I am continuing to foam gently at the mouth over the depressingly immature
behaviour of the owners and moderators of the
Community Forums following the recent
disappearance of major UK supplier Airsoft Dynamics. As I commented
a few days
ago, it's not surprising that tensions are running high given the sums of money
involved and the complete silence on the part of AD themselves, but a competent
moderator (let alone a team of five of them!) should be more than able to
maintain order without abusing their position or behaving like a playground
bully. Instead, these particular mods seem determined to descend to the level of
the people they are bitching about, and in the dozens of posts they have made so
far none of them have contributed anything more worthwhile to
thread than the people they are flaming.
Here's a couple of typical examples, from "SuperModerator" (Is it a bird? Is it a plane?)
"If you post crap about Airsoft Dynamics in the wrong place, or post
irrelevant comments on the existing threads, I will call you a cunt, or
anything else for that matter. If any bystander feels they have a problem with
my language, I suggest they return to their convents or little boxes full of
"The way I see it you are a gobby little cunt trying to do a
'big I am
act'. Well, find yourself another stage to ponce around on. Go on to another
forum if you want rep points and webwanks"
Well, quite. He does like that "c" word, doesn't he... He also comments:
"I am concerned at the number of new members making their first posts in
this thread. Someone is obviously organising this, it is all too neat..."
Do I detect a distinct note of paranoia, there? Someone is organising what,
exactly? On the whole, people don't need to be encouraged into trying to find
out what has happened to hundreds of pounds of their hard-earned money, but if
his immediate reaction is to detect a conspiracy behind the fully justified concern from
AD's anxious customers then perhaps it explains his rather unstable overall
demeanour... Does he line his camo hat with tinfoil to block government mind
control rays as well, one wonders?
One especially crass technique that I've been surprised to
see in these threads is editing the post of a user that has been
deemed unworthy without adding the usual tag to show that this has happened - so anyone
thread later sees the hapless miscreant saying something completely
perplexing such as "I will learn not to stick my nose in where it isn't
wanted" or "Perhaps I'll think before posting unrelated comments again".
In my opinion that's a cheap trick, and in fact I don't remember ever seeing a
moderator of a serious discussion forum doing that in an online career that
pre-dates the Internet.
In the meantime, between abusing the less mature posters and
criticising the few people who have actually made an
attempt to provide sensible legal or financial advice, some of the mods have also managed to come out with a number of extremely dubious
statements - including some which I suspect may well come back to haunt them in
the coming months, such as this one from Beaker:
"We have no connection to AD, nor is UKASC responsible for how they
conduct their business"
This depends on exactly how one defines a "connection", of course - rumours
suggest (and the design style rather confirms) that forum owner Comega actually
designed the Airsoft Dynamics web site and that AD have (at least at some point)
paid the hosting charges for one or more of the UKASC servers... Also, the front page of
the ASC Portal contains banner
adverts for AD (as do a number of the other pages), and the
UKAN forums (owned and run by the
same team) have a conspicuous "proudly sponsored by AD" banner, or similar, at
the top of every page! That sounds like distinctly like a connection to me...
Of course, these are exactly the sort of
arrangements that one would expect to find between the retailers and the
community in a niche hobby such as airsoft (it's in everyone's interest to
help keep the hobby popular and profitable) and certainly don't imply any
formal relationship, but on the other hand it's disingenuous and actually
somewhat insulting, as well, to deny all links when in fact they're plain
to see! Given the above, it does occur to me that we're seeing something of a
collective guilty conscience: while I am happy to accept that UKASC has no
significant financial connection with Airsoft Dynamics, it's quite clear
that the various protagonists are both friends and industry colleagues,
and from the general level of angst and venom displayed by the UKASC staff
they must be suffering from considerable embarrassment that everything has
gone so badly pear-shaped for the company - especially when at least some
of them undoubtedly know far more about what is going on than it is
appropriate to discuss in a public forum at this stage.
Another from Beaker:
"We are also not responsible for other people's comments whether they
are in breach of our rules or not"
The infamous Demon
vs. Laurence Godfrey lawsuit strongly suggests otherwise, as some of the statements made by forum users about the owners of AD
are certainly verging on the libellous - but bizarrely it is not those posts
that are being withdrawn by the mods! Instead, they are picking off the people
who annoy them most, which may be a good way of letting off steam (and, boy,
from appearances they must have a lot of steam to let off!) but is a very poor
way of keeping yourself out of court as a complicit publisher of character defaming
So to "Beaker", "Taffy", "Paddy", "Comega" and, especially, the forum
co-owner "Fluffy" (who currently uses a picture of Mary Whitehouse as his avatar, a face I was already thoroughly tired of seeing before he adopted it), I
suggestion: get a firm grip on your tempers and start behaving in a way that
befits the community leaders that you obviously consider yourself to be - and do it quickly, too, before you end up looking even more
foolish than you do already...
Oh, look - the start of another week, and nearly the
end of the month already. Gosh, where does the time go...
Women demand tougher abortion laws - a survey organised by UK
pollsters MORI poll found that 47% of women believe the legal limit for
abortion should be cut from the current maximum of 24 weeks, while a
further 10% think that abortion should be banned completely. I'm only
hazarding a guess, here, but it's hard not to speculate that those 57% who
wanted to make life harder for their sisters have never had to worry about
unwanted pregnancy following rape, or a contraception failure, or even
just the after-effects of a misguided one-night-stand. Would many of those
women change their point of view if it was their own bodies and their own
futures they were voting on? I rather think they might...
sues over anti-spyware scam - Microsoft has joined forces with
Washington State's Attorney General to sue New York-based Secure Computer,
purveyor of a large proportion of the annoying pop-up adverts that claim
to have discovered spyware on your computer. The suit alleges that the
software, which costs $50 and merely changes a few registry and policy
settings, is at best useless and at worst can actually decrease the
security of the PC. I really hate these adverts, though, as they are
deliberately designed to look like the sort of alerts that are generated
by security software and by Windows itself, and it's so easy for
inexperienced but conscientious users to clog up their systems with
damaging junk while thinking that they're doing the right thing. Go,
with time - the argument between the supporters of astronomical time
(derived from the movement of celestial bodies and favoured by
astronomers) and Coordinated Universal Time (based on the vibration of
caesium atoms and beloved of physicists) continues to simmer, and the
addition of the leap second that synchronises the two right at the end of
2005 has threatened to bring it to the boil. Many scientists are growing
increasingly disaffected by the need for leap seconds, as they involve
considerable efforts to recalibrate electronic equipment and so are
basically a pain in the neck, but without them the standard time will
drift further and further from the actual rotation of the Earth and in the
long term the effects would be bizarre to say the least!
You paid how much? - two of the big names in the world of wrist
watch engineering, both with something of a reputation as enfants
terribles, have collaborated on a new design which can only be
described as both revolutionary and bizarre. The numerals inscribed on the
circumference of cylinders remind me strongly of the 1950s-style desktop
calendars, and the overall shape is somehow reminiscent of the primary
drive between the engine and gearbox of a vintage motorcycle. I'm not
actually sure that I like it, I have to say - but at a price of
$220,000 each that ambivalence probably isn't something I'm going to have
to worry about overcoming.
Approximately speaking - this watch, however, is something that I'm
definitely rather fond of. Instead of fussing with millisecond accuracy it
presents the analogue of time in a format that is extremely appropriate to
everyday usage - it has a textual display that offers statements such as
"Slightly After 6", "Nearly 9 Forty Five" and "Just
Before 7", using an accuracy of plus or minus three minutes. Given
that this kind of fuzziness is exactly what most people need most of the
time, and that in any case many watches are either hopelessly inaccurate
or simply poorly synchronised, the false precision presented by modern
timepieces is largely illusory. My ideal watch would be able to flip
between this wonderfully-human mode for everyday use and a digital mode
for the odd occasions when I actually needed to time something.
Gorgeous engineering - at
the home of the wonderful Crab Fu video (go on, take a look - you
know you want to) a sub-page has some of the most wonderful steam-powered
working models I've ever seen. They're like a cross between a Lego
Technics set and something from one of China Miéville's novels - a
radio-controlled tank, centipedes and crabs, a rowing boat that rows
itself, and several others. It's a pity that the photographs don't show
more close-up detail, but at least there are generous handfuls of
video clips to make up for it.
Dr. Hibbert, I thought you'd located another kidney for Grampa?
Hibbert: Larry Hagman took it. He's got five of them
now! And three hearts! We didn't want to
give them to him but he overpowered us!
- The Simpsons, Kidney Trouble.
Thought for the day: If one is a devotee of Jamaican reggae,
apparently ska bands such as
Byron Lee and the Dragonaires count as classical music. Lee shares
a characteristic of many of the great names of that era, no matter what
part of the world they come from and what style of music they play, in
that he is still recording and still gigging after fifty years in the
music business - compare that with the "stars" of the last twenty years,
the majority of who fade into obscurity as soon as their hit fades from
the charts. Are they still playing? Have they retired from the music
industry? Nobody knows, and frankly most of the time nobody cares... Give
me a working professional, devoted to his craft and driven by his love of
music instead of his thirst for fame, any day of the week.
Rats and sinking ships - former Veritas chief exec Gary Bloom is to
leave Symantec following what is described as an "orderly transition",
suggesting that others share my misgivings about the acquisition. I'm
certainly thoroughly underwhelmed by the first Symantec-branded version of
Backup Exec, which has completely failed to address a number of annoying
little user interface bugs.
Missed point error in line 1 - the new anti-hacking laws that the Home
Office is working on include a clause which will ban the development,
ownership and distribution of so-called "hacker tools". Unfortunately, no
provision is made to exclude legitimate network management utilities such
as password and data recovery tools, security scanners, and stress-testing
Gone but not (quite) forgotten - erstwhile console manufacturer
Infinium insists that it hasn't actually given up on its plans for the
Phantom console (now overdue by several years even by conservative
estimates), but given that it has just had to borrow
$5 million to
manufacture a wireless keyboard and mouse combo I'm still not holding my
Creative anachronisms - the latest theme at the excellent Worth
1000 digital image manipulation site is another in the popular series
of Time Machine contests. My favourites include Chaplin with a RoboRaptor,
a Model T hot rod, and a hip-hop Ghandi. There seem to be a surprising
number of entries that have dropped modern weaponry into vintage American
Civil War photos, too - fun!
truth is out there - machinima are short animated movies created by
hijacking the 3D engine from a 1st-person shooter or adventure game, in
this case World Of Warcraft, and the latest example of this
increasingly popular genre uses a group of bizarre humanoids to reveal a
poorly-kept secret. I'm not usually a fan, but this one has a certain
A few quick links to end the week, starting with a
definite flavour of copyright violation and DRM - surely one of the
defining themes of the first part of the 21st century:
Vista tightens the screws - Microsoft has decided to completely
prevent the use of unsigned drivers in the forthcoming version of the
Windows OS, which is likely to cause problems both in the early days of
the adoption and for users of less common hardware throughout its
Music industry good guys - major Canadian music-management company
Nettwerk has agreed to cover the costs of defending a 15-year-old sued by
the RIAA for allegedly sharing an Avril Lavigne track, on the grounds that
"the current actions of the RIAA are not in the artists' best
warnings - a parody of the threats at the start of DVDs, which is
witty and yet chilling at the same time: "unlawful duplication of this
media carries a maximum penalty greater than that of many violent
crimes ... proceeds from the sale of this media may be used to arrest
dubious ground - many of the file-sharing cases are legally flawed, it
seems, as simply making copyrighted media available is not sufficient to
prove guilt -instead it needs to be shown that that a third party took
advantage of that availability by making a copy for themselves.
vs. Jobs - Bill may be reviled as an evil monopolist, and Steve
worshipped as the coolest of entrepreneurs, but one of them has donated
billions of dollars towards solving global health problems. Regular
readers will recognise a theme that I've been trying to propagate for
Second-hand satellite - astronauts on board the International Space
Station have filled an old Russian space-suit with electronics and
batteries, and put it into orbit. It transmits status information
(generated in real time by a speech synthesiser) on the publicly
accessible shortwave bands.
The wages of sin...
I own a single share in Microsoft US, bought during the
federal anti-trust hearings as a way of putting my money where my mouth
was, and today it earned me another dividend.
Now all I have to do is decide between that holiday in
the Seychelles I've been promising myself and a new BMW 8-series... While
I vacillate, therefore, some assorted links:
On the spot - the BBC invited the public to pose questions for the
music industry execs, and to nobody's surprise their answers are the usual
mealy-mouthed lies, evasions, and dogma.
Magnificent devastation - while I was researching last
night's rant about General Groves, I came across
of photographs of atomic bomb tests. They're beautiful, but chilling as
God copyrighted - the Vatican has decided to impose strict copyright
on all papal pronouncements, applying not only to the speeches of the
current pontiff by also retroactively over the past 50 years.
The wonders of DRM - security researchers at Princeton are
demonstrating that the copy protection on audio CDs is mostly very poorly
conceived and implemented, and can easily be circumvented.
Intel Macs disappoint - Apple is claming that the new Macs are four
times faster than the Motorola-based G5 models, but benchmarks suggest
that the improvement is actually more like a quarter...
Plan B emerges - with opposition to the seriously flawed ID Cards
scheme mounting, the Home Office seems to be is working on a drastically
cut-down plan in case the worst happens.
Under lock and key - this plastic treasure chest may look like
something designed to decorate a fish tank, but in fact it connects to a
PC via USB and will open open if you enter the correct code.
- for those you can't get enough of the "bunny suits" in the Intel Mac
adverts, a live view of the clean room at the Johnson Space Center where
they're analysing the space dust.
Then and now - the
front page of Woz's web site has photos of him and Steve Jobs, and the
contrast between the old hippie and the ruthless predator he partnered
with has never been so vivid.
Too much time
etc - a knitted power cable may not be very useful (especially not an
American standard knitted power cable!) but somehow it looks really good
and I would love to have one...
Extendable thumb - using a prosthetic addon to help me read had
not occurred to me before, but actually this
book-holding-open-gadget seems like rather a good idea.
I've just been watching
Day One, a long
drama-documentary about the Manhattan Project, and unlike all the other
accounts I've read of the project the main characters were mostly the
military men who organised and managed it - specifically
Groves, who was placed in charge by President Roosevelt at its
The film's makers (or maybe the author of the book on
which it was based) were obviously rather impressed with Groves, and in
one of the early scenes he marches into an office at Berkeley where a
group of scientists are trying to calculate the mass of uranium that would
be required to reach a critical mass, and immediately corrects the
equations of the (un-named) junior scientist at the blackboard who had
Avogadro's number as 6x1024 instead
of 6x1023. Given that the room also
Szilárd, the man who conceived the idea of
the nuclear chain reaction, Nobel prize winner
widely regarded as the best experimental physicist of his era, and
one of the foremost experts on the nucleus of the atom, this defies
belief. For any of them to have failed to notice a mistake in such
a fundamental value would have been inconceivable, let alone the entire
room full of physicists together. Nevertheless, the General announced that
he had taken the algebra and trigonometry courses at West Point twice
and so was therefore just as educated as a physicist with a Ph.D.
(conveniently ignoring the fact that a doctorate generally requires the
production of new and original work, whereas the mathematics taught at a
military academy does not) and then swept out, leaving the egg-heads
looking suitably chastened...
This scene pretty much set the tone for the rest of the
film, and on the whole the scientists were portrayed as rather awkward,
egotistical and annoying people, with little awareness of the importance
of their work and all sorts of undesirable (and possibly even disloyal)
attitudes. I'm sure that there is actually an element of truth to
that, of course, and in any case I suppose it serves as a useful contrast
to the accounts of life at Los Alamos told by
Richard Feynman and others, where the military are lampooned as
foolish, inflexible zealots who have no conception of how science is done.
However, the way the movie represented some of the century's finest
physicists as fools, often being peremptorily ordered from the room by
Groves so that he could demonstrate that he could do their job better,
really ticked me off. I have no idea whether this was an accurate account
of his behaviour or merely a fabrication of the film-makers, but it had me
gritting my teeth through most of the movie...
One thing that is clear, however, is that it was
Groves himself who made the decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan cities.
Many of the Manhattan Project scientists began to lose faith in the
ethical basis of their work once the war in Europe had been won, and by
the final stages of the Pacific war even the US government was vacillating
over whether to simply invite Japanese officials to a demonstration of the
newly-completed weapon instead, or at the very least to give them warning
and time to evacuate the target city - but Groves was both adamant and
well-connected, and in the absence of any strong opposition at the highest
levels it seems that he prevailed without any great difficulty, personally
organising every detail of the missions that delivered the bombs to
Nagasaki. To date, he remains the only man ever to order the use of
nuclear weaponry against human beings - and unlike many of the scientists
who worked on the project he seems to have had absolutely no problem at
all in living with that dubious distinction. While I was researching
Groves it also emerged that he devised the idea of using depleted uranium
in munitions, so I guess we have him to thank for the
problems that NATO military personnel have been experiencing in the
last decade, as well as the estimated 200,000 people who died as a direct
or indirect result of the two atomic bombs themselves.
[Early Edition] A scandal seems to be
brewing in the word of airsoft with widespread reports that major UK
retailer Airsoft Dynamics has
stopped responding to telephone and email queries and shows every sign of
having gone out of business. Nothing has been seen or heard from the
company since the start of the year, it seems, and reports suggest that
the shop is closed and empty. The web site shows no sign of any problems,
however, and indeed is apparently still accepting orders as of yesterday
evening - there are several forum posts from people who placed an order
only hours before coming across the topic discussing the company's
possible demise, and as you an imagine they are pretty ticked off about
The probability is that the company's owners have been
forced to declare bankruptcy or similar, and have been advised not to
issue any statements or discuss the situation until the legal and
financial status has been clarified officially - but if that is the
case then I really do think they should have removed the web site
altogether, or at the very least disabled the shopping basket function.
Taking new orders and debiting people's credit cards or bank accounts
under such circumstances is certainly not proper behaviour...
Even less impressive, however, is the attitude of the
Community Forum moderators in
the topic where this issue is being discussed. Tensions are running
somewhat high, as could be expected considering the average age of the
participants and the sums of money that can be involved in airsoft
purchases, but even so I would expect the moderators to maintain order and
stability without descending to the same level as the participants.
Instead, they suddenly seem to have lost their collective tempers and
started swearing, bitching, and handing out forum suspensions to anyone
who dares to say something they don't like. I have to admit that I've
never been very fond of the forum's management style (the entire site
scores over the excellent
Arnie's Airsoft only in being updated rather more frequently) and
have been dubious about their motives since their somewhat mysterious
acquisition of the competing UK Airsoft Network site a year or two
ago, but it's a shame to see that they can, indeed, sink even lower in my
estimation... After all, these are the people that the police, the press,
the government and the anti-gun lobbies notice when they dip into the
forums to size up the opposition to the VCR Bill, and based on today's
little outbursts I expect that they will be smiling quietly to themselves
at the sight of everyone bickering and fighting about who said what to
whom, instead of uniting against the people that are trying to
ban the hobby they claim to hold so dear. It's very sad.
This neat little gadget is an ultrasonic cleaning tank,
picked up on eBay from the memorably-named
Grommit, a vendor who, unlike the supplier of my
tape library, I would have no hesitation in recommending. It's towards the
higher end of the consumer-grade models, and whilst it doesn't have quite
the oomph of the sort of devices I used to watch engineers using to
degrease the components of
turbines back in my salad days, with a 70W 42KHz transducer and a
capacity of 1.4 litres it's also considerably more effective than the
little cup-sized units often seen advertised for cleaning jewellery.
In use it actually works very well, as long as you
understand the limitations of the ultrasonic process itself. High
frequency pressure waves travelling through the water form tiny air
bubbles via a process called "microcavitation", and the shockwaves
produced when the bubbles implode under the pressure physically dislodge
dirt and grime from the surface of the material being cleaned.
What the process will not do, however, is to
remove the tarnish from the surface of jewellery, for example - this is
the result of a chemical reaction and so will not be affected by any
mechanical cleaning process, which is the reason why so many people who
have bought an ultrasonic cleaner for this purpose end up badly
disappointed. Having said that, it is very good for removing dead
skin cells etc from all the nooks and crevices, and my silver rings are
looking wonderfully sparkly even without any chemical treatment. Of
course, it's possible to use various types of cleaning fluid in the
ultrasonic tank, but care must be taken to ensure that the reagent doesn't
attack the structure of the unit - unlike the industrial units, which are
usually large chunks of stainless steel, the plastic cladding of home
cleaners may be rather more sensitive to strong chemicals... At present
I'm using plain water with a squirt of washing up liquid (lowering the
surface tension improves cavitation as well as further loosening dirt
etc), but if I can find an appropriate solvent I shall probably give that
a try as well.
One tip that isn't usually mentioned in the
instructions of the consumer-level items is the importance of degassing
the fluid first. Even regular tap water contains a significant quantity of
dissolved gasses, and this can "cancel out" the cavitation process until
it has been forced out of solution. Fortunately the remedy is simple -
just run the unit for a few minutes (there is often a distinct change in
the tone of the sound emitted) before adding the items to be cleaned.
So far I've used it to clean my rings, my watch strap,
my glasses, the bolt assembly from a
sniper rifle and a couple of electric shavers, and the results have
been very pleasing. In fact, pretty much the only thing that I haven't
cleaned is whatever it was that first made me think "hmmm, I could do
with an ultrasonic cleaning tank for this" - and for the life of me I
can't remember what that actually was!
All-in-all, although there seems to be a justified
degree of pessimism about the results that can be obtained from the
cheapest cleaners on the market, the slightly more powerful consumer
models can certainly give good results as long as you know what to expect.
I'd say that they're a highly worthwhile purchase if you have enough
things that need regular cleaning - although once word spreads you can
probably expect a steady stream of friends bearing contributions of their
Today one of my colleagues brought in a little pamphlet
from the golden years of the British computer industry, "The A.B.C. Of
Electronic Brains". Written for the BBC by Leon Bagrit of
Elliott-Automation Ltd (eventually subsumed into GEC and then ICL, and
long-forgotten outside of the British Computer Society's historical
computing geeks), it has enough coverage of Elliott's own
hardware and systems that it almost counts as advertising, but
it's a fascinating document nevertheless. My colleague used a reference to
a programming symposium to date the booklet to 1960, a pivotal year when
transistors and ferrite core memory was replacing valves and delay lines,
and magnetic media was just beginning to encroach on the dominance of
paper tape and punched cards. Some of the illustrations are remarkable,
such as a magnetic disk drive that looks more like the flywheel from a
medium-sized truck that had collided with an oscilloscope and (I swear I'm
not making this up) has what is very obviously a drain nozzle for emptying
some kind of fluid out of the system - but some are delightfully prosaic,
including an aerial photograph of a thoroughly non-descript brick
industrial unit captioned "a building used to house a computer"...
Mr Bagrit turns out to have been something of a
visionary, however, as although his prediction for the likely speed of
future computers is somewhat conservative (he suggests clock speeds in the
order of tens of megahertz, which probably seemed extravagant forty-odd
years ago but pales into insignificance beside the cheapest low-end home
PC) he's actually very daring when it comes to the potential size of the
hardware. In a year that the science fiction author Isaac Asimov was
writing about Multivac,
a computer so large that is was built above Niagara Falls in order to use
the river as a heatsink, Leon Bagrit wrote:
"One can quite soberly think of reduction in size
to a point where a computer is made the size of a packet of twenty
cigarettes. This may be attained by using printed circuits, printed by
electron microscopes. Space travel will demand a reduction in size of
computers to be mounted in spaceships".
It's interesting to note that hardware used by the
world's space programs is
and that instead it is the consumer electronics industry that has provided
much of the drive towards miniaturisation, but apart from that I think his
description is a good match for my Palm
Tungsten T3 handheld.
Meanwhile, back in the future:
Google takes a beating - a day after reports of its refusal to bow to
a Justice Department subpoena hit the news, Google's shares fell by 8.5%,
or $36.98 a share, to a mere $399.46. The search company has refused to
hand over data compromising a random sampling of one million URLs from
their web database, and the text of each request entered into the search
engine over a one-week period. The subpoena forms part of the
administration's efforts to revive the seriously flawed COPA online
pornography law, which was struck down two years ago by the Supreme Court,
and is a classic example of the sort of measure which is irrelevant to the
stated problem while actually hiding a right-wing fundamentalist attempt
to incorporate their morality into the legislature.
And talking of
which - following the terrible news that only 4 out of 5 major search
engines will allow the US government to see private user data on demand,
the newly-formed Patriot Search will guarantee that the law
enforcement community sees your search results as soon as you do.
Imation acquires Memorex - "Is it live, or is it... ah..." Another
long-established name vanishes from the IT industry, and as with the
majority of the many other mergers and acquisitions over the last decade
I'm convinced that the end-user that will suffer in the long run.
Duelling jumbos - the dialog of this fan-made commercial for the Xbox
is perhaps a bit too German for most people, but it's extremely funny all
the same. (And yes, Mike, I know they're not actually jumbos, but
that was too good a caption to resist!)
And finally, from the safety warning in the front of
the manual for the Iiyama H1900 LCD display: "Stop operating the
monitor when you sense trouble, or if you notice any abnormal phenomena".
The instructions suggest calling the support line, in that eventuality,
but from the sound of it the Ghostbusters might be a better bet... Now, if
you'll excuse me, my
spider-sense is tingling.
A link! A link! My kingdom for a link!
Well, maybe not my whole kingdom... but
certainly a dubious 256Mb SODIMM that I have lying around on my desk.
See-through data- I've always admired the hard disks modded by
brave souls who replace the top cover with a transparent window to reveal
the mechanism inside, but it's not something I would have risked doing.
Enter Western Digital, however, who have done just that with their new
GMail "feature" - email addresses at Google's free mail service may be
created using dots to separate names, but apparently the system itself
doesn't pay any attention to them - so while two different users can sign
up as "fred.smith" and "fredsmith", they'll both end up with the same
Big Brother is indexing you - it has emerged that of the 3 million or
so records in the UK government's National DNA Database, 24000 belong to
juveniles who have never actually been cautioned or charged with a crime -
together with more than 120,000 adults who are equally innocent.
Your credit rights - courtesy of the BBC's Watchdog consumer
affairs program, an extremely useful guide to the UK's Consumer Credit Act
and how to go about claiming redress if you have paid by credit card for
goods or services that were unsatisfactory in some way.
Unofficial iMac tablet - Apple seem to be a little tardy with the
release of their tablet format iMac, but when they finally ship they'll
have stiff competition from technology company ThePlaceForItAll,
who rebuild iBooks into tablet format and end up with something that looks
extremely slick and polished.
Australian Lensman - Dan's latest opus is surely one of his longest
articles (the preamble is certainly the longest), so by the time
you find out what he's reviewing you'll have learned a lot about lenses -
and as usual, his copious embedded links are as informative and amusing as
the article itself.
innovation - the rather unappealingly-named "Slanket" may not be the
best blanket ever, as the advertising claims, but it's certainly a cunning
idea - an over-sized, fleecy blanket with built-in sleeves, allowing
chilly geeks to operate technology while shivering in unheated lofts or
And finally, apparently science is
for normal people' - a new survey reveals that although UK teenagers
value the role of science in society, and respect the scientists
themselves, they have a very strange picture of what a career in science
would be like. Scientists are "constantly depressed and tired", it seems,
and all wear "big glasses and white coats" - and none of them are female.
It's not quite clear to me where these ideas come from (surely it can't
all be Hollywood movies?
Goldblum's scientists seem to wear spiffy leather blazers and
dashingly open-necked shirts, mostly!), but of this attitude is as
prevalent as the survey suggests it's easy to see why the numbers of
children taking A-levels in physics, chemistry and even maths has declined
steadily and significantly over the last ten years.
I'm thoroughly worn down after last night's tirade, and
while I'm recuperating for a fresh assault on that damn tape library
tomorrow you'll have to survive with a handful of random links to end the
How not to respond - a recently discovered vulnerability in part of
the BSD Unix security subsystem will not be fixed in the Open BSD version
of the OS, and their attitude is raising a few eyebrows.
Corporate corruption - carriers BellSouth and Verizon are up to all
sorts of shenanigans, it seems, including offering Yahoo the chance to pay
to have its web pages load faster than Google's...
More media industry bastardry - and talking of corporate greed, the UK
trade association PACT wants to collect what amounts to a tax on digital
video recorders such as the TiVo and Sky+ devices.
the money - Ars Technica looks into the recent scandal over the
in-game Subway advertising that appeared on some privately-run
Moo FX - a
eye-catching animated text effects on a web page.
video to video - at PCStats, a useful guide on transferring VHS
tapes to DVD, a process that can provide a number of pitfalls (mostly
codec-related) for the unwary.
text adventure - tasteless, perhaps, but witty all the same... At the
Defective Yeti blog, the invasion re-cast as a text adventure from
the classic era of PC gaming.
Stardust and golden - the spacecraft's aerogel collector has been
opened, and a cursory examination suggests that it has captured far more,
and far larger, particles than anyone expected.
The home of the fee - Apple is in the dog-house, it seems, following
their announcement that they will join other big suppliers by setting up a
business branch on Guernsey to exploit a UK tax loophole.
look inside the Intel iMac - a touch Japanese around the text,
perhaps, but the pictures speak for themselves. It really is a
funny-looking set of components, compared to the systems I'm used to.
Hermes: Number 1.0, I hereby petition you
for an emergency sort-and-file, under regulation 2 point...
Number 1.0: [waggling his finger] Don't quote me
regulations! I co-chaired the committee that reviewed the recommendation
to revise the colour of the book that regulation is in! We kept it
Futurama episode #23 -
How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back
Regular readers of Epicycle will know that I
wasn't at all pleased with the
tape library that I recently purchased from "bujji0"
at eBay, and in fact I've been unhappy with every stage of the transaction from
start to finish. Having mulled it over for a while I eventually decided that I had no choice but to leave negative feedback
and, just as I expected, this
immediately earned a negative response in return in spite of the fact
that I fulfilled my side of the bargain perfectly - I paid promptly,
didn't complain when the library was shipped from Canada ten days later than I had been
promised, and managed (somehow!) to remain perfectly courteous in all my
communications even when it became clear that I was being
royally screwed over the deal. My only fault was in daring to object
to being screwed...
I started to realise that things had were going wrong
when the library was finally in transit, and the details I was sent
referred to delivery at Heathrow Airport. I questioned this, and was met
with a stony denial that anything else had ever been implied or agreed.
However, the majority of our exchanges had been sent via eBay's own
internal messaging system, which provides a semi-permanent record - a fact
the seller must have overlooked when he edited the copy he forwarded to me
by adding a line that mentioned the airport. My own copy, like the one
held on eBay, was certainly unambiguous, with no suggestion that shipping
would be anything other than door-to-door as usual...
I really wanted the library, though, and as by
now I could feel myself being stretched over a barrel I gritted my teeth
in an effort to remain polite, and asked for the information I would need
to process the import myself. What was returned were a few brief details
of an un-named shipping agent (the telephone number turned out to be
unobtainable, and neither of the two airway bill numbers were actually
valid) together with the helpful advice that "they might charge a fee". I
should say they might! Once I had finally tracked down the freight company
myself, in fact I paid a total of £317 for the customs duty, which of
course I was expecting and had budgeted for, and the administration
charges and local delivery fee which I most certainly had not!
I suspect that what probably happened was that having
given me an estimate for
shipping before the auction ended, when it came down to it the seller
realised that he had badly miscalculated
and that the cost of delivery to my home address would destroy his profit
margin - and so he chose the cheapest shipping option possible and
pocketed the difference. After all, with three thousand miles between us
he probably reasoned (quite correctly!) that there wouldn't be a lot I
could do about it...
I have to admit that once I had finally tracked down
the freight company, UTI Worldwide, they were extremely helpful. Various
forms were faxed back and forth, a large part of my bank balance was
redistributed and, this now being Christmas Eve thanks to the long delay
in shipping, delivery was arranged as soon as their offices re-opened in
the new year.
The long-awaited delivery provided the next bone of
contention. For a piece of delicate computer hardware the size of a large
filing cabinet and weighing over 430lbs, I would have expected something
more than a single sheet of regular bubble wrap and some sticky tape - but
that is exactly how it had been shipped. Having had a couple of similar if
smaller items arrive from overseas with serious damage sustained en route
I specifically inquired about how the library was going to be packaged,
and such inadequate protection was not at all what I had been promised! It
is a testament to the unexpected care with which it must have been handled
in transit that it wasn't completely destroyed by the time it got to me,
and in fact the only obvious damage was a bent metal supporting
bracket sustained at some point when the library had been laid down on its
Once the unit had been wrestled into my
kitchen-cum-computer room, though, the next problem became clear. The
seller didn't pack the internal mechanism at all, leaving the robotics to
slide freely around on their bearings and allowing most of the removable tape magazines
to fall out into the interior of the cabinet (some even lodging behind the
revolving carousel, from where they were extremely difficult to extract)
and it seems likely that the effect of these big plastic frames bouncing
around inside caused the hardware damage that has so far rendered the
library completely unusable. A handful of bubble wrap would have prevented
that problem completely, but as it stands the robotic picker
assembly seems to fail its calibration routine when the unit is
powered on, which automatically takes the library offline and turns it
into nothing more than a giant paperweight.
I certainly haven't given up yet (although I have to
admit to being very disillusioned with the whole thing at present), but
this kind of opto-electro-mechanical hybrid is extremely difficult to
debug and repair, and it might well end up being beyond my capabilities -
and given how much I had paid for the damn thing by the end of the whole
sorry saga that would be a real annoyance.
So here's a big "fuck you" to
bujji0, otherwise known as
Shree Ramayanam, who has ripped me off good and proper, and left me
with no recourse except to hope that this account inspires any future
customers to double-check the exact details of delivery and packaging and
be very sure that they are getting what they expect - my own experience
suggests that he doesn't possess the sort of ethical behaviour and common
sense that more than two hundred other eBay transactions have lead me to
hope for and, indeed, that I normally receive.
|It's That Link Again... Some random stuff:
A long wait - Microsoft are not intending to release the Service Pack
3 for Windows XP until 2007, echoing the release of the final SP4 for
Windows 2000 long after XP was in wide use, and tying in nicely with the
recent announcement that XP Home support will run until some time around
Corporate bloat - more on the incredible mish-mash of trial and
bundled software that clutters up new PCs from the big manufacturers - and
don't forget, this was what your taxes have paid for in the various
anti-trust lawsuits around the world...
The day of the fox - Firefox now has 20% of the European market share,
according to a new report, and more than 30% in some countries. I was
extremely sceptical, initially, but a quick look at
my own stats shows 25% of visitors are using the browser, so I guess
there may actually be some truth in it!
iPod survival lessons - I'm amazed to find that some people are
prepared to pay significant amounts of money to be taught how to use an
iPod - the device that has been hailed far and wide as the epitome of user
see that? - In-game advertising continues to reaches new low points,
with adverts for the Subway sandwich shops being sneaked onto walls and
cliffs in the popular Counter-Strike online combat game. Needless to say,
the game's creators are not especially happy about this.
From the bizarre to the ridiculous - William Shatner continues to
surprise, with news that he has just sold a kidney stone for $25000,
having turned down lower offers on the grounds that his "Star Trek" tunics
have sold for more than $100,000. He intends to donate the money to
look at the Intel iMac - it may look just like previous models from
the outside (and it's not an especially impressive look, at that!) but
the internals are significantly different from either regular Macs or
PCs. Time will tell, once the Intel-native apps start arriving, how it
will behave in the real world.
little piece of history - Hawkwind lynchpin Dave Brock reading
extracts from Hunter Thompson's
Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas - although it was sourced form AM radio
before being transferred to cassette tape and finally being digitised so
unfortunately the sound quality leaves a lot to be desired.
Clashes over ID
cards - the House Of Lords has demanded full details of the projected
costs of Tony Blair's flawed scheme, which has caused a flurry of protests
that doing so would actually drive the cost up... In spite of the fact
that the government has claimed that the costs are already fully
I shocked myself, this week, by paying more than £20
for a battered old paperback book with a cover price of £1.50 - and a
scrawled pencil "25p" on the back from some long-ago second hand shop. The
book is "Hype", a novel written by avant-garde poet and musician
(closely associated with space rockers
Hawkwind in the glory
days of the seventies Ladbroke Grove scene) to accompany his
album of the same name, and these days it's as rare as... well, it's
rare enough for someone to pay £20 for...
Part of the problem is, of course, the incredible ease
with which online emporium Amazon allows one to spend money with them.
Having wondered if they had a copy of the novel to go with my CD, it only
took a few mouse clicks to find out that no, it was long out of print -
but that I could create a pre-order that would hover like a hawk
over the company's second-hand Marketplace section and descend on a copy
as soon as it emerged blinking into the light. A year or so passed, and
every few months the system would sadly inform me that it still hadn't
found anything, but that maybe if I offered a little more money...?
Another few clicks re-energised the pre-order with a ceiling a couple of
pounds higher, and then I would forget about it again...
Until yesterday, that is, when an email suddenly
arrived telling me that I was now the proud owner of a second-hand copy of
the novel, and that £19 plus shipping had been snatched away from my
credit card. I have to admit that this caused a raised eyebrow, as I was
expecting the opportunity to confirm or refuse the purchase (that will
teach me not to read the small print!) and at that price I would have had
second and probably third thoughts - but the book arrived this morning and
it's a bit late for that now! Ah, well - I suppose I can always hang on to
it for another few years and then sell it on at a profit.
Dining room in a box - the Mealbox is a Japanese-style table and
stools that come apart like a giant wooden (and carbon fibre) jigsaw to
fit into a neat little box. It's so cunning you could put a tail on it and
call it a weasel - but as no price is shown I expect it's equally
Elevator seeks - a new concept in lifts for tall office buildings, the
grandly-named Destination Floor Guidance System allows passengers to enter
their desired floor at a kiosk and then assembles the most efficient
combination by grouping them together into specific lift cars.
More copyright madness - the family of Martin Luther King Jr. is
jealously guarding copyright to his speeches, including the famous "I Have
a Dream" speech from 1963, and their scale of charges is such that many
schools cannot afford to play it to their students. I really doubt Dr King
Picking hardware for Media Center - I'm idly contemplating a Home
Theatre PC to replace the fatally flawed
Pinnacle Showcenter I've been tinkering with over the last couple of
years, and this guide at UK hardware site Bit-Tech is an excellent source
for anyone considering building such a system.
Antique computer brochures - during the PC boom of the eighties I
wrote to dozens of computer companies requesting brochures, but unlike Kim
Moser's I don't think any of mine survived until the Century Of The
Artichoke. Ah, Ventura 2.1 - before it was snapped up by Xerox.
music - reprogramming the firmware of old Epson printers to play music
is undoubtedly a worthy task, but definitely one undertaken by people with
far, far too much time on their hands. Do watch out, though - the
site's scrolling floral background is a real eyesore.
It's Monday, and I've spent the day wrestling with the
upgrade of a rather recalcitrant set of Backup Exec managed media servers
to the new version 10.1 / 10d (Symantec don't quite seem to know what they
actually bought from Veritas, and the name vacillates somewhat across
their documentation), so have little energy left over tonight... Have some
quick links while I recover:
Apple advert a rip off - the new Intel-based Mac ad bears a truly
uncanny resemblance to a pop video by The Postal Service (although
not an advert for the US Post Office, as the
Wired headline claims!).
Siberian funds scams - Nigeria is out of fashion now, it seems, with
the bright young scammers opting for the colleagues of Russian oil tycoons
instead of the wives of deposed African dictators.
Hi-tech Mercedes - the new S-Class has an onboard radar, automated
acceleration and braking controls, and night-vision... and a $100,000
price tag to match.
Quantum microchip - a new semiconductor designed at the University of
Michigan contains an ion trap holding a single cadmium atom, the spin of
which can be manipulated and read by a laser.
Microsoft extending Home support - just has expected (Mike and I were
talking about this only last week) MS has extended the support period for
XP Home to two years after Vista ships.
releases spyware guidelines - the Anti-Spyware Coalition has released
its guidelines on which characteristics could legitimately lead to an
application being classified as spyware.
new digicam - think your 12 megapixel digital SLR is something to
boast about? If so, the new 39 megapixel offering from the high-end medium
format specialist will put you in your place.
A very expensive fan controller - Innovatek's rather cheesily-named
"Fan-O-Matic PRO" has an impressive spec (although the software leaves a
lot to be desired) but costs as much as a cheap PC!
USB turntable - not quite new, but certainly a cunning gadget: a
record deck that connects via USB and comes with software designed to rip
from vinyl to MP3. Very tempting, if it works well enough...
|Something for the weekend, Sir?
Dan buys a new PC - Dan
had a close encounter with a lightning storm, and one of his systems
didn't survive the experience... but geeks see this kind of event as an
opportunity rather than a crisis, and he's written up a very
detailed description of his shiny new purchase.
Apple, sitting in a tree - hot on the heels of the recent announcement
of a five year development program for the Mac version of Office, comes
news that the two companies will also be collaborating on the next
versions of Virtual PC to allow Windows apps to run on the Inte Macs.
Dissing the PC - not so rosy, this weekend, is the relationship
between Apple and Intel following a TV advert for the new Macs: "The
Intel chip: for years, its been trapped inside PCs, inside dull little
boxes, dutifully performing dull little tasks, when it could have been
doing so much more".
A one trick pony
- just when you though it was safe to go back to your music
collection, Apple Insider brings news of yet more iPods. The
company has applied to the Hong Kong IP Property Department for the rights
to the trademarks "iPod Hi-Fi" and "iPod Boombox". Enough, already!
than you can shake a stick at - a new report from CipherTrust suggests
that last month as many as 200,000 computers per day were infected by
malicious code that turned them into sources of spam email, with China and
the US leading the list of infected systems.
Pots and kettles #437 - following the discovery of rootkit-like
cloaking components in its Norton SystemWorks product, Symantec is calling
for an industry wide effort to define what the term "rootkit" actually
means - presumably, in this case, "anything but our software"...
WTF? - I mentioned Steve Gibson's already dubious reputation last
week, but it's hard to tell whether his claims that the recent Windows WMF
vulnerability was actually a deliberate back door inserted into the OS by
parties unknown will help or harm it... Needless to say, MS hotly denies
A musical treat - prominent MS blogger Robert Scoble reports that some
of the new sound effects in the Vista OS are being recorded by guitar diva
Robert Fripp, co-founder of King Crimson and frequent partner with digital
music pioneer Brian Eno, who created the startup sound for Windows 95.
The telecoms company O2 annoyed me, back in the autumn,
so I sued them - and yesterday a cheque arrived for the princely sum of
£62.92 in full settlement.
I've been using their web-based SMS facility for many
years, even though I no longer have an airtime contract with them, and one
day in November after sending a message I noticed that some of my personal
details were badly out of date. I updated my home address and my phone
number without difficulties, but when I returned to the status page my
pre-paid balance of £2.92 was mysteriously absent. A long, drawn-out, and
frustrating exchange of emails with their customer services team followed,
the upshot of which was that having changed my personal details the
balance I had paid to them had simply been deleted, and they were not
prepared to refund it.
I was extremely cross about this, as even though the
sum involved was trivial the idea that they should just be able to steal
my money like that, with no justification or warning, was unacceptable.
Normally I would have had no option but to grit my teeth and try to ignore
it, but unfortunately for O2 I had just heard about the UK court service's
new Moneyclaim facility, an
online version of the small claims court process, and I decided to give it
Registering and filling in the online form to create a
new claim was quick and simple, except for the challenge of stating the
particulars of my case in the unusually small number of characters
permitted. At this point I was asked to pay a £30 fee to file the claim,
and although I blanched a little at spending ten times more than the
amount in dispute, it would be refunded if I won and I felt that I had a
strong case - and, besides, there was a principle at stake!
O2 had fourteen days to reply to the claim with an
admission or a defence, and when I hadn't heard anything after three weeks
or so I moved on to the next stage of the process, requesting a legal
judgement to be issued that ordered the company to pay up or else! This
was duly done, and I waited another couple of weeks to see what
transpired. What did transpire was that somebody at O2 sent the
original claim form back to me, without comment or explanation - I still
can't decide whether this was a complete failure to understand the legal
process, a mistaken belief that actually they were suing me,
or just an indication that they intended to ignore the claim!
Whatever the reason, it only served to annoy me
further, and I moved on to the next stage of the claim process, requesting
that a warrant of execution be issued to obtain the money. This involved a
second payment of £30, and again I blanched somewhat, but I've always
found it easy to throw good money after bad and, dammit, there was
still a principle at stake!
The next event was a letter from the bailiff's office
stating that they had been to the O2 corporate headquarters but that there
was nobody there, an idea that I found rather hard to credit (were they
all hiding behind the furniture until he went away, like characters in a
seventies sitcom?), but a few days later, while I was still mulling this
over, a letter arrived from O2 apologising profusely and enclosing a
cheque for the original amount plus full costs.
I consider this a result for the proverbial little guy
against the proverbial giant corporate, and an excellent validation of the
Moneyclaim service - but it's also a clear illustration of the poor
behaviour of many of these big corporates: O2 shouldn't have lost my money
in the first place, and they certainly shouldn't have refused to
refund it after what was clearly a mistake in their online systems... And
wasn't wise to ignore my initial claim, either (did they hope I'd get
discouraged and go away?), as that doubled the eventual cost to them once
I'd requested the warrant.
In my experience too many customer complaints are
handled by staff who have been given insufficient flexibility to deal with
the problems they encounter, and inadequate authority to resolve them -
and with a facility like Moneyclaim in place to provide a mechanism to
pursue grievances like mine, I think these companies may start to find
that they just won't get away with as much as they're used to... And I
think that's a very good thing for the consumer. Sue and be damned!
XP - at the oddly-named BentUser, an excellent comparison
between the current and imminent versions of Microsoft's desktop OS. There
are a number of significant changes, as expected, and I do think that some
of them will make a real difference in day-to-day use.
counterscript - an excellent way of annoying telephone sales callers
is to play them at their own game, and this script echoes the sort of
flowchart that the call centres use. I can't imagine that most of them
would put up with it for very long, but it's more fun than just hanging up
with provenance - up for sale, if the price is right, a very unusual
Mac Powerbook... Bought from a part-time crack whore in a dubious deal,
heavily customised with an eclectic assortment of stickers (I love the
"Got VAX" sticker on the corner of the lid), and looking for a good home.
Another friendly corporate - Volkswagen has joined the growing list of
companies that seem to think that threatening their most loyal fans is a
sensible idea, artist Don Stewart was forced to remove from his web site
sketches of fantastical VW Beetles after threats of legal action. Sheesh...
No two alike - Kenneth Libbrecht, a physics professor at the Caltech,
has been studying snowflakes, and his wonderfully vivid photomicrographs
do nothing to dispel the meme that, although there are seven basic
patterns, every flake is indeed different.
"A fear of weapons is a sign of retarded sexual and
emotional maturity" - Sigmund Freud
When I first become interested in collecting airsoft
replicas it soon became apparent that there were a handful of replicas
which I coveted so deeply that, even though they were eyebrow-raisingly
expensive, I would probably end up owning sooner or later... The
Piper M134 Minigun was one of them,
and I tracked one down for myself back in the autumn, leaving only a light
machine gun such as the M60 or M249 and the wonderful Soviet
Dragunov SVD squad support rifle.
airsoft replicas exist, and unfortunately they're all horribly flawed
in some way... The vintage PDI has an external gas feed (in common with
most if its contemporaries), has notoriously fragile internals, and is in
any case almost impossible to obtain. The G&P replica has poor range and
accuracy thanks to its complete lack of hop-up, has equally fragile and
eccentric internals, and, of late, is almost as hard to locate. Glossing
over the bizarre Frankenstein's Monster produced by modifying an electric
AK-47 with addon parts, the only other alternative is the recently
launched AtoZ springer - and while by all counts it's not a bad replica at
all, it is still a springer - and to a gas purist such as myself
that's just beyond the pale.
The G&P replica is listed by most of the Far East
suppliers for between $1100 and $1200 without the matching POSP scope,
which is rather more than I want to pay for something that is essentially
only a display piece, so I was amazed and delighted to find that UK
Special Airsoft Supplies was advertising them for a comparatively
reasonable £485. At the time they were advertising the PDI replica as
well, and as this was frankly unbelievable (gossip at
ClassicAirsoft.net suggests that only 100 were made) I checked with
them before allowing myself to get excited. Sure enough, the PDI was a
fantasy of their stock control system, but the G&P was indeed available at
that price - along with the scope and spare magazines. Common sense warred
with greed for all of a second or two, and then the order was placed.
Watch this space next week for all the glossy photographs...
Meanwhile, UC Berkley's
programme is an interesting new twist on the old distributed processing
Stardust spacecraft returns to Earth on Sunday, after a 2.88 billion
mile round-trip to the comet Wild 2 and, assuming it survives its
record-setting 28,860 miles per hour re-entry, work will start on
analysing the particles of cometary and interstellar dust it has collected
en route. Unfortunately, the density of matter in deep space is such that
the project designers only expect to find around 45 grains of material -
and as the aerogel collector has a surface area of around a square foot
and the dust particles are likely to be around 1 micron across, this is
quite a challenge! Berkley is co-coordinating a collaborative system
whereby members of the public can help to search the 1.6 million
individual images generated by a high-magnification camera with a
field of view smaller than a grain of salt, and while I haven't
participated in anything like this since we cracked the
RC5-64 encryption algorithm back in
September 2002, this one is sufficiently different to attract my
attention. Berkley isn't signing up just everyone, though, and apparently
some kind of test will be required to prove that you have the optical
acumen required to find needles in haystacks, but I've pre-registered and
we'll see what happens once the collector has been photographed and
they're ready to start the search.
Over the last few days we've had a nasty glitch with
the cash-cow Oracle servers that were upgraded from NT4 to Server 2003
last weekend, and as usual any problems with those particular systems
provoke much tension within the department - and, indeed, in the company
as a whole. Thanks to sterling service by my network support team, the
DBAs and my immediate manager, however, we've implemented a work-around
solution that isn't too horrible, and this will keep things running
smoothly enough while the problem is researched and a proper solution
found. Annoyingly, it looks as if I'll have to pop into the office for a
few hours this coming weekend, as well, to replace an expired battery in
the array controller that holds the majority of the company's general
data. There really is no rest for the wicked...
In the meantime, while I sit here and groan gently,
PDPs - apparently the Microsoft co-founder has an impressive
collection of vintage DEC minicomputers, and his latest venture, PDP
Planet, is a portal for information on DEC systems as well as
providing live telnet access to some of his babies.
FAT patents upheld - you can hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth
from the open source community, tonight, following the news that
Microsoft's rights to its FAT filing system have been confirmed by the US
Patent And Trademark Office
PS3 may cost arm and leg - an article at CNN's Money.com
speculates that the upcoming PS3 may cost as much as $500, even more than
Microsoft's Xbox 360. Sony has declined to comment, but the inclusion of
the cutting edge Blu-Ray technology does suggest a substantial
Windows on Mac
- in contrast to the original reports, Apple have stated that they will
not deliberately prevent users from installing a Windows OS on their shiny
new Intel Mac hardware. Meanwhile, the two companies have signed a five
year deal over further development of MS Office for Mac.
CDR longevity scare again - burned CDs may only last a couple of
years, according to a "storage expert" at IBM
Deutschland. This is not really news, of course, and is one of the reasons
why I persist in using allegedly obsolete magnetic tape media both at home
and at the office.
settlement "unacceptable" - the FCC has roundly criticised the
controversial outcome of the recent suit against the DVD rental company,
which ended up making millions of dollars for the lawyers but leaving the
dissatisfied customers uncompensated in any real sense.
Leela: "Oh, Lord, he's made of wood! What now, Bender?"
Bender: "I got a downgrade! I'm a steam-powered wooden robot, just as nature
- Futurama episode #70, "Obsoletely Fabulous"
This cute little pink thing is a water-powered clock, a
late christmas present from my über-geek friend
Mike. As the name suggests, it's powered by water with a little salt
added, although apparently you can substitute fruit juice, beer, tea,
coffee, fizzy drinks or, presumably, anything else that will act as an
electrolyte for what is probably a simple zinc chemistry. It's described
as not needing a battery, which is not really true as of course the
battery is simply built into the casing, and if they are zinc-based
cells then it certainly won't last forever - but the process of electrode
decay is relatively slow and if they've used a generous lump of the metal
it could easily last for a year or two. Time (excuse the pun) will tell.
Meanwhile, I'm currently reading Ayn Rand's massive
Atlas Shrugged and, contrary to everyone's expectations (not least
my own!) I'm really enjoying it. I wouldn't deny that the writing can be
melodramatic, overly-wordy, and stilted, but it's also rather a good story
- part adventure, part detective mystery, part dystopian science fiction
novel, part love story, and, of course, a large part political and
moral manifesto. I have certain sympathies with Rand's worldview (the
heroes and heroine are set against a corrupt, incompetent, overpowering
government controlled by equally corrupt and incompetent corporates and
special interest groups - which bears an eerie resemblance to the current
regime in the US) so even when the dogma starts to drag on a bit at least
it's dogma that I find acceptable, and it doesn't usually grate on the
nerves too much.
I've deliberately avoided reading discussion about the
novel in case it spoils the plot, and I'm on tenterhooks to see how it all
works out. Imagine my surprise and delight, then, when I discovered that
you could buy things'n'stuff
inspired by the book - stickers, mugs, glasses, ashtrays, mouse pads
and, of course, the obligatory T-shirts. Some of them are decidedly so-so,
but some are rather nice - the
Rearden Steel shirt, especially, has a classical art deco design that
matches the novel's setting very well, and I think I might treat myself.
Elsewhere, some links:
evils of DRM #437 - because of the alleged rash of movies leaked ahead
of their official cinema release, the MPAA has started using heavily
encrypted DVDs and special players when sending out films to review - but
this has lead to Spielberg's new opus missing its chance to win a BAFTA.
Mr Popularity -
although I've been using Steve Gibson's security products for ages, I've
been aware that he isn't universally liked and respected. I hadn't
realised that there was quite so much bad feeling out there,
though, and the GRCSucks.com site certainly doesn't pull punches.
not so great - the meme has always been that Linux will make the most
of any old computer hardware you have lying around, running well on
systems that Windows won't even look at, but actually it seems that it's
not quite as simple as that, with few real differences between the two
Hot babe -
this server monitoring tool takes a unique approach, displaying a drawing
of a fully-dressed woman when the CPU utilisation is very low... as
activity increases her clothes fade away and she finishes totally naked
when the system activity reaches 100%. Marvellous... :-)
dual core? - is a dual core CPU just a package which happens to
contain two chips, as with Intel's Pentium D, or do the CPUs actually have
to be linked internally rather, silicon to silicon, rather than
communicating over the regular bus external to the package? And, for that
matter, do we care?
Interview with Billg - Engadget has been chatting with Bill, and the
topics under discussion include Vongo, the upcoming video download
service, and various aspects of how Microsoft's latest products are
integrating digital media into the home.
spam is legal - I was extremely glad to hear that even if a spam email
is itself perfectly legal (i.e. it complies with the letter of the largely
pointless CAN-SPAM act) the spammer can't legally oblige his victims to
read the damn thing as some kind of bizarre First Amendment right.
Skype speakerphone - I've seen a number of dedicated Skype handsets
recently, and some of them are really rather good. This hands-free unit
isn't quite up to that standard, according to the review at Bit-Tech, but
as it's only £20 a few shortcomings with sound quality can probably be
Ros reminded me that today is the fourth anniversary of
this weblog, but I'm busy tonight so I shall celebrate by not posting
anything here. Think of it as a Zen koan.
There's no rest for the wicked, they say, so evidently
I must have been somebody especially bad in a previous life. I spent the
morning in the office, helping our DBA migrate a large Oracle database
from the old
Compaq NT4 servers on which it has been running for the last five
years to a pair of Dell PowerEdge systems running Server 2003. I have to
admit that the Compaqs have given sterling service over the years, though,
with "five nines" reliability and nothing worse than the occasional disk
failure, but although the hardware was probably sustainable for another
few years it wouldn't have run the more modern operating system very well
and a complete replacement was definitely the best option. It does leave
me with something of a problem, however, as I have four of the old Compaqs
and although I can't immediately think of a use for them they're slightly
too good just to throw out - but they weigh 75lbs each and, as always,
storage space is at a premium. Answers on a postcard, please...
Abusing Intel - a segment at the usually excellent Boing Boing relates
how some butt-head sent a message to Intel criticising their new logo in
fairly coarse terms ("YOUR NEW LOGO SUCKS"), and then was outraged when
all he got back was a form letter from their PR flacks. Exactly what did
he expect - a personal apology from Andy Grove? This really wasn't worthy
of the publicity it was given.
electric sheep - this screensaver generates animated fractal shapes
and then breeds them together with those generated on other PCs around the
world to form hybrids. It sounds fascinating, but what puzzles me is the
size - the download is 200Mb, and considering how compact genetic and
fractal algorithms usually are it's hard to see what is causing that
Multiple personalities - a new handheld from DualCor combines a 400MHz
Intel PXA263 running Windows Mobile with a 1.5GHz VIA running Win XP
Tablet Edition. The two CPUs each have a separate partition of the RAM and
flash memory, but share the 40GB hard drive to allow data to be accessed
by both. It's an interesting idea, but I do wonder at the size of their
in the pan? - although flash memory is becoming cheaper and more
capacious every year, it still isn't ready to take over from hard disk
technology in anything other than the smallest form factor device, and
even the CEO of memory manufacturer Micron thinks that it will take
another five or six years before the technology will replace hard disks in
full-sized laptop and desktop systems.
until the pips squeak - now that virtual objects and services in
online games are starting to change hands for significant (some would say
excessive) sums of real-world money, governments are starting to realise
that they're missing out on an opportunity to extract additional taxes
from their citizenry, and it looks as if existing laws will cover online
trading quite comprehensively.
Behind the curtain at Apple - an ex-Apple insider describes the hard
work behind the scenes that makes Steve Jobs' keynote speeches look so
smooth and effortless - but I was especially tickled to realise that the
speech in question preceded the launch of Mac systems without the
DVD creation facilities that the keynote hyped, and almost ended up in a
class-action suite for misrepresentation...
Google's new DRM a mystery - the company seems very reluctant to
release details of the DRM technologies incorporated in their new video
downloads service, and that probably isn't a good sign. It will be
interesting to see where it sits in comparison to Microsoft's relatively
open approach and the extremely closed tactics adopted by Apple, currently
the largest supplier of protected media content.
The PVR disk upgrade went very smoothly this afternoon,
and as there doesn't seem to be any information covering the particular
Sky+ 160 model that I have, I thought I'd provide
Meanwhile, as the hard disk slowly fills up again, a
London bomb victim speaks out - John Tulloch, one of the commuters
caught in last year's terrorist attack on the underground is a professor
of media studies and so is extremely well placed to analyse the ways that
the government and the media have capitalised on the attacks for their own
purposes, but without actually achieving anything to make the populace of
the city any safer.
fighting on - the litigious "software company" is broadening its
attacks on Novell over SuSE Linux, claming copyright infringement, breach
of contract, unfair competitive practices and more. I'm feeling smug,
tonight, as I predicted at the start that these suits would drag on for
ages and ages, while the fanboys and lawn-dwarves were expecting it all to
fade away in a few months or a year...
lips - web pages describing new versions of their multimedia
authoring software briefly appeared on their site ahead of the expected
product launches at next week's MacWorld conference, leading to the usual
flurry of speculation and surmise. It will be interesting to see if Apple
sues anyone (or, indeed, themselves) over the slip and the subsequent
USAF planning war in space - the Air Force is looking for games company to
write a simulation for training in what it describes as "counterspace
operations", meaning military action against enemy satellites - although
commercial spacecraft, neutral countries' systems and even weather satellites
are apparently fair game as well. Oh, dear, I think we've wandered into a
science fiction plot...
The shame of PearLyrics - the author of the iTunes addon for locating
music lyrics, driven offline at the end of last year by legal threats from
media giant Warner/Chappell, is still waiting for permission to resume
distribution. In spite of receiving a personal apology from the company's
European chairman, as far as the author knows the various cease-and-desist
orders are still very much in force.
hyperdrive to the Red Planet - the US military is considering testing
the principle behind a highly speculative gravity drive that, it is
claimed, could allow a spacecraft to reach Mars in just three hours. Many
scientists have utterly dismissed the theories, however, and the two main
proponents have been at the center of considerable controversy since their
joint work was first published in 1980.
ColdPizza at GrokLaw - the legal resource site has posted a parody of
the unbelievably restrictive and offensive license agreement included in
the latest CD from ColdPlay - "You are licensed only to permit the
one-time travel of food product through a single digestive system in the
conventional direction". I just hope that the band in question can see
the funny side of all this publicity, as well...
Why open source projects are not publicised - there are many more
large-scale migrations to open source system than is widely believed,
according to an article at ZD Net. There are various reasons for this,
including commercial secrecy, the need to maintain relationships with
previous suppliers, and, perhaps most significantly, to minimise the PR
damage if it all goes horribly wrong!
classic news - 80 clips ranging from England's football World Cup win in
1966 to the fall of the Berlin Wall are online at present, as part of the Beeb's
stated objective of releasing as much of its own material as possible to the
British citizens who have funded it over the years, and as with the previous
pilot project access is limited to UK web users.
Home obsolete soon - the Home edition won't benefit from the additional two
years of Extended Support that the business-oriented Pro edition will
receive, which means that it will reach the end of its life-cycle on 1st
January 2007. After that date, no further security updates will be issued
for the OS, which may cause considerable problems for users who haven't
yet upgraded to Vista.
cooled Xbox 360 - some people would consider it the height of braggadocio to
so heavily modify a games console that many are still queuing and waiting for,
but this neatly-realised project at [H]ard|OCP is a
notable achievement all the same. The 360 is not nearly as cool-running as its
predecessor, and the project is as functional as it is elegant.
I'm about to upgrade the hard disk in my Sky+ PVR,
which has lead to a frenzy of copying onto DVD all the things that I've
recorded over the last few months but haven't had time to watch. One of
these was the documentary
Alchemists Of Sound, an account of the golden years of the BBC
Radiophonic Workshop from its inception in 1957 until the invasion of the
voltage-control synthesisers in the mid-seventies. It was a fascinating
program, full of
bizarre post-war technology and marvellous anecdotes, but one thing
that struck me was that far more of the staff were women than I would ever
have expected. The meme suggests that the "backroom boffins" of the
fifties were exclusively men, but in fact some of the Radiophonic
Workshop's best output in the fifties and sixties came from women such as
creator of both the sound effects and the arrangement for the classic
Doctor Who theme, or
Maddalena Fagandini, a diva of the magnetic tape techniques that
formed the basis of much of the Workshop's output.
These women were not only musicians and composers, but
highly-skilled engineers as well -
for example, invented the "Oramics" technique of precisely controlling the
sound output from an oscillator by drawing lines onto a set of 35mm file
strips, a truly inspired hybrid technology that offered a degree of
flexibility unmatched by all but the most sophisticated analogue
The unexpected appearance of these innovative,
forward-looking women really struck a chord with me, as one of the other
documentaries I've been catching up with recently was the television
version of David
Bodanis' book E=mc²: A Biography of the
World's Most Famous Equation. If I had been asked before watching the
program to name female scientists that could plausibly be linked to
Einstein's work, I would have thought of
immediately, and then stalled somewhat... However, in presenting
scientists who he feels made significant contributions either to the
foundations upon which
Einstein built his equation, or to the theories that were developed
from it, the author has chosen a number of remarkable women as well as
well-known male scientists such as Maxwell, Faraday, Rutherford, and
One was Austrian physicist
Lise Meitner, forced to flee Hitler's Germany at a critical moment of
her career, and yet who nevertheless discovered the process of nuclear
fission from experiments performed by her colleague Otto Hahn. In spite of
initially refusing to believe her theories, communicated to him by letters
from her exile in Sweden, Hahn eventually gave in to her rigorously
presented calculations and, indeed, ultimately managed to claim the vast
majority of the credit for her work himself... Also featured was the18th
century French mathematician and physicist
Châtelet, who discovered that the kinetic energy of an object is a
function of its mass and velocity (the equation ke =
½mv² is still firmly embedded in my
memory from schoolboy science), and who's translation of Newton's
classic Principia Mathematica is still regarded as the standard
version in France.
By now my interest in female scientists had been
thoroughly piqued, and so by the time the program reached the segment on
the French revolutionary-era chemist Lavoisier, responsible for the
impressively rigorous work that showed how atoms and molecules combine and
recombine during chemical reactions, I was actually even more impressed by
the contributions of his wife
- she acted as his laboratory assistant, his publicity agent and political
advisor, his fund-raiser, his data processor and his translator, as
well as ably collaborating on the scientific work itself! Now
Over the last fifty years there has been continual
discussion about the best ways to encourage
women into the
sciences (I thoroughly approve - there's something about female geeks
and techies that pushes my buttons :-) and I think this particular
documentary would do an excellent job of presenting role models to inspire
the next generation of schoolgirls - maybe even more than the book on
which it was based, as the actors certainly portray their subjects very
effectively. By the end of the program even I wanted to be like
Mme. du Châtelet, dammit, so one can imagine the inspirational effect it
could have on a fourteen year old girl...
|Griping, tonight... Not that griping is uncommon, here, of late -
there's a lot going on to gripe about.
Corruption in low places - apparently several members of the Canadian
parliament (from both the Conservative and Liberal parties) are in bed
with the recording industry associations, having received significant
levels of funding from both Canadian and US lobbying groups. If anything
the Canadians are even more brazen about their affiliations than their
American cousins, with one MP taking thousands of dollars in contributions
and then introducing absurdly restrictive copyright legislation
immediately afterwards! For an industry that is constantly whining about
their crippling losses from piracy, they certainly have more than adequate
resources when it comes to bribing politicians...
RIAA scare tactics - and talking of the evils of the recording
industry, it seems that the RIAA is using the web site of the now-defunct
Grokster P2P service, forced offline in November following the result of a
long, drawn-out lawsuit from MGM, to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt.
Visitors to the site, now just a shell, are informed that their IP address
has been logged and left with the message "Don't think you can't get
caught. You are not anonymous." Given their
stated intention of destroying PCs owned by P2P users, one wonders how
long it will be before they just infect the page with malware on the
grounds that only the guilty would ever go to a site like that...
threatens TamTam - and talking of stupid and counter-productive legal
action, the eponymous manufacturer of the popular TomTom satellite
navigation systems has successfully prevented a small independent software
developer from producing utilities to allow the GPS units to be used with
Apple Mac computers. This is a bizarre move, as TomTom do not provide any
Mac support themselves and one would have thought that this could only
help to boost sales of the hardware. After all, how many Mac owners will
buy a PC just to maintain their GPS system? Answers on a very small
postcard - that's all you'll need.
"We'll make these rioters regret their folly - this
prison will make Abu Ghraib look like the Four Seasons! Smithers, we'll
need electrical wire, a hood, and someone who can really point at
- Montgomery Burns, The Simpsons episode #349,
I've spent most of the day fiddling with an annoyingly
Exabyte 690D tape library while a plumber hammered away upstairs
ripping out and replacing half of my bathroom to repair what had at first
seemed to be a minor leak. He knows roughly what I do for a living, and at
one point while he was taking a break he asked me why on earth I was
spending my day off up to my elbows (literally, in this case) in
malfunctioning computer hardware, on the very reasonable grounds that he
certainly wouldn't fix pipes on his day off... The only answer I
could give was that fixing computers could be fun, as well as work
- that it could be a hobby interest in the way that some mechanics restore
vintage cars and some engineers build tiny working steam engines. I don't
think he was at all convinced by that, though, and after a day of slaving
over a hot tape library, not only without curing the problems I set out to
fix but also discovering or maybe even causing a few more, I'm
becoming less convinced of it myself...
The business end of the robotic picker assembly,
responsible for moving tape cartridges between the magazine slots and the
drives. The two gripper pads which hold the tapes are arrowed, and the
barcode LED and sensor, currently the main source of concern, are circled.
Although there's nothing obviously wrong with the barcode module,
it doesn't seem to be able to read barcodes and, since lunchtime, it also
doesn't seem to be able to read the calibration targets that help the
robotics keep track of their position within the library. The latter is
rather serious, as in order to prevent the physical damage that could
occur from trying to insert a tape into a mounting bracket or similar
instead of a tape drive, if it can't calibrate itself on power-up the
library refuses to complete its self-test and hangs in an error mode that
converts the unit into 430lbs of paperweight. Something that heavy is
extremely proficient at managing papers, but doesn't actually achieve
anything that a brick wouldn't for a thousandth of the cost...
Working or not, however, it is indeed a thing of
beauty. There's something about a set of neatly looped SCSI cables that
really brings a smile to my face, and every so often when work behind the
front panel was not proving rewarding I would wander around to the back of
the unit and admire them.
As usual with this kind of hardware it employs all
sorts of hybrid technologies (electro-mechanical components in the robotic
picker and tape carousels, and opto-electronics in the aforementioned
barcode reader and the calibration system) as well as a disconcertingly
complex modular electronic assembly for managing the SCSI bus and tying
the whole thing together. It's a challenge to work on, even with a full
set of maintenance manuals downloaded from Exabyte's unusually
comprehensive support pages, and I have to face the possibility that it
has simply worn out and died. I'm very good at taking things apart,
checking them and cleaning them, and putting them back together again, but
that strategy won't help at all in the face of a blown transistor or a
failing selenium diode... Component-level electronics has never been my
strong point, unfortunately, and at a certain point in fault-finding
exercises like this I come hard up against a brick wall.
I've stopped for the night, now, and will have a think
about it for a while before plunging back into the fray again at the
weekend. This is a difficult problem, but I certainly haven't given up
yet, so watch this space!
For a change, all the news that definitely isn't
fit to blog...
Easy travel to other planets - a 41-year old British woman has
"married" a dolphin named Cindy in a ceremony at the Israeli port of Eilat,
claiming that it's all for love (as opposed to perverse but surprisingly
common unnatural lusts, as everyone else suspects). I always knew that
dolphins couldn't be trusted - they come out of the oceans, take our jobs,
steal our women... Something ought to be done.
Two heads better than one - up for auction at eBay, a two-headed
albino rat snake - notable more for it's unusual longevity than it's extra
cranium, as most similar oddities don't live for more than a few months.
Apparently the starting price was an impressive $150,000, but I haven't
actually been able to track down the auction to find out what it went for
in the end. Notice also that as usual various
scammers are auctioning pictures of said snake in the hope of
fooling the unwary - the latter not being something of which eBay
apparently has a shortage...
The Toy - I came
across a very similar idea around three years ago, but that particular
company vanished completely after the initial blaze of publicity and as
far as I know the item was never marketed. The intervening years have lead
to some technological advances, though, and this updated offering from
another British company (unless it's the same one?) seems rather more
slick and elegant. What is it? You'll have to look and see - but probably
best not from the office...
I used to think that the human brain was the most
fascinating part of the body - and then I realised, "well, look what's
telling me this"... - Emo Phillips
After yesterday's focus on the evils of the media
industry, today's selection is generally rather lighter, although it
starts with something of a personal disappointment:
a bang but a whimper - I was extremely fond of avant-garde musician
Thomas Dolby back in the eighties, so was rather sad when a chance
encounter at Wikipedia revealed that he has now mostly given up real
music, and instead writes ringtones for cell phones. Dear, oh dear...
Does my ass look big in this? - the age-old question (to which there
has traditionally been no right answer) is about to be solved by the
appliance of the scientific method, as a team at Heriot-Watt University
has begun a study on how women's clothing affects the look of their
Sideways bike -
the humble bicycle gets a fresh approach in this offering from an Irish
engineer. He claims that the front-back balance sense used to ride this
bike is more finely tuned than the left-right sense usually employed to
ride a bike, but I do wonder about the risk of a terminally stiff neck...
The Model Citizen - fairly new web site devoted to space and
science fiction modelling. It doesn't compare to the breadth and depth of
resources such as Starship
Productions, but he's done some very nice work all the same.
Faster than a speeding bullet - Bill Gurstelle's new Technology
Underground Blog is shaping up to be a fascinating site, and today he
raises the possibility that the first man-made object to leave the earth's
atmosphere was actually hardware ejected from an underground nuclear test
at Los Alamos.
Seasonal variations - 44 photographs taken over the course of a year
from a window of a house in Sweden, overlooking a picturesque woodland
scene, bound together into a video sequence. It's a simple idea, but very
effective and neatly produced.
Stranger than you can imagine - at New Scientist Space, a
fascinating list of things that do not make sense: some classic problems
such as the horizon effect and the mysterious dark matter and energy, and
new ones such as the acceleration of the Pioneer probes and the
A busy year for science - at CNet's News.com, a review of the some of
the year's high and low points:the fragility of technology during natural
disasters, NASA worrying about the shuttle and planning for Mars, and
significant progress in autonomous driverless vehicles.
Old Skool Games
- an e-zine that reviews games from the classic video game systems of the
eighties and nineties, providing "a written and graphical record of
what games used to be like before things such as 3D processors and
And finally, a list of
U.S. Army acronyms and expressions - just what you need when you're
REMFing in the DFAC, waiting for a SLUF or a BUFF and hoping that things
don't get JAAFFU'd when you're just a day and a wake-up away. Indeed.
Good grief, but it's 2006 already! I'm starting to
think that we need a chart comparing the predictions of science fiction to
the considerably more tardy state of the real world, so that we can see
how far we're falling behind. Leaving aside the fact that by now I should
driving a rocket to the office instead of a BMW, in the last decade we
ought to have discovered a
mysterious black monolith on the moon, begun
an interstellar war
that will last a thousand years, and started the process that will end in
all of humanity running
a brain-based virus that supports an emergent artificial intelligence
- to name but a few. Given that we seem to be lagging more as each year
passes, it might help get us back on track (I want my copy of Resuna,
dammit!) if we knew the exact areas to which we needed to devote
additional funding and study.
Meanwhile, back in the poor excuse for a future that we
seem to be stuck with at least for the moment, some links - starting with
the continued and every-expanding saga of the music industry and its fight
against, well, pretty much everyone and everything:
The DRM that
wouldn't die #1 - the Attorney General of Texas is expanding the
lawsuit against Sony BMG to include CDs protected by SunnComm MediaMax,
which are actually far more prevalent than the XCP discs that have caused
all the fuss, and in some ways are rather more intrusive as well.
DRM that wouldn't die #2 - meanwhile, some industry analysts are
speculating that Sony may have broken US law (specifically the Computer
Fraud and Abuse Act) by installing software that "exceeds authorized
access", and so could be subject to criminal prosecution as well as civil
sales slide, again - in spite of the crushing blows against piracy
that the music industry keeps assuring us they're achieving, people are
still buying fewer CDs - and given how hard the RIAA is fighting against
even legal download services, it's amazing that the situation isn't
lawyers bullying again - not their victims, this time, but instead
browbeating witnesses in the suits brought against alleged music sharers.
According to court transcripts a fifteen year old girl was encouraged to
commit perjury in order to prop up the industry association's weak
Bastard DRM - and just to prove that Sony aren't the only evil-doers
in this arena, the new Coldplay CD from Virgin not only comes with some
fairly horrible copy protection software, but also one of the most
insulting and restrictive disclaimers seen to date.
the trend - unlike most other "civilized countries", who seem to be
intending to tighten the screws on fair use until it starts to bleed,
Australia is actually introducing legislation to completely legalise
recording television programs and copying music as long as it's only for
Cory on life and the EFF - über-geek Cory Doctorow
has given up his full-time position with the EFF in order to concentrate
more on his writing, and given the exceptional quality of the stories he's
written to date that can only be a good thing.
London estate spies via TV - not content with having more CCTV
surveillance cameras than you can shake a length of coax at, one London
borough is planning to make the feeds available on a local TV channel,
complete with a rogues gallery of known crims to assist the viewers to
phonography - the first of a new genre, we're told, this 37 minute
musical opus is comprised of every No. 1 song from the Billboard Top 100
squashed together into one long track. It's a fascinating idea, but I
suspect it may be a symptom of having too much time on one's hands...
100 greatest gadgets - and finally, what I hope will be the tail end
of this year's crop of "best of" lists: courtesy of PC World, an extensive
collection of technological innovations from the last fifty years.
Highlights include the Sony Walkman, the PalmPilot, the Motorola StarTac
cellphone, the Regency TR-1 transistor radio, the PhoneMate answering
machine and many, many more. From such an unusual source this is an
unexpectedly interesting and thorough article, and is well worth browsing
The Fall and Rise of the Epicycle Weblog... It's been an
exciting year in the stats, as while the previous three years have showed
alternating gradual and rapid climbs as I became better and better indexed
around the web, this year shows a yawning gap in the summer when I finally
relocated the site to its own named domain, thus dropping out of all the
search engines for an annoying couple of months. The recovery is still in
progress, and while I'm not sure that I'll return to the dizzying heights of
this time last year unless I attract more attention from the major league
bloggers, it's been reassuring to watch the figures steadily creeping up
again this autumn - evidently I must be doing something right.