Long, slow links up against the wall... With an
extra twist of Microsoft.
MS should dump IE - IT journalist John Dvorak has called for
Microsoft to discontinue all development work on Internet Explorer
and both support and invest financially in the various third-party
browsers. IE can never be anything more than a millstone around the
neck of Windows, Dvorak says, and is their "greatest blunder
ever". Although Firefox is definitely eating into IE's
market share, particularly in certain niche areas of the industry,
the bundled browser still has a significant overall lead and with
the public betas of IE7 looking extremely promising I really can't
see Microsoft paying any more attention to Dvorak's rant then Apple
did when he suggested that they should abandon the "Mac" brand...
FireFox development struggling - although Microsoft is pilloried
by the open source fanboys if they drop a feature or slip a release
date, anyone who has worked in IT for longer than a couple of weeks
should know that any major development project is vulnerable
to the unexpected. It ought to come as no surprise to FireFox
enthusiasts, therefore, that the keenly-awaited revamp of the
bookmark system has been dropped from the initial V2.0 build in
order to achieve the scheduled Q3 release date - but given the
perpetual rose-tinted glasses of many open source advocates I have
the feeling that the news could be more than a little traumatic.
Apparently the loss of this feature is a big deal for users of the
browser, too, as the current versions have a worrying habit of
losing large quantities of saved bookmarks at the drop of a hat -
and I can honestly say that in more than ten years of using the
much-maligned Internet Explorer it has never once done that.
Foaming at the mouth - one of the features of the forthcoming
Vista OS is a disk encryption system called BitLocker,
designed to protect confidential files even if the PC is lost or
stolen. Given the open source movement's endless allegations that
Microsoft does not take security seriously, it would seem at face
value that they couldn't find much to complain about over this, but
in fact a somewhat sensational article at The Register quotes
Bruce Schneier as suggesting that the feature is "anti-Linux because
it frustrates dual boot". I generally have a lot of respect for
Schneier, who has been worrying about computer security for almost
as long as I have, but in this case I think he left the lid off his
jar of green ink...
Sony cheating (again) - here's yet another fine example
of the media industry railing against the allegedly criminal
behaviour of it's customers whilst nevertheless being dirty and
corrupt itself... When it comes to paying it's recording artists,
the company claims that digital downloads are "sales" and not
"licenses", which means that they are required to pay less
royalties. However, when dealing with the end-users, they insist
that they are licenses, meaning that they can bind the
downloader into all sorts of unfair and restrictive limits on what
can and can't be done with the music. Obviously, they can't have it
both ways, and a lawsuit from classic names such as Cheap Trick and
the Allman Brothers is seeking to settle the issue in their favour.
I'm not sure if this will benefit the end-user, in fact, but it
certainly has the potential to at least partially redress
decades of decidedly unethical behaviour towards the people who
actually create the music, and I have no objection to that.
Webcam with attitude - Logitech's new Quickcam Orbit MP
is a cunning device, it seems, as aside from a motorised
pan-and-tilt mechanism that can track the user's face as he moves,
the software can perform real-time video processing on the image to
add comedy glasses, bug eyes, rabbit ears, sombrero hats, and (with
some hacking) pretty much anything else you would care to have
adorning your features. It can even replace the user's own head with
one of a range of animated avatars with synchronised mouth and eye
movements. It's no more than a gimmick, obviously, and applications
would be few and far between once the novelty has worn off - but
it's still looks great fun until that happens.
Short and sweet...
- a long and comprehensive FAQ on sharpening knives.
a kitchen timer inspired by the classic Tetris game.
Time 2 - and
a desk clock inspired by an hourglass.
- Canadian musicians stand up against the media industry.
- interior design inspired by the Star Trek universe.
Schwag - industry collectibles shipped out by mail from Silicon
HAL's father - synthesised speech from 1961 that inspired
Cute security - razor wire doesn't have to look unfriendly.
- "This is a pirate. This is not"... The CEA tells it like it
Ban it! - what the idiots did before the Internet was invented.
Bitchin' - Steve Jobs runs uncharacteristically short on words.
Massive - Microsoft are buying a company that places adverts
Cool - tiny pumps for cooling future generations of CPUs.
Hot Java - Dan branches out, and reviews a coffee maker.
Earlier this month, I gather, was the 42nd
birthday of IBM's
System/360 mainframe, and whatever one thinks about the role of
"big iron" in modern business computing it can't be denied that the S/360 was a
groundbreaking system in its day. It was long-obsolete by the time I
first talked my way into the computer rooms at my local university,
sometime in the late 1970s (there were many
Vaxen, of course, and
also super-minis from
Prime and Data
General), but seeing those rows of mag tape drives and all the
lights and switches and knobs certainly brought back the memory of
how awesomely technical it all looked. The Dell
Poweredge servers in my own computer room at the office have many
orders of magnitude more processing power, memory and disk space
than that entire room of IBM hardware, and I wouldn't trade them in
for anything else, but in spite of their sleek black and gunmetal
colour scheme and the reassuring blue glow of what we call the
"Everything's OK Lights" on the front panels I have to admit that
they lack the futuristic mystique of their predecessors. Thanks to
my colleague Chris, a man with an appreciation for IBM hardware that
borders on the illegal, for the pointer.
Vista nagging - as expected, security guru and anti-Microsoft
bigot Bruce Schnier is not in favour of the new flavour of Windows,
which he thinks will throw up so many security warning dialog boxes
that the users will just get into the habit of clicking them away
without reading them.
sound of silence - Dan is pontificating on the possibility of
building a noiseless, fully solid state PC, and since the recent
launch of the first even slightly plausible silicon disk card
he concludes that the idea is now within the realms of possibility.
- just the thing to make corporate tech support staff break out in a
rash, a loopy idea from one of the Linux Journal staffers in
the shape of a proposal to allow corporate workers to provide their
own laptops. The subsequent comments reveal the many and varied
flaws in the scheme...
the burn - the meme is that modern CRTs don't really suffer from
the screen burn that plagued monitors during the nineties, and that
LCDs are completely immune, but this picture of an iMac G5 screen
suggests otherwise. The burned-in image is the front page of
Slashdot, of course!
The comedy of Scott McNealy - now that the co-founder and
long-time CEO of Sun Microsystems is stepping aside, the industry
will have to look elsewhere for a source of barbs against their
rival Microsoft. Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison hate Bill even more,
but neither has Scott's wit and humour.
So, today's Yahoo news has
an article on the continuing rise of "cyber crime", and although
it's so sensationally written that they should probably have used a
green typeface (criminal gangs are attacking unsuspecting users
"right in the heart of their own living rooms or bedrooms!"), on
the whole there wasn't anything very new (Really? Online fraudsters
are based in Nigeria, now?) until the final paragraphs caused an
eyebrow to raise, here. It's a quote from a certain Stephen Bonner,
apparently the director of technical security at Barclays Capital:
Gangs were now also prepared to wait longer
before committing their frauds, said Bonner, using spyware and
other techniques to learn an individual's pattern of use of the
internet, and then using this knowledge to automate further
attacks. "Why take a thousand pounds from an online bank account
when you can open a mortgage and take hundreds of thousands of
pounds from a person's identity?"
Excuse me? Has Mr Bonner actually applied
for a mortgage recently? I had to produce so much identification and
documentation when I did so two years ago that I was finding great
difficulty in complying with the requirements, so the idea that
someone could receive a mortgage in my name using only data
harvested from web transactions or spyware is extremely far-fetched.
I mean, in the end I had to provide a copy of my ID badge from work,
notarised by my manager, before the various solicitors were happy -
and I am actually me! I'm afraid that this is just more of
the usual anti-hype that only
serves to muddy the waters and confuse the non-technical - online
fraud and ID theft is a genuine problem, and undoubtedly a
growing one, but while Joe User is worrying about Russian scammers
taking out mortgages in his name he's probably missing the eBay
phishing scam that's happening right under his nose.
And while I'm ranting, an article reporting
strange rumblings and booming noises in San Diego, California,
contains one of the more butt-headed soundbites I've heard so far
this year. Because the military have denied any explosives tests,
NASA weren't launching anything that day, the FAA have no record of
supersonic planes, and reputable scientists have ruled out
earthquakes, the reporter evidently turned to someone who he hoped
might produce something more sensational. Sure enough, he was
rewarded, although probably not in the way he was expecting:
Even UFO experts are baffled by what
happened in San Diego. Asked whether a flying saucer might have
caused such an event, Peter Davenport of the Seattle-based
National UFO Reporting Center said, “Probably not. UFOs almost
never generate sonic booms or shock waves,” he added. “They
accelerate so rapidly that they leave a vacuum in the sky, much
the way lightning does.”
I was greatly amused by this, as although
lightning does indeed leave a vacuum in the sky (well, OK, it's
a little more
complex than that), the sound made when air rushes back in to
fill that vacuum is... you guessed it, thunder. Although it sounds
improbable, one has to assume from this that Mr Davenport has never
actually been out in a thunderstorm, as otherwise he would surely
have noticed the characteristic earth-shaking bangs and booms that
give one its name. I just hope he knows more about UFOs than he does
about weather, or about physics in general for that matter - but I
have to admit that I find that somewhat unlikely...
Meanwhile, elsewhere... The latest public beta of
Explorer 7 has just been released, and I'll definitely be giving
it a try tomorrow - I've been running the first release on my main
desktop PC at the office since it came out earlier this year, and
have been very impressed. It's a touch feature-poor at present, but
the multi-tabbed environment is very slick and apart from a few odd
quirks with the new security model (apparently these have been
addressed in the new version) I haven't found any significant
problems. I use AM Browser (aka
Crazy Browser) at home, a
multi-tabbed wrapper that brings a facelift to the IE6 core DLLs,
and although this is an excellent combination I'm finding that I
actually prefer the way that IE7's interface works. The main
problem, right now, is switching back and forth between them, but if
the second beta of IE7 is as workable as the first I could easily
decide to retire AM Browser and upgrade ahead of the pack. However,
I've just noticed that the author of the aptly-named third party
browser (the two applications differ only in the name, so presumably
it's some kind of multiple personality disorder?) has released a new
beta of his offerings, so if IE7 Beta 2 isn't quite on the mark I
shall take a look at one of those instead.
I had a little free time, today, and needed a
distraction, so I finished the current model kit. Having laboured
for hours last week to create a smooth, even finish in the paint,
today's first task was to thoroughly mess it up with various darker
shades dry-brushed on to simulate wear and tear. The overall effect
is very pleasing, although as usual the camera flash has brightened
the entire model a shade or two.
There were various options for building this
model, including leaving the top hatch open to show the head of the
pilot inside, and the kit also comes complete with a figure in
WW2-style military garb to pose beside it. However, I had little
confidence in my ability to paint a convincing human figure (or even
a disembodied head, for that matter!) so regretfully opted for the
simplest approach and glued the hatch down firmly. Dented armour
plate I can manage, but skin tones and clothes would probably have
been asking a little too much...
Thanks to the comprehensive articulation (there
are three degrees of freedom in each ankle, for example, two in the
knee joints and two at the hips) the conventional plastic components
of the model were challenging enough, but as I'd half expected the
little springs and wires that provide the finishing touches were
even more fiddly! They were well worth the furrowed brows and pursed
lips, however, and I'd say that the end result is
one of the better finishes
The diorama base is one of a couple of
scenes that turned up in a web search, and is a fair match for
the 1/20th Ma.K. model. In real life the colours of the ground
aren't as close as the results of the camera flash suggest, but I
chose them to be similar enough that the model's own colour scheme
is a plausible camouflage. The base is roomy enough to hold a
another similar model, too, which is just as well as I've already
chosen the next one to build. Watch this space...
This year has not been a good one for tape libraries...
Leaving aside the six aging LTO1 drives in the PowerVault 136T
library at the office, which last an average of two months each
before requiring a complete refurbishment, the situation on my home
network has been nothing short of disastrous. January saw the keenly
awaited arrival of an Exabyte 690D for
the server, which promptly suffered one hardware failure after
another and is now little more than a giant, annoying paperweight.
To add insult to injury, when I tried to bring the
Dell PowerVault 120T unit
that it was to have replaced back online after a few days of rest
the drive had a conniption and now refuses to load tapes properly.
As if this wasn't bad enough, a few days ago the beloved
VXA Autopak library on my
desktop PC started to misbehave, and having cycled the power the
picker mechanism now seems completely dead in the water. This
morning I checked the fuses and opened it up to look for loose
connections, but after that my lack of electronics expertise rears
its head and I'm about out of ideas. As I have a considerable
investment in VXA tapes and storage cases I don't really want to
switch to another format, but fortunately a look around eBay reveals
a pair of similar libraries that could act as replacements or a
source of spares - although as one is in America and the other
Australia the cost of shipping will doubtless be something of an
Something certainly needs to be done,
however, as for the first time in many years I don't have a current
backup of any of my systems! I'm still in a better position than the
majority of home users, of course, as at least every single byte of
data is held on redundant disk systems and so protected against
hardware failure - but that's no substitute for regular backups and
I have to admit that I'm feeling a touch tense about it.
Tell-tale noise - research at the State University of New York
has shown that photos taken by digital cameras have their own
"fingerprints" in the form of the unique patterns of noise created
by the particular characteristics of their semiconductor sensors.
A blow to
the RIAA - having failed to persecute a Michigan mother for
music piracy, the industry association went after her 13 year old
daughter. For some unknown reason, however, they failed to comply
with the court's request for documentation and the case has now been
XBox evolution - Microsoft is about to switch their console's
CPU from 90nm to a new 65nm technology, reducing the heat output
that has been causing stability problems for some users and
potentially allowing higher clock speeds in future models as well.
Apple in court again - following last year's judgement in their
favour after a leak of trade secrets to the Mac fansites
PowerPage and AppleInsider, the first stages of an appeal
against the ruling suggest that these judges are noticeably less
inclined to look favourably upon the company's allegations.
Dept. Of The Obvious - at Amsterdam University's Informatics
Institute, a study of keywords used on weblogs reveals that people
drink more at the weekends, and that around Valentines Day they tend
to feel either loving or lonely. Presumably someone received a
research grant for this...?
A long morning spent in the office cloning
servers and helping my PFY reconfigure an apparently infinite number
of Cisco Catalyst 2950 switches has left me with little energy and
even less inclination, so you'll have to be content with am equally
small handful of random links:
Blood and guts - not exactly machinima, Pirate Baby's Cabana
Battle Street Fight 2006 is a short animation inspired by the
sideways-scrolling games that were ubiquitous before 1st-person
shooters took over the world. It's delightfully gory, elegantly
monochrome, and deliciously twisted.
Squaring up - the anti-trust lawsuit filed against Intel last
year is soon to take the first steps in what is likely to be a long
and drawn-out process. AMD alleges that their giant rival abused
their dominant position by waging a relentless worldwide campaign of
coercing manufacturers to avoid their CPUs.
Trigger happy - I've seen various movies of geeks shooting up
obsolete computer hardware, but this new marketing stunt from
Hewlett Packard takes the biscuit. For reasons that seem obscure to
me, they shot a StorageWorks disk array with a .308 cal round to
prove... well, to prove what, exactly?
Tearing it down - the last couple of years have seen
increasingly frequent analyses from engineering research companies
such as iSuppli, documenting the likely manufacturing costs
of products such as Apple's iPods, but Nate at Ars Technica
has been looking at the other side of the story.
- a new design for self-cooling beverage containers is set to shake
up the market, utilising a desiccant that mixes with water in a
sealed compartment to cause an endothermic reaction that reduces the
temperature of the liquid in the neighbouring compartment by at
Safe at any speed? - the Windows XP Firewall has come in for a
fair amount of criticism, especially in its first incarnation, and a
mini-review at ZDNet suggests that although it's worthwhile with
regards to blocking incoming connections, it still lacks an adequate
degree of control over outgoing traffic.
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'
Machines for living - German art haus Dialog05 has
created an exhibition of designs for everyday objects inspired by
the humble USB interface. I really hope that nobody decides to
manufacture any of them, but given the incredible range of gizmos
and gadgets already on the market I'm not convinced...
fit of pique - following the migration of the giant parked
domain name host Go Daddy from Apache to Microsoft IIS, open
source evangelist Bruce Perens has set up his own free service in
order to get even, even though Apache's market share is already
inflated by other domain parking services.
like a banana - ClockLink provides a marvellous
collection of free animated clocks that can be embedded in web
pages, ranging from the LED digital displays to analogue wall clocks
and wrist watches. Thanks to
for the link.
Fresh air - if the free variety isn't good enough for you, the
latest yuppie trend may be little canisters of bottled oxygen; and
not only regular O2 style oxygen, either, as
it's available in a wide range of "flavours", including cherry,
lemon, eucalyptus and mint.
Pure retro - in another truly inspired case mod, a Gateway PII
motherboard and an LCD panel have been shoe-horned into the chassis
of an early-eighties Commodore PET. Look at the pictures showing the
original PET components, though - ah, the nostalgia.
xkcd - I
discovered these web cartoons at the
DRM strip, but flipping
forward and back a few unearthed a
gems. The drawing style
is... ah... somewhat primitive, but actually that doesn't
seem to matter very much. Take a look.
Sleeping with the enemy - Sun Microsystems, the company that
many credit with the very creation of the open source concept back
in the eighties, has released details of it's own DRM strategy - and
today's open source luminaries don't seem to think very much of it
My first day back at the office was busy, as
expected, and made more so by the delivery of couple of dozen Dell
PowerEdge servers for our imminent Siebel implementation - a cross
their current range, with slimline 1850s to act as front end web
servers, 2850s to do the donkey-work, and quad-CPU 6850s to host the
databases. We're still waiting on another couple of DAE disk
cabinets for the SAN, and another couple of 48 port gigabit switch
modules for our Cisco Catalyst 6509 core switch, but hopefully those
will be arriving soon enough to give us something to connect all
those servers to. All in all it represents another £260K plus
change, and added to the similar batch we bought last autumn for the
SAP project Dell have done quite well from us recently. In spite of
this, however, the ungrateful corporate bastards haven't even given
me so much as a free mouse mat... Tsk, what is the IT
industry coming to!
Aside from unboxing and racking twenty-three
servers, and then disposing of the mountain of packaging materials
that resulted, one of the high-points of the day was running some
tests on the pair of 6850s that form the core of our SAP landscape.
We performed various exercises in manually moving the
clustered resources from one node to the other to confirm the
effects it would have on the end users, and as those were extremely
successful we decided to stress the system a little more. In the
end, the best way to properly test a clustered system is to
jerk the power cables out of one of the nodes, and even though I had
to grit my teeth somewhat that's exactly what I did. The cluster
failed-over flawlessly, with all SAP functionality back online
automatically inside a couple of minutes - and the SAP installation
consultant who was helping us with the testing seemed to think that
this was more than acceptable, as although the users had to log back
into the GUI once the SAP system was up and running again the
disruption from such a brief outage would be perfectly acceptable in
real-world terms. I'm not surprised, exactly, as I've done
enough ad-hoc testing on the cluster to be quite happy with its
fail-over abilities, but it's very nice to have one's systems
behaving so well under the eagle eyes of an specialist. If something
is going to go wrong, that's usually when it will choose to
Meanwhile, elsewhere - having been relegated to a
dial-up Internet connection for the last week I'm running a little
behind on the tech news, but here are a few highlights that caught
my eye while I was away:
Earth vs. the
Flying Saucers - the Opposable Thumbs gaming column at Ars
Technica has posted a mini-review of a radio-controlled flying saucer, and
for a mere $20 it looks like a fun little toy.
Machines - a team at MIT has re-engineered the M13 virus to assemble cobalt
oxide nanowires 6 billionths of a meter across that will be used as electrodes
for microscopic batteries.
hardware - using a beautifully-made cast of his wife's torso, this
enterprising PC modder has created a remarkable hybrid of sculpture and
CIA leakage - confidential data on hundreds of CIA employees in
the US and abroad was unearthed by reporters at the Chicago Tribune,
working only with publicly available records.
- the US military is planning to detonate 700 tons of conventional high
explosives (the ammonium nitrate fuel oil commonly used for commercial blasting)
at a Nevada test site, creating the area's first mushroom cloud since surface
atomic bomb testing ended in the early 1960s.
Epicycle will be on hiatus for the next
few days, as I'm off to the wilds of Devon for a well-deserved rest
away from all the computers - well, all except a laptop, a tablet, a
PDA, a smartphone and my family's collection of obsolete Dell
hardware, that is. Updates will resume after the Easter holiday.
I've just treated myself to
another set of little
Japanese space miniatures, and my supplier this time was the eBay
The-Reef Collectibles, which seems to specialise in these tiny
little figures. As well as the "Royal Museum Of Science"
series from which my models come, they also sell the equally grandly
named "World Tank Museum" range, World War II armour and
oddments in 1/144th scale - equally cute, I guess, but not quite my
thing. I can certainly recommend The Reef, however: I made the
purchases late on Saturday evening, and everything was delivered
safe and sound (complete with a discount to the shipping costs
thanks to the bulk purchase) on Tuesday morning. You can't get
better than that...
Above, four little satellites - from left to
Ranger 7 orbiting the moon,
Mars 3 above (you guessed it, Mars), Sputnik, and
Pioneer 10 with Jupiter. To give an idea of the scale, the
planets are painted glass marbles 3cm in diameter, and overall
they're just so cute. :-)
Again from left to right, Apollo VIII orbiting
the moon, a perfect little model of
VIII docked with an
Agena, and the crippled Apollo 13 command module and LEM
boosting away from the moon on its way back home to Earth.
Finally, Soyuz TM-28 on the launch pad, and Ed
Gemini IV spacewalk, sit on either side of the pick of this
particular batch, a beautiful replica of
Voyager One that is
unique amongst these models in its size and complexity - it measures
19cm to the tip of the low field magnetometer and actually had seven
parts to assemble! Seven!
another handful of models I'm after
(they're not quite all to my taste, but there's a really nice Skylab
2 and another Soyuz in the process of launching) and I expect I'll
pick them up after Easter to complete the set. I do find them rather
hard to resist, so watch this space...
Another day, another dollar.
This particular day, however, brought the
delivery of some interesting hardware in the form of a trio of
Atto UL5D PCI
Express Ultra 320 SCSI cards, a sufficiently new product that, when
pressed, Dell insisted that such a beast wasn't yet available. In
spite of that, however, the cards are now nestling safely in an
equally new Dell
PowerEdge 6850 server that is going to host the older of our two
PowerVault 136T tape libraries, which in turn is on the point of
having its six LTO-1 tape drives upgraded to shiny new LTO-3 units
to cope with our ever-expanding data. The current server, a
venerable Pentium III-based
4400, works pretty much flat out all night to back up a couple
of terabytes of data, and given that the upgraded tape drives will
place considerably greater demands on the system bus we thought that
something with a little more oomph would be appropriate.
Having installed the SCSI cards, however, and booted into Windows
quickly to check the driver installation, I had to force myself to
step back and move on to something else - one of my PFYs has been
itching to get to grips with migrating the existing installation
onto the new server, and as he's out of the office this week he'd
never forgive me if I stole the project.
It's going to be a sweet server when he's
finished with it, though - as the Atto cards are dual-channel, each
tape drive can be on a bus of its own to wring the very last byte of
performance out of the system, and also to minimise the domino
effect that occurs when a drive chokes on a damaged tape and goes
offline, usually encouraging anything else on the same bus to go
offline in sympathy. As this library is responsible for backing up
the forty-something servers that don't run SAP and Siebel
(yes, in spite of the prevailing opinion of our implementation
consultants, people do occasionally use computers for other things!)
having two of the drives go out of service in the middle of the
nightly run can cause the remaining servers to badly over-run their
backup window, giving us the choice between missing the jobs
completely or having them still running at ten o'clock in the
morning - neither of which is really acceptable. The improved
reliability, therefore, together with the significantly
improved performance and capacity of the LTO-3 drives and media, is
likely to preserve my receding hairline for a little longer, at
least. It's good to be back at the cutting edge again.
Boot camp kicks ass - Ars Technica has been testing
Apple's new boot loader, and although there are some niggles, such
as the lack of proper support for the NTFS file system and the fact
that not all Apple hardware devices are supported at present, it's
certainly a worthwhile utility.
Movie bad girls
- I like chicks with guns as much as the next man (well, unless the
next man is ex-Watergate burglar
G. Gordon Liddy, that
is) but this collection of almost 35,000 images from movies,
television and elsewhere is a classic example of a geek's obsession.
Evolution in action - in what is becoming a depressingly common
occurrence, a pair of teenaged boys firebombed an abandoned Air
Force hangar and then posted film footage of the crime to a MySpace
profile, making it depressingly easy for the local police to
identify and arrest them...
Whiskers on kittens - the CAPTCHA technique of using obscured
text to confirm identity is workable, but it's hardly friendly and
is gradually becoming crackable. A new idea for image
recognition could hold back the OCR robots for a little longer,
though, and it's cute, too!
Pictures of Zen - almost forty years after the journey across
America that became Robert Persig's classic treatise "Zen And The
Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance", the author has worked with one
of his fan-sites to identify the exact locations that feature in the
book so that they could be photographed.
speaks - my wild-haired Australian role model Daniel Rutter has
been building himself a pair of loudspeakers from a kit, and as
usual his account is informative, witty, and copiously populated
with some very unusual links.
So my friend Karlene brought me a clipping from
The Metro, the free
newspaper given away in London's train and tube stations. As we
already know, it's bad enough when Western geeks have too much time
on their hands, but when the same thing happens to geeky Chinese
fashion designers evidently it is far, far worse...
Meanwhile, elsewhere, some random news links:
your own - this week's hot news is Apple's release of a
multi-boot utility that allows Windows to be installed on their new
Intel-based PCs. I have to admit that I didn't see that coming
(largely thanks to what is now clearly shown as a deliberate
disinformation campaign on the part of the company), and as could be
expected the reaction from the Mac fanboys has been
mixed to say the least. Will this prompt a whole
new group of users to migrate to OS X? I'm dubious, personally,
and in fact I foresee a significant number of Mac users buying (or
pirating!) a copy of Windows to gain access to the current
generation games that are usually missing from the native OS.
"Where are they now?" - ex-HP CEO Carly Fiorina has joined the
board of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, alongside has-beens
such as the ex-CEO of BT and the ex-chairman of Acer.
Egg pirates - a story at Boing Boing lifts the egg on the
Chinese trade in fake eggs, made from all sorts of unpleasant and
toxic ingredients. Fake eggs? The mind boggles...
- and talking of Chinese fraud, a letter at Dan's Data tells
the story of a1Gb memory card that wasn't. On the web, the advice
"caveat emptor" has never been more apt.
More on Tuttle - the Oklahoma city manager who
has been lampooned online of late following his threats to Linux
distro CentOS really
wants it to stop, but really isn't going
right way about that...
plagues - I am constantly impressed at all the cool Jewish stuff
available online, such as this bag of cuddly plagues just in time
Implausible life-cycle - Nvidia won't be releasing a PAL version
of their new TV tuner, apparently because of the UK's mandated
switch to digital in 2010. You'd think they could sell a few before
software - the "anti-spyware" tool UnSpyPC will actually
identify certain antivirus and ant-spyware tools as malicious code
and attempt to remove them, which is probably not a good idea...
The art of
retouching - I linked to an earlier version of this page a while
ago, but it's grown - before and after photographs showing exactly
how fake photos of glamour models have become.
Photoshop Tricks - if you're inspired by the above, rather than
just annoyed by it, then this excellent Wiki-based resource will
start you on the road to digitally resizing boobies for yourself.
Bizarre accessories - I always keep an eye open for strange,
unusual and pointless things to connect to a USB port, but
specialist EverythingUSB now has a whole section dedicated to
according to Woz - I watched "Pirates Of Silicon Valley"
the other day, and to my delight there's a whole section at Steve
Wozniak's site that confirms the accuracy of the events portrayed.
Crying wolf - in spite of the RIAA's constant prophecies of doom
and gloom, although CD sales are indeed slipping the deficit is
more than made up for by the growth of online music purchases.
ÜberShop - I have to admit that I
couldn't find anything I really wanted to buy, here, but I thought
that their create-you-own T-shirt engine was rather a neat idea.
quizzes - I was minded to brush-up on the geography of the US,
recently, and found a whole site full of neat little puzzles to help
one learn the locations of all the states, capitals, and rivers.
I hadn't intended to do any work on the kit,
today, as the next stage was painting and thanks to a passing virus
I'm really not feeling at my sharpest - but boredom won in the end
and I broke out the airbrush. Well, it's more of a
to be honest, but an unsuccessful attempt to get to grips with an
expensive dual-action model several years ago proved that I'm
actually far better off with something rather more primitive...
I chose a fairly standard military drab (Humbrol
enamel matt 26, to be exact, thinned to about two thirds) and
somewhat to my surprise achieved a pleasing finish without
significant fuss - in fact, right now everything looks so smooth and
even that it will almost be a shame to add wear and tear marks! The
arms and legs will need another few passes, I expect, as all those
nooks and crannies are impossible to fill with a single coat, but if
I can avoid over-spraying (one of my usual weaknesses!) then
hopefully I won't lose too much of the articulation along the way.
After that I'll reassemble the limbs and torso, and then paint and
attach the small external details. There's still a fair way to go
(and this is where it gets really fiddly, too) but I expect it will
be finished by the end of the weekend.
The pair of arms have been
joined by a pair of legs, and a torso... The legs were even more
fiddly to assemble than the arms, but the model is fully articulated
and the effort was probably worth it. The finished figure will stand
about 4" high, which at the 1/20th scale of most of the Ma.K. kits
would make it a respectable 6½' tall, and certainly not something
you'd want to meet in a dark alley - or any other kind of alley, for
The two halves of the body are only push-fitted
at present, as it looks as if it will be preferable to paint the
limbs and body separately at least for the undercoat and base
colours. After that I'll assemble all but the fine details (of which
there are a significant amount in this kit!) and then paint the
remainder, adding the various wire antenna and coiled hoses right at
the end. I haven't decided on the overall colour scheme as yet, but
I do want the final effect to be
battle-worn, so it's likely to be an airbrushed base coat in
something suitably drab and military, with mud, oil and soot
appropriately applied with a dry brush over the top. Easier said
Several weeks ago the little monitoring utility
for my HP OfficeJet 6110 printer/scanner started telling me that
both the black and colour ink cartridges were running out, and today
I can reveal that it's been lying through its teeth. I don't usually
respond to these warnings right away, as I imagine some
people do, but even so I tend to change the cartridge fairly soon
after the alerts start and have never thought much of it... A month
or two ago, however, PC Pro magazine ran
a long and extremely revealing article on the hidden costs
associated with inkjet printers and how to minimise them, and since
then I suppose the topic has been on my mind.
When the monitor started warning me that the ink
levels were low, therefore, I balked a little, and decided to see
exactly how much ink really was left in there. The results
have amazed me, as although I was expecting to be able to print a
fair handful of pages at that stage, in fact I have printed not only
several dozen pages of assorted text, colour maps etc, but also
several dozen full-colour A4 photographs at the maximum quality
settings on glossy paper, and all without any sign of either black
or coloured inks running out! The printer industry has been under
fire recently because of some decidedly dubious tricks (such as
selling a new printer with a special cartridge that only contains a
half or a third of the usual amount of ink), and evidently writing
ink monitoring utilities that grossly exaggerate the imminent demise
of the cartridges is another of those. Be warned!
[Later] After I wrote that, I managed to
print another six pages of full-sized colour photos before both
cartridges ran out almost simultaneously half-way through the page -
and having to re-print a single spoiled photo is far cheaper
than paying attention to the pessimism of the status monitor around
fifty pages earlier...
Meanwhile, while I'm griping... I've been
listening to an audiobook of Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson's
Fire", an account of the lives and work of William Shockley
and the other men who invented the transistors and microprocessors
that brought the computer revolution, and I have to say that it's
not one of Audible's shining examples of the breed... To begin with,
it's actually a rather poor recording or digitising (this happens,
sometimes, and there's nothing much that can be done about it), but
mostly because the reader, one Dennis McKee, has evidently made no
attempt to learn how to pronounce the names of the protagonists!
To cite just the two that have been annoying me
most today, Hans
Bethe is not pronounced "Bethy",
John von Neumann
is not "von Newman", and every time I hear the former, especially, I
have to stop myself from grinding my teeth in irritation. I must
confess that both of those were names that I mispronounced myself
when, in my early teens, I first came across my father's physics
textbooks and started to devour them - but then, nobody was paying
me to read the names aloud and at least I learned from my
mistakes... What worries me is that if I can spot so many errors in
the names of the great theoretical physicists with which I am
familiar, how many similar mistakes am I missing amongst the
experimental physicists who are generally not such well known
|Blog like you were living in the early days of
a better nation...
Only Yahoo could go to China - founder Jerry Yang continues to
defend his company's actions in providing information that has
enabled the government to jail dissident journalists, but Rebecca
MacKinnon thinks that they could still do business in the country
without such questionable behaviour.
law - following the lawsuits successfully brought by Apple against web sites
that published rumours about its forthcoming products, the EFF has filed an
appeal claiming that the basic rights of journalists are at stake both online
Nukem Forever - Ars Technica has published what purports
to be a review of the long-awaited shooter, but by the end of the
first page my eyebrows were virtually in orbit and by the end of the
second I was pretty sure that it's their April Fool's joke for this
Optics for insects - a classic example of what happens when
geeks with too much time on their hands are given too much money as
well, engineers at German manufacturing firm Micreon GmbH
have used a laser micromachining system to make a pair of designer
glasses for a housefly...
Musical mushrooms - and talking of geeks with questionable taste
and too much time on their hands, one of the more unusual of the US
Department Of Energy's large library of atomic bomb tests is this
montage of footage set to Rossini's "William Tell Overture"...
Blogjects - hi-tech media guru Julian Bleecker has published a
paper describing "the Internet of Things", his ideas for
highly-connected autonomous devices, reminding me of the localizers
of Vernor Vinge's marvellous "Deep"
The consumer speaks - this user-created advert for the Chevy
Tahoe SUV perfectly illustrates the downside of the viral marketing
techniques that have recently become so popular with corporates:
once you let your product's image loose on the Internet, you give up
a large degree of control over it...
The fools on the hill - the MPAA have announced their plans to
lure the consumer away from illegal movie downloads by providing
them in a Windows-only, Internet Explorer-only, heavily
DRM-restricted digital format that nevertheless costs twice as much
as buying a DVD! Absurd...
Broadband wireless - UK ISP Pipex, funded by $25 million from
Intel's venture capital arm, will be providing widespread broadband
services to both businesses and consumers in major population
centres using the new WiMAX standard. The roll-out will begin in
London and Manchester next year.
Having pointed a colleague to this web site, today, I realised
that the Network Fan Counter was
now woefully inaccurate and so have
brought it up to date. As I should have expected, the numbers of
and LEDs etc have increased sharply since the last update a couple of
years ago, and as I lost an entire PC installation when Ros and I
parted ways that must mean that either the LEDs are breeding in
there or that I've
added enough additional hardware for several people. I shall choose
to assume the former...
Meanwhile, just to add a couple more LEDs to the
counter, I was out shopping for silicon sealant in B&Q today and
came across something far less prosaic. I already have a couple of
the ubiquitous eight-way surge-protected mains extensions for my AV
hardware from electrical manufacturer Masterplug (unusually in this
day and age, a company without an obvious web presence), but hadn't
come across their Desktop Connection Centre before and was instantly
It's a neat little pod that clamps onto the edge
of a desk, and basically acts as a pass-through for both power and
data. It plugs into the mains to provide a readily-accessible 13A
socket with basic surge protection, and a separate DC transformer
powers a built-in four port USB 2 hub. Other sockets at front and rear
provide pass-throughs for RJ-45 Ethernet, RJ-11 phone or DSL, and a
3.5mm stereo jack socket for headphones or audio line-in. In my
environment, this has allowed me to replace the somewhat eccentric
Adaptec X-Hub 7, and tidy a
bunch of cables and my secondary network switch away out of sight
under the desk, reducing the clutter that has become somewhat more
obtrusive since I installed the pair of
flat panel monitors recently. Keyed connectors on either side of
the plastic housing would also allow multiple pods to be locked
together, which could provide a very neat solution for a small
office space where the PCs were kept under the desks. It's a good
idea, certainly, and reasonably priced - and so far it appears to
perform exactly as it should. Recommended.
For the last few weekends I've been hoping for
enough free time to start building one of the stockpile of
model kits I accumulated a few
years ago, and thanks to an early start this morning I managed to
spend a few hours on the first of a series of science fiction
Maschinen Krieger (or "fighting machines", usually abbreviated
to Ma.K.) kits were designed by the Japanese model maker and artist
Kow Yokoyama in the early eighties, and became very popular thanks
to extensive coverage in the hobby magazines of the day. Various
companies have produced mass-market kits based on his work in the
intervening years, and in spite of licensing difficulties and legal
injunctions the full range is are now back in production - if still
somewhat rare in this country.
The back-story involves a war between colonists
resettling a once-devastated Earth and an occupying military
government descended from the German Third Reich, and all the models
have a deliciously retro WW2 look and feel to them. Armoured
fighting suits of various types form the mainstay of the infantry
(did the designer swallow Heinlein's Starship Troopers at an
early age, one wonders?) and some excellent hover-tanks and flying
gunships provide the heavy weapons. There are more than twenty kits
in the range, of which I currently own nine thanks to a job lot
found on eBay, and if I manage to acquire the majority of the others
they will certainly make an impressive collection.
The quality of the kits seems very high, and
unusually for designs like this they include etched metal parts,
springs, lengths of fine wire and other oddments to provide a level
of fine detail that wouldn't be possible with polystyrene
components. These parts, together with the unusually high level of
free-moving pieces in the design, means that they are challenging
kits to make, and after three hours I've only managed to construct a
pair of fully-articulated arms:
At some point the arms will be attached to the
chassis of one of the more basic of the range, the SAFS "Super
Armoured Fighting Suit" - and if mine looks even half as good as
examples on show at Starship Modeller I'll be very
pleased indeed. Painting is going to make or break the finished
product, though, and unfortunately that is not actually my strongest
point... Nevertheless, when I bought the kits I also invested in one
of the books that goes along with the range, the
Chronicle And Encyclopedia, and although 99% of the text is
Japanese it provides both excellent inspiration and additional
painting guides to supplement the already fairly comprehensive
sheets included with the kits. The popularity of the genre ensures a
good number of
sites around the web,
too, if I need to "borrow" an idea or two for those finishing
Watch this space - assuming that subsequent
weekends permit! - for further developments...
This week I've been thoroughly wrapped up in the
turn-based science fiction strategy game
Laser Squad Nemesis, and
as I write this Mike and I have just started facing off for our fifth game
in a row. So far he's won most of them, but he's an old-hand at the game
and I'm expecting to catch up somewhat once I've learned my way around.
Even being repeatedly crushed like a bug is proving very entertaining,
though, and I can thoroughly recommend the game to anyone who likes the
whole real-time strategy genre but lacks the solid blocks of time to
invest in Command & Conquer, XCom, Total Annihilation etc. There's a free
demo which opens up both the single player and the online games, and it's
well worth a look.
Meanwhile, taking a short break from the laser bolts
zipping past my ears, some news links...
- courtesy of Autodesk founder John Walker, a little applet that
displays the view of the earth that would be seen from a particular
orbiting satellite. It's something of a fake, as most of the satellites
aren't actually equipped with cameras, but hey... It's an interesting site
consumer - British Telecom is in a snit with the online utility price
comparison service uSwitch following allegations that the service
offered to add BT to its list of suppliers for £40,000, together with a
£50 commission for every customer who signed up following their
- virtual reality headsets have been on the market for a decade now, in
one form or another, but none of them have yet broken out of their
extremely narrow niches. The latest offering, from Emagin, looks
like perfectly competent hardware but somehow I don't see it being any
Impossible ID cards - on a similar note to my comments
a few days ago about the various disasters
that await the ID cards project, an article at BlairWatch suggests
that the government won't be able to collect all the data required in time
even if everything works as well as it possibly could!
I hate DRM -
this new site is intended to act as a clearing house for DRM-related news
and opinions. It's a touch sparse at present, though, and only time will
tell whether it actually amounts to anything or not - there is already a
fair bit of competition
attention elsewhere on the web, after all.
- at Wikipedia, an extremely comprehensive and informative entry on the
underground geek language, from its origins in the phone phreaking
communities of the seventies, via its growth alongside the initial
expansion of the Internet, and it's current incarnation in the online
- I've linked to the creator of this geek jewellery before, I think, but
the Fractalspin store has a good range of other similar items as
well and is worth a browse around. I have to say that I was making
jewellery from resistors etc back in the early eighties, though, and it
wasn't new even then...
The sound of
silence - at the always-excellent Silent PC Review, a comprehensive
article on the design and construction of a quiet, overclocked Pentium D
system for multimedia processing. They've used a completely different
approach than my Infinity4
system, and it's good to see the contrast.
And finally, small Utah-based PC supplier
Awesome Computers has closed following a period of poor sales,
with the somewhat eccentric owner claiming that he is a victim of... well,
it's not clear exactly what he is a victim of, but with tirades
like this one from the final meeting with his staff last week it's clear
that he's a victim of something:
“It’s too bad that all of the media in Utah are
liars and murderers,” he said. “You just destroyed the greatest computer
company of all time. We were the best in the world, the world champion.
All this hatred was created by you. You’re basically angels of Satan.
All I can say to the people in Utah is, please pray for all the news
Closer to home, it was another good month in the stats, with the number of
visits hovering around the high water mark and the number of page views
setting another new record. Part of the traffic this month is thanks to the
usual mentions at The
Sideshow, and part from references at
Digital Spy and a few
others - all very welcome!
What pleases me most is that the ratio of page views to
visits continues to creep upwards - in other words, many people are staying
to read two or three pages rather than just clicking in and clicking right
out again, and as a large proportion of traffic still comes via Google this
suggests that a fair number of them are finding that something other than
the specific text they searched for is attracting their attention once
they're here. Neat! :-)