28th February 2007

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!

Conspiracy 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" status.

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 use.

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 on Wi-Fi.

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 become.

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 and Japan.

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.

Geeky and 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 rather well!


27th February

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 MCH chip is of a similar physical design, and that improved the stability nicely.

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.  :-)


25th February

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 very well.

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!


22nd February

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 improvement.

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!


20th February

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 internal marketing exercise on redesigning the iPod packaging...

Elsewhere, a few quick links:

Virtual reality - "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 industry watcher...

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.

A 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 invalidated.


"Hell hath no fury like the vast robot armies of a woman scorned" - Futurama S02E19: Mother's Day


19th February

A bumper crop of news links to start off the week:

A 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, right....

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 Monster has 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 conditions.

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.

Open wide - a new JavaScript-based attack can use the default 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 too late!

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.

Future shock - 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...

And, finally, 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.


18th February

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.

I've chosen the Sapphire version of the card, having been favourably impressed with their various All-In-Wonder 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 or two.

To go with the card I'm getting the latest generation in the confusingly named series of Koolance GPU coolers, the 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 Aqua PCs, taking the opportunity to stock up on some more of that pretty blue coolant fluid and some additional polythene tubing while I was at it.

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 edition.

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...


17th February

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.


15th February

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. Sheesh!

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 The Deep".

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 damn stuff!

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 blue and green versions, although if you're colour blind that may not matter much....


14th February

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.

I'm 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...

And, finally, technical 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!


13th February

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 Lynx 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 source programmers.

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.

In fact, 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 time!

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 foolish!

I've written (very politely, yes!) to Linus c/o the 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...


12th February

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 year's awards.

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.

On the 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.


11th February

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. Apple's 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 corporates: 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 the mark...

A 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.

The 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.

A cartoon 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". Marvellous stuff!

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...

And, finally, the 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.


9th February

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 candidates.

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 say...

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 trivial restriction.


8th February

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.


6th February

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!

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

Part of the problem - a study by researchers from MIT and Harvard suggests that users of online banking services pay so little attention to the content and appearance of the pages they're using that many of the security features introduced recently to combat phishing frauds are 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 issue is somewhat moot...

Clash of the Titans - Ars Technica has posted a summary of the current spat between TV company Viacom and YouTube, following the issue of around 100,000 DMCA takedown notices over clips from TV programs held on the video site. Viacom is sticking to the classic "piracy is theft" approach, while YouTube is trying to seize the visionary high ground... Meanwhile, the people whose completely innocent and unrelated clips have been caught in the flood of deletions are just plain annoyed...

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 publicly to Microsoft for clemency. However, the case was initiated by Russian prosecutors during an officially sanctioned nationwide crackdown on unlicensed software, and is 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 legal 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 grant remote access to systems used by terrorism suspects. Basically, the ruling extends the same rights to computer use as are already in place to protect warrant-less phone tapping and interception of letters, which 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 parties, is handing out DMCA takedown notices to anyone displaying video clips of people performing the dance, especially (and he seems extremely touchy about this!) when the steps are not being performed exactly to his original choreography. It is perfectly permissible to copyright a dance 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 January, and manages to offend supporters of pretty much every other email system on the way. She may have spoken too soon, however, as following a small tidal wave of support from devoted users (who knew that so many people 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, has given "formal notice" that if elected his government would scrap the controversial ID card scheme, and is urging that any contracts entered 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.

And, finally, getting creative - if the classical seven deadly sins are 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 Fat Men In Speedos. Brilliant... :-)


5th February

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.

Closer 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 stack.

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 me.

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 mouth.

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 User Account Control security system. As others have already said, I expect much pain from this facility until both users and developers understand it properly...


4th February

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.

Lying 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 being right...


2nd February

So it turns out that the BEMCMD 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 SAN tool 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...

Against 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!


1st February 2007

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 world's worst 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 and spam.

The 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.

And finally, 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.  :-)



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