It's been a thoroughly annoying day, with dead
computers coming out the wazoo.
Sometimes the temptation to cross-train into plumbing
(especially given the apparent level of demand in this neck of the woods!)
is almost overwhelming. Decades of experience has suggested that plumbing
is no less wet than some moments of my career in IT, certainly...
Before I head off to buy a Mario-style boiler suit and
practice sucking air through my teeth, then, a small handful of links:
The rootkit post-mortem has begun - I have no idea why I though that I
could stop reporting on the apparently endless saga of Sony's DRM rootkit,
as it's still far too interesting to ignore. Business Week has a
long and highly informative article on the sequence of events behind the
Losing or gaining? - In the wake of another industry analysis report
claiming that Microsoft are losing money on their new Xbox 360 (the figure
being bandied about varies between $310 and $525 per unit) Microsoft are
insisting that actually they're making a small profit!
DualHead2Go - I briefly mentioned the cunning new
laptop dual display adaptor from Matrox last week, but now there are full
reviews at primo geek sites
Bit-Tech and it looks as if it works very well.
|Apparently finding a plumber in East London is comparable to finding a
sasquatch or a yeti, and the earliest anyone can come to look at my
central heating is Friday morning. It's proving to be a cold week in hell.
Why the rootkit is
good - [Yum, this 386 motherboard is tasty]. The
Tech Zone thinks that the fall-out from Sony's recent misadventure in
DRM may be a good thing, not only by weakening the status of DRM within
the industry but also by bringing the entire issue to the public's
Not quite the rootkit - meanwhile, it turns out that Sony's earlier
attempt at CD copy protection, MediaMax, could well install itself
permanently even if you don't agree to the pop-up license agreement.
Whether that little "slip" is accidental or by design is not clear as
$100 laptop details emerging - an ambitious project sponsored by MIT's
Nicholas Negroponte to flood the developing world with low-cost laptops is
coming close to fruition, with details of both the hardware and the
software now starting to emerge.
Massachusetts dithering over Microsoft - the state's controversial and
highly publicised decision to move away from Microsoft's proprietary
Office suite to the open source equivalent may not actually happen, it
seems, especially now that MS are trying to open their file formats
Cybercrime more profitable than drugs - computer-related crime
generated a higher turnover worldwide than drug trafficking, last year,
and a new reports suggests that it is set to grow even further as the use
of technology in developing countries expands.
For the toolbox -
is a last-ditch recovery utility designed to read data from damaged CDs
and floppy disks, and elsewhere MajorGeeks has bundled the entire
PowerToys suite into a single zip file to make download easier.
reference - at Tom's Hardware, a comprehensive guide to the
various connectors, interfaces and ports found in IT hardware, updated to
include all the modern parallel and serial expansion buses.
Lego D&D -
the Brickquest site gives instructions for building dungeon floor
plans from Lego, and it's neatly done. We used to do this back in the late
seventies when D&D was new and cool, but this particular recipe is rather
more convenient than anything we came up with, I think.
Only a couple of months ago, in the summer, I was
cursing the excessive heat that my fat-ass Latitude C840 laptop emits and
contemplating asbestos underpants, but tonight I'm grateful for as much
waste heat as it will emit. My central heating went AWOL over the weekend
(the coldest days so far this year, naturally), and thanks to the
assumption that a plumbing maintenance company with a glossy web site and
a pair of well-publicised email addresses might actually read their
mail once in a while I'm still waiting for it to be fixed. Tomorrow I will
resort to the old-fashioned tactic of ringing round adverts in the local
yellow pages, and needless to say
Olympic Plumbing will not be one of the candidates.
Fortunately, perhaps, my teeth are chattering too much
for me to be able to mutter about it under my breath all evening, so here
are some random news links while I wait.
That darn rootkit - I guess I'll have to eat that ICL motherboard,
now, as this one is too good to pass up: courtesy of Boing Boing,
it emerges that the author of the much-lamented DRM software was in the
habit of trolling the developer newsgroups begging people to write code
segments for him. Sad...
losing money? - and while I'm munching on silicon and phenolic resin,
one more story. Contrary to the last report I quoted, an article at
Ars.Technica suggests that in fact consumers are starting to boycott
CDs protected by DRM, if only because it makes ripping to their MP3
Thinking inside the box - companies that are trying to make the office
more appealing by providing games and fringe benefits are missing the
point, according to business guru Douglas Rushkoff - they should simply
make the work itself more enjoyable and appealing. I'm really not sure
The Symantec Effect - a mere three months after the giant software
conglomerate gobbled up little Sygate, manufacturer of a free personal
firewall, they have discontinued all of the Sygate products! Could
this have anything to do with the fact that they have a decidedly non-free
product of their own?
effects - a new study suggests that a third of the "take-down notices"
used to remove media from the web under the DMCA are either thoroughly
malicious and groundless (often businesses targeting commercial rivals),
or are so badly worded that they are not actually legal.
Going down fighting - Sharman Networks, current owner of the
controversial Kazaa P2P software, may be under pressure from all sides but
they haven't given up yet, and the music industry's case against them is
being considerably hampered by failures of their expert witnesses to
Useless innovation - troubled by champagne corks ricocheting around
the room? Just attach this canister to the neck of the bottle, slip a pin
into the cork, and at the top of its trajectory it will deploy a small
parachute and "drift down harmlessly". I just want you to know that I'm
shaking my head, here...
|To nobody's surprise, links:
Flexible power - a multi-way power strip that can cope with voltages
from 100 to 300V, and with a wonderful variety of sockets to cope with
pretty much any mains plug in the world. Made in China, apparently
they're all the rage in Iraq, where they can be bought for a couple of
call centres "in meltdown" - the day after EDS agreed to pay out £71
million compensation for the Inland Revenue's disastrous Tax Credit
system, news has emerged that their new computerised call centres for the
Department Of Work And Pensions are performing just as badly.
Alien hackers - some balloon-head at FermiLab is spreading a scare
story that aliens will use the SETI@home project to infect our computers
with dastardly extraterrestrial viruses, thus displaying his complete
ignorance of both the SETI programme and how computers work. Arrant
Symantec blocks "audit tool" - Symantec are refusing to sell the
infamous L0pthCrack hacking tool (now rebadged as LC5 after Symantec's
acquisition of one-time hacking group L0pht) to customers outside the US,
citing government regulations covering export of encryption technology.
security - courtesy of ZDNet, some worthy sound-bites from the
security guru, including his take on ID cards (useless), cybercrime vs.
cyberterrorism (one is being largely ignored while the other is being
over-hyped) and the likely future outcome (massive erosion of civil
Pong clock - a wall-mounted flat panel displaying a perpetual game of
Pong, with each game taking exactly one minute and the player scores
displaying the current time. I'm browsing for a wall new clock myself, at
the moment, but I think this one might be a little outside my price
dispute ends - the fierce argument between Apple and Ben Cohen, a
former teenage dot-com millionaire, over ownership of the itunes.co.uk
domain is over. Cohen has renounced all rights to the domain after
adjudication determined that his claim was an "abusive registration".
machines - a Quicktime VR virtual tour around CERN's amazing Large
Hadron Collider, the accelerator that is going to take particle physics
onward into the 21st century. Don't miss the buttons on the right of the
control strip that skip on to the next view in the sequence.
Out of the frying pan - the disgraced ex-director of FEMA, the US
government agency that so mismanaged the recent hurricane disaster in New
Orleans, has founded a disaster planning firm to help companies avoid the
sort of errors for which he and his agency were responsible.
Completely batty - Project X-Ray was a bizarre World War II plan to
attack Japanese cities using a million bats armed with tiny incendiary
devices, but the idea was workable and thanks to an endorsement
from President Roosevelt himself ("This man is not a nut") it
almost became a reality.
Total Hadrware 99,
something I stumbled across while searching elsewhere. It's a massive
database of technical specifications for motherboards, expansion cards,
hard disks etc. - jumper settings, board layout, pin definitions, you name
it. Unfortunately, as the name suggests, it hasn't been updated since 1999
- but even so it's an impressive and potentially extremely useful resource
for those working with antique PC hardware. I used to have access to the
extremely expensive commercial equivalent of this resource (what was
that called?) when I worked for a PC building company back in the early
nineties, but I think actually this publicly accessible service is even
A few quick links, but before that what I promise is
going to be my final word on the
DRM/rootkit saga - and if it isn't, I'll eat the motherboard from an
ICL DRS M50 workstation.
Much has been written since the rootkit was identified
earlier this month, and recently it's been suggested that this strong
reaction from the Internet community and elsewhere is actually persuading
the company to abandon this kind of clumsy, intrusive DRM. However, it
turns out that the effect on the bottom line, the only thing that really
counts to an organisation this size, has actually been minimal or even
completely non-existent! Sales of the "protected" CDs have been unchanged
since the story broke, few if any CDs have been returned to the stores,
and profits for all concerned are as fat and bloated as ever. Given the
general public's continuing ignorance and apathy over computer security,
this shouldn't really come as a surprise - with figures suggesting that a
quarter of UK computers are seriously compromised by genuine, intentional
malware, something so benign in comparison is hardly likely to arouse much
It's very easy for well-connected geeks to assume that
everyone feels as strongly about issues of electronic privacy and civil
liberties as we do, but it is also far from accurate. It's clear that the
fuss online has peaked for the moment, and even though I expect a renewed
burst of publicity both online and elsewhere when the various lawsuits
start to kick in, I have the feeling that we've already passed the peak of
public interest - and without the active involvement of the CD-buying
public, there isn't even a chance of Sony (or any other media
company) changing its long term strategy. The best we can hope for, I
think, is that they'll be more careful not to break our computers with the
next version of the software - but in fact I'm not holding my breath even
for that. DRM is here to stay, and it's likely to get worse and worse as
time goes on.
The holiday season - At BBSpot, signs that you're having Thanksgiving
dinner with a geek. At number one, "the turkey is given the opportunity
for a saving throw before being butchered". Indeed.
Engineers on high alert - the service department of copier
manufacturer Canon is bracing itself for the usual wave of alcohol-induced
damage as office revellers attempt to photocopy their hindquarters.
storage - a new range of external hard disks from quirky storage
specialist LaCie is shaped like giant, stackable, brightly-coloured Lego
X-rated - courtesy of ZDNet, a guide to getting a technical job in the
adult entertainment industry. Running the network for a large commercial
porn site would certainly be an interesting challenge.
like in the movies - shooting a padlock off is far more difficult than
Hollywood makes it seem, according to these tests, and in fact if you only
have a handgun it's hardly even worth trying.
Black box diagnoses crashes - a new appliance maintains a running
history of all user activities on a misbehaving PC to identify the cause
of crashes in .Net and J2EE applications.
Pencil carving - another of those "who knew?" crafts, these remarkable
pieces from a pair of Japanese artisans are the most intricate work
imaginable given the rather challenging medium!
Inconsistencies - just the thing for those of a nit-picking
persuasion, an extremely comprehensive list of all the errors,
inconsistencies, cock-ups and just plain stupidity in Star Trek.
SANS top 20
vulnerabilities - it's that time of the year again, so the security
organisation has published their annual summary of why sysadmins should be
biting their fingernails right about now.
Dan's Data letters #155 - it's very good to see Dan back to his old
prolific self after a rather a prolonged dry spell over the summer - and
it looks as if he's annoyed the quacks again.
And finally, a kind of
musical ransom note -
type a sentence into this cunning Swedish web page to have it sung to you
using words taken from different songs. The overall result is extremely
effective, and somewhat bizarre, suggesting an audible equivalent of the
movie-style ransom notes made up from different fonts cut from newspapers
and magazines. The database is already fairly extensive, but if it's
missing a word you want to use you can submit a song title that you know
contains it. I think this is a marvellous idea, and I've been having great
fun typing in
from songs to hear them sung back as a mash-up of many voices.
A random selection of random links.
obsession - an extensive collection of music videos made by splicing
together scenes from movies and television shows: Star Trek, Buffy,
Sherlock Holmes, Starsky And Hutch, Quantum Leap and Star Wars, to name
but a few - and with an equally varied selection of songs, too... The
videos are the work of a husband and wife team, and are a undoubtedly a
Not quite what it seems - the news that billionaire Oracle CEO Larry
Ellison is to donate $100m to charity sounds thoroughly worthwhile until
you realise that it is a court-ordered settlement following allegations of
insider trading. Ellison made $900m profit selling shares in the company
just before the stock price halved back in 2001, a move which some have
found highly suspicious...
iSuppli lifting the lid - the engineering analysis company has
stripped down the new Xbox 360, and has determined that the components
alone cost a third more to manufacture than the console actually sells
for. Costs are expected to fall as the console goes into full-scale
production, but the inevitable price drops that will come over its
lifespan will probably compensate for that.
after Tax Credit debacle - the consultancy will stump up £71.25m to
settle a dispute with the Inland Revenue following the disastrous system
it attempted to install in 2003. The failed project joins a large number
of other doomed systems created by
EDS and its equivalents - but don't worry, the UK government still trusts
them with the DWP, Offender Management Service, and MOD...
Public divided on ID cards - even as support within the government for
the fatally flawed ID card scheme is waning, a new poll suggests that
the general public are starting to reconsider as well. Initial surveys
showed that people had fallen for the Home Office spin, but it seems that
the more people hear, the less they like the idea, and public approval is
now down to around 50%.
from grace - notorious anti-computer games advocate Jack Thompson has
lost his license to practice law in Alabama following bizarre behaviour
stemming from his allegations that the game Grand Theft Auto was directly
responsible for a teenager shooting three police officers in 2003. I'm
hoping that this will soon be followed by the revocation of his license in
his home state of Florida.
Korea confirms Apple probe - the controversial deal between Apple and
Samsung over flash memory for the recent iPod models is to receive
official scrutiny from the Fair Trade Commission. It is alleged (probably
by competing MP3 player manufacturers!) that Apple received discounts to
well below market price thanks to an extremely large up-front order, which
certainly does seem plausible...
Somewhat to my surprise, I appear to have bought myself
another tape library, a
Quantum-ATL P1000. I've been looking to upgrade my little seven slot
Dell PowerVault 120T for a while, thanks to the ever expanding bulk of
data on my home server, and this model has been at the top of my shortlist
as one of the most plausible cost/capacity ratios on the second hand
They're common enough on eBay, but generally change
hands for somewhat more than I'm comfortable paying for second hard tape
hardware and often have some minor but annoying flaw (no key for the front
door is the usual one) as well - but as I haven't been under any real
pressure to upgrade I generally put in a low bid just in case. This time,
however, the library appears to be complete and in extremely good
condition, and when it came down to it I was the only bidder and won the
auction at the opening price, a very reasonable £250.
This particular example of the breed is fully-loaded,
with four DLT 7000 drives and 30 tape slots, giving a capacity of over a
terabyte before compression and a maximum throughput of around a gigabyte
per minute. The model also has an unusually sophisticated onboard
management system, complete with a high-res LCD touch-screen GUI on the
front panel - although it will remain to be seen whether giving a tape
library this much of a brain is actually a good thing...
I'll retire the
PV120T now (anyone want a cute little desktop tape library? Only two
owners - one completely unknown but the other ever-so careful!) and when
combined with the beloved VXA autoloader on my desktop I'll have a
near-line capacity of around 1½Tb. Damn, but I love tape backup! :-)
Meanwhile, I've just started reading
latest novel, Pattern Recognition, the first story that isn't
science fiction (or, at least, not overt SF with nanotech and
virtual reality and AI) and to my amazement it feels more than anything
like an Iain Banks novel,
especially his recent works, Dead Air and The Business. I'm
a huge fan of both authors, and as far as I'm aware have read pretty much
everything they've ever written, and to me the similarity is inescapable -
I have to keep looking at the cover to make sure that Bill's name really
is there instead of Banksie's.
I'm still in the early stages of the story, but in
spite of the bizarre crossed-over writing style I have to admit that the
plot is already showing clear signs of similarity with one of the
recurring themes from Gibson's linked cyberpunk stories, the patterns that
can be found in the way that humans interact with data - Bobby Newmark
looking for the shape of the Matrix, Laney seeking the nodes around which
society pivots, and of course the emergence of the AIs as self-aware,
self-motivated entities in their own right. It will be fascinating to see
where the story goes - and equally fascinating to see if it still feels
like a Banks novel when it gets there.
Back in the harness with some random links - some of
this, some of that... But none of the other, as I do have standards
Keeping the lid on it - a four-way elastic band designed for holding
boxes closed, an excellent example of the "I could have thought of
that" school of invention.
From the horse's
mouth - über craft tool manufacturer Dremel
has their own online store, now, and for a change the prices seem
comparable with those of their regular distributors.
of the year again - all your christmas shopping needs catered for,
courtesy of the geeks at Ars.Technica - games, gadgets, computer
hardware and more.
Duchamp - an exhibition of flower-shaped urinals and other nature
inspired sculptures by San Francisco artist Clark Sorensen. Thanks to Ros
(who described it as "taking the piss") for the link.
back the standard - the Public Patent Foundation is launching a legal
challenge to the notorious JPEG patent currently owned (and zealously
enforced) by Forgent Networks.
Protecting your vote - the EFF is fighting to prevent the seriously
flawed Diebold voting machines from receiving an exemption to legislation
requiring their source code to be made available for scrutiny.
It's rude to share - a highly dubious agreement to pass personal data
on European air passengers flying into the US to the Department of
Homeland Security will violate data protection legislation.
Very tiny machines - a sudden flurry of doll's house synthesisers: a
Moog Modular, a Theremin, and Rick Wakeman's entire 1970 keyboard suite.
Pointless, but marvellous all the same.
Home again, home again,
jiggidy-jig! Devon was
as cold as usual, and it's nice to be back in the relative balm of
sub-tropical Essex. Until tomorrow, then, when things have settled down a
bit, a small handful of lightning-fast links while I'm waiting for
something that is late:
It's that rootkit again... A class action
the EFF, and another lawsuit from
Of Texas, bringing the total to around seven. Meanwhile,
Boing Boing reports that various cats have been put amongst
various pigeons inside Sony, with big-name artists fuming and label heads
condemning DRM in all its forms. Elsewhere, Orrin Hatch, notorious
mouthpiece of the recording industry, has reaffirmed his belief in
destroying people's computers to teach them a lesson.
Bachus leaves Infinium Labs - and another christmas is about to pass
with no sign of the Phantom games console. Even for vapourware, this one
takes the biscuit...
good, four threads bad? - another scare about Intel's HyperThreading
technology has surfaced, suggesting that SQL servers and similar may
suffer badly under heavy load. Hmmm.
Go-faster graphics - ATI have launched the latest in their venerable
All-In-Wonder line, the X1800-XL. It looks as if it's going to be PCI
Express only, which still leaves me hunting for the rare X800-XT.
Prostitution by any other name - employees of dating site Match.com
have been posing as romantic prospects (both online and in person!) in
order to persuade members to re-subscribe to the service.
I'm heading off to the wilds of Devon for a few days,
so this is the last update until after the weekend. Maybe when I get back
the continuing saga of That Damn Rootkit will finally have died down - but
until that happens Boing Boing is keeping us all in the picture
with an updated version of their
timeline, and a link to security diva Bruce Schneier's
pointed comments on the changing reaction of the big IT security
companies to Sony's little gizmo.
Dan on 3D
printers - an idea whose time has finally come, it seems - and in a
couple of Dan's wonderful throwaway links, a look at a pair of very
Inside 1984 - a Chait/Day insider tells the story of the famous
Macintosh advert that aired during the Superbowl, and has since become one
of the great icons of the computer age.
laptop - and talking of classics, this 1987 vintage Atari 800 XE has
been reworked into a clamshell format, stuffed to the gills with wood
grain and brushed aluminium. Marvellous work!
Breaking spaghetti - an interesting little puzzle that I first came
across in Richard Feynman's memoirs, the unexpected way in which dry
spaghetti shatters, has finally been analysed and modelled.
Stage Tree - inspired by the genetically engineered organic rocket
boosters in Larry Niven's "Known Space" stories, this all-wood model
rocket can reach around 2500 feet.
Folding stuff - the age-old challenge of folding a sheet of paper
seems to be progressing: it was 7 times in my youth, and 8 until recently,
but now an enterprising teen has managed 12 times!
kind - New York techie "Ray Digerati" is advertising his services on
Craigslist in exchange for sexual favours, and has no shortage of
customers. Hell, it's always worked for me... :-)
Rude hardware - and talking of rude things, this addon for the iPod is
another classic debasement of technology. I approve in principal, but find
it hard to endorse yet another damn iPod accessory...
bad day for ID cards - the House Of Lords has voted to reject the ID
Cards bill in its present form, demanding tighter controls over the
organisations that would be allowed to use the cards to check a person's
identity. They also expressed concern that the Home Office would not
reveal the total cost of the proposals, and coming as it does right after
the ex-MI5 chief Stella Rimington said that the cards would be of no use
in the fight against terror, this has to be seen as a severe blow
to the Government's plans. Excellent news, indeed.
I've just treated myself to
a new cellphone to replace
Motorola T250, and for the first time in as long as I can
remember I've found myself dazzled by technology. It's not the phone
itself, as although it's a wonderfully compact, feature-rich and downright
cool little device, that's exactly what I was expecting from the various
spec-sheets and reviews.
Instead, the thing that has left me slightly
open-mouthed is the memory card, one of the new micro-SD format "TransFlash"
modules. I hadn't even heard of this format until I was shopping
for phones, but I've seen a lot of memory cards over the years and as I
wasn't expecting anything very special I didn't investigate further...
That little black flake in the middle (next to the SD-sized
adaptor that allows it to be used in conventional card readers) is 512Mb
of memory! Half a gigabyte, in something the size of my little fingernail.
It was only a couple of years ago that only my biggest, most powerful
servers had that much RAM, and now I'm adding it to a cellphone in
a format that could be blown away completely if somebody opened a window!
On reflection it's nothing that I haven't seen evolving
over the last few years, as full-sized PCMCIA flash memory cards were
replaced by Compact Flash, then SD/MMC; and as capacities easily doubled
every year or so - but even so I have to admit that I'm impressed. It doesn't
seem plausible that the form factor will shrink much further, as it's damn
fiddly already, but it's reasonable to assume that both capacity and
performance will increase steadily until
the next big thing
Meanwhile, the DRM saga that just won't die:
Wired calls for Sony boycott
- are Sony replacing Microsoft as the company everyone loves to hate?
Recall for rootkit CDs
- Sony has bowed to public pressure and is recalling the notorious disks.
Removal makes things worse
- Sony's DRM uninstaller leaves a system even more vulnerable!
Elsewhere - yes, there really is still an
elsewhere, in spite of Sony...
Risk with Google Maps
- the classic board game brought neatly up to date. Clever stuff.
UltraSPACR T1 - eight cores, with four threads each, and it still only
uses 70w of power!
A world without Windows
- what would things have been like without Bill's baby?
Security acronyms running wild - ISAKMP flaw in
IPSec allows DoS attacks against VPNs.
New crackdown on file sharing - the
IFPI has filed 2100 new lawsuits, calling the culprits "dinosaurs"
moving up - forthcoming versions of Exchange and Windows Server may be
for 64 bit CPUs only.
Rolling your own cellphone - major new advances are as likely to be
found in garages as R&D labs.
Supermarket tabloid headlines
- via a link on Dan's latest
letters page, the
best of a bad bunch.
Links... fish-heads... who can tell the difference any
Squashing driver bugs - it turns out that a significant proportion of
the Windows crashes for which Microsoft has been blamed for so long are
actually caused by badly-written 3rd party device drivers, so the company
has created some highly innovative software to help developers check their
backwards-compatibility - and talking of Microsoft, the long-awaited
details of the Xbox 360's support for existing games has finally been
announced. Two hundred will be supported at launch (although there are
some notable exceptions), and additional titles will be added via future
firm bans complaining - web developer Nutzwerk Ltd has changed its
employment terms to demand that employees refrain from being grumpy, surly
or complaining, and the MD has suggested that anyone who isn't feeling
cheerful in the morning enough stays at home. Hmmm.
TANSTAAFL - the "free" laptop being offered as an incentive by a US
Visa card issuer is likely to end up costing several hundred dollars more
than the hardware would cost to buy off-the-shelf from Dell, especially if
you're not already heavily in debt to the company. Caveat emptor,
Dell plagued by bad caps - a significant number of Optiplex GX270 and
GX280 motherboards manufactured between April 2003 and March 2004 are
experiencing premature hardware failures caused by substandard capacitors,
and the company is starting to feel the financial pressure.
"spyware" - RetroCoders, the manufacturers of a utility that allows
covert monitoring of another's PC activity, is resorting to legal threats
in an attempt to deter security and anti-virus companies from analysing
and detecting their product as spyware. They certainly have chutzpah!
Exposing media malware - at Boing Boing, a comprehensive
timeline of the saga of Sony's DRM rootkit, since its discovery on October
31st. It's been a busy couple of weeks, but I think the subject has been
pretty much done-to-death by now...
the end of the universe, and not a restaurant in sight - The latest
theory on the ultimate fate of everything suggests that we might all get
sucked into a giant wormhole. The so-called "phantom energy" (a form of
the largely hypothetical dark energy that could be responsible for the
puzzling acceleration of the rate of expansion of the universe) trickling
into a wormhole will cause it to swell up so much that it eventually
engulfs the entire universe. Ah, well, I suppose that's slightly
better than proton decay making everything fall apart, or the classic
"heat death" where everything just runs down and stops, or the expansion
reversing so that the universe reverts to a singularity and crushes
itself, or any of the other possible outcomes suggested so far. It's a
dangerous place, the cosmos...
Oh, boy, the saga of Sony's DRM rootkit is going to run
and run, with the newsbites coming thick and fast over the last few days.
Microsoft has decided to
software as malicious in their Anti-Spyware and Defender products...
Further research has shown that a PC is
still vulnerable to hacks
using the DRM libraries even after the uninstaller has been used... The
DRM software itself actually violates copyright law by
failing to adhere to the licensing terms of the LAME MP3 encoder that
is bundled with it... A second DRM tool has emerged on other Sony audio
CDs, and it looks just
as bad as the first one... The EFF has translated the 3000 word
end-user license agreement that goes with the rootkit to reveal that Sony
is pretty much
attempting to hamstring their customers.
Boing Boing puts it - "If you want to have a safe experience
with Sony music, you'd better acquire it by some means other than
Elsewhere (although it's easy to forget that there
is any other tech news, right now!)...
A small axe to grind - Corning has a list of highly plausible
arguments for switching from copper data cabling to fibre, but it should
be remembered that they are one of the world's premier
manufacturers of fibre optic cable and hardware...
A kinder, gentler way to say "no" - when someone hits on you for a
phone number or an email address, give them one of these automated
rejection services. I have to admit that I've never had a problem with
strangers pestering me for my contact details, but it's certainly a
DIY camera - a complete kit of parts to assemble your own compact 35mm
camera, thoroughly familiar to anyone with an interest in
model making. (Thanks to the
wonderful Babelfish for the real-time translation - it does at least as
well as the majority of Japanese technical authors...)
The truth is out there - for years loons and weirdos have had to
construct their own brain-wave shielding devices from general principles,
but at last help is at hand from the über-geeks at MIT,
who have published a ground-breaking study on The Effectiveness
of Aluminium Foil Helmets.
Court freezes spyware outfit - California-based Enternet Media, who
tricked 600 weblog authors into distributing extremely malicious spyware
which then used infected PCs to distribute itself further, has been served
with a temporary restraining order while the FTC prepares a case against
"I told you
so" department - an effective new Linux worm is starting to circulate,
targeting vulnerabilities in software typically found on web servers.
Media hype and fanboy propaganda aside, the next few months will
illustrate exactly how secure the majority of Linux installations
Links. They're probably better than fish-heads, but
your mileage may vary...
The lamentable state of US Politics - at Harpers
Magazine, a history of the Iraq war
told entirely in lies,
courtesy of text quoted verbatim from senior Bush Administration officials
and advisers. Meanwhile, at Truthout, a comprehensive analysis of
some of those lies, and why the administration's current attempts to blame
Bill Clinton are just so much hot air. And veteran counter-culture artist
Ralph Steadman has a thing or two to say, as well, in his
unique and wonderfully
offensive style. (Thanks to
one of the first and foremost left wing political weblogs, for the links.)
"Defender" - Microsoft's security tool is coming close the the end of
its protracted beta phase, it seems, if the fact that it has grown a name
is anything to go by. Whether this name change will impact the combined
Microsoft Client Protection
suite that so aroused the ire of Symantec
last month remains to be seen - but unfortunately, for me, Defender
will always be a
1980s computer game...
- the wisdom of connecting an old record deck to an equally old PC clone
is questionable, but many would consider going on to connect it to one or
more web sites so that every page view spins the record a certain distance
clockwise or anti-clockwise (producing a sound that probably defies
description), to be a complete debasement of technology. As usual, I
thoroughly approve. :-)
The naming of
Wi-Fi - in spite of widespread rumours to the contrary, it doesn't
stand for "Wireless Fidelity" (that doesn't mean anything, and even if it
did the 802.11 protocol doesn't involve anything comparable to the
original audio term) and was just a buzz-word chosen by the
Retro-fitting acronyms into a word that never
used to stand for anything has always been a bee in my bonnet, and these
days Wi-Fi is one of the main offenders.
Virtual flash mobs vs. 419 scammers - the online activist group
Artists Against 419 devote considerable time and resources to tracking
down the fake banking sites used by phishing scammers, but when official
approaches to the ISPs hosting the sites prove unproductive they are not
beyond using more dubious methods, for example orchestrating impromptu
denial of service attacks based on the real-world concept of a flash mob.
Atari hit with massive lawsuit
- simulation guru Chris Sawyer, the author of classics such Transport
Tycoon and Rollercoaster Tycoon, alleges that Atari owes him many years of
unpaid royalties, and because of their suspiciously slippery behaviour in
dodging these claims he is calling for a full audit of Atari's accounts.
I've always been a great fan of Sawyer's games, and wish him the best of
luck with this.
Second-hand Microsoft licences
- a UK firm is selling Microsoft product licenses bought from companies
closing down or going into receivership, and to the great surprise of
myself and others Microsoft has confirmed that the purchase and re-sale of
these licenses is perfectly acceptable. This is extremely unusual in an
industry where the first clause of the small print is usually "non
transferable", and the other UK licensing sources have greeted the news
with some considerable annoyance.
Rainbow warriors crack password hashes - the insecurity of wireless
networks protected by WEP and WPA is now widely known, but it's rather
upsetting to find that a new approach has rendered the common technique of
password hashing almost as vulnerable. By building a massive database of
possible hashes (admittedly a process that takes expertise and
considerable time) hashed passwords saved on disk or passed over a network
can be decrypted almost instantly. Unfortunately, the has tables are now
wide available both commercially and in the data underground, so this
bears keeping a very close eye on.
another tantrum - the pressure is getting to Linus, it seems, given
his latest rant about last minute additions to the upcoming new version of
the Linux kernel. If developers are tardy, he says, he will "refuse to
merge, and laugh in their faces derisively". Fighting words indeed,
and ones that have already attracted raised eyebrows from some of the key
developers, such as SCSI subsystem guru James Bottomley - themselves at
the mercy of other programmers further down the food chain.
Rocket men back in the news - two former rivals for last year's Ansari
X Prize, Canadian-based firm PlanetSpace and Romanian aerospace
company ARCA, are teaming up to develop a next-generation
spacecraft with an eye to the ongoing (and still keenly-contested)
X Prize Challenge. Meanwhile,
California-based XCOR Aerospace is planning to fly its EZ-Rocket
from the Mojave Spaceport to California City eleven miles away, setting a
new distance record for point-to-point rocket-powered take off and
landing. At the controls will be the veteran Dick Rutan, co-pilot of the
Voyager non-stop around-the-world flight in 1986.
I am hopping mad, tonight, and the target of my venom
is UK communications provider O2 (motto
"A Place Where Loyalty Is Rewarded"), who have just stolen all my
I use an online service on their web site to send SMS
text messages from my PC, as I find cellphone handsets themselves to be
one of the worst input methods for text ever devised, and for this
privilege O2 charges me £4.50 per hundred messages, paid in advance. The
service tends to languish un-used for much of the time, but recently I've
been sending a fair few of them thanks to a blossoming relationship with
someone who doesn't use email (yes, they do apparently exist - imagine my
surprise!) and in the course of one such session I thought to check my
As I had suspected, I'd never got around to changing my
address when I moved house last year, and while I was doing that I noticed
that the cellphone number they had on record was equally outdated. I
corrected this, more for completeness than because it was actually
necessary, and that was where the problem started...
On re-entering the main page I suddenly realised that
my balance of 65 unused messages had suddenly disappeared, and the two
dozen or so email messages exchanged with the O2 helpdesk over the next
week revealed that a) this was expected behaviour if I changed my
telephone number and b) there was nothing they were going to do
I am extremely offended by this. The value of the loss
is relatively trivial at only £2.92, but the principals of ethical
business they have flouted are anything but! It's absurd to expect that
merely updating account details will result in the loss of a pre-paid
service, and even if by some bizarre systems quirk that had to be the
case, it is surely the responsibility of the company to warn me before I
go ahead and click that final "OK" button. For their helpdesk just to wave
this away with "You have amended your mobile number and have lost your
text messages. Sorry we cannot refund you for that loss" is completely
unacceptable, and represents exactly the sort of shoddy customer service
that really, really, really annoys me.
Fortunately, for those who have been annoyed by large
corporations, help is now at hand from the UK Courts Service, whose
Money Claim Online site allows
one to register and process a case at a Small Claims Court without ever
having to leave your desk. It costs £30 to register a claim for a sum of
this magnitude (a cost which will be recouped in full if the claim is won)
and although it may seem eccentric to risk ten times more than the amount
owed to me, I am riding high on a wave of outraged principals and I'm
prepared to take the chance.
Watch this space for news of my progress!
So my PFYs and I were gathered with one of our pet
consultants reviewing the recently-completely
installation, and apparently the development team, seeing us all huddled
together in earnest discussion, were trying to decide on the best
collective noun for a group of network techies - they came up with either
a hub or a cluster, both of which sound just right.
Back at home, monitor manufacturer Iiyama thoroughly
lived up to expectations with their unusually generous
three year on-site warranty, turning up on time with a 19" LCD panel
to replace my faulty unit. Some testing of
my own had suggested that it was the monitor's digital interface circuitry
that had failed, as it was working perfectly well via an analogue cable
and dongle (if considerably less crisply than I had become used to
from the purely digital signal path!) and Iiyama took this report pretty
much at face value, offering a replacement with a minimum of fuss and
bother. Presumably the monitor they sent me is a refurbished unit, as that
model hasn't been in production for at least a year, but it certainly
doesn't show and in fact it lacks the pair of stuck pixels that the
original had when I bought it! I call that a result, and it pretty much
guarantees that the next LCD panel I buy will also be from Iiyama. Highly
People vs. the RIAA - a determined Oregon woman has decided to stand
up to the RIAA's campaign of bullying and intimidation, and as well as
refusing to give in to their outrageous demands for compensation she is
actually counter-suing for RICO violations, fraud, invasion of
privacy, abuse of process, electronic trespass, violation of the Computer
Fraud and Abuse Act, negligent misrepresentation, the tort of "outrage",
and deceptive business practices! I am absolutely delighted to hear this,
and I am confident that this will be the first of many such cases. Thanks
very much to Arnie of Arnie's
Airsoft for the tip.
bad day for the Gubernator - California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
discovered that he couldn't participate in his own state's election today,
as the notorious Diebold voting machines believed that he had already cast
his vote - and then he went on to
lose on all eight of the propositions in the special election he had
called to prove to the state's Democrats that he had the mandate of the
Scopes II - a court case concerning the teaching of the so-called
"theory" of Intelligent Design in schools, potentially as important and
far-reaching as the infamous Scopes "Monkey Trial" in 1925, is at an end,
with the full verdict expected by January. Meanwhile, the school
administrators of the Dover, Pennsylvania school district who launched the
case have been
driven from office by a landslide in the local elections. I guess the
people have spoken in Pennsylvania as well as California, yes...?
More on the infamous rootkit - Sony are reaping what they sowed
in the form of at least two class action suits, and
lists are emerging of all the
by their DRM trojan, Meanwhile, at Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow
2¢ worth on the industry's "Underpants Gnomes" business model...
What goes around, comes around - Michael Lynn, the ex-Cisco techie who
caused so much fuss earlier in the summer by exposing a serious weakness
in the IOS firmware that drives the company's ubiquitous routers, has
accepted a position at security appliance manufacturer Juniper. The timing
of the announcement is unlikely to be a coincidence given that Cisco
finally patched the vulnerability just last week...
bundle - games company Electronic Arts are to release a giant
compilation of every title in their long-running Command & Conquer
strategy series, a dozen games spanning a decade of development. The
series has always been among the best in the RTS genre, but I have to
admit that it's rather a strange idea...
Matrox adaptor - this neat little gadget allows computers that don't
usually have support for multiple monitors to split a single high
resolution image across two displays, giving the authentic dual head
experience - if your hardware is supported...
More modding - another
fine piece of work from the UK modders at Bit-Tech, and via
unusual PC with the 5¼" drive bays turned through 90° to be accessible
from the side of the case.
Inspired by my friend Mike, one of the England's
premier fans of zombie movies (he's just been bemoaning the fact that he
only has twelve of the sixteen English language versions of the movie
Dawn Of The Dead), tonight's Epicycle is a special all-undead issue.
Many thanks to Mike for so many wonderful links...
Urban Dead - A
massively-multiplayer, massively-low tech online game... Play a human
character fighting for survival in a city overrun by the undead, or a
zombie stalking the runs in search of fresh meat. This is great fun, and
has been keeping me entertained for several weeks, but the points-based
movement and combat prevents it from taking over one's every waking
- grotesquely gorgeous, provocative putrescence, beauty and braaains...
One rung further down the ladder from goth softcore sites like Suicide
My pet zombies
- does your life seem incomplete without a life-sized zombie mannequin
standing in a corner of your bedroom? If so, then you're in luck!
Book Of The Dead - recommended by Mike, a complete history of zombie
cinema, from its dawn in the 1930s to the recent resurgence of the genre.
The Federal Vampire And
Zombie Agency - working for you since 1897 to keep America safe from
Twilight Creations - manufacturers of a series of excellent zombie
board games, one of which I crushed Mike like a bug at the other week.
Of The Dead - a site devoted to the undisputed master of the genre,
George A. Romero. This is the canonical resource for Romero's
movies, I'm told.
The Zombie Survival Guide - in the event of a real zombie attack, this
is definitely the book to have in your library. Packed full of practical
advice to fighting back against the undead.
Land Of The Dead -
Romero's latest epic, made twenty years after the third movie and set in a
world where the zombies won... Reviews have been mixed, I gather, but it
still comes recommended.
Zombie Infection Simulator
- written by the creator of the Urban Dead game, this simulation tracks
the spread of the plague through a closed community. A fascinating
Zombie Squad - a public outreach arm dedicated to spreading awareness
of the perpetual risks from the undead in YOUR community. Be ready when
they come for you...
All Things Zombie - a
wide-reaching zombie fan site, covering movies, books, toys, games and
comics. It looks extremely comprehensive.
Now, if you'll
excuse me, there seems to be a loud pounding on the door... Hang on a mo
while I see what tha
After four hundred years one would think that the
time-honoured tradition of celebrating Guy Fawkes night would have become
sufficiently divorced from
the event it
commemorates, the attempt to assassinate King James I and the English
government by blowing up the Houses Of Parliament in 1605, but apparently
in these days of Islamic fundamentalism and ever more stringent
anti-terrorist legislation some commentators have found themselves unable
to resist making
the obvious comparisons. I am not one who looks to the past, on the
whole, and I've never found myself defending long-standing institutions
such as Bonfire Night simply because they are old, but in this case
the argument against smacks of the absurdist political correctness from
the nineties and I have little sympathy with it.
Here are some gratuitous fireworks, then, and a toast
to a bumbling Elizabethan terrorist who, in best English tradition, is
remembered purely for his monumental failure.
Before the explosions start outside, then (and before I
add to the cacophony myself with carefully timed bursts from a replica
some quick news links:
Websense makes hash of Microsoft - the web censoring service briefly
blocked the MS downloads area following its accidental misclassification
as a marijuana-related site.
Dutch tax on
MP3 players - controversial plans to impose a levy of €3.28 per
gigabyte of capacity have been revised, but the basic approach of treating
all users as criminals remains.
Linspire's Korean PR - if Microsoft follows through on its threat to
withdraw from the country following anti-trust allegations, Linspire have
offered to flood the entire country with its cheap cut-down Linux.
Wireless idiocy - New York's Westchester County is considering
legislation to completely prohibit open wireless networks, on the bizarre
grounds that they're a risk to the operator's data security!
Microsoft vs. Apple, again - MS is providing XBox 360 support for
music stored on a USB-connected iPod without working with Apple at all,
something that may cause considerable friction at Cupertino...
More on Sony's DRM - guru Mark Russinovich, who originally broke the
news about the malware, has determined that a recently-released patch to
remove the tool may actually crash the system!
A few very quick links:
on mouse mats - when you need a mouse pad the size of Iowa. More
Bass gods - I had no idea that musical instruments like this existed.
MS buys into
VoIP - could eBay's recent acquisition of Skype have anything to so
Justice seen to be done - an LA man is on trial for hacking into
400,000 PCs to install adware.
pumpkin - building a PC into a pumpkin, and then teaching it to fly.
Apple stock rockets - Symantec and SGI may be in the doldrums, but not
Breathalyzer audit - drunk-driving convictions may be overturned if
the source code isn't released.
Cisco fixes IOS - the bug that caused so much fuss back in the summer
has finally been patched.
All the news that's fit to 'blog:
delisted - the manufacturer of high-end graphics workstations has had
its shares removed from the New Your Stock Exchange listing following an
apparently unstoppable slump over the last few years. Once the undisputed
leader in its market niche, the company's downfall has followed a series
of questionable technical decisions and quality control problems, as well
as their failure to react to the emergence onto the market of
significantly less expensive PC and Linux-based graphics systems. SGI was
one of the great names in the nineties, and it's sad to see them in such
Symantec shares collapse - more traumatic news from the stock market
comes with a drop of more than 20% in the software giant's share price
following simultaneous announcements of a $251m second quarter loss, the
surprise departure of its CFO, and a gloomy sales forecast. Unlike the
news of SGI, I'm not at all sentimental about problems with Symantec, but
as they've recently vacuumed up a number of the companies that provide
core components of my office network I have to admit to a degree of
Sony CD malware - the recent exposure by Windows guru Mark Russinovich
is causing all sorts of fuss, of course, but the response from First 4
Internet, the creator of the copy-protection system in question, is quite
predictable. They insist that deliberately hiding intrusive,
resource-hogging software on peoples' PCs is perfectly reasonably
behaviour, and claim that full removal instructions are available for
anyone who contacts the company's helpdesk to request them - although, of
course, in order to do that one needs to know that the stuff is actually
Missed Point Error in line 1 - a "security researcher" has released
the news that most of the current anti-virus scanners will fail to detect
malicious code if... wait for it... the malicious code in question is
changed slightly from its standard form. This is perfectly true, of
course, and is the argument that has been used against signature-based
virus scanners since they were invented back in the mid-eighties, but
isn't really the earth-shaking news that Andrey Bayora seems to think it
is - and some of the comments on the Full Disclosure security
mailing list are decidedly acerbic...
Still banging the drum - the media industry doesn't care who it
targets, it seems, in its endless quest to harass innocent people in the
name of copyright protection. The latest victim is a 67 year old man who
is being sued for up to $600,000 in damages after his 12 year old grandson
downloaded four movies (three of which the family already owned on DVD)
via the Internet file-sharing service iMesh. The PR fallout from this sort
of legal action will be horrendous, though, and with more and more people
standing up to the MPAA and the
RIAA I'm surprised that they still feel the "lesson" is worth it.
Netflix settlement sucks - in an unusual move, users of the online DVD
rental service are encouraging their fellows not to agree to a
class action lawsuit that has been brought in their name. The suit claimed
that users could not make "unlimited rentals" as advertised, and when the
court found this allegation to be true (it's actually in the Ts&Cs, in
fact!) the plaintiff was awarded a token $2000 in damages. His lawyers,
however, will receive a decidedly un-token $2.5m and opponents of
the settlement are afraid that this will be compensated for by a global
increase in rental charges next year - but if 5% of the users register an
objection, the suit will be cancelled.
Greek police display complete ignorance of spam - a well-known Swedish
software developer has been arrested in Greece following complaints made
by a business contact who received spam messages soon after meeting Rick
Downes and his wife. These people evidently think that spammers travel the
world collecting email addresses manually one by one, which would be an
extremely funny mistake if it wasn't for the fact that Downes is facing
possible criminal charges because of it. Note that this is coming from the
country that a few years ago
arrested a bunch of
plane-spotters on suspicion of spying after they dared to take
photographs during an air show... Do they have something against
geeks and nerds, one wonders? Sheesh!
Teen escapes email bombing charge - A British teenager who allegedly
flooded his former employers' email system with five million messages has
escaped trial after a judge ruled that the attack did not fall foul of the
Computer Misuse Act. Even though the barrage caused the mail servers to
crash, the Act only covers "unauthorised access" and "unauthorised
modification" of a system and as it was deemed that the proper function of
a mail server is to receive and process email, sending messages to it is
legal whatever the ultimate intention. This technicality highlights how IT
has changed since the CMA was framed fifteen years ago (and it was a
poorly thought-out piece of legislation even then!) but although a reform
is obviously required I have no confidence that the current government
will be able to create something adequately balanced to replace it.
Today's nomination for the
Self-Aggrandisement Award is UK ISP Zen Internet, thanks to this
extract from their monthly newsletter:
But by the end of that year (1995), people were
beginning to take a lot more notice of 'The World Wide Web' and Internet
Service Providers (ISPs) like CompuServe, America Online and Zen
Internet offered customers Internet access for the first time. ... Zen
launched with a network capable of supporting up to six simultaneous
I am greatly amused by an ISP that apparently owned
less modems than I did at the time listing itself alongside
CompuServe... As the first (and for many years the only significant) UK
ISP, Demon are the only company who are allowed to talk like that, and
although they had a damn site more than six modem lines in 1995 even
they paled in comparison to the global might of CI$... Sheesh!
Meanwhile, back in the future, more griping:
Sony hacking your PC - a detailed analysis by Sysinternals guru
Mark Russinovich shows that copy protection secretly installed by an audio
CD from Sony BMG has all the characteristics of the worst malware, and as
well as going out of its way to hide its existence, removal is a tricky
job even for an expert and may well damage the functionality of the
operating system. Shame on them!
Supremes shun Microsoft - The Register reports that the US Supreme
Court has rejected an appeal to examine their legal dispute with Eolas
Technologies, the one-man company formed purely to sue Microsoft over a
highly tenuous patent concerning embedding program objects in web pages -
and for which it has won an outrageous settlement of $521 million. The
court's decision means that the case will continue at a lower level in the
Court Of Appeals.
Axed TV series tops polls - a poll organised by
newscientistspace.com (the space news site spun-off from New
Scientist magazine) has returned the bizarre result of judging
Buffy-creator Joss Whedon's Firefly series as four of the top five
"Greatest Ever Sci-Fi Works Worldwide". Given the many and varied
omissions from these results, it seems clear to me that the popularity of
the canon is due much more to the recent high-profile movie release
keeping it in the public eye than to any innate greatness... And with a
surprisingly small total of 4260 votes there has also been massive
potential for some judicious ballot box stuffing on the part of the
Well, there's a pleasant surprise! This time last month I
was bemoaning my disappointingly limp prowess in the stats, but now the
picture is looking decidedly more rosy. The daily hits and page views
climbed steadily throughout the month, starting down around fifty per day
and rising to an average of over one hundred. This has almost doubled my
monthly figure and, assuming that the new level persists, next month is
likely to be a little better again.
The trend was becoming obvious after only a week, but it
took me a while to work out what was actually happening - my tracking data
showed a significant increase in referrals from Google's image search
facility, something that with hindsight has been absent over the last few
months. My hypothesis is that although Google's text-based index updated
itself relatively soon after I juggled my domain names around back in June,
the image database takes considerably longer to update and only started to
point to the new URLs around three months later.
The figures are still less than half those of the heady
days back in the spring, but I have to admit that I'm cheered by the trend.