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31st October

My AcoustiRack silent server cabinet arrived as promised, today, in two large cardboard boxes securely strapped to a double-length wooden palette. With the welcome assistance of the delivery driver, who as usual pointed out that he shouldn't be helping me unload but then proved perfectly willing to do just that, we dragged the thing off the truck and deposited it in my front garden - at which point he roared off leaving me looking at around 180Kg of hardware.

I've never assembled a cabinet from flat-pack before, and I must admit to slight nagging doubts that the end result will be as rigid as the conventional, welded models I'm used to. The aluminium alloy extrusions that form the frame are impressively crenulated in cross section, however, and one assumes that a complex design like that isn't just to look good... Assembling the cabinet itself will be no harder than building flat-pack bedroom furniture, I would say, but every flat surface has to be covered in pre-cut self-adhesive foam pieces and that is going to be quite a task.

The acoustic foam itself is somewhat of a surprise, as it's significantly more dense than the "Magic Fleece" that was the state of the art in PC silencing back in February 2002, so a flat box containing enough to line the cabinet was actually too heavy to carry inside unassisted and I ended up unpacking it in front of the house. Having checked the specifications, it's going to add something in the order of 50Kg to the total weight of the cabinet, which will make even a routine task such as lifting off one of the side panels something of a chore... I hope that it lives up to expectations!

I'm still waiting for the fan tray to assist in exhausting hot air from the top of the cabinet (for some reason currently out of stock nationwide), which is highly desirable given the thermal insulation qualities provided by the all-enveloping foam lining and the relatively warm environment of my kitchen, but in any case I don't intend to start the migration into the new cabinet quite yet as it also involves a migration of my home domain controller to the new Dell server hardware. However, I expect that I can start attaching the foam sheets ahead of time, a process that looks somewhat like assembling a soft, squishy jigsaw, and will report back on how that progresses.

 

30th October

A few quick links, after a somewhat trying day... But my Acoustirack cabinet arrives tomorrow, at least, so watch this space for photos!

An unexpected refill - the infamous "Hot Coffee" mod for GTA: San Andreas has come back to haunt the manufacturer, Take-Two, following a judicial ruling that a lawsuit over the hidden X-rated elements of the game can indeed seek class action status.

Red Hat responds - following Oracle's somewhat premature announcement of cheap commercial support for Enterprise Linux, Red Hat has said that it won't cut its own prices in order to compete. Given Oracle's might and Larry Ellison's cut-throat ethics, I think Red Hat may be facing problems...

Feet in mouths - meanwhile, it seems that Oracle would be best served attending to the plank in its own eye before the speck in its brother's. Their MetaLink support site has been unavailable for most of the day, doubtless causing some considerable banging of fists on desks in the executive offices...

Caveat emptor - the Small Print Project continues to gather the worst user agreements, including a clause in the license for the Flash Player that allows Macromedia's new owner Adobe to audit your PC at any time. "Agreements" like this are a worrying trend, and really needs keeping an eye on.

Some like it hot - IBM has demonstrated two new cooling techniques for modern high thermal load microprocessors. The grandly named "high thermal conductivity interface technology" turns out to be merely a new method of spreading thermal paste with a corrugated chip cap, however...

No comment - TechWeb has been chatting to Microsoft about the clauses in the Vista license that prohibit transferring the OS to more than one new PC, and the responses are hardly reassuring. As suggested, it's basically one reassignment and then buy a new license, which is far from ideal.

Puzzling evidence - a review at Time starts by saying that the new Firefox 2 leaves IE7 "in the dust", but the article itself doesn't seems to support this claim. In fact, the only significant advantage mentioned seems to be a feature that is only of use when the browser crashes and closes!

The shock of the new - and talking of the new browsers, it seems that both are suffering from vulnerabilities familiar from their previous versions: FF2 has a memory corruption bug dating from June, and IE7 has a window injection flaw first encountered in IE6. Oops!

 

29th October

Every veteran techie knows that black computers run faster, which is why Dell overtook Compaq in the late nineties when they revamped the PowerEdge range in black and gunmetal - a lead which has remained firm until HP's recent re-launch of their newly acquired ProLiant server hardware in a similar colour scheme. I see no reason why this law shouldn't apply to storage systems as well, and as the entire bottom half of my new kitchen server rack was already going to be black the obvious solution was to re-spray the front panel of my Clariion fibre channel DAE to match. SAN giant EMC obviously knows about the black rule, as when they acquired the Clariion company they immediately switched to the higher performance colour scheme, but my DAE dates from before the buy-out and is resolutely beige. Oh, the shame...

It was nothing that a quick trip to the back garden with a can of matt black spray paint couldn't resolve, fortunately and, especially considering the minimal preparation I bothered with (not much more than a quick blast with an air duster) the result is excellent. As usual the camera flash has bleached the black to a charcoal shade, and the reflections from the silver EMI shield behind the panel are far more apparent in the photo, but in real life it matches the flat black of my newly acquired Dell PowerEdge 4400 server, APC SmartUPS 3000, and PowerVault 132T tape library. The AcoustiRack that is going to house the new systems is due to arrive early next week, and as it has to be assembled from flat-pack before I can install the servers and infrastructure it's going to be busy for a while. Photos as and when...

 

28th October

Links in the chain...

Syadmin persecuted - the operator of the BitTorrent tracker Elitetorrents has been sentenced to sentenced to five months in prison, followed by five months of home detention, and a $3000 fine. the 23 year old pleaded guilty to various charges of criminal copyright infringement.

Caveat emptor - anti-DRM activist group Defective By Design is using Amazon's own "tagging" system to flag products containing usage-limiting DRM, such as Blu-Ray players, HD DVDs, Microsoft's Zune and Apple's iPod. More power to them!

I've got a little list - PC Pro has a list of the ten worst IT predictions, from the imminent death of email under a barrage of spam, to the death of spam itself, via old chestnuts from the industry's early days about the large size and small number of computers in the years to come.

Repel boarders - the creator of an online program that generates fake airline boarding passes (an idea mooted by security guru Bruce Schneier back in 2003) has been visited by the FBI and instructed in no uncertain terms to cease and desist - but given the climate I think he was lucky...

Update: It didn't end there - later in the day the FBI returned to Christopher's house with a search warrant, smashed their way into his house, and seized his computers and other belongings. Given that the boarding pass web site had already been taken down, and there was never any suspicion that he was actually involved in terrorist activities, this can only be interpreted as a purely punitive action designed to send a message to anyone who might wish to expose the wholly inadequate "security theatre" behaviour of the DHS and TSA. If the US government spent even a fraction of the effort in hunting and catching real terrorists (remember the anthrax attacks of 2001? The powers that be certainly don't seem to...) as they do persecuting citizens who dare to exercise the very freedoms that we are told are being defended by this behaviour, the world really would be a safer place.

Yours Truly - the widely prophesised crack-down on You Tube's copyrighted content (which, face it, is most of it!) continues, with a DMCA notice from attorneys at Comedy Central instructing the site's operators to remove clips from political satire shows The Colbert Report and The Daily Show.

Coming home to roost - criminally negligent practices on the part of UK banks have been condemned by the Information Commissioner, following revelations that customers' personal details are being disposed of in a thoroughly insecure manner, enabling and even encouraging identity theft.

The neutral zone - the judge presiding over a file-sharing case brought by Sony and the RIAA has ruled that an independent analyst will examine the defendant's computer, instead of a shill chosen by the music industry.

Corporate bullying - at Slashdot, a poster neatly sums up the practical aspects of Sony's suit against grey market tech importer Lik Sang: whatever the legalities of the issue, if you're threatened by a giant multinational company there is no point at all in trying to defend yourself in court.

MS alienates home-brewers - the licensing restrictions which forbid users from installing the Vista OS on more than two consecutive PCs will prove to be a deterrent to people who build their own systems, according to an article at Hexus, and I have to admit that I am unimpressed with this stricture myself.

Voting felons - the management of voting machine manufacturer Advanced Voting Solutions, previously known as Shoup Voting Solutions, have a criminal record dating back to 1971, including convictions for bribing politicians and obstruction of an FBI enquiry into election fraud! Incredible...

How to steal an election - meanwhile, an article at Ars Technica on the current state of electronic voting is receiving a lot of (thoroughly deserved) attention, and as a summary of the current state of the art it is both depressing and angering. Thanks to The Sideshow for the pointer.

Dirty tricks - as if the thoroughly sleazy personality of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison needed any further exposure, his recent announcement of a support offering for Red Hat's Enterprise Linux product, at this stage completely imaginary, has served to slash their share price from $29 to $14 overnight...

Thus pimping Demon - the pioneering UK ISP, owned by the company formerly known as Scottish Telecom since 1998, is for sale at an asking price of around £20 million. This values each Demon user at twice the value of an AOL user, based on their recent purchase by Carphone Warehouse.  :-)

And finally, another witch hunt - UK retailer Tesco has been vilified for selling a home pole-dancing kit, after a quirk of their indexing system lead to it being classified as a toy in their online catalogue. The outraged hyperbole that has followed is typical of the worst excesses of the overblown moral majority, with statements that the kit will "destroy children's lives", that buyers would be "depraved people who want to corrupt their children", and that "it requires the intervention of members of Parliament". In fact, the item was never intended as a children's toy, and in spite of allegations that "it will be sold to four, five and six-year olds" very few children of that age have their own credit cards or are in the habit of doing their own online shopping, something that the "think of the children" brigade conveniently overlooks. These people are always ready to assume that the absolute worst possible motives are behind any behaviour of which they don't approve, which I am convinced says a lot more about their own psychology than anything else. Fuck 'em all.

 

27th October

I am too old to work sixteen hour shifts. Thanks to the traffic on the M25 motorway and visiting consultants without the wit to look at a map before setting out, however, that's exactly what I ended up doing yesterday. They arrived two hours later than the planned six o'clock start, so I didn't leave the office until 1am (and even then problems with the configuration of the RM/SE SAN replication software meant that another late night will probably be required next week), and although I took today off to compensate one of my PFYs phoned at lunchtime to talk about a problem with a tape library, and I don't feel that I've had much time to recover. Ah, well, at least it's the weekend now...

While I sit here and groan gently to myself, then, some news links:

"Bruce as a bonus" - Counterpane Internet Security, the company founded by guru Bruce Schneier, has been bought by UK telco BT for a sum in excess of £10m. The company will retain its own branding for a while, but ultimately it will be fully integrated into BT's managed security services to provide subscribers with a proactive warning of security threats. I have to admit that I'm surprised - I hadn't even realised that Bruce was for sale, but I guess that $20 million is a nice little nest egg for one's retirement...

And this time, she's angry - Kathy Schoback, once employed by the doomed games manufacturer Infinium Labs and instrumental in the waste of $65 million of investor's money and the attempt to sue tech site [H]ard|OCP for libel, has resurfaced as a director of the CMP Game Group, organisers of various gaming industry conferences in the US. Given Infinium's reputation in the aforementioned industry, you can bet that appointment is going to raise a few eyebrows to say the least.

Browser Wars V2.0 - the BBC has reviewed the final versions of both IE7 and Firefox V2, and its final conclusion is that there's little (except personal preference) to choose between the two. The problem they describe with the IE7 taskbar icon not displaying a friendly page title certainly doesn't occur with either of the PCs I've installed it on, but on the other hand the comment that the anti-phishing filter can slow page loading times a touch is definitely something that I've noticed myself.

The Ego speaks - Steve Jobs has been touring the business journals since the launch of Microsoft's Zune media player, insisting each time that the iPod's dominance is under no threat from either Microsoft or the horde of other devices on the market. I think he may well be right, at least in the short term, but it's typical of Steve's arrogance and if the iPod genuinely was on the way down he would be the very last person to admit it.

Seeing both sides - UK modding site Bit-Tech is speaking out in defence of Sony's decision to crack down on grey market importer Lik-Sang and, like me, [H]ard|OCP is unimpressed with their stance. The warranty issues that the column discusses are rarely a deterrent for the early-adopters that companies like Lik-Sang supply and, indeed, many of them supply at least a limited warranty of their own. I have no time for the increasingly strong-arm tactics that Sony are adopting these days, and don't intend to use their products again unless their attitude changes for the better.

Lipstick on a pig - Mark Shuttleworth, developer of the Ubuntu Linux distribution, says that free software must be more visually appealing if it is to attract more attention from mainstream computer users, avoiding "bling for bling's sake" but creating attractive, highly functional interfaces. Unfortunately the main focus of his article seems to be on Ubuntu's pretty new designer logo, so bizarrely it seems that he has actually managed to miss the point of his own lecture...

Many a slip - Chinese industry journal DigiTimes suggests that Vista's rumoured release to manufacturing at the end of October has slipped a touch, and is predicting a new date of the second week of November. Persistent and stability-threatening bugs in the upgrade from Windows XP are being fingered for the latest delay, but the full commercial launch is still set for January 2007 as before.

Too much time on their hands - the Popular Science blog has published a wonderful article on the physics of pole dancing, as the first part of part of a series analysing personal disasters captured for posterity on YouTube. The laws of motion cannot easily be flaunted, it seems from this clip, and at a certain point the significant angular momentum acquired overcame the tenuous coefficient of friction, to spectacular affect.

More astroturf - The MPAA is sneaking sly little "polls" in amongst the reviews on MyMovieMuse, a site intended to allow viewers to provide information on the sorts of movies they'd like to see. As usual, their take on intellectual property and copyright is just plain wrong ("86% of you feel that creative ideas are property, just like furniture"), but cleverly designed to infiltrate the public's collective unconscious and change the way people think about both piracy and fair use.

And, finally, although Microsoft's IE7 development team sent a congratulatory cake to the Firefox developers in celebration of the launch of Firefox 2, I am managing to resist the urge to join the assembled green ink and tinfoil hat brigade in attempting to decode Morse messages from the blobs of icing around the edge of the cake. Some people may well have way too much time on their hands, but this week, at least, I am not one of them...

 

25th October

My feet feel like blocks of wood following a day spent in the Lakeside shopping center, a mall of sufficiently excessive size that even the most obsessive clothing and shoe fanatic I know was all shopped-out and glad to leave by the middle of the afternoon. And the disturbing thing is that, by the standards of its equivalents in the US and elsewhere, it's positively tiny...

Meanwhile, then, all the news that's fit to blog:

A dubious device - the Spam Cube is a little appliance designed to pre-process a POP3 mailbox and clean it of unwanted messages, and the manufacturer claims that its "Artificial Intelligence engine" is a cut above the Bayesian algorithms so widely used elsewhere. I'm always a touch dubious of claims like that, especially when they use the term "AI", and as most of the reviews of the device that I've seen so far are written by extremely non-technical users I'm reserving judgement at this point...

All about YouTube - the recently-purchased video sharing site has a skeleton in its closet, it seems, following the revelation that it handed over identifying information about at least one of its users to media giant Paramount Pictures following a subpoena back in March. Examination of the company's privacy policy shows that they've always been quite happy to do this, of course, but one legal expert has suggested that "YouTube seems to have given up too easily".

Fear of RFID - the RIFD industry, together with the governments and corporates who hope to make use of the technology to spy on their citizens and customers, are going out of their way to convince us that there are no risks associated with these remote data access techniques. Unfortunately the observed facts usually contradict these assurances, and this week's demonstration of how to hack the next generation of conctactless credit cards is no exception.

Sony "cares" - Lik-Sang, a company that specialised in importing the latest consumer hardware from Japan to Europe and the US, has been forced out of business following legal threats from the electronics giant. As Boing Boing notes, this kind of behaviour is always highly counterproductive, as the people paying a premium for these grey market gadgets are evangelising early adopters who communicate their love of the technology to less obsessive consumers.

Under the bridge - for more than a year the Full Disclosure security mailing list has been plagued by a troll going by the name of "n3td3v", together with the usual army of sock puppets supporting it. Now consultant Neal Krawetz has performed a statistical analysis of its posts and deduced that the account is used by three or possibly four writers, and is very probably a front for a hacking group named "Gobble", who's postings elsewhere are an excellent stylistic match.

Reformed malware - the SpamThru trojan isn't the first virus to attempt to remove other malware (remember the war between the apparently endless versions of Netsky, Bagle and Mydoom a few years ago?) but it's certainly the first to ship with a pirated copy of a commercial anti-virus scanner. Having cleaned competing malware from the infected PC, it proceeds to send out a flood of the stock "tips" spam that is becoming so much of an annoyance these days.

Copywrong - with the media industry spreading as many lies about copyright and intellectual property law as they can, it's no wonder that some are confused, but one would expect people working in the publishing industry, at least, to know the score. When it comes to the investigative newsletter the North Country Gazette, however, it seems that any attempt to point out their misconceptions will only be met with unprovoked abuse and wild, meaningless threats of legal action.

 

23rd October

An annoying little bug has emerged in Microsoft's Exchange email server, thanks to assumptions that have been hard-coded into the system's CDO components. October of this year has five Sundays, and as the component is programmed to automatically switch from GMT to DST on the 4th Sunday, normally the last, this month its clock will undergo the hour time change one week early. The symptom is that some calendar appointments may suddenly move one hour ahead during the last week of the month (yes, this week), to the confusion and annoyance of all concerned.

I'm a little puzzled, however, as initial reports of the problem suggested that the month's 5th Sunday was a statistical oddity, but the MS Exchange Blog reveals that in fact it happened last year as well, and will happen again in 2010. Three times in five years is more than an exception, if you ask me, and whoever coded the 4th Sunday rule needs a good kick in the shin.

Fortunately the bug is easily fixed on post SP2 Exchange servers, although the patch hasn't yet completed full regression testing and so should be approached with a degree of caution... Given that the problem only manifests when appointments are scheduled programmatically or via Outlook Web Access, however, it might be sensible just to ignore the whole problem until it goes away when the real clock change day arrives a week later...

Meanwhile, elsewhere.

The Device - or, to give it its full name, the "Device Patented Process Indicating Apparatus", is an Art Deco cabinet featuring two large analogue meters, an eerily glowing tube of Agar gel, and a red warning light that flashes "in extreme circumstances". It connects to a PC via USB, and does nothing.

It begins - while everyone waits to see what is going to happen to You ube following its acquisition by Google, the media industry is flexing its muscles by suing Bolt.com and Grouper.com (the latter recently acquired by Sony), two minor league video sharing sites specialising in music videos.

Road to nowhere - for those who are too lazy to even lift their mouse fingers, Italian start-up Synthtravels is offering guided tours of the best features of the popular online game worlds. I have to admit that the appeal of this kind of virtual virtual tourism somewhat escapes me...

A red herring - the IT chief of the London borough of Newham, site of a highly-publicised "contest" between Microsoft and its open source competitors a couple of years ago, has confirmed that he is extremely pleased with the results of his decision to retain Windows and MS Office.

Caught short - email pushing stocks and shares has been a mainstay of the spam industry for years, now, and it's informative to discover exactly how much one one could have lost by investing based on these recommendations.

The Fear - this phishing scam attempts to extract user IDs and passwords from the unwary, but I can't help but feel that most people's suspicions would be roused by the atrocious spelling and bizarre turns of phrase. "Please don't make more dificult this situation", indeed.

The purse-strings tighten - this year's $2 million prize for the best computer-controlled vehicle is the last of its kind, it seems, following DARPA's announcement that a newly-signed law forbids them to offer cash prizes. Opinions differ as to to the effect this will have on next year's contest.

A second attempt - I was extremely unimpressed with the first podcast of Cory Doctorow's wonderful SF novel Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom, and I'm very much hoping that the second, a full-cast recording, will be an improvement.

Conviction quashed - the ruling that lead to the government's current misguided witch hunt on "violent porn" has been overturned on appeal, with a trio of judges upholding an earlier decision by the Law Lords that the original jurors should have been given the option of a manslaughter verdict.

Easynet heist - the ISP was the victim of a daring theft last week, when thieves stole £6 million of infrastructure hardware from their London headquarters in broad daylight. There seem to be a number of mysteries about the crime, however, not least of which was an apparent failure to inform the police!

Goodbye civil liberties - I was dismayed to read in The Register that the government is funding local councils to pressure pub owners into installing fingerprint-based ID systems at the doors under threat of having their licenses revoked. Ah, the wonders of the high-tech police state..   :-(

Blowing the whistle - a Maryland politico who has been a vocal opponent of the state's electronic voting systems has been sent anonymously a copy of the secret and proprietary source code form the controversial Diebold voting machines. Needless to say, the manufacturer is pretty much having a fit.

 

22nd October

In the last few months I've outgrown the 350Gb-odd volumes provided by the pair of little Sun StorEdge MultiPack cabinets on my home server, and several weeks spent poring over eBay finally turned up the solution. It's an old EMC Clariion DAE disk cabinet, and although I had intended to find a SCSI solution rather than fibre channel, the fact that it was fully-populated with ten 73Gb 1Gb FC hard disks had considerable appeal. It isn't widely known that these DAEs can exist comfortably on their own, directly connected to a server rather than via the matching Clariion storage processors and acting in what is charmingly called "JBOD" mode (Just a Bunch Of Disks) with the host system providing software RAID management. Fibre channel is an unusual technology for home use, I admit, but given that my new tape library also has a FC interface it's obvious that a fully-fledged home SAN is only just around the corner.

EMC hardware is solid and wonderfully built, as one would expect from enterprise storage systems, and although this unit is around five years old (when new, it would have cost well in excess of £10,000) it's been well looked-after and certainly doesn't look its age. 1Gb fibre channel hardware is old hat by current standards, of course, but it's still at least as fast as any SCSI system I could have afforded, and the relative obscurity of the technology means that it comes in at noticeably less per gigabyte.

Unusually, EMC's own PowerLink support site denies all knowledge of the FC4500-era systems, but just as with the current models they were available rebadged by Dell (and others, including Silicon Graphics) and plenty of information can be found there instead. A stand-alone DAE doesn't need much configuration, though, with just a single FC-over-copper connection to an appropriate HBA in the server. I chose one of the standards, a QLogic 2200A sourced from the same company who sold me the DAE and recommended for use with it, and although it may take a moment of fiddling to find which of the two Link Control Cards is the favourite one, I'm not expecting too much trauma.

What would be traumatic, however, is fitting the thing into my kitchen server cabinet. Although it occupies a little less vertical height than the Sun desktop units it will replace, with a depth of 60cm it will extend most of the way back into the 80cm cabinet and I'm rather concerned about ensuring adequate airflow. The tape library has a similar problem, and when I add the Dell PowerEdge 4400 server that is on its way to replace the old CompuAdd system, and the rack-format APC SmartUPS 3000 that is replacing the existing tower-format 2200 (did I forget to mention them?), unless I want a large stack of fried hardware something will need to be done!

The best option will be to transplant everything into a proper 100cm deep server cabinet, so after all the work last month rearranging the cabinet to accommodate the tape library and camera server, it looks as if I'll have to rip everything out again and build a new one from scratch. This is where things may get a touch expensive, though, as when I started shopping around I discovered a wonderful unit by UK quiet PC specialist Acousti Products. The AcoustiRACK is a 42U cabinet, designed with cunning baffles in the front and back doors, a baffled roof fan tray, and lined throughout with noise insulation. It claims to reduce the sound power levels significantly, without a proportionate increase in the internal temperature, and in fact the only drawback is that it costs not only an arm and a leg but an entire suite of internal organs too. At the moment my head is fighting my heart, but I'm afraid the battle may already be lost... Watch this space for details.

 

20th October

The end of the week at last... What relief!

News of upgrades to my home network tomorrow (I am embarrassed to admit that I am installing a SAN) but until then some quick tech links.

The will of the RIAA - MasterCard has followed VISA in withdrawing its facilities from Russian music download site AllOfMP3.com, leaving the company spitting in impotent fury. Whatever the actual legality of the service, however, this is indeed a dangerous precedent as there have been no court rulings made anywhere in the world and the credit card companies are acting purely unilaterally after pressure from the recording industry associations and their tool the US government.

Another victim of Pipex - the final straw that led me to dump Cix as a service provider after more than ten years was their acquisition by GX Networks, now rebranded under the Pipex banner, as every company they acquire seems to go to the dogs in very short order. Now that Bulldog has also been acquired by Pipex, the experiences of one of my colleagues suggest that the rot has already started to set in.

Enterprise SATA - SATA drives are beginning to move up into the niche traditionally occupied by SCSI, with new models from Seagate and Western Digital offering 10,000 rpm spindle speeds, 24/7 design, and best of all five year warranties. Of course, the enterprise SAS and FC drives themselves
aren't standing still, with 15,000 rpm performance and massive bandwidth, even if their capacities can't as yet match those of their 500 and 750Gb SOHO rivals.

One small flaw - Undersound is a fascinating idea to allow subway travellers to exchange music with each other, but nowhere in the rather fluffy, new age project documentation do I see anything discussing how the ever-litigious music industry associations will feel about this - but I bet you a copy of "Steal This Book" that they won't like it one little bit.

Vista woes - the angst over the licensing terms of the new OS continues, including the discovery of a clause prohibiting users from "working around any technical limitations in the software". It is assumed that this is intended as a ban on avoiding the built-in DRM, but the wording is sufficiently loose that it could also include 3rd-party fixes for un-patched bugs.

Dirty tricks - organisers of the IFPI's Brazilian press conference to announce their latest music-sharing lawsuits barred a number of accredited legal experts from entering the room on what turn out to be purely spurious grounds, in all probability because of their opposition to the recording industry's lobbying for changes to Brazil's copyright law.

A modest proposal - a report from the Gartner Group recommends that Apple should stop manufacturing their own hardware, and instead subcontract with Dell to build future Intel-based Macs. The all in prices that could result, they say, together with Dell's excellent distribution channel, could be just the thing to lift Apple out of its tiny niche market.

What, already? - Secunia has announced a relatively trivial security vulnerability in IE7 only a day after the official launch, but given that the flaw affects IE6 as well (it is actually caused by an Outlook Express component) it seems likely that in fact is has been present throughout the betas but for some reason has only just been publicised.

Jumping the gun - Microsoft co-president Jim Allchin has dismissed rumours that Vista will RTM next week, explaining that although the operating system itself is in good shape, the "ecosystem" of 3rd party drivers and applications still has some way to go. The suggested date for the business launch is
now the end of November...

The Wisdom Of Woz - Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has been out and about promoting his book iWoz, and one of his recent stops was at Microsoft. David Weiss of the Mac Business Unit has blogged some of the more memorable soundbites, and its nice to see that there's life in the old dog yet. His comment that "Steve jobs never programmed in his life" is especially poignant if you know the story of "Breakout"...

 

19th October

Quick links...

Birth of the iPod - Steve Jobs has often claimed that the best-selling music player was his own baby, but in fact the iTunes software was originally licensed from another company and the hardware was created by Jon Rubinstein, previously a senior engineer at NeXT, and hired consultant Tony Fadell.

Apple on the hook - following the news that a small proportion of recent iPods left the factory with a copy of the RavMonE.exe virus pre-installed, Apple's flippant attempt to blame Windows for being susceptible to malware has met with disapproval right across the industry.

The horror - Oracle has published a gigantic update package containing 101 fixes for flaws in for long-standing flaws in its database and application servers, almost half of which can be exploited remotely, and some even bypass authentication and grant unrestricted access via a web browser!

IE7 released - the final version of Microsoft's new browser is now available for download, and is joined by a customised version produced by Yahoo - although initial reports suggested that the web company had actually jumped the gun by releasing their version ahead of Microsoft's own.

Vista early? - meanwhile, rumours escaping from Microsoft suggest that Vista might be released to manufacturing considerably earlier than was expected, on or around the 25th of this month, although if so it would be made available to businesses long before the official consumer launch.

Controversy - a report from a team at the University of Maastricht on the commercial penetration of open source software suggests that it will manage well enough without further government protection, according to industry pressure group the Institute for Software Choice.

Groggy but still punching - Russian music site AllOfMP3.com has given their first official press conference, but it was somewhat mysterious and contradictory (where has all the money gone?) and today brings news that the RIAA et al have pressured Visa into withdrawing their credit card facility.

Data centre inna box - Sun's "Project Blackbox" is a 20' shipping container containing enough power and cooling capacity to support up to 250 Sun Fire servers, together with their associated disk, tape and network infrastructure. I gather that the remarkable Danny Hillis had a hand in the concept.

PITO warning - following widespread abuse of the Criminal Records Bureau database, the chief executive of the UK's Police IT Organisation has warned that much tighter controls must be placed on private sector firms with authority to access government and police records.

Spamhaus to fight - the beleaguered spam fighting organisation has reversed its earlier stance and announced that it will indeed appeal against the $11.7m judgment won by e360 Insight. The organisation hopes to prevent similar abuse of the US legal system by other spam companies.

And finally, although the fantasy role-playing game D&D was heavily inspired by the work of J.R.R Tolkien, the Twenty Sided blog wonders how modern players would react if suddenly exposed to Lord Of The Rings today. The answer is the web comic The DM Of The Rings, currently consisting of eighteen episodes brutally ripped from the Peter Jackson movies, and it's brilliant.

 

18th October

A little batch of random links from around the web:

Geek chic - at arts and crafts marketplace Etsy, some wonderful "Space Invador" cufflinks, and although the spelling leaves something to be desired the jewellery more than makes up for it.

Licensing difficulties - we won't be able to be install Vista on an endless series of PCs, it seems, but in spite of the fuss this isn't really much different from the Product Activation in Windows XP.

The human legacy - if the human race disappeared overnight, after a thousand years almost nothing would be left to show that we had ever lived on the planet, except our chemical and nuclear wastes.

A reprieve - following a long demonstration of the controversial game "Bully", a Florida judge has rejected a plea by the crazed anti-gaming lawyer Jack Thompson to ban the launch.

Thank the mesons - high energy physics has been in the doldrums recently, but an interesting anomaly in the decay of B mesons has breathed fresh air into the field while we wait for the LHC.

Let the seller beware - people advertising gaming PCs online are being asked to run the FRAPS benchmarking tool, and helpfully provided with a copy which contains a certain extra something...

8,000 lawsuits - recording industry group the IFPI has released its latest batch of file-sharing suits worldwide, but in the UK the BPI is having enough difficulties with just 59.

Collateral damage - an Apple laptop user is alleging that using his MacBook Pro has left him with burns on the palms of his hands, and is muttering about suing the manufacturer.

Toolbar mayhem - IE7 may not be much less vulnerable to stupid browser addons than its predecessor, but at least 99% of the damage can be easily undone with a mouse click or two.

Bio-computing - a computer using logic gates formed from strands of DNA has mastered the game of Tic-Tac-Toe, a remarkable development even if it currently takes up to 30 minutes per move.

Registered Jack - apropos of nothing much, Wikipedia has the full skinny on the "RJ" part of the terminology used for the modular jack plugs we know and love. One lives and learns!

Deep fried - we've all seen the PC motherboard running in a bath of mineral oil, but using regular cooking oil instead allows you to play Quake while waiting for your chips to fry.

Hand me the magnifier - the Small Print Project is collecting examples of the terms and conditions forced upon us when we install software, sign up to an online service, or unpack a product.

Deniable plausibility - the recent North Korean tub-thumping has been provoked by the United States beginning to pull its forces out of South East Asia, according to an article at The Register.

Theft of services - the latest firmware update for Creative's Zen music players has removed the facility to record from the built-in FM radio tuner, and needless to say some owners are not at all happy.

Atomic power - I was delighted to see at Boing Boing that a whole bunch of information about Project Orion has suddenly surfaced, including a still-classified schematic of a design for a pulse unit.

A revelation - the "Campaign For Real Beauty", a PR project by pharmaceuticals brand Dove, shows how a normal woman is physically and digitally manipulated into a typical cover girl. Fascinating.

And finally, big changes at primo tech site Dan's Data. Firstly, Dan has recruited an old friend to assist with the hardware reviews, and his initial review of a webcam with a gimmick has all the technical depth and rich linking that I've always appreciated in Dan's own writing, together with the subtly different flavour that only a fresh hand can bring. Dan himself has been far from quiet, however, as apart from a recent batch of letters, articles and reviews, he has started a blog of his own. I was a little surprised by this, as Dan's Data has always seemed remarkably blog-like itself and the new site is not clearly differentiated as yet, but the content and style are both excellent as always. How To Spot A Psychopath is named after one of Dan's more notorious articles, and the blog has already made it to my nightly list of online reading. Recommended.

17th October

My SAP cluster proved remarkably tolerant of having MS DTC, Server 2003 SP1, a bunch of firmware and driver updates, and the latest version of the Dell Server Administrator utility thrust onto it, and having upgraded the standby node successfully during the afternoon I bounced the cluster resources over from the live node right on the dot of six o'clock and was driving home again a little after seven. I have no way of testing SAP itself, though, and it remains to be seen whether I'm met in the car park tomorrow morning by a mob of irate developers. Ah, well, that's what shotguns are for.

Elsewhere:

The past through tomorrow - at PC World magazine's blog (although they call it a "techlog", presumably just to be different) a brief history of computer advertising on television, from the Atari 400 in the early eighties to Apple's current "Get A Mac" series featuring the remarkable John Hodgman as a boring, office-based PC.

It will never catch on - a new display device from Toshiba gives the user a 360 degree view - but it comes in the form of a giant, fully-enclosed bubble-shaped helmet weighing 3Kg (and, incidentally, making the wearer look like some kind of mutant alien cyborg) and so is almost certainly doomed, like very other alternative display device I've seen, to ignominious failure and total obscurity.

The drivers of the apocalypse - the Linux drivers for NVIDIA's graphics cards contain a confirmed buffer overflow weakness that could allow an attacker to run arbitrary code under root privileges, and the report suggests that the drivers for FreeBSD and Solaris are probably vulnerable as well. Ah, the wonders of alternative operating systems...

Would you like malware with that? - 10,000 MP3 players given away as prizes in a MacDonalds competition in Japan turn out to have contained the QQPass password-stealing trojan as well as a selection of free songs, and some reports suggest that simply connecting the player to a PC can allow the malware to jump across.

A foot in the door - the ever-expanding Carphone Warehouse group (I remember them back when they sold carphones, from a warehouse) is branching out again, this time with an auction site dedicated to selling second-hand phone handsets, each of which will have its IMEI checked against the CEIR to ensure that it's not stolen.

Much ado about something - EU ministers are determined to block access to information disseminated by terrorists over the Internet, or information that could be of use to them, but they don't seem to have any idea of how to go about it - let alone how to go about it without implementing a Chinese-style national firewall system.

More security theatre - following the conviction of the "terrorist mastermind" behind the diabolical "dirty bomb" and "gas limo" plans, The Register points us to a column at the Dick Destiny blog on the perennial favourite theme "its easy for terrorists", which makes me amazed that any of us godless Western infidels are still alive to read it.

And finally, Steve Jobs is unconcerned about Microsoft's Zune player, he insists, dismissing it with a collection of strange sexually-loaded remarks: "It takes forever", he said in relation to the Zune's wireless music sharing. "By the time you've gone through all that, the girl's got up and left". Asked whether the iPod is becoming less cool as it becomes more common, he replied "That's like saying you don't want to kiss your lover's lips because everyone has lips". Sounds to me like he has something on his mind...

 

16th October

Just a few quick links, as it was my first day back at the office after that bug laid me low last week, and so thoroughly exhausting. Unfortunately tomorrow will be a long day too, as I have to stay late to upgrade a clustered pair of servers hosting the main SAP SQL databases with Server 2003 SP1, an interesting process that will involve installing a Distributed Transaction Coordinator (whatever that is!) into the cluster beforehand. My team is still fairly inexperienced with MSCS, so we'll be following the instructions carefully with one hand and keeping the fingers of the other one firmly crossed...

Fear Of A Bot Planet - the style of the new Suicide Bots weblog is vaguely reminiscent of a certain popular web site, but so far the promised "hot bot on bot action" seems distressingly absent.

Rat printer - a handheld inkjet that can print on irregular surfaces is an excellent idea, but fortunately they already exist on the market so there's no need to rip the guts out of an HP DeskJet like this...

Online trading - Julian Dibbell's "Play Money" is an account of his year spent trying to earn a living by trading in the virtual objects used in online games, and is definitely one for my Amazon wish list.

Gaming top 100 - visitors to gaming site IGN have been voting for their all-time favourite games, but the publisher has chosen to be tease its readers by not releasing the top 50 until next week.

Education is pointless - it is unrealistic to expect users to learn how to keep their own computers and data safe, says a Swedish student, and all responsibility for security rests with the IT department!

Egg on face - The RIAA has abandoned a piracy lawsuit against someone who hadn't copied the music in question, didn't use file-sharing software, and had merely "ripped" MP3s from legal CDs.

Applying pressure - and talking of everybody's favourite industry association, giant retail chain Wal-mart is leaning on the RIAA to reduce CD costs, and they have a lot of commercial muscle.

No to pre-sales - eBay has cracked down on people selling PS3 consoles ahead of the official launch in November, on the reasonable grounds that in the past many similar auctions have been fraudulent.

 

14th October

Following the fatal shooting of the Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes in July 2005, a date of October 2007 has been set for the trial in the case that has been brought against the Metropolitan Police as a whole, on the somewhat unexpected grounds of failing to provide for his health, safety and welfare. The Met has attempted to have the case dismissed out of hand, of course, and the rejection of this plea caused a lawyer speaking on behalf of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair to state that the trial will have "serious implications on police policy nationwide". If these implications include policemen having to think twice before shooting innocent men seven times in the head (and once in the shoulder, although I assume that bullet was intended for his head as well) for no good reason, however, then I for one cannot see what the problem is: as a Londoner, right now I'm far more scared of the police than I am of the terrorists!

Meanwhile, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has suggested that the US government squandered an opportunity to improve global politics since the Cold War ended, instead cashing in (along with other Western countries) on the unbridled burst of globalization that followed. When former statesmen such as Gorbachev, with no immediate political or financial axe to grind, are moved to compare US foreign policy to the AIDS virus, you can be sure that something is badly wrong. "The Americans will have to understand that in future they will have to cooperate and make decisions jointly, instead of just always wanting to give orders", said Gorbachev, and its clear from the various international reactions to the recent North Korean nuclear test that he is right. As usual, one of the most telling aspects of the story are the comments to the article on the Yahoo! News message boards, which highlight the rampant ignorance about world events common to much of the US population, and which has helped their current government to get away with so much in the last few years. Oh, and they can't spell worth a damn, either...

Elsewhere on the world stage, an article at Boing Boing reminds us of what Yahoo's policy of kow-towing to the Chinese government has actually achieved - three dissident journalists jailed for a total of 21 years, thanks to information willingly provided by the ISP in exchange for the chance of making a pot of money selling advertising and services. And just in case we needed a further reminder, this time of the exact nature of the government with which Yahoo and others are so keen to climb into bed, reports are emerging that a group of Tibetans trying to flee their country, annexed by China in the 1950s, have been shot dead by Chinese soldiers near the border with Nepal. The refugees included a nun and a group of children aged between six and ten, who were evidently so terrifying that, according to the official government statement, the troops had to open fire in self defence. Further reports suggest that Communist party officials are trying to silence witnesses, including Western hikers who were in the area when the killings occurred - and some visitors to the area claim that this is by no means the first such incident. Unfortunately human rights violations like this occur on a daily basis throughout China, and it is very hard to see how any Western company can have significant dealings with the Chinese government while still maintaining (as Yahoo does) that it cares about doing business in an ethical manner.

 

13th October

With Linux the OS of choice of the IT community's rugged individualists it shouldn't come as a surprise that everybody and their dog wants their own customised version, and the endless bickering over different interpretations of the GPL, together with retaliation against any company that dares to try to make money out of the OS, ensures that the code base seems doomed to fragment ad infinitum. The CentOS build that runs my revamped Raq web server appliance is a good example of the latter, having been created as a 100% binary compatible version of Red Hat's highly regarded Enterprise Linux build, only without the corporate branding and commercial support. With this in mind, it was rather depressing to read that the same thing seems to be happening to the popular open source applications as well, with the announcement of the Iceweasel web browser, a version of Firefox developed to avoid the trademarked Firefox logo and other code that cannot be freely distributed. The tendency of the open source "community" towards infighting and competition seems to be increasingly endemic, these days, so it was good to read of a project designed to bring integration and standardisation rather than further dissention. The Portland software project intends to bridge the gap between the two most popular Linux GUIs, KDE and GNOME, providing a common API to allow developers to support both interfaces without trauma. If Linux is ever going to make a significant impact at home and on the corporate desktop, as the fanboys perpetually insist is imminent, then it is clear that more time must be spent on collaboration between groups and less on bickering - and when even the allegedly philanthropic One Laptop Per Child project has apparently succumbed to the disease, it's probably time for people to sit up and take notice...

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

Wizard of Ozzie - with Bill Gates stepping even further back from day-to-day management at Microsoft, his shoes are being filled by Ray Ozzie, the widely respected inventor of Lotus Notes. Ozzie is far removed from that of Gates and Ballmer in terms of both his management style and his views on technology, and it will be interesting to see in which direction he leads the company.

The price of freedom - the UK government has finally released their own estimates of the cost of the controversial ID card scheme, and to nobody's surprise it is considerably less than independent figures. 15% of the estimated £5.4 billion covers the technology itself, with the rest going on personnel and premises costs. Given the government's record on IT spending, I simply don't believe it.

Lies and damn lies - meanwhile, the latest Home Office Minister is still frantically trying to justify the ID card scheme itself, and this month the see-saw has bounced back from terrorism to immigration once more. His claims about a similar project in Sri Lanka turn out to be both misleading and irrelevant, however, especially considering that it was abandoned a year ago after unimpressive results.

Not with a bang, but a whimper - the first Hollywood movies on Blu-ray disks are now being launched, but the offerings chosen to highlight the new technology are lacklustre to say the least: Adam Sandler in "Click", shoot-em-up "Black Hawk Down", and something called "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby". Does this make you want to rush out an buy a whole new AV system? No, me neither...

Blowing the golden whistle - a former Peoplesoft employee who revealed the extent of their eight year price-fixing strategy for US government contracts has been awarded $17.3 million, his share of the $98.5 million returned to the government by the company's new owner, Oracle. The Register is curious as to why no criminal charges have been pressed against Peoplesoft's management, though.

Mergers and acquisitions - AOL UK has been bought by the ever-expanding Carphone Warehouse group for £370 million, adding 1.5 million broadband subscribers to its customer base and a further 600,000 dial-up users. The latter are probably rather less attractive to the new owner, and it will be interesting to see whether they can increase the incentive to migrate onto broadband connections.

Mergers and acquisitions #2 - the UK Internet market expanded dramatically in first few years of the decade, but it has become obvious that the country can't continue to support so many ISPs, especially down at the cut-rate and free end of the market, and the latest news is that one of the larger providers, PlusNet, may well be acquired by British Telecom.

A small victory - Wikipedia's no-compromise stand against Chinese government censorship, almost unique amongst the big names in web services, seems to have paid off following reports that the majority of the English language site is now accessible. The Chinese language version may still be blocked, however, as are articles on subjects like the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

Share and share alike - reports on the perennial struggle for web browser market shares are contradicting themselves again, with one recent study claming that IE is losing ground to Firefox and another suggesting that all is still rosy for Microsoft. With both IE7 and Firefox V2 just around the corner, it will be interesting to see whether the war between statistical analysis companies continues.

Missing the boat - the writer of an article in Wired admits that he is becoming less and less convinced by the threat of cyber-terrorism, which he dismisses as a post-9/11 hoax intended to screw money out of the federal government. Readers of Rob Rosenbrger's VMyths site have been aware of these absurd claims since well before the Millennium, however, and dismissed them a long time ago...

Illegal abduction - a German lawyer is intending to pursue state compensation for those who believe themselves to have been abducted by aliens, based on a law which grants payments to kidnap victims. His services will be in demand, he says, but "the trouble is, people are afraid of making fools of themselves in court". Indeed.

And finally, an article at DarkVision Hardware entitled "Howto (sic) get more battery life from your digital camera" contains such revolutionary advice as "recharge whenever you can" and "carry another battery", and ends with the suggestion that "until battery technologies improve to the extent that battery life is so long that it practically lasts forever you will have to be conscious about how you use your digital camera in respect to power consumption". The author, a certain Ziv Haparnas, is described as "a technology veteran" who "writes about practical technology and science issues", but if that is a typical example of his insight and vision I'd just like to go on record as suggesting that he doesn't give up his day job...

 

12th October

Over the last few weeks I've been fascinated by Steve Kemper's book "Code Name Ginger", an account of the invention of the Segway personal transporter by Dean Kamen's New Hampshire-based DEKA engineering R&D company, so I was very surprised to read (in a BBC article describing how George W Bush fell off one!) that it was actually "developed by BAE Systems in Plymouth, Devon". I grew up in Plymouth, as it happens, and although the city has a proud history of naval and defence engineering, I can't let a mistake like that pass unchallenged. The article was published in June 2003, so it's a little late to request a correction, but although BAE Systems did indeed design and manufacture the gyroscopes used in the Segway's Balance Sensor Assembly (as well as in many other products and systems, of course), and are in a marketing partnership with the Segway company, I really can't see that qualifying them as the device's developer - and I'm sure that Kamen and his team would wholeheartedly agree!

Elsewhere, the scandal over electronic voting machines continues to grow, with fresh publicity for allegations by Clint Curtis, a former programmer for electronics engineering firm Yang Enterprises, that Florida Congressman Tom Feeney asked him to develop a way of falsifying votes recorded on touch-screen voting machines in order to benefit the Republican party. Curtis can hardly be described as an unbiased witness, especially now that he's running against Feeney for Congress, but given the recent revelations concerning the ease with which machines from Diebold et al can be modified to run arbitrary unauthorised code, there's nothing inherently implausible in the claim. Meanwhile, the notorious German hacker group The Chaos Computer Club has called for a ban on the Nedap ES3B voting machine and similar European models following the discovery that they can be modified so extensively that they will even run a chess program! Although my entire career has revolved around the use of computer technology as an enabler for business and government, twenty-something years in the industry has also left me with a healthy sense of scepticism, and it's quite clear that at this stage electronic voting is simply not safe enough to use. Any organisation that claims otherwise is either trying to sell voting machines, or hoping to exploit their weaknesses for political gain.

Another recent furore concerns the court case brought against anti-spam organisation Spamhaus by arch-spammer e360 Insight. Spamhaus is a UK-based company, and they chose not to defend the case believing, correctly, that a US court had no jurisdiction over them. However, after the inevitable ruling against Spamhaus (including an award of $11,715,000 in damages), concerns started to circulate that the court might be able to have the spamhaus.org domain name suspended, effectively removing access to the service unless client systems worldwide were reconfigured to use an IP address or a replacement domain name. The effect this could have on the global levels of spam is fairly horrifying, but the Internet housekeeping organisation ICANN has already issued a statement saying that they do not have the authority to take this action even if so ordered. The registrar of the domain itself is in Canada and the DNS manager is in Europe, both outside of the court's jurisdiction, so assuming that ICANN sticks to its guns the only remaining US organisation is the Virginia-based Public Interest Registry which manages the .ORG hierarchy - and like ICANN they are very likely to refuse responsibility. I have a great deal of respect for Spamhaus founder Steve Linford and the other (largely volunteer) contributors to the project, and lawsuits like this serve to illustrate how annoying his anti-spam services are becoming to the heavyweight spam companies. More power to him!

 

11th October

Although in computing terms I no longer consider traditional virus code to be nearly the risk it once was, when it comes to my own defences I'm not so confident, and this week a nasty little bug has sneaked past my immune system and laid me low. The culprit is probably the common cold rhinovirus, beautifully illustrated here by the team at Perdue University which determined the nature of the ICAM-1 receptor sites in human cells that provide the virus' avenue of attack. Knowing this does nothing to make me feel any better, however, and in spite of significant research into the malady there's still little one can do except treat the symptoms and pray for the merciful release of death.

Elsewhere, at the weekend I had my first encounter with a real eBay fraudster, as opposed to the petty opportunists who try to pass off a faulty disk drive or screw one over shipping charges. I've outgrown the pair of Sun StorEdge MultiPack disk cabinets that are providing a home for the 350Gb-odd of data that has accumulated on my home server over the years, and having narrowly missed a beautiful ProWare SCSI/SATA RAID array that would have scaled up to 4Tb, I cast the eBay net a little wider.

I've been aware that Apple was manufacturing a server range, and given their traditional penetration in the media sector it seemed logical that they would have some kind of large-scale storage system, but I'd never really noticed the Xserve RAID systems before and I so almost overlooked a unit that was being advertised a little outside of the regular areas for this kind of hardware. With a starting price of £100 for a capacity of 2.8Tb (and as many again drive slots still free) it was certainly eye-catching, and a check around the web revealed that not only was the system very similar to the enterprise hardware I'm used to (if considerably prettier, as befit's Apple's design ethos!) but that there was no reason why it couldn't be used just as well in a Wintel environment.

Connectivity to the host is via Fibre Channel over copper, but the drives themselves are low-end SATA units, a combination that provides an excellent cost/capacity ratio, if at a considerably lower level of performance than 10,000 or 15,000 rpm SCSI or FC drives. I hadn't seriously considered using Fibre Channel on my home network before, but I have a generous quantity of it at the office and provided that one matches components carefully a point-to-point configuration is not inherently much more complicated than SCSI.

The listing was mostly marketing boilerplate ("Data storage that rocks around the clock", indeed!) from Apple's web site, with a few personal touches, but one thing that was conspicuously absent was any information on payment methods accepted or shipping costs - so I emailed the seller to enquire, at which point everything started to feel a little odd... Here's the first reply:

Subject:* Re: eBay Xserve RAID
*From:* Worldford@aol.com
*Date:* Mon, 9 Oct 2006 18:09:52 EDT

Hello ,
This deal will go trough eBay.
You have the opportunity to purchase this item( same item) for GBP 700 Buy now. If you're ready for this purchase, I need to know your eBay user ID, confirm  item number and full name and address for shipping. As soon as I have this informations I'll start the official procedure, and eBay will notify you about this. You'll also receive important guidelines + instructions from them (please go through them exactly). I'll handle the shipping, so this will be free of charge for you.

Looking forward to hearing from you.
Best regards!

Immediately after receiving this I checked eBay again, and when I discovered that the item had suddenly disappeared alarm bells started to ring: it's very unusual for a seller to suddenly offer a Buy It Now deal mid-way through the auction, very unusual to include shipping charges for something so expensive in the purchase price, and very unusual not to specify accepted payment methods - especially when asked about them specifically. I emailed the seller once more, repeating my request for that information, and also for his name (the unusual anonymity of it all was also making me feel uncomfortable), as well as an explanation of why the listing was no longer on eBay, but his only response was to email me the exact text of the original listing.

At this stage I started looking around eBay once more, this time searching through the completed listings to discover how much these arrays normally change hands for - and I was very surprised to find an absolutely identical listing, even down to the same out-of-focus photographs and comments about its use in a home office, having ended at the start of the month with a far more plausible price of £2750 plus shipping.

I asked about this, too, although by this stage the alarm bells were ringing so loudly that they threatened to vibrate off their mountings, and it would have taken a pretty damn convincing explanation to allay my fears - but the response I actually received from the seller, or as I now realised the purported seller, did absolutely nothing to reassure me at all:

Subject:* Re: eBay Xserve RAID
*From:* Worldford@aol.com
*Date:* Tue, 10 Oct 2006 16:02:39 EDT

Sorry NO Paypal we have our own link to a secure server for payment with credit cards www.westernunion.com send cash at a Western Union OR Agent location or use your credit or debit card to send money online or use your credit or debit card to send money by phone at 0800 833 833

Hmmm. Of course, it's traditional that Western Union is the favoured method of all Nigerian funds fraudsters, eBay scammers, and other con artists, and that was definitely the last straw. I haven't responded, and he has presumably realised that the fish has slipped the hook and moved on in search of other suckers. I don't remember the name of the eBay seller's account, but it had a single figure feedback rating and apparently hadn't been in active use since last year, so it had probably been hijacked via a phishing scam or similar. It's possible that the worldford@aol.com mailbox was stolen as well, but AOL accounts are easy to come by and that's definitely an address to beware of...

What strands out to me, really, is how stupid the scammer was, and although I would certainly have balked at sending money to a nameless Western Union account even if everything else had appeared above board, he could so easily have strung me along at least that far before arousing my suspicions. To begin with, simply putting a fake name on the end of his emails would have appeared far more normal, and leaving the eBay listing intact until the deal was settled would never have caused my eyebrows to raise in the way that suddenly cancelling it did. Not stealing the listing verbatim from an item that had been sold only ten days before would have helped a lot, too, as it's certainly not unusual for prospective buyers to check completed listings to gain an idea of the going price for items of interest. Of course, I suppose we should actually be grateful that these people don't seem able to implement their scams very well, or we'd all find ourselves owners of the 21st century equivalents of Florida swampland or shares in the Brooklyn Bridge. Thanks heavens for small mercies...

 

9th October

Quick links...

Please don't touch - just when you thought you'd heard every possible problem with Diebold's voting machines, it turns out that actually using the touch-screen of the current models will crash them...

Astroturf campaigning - Janet Jackson's boob flash at the 2004 Super Bowl generated more than 270,000 complaints to the FCC, thanks to pressure group the Parents Television Council.

Down but not out - a federal judge has rejected the US government's request to dismiss an ACLU lawsuit claiming that the USA Patriot Act is unconstitutional, allowing the case to proceed.

The dark ages - the US Supreme Court has refused to consider a case challenging an absurd and archaic Texas law that makes it a crime to sell "sex toys shaped like sexual organs".

Anarchy in the UK - British activists The Open Rights Group have published a list of suggestions for fighting the encroachment of restrictive DRM into the country - before it's too late.

Vindicated after all this time - careful analysis of audio tapes from the 1969 moon landing reveals that Neil Armstrong really did say "one small step for a man", just as he had intended.

Have space suit, will travel - and talking of the space race, a vintage pressure suit from the Gemini program somehow turned up in a Kansas antique shop, surely the last one outside a museum.

Vista FUD - an article in IT World claims that for a business to upgrade its workstations to Vista will cost up to $5000 per user, an absurd figure that is roundly dismissed by Ken Fisher at Ars Technica.

On the horizon - and talking of the Vista OS, an article at the ever-useful Wikipedia summarises all the new features in one surprisingly long list. I'm really looking forward to the launch early next year.

PDA features - I was trying to catch up on the current model Palm handhelds, today, and came across a useful comparison facility of both Windows and PalmOS devices at Dave's PDA

Fembotics - Japanese automata specialist Kokoro is hoping to rent out their latest teenage female robot as an eye-catcher for trade shows and exhibitions, a snip at $2500 per week.

No more modding - console mod chip supplier Divineo has been fined more than $9 million in damages after a US federal court ruled that they had violated the DMCA.

Locked away - with more and more people using PC security systems to protect their personal data, there are growing problems when they die leaving their records inaccessible to family members.

Casting the net wider - the creators of the Kazaa and Skype peer-to-peer applications have started to promote a streaming video service that will deliver high-quality legal media across the Internet.

And, finally, there's always something new... The latest M12 range from PC power supply specialist Seasonic has all the high power and blissful silence of my S12-600, but adds the flavour of the month in the form of a removable modular cabling system. I lust after it, but although obsolete my existing model is still extremely satisfactory and I really couldn't justify the cost (and, more importantly, the effort!) to replace it. The new version almost makes me hope for a catastrophic failure, though...

 

8th October

The usual...

A blast from the past - Mike tells me that the veteran microcomputer manufacturer Imsai is still very much in business, and although their current version can hold a modern ATX motherboard as well as the S100 backplane of the original, the front panel is still replete with all the switches and LEDs of the classic CP/M era. The computer achieved a certain notoriety following its use by hacker David Lightman in the 1983 movie Wargames, and I think the modern version would make a wonderful platform for playing Defcon, which was obviously inspired by the movie's graphics.

Cold war relics - at Boing Boing, an Alaskan reader has created a Flickr album of a derelict military installation in the remote west of the country. The White Alice communications network acted as a microwave relay between the DEW missile warning sites, and although stations like these cost untold hundreds of millions of dollars back in the sixties and seventies, these days they have been abandoned and left to decay. They are striking memorials to the fear that was endemic to the period.

Reinventing the wheel - to some people the Psion 5mx is one of the iconic palmtop computers, let down by the manufacturer's marketing and production quality rather than any problems with its basic design. A project hosted at Tom's Hardware Guide is proposing to create a modern palmtop inspired by the 5mx, but running Microsoft's XP or Windows Mobile operating systems. It's an interesting idea, but give the extreme difficulty of turning designs into hardware I firmly expect it to stay as vapourware.

War is declared and battle come down - Russian music site AllOfMP3.com is under fire from both the legislature in its own country and the might of the US State Department, but it is clearly not going to go down without a fight. Still protesting that they are 100% legal in Russia (at least until the imminent change in intellectual property law that the US has insisted on) the site places responsibility firmly on their users to determine whether usage is legal in their own countries.

Platinum virus - a team at UCLA has created a semiconductor by coating fragments of the tobacco mosaic virus in carbon nanoparticles and embedding the result in a polymer sandwiched between two electrodes. The result is a transistor matrix with similar properties to conventional flash memory chips, but capable of switching in microseconds rather than milliseconds. A working prototype is expected within four years.

The reverse engineer - "DVD Jon" Johansen, the programmer who became famous by cracking the minimal encryption on commercial DVDs, originally so that he could play them on his Linux PC, is back in the spotlight again following his release of a clone of Apple's Fairplay iTunes DRM. Johansen claims to have stayed within the law by cleanly reverse engineering the system, and is intending to license it to companies that want to play their own content on Apple devices.

Many cores - as a long-time fan of SMP multi-CPU computers at home I have to confess to being surprised by how quickly Intel has introduced multi-core CPUs onto the consumer market, and how quickly the number of cores is ramping up. Tom's Hardware is playing with a pre-production version of the four core Kentsfield-based "Quadro" chip, and although there are still a few bugs, as could be predicted it is an enormously powerful CPU when running properly multi-threaded applications.

Linux still not ready - Nokia doesn't think that Linux is mature enough for widespread use a mobile phone OS, apparently, citing problems with fragmentation of the standard code base and an over-sized memory footprint, among others. This is quite telling, as the company is one of the few manufacturers that have actually used the OS in a mobile device, in this case the neat little 770 Internet Tablet that Mike was showing me a few weeks ago.

Eye on the spy - the US Government has confirmed (with gritted teeth, one suspects) that a Chinese ground-based laser installation has blinded the cameras of one of their orbiting spy satellites as it passed over the country. Details are spares at this stage, and in information has been released about which satellite was targeted, or whether the effect was merely temporary or, as seems very likely, the cameras or their electronic systems have been permanently damaged.

 

6th October

Some news links to end the week - and having worked all last weekend I'm damn glad that it's here at last.

The Illuminated One - after Mark Frauenfelder of Boing Boing appealed for donations to the cult author Robert Anton Wilson, dying from post polio syndrome and in dire financial straits, to the amazement and delight of the author and his family more than $68,000 has been raised to ensure that his last few months are as comfortable as possible. I was blown away by Shea and Wilson's "Illuminatus" trilogy, and the "Schrödinger's Cat" trilogy that followed it, and I'm delighted to have been able to repay (even if only in a small way) a person who had such an effect on my thinking.

Inside information - the fundamentalist Islamic stance on DRM and software copyright has now been clarified, thanks to Iranian Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khameini. The Ayatollah has a weblog where he offers advice and answers questions mailed to him (like the Usenet Oracle, with extra fatwa), and following a question on whether it was permissible under Sharia to crack time-limited demo versions of software produced by Western Imperialist software companies, it turns out that his viewpoints on intellectual property are unexpectedly similar to those of the corporates in question.

Indian data theft - last night's TV documentary on the sale of personal information from Indian call centres used by UK corporates was certainly unsettling, but The Register reminds us that fraud and theft of confidential data is not limited to India, or to call centres, but is actually unsettlingly widespread. I was less than amused to see the call centre management division of consultancy firm Mphasis held up for censure, however, as their development division is currently writing some Siebel applications for my own company, and I've been obliged to give an unsettling level of remote access to our core servers to their Indian programming teams...

The comedy arms trade - earlier this year the controversial and confrontational political satirist Mark Thomas assisted a group of teenage girls to set up an online arms brokering firm as part of a project for Channel 4's Dispatches programme, and their company traded in everything from small arms to the sort of "police and security equipment" commonly used for torturing prisoners and obtaining false confessions by repressive regimes such as the US government. Questions in Parliament have now been followed by the arrest of two men involved in illegal imports of the latter, but British firms make astonishing quantities of money from arms deals and I doubt that we'll see a change in the law.

The rise and fall of Gizmondo - the spectacular crash of the game console manufacturer after their over-hyped portable device burned through nearly $400 million of capital in less than four years was followed by the equally spectacular crash of the rare Ferrari Enzo belonging to company founder Stefan Eriksson. The circumstances surrounding the crash, and for that matter Eriksson in general, are explored in an article at Wired, complete with illustrations by comic book artist Jae Lee.

Unauthorised access - the hated Diebold are not the only manufacturer of absurdly insecure electronic voting machines, it seems, following a demonstration by Dutch security consultants showing that the NEDAP machines, chosen two years ago by the Irish government but not yet used in anger, could be made to record inaccurate votes and even run arbitrary code in the form of a chess program. It's quite clear that electronic voting is simply not safe enough to use, and any organisation that claims otherwise is only doing so because they are intending to exploit those weaknesses.

Now with less Appley goodness - After Steve Jobs's announcement that the shiny new 2nd generation iPod Nano is even thinner than the original version, a review at Ars Technica reveals that this is indeed the case... But as the difference is a mere 0.01", hardly detectable without a micrometer, it sounds as if the infamous Jobs Reality Distortion Field is in action again.

 

5th October

All the news that's fit to link... Mostly courtesy of Ars Technica, tonight.

Style over substance - research at Indiana University on the media coverage of the 2004 Democratic and Republican national conventions suggests that the topical news/comedy programme The Daily Show is actually as substantive a source of news as other more mainstream news programs - but they admit that the quality of the latter is still depressingly poor.

The smoking gun - an internal investigation has concluded that Apple supremo Steve Jobs definitely knew about the backdated stock options that have attracted the baleful glare of the SEC, but that he did not benefit financially from them. However, board member Fred Anderson, who served as CFO during the period in question, has resigned over the issue.

Interrogating MS - a shareholder proposal to oblige Microsoft to describe their stance on net neutrality has been excluded by a review board, but the source of the motion is a group acting as a corporate lobbying organisation than an actual investment fund, and in this case is presumably acting as a front for the telecoms companies that are pressing for a multi-tiered Internet.

Lock-down - if Windows Vista is not activated within 30 days of installation, it will switch into a significantly reduced mode designed to limit the user to short sessions of web use and read-only access to data files, and without the fancy new Aero user interface at that - but it will not actually disable the PC completely, as some have speculated.

The future of YouTube - I've always been puzzled by the popular video site's continuing existence, given that they serve 200Tb of data per day, don't charge for the service, and hold more copyright violating video clips than you can shake a subpoena at. A new advertising deal with Warner Music may help the finances a little, but legally the site seems to be hanging by a thread...

Life mirroring art - Cory Doctorow's excellent SF novel "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" contains a social status mechanism he terms "whuffie" (which always makes me think of primo crypto-geek Whit Diffie), and the concept has now been translated into an open source service based around Skype. Who knows, it might even catch on!

Kos censored - the influential left wing blog has somehow joined the list of porn sites blocked by the SmartFilter web filtering service, and based on anecdotal reports of other liberal sites that are being mysteriously misclassified and blocked by SmartFilter and its ilk, some are suggesting that it's not necessarily an accident...

Sleeping with the enemy - back in August a team of programmers working on the Firefox browser visited Microsoft to talk to the Vista development team. Both groups seem to have gained from the experience, and it even seems that Microsoft's open source developers are going to contribute source code to ensure that Firefox works smoothly with the new user interface technology.

A waste of time - my friend Mike is complaining that my recent mention of the strategy game Defcon encouraged him to take a look for himself, leading to the complete loss of a day from his schedule. Judging by the comments of others, and the sudden rash of videos on YouTube, the strange little web toy Line Rider is equally absorbing. Stay away, Mike, stay away!

More PS3 woes - with quotes such as "there is no way this launch is going to go well", from a game retail store manager, circulating around the web, the future of the console looks a touch bleak. I loved one of the comments to the article at Ars Technica, though: "Sony might have problems with the PS3, but their battery business will pick up the slack."  <laughing>

Wireless pricing - a major Wi-Fi hotspot operator has criticised a report that objected to the cost of wireless access in UK hotels, some of which charge up to £20 per day. Their argument that "business class routers" are more expensive is largely spurious, though, even when the additional cost of power-over-Ethernet hardware is taken into account.

A little misunderstanding - a researcher at the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark has succeeded in "teleporting" the information content of a macroscopic object containing thousands of billions of atoms over a distance of around half a metre. The original CNN story implies that matter itself was moved, but in fact it was simply a packet of information representing its quantum state - but, nevertheless, this is a significant and interesting achievement and holds great promise for the future of quantum computing and communications.

And finally, courtesy of Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools blog, a tip that could save someone's life - and for a change I'm going to reproduce it in its entirety:

Tips 18

A neurologist says that if he can get to a stroke victim quickly he can totally reverse the effects of a stroke. He said the trick was getting a stroke recognized, diagnosed and getting to the patient within 3 hours, which is tough. Sometimes symptoms of a stroke are difficult to identify. But doctors say a bystander can recognize a stroke by asking three simple questions:

1. Ask the individual to SMILE.
2. Ask him or her to RAISE BOTH ARMS.
3. Ask the person to SPEAK A SIMPLE SENTENCE (Coherently, ie: It is sunny out today)

If he or she has trouble with any of these tasks, call 9-1-1 immediately and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher.

-- Passed along by Michael Hawley

 

4th October

Still trying to catch up with myself, but as one PFY is off on a week long training course and another is on a two day site visit to our most far-flung sales office, life for the remaining PFY and I is proving a touch busy. There have been absolutely no problems arising from the work at the weekend, though, which I am extremely pleased about - the four of us work very well together, and as a team we've been pulling off some extremely smooth upgrades and new installations over the last year or so. Applause all round.

Without form, and void - recent reports of a large number of serious vulnerabilities in the Firefox browser may well be untrue, it seems, with the two hackers responsible for the announcement backing down from statements made at the ToorCon security conference. "The main purpose of our talk was to be humorous", one of them claimed - thus guaranteeing that nobody ever takes them seriously again - or invites them to speak at security conferences, either, for that matter...

Addon for Excel - if pressed, I would have said that it wouldn't be possible to create a fully-graphical version of Pacman running under VBA in Microsoft's Excel spreadsheet, but this enterprising Japanese geek has produced not only that but Space Invaders as well, by treating the spreadsheet cells as the pixels of a raster display, changing their background colour repeatedly to create animation. You'd never know from looking at the games, certainly, that they were a spreadsheet!

Going it alone - phone company Nokia is trying to drum-up overnight industry support for their Wibree personal area wireless networking standard, obviously intended to go head-to-head with Bluetooth. The chipset has noticeably lower power consumption, apparently, which is a definite bonus, but the competition from both established technologies and upcoming ones will be stiff.

Cruelty to animals - just when you though it was safe to go back to the USB hub, the latest dumb device is an animatronic hamster in its own plastic exercise wheel, and once hooked up to that wonderfully versatile port it monitors the Windows system so that the faster you type the faster it spins. I have to assume that somebody, somewhere, is paid to come up with ideas like this - which an unsettling thought...

"I don't think so, Tim" - The leader of the Bracknell Forest district council has suggested that selling the personal details of residents that use the council's electronic entitlement cards to marketing firms could reduce council tax to zero, but the idea was later dismissed by an official statement - just as well, I suspect, as the data protection issues that such a move would raise are a legal minefield.

The spam king - Hormel Foods, manufacturer of the original SPAM meat product, has failed in its attempt to obtain a European trademark for the word in connection with unsolicited commercial email. Their intention was to claim licensing fees from the myriad of companies who use "spam" in their product names etc, but their case that the public doesn't associate the term with bulk email really doesn't seem to hold much water.

And finally, Verity Stob on the many and varied varieties of Microsoft Word users. Enough said.

 

3rd October

Catching up on the news from the last few days...

Phreaking - hacker archivist Jason Scott is helping to preserve a collection of audio recordings from the phone phreaking culture of the early nineties. This is a decade or more after the wild days of Captain Crunch and Steve Wozniak, but of great interest none the less.

Apple controversy - a demonstration of vulnerabilities in MacBook wireless stack has been cancelled following pressure from Apple, apparently, and the issue has divided the Mac fanboys down the middle.

Subtly flawed - the myth of Firefox's security is also fading somewhat, it seems, with the announcement of a flaw that can be exploited by malicious Javascript code - and the hackers claim that it is only one of around 30 that they are aware of.

Fighting back - podcast creators and are considering legal action to fight Apple's continuing harassment of people using words containing "pod", but it seems to me that they only have themselves to blame for adopting it when a more generic term would actually have been preferable.

Getting away with murder - UK consultancy Accenture is somehow managing to withdraw from the doomed UK National Programme for IT without paying the stiff penalty fees promised by the Director General only a few months ago.

HP lawyer balks - Hewlett-Packard's General Counsel has resigned from the company, and has invoked her 5th Amendment rights to avoid to testifying before a government subcommittee that is investigating HP's controversial spying activities.

TalkTalk quitters - dissatisfied users of the free ISP TalkTalk, owned by UK cellphone bucket shop chain Carphone Warehouse, are being allowed to escape binding 18 month contracts following widespread claims that the company has been unable to live up to its obligations.

SWIFT violated - the Terrorist Finance Tracking programme run by the US Treasury has violated the privacy of up to 7,800 international financial institutions by its secret examination of financial records held by the Belgian interbanking agency SWIFT.

Security theatre - courtesy of The Onion, US citizens offer their opinions on the War On Moisture: "The ban was a necessary precaution. We have to be willing to make these kinds of sacrifices if we're going to prevent scientifically impossible terrorist attacks".

Bullying Take-Two - the controversial gaming company is under fire from the equally controversial lawyer Jack Thompson, who is crusading against their new game "Bully" even before anyone has seen an significant information about the game itself.

Blasphemy - this enterprising modder has installed a micro-ATX SLI-capable motherboard into the chassis of a PowerMac G5, and he's made a very neat job of it. I just hope he's prepared for the outlandish hate mail that seems to follow these projects!

Got wood - Canadian company Suissa Computers is manufacturing PCs built into beautifully crafted wooden cases looking more like designer furniture than anything else. Prices are high, certainly, but not outrageously so given the evident quality.

C&C 3 - the third major version of Westwood's long-running strategy game is due next year, and although at this stage the web site is a classic example of style over content I shall be watching keenly for any genuine facts that emerge.

Shall we play a game? - inspired by Risk and the classic movie Wargames, Defcon is the latest offering from Introversion, creator of the hacking game Uplink, and has as its theme the perennial favourite Global Thermonuclear War.

Multi-core gaming - Remedy has demonstrated how rich a gaming environment can be when multiple CPU cores are available - although as a dual-CPU user for many years I'm feeling a bit jaundiced about this sudden wave of enthusiastic support for SMP.

Testing Turing - following extensive hype over a pair of online chat programs that are described as "artificial intelligence", The Register is poking fun at their creator Rollo Carpenter. The software is little more than an overgrown version of Eliza, though, as far as I can see...

Highly suspicious - the latest project from technology artist Casey Smith is a device with no function other than to look suspicious. His other works are equally wonderful and equally pointless, and I'll definitely be keeping an eye on his web site now.

Taking the cake - this wedding cake inspired by Terry Pratchett's novels comes complete with a turtle, four elephants and a full-detailed Discworld, and the result is absolutely stunning. I think it would be a shame to eat it!

And finally, the shrinking planet - Google Earth has been a growing source of fascinating curiosities since its launch, and these lists of interesting things to do and to see there are well worth exploring.

 

2nd October

As promised, some pictures of the weekend's work to replace a couple of network cabinets - photos courtesy of my colleague Jim, who discovered a rather nifty blurring effect when he switched his camera to a slower shutter speed to avoid reflections from the flash, making me look like some kind of wiring dervish... The entire team worked themselves to a standstill on the project, this weekend, but the finished results were definitely worth it.

On the left, the pair of half-height cabinets that have been holding our Cisco Catalyst 6509 switch and a bunch of Raritan Paragon KVM hardware - and on the right, the work in progress. The green cabling feeds ninety-odd servers, the vast majority of which have multiple network interfaces, and took another of my colleagues many hours of patient work to untangle the spaghetti that a previous project had left them in. Above the core switch are a bunch of smaller switches for DMZs, test subnets and the like, each with their own bundle of brightly-coloured string. The cabinet on the right of the picture is the new home for the KVM hardware (with a set of ninety-something prettily pink cables safely out of sight at the rear) and a Cisco Catalyst 5509 switch, bought ridiculously cheap on eBay as both a test-bed for our plans for implementing VLANs on the network and as an emergency backup in the event that its bigger brother ever commits suicide.

Another blur of activity, and then the finished product. The photograph shows that they're leaning forward a little at present, as we haven't wound the stabilising feet down yet, and also how well they highlight the boring grey colour scheme of the patch panel cab next to them. We'd like to replace that one with a black unit, to match the general ambience that nine black cabinets full of tasteful black and gunmetal Dell PowerEdge servers has brought, but it holds about 60U's worth of Krone strips and Cisco workgroup switches as well as being attached to the PBX by cabling as thick as my wrist, so I'm inclined to think that unfortunately it would represent too much work to be worthwhile for purely cosmetic reasons. If we ever have to rewire the ground floor, though, that thing is history..

 

1st October

I spent all weekend in the office, along with the rest of my team, moving a large quantity of network infrastructure hardware (The wires! The wires!) from a pair of small cabinets to a pair of much larger ones, and given that when I finally reached home I was visited by a friend bearing three laptops and a printer for me to repair, right now I have had more than enough of technology. I'll post some photos of the work at the office tomorrow, but until then I'm you'll have to content yourselves with my traditional monthly stats before, I retire to the settee to spend the rest of the evening groaning gently.

 

The eagle-eyed will have noticed that I've removed the Tweakers Australia Top 50 voting button from the bottom of the page, this month. A few weeks ago Mike pointed out that the page seemed to have disappeared, and in any case the list has grown less and less useful over the last few years, thanks to automatic vote forgery from an unscrupulous IT training manuals supplier. The site admins seem to have been completely unconcerned about this, surprisingly, to the point where it seems probable that they were not unconnected with said company, and all-in-all the thing has been something of a dead loss... The stats provided by such mainstream weblog analysis sites as The Truth Laid Bear and Technorati are far more accurate and reliable, of course, but unfortunately they brutally expose Epicycle as the small-fry that it currently is... It's a double-edged sword.

 

 

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