Now that the PC is up and running again (if still
a bit sparse on the old software front) I'm catching up with a
backlog of random news links from around the end of last week.
Hopefully they're not too stale!
theories - a series of compromised eBay user accounts have lead
to speculation that there is a back door in the system that is
providing access in spite of attempts to shut out the hackers.
Pwned again - the US Department of Homeland Security's TSA
website was hacked with the addition of code that attempted to
harvest personal details from people concerned about their "no fly"
Voting advisors - the MPAA and the FBI have sent representatives
to Sweden (centre of something of a backlash against excessive
copyright) to train the local police in how to clamp down on fair
Surveillance society - with significant numbers of errors
revealed in the monitoring of personal communications in the UK,
nevertheless the government is keen to press ahead regardless.
Shooting the messenger - after one of the RIAA's victims
successfully claimed that a file sharer was an unauthorised user
piggy-backing on her wireless LAN, the RIAA is trying to clamp down
Copywrong - although designed to illustrate the inadequacies of
copyright law around the world, in fact the annual IIPA report
merely shows how restrictive and draconian US legislation has
2nd class citizens - not only will European customers have to
wait until March to buy a PlayStation 3, but when it finally arrives
the level of backwards compatibility will be worse than in the US
Software distribution - Microsoft has instructed the popular
Windows Mobile site XDA-Developers to stop hosting PDA ROM images,
presumably ahead of the imminent paid-for WM6 release.
Weird and Wonderful - at Tom's Hardware, readers have
contributed unusual modding projects and tales of vintage computing
- and Microsoft have released four
decidedly unusual mice.
unashamed - the Idiot Toys weblog has a decidedly
different flavour to the plethora of other gadget 'blogs that have
sprung up in the last couple of years.
It is an ex scammer - this enterprising scam-baiter
managed to convince a pair of West African fraudsters to re-enact
Monty Python's classic "Dead Parrot" sketch, and actually they do
Tuesday night is geek porn night at Epicycle,
as I've finally got enough of my software staples installed and
configured to be able to use the PC properly rather than just
tinkering with it. As planned, the first stage of the hardware
refurbishment was to remove the
Hydra-Pak cooling modules from the four SATA hard disks, and as
I started to disconnect the cables and slide the drives out of their
frame it quickly became obvious that all was far from well. I'd
noticed a small leak from one of the connectors a few months ago,
but it seemed to have stopped of its own accord and given the
imminent rebuild I didn't worry too much. However, since then it has
evidently become much worse, and has been joined by a matching leak on
a second cooler as well as a third leak at the side of yet another unit.
Fortunately, the pretty blue liquid Koolance recommends seems to
have a component that turns it into an odd, crystalline solid on
contact with air - that had stopped the bottom of the case
turning into a swimming pool, but it does explain the problems with
air bubbles in the pumps I've been noticing recently.
I must admit that the disk coolers are the only
Koolance components that I have ever experienced any leaks with, but even so this should be something of a worrying development
for anyone else using them... This part of the PC case has been
completely undisturbed for many months, and the leaks have appeared
completely spontaneously! If you have these units, take a good look
at them as soon as possible - and check the sides and bottom, too,
not just near the connectors.
However, I have to say that I was wrong about how
effective they are at actually cooling the disks. I've said here
several times that having passed over the dual CPU blocks the
coolant temperature might easily be greater than that of the disks
themselves, but now that they're running naked and exposed it's
clear that isn't the case. The
Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9 disks I'm using were among the first
7200rpm ATA desktop drives, and I'd forgotten how hot they run - the
water jackets were keeping them pretty much at room temperature, and
the change is now obvious. Sorry, Koolance!
Elsewhere in the case, I decided to use some of
the additional pump capacity that removing the drive coolers
provided to add a cooler to the motherboard northbridge. I've had
a suitable block in the spares box since I built the PC, as at
the time I didn't know what I would need and so bought one of
everything that looked plausible, and this seemed like a good
opportunity to put it to work at last. The unit comes with various
mounting brackets for screw-fit motherboards, but although mine uses
a more traditional approach this didn't seem to be a problem.
Removing the wire retaining spring from the factory fitted heatsink
required the usual combination of extreme force and delicate
finesse, but once that was done the water block clipped into place
quite nicely. It seemed a touch wobbly when I test-fitted it, so
used the little open rectangle of sponge designed to support the
block on an ATI Radeon graphics card - the Intel
chip is of a similar physical design, and that improved the
The new water block slipped readily into the cooling loop in
place of the disk subsystem, and in fact I didn't even have to
replace any of the tubing. The cooled water from the radiator
reaches the CPUs first, then splits from a single 10mm tube into a
pair of 6mm tubes - one heads to the video card and the other to the northbridge cooler, then they meet up again to the left of the
motherboard and combine back into a single 10mm tube that returns to
the reservoir. In normal use (and with the new Aero Glass interface
strutting its funky stuff the GPU is under load at all times) the
coolant temperature hovers around 40°C and the
GPU temperature at 45°C, which seems very
reasonable. I can't report on the CPU temperatures at this stage, as
the Super Doctor monitoring tool for my X5DAL-TG2 motherboard
doesn't yet run under Vista. Like a depressing number of other
manufacturers and developers, SuperMicro only seems to have started
thinking about software for the new OS once the final version had
shipped, which in my opinion is about eighteen months too late...
There's still quite a bit of work to do, as
evidenced by the garishly coloured Molex extension cables feeding
the new graphics card. The replacement PSU to solve this particular
problem arrived yesterday, but it's not the sort of thing to tackle
on a weekday evening and, in any case, there's more hardware on the
way. Once the upgrade frenzy took hold I started looking around for
an excuse to spend some money and, among other things, I came across
a replacement side panel with a
full-sized window to replace
the standard part -
and of course this means that I have to extend the blue lighting
scheme into the lower half of the case to match. Watch this space
over the next couple of weeks. :-)
Been busy upgrading... The hardware changes went
very smoothly (if rather damply, at one point, when a surfeit
of coolant liquid encountered an insufficiency of hands!) and the
Vista installation was equally trouble free. Now, however, I'm
undergoing the trauma of reinstalling a shed-load of applications,
utilities and device drivers, and as predicted it is a long, tedious
and sometimes painful process.
I was delighted by the
performance index of the newly rebuilt system, actually -
Microsoft says that "computers with a base score of 5.0 were the
highest performing computers available when Windows Vista was
released" and given that although my graphics card is bang up
to date, the motherboard, processors, storage subsystem and memory
were bought in the autumn
of 2003, they're obviously still well up to the job. I spent a long time
poring over technical specifications and roadmaps back then, and I'm
feeling a bit smug tonight that my future-proofing has worked so
There's still a lot more to do on the software
front, and as I'm expecting the replacement power supply and some
more hardware oddments during this week I'll be rolling my sleeves
up again and diving back into the innards once more, but right I
have email, web browsing and blogging so it could be worse. Now,
back to the salt mines!
The parts for the hardware refresh I'm treating
myself to as part of the imminent Vista upgrade have started to
arrive, and today saw the delivery of the fastest AGP graphics card
on the market, Sapphire's 512Mb Radeon X1950 Pro. Needless to say,
in a water-cooled PC the manufacturer's warranty will be thoroughly
voided almost right away, and I already have the appropriate
Koolance water block for the card. Unfortunately the matching
voltage regulator cooler in the photo below turns out to be
something of a paperweight - it ought to fit along the right side of
the card, making up for the loss of air cooling provided by the
removal of the fan, but in this case it clearly won't fit.
Closer investigation at the Koolance web site reveals that it is
designed for the 1950XT cards instead of the Pro, which obviously
have a significantly different PCB layout. Caveat emptor...
One quirk of Sapphire's version of the ATI
reference design is the pair of four pin Molex sockets to provide
power to the GPU, and unusual decision given the tendency of all
other manufacturers to employ a single six pin socket of the type
originally designed for PCI Express cards. Presumably Sapphire is
hedging its bets here, as the sort of PC that still relies on AGP
graphics can't absolutely be counted on to have a power supply with
suitable connectors. An interesting point here is that at least one
review, at the usually highly reliable
Firing Squad, insists that each of the connectors must
be fed by a completely different power cable and not just by a
Y-splitter on the same line. This is certainly unusual, and suggests
a fairly awesome appetite on the part of what is supposed to
be a lower-wattage GPU than many others of its generation, but given
that it isn't mentioned anywhere in the Sapphire manuals it's a
useful tip... I would almost certainly have used a splitter on the
same line, and the complete lack of a video signal the first time I
powered it up would have started me panicking that I'd trashed the
card while swapping the coolers!
However, the unexpected demand for an additional
pair of four pin Molex supplies has prompted me into something that
I have been yearning to do since a few months after buying my
current Seasonic S12-600 power
supply, when I read that an improved version had been released with
longer cables and many more connectors. I vacillated over the even
more recent modular M12 model for a while as well, but I'm still not
quite convinced by modular designs, and according to the experts at
Silent PC Review the secondary fan in this model appears to
have something of a design flaw, in that it will spin up when needed
but not spin down again until the system is powered off. Hmmm... In
the end, I decided to play it safe with the
S12-650, which as well as the extra 50 watts has grown an
impressive additional set of connectors in comparison to my first
generation model: six SATA connectors instead of four, nine Molex
connectors instead of six, and a pair of PCIe connectors that would
have come in very useful if Sapphire had been a little less
conservative with their design... I had difficulties with both
overall length and number of connectors with the old version of the
S12, and I'm hopeful that the new model will be a distinct
I'd considered starting work on the upgrades this
weekend, but as a last minute decision the PSU won't be here in time
and I haven't yet decided whether to wait or to push ahead
regardless. I'll see how the mood takes me!
My copy of Vista Ultimate arrived today, and I
was surprised at how small it is! I've seen pictures all over the
web, but somehow I'd gained the impression that the package was
about the size of a computer games box. Instead, it's about the size
of a thick paperback book (a Stephen King horror story, perhaps?),
and rather than being cardboard is actually transparent plastic with
a card liner. The side hinges down to reveal the DVD, booklet and
license key, and the whole effect is really quite slick and exotic.
It looks to me as if Microsoft is trying to learn something from
last year's infamous
exercise on redesigning the iPod packaging...
|Elsewhere, a few quick links:
- "Arcade Reality" is a cunning new game for Treo smartphones that
superimposes computer graphics over the live picture being relayed
from the Treo's built-in camera, allowing you to shoot aliens and
monsters in your own living room - or as the videos on the web site
show, on the streets, which is bound to attract some odd looks.
Death of a salesman - the Home Theatre PC is be doomed to
extinction, apparently, in spite of endless reviews in the IT media
and what appears to be a wealth of components and systems in the
retail market. They are being replaced by dedicated set-top boxes
and streaming media systems instead, says geek site [H]ard/OCP.
The book of revelations - the Wall Street Journal has the inside
scoop on the conception and development of Apple's iPhone, but the
writer seems startled by reports of Steve Job's condescending and
dismissive attitude during negotiations with the company's business
partners, which should come as no surprise to any experienced
An unexpected reversal - search specialist Google uses hundreds
of thousands of off-the-shelf desktop PCS in their server farm, and
statistics on the hard drive failures they have experienced show
some surprising facts: high operating temperatures, for example,
have little to do with hardware failures, and SMART monitoring (at
least of low end drives) is pretty much useless!
As slippery as an eel - an IBM employee fired when he was caught
using adult chat-rooms during working hours has sued the company for
$5 million, claiming that the stress of the job turned him into a
sex addict and so he was entitled to treatments and sympathy as a
legally protected disabled worker. You have to admire his balls...
Endless variety - tech review site Hongkiat.com has a
fascinating overview of alternative keyboard designs, from the
Maltron to the I-Tech Virtual Keyboard and all points in between -
although their "13 Computer keyboards you've never seen before"
title will raise an eyebrow with veteran techies, who will certainly
have seen the majority of them.
futile attempt - Sling Media has been sued by the holder of a
patent covering a wireless headphones and speaker system, on the
grounds that their Slingbox place-shifting system retransmits audio
over a distance. In the face of it the claim seems thoroughly
spurious, and Sling are
already counter-suing to have his claim dismissed and his patent
"Hell hath no fury like the vast
robot armies of a woman scorned" - Futurama S02E19: Mother's Day
A bumper crop of news links to start off the
travesty of justice - the Connecticut school teacher accused of
showing porn to children is now facing sentencing, in spite of the
overwhelming evidence that she was completely blameless and
that the school bears the burden of responsibility for failing to
keep its security software up to date.
A storm in a teacup - criminal charges brought against a Russian
teacher for software piracy have been dismissed, leaving everyone
wondering exactly why this case acquired such a high profile, with
figures such as Vladimir Putin and Mikhail Gorbachev appealing
directly to Microsoft for clemency!
The peasants revolt - staff at Dell's call center in Oregon are
trying to institute a class action lawsuit against their employer,
alleging that the company routinely fails to pay them for all the
hours they have worked because of seriously flawed software and
fundamentally unfair working practices.
Lies and damn lies - the CEO of copy protection manufacturer
Macrovision has written to Apple's Steve Jobs, criticising him for
speaking out against DRM and, amazingly, claming that DRM actually
lowers costs and increases freedom of choice for the end user. Yeah,
Crime doesn't pay - and talking of Steve Jobs, he must be
fidgeting uneasily at the news that federal prosecutors are
considering charges against executives of Broadcomm, KLA-Tencor and
Apple, over back-dating share options... And that the senior VP of
already been convicted.
Whistle blower exonerated - a security analyst fired from Sandia
National Laboratories for defying his management to assist the FBI
in investigating a series of hacking attempts has been awarded $4.7m
in damages, with the jury strongly criticising Sandia's behaviour.
Under cover of the night - the Bank of England informed the
Treasury that the American security services were secretly
monitoring international transfers via the Swift system at least
five years ago, but along with other European financial
organisations they decided not to reveal the fact until now.
One law for them - as has been seen before, the media industry
is quite happy to disregard their own rules, and now it turns out
that the MPAA have stripped all the attribution from an open source
blogging tool in direct violation of the software's licensing
Battle of the giants - Microsoft has spoken out angrily against
IBM's efforts to sabotage their Open XML format, currently under
consideration by standards body ECMA, accusing the company of acting
against the interests of both the industry and the consumer.
password in common home broadband routers to gain access to their
configuration, modifying the internal DNS zone file to send users to
fraudulent or malicious web sites. Change that password before it's
The back door - the imminent ban on smoking in workplaces in
England will cause an increase in security breaches via social
engineering techniques, according to consultancy NTA Monitor,
as employees forced to smoke outside leave building doors open or
allow access to unknown people.
Drug crazed - a new "drug" in the online game Second Life is
partnered by a flashing light show that is intended to induce an
altered state of consciousness in the real world gamer, so that he
or she can trip along with their avatar. Where is Neal Stephenson
when you need him...?
A bucket of water - Microsoft supremo Steve Ballmer is trying to
damp down the media hype following a noticeable bulge in PC sales in
the week following the Vista launch, describing some revenue
forecasts as "overly aggressive" - at which point Microsoft
shares fell almost 2.5%.
Hands in the cookie jar - a bug in Firefox allows an attacker to
manipulate the authentication cookie of most web sites, allowing a
rogue web site to impersonate a trusted site without the user's
knowledge. This is the second severe flaw to emerge in the open
source browser in only a few days.
- the lot of IT helpdesk staff hasn't changed much in five hundred
years, according to this video from a Norwegian television company,
with a long-suffering techie trying to explain the new-fangled books
to a user more familiar with scrolls.
Re-branding radiation - the International Atomic Energy
Authority and the International Organization for Standardization
have devised a new warning sign to replace the traditional radiation
trefoil, but to my eye it's a fussy, over-complicated mess and I
can't see why the old one needed replacing!
Showing them how
to do it - after the furore over the severe bugs,
incompatibilities and features missing from NVIDIA's drivers for
Vista, the head of ATI's driver development team explains why his
company has managed to avoid the majority of the problems that have
plagued their competitor.
Technology looking for a niche - the latest offering from US
tablet manufacturer Estari Inc is a dual-screen tablet PC, in the
same format as a conventional laptop but with a second 15" portrait
display in place of the keyboard. Oddly, the web site doesn't seem
to mention the weight...
deceptive practices - this neat USB external disk enclosure for
2½" drives looks just like a 3½"
hard disk, and if I wasn't already well served by an elegant, black
Akasa unit with cool blue lights I would be very tempted just for
the novelty value.
I've been fiddling with Vista on a couple of
laptop systems at home since the new year, and although I still have
a few misgivings I've decided to take the plunge and upgrade my main
desktop PC as well. The basic hardware specification of a
dual 3GHz Xeon with
2Gb of RAM is fine, but although my current Nvidia 6800GT video card
is no slouch as AGP cards go, I'm less than impressed with what I'm
hearing of their Vista drivers and given the demands the new GUI
makes on the graphics subsystem a switch back to ATI is very
tempting. Fortunately, in spite of being subsumed into CPU upstart
AMD, the Canadian graphics specialist is still turning out highly
desirable cards, and their
Radeon X1950 Pro is the fastest AGP card on the market by quite
a long shot - and may well be the fastest ever, as I doubt that any
of the latest 8th generation GPUs are going to be manufactured with
an obsolete bus standard. Even Dan's
current sidebar sings the praises of the card, and that's about
all the recommendation I need.
the Sapphire version of the card, having been favourably
impressed with their various
implementations over the years, which comes with the now
obligatory dual-DVI outputs and a generous 512Mb of RAM. The GPU is
not DirectX 10 compatible, but it does support the much-vaunted
Shader Model 3.0 standard and I expect it to deliver acceptable
performance until I bite the bullet and replace my system with a PCI
Express motherboard and the latest multi-core CPUs in another year
To go with the card I'm getting the latest
generation in the confusingly named series of Koolance GPU coolers,
VID-205-L06. The manufacturer has refused to be drawn on whether
my existing VID-NV2-06 is
actually compatible, and although it looks like it ought to
be I don't want to risk toasting a brand new graphics card because
there's an unexpected millimetre of clearance between heatsink and
GPU... Koolance charges absurd sums for international shipping, and
as their primary UK supplier
Tekheads is annoyingly
showing everything I want as out of stock I've tried a new source in
the shape of water-cooling specialist
taking the opportunity to stock up on some more of that pretty blue
coolant fluid and some additional polythene tubing while I was at
I'm intending something of a hardware spring
cleaning before the Vista installation, removing the SCSI card that
was connecting my beloved VXA
tape library until I switched to a
2Tb LTO library on the server,
and also the internal ATAPI VXA drive that would have served in an
emergency. I'm also going to take the hard disks out of the cooling
loop, as although they looked as cool as anything I was never
convinced that it was anything more than cosmetic. Positioned in the
loop right after a pair of 80 watt CPUs I suspect that actually they
ended up a little warmer than they would have done if left to
their own devices, and I'm planning instead to mount a spare block
onto the motherboard's Northbridge instead, probably a far better
use of the cooling capacity.
When it comes to Vista itself, for an
über geek's workstation only the
Ultimate Edition will do, but I have been thoroughly
deterred by the full version's excessive £310+ cost in the UK (damn
that dollar to pound equivalence!), and the cheaper OEM edition
gives little flexibility for hardware changes at a later date - word
on the street suggests that Microsoft are intending to clamp down
hard on reactivating systems that use this version of the OS. I'd
also considered importing a copy from the US, where software is
significantly cheaper, but I haven't been able to rule out problems
with receiving support with a US serial number in Europe, and unless
I took out a small mortgage to purchase the full retail version of
Ultimate it was going to have to be the more affordable Upgrade
My current installation is
thoroughly polluted after seven years' accumulation of applications
and an upgrade from Windows 2000 to Windows XP, so the last thing I
want to do is to actually perform an upgrade in place, the way that
this edition ought to be installed - but fortunately the notorious
re-installation work-around will allow me to perform a clean
install with an upgrade DVD, and as I have a legal copy of XP (and
every other Microsoft OS going back to DOS 3.0, for that matter!) I
don't feel that I'm behaving in an unethical manner by doing that.
I'm not expecting problems with the OS install
itself (and hopefully those don't turn out to be
famous last words!) but there
is bound to be a considerable degree of trauma re-installing the
hundreds of applications and utilities that apparently I can't
survive without, and a fair handful of them are bound to exhibit
some peculiar incompatibility or other. It's been many years since I
had to perform a complete re-install on a PC as flexible and heavily
used as my main system, and it's not a task I relish. Doubtless
there will be many opportunities for schadenfreude in Epicycle
over the next few months...
I spent this morning in the office (this is
starting to become a habit!) upgrading one of the company's
work-horse servers from a tired old PowerEdge 2500 to the shiny new
(well, newer, at least!) PowerEdge 2850 that is replacing it.
This system has been holding all the company's MS Office data files
and various other apps and oddments since 2002, and although it
started out as an NT4 domain controller and host for the Backup Exec
suite as well, over the years it has been upgraded to Windows 2000
and then Server 2003, demoted to a member server, and had the backup
functionality relocated to a dedicated system. Needless to say,
after such a chequered history performance was starting to suffer in
comparison to the newer servers, and the ever-growing bulk of data
had finally exceeded the expansion capacity of the Metastor E2400
RAID array that hosted it.
The migration went very smoothly, in the end,
with only one small glitch when the Backup Exec agent decided to
terminate 20Gb before the end of a 440Gb data restoration. I've
noticed that the V10d agent seems prone to this kind of trick, and
I'm hoping that the new V11d might prove a little more resilient -
once the myriad bugs in have been fixed well enough to make it
feasible to install in a production environment, that is! In the
meantime, however, it was easy to edit and re-run the job to top-up
the missing data, and having exported
the registry keys
holding the shares from the old server and imported them into
the new one, the job was pretty much done.
As well as the significantly increased CPU speed
of the server itself (a pair of 1GHz Pentium IIIs are no match for
dual 3GHz HyperThreading P4 Xeons) the new storage subsystem is
equally zippy, replacing the old 1Gb/sec Metastor array with a six
disk 15,000rpm storage group on the EMC CX-500 SAN we installed for
the company's SAP and Siebel project, and connected by dual 2Gb/sec
PCI Express fibre channel HBAs. It shouldn't have come as much of a
surprise, then, that although we'd allowed the same sort of ten hour
plus window to restore data to the new system as it took to back it
up from the old one, in the event this took a mere three hours,
meaning that the entire job was finished well ahead of
schedule. Subsequent tests showed that the server is significantly
quicker at opening Office files and scanning folders, and I'm sure
that the users will appreciate the difference - although, of course,
I'm equally sure that not a single one of them will bother to say
so! Ah, well.
A few quick tech links:
You won't like him when he's angry - deep down inside, most
techies have always wanted a robot equipped with a flame thrower and
a rail gun to vanquish their enemies and intimidate users, but I'm
not convinced that even an armed Robosapien is sufficiently
terrifying to carry the role off...
Vapourware - commercial Hydrogen fuel cells are announced quite
regularly, but they never actually seem to come to market. So in
spite of the hype, says Dan Rutter, right at the moment you can't
have one, you can't afford one, and in any case you probably don't
even want one.
Roguish charm - also at Dan's Data, a review of the
latest and possible greatest incarnation of the classic Doom
game. It took a leap of imagination to convert a first person
shooter into a top-down ASCII game along the lines of the even more
classic Rogue, but the end result is kinda neat!
Democracy rules - I've been watching the development of the open
source streaming video player for a year or so, now, and it looks as
if it's finally achieving some of its promised potential. The latest
version has a built-in BitTorrent client and support for non-DRM
high definition media.
Retrolicious - just as with eBay, arts-and-crafts marketplace
Etsy has a lot of neat things for sale if one has the patience to
wade through the dross, and these coasters depicting the classic
arcade games Pong, Asteroids and Berzerk are wonderful. A pity
they're only available to the US.
Paranoia in high places - in the US the police and FBI evidently
don't have enough to worry about already, and they're starting to
get edgy about the proliferation of public wireless hotspots in
towns and cities, apparently a focal point for terrorism and crime.
Smart dust - Hitachi is developing minute RFID devices only .05
x .05 mm and 5 microns thick, with a 128bit memory. This sort of
technology is starting to make me think of the "localizers" featured
in Vernor Vinge's marvellous science fiction novel "A Fire Upon
Another nail in the coffin - a survey by Jupiter Research
suggests that the majority of music biz execs dislike DRM and think
that it hurts digital sales, leaving me puzzling over exactly who
in the chain from artist to consumer actually does want the
Biting the hand - Joel Johnson, former editor of the gadget blog
Gizmodo, has returned to the site to contribute a column
criticising gadget bloggers, and the fans who read them and then buy
the "chromed robot turds" they review. It's pretty savage stuff, and
certainly won't win him any friends.
The way the
future was - The Museum of Lost Interactions has a
collection of vintage tech devices that never existed 0 at least,
not until their careful implementation by the museum. Multi-track
sampling onto wax cylinders, wireless Morse text messaging, and a
dozen more. Brilliant stuff.
And finally, if you're fed up with "They're
Taking The Hobbits To Isengard!" (a point I reached in about
twenty seconds) you could always try the video of Gollum and Smeagol
singing a Barry White duet. Comes in
versions, although if you're colour blind that may not matter
A few quick links that I didn't get around to
yesterday, thanks to an enthusiastic hour ranting about Linus...
Take it online - it's been true for years that the users of the
Internet find new and unexpected uses for the technology, so it
should come as no surprise that Mexican drugs gangs are using
YouTube to threaten each other with bloody videos of violence and
murder. I have to admit that it does, though...
Sheer incompetence - the Rothschild bank has received a rare
formal reprimanded by the Takeover Panel after providing woefully
incomplete financial advice to BT during their acquisition of ISP
PlusNet last year, but amazingly the telco says that it intends to
continue with the relationship.
in your house, 0wning your PC - a new vulnerability has been
discovered in the current versions of both Internet Explorer and
Firefox (the latter running on Unix as well as Windows, unusually)
which could allow a malicious web page to retrieve arbitrary data
files from a PC's local disks.
All will perish - and talking of *nix exploits, a flaw in the
telnet implementation in Sun's Solaris and OpenSolaris operating
systems could allow an attacker to bypass all authentication and, in
some versions of the OS, even to acquire root privileges. Oops!
Inherent in the system - a letter leaked to P2P attorney
Ray Beckerman reveals the RIAA's tactics of roping in ISPs to send
the initial threats to suspected file sharers, complete with an
offer of a discount if no legal defence is attempted.
The crack in the dam - the AACS DRM system that protects HD-DVD
and Blu-Ray disks has been comprehensively broken, it seems, only a
few months after HD media has started to ship. Some people are
claiming that this will be the beginning of the end for DRM, but
only time will tell.
The ugly side of Vista - security guru Bruce Schneier has added
his contribution to the grumblings surrounding the heavyweight DRM
that runs right through the new OS, and just as with Apple and
iTunes he suggests that we should follow the money. In this case, a
lot of money...
confectionary - Gizmodo presents a round-up of high-tech cake
designs: among them an iPhone, Tux the Linux penguin, a wonderful
Mac Mini, and my favourite, a PC motherboard complete with expansion
cards. Marvellous - and probably delicious, too!
I've definitely been enjoying Linus Torvalds'
biography, "Just For Fun", especially after discovering that
we used to hang out at some of the same virtual haunts, such as the
ftp.funet.fi software repository at the Helsinki University
Of Technology where I found my first web browser, the text mode
browser that originally made the World Wide Web accessible to
people without Unix workstations and broadband Internet access.
However, reading the chapter "Why Open Source
Makes Sense" yesterday a glaring error jumped out at me. In this
paragraph, discussing the motivation of the legions of programmers
who have contributed to the Linux operating system over the years,
Linus quotes a letter written by Bill Gates in February 1976 and
published in the Homebrew Computer Club Newsletter:
It seems that Bill Gates doesn't understand
this. Is it possible that he's now embarrassed by an off-putting
rhetorical question that he asked in 1976? "One thing you do do is
prevent good software from being written. Who can afford to do
professional work for nothing?" he wrote in a letter to open
Now, I've read a lot about the background to this
letter in John Markoff's remarkable account of the West Coast
computer hobbyist movement, "What the Dormouse Said". Gates
did indeed write those words, but he was definitely not
addressing them to "open source programmers" as Linus claims.
Gates was complaining to the many people who had pirated
Microsoft's first product, the Altair BASIC he had developed
together with Paul Allen and Monte Davidoff. Although the Altair
itself was selling faster than the company could assemble them, and
everyone who owned a system wanted the well-regarded programming
language to make it useful for something, in fact less than 10% of
them purchased a legal copy of the software. Indeed, the levels of
piracy amongst hobby users was such that at one notorious Homebrew
Computer Club meeting, a semiconductor engineer distributed more
than seventy copies of the interpreter in only a few hours - an
amazing figure, when you think how small the community was at that
Now, there is a huge difference between releasing
software you have written as open source, and copying someone else's
commercial software and either giving it away or selling it for your
own profit - and it is unfair and disingenuous for Linus to quote
Bill Gates so far out of context.
I have to admit that I was surprised, as the rest
of the book has been remarkably free of the anti-Gates and
anti-Microsoft sentiments that I had originally been expecting, so
it's certainly possible that Linus genuinely misunderstood - I was
just starting to explore computers myself in the late seventies, a
few years after Gates' letter, whereas Linus was only ten years old
at the time and so can be forgiven for thinking of the incident as
so much ancient history. Normally I would have expected something
like this to have come to light in the editing process, but in this
case there is the definite possibility that the proofs were mostly
read by Linux fans who wouldn't care much about making Bill look
I've written (very politely, yes!) to Linus c/o
Linux Foundation, his current employer, but it's a little late
in the day for corrections to the book and somehow I doubt that I'll
get an answer. Ah, well...
A handful of quick links to start the week, most
of which seem to concern the media industry in some way. Ah, the
corporates that everybody loves to hate...
No more sock puppets - the EU has passed new legislation to
enable prosecution of organisations and businesses which post fake
reviews online, manufacture bogus consumer web sites, or post
self-serving blog entries to promote their products or services.
In your face,
MPAA! - undaunted by recent legal attention, torrent site The
Pirate Bay has thrown down something of a challenge to the media
industry in the announcement of its new site OscarTorrents,
designed to facilitate downloading of the nominations for this
Rolling over - video sharing site Bolt has caved in under
mounting legal pressure from Universal Studios, who objected to use
of their music as the soundtracks to amateur videos uploaded to the
site. The deal involves cash, stock, advertising credits and even
future royalty payments.
The numbers don't lie - a study published in The Journal of
Political Economy claims that the effect of P2P file sharing on
commercial music sales is "not statistically distinguishable from
zero", and has not contributed to falling CD sales, which can easily
be explained by other considerations.
One hand washes the other - the media industry claims the Google
has benefited financially from the sale of pirated films, selling
advertising to a pair of companies which company staff knew were
offering access to illegal movie downloads. Personally, I don't
believe anything the MPAA says...
Data protection - two US senators are introducing legislation
that forces companies to admit to security breaches, and to disclose
the data they collect about their customers and allow them to
correct inaccuracies in that information. We definitely need the
same protection in this country.
hook - Apple supremo Steve Jobs may be drifting deeper into hot
water, following the revelation that his computer animation
subsidiary Pixar has also been somewhat creative with their stock
options, backdating options granted to John Lasseter to capitalise
on higher share prices.
Shark tales - an investigation by Connecticut consumer watchdog
George Gombossy suggests that big retailers like Best Buy maintain a
number of completely different price lists for high value items like
computers, and some persistence is required to get them to honour
the lower prices.
Technology of the doomed - a Princeton computer science
professor has discovered that Sequoia touch-screen electronic voting
machines (picked up 2nd hand for a few bucks) can be rigged to
manipulate votes invisibly, and as usual the lack of a paper trail
makes the fraud impossible to detect.
A glimpse of the future - Intel's R&D labs have announced
details of a teraflop CPU comprising eighty programmable cores on a
single fingernail-sized chip and consuming a meagre 62 watts,
considerably less than many Pentium 4-series single core devices.
I was in the office for rather longer than
expected, yesterday, when a simple job to move a handful of routers
from one cabinet to another ended resulted in having to wait most of
the afternoon and evening for BT to diagnose and fix a problem with
the fibre optics that carry the MPLS traffic linking the central
site to our regional offices. By seven o'clock in the evening I
decided that there was no chance that anything would happen - but
having called it a day and cooked myself and the long-suffering
girlfriend a meal, the very second I sat down to eat my
colleague phoned to say that a BT engineer needed to get access to
the computer room and I had to drop everything and drive right back
to the office again! In the end the solution was fairly trivial, but
overall the wait was interminable and is barely compensated for by
the overtime. What a way to spend a Saturday...
The old guard passes - venerable UK computer supplier Watford
Electronics has gone into receivership owing £3.5 million, this
week, in spite of a firm statement to the contrary from its
financial controller on Monday. Unlike most recent collapses in the
retail PC market there seems a chance that some of this money will
find its way back to the company's creditors, however, with the
stock at present remaining in the hands of the administrators. In
the last few years the firm has acquired ailing competitors Time and
Tiny, once successful high street names in their own right, and then
was itself acquired by newly-founded holding company Globally Ltd
only moments after the receivership was announced. Ironically, it's
only been a couple of years since the firm was presented with
an e-commerce award from the DTI, which speaks volumes about the
government's understanding of the realities of business!
Nevertheless, I remember buying Sinclair ZX and BBC Micro addons
from Watford in the early eighties (and the company wasn't new then,
having started in 1972 as a hobbyist electronics supplier) and its
sad to see one more of the big names from the microcomputer boom of
the seventies and eighties go to the wall. There aren't very many of
them left, for sure...
What if they held a DDoS attack - and nobody noticed? Last
Monday three of the thirteen root servers that hold the
authoritative DNS namespace came under full-scale assault from what
appears to be a massive botnet of compromised PCs in Asia and the
US. The average net user would have noticed little, however, thanks
to the improved resilience that has been implemented since the last
time someone tried this trick, back in 2002 - I call that a result.
Like a rug - Steve Jobs has published a long screed on DRM and
the music industry, and as usual he claims to be against it.
real stance on DRM, and that of Jobs himself, is
perfectly clear when one looks past the PR and hype to see what
they're saying to
governments and other
they want it, and they want it bad. Meanwhile, "DVD" Jon Johansen
has read Job's speech, and posted some of
his own thoughts on
misleading statistics and Apple's
tight grip on FairPlay.
Fear and loathing - at The Register, Scott Granneman is
outraged at Bill Gates' comment that "security guys break the Mac
every single day", calling him a bare-faced liar. It's obvious
that Bill is referring to the
Month of Apple Bugs,
however, which demonstrated exactly that. Keep up at the back!
A man of modest means - the New York Times has been following
Microsoft supremo Steve Ballmer around during a typical working day,
and I'm delighted at the photograph of his decidedly low key office.
How many square yards do Jobs, Ellison or McNealy have, one wonders?
Anonymous remailing - the inestimable Dan Rutter reports that
PayPal are making it ever so much harder to separate genuine emails
from phishing scams by allowing a 3rd party marketing company to
send out email on their behalf, which contain URLs from an obviously
non-Paypal domain. Sheesh!.
Lycos sucks - whether the licensing terms of the Lycos webmail
service permit them to hold archived email to ransom like this or
not, the attitude of their "Customer Service Manager" do those words
mean something different in Lycos?) falls very, very short of
palpable hit - an Oklahoma woman sued by the RIAA in 2004 for
file sharing has been awarded her legal fees after the case was
dismissed last year, with the judge commenting that the RIAA's
prosecution veered towards "frivolous and unreasonable" behaviour.
The emperor's new clothes - with Vista still causing something
of a frenzy in the IT press, Tom's Hardware Guide has an extremely
useful guide on the pitfalls of upgrading an existing system,. and
how to avoid the worst of them.
motherlode - one of the best overviews of the new OS can be
found at Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows, of course,
and the final segments of his eight part review, about the
compatibility problems and curious omissions from the OS, is
required reading for anyone intending to upgrade.
The loophole remains - Microsoft is ignoring the loophole that
allows users to install the cheaper upgrade version of Vista onto a
fresh PC, with a spokesman stating that although it is a violation
of the licensing terms they have no plans to modify the installer to
prevent the work-around.
The buck stops there - driver support for Vista is still a
little rough around the edges, it seems, and at Bit Tech Brett
Thomas is quite convinced that the blame lies with the hardware
manufactures themselves, who have had several years to
develop their driver software, and not with Microsoft.
cornucopia - at The Sideshow Avedon Carol points us
towards the Original Illustrated Catalogue Of ACME Products,
containing everything from the adding machine used in "Cheese
Chasers" to the X-ray unit from "The Hypo-chondricat".
Reminiscing isn't what it used to be - Bit-Tech reviews the
rebirth of the venerable LucasArts graphical adventure Sam And
Max, one of the final offerings before the genre faded from
popularity. The new releases have all the flavour of the original,
it seems, and seem to be recommended.
Blogumentary - Chuck Olsen has posted a light-hearted video
exploring the concept of blogging, and investigating how the
phenomenon is influencing the media, politics and relationships.
It's all very self-referential, as usual, and unfortunately posting
about it here makes it even more so...
truth about explosives - following this week's media panic about
letter bombs, and my own company's undignified but eventually
successful scramble to capitalise on the sudden opportunity, in
The Register a bomb disposal expert writes to explain that
actually amateur letter bombs (and letter bombs almost always are
extremely amateurish devices) are the least dangerous of any
explosive weapons and as these things go are really not worth making
too much of a fuss about. It's an interesting article.
Following a clear commitment from Conservative
shadow Home Secretary David Davis this his party would scrap the ID
card if elected, and his advice to the current government that they
should include cancellation clauses in any contracts entered into
because of this,
all sorts of cats are now amongst all sorts of pigeons. The
chairman of the IT industry organisation Intellect, John Higgins,
has responded by warning the Conservatives that the industry must
not be trifled with in this way, and warned that measures like this
could deter companies from bidding for government contracts. In turn
Davis has accused the industry of trying to profit from the
violation of civil liberties that the ID card project represents,
and suggested that Intellect's claimed apolitical stance is
implausible given the significant sums of money that some of its
members are hoping to receive from the scheme. The sparring is
continuing as I write this, with Higgins making threats about
increased costs and Davis responding that Intellect's position is
"incredible and insulting". I have no love for the Conservative
party (I remember the Thatcher and Major governments, and their own
assaults on civil liberties, all too well!) but even if their stance
against ID cards is a purely political one rather than the moral
objections of the Lib Dems, I have to give grudging approval to
anyone who will fight the plans at such a high level.
The halo effect - PC sales in the US jumped by 173% in the week
following the release of Vista, according to a survey of five of the
major retailers: Best Buy, Circuit City, CompUSA, Staples and Radio
Shack. The reports also suggests that the Premium editions of the OS
are significantly more popular than the cut-down Basic editions.
Defective by design? - it has emerged that an extensive list of
Apple software isn't yet compatible with Vista, including QuickTime,
various iPod utilities, the Bonjour and Airport networking systems,
and, of course, iTunes itself. One has to wonder where the blame
lies for this rather poor showing: which one is trying to make the
other look bad?
Dumb as a stick - Apple are throwing their legal weight around
again, this time bullying an Iowa bar owner who has instituted "iPod
Mondays", an opportunity for patrons to inflict a 15 minute playlist
on the rest of the clientele. The general approach of threatening
your most ardent fans has never failed to provoke much sad
head-shaking, here, and Apple are fast becoming its major proponent.
Guilty until proven innocent - the big media companies are
hiring monitoring firms to locate file sharers, and as could be
expected their shotgun approach to traffic analysis ends up with
threatening DMCA notices being sent to the ISPs of all sorts of
people who are using P2P protocols for perfectly legitimate reasons.
Seek and ye shall find - and talking of which, the EFF is
looking for people who had legitimate YouTube videos deleted as a
result of Viacom's indiscriminate DMCA takedown notices, with the
intention of providing legal assistance. Allegedly infringing media
was identified purely by dumb keyword searching, and inevitably this
technique will produce a significant number of false positives.
Spreading the net - with the Indian tech services companies
increasing their charges to near-Western levels, the companies that
are still bucking the outsourcing backlash for development and call
centre management are being forced to look elsewhere for the best
prices, with Mexico and Eastern Europe currently the favourite
Stating the bleeding obvious - new research from the US Army and
CERT suggests that technical staff who are "disgruntled, paranoid,
generally show up late, argue with colleagues, and generally perform
poorly" are more likely to abuse their positions to carry out acts
of corporate sabotage to the networks they work with. You don't
A grey area - a professor at an Ohio university is resisting
attempts by the campus IT department to deter him from using the TOR
anonymising software, and although I appreciate his "freedom of
academic expression" stance I can very much sympathise with the
headaches this causes to the poor techies who are charged with
monitoring and controlling network traffic.
Free for all - Google has finally opened up its webmail service
to anyone who wants it, abandoning the "invitation only" limitation
that it has clung to for so long. The invitations are so prevalent
that most net users will have been able to get one, however, and it
seems odd that they've waited all this time before removing such a
It snowed quite heavily in the London area,
today, which managed to make even the somewhat bleak and industrial
vistas from my office windows look fluffily pleasant. I'm close
enough to the office to make driving tolerable even in adverse
weather, so apart from inadvertently filling my sleeve with snow
while clearing off the car in the morning I was free to enjoy it
more than some of my colleagues, and even sneakily threw a snowball
while nobody was looking. With luck, it won't be the last this year.
I've been reading Linus Torvalds' autobiography
"Just For Fun",
this week, and although as others have commented it is a touch
immature as a biography I have to say that it's enjoyable and
interesting in spite of that. One thing that is abundantly clear,
however, is that Linus himself thinks and feels very
differently about his brainchild than do the fanboys and evangelists
that preach in his name... Fascinating!
Part of the problem - a study by researchers from MIT and Harvard
suggests that users of online banking services pay so little
to the content and appearance of the pages they're using that many
the security features introduced recently to combat phishing frauds
completely worthless. Techniques such as the Bank Of
America's SiteKey are already vulnerable to
various spoofing attacks, but if nobody is paying any attention to them anyway then the
Clash of the Titans -
Ars Technica has posted a summary of
current spat between TV company Viacom and YouTube, following the
of around 100,000 DMCA takedown notices over clips from TV programs
on the video site. Viacom is sticking to the classic "piracy
theft" approach, while YouTube is trying to seize the visionary high
ground... Meanwhile, the people whose completely innocent and
clips have been caught in the flood of deletions are just plain
Puzzling evidence - the arrest of a Russian schoolteacher who was
unknowingly using pirated copies of Windows has provoked a strange
reaction, with President Putin and ex-President Gorbachev appealing
Microsoft for clemency. However, the case was initiated by Russian
prosecutors during an officially sanctioned nationwide crackdown on unlicensed software,
being tried in a Russian court, so it's hard to see why they are
complaining to a foreign corporate about the workings of their own
system! I smell political manoeuvrings...
A small step - a German federal court has ruled that police cannot
perform secret searches of a suspect's computer via the Internet,
following requests from the prosecutors office to use a trojan to
remote access to systems used by terrorism suspects. Basically, the
ruling extends the same rights to computer use as are already in
to protect warrant-less phone tapping and interception of letters,
can only be a good thing. I'm not holding my breath for similar
legislation in the US...
A personal obsession - the creator of the "popular" 1976 dance
phenomenon The Electric Slide, apparently a staple at wedding
is handing out DMCA takedown notices to anyone displaying video
people performing the dance, especially (and he seems extremely
about this!) when the steps are not being performed exactly to his
original choreography. It is perfectly permissible to copyright a
routine, as has been done in this case, but surely there are more
important things to worry about after thirty years?
Gone but not (yet) forgotten
- Verity Stob bids farewell to the venerable Pegasus Mail package,
after creator David Harris's somewhat tearful announcement in
and manages to offend supporters of pretty much every other email
on the way. She may have spoken too soon, however, as following a
tidal wave of support from devoted users (who knew that so many
were still so firmly rooted in the nineties?) Harris is considering
keeping the project alive a little longer.
U-turning - the Conservative shadow home secretary, David Davies,
given "formal notice" that if elected his government would scrap the
controversial ID card scheme, and is urging that any contracts
into by the current Labour government must contain escape clauses to
allow them to do so without wasting additional public money. While I
have little respect for Davies or his party, I have to approve of
anything that hammers additional nails into such an intrusive,
pointless, costly and unworkable plan.
getting creative - if the classical seven deadly sins
arranged in a heptagonal matrix, their intersections can be used to
pinpoint 21 secondary sins. For example, the combination of Lust and
Gluttony gives Edible Undies, and Gluttony combined with Pride gives
Men In Speedos. Brilliant... :-)
Given the outrageous £300+ cost of Vista Ultimate Edition from
regular IT suppliers in the UK, I spent a while today browsing eBay to see
what the grey market was looking like, and as could be expected
the wolves are already out in force. There are a significant number of
OEM CDs being sold at attractively low prices, and the vast majority
of the listings don't mention that apart from this being a clear violation
of Microsoft's licensing terms, the company wont actually support
anything except retail versions. This is sharp practice, certainly,
but I think that
this one was downright fraudulent - the listing is titled
"MICROSOFT VISTA ULTIMATE!!! GENUINE! FREE DELIVERY! NEW!", but in
fact the picture clearly shows the RC1 Preview Edition that came out
in the autumn of last year. It definitely isn't the final release,
the activation code will expire fairly shortly (if it hasn't
already!), and as it was pretty much given away for the cost of
postage it seems greedy in the extreme to set a Buy-It-Now price of
£135. I don't usually bother about this kind of thing, but anyone
buying it would soon find his PC becoming unusable (assuming that a
beta release like this ever counts as properly useable in the first
place!) and that just isn't fair: I reported him to eBay, and it
will be interesting to see if they pull the listing.
to home, I've been having all sorts of fun and games with my own
Vista installations. The Motion LE1600 tablet that I started with
last weekend worked very nicely all week and then suddenly lost the
ability to connect to the network. At the same time, an old Dell
Latitude C640 that I was upgrading from Windows XP started to
display exactly the same symptom, failing to acquire a DHCP address
from my central server and displaying all sorts of "limited
connectivity", "unauthenticated" and "unknown network" flags on the
pretty little diagram in the
Network And Sharing Center.
Restarting the wireless router and the DHCP and DNS services on
the server didn't help (there were no signs of problems with any of
them, but given that two PCs were suddenly affected it seemed like a
worthwhile approach!) and neither did extensive fiddling and
tweaking in Vista itself, disabling the IPV6 components and removing
and replacing both physical and logical objects in the network
In the end, the only way I could get them both back onto the
network was to switch them from WPA/TKIP to WPA2/AES, an idea which
I found mentioned in an online forum as a response to a similar
problem - in his case, he went from WEP to WPA to fix the problem,
but the same basic approach worked for me as well! Obviously it
isn't the improvement in wireless security protocol itself that made
the difference, but instead forcing Vista to recreate the connection
with different parameters - although why this would help when
everything else didn't, including swapping the Latitude to a
different model of embedded network card, is a complete mystery to
Another problem involved the Latitude's ATI Mobility Radeon 7500
onboard graphics interface, the compatibility status of which varies
depending on where you look. The Vista Upgrade Advisor claimed that
it wouldn't work at all, but the online hardware compatibility list
suggested the opposite and it seemed worth pressing ahead. The installation actually went very smoothly (although as others
have commented an upgrade install takes a very long time indeed!)
and when I checked the display properties it seemed to be using a
generic SVGA driver. This supported the laptop's 1024x768 screen
without apparent problems, initially, but when the laptop's owner tried to play the
newly-revamped Freecell game it reported that hardware acceleration
was disabled and dropped back into a software rendering mode. The
lacklustre appearance and poor performance of this did not impress
said owner, my long-suffering girlfriend, and it was clear that an
answer was required ASAP.
Further investigation online suggested that one could manually
select a specific Radeon 7500 driver, and when I tried to do this I
did indeed find a pair of signed drivers available in the list. I'm
pretty sure that these are actually the ATI drivers left over from
the Windows XP installation, at they're dated from 2003, but
nevertheless they seem to work very well and after a reboot Freecell
went back to its expected snappy, graphically luscious behaviour.
I'm surprised this worked, as much has been made of the
significantly improved driver architecture in Vista and I wouldn't
have expected any leeway for playing fast and loose with previous
driver versions like this, but I'm not looking a gift horse in the
At the moment the only other serious issue I've found on these
two systems is a problem with McAfee's VirusScan Enterprise V8.5,
which is completely non-functional on the Latitude - it starts up as
expected on boot, but the on-access scanner closes down a few
moments later and cannot be restarted. McAfee's knowledgebase is
noticeably silent on Vista problems (pretty much the only entry on
Vista is one claiming full compatibility) but I have the feeling
that this (and several other odd problems I've seen when installing
software such as
Adobe's Acrobat Reader) is related to the new
Control security system. As others have already said, I expect
much pain from this facility until both users and developers
understand it properly...
All the news that's fit to link.
Tropical paradise - having failed in their bid to buy Sealand,
torrent site The Pirate Bay has moved to Plan B, buying their own
private island with the intention of attracting libertarians from
around the world and declaring it an independent nation. I think the
idea is kooky, and doomed to failure - and as Nate at Ars Technica
asks, "Would it end up like utopia, or Lord of the Flies?". Indeed.
Nostalgia isnt what it used to be - GearLog reminds us of the
heady days of 1983, when Microsoft launched their first mouse at an
entirely reasonable $195 - although of course it did come with a
free Paint program, which I remember using to edit simple bitmapped
images embedded in manuals created in the pioneering Xerox Ventura
DTP application a few years later. The first versions of both the
mouse and the Paint app pretty much sucked, by the way...
Hard times - in Japan, sales of the last generation PS2 are
actually outstripping those of the new PS3, while the Nintendo Wii,
dismissed by a Sony spokesman as "an impulse buy", is still selling
like hotcakes with 83,000 units sold during the last week of January
in comparison to a mere 20,000-odd for the beleaguered PS3. Sony's
entertainment division is as arrogant as Apple, however, and is
unlikely to learn from their mistakes.
Dead and buried - an article at The Register which predicted the
imminent death of the Palm OS failed to attract any response at all
from the usually vocal developer community, and given Palm's growing
disinterest in traditional PDAs and the repeated juggling of the
rights to the OS itself from one company to another, it does seem
that the company that defined and dominated the entire market really
is doomed to obscurity.
The evils of Ethernet - the humble Ethernet interface is one of
the IT industry's main power hogs, according to a report from IEEE
spin-off the Energy-Efficient Ethernet Study Group. Both ends of a
1000BASE-T connection use 4W more than a 100 Mbit connection,
apparently, and the EEE recommends that companies use the fastest
link that will carry the required traffic rather than the fastest
link that the hardware supports. Yeah, right... :-)
Unhappy campers - along with those of many other manufacturers,
graphics specialist Nvidia's Vista drivers leave a lot to be desired
even after a year or so of development work, and some users are so
irate at the misleading claims of full compatibility and the
heavy-handed management of the support forums that they are trying
to form a class-action suit against the company. Nvidia has so far
declined to comment.
bastards - in order to support their proposals for tough new
copyright legislation, over the last few weeks the Canadian media
industry has been undertaking a campaign of deliberate
misinformation about the prevalence of movie piracy in the country.
These claims are roundly dismissed in an article appearing in the
Toronto Star, fortunately, which uses the industry's own figures to
expose their falsehoods.
Peaceful cooperation - the long-running lawsuit between Apple
the computer (sorry, "electronics") company and Apple the music
company seems to have been settled, with the odd outcome of all
relevant logos and trademarks going to the former, which will then
license some of them back to the latter again. If anything I would have
expected exactly the reverse, but I guess this is a case of might always
So it turns out that the
tool used to launch Backup Exec jobs and processes from the command
line is hard-coded to return a value of 1 if the scripted procedure
succeeds and -1 if the procedure fails. Unfortunately, this is
contrary to almost all the other applications I have ever used,
which expect a return code of zero to indicate success, and any
other number to indicate some kind of failure - and as the EMC
Replication Manager falls into this latter group, the two do not
play well together.
We're using RM/SE to make a clone of a SQL
database held on the SAN, with the intention of backing it up to
tape right afterwards by calling a Backup Exec job via the BEMCMD
utility, and although after some fiddling the process itself works
perfectly, BEMCMD returns a value of 1 on completion and so RM/SE is
convinced that the job has failed. It is only cosmetic, but
it's also damn annoying and it's a great shame that Veritas (I'd
love to be able to blame Symantec, but this quirk pre-dates the
acquisition by many years) decided to make the tool essentially
incompatible with the rest of the industry!
While I grit my teeth in frustration over the
days I've wasted investigating this quirk, then, a few news links to
round off the week:
Circular references - according to ZD Net, if the speech
recognition system built into Vista is enabled, and it is in command
mode rather than speech-to-text mode, a malicious web site could use
embedded sound files to trigger destructive actions on a user's PC.
This has been a theoretical risk with OSes back as far as Windows
2000, of course (and potentially even earlier with 3rd party
software) and as it has never been exploited to date excuse me if I
don't lie awake at night worrying...
Call to arms - Cisco has agreed to give Apple more time to
respond to their accusations of trademark infringement over the
iPhone, which surprises me. Given that Apple has described the suit
as "silly", and claimed that Cisco's right to the name is
"tenuous at best", I would have expected the network giant to be
coming in with all guns blazing - especially as delays at this stage
can surely only help Apple.
Missed point error in line 1 - Steve at [H]ard|OCP
finds it odd that Microsoft is unable to "monetize" their massive
web site traffic in the way that Google and Yahoo have, but this is
because Microsoft's web site is simply a portal to information about
their products, whereas the web sites of the other companies are
products in themselves. I would not be impressed to see banner ads
when trying to get support for a server problem, and I suspect
Microsoft knows that...
the law - the latest release of the 9/11 Commission Report is
being distributed as a PDF with all of Adobe's DRM facilities
enabled, so in spite of the fact that US government documents cannot
be copyrighted and are free to quote from and reproduce, the
software prevents you from doing just that... And, of course, any
attempt to work-around that is an offence under the obscene Digital
Millennium Copyright Act.
Death by piracy - Sports Interactive, manufacturer of a hockey
management simulation that was made available as a commercial
download, has announced that it is abandoning development of the
game after a hacked version has spread widely via the torrent
networks. It's proved to be an extremely popular game, says the
company, but unfortunately it just isn't making any money for them!
It's that link again...
Not so helpless - the teen who was targeted by the RIAA after their
lawsuit against his mother proved annoyingly awkward for them has hit back
against the entire media industry - and hard! His defence is a damning
indictment of the cartel's business practices, and includes accusations of
complicity to defraud the US court system. Excellent!
Slow and dirty - at Windows IT Pro, guru Paul Thurrott provides
a possible work-around for the problem of not being able to perform a
clean install of Vista using an upgrade edition DVD, installing without an
activation key initially and then immediately re-installing over the top
from within Windows. It sounds like a lot of fuss, but if it works it
could be a useful trick anyway.
Under pressure - apparently some Zune owners are claiming that the
screen of their player has suddenly cracked for no readily apparently
reason, often after the unit has been on charge overnight. Pundits are
speculating the the battery mounted under the screen is expanding during
charging, but reader comments to the article at Engadget are highly
sceptical of the claims.
How to be mistaken for a spammer - following the publication of the
updated Spamhaus list of the
spammers (many of the same old names, as could be predicted), Dark
Reading presents their advice on how companies that send out bulk
email can avoid crossing over the perilously thing line between marketing
truth will out - amid rumours that Florida is about to pass
legislation banning touch-screen voting machines, two Ohio election
officials have been convicted of falsifying a recount of ballots in the
2004 Presidential Election. Anyone who was following that travesty of
democracy knows that is only the tip of the iceberg, though, and many
other Republican electoral frauds still deserve investigation.
Fads that swept America - from break dancing to cocaine, from Doctor
Spock to fallout shelters, Neatorama documents some of the crazes
that came and went during the 20th century, often emerging into the
collective zeitgeist almost overnight and fading away almost as quickly.
Hmmm, I wonder if you can still buy zoot suits?
A vote of confidence - Microsoft Corporation has gained first place in
the Reputation Quotient survey conducted by market-research firm Harris
Interactive, beating baby-care products manufacturer Johnson & Johnson who
have held the pole position for the first seven years of the award. Voters
were strongly influenced by Bill's charitable work, it seems, which has
reflected back on the company itself.
a clue for the clueless - at BBSpot, a useful flowchart for
those puzzling over the wisdom of an upgrade to Microsoft's latest OS.
January is often a peak month in the stats, for some
reason (other bloggers have noticed it as well) but this year it also sets a
new record for Epicycle with around ten thousand visitors during the
month - and as the end of this month also brings something of a
psychological a landmark in the shape of my first 250,000 visitors (that's
right, count 'em, a quarter of a million!) I'm happier about my stats that
I've been for a while. It could be worse. :-)