29th September 2005
I've spent the day having my head crammed full of
information on our new
Dell/EMC SAN storage infrastructure, along with my manager and one of
the PFYs. It's been very worthwhile, so far, and I loved their SAN
simulation software - you can actually connect the right wires and fibre
cables to hook the various components of the system together by dragging
and dropping on a detailed schematic of a CX-700, power all up the modules
in the right sequence by clicking the little power buttons and watching
the little LEDs light up, then create a PPP connection from a simulated
Windows server to perform the SAN initialisation via a simulated web
browser. It felt exactly like doing it on the real hardware, only without
having to leave the desk - marvellous stuff!
More tomorrow, but in the meantime a few quick links:
"On Bullshit" - via a throwaway reference in Dan's latest
letters page, surely
one of the key works of modern sociology.
New D&D advert disses online RPGs - "If you're going to sit in your
basement pretending to be an elf, you should at least have some friends
over to help". Brilliant.
Compensating for something - these amateur rockets make the little
Estes offerings look like, well, toys... Mach 2 from a DIY project,
Skype upgraded - I have to admit that I've actually never used the
popular VoIP app, but friends who have swear by it, and on paper the new
version looks better than ever.
The evil of piracy - eight people have been charged with leaking the
recent Star Wars III movie to the web the day before the official
opening, ensuring that it only grossed a meagre $837.5 million.
mistake - Linux may not be the unhackable, uncrackable miracle OS
we're always been assured it was, as a new initiative from IBM and red Hat
is intended to improve its security.
trouble in paradise - Apple has admitted that there may possibly
be a flaw with a teeny-tiny handful of their new iPod Nano units, but
blame the users for most of the problems.
No Footfall - The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research
Council is funding a three-year study into intercepting and deflecting
asteroids on a collision course with Earth.
Blissful ignorance - apparently most people have absolutely no idea
what a weblog is, or what "podcasting" means, or many of the other
buzzwords that proliferate in our Internet-connected society.
Homer: But I have to have a gun! It's in the
Lisa: Dad! The Second Amendment is just a
remnant from revolutionary days. It has no meaning today!
Homer: You couldn't be more wrong, Lisa. If I
didn't have this gun, the King of England could just walk in here any time
he wants, and start shoving you around. (Starts pushing Lisa) Do you want
that? Huh? Do you?
- "The Simpsons" episode 5F01,
I've decided to set up my IP cameras at home again, not
for any particularly good reason but just because they're cool. :-)
I have a venerable Axis 2100, a pair of
DLink DCS-1000W wireless cams, and a little 3Com USB cam on an
Trackerpod pan-and-tilt base. For my first attempt at comprehensively
invading my own privacy, a few years ago, I hammered together some
of this web site, but this time I'm feeling a little less inclined to
roll-my-own and I've invested in a copy of the
WebcamSat server from Surveyor
WebcamSat is a Java-based server that connects to
various flavours of USB and IP-based cameras and redistributes the streams
via its built-in web server, complete with all the usual user security,
video recording, and motion detection. At the moment it's installed on my
Server 2003 domain controller, but as soon as I'm happy with the basic
configuration I'll try to port it over to the
Sun/Cobalt Raq web server
appliance. I'm not exposing my DC to the tender mercies of the Internet,
but I don't mind hanging the Raq out in the DMZ to suffer the slings and
arrows of outrageous port-scanning. Once it's working I'll point a camera
at the collection of flashing lights in my server cabinet, for the
edification and delight of all concerned - so watch this space.
More random links, as right now I don't know whether
I'm coming or going!
Intelligent design in court - a group of parents in Pennsylvania is
seeking to overturn a local school board's decision to allow the teaching
of this pseudo-science claptrap.
Born in chains - another of those little political cartoons that
undoubtedly funny, but makes you gnash your teeth and clench your fists as
well. Rather too true... Via
retention illegal - the European Data Protection Supervisor has warned
that the current EU proposals will need to be heavily regulated before
they will be acceptable to his office.
- neat little parabolic reflectors for attaching to the dipole antennae of
a Wi-Fi router to boost the range, although as time is short I chose the
commercial equivalent over the DIY
Technical art - this year's entries in the Science And Engineering
Visualization Challenge, sponsored by Science magazine and the NSF. As
usual, many of the images are absolutely fascinating.
Hardware hackery - via
Boing Boing, cracking a combination lock using an old beer can.
The host site is groaning under the load right now, though, which should
be worrying to users of said locks...
travellers - Penny Arcade offer their take on the Skymall
catalogues found in seat-back pockets on airplanes. I want a Hideous
Portal to Gael'Thoth, myself - but then, who wouldn't?
Dan at Gizmodo - tech guru Dan Rutter is interviewed at gadget site
Gizmodo (Note to the site's writers - not every web page is a 'blog,
dammit!) and reviews an
Just a few random links, tonight, as I seem to have
lost the will to do anything more than vegetate in front of a week's
backlog of American cartoons. After one of those weeks, evidently
it's been one of those weekends as well.
Corporate greed - analyst iSuppli continues to take Apple's gadgets
apart, this time revealing that the manufacturing costs of the new iPod
Nano are only about half of the $199 retail price.
Screen horror - it is emerging that the Nano's LCD screen is
incredibly fragile, though, and only a few scratches are sufficient to
render it incapable of displaying photos clearly enough to be worthwhile.
- "A Shoggoth on the Roof" is an fictional
based on the H.P. Lovecraft stories, as featured in an equally fictional
documentary of an unsuccessful attempt to stage the production.
Good, bad and ugly -
courtesy of Toolhaus.org, an excellent web-based service to filter
an eBay user's feedback profile for negative reports, scan their recent
purchases, and other useful searches.
Strange but true
- and talking of eBay, the aptly named "Way Out Auctions" highlights the most
strange, bizarre, pointless, unexpected and downright peculiar things
currently up for auction.
Halt or I fire
- an automatic "sentry gun" using a bunch of PC-based image recognition
hooked up to an airsoft P90. I love the way he developed it with the aid
of his little brother as the target...
Credit card fraud - amazingly, a US court has ruled that credit card
companies have no obligation to tell their customers if their networks are
hacked and all their confidential data is stolen! Outrageous...
TiVO breaking contract - and talking of corporate bastardry, users who
have taken exception to TiVO's new policy of disabling their recordings
will have to pay a $150 "early cancellation" fee.
stamps on Crazy Frog - the infuriating Jamster adverts have been ruled
unacceptable before the 9 o'clock "watershed", and the company has
generally been slapped on the wrist and told to behave.
Much has already been written on the subject of the
modern trend for blindingly obvious safety warnings, but I'd like to add
this one, on a glass wall mirror I've just fitted: "Do not strike surface
with hard or sharp objects". Indeed.
(more) trouble in paradise - Symantec has reiterated their warnings
from earlier in the year that the much vaunted alternatives to Microsoft's
operating systems and applications are not the universal security panacea
that is often claimed. With significantly more vulnerabilities discovered
in Mozilla-based browsers than Internet Explorer so far this year (indeed,
a sample exploit for the latest Firefox flaw has
released) and Mac OS-X rootkits such as Weapox now circulating
in the wild, things are looking decidedly more hostile for the Mac fanboys
and Linux lawn dwarves. Just as predicted, actually.
And talking of malware, the IFPI, another recording
industry mouthpiece, has
tool that allegedly searches a computer for both "illegal" music and
the P2P software that has been used to download it. However, not only are
the basic assumptions severely flawed - any music not protected by DRM
must be stolen, and all file-sharing software is only used for theft - but
actually it appears to do
poor job of implementing even that deluded policy. Bearing in mind
that the recording industry have repeatedly stated their intention to
release virus-like software that deliberately infects remote PCs and
actually deletes data files it doesn't like the look of, and it's
clear that there is reason to worry...
On a related note, an IFPI spokesman in Finland has
made his feelings clear about both fair use and systems that do not
conform to the emerging DRM standards:
“Now, we need to understand that listening to
music on your computer is an extra priviledge. Normally people listen to
music on their car or through their home stereos”, says Kyyrä and
continues; “If you are a Linux or Mac user, you should consider
purchasing a regular CD player.”
Finland seems to be one of the
for over-restrictive DRM and intellectual property madness at the moment,
actually, and if that is the prevailing attitude of those responsible then
it's no wonder...
Closer to home, but just as worrying - telecoms
specialist David Mery was
arrested by the Metropolitan Police in July, a few weeks after the
suicide bombers massacred travellers on the London transport network. His
crime, basically, was
being a techie, as it seems that thanks to the wonders of
psychological profiling, to a policeman computer geeks or engineers appear
to behave in the same way as Islamic terrorists. Although David was
searched and found to be completely lacking in explosives, weapons, or
anything else suspicious, he was still subjected to the full rigours of
police interrogation, and although charges were eventually dropped the
official process of recovering his possessions and clearing his record is
still far from over. Appalling and upsetting as this incident was, I
suppose he could count himself lucky that he wasn't just shot out of
hand... Oh, but I feel so much safer knowing that the Met are
taking care of London's citizens like this. :-(
My fiend Dale, a veteran shooting enthusiast from a
country where the real thing is still (mostly) allowed, once described my
M4CQB as an "aircraft canon" - and
tonight I'm wondering how he'd describe my latest acquisition. In real
life the GE M134 Vulcan minigun actually is an aircraft cannon,
usually found gracing the door of an assault helicopter or (in slightly
different guise) the wing pods of a fighter plane.
In Hollywood, however, it's more often found tucked
nonchalantly under the arm of a very large man, specifically Jesse Ventura
or Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2, and is used by them to
make a real mess of somebody's day - or, more often, a whole bunch
of somebodies... For various reasons it would be completely impossible for
even a superhero to use it like that, but it looks marvellous on screen.
My new toy is one of the
replicas produced to date, manufactured by
Precision Products in the US - mine is the original A1 version, since
replaced by an A2 variant which has a higher magazine capacity but lacks
the 1:1 scale accuracy of the earlier model. The Japanese companies Asahi
and Toy-Tec both made M134 replicas in the early nineties, but apparently
they were rather fragile and cantankerous beasties and the PPP versions
seem to be easily the most practical and sought after.
Power to spin the barrels comes from an impressively
hefty NiCad battery pack, with the BBs propelled by compressed air or CO2
bottles in the backpack. Connecting the weapon and the backpack is a
real-steel feed chute, complete with deactivated 7.62 rounds to conceal
the power and gas lines.
As an airsoft replica it rules the field with a rate of
fire of up to 3000 rounds per minute (matching the genuine article!) and
maximum power levels far above the safe limits for skirmishing. Given the
massive overkill this implies, in practical terms I probably won't even be
able to fire it in my back garden, and I have to admit that it's probably
doomed to languish mostly as a display item. But still, what a piece!
In spite of all the research I've done on the replica
in the last week, I'm actually a little stunned by the sheer magnitude and
brutality of the weapon when seen in the flesh, so while I sit here
slightly open-mouthed you can find more information at the excellent
Monty's Miniguns, undoubtedly
the canonical resource, and an equally excellent video review (love the
accents!) at Airsoft
Things geeks get reincarnated as, No. 9: The token in a Token Ring
kettles - it's amusing to see that the new bug that emerged in the
Linux versions of the much-lauded alternative browser Firefox is exactly
the same type of vulnerability that the open source fanboys have spent
years criticising Microsoft for. When Firefox is set as the default
browser, a maliciously-crafted URL in an email message will be acted on by
the shell to run arbitrary commands, much to the consternation of all
concerned - now, does that sound at all familiar from the venom
traditionally levelled against Internet Explorer, Outlook et al?
ZDNet columnist George Ou has totalled the number of vulnerabilities
and exploits for both Firefox and IE, showing that in many ways Firefox is
actually considerably less secure - which should come as no surprise to
anyone who follows the news, but is very much the opposite of the
prevailing "IE suckz, Firefox rulez" mood on forums such as
Slashdot. No modern operating system is perfectly secure, however
cool and trendy it is, and anyone who thinks otherwise is sadly deluded.
Yahoo in the doghouse - Yahoo has joined the growing number of
once-hip Internet companies that have caught the usual disease of big
corporates, sacrificing ethics for profits and political influence. Many
questions are being asked following exposure of the company's active
support for pop-up ads, the changes made by its rather dubious software
utilities, and its release of information to the Chinese government that
led to the imprisonment of a journalist. Not good...
World of Warcraft plague - the popular online role-playing game is
experiencing difficulties following a bug in a magic spell. The spell is
only supposed to affect a single player in a particular situation, but
instead it is spreading like a virus and only the very strongest can
survive infection. The game's organisers have not revealed how many of the
two million players have been caught so far, but rumours suggest that all
attempts to prevent the spread of the damage have been ineffective.
You don't talk
about fight club - tasteless, but funny all the same, "how to turn
your hamster into a fighting machine".
Power to the
people - more victims are standing up to fight back against the RIAA's
bullying, and I'm hoping this is just the start of an avalanche.
Just say no - the No2ID campaign has appointed Lib Dem MP Matthew
Taylor as parliamentary spokesman to argue their case.
Christians vs. the DMCA - religious rockers Switchfoot are
teaching fans to bypass the copy protection on their own CDs.
Teasing the devil - Boing Boing is having a little jab at black
metal, and it has to be said that it's something of a slow-moving target.
out - Steve Jobs is back on his soapbox again, this time accusing the
music companies of profiteering; a position I have rather more sympathy
with than usual...
sided calendars - when you absolutely, positively, need a calendar in
the form of a pentagonal or rhombic dodecahedron.
Never forgets - one of the icons of 1980s computing was the floppy
disk manufacturer Elephant Memory Systems, whose distinctive logo really
stood out from the other more prosaic brands.
Camphone OCR - wave a cellphone over a printed page for a few seconds, and
it will capture several dozen images which are then automatically stitched
together and OCRed into text. Very clever!
wood? - at Boing Boing, more beautiful wooden peripherals from
Russian craftsmen, very timely considering Dan's latest post on
burr walnut computing.
technology - the Forget-Me-Not
panties have a built-in GPS transmitter to report their location,
along with the body temperature and heart rate of the wearer - but I'm
pretty sure it's a hoax.
Creative recycling - at [H]ard/OCP, a pretty
little wind chime made from an old interface card and the steel platters
from a dead hard disk. It's a good idea, although extracting the platters
can be tricky.
- Mike and I were watching Kelly's
Heroes, the other day, and a discussion over the size of the main gun in
the various models of the Sherman tank led me to this excellent resource.
sculpture - a wonderful gallery of high-speed photos of pouring,
splashing and dripping liquids. Nothing very new in itself, of course but
this is by far the best single collection I've some across.
mousetrap - the humble screw hasn't changed much in 2000 years, but a US
company is seeking to revolutionise the industry with a new breed of what is now
termed a "threaded fastener".
From Russia, with love
- a new twist on the Nigerian funds scam seeks to lure the lonely and horny by
answering their adverts on dating sites. Once a bond has formed, the requests
for money start...
posturing again - in the wake of the Supreme Court Grokster decision, the
RIAA is puffing out its collective chest and issuing dire warnings to the
companies that make P2P file sharing software.
More weird USB
gadgets - the idea of an electric eye massager fills me with some
trepidation, I have to admit, but I'd still rather have one of those than a
USB drumming Santa.
And finally, the
PowerSquid - it
may sound like a failed cartoon character, but actually this "electrical strip
minus the strip" looks ideal for plugging in those annoying "wall wart"
transformers that are so common with modern peripherals. It's available with US
sockets only, at present, and on past experience unfortunately it may stay that
My mother was the cold north wind
My daddy was the son
Of a railroad man
From west of Hell
Where the trains don't even run
Never heard the whistle of a lonesome freight
Or the singing of its driving wheels
No, I never did no wanderin'
Never did no wanderin'
Never did no wanderin' after all
- Never Did No Wanderin',
The New Main Street Singers
The Jobs reality distortion field
- Steve says that he's buried the competition when it comes to online
music and MP3 players, but I'm not convinced. Outside of the Mac
fan-sites, the iPods are consistently rated overall as not the best
players on the market, and thanks
to the proprietary DRM that locks users into Apple's systems (moving your songs to another platform is not
impossible, but it's certainly difficult) it's way too soon to be sure of the
long term success of iTunes service.
Murphy's Law - a wonderful series of photos - car falls into the sea, crane
pulling it out, crane falls into sea, bigger crane pulling it out, bigger crane
falls in too - but unfortunately on closer examination it's at least partially a
fake as the final frame is obviously based on the 5th image. I can't see obvious
problems with the earlier images, though, so it's safe to assume an embarrassing
and expensive salt water dunking for at least two vehicles.
TiVO locking - in spite of the bizarre explanations, initially of mistakes
at the broadcasting companies and later of "noise" causing errors, the
mysterious rash of automatically expiring programmes is still occurring.
It seems to me that this is a deliberate feature, currently undergoing
internal testing and evaluation, that has been accidentally leaked into
the live broadcast streams. Bet you we haven't heard the last of this,
More copyright lies - desperate to brainwash children before they're old
enough to understand the issues of intellectual property for themselves, the
media companies have long resorted to misinformation and downright lies to
spread their message. It's a great pity to see the US Patent And Trademark
Office joining in, however, with an page of distorted, twisty interpretations of
copyright designed to prevent children from doing some things that are actually
both legal and perfectly ethical!
Razor madness - I've been a fan of the allegedly "high-tech" razors for
ages, and have upgraded through Gillette's model range to their current
three-blade Mach 3 Turbo. I tried the competition's four-bladed Quattro without
much success (perhaps unsurprisingly, it just seemed to cut me more often!) but
now that I've heard that Gillette are introducing a five-blade model I'm
somewhat dubious. It's taking on something of the feel of an arms race, and an
expensive one at that...
After many years of work, I've finally achieved an
almost completely silent computer. This is no mean feat with the high-end
dual CPU motherboards I favour, and my current pair of
3.06GHz Xeon CPUs has been
the most challenging yet. The combination of water cooling and careful
selection of all the other components has finally paid off, though, with
the final step being today's installation of a
600W PSU. The end result is that I can hear the servos of the four
hard disks stepping when things get busy, and if I sit still and listen
carefully I can hear the faint hum from the pumps and fans of the Koolance
hardware, but everything else is blissful silence.
The power supply itself is a nice piece of hardware,
although the device cables are a little short for a case the size of my
Lian Li PC-V2000 and I had to add an extension to reach the top bays.
Apart from that, though, it certainly lives up to the favourable reviews
in Silent PC
Review and others, and at this stage I can thoroughly recommend it.
However, I was much less impressed with the replacement
blue acrylic cover I purchased pre-installed from Performance-PCs,
which really didn't fit very well at all, and already showed definite
signs of detaching itself from the metal frame even before I had a chance
to install it!
Having emailed them to complain about this, I was
equally unimpressed with the response from Hank Baron, one of the
company's founders, that the covers fit some power supplies better than
others and that there wasn't much they could do about that. That isn't
what their web site claims, however, and in any case it isn't really much
of an excuse! I am disappointed with the quality of the cover and the way
in which it had been installed, and I am discussing this with Hank at the
moment. I'll post full details here when the situation is settled - either
In the end I decided to remove the acrylic cover
completely and replace the original metal part, which I had asked the
company to supply just in case I didn't like the modification. Anyone who
is considering buying a PSU with one of these addon covers pre-installed
would be well advised to do the same - unless you've seen it fitted to
your particular model of PSU, don't assume that it will look nearly as
good as the pictures.
I watched the first episode of the BBC's new
Race" the other day, and I was really enjoying it until around forty
minutes in when my eyeballs fell out onto the floor in surprise. In a
scene where American army soldiers were chivvying Von Braun's scientists
onto a train just ahead of the Russian advance, one of them was carrying a
very unusual rifle slung over his shoulder:
To be accurate, it seems to be components from several
different weapons - the barrel, gas tube and front part of the
stock are clearly from one of the many Communist Bloc weapons inspired by
the AK-47 assault rifle... those little flattened semi-circular cut-outs
in the woodwork are a dead giveaway, and a set of three of them points
quite conclusively to the Chinese
The receiver and the rest of the stock, however, appear
to be from the
Australian Lanchester submachine gun. Unlike the late sixties Type 68
that donated the front end, the Lanchester at least has the benefit of
being appropriate to the WW2 era, but evidently the designer of this
peculiar mish-mash decided to offset that by gluing on what appears to be
a bit of scrap wood to represent a pistol grip. Unfortunately, as well as
being a completely different shade of brown to the rest of the stock, it
is a decidedly uncomfortable shape and also rather too far from the
trigger to actually be useable by anyone not in possession of six inch
The overall impression is not unlike a
Garand M1 carbine,
which would have been very appropriate for US front-line forces operating
in Eastern Europe at the end of the war, but to anyone who knows firearms
it stands out a mile - and as the genuine article is certainly not a rare
piece either as a replica or a deactivation it's a bit of a mystery why
anyone ever felt the need for such a poorly-conceived and
My space-head friend Mike points out that the technical
details that mattered, those of the V2 and R1 rockets, were well presented
and very convincing, and I do take his point - but it's often the little
things that make a big difference and when I see a glaring error in a
field I know something about it does make me wonder about mistakes in
areas with which I'm not so familiar. For example, Mike tells me that
Wernher Von Braun should have had his left arm in a full-length plaster
cast for most of the episode, the result of
a car crash
during his escape from Peenemünde.
I'm definitely looking forward to the rest of the
series, but by now it will be hard not to be on the lookout for booboos...
There's nothing like nitpicking. :-)
If I may be so bold as to say -
Cool servers... :-)
Meanwhile, more links.
Microsoft update - a fascinating look at the
interface, the first major change in a decade and really very
impressive, and Bill Gates has given one if his
rare interviews to the Seattle Post Intelligencer, talking
about the future of the company.
a shower of bastards - claiming that they are "not a wealthy company",
the recipient of $534 million in damages from Microsoft is cashing in on
the disaster in New Orleans with both grasping hands. I can't begin to
express my disgust with their behaviour.
controversy - the last week has seen a furore over whether the popular
3rd-party PVR was bowing to pressure from broadcasting companies to
restrict access to old TV shows, but now it appears that it was
only a mistake. Personally, I'm not convinced, and neither are
adverts offend - a set of adverts specifically targeting Dell have
been rejected by sections of the IT press as too controversial, but to me
they just come across as rather childish. They're inaccurate, too - in
spite of Sun's claim to the contrary, there are four Dell x64-based
servers in the picture above...
Redbus and Demon founder appears in court - how the mighty hath
fallen. Oh, dear... :-(
UK council pays £7.7m to escape outsourcing deal - probably the first
of many, I'd say...
under fire from its victims - suing your fans is not "insanely great",
it's just insane.
David and Goliath - and talking of lawsuits, some no-name is suing
Google over the GMail trademark.
bought Skype - which is odd, as it doesn't really seem to fit into
their portfolio very well.
Boggling gently - for sale on eBay, pants used by the monkeys in the
early Soviet space programme.
In retirement - the pioneering SpaceShipOne has been moved to
the Smithsonian museum.
Leet Scrabble tiles
- a strange idea, given that the language's proponents mostly can't
SD card benchmarks - an excellent
user-contributed database of
flash card performance in PDAs.
an impressive transparent case with a number of neat twists that I haven't
seen elsewhere. It's a cool project, indeed.
Between babysitting the Dell box-to-rack team and
tidying up the loose ends from the weekend's computer room reshuffle, it's
been another one of those days - so you'll have to content yourself with a
quick summary of the news items that have been building up while I've been
pixels - by getting physical with your monitor. I'm not sure I'm brave
Shake your funky
groove-thing - with an advert for the new Motorola ROKR phone
to iPods - assault and battery, and not before time if you ask me!
silent - SPCR has updated their excellent quiet power supply guide.
Microsoft's greatest hits - courtesy of BBSpot, the boxed set we've
all been waiting for.
History of Linux Part I - from prehistoric lawn dwarves to Linus
Copyrighting I2 - nobody is actually using Internet2, yet, but
the RIAA are staking their claim already.
Bart - a new offering from the guru of boot disks, and this time it's
reviewed - the EU's crippled version of Windows comes under the
A plethora of Vista - as do the many different versions of the
upcoming Vista OS.
Displaying the future - SED, photonic textiles, LED beamers and
flexible screens. Cool stuff indeed!
cabling - I've seen flat speaker cable before, but flat CAT6 is
Cerf nettled - "I've been busy, you know", he tells The Register.
you listening to me? - an audible new twist on the classic Tempest
Palm's software downfall - a once proud company reduced to living in a
A blast from the
past - Sony's venerable Walkman brand is re-launched for the 21st
Inland Revenue loses 1 million tax records - why are there so
many government IT failures?
fandom - an impressive science fiction resource courtesy of Professor
Soviet Union, computer uses you" - wonderful wooden computers;
A surprising stance - a Republican senator is opposing RIAA mouthpiece
Orin Hatch on P2P.
Everybody hates Charles Clarke - telcos and ISPs are speaking out
against data retention.
Monday night is geek porn night at Epicycle! As
promised, more of the fruits of the weekend's labours.
On the left, our existing servers - around thirty Dell
PowerEdge 2650s, with a handful of older 2400s and 2500s thrown in for
good measure. Oh, and three old Compaq Proliant servers, too, which in
spite of their advancing years are still slightly too useful to throw
out... On the right, three new cabinets for the SAP hardware, currently in
the process of being installed for us by Dell - at great expense,
and to my considerable puzzlement, as apart from the fibre channel
switches, which are new to me, I probably have a better appreciation of
the ins and outs of mounting rack servers than the two engineers who have
ended up doing the job. Ah, well.
On the left, the connectivity - many Cisco switches, an
extensive Raritan Paragon II KVM system, and more firewalls, routers,
security appliances and gateways than you can shake a fairly
generously-proportioned stick at. On the right, the new Dells - a set of
1850s to act as domain controllers and the like, another set of workhorse
2850s, the PowerVault 136T LTO3 tape library and (tomorrow, I hope) the
EMC SAN cabinets, and then four 6850 quad-CPU monsters destined for a
Windows cluster at the heart of the SAP landscape. The raw processing
power available is exceeded only by the number of pretty blue lights.
The remnants, left behind in the old part of the
room... The dark grey cabinet is our PBX, which is attached to the rest of
the world by cables so short and thick that it is impossible to move, and
the taller one beside it is a pair of servers that are so closely coupled
to the aforementioned cabinet that none of us seriously contemplated
separating them. This is going to present an interesting challenge to the
contractors refurbishing the room, as they're going to have to jack up the
server cabinets somehow and lay the new floor underneath them. Now that,
I'm going to enjoy watching...
It took another twelve hours today, but we got
everything back up and running again in the end - fifty-something servers,
and all the routers, gateways, firewalls and security appliances needed to
provide connections to branch offices around the country and group
networks around the world.
Thanks very much to my PFY for fixing all the
things that I couldn't, and to my manager and the helpdesk guys who
beavered away tirelessly running cables and relocating BT wallboxes, and
to my director who magically produced hot food every time we needed a
break. Real teamwork, and it wouldn't have been possible without you all.
I was too busy to take pictures by the time things
started becoming more photogenic, but I'll post a bunch when we've tidied
up properly to show off the new Dell servers that are going in tomorrow.
And now, a long, hot bath. <creak>
That was a very long day, but there's still a
lot left to do tomorrow... My team all worked like slaves, and the
external contractors who were in to rewire the power distribution system
pitched in whenever they weren't too busy with their own work, but I think
we all under-estimated the sheer magnitude of the task. It's going to be a
I've designed the new extension so that when you enter
the room the first thing you see is a double row of fully-loaded Dell
server cabinets, in all their black and silver glory, which is going to be
quite spectacular. The space seemed absolutely huge before we started
moving the cabinets across, but until the refurbishment is finished it has
to hold the entire contents of the old part of the room as well as the
three new cabs, and it soon filled up.
It won't be any worse than the horrendous overcrowding
we put up with in the old computer room, though... This is a demanding
project both mentally and physically, but the end results will be well
worth it and I'm really looking forward to showing friends and colleagues
around when it's all finished - and that isn't an offer you'll be allowed
The contractors built us a ramp between the old and new
raised floors, which made it possible to move a fully-loaded 42U cabinet
from one side to the other. It didn't make it easy, however, and
with the heaviest cabinet containing around 800Kg of Dell Poweredge 2650
servers it took six people to get it over the lip onto the ramp - but I
hate to think of how we could have managed without it...
The room is starting to fill up... But there are a
lot of cables to run under the floor, and a lot of head-scratching and
consulting of Visio diagrams, before these cabinets are anything more than
giant pieces of abstract sculpture...
The first phase of the computer room refurbishment is
almost complete, with the partition between the existing room and the
newly rebuilt extension removed and most of the electrical wiring now in
place, so this weekend half of the department is coming in to help move
servers and lay new cables.
There are some finishing touches still outstanding, as
not only have the lino floor tiles been delayed somewhere in Italy (so we
have a shiny, slippery bare metal floor) but there's also a yawning gulf
between the two sections of raised floors and the new floor is four inches
higher than the old one - which is going to make moving fully-loaded
server cabinets into the new part of the room a challenge along the lines
Royal Navy field gun trials. Oh, and the huge Daikin aircon units are
running late, as well, so we're cooling the newly combined area with a
combination of a large flexible aluminium hose feeding cold air in from
the UPS room and the bunch of the portable units that have been so
problematic of late.
However, the tight timescales dictate that we move as
much as possible from the old part of the room into the newly extended
part whatever the outstanding problems, as Dell's "rack and stack"
team is arriving bright and early on Monday morning to fill three new
racks with twenty-something servers for our imminent SAP installation. As
my department director says, it's "an interesting challenge", but at least
he's putting his money where his mouth is by coming in to help out - and
as he's an ex-techie that's more than just a gesture.
Until then, some quick links...
Moon phases - a neat little video sequence neatly shows how the moon's
slightly irregular orbit changes the area of the surface that can be seen
from the Earth.
Pretty but pointless
- a tiny little valve amplifier designed for use with MP3 players or
laptop PCs, and apart from sheer pose value I'm still trying to work out
what this is actually good for...
More recording industry myths debunked - the Canadian industry
association is under fire, this time, by an academic at the University of
Ottawa, and as usual his findings differ from the official version.
ID card myths debunked - on a similar note, another noted academic has
joined the growing ranks disputing the value of the British government's
proposals for compulsory ID cards as flim-flam.
More on the Australian Kazaa ruling - an excellent analysis of the
controversial ruling, together with speculation on the likely outcome for
the P2P industry itself.
Hunter Thompson's last words - Rolling Stone has published a
note written a few days before the great author committed suicide, and it
looks as if he was just too tired of life to want to go on living.
Playing the phishing blame game - who is really at fault when a user's
PC becomes infected with a keystroke-recording Trojan that allows a
criminal to loot his online bank account?
Vint Cerf - the legendary networking guru is the latest in a growing
list of luminaries hired by the search engine company, but it does seem
rather more cosmetic than anything else...
- finally, an excuse for my friend Mike to upgrade to broadband: Urban
Dead is a browser-based online role-playing game along the lines of
his beloved George Romero
Lego lays down the law - the Lego corporation is so keen to stop
people describing the bricks as "Legos", as is apparently increasingly
common, that visitors to the URL www.legos.com are treated to a
short lecture on protecting their trademark from unwanted dilution! I have
to confess that the misuse of the word bugs me as well, but from what I
can see the term is in frequent use in the US, at least, and the
manufacturer is just going to have to grin and bear it. In circumstances
like this being pompously officious won't help one little bit!
You load sixteen tons, and what do you get?
another day older and deeper in debt
St. Peter, don't you call me, 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store
- lyrics and music by
originally sung by
Tennessee Ernie Ford
Just a few quick links tonight, as I became distracted
playing a tutorial scenario of
Empire Earth II. At first glance, it seems to combine some of the best
elements of the Settlers and Command & Conquer series of
games, and is quite entertaining.
The best and the rest - hardware supplier NewEgg's monthly case
modding contests have produced some truly remarkable projects - and a
bunch of tasteless lemons too, it has to be said.
round - the optimum hardware requirements for Vista are starting to
leak out, and they're pretty outrageous - a PCI Express graphics card with
256Mb of RAM, a dual core CPU with 2GB of DDR3 memory and a SATA-2 NCQ
hard drive. Gosh!
iPod - Apple is in danger of becoming something of a one trick pony,
and frankly the trick isn't that special any more. In spite of the media
puff and the company's own hype, in fact a surprisingly small proportion
of the population is actually interested in carrying their music
collection around with them... Memo to Jobs: remember the Sony Walkman.
FSB Xeons obsolete - the once cutting-edge CPUs in
Infinity4 have only
lasted around two years before Intel announced that the product range is
officially terminated. In some ways I suppose that two years is actually a
fair lifespan for a CPU, these days, but still...
Happy birthday to me.
39 today, and right now I'm actually feeling rather
younger and more carefree than I have on the last few birthdays - maybe
I've passed my mid-life crisis and am heading into a second childhood...?
I'm probably off somewhere having fun with a friend
right now, though, so you'll just have to contain your impatience until
tomorrow. Remember, no news is good news!
Work on the computer room extension continues, if
rather unevenly - last week saw an unsettling number of days with just one
guy rather desultorily sanding down rough edges of the partition walls,
but today the raised floor finally arrived and things started to move
again. After a while of pacing back and forth in what I assume was careful
analysis of the environment, there was a flurry of activity involving
steaming pots of epoxy glue, spinning laser levels and large table saws,
and by the time I left this afternoon most of the floor was installed. It
won't be solid enough to walk on for a while yet, let alone solid enough
to push 2000kg server cabinets around on, but it's looking good. Whether
we're still on target to move the first batch of cabinets into the new
section at the weekend is still somewhat doubtful, but we shall have to
wait and see what happens.
Meanwhile, some links:
Kazaa loses in Australian court - the recording industry Down Under
has joined their cronies elsewhere in the world by suing Sharman Networks
for its Kazaa P2P software, and as usual the court has rejected the claim
that they are not responsible for the uses to which their product is put.
cooling - I'm seeing a lot of references to this, right now, and I
think it's going to be a major technology. Geek site techPowerUp
has a presentation from NanoCoolers, a new entrant into the market, with
some interesting details of both desktop and laptop heat transfer
drifting further off course - although the appointment of ex-Microsoft
Xbox supremo Kevin Bacchus looked promising, Infineon's latest press
release reveals that they're repositioning the console into the casual
gamer's market instead of targeting enthusiasts, which is probably a
to buy a TiVo - lucky shoppers in the US and Canada are eligible for a
$150 rebate on the popular PVR, and considering that Amazon are currently
selling them for $99 that equates to a free TiVo and a $51 profit! THis
won;t last for long, I'm sure, so strike now while the iron is hot...
accuses Apple of patent violation - following the granting of a patent
covering the interface of the iPod, the predictable has happened and
Creative is accusing Apple of violating it. Creative has traditionally
been quite vigorous about defending its patents, and this will be
interesting to watch.
things are afoot at the Circle K - meanwhile, back in Cupertino, all
sorts of rumours are flying following the abrupt
cancellation of Steve Jobs' keynote speech at Apple Expo in Paris
tomorrow, and the equally abrupt cancellation of a promotion on the Mac
Mini after only one day.
of disparate USB memory sticks - one suitable for geeks, one for
nerds, and one for eccentrics, according to some dubiously rigid
definitions of the terms. I heard an identical set of definitions
elsewhere a few days ago, though, so it looks as if they're about to
become the industry standard...
|Links. They're probably better than a bucket full of
raw fish heads.
Google front end - a month or so ago one of the Google developers
published a neat little alternative menu that provides easier access to
some of the second-tier facilities - maps, video, Gmail etc - and although
it was withdrawn shortly afterwards it had already been copied elsewhere
on the web. Take a look now before the increasingly litigious search
company shuts it down...
rejects study proposal - the Linux lawn dwarves are always complaining
that comparisons between Windows and Linux are biased in favour of
Microsoft, and indeed often covertly funded by the company, so it seems
very unfair that Open Source Development Labs (employer of Linus Torvalds
himself) has categorically rejected Microsoft's suggestion that it
performs its own study with MS picking up the tab. What is OSDL really
Humour for psychos - via my
friend Graham, who has evidently been
hiding a sense of humour more warped than I'd realised, comes Chopping
Block - because, apparently, serial killers are people too. It doesn't
quite click for me, I have to admit, but it's off-the-wall and well worth
- a rack of eight Apple IIe motherboards hooked up via a TTL network to
run parallel processing jobs. It's all extremely clever, I admit, but one
has to wonder about the project's basic utility... I mean, eight 6502
CPUs? It must have
noticeably less than a MIP, which does rather impose a limit on the
sort of number-crunching that can be performed... Time, hands, etc.
calculator - now that I've finally settled on a replacement PSU,
little online power calculators are turning up as if watts are going out
of fashion. This one seems quite comprehensive, but as usual with the more
complex calculators it requires a fair amount of leg-work in discovering
the vital statistics of all your various internal components.
Box-wrap rip-off - a US circuit judge has ruled in favour of printer
manufacturer Lexmark, with a decision that allows them to legally enforce
the text on the packaging of a toner cartridge or whatever. Opening the
cartridge indicates your willingness to be bound by the terms and
conditions printed on the packaging - specifically, in this case, an
agreement not to refill the cartridge once it is empty. This is another
step back for the consumer, I'm afraid, and could have very
case - hot on the heels of last week's Lian Li nautilus shell, an
equally bizarre pyramid-shaped case, presumably inspired by the Luxor
casino in Las Vegas, complete with an illuminated acrylic tip that shines
pretty patterns onto the ceiling. Like the nautilus, I have to admit that
it's cute and unusual, but also like the nautilus I certainly have
one on my own desk...
Penny Arcade - "Frank, we've had some complaints from the
customers..." I tweaked the text a little to refer to "users" instead,
which amuses my BOFH spirit, but even in its unadulterated form it's one
of their finest strips. I really enjoy the majority of Mike and Jerry's
work (the few exceptions being the jokes that are too firmly embedded in
gaming for me to actually understand!) but every once in a while
they produce an absolute gem.
The evils of
DRM explained - at the EFF, a useful guide to exactly what is wrong
with the copy protection that is being foisted on us by the increasingly
popular online music services. When you cut through the friendly marketing
blurb to the small print, the restrictions on how downloaded music can
actually be used are really tight - and the small print also allows them
to be tightened further without warning, as has already happened several
times with Apple's iTunes.
Microsoft fighting DRM? - noted cipherpunk Bruce Schneier thinks that
Microsoft is trying to prevent the Trusted Platform Module DRM system that
it helped to devise form being incorporated into the upcoming Vista OS.
It's not clear quite why, at this stage, but evidently Schneier's
curiosity is piqued and I'm sure he'll carry on digging.
of lying about drugs - the US government's new anti-drugs web site has
some interesting statistics, and if they are to be believed 2.2 million
high school kids are going to die from using meth in the next five years.
Fortunately for the nation's youth the figures are complete gibberish, but
unfortunately such transparent lies only serve to obscure the
genuine danger of the drug. The entire
Drug WarRant site is worth a
read, actually - they have a useful little potted history of the
criminalization of cannabis, for example. [Thanks to
for the pointer]
Blocking Chinese IP addresses - the endemic virus infections on
Chinese PCs, the large-scale cracking groups operating out of the country,
and the activities of the government's own highly successful cyber-warfare
program have led to such a degree of port scanning and automated attacks
that some web server admins have started blocking entire IP blocks that
are in use by the country.
Gaming for grannies - this is probably the silliest idea I've heard
all year, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it isn't a)
marketable, b) potentially popular, and even c) somewhat
worthwhile. A robotic cat sits on your grandmother's lap, communicating
with her via meows and with other cats in the neighbourhood via wireless.
In this way the cats' owners are encouraged into both social interaction
and competition with each other, hopefully preventing them from becoming
T-Mobile roaming ripoff - at Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow exposes
the outrageous charges levied by cellular provider T-Mobile for customers
roaming from the US onto their own networks in Europe. T-Mobile is my own
provider, as it happens, and I've become increasingly disillusioned with
them over the last couple of years, both from the changes to my contract
terms (they've just jacked up the cost of off-network calls from 20p to
30p per minute, for example) and from similar articles elsewhere in the
industry news. I think a change is in order.
When I left the office on Thursday evening the builders
working on the computer room extension were carrying in armfuls of fire
extinguishers, just in case the man with the arc welder set fire to the
ceiling... When I arrived on Friday morning, one of the portable aircon
units was icing up so badly that it had caused a flood over several square
meters of floor tiles, and I had to drop everything and soak up gallons of
water before it found its way down into the data cabling.
Unfortunately this is just another routine day in my IT
department, right now, and I have to admit that I'm running out of both
patience and enthusiasm. I warned well over a year ago that the
drastically overloaded computer room would not survive another summer
without serious problems, but for reasons I still don't understand the
refurbishment work didn't even start until this August. We've been
struggling through the hottest months of the year using only portable AC
units, with all the problems that involves, and the 35°
temperature peaks are really taking their toll. My records suggest that
the incidence of component failures is ten times greater than it
was in the same period two years ago, with the servers going through hard
disks, fans and memory modules so fast that Dell's support department has
put a warning flag on our company's account! We'll be paying the price in
unexpected hardware failures for months to come, I'm afraid, even after
the building work is complete.
I finally decided that I'd dithered over choosing a new
power supply for long enough, and settled on the
600W. It's black, which is always a good start, and has an excellent
reputation for delivering more power with less noise than most of its
rivals - it's been highly rated at
Review, one of the leading sites in this field, and it survived
the stress test at
Tom's Hardware Guide without a quiver. It's on its way to me now
from my favoured supplied
Performance PCs in the US, with all the cables sleeved and a
rather fetching blue acrylic cover in place of the stock metal one. By the
time I add a blue light or two the effect should be quite dramatic,
which is just what I need as I'm in the last stage of talking to another
favourite, UK modding specialists
Kustom PCs, about a
replacement side panel with a lower window to show off the drive array and
Meanwhile, some links:
Xbox 360 exposed - some good photos of the internals of a
pre-production prototype, and the unexpected news that apparently the
final hardware will be
disk clock - this design for turning an old disk drive into a clock
looks a little fiddly and convoluted, but the end result is certainly
appealing. If only I had the time!
management - some corporate CEOs are still receiving outrageous
salaries in spite of their dismal performance, earning tens of millions
for laying off staff and disappointing shareholders.
All the news that's
fit to link - Talk Digger is a new service that aggregates reference
searches from Ice Digger, Technorati, Bloglines, Google, MSN Search and
others. Epicycle is there, but only just...
Well, that could have been better... I'd expected this
month's figures to climb a little from last month's, but actually they
dipped a little instead - at this stage I may even be forced to bribe some
anonymous third party to pimp me around Slashdot and [H]ard/OCP.
While I'm wrestling with my dignity, feel free to vote at the Tweakers
Top 50 using the button below - if I can gain another five places I'll
edge out the great Daniel Rutter of
Dan's Data, which would go some way to compensating for the tragic
disappointment in the monthly stats. Oh, but life is hard as a third-tier