Links: you want 'em, I've got 'em.
Recycling - I don't remember seeing many PCs being recycled for
other purposes, and I expect the fanboys would make a lot of the
fact that it seems to be a common fate for Apple hardware. In the
wake of the classic
aquarium conversion, Boing Boing has a couple of ideas for the G
Know-nothing bozos - at the Bit-Tech forums, the news
that Microsoft are to develop their own image format has met with
the expected reactions of "how dare they corrupt another open
standard?" and it isn't until half-way through the second page that
their JPEG patent...
Spam-free spam - following some speculation on spam messages
with no apparent advertising content (I've always assumed they are
the result of an incorrectly programmed spam robot, myself) the old
mystery of the "numbers"
radio stations has attracted some renewed attention.
Flaming laptops, Batman! - stories of incendiary iBooks are bad
enough, but to have the fire actually caught on video is
enormously bad for PR - and as this particular battery model
wasn't included in the recent hardware recall one wonders how many
more potentially fatal iBooks are lurking out there.
- this marvellous screen-scraper acts as a front end for Google
Maps, converting the original graphics to ASCII characters in
classic green-on-black. I have to admit that it's almost completely
useless, but one has to admire the ingenuity and retro chic...
DRM! - one of the highlights of last week's WinHEC conference at Seattle was
a protest timed to coincide with Bill Gates' keynote speech. Demonstrators
dressed in hazmat suits stormed the entrance, hoping to bring awareness about
the restrictive rights management features in Vista.
Virtual realities - from a
domino topple using
books, created in the online fantasy game Elder Scrolls / Oblivion, to a
in Second Life, it seems as if the one thing people are not doing with
online games is playing the games!
BMW Audio Books
- the car manufacturer has commissioned a series of short stories
from an interesting selection of contemporary writers, available to
download free as audio books, all of which feature the marque in
some way. I'll let you know if they're any good.
I finished the latest SF3D / Ma.K model over the
weekend, and I'm very pleased with the way it turned out. The model
is the "Konrad" Armoured Fighting Suit, and like
the SAFS model I built last month it's
obviously inspired by Heinlein's classic Starship Troopers
universe the AFS is an earlier design than the fully-enclosed
SAFS, which left me facing the unenviable task of painting the human
component of the system as well. This isn't something that I'm
particularly good at but the end result is certainly adequate,
especially when obscured somewhat by the tinted (and carefully
I chose a slightly lighter colour scheme than for
the SAFS, but kept to the general military drab with rust, oil
and mud motif. As usual, it seems odd to work so hard on
airbrushing a smooth and even finish of the base coats only to
deliberately muss and distress it afterwards, but the initial effort
is worthwhile and I've managed to achieve a pleasingly businesslike
appearance overall - if only at the cost of completely destroying
several paintbrushes during the dry-brushing in the final stages.
The base is another WWII diorama from
Models In Motion, and although at 1/35th scale it's not a
perfect match for the 1/20th fighting suit the discrepancy is hardly
obvious considering the futuristic context - who's to say that there
isn't an appropriately-sized tracked vehicle elsewhere on the
battlefield, after all! And talking of which, although I have
another couple of similar armoured suits in the pile, for the next
kit I've decided to try something different, the "Jerry"
Heavy Armoured Fighting suit - a small tank on legs - which at the
same scale is a somewhat larger and more demanding model. Watch this
space as the build progresses.
A few quick links before I head back to the
silicon face again tomorrow...
Police DP is rubbish - the latest report from the Birchard
enquiry into intelligence failures within the UK police has revealed
that almost half the forces audited so far are guilty of
sub-standard data quality management and poor performance in
entering data in a timely fashion.
Inexplicable events - a hapless eBay seller has been driven
almost to distraction by an ever-increasing stream of annoying,
pointless, irrelevant and just downright perplexing questions. It
seems to have something of the flavour of a flash mob, and I suspect
a hidden organiser behind the scenes...
- Envirofone is offering good money for unwanted cell phones,
or vouchers from catalogue shopping company Argos if you'd prefer.
The value of anything more than a few years old is minimal, however,
with even the most recent of my MotorolaTimeports commanding a
JPEG patent revaluated - the controversial patent awarded to
Forgent Networks in 2002 is currently under review by the US Patent
and Trademark Office, and some of the claims in the patent have now
been rejected on grounds of existing prior art - which throws the
entire patent into doubt.
Symantec insecurity - a serious flaw has been revealed in
Symantec's AntiVirus Corporate Edition, potentially allowing a
remote attacker to take control of an entire PC. The company was at
pains to point out that the home version of the product was not
affected, which somehow makes it better?
The tables turn - beleaguered P2P hub Torrentspy has taken
the unprecedented and decidedly gutsy act of suing the MPAA for
conspiracy and invasion of privacy, following allegations that the
organisation hired a hacker to penetrate the Torrentspy network and
steal confidential data.
Government hangs up - a 3% tax on long distance phone calls has
been repealed after over one hundred years, heralding a small
decrease in costs and a refund for the last three years. It was
enacted in 1898 in order to fund the Spanish-American War, so it's
probably about time...
eBay taxes loom - the Inland Revenue is to turn it attention to
high volume dealers on the popular auction site, many of whom have
conveniently forgotten to register for VAT or to declare their
additional income. Ask not for who the bell tolls...
Classical superheroes - the latest contest at Photoshopping site
Worth 1000 is to set superhero characters in a fine art context, and
as always some of the entries are extremely good. My favourite is
Batman and Superman reflected in Escher's glass globe, both
imaginative and well executed.
The weather today made a pleasant change from the
week's continual showers, so I was out bright and early staining the
timbers on the new plant trellis a deep mahogany colour. I put two
coats on, which took three or four hours in total, and for much of
the time I had a grey squirrel to keep me company. It was
surprisingly unafraid and inquisitive, climbing up and down the
woodwork and plants only a few feet from me, and even venturing onto
the timbers I'd just painted. I hope it doesn't mind mahogany feet!
I lost track of it towards the end of the job,
but when I went upstairs to photograph my work from the top window I
saw it sprawled out on the flat roof, perfectly camouflaged against
the grey surface - I don't think even a chameleon could have done
better. Its pose is decidedly reminiscent of a predator stalking its
prey in the African veldt, but as I haven't noticed herds of nuts
and berries travelling to my water feature to drink presumably it
was just enjoying the afternoon sun, something that has been
conspicuous by its absence over the last week. It's kinda neat
having it around, though, especially as it seems so bold, and I
think I might rig up
a feeder high on the trellis to watch the acrobatics.
I've just discovered that
one of the most influential musicians on the ska scene of the
sixties, died yesterday of a heart attack at his home in Surrey.
Best known for the perennial favourite "Israelites", the first
international hit by a Jamaican singer and by the far the biggest
until the heyday of Bob Marley a decade later, in fact Dekker had
little commercial success and was actually declared bankrupt in
1984. However, he has been credited as a major inspiration by a host
of Jamaican musicians that followed in his footsteps, and is
mentioned in an unusual number of songs by other artists, ranging
from West Coast punkers Rancid to The Beatles' "Ob La Di Ob La Da".
Although I love "Israelites" itself, these days I
always think of the advertising campaign for Maxell cassette tape
that featured it, parodying Dylan's famous video for "Subterranean
Homesick Blues" to suggest that the song's somewhat obscure
lyrics would be perfectly comprehensible if only it was recorded on
the right media - it's been ages since I've seen it, but the memory
still makes me smile. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to listen to
some classic ska.
Meanwhile, something for the weekend...
travel - a fascinating project by the increasingly useful
mySociety.org, and funded by the UK government's Department Of
Transport, to produce maps with isochrones (lines of constant time)
to illustrate travel time between various locations in Britain. And
it's pretty, too!
No to DRM! - digital music player manufacturer iRiver has
taken the bold step of allowing users to disable the Microsoft
"Plays For Sure" DRM system in order to regain the full
functionality of their devices. The company is not a major name in
the market, though, and it may only be a token gesture.
Apple vanquished - regular readers will know that I'm no great
fan of the company's attitudes these days, but even die-hard Mac
enthusiasts should be glad that their attempt to remove online news
sites from the "Shield Law" that allows journalists to protect their
sources has been dismissed by the court.
Ofcom chief bales - Stephen Carter, the head of the UK's media
and telecoms regulator, has resigned three years after joining the
organisation. He has been heavily criticised over his £414,000
salary while in office, especially following a £1.4m severance
package from his previous company.
EU considers e-tax - supporters of the EU's attacks on Microsoft
may change their minds following the announcement that the Union is
considering bolstering its funding by taxing all email and SMS
messages. Regardless of the ethics of this idea, to me it sounds
thoroughly unworkable in any case.
Cloaking - I've just been watching the epic documentary "How
William Shatner Changed The World", so it seems unusually
timely to come across a pair of scientific papers discussing the
possibility of building the "cloaking device" beloved of the Star
And finally, Conservative peer Lord Northesk has
vowed to fight new proposals to extend the Computer Misuse Act
to cover creation and distribution of software that could be used
for hacking or other malicious activity, on the grounds that it will
criminalise the authors and users of genuine network analysis and
forensics software. His main fear seems to be that the police IT
units will be denied access to the software they need to fight
crime, but I am far more concerned that corporate network staff will
no longer be able to obtain and use utilities such as
AirSnort because they can
be used for malicious activity as well as for legitimate security
auditing. Given the recent threat of implementation of the
key recovery clauses in the equally controversial RIPA, things
are looking pretty bleak for the working sysadmin right now.
This morning I received, out of the blue, a mail
message from someone who had disastrous business dealings with Dee
Sheldrake back in the bad old days of Area 51 Airsoft, and
had seen my web page on the
various problems I experienced. Although Sheldrake is still
loosely connected to
the UK airsoft industry there's little point in dunning him after
all this time, but it serves as an excellent reminder of how the
Internet has changed the way that companies and individuals can be
held accountable for dubious behaviour. People talk and share information,
even after many years, and it's no longer
just enough to move to another town and set up again under a
different name... These days escaping a bad reputation takes more drastic measures.
And talking of which, it's probably time for an
update on my frustrating
experience with Mark Woolley of Special Airsoft Supplies.
I returned the unwanted SVD springer replica at the end of February,
and the Post Office tracking showed that Woolley himself signed for
the parcel on the 1st March. What followed was a long sullen
silence, as in spite of a number of increasingly terse email
messages from me I heard nothing back from him at all. I'm still
curious as to why he thought he would get away with doing that,
actually - it would seem to be the height of self-delusion to assume
that I would just write off a debt of around £660 and chalk it up to
After initial enquires with PayPal proved as
fruitless as expected, some research online pointed me to
Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000, a relatively
recent law that covers, among other things, purchases made over the
Internet. The key clause in this case is the provision of a "cooling
off period" of seven working days from the day after the goods are
received by the buyer, during which they can be returned
unconditionally. Whatever the rights and wrongs of our particular
dispute, this law applies regardless, and gives the seller one month
to make a full refund.
Accordingly, I waited for a month, and when I had
still heard nothing I registered a claim with the HM Court Service's
Money Claim Online
facility, which had been extremely productive in
my dispute with telecoms company O2
back at the start of the year. Because the item had been returned
within the statutory period the claim was presumably quite
straight-forward, and as Woolley apparently did not attempt to
defend the suit a judgement in my favour was returned a few weeks
later without further paperwork. Evidently he chose to ignore
this, as well, and after leaving a reasonable time for him to
get in touch I used the Money Claim service to request that a
warrant be issued for recovery of the sum - which had now grown to
almost £740 thanks to the court costs.
So far Woolley has seemed able to dodge the court
bailiffs, however, and given the reports I've received from other
customers it seems that is used to avoiding unwanted attention -
apparently he always has a family member answer the door to "screen"
callers before admitting that he's at home, and habitually has the
telephone set to the answering machine to do the same. Now, call me
suspicious, but this does rather sound like the behaviour of
somebody who is familiar with unhappy customers and is always
expecting the worst...
Putting aside the suggestion made by a previous
victim (one of several with whom I have been in touch recently),
that I turn up at his door with several large friends and "refuse to
take no for an answer", I seem to have two options. Firstly, I can
leave the matter in the hands of the court bailiffs, who are
reportedly somewhat over-worked and under-motivated and so may never
achieve anything on my behalf. Alternatively, I can place the matter
in the hands of one of
the many commercial debt recovery services that have sprung up
in this era of easy credit, and see what they can offer. They have
somewhat less legal power than the official bailiffs, I gather, but
to compensate are probably somewhat better motivated given their
usual policy of "no recovery, no fee". I suspect that I will give
the official channels a little longer (it is wise not to expect
rapid results from British justice, after all!) and then throw him
to the jackals. If the television is to be believed, professional
debt collectors look and act like
in a Guy Ritchie movie, and right now that's just fine with me...
It has to be said that
the current griping thread at Arnie's Airsoft (just
number on the various UK airsoft forums) has comments from
several people who have had perfectly smooth dealings with Woolley
and SAS - however, it nearly always emerges that they have bought
directly from him at a show or by visiting his house, and in my
opinion this is the only way that you should conduct business with
this man. Hand him the cash when he hands you the goods, if you
must, but at this stage I have to recommend that you avoid doing
business by post, phone or Internet for any sums greater than you
can afford to lose.
The first day back in the office after a couple
of days of holiday is always somewhat frenzied, but today made me
wish I was back up a ladder wrestling with timber: I had dying hard
drives, failing disk images, unreasonable users, annoying deadlines
and perplexing servers. Sometimes cross-training into plumbing seems
so attractive... And after the aircon flooded the computer
room for the second time in a week, last Monday, it's hardly any
less wet either.
Elsewhere, some links:
Locking down - rumours were circulating that Sony were intending
to prevent PS3 games from being sold on the second-hand market, but
even though a company spokesman has
dismissed the suggestion I have to admit that I'm not 100%
convinced. The company's
behaviour in this area should be kept in mind when speculating
on future policy...
Battleship - one of the classic computer industry fables
describes Steve Jobs' outrage when, after his ignominious departure
from Apple in the mid-eighties, a fan asked him to sign his Apple
Extended keyboard. It's great to see a picture of the object of his
contempt posted on Flickr, with both Steve's and Woz's signatures on
Insectilicious! - Dan briefly mentioned the Gakken Mechamo
Centipede a while ago, but he's finally succumbed and has provided a
full review... I lasted about three paragraphs before heading off to
HobbyLink Japan to place an order for myself. Dan recommended
the supplier too, and as to the best of my knowledge he's only ever
made one mistake I thought I'd
give them a try.
Hi-tech craftsmanship - Peter Dickison is one of the most
talented and innovative custom case designers on the PC modding the
scene, and following his spectacular Orac3
case he turned to an project inspired by the doomsday devices employed
by Hollywood movie bad guys. After a long wait "WMD" is now finally
complete, and it can only be described as stunning.
tiny machines - one of my PFYs pointed me to this neat little
miniature PC, and at 5½ cm on a side
one is even smaller! The Japanese blurb seems to suggest Linux
as an OS, but I'd have a damn good try at getting Windows on there,
myself, and with what appears to be a regular compact flash memory
card slot in one side it could certainly provide enough storage
My apologies for the lack of updates here over
the last few days, but I've been somewhat distracted with a DIY
project. At the rear of my house is a little patio underneath a
framework that supports sprawling laburnum and wisteria plants, both
of which produce a surprising quantity of foliage. It was built by
the house's previous owners, but the timber they used was somewhat
below standard and last summer the trellis started to sag alarmingly
under the weight of the plants. I'd intended to do something about
it long before now, but when the coming of spring provoked the usual
growth spurt and the framework started to feel decidedly rickety I
realised that something needed to be done right away. I tracked down
some suitable half-round timbers
last week, then threw myself on the mercy of my friend Mike. He's
not fond of DIY projects, I know, but is also extremely
capable and evidently couldn't think of a plausible excuse at such
Taking down the old structure took only a few
minutes, with some of the wood literally rotting away in our hands.
It obviously wasn't particularly good quality to begin with, and the
replacement timber is not only rather more heavy duty but
(hopefully!) also rather better preserved. The idea of cutting the
twelve foot lengths down to size was a touch daunting, however, so I
treated myself to a new toy: a
Black & Decker Scorpion reciprocating saw. This certainly made
short work of the cuts, and was pleasingly easy to use - but the
vibrations as it sliced through the relatively green timbers were
fairly awesome at times and Mike was shaken around like a jelly on a
plate steadying the ends.
We cut all the parts to size and pre-drilled
holes for the carriage bolts that would hold the lengths together in
a grid pattern, and then had to make the decision as to whether
assemble the structure on the ground and then lift it onto the
supports intact, or build it in place piece-by-piece. I favoured the
latter, and Mike the former, and in the end I talked him round.
Lifting the entire frame would have been a tough job for just two
people, I think, but I have to admit that assembling it in mid-air
was not without its problems either - I had to re-drill a couple of
the holes when slight misalignments elsewhere compounded into a
difference of around an inch in the final row of joints.
During this process Mike was steadying the ladder
for me, which put him in an excellent position to be hit on the head
by anything I happened to drop while working - a selection of items
ranging from nuts and washers to a medium-sized hammer. He had to
choose between looking up and getting a face-full of sawdust, or
looking down and being unable to dodge the incoming unguided
missiles, so it's something of a miracle that he survived intact and
I expect he's been glad to get back to his desk in one piece, today!
In the end neither of us received anything worse
than scraped knuckles and the odd blister, and the end result was
very satisfactory. It looks nicely elegant and airy, and yet also
feels reassuringly solid - a definite benefit once the plants, which
I had to cut back extensively to allow us room to work, notice what
they're missing and start to make up for the loss. All that remains
is to stain it a mahogany brown to match the patio tiles, which I
had hoped to do today. Unfortunately it showered intermittently all
day, and every time things had dried out enough to work and I
thought about going outside the skies opened again. Hopefully the
coming weekend will be somewhat less damp!
Many thanks to Mike, without who this would not
have been possible - although as he uses the patio when he slips
outside for a cigarette, and has been increasingly anxious about the
trellis collapsing on him (thus proving conclusively that smoking is
indeed bad for one's health), it's safe to assume that he had
something of a vested interest in the project...
Meanwhile, elsewhere, a generous handful of news
links to make up for the drought:
Now it's Symantec
- the voracious software company is accusing Microsoft of infringing their
intellectual property rights over the Volume Manager product they acquired with
Pots and kettles - following Creative's claims that Apple has
infringed patents covering the user interface of their MP3 players,
Apple has counter-sued on the same grounds.
- the growth of the so-called "Web 2.0" community services has led
to a matching growth in the lawsuits brought against them, and a new
site aims to document the various battles.
Stone home - following a bizarre Microsoft anti-piracy campaign
which involved sending out stones in boxes, a campaign has started
to reunite them with the company.
Lies, damn lies and the RIAA - according to the recording
industry, the money they lose every month because of illicit
downloads via the Pirate Bay P2P site exceeds the GDP of France...
Botmaster jailed - a US hacker was sentenced to almost five
years for hijacking over 400,000 computers and co-opting them to
send out spam, display adverts and launch DoS attacks.
a sieve - European ISP Wanadoo has accidentally released the
personal details of thousands of its users on its web site, and took
a surprising time to properly secure the data.
RIPA starts to bite
- six years after it was introduced, the most controversial part of
the appalling Regulation Of Investigatory Powers Act is likely to be
implemented by the government.
Dear NSA -
contrary to widespread belief amongst the left wing worldwide, the
US National Security Agency is our friend, and only has our best
interests at heart.
open source - the European VP and CTO of Microsoft has described
open source software as neither "reliable or dependable", which even
I admit is rather a sweeping statement...
On the market - the co-founder and chairman of business
intelligence system manufacturer SAP is pimping the company around,
with possible buyers including IBM, Microsoft and Google.
Contracting market - Seagate has completed its acquisition of
rival Maxtor, bringing the
once-diverse hard disk industry down to just a handful of
- Microsoft have released the minimum and optimum hardware specs for
Vista, and as usual I suspect that both should be taken with a pinch
DIY watches - courtesy of the excellent Instructables DIY
tech site, plans for making your own binary LED wrist watch.
Subsequent firmware upgrades will add all sorts of extra functions.
chic - if you ever wanted a T-shirt that telegraphs your heart
rate and skin temperature to a friend via Bluetooth, or jewellery
that emits fragrances in response to remote sensors, or a hoodie
with a built-in microcam to document the things that excite you,
then you're in luck. These garments, and many others, are the center
pieces of a conference-cum-fashion show that was held in Italy last
week, and some of the ideas are actually rather interesting. Thanks
Sideshow for the pointer.
After a rather puzzling week, my
DSL Max upgrade seems to have taken effect at last. The
scheduled migration date was Monday, and when I checked the BeWAN
DSL card in my firewall that evening it had already retrained at
832Kbps upstream and 8128Kbps down - impressive figures and,
together with the low attenuation and noise margins I was seeing, a
very reassuring sign. My actual download speed was still the same as
the pre-migration 2Mbit pipe, but some investigation of the FAQs
showed that this was expected behaviour while the systems at BT's
exchanges calculated the maximum rate my line would support - a
process that could take three days or more.
However, by Friday evening it was still firmly
capped at 2Mbit performance, and I was starting to worry a little.
Another check in the Zen and ADSLGuide forums showed that a number
of other early-adopters were seeing the same issue, and various
people were offering advice on bizarre techniques for kicking the
automated RAMBO signal analysis routines into action - forcing
multiple reconnections by rebooting the router, for example, or
artificially creating line noise to lower the sync speed. These went
firmly against the advice from Zen's tech support, however, and I
wasn't tempted - the process could take up to ten days, according to
the FAQs, so I resigned myself to sitting it out.
However, this morning another browse through the
forums pointed to a story at
Register that revealed the existence of a bug in RAMBO which
caused exactly this symptom, and fortunately a fix was already being
applied. Sure enough, when I checked the
speed tester things were looking very different:
The net result of this is that I can download
binary files at speeds in the region of 800Kb/sec, which I'm quite
happy with - and as the RAMBO process will try different sync rates
and settings until it finds the maximum reliable throughput there's
a chance that it could even rise a little over the next few days.
The business DSL lines are prioritised over the home connections,
too, so in theory my transfer speeds will fluctuate less at peak
times than those of the consumer-level IP Stream Max offerings. Time
So my IT director decided that I didn't have
enough Dell servers to play with, and in the guise of providing a
platform for the company's Siebel implementation he generously
ordered another couple of dozen to keep me happy:
Which needed another pair of gigabit port modules
for our Cisco Catalyst core switch, a major re-cabling project to
connect them all up, and another PFY to look after the
And, of course, some more GBICs to hook them up
to the SAN, together with an upgrade to the McData fibre channel
switches to permit the expansion:
And then some more disks for the SAN itself,
taking us to around 6Tb of storage on 50 spindles, together with an
additional pair of DAEs to hold them:
And before we knew it we'd spent around £260,000,
in addition to the £250,000 we spent on the SAP hardware and systems
Needless to say, Dell are very fond of me right
I don't imagine that the same can be said for our
What a day... I'm going to spend the rest of the
evening lying on my back and groaning quietly, but not before the
regular round-up of all the news that's fit to 'blog:
New beta - Microsoft has just released a public beta of Media
Player 11, and as I was feeling brave I installed it on my desktop
XP system at home. The installation was painless (it didn't even
demand a reboot), and the new look makes a change, but it's
definitely still a beta... I stressed it a little by working
through a folder containing a few dozen gigabytes of odd video clips
awaiting sorting, and it crashed several times in the space of a
couple of hours, once taking the Explorer shell down with it for
good measure. There is an extensive list of new features, and it's
certainly worth a look, but be warned that it's not the most stable
of beasts at this stage.
The modular car - Dan Rutter is holding forth on hybrid cars,
clearly illustrating once again why he really is a geek's geek...
Although his primary focus is on PCs and electronics, he seems to
possess a breadth of knowledge of all things technical and
engineering that is matched only by its depth. He writes with great
clarity and much wit and humour, and litters his articles with a
fascinating and eclectic range of links. Every so often I dip back
into his archives at random, and often find some gem that I had
overlooked - in this case,
a field guide to CPU
coolers written as a follow-up to his massive survey of the
point error in line 1 - An article at UK tech news service The Register
is titled "Copyright reforms strike a balance in Oz", but I'm afraid that it
only serves to illustrate how poorly the writer understands the issues
surrounding DRM and the boundless ambition of the media industry. For a
considerably better informed viewpoint,
summary of the reforms at Boing Boing shows that what appears to be
the long-awaited legislation for "fair use" will instead place surprisingly
heavy restrictions on viewing habits. For example - Australian viewers will at
last be able to legally record a television program for later viewing, but they
will only be able to watch it a single time before the DRM disables it...
day in court - Apple are spending as much time litigating as Microsoft,
these days, and this time the plaintiff is Creative Labs, who are alleging
infringement of a patent covering menu navigation techniques and organisation of
files on a portable music player. A
brought by Contois Music and Technology last year is still in progress, and
iTunes and the iPod are increasingly becoming the targets of legal action. Has
Apple become the equivalent of Microsoft in this area, in that it's easier to
sue them than compete with them? Certainly, Creative are their main competitor
in the MP3 player market, and would doubtless do anything to get ahead...
Spore closer - a few months ago I mentioned the new "game" from Sims
guru Will Wright, having sat open-mouthed through an hour-long video of him
demonstrating some of its concepts and the early graphics. Attendees at last
week's E3 consumer entertainment show were treated to an updated demonstration,
and if anything it seems to be getting better and better. The game is positively
grandiose in scope, allowing the player to develop his own life form from a
single-celled organism, through primitive society and civilization, right up to
a member of a space-faring civilization colonising other worlds to start the
whole process again. I'm really looking forward to seeing the game, but although
Amazon is already taking pre-orders the launch isn't scheduled until next
Although the story is actually a few weeks old,
I've only just started coming across references to
a major security breach at an un-named UK online retailer,
resulting in the loss of many thousands of credit card details to
hackers and scammers. I have a particular interest in this story, as
one of my cards was amongst those those stolen, but evidently it was
used almost for fraudulent purchases very soon after the leak so
rather than a polite letter from my card issuer informing me of the
problem and enclosing a replacement card, I had to go to all the
fuss of detecting and reporting the unauthorised transactions
The retailer in question has not yet been named,
but it seems that they had stored the card details in an unencrypted
form on a public-facing e-commerce server, and once this server had
been compromised the data was freely available. Obviously, this
represents a serious lack of security awareness on the part of the
company's IT staff, and is also a tremendous breach of trust on the
part of the retailer.
The story was broken by the online tech news
service Silicon.com, who are currently
appealing for help in exposing the retailer in question. Nothing
in UK law obliges a company to inform its customers when such a
security breach occurs, and left to their own devices it is unlikely
that either the financial organisations or the retailer itself would
release the information. However, a law in California obliges
companies with customers in the state to notify them in the event
that personal data is compromised, and the site is hoping that
someone living there will have been affected and so be able to force
Having checked back through my own records,
however, I have my own suspicions as to the source of the leak... I
hadn't used that particular card very often, this year, and only two
purchases were from anything that could be described as "a UK-based
retailer" - one a major electronics and hobby supplier, and the
other one of the biggest names in e-commerce. I will be very
interested to see if either of them finally come clean...
Spam or ham - it seems that some people are far worse at
spotting spam than modern computerised filtering systems, but that
probably comes as no surprise to someone who has administered a
corporate email system.
Superdense magnetic media - tape backup is far from dead, it
seems, thanks to advances made at IBM's Almaden Research Centre
which promise data densities of up to 8Tb per square inch when
the technology reaches the market in the next five years. Wow!
Apple update woes - by now it is abundantly clear that in fact
Apple is no better than Microsoft at detecting security
vulnerabilities in its products and releasing working fixes for
them. One of their latest attempts not only fails to fix the flaw,
but is causing additional problems for many users.
Hospital phone rip-off - a new report has described the cost of
telephoning hospital patients in their beds as "exorbitant", and
with charges of up to £1.50 per minute it's easy to see why
hospitals perpetuate the myth that cell phones can interfere with
Stress testing - another new report suggests that IT support is
the world's most stressful profession, and while I agree that it's
certainly no picnic I suspect that there are others far worse, and
readers of The Register seem to agree with me.
reprieve for eBay - the US Supreme Court has overturned an
earlier ruling against eBay which could have prevented the auction
site from continuing to use the "buy it now" facility, apparently
covered by a pair of patents owned by MercExchange.
for emergencies - the US government's DARPA research agency is
somewhat famed for its kooky ideas, but a device designed to fire a
man onto the top of a five storey building in less than two seconds
is up there with the best of them.
Two for the price of one - Microsoft has come up with an
interesting marketing tactic, suggesting that rather than waiting to
pay a massive $600 for Sony's upcoming PS3 console, you can get both
an Xbox 360 and a Nintendo Wii handheld for the same money.
Knuckling under - anti-spam outfit Blue Security is to abandon
its controversial strategy of "pushing back" following a massive
counter-attack by the Russian spammer PharmaMaster. The Israeli
company is worried that continuing its efforts might cause real
damage to the Internet.
Search and destroy - the "Erazer" Trojan searches for folders
commonly used by P2P file sharing apps and deletes any media files
found in them. Would it be safe to speculate that the various media
industry associations may have had some kind of influence over its
No remorse - the SEC has accused the founder of Infinium Labs,
erstwhile manufacture of the mythical Phantom games console, of
sending junk faxes to tens of thousands of investors in the hope of
inflating the company's share price and so allowing him to make a
killing by selling his own shares.
Smartphones vs. PDAs - an editorial at Tom's Hardware wonders
why the consumer market is still buying phones with PDA
functionality rather than PDAs with phone functionality, but having
watched my own users struggle with their disappointing XDA handhelds
I don't agree with their argument.
Chinese chip fraud - a highly regarded home-grown DSP for cell
phones turns out to have been a regular Motorola Freescale chip with
the logos and serial numbers removed, a deception practiced by the
dean of Shanghai's Jiaotong University School of Microelectronics.
Ah, the start of another week, and this one
brought a pair of Unisys engineers to help add some extra disk
enclosures into our EMC SAN environment, providing storage for the
twenty-something Dell servers we've been installing recently to host
our Siebel implementation. The timescales for this project are
somewhat pressing by this stage so we actually did a large part of
the work ourselves last week, leaving the visiting engineers only a
day's worth of work to fill the two days that had been budgeted. To
their credit, they didn't try to spread the job out over both, but
zoomed ahead with all due speed, and by the time I left for the day
all the disk groups, LUNs and FC zones had been configured and the
sparkling new volumes were available to the servers. Next, I expect
that a bunch of Siebel consultants will come along and clutter up
all those nice neat systems with their untidy software. Sheesh, it's
always the way...
Bells and whistles - my space-geek friend Mike sent word of a
set of film clips just released by NASA, covering the descent of the
ESA's Huygens probe through the atmosphere of Titan, and its
eventual soft landing. Aside from the impressively high quality
images of a previously unseen part of our solar system, the video is
fascinating in itself. The imaging team, based at has
University of Arizona, has used some very clever techniques to
incorporate a vast amount of information into a single media stream,
including not only the composite formed from multiple narrow field
images taken with various different types of sensors, but also
animation to illustrate the probe's behaviour in the atmosphere and
even audio tones to give information on the sensors that were in
operation at any point in time. It's an impressive piece of work,
even if the surface of Titan proves (as usual, I'm afraid) to be
The wrong Guy
Kewney - both online and print media are suddenly full of the
story of the London cabbie who was hauled onto a TV interview to
discuss the Apple vs. Apple ruling in the mistaken belief that he
was the veteran IT journalist. One has to admire the anchorbimbo's
persistence in the face of an obviously flustered and rambling
interviewee, but I would love to have seen Guy's face when a long
wait in reception ended in the revelation that someone else had just
done his spot for him! I gather that they did interview Guy,
in the end, but then decided that one of him was enough for one day
and so roped in my old schoolmate Rupert Goodwins to discuss the
case instead. I would have liked to have seen Guy's face when he
heard that, as well... <snig>
I've just started listening to the audiobook of
Daniel Wilson's "How to
Survive a Robot Uprising", and it's a real hoot. Written as
a self-help guide for the inevitable day when the robots rise up to
overthrow the yoke of their human oppressors, in fact it is a
cleverly-disguised overview of the current state of the art in the
science and engineering of robotics. Advice on how to evade
detection on the street neatly illustrates the problems inherent in
computerised vision systems, for example, and a section on the
futility of engaging in hand-to-hand combat with an enraged robot
reminds us of the considerable speed and power of modern effector
systems. I'm only a few minutes into the audiobook, and it's already
made me laugh out loud several times - recommended.
Save your Confederate money - the growth of high-tech industries
in China and India has caused the price of copper to soar on the
open market , and last Friday the Royal Mint issued a warning
against melting down 1p and 2p coins for re-sale as scrap metal. In
theory these coins should be worth around double their face value,
but actually since 1992 they have been made of copper-plated steel
and so are worth considerably less, so anyone who embarks on a
large-scale smelting operation is going to be in for a nasty
thief in the night - in the small hours of Saturday morning the
US Department of Justice filed a motion to dismiss the suit brought
against telco AT&T by the EFF (which alleged that their
collaboration with the NSA to spy on American citizens was illegal)
on the grounds that such activity is a state secret. Given that it
has been front page news throughout the country that hardly seems
plausible, but the motion was accompanied by heavyweight
declarations from the directors of the NSA and NI. Is it possible,
perhaps, that the latter have an axe or two to grind...?
Not quite far enough - Apple has just released its third major
patch this year for OS X, addressing an impressive 31 security
vulnerabilities, but an independent security researcher claims that
the list doesn't include further critical weaknesses that he has
reported to Apple and is threatening to make the details public.
Surprisingly, the company has not yet appointed a chief security
officer to coordinate and oversee their efforts, and a growing
number of industry watchers are starting to suggest that the company
just doesn't seem to be taking security as seriously as a modern OS
manufacturer ought to.
second look at Aperture - the first version of Apple's
flagship RAW image editing software received wide-spread and
thoroughly deserved criticism after its launch last autumn, and
considering the Mac's traditional placement in design and publishing
houses this must have been a real blow to the company. The
application had all the signs of a seriously hurried and
inadequately-tested project with more bugs than a cheap New York
apartment building, some of which were capable of seriously messing
images up beyond recognition... Six months later, however, V1.1 has
been released, along with a reduction in list price from $500 to
$299, and a follow-up review at Ars Technica suggests that
although it is still far from perfect (there is a significant number
of bugs, the documentation leaves much to be desired, and some basic
features are still missing) it is no longer the worthless,
over-priced application that it was at launch.
A few quick links...
PhysX & You - at [H]ard|OCP, a useful
editorial on why the much-hyped Ageia PhysX accelerator is mostly
just a gimmick right now. It reminds me strongly of the early days
of 3D accelerators...
Art for art's sake - for the Mac user who has everything...
Well, everything except highly magnified impressionistic oil
paintings of elements of the Mac OS X GUI, that is. Pointless, but
the bandwagon - the upcoming Word 2007 will feature built-in
blogging, it seems, and to everybody's surprise the HTML it
generates is actually clean, readable and sophisticated.
Cute yet functional - how to dismember a remote control and
build it into a soft toy, resulting in a bizarre homunculus sort of
thing that would probably give most children nightmares...
What's hot - A student at the Max Planck Institute has devised a
method to identify the "hottest" topics in physics research by
scanning abstracts of scientific publications. Nanotubes are No. 1,
by the way.
Qwest stood alone - unlike its competitors, the giant telco
resisted the NSA's demands for customer telephone records, at least
until CEO Joseph Nacchio left the company in June 2002.
Living space - via Boing Boing, the output from NASA's
seventies studies on large-scale self-sustaining space colonies,
complete with some absolutely wonderful artistic representations.
terrible sense of deja vu - Deviation is a short
machinima film about an online game character's existential crisis
over the futile cycle of violence that seems to have shaped his
should want - Dan has been reviewing gadgets again, and as usual
there are some real gems. I loved the spray can straw holders,
Slightly over the edge - fed up with inaccurate writing about
him and his life, cult author Douglas Coupland has begun to emulate
the person who the fans have created. Or is it just his latest
So I discovered completely by accident last night
that my ISP and DSL provider,
Internet, has finally caught up with the rest of the industry by
offering 8Mbit ADSL pipes based on BT's IP Stream Max Premium
service. I was beginning to
despair of them ever offering anything faster than the 2Mbit
which is now considered entry-level, and although I agree with the
legion of adoring fanboys that are forever droning on about
Zen's quality of service in the forums, that was becoming an
increasingly minor consideration... Imagine my mixture of delight
and irritation, therefore, when an unrelated visit to their service
forum last night showed that actually they'd been offering an 8Mbit
package since early April, but just hadn't bothered to tell me about
it! Presumably they were assuming that I would visit every day, on
the edge of my seat in the hope of the electronic equivalent of good
news from the Vatican, whereas I was assuming that they might
be a touch more proactive than that about maximising their potential
Sarcasm aside, though, their Office Max 8000
package is still unencumbered by the bullshit download and bandwidth
caps that plague almost every other provider, and is only a few
pounds per month more than the 2Mbit offering I have at present. Of
course, at £79 per month ex-VAT it still costs at least three times
as much as lines from all the other ISPs on the market, but for a
heavyweight Internet user like me it is probably worth it given the
unrestricted access and relatively low contention rate. I've signed
up, now, and should start seeing the benefits some time next week
when the ten day rate-testing phase begins.
Interestingly, something else I noticed on the
support forum was another user complaining that he has suddenly and
mysteriously lost the ability to authenticate via PPPoE and has had
to reconfigure to use the more conventional PPPoA instead. I solved
my own problem last month by switching
from a Zyxel 660R in bridge mode to a BeWAN PCI DSL card installed
in the PC running my Smoothwall firewall, which supports the card in
native PPPoA mode, but that was only working around the problem.
It's not clear to either of us why these changes should have been
necessary, as both BT and Zen deny that anything has changed, but
it's perfectly clear that something has - and that it's not
at the user end, either!
Meanwhile, a few random news clippings to end the
McAfee crying wolf? - a anonymous column at ZDNet accuses
security vendor McAfee of trying to scare Mac users into buying its
products by exaggerating the number of OS X security risks, and
claims that CERT's year-end summary for 2005 shows nothing of any
significance. This may well be true in the strictest sense (although
I remember blogging about a number of
vulnerabilities which could easily have led to an exploit
being created) but he obviously hasn't bothered looking through the
alerts for this year as well or he would have spotted
equivalent to the worst that have ever affected the Windows OSes. In
my opinion many Mac users still have their heads firmly in the sand
when it comes to security, and articles written by people with their
heads equally firmly up their asses only serve to exacerbate this...
New Zealand not for sale - I've seen a few bizarre auctions on
eBay over the years, but a listing for the entire country of New
Zealand has to be one of the more outlandish. The bidding started at
an extremely reasonable one cent, and had reached $3000 (is that
Australian or US dollars, one wonders? It makes a significant
difference!) before eBay noticed and cancelled the auction, so it's
too late now to see under what terms the sale was being offered,
specifically whether it was just for the land or if the people were
included as well. There would be pros and cons to either, I
suspect... (Thanks to my director, Nick, for the pointer.)
Geekologie - I was drawn to this recently-launched tech blog by
news of a urine-powered battery being developed by researchers in
Singapore, but there are a number of other fascinating entries
ranging from an upcoming portable DVD player with a flexible folding
screen, to a room full of disconcerting robotic balls, and a mirror
that displays what you'll look like when you're old. I certainly
can't see that latter gaining favour with anyone I know (all
of whom feel that old age is advancing quite fast enough already,
thank you very much) but I have to admit that as pure technology
it's an interesting idea...
Hacking signage - courtesy of the always-remarkable Zug
(the world's only comedy site, remember), yet another adventure in
urban pranking. This enterprising contributor came across a series
of dot matrix traffic signs unattended at the side of the road, and
as the access passwords were helpfully written inside the control
boxes he was able to not only make his mark in large glowing
letters, but also to prove his chutzpah when challenged by a passing
pedestrian. Full marks...
It's been a busy time, this week, hence the
unusual scarcity of updates... I've spent a lot of time working with
one of my PFYs extending the network infrastructure to cope with an
additional 24 servers for our Siebel implementation, including a
long evening earlier in the week adding additional gigabit network
ports to the Catalyst 6509 switch at the heart of it all. Having
decided to take a break from it today, therefore, I found myself
repairing one of the tape libraries on my home network instead -
very much a busman's holiday! I mentioned
last month that my trusty VXA Autopak library had given up the
ghost, and that I was trying to source another for spares. I managed
to find a couple of likely candidates on eBay, and after some
vacillating between the one in the US and the one in Australia the
deal was done and it duly arrived last week. I've been putting off
doing anything with it since then, however, as without any clear
idea of exactly what was wrong with the original one it was hard to
know where to start the repairs.
The symptom was obvious, in that the picker
completely failed to perform its customary end-to-end calibration
and inventory pass on power up, instead remaining perfectly still
and flashing its multi-colour LED an ominous red. This lead me to
suspect either a failed motor or a faulty logic board, and under
normal circumstances I would have swapped the entire picker
mechanism from one library to the other. However, somewhat to my
surprise and irritation the Autopak library seems to be almost
entire riveted together, and aside from removing the top and bottom
covers there's almost nothing else that can be dismantled:
everywhere that most manufacturers would use a screw or a bolt
Spectra Logic, the actual designer of the hardware, has used a rivet
instead! [Update: Although Exabyte's
documentation for this model is extremely sparse, thanks to
service manuals on Spectra Logic's own web site I have just
discovered that the picker can be removed after all, and
without drilling out rivet heads at that!]
All I could think of doing, under the
circumstances, was to move the two VXA-1 drives from one chassis to
the other, then remove the picker's cover in situ and install the
barcode reader module that was missing from the new chassis -
fortunately these are designed to be field-replaceable units and
slotted in and out fairly readily. Some offline tests suggested that
everything was working well enough, and after a quick reboot Backup
Exec sprang into life immediately and started catching up on a
fortnight's worth of queued backup jobs. It's quite a relief, and
considering that the next project today is to replace what appears
to be a failed hard disk on my girlfriend's laptop, it certainly
serves to remind me exactly why I go to so much fuss to make sure my
own data is safely backed up...
Missed the boat - Kent Newsome thinks that it's pointless trying
to establish a new blog, as the marketplace is completely saturated:
there just aren't enough readers left with time on their hands!
Old is bad - a new survey suggests that using obsolete computer
hardware in the workplace is a major source of employee
dissatisfaction and stress.
Peer review -
the US Patent Office has started a project that allows the public to
conduct the initial review of new patent applications, hopefully
cutting down on the current backlog.
Security nightmares - a security consultant has been charged
with computer misuse offences after discovering vulnerabilities in a
University of Southern California web site.
Tool time - San Francisco's Ace Motor Speedway has once again
played host to a remarkable drag race for model vehicles driven by
pockets - the creator of the Ubuntu Linux distribution funds the
project with "a few million dollars a year" of his own money, but as
the founder of Thawte Consulting it seems that he can afford it.
0wned - between the hackers and bot nets, the spyware pushers,
the music industry and of course Microsoft and the other big
software houses, it seems as if everybody is trying to take
over our PCs.
Unreasonable demands - Canadian citizens who want to fill out
the national census online must comply with an unusually dogmatic
set of OS, browser and software requirements.
Guns, lots of guns - the latest contest at the excellent
Worth1000 Photoshopping site is for representation of firearms and
other weaponry morphed into everyday objects.
Islamic hoax - more on the video game alleged to be a terrorist
training tool, but which was actually an innocednt demo created by a
thoroughly Western gaming enthusiast...
Sky+ Drive Copy - the utility for copying the contents of a Sky+
PVR to a new hard disk is out of beta, and looks to be an extremely
And finally, I suspect that the hard-core Linux
gnashing their collective teeth over the latest pronouncement
from their messiah Linus Torvalds, who once again has spoken out in
a manner that definitely doesn't conform to the party line. The
Linux kernel is becoming increasingly buggy, he says, with new
problems being unearthed faster than existing ones are being fixed.
Of course, this directly contradicts the official wisdom on open
source development projects, which pretty much denies the
possibility of any bugs at all, let alone an ever-growing
number in the kernel itself, and I suspect that this is another nail
in the coffin that the zealots are doubtless already building for
Linus' reputation. When one has assembled an army of zealots, even
if only by accident, one has to watch very carefully for the
inevitable fall from grace...
|Some news links and oddments to start the week:
Online gambling in question - a US Senate subcommittee has
approved a bill that could result in a complete ban on Internet
gambling. Even if the bill is signed into law, however, in this day
and age it isn't clear how US citizens could reliably be blocked
from sites based outside the country.
vs. Apple - to many peoples' surprise, the judge in the The
Beatles trademark case has ruled in favour of the computer company,
leaving music label Apple Corps seeking an appeal and Steve Jobs
trying unsuccessfully not to crow in his victory.
Terrorist hype a myth - after the shrill stories about Islamic
fundamentalists using computer games to inspire and train
terrorists, it turns out that the "game" in question was just a
mash-up video created by a fan of the game Battlefield 2.
MS eyeing up Yahoo! - according to a report at CNN Money,
Microsoft is discussing the possibility of acquiring a major stake
in the web portal company. Given the current climate, however, I
suspect that Google are already planning to protest to the various
and again - "How many times have you bought Star Wars?",
asks Techdirt, and although in my case I don't own a single copy
it's clear that the plethora of boxed sets, special editions,
theatrical releases etc etc are intended only to squeeze the maximum
possible revenue from the opus.
The pain of customer service - Aaron at THG has been having
problems with the hard disk in his Dell desktop, and unfortunately
his experiences with Dell's customer support have been less than
impressive - and my own experiences with their corporate support
aren't any better.
TSA madness - following
reports that the US Transportation Security Administration has
prevented State Department diplomats, serving military officers and
security-cleared government officials from flying, Hannibal at
Ars Technica reveals his own rather unsettling experience with
Debating "Intelligent Design" - many scientists are reluctant to
debate the absurd ID tripe for fear of lending it gravitas, but
following the release of his pro-science documentary film "Flock Of
Dodos" botany professor Tom Givnish has done just that with leading
ID proponent Jack Cashill.
Blasts from the past - at the Fosfor Gadgets blog, the
start of a series of "then and now" comparisons. The first examples
include mobile phones, computer storage, car audio, and video games.
Oh, the nostalgia...
Computer desk bed - rather reminiscent of the classic fold-up
Murphy Bed, beloved of Hollywood movies from the fifties, this
computer desk folds into a bed when not in use, cunningly leaving
the shelf holding the PC hardware perfectly horizontal as it
Quad core from Intel - the upcoming Itanium CPU, codenamed
Tukwila, will not only have more cores than you can shake a stick
at, but will also share a new standard FSB interface that will give
an upgrade path from Xeon to Itanium in the same motherboard socket.
glasses - wearable display devices in the form of glasses have
been on the market for a decade or more, but even though the
technology has always seemed adequate they have never caught on, and
somehow I suspect that the latest offering from Mirage Innovations
will be any different.
Today's big news is of the first crack to appear
in the much-hyped Chip and PIN credit card authentication mechanism,
and although anyone with an eye for computer security has been
extremely doubtful of the claimed benefits I have to admit that even
I am surprised to see it failing so quickly...
BBC reports that the giant oil company Shell has suspended all
Chip and PIN payments at its 600 petrol stations UK-wide and fallen
back on the traditional signature method, following credit card
fraud amounting to more than £1 million in only a few months.
Interestingly, BP seems to be encountering a similar problem, as
well, so either petrol stations are somehow more vulnerable to this
type of crime or this is the tip of an extremely large iceberg that
is just about to surface...
Although the idea of replacing something that you
have (the signature) with something that you know (the PIN) has
useful security benefits, in fact the current implementation of Chip
and PIN is seriously flawed. To begin with, especially during the
long transition phase when people have been unfamiliar with the
technology, it is absurdly easy to watch the slow, careful entry of
the PIN over a user's shoulder in the queue at a checkout. Most of
the entry pads used in Europe have a screen to help prevent this,
but for some unaccountable reason those adopted in England do not,
which means that a criminal only has to snatch a wallet or handbag
outside the store to use a credit card freely, without even having
to go to the bother of forging a signature!
Secondly, as the PIN is only used in
bricks-and-mortar shops, sufficient details can be obtained from the
card itself to allow "cardholder not present" transactions for
online or telephone purchases, and given that this type of
transaction has always made up
the bulk of card fraud it is hard to see how this can ever
change without 100% adoption of card readers - a scheme that UK
banks seem to have no clear plans to adopt. Indeed, there are a number of
banks and building societies whose ATMs are still using the
traditional magnetic strip to read the account details from cards,
rather than the much-vaunted Chip, and given the ease with which
data can be read from a mag strip using cheap, readily-available
devices, again this invalidates any perceived benefits from the new
I will be watching very closely to see what
happens in this area over the next couple of weeks, and even thought
banks and big corporates are both traditionally loath to discuss
fraud in any but the most general terms, abandoning (or even
suspending Chip and PIN operations is not something that can easily
be glossed-over. Watch this space...
The success of the
little Ma.K. kit I built last month left me keen to begin the
next in the stack, and thanks to an early start this morning I ended
up with time on my hands. This time I chose another of the
Heinlein-style fighting suits, the
Konrad, a slightly earlier model according to the
back-story. The design of the kit is somewhat less sophisticated as
well, with only a single degree of freedom in joints where the SAFS
kit has two or even three, but this meant that I was able to
complete all four limbs in around four hours - not a bad start at
Cyworld - Korea's
current online obsession, a weird hybrid of weblog, chatroom, dating
service and The Sims. Apparently it's already so well known
that it took my (decidedly non-technical) mother to bring it to my
Boot Camp not all that
- an article in PC Magazine suggest that although Apple's new OS
switcher works perfectly well, it's an application created more for
purposes of marketing and publicity than because it will actually
serve a useful function.
The web seems to be full of money, today,
with an article on
how to work-around Photoshop's dislike of processing scanned
images of banknotes, and elsewhere digitised versions of both
high denomination US and
just to save you the bother of scanning them yourself.
- the MPAA's claims of the financial loss due to piracy may be
hard to believe (even harder than usual, that is!), but as they
have elected to keep the study that generated those implausible
figures secret it will be rather hard to contest them directly...
The moral low ground - meanwhile, their blood brothers in the
music industry are still throwing stones at their own glass houses,
with news emerging that Warner Music Group is currently facing
fourteen separate lawsuits over alleged price-fixing and collusion
with the other industry giants.
Spam king fined - and talking of the low ground, arch-spammer
Sanford Wallace has been hit with a $4 million fine after the FTC's
suit against him over his deceptive and highly damaging spyware
programs was upheld.
wiretapping - and talking of the FCC, the EFF recently brought a
suit against them for their attempts to force communications
providers to include facilities for monitoring by law enforcement,
and fortunately the judge was extremely sceptical about the
hacking - although big business seems to be inordinately found
of the idea of RFID technology, in its present form it is
woefully insecure and as could be expected the high-tech
criminals are starting to devise ways of exploiting these weaknesses
for considerable financial gain.
£%&*#@! - one of Microsoft's multitude of patents includes a
system for detecting and filtering out spoken swearwords in
real-time, which would be extremely appealing to the media companies
who live in fear of a careless word on a live broadcast getting them
in big trouble with the FCC.
many standards - the VESA has ratified a new specification for a
combined high-definition audio and video interface, using a "micro-packetized"
unidirectional protocol to achieve a bandwidth of 10.8Gbps - and as
could be expected in the current climate it is also completely
even though I've already linked to it once, this wonderful strip from
is well worth a second look: "We may never know who baked your PSP into this flaky crust..." Revenge
is sweet, it seems - especially when there is honey involved.
Today's little drama arrived when two of my PFYs
pulled up a floor tile in the computer room to lay some network
cables for a new server and discovered an inch of water as well as
the bundles of CAT5 they were expecting. It emerged that one of the
two giant aircon units
installed during the refurbishment last autumn had decided to pump
several gallons of water into the floor space, and that the sensor
cable carefully placed to detect just such an eventuality had
completely failed to trigger the alarm. Given that the water was
sloshing around only a few millimetres from a large quantity of 16A
commando power sockets my PFYs wisely declined to bail out the water
themselves, but a phone call to our building services bod eventually
resulted in the arrival of a mop and a bucket - and then, following
our raised eyebrows and dubious expressions, a wet-and-dry vacuum
cleaner that managed to suck up the worst of the flood in fairly
short order. When I left this afternoon we were still waiting to
hear back from the company that installed the aircon systems, as
apparently the units are merely covered by their initial warranty
rather than by a formal maintenance contract with defined service
level agreements - which is not quite the same thing...
In the end, I doubt that any damage has been done
(except to our nerves!) but it was a real stroke of luck that my
PFYs decided to run some cabling today rather than getting on with
one of the myriad other projects that are currently screaming for
their attention... If the water had risen further over the weekend
it would certainly have flooded the power sockets connecting the
server cabinets, and the results of that could have been genuinely
catastrophic. I don't actually know what happens when a 50KVA UPS
shorts out into one hundred Dell servers, but I hope never to find
out at first hand.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I picked up another
trio of the little Star
Tales models, probably the last ones I'll buy from the current
production run. This week's acquisitions are Skylab orbiting above a
beautiful pink sunset, the Soviet Soyuz 19 rocket leaving the pad,
and a rather grisly one of the doomed Mir re-entering the atmosphere
in a trail of flame. I wasn't sure about the last one, I have to
admit, but actually it is rather striking and serves as a reminder
of the ephemeral nature of space technology.
Google has joined the growing community of companies that would
rather use the might of the US and European anti-trust regulators to
intimidate and hobble Microsoft than attempt to compete in the open
marketplace. This week they registered what are rather puzzlingly
described as "informal" complaints to both government bodies about
the search facility built into the Internet Explorer 7 beta, but my
own experience strongly suggests that their claim is completely
IE has included a primitive search feature since
V4, but it has always been closely tied to MSN Search and so of
limited use without some low-level hacking. When I installed the new
browser, however, one of the first things I noticed was that the
search engine used by the new toolbar-style search could be
customised extremely easily, and in fact there was already an
pre-defined entry for Google (my engine of choice since the demise
of Hotbot), which I selected right away. It took a few days
for me to adapt to opening a blank tab and then typing into the
search box rather than opening a new page on Google itself, but the
end result is exactly the same and in many ways is a little more
Google's complaint is that when the IE7 browser
is installed, it will inherit the AutoSearch settings from the
previous browser version, which of course in nearly all cases is
MSN. This gives Microsoft an unfair advantage, they say, and
although they don't seem very forthcoming on what they would prefer
presumably they would rather that the browser came pre-set to their
own search engine instead!
Their strategy to overcome this claimed bias is
clear, however, and certainly doesn't require legal action - during
a visit to Google a few days after installing the browser I actually
received a pop-up message from Google itself offering to add an
entry for its search engine to IE's built-in list. I was a little
surprised, but put it down to either beta-syndrome or an updated and
somehow improved version of the definition, and duly selected the
new offering as my default - an operation which took only a single
Given this, it's extremely hard to see
exactly what grounds Google has for complaint. Whereas previous
versions of IE required the user to tweak the registry to change a
fairly primitive search facility to use an alternate engine, the new
IE7 allows it to be done with only a couple of mouse clicks - and if
the user doesn't do this manually then it's clear that Google are
quite able to prompt the change any time a visit is made to one of
their ever-expanding range of online services. In fact, the only
limitation I have found is Google's own, in that that as yet there's
no option to specifically add Google UK, my local version of the
search engine which allows easy regional searches.
As far as I can see this is the corporate version
of a frivolous lawsuit. There's no genuine grounds to claim
anti-competitive behaviour, as in fact it's easier than ever to
change to an alternate engine, and as far as I can see this is just
another tactic in the increasingly bitter war between the two
companies - Microsoft is already in deep trouble with the EU
regulators, and with the record-breaking fine imposed last year
currently under appeal it's hard to see Google's complaint as
anything but an attempt to sway the court's opinion. It's a very
shabby tactic for a company that claims (if with ever-decreasing
credibility thanks to its continued cosying-up to the Chinese
government) to have a heart and a conscience...
Dan on scams
- more letters from the incomparable Dan Rutter, and this time he's
focussing on one of his favourite topics. The final missive must
have tried his patience somewhat, though, I'm sure...
Keyless entry - some of the latest car security systems are
vulnerable to high-tech hacking techniques using laptop PCs to
decrypt the wireless unlocking codes.
More Mac faults - the PowerBook Pro series has already had a
fairly extensive history of manufacturing problems, but now Apple
are quietly recalling a number of batteries as well.
critical - a trivial syntax error in part of the source code for
X Windows has caused a serious security weakness, potentially
affecting all Linux, Unix and Mac OS X systems that use the shell.
Oops! - Specialist data storage facility Iron Mountain has
mislaid backup tapes belonging to at least two major customers, but
claim that it isn't a problem as "criminals wouldn't be interested"
Dvorak on MS (again) - the IT pundit was railing against
Internet Explorer last week, but now he's turned his scorn on the
entire company, listing eight reasons why it is "dead in the water".
And finally, a new PSU - Seasonic has released an
updated version of the excellent
S12 power supply series that I'm currently using, with longer
cables and more connectors. As the rather miserly length of some of
the 5¼" device connections was really the only problem I found with
the device, this really does make it an extremely impressive piece
of hardware. I can't quite justify replacing my first
generation model, right now, but if I had anything even slightly
resembling a good home for a spare PSU I would do so in an
instant... The ever-useful
PC Review has all the details.
A generous handful of links, tonight, ranging
from the pointless (if fascinating) to the ridiculous (if
Obsoletely fabulous - at the Computer History Museum, an
impressive collection of brochures from the dawn of the IT industry,
ranging from the 1950s to the early 80s.
technology - somewhat along the same lines, the Early Office
Museum is an online collection of documents and hardware since the
dawn of business management in the 19th century.
More wooden PCs - after yesterday's craftsman-made hardware,
today's offering is very much less polished. It has a certain
rough-and-ready charm, though, I have to admit.
Dabs - only a year or so after the purchase of its rival Simply
Computers, the major retailer Dabs has been bought out by British
Telecom for an undisclosed sum.
Dumb Hollywood computing - the Wall Street Journal is discussing
those movie moments that make geeks and techies grit their teeth and
rant to their partners...
Better late than never - a report from the Gartner Group
suggests that the upcoming Vista OS will be even later than
expected, but Microsoft insists that they're still on track for
release in January 2007.
Personalised spam - if spambots used some simple data mining
techniques on the PCs they have infected, the messages they generate
could be made to look extremely convincing.
Fighting back - Israeli company Blue Security is using
distributed agents to send messages back to the spammers, and
(predictably) this has started a war which has knocked their web
No immunity - Mac users are finally having to wake up and smell
the coffee, with yet another OS X virus targeting a weakness in the
Safari web browser to allow arbitrary shell commands to be run.
In the balance - the European Court of First Instance is
deliberating whether the European Commission actually has the
authority to impose that outrageous fine on Microsoft.
industry - Penny Arcade speculates on the ultimate fate
of games programmers, and on the probable origin of the name of
A slap on the back - engineers working at NASA's Huntsville test
ground have achieved a record duration for a test firing of the
promising but highly problematic LOX/methane engine technology.
Greased lightning - a robot designed by a joint European team
has set a new record for speed-walking, thanks to its use of a
neural network to optimise its leg movement.
Online biscuits - I've never felt an overpowering urge to spell
anything out in biscuits, let alone the writing of Albert
Camus, but suddenly it seems to be
all the rage.
The soft weapon - I've never felt the need to fire teddy bears
from a gun, either, but this time I have to admit that the idea has
a certain appeal. I'll take two, please.
A few quick links - and they're random
computing - an gallery of hand-crafted PC cases, mice and
keyboards made from wood. I'm strongly reminded of
the Futurama episode where Bender gets a downgrade...
The electronic office - a British designer has created an
impressive high-tech concept for temporary transportable office
space but, frankly, if it catches on I'll eat the heatsink from a
PIII Xeon CPU...
Spam fink - one of the world's major spammers has been arrested,
and there is speculation that he will attempt to barter his
apparently considerably knowledge of the hacker underground to the
Blowing hot and cold - another in the apparently endless
secession of barely-useful things to connect to a PC's USB port,
this beverage heater is at least different in that it can actually
cool drinks as well.
Epson closing the door - the printer manufacturer has prevented
four online retailers from selling "unauthorised" third-party ink
cartridges for its printers, claiming that they infringe in its IP.
User unfriendly - for the geek who has everything, including a
building full of annoying and frustrating users: a Mag-Lite torch
with a built-in .410 calibre shotgun... Yes, indeed.
Corporate ethics - A story in The Times claims that
pharmaceutical companies are systematically promoting fear about
non-existent illnesses in order to increase sales of their products.
Another month, another dollar.
Hammerhead - a marvellous Lego contraption designed to throw CDs, a task it
performs hard and fast enough to shatter them! It uses a pair of rapidly
spinning truck wheels at the business end, coupled with a multi-disc loader
mechanism controlled by an RCX micro-controller brick, and in action it's a joy
to behold. Marvellous ingenuity...
The Incredible Machine - and talking of ingenious devices, this virtual Rube
Goldberg machine uses the graphics and soundtracks from several classic Nintendo
games as the setting for a neat little bit of animation. I will join everyone
else in noting that, yes, the ball's physics is a touch dodgy in places,
but it's a neat idea and that doesn't seem to matter much.
- the appropriately (if somewhat unimaginatively) named UserManualGuide.com
is a extensive repository of online instruction manuals for consumer
electronics, home appliances, and the like. I tested it by looking for one of
the less likely items I could think of, the Icom IC-2E amateur radio transceiver
I used to play with in my salad days, and low-and-behold there it was! I'm
Web on TV -
The UK's satellite television monopoly, Sky, is obviously determined to
shoe-horn itself into every nook and cranny of the media industry, and its
latest tactic involves encouraging website owners to port their pages to a form
suitable to display via TV set-top boxes. Unfortunately this involves
translating pages into the WTVML
format, which is allegedly an open standard but in practical terms appears
to have been tightly sewn-up by Sky themselves. Colour me dubious...
Cartesian timepiece - I've seen a bunch of
unusual geek wrist
watches in my time, and although I've never been tempted myself I've
often watched in perplexed delight as one of my PFYs speedily decodes his
binary LED device. This latest offering might challenge even his reflexes,
however, as it uses a pair of intersecting lines on a graph to indicate
time to within five minutes, plus a secondary set of four LEDs to narrow
it down to the nearest minute. "What time is it? Uh, hang on a mo..."
BBS banners - Marshall McLuan said that one generation's tools become
the next generation's art, and this aphorism seems to carry across into
the world of IT as well. The ANSI banners that adorned the front pages of
bulletin board systems during their heydays in the eighties and nineties
used to convey functional information about telephone numbers and baud
rates, but now they are just part of an extensive collection at Penguin
Pete's weblog. Oh, the nostalgia...
A somewhat disappointing month in the stats... I feel
Link to me! Link to me! This time next month, I want a
spike on that graph sharp enough to impale myself on, OK?