Last night while while I was asleep the American
government screwed up and threw away a document that has served
their country well for more than two hundred years, and symbolised
the ideals of the democratic process to which the people of many
other countries have since aspired. As Avedon Carol illustrates with
depressing clarity at
the Bill Of Rights, composed of the first ten amendments to the US
Constitution, is now in tatters following the passage of a pair of
bills that allow
torture of prisoners and
warantless domestic surveillance.
The United States Of America was founded on the
belief that all human beings had certain "unalienable
rights", and the Founding Fathers considered
these rights to be equally valid in times of war, peace,
prosperity and hardship - and although they have come under attack
many times since they were codified in 1791, nevertheless they
really have been a guiding principle for both America and for other
Now everything has changed. Using the pretence of
national security, the power behind the Bush government has thrown
these rights to the wind, purely to make it easier for them to gut
the country (and as much of the rest of the world as they can reach,
for that matter) for their own financial gain. The US has seen
corrupt and self-serving presidents before, but men such as Nixon
now seem like small-fry compared to the rapacious greed of the Bush
dynasty and its corporate partners, and given the endemic loss of
spine exhibited by the Democratic Party opposition the outlook seems
bleak for democracy in America - and so for the entire world.
Sad times, indeed.
Life goes on, however, and where would
Epicycle be without a few random news clippings from around the
Paying the piper - Computer Associates pretty much invented the
"buy the entire industry" strategy since adopted by Symantec and
subsequently used by them to beat CA at their own game, and their
latest attempt at a counter-attack is the offer of cash payments to
anyone who's PC is damaged following failure of CA security software
to protect it. I have the feeling that, perhaps like the enormous
financial cover offered by the warranty of
Belkin's surge-protected power strips, this may turn out to be
surprisingly hard to collect on when it comes down to it...
Morpheus in court - a US federal judge has ruled that StreamCast
Networks, the owner of the Morpheus peer-to-peer file sharing
software, is guilty of contributing towards massive copyright
infringement. The judge's decision stated that because the company's
business model actually relied upon copyright infringement,
and that it did not attempt to block the sharing of copyrighted
materials, it is fully liable for the illegal acts which its users
performed. Streamcast is currently considering whether to appeal,
but at this stage I suspect the directors of
LimeWire are feeling decidedly tense...
A nasty piece of work - Peter Francis-Macrae, the UK's most
prolific spammer, has had his appeal over verdicts of fraud and
concealing criminal property rejected. Last year Francis-Macrae was
convicted of a number of other charges arising from his £1.6 million
domain name fraud, including making threats to kill police officers
and trading standards officials who were investigating his
activities. He is currently serving six years in prison.
I spent the first hour of the day trying not to
listen to a pair of programmers trying to figure out how to
configure an iPod that one of them had bought for her boyfriend. The
interface language seemed to have be set to Chinese rather than
English, which certainly presented some problems, but from what I
overheard even after they'd managed to change that things didn't get
any easier for them, and the slim instruction booklet didn't seem to
offer much help. Before they'd managed to configure it to suit the
battery went flat, leaving me giggling behind my hand and wondering
about the much-vaunted ease of use of the iPod's infamous
Symantec bitching - the ever-expanding security company is
complaining about Vista again, but I think their popular support is
wearing thin as for a change the comments to the article at Ars
Technica seem to be favouring Microsoft's side of the argument.
Symantec's complaint alleges that Vista is "reducing consumer
choice", but their strategy of attempting to acquire every security
and systems company on the market definitely makes me think of pots
Suing John Doe - as could be expected, Microsoft is hopping made
since their PlaysForSure DRM system was cracked, and they
have just filed a lawsuit against the faceless hacker "Viodentia"
(and nine other unknowns, just in case) alleging that he has stolen
source code. Viodentia denies this, and has consistently kept one
jump ahead of Microsoft's efforts to repair their DRM by releasing a
series of exploits to break it again.
end to the IM wars? - Microsoft and Yahoo have announced that
the new versions of their Messenger products will now be able to
communicate with each other, leaving AOL as the only major player
still to enforce isolation of its users. AOL has always strongly
resisted attempts to integrate their service with others, repeatedly
changing their protocol slightly to thwart cross-network
applications such as GAIM and Trillian, but they may have to fall
into line now or risk being sidelined.
Modding extreme - at Bit-Tech, a log of an ambitious
project to build a widescreen video projector, something few geeks
would consider. Other project logs include
three systems based around the impressive CoolerMaster Stacker
case that was on the shortlist for my
Infinity 4 build.
A smear campaign - television adverts by Congressional hopeful
Vernon Robinson, trying to unseat incumbent North Carolina Democrat
Brad Miller, have sunk to a new low while simultaneously providing
what must surely be the most surreal soundbites of the midterm
Digital triptych - a new flat panel design from Sharp will
display three different images depending on the angle from which it
is viewed, and although technical details are scant at this stage
the concept is undoubtedly as cunning as a weasel.
Antiquities - BBC engineer Matthew Sylvester has a Flickr album
of some of the technology used by the broadcasting company,
including a number of interesting images from the sixties and
seventies, such as the UK's first satellite uplink dish.
And finally, "Hey
Hey 16k" - following a recommendation in the
Verity Stob book I've just started reading, a version of MJ
Hibbert's classic song, animated by Rob Manuel. If you remember
anything from the golden age of British microcomputing, this will
prove as irresistible as it is cheesy...
Some random links from around the web - with
thanks, as usual, to three of the net's best tech news and gossip
sites - [H]ard|OCP,
Ars Technica, and
Taking it down a notch - commercial virus writers are starting
to change their basic approach away from creating code that
propagates as rapidly as possible, instead designing slower
spreading worms that will attract less attention and so avoid
detection for longer.
Washable I/O - Texas manufacturer Unotron has an unusual range
of mice and keyboards, with all the electronics sealed internally so
that the devices can be cleaned with disinfectant and then rinsed
off under a running tap - and unlike many similar specialist
devices, they also look quite stylish.
The problem with HDTV - Boing Boing luminary, online
activist and SF author Cory Doctorow is writing for Information
Week about the history of High-Definition Television, and why
it's a bad idea for consumers and media companies alike.
Eerily familiar - Sony's PS3 evangelist, Ken Kutaragi, has
surprised industry watchers by giving a keynote address that is
strongly reminiscent of one he delivered back in 2000 prior to the
launch of the PS2. All I can say is, after all this fuss the PS3 had
better be good when it finally ships...
Sticking it to the RIAA - Lime Wire, a peer-to-peer software
manufacturer that was trying hard to clean up its image before being
suddenly sued by the RIAA last month, has filed a counter-suit
against the music industry for a whole raft of illegal and
anti-competitive activities. More power to them!
Runaway litigation - Apple is flexing its legal muscles again,
having sent a cease-and-desist order to the "Podcast Ready" website
on grounds of trademark infringement. I've always been annoyed by
the whole "pod" thing, but Apple's ever-present campaign of lawsuits
is becoming even more tiresome.
The clasp - Hideaki Matsui's design for "Information Rings"
would exchange personal information during a handshake, allowing the
sort of data currently provided on a printed or electronic business
card to be transmitted wirelessly. This would also open up whole new
vistas for hacking, of course...
Google sticks its oar in - the search engine company is an
unusual source for a campaign calling for significantly more
efficient PC power supplies, and it's hard not to wonder if the move
is intended to divert attention from the continuing controversy over
relations with the Chinese government.
The leaky establishment - three AOL subscribers are suing the
ISP following its accidental publication of the search requests made
by some 650,000 subscribers, although given that the data was
largely anonymous it will be interesting to see exactly how they are
claiming to have been damaged.
Looking inward - the foundation behind the X-Prize private
rocketry challenge has turned its attention towards sequencing the
human genome, a move that has puzzled some experts on the grounds
that the $1 billion commercial DNA industry is doing very nicely
without any outside incentives.
their lips are moving they are lying - the US government is
contradicting itself yet again, this time reversing clear statements
made about the domestic anthrax attacks of 2001. Were the original
claims exaggerated to spread fear, or are they now being downplayed
to avoid attention?
And finally, a little piece of classic
stop-motion animation. "My
Animated World" is nothing really new, but it's neatly done and
pleasingly retro after some of the slick, over-produced offerings
that are gracing the net these days. Thanks to
for the pointer.
I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye,
today, and when I looked around the
radiometer in my display cabinet was spinning its little heart
out. The bright autumn sunshine was coming in low, and at just the
right angle, to strike the vanes straight-on, giving a degree of
activity that I've never seen before without borrowing the powerful
work light from my desk. The effect was a chance discovery by the
great Victorian chemist Sir William Crookes, and although both he
and the equally great physicist James Clerk Maxwell both initially
offered an incorrect explanation involving radiation pressure, in
fact it is due to a process known as thermal transpiration, whereby
localised pressure differences caused by the movement of heated gas
molecules near the vanes make them rotate on the spindle.
That corner of the cabinet is a miniature homage
to Victorian science, with a
Cradle, a "hand
a kinetic ornament reminiscent of
an orrery, and
various samples of minerals, crystals and fossils. The scientific
history of the era is fascinating, as a significant proportion of
the foundations of modern scientific knowledge was discovered by a
relatively small number of people during a relatively short period
of time - often by gentleman amateurs working largely in ignorance!
For an excellent overview, I can thoroughly recommend Bill Bryson's
Short History of Nearly Everything" - which covers the
highlights of the age of enlightenment along with much, much more.
Meanwhile, back on the ranch...
(More) trouble in paradise - the once-tranquil world of open
source development is becoming decidedly heated, these days, and
drafts of an update to the GPL have provoked criticism of the Free
Software Foundation because of planned changes concerning patents
the cheap - the UK's controversial ID cards "could cost less"
than previous estimates of between £90 and £300 per person,
according to a Home Office minister, if existing government
databases (insecure, poorly-connected, and full of errors) are used
instead of the planned dedicated system.
Mug shots - a new compact camera from Fuji can detect up to ten
human faces in the frame, and adjust focus, exposure and flash
automatically to ensure the best picture quality. It's about time
that we had some trickle-down products from the
increasingly intrusive security and surveillance technology...
Very tiny machines - a Harvard University project has produced a
animation of some of the processes taking place inside a living
cell, and it's absolutely breathtaking. The "walking" kinesin
molecule pulling a vesicle towards a particular place in the cell
has attracted particular attention.
No-one is safe - a report from Symantec claims (rightly, in my
opinion) that none of the popular Internet browsers for Windows or
Mac OS are adequately secure - although as a leading supplier of
security software they may perhaps have something of an axe to
A tight christmas - Yahoo has confirmed rumours that it is to
close its US offices for a week between christmas and the new year,
citing the need to allow staff to "recharge" their batteries. It is
likely that a cost-cutting program is behind the decision, however,
due to the company's ailing finances.
widescreen - geek site [H]ard|OCP points to
the Flickr album of a certain mandolux, an extensive
collection of striking abstract and semi-abstract photographs, many
of which are ideally sized for use as multi-monitor wallpaper. I'm
using the UltraMon
utility for multiple display management at the moment, and although
it's an unstable and cantankerous piece of software (apparently it
always has been!) it's also extremely useful - even if most of its
functionality really ought to be provided by the management tools
that come as part of the NVIDIA Forceware driver suite. I can't say
that I really recommend it, thanks to its habits of
occasionally disappearing all my desktop icons until I reboot, or
sometimes closing the active application when the screensaver
terminates, but your mileage may vary and it's certainly worth a
Quick links, as I'm out of sorts today...
Quis custodiet? - a survey suggests that almost a third of
company directors steal confidential information when they leave a
company, using email and USB memory devices to copy data.
Corporate greed - Sun Microsystems made a loss of almost $1
billion last year, and the company's investors are angry at the
generous pay rises awarded to Scott McNealy and Jonathan Schwartz.
you can't compete - Symantec and Adobe, long-time foes of
Microsoft, are once again pestering the European Commission to act
against the Seattle giant because of features to be included in
Free ICANN! - the Internet overseeing body is to become
autonomous in 2008, after extensive international pressure for the
US Department Of Commerce to relinquish control.
No more Palms?
- there is a growing belief that Palm is to abandon development of
future hardware , leaving the market to RIM's Blackberry and the
army of Windows-powered PDAs and smartphones
Open PVR - in a move somewhat reminiscent of the
Chumby project, Neuros
is offering cash bounties to developers who can add specific
features to their new OSD set-top box.
- Microsoft have set the final price of the 30Gb Zune media player
at $229.99, $60 less than originally planned in order to undercut
Apple's latest iPod range.
1000 pages per minute - a new inkjet technology could print a
page almost instantly, using an array of tens of thousands of
nozzles fed by micro-reservoirs topped up by a wiper system. Cunning
Self-contained - USBCells are AA-sized NiMH batteries that
recharge from a cleverly built-in USB plug, but as usual there are
potential problems as they use a lower voltage than "real" AA
Shell games -
the team responsible for creating the Windows user interface has
their own blog, and as well as details of the new Vista interface
it's full of ideas about GUI design in general.
Dinosaurs - Dan
reveals that the humble D-sub VGA connector is now over fifty years
old, and although it has been superseded by DVI and now HDMI, it's
still in widespread use.
Processing power - The CPU
Shack is a useful encyclopedia of modern microprocessors, and is
sufficiently comprehensive that it actually managed to find one that
I've never heard of!
- Jenova Chen has written a thesis on game design, and although some
of the text is pure psycho-babble, the ideas are fascinating and the
games themselves are relaxing and trippy.
Hypo-allergenic pussies - an American biotech company is
breeding cats that will not cause allergic reactions in sufferers,
thanks to reduced levels of a specific protein in their skin and
Little brother is watching - the discovery of a sunbather on
Google Earth has sparked a controversy on the forums: is it a man or
a woman, is it lying face-down or on its back - and is that a bikini
- Google has removed references to Inquisition21 (a site that
campaigns against the Operation Ore witch-hunts) from their index,
but have declined to give specific reasons why.
Updating - courtesy of Adobe, one of the classic dialog boxes:
"The Adobe Updater must update itself before it can check for
updates. Would you like to update the Adobe Updater now?"
Nobody knows you're half a dog - for devotees of home
teleconferencing, a slip-on garment mimicking suit jacket, shirt and
tie. Just be careful not to wave your hands around too much...
for services rendered - another optimistic techy is offering to
repair PCs in exchange for "
Having shown off the top half of my kitchen
server cabinet a few days ago, today it's the turn of the bottom
half, featuring my latest acquisition, a
Dell PowerVault 132T tape library. My recent adventures with
giant enterprise class libraries have been a source
of great amusement to my PFYs (to the point where even having to
unload the thing from a truck and manhandle it into the computer
room wasn't enough to spoil their delight at watching me scratch my
head over the impossibility of fitting it into my house!), but
they're not actually achieving much in the way of securing my data.
Something obviously needed to be done, and when I spotted this unit
on eBay it seemed like a sensible investment. It was surprisingly
cheap, considering its pair of LTO-1 drives and the presence of a
Fibre Channel SNC module, but I've purchased second hand hardware
from the company before and they have an excellent reputation.
The PV132T is considerably more petite than my
last purchase, but as it uses 100Gb LTO-1 tapes its twenty three
slots give a capacity of 2.3Tb before compression, the same order of
magnitude supplied by the physically much
larger libraries I've been using before because of their lower
capacity drives. The jump to LTO also brings a welcome improvement
in performance, and even with both drives (temporarily) on the same channel
of an Adaptec 39160 SCSI controller I
can backup at a rate of more than 1Gb/minute, far ahead of the few
hundreds of Mb/minute I'm used to from my previous DLT libraries.
Tests also show that I can backup across the network from my desktop
PC at twice the speed it can backup to its own local VXA library, as
well, so I may consider retiring that library and using the
PowerVault as the central backup for the whole LAN.
The only drawback is that the chassis is in
stylish Dell black, of course, and the majority of the rest of my
server hardware is in boring office beige - but at least the smoked
glass door of the server cabinet mutes the contrast and I guess I
can live with that now that I have good backups again at last. For
the technically inquisitive, the sever is an old
CompuAdd clone with
an Intel motherboard supporting a pair of 450MHz Pentium III CPUs,
hardly a speed demon but but perfectly adequate for a home Active
Directory server. It has five 18Gb drives internally, hung from an
Adaptec AAA1130 RAID controller, and the little square units above
the tape library are Sun StorEdge MultiPack arrays stuffed full of
18Gb and 36Gb drives hung from a dual channel Adaptec 39160 SCSI controller.
These host a pair of software RAID volumes totalling around 350Gb,
and given that at present all the disk volumes are pretty much full
to bursting it's no wonder I need a fairly capacious tape library -
even if not something quite as expansive as an Adic Scalar
|I'm busy installing network cameras, so you'll have to survive
with the regular round-up from the web:
Fat margins - the pricing set for Apple's new iPod models is far
from competitive, according to a report from Gartner, showing that
the company is aiming for higher profits rather than to maximise
market share. Given the almost simultaneous launch of Microsoft's
Zune, and impressive products from Sandisk and others, this could be
a dangerous decision...
Multi-standard discs - a new patent by Warner covers discs with
a Blu-ray top layer that works like a two-way mirror, reflecting
enough blue light for a Blu-ray player to read it but letting
through enough light for HD-DVD players to read a second layer
beneath. In theory the second side could contain traditional DVD and
even CD audio layers, giving four media formats in one package.
"Very tiny machines" - a team at MIT is designing tiny gas
turbine engines using the same maqss production technology that has
evolved for manufacturing semiconductors. The entire package will be
about a centimetre across, and when complete the turbine will spin
at an impressive 20,000 rpm to produce about 10 watts of power.
Ofcom must share - the Information Commissioner has ruled that
Ofcom cannot conceal the locations of cellphone base stations on the
spurious grounds of national security, and in a similar vein the EU
Data Protection Supervisor has stated that terrorism should
not be used as an excuse to pass legislation which undermines
privacy and data protection rights.
Coming down to earth - another satellite broadband company seems
to be facing difficulties, with users of the Ouranous service
finding themselves cut off with no warning or explanation. Ouranos
bought competitor Aramiska when it faced financial problems earlier
this year, but now it looks as if their customers will be acquired
by Bridge Broadband Services, one of the few remaining suppliers.
Can't pay, won't pay - an Illinois judge has ruled that UK
spamfighters Spamhaus must pay $11,715,000 to junk email company
e360insight, following Steve Linford's decision not to fight the
suit on the very reasonable grounds that the court had absolutely no
jurisdiction over a UK company. One positive note is the apparent
effectiveness of the ROKSO blacklist which lead to the suit.
Buried but not forgotten - accusations of malfeasance levelled
against the Federal Communications Commission are nothing new, and
the latest claims that the agency destroyed a study on the
implications of local ownership of television stations and
newspapers, in order to justify a policy that departed substantially
from the recommendations in the report.
Experience the power of the TSA
- for those who feel the urge to throw their weight around,
inconveniencing innocent people by carrying out the useless and
draconian policies of a virtually unaccountable government agency, a
new web-based game puts the player in the role of an airport
screener trying to confiscate arbitrary objects from passing
mail not quite dead - the Royal Mail has launched an e-postage
service which allows home users to print postage onto envelopes or
labels in the form of a unique barcode. At present first class and
special delivery postage can be generated, for both domestic and
overseas - but I can't see any mention of the new Pricing In
Proportion mechanism for charging by size as well as weight!
a simulation of a simulation - a new service in the popular
online game Second Life allows players to interact sexually with
computer-controlled playmates, and I was greatly amused by the first
of the article's comments, where one player complained that online
virtual sex is pointless unless it involves another human being.
Somebody is missing a point, somewhere... [Link NOT work
The neat little beige box at the top of this
stack is my latest toy, an
network video recorder that I've just picked up on eBay for a tiny
fraction of its £2000+ list price. It supports eight Axis TCP/IP
cameras, recording an aggregate of up to 240 frames per second at
megapixel resolution. It uses a web-based management interface that
will instantly be familiar to anyone who has used any Axis product,
and although it's really quick and easy to get the basics up and
running, as usual there are a million tweaks and twiddles available
for the adventurous.
For the terminally curious, the next unit down is
a Compaq Deskpro SFF running my
Smoothwall firewall, followed by a Cobalt RaQ 4R (now upgraded
to CentOS via the
StrongBolt bundle from UK specialist Open Source Office, see
Epicycle passim). I am
embarrassed to admit that the majority of my infrastructure now runs
some flavour of Linux, and as I only have four Windows systems
(three clients and an AD domain controller) sat on top there is a
significant danger of being thrown out of the
He-man Unix-hater's Club... At the bottom of the stack is an
old Bay Networks 100Mbit switch that my company's R&D department
threw out several years ago for some reason I could never establish,
and while it's not exactly high tech it serves the purpose for now.
In the best tradition of my hero
Dan Rutter, the first thing I
did after unpacking the box was to undo an impressively
over-specified number of screws and remove the top cover. Somewhat
to my surprise, this revealed a conventional Micro-ATX motherboard,
complete with a CPU from Via or one of the other cool-running
Pentium-clone manufacturers, together with a regular 160Gb IDE hard
disk and a 256Mb DIMM filling one of the two sockets. All the usual
VGA, USB and other ports are on the motherboard, and doubtless
supported by the underlying Linux OS, but although they have been
masked by a metal blanking plate presumably this could be removed if
there was ever a need for additional I/O. The additional PCB behind
the front panel holds a compact flash card to boot the OS, leaving
the entire disk volume available for recording, and another PCB at
the rear of the case provides the little block of electrical
connectors that graces most Axis products, but on the whole the
system is appealingly conventional.
I haven't had much time to fiddle with it as yet,
but it only took a few seconds to add my pair of Axis 207W cameras,
and my first impression is that it provides as much functionality as
the eye-wateringly expensive Lenel OnGuard system we use at the
office. Whether I roll it out to external clients in place of the
existing Surveyor WebcamSat
server, or keep it as a purely internal home security system,
remains to be seen - but there is certainly a good case for
consolidating all my network video functionality into a single
So the early morning news informed me that
apparently today is "Take
Your Dog To Work Day", and once I had suppressed an involuntary
shudder at the idea I was minded to investigate. The event, now in
its eleventh year, is organised by pet charity The Blue Cross, and
is claimed to be "the most popular charity dog event in the canine
calendar", whatever the hell that means. The basic idea seems to be
that one's colleagues will be smitten by the cuteness and appeal of
one's dog and so be moved to donate large quantities of money to the
aforementioned charity, but I have to say that I find the idea both
grotesque and inappropriate. The organisers seem to have overlooked
the very real problem that many people are not just neutral
towards dogs, but in fact dislike them intensely. I am one of the
latter, and the idea of sharing a workplace with a smelly, dirty,
noisy and intrusive animal (yes, even for a single day!) fills me
with distaste. Certainly, some of the sentiments expressed on the
web site are pure fantasy: "Taking my dog to work with me is good
for me, good for the dog, and good for everyone", or "When
(my dog) is around people tend to be better humoured and more
relaxed. Therefore more productive". It's hard for me to express
exactly how strongly I disagree with those statements...
Fortunately I saw absolutely no signs of canine
infestation in my office today, and as we are one of the larger
employers in the county it seems likely to me that the event's
organisers have grossly over-estimated the popularity of the
concept. Before the veins start throbbing in my forehead, therefore,
some random links from around the web:
Die, Diebold, die - we hardly need any more revelations about
the appalling insecurity of the Diebold electronic voting machines,
but last week's
expose of how a machine could be infected with virus-like vote
rigging software if physical access could be gained to the internals
is highlighted very effectively by the discovery that the allegedly
secure machines can be opened with off-the-shelf keys used for hotel
minibars, office filing cabinets, computer hardware, jukeboxes etc
etc. It's time for governments everywhere to stop paying attention
to the reassuring lies repeatedly emitted by Diebold and acknowledge
that right now the entire concept of electronic voting is
dangerously flawed - and any government that will not do so should
be viewed with grave suspicion as having a vested interest in
V for Vendetta - the European Competition Commissioner has
denied that the EU is "targeting" Microsoft with their
ever-increasing fines and penalties, and in fact claims that her
agency is the victim of a "coordinated campaign" to discredit them.
Given that the income raised from fining Microsoft exceeds that
raised from many of the EU member states, however, it's hard to see
the rulings as anything but a cash cow, and the absurd requirements
to un-bundle Media Player and the suggestions that the Commission
may force MS to remove certain security features from Vista do
nothing to bring credence to their case.
Bank statement - at Boing Boing, news that new spyware is
targeting the on-screen keyboards used as authentication mechanisms
by online banks and similar organisations in the hope of avoiding
key loggers. The trojan records a small video clip centred on the
mouse pointer, creating a visual representation of the IDs and
passwords entered to send off to its master. Citibank, one of the
major users of this technology, has already replaced the system with
a more conventional "secret question" mechanism, and I suspect that
other organisations will soon follow.
Steampunk gaming - this enterprising gamer has hooked up a one
of those wonderful miniature steam engines to a dynamo, and is using
it to power his Gameboy. It's thoroughly pointless, of course, but I
firmly believe that technology should be roundly abused as often as
possible and this is a classic example. More power to him!
Cool hardware - details are a touch scant at present, but the
latest offering from water cooling specialists Koolance is a 4U
rack-mount unit designed to cool up to 20 CPUs. With five 6L/min
pumps and the capacity to dissipate up to 3000W of heat, as well as
the trademark blue illuminated reservoir, I'm already wondering if
there's a suitable niche for it in one of my Dell racks at the
- an experimental film from artist Ahree Lee consists of nothing but
pictures of her face, taken every day for three years. The resulting
three minute sequence is surprisingly captivating, and has rightly
won a number of awards at film festivals around the world.
The weekend's upgrade to our email archiving
system went very smoothly, thanks to meticulous preparation by one
of my PFYs, and my own little twiddles with cloning and renaming
some servers were equally smooth, with only one piece of low-level
registry hackery required just to keep my hand in. Forty is quite
old for a working techy (a significant proportion of us are driving
a desk by this time, having succumbed to the dubious lure of
management) and I'd hate to think I was losing
Dubious notices - sites hosting the FairUse4WM utility,
designed to remove the DRM from protected Windows Media files, are
receiving communications from Microsoft ordering them to remove the
utility on the grounds that it violates their copyright. This is
unexpected, as although the software may well violate the terms of
the DMCA legislation, it's hard to see how copyright is involved.
Unexpected DRM - elsewhere in Microsoft-land, the new Zune
player is raising a number of eyebrows. To begin with, it won't
import DRM-protected music downloaded from legitimate sites such as
Napster and Rhapsody, and secondly, once media is imported,
it is automatically wrapped up in DRM copy protection
whether you want it or not - including Creative Commons licensed
Amazon bastardry - and talking of thoroughly inappropriate
corporate behaviour, Amazon's new "Unbox" video-on-demand service
has remarkably intrusive and restrictive terms of service. Boing
Boing has a full analysis of the small print, but the executive
summary is that Amazon can do pretty much whatever it wants to your
PC, and if you don't like that it will delete all your movies...
Crypto for pedos - attendees at a recent meeting of the
British Literary and Artistic Copyright Association, allegedly
experts on modern copyright law, have exhibited a depressing lack of
familiarity with both technology and society by expressing the
opinion that data encryption is only used by paedophiles and
probably ought to be banned completely.
Risks digest - an article in Wired News suggests that, in spite
of the US and UK governments' desperate attempts to scare the
bejusus out of us all in the name of national security, being
murdered by terrorists should be a long way down the list. In fact,
we're far more likely to be shot by police officers that al-Qaida,
and even our own internal organs are more of a threat...
A tribute -
I've never been terribly impressed with most of the machinima
computer game movies, but this recreation of the classic Monty
Python sketch "How
Not To Be Seen" rather tickled me. As a staunch fan of Larry
Space" series I should like a game set on a ringworld, but I'm
just not that fond of first-person shooters and somehow Halo never
really grabbed me.
Crochet flora - I remember linking to these crochet designs from
the wonderfully alternative Californian educational organization
The Institute For Figuring a while ago, but work like this is
always worth a reminder. Their stand at the LA County Fair has
wonderful examples of their cacti and ocean kelp beds, both
wonderfully realistic, and instructions for making them are
available at their web site.
letters #173 - the latest letters column covers various types of
high-tech scams and frauds, including a rash of fake dynamo
flashlights and some mindless venom from
an idiot who sells "morphic
message foils" that stick onto the outside of hi-fi cases to improve
the sound quality. Needless to say, Dan is less than impressed with
this kind of snake oil.
I'm dubious - a mention of Sword Salve in Dan's column (a
wonderful 17th century idea for healing wounds by rubbing a nostrum
into the blade that caused them) pointed me to the official FAQ of
the Usenet group sci.skeptic. It's an extremely interesting resource
for those with a scientific frame of mind, showcasing as it does
some of the more bizarre beliefs held by those with anything but...
And, finally, tomorrow is the ever-popular Talk
Like A Pirate Day, and Boing Boing provides
a helpful roundup of all things to do with piracy - including a
neat little mod for those with Mac laptops. [Update: even
Linus Torvalds contributed, with his
nautical-themed announcement of the new V2.6.18 kernel.]
Some high-speed news links to end the week -
although in fact I'll be back in the office tomorrow, helping one of
my PFYs upgrade the email archiving server. No rest for the
Format war - to nobody's surprise (except perhaps that of the
manufacturers!), consumers are waiting to see whether Blu-ray or
HD-DVD wins out before committing their hard-earned cash.
Best of both worlds - on a related note, a new design for an
optical drive from Toshiba will play and record both regular and
High Definition DVD discs. How long before Blu-ray is on the menu as
On Zune - Microsoft's new pocket media player
launched yesterday, and Engadget has an interview with J
Allard, the division Corporate Vice President, on the direction the
product will take.
Down on iTunes - only a few days after the launch of the new
version 7, reports of major problems are emerging in both the Mac
and Windows versions of the software.
One law for the rich - when Star Trek brat Wil Wheaton lost all
his downloaded songs following an iTunes glitch, Apple pretty much
fell over itself to help him download them all again.
Lay off Apple - a US Department Of Justice spokesman has
recommended that European governments stop investigating the highly
restrictive DRM embodied in the iTunes service.
- in the wake of the launch of the new iPods earlier this week (more
of the same, as far as I can see!) Wired News has a gallery
of ideas for alternative designs.
Money for nothing - in a move strongly reminiscent of the Eolas
suit, an unknown company is alleging that Microsoft's Xbox Live
service infringes two of their patents in some undisclosed manner.
Popularity contest - analysis of image metadata on Flickr
suggests that Canon is by far and away the best selling brand of
digital cameras, at both the mass-market and "prosumer" levels.
Palast escapes - the negative publicity that followed the absurd
and vindictive charges laid against the campaigning reporter has
encouraged Exxon and the Homeland Security Agency to back down.
marketing - The Escapist has a fascinating interview with
an online marketer who promotes games and tech products by
pretending to be a regular user in online forums.
RIAA weaknesses - at Slashdot an interview with two lawyers who
specialise in fighting the RIAA suggests that the evidence presented
by the association is often laughably weak.
Under threat - the CEO of Universal Music has revealed that he
plans to attack MySpace and YouTube for copyright infringement, a
move that I've been expecting for a while...
Fighting spying - the activist group Digital Rights Ireland is
suing the government in the hope of overturning their implementation
of the highly intrusive European Data Retention Directive.
Rootkit's revenge - just when you thought it was safe to go back
to your CD library, further analysis of the infamous Sony rootkit
shows the potential of a nasty interaction with AOL's software.
Corporate slime - Google has hired the Washington, DC lobbying
firm DCI, who have a long history of highly dubious behaviour,
including backing the notorious "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth"
Selling contacts - Jigsaw Data alleges to be a "social
networking" site, but it buys and sells personal contact details
from its members without the knowledge of the people affected by the
- inspired by the Mac utility EtherPEG, EtherWatch detects and
captures image files being passed across a wireless network and
displays them, even attempting to recognise porn!
Thanks for the memory - Samsung has announced a new generation
of flash storage devices, using NAND Charge Trap Flash architecture
to significantly increase both capacity and performance.
Free phones - the oddly named Reestit Mutton site analyses the
maze of UK cellphone contracts and shows that if you're careful you
can get a phone and airtime for free, or even at a profit!
Nowhere to hide - Greenpeace has warned that many sex toys
contain alarming levels of phthalate plasticisers, toxic
chemicals that have already been banned from childrens' toys.
Rewriting history - my Trekkie friend Mike is outraged at the
news that the original series of Star Trek is to be reworked with
computer graphics and a better soundtrack. Talk about lipstick on a
fashion victims - a survey by a commercial Exchange email
hosting company suggests that IT staff are far more likely to wear
black jeans, heavy metal T-shirts, ponytails, and cellphones on belt
clips than any other sector of society, which makes me feel
depressingly stereotyped. I used to be able to console myself that
at least I wasn't fat, but the middle-age spread has crept up on me
these days and I'm fast becoming a classic Type 3 sysadmin. Still,
at least we're not nearly as common as Types 1 and 2, the Unix lawn
dwarves and the spotty pocket protector nerds...
I'm still gritting my teeth after re-watching
Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 a few nights ago, a state of
mind that has not been improved by half an hour spent at the
combined Nielsen-Hayden weblog Making Light, where Teresa
angers and depresses anyone with a social conscience by her
graphic descriptions of the brutal techniques authorised for
interrogation of prisoners in US camps in Guantanamo Bay and
According to the sources, CIA officers who
subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an
average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda's
toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of
interrogators when he was able to last between two and
two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.
"The person believes they are being killed,
and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is
illegal under international law", said John Sifton of Human Rights
When you use a technique that your toughest
guys can't stand for more than fifteen seconds, one that instantly
reduces prisoners to abject begging, you're not using "stress and
duress interrogation" or "alternative interrogation methods" or
"authorized interrogation techniques". It's torture, pure and
The legacy of 9/11... Welcome to the
New World Order.
Elsewhere, a handful of news items with a legal sort of a theme:
Level of incompetence - in a move guaranteed to offend and
outrage, the police officer in charge of the operation that ended in
the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes has been recommended
for promotion to
Deputy Assistant Commissioner.
Security theatre - the BAA is to relax some of its restrictions
on airplane carry-on luggage next week, once again permitting such
fearsome items as drinking water and baby food. This absurd exercise
has achieved nothing in terms of security, but has simply brought
inconvenience to millions.
Journalism in the first degree - The Department of Homeland
Security is bringing charges against investigative reporter Greg
Palast for the heinous crime of filming an oil refinery in Lousiana.
Exxon has hated Palast for years, and this is obviously their way of
trying to cause him some grief.
HP to fry - it now seems almost certain that Hewlett Packard
will face charges in California following the commissioning of
unlawful investigations into company employees and directors, and
reporters and their relatives, following leaks of information
concerning top-level planning meetings.
Zotob writer jailed - one of the writers of the "Zotob" worm
that laid waste to Windows systems in 2005 has been jailed for two
years by a Moroccan court, and one of his associates (not actually
responsible for the worm itself) received a sentence of one year.
Police raid hoodie web - two Ipswich thugs have been arrested
after police reviewed a website where they had posted video clips of
themselves carrying out various criminal and anti-social behaviours.
This seems to be a growing trend, and is another illustration of
exactly how anonymous the web is...
Gmail vs. G-mail - a German entrepreneur has vowed to "shut down
Gmail" following the failure of talks intended to smooth over the
trademark dispute. This is very reminiscent of the various suits
against Microsoft, I'd say, intended only to make a fast buck with
Die, Diebold, die - two Princeton security researchers have
illustrated exactly how flawed the controversial electronic voting
machines really are, taking less than a minute to install
vote-rigging software into the operating system in such a way as to
leave no trace of its presence.
Sky By Broadband hiatus - the legal movie download service
attached to the UK satellite TV company has been taken offline
following the news that the Microsoft DRM technology used to
restrict the files has been compromised. Sky has not yet given a
timescale for the service to be restored.
iTunes hacked - actually, it hasn't been a good week for DRM,
with the newly revamped iTunes V7 application being hacked within
hours of its release, once again enabling the restrictions on fair
use to be stripped from music downloaded from the online iTunes
store. DRM 0, Hackers 2...
nobody knows you're a dog - much angst and anger has followed
the revelation that the popular teenage video-blogger "LonelyGirl15"
was actually a publicity stunt created by a Hollywood talent agency,
with some refusing to believe it was a hoax even after it had been
A few random links:
Spamming Tony - following ever-increasing speculation about when
Prime Minister Tony Blair will resign (we seem to have gone past the
stage of "if"), one of the party faithful created an online petition
intended to encourage his detractors to back off. Within a few hours
it had been discovered by certain unruly elements, however, and the
rest is history...
Crooked Canadian - the details of how ex-MP Sam "Hollywood"
Bulte financed her unsuccessful campaign for re-election earlier
this year are emerging, and it's all as sleazy as expected.
Unfortunately it appears that her successor is also a puppet of the
media conglomerates, who are just about to receive their reward in
the form of Canada's equivalent to the USA's DMCA legislation.
Wikipedia won't censor - unlike Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, the
founder of the increasingly popular online encyclopedia has refused
to bow to the Chinese government's demands to censor its content,
and so remains blocked by the country's filtering systems. Another
meeting with Chinese officials is imminent, but Jimmy Wales insists
that it's all or nothing for the encyclopedia.
Bean bag PC - La Jolla startup Chumby Industries is giving out
pre-release examples of its strange little squeezable computing
appliance to hardware geeks and designers in order to encourage
development of software and... ah... "skins" to cover the frame. The
target price is $150, which seems like a lot for a smart alarm
clock, but I think it has great potential if it becomes sufficiently
years of the hard disk - tomorrow brings the 50th anniversary of
the hard disk drive, a unit which shipped with IBM's Model 305
computer system. The RAMAC (allegedly from "Random Access Method of
Accounting and Control") weighed over a ton and required its own
compressed air supply, using an array of 24" steel discs to store
5Mb, an impressive quantity of data in 1956.
Flaming copiers - home office life is becoming increasingly
dangerous these days, it seems, with the ever-popular stories of
various models of exploding laptop being joined by news that Canon
is recalling a popular model of personal photocopier because of (you
guessed it) a risk of it bursting into flames. My advice is to
always keep a bucket of water handy when working with technology...
No escape - New Scientist's tech blog brings word that a new
system will allow television adverts to be displayed clearly even
when they are being watched in fast-forward on a PVR. A simplified
version of the advert is encoded into the key frames displayed
during speeded up playback, ensuring that the basic message gets
across anyhow. For this we have UK inventor Colin Davies to thank,
On the anniversary of the WTC destruction it
seems appropriate to link to
which each year publishes a list of socially significant events or
topics that have been missed, underreported or censored by the
mainstream press. This year's list includes the perennial issue
concerning the way that the World Trade Center buildings collapsed,
professor of physics at BYU claims is far more reminiscent of
controlled detonations with explosives than the effects of the
collisions. I have to admit a considerable degree of scepticism
about this, as it's hard to see how such deliberate destruction
could have been arranged so successfully in secret, but there's no
doubt that the facts as presented do
Death to AllOfMP3.com - the somewhat dubious Russian commercial
music site is likely to be the first target of a newly-passed law
that attempts to close the loophole the site is exploiting and bring
the country into compliance with the requirements of the World Trade
The next big thing - Release Candidate 1 of Windows Vista is
available for download as an ISO CD image, and the word on the
street is that this build is extremely workable. But I'm waiting
until the real thing ships before I to treat my desktop PC to it's
first clean installation since the year 2000.
Anything But iPod - as someone who manages to play music and
videos on a handheld device without having given any of my
hard-earned salary to Apple, I was delighted to find a site devoted
to reviews and discussion of all the other MP3 players on the
market, with not an iPod in site.
Craigslist scandal - a Seattle "prankster" planted a provocative
but fake advert on the local branch of the dating site, and then
reposted all the replies to a web site, complete with personal
details and photographs. Needless to say, this has caused something
of a fuss, and the threats are flying...
Table of elements - Ig Nobel Prize winner Theodore Gray has been
working on his literal Periodic Table since 2002, and the work has
spun-off a column in Popular Science magazine, an impressive library
of photographs of the elements, and a beautiful poster based on the
Fakers - the pop-science television show Braniac is at
the center of a minor scandal following revelations that they faked
experiments allegedly involving the highly-reactive Group I metals
and water, using explosives instead, and Ben Goldacre at The
less than impressed.
Second Life hacked - the popular online game has revealed that
their user database has been broken into, compromising the personal
details of more than 600,000 registered users. No credit card
details were stolen, but pretty much everything else was at the
mercy of the hacker.
Spot the difference - in the UK Sky TV is showing the re-worked
versions of all six Star Wars movies, and as usual Wikipedia is an
excellent source for a list of the somewhat controversial changes.
For the truly obsessive, the entry also links to StarWars.com,
where they can be found in minute detail.
stats service tells me that I passed 200,000 visitors last week,
just around my birthday, which is nice. I'm still recovering after
last night's celebrations (half computer geeks and half Jamaican
party girls - a bizarre mixture which nevertheless worked out very
well!) so just a few quick links to keep you going:
Confidentiality clause - a post at Boing Boing suggests
that searching Google for the phrase "Confidential do not
distribute" might prove surprisingly interesting - and contrary
to expectations this is indeed the case! Evidently some companies
have odd ideas as to what constitutes distribution!
Copyright thugs - the creator of a Beatles / Beach Boys "mashup"
album has been threatened with a massive lawsuit by EMI , who have
also demanded the IP addresses of everyone who has downloaded the
music from his web site, presumably in order to threaten them as
The Ultimate Blog Post - courtesy of Wired, the big name
blog entries that we're all waiting for. My favourite was for
Slashdot: "AMD, SCO patent MP3 over TCP/IP, sue ATI, EA.
Microsoft probably responsible somehow."
Pocket gaming - I've seen a collection of classic video games
built into a full-sized Atari 2600 joystick, but these miniature
joystick and paddle controllers are charmingly cute as well as
fashionably retro. Each one contains two or three games, and are a
steal at $15 each from Think Geek.
A useful tip - intrusive logos and branding on cellphones and
PDAs can often be removed without damaging the finish of the casing,
according to this tip at Instructables, by sanding the area
gently with sugar crystals.
Death from above - having suffered a long train and tube journey
after visiting me this weekend, my friend Mike passed on a link to a
microlight personal helicopter. In Japan, where the design hails
from, they can legally be flown without any form of license - which
I find somewhat scary...
Curious perversions in IT - I
hadn't come across The Daily WTF before, but it's worth a
look. The front page currently has a collection of startling error
messages, and the usual agonised tales of encounters between
hardened techies, and clueless users and consultants. Good stuff.
I have made something of a miscalculation...
For the last month or two I've been eying-up a
enterprise-level tape libraries that have been listed and
re-listed on eBay at increasingly tempting prices, and last week my
heart got the better of my head and I bought one of them. It's an Adic Scalar 1000, a massive beast capable of holding tens of
terabytes of media and multiple tape drives, with alarmingly rapid
robotics to move one to the other. Given the perpetual
white-elephant status of my last such purchase, a
Exabyte 690D library, I need some kind
of fat-ass backup solution for my home servers and there is no doubt
that a Scalar 1000 would keep me going for... well, pretty much for
ever. I know that at some point I pulled out a tape measure and
checked the cabinet measurements on Adic's technical documents, but
I must have had a moment of brain fade as based on that I decided
that in fact it was slightly narrower than the Exabyte library (if
taller and deeper) and so would fit into my kitchen-cum-datacentre
Having measured properly, however, unfortunately
this turned out to be very much not the case, and even before the
unit had shipped out I was already aware that I was going to have a
problem. Moving it through the double front doors would be
difficult, but possible, but the internal door between the hall and
the kitchen is several inches too narrow - but having taken the
plunge I thought that I'd wait and see the library in the flesh and
hope that inspiration would strike.
The delivery of the library to the office
yesterday brought two realisations. Firstly, that there was no way
that this monster was ever going to fit into my house, and secondly
that it wasn't quite as described in the listing. Rather than four
obsolete DLT-7000 drives, to match the large collection of 35Gb DLT
tapes left over from my previous libraries, in fact the chassis is
fitted with four dual-drive AIT-2 modules, a much more recent 8mm
form factor holding 50Gb before compression. The smaller physical
size of each tape raises the maximum capacity of the library from
158 to 237 cartridges, providing a jaw-dropping 11.5Tb of storage.
This means that for £310 including shipping I
have something of a bargain on my hands - although a bargain that is
unfortunately completely useless to me, as even if I could find
space for the thing, the cost of acquiring enough AIT-2 tapes to
make it worthwhile would be prohibitive. However, the almost
contemporary drive technology makes it far more attractive on the
second hand market (similar models are being advertised for many
thousands of pounds), and my current plan is to tout the thing
around the companies that provide support and maintenance for
enterprise-class backup solutions. If that fails I'll have to break
it for components myself, as there is a good chance that selling
just one of the AIT drive modules would recoup my expenses, but it
would be a real shame to write-off such a wonderful piece of
technology just for spares and that will definitely be a last
resort. In the meantime, the thing is skulking in one of the aisles
of the computer room at work, looking hugely black and monolithic,
and generally getting in the way. Anyone care to make me an offer?
|Happy birthday to me!
I'm forty, today - apparently one day
older than Star Trek, the first episode of which, "The
Man Trap", was shown on America's NBC on September 8th 1966
at 8:30pm. Given my abiding interest in both science and science
fiction, that seems extremely appropriate.
Normal service will resume tomorrow.
A few random links from around the web:
Ageism - UK phone supplier (and erstwhile ISP) Carphone
Warehouse is refusing to provide Internet service to anyone over the
age of seventy, on the spurious and insulting grounds that they
wouldn't understand the contract they were signing. The company
claims that their policy is intended to "protect the elderly", but I
suspect that bigotry like this will cause a backlash they will come
Coherency - Dan of Dan's Data has always had a soft spot for
lasers, and his latest review of some of the products from laser
specialist Lexus is absolutely riveting. As usual, Dan mixes a
healthy dose of physics in with the practical testing, and the end
result is informative and amusing - and the lasers themselves are an
order of magnitude scarier than anything I've seen in the "pointer"
Trained bacteria - scientists working in Japan have designed and
manufactured a nanotech motor, using tailored bacteria crawling in
protein-covered circular groove, and dragging a star-shaped rotor
around with them. As it stands the motor delivers an unimpressive
level of torque, but apparently the solution is simple - just add
Telephone telepathy - controversial (some would say "batty")
English scientists Rupert Sheldrake is back in the news again,
following publication of what he claims is proof of the alleged
phenomena of thinking about somebody just as they phone or send an
email. The sample size seems vanishingly small, however, the results
statistically insignificant, and the methodology questionable in the
Ministry of DRM - the New Zealand government has published a
blueprint for official state use of DRM which it is hoping will be
adopted world-wide, but as could be expected from a consultation fed
by Microsoft, IBM and Hewlett Packard there was no mention of the
fundamental conflict between DRM and open source systems - a concept
which the government claims to encourage.
WiFi warning - the state of California has passed a bill making
it mandatory for wireless network hardware to ship with a warning to
activate the product's security features in order to prevent data
theft or unauthorised use of the network. The warning can either be
detailed in the software installation process, or in the form of a
bright orange sticker applied to the power button or similar.
Ending migration woes - in the forums at Ars Technica,
and extremely useful guide to swapping a PC motherboard to a
different model with a minimum of trauma. I've successfully
performed this basic process myself on a number of occasions, but
the posting has a few new tips to minimise the risk of AGP video
driver incompatibilities and reduce the litter of old drivers etc
that may be left behind.
power! - and talking of hardware, the ever-informative Silent
PC Review has updated its perennial PSU guide to include the
latest guidelines from Intel and the issue of a high-efficiency
power supply that won't fire up a motherboard with a staged-start
facility. This guide is now one of the definitive works in the
field, and has been through enough peer review to be extremely
Those formats explained - the number of differnt flavours of
flash memory card is expanding monthly, it seems, to the point where
I see USB card readers badged as 40 or even 50-in-1... This useful
thread at cellphone specialist
Howard Forums clearly illustrates the difference between the
original SD, Mini SD and it's new cousin Micro SD, or "TransFlash"
as it is known in the phone industry.
Mini Three keypad arrived today, and it really is a nice little
toy. It seems to have been sent directly from the manufacturer in
China, rather than from Russia, and the customs declaration was
sufficiently spurious to avoid duty and VAT - naughty, of course,
but very welcome... First impressions are that the hardware is
gorgeous (the OLED screens are everything that were promised, and
the overall build quality is certainly impressive) but that the
Configurator software which allows images and functions to be
uploaded to the buttons is very fragile. It crashed three or four
times in the first ten minutes of playing, which is far from
ideal... I don't have time for more than that right now, however,
but I'll post my impressions when the opportunity permits.
The picture really doesn't do it justice... The
camera flash has turned the sleek black casing grey, as usual, and
also highlighted every speck of dust - and the comparatively slow
refresh rate of the OLEDs gives rise to the same "scan line" effect
that makes photographing a television picture awkward. In real life,
the images are crisp and clean, with a soft glow from the
Meanwhile, back on the web...
Biting the hand that feeds it - ISPs are finding increasingly
hard to cope with the ever-increasing traffic from the popular
BitTorrent P2P clients, to the point where some have been forced to
throttle it back at their routers. Recent clients that encrypt the
traffic to prevent it from being categorised and shaped have
bypassed this, however, and both the ISPs and the protocol's creator
are becoming concerned.
the warpath - flushed with success following their patent
infringement victory over Apple, Creative have announced their
intention of perusing other companies who's MP3 players or cell
phones use the same type of interface. In my opinion
the patent is overly-broad, and should probably never have been
granted, but given its widespread use Creative is certainly onto a
good thing while it lasts.
Start me up - you can tell that we're still in the grip of the
Silly Season when the web succumbs to hysteria over whether users
will be able to disable the start-up sound that may or may not be
included in the upcoming Vista OS. Rumours that a distinctive
musical sound is being written by Robert Fripp have been circulating
for ages, but surely it's premature to be worrying about such tiny
Exotica - a new PC case from Thermaltake has space for two
motherboards and the sort of pull-out LCD display usually found on
in-car DVD players. It's an interesting idea, certainly (even if
it is promoted by the sort of
fake blog that companies really should stay away from!) but I
can't help thinking that there are better ways of delivering the
same flexibility and processing power.
what you stole last summer - Apple maintains a database of iPods
that are reported as stolen, it seems, and could track them by their
internal serial number if the new "owner" used one to connect to
iTunes. They show no signs of wanting to do this, however, and there
are growing calls for them to refuse to provide the iTunes service
to users of stolen players.
Viruses down, phishing up - as the monthly number of viruses
spread by email starts to creep down, the number of phishing scams
has risen sharply, accounting for a third of all dubious messages.
The web sites referenced in the messages remain for online for an
average of around five days before being removed by the ISP, which
unfortunately is plenty of time to reel in a sucker or two.
Adventures in video - the UK government's Cabinet Office is
doubly embarrassed, this week, having uploaded a batch of
informational videos to YouTube... but almost before anyone could
realise how excruciatingly dull they were, they had to be withdrawn
when it turned out that the copyright was held by a different
government sub-department, the Central Office Of Information. Oh,
And, finally -
Linux weenies, you gotta love 'em... In Switzerland, open source
advocate Alex Antener is demonstrating that marketing a free product
is as troublesome as ever. GNU / Linux Ubuntu is such a popular OS,
it seems, that you have to dress up as an animal and give it away in
|Something for the weekend...
Keep taking the tablets - at portable computing site
GottaBeMobile.com, tablet PC guru Rob Bushway is writing about
what has changed in the upcoming Vista OS with regards to "ink"
support. There are some
noticeable improvements, he says, but in many ways Microsoft has
missed an opportunity to revitalise support for a technology that is
sure to grow during Vista's lifecycle.
Whatever happened to? - in 1999 the small town of Halfway,
Oregon, was paid $110,000 to change it's name to Half.com as
a way of advertising the eponymous shopping site. With a population
of only 377 when the company was acquired for $312.8 million by eBay
a year later, William Drenttel wonders how one of the web's more
successful PR stunts affected the town.
Cool styling - Yanko Design is a designer housewares store
masquerading as a design weblog, but I have to admit that their
container ship power strip is a lovely item. Obviously designed with
"wall wart" transformers in mind rather than regular mains plugs,
it's so elegant that it would be a shame to relegate it to the usual
location on the floor under a desk.
The truth about the frog - the announcement of plans for a free
music downloading site, The Spiral Frog, has created
something of a stir around the web, but rumours suggest that there
are a number of significant drawbacks: music that expires if you
don't go to the site to view adverts (and maybe after six months,
even if you do!), and heavyweight DRM that seriously limits
flexibility of use.
Underachieving - AOL's new movie download service looks "rushed
and unready", according to The Register, and the overly
restrictive DRM means that films can only be played on Windows
platforms and can't be burned to DVD. The latter is especially
unimpressive, considering that downloads can cost up to $19.99 - the
same as buying an actual DVD! Oh, and like The Spiral Frog,
it's US only...
Sends a nastygram - Apple has always been a heavily
litigious company (remember their war on clone hardware back in the
eighties, and their persecution of Mac news sites over the last few
years) but these days they just don't seem to be able to find the
same calibre of lawyers and this attempt to scare a tech weblog that
wasn't even hosting the material in question is just laughable.
Another laptop explosion - a UK family watched their Dell laptop
explode, and apparently in a very spectacular way at that, with the
individual battery cells "shooting out like fireworks" - but in an
unusual twist this wasn't one of the infamous Latitude D Series that
have been in the news of late, but instead an antique C600 Pentium
III. Dell is blaming a 3rd party replacement battery for the
weakness - the latest hacking hobby amongst so-called "video
hams" is using search engines to track down the web interfaces
of networked cameras in use in homes and offices, many of which have
little or no security enabled. I have a raft of IP cameras both at
home and at work, and the latter are very definitely not accessible
from outside the corporate network!
An old flame - NASA has released preliminary details of their
next generation spacecraft, designed with a manned Mars mission in
mind but also intended to take over from the Shuttle as the general
purpose vehicle. I was amused to read that it is to be named
Orion, though, which of course was the nineteen fifties
programme to design a
propelled by nuclear
Cartoon anatomy - a Korean artist is exhibiting cleverly
mocked-up skeletons of the great cartoon characters, including Wile
E. Coyote and the Road-runner, Bugs Bunny, and Mickey Mouse. It
usually takes a moment to recognise the character from the shape of
the skull and the distinctive posture, but then it suddenly clicks
and is wonderfully obvious!
A storm in a sweatshop - the fuss over the giant Foxconn factory
that manufactures Apple's iPods continues, with news that the
Chinese government has ordered the company to allow the workers to
set up a union. Unfortunately this may not be a step forward, as in
China the government-backed unions often ally themselves with
management rather than with the workers!
And, finally, at the Ambiguous.org weblog,
a modest proposal - "I think someone should try to blow up a
plane with a piece of ID, just to watch the TSA's mind implode".
I like the way he thinks...
I'm feeling smug, this evening, having added car
stereos to the list of technology that I've managed to fix using
only complete ignorance and an extensive collection of tools. The
factory-fitted "Business RDS" stereo in my 5 series BMW died last
week, and as I still use a cassette adaptor to play audiobooks
from my Palm, replacing it
with one of the exotic CD players that seem to be the only things on
the market these days wasn't a practical option. Fortunately eBay
came to the rescue, and I managed to acquire
the exact same model (avoiding the grief of attempting to rewire
BMW's highly -proprietary modular connector block) for a relatively
reasonable price. At £15 the postage charge was rather less
reasonable, but I was reassured by the thought that for that price
at least it would be well packaged - so I was less than impressed
when it arrived wrapped only in a sheet of brown paper and a tired
old square of bubble-wrap. As could be predicted for something
weighing a couple of kilos this packaging had proved grossly
inadequate, and given the obvious damage I wasn't surprised when I
connected it up and the LED display was completely unreadable and
none of the controls functioned. Previous
experiences of eBay sellers with no
sense for appropriate packaging have shown me the futility of
complaining, so although I allowed myself to mutter under my breath
a little the priority was definitely to get the damn thing fixed.
Having opened it up and re-seated the transport
mechanism's motor, which had been sprung loose by the impacts, it
did at least seem to cycle tapes in and out correctly, and as I now
had one player that would power up correctly but not play tapes, and
one that was couldn't be controlled but would load and eject on
demand, the solution was obvious. What wasn't so obvious, of course,
was whether I would be able to implement that solution, as
cassette players are a wonderful hybrid of mechanical, electric and
electronic components (just like my arch nemesis the tape library,
in fact!) and previous experiences of working with them, before the
rise of audio CDs and then computers, were generally unrewarding.
However, the traditional German love for modular designs meant that
after a little experimentation the entire transport mechanism could
be disconnected from the circuit board without significant
bloodshed, and swapped into the other chassis just as easily. To my
delight, it worked first time, and after a week of straining my ears
to hear the Palm's built-in speaker, I assaulted my long-suffering
girlfriend's hearing with loud rock music on the way to drop her off
at the tube station. Bliss...
Meanwhile, elsewhere, there has been an
unexpected degree of opposition to the government's offensive and
intrusive plans to criminalise the possession of so-called "violent
pornography". The long-standing censorship watch site
The Melon Farmers
has published a transcript of a column printed in, of all things,
The Daily Mail, a tabloid that is notoriously staunch in its
unquestioning allegiance to the government of the day - especially
when that government is engaged in something butt-headed to restrict
civil liberties or human rights. Even this organ seems to finally
have had enough, however, and their columnist Tom Utley
spoken out against the plans in no uncertain terms. Good for
Meanwhile, for those who are busy burying their
head in the sand, confident in the supposition that their own minor
sexual peccadilloes will never be of interest to the powers that be,
The Melon Farmers points us to an article on the UK police
National Criminal Intelligence Service's anti-paedophile campaign
The original posting, from a serving police office who is
delighted with the results from this notoriously corrupt,
ineffectual and downright cruel campaign, is instructive in
illustrating how far certain sectors of the police are willing to go
to jail "perverts and deviants" - even if they are innocent ones.
Even more instructive, however, are the comments posted by victims
of the operation, and their friends and relations, documenting the
lives ruined, marriages broken, and careers trashed... Think of
Niemöller, and don't assume that it couldn't happen to you.
My friend Avedon Carol
is an activist who has dedicated most of the last two decades to fighting
censorship, and given that the group she co-founded,
Feminists Against Censorship,
was instrumental in persuading the BBFC to relax its absurd restrictions
on "hardcore" pornography a few years ago, it is clear that her efforts
have not been in vain. She must find it all rather depressing, therefore,
to hear exactly the same lies and misdirections that she has argued against for so long
dragged out into the light once again in order to justify a ban on
so-called "violent" porn.
In spite of the moralising and dogma emitted by
government and police spokesmen over the last week, there is no
known link between pornography of any type and violence towards women.
In fact, even the government's own
on the subject acknowledges this, and legal experts are concerned that in
spite of the lofty pronouncements of ending violent behaviour, the new law
will only serve to criminalise and, indeed demonise, people who's
only fault is to have rather unusual sexual tastes.
This is uncomfortably reminiscent of the consultation
that preceded the Violent
Crime Reduction Bill earlier this year, which admitted that realistic
replica firearms posed little or no danger - but the Home Office is
pressing ahead with that ban as well, in spite of the overwhelming
effect on collectors and
airsoft enthusiasts. It is evident that to the New Labour government
the consultation process that precedes legislation is now merely a
formality, and that whatever the views of the experts and the citizenry,
the desire to pander to the latest media bugbear and the relentless quest
for power are the only things that actually matter.
What consenting adults choose to do, or to look at, in
the privacy of their own homes is nothing that the state should involve
itself in, and this attempt to do so is
another infringement of basic human rights.
Sad times, indeed.
Another so-so month in the stats, in spite of some
from Avedon's political blog The Sideshow. I am always envious of her
impressive visitor stats, as she receives more visitors in a week than I do
all month, but I gather that she is equally envious of the first tier
left-wing bloggers like Atrios,
who gets over half a million hits per week... I know that Epicycle is
never going to attract that much attention (unless I am implicated in an
Islamic extremist terror plot, of course, or turn out to be Gordon Brown's
illegitimate love-child) but I dream of a mention in Slashdot or
Boing Boing (even if they make fun of my pro-Microsoft stance!) that
brings a spike in the stats sharp enough to impale myself on.
One day, one day...