I've haven't had many comments since I
incorporated the HaloScan
system into these pages, but there has been a steady trickle and I'm
usually very interested in the opinions and feedback posted.
My link to an article on the
unexpectedly rapid conclusion of a Mac hacking challenge has
evidently aroused the ire of a wandering Mac fanboy, however, and he
decided to try to
me down a peg or two:
Hmmm, bit over-impressed with a Mac hacker
who later admitted that he had an account on the machine previous
to it going live.
When the account was removed, the Mac stayed
on-line unhacked for - oh - 3 months.
Never mind, retreat into your PC-centric
world and deny it happened and that Bill Gates is your father.....
- Your only reader
I'm always interested in debating the great OS
Wars, and as I've been using computers since the late seventies
(forget Mac OS vs. Windows - I grew up on CP/M vs. DOS) I think I'm
entitled to an opinion or two. Of course, there's little point in
trying to hold a sensible discussion with a waterhead like this, but
as he decided to use an ad hominem attack rather than
providing facts to illustrate his claims my pride has been stung -
and futile or not I am going to try to set the record straight. The
poster declined to leave his name, of course, so I shall take a leaf
from Slashdot's book and refer to
him as "Anonymous Coward".
Leaving aside the invective and just focussing on
the content of his posting, Mr Coward seems sadly misinformed about
what actually happened. To begin with, his assertion that the
"hacker later admitted that he had an account on the machine
previous to it going live" seems to be a basic misunderstanding.
He didn't see the need to support the statement with a link, but
I've spent the last hour skimming through a fair selection of Mac
forums (boy, there are a lot of bitter, angry people there!) and I
can't find anything at all that agrees with him.
It seems likely that he has become confused by
the fact that everyone who wanted to try their luck in the contest
was provided with a user-level shell account on the system by the
contest organiser, and although this was certainly unusual (and, in
fact, most of the Mac evangelists claimed that this was setting the
cross-bar way too low to make the contest sensible) nevertheless the
hacker who broke in so quickly managed to elevate this limited
access to root privileges without difficulty and at that point the
Mac was his oyster.
Whatever the wisdom of the shell accounts,
though, the elevation of user-level access to root privs is a
serious issue in any operating system, and the fact that the
hacker accomplished this using a previously unknown vulnerability
(some security experts claim that there are
a lot of these!) should have been ringing alarm bells rather
than prompting angry denials. Certainly, the brave individual who
launched the challenge seems to have learned a number of lessons -
in fact, his web site
says just that, and given such a spirit of open disclosure it seems
odd that he wouldn't have mentioned if the hack had only been
achieved by an end-run around the security systems in the way that
Mr Coward asserts. Given this, and my own research, I'm quite
confident in dismissing the allegation completely.
The second claim, that the Mac stayed online
un-hacked for three months, is more easily refuted. The contest
organiser's own web site says:
"rm my Mac" was online for one month,
between February 22nd and March 22nd 2006
and I think that's fairly clear, don't you...
So, where does that leave us? My suggestion in
the original posting that no OS is inherently secure is
obviously just as valid as ever, and in fact most of the big names
in computer security are on record as saying the same. The Ars
Technica article that I linked to attracted
a couple of pages of comment, which is unusually brief for such
a provocative topic - but the facts of the hack were undisputed and
the discussion focussed largely on the eccentric approach of
providing shell accounts in a hacking contest. Elsewhere, since my
post in March a significant number of new vulnerabilities have been
found and patched in OS X (in fact, in that respect so far it has
not been a good year for Apple - see Epicycle passim) and
although the Mac evangelists are still burying their heads in the
sand I'm firmly convinced that sooner or later there will be a
major, major security breach that affects a significant
proportion of the Internet-connected Macs worldwide.
And then there is Mr Coward, of course, who right
now is doubtless boasting to his fanboy friends about the "Windoze
luser" that he dissed... But given the above I rather think that I'm
having the last laugh. In fact, Mr Coward put it very nicely
himself: buhahahahahahaha. :-)
The problem with having
two monitors is that sooner or later one finds oneself looking
at them and thinking "Yes, it's good. It's very good. But wouldn't
three be even better?" Fortunately I don't have to worry
about my bank balance right now, however, as my motherboard is
stuffed to the gills and there's no room for a second graphics card,
but when I take the plunge and swap to a PCI-Express system
(probably early next year, once Vista is here) then I think a third
display is definitely on the agenda.
Meanwhile, as I daydream about a 3840x1024 pixel
desktop, tonight's links:
A rope in case - a Swedish company is offering file-sharing
insurance that will pay all your fines if you are sued by the RIAA
for copyright infringement - and will give you a free T-Shirt into
Legacy curtains - this enterprising techie has used a large
stack of antique punched cards (Fortran source code, it would
appear) to make a set of vertical blinds for his bedroom.- Boing
Making the switch - Boing Boing founder and life-long Mac
fan Cory Doctorow is making the move to Linux and Intel, and his
comment about always buying two Apple computers at a time is
Carving out a
niche - I've linked to various accounts of people who have
baited Nigerian scammers, but this genius managed to persuade one to
carve him a wooden Commodore 64. Amazing...!
The desktop of tomorrow - the Dynamics Graphics Project at the
University of Toronto has
released a video of a 3D desktop metaphor using gestures, and for a
change it does quite seem plausible.
Bigger disks - Western Digital have settled a class action suit
over the way they describe the capacity of hard disks, an issue that
has become significantly more relevant as drive sizes have
Sony dissing MS - the level of anti-Microsoft sentiment emerging
from Sony's senior executives seems to be increasing as the PS3
launch grows closer, and most of it is complete rubbish...
And, finally, it may soon be possible to
look inside the atom - new developments in laser technology can
produce pulses of coherent UV light around 100 attoseconds (10-18
seconds) long, and when processed through highly specialised optics
the interference patterns created are at a sufficiently short
wavelength as to make it feasible to observe the motion of
individual electrons within a molecule. Needless to say, given the
strictures of the Uncertainty Principle this is a pretty
astounding notion, and it will be very interesting to see if
anything come from it in the real world.
I've wanted a larger USB flash memory drive for a
while, and when I noticed today that Freecom had updated their
rather wonderful credit card design
to higher capacities and a USB2 interface it seemed like a good
opportunity to retire the 128Mb freebie I was given after whoring
for Microsoft at the Exchange 2003 launch. The price listed on
generic European web site is €50.90
(about £35), which is a little steep for a 1Gb module but not
unbearable given the unique form factor. However, as I proceeded
through the shopping process I was asked to choose my country, and
in the final stages I suddenly noticed that I was being charged
£53.49 instead, almost £20 more than I was expecting. That's a
mark-up from the EU price of €50.90
to a staggering €77.52, and I
won't stand still for a gouging like that! I'll shop elsewhere for
something that will probably be somewhat less elegant, but will
definitely be better value. The bandits...
Elsewhere, the usual random titbits of news and
Steampunk - at Make, a fascinating interview with
I-Wei Huang, creator of the
marvellous Crab Fu animation, who apparently has a side-line
in creating delightfully retro steam-powered robots.
Incremental CD - performance artists The Realists are
selling their latest opus as a pair of blank CDs, together with the
rights to download the media to fill them as it is released every
Defending Microsoft - an article in house organ MCP Magazine
advises partners and industry professionals on how to argue against
the company's ubiquitous opponents and detractors.
Domestic design - LED lights that plug into a USB port have
proliferated since Kensington first released their Flylight,
but as far as I'm aware this is the only one to come with a
recognition - Plasma Online has a comprehensive database to help
identify PC anonymous expansion cards etc hardware from their PCI ID
string or FCC approval number. Very useful!
Security template - at the Concurring Opinions blog, a
convenient guide for the media to use when reporting the latest
horrendous civil liberties transgression by the Bush government.
An object lesson - a parody of what the minimalist iPod
packaging might look like if it had been designed along the lines of
Microsoft's products - and it was
created by MS
staff as a warning...
Wireless law - an Oregon man has been charged with theft of
services for regularly connecting to a coffee shop's open wireless
network while sat in his car outside. I do NOT approve of that.
Religious spyware - the fundamentalist Christian video game
Left Behind contains spyware which collects various gaming and
personal information and sends the data back to the publishers.
The future of DVD - an article at online AV magazine
Audioholics suggests that the new high definition DVD formats
have failed even before they have been properly launched.
Irrelevant - CNN Money has published a list of ten movers
and shakers who, in spite of being rich and influential, don't
actually matter in the real world. Interesting to see Linus Torvalds
Epicycle was offline all afternoon and
evening, yesterday, along with every other site on my hosting
service FastHosts and a large number of other sites and services
based in the Cotswolds. Although hard facts were few and far between
yesterday, the truth finally emerged today and actually it was
somewhat less likely than any of the rumours of botched Cisco router
upgrades and data centre emergencies that were being batted around
In fact, the problems were caused by
malicious damage caused to a pair of fibre optic cables that
formed part of NTL Telewest's backbone near Bristol, cutting off
Fasthosts' Gloucester-based facility as well as Internet and cable
television services to around 100,000 consumers in the area. Given
the timing of the damage, just an hour before the England vs.
Ecuador World Cup football match, some have speculated that this was
terrorist action carried out by anti-football fanatics, but having
seen any number of BT's neighbourhood comms cabinets smashed open
and spewing their brightly-coloured guts out onto the pavement it
seems just as likely to be another of those random acts of violence
so beloved of teenagers everywhere.
has announced that it will "upgrade" its network over the next
couple of weeks, presumably by adding additional backbone feeds via
a different supplier, but given that they had
a not dissimilar failure back in 2001 one would have thought
that they would have learned the lesson of putting all their eggs in
one basket long before now. Most of the company's 250,000-odd web
sites are run by small businesses, and as the outrage happened well
outside of regular office hours I suspect that they won't be that
fussed this time, but it will be interesting to check the figures
again in a few months and see how many voted with their feet.
Elsewhere, some random links...
any speed - the Sawstop circular saw stops automatically
when the blade touches human flesh, retracting into the saw table
faster than the eye can see. I
have to admit that I can't for the life of me imagine how that
works, but it's exceedingly clever and very impressive.
Heroine in a half shell - Charles Darwin's tortoise Harriet, the
oldest animal in the world, has died in its home at the Australia
Zoo near Brisbane at the age of 176. Darwin collected the beast on
the Galapagos Islands in 1835 during his historic voyage on the
Too much time
- the power of collaborative web-based projects has been proved time
and again, so it should be no surprise that an attempt to decipher
the rather obscure lyrics of the closing song of the 1999 South
Park movie rapidly reached an informative consensus.
Back from the grave - and talking of TV animations, I am
delighted to report that my all-time favourite, Matt Groening's
Futurama, is to return with a new series of at least 13
episodes. Although the show had a somewhat cool reception when first
aired, it has since gained a (well-deserved)
- Apple's current anti-PC campaign features author and Daily Show
stalwart John Hodgman in the role of a boring, office-bound PC, but
Slate's Seth Stevenson finds the character more sympathetic than the
trendy hipster representing a Mac, almost a parody of the image.
imitating art - an inspired designer in the multiplayer online
game 2nd Life has created a virtual homage to Robert Heinlein's
classic short story "And He Built A Crooked House", complete
with the exasperating geometry that threatens to trap the story's
Oriental wisdom - Ken Kutaragi, president and CEO of Sony's
video gaming division, is acquiring quite a reputation for spouting
arrant gibberish in support of his PlayStation creations, my
favourite being his justification for not bundling a hard disk with
And, finally, MTV has
published their list of the ten most influential computer
gamers, and although the No 1 slot is rightly taken by Mike Krahulik
and Jerry Holkins (better known as web comic artists Gabe and Tycho
Arcade), to my delight that annoying twit Jonathan
"Fatal1ty" Wendel is nowhere to be seen. Having seen his
stupidly grinning mugshot
seemingly plastered across every item of gaming hardware over the
last year, I am sincerely hoping that he is rapidly on his way to
Today's burning question: Why is Jamaican dancehall reggae the
only genre to have recognised the musical potential of the stadium
Meanwhile, while we all ponder... Back last
autumn I wrote about a rather
unsatisfactory experience I had when shopping with high-end
hardware supplier Performance PCs (and the brush off I received from
the company owner Hank Baron), so while browsing through the search
terms that have brought people to this site, last night, I was
especially interested to see several along the lines of "performance
pcs hank baron". Following the search back to Google showed that
the two entries discussing my problems were at numbers two and three
in the list, and that number one was also a complaint. In fact, it
was several complaints, as once the thread at modding site
Xtreme Systems was underway a number of other disgruntled
customers chimed in with extremely similar stories. I was especially
struck by a quote from the aforementioned Hank Baron, who responded
to a customer's complaint that a component had arrived broken with
the statement "we do not have time to inspect everything out of
the packing prior to shipment". I have to admit that I had been
starting to weaken somewhat in my resolve to stay away from
Performance PCs, as they do have an extremely good product range,
but reading that has reminded me of exactly what I was so displeased
about. It serves once again as a reminder of how powerful web-based
communities and resources can be in affecting people's buying
decisions: caveat vendor - let the seller beware...
Closer to home, apparently one of my local water
Thames Water has missed their official target to reduce leaks
and wastage for the second year running, in spite of increasing
prices to the consumer by an average of 24% and achieving a 31% rise
in annual profits to £346 million before tax. Consumers in the area
supplied by Thames are already banned from using hosepipes because
of the current drought, with bans on washing cars and watering
gardens possible if the hot weather continues, and there are even
threats of shutting down the water supply and making people queue at
public standpipes - something that hasn't happened in England since
Although the money the company has raked in can't
substitute for a lack of rain, of course, it certainly could
have been used to finance replacement of the crumbling Victorian
water mains at a faster rate has been achieved to date, and yet the
government regulator OFWAT lists Thames as having
highest leakage of any company in England and Wales - a
staggering 894 million litres per day, representing a third of the
water it pumps!
With such poor performance compared to such
significant profits, one doesn't have to look much further afield
for an explanation than
the usual duo - the greed and incompetence of corporate
executives (apparently the CEO takes home a salary of £800,000 a
year), and the greed and irresponsible attitude of their
shareholders. When the Thatcher government first raised the
possibility of privatising the national water companies in the late
eighties, serious concerns were raised about placing such a critical
resource into the hands of organisations whose first priority would
be to the shareholders instead of to the public. As with all the
other Conservative government privatisations of the eighties and
nineties, however, we were assured that this would not be a
significant factor, and that the improvements to efficiency and
management that would come from the proven experience of the private
sector would make up for the requirement to make a profit. As with
all the other privatisations, of course, these benefits were
entirely mythical and the water monopolies were used purely as
a license to print money.
As it happens, Thames Water is currently owned by
the German utilities group RWE, the third largest water company in
the world, and who are apparently extremely keen to dispose of their
lame duck as quickly as possible - ostensibly to focus on its
electricity supply business, but I would imagine that the spectre of
the hefty fines that could be imposed by the regulator OFWAT (up to
10% of the company's £1.39 billion turnover!) if Thames continues to
miss leakage targets certainly can't be helping...
It is interesting to note that RWE's desire to
sell is likely to make the local situation worse, however. Last
month Thames refused the Environment Agency's call for them to apply
for a drought order which would have banned all non-essential water
use - this could have staved off the threat of standpipes later on
this summer, but at the cost of highlighting the company's failings
to prospective buyers: a public outcry from customers against such
waste and inefficiency is hardly good PR when a sale is in the
offing. In an industry that is apparently
considerably less clean than the product it supplies, presumably
a shiny image is everything.
A handful of industry news links for your
edification and delight - most of them seem to be on legal and DRM
Fighting the RIAA - the Consumer Electronics Association has
criticised the media industry for what they describe as
"fear-mongering" over the satellite radio, quoting historical
opponents to new media technology dating back to John Philip Sousa's
dire predictions on the effects of the player piano.
An unpalatable truth - the VP of Real Networks has suggested
that Linux distributions must embrace mainstream DRM standards if
they want to become a viable consumer OS, or risk relegation to the
data center, an idea that is roundly dismissed by the Free Software
No to DRM - Files Are Not For Sharing is a cartoon by
Matthew Baldwin and Will Guy, using the somewhat unexpected metaphor
of a bizarre mutant cat to lampoon the media industry's equally
bizarre stance on copying music and movies.
Piracy under debate - at the Wall Street Journal, an email
debate between a senior MPAA executive and a law professor
specialising in intellectual property and First Amendment issues.
The latter's argument is that DRM does nothing to prevent commercial
piracy, but merely interferes with fair use.
International pressure - via Boing Boing, the text of the
letter from the MPAA that triggered the Swedish government's raid on
torrent tracker site ThePirateBay, mentioning demands by the
American Embassy and making what can only be described as veiled
threats if action isn't taken...
Above the law - the EFF are awaiting a hearing in their suit
about the NSA's domestic spying program, following the government's
argument that even if their actions are ruled illegal, the court
could not proceed because it could not acknowledge the existence of
such secret operations!
Lies and statistics - the telco lobbyists are still lying
through their teeth about net neutrality, claming in an animated PR
cartoon that the Internet can't possibly develop and grow unless
they are allowed to charge extra for use of the high bandwidth pipes
used to deliver popular services.
phoning home - although the WGA anti-piracy tool is perfectly
reasonable at heart, the fact that it regularly contacts Microsoft
to confirm that a genuine Windows is still genuine has
aroused some considerable ire, but there is now a 3rd-party addon
which disables this questionable behaviour.
Damned if they do - Sunbelt Software has accused Microsoft of
stifling innovation with its competitive pricing of anti-spyware and
anti-virus tools, claiming that they are undercutting the
competition by as much as 60%. I think this may say more about the
competition than about MS, though...
Transparent accounting - I've always had a dislike for software
house Computer Associates (even after they cunningly rebranding
themselves as CA) and the news that one of their former executives
attempted to buy customers' silence over a company accounting
scandal has failed to change that.
Seagate swallows Maxtor - the storage giant's acquisition of its
smaller rival has been approved by both US and EU anti-monopoly
bodies, in a process that a company exec has admitted was
"surprisingly smooth and quick". Six thousand Maxtor employees have
already been laid off...
The next big thing - suddenly everybody is talking about
ultra-wideband communications, otherwise known as spread-spectrum
radio. It's not a protocol so much as a technology concept, and is
likely to be used to pass existing standards such as Bluetooth and
USB over a fast, resilient wireless link.
As the crow files - at DSL Zone UK, a useful little
utility that accepts your postcode and calculates the distance to
the nearest telephone exchange. The locations of exchanges used to
be closely guarded by BT (in the interest of national security,
allegedly!) but ADSL seems to have changed all that.
My squirrel has been back again, and although it
hasn't yet noticed the feeder I installed earlier
in the month it's certainly as bold as usual: today it treated me to
an impressive display of gymnastics by climbing straight up the wall
of the house only a few yards away from where I was standing with
the camera. In fact, there are two squirrels visiting my garden at
the moment (unlike this one, the second has an extremely threadbare
tail that makes it easily recognisable), and given their reputation
as voracious predators where nuts and seeds are concerned it's
something of a mystery to me why neither has found the squirrel
feeder, hung from the trellis only a couple of yards away. I've
tried sprinkling a few peanuts on the patio underneath the feeder,
but although I've seen them snacking on those several times this
week apparently it has never occurred to either of them to look
upwards to see where they fell from...
Meanwhile, the ever-useful ADSL Guide has
informative summary on the state of BT's somewhat troublesome
ADSL Max roll-out. It's clear now that the Max product was still
very much unfinished when BT decided to start offering it to
consumers, and it seems likely that the success of high-speed
local-loop unbundled connections from the likes of Bulldog and Be
had thrown them into something of a panic. Anecdotal reports in the
various user forums suggest that there are still a number of
problems, as well, with suggestions that the higher packet priority
allegedly offered by the Office Max products is actually something
of a fantasy...
Regular readers might remember that I've had
my own problems with Max, as even
after BT resolved the nationwide BRAS capping glitch, I was finding
that the connection would display intermittent bursts of errors and
drop the line to resynchronise every few hours. Having fiddled
around myself for a week or two, re-terminating the connections in
my wallbox and experimenting with disconnecting analogue phones and
switching off my wireless LAN and video-sender hardware for a while
in case it was RF interference, I eventually gave in and logged a
problem with my ISP, Zen. I haven't actually heard anything much
back from them so far, but as I write this the line has been up for
28 hours, definitely a new record, and the numbers of CRC and HEC
errors logged are still only in single figures rather than tens or
Between line drops, however, although the actual
transfer speed varies somewhat between 4.5 and 5.5Mbit due to the
growing bugbear of contention, it's at least twice as fast as
my previous 2Mbit line for only £5 per month more, and I think
that's a good deal. Now if only BT can reliably keep my line
synchronised for more than a few hours at a time, I will be a happy
I may not have a leg to stand on, but at least
the same can't be said for the Ma.K. kit I'm
currently labouring over. They were a touch fiddly, as could be
expected from the fully articulated design, but a satisfying stage
to have completed - although I have to admit that I only skipped
forward to the legs because the prospect of assembling the chassis
itself is still somewhat daunting!
A few random links:
Blocked at source - apparently journalists in the LA Times
newsroom have their Internet access filtered by the Websense system,
and having administered a system running this software myself I am
fully aware of how arbitrary and restrictive their database is. All
the news that's fit to print, indeed...
More on censorship - following last week's reports that Yahoo
applies the most stringent censorship of the Chinese search engines,
Boing Boing contributors based in the country have provided
further details on the limitations that they are encountering.
Microsoft wins in court - just for a change the computer giant
has benefited from a legal decision rather than being penalised by
one, as the recent ruling that permits eBay to continue using a
patented process has been applied to a dispute over the Windows
product activation mechanism.
Bypassing the law - it is emerging that US federal and local law
enforcement agencies are avoiding the fuss of obtaining subpoenas or
warrants to obtain private information and instead are using
commercial data collection services, many of whom admit to having
gathered their data illegally!
Silicon-based clock - at the excellent Think Geek,
another little gem... this fob watch contains a compass and a scale
model of Stonehenge that works as a sundial, allowing not only the
local time to be calculated, but also providing the dates of the
winter and summer solstices.
Camera zapper - researchers at the Georgia Institute of
Technology have developed a system that scans for the CCDs in
digital cameras, and then "neutralizes" (i.e. destroys) them with a
laser. Possible applications include preventing unauthorised videos
from being made in movie theatres.
Wings of fury - the idea of flechette ammunition is nothing new,
but the application of the concept to 6mm airsoft BBs is certainly
interesting. These rounds are designed for use in the official RAP4
shell-ejecting airsoft replicas, but I think that they should work
in my Area 51 hybrid as well.
Thanks to some unexpected free time I've had the
opportunity to play with some new software today, a little utility
that rips and transcodes DVDs into a format suitable for use on my
Palm Tungsten T3. There are a few of these on the market, and having
played with a demo of one that crashed immediately every time I
tried to launch the Windows application, I settled instead on the
Palm Media Studio
from Makayama Interactive. The Windows component of the application
is low on frills but businesslike and efficient, ripping an average
DVD in around 45 minutes on my system, and there are a few settings
that can be tweaked to set the aspect ratio of the source media, or
isolate particular segments of a multi-feature DVD, if required.
The Palm application is actually an open source
viewer, the Core Media
Pocket Player, and it seems to do a very respectable job. It can
automatically rotate the video to fit the T3's widescreen display,
and the resulting picture is smooth and clear. Obviously, given the
nature of the heavyweight compression used to shrink a full-length
DVD movie into 150Mb of over-sized postage stamp, there is a degree
of MPEG artifacting, but it's certainly not obtrusive in most scenes
and the four very different DVDs I have tried so far are all
extremely watchable. The built-in amplifier and speakers of the
T3 are not the best (my Samsung D600 phone seems noticeably louder
and clearer in hands-free mode, and my friend Graham's late-model
Treo PDA is better still) but the sound is certainly good enough in
spite of that and use of headphones or external speakers would help
The software costs $29.95, but during the
football World Cup there is a 15% discount (something that, to my
annoyance, I was not made aware of when I purchased it at the
Handango store) so I guess
the wretched sport is good for something, at least... Either way,
however, being able to stuff at least five full-length movies onto a
1Gb SD card costing less than twenty quid makes the software a very
worthwhile investment - recommended.
Bugging the politicians - telemarketers have started ringing the
secure emergency phones used by US state governors and similar, and
they don't like it. One wonders if this will provide enough
incentive to overcome the pressure applied by the marketing lobby to
keep such cold-calling legal.
May the cube be with you - PC cases from Lian Li have always
been among the best on the market for
high-end systems, but
until now their largest offerings have been in a traditional
full-tower format. Their new modular cube case is extremely
impressive at first glance, though, and is very capacious.
Top of the flops - at Microsoft Watch, a list of the
company's Top 10 doomed and failed projects. Some are obvious, such
as BOB, the smart wristwatch and Windows ME, but where did they come
up with the curious idea that Microsoft should have released their
own version of Linux...?
projects - a new problem has emerged in the troubled systems run
by HM Revenue & Customs, resulting in the "temporary" loss of
national insurance contributions from some 500,000 taxpayers -
and the department is asking for help from those affected in
repairing the damage!
A few quick links to wind up the weekend:
No visible means of support - Microsoft has issued a reminder
that it is ending support for Windows XP SP1 in early October, less
than four months away. After this, security updates and incident
support will only be available for the SP2 version of the OS, so
we'd all better get our skates on.
Burning up - at DX Gaming, an interesting article on the
power consumption of the modern gaming consoles, both when active
and when in standby mode. It's not terribly surprising that the Xbox
360 is well ahead of the competition in this regard, as it has more
horsepower than the rest put together.
Dangerous Dan - more letters for the Aussie tech guru, and this
time the bozos are out in force - he has to steer people away from
re-inventing the fibre-channel wheel, frying their data using
DISKPART, and killing both themselves and their PC by using mercury
in the cooling system...
Very tiny machines - the TechEBlog gadget news site has
published a list of their Top 10 Strangest Mini-sized devices. Some
are obviously just R&D exercises, but are impressive even so - the
ultra-portable projector, for example, and Citizen's miniature
Stretching the hardware - Microsoft has released the
requirements for a system to run Vista Premium to its fullest
extent, and they're certainly demanding: SATA 2.5 hybrid hard disks
with 50Mb NV cache, for example, and a fully HD-compliant video
and audio subsystem. Gosh!
rumours - Microsoft has repeatedly denied any planes to
manufacture their own MP3 player to go head-to-head with the iPod,
but a story at AppleInsider claims that this is not the case.
They don't provide any significant details of either the device or
their sources, however, and I'm not convinced.
Lies and statistics - at £12.4bn the cost of the UK's health
service IT programme is set to double, but this doesn't mean that it
is over-budget: the Department Of Health always knew that it was
going to cost this much, it seems, even when they were steadfastly
insisting that it would only cost £6bn...
Going green - my friend Graham's company appiChar, a
consultancy that specialises in system design and support for
charitable organisations, has become one of the first UK companies
to go "carbon neutral" PCs by planting enough trees to offset the CO2
produced by its computer use.
I've really been enjoying building the Ma.K.
models over the last couple of months, and as soon as I finished the
AFS "Konrad" I started on the next one
in the pile, the Heavy Armoured Fighting Suit
"Jerry". This is a
larger and rather more complex model, and has been quite challenging
even at these relatively early stages. The little three-fingered
manipulator arm, for example, consists of nine interlocking,
pivoting links inside its corrugated rubber shroud, giving the
flexibility of a tentacle!
The next stage is to assemble the two halves of
the body shell, and as this seems to require the growth of several
additional limbs to position and hold all the other components that
must be integrated into the assembly at the same time, I'm saving
that until tomorrow. Watch this space for an update on progress...
adverts - I'm not sure how long this site will last once the
copyright holders notice it, but right now, at least, the Ephinx
site has a good collection of recent UK television ads, not all of
which have been aired in the London region as yet. Thanks to
for the pointer.
atoms - images of individual atoms arranged in interesting
patterns by a Scanning Tunnelling Microscope are fairly
run-of-the-mill, now, but I think it's important to remember exactly
how staggering, how wonderful, this technological achievement really
is. I mean - actual atoms!
Outlet mall - I'm rather pleased with my little desktop
power and data pod, so I was impressed
to see that the excellent Cableorganizer.com has a whole
range of similar devices. Of course, none of them are compatible
with UK mains power, but hopefully we'll see 240V equivalents soon.
The worst of the worst - not only does Yahoo! censor the Chinese
version of its search engine, as widely reported elsewhere, but in
fact it has emerged that it censors more than any other search
facility available in that country, even the native portal
baidu.com. Not very impressive, is it...
Aftermath - the raid on torrent tracker site ThePirateBay
has caused all sorts of fuss, including attacks on a Swedish police
web site and copious complaints to local politicians, especially
since it emerged that the raid came about following pressure from
the US government and media cartel.
Insourcing - UK energy supplier Powergen is cancelling the
contract for its outsourced Indian call centre and creating a new
facility of its own, 1000 strong, in this country. Overseas call
centres are increasingly a source of customer complaints, and I
think that other companies will soon follow.
future - At Dan's Data the Oz tech guru is pontificating
again, this time on why the long-heralded smart house is still a
long way away and why, when it does finally arrive, it should on no
account contain an Internet-enabled refrigerator.
Genuine disadvantage - Microsoft's anti-piracy checker "Windows
Genuine Advantage" is not a popular addon, it seems, with a number
of rather sneaky habits, but it has to be said that the majority of
problems are encountered by people who are using a pirated copy
It's that link again...
Elonex winding up - following Time's demise last year,
another of the old-timers of the UK microcomputer industry has gone
into receivership. I used to buy add-ons for my BBC Micro from
Elonex back in the mid-eighties, and their PC clones were common in
small offices in the nineties.
Gates stepping down - Chairman Bill has announced that he is
going to further distance himself from Microsoft over the next two
years, in order to devote more time to the impressively effective
charitable foundation he runs together with his wife Melinda.
Pinhole - a decommissioned military aircraft hanger in
California is being converted into the world's largest pinhole
camera, with a 31' x 111' negative that will be exposed for ten days
before being developed in a swimming pool of solution.
The ethics of ubiquity - the potential of ubiquitous computing
(the widespread use of location aware embedded technology) is
powerful and fascinating, but it raises a number of worrying civil
liberties and ethical issues which are discussed in a presentation
from tech guru Adam Greenfield.
Road signs remixed - many of these Photoshopped road signs are
fairly appalling, of course, but scattered among them are some real
gems and fortunately most of them have made it to the favourites
page. I was greatly amused by "Quantum Junction - Get In Both
RIAA confusion - apparently the RIAA has started threatening
YouTube users who have posted videos of people singing and dancing
to their favourite songs, but unfortunately it seems that hoax
take-down notices are now being circulated and this is only serving
to muddy the waters.
Blame Apple - in the wake of protests against Apple's iTunes
DRM, the fanboys are bleating that it's not Apple's fault... But
Seth Schoen from the EFF has shown that in fact Apple's embrace of
the technology has been enthusiastic, abusive and thoroughgoing, not
just a response to market forces.
Cancellation - following the recently publicised recording of a
user trying to cancel his AOL account, some general advice on the
best approaches has been posted at Boing Boing, and it has
just emerged that the AOL employee in question
has now been fired.
Pointed DNS - reverse DNS lookups on the domains registered by
the notorious torrent tracker ThePirateBay reveals some snide little
digs at their nemeses from the media industry. Among others, you can
More geek chic - these cufflinks made with a snippet of UTP
cable and a spare RJ-45 connector are cunning, but I think that the
way they're attached is a bit clumsy. In the odd emergency I've made
my own out of twisted pair coiled around on itself to form something
more traditionally shaped.
Absurdity - the UK's upcoming Violent Crime Reduction Bill is a
thoroughly pointless and counter-productive piece of legislation,
but it pales in comparison to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's
proposal to ban paints that could be used to make real weapons look
like brightly-coloured replicas.
And finally, the
Detective is a remarkable resource which for some reason I've only just come
across, in spite of it being around ten years old. It has always surprised and
amused me that one of the most common search terms used by visitors to
Epicycle is "Dolly Parton topless", following
a single reference, more than four years
ago, to a fake picture of the busty country star hosted on another site. I was
puzzling over this again while looking through my stats a few days ago, and it
occurred to me to try to determine how widespread this particular image was.
Instead, I came across a site that represents one
man's magnificent obsession with exposing faked celebrity images of
all types, from the downright obscene, through the highly bizarre,
to the merely spicy. Each one, and there are currently around five
hundred, comes with an overview of the techniques used to create the
fake and, whenever possible, the original images that were used to
construct the composite. It's a fascinating collection, and while
some of the fakes are crude and unimaginative others are as finely
crafted as any commercial art forgery, giving rise to the inevitable
speculation as to why anyone should spend so much time and effort on
something so trivial.
The Detective, Ed Lake, is evidently somewhat
paranoid about his bandwidth bills and has prominently requested
that people do not link directly to his site, but in spite of that
he's well-indexed in Google and an appropriate search will unearth
him in short order. The site is well worth a look, for whatever
I'm starting to think that, like Douglas Adams'
Rain God, I have some kind of link to the local weather
patterns. Last year, having suffered through weeks of temperatures
in the high twenties I finally gave in and bought
an air conditioner - and a
week or so later, the day before I finally had the exhaust vent
installed in the wall, the summer ended for all intents and
purposes. Although there were a few more hot days after that the
newly-connected aircon was pretty much ornamental for the next nine
This year, of course, the air conditioned lounge
threw the furnace-like bedroom into stark contrast (especially with
the heat from a medium-sized computer installation following the
laws of physics by migrating upstairs), and after some investigation
online I ordered
evaporative cooler - although these designs are not quite as
effective as a refrigerative unit, without the noisy compressor
they're a lot more suitable for a bedroom.
Only about an hour after I received a phone call
to confirm the delivery date, however, I found myself in the
heaviest rainstorm I have ever experienced. I was driving along the
A13 towards East London when the sky started to darken into an
extremely unsettling shade of greenish-grey, and within minutes the
road was awash and the windscreen wipers were struggling even at
their highest speed. By the time I drove through East Ham some of
the streets were under six inches of water and things were getting a
bit anxious, especially when the tarmac surface burst open to emit a
massive fountain of dirty water and one of the cars in front of me
fell into the hole!
A few hours later when I was driving home,
however, the floods had subsided and everything had pretty much
dried out, but today's sunshine has been decidedly subdued and given
that the new cooler is due to arrive tomorrow I can't help but
Cancelling AOL - it's widely known that escaping from the online
service's clutches takes a firm approach, but this recording of an
argument with a vindictive call centre employee is far worse I would
Mac stains - it has not been a good few months for
Apple's hardware division... After the various fire and explosion
warnings, reports of odd discolourations on the white casing of
MacBooks are proliferating, as are reports of
nasty leaks in the liquid cooling systems of the G5 desktops.
Oh, the shame - and talking of Apple, an article in Wired
the news of the wretched working conditions in the Chinese
factory that manufactures iPods. It has to be said that Apple are
far from alone in this, but their sanctimonious attitude does leave
them somewhat more open to censure.
Copyfighting - presumably in response to the media industry's
dubious new "Captain Copyright" character, the EFF has released
their own animation, "The Corruptibles". It's not actually very
good, I have to say, but the message is clear and every little
Pulp fiction - Slate has commissioned new covers for six classic
novels, including Moby Dick ("Primitive pirate passions were
a prelude to death!") and Alice In Wonderland ("One girl's
drug-induced descent into dreamland debauchery"). Great stuff...
- somewhere in the morass that is Flickr, a gallery of laptops with
wallpaper images of the view immediately behind the screen. They
look wonderfully surreal, but I suspect that the effect would be
ruined if everything wasn't lined up just so.
Hot! Hot! Hot! Looks like the weather will break
tomorrow, though, which will be something of a relief to a
pasty-skinned Celt such as myself, even if it comes as a
disappointment to my hot-blooded Caribbean inamorata...
Some quick links, then, before either myself or
the air conditioner melts in the heat:
march of progress - perpendicular storage disk technology has
arrived, and arrived with a bang. Seagate's new Barracuda has a
cavernous 750Gb capacity, and it's clear that this is only the
SAP blamed - disastrous implementations of the enterprise
resource planning system are nothing new, of course, and Cadbury's
estimate of £12m losses is fairly routine for the early phases.
In the dog house - the anti-DRM protestors have turned their
sights from Microsoft to Apple, this week, which is especially
appropriate given Steve Jobs' outrageous U-turn over the last few
Fighting DRM - EFF founder John Perry Barlow has been arguing
DRM and the music industry with MPAA chairman Dan Glickman, and all
indications are that Barlow carried the debate.
Free beer - a group of Danish free culture activists have put
their money firmly where their mouths are, with the release of a
pair of open source beer recipes.
Life in the old dog - IBM is targeting the PR for its z/series
mainframes towards university students, providing mainframe courses
and, indeed, mainframes themselves in the hope of arousing interest.
Sport for free - in spite of threatening letters from the
notorious legal firm Baker & McKenzie, Wired magazine has helpfully
provided instructions on watching the football World Cup online for
Football madness - and on a related note, the UK's TV Licensing
Authority has announced that if employees watch football online
without a television license their directors could be legally
Jumping ship - the well known and influential Microsoft blogger
Robert Scoble is to leave the Seattle giant for a start-up that is
podcasting interviews with technology industry luminaries.
Science fiction - Wired's regular "Found" feature, this
month, is a bookshelf that has apparently fallen intact through a
time warp. It's a pity that these little gems don't have an index of
their own, though.
Science faction - on a similar note, The Institute For The
Future (founded in the late sixties by a group of ex-RAND
Corporation researchers) has published its latest list of potential
Jpod - it's not often that an author writes the counterpoint to
one of his own books, but apparently Douglas Couplands's new work is
very much the antithesis of his 1995 novel "Microserfs".
Would you send a laptop hard disk through the
mail wrapped only in a piece cut from a plastic anti-static bag and
the thinnest padded envelope imaginable? No, neither would I, but
the person I've just bought said hard disk from on eBay is insisting
that this is perfectly adequate:
The facts speak for themselves, however, as the
disk arrived with a number of large, impressive dents in the top
casing, and having seen them I wasn't at all surprised to find that
having installed it in a USB enclosure it just made a sad little
clicking noise and wouldn't even come online.
When I reported this to the seller the response
was rather unexpected: "I am sorry to hear that you are
dissatisfied with your purchase, however, I am a private seller and
nowhere on my auctions do I offer refunds. However I will give you
the benefit of the doubt and agree to a 50% refund."
Needless to say, I was not impressed by this.
Whether she is a private seller or not, it is still her
responsibility to ensure that items she ships out are safely
packaged, and a quick look around the Post Office's web site reveals
(not entirely to my surprise!) that the recommended packaging for
computer components is a rigid cardboard container and at least 2cm
of padding all round. When I pointed out these facts her response
was somewhat bizarre: she accused me of being "aggressive" towards
her, and even went so far as to suggest that I had damaged the disk
myself in order to have an excuse to send it back!
She did eventually offer a full refund, but only
on the condition that I left positive feedback for her. This demand
really annoyed me, as there was no way I was going to say nice
things about someone who behaved like that (especially with no
guarantee that she wouldn't leave thoroughly unpleasant feedback for
me in return right afterwards) and given that we were only talking
about a sum of less than £40 I tried an experiment...
Carefully removing the top cover showed clear
circular marks on the surface where the dented metal had scored
across the topmost platter of the disk. However, as it happens I
have another hard disk of the same model, and knowing that there
isn't usually data recorded on the top platter of a drive of this
type, I borrowed the undamaged cover from the other drive and hooked
it up to the laptop again. I wasn't completely surprised when the
drive spun up and was recognised correctly by Windows, but what was
unexpected was to find a complete, working (if somewhat
virus-ridden) Windows XP environment, complete with all the data
of a regular home PC installation - photos from a
digital camera, personal letters, downloaded music (Mötley
Crüe and Les Miserables? How
eclectic!), pirated software and games, and even a university
dissertation (somewhat trivial, in my humble opinion)
on web site design for a cinema!
This started me thinking, as nobody in their
right mind would sell a hard disk without making at least some
effort to remove their personal data, and even though none of the
methods that an average user will employ are actually worth much, in
this case it was fairly clear that nothing had been attempted at
all! I found this significant, and given her unexpected
willingness to accuse me of fraudulent behaviour I formed a theory
of my own: if one has a dead laptop disk drive (damaged in some
bizarre fashion by collision with a blunt object), and an absence of
morals, maybe it would seem clever to sell it on eBay and then send
it out in deliberately inadequate packaging so that the Post Office
would take the blame for the damage. As the drive was apparently
completely dead, it wouldn't be possible to delete the data it held,
but on the other hand it wouldn't seem as if there was a need to,
either! I certainly wouldn't bother with a scam like this, but eBay
attracts all sorts and doubtless somebody would...
Right now the drive seems to be working Ok in
its new clothes, but it's obviously had a hard life (whatever the
cause!) and I'd never trust
it to retain any significant data. This leaves me in something of a
quandary, as although there's no way I'm going to leave this woman
positive feedback on eBay I really don't want to keep a hard disk
with such a dubious history either. I guess I shall have to
about this a little...
After bemoaning the fact, yesterday, that our
SAN system has been made obsolete by
Dell's new server range even before entering full production status,
I discovered today that the situation is both better and worse than
I'd realised. We've been planning some upgrade work on the SAN,
recently, but although Dell suggested today as a possible date we
declined on the grounds that the rest of my team would be terminally
distracted by the football. This message seems to have become lost
within the labyrinthine management structure of Dell and their
subcontractors Unisys, however, as this morning I received a call
from the security guards at the office to say that our regular
engineer had arrived and was waiting for me. This was something of
an annoyance, but the work really needed doing and so I dropped
everything (not literally, I hasten to add, as I was up a ladder
with a power drill at the time doing some work on the
new trellis) and rushed in to meet
While we were waiting for the rather tortuous
FLARE upgrade to proceed, he mentioned the new
CX3 range that has replaced the CX500 models that we're using,
and as they are based around the latest 4Gb/sec fibre channel
standard (as well as using point-to-point switching rather than a
serial access method of data transfer) they beat the internal SAS
drives of the new PowerEdge servers hollow. The bad news, of course,
is that our SAN hardware is even more obsolete than I'd realised -
apparently the entry level CX3 model is the equivalent of our
mid-range CX500, supporting more disks, bigger disks, and faster
disks for the same money. Perhaps I won't mention this to my
Meanwhile, here's my new
squirrel feeder. It came from bird
food specialist Haiths, who
presumably stock it on the grounds that it's the only way of keeping
the damn rodents away from the bird feeders they also sell... I
filled it with regular pre-shelled peanuts, as customer comments
elsewhere suggest that most squirrels discard the more exotic nuts
and seeds in specialist mixtures in favour of the peanuts, so why
pay more for less... Now I sit back and wait for the squirrel to
return, so watch this space for photos, with luck!
So I walked past someone showing a new salesman
around, and in response to a question I heard him tell the newbie
"Oh, he's something in computers..." A disk drive maybe,
or a memory module? If I had to choose, I think I'd be a fibre
channel HBA, probably one of the expensive QLogic ones that Dell is
so fond of stinging us for recently. Having said that, though,
9th Generation rack servers, the 1950 and 2950, have made the
jump from conventional Ultra 320 3½" SCSI drives to SAS 2½" drives
running at a blistering 3Gb/sec - and given that during the last
year we've dropped several hundred thousand pounds on a SAN based
around 2Gb/sec fibre channel interfaces, the ability to host up to
2.4Tb of high-speed local storage in a miniscule 2U chassis is
Power corrupts (again) - Towards the end of last year's Canadian
elections it became obvious that Sam Bulte was not going to be
re-elected to the post of Heritage Minister, and so the big
businesses that had caused her political downfall switched their
attention to Bev Oda, the new favourite and eventual winner. It is
emerging that a significant portion of Oda's campaign funding came
from the very groups that now seek support from the Minister on key
IIS gains ground - Microsoft's web server IIS continues to
encroach on Apache's market share, gaining an additional 4.25% over
the last month while Apache lost 3.25%, leaving Microsoft and Apache
holding 29.7 percent and 61.25 percent total market share
respectively. In the last three months Apache has lost 16.7% of the
market, although part of this comes from the switch of parked domain
company GoDaddy to IIS.
near - it's always a good sign when Microsoft releases the first
fully-public beta of a new operating system (I still remember the
Win95 Beta 2 with great fondness) and yesterday we reached that
stage with Vista. According to reports the new release is very
slick, and definitely ready to use in testing and enthusiast
environments even if not quite ready for production as yet.
Funky iPod - at Ars Technica, a quick look at what must
be the most unusual and peculiar speaker system on the market. The
FUNKit DJ is essentially an iPod dock with some bolt-on animation
consisting of a robot DJ that scratches a pair of little turntables,
flashes LEDs in time to the rhythm, and periodically interjects
appropriate DJ-esque catch-phrases. I don't approve of the iPod cult
at the best of times, but if I was an owner I would pay good money
to avoid being given one of these...
Odd priorities - with the hurricane season due one would expect
the state legislature of Louisiana to have better things on its
collective mind, but evidently not... The highly dubious anti-video
game crusader Jack Thompson has persuaded them to enact a law
banning the sale of violent video games to minors, in spite of the
fact that every other similar attempt has been struck down due to
First Amendment issues.
A few quick links for a blazing hot day. After
last week's constant drizzle, summer has come with a vengeance...
The next vapourware - every year I see a new press release about
some kind of 3D monitor technology, accompanied by enthusiastic
reviews on the hardware sites, but somehow nothing ever comes to the
market. An article at CNet suggests that the time is right,
but I'm still not convinced...
Disgruntled staff - the IT manager of US investment bank UBS
Paine Webber is in court accused of planting a logic bomb that
disabled around 2000 servers in 400 of the bank's offices, and I'm
amused to see the forensics company @Stake (once the hacking group
L0pht) involved in
A hollow victory - the British equivalent of the RIAA, the BPI,
is planning to sue Russian music download site AllofMP3.com in the
UK courts, but although they may well win their case the smart money
reckons that a ruling wouldn't affect the site itself one little
Booth babes - it's that Computex time of
the year again, and with some of the US-based IT trade shows
clamping down on the use of scantily dressed models to lure the
geeks in, it's good to see that the
alive in the Pacific Rim.
Google hangs its head - the search company has admitted that it
has "compromised its principles" in its relationship with the
Chinese government, long after it was plainly obvious to everyone
else. Given founder Sergey Brin's oft-stated motto of "do no evil",
at this stage they have a lot of making up to do.
WGA, phone home! - it has emerged that Windows Genuine
Advantage, Microsoft's new and increasingly prevalent
anti-piracy tool, contacts MS servers every day to pass a small
packet of data. Microsoft has stated that as the program matures
from its pilot phase, this interval will be increased.
A day at Owl
Farm - courtesy of TalkLeft, a visit to the home of the
late, great gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. The house, well
known from frequent references in his writings, has been preserved
as a monument by Thompson's second wife, Anita, who has started
her own blog as well.
|A bumper crop of odd news links:
Rosen rethinks - the former head of the RIAA, initiator of the
strong-arm tactics that are currently still so much in vogue, seems
to be mellowing in her old age. In a recent article she questions
the wisdom of suing your customers, and casts doubt on the
usefulness of the entire concept of DRM!
iTunes illegal - the Consumer Ombudsman in Norway has upheld
complaints that Apple's iTunes, and other DRM-based online music
stores, have discriminatory pricing, unreasonable terms and
conditions, and overly-restrictive copy protection.
sense - "Linux is insecure. Open source is insecure. Windows
is insecure. All software is insecure.". Just when you think
that you're lucky to have found such wisdom from a Linux
publication, however, you read the comments and are plunged back
into the world of the "Windoze Suckz" fanboy.
Why phishing works - a new paper from a team at Harvard presents
an extremely depressing (but I suspect extremely accurate)
explanation of why the increasingly prevalent phishing scams are
proving so very successful at tricking the average Internet user.
DIY routing - thanks to their unauthorised use of open source
components in one of their popular wireless router model ranges,
Linksys were obliged to release full details of the operating
system. This has spawned a number of replacement firmwares, some of
More power! - Tyan's new "personal supercomputer", the
aptly-named Typhoon, has four removable motherboard units, each with
a pair of dual-core Xeon CPUs and 12GB of RAM. The boards are
coupled using Windows or Linux clustering software, and prices will
start at around $10,000.
Format wars - the battle between the new high-definition optical
storage formats, HD-DVD and Blu-ray, is starting to become
reminiscent of the VHS vs. Betamax war in the 1980s. The smart money
suggests that the issue will be decided in the PC market before
reaching the the consumers.
Flaming cameras - as if life for the consumer wasn't dangerous
enough with Apple iBooks bursting into flames at the drop of a hat,
Hewlett-Packard has been forced to issue a recall for almost 700,000
of its Photosmart R707 digital cameras following a similar tendency
to spontaneously ignite.
2,000-year-old computer - new studies of the Antikythera
Mechanism, an intricate device consisting of more than 30 bronze
dials and wheels that was recovered from a wreck in the Greek
islands, suggests that it may indeed have been designed to calculate
the movement of the planets.
Long time, no see - the Long Now Foundation, brainchild of
ex-Disney imagineer and parallel processing guru
has opened new offices in San Francisco, including a new prototype
of the infamous clock.
Becoming Magneto - I've linked to a number of excellent
articles in Wired recently, and this account of experiments with
magnets implanted in fingertips is equally fascinating if somewhat
more squeamish, as the testers have developed the ability to
accurately sense magnetic and electromagnetic fields.
malware running amok - when a friend of Steve Ballmer complained
that his PC was running badly, the Microsoft CEO enlisted his
techies to investigate. They found it to be infected with more than
100 pieces of malware, some of which were nearly impossible to
eradicate, and the scale of what is probably a fairly typical
problem has opened a few eyes in the Seattle giant. It will be
interesting to see whether the company's newly-launched Windows
Live OneCare subscription security service will catch on and, if
so, whether it will help address the problem.
Last week the management of the tech 'blog
Boing Boing were sent
a bizarre letter from UK solicitors threatening them with legal action if they dared
to host any video of World Cup football games. It's clearly a
mistake, as any regular reader will know that Boing Boing is
one of the least likely sites on the web to concern itself with
conventional sports, and given that the firm of UK solicitors in
question has already had
a brush with media ridicule last year one would have expected
them to be a touch more careful, but it's a clear illustration of
the rabid paranoia infecting the media industry at present... I have
to admit to watching the first ten minutes of Saturday's England vs.
Jamaica match on Saturday (those who know me will understand the
reason for this rather bizarre and uncharacteristic behaviour!) but
on the whole I firmly endorse the opinion of one of Boing Boing's
readers, who has created
pointed little video clip to illustrate that there are many more
important things in life than football... Hear hear!
Meanwhile, to stave off yet another rant about
England flags that have recently appeared on houses and cars all
over London and Essex like some kind of flapping, patriotic rash,
some odd links:
Rubik's hypercube - the only way I could solve the original
Rubik's Cube was by taking it apart and reassembling it in the
correct arrangement, so I didn't even follow the link to this five
dimensional virtual equivalent for fear that my brain would simply
melt and run out of my ears.
A cold day in hell - the UK's All Party Parliamentary Internet
Group, following significant input from the Open Rights Group, has
published a very sensible and reasonable set of recommendations on
the implementation of DRM in British law. Only time will reveal if
pays attention, though...
Universal radio - Matt Ettus's USRP project is a
software-defined radio, interfaced to a Linux PC via USB, which can
receive pretty much any type of radio signal - analogue and HD
television, AM and FM radio broadcasts, GPS - all at the same time.
It's a fascinating project.
The power of eBay - the online auction firm has become
tremendously rich over the last few years, and as usual with such
financial success comes matching influence in US political circles.
Their lobbying machinery is fast becoming a serious force in state
legislatures across the country.
Ballmer speaks - nobody can accuse Microsoft CQO Steve Ballmer
of beating about the bush, and in this interview with industry
newsletter CRN his emphasis on a particular buzzword, in this case "quality",
is wonderfully typical. Sorry, Steve, can you run that one by me
iPod - and talking of Microsoft, I suspect that Apple and
Creative are resting more easily tonight following official denials
that the company is planning to create their own portable music
player. With the iPod such a hot fashion item, I suspect that it
would be a tough market to break into.
Online parking - using a cellphone or handheld PC to reserve and
pay in advance for a car parking space in a crowded town center
sounds like a wonderful idea, and after various pilot projects in
Maryland and California the technology looks likely to spread
The better mousetrap - this ad-hoc mousetrap idea is probably
not especially new, but it's clever anyway. Some of the comments are
amusing for various reasons, too, ranging as they do from the duck-squeezingly
humane to the downright evil.
a losing battle
- it must have been completely obvious to Aussie tech guru Dan
Rutter that he was banging his head against a brick wall, but his
attempts to communicate some scientific common sense to a complete
idiot are entertaining all the same, and I suppose the urge to knock
some enlightenment into a head or two is sometimes overpowering.
I've been fiddling with the Exchange email
systems at the office all through the weekend, and have succeeded in
generating around 20Gb of additional disk space. This will keep us
out of danger for a few months, if at the cost of reducing the
overall system performance a touch, but it's clear that we'll have
to move the Information Store to the SAN sooner rather than later
and simply throw disk space at it. Hoping that the users will help
us out in any significant way increasingly seems to be a naive
expectation, so we're left with the often doomed approach of
addressing a human problem with a technical solution. It's an
unenviable position, and I have to admit that I'm feeling a little
disillusioned by it all this evening.
While I sit here clenching my teeth, then, some
PirateBay lives - as promised, the torrent tracker site is back
online again only a few days after being raided by the Swedish
authorities. It is believed that the US government pressured for the
Tech firms condemned - Amnesty International UK has criticised
Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Cisco for their overt support and
assistance to the totalitarian Chinese government.
NUJ calls for boycott - in a related story, the UK's National
Union of Journalists has called on its 40,000 members to boycott all
Yahoo's services because of the company's actions in China.
Net censorship - a parody web site criticising a Canadian
politician for dubious financial contributions made to him has been
taken offline in somewhat mysterious circumstances.
Letters to Dan
- the Australian über-geek is back with
his 166th letters column, covering mobile phones, voltage conversion
and the utter stupidity of DVD copy protection.
In-game craftsmanship - many of the objects in the online game
Elder Scrolls: Oblivion are somewhat bland, it seems, so this
enterprising modder has started recovering all the books.
Net2Phone sues Skype - it's not clear why the IP telephony
company has waited this long, but the cynical would say that it
simply wasn't worth suing until the competition was bought out by
Ransom hackers safe - none of the UK police forces or
organisations seem very interested in perusing the creator of the
Archiveus virus, in spite of an obvious avenue of attack.
Steal your own Pollock - a neat little online toy that produces
scribbles reminiscent of the work of the abstract impressionist
artist turns out to have been sneakily plagiarised from an earlier
History of oil - Robert Newman has come a long way since
The Mary Whitehouse Experience, as this lecture on the
influence of oil on the West's military policies demonstrates.
Bigoted judiciary - I am pleased to see that the travesty of
justice that ended up with a member of the Church Of The
Subgenius losing custody of her son looks like it may soon be
Copyright Violation - the new logo of the
Canadian copyright propaganda agency is far from squeaky-clean
itself, with obvious
thefts from superhero art and
unauthorised use of material from Wikipedia.
- a fraudster who sold a misrepresented and defective laptop on eBay
now has a revenge site devoted to him, courtesy of the personal data
that he foolishly left on the hard disk.
chic - this phenolic resin business card is certainly a neat
idea (I liked the "prototyping area") but I have to say that I think
it would look better in the usual card proportions.
School games - as could be expected, technically-aware teens are enjoying
the challenge of circumventing the web content filtering systems installed in
schools and public libraries.
A year ago the information store on our main
Exchange 2003 email server was constantly threatening to reach the
16Gb barrier imposed by the product's Standard Edition, so we paid a
small fortune to upgrade to the unrestricted
Enterprise Edition... Following this the only barrier was the
72Gb disk volume holding the databases, and as that seemed
comfortably remote we finally gave in to pressure from the company's
management and removed the highly unpopular mailbox restrictions
that had been the only thing standing between us and regular,
complete email failures.
After more than two decades working in tech
support I have acquired a healthy respect for the ability of data to
expand to fill all available storage, but given that we have an
email archiving system in place that sucks anything more than a
few months old (depending on size) into a separate database
elsewhere on the network it didn't occur even to me that a mere 750
users could generate enough email to grow the information store to
almost 60Gb in such a short time! This is exactly what they have
done, however, and as they've ignored all requests (ranging from the
polite to the decidedly pointed) to perform some housekeeping on
their mailboxes we've finally been forced into a set of emergency
fire-fighting measures to avoid a catastrophic loss of email
services that would probably end up with me being fired.
The goal is to free up a large amount of disk
space to allow for growth of around 1Gb every week or two, and as I
write this I've completed the first batch of changes: relocating the
transaction logs to another disk volume, removing the safety net of
the deleted item retention period altogether, and upgrading all
three Exchange servers with SP2 well ahead of the planned schedule
to make use of
a new feature that has allowed me to move the public folders
wholesale to a different server. The next step, and this is the long
boring part, is to run an offline defrag to compress the database
and recover as much disk space as possible. The huge bulk of the IS
requires the temporary file to be created on a different server, and
even with beefy dual P4 Xeon hardware and gigabit network links
between the two my first estimates are that it will take at least
eight hours to perform the procedure. It's going to be a late
In spite of all this I'm only expecting to
recover around 15Gb, so the longer term solution is to relocate the
information store databases to a volume on
our SAN, where endless disk space and hot-resizing will remove
the restrictions and allow the servers to be rearranged back to
their ideal configuration again - but of course this is just moving
the problem around and the real issue is that unless they are
bludgeoned over the head on a weekly basis an average user never,
ever deletes anything! To listen to someone insisting that they
simply cannot survive without every single message in a
mailbox well in excess of of a gigabyte is extremely frustrating,
and it's hard not to suspect that their attitudes would be very
different if we were still talking about paper documents instead of
Meanwhile, elsewhere, the big political news
today is the publication in Rolling Stone magazine of
a long article by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on the theft of the 2004
US presidential election. It became clear almost right away that
many things wrong with the election (and I have to admit that
for me it still rankles every time I see Bush's cheesy "I got away
on television) but I don't think that many of us realised exactly
how crooked and illegal the whole affair really was. At
Avedon Carol plumbs some of the murky and noisome depths, and even
if you can't face the length of the original article you should at
least read her edited highlights - this is one of the great
political crimes of the last few decades and, shamefully, the
mainstream press world-wide has not given it the coverage
that it truly deserves.
Good grief, we're almost half way through the year
already! Time seems so compressed, these days - personally, I blame
While I brake to a halt, then, some random links:
- the Archiveus virus encrypts data files until the victim
purchases drugs from one of three online pharmacies, but it's an
amateurish piece of work and apparently the key is actually hidden inside
the virus code. One wonders what is happening to the pharmacies, though,
which are presumably implicated in some way?
under fire - the popular and outspoken torrent site has been raided by
the Swedish police, their servers have been confiscated, and two of the
site's organisers are in custody facing charges of breaching copyright.
Although the MPAA was quick to issue a jubilant press release, the site's
now claims that they'll be back up and running soon from another
The Spying Game - controversial IT journalist Thomas Greene
infiltrated the super-secret ISS World Conference, the mecca for
wiretapping, high-tech surveillance and covert data mining. The delegates
are hardly discrete, though, and Greene has some remarkable and unsettling
stories to relate. Any one concerned about civil liberties should read his
article - but only when sitting down...
Beta syndrome - this series of photographs documents the bizarre
process required to delete a shortcut in the current public beta of Vista.
Part of it is the additional security measures and hand-holding that the
OS introduces (see
Bruce Schnier's rant from last month) but I suspect that the majority
is classic beta syndrome and will doubtless vanish in the next release.
Emergency surgery - I'd missed the stories about the increasing number
of iPod hard disk failures until this report of a hapless user who fixed
his "click of doom" (where have I heard
before?) by hurling his player from a 3rd story balcony. Apparently it
only works for an hour or so before failing again, but presumably if
you're a dedicated Apple fanboy that's not the end of the world.
actions - at Ars Technica, an interesting overview of the
class-action lawsuits that are becoming increasingly common in the high
tech and media industries. Examples cited include the CD price-fixing and
Sony rootkit suits, and the lower profile actions over various problems
with Apple's iPods and the DVD rental service NetFlix. Who won these
cases, and who actually benefited?
It's that time of the month again, and this time the
stats are fairly bland. It looks as if I've definitely reached a fairly
stable level again, with between 250 and 300 visitors per day - a little
more during the week and a little less at weekends, so presumably a good
proportion of my readers should be working instead! Nevertheless, it's clear
that I shall have to do something spectacular if I want to make any headway
- perhaps this would be a good opportunity to fake my own death?