knitting 'blog Yarnivore, body parts. I just love the knitted uterus,
complete with ovaries and fallopian tubes. It looks so cuddly! :-)
Last month I
mentioned the complete failure of iBIZ to bring their virtual keyboard
to market, and did indeed nominate them for Wired's
2004 Vaporware awards. It looks as if they've badly missed the boat
now, though, with an
extremely similar product just announced by
manufacturer. The review is not altogether favourable, but just
as with the pre-release versions of the iBIZ hardware most testers seem to
feel that the basic concept is sound, if only applicable to certain niche
uses. As an occasional user of both the 1st and 2nd generation of Palm's
decidedly non-virtual offering, I'd certainly be interested in
fondling one myself to see if I agree.
Meanwhile, I'm down with some kind of unpleasant
flu/cold symptoms (just in time to go back to work tomorrow, dammit!) so
here's another handful of random links:
DRM flaw allows RIAA to attack PCs - the recording industry's lapdog,
Overpeer, is concealing malware in Windows media files in the hope
of causing difficulties for file-sharers.
home page of Bryan Berg, world record-holding stacker of playing
cards... And comments about hands and too much time notwithstanding,
they're certainly remarkable structures.
Boing Boing on laser attacks - airline pilots are increasingly
complaining that they are being targeted from the ground by hand-held
lasers, and one manufacturer has pulled out of the market in response. [Update
4th January: A New Jersey man
has just been charged following two such incidents.]
[Update 6th January: The pundits are now calling the allegations
into question, though. Interesting...]
Asimo robot upgraded - now it can walk faster, and run at up to
3km/h. It's extremely impressive, although its gait is still somewhat...
- high altitude kites designed to generate electricity by harnessing the
steady winds found at 10,000m. As a some-time kite enthusiast, I have to
admit that I'm dubious about the practicality...
Underground shops for spares on eBay - some hardware is so old that
replacement components are only available from collectors! Eek!
People vs. Technology - At the University of Maryland, Kent Norman is
studying the far end of the curve when it comes to man-machine
interaction. "I once shot a computer with a .50 cal BMG sniper rifle".
Preshrunk - a
brand new weblog for neat T-shirts, and given my fondness for geek slogans
this is definitely one I will be keeping an eye on.
essentials - a wide range of indispensable gadgets, formed from
stainless steel in the size of a credit card: bookmark, bottle opener,
comb, ice scraper, emergency cufflinks. Clever stuff.
Unlock your car by knocking - responding to a twelve digit code number
tapped on the windows or body panels, this gadget does actually sound like
rather a clever idea for emergencies.
What's really wrong with Gollum? - courtesy of the British Medical
Journal, we now have an official diagnosis of dietary deficiencies
combined with schizoid personality disorder. :-)
You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store
Merle Travis -
Ahhh, another year. Still, at least it's been a good
year so far, for which I'm grateful... A number of my friends seem to have
been poorly to one degree or another, unfortunately, so best wishes to
them all -especially
Richard, whose pancreas seems to have turned on him and attacked him
from within, giving rise to a thoroughly miserable christmas holiday for
all concerned. Get well soon, dude!
Thanks to the increasing availability of Pioneer's
DRM-5004X CD library on the second-hand market, my
page of resources often
generates enquiries from fellow owners asking for advice or offering tips,
and before christmas one enthusiast started
his own Sourceforge project
to write a suite of control software. The site is a little sparse at the
moment, but his ideas seem thoroughly plausible and the project will
definitely be worth keeping an eye on in the next few months.
Corporate PCs are "riddled with spyware", according to a survey
carried out by anti-spyware vendor Webroot. Most of the items found were
harmless cookies, but around five per cent of the PCs scanned had some
kind of Trojan horse programs relaying information to third parties.
Malware is a growing problem for home users as well, of
course, and given that this the time of the year when techies are likely
to be visiting friends and family, The Register has
advice on how to educate them about the hordes of digital nasties that
are laying siege to their computers.
As if to illustrate their point,
Trojan has emerged to threaten Windows XP systems, including those
with SP2 installed. The vulnerability it exploits dates back to October,
but although Microsoft are currently working on a patch nothing has yet
is distributed via the web as an HTML file, and at present the only
defence is up-to-date anti-virus software.
another worm is attempting to thwart the
Santy worm that attacks sites running PHP Bulletin Borad
software. It searches Google for sites using the software, infects them,
and attempts to install a patch to make them more secure. It's a laudable
aim, I suppose, but the worm is unwelcome all the same - any
software that makes unauthorised changes to a system is inherently bad,
whatever the intentions of the creator.
And talking of unacceptable computer use, another
article at The Register suggests that the stiff penalties being
handed out to large-scale spammers
are actually out of all proportion to the real severity of the
offences themselves. I rather think they have a point, too, as the recent
nine year prison sentence handed out to spammer Jeremy Jaynes
significantly exceeded typical sentences for crimes like sexual assault
and armed robbery... It's something to mull over, certainly.
Meanwhile, conclusive proof that I don't have to write
anything here to keep the traffic coming... What with the house move and
christmas, Epicycle was offline for a significant portion of December
- and yet the stats show a slight rise over November's figures all the same.
Well, tough! I'm going to go on 'blogging whether you like it or not, so
Given that, it would seem wise to vote for the site at
Top 50 before I'm forced to devise an entirely new set of threats for
2005 - and I have a vivid imagination, so be warned...