I have to eat humble pie, tonight, after I've finished
picking up the top of Mike's head and reattaching it...
He evidently did a little more checking around at the Board Game Geek
site, and did indeed find my
already documented there... I'm certainly not going to be able to find
anything more obscure than that one, now, so I shall have to admit defeat
and acknowledge that the site is indeed most remarkably comprehensive and
voluminous, and that I am unworthy even to re-index its databases.
Meanwhile, Koolance finally have released their
PC3-736 water-cooled case, and as expected it's a real monster. Based
on the full-height Lian Li PCV-2000, it has space for six 5¼" drives,
twelve internal 3½" hard disks, and a motherboard about the size of
Kansas. Now that I'm looking at pictures of it, though, I'm actually
starting to wonder whether I really need a chassis that large, but
as I'm being quoted a lead time of several months from the UK distributors
and shipping direct from Koolance in the US would cost in the order of
$300, I have plenty of time to make up my mind...
non-dictionary words - I was especially fond of "cognitive
displaysia", an ailment from which I suffer terribly every time I go
away for a few days holiday.
Deep Throat steps forward - ex-FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt claims
to be the legendary source who leaked details of the Watergate scandal,
but this has not yet been confirmed by Woodward himself.
[Update - yep, looks like it's official - the Washington Post has
published the story, too]
Spamming the wrong people - New York law firm Ziegler, Ziegler &
Associates took exception to having their email system clogged with junk,
and decided to... uh... take the law into their own hands.
The LiveCD List - a marvellous catalogue of bootable CD images, mostly
Linuxes of one flavour or another, for performing some useful specialist
function - firewalls, data recovery, security auditing...
starting to turn - elements of the French legal system are starting to
raise objections to the draconian and excessive sentences that the media
industry is demanding for small-scale file sharers.
The Science Of
Consistency - an interesting article on the demand for continuity
within science fiction movie plot lines, and a tantalising hint that the
mystery of the Klingon forehead may yet be revealed...
boundaries - Bathsheba Grossman is "an artist who explores the
region between art and mathematics", apparently, and although pricey
her work is certainly appealing and unusual.
Thinking the unthinkable - at Boing Boing, a long article on the
advisability and technique of cleaning your computer keyboard by putting
it in a household dishwasher. I remain unconvinced, myself.
Ball Contraption - a collaborative effort to link up many discrete
Lego-powered ball machines, each built to a standard specification so that
they can interface with each other. Neat!
I've just finished re-reading
Piers Anthony's "Bio Of A Space
Tyrant" series, and it certainly is an extremely unusual set of novels,
being half a science fiction story and half a recipe for solving the various
problems of the real world in the 20th century. In what must surely be a
unique literary device the population of Earth has spread throughout the
solar system without intermingling at all, so that every country is
represented by a planet or moon which shares the original language, culture
and even geography of its origin. Jupiter is the north and south
American continents, with its moons representing the Caribbean islands,
Saturn is Asia with the USSR in the northern hemisphere and China in the
southern, Uranus holds the various European countries, Mars is a Moslem
world containing the Middle Eastern nations, etc etc.
Where necessary for the plot, even individual states and
regions are exactly represented - "Sunshine" is a predominantly Hispanic
region at the southern edge of The United States Of North Jupiter, the route
via which most of the illegal drugs and many of the illegal immigrants pass
through into the country from South Jupiter, and has a serious problem with
organised crime... It doesn't take much imagination to recognise Florida,
even when it's just a group of bubble cities floating within the atmosphere
of a gas giant planet.
If this sounds to you like rather a forced, artificial
premise for a novel, you'd be right. I have to admit that, enjoyable as
these stories are, they are not Anthony's finest works - even by the
standards of an author who has based an entire series (the "Xanth"
fantasy novels, currently standing at around
thirty books!) on
teeth-gritting puns and word-plays. There is something vaguely compelling
about the sheer bare-faced effrontery of the idea, though, and it certainly
does make a change...
As a teenager the protagonist flees the Hispanic state of
"Halfcal", part of the moon Callisto and representing Haiti, and the first
of the five novels is his adventures as a refugee in Jupiter space -
experiencing callous indifference from the government of the planet, working
in poor conditions as a migrant labourer and eventually, out of desperation,
joining the Jupiter navy. The second book details his meteoric rise through
the ranks and his subsequent military campaign to wipe out various clans of
space pirates, the organised crime lords responsible for exploiting, raping
and murdering his friends and family during his time as a refugee.
In the third book he becomes a politician, and it is here
that Anthony's home-grown recipe for social and political reform really
begins to show. On Jupiter he cleans up the corrupt government, balances the
budget, rebuilds the greedy and inefficient industrial base, and solves
problems with drugs, crime, education, housing and poverty. Along the way
the author completely re-stages the cold war, including a Cuban missile
crisis when Saturn sends "planet buster" missiles to Jupiter's moon
Ganymede. Next the hero moves to Saturn, reforming the communists and
manoeuvring them into peaceful cooperation with the rest of the solar
system. In the fifth and final book he travels from planet to planet, ending
apartheid on Mercury (South Africa), solving the problems in the Middle East
(with iron-rich Mars as the Arab states and its moon Phobos as Israel), and
generally curing all ills and banishing all evils in order to unify the
solar system and so enable humanity to spread out of the solar system and
colonise the stars.
It's interesting to note that as part of this grand plan
each planet is assigned its own region of the galaxy, preserving the
complete segregation of society and culture that exists in the solar system
- so in spite of the drive towards peaceful coexistence and unification of
resources to which the hero is dedicated, presumably the author doesn't
actually believe that humanity is capable of homogenising to any significant
It's hard to recommend these stories, as by any
reasonable standards they're dreadful old pot boilers without any
significant merit - but, nevertheless, they have a certain something, and
the unusual literary device that Anthony employs is undeniably
interesting... You can pick up all five books second hand on eBay or
Amazon Marketplace for only a few pounds, and they're light enough reading
to provide a good few hours of thoroughly undemanding space opera. I say, go
My über-geek friend Mike has been
staying this weekend, and pointed me to a couple of classic geek web
sites. The first, the aptly-named
Board Game Geek, is clearly
the premier site for everything to do with (did you guess?) board games.
They have details, photographs, user reviews, discussion areas, and
various other resources for many thousands of games of all genres, and
really are an excellent example of how wonderfully thorough this kind of
special interest site can be. I used to be an enthusiast of board games
and wargames myself, back in the day, and Mike challenged me to find one
that the site didn't already feature. I tried a dozen that I thought might
be sufficiently obscure to have slipped under the radar, without any
success at all (rather the opposite, in fact, as many of them turned out
to be extremely well documented!) but fortunately I managed to find
one before Mike's smug grin became so broad that the top of his head fell
off - an obscure magazine game based on the Battle Of Arsouf in the 3rd
Crusade. He's now gone off to track down further details so that he can
submit it to the site's database. :-)
He also pointed me to
Parks Sabers, a manufacturer of
extremely impressive Star Wars light sabre replicas. They sell a dozen
different designs of handles, nicely turned from aluminium or stainless
steel and with assorted LEDs and controls to add detail, and the
detachable "blades" are electro-luminescent tubes of various colours
sealed inside a tough polycarbonate outer. They look marvellous, as indeed
they should considering that they cost upwards of $250, and although I'm
not tempted I have to admit that I am impressed.
It hasn't been a good week for US Government computing,
it seems... Firstly a university student at Georgia Tech
published a report on the role of poorly secured military systems in
spreading the Witty worm last year, next the Government Accountability
Office revealed that the Securities and Exchange Commission has
failed to implement adequate security and auditing procedures
internally, and finally federal auditors have released a scathing report
on the woeful state of the controversial Homeland Security Agency.
Apparently the agency has
failed to devise any plans for restoring the national data
infrastructure in the event of an emergency, and in fact is generally
unprepared for exactly the sort of crises that it was created to manage.
And talking of government IT disasters, the UK's
appalling ID card scheme, currently
being pimped around as a solution to the growing problem of identity
theft (how, when the majority of such fraud is committed via electronic
means where an ID card would be completely irrelevant?) might turn out to
be even more expensive than the already significant cost claimed by the
proposal's sponsors. Experts at the London School of Economics,
cited in The Observer, suggest that the true cost of implementation
could be more than £18 billion, triple the official figure and the
equivalent of £300 per UK adult. Support in Parliament is mixed, but the
UK public seems to be surprisingly fond of the idea - proving how poorly
they understand any of the civil liberties implications and technical
problems inherent with the scheme, and also how successfully the Labour
government has deceived them about the claimed benefits it would bring.
Still on the subject of unfortunate IT - the
latest version of the venerable Netscape browser was released earlier this
not been plain sailing. To begin with, the release version shipped
with a generous handful of security vulnerabilities (one of which had
already been identified and patched in the related Firefox release), and
more recently it emerged that installing Netscape 8 breaks Internet
Explorer's ability to render XML, killing RSS aggregators and similar
tools. AOL hasn't yet released a solution to the problem themselves, but
fortunately Microsoft has provided a workaround. However, this requires
that Netscape is uninstalled (you can imagine the laughter at Redmond!)
because of its habit of over-writing the registry key on question every
time it is run.
Playing with the new protocol -
projects are underway to develop custom
firmware for the popular Linksys WRT54G wireless/DSL router, enabling IPv6
functionality without sacrificing support for the conventional IPv4. The
long-awaited IPv6 is the great white hope of the next generation Internet,
and we're all going to have to come to grips with it sooner or later.
Acts - a fascinating new book explores how people react to an
environment that is not perfectly suited to them, the modern world, and
how they modify this environment (sometimes even subconsciously) where
possible. The web site introduces the book, and allows readers to add
their own contributions - of which there are already a significant number.
Icons of science - the US Postal Service has released a set of stamps
honouring four American scientists - thermodynamicist Josiah Willard
Gibbs, geneticist Barbara McClintock, mathematician John von Neumann and
my favourite physicist Richard Feynman.
Ah, the weekend at last - and thanks to the bank
holiday a long weekend at that. With one of my PFYs away on leave this
week (and next week, too, which is going to be even worse as I have a
generous scattering of annoying but important meetings to cope with as
well) I'm more than usually glad for the break.
Small, but surprisingly powerful - dual CPU, dual SLI video, four SATA
interfaces, and all the usual gubbins - somehow packed into a SFF PC
chassis. I can't help but wonder how hot it gets inside, though, with all
Ars.Technica, a useful discussion on building a CD of support
tools for working on a relative's computer while visiting - until a couple
of Mac bigots jumped in with their tired and formulaic "ditch the POS
Wincrap" invective. Sheesh.
enhancements to the BitTorrent P2P application have emerged recently,
including the controversial search and trackerless versions -the MPAA et
all must be foaming at the mouth over this, and it's
a bad time to
be baiting them, for sure...
Monitoring the undead - CipherTrust's new ZombieMeter is an
online map illustrating the number of new, unique zombie PCs detected
every hour around the world. As I write this, the UK has seen a total of
5573 in the last twenty four hours, representing 3% of the world's
Device drivers the new Trojan horse - both Windows and Linux systems
are at risk from buffer overflows and other vulnerabilities in 3rd party
device drivers, according to a new report. It never fails to amaze me how
poorly-written some device drivers actually are, so the news is hardly a
not rosy in Mac land, it seems, at least among readers of The
Register. The new Tiger version of the OS is receiving criticism from
a wide sector, citing an ever-restrictive interface, serious usability
issues with the Mail app, and of course the infamous VPN issue - to name
but a few!
controversial charge for photographing the spectacular "Bean"
sculpture in Chicago has been abandoned, after significant opposition from
many sources. The giant mirrored sculpture was donated to the publicly
funded Millennium Park by
SBC, but the park's management then decided to charge $350 dollars for
the rights to photograph it, claiming that they were obliged to protect
the artist's copyright. This is absurd for all sorts of reasons, of
course, and after wriggling frantically for a while the management company
has finally given in and withdrawn the fee for all but large-scale film
So, my little dance of domains and web servers is over,
now, and everything seems to have settled into place very nicely. My
previous domain host, Freeparking,
used an annoying masking technique which meant that a web browser just
showed the URL as epicycle.org.uk wherever one actually was in the
site. An equally annoying side effect was that I couldn't use paths to
particular pages along with the domain name, but instead had to use the
non-masked address of the web server itself, thus losing the Epicycle
"branding" and confusing search engines and online site management
utilities no end. Now, however, I can give out a URL such as
http://www.epicycle.org.uk/weblog.htm, which will redirect straight to
the current weblog page - much more elegant, and very convenient as well!
Unfortunately the migration process involved moving my
pages to a different virtual server within
Fasthosts's server farm, and so
none of the old links to my site are now valid. The native address of the
server itself will still work, domain816798.sites.fasthosts.com,
(although there's no need to use that now that the epicycle name works
properly) but the previous site address of domain385250 is
completely defunct, and that's going to wreck havoc with my beloved stats
until Google has crawled my new address.
Bizarrely, the URL that first hosted this site,
cix.co.uk/~dominict, is still active - if extremely outdated by now!
That address is at my old ISP Pipex (the
provider formerly known as Cix, Telenor, Nextra, and GX Networks), and
in spite of the fact that I severed all connections with the company back
in November 2004, they haven't actually got around to removing my pages
from their web server! Instead, they've spent most of this year chasing me
for money for a long-cancelled DSL connection, and although they're happy
to send out erroneous bills they seem incapable of actually reading and
understanding any of the multitude of letters, faxes and emails I've sent
them in reply. They really are the most incompetent and frustrating ISP I
have ever dealt with!
As I've had domain names so much on my mind of late, it
occurred to me yesterday to look around and see what the other variants of
the "epicycle" name are doing with themselves. Epicycle.com,
epicycle.uk.com, and epicycle.net are owned by three of the now
ubiquitous domain speculators, and are currently just standing idle.
Unusually, the majority of the other domains remain available - with the
exception of the epicycle.co.uk domain, which has been used for the
home page of a Chicago-based pop group of that name! Now, I have rather a
bee in my bonnet about flagrant misuse of top-level domain names, and this
example definitely ticks me off - acquiring a UK domain when you're firmly
based in the middle of the North American land mass is just plain
butt-headed, and is a sign of either someone with either a complete
disregard for netiquette or a complete lack of knowledge about the way the
Internet is supposed to work. Whichever, it's making me grit my teeth and
stifle an angry but probably completely pointless email...
Between the greed-heads and the idiot, though, It's
almost enough to provoke me into grabbing the epicycle.org domain
myself - either for my own future use or, at the very least, to keep it
away from people who would misuse it. Unlike the majority of potential
purchasers I would willingly release it to anyone with a reasonable use
for the name, and as it would only cost a few dollars a year it's
definitely tempting. I already own the chthon.org.uk domain, though
(which although currently unused is very handy for assorted nefarious
short-term projects) and, unlike assault rifles, there's a limit to the
number of domains I can really justify to myself. We shall see...
Administrative note - the
http://www.epicycle.org.uk domain name
has settled safe and snug into its new home at FastHosts, and although
there are some more tweaks I can do to make the fully qualified paths a
little more elegant the basic functionality is intact again. Bookmark
Meanwhile, the usual start-of-the-week links...
again - Dan has been unusually quiet, recently, so it's good to see
him back again with a new letters page. The advice on deleting locked
files from within Windows is especially interesting.
billboards in space - the US Federal Aviation Administration is
proposing regulations to ban giant advertising satellites in low earth
orbit - but they may have a sinister hidden agenda...
MS on multi-monitor support - flat panel monitors are getting better
and cheaper, and this makes multiple monitors an attractive proposition
even for those without huge desks and deep pockets.
iPod health warnings - following what seems to be the start of a
backlash against the little white bastards, The Register has been
running a contest for the best anti-iPod slogan.
Answers to creationist nonsense - a wonderful article at Scientific
American, listing the common arguments made against the theory of
evolution and the appropriate ways to refute them.
fraudsters ignore fines - although ICSTIS fined 16 premium-rate phone
operators a total of £1.3m for using illegal automated calling equipment,
they have yet to collect a single penny.
Internet telephony threatened - true to form the incumbent telcos are
acting to protect their monopoly by throwing obstacles into the path of
the IP phone services.
Writing on a hair - a team at Boston College has used a laser to
deposit a polymer onto a human hair, without affecting the hair itself.
The material they deposited formed the letters to spell out "H A I R".
Giant iceberg rampage continues - following the rather anti-climactic
collision with the Drygalski ice tongue in January, the 115 kilometre
B15-A iceberg is now menacing the Aviator Glacier.
Apple's true colours - via Wonkette, Steve Jobs' thoughts on the Apple
blogger case. Note to Steve: they weren't exactly "trade secrets",
now, were they - you launched the product itself three weeks later!
Administrative note - I've just
started the process of transferring the epicycle.org.uk domain name
between the original registrar and the provider that is now hosting the
site, as the first stage of a general re-vamp of my domain forwarding.
This is likely to take several days, of course, and may bring unexpected
side-effects - so if during the coming week you can't see this page at the
usual address, you'll know why. Normal service will be resumed at some
unspecified future date.
Meanwhile, back on the web...
exploit detection tool - Microsoft are developing a network of probes
to seek out rogue web sites that are using OS exploits to infect PCs with
malicious code, analyse the types of attack that are being used, and
report back so that the pages can be removed. The bizarrely-named "Strider
HoneyMonkey" uses a combination of technologies emerging from Microsoft's
Cybersecurity and Systems
Management Research Group, and although its early days the technology
certainly looks extremely promising.
phishing sites - meanwhile, some white-hat hackers are taking direct
action themselves, breaking into rogue web sites and not only identifying
the pages as scams but also removing any dangerous active components. Web
monitoring firm Netcraft says that it has found evidence of two such "attacks"
in recent weeks, one against a site posing as paypal.com and the other
that was imitating the NatWest bank. The practice is a touch dubious
legally, of course, but I say more power to them!
Spooky robotic cat - Mark at Boing Boing disapproves of robots
that are that little bit too lifelike, and having watched the video
of this robotic cat I rather agree with him. It's not that it's 100%
convincing, as it isn't, but that actually makes the aspects of feline
behaviour that they have modelled perfectly look even more
disconcerting. The way that it rears it's head back when the girl moves to
stroke it, for example, or the way the ears twitch and the eyes narrow, is
CPU board - found by accident on eBay a few years ago, this circuit
board from a 1992 Amdahl 470-series mainframe is a marvellous example of
the state of the art at the time - the front of the PCB has an array of 42
air-cooled CPUs, neatly laser-bonded to the substrate and each with their
own little heatsink... The back of the board, on the other hand, is a mass
of hand-wired connections, probably to rectify errors in the design of the
multi-layer PCB itself, and although this may indicate that the board was
an engineering sample many mainframe systems looked like this even in
game docs - replacementdocs is an archive of downloadable
instruction manuals for computer games, currently providing several
thousand manuals across a couple of dozen platforms and with more being
added all the time. Unusually for this sort of site, it has the full
approval of many of the original manufacturers - and some, such as Atari,
are actually linking to the site from their own tech support pages. It's
neat - I've just found the quick reference card for the old Gunship!
helicopter sim, which I lost track of several years ago and without which
the game is completely opaque to me!
Dissing Infinium again - following the complete absence of the
controversial Phantom console at the E3 technology expo, and the recent
filing of an extremely depressing financial statement with the Securities
and Exchange Commission, it seems increasingly doubtful whether Infinium
will actually be able continue as a company at all, let alone whether they
will ever bring their long-delayed console to market. So,
no surprises there, then...?
recalls batteries - Apple have issued a recall for some Powerbook and
iBook batteries, following the identification of a risk of overheating and
fire. Apple are no stranger to battery problems (remember the PowerBook
5300-cum-hibaci barbeque?), and for that matter neither are a number of
other manufacturers - it's a symptom of trying to pack an ever-increasing
capacity into an ever-decreasing form factor, and the Lithium Ion
chemistry currently in vogue really isn't very friendly.
Regular readers of Epicycle may remember that I
still harbour a covert love of
eighties heavy rock music, and when I noticed adverts for a new DVD by
veteran Aussie rockers AC/DC, Family Jewels, it was pretty much a
foregone conclusion. I went to Amazon first, as usual, and as their price
seemed good for a double DVD I went ahead with the purchase - this is
fairly routine by now, and I wasn't really paying attention until a
message suddenly popped up a telling me that thanks to some EU loophole I
could have it delivered from Amazon's Jersey division and so save a whole
bunch on tax... I can't quite remember the details, and apparently I can't
make it happen again without buying a second DVD, but whatever the
rationale I was delighted to pay a mere £10.89 including shipping. Talk
about a bargain!
I've listened to a lot
of AC/DC over the years, especially the earlier songs, but they've
never really been a group that has spent much time on video and so the
forty tracks on this pair of DVDs have been something of a revelation to
The first disc is the classic era that I grew up with,
from their earliest appearance on Australian TV in the seventies to a
recording of Highway To Hell made only ten days before the untimely
death of founding singer Bon Scott in 1980. The other features the band's
second life with Geordie front-man Brian Johnson, starting with the
definitive Hell's Bells and ending with videos from their 1990
album The Razor's Edge - their 14th release in as many years.
The opening track, way back in 1975, is certainly the
most unusual - a cover of blues standard Baby Please Don't Go,
featuring not only guitar diva Angus Young in the schoolboy outfit that
became his trademark, but also singer Bon Scott as a bizarrely twisted
schoolgirl - blonde Heidi wig, heavy makeup, and school pinafore. Perhaps
fortunately, Scott apparently didn't consider the gimmick worth
persevering with, but somehow Angus's shorts and school cap became an
accepted part of the heavy rock mythos - an unlikely phenomena, with
hindsight, but definitely a favourite with the fans.
I have to say that the majority of the remaining tracks
are pretty much formula - the band have always been extremely accomplished
rock musicians, they obviously love what they do, and they've just never
felt the need to branch out into anything more adventurous. That really
doesn't matter, though - their music is easily among the best of it's
genre, and if you happen to like that genre you're going to like a whole
bunch of it even more. Buy this DVD, turn the volume up, and then dust off
your air guitar - Angus' Young's clear, elegant and yet stunningly
powerful riffs are thoroughly infectious, and you're going to need it!
I am really looking forward to the end of the
week... I've been up to my elbows in SNA printing problems, and after that
sort of work I always feel a little dirty. Unfortunately it looks
as if, having managed to avoid any intimate acquaintance with the
company's out-sourced IBM mainframe for over six years, I'm now going to
be forced to cosy up to it only a year or so before it is due to be
retired and replaced with a SAP/Siebel system running in-house on my
Wintel servers. Ah, well, there goes both my street cred and my dignity.
There's still time for some quick links, though, before
I have to go and wash my hands again...
competition to wire the Tube - with sixty companies bidding for the
contract to wire the London Underground for cell phone use, there's
obviously a lot of money involved - and that's no good thing.
corporate bullying - Stelios Haji-Ioannou has threatened legal action
against a small Welsh cell phone company who have been in the business for
several years longer than his new EasyMobile.
settles whistleblower suit - they've paid off the vice president who
exposed the alleged scam over billing for government training with $8
million, but are still professing their complete innocence....
Commodore Teapot - these inspired lunatics ripped the guts out of an
old Commodore PET and installed a spinning, illuminated wire teapot of
the sort beloved by
James Blinn and
Alvy Ray Smith.
Linux - and talking of lunacy, a team at the University of Essex is
building helicopters piloted by ultra-compact embedded systems that
communicate with each other via Bluetooth.
hardware - villagers living near the Plesetsk Space Center in northern
Russia are making ends meet by recycling debris from forty years of
launches, in spite of the serious health risks.
Cracking laptop locks - there was something of a fuss about security
products from Kensington and others, last autumn, and this video
demonstrating the technique is sure to stir up the market again.
PS3 specs - hot on the heels of the semi-launch of the XBox 360 comes
the PlayStation 3 and, unlike Microsoft, Sony have committed to
backwards-compatibility with both their previous consoles!
skin - bristling with infra red sensors to detect physical contact, a
new material developed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre could be used
in the next generation of robotic probes.
C - a set of photos of a German street try to give an impression of
how it would look to drive through the town at the speed of light. One
would need excellent brakes, of course...
McDonald - the veteran singer-songwriter's web site is full of
fascinating history, new music, anti-war protest (you choose the war!) and
a whole bunch of other stuff. Recommended.
Bad keyboard food - courtesy of ZDNet Australia, a guide to the worst
food to eat over your keyboard. Jelly is especially bad, it seems, but I
have to say that I don't usually it it near a computer...
It would be reasonable to suggest that I may have
overdone things a little with my home network. Even hardcore geeks don't
usually find that they need a rack of DLT tapes storing 1.5Tb in an eight
week backup cycle - and that's just for
the server, as I have a separate
VXA tape library for my desktop PC... In my defence, all I can say is
that I've been working with enterprise-level networks for so long that I
genuinely don't remember any other way of doing it. All data must be held
on redundant drives, all data must be backed up regularly, all systems
must be protected by a UPS - anything else is just plain wrong.
A colleague brought in his home PC for some emergency
repairs, yesterday, and I became quite uncomfortable when I realised that
it had two 160Gb hard disks that weren't mirrored to each other.
The idea of all that data at the mercy of a manufacturer's designed-in
statistics is far too scary to contemplate with equanimity, and I had
to bite my tongue when I found myself on the point of lecturing him on
data security - he's actually been in IT rather longer than I have, and
certainly knows what's what, but even the more technical users just don't
think about these things the way a
veteran sysadmin does.
It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.
It's that start-of-the-week ennui, again, so just some
Hot hardware - At the redesigned Bit-Tech, a discussion on the
innards of the new Xbox 360 - and the specs are actually rather
impressive. Three 3.2GHz PowerPC cores, for a start!
Slimmed-down Windows - designed for corporates that need to stretch
older PC hardware for a little longer, Eiger will run on a Pentium
II with 128Mb RAM, updating systems currently running Win 9x.
security suite - One Care, comprising anti-virus, anti-spyware
and a firewall, will be aimed at home users and licensed by subscription
The Register has some worthwhile comment.
conditioned case - not exactly a Prometeia or a Vapochill, but
Nextherm's ICS 8200 features a Peltier with its cool side towards an inlet
fan, and is certainly an interesting budget idea.
Collaborative anti-spam - desktop spam filtering software around the
world should exchange information on junk messages currently in
circulation, increasing the success rate for everyone.
Test your own code - a new product can check source code against a
database of 38 million open source files, to make sure that nothing has
sneaked in that might violate the terms of the GPL.
Who e-books - courtesy of the BBC, eight freely downloadable stories
from across the canon, complete with new illustrations. Annoyingly,
though, they only seem to be in single chapter files!
Space-age ant farm - "as used on a 2003 NASA space shuttle
experiment", according to manufacturer Scientifics, Antworks is a blue
gel in a neat Perspex container - ants not included!
tiny squirt - just to prove that not all solar events are on a
cataclysmic scale, the smallest coronal mass ejection yet observed has
emerged from an area a mere 10,000 miles across.
PowerBook - this see-through image of Apple's finest is fascinating,
clearing showing all the fiddly details - the CPU cooler's heat pipe, the
bearings on the hard disk spindle, and all the little pins on the circuit
board and ICs. Marvellous stuff - but probably best not to be tried at
I am not fond of working inside laptops, and especially
not this particular one... I bought it on eBay earlier this year, and it
serves as an excellent reminder that the emptor should definitely
caveat. Although it was advertised as a Latitude C840, in fact the
motherboard is from an Inspiron 8200 - a fact of which I'm sure the vendor
was aware, as he specialises in Dell laptop components and presumably
built it himself from odd spares! The Inspiron range is slightly less
feature-rich than the Latitude equivalents, and although the two boards
are extremely similar there are some
differences. To make matters worse, whoever created this particular
Frankenstein's Notebook cut a few corners on the way - a number of screws
are missing from both the internals and the casing, and it's taken me a
while to tweak and tease everything back into what I consider to be an
acceptable state. This particular foray onto the black depths was to add a
screw to the orange bracket supporting the video cable, successfully
resolving an annoying screen flicker when the lid was opened or closed
slightly, and as I took the opportunity to double-check the rest of its
innards while I was in there hopefully that will suffice for a while. As
it happens, this time I found it very hard to decide between buying a
second-hand laptop as always before, or splashing out on a new Dell
Latitude D series - and after this experience I strongly suspect that the
next time the hardware is up for replacement I'll buy new instead.
haunt new XBox - although extensive details of Microsoft's upcoming
XBox 360 have now been released, one
huge question remains unanswered - will it be backwards-compatible with
games written for the original console? Amazingly, it seems that Microsoft
have not yet decided on this basic feature, which is raising a few
eyebrows around the industry given the lateness of the day. Speculation is
rife as to whether it's a licensing issue, or a marketing strategy, or
even that the three 3.2GHz PowerPC CPUs don't provide enough raw power to
emulate the original hardware's 733MHz Pentium III. Whatever the reason,
though, backwards-compatibility is likely to be a major factor in the
success of the new console, and they'd better make their minds up soon...
a disturbing reminder of the character of the government of Saudi
Arabia, a country with which both the UK and US have extensive financial
and political connections. Three prominent reform activists have just been
sentenced to between six and nine years in jail for what basically amounts
to disagreeing with the Saudi government, after circulating a petition
requesting constitutional reform. Their trials were carried out behind
closed doors despite earlier promises that they would be heard in public,
and in protest to this the men refused to submit a defence - a brave stand
indeed, but one that probably hasn't helped the severity of their
sentences. All three men are diabetic, and family members are anxious over
visible deteriorations in their state of health - Saudi jails are
for their appalling conditions and institutionalised brutality, and for
middle aged academics a prison sentence that long can effectively amount
to a death sentence... Their arrest last year drew rare public criticism
from the US government, but since then little if anything has been said -
when a country has that much oil and influence, allegedly humanitarian
Western governments become strangely muted.
In December 1959, physics diva Richard Feynman, one of
proponents of what is now called nanotechnology, offered a $1000 prize
for the first working electric motor no larger than 1/64th of an inch
across. He said at the time that he didn't think he'd have long to wait
before awarding the prize, and sure enough, less than a year later, a man
wandered into his office at Caltech carrying a large wooden box. Feynman
groaned to himself - he'd already suffered through a number of approaches
from would-be entrants who had misunderstood the challenge, bringing him
small but conventional motors many orders of magnitude larger than he had
envisioned, and this seemed to be yet another waste of his time. This
offering was very different, though - the man opened the box and pulled
out a powerful microscope, and Feynman grinned wryly as he realised
realised that he was probably about to reach for his chequebook.
Sure enough, the motor, one of ten made by engineer
McLellan, was even smaller than Feynman had specified. The wires of
the coil were made by patiently rolling the thinnest wire commercially
available between two glass slides, reducing its diameter to just 1/80th
of a millimetre - a trick McLellan borrowed from watchmakers - and the
thirteen separate components were painstakingly assembled using toothpicks
and the tips of the finest paintbrushes. Actually, Feynman admitted that
he was disappointed by this approach, as he had been hoping to inspire a
completely new technology, but he paid up willingly and added the tale to
his ever-growing store of anecdotes. None of the motors survive, today -
one was actually crushed by a BBC television crew attempting to film it,
and the final one, still on display near Feynman's office in Caltech,
burned out in 1991 having survived over thirty years of attention from
Four decades after Feynman inspired McLellan, some of
the challenges he threw down in his legendary talk "There's Plenty Of
Room At The Bottom" have been surpassed many times over. The huge
technical advances in micro-miniaturisation that have been developed for
the computer industry have ended up with researchers routinely showcasing
their work by spelling out words
atoms, and highly-convincing simulations illustrate far more complex
and sophisticated ideas. Nanotechnology is now a multi-billion dollar
research sector, and although little of genuine value has yet been brought
to market, the science media is full of
components that seem tantalisingly close to being brought together
into actual, working products. It
may take a good few years yet, but nanotech is undoubtedly going to change
the 21st century in just the same way that computers changed the 20th -
and I'm waiting with
bated breath to
see it happen.
[Heh - while I was looking for nanotech links for
the last paragraph, I came across
work by my friend Vik Olliver. I lost touch with Vik when he emigrated
from England to New Zealand a few years ago, and have often wondered what
he's doing with himself. I guess now I know!]
Crying wolf - a paper released today at a Canadian security conference
brings news of a possible flaw in the HyperThreading technology used in
Intel's high-end processors, such that a rogue process running on one
virtual CPU may be able to eavesdrop on security keys being calculated on
a long thread at Slashdot suggests that a) the guy is a
bit of a loon, and probably angling for a job in IT security, and b)
the flaw, if indeed it does exist, is so incredibly theoretical and
ineffective that it's really not worth losing sleep over. I certainly
won't be - when some of my users can barely enter their IDs correctly at a
login prompt, that sort of risk is the least of my worries...
Stupidity is its own reward - a Melbourne teen's iPod was accidentally
put through the washing machine, and so he decided to open it up to repair
it... At which point it exploded (rather gently, admittedly - there really
isn't much oomph in a battery that thin, even if it is lithium-ion
chemistry), ending up with him being treated by paramedics for inhalation
of fumes. Excuse me while I cram my fist into my mouth to stifle the
Exotic weaponry - the DREAD gun is a new design based on a rapidly
spinning centrifuge that releases ball bearings at speeds of up to 300
metres per second, equivalent to a handgun. The rotary action would be
quiet and reliable, and allows an unprecedented density of fire -
with a mere 8.5mm between each round, the mass delivered to the target in
any given period of time is extremely high. Full details in an article at
Scientist, and further background (with video!) at a pair of
Son of Broadcast Flag - I certainly didn't think that we'd seen the
last of the Broadcast Flag, but I have to admit that I didn't expect it to
be resurfacing this soon. The MPAA has already started schmoozing around
Capitol Hill, looking for a Congressman willing to sponsor what is
apparently an even more draconian, wide-reaching version of the
FCC's proposals, recently overturned by the Court Of Appeals. The new
draft not only re-states the original intention of restricting the
re-broadcasting of digital media, but also seek to control "all devices
capable of performing an analogue-to-digital conversion". This is
scary stuff indeed, and technically extremely implausible, but the smart
money doesn't rate the MPAA's chances very highly - political support for
the media lobby is waning, it seems, as in spite of extensive lobbying not
one Hollywood-backed law has been passed in the last eighteen months.
Tasteless tech - a water cooling block inspired by a V6 engine. It's
interesting, I guess, and the blue LEDs built into the "cylinders"
are a neat idea, but... no, I don't think I'll be choosing a pair of those
for the next version of Infinity. I'm still waiting for Koolance to launch
PC-V2000 based version of their second generation
integrated chassis, and then it will be time to learn plumbing.
It's that link again.
paradise - Google's new accelerator has been withdrawn only a few days
after the launch, with the company citing inadequate capacity on it's
servers. The widespread stories of serious security issues caused by
caching credentials are probably nearer the mark, however...
that the living outnumber the dead" - a new report reveals that the UK
currently has more cell phones than people, which won't come as a surprise
to anyone who has seen the Motorola graveyard in the bottom drawer of my
desk. 3G phones are still a pointless waste of silicon, though, it
over the fine print - the RealID act that has just been passed in the
US has all sorts of bizarre and disturbing clauses, it seems, and Hannibal
at Ars.Technica has been trying to make sense of the ramifications.
Even the staunchly-Republican NRA zealots aren't going to like some of
them, he thinks.
Deserting the cause - Apple are considering scrapping the open source
model for their Safari web browser, and moving to a new proprietary code
base in order to "resolve compatibility conflicts". The announcement is
ruffling feathers, of course, and it has to be said that they were fairly
of open source - a new survey has brought some unexpected responses,
with surprisingly low numbers citing lower cost or better security as a
key benefit of the open source ethos, and 14% claiming that they saw no
actual advantage over proprietary software. Is the honeymoon ending?
Sober reveals AV flaws - the latest version of the Sober virus
prevents antivirus software from opening its files on disk, it seems,
which is a problem if the scanner is unable to scan for and terminate
malware in memory. I'm amazed that any AV software doesn't have such a
fundamental ability, though!
I've just paid out a surprisingly small amount of money
for a 1Gb SD memory card for my Palm, and in order to prove that hope
springs eternal I stuffed it into my
USB card reader to see what happened. The reader is a nice little
piece of hardware (it's black, which is a damn good start), but I've never
had any luck with the larger capacity memory cards that are now
increasingly common - it's happy enough with the 128Mb MMC I use in the
Navman, and the 256Mb CF in the camera, but the 512Mb SD cards I used to
use in the Palm don't even seem to register as being present. I've emailed
the manufacturer a few times, and painstakingly deciphered their bizarre
flavour of English to update both drivers and firmware, but even some
serious hacking about with INF files has brought no success at all.
I was surprised, therefore, when not only did it read
the new 1Gb card perfectly, but also the 512Mb cards that had proved so
problematic before. I'd pretty much given up on the whole thing back in
the autumn, so I have absolutely no idea why or when it suddenly started
working again (and if it stops working tomorrow I still won't be any the
wiser) but I'm quite happy to make the most of it while it lasts - a
gigabyte of MP3s and Audible audiobooks took only a few minutes to copy
over, rather than the half hour or more that it would have required via
the Palm's hotsync. Neat!
DIY graph paper
- PDFs of graph paper, including some fairly exotic varieties: asymmetric,
iso-dots, hexagonal and Celtic knot. No polar coordinate or logarithmic,
though, I notice...
Real ID Act passed - more stealth legislation, sneaked through as part
of an $82 billion spending bill authorising funds for the Iraq war and
tsunami relief. As the saying has it, "no good will come of this"...
- at the excellent Cool Tools blog, a hand-held twenty questions
game based on a neural net that has been learning to play for seventeen
years! It looks extremely cool...
- a stripped down PC running quite happily immersed in an aquarium full of
vegetable oil. As so often with these things, it was done for a bet...
Boing Boing for the pointer.
The shape of gaming to come? - Some stunning images created by
superimposing rendered objects from the Half Life 2 game onto real world
scenes. Extremely impressive work.
decorations at Ring Of Fire Enterprises - I'm especially fond
of the Darwin fishes, based on a certain well-known religious emblem.
New technology at AnandTech -
hardware is starting to ship, with performance boosted by
acceleration, and Samsung are releasing
drives with flash memory cache onboard.
- Michael Dell has personally invested $100 million in debentures from
Linux firm Red Hat - but the value of the company's shares has fallen by
almost 45% in the year since the purchase.
Pots and kettles - ex-RIAA bigwig Hilary Rosen is up in arms about the
iPod's embedded DRM, but amazingly she seems quite happy about the idea of
"geeks" bypassing the protection!
Innovative - Bram Stoker's classic Dracula, reworked as a
weblog with posts made on the same dates as those in the journal of
Jonathan Harker that forms the novel. A very clever idea...
Consolidation - Adobe is to acquire Macromedia in an all-stock
transaction valued at around $3.4 billion, leaving just three of the
dozens of graphics companies that existed twenty years ago.
Over-reaction? - all 900,000 subscribers of UK ISP Telewest have been
blacklisted by the SPEWS anti-spam service due to the huge number of PCs
that have been compromised by spammers.
- GameSpot has an excellent summary of everything known or suspected about
the forthcoming next-gen consoles - Microsoft's Xbox 360, the Playstation
3, and Nintendo's Revolution.
User's of Pinnacle's
ShowCenter media bridge are a frustrated bunch, on the whole, and not
without good reason. The extensive griping on the support forums suggests
that my own experiences are fairly typical, but I've persevered through
the appalling early software releases, the useless wireless networking in
the first revision, the annoyance of sending it back to Germany several
times for "reworking" (for a fee, of course!) and finally a handful of
broken solder joints that I ended up fixing myself. All in all, I was not
As it stands the hardware itself finally seems to be
working correctly, but it has to be said that the software still leaves
something to be desired. Fortunately, other people have noted its
shortcomings too, and some of them are software developers. Something I've
just stumbled upon is the
ShowCenter Plus Pack, and this adds a few interesting new facilities,
but although Pinnacle's software looks quite slick and polished these days
it still isn't very feature rich.
Recently I've been testing the open source
apart from being linguistically rather too German for ease of use,
is superior in almost every way to Pinnacle's own offering, and probably
the best alternative if you're disappointed with the bundled application.
Other 3rd party servers are
Open Showcenter and
SwissCenter (although I've yet to look extensively at either of those)
and Neuston's Media Center is also fully compatible, as their
appliance uses the same Sigma Design REALmagic CPU (if you can call it
that!) as the ShowCenter itself.
It's well worth exploring some of the alternatives,
especially considering that Oxyl~Box can apparently co-exist quite happily
on the same server system as the original ShowCenter software. Current
versions will even perform the firmware upgrade and configuration tasks
that until now have been unique to the original app, and given how little
one has to lose by switching I'd strongly recommend doing just that.
Salami Drop - a Newark deli is trying to help the troops, but doesn't
the concept of shipping two tons of decidedly unclean food into an Islamic
country seem to be a little bit... tactless?
dangers of MP3 - another article on the risks to hearing associated
with personal MP3 players, although I remember this going back to the
eighties when the Sony Walkman first became popular!
Firefox exploit demonstrated - two flaws in the open source Firefox
browser can be combined to render the host PC vulnerable, according to
Secunia, who have rated the risk "extremely critical".
Safari browser compromised - a proof of concept virus attacks the
newly released Tiger OS, and it seems likely that genuine malware will
follow soon. A bad day for the anti-Microsoft camp...
Personal supercomputer - the Orion Multisystems DC-96 contains 96
interconnected 1.2 GHz processors, giving an impressive peak capacity of
230 gigaflops from the fridge-sized unit.
Fooled by hype - protestors are complaining about the "Nano-Tex"
coating used in clothing from Eddie Bauer, in spite of the fact that the
brand name owes far more to marketing than to science!
Armament resource - everything you ever wanted to know about the KAC
Modular Weapons System, with all sorts of techy details of the wide
variety of barrel and foregrip options.
Just some random links, tonight.
Oh, the irony -
OpenX is a special tool for opening those incredibly annoying
plastic blister packs, and it really looks the business. As Boing Boing
points out, though, it comes blister-packed itself...
would use one? - and talking of gadgets, if not nearly as useful, a
telephone line powered... uh... "personal massager". Well, it could be
worse - at least it's not another stupid USB device!
Microsoft U-turns again - the fracas over anti-discrimination
legislation is making Microsoft spin like a top, right now, and this time
they've announced full support for any future proposals. Will it last?
Mars probe spotted - the wreckage of the ill-fated Mars Polar Lander,
which crashed when its engines failed during re-entry in 1999, has been
found after examination of photos taken by later probes.
US restricts computer access - in another butt-headed attempt to
protect the country, computers of more than a certain processing capacity
have been ruled off-limits to foreigners without a license.
Software crackers jailed - four British members of piracy group
DrinkOrDie have been sentenced following a worldwide crackdown.
Unusually, all of them held fairly senior positions in the IT industry.
Lies and damn lies - apparently HP's ousted CEO, Carly Fiorina, is now
on the lecture circuit discussing what was apparently "the most
successful hi-tech merger in history". <cough>
New Palm leaked - a few scant details of Palm's new handheld, the
LifeDrive, have appeared on a listing at Amazon.com. It
certainly looks pretty, but I've been fairly unimpressed with recent
photo of Odyssey, the command module of the Apollo 13 spacecraft. It's
taken from an unusual angle, and so gives an interesting perspective on
the hardware - as my space-guru friend Mike said, "When you consider
that the CM was the tiniest part of the Apollo-SV stack, that picture
really makes you aware of the size of the thing". The photograph is
the work of Daniel Bayer, and
his gallery has more wonderful, breathtaking images (mostly
landscapes, but plenty of variety in between them) in one place than I've
ever seen before. Thanks to
for the original link.
"Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly
it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come."
- Matt Groening (Who actually attributed it to
I am pleasantly surprised, today. I wanted a telescopic
sight for my Marui-based SR-25 AEG, and the only one I could find that was
sufficiently knobbly, brutal and businesslike for my taste was the
relatively new and rare Samurai 3-9x40 Rail Scope. It looked good, but at
only $60 I was unconvinced - that really isn't very much money for a zoom
lens scope with an illuminated reticule, and a poorly-made optical sight
is rather worse than no sight at all. Aside from that, I had some
misgivings about ordering from UN Company again, as I had
an annoying problem
with a previous order - but I couldn't find the particular model I wanted
in stock anywhere else apart from Den Trinity, where it was rather more
expensive. It did look nice, though, and with the current
favourable exchange rate $60 really isn't very much, so I went for
The transaction with UN Company went perfectly smoothly
this time, and now that I have the scope in my hot little hands in fact
it's a very nice piece of hardware. Everything is metal except for the
zeroing knobs and the reticule illumination control, and it's fairly
solid, well-finished metal at that. The mount is integrated into the rails
that form the sides of the tube, a standard dual-clamp mechanism that is
tightened down with a pair of allen screws.
What can be seen of the optics are glass instead of
plastic, which is a considerable relief, and the image is sharp and bright
enough that it's highly likely that the internal lenses are glass as well.
The zoom ring is smooth (if just a little stiff at the moment) and even at
the maximum 9x magnification I'm not seeing any significant optical
weirdness - certainly no spherical aberration, which is often a feature of
cheap lens systems. Best of all is the illuminated crosshair reticule -
it's switchable between red and green, and each setting has five
brightness levels ranging from subtle to gosh! The effect is excellent.
Isn't it pretty! :-) It's added half a kilo
to the weight of the replica, too, and as the gun already has a metal body
on top of that massive SR-25 RAS front-end, it is now officially bloody
heavy. The next job is to sight it in, of course, and hopefully I'll be
able to do that without attracting too much unwelcome attention from the
Elsewhere, some links...
Vintage hardware with a twist - at Photoshop contest site Worth
1000, some marvellous entries as usual. I loved the car radio and the
Palaeolithic multitool, but they're all good...
Hollywood calling - the two UK-based owners of a website which links
to BitTorrent content that has fallen afoul of the MPAA have been summoned
to appear before the District Court of New Jersey.
Cisco announces Wi-Fi tracking - initially only for their Airespace
range of access points, but soon to be extended, the system will allow any
802.11 device to be pinpointed to within around 5m.
VAT payable on data transfers - unlike information sent by traditional
paper methods, the same data sent electronically is subject to the 17.5%
VAT, thanks to a little known EEC Directive from 1977.
telephony re-invented - combining the relatively tried-and-tested
Voice Over IP technology with the upcoming WiMAX wireless standard will
bring huge changes to the entire telecoms industry.
The Sideshow reminds us that today is the anniversary of
at Ohio's Kent State University in 1970, and although it may seem like a
long time ago and a long way away, it's not something that we should
let ourselves forget.
Given the growing tension between activists and the British government
over the last twenty five years, it seems likely that the only reason we
haven't seen a similar tragedy in this country is that until recently our
law enforcement officers did not routinely carry guns - but thanks to Bush
and Blair that is changing, with more and more policemen not just armed
with handguns or even SMGs, but instead carrying military assault weapons
such as the H&K G36.
That's serious firepower in comparison with the Ohio National Guard's
WW2-era Garand M1
What would have happened during the
miner's strike of 1984-85, the
poll tax protests
of 1990, or even the
persecution of the "travellers" in the mid-eighties, if the police
involved had been armed with pistols, let alone the range of weaponry
available to them in today's media-hyped and government-sponsored climate
of fear? The routine level of police brutality and the tendency for
massive over-reaction displayed then makes it perfectly clear that if the
police had been armed, we would have seen corpses on the streets - and not
just a few of them, either. The current generation of protestors and
political activists may well be taking their lives in their hands in a way
that has never before been the case in Britain, and as I remember Kent
State I can't help but feel a sense of foreboding.
In spite of the rumoured upturn in the global IT
industry, the giants are still tightening their belts.
IBM is cutting
up to 13,000 jobs, many in Europe, and Hewlett Packard are
continuing the strategy that earned previous CEO Carly Fiorina the
nickname of "the pinkslip princess", with around 2000 workers taking
"voluntary" redundancy instead of waiting to be downsized with extreme
prejudice at a later date.
Meanwhile, hardware guru Dan Rutter's fearless stance
on exposing quack technology has certainly brought the loons out of the
woodwork again. This week's letters page at
Dan's Data has
contributions from a fervent supporter of a
enhancer gizmo, whose claims for the product are even more over-blown
and implausible than those of the manufacturer, and a representative of
the old guard in the shape of a homeopathic medicine evangelist who can't
even spell the name of the concept she is defending. It
always impresses me that Dan can stay so polite and reasonable in face of
abuse from these idiots - I know I couldn't!
More than 170 London businesses have
support from the city's controversial 2012 Olympic bid, following the
failure of the London Development Agency to provide a realistic budget to
relocate them from areas that would be demolished to build various Olympic
venues. It's good to be
reminded that not everyone
is as gung-ho to win the bid as Mayor Ken Livingstone claims.
At Ars.Technica, an excellent article on the
history of the
GUI, from Douglas Englebart's mouse in the late sixties, through the
Alto computer and Smalltalk at Xerox PARC in the seventies, and then on to
Apple, IBM, Microsoft and all the other imitators. The next time someone
tries to tell you that Microsoft stole the GUI from Apple, remember that
everybody was guilty of stealing it from Xerox.
And, finally, for the geek who has everything - well,
everything except for a
scrolling LED belt buckle, that is... They seem to be available rather
more cheaply on eBay, too, and in
colours. [Note to my friends: If you ever catch me
wearing something like this, please put me out of my misery]
an article by SF and fantasy author Orson Scott Card, with the comment
"Why is Orson Scott Card dancing on Star Trek's grave?". It's a
fair question, but I'd take it further, as having read the piece it seems
to me that Card has lost the plot entirely. Now don't get me wrong - I'm a
huge fan of the majority of his work, and his linked Ender and Bean
stories may well be my favourite SF series overall, but this particular
article has me foaming gently at the mouth from a combination of factual
errors and bizarre, unreasonable assertions. For example:
As science fiction, the series was trapped in the
The 1930s; really? Does Card actually remember
of stories that were being published in the 1930s? I would suspect
not, as I never noticed anything in the original Star Trek that
particularly reminded me of John W. Campbell, E.E. Smith, Olaf Stapledon
or the other luminaries of the period. Now, if he'd said the 1950s,
then yes, I could see his point - there's a lot of the spirit of Ray
Bradbury, Fritz Leiber and A. E. Van Vogt in the
TOS episodes, which is
unsurprising as these were probably some of the authors who influenced the
relatively unknown scriptwriters working on the show. Actually, a number
of the better episodes were written by established names in the field,
such as Harlan Ellison's The City On The Edge Of Forever, Norman
Spinrad's The Doomsday Machine or Theodore Sturgeon's Shore
Leave - and to suggest that any of those writers were trapped
in the 1930s is just plain silly.
Charlie Kaufman created the two finest science
fiction films of all time so far: "Being John Malkovich" and "Eternal
Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."
Well, I've watched "Being John Malkovich", and
found it whimsical, charming and entertaining - but by no means the finest
SF film of all time. And as for "Eternal Sunshine", that was
apparently such a spectacular movie that it passed completely under my
radar, and although I know the name I hadn't even realised that it was SF!
The IMDB review somehow
makes it sound like one of the formulaic Robert Sheckley novels that I've
usually been rather disappointed by, and while I'm willing to accept that
it's probably not that bad, I somehow doubt that it's all that...
Most Top 10 lists seem to mention such offerings as Blade Runner,
Alien, Dark Star, Brazil, or The Matrix -
tastes vary widely, of course, but there have been so many stunning SF
movies made in the last thirty years that choosing as the best two from
the same writer smacks of dogma.
So why did the Trekkies throw themselves into this
poorly imagined, weakly written, badly acted television series with such
commitment and dedication? Why did it last so long? Here's what I think:
Most people weren't reading all that brilliant science fiction. Most
people weren't reading at all. So when they saw "Star Trek," primitive
as it was, it was their first glimpse of science fiction.
Oh, dear... It's hard to know where to begin. I know a
fair few hardcore Trekkies (yes, I know they prefer "Trekkers", these
days, which is why I don't use the term...) and the single thing they have
in common is that they all read. A couple of them don't read much else but
Star Trek novels, I admit (and, boy, are there a lot of those these
days!), but nevertheless - and the majority have eclectic but wide-spread
reading tastes not only outside the Star Trek canon, but outside SF in
general... Roman history, Victorian railways, romantic poetry, human
psychology, political theory, you name it. A fair number of them write,
too, on equally diverse subjects.
To broadly condemn Star Trek fans as non-readers is not
only inaccurate but insulting, and as that assertion is one of the focal
points of the article I can't help but conclude that his entire premise is
rather too flawed to be of any value.... I shall go on reading his books
(the latest in the "Shadow"
series is downloading from Audible as I write this) but I'm afraid that
from now on I shall have to reserve the right to bitch about "The Mormon",
as two of my notable fan friends call him, whenever I can persuade someone
to sit still long enough to listen.
Desktop fab - 3D printers are a technology whose time has come, it
seems, and rather to my surprise interest is especially high in developing
action painting - fancy yourself as a budding Jackson Pollock? The
ArtPad lets you throw a bucket of paint with the best of them, and you
can even hang your work in a virtual gallery afterwards!
More on MS
anti-discrimination stance - and now it's turning ugly, with the
hate-filled, bigoted evangelist who started all the fuss accusing
Microsoft execs of lying about the original meetings.
water cooling - an extremely useful pair of articles at
Overclockers.com, with the full skinny on the thermal properties,
wetting, corrosion, turbulence and unwanted life forms.
TSA eBay scam
- all the items confiscated from airline passengers by the Transportation
Security Administration in the name of safety are being sold off -
a terrifying purple sombrero hat...
Tiger problems - the new version of Apple's OS has a number of serious
IP connectivity flaws, as apparently they didn't think to include tiny,
insignificant companies like Cisco or Microsoft in their beta programme...
More quick links, as I have no energy and no heart for
anything more, tonight.
The end of Budmonkey - there was a site selling cannabis online? What
Robot Works - cute little robot sculptures made out of all sorts of
spammed - Manchester's chief constable was receiving over 2000 spam
messages per hour.
for deployment - the Mars Express probe has finally started to unfold,
ready to scan the surface.
Dan has resurfaced after a hiatus, with
more letters and
a rant on the future of
audible revenge - a CD
of sound effects designed to annoy your neighbours - a drill, a party,
drumming children, domestic arguments, you name it... and it makes me
think of this:
Lenny: "There's nothing like revenge for getting
back at people"
Carl: "Oh, I don't know... vengeance is pretty good, too"
- The Simpsons
Just a few very quick links, tonight...
SCO, Groklaw and Monterey - an article at The Register clears
up a mystery that never was, and then
a second article has some more information, some contributed by people
involved in the doomed project. Just when you think the whole SCO thing
has burned out, up it flares again!
the iPod! - another butt-headed idea, equivalent to the tariff that
killed DAT and Audio CDR.
Revolver Tech - at Arnie's Airsoft, an excellent guide to the
internals of Tanaka's Pegasus revolvers.
Illuminati Leather - what self-respecting secret society would be
without their logo on a jacket?
Fundamentals of the sciences - "If you could teach the world just one
thing", asked Spiked.
Rube-Goldberg technology - a 3D printer made from Meccano and a hot
glue gun. Classic!
- hackers are increasingly turning their attention to targets other than
Testing, testing - a neat little network cable tester, right down at
the bottom of the market.
The lights, man, the colours! - wavelength-agile lasers are the next
big thing in optics, it seems.
So, as planned, I spent most of Saturday afternoon
elbow-deep in technology. In a PC with this many components changing the
power supply is quite a task, I'd rather have left it until I was able to
transplant the whole system into the new case I'm planning, but the
voltage on the 5V rail was sinking and sinking and I was getting all sorts
of stability issues. Anything that stressed the hardware acceleration of
the graphics card would crash it instantly, completely corrupting the
screen display, and under load I was getting upsettingly frequent
momentary failures on one or more the SATA disk channels - the hardware
RAID meant that my data was safe enough, but having half of one's drives
drop offline spontaneously is not good for the nerves.
Out with the old... I had to remove the top fan in
order to provide clearance to slide the PSU forward, and while I was there
I pulled the top window out completely, gave it a thorough clean, and
taped it back into place again. I don't know how long it will last, as my
cleaning woman seems to be a touch heavy-handed while she's dusting and
the Perspex tends to sag downwards after a while, but it looks better in
the short term, at least. I also had to disconnect a whole raft of wiring,
as when I first built the chassis the power supply was pretty much the
first thing I installed and so its cabling was at the lowest
archaeological level, as it were.
And in with the new... At this stage it looks as if a
squid has crawled into the chassis and died. The PCP&C unit has a
different selection of power feeds than the old Antec, including a pair of
SATA connections which were quite handy as far as they went - but each
connector was alone on the end of its cable, which isn't particularly
efficient. The manufacturers are going to have to start gearing up for
SATA in a big way soon, once optical drives and other internal devices
start moving to the new bus, and at that point we're definitely going to
need a lot more than two connectors.
And there we are. The DigiDoc reports a nice high,
stable voltage on both 5V and 12V rails, and it looks as if all is running
nicely. The wiring isn't quite as neat and tidy as the previous
incarnation, but as I'm planning a migration to a new chassis in the next
month or two there didn't seem much point in being anal about the fine
details. The next incarnation is likely to be a bit less complex, too,
with luck - with water cooling for the CPUs and disk drives I can do away
with a proportion of the fans, and so a proportion of the fan and
temperature monitoring cables as well. Of course, I'll be adding a bunch
of water hoses in their place, so it will be interesting to see how it all
Meanwhile, back at the stats... Well, I suppose that
could have been worse - visits up a bit, page hits up a bit more. I wonder
what the next month will bring?
Oh, and I passed
100,000 hits sometime around mid-April, which is considerably earlier
than I was expecting. I have to admit that it's slightly bizarre to think
that more than 100,000 people (one hundred thousand!) have come to
this site and read something that I've written, even if they only thought
"no, that's not what I was looking for" and clicked off somewhere else again
- although the average visit length is around a minute, so there evidently
aren't too many of those... If I was double-jointed I would be able
to pat myself on the back, but as it is I shall just have to settle for