From July 2004

Holiday Time

I’m off tomorrow an a very unearthly hour (4am!) to Italy for a weeks holiday. I’ll be taking a borrowed Blackberry GPRS handheld PDA with me (thanks Ian) so I can blog from over there assuming everything works as it should. One side effect of the blog-by-email system is that my work email account attaches a copyright signature by default which can’t remove so all my posts will have some a couple of paragraphs of rubbish below them – unfortunately there’s no quick way around this. I was tempted to take the laptop along with me but unfortunately I don’t think the travel insurance would cover it!

Blackberry

Out & About

Nothing much to report from the last couple of days, work is busy as ever so I’m very much looking forward to going on holiday next week to Italy. I’ll be staying somewhere on the Amalfi Coast (described as ‘Europe’s Most Beautiful Stretch of Coast’) which is apparently quite close to Pompeii & Vesuvius which looks pretty interesting. Apparently it’s usually quite hot over there at this time of year (!) so I’ve been preparing myself by getting some new cloths more in line with the climate! With this in mind there probably won’t be any posts next week but expect a pile of new pictures when I get back.

Google

As you may have probably heard parts of Google experienced a short period of downtime this week due to a massive hit from the MyDoom.O virus – it must have takes some serious traffic to partially take out one of the most powerful distributed computers in the world. As well as Google, Lycos, AltaVista and Yahoo were bombarded with requests until they could not cope showing that the technology has some fairly serious flaws when it comes to protection against this new sort of attack. As ever the worm only affected Windows systems but not Linux or Mac computers! Over the last couple of days at work we’ve seen a couple of machines infected with the virus and are just hoping that it doesn’t spread otherwise it could potentially take out the entire network fairly quickly!

Audley End

Had a rather tiring day down at Archant Specialist near Saffron Walden today clearing out their small server room which by the looks of it has been used as a dumping ground for miscellaneous computer rubbish for a good few years. It was a bit of a health an safety minefield when we arrived but 5 hours later we had it all neat and tidy and drove back with a couple of tonnes of stuff in the back of the van we hired to get rid of.

The trip to the office always takes us past the austere ‘Audley End House’ – a huge early 17th century country mansion on the outskirts of Saffron Walden, and just a few miles from Stansted. It’s a pretty impressive place with sweeping lawns and a lake leading up to the main house – one day it would be good to have a look round. I took a few pics for the car on the way by which came out quite well considering the speed we were probably doing!

Audley End

Revenge of the Sith

Today (or was is yesterday?) George Lucas & Co. announced the name of the last chapter of the prequel Star Wars trilogy: Episode III: Revenge of the Siththe name may sound quite good, I’m not holding out much hope for the film which should hit screens some time in May next year. The idea of Hayden Christensen making the transition from the sniveling Anakin Skywalker to the evil Lord Darth Vader is just too big a leap in my mind to be plausible in any way. I guess only time will tell.

Star Wars

The only thing we can really be sure of is that the CG will be pretty stunning, shame the acting and story line can’t be of a similar quality.

iVolution

Occasionally a product comes along which completely displaces whatever has come before it usually because of a unique combination or form and functional factors which simply put it miles in front of the competition. This has been seen throughout history with technological advances and social trends propelling supply and demand forward at a pace determined by levels of economic prosperity. A prime example of this would be the evolution of music storage which has progressed from vinyl records through cassettes & Cd’s and more recently into a totally digital format in the form of MP3’s etc. A product that has captured a majority share of this new market is the highly regarded iPod from Apple. What makes this gadget unique is its perfect combination of functionality and stylish looks which appeal to a wide market other than just the technically minded.

iPod

The iPod is basically a small hard drive in a case with a tiny computer attached to it to provide a means to access its contents. Although it is primarily designed to store music you can use it to store anything you like and with capacities of either 20/40gb thats a fair plenty of room for movies/pictures/documents. Its minimalistic design leaves little to be confused about and can be easily operated one-handedly.

iPod

Last week saw the release of the 4th generation of iPod which boasts greatly improved battery life, thinner profile (about the size of a pack of cards) and a new touch sensitive “Click Wheel” for interface navigation. A good move that Apple made early on was not to implement heavily restrictive DRM (Digital Rights Management) as other manufacturers have which limit what you can play and how many times content may be copied. All in all its a pretty nice bit of kit, if a little on the pricey side. I don’t actually have one yet but that may all change considering the amount of overtime I’ve been doing at work recently! Check out the ipodlounge.com for more info.

“I know where you live”

…and so does everyone else it seems. Whilst doing some general research into cyber cartography for my 3rd year project I stumbled across a fascinating, if not somewhat scary website. The site features, amongst other things, detailed satellite imagery with corresponding maps & photos of government facilities, sensitive sites (like nuclear power plants and dams) as well as the odd celebrity mansion. Using publicly available data individual ‘eyeballing’ pages have been created for each site with sometimes detailed security information to go with it. Some of the satellite photos are staggeringly detailed with individual cars and people visibly clear. Sites features are mainly from the US and UK, one of my favourites would have to be Bill Gates riverside mansion which is pretty impressive:

Bill's house

The issues of the freedom of information aside part of me wonders whether providing all this information in a convenient and interlinked form is such a good idea. Yes it’s publicly available, and yes no one has broken the law, but isn’t a freely available directory of high-profile/security sites a terrorists dream come true? Now they don’t even have to research their activities, they just have to print out the maps and jump in the car/plane. Whilst I’m all for freedom of information etc this sort of thing does slightly worry me and you can’t but help wonder about the motivation of the individuals putting together all this stuff:

“Young [the creator] has a clear political agenda in creating the eyeballing map montages, to show people the places that the powerful do not want the rest of the community to know about or think about. The mapping of facilities related to America’s continued maintenance of weapons of mass destruction, for example, is clearly designed to expose the hypocrisy of the Bush Government.”

Aurora
Aurora Pulsed Radiation Simulator – simulates the effects of a nuclear explosion.

Having said all this it’s a fascinating site and well worth a browse.

Larry Wachowski Speaks!!

“The matrix is an exploration of consciousness…”

The press-reclusive Wachowski brothers (directors of the Matrix trilogy for those who didn’t know) have never openly talked about their creation – that is up until now. Sort of. For the first time every Larry Wachowski has given an informal taped interview to Ken Wilber (philosopher & author). For any serious matrix fan this is a dream come true and is no doubt the beginning of the run up to the release of the mega DVD box set due for release some time at the end of the year. Here’s the official word:

“Not too long ago, Ken sat down with Cornel West (philosopher, author, and actor — RELOADED and REVOLUTIONS: Councilor West), and recorded over sixteen hours of audio commentary on all three films (which will be edited down to approximately six hours for the box set). This slightly shorter conversation between Larry and Ken (clocking in at just over 30 minutes) was recorded just days before the exhaustive 16 hour commentaries and is a relaxed yet intellectually rich dialogue between two intensely well spoken blokes. Don’t miss it.”

I’d definitely concur with the latter sentiments – for anyone who “didn’t get” the sequels to the trilogy this goes a small, if not significant, way to explaining what was going on without handing it away on a plate. Of note Larry speaks about not wanting to give his interpretation of the Matrix as this would only devalue everyone else’s opinion, whatever that may be.

If you’re interested download the mp3 of the conversation here (while you still can!). You can also read a transcript of the conversation here.

Samurai 7

I haven’t done an anime review in a while so here’s one today about a relatively new series called ‘Samurai 7’:

Samurai 7

Samurai 7 is a classical story with a twist about a group of farmers who are being oppressed by a group of tyrannical overlords know as the Nobuseri, who are ruined samurais. They rob the villagers of nearly all the crops they grow and because they have no way to fight them they must obey their orders.

Samurai 7

Faced with starvation, the villagers send out a mission to find and recruit some samurai to defend them. With no pay to offer except rice, and knowing full well that only down-on-their-luck samurai would even consider accepting such an deal, the villagers can only hope that their saviors will appear before the rice is ready for harvest.

Samurai 7

Once the small group reach the city they face many challenges, not least finding a samurai prepared to help them. As their quest progresses they run into a number of interesting characters some with more admirable intentions than others. As you can probably imagine they slowly build up an oddball group of samurai’s, some more able than others but all with a taste for war!

Samurai 7

As these things go the animation is at the better end of the scale with some nice use of CG to create some pretty cool action scenes. One of the main reasons why I like Japanese anime is due to its ability to slow-down time at exactly the right moment to pull you into the frame and feel the moment, a technique well employed by Samurai 7. Definitely worth a slot in your bittorrent queue!

Korea

The DVD of “A Tale Of Two Sisters” (previously reviewed here) that I ordered from South Korea arrived today in perfect condition. Wonders never cease to amaze me how something can be shipped half way across the globe and still cost no more than it would to buy it on the high street (if it were available there).

Post

The version I have is the special 2-disc edition which includes a film cell in a numbered presentation card which I thought was particularly cool! Picture quality is perfect although you’ll need a NTSC capable region free player to watch it as it’s been encoded for use in Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and parts of South East Asia only.

Post

Interestingly enough today also marked the launch of North Korea’s first ever official website. N. Korea is widely believed to be the most secretive dictatorial state in the world with very few actually knowing what goes on inside it. Here’s an interesting article about a man’s experiences when he went there recently. Here’s another about a German Doctor who, in 1999, gained the confidence of the regime and eventually came back to report on the oppression and poverty he had witnessed. This is all in stark contrast to S. Korea which appears to be doing pretty well for itself generally.

Nostalgia

A colleague at work discovered some pretty archaic computer kit in the bottom of one of his desk draws today with stuff from as far back as the late 1970’s (well before I was even born!). It’s amazing to see how things have moved on since then and just how clunky things were. The classic example of this was the ‘acoustic modem’ which was a box with two speakers on to which you pressed the telephone handset so that it could dial-up and transfer data. For its day this was cutting edge and even considered portable but wasn’t particularly reliable (so I hear).

Old Computer

Connected to this is a ‘Tandy 400 Portable Computer’ with a 9″ mono screen and about as much computing power as an average wrist watch has today. Incredibly when it was plugged in it all started up fine – it was only when the smell of burning electronics was detected that we realised that the power adapter being used was the incorrect voltage and it was switched off pretty quick! Another piece of computing history that was discovered was a boxed copy of Windows v1, straight from the early beginnings of the Microsoft Empire. The graphics may not have been as fancy as they are today but you can defiantly still see the similarities.

Windows

If all this nostalgia has sparked your interest take a look this site about the history of computers.