From September 2004

A Taste of Things to Come

I’m rapidly becoming bored with the design of the site at it is at them moment. It seems fairly flat and lifeless. With this in mind I’m working flat out on a new design for the site which I hope to unveil some time over the weekend. This will be timed to come online when I move web services onto my secondary server. Here’s a little sneak peak of how things should look:

New Site

As ever I’m trying to stick to all the major standards (XHTML, CSS etc) and hopefully people will like the new look!

Aero

I don’t usually buy audio CD’s (that’s not to say I don’t listen to them ;-)) but when I saw what Jean Michel Jarre’s latest Album ‘Aero‘ had to offer I couldn’t resist.

Aero

A couple of days later after ordering it off Amazon it arrived today and when I got home from work I immediately popped it in my parents fairly decent Denon hi-fi system. What makes this compilation unique is that it is the first ever to be constructed in pure 5.1 surround sound. If you know JMJ’s work (which spans way back before I was even born!) then you’ll know that you’re in for a treat. This takes electronic music to the next level and instead of being presented with a flat wall of sound you are instead immersed in the experience with the music flowing around, through and over you.

“This is not a technological trip but a physical experience, which is what music is. It is sensual… and music has the ability to let you create your own movie. Stereo could never give justice to this experience. Now you can be in the heart of the sound.” JMJ

Of course you’ll need a 5.1 DVD Dolby Digital capable system to play this but the included standard CD also sounds incredible.

Aero

The Album itself contains mainly reworked versions of a number of JMJ’s most famous tracks with three new ones thrown in. All hold up to the conversion remarkably well and even possibly sound better in their new form dare I say it! My favourite track has got to be the new ‘Equinox 4’, which is simply out of this world! Also included on the DVD is a visual track (which can be turned on/off), which simply features a pair of beautiful eyes, reacting to the music making for a very surreal experience. Considering JMJ has been making music since the 1960’s it’s incredible that he’s still top of his game and the fact that groups like Orbital are now doing similar things is a testament to his vision that was, and still is, ahead of its time.

Blog Review

The exponential rise of blogs (weB LOG) over the last couple of years is changing the way people involved with them communicate and share opinions, ideas and news. They are the answer to our 24/7 cultures need for instantly available, up-to-date information from around the world. They can also provide a valuable insight into the way people think and interact (or so we’ve been led to believe…). I see it as a fascinating medium and have been amazed at the quality of some of the content out there. Obviously there’s a lot of rubbish to wade through and different things appeal to different people but when even the mainstream media start to take note of their infringing appeal you have to accept their prominence. This is a subject I could probably go on about at length for hours but I’ll spear you that discussion for another time. Here are some of my favorite daily clicks:

Blog
Binarybonsai.comWordPress guru Michael Heilemann shows off his design skills and is the author of the rather cool looking (but rather overexposed) template called Kubrick. Definitely the place to go for good blog design tips.

Blog
Engadget.com – If your a bit of a gadget freak like me then you’ll love this site. It contains all the latest news of new products and novel uses of old ones! A little too much advertising for my liking but seeing as the guy who runs it does it as his full time job you’ve got to allow him to make a living!

Blog
Megatokyo.com – Not so much a pure blog but a web comic with ‘rants’ from the author, his wife and friends tapped on the side. An excellent read for anyone who likes manga-style comics with a western twist. If you like it I’d suggest buying the book(s) and support the artist, after all where else would you ever get something of such high quality for free?

Blog
Kissui.net“Kissui is a Japanese word meaning genuine.” Great blog with some even better pictures. Very kawaii. How Yuki (the webmistress) gets enough time to upload new ones so frequently is beyond me! Insightful commentary from the “home of the cool and cute” but avoids the stereotypes which are too often slapped on this part of the world.

Blog
Kottke.org“Home of fine hypertext products.” Excellent daily selection of links pertaining to just about anything and everything collected together by Jason Kottke. Why trawl the web for the good stuff when someone else can do it for you?

Blog
#!/usr/bin/girl – The original and still probably the best wacky (and definitely geeky) link blog. I think her mini-bio says it all – “zannah is a digital anime girl located in seattle, washington”. Uber cool! She also runs a personal blog called vox.machina.

If you get a chance check them out, I’m sure you wont be disappointed! They all put my little blog to shame really but I have great aspirations!

End Game

With the summer ‘vacation’ rapidly drawing to a close (only one week left at work!) I realised today with a certain sense of finality that this may be my last ever holiday living at home 🙁 If/when I graduate next June I’ll probably be looking for full time employment somewhere although what I’ll be doing is anyone’s guess! I imagine this academic year is going to be fairly busy what with conducting my final year project, learning Japanese (attempting anyway), looking for employment and everything else. If the last couple of years were anything to go by then it’s going to go by very quickly!

Tech News

The desktop upgrade front has been pretty busy of late, what with new versions of X11, Gnome, Firefox, Thunderbird (and just about every other minor app) my computer has experienced a bit of a face-lift. It never ceases to amaze me how open source developers continue to churn out new and inventive updates which make the difference between applications being just good and great – and all of this for next to no monetary reward. I’ve been suspicious of large companies (IBM, Novell etc) who have recently become Linux advocates because I find it difficult how such companies can balance profit with openness which this dictates. I asked a guy at IBM last Thursday about this and didn’t get a straight answer but it seems obvious that the IT industry is desperately searching for “the next big thing” and are hedging their bets on Linux being that thing.

On the server front I’ll be making a few changes next weekend, none of which should be visible anyone but may cause a short period of downtime. Basically I’m shifting the whole web site over to the backup web/mail server because come next Tuesday (Oct 5th) my Dell PowerEdge 400SC will be moving with me back to Durham. In theory this should be a fairly straight forward operation but in practice it may take a while to get everything working smoothly!

Challenge Report

Continuing on from yesterdays post:

On the Thursday we all descended on the Novotel Southampton, which was to be our base for the overnight stay. When we arrived we were issued with our nametags and room keys. I was a bit miffed to find out that I had to share a room with a complete stranger from another university because we had an odd number of people in our group but didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. After asking an IBM representative about this I was lucky enough to be moved into another room of someone who hadn’t turned up 🙂

IBM

In the evening we had a nice meal in the hotel restaurant followed by team introductions (which included a fair share of Oxbridge bashing!) and a quiz. The quiz questions were pretty obscure and were obviously designed to get you to ask other universities if they knew the answer! After going to bed at around 11:30pm it was pretty hard having to get up for 7am breakfast but I managed to crawl out of bed and make it!

IBM
The Team (excluding me!) L-R clockwise: Liz (out lecturer), Simon, Richard, Peter, Mike.

After breakfast we were swiftly whisked off to IBM UK Laboratories, Hursley Park, Winchester, the main building of which is a pretty impressive stately home. Our first appointment of the morning was an impressive talk given by one of the ‘Master Inventors’ who, amongst other things, demonstrated how his complete lab was wired up to be Internet & voice controllable – very cool! We were then given a whistle-stop-tour of the site by our group host, which was as I imagined – very modern and business like.

IBM

After this (at around 11pm) we got down to the challenge itself. The rules are a bit complex to explain quickly but basically there were two sections to it – firstly we had 2.5 hours to complete as many of the 24 devised challenges as we could and in doing so obtain gold stars/tokens which would count in our favour in the next section. The challenges varied from being logical to physical and some took longer to complete than others. One I particularly enjoyed was where we had to direct each member of the team (who couldn’t see the screen) to play a lemmings like game and progress through a number of increasingly complex levels. One that was annoyingly difficult was trying to construct a jigsaw puzzle blindfolded whereby we had to describe the piece of the puzzle we had to the person who had to put it together! We did moderately well in this part of the challenge and then proceeded onto the final whereby we had to answer 30 general knowledge questions of varying difficulty in the fastest possible time.

In the end Imperial College, London managed to beat everyone else and were this years winners. Unfortunately we were never told exactly what score we got but I don’t think we did too badly – it was defiantly a lot of fun!

IBM

Once things were wrapped up we were delivered back to the hotel and were left to make our way home. I had the fun of bracing the London Friday afternoon rush hour and both the tube and Liverpool Street were crawling like I’ve never seen them before. Other than that the journey was uneventful and I made it home for about 8:30pm after a non-stop couple of days!

ThinkPad Challenge

Just a quick update before I head off for a long sleep after all the activity I’ve had over the last couple of days. Sufficed to say we didn’t win the competition unfortunately but we had a lot of fun taking part and it was very interesting to see what goes on at IBM. I’ll do a proper write up probably tomorrow. In the mean time take a look at some of the pictures I took here.

Hursley

After our software engineering team won the overall team prize back in April we’re off to to IBM Hursley (Winchester) tomorrow to compete against other universities in the ‘UK Labs ThinkPad Challenge’! Although I’m looking forward to it there’s a bit of a mystery surrounding what exactly we’ve got to do competition wise when we get there. From what I can gather from other people it’s a bit like ‘The Crystal Maze‘ (“but obviously without Richard O’Brien, the lock-ins, or elaborate sets”!). Hopefully we can have a good crack at whatever they throw at us!

Check back Friday evening (GMT) for an update on how things went and hopefully some pictures to accompany 🙂

Don’t Panic!

Only one man could return from the dead to play a character in a book he wrote himself – Douglas Adams, the literary genius behind the ‘Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘. The BBC have posthumously adapted the final three books in the Hitch Hiker ‘trilogy’ which have been recorded using most of the original cast and are being aired by Radio 4, beginning today. Thanks to the wonders of digital technology, Douglas Adams himself can be heard playing the part of Agrajag which he recorded shortly before his death. For those who haven’t encountered the HHGTTG yet the BBC have an excellent site dedicated to it but in a nutshell this is another great example of slightly weird British humor at its best (the main characters are named Ford Prefect, Author Dent & Zaphod Beeblebrox after all)!

Don't Panic!

If you missed the first episode DON’T PANIC! – you can sit back and enjoy a Pan-Galactic Gargleblaster whist listening to it online via the sub-ether waveband!

Springfield

Stumbled across a cool little (or not so little as it turns out) Simpson’s fan project the other day which I thought deserved a mention – It’s a complete map of the fictitious town of Springfield derived from meticulous scrutiny of over 15 seasons worth of episodes!

Springfield

For obsessed fans (like my brother) it contains a wealth of information on the local geography and events which occurred in each location. It’s obvious that perhaps the producers didn’t always have this map in mind when making the show as there are a few discrepancies and no doubt there have been disputes as to its accuracy. All-in-all this is another fitting testimony for people with too much time and too little to do, but nether-the-less I think it’s pretty cool!

Spam

Spam (unsolicited/junk email) is an ever growing problem. Of the 30 billion+ emails sent every day around 40% of it is rubbish (around 12 billion messages!!) and this number keeps growing*. Most people delete spam as they receive it but cumulatively this costs individuals and businesses precious time and money. A common solution is to install a spam filter on either the client or server side. If properly configured these can be very effective although no solution is ever 100% effective as you are always balancing the chance of deleting genuine emails with blocking the maximum amount of spam. In the past I’ve have to ditch mail accounts which have become overrun with spam but have been lucky so far with my current addresses. I recently discovered that the mailbox of the root account on my mail server was getting bombarded with spam so took the step to install ‘SpamAssassin‘ which filters all incoming mail. It uses a wide range of advanced heuristic and statistical analysis tests on mail headers and body text to identify spam. It’s a bit difficult to setup as it requires you to fiddle about with Sendmail and Procmail but so far I’ve found it to be quite effective.

An engineer at Microsoft recently posted an interesting visual history of spam which highlights the growing problem well. Bill Gates has claimed that he’s working on a solution to the issue but I can’t see anything radical happening for quite a long time!

*Statistics taken from ‘Spam Filter Review‘ 2004.