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Sun 30th Mar 2008 @ 01:52 2008: There's No "U" in TEAM

I'm still catching up on Sky One's dramatisation of Terry Pratchett's first two Discworld novels: The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic.

About half way through the second episode, there's a scene in the Unseen University, where a plaque can be seen on the wall:

There's no U in TEAM

A nice touch.

Well, I enjoyed it, anyway....

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Fri 28th Mar 2008 @ 02:04 2008: Sun

SUNJohnthan Schwartz recently described Sun as "the only company in the industry with the technical lens to see from programming platform though operating systems, operating systems to datacenter systems, and datacenter systems into the silicon that powers it all"

Say what you like about Sun; there's nobody else who can claim that pedigree.

On a smaller scale, but bigger in volume terms, as someone pointed out to me not long ago: nobody other than Sun offers their own OS and hardware based on x86 (and/or AMD64; take your pick).

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Thu 27th Mar 2008 @ 00:26 2008: Save a Tree

So that's how you're supposed to do it:

Save a Tree

Come to think of it, if an email client will obey some embedded CSS "media" tags, this could work rather effectively...

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Wed 26th Mar 2008 @ 22:49 2008: Misleading Domain Names

RokGroupROKGROUP is not nearly as cool as its domain name might suggest :-(

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Sun 23rd Mar 2008 @ 01:32 2008: In for McLaren?

After last night's (UK time) qualifying, Nick Heidfeld complained that the two McLaren cars had held him up - being on their in-lap, with race fuel in the car, they were driving as conservatively as possible, whilst he finished his flying lap. Fernando Alonso was also on his flying lap.

As a result, the McLaren drivers were demoted 5 places, from 3rd and 4th, to 8th and 9th - from 2nd row to 4th/5th row on the grid.

According to PlanetF1. McLaren aren't planning to dispute the punishment, but it does seem strange that when there were 10 cars on the circuit, of which 8 were doing in-laps, the remaining two cars were surprised to find two slow McLaren cars ahead of them.

In all sections of qualifying, cars will be on in-laps, out-laps, or flying laps, and it is for the teams to notify drivers if they are about to be passed (in which case they must get out of the way), or if they are approaching a slow car (which they can assume will get off the racing line to let them pass).

The new rules mean that the slow cars will be particularly slow - they no longer need to be within 107% of their best lap - and the footage showed the BMW speeding past a field of relatively static vehicles. It was not clear from what footage was shown on UK TV, that any McLaren, or any other teams, were particularly responsible.

A minimum speed should be maintained - 107% seems to be the accepted standard, so all drivers below that ratio should be prepared to provide a good reason for falling below that, and should, in any case, move quickly out of the way of any car on a flying lap. Ignorance is no excuse - the team should be able to tell the driver of anybody approaching, and as the driver in question is not on a hot lap, he should be able to respond and get off the racing line.

That seems like a fine-tuning issue which needs to be addressed with the new rules. The fact that it affects only the McLaren team in this particular ruling, when there were 10 cars on track, 8 of which were on in-laps, and only two were selected (both the McLaren cars) to be penalised, seems not too well engineered to dispute the theory that there is an anti-McLaren, and specifically, an anti-Ron Dennis mood within the FIA.

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Sat 22nd Mar 2008 @ 01:50 2008: Happy Easter... more Easter Eggs

Easter EggIt's Easter, so here's another Easter egg... in GNOME, press Alt+F2, and type in "gegls from outer space" to get a weird kind of Space Invaders game, with a fish shooting at flying cows.

What planet are these guys on?

You can also get a fish flying around your screen; Alt+F2, and type "free the fish"

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Fri 21st Mar 2008 @ 01:11 2008: Linux isn't ready for the desktop....

Recently, Stormy Eyes started a thread about being tired of the "if only Linux had X feature or killer app, then there'd be a mass migration" threads

I, too, am getting tired. You'll often hear tired old forum members like Stormy and me complaining that arguments about Linux desktop marketshare, desktop readiness, desktop migration, etc. have taken place thousands of times. Well, it may not number into the thousands yet, but it has happened a lot. Here are some threads you might want to read if you don't believe me.

Read More... 21 threads discussing the future of Linux on the desktop - if you have the stamina.

GNU/Linux has been my primary desktop for a good 12 years now; it's not for everyone, though 'er indoors has been quite happy with Ubuntu (6.06 LTS) for a few years now, as it's stable and does all she wants. (Recently, she's had to start using MS Windows at work, and the PC is apparently terribly unreliable. It's interesting what one gets used to...)

I changed jobs a few months back, and reckoned I ought to keep a Windows partition around, for compatibility with various customers. The only thing I seem to be lacking with 64-bit Debian GNU/Linux, is a fully-working Sun JRE which will run Sun's CAM software. As a virtual 32-bit Linux should be able to take care of the task, I plan to go whole-disk Linux with a virtual Solaris and virtual 32-bit Linux when I get the downtime. If I can sort some kind of virtual and legal Windows, there may be space for a small windows.vmdk file, too, but we will have to see.

I admit that in the meantime, I've been touristing around Windows Vista; Portal is a fun game, though I got to level 18 of 19 in a few hours, and the kids like the provided cake-making game, but those are hardly compelling business reasons. The full disk wipe and reinstall is difficult, but those partitions may soon be reallocated.

UPDATE: Just after posting this, StumbleUpon points me at, which somewhat typifies the vague, random and confusing advice which seems to go around Windows users - certainly, my mother forwards me the occasional hoax, just to ask if it's true. Last time, it was actually valid (the generic e-card ones), but it makes no odds: if you're in Windows, if "there is a strange itch that goes on my spine always, that is to play with malicious scripts. So, the next moment, I loaded up that site," just Don't Do It. How can it have a good result? The eternal optimist may still hope that their Betamax is yet to have its day, and they may as well hope that their "fully patched" Windows system will be immune to whatever virus is going around right now.

I can't do the full rant, or I'd end up in one of the threads listed above.

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Thu 20th Mar 2008 @ 23:18 2008: Stick 'em Up!

Google AdsenseWhy would anybody want to pay Google for the privilege of advertising Google advertising?

I remember when I was about 9 years old, a friend found out that a local insurance firm would give away stickers with their logo if you just walked in and asked for some, so we all got them and stuck them to our pushbikes - after all, rally cars had decals all over them, and they were cool, right?

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
1 Corinthians 13 v11

Why would anybody want to send Google an SAE in return for a paltry sticker? Are they living in the real world?


Thu 20th Mar 2008 @ 00:34 2008: The Y1 Problem

This is 4BC - in 3 years we're going to run out of numbers! Then what?This must be an oldie - 9 years at least, I'd guess ;-) but I hadn't seen it before....

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Wed 19th Mar 2008 @ 23:42 2008: Breaking the RSS again...

I'm messing with the RSS again; the link should now be to the top of the post body, skipping the banner (as it was before), and not just to the page with the and all. Hope that makes sense...


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Wed 19th Mar 2008 @ 01:53 2008: Arthur C Clarke - RIP

Arthur C ClarkeRIP Arthur C Clarke, who died tonight, at 01.30AM Sri Lanka time (by my reckoning, that's 19.30 GMT on 18th March), from breathing problems associated with his post-polio syndrome.

Terry Pratchett has Alzheimer's disease (though hopefully still many more books in him); Asimov, Douglas Adams and Arthur C Clarke are now dead... do we have any great SciFi writers left? Do Ian M. Banks or Neal Stephenson really count?

Losing Clarke feels like the end of an era - or at least, the end of a generation, of SciFi authors who really knew how to Think Big.

We'll see your geostationary lifts into space yet, Arthur...

Whilst talking about Terry Pratchett, it would be improper not to mention Match It For Pratchett, a campaign to match his $1m donation to Alzheimer's Research.

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Mon 17th Mar 2008 @ 00:27 2008: Support local businesses... where practical

I've got a meeting out in the sticks in a few days, so I need to book a hotel relatively nearby. None of the major chains seem to have anything within 30 miles, so I'm left with the independent hotels. In these circumstances, it's very easy to find oneself as a guest of Mr. Basil Fawlty and his lovely wife Beryl.

I looked at a few hotels, and finally found one which seems to be okay - good reviews, acceptable price, and the rooms they show all look very nice. After navigating a complicated JavaScript-powered form (on a website comfortingly called, I confirmed all of my requirements and credit card details. I dutifully clicked the link which reminded me that the internet may not be secure, and that I should check for the icon in my browser confirming that SSL is enabled.

For my efforts, I was rewarded with a webpage (and email) saying


Thank You for your provisional booking.

We will confirm the booking to you shortly, by phone or email.

A copy of the provisional reservation email, has been sent to your email address.

Your reference number is: xxxxx

Please note that this is a Provisional Reservation Notice and your booking is not confirmed until you have received our Confirmation Notice by email. We update our Database each morning, we will then update your booking and process your deposit. Should there be conflicts on the dates you have chosen we will contact you immediately and attempt to resolve the situation to your satisfaction.

So I must now stop looking, as I've apparently (according to the email - otherwise, news to me!) paid a 33% deposit for what I am now told is a provisional booking. So it's provisional from their end, but not from mine...

I do hope they phone early in the morning and tell me that I've got the room; otherwise, I will have to redo this already-difficult search for a hotel room out in the sticks, but now with only hours to go.

This is no way to do business online in 2008, and it really is unforgivable. These companies should either get a proper system online, or keep their reservation systems offline. At the very least, the system chosen by this particular hotel (which looks to be pretty much my only choice for the location I am to visit) is the worst of all worlds - provide a system which gives every appearance of giving a firm booking, only to finalise the transaction with a message stating that the booking is provisional, until they get around to looking at it tomorrow.

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Sun 16th Mar 2008 @ 01:40 2008: Aw, Bless...

In the first qualifying session, newkid Glock (Toyota) qualified 9th (from a grid of 22 cars), but was demoted 5 places for changing his gearbox, and then lost a further 5 places for holding up Mark Webber. He's been sent down from 9th to 19th place on the grid of 22 cars.

9th position is a fantastic qualifying result for any new driver, especially for Toyota (when did they last qualify 9th?!). That's a great result, Glock, and nobody can take it away from you. Oh, apart from the FIA, who can chuck you back to the back of the grid :-(

Glock is on my F1 Losers team this year; I wonder how this will work for him. He'd better not keep up this habit of getting into the final qualifying session!

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Sun 16th Mar 2008 @ 00:18 2008: Born in 2007?

Born in 2007?Why yes, I was born in 2007. I'm currently somewhere between 3 and 15 months old, surfing the web, and was interested in clicking on your advert.

Do you really think it would be possible to get a newspaper from so far back as 2007?

Oh... what's a newspaper? Come to that, what's the web, what's an advert, and what's 2007?

Maybe this is the start of a long-running ad campaign, expected to start paying off in fifty years or so?

... any other ideas?!

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Sat 15th Mar 2008 @ 01:59 2008: RSS Update

Sorry if you've got the last 10 or so posts twice... I've finally made a change to the RSS, so that each item links to the actual post, not just the section of the month's page of posts. That should reduce your download time, as each bit of media (photos, etc) appear only for the item to which they correspond.

It's a one-time change; the new posts (including this one!) should only show up once.

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Sat 15th Mar 2008 @ 01:36 2008: Angel of the North

Angel of the NorthI've spent a few days up in Newcastle, one of the UK's loveliest cities. Unfortunately, I didn't get any free time to get into the city. (work, work, work... that's me ;-) !)

I did, however, get my second opportunity to stop off at the Angel of the North.

This is an awesome sculpture; as you drive towards Newcastle from the south on the A1, it appears as you brow the hill. As you are leaving Newcastle, it watches over you until you get towards Durham.


I'm not normally much of a one for sculpture, artsy stuff, and all that, but the Angel is just beautiful. Its bold strength, as it stands atop the hill, just resounds with the character of the North East of England. It's not necessarily all that subtle, it wears its weathering with pride: it was designed to cope with 100mph winds, and to deliberately rust in such a way that it takes on a richer, redder hue over time. But - or rather, because of that, it has a warmth and strength unrivalled by any other.

I visited it shortly after it had been installed, in what I realise must have been 1998, and now I have visited it again, 10 years later, to find out that it celebrated its 10th anniversary (birthday?) last month.

Long live the Angel!

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Fri 14th Mar 2008 @ 00:50 2008: Grub/Linux: Inconsistent Filesystem Structure

An otherwise great Linux system can crash in such a way that it won't even fix itself on reboot... That's even worse than the commercial competition. Come to that, it's worse than every other Linux distro I've run over the past decade (and more).

I've had this problem more than once now on my Debian (sid) laptop; when it happened before, I swore to investigate and make sure it wouldn't happen again, but didn't get around to it.

Today - on a customer site - my laptop's battery died, and on rebooting, it wouldn't boot Linux ("Inconsistent Filesystem Structure") or Windows ("Inconsistent Filesystem Structure"), though it would boot Solaris (Grub doesn't claim to know about Solaris; instead, Grub passes control to a separate Grub on the Solaris partition).

Great: I can't boot Linux, I can't even boot Windows, and my Solaris install is a bit of a halfway-house at the moment, not a setup I'm really happy with. And the USB/Serial adapter I really need to use, isn't configured there :-(

Step up Ubuntu bug 66278 and Debian bugs 462701 and 393079. The problem isn't with the OS itself (as suggested by the fact that Linux and Windows both failed to boot for me, today), but with the Grub bootloader.

Grub has a feature which will allow you to save the most recent boot option, and keep it as a default. You must set the default option to "saved", and use "savedefault" on those menuitems you wish to be set as defaults.

So you could enable "savedefault" on Windows and Linux, but not on Memtest, for example. If you're booting into Windows all the time for one week, it'll save that default, but then when you boot back into Linux, it'll reset the default to Linux.

To do this, it needs to write something to the /boot partition. If that partition is not writeable (without replaying redo logs, as is the case with an unclean partition), then Grub will fail, and will refuse to boot the OS as a result of this failure.

Silly Grub. Computer unbootable because a small personal preference can't be changed.

Set "savedefault=false" in /boot/grub/menu.lst, and remove the "savedefault" options from all boot menu items.
Do check after any grub-install that it's still safe.

You can always go interactive ("e") in the Grub menu and remove the "savedefault" option. That should allow it to boot.

Ugh. Nastiest bug I've seen on a GNU/Linux system for a long long time.

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Thu 13th Mar 2008 @ 11:53 2008: Elegant Sums

An Easter-time Christmas tree...

1 x 8 + 1 = 9
12 x 8 + 2 = 98
123 x 8 + 3 = 987
1234 x 8 + 4 = 9876
12345 x 8 + 5 = 98765
123456 x 8 + 6 = 987654
1234567 x 8 + 7 = 9876543
12345678 x 8 + 8 = 98765432
123456789 x 8 + 9 = 987654321
1 x 9 + 2 = 11
12 x 9 + 3 = 111
123 x 9 + 4 = 1111
1234 x 9 + 5 = 11111
12345 x 9 + 6 = 111111
123456 x 9 + 7 = 1111111
1234567 x 9 + 8 = 11111111
12345678 x 9 + 9 = 111111111
123456789 x 9 +10 = 1111111111
9 x 9 + 7 = 88
98 x 9 + 6 = 888
987 x 9 + 5 = 8888
9876 x 9 + 4 = 88888
98765 x 9 + 3 = 888888
987654 x 9 + 2 = 8888888
9876543 x 9 + 1 = 88888888
98765432 x 9 + 0 = 888888888

... and another:

1 x 1 = 1
11 x 11 = 121
111 x 111 = 12321
1111 x 1111 = 1234321
11111 x 11111 = 123454321
111111 x 111111 = 12345654321
1111111 x 1111111 = 1234567654321
11111111 x 11111111 = 123456787654321
111111111 x 111111111 = 12345678987654321

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Thu 13th Mar 2008 @ 01:36 2008: Jodrell Bank

Jodrell BankRecently it has been reported that the government plans to stop its funding of Jodrell Bank Observatory, which would undoubtably cause its closure. This petition is to prevent this happening and keep Jodrell Bank at the forefront of the Merlin project and British space exploration.

Sign the Downing Street Petition to keep Jodrell Bank open.

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Wed 12th Mar 2008 @ 14:35 2008: Fighting the war on [ virtual ] Terrorists

Leeroy Jenkins!Having presumably won the war on terror, now finding themselves with lots of unused anti-terror resource left over, the US are looking for terrorists in online games.

You couldn't make it up.

That Leeeeeroy Jenkins must be the first for the chop.

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Sat 8th Mar 2008 @ 00:08 2008: How It Happened

This is such a great ultra-short-story, I hope that the trustees of the late, great Asmiov estate will forgive me for pasting it here...

My brother began to dictate in his best oratorical style, the one which has the tribes hanging on his words.

"In the beginning," he said, "exactly fifteen point two billion years ago, there was a big bang and the Universe--"

But I had stopped writing. "Fifteen billion years ago?" I said incredulously.

"Absolutely," he said. "I'm inspired."

"I don't question your inspiration," I said. (I had better not. He's three years younger than I am, but I don't try questioning his inspiration. Neither does anyone else or there's hell to pay.) "But are you going to tell the story of the Creation over a period of fifteen billion years?"

"I have to," said my brother. "That's how long it took. I have it all in here," he tapped his forehead, "and it's on the very highest authority."

By now I had put down my stylus. "Do you know the price of papyrus?" I said.

"What?" (He may be inspired but I frequently noticed that the inspiration didn't include such sordid matters as the price of papyrus.)

I said, "Suppose you describe one million years of events to each roll of papyrus. That means you'll have to fill fifteen thousand rolls. You'll have to talk long enough to fill them and you know that you begin to stammer after a while. I'll have to write enough to fill them and my fingers will fall off. And even if we can afford all that papyrus and you have the voice and I have the strength, who's going to copy it? We've got to have a guarantee of a hundred copies before we can publish and without that where will we get royalties from?"

My brother thought awhile. He said, "You think I ought to cut it down?"

"Way down," I said, "if you expect to reach the public."

"How about a hundred years?" he said.

"How about six days?" I said.

He said horrified, "You can't squeeze Creation into six days."

I said, "This is all the papyrus I have. What do you think?"

"Oh, well," he said, and began to dictate again, "In the beginning-- Does it have to be six days, Aaron?"

I said, firmly, "Six days, Moses."

... How It Happened, © Isaac Asimov.

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Fri 7th Mar 2008 @ 01:32 2008: Wishlist Update

Items on the WishList were previously ordered by their location in the database, with the option of ordering by price, status, or desirability.

You can now tweak the ordering, as the default listing now highlights the most-desired items first (akin to selecting "Most Wanted" on the priority box).

So, if you suddenly decide that that Porsche 911 is the top of your list, you can set its desire to 5/5, and demote any other 5/5 items to be listed below it.

Finding friends generous enough to buy you a Porsche is left as an exercise for the reader.

I also plan to change how bought / reserved items are shown; as a config option, it may be nice to hide them entirely, or mark them out in a more obvious way, and do away with the traffic-light system, which doesn't seem to be particularly intuitive.

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Sat 1st Mar 2008 @ 01:09 2008: F1 2008

It looks like the drivers positions have settled down (they should have done by now!). Strange to see McLaren down at the bottom, with the highest-numbered cars we've had in a long time: #22 and #23.
Car 22Looking forward to seeing how Force India get into the swing of things; they've got Mike Gascoyne and a 24/7 wind tunnel, which should put a bit of a boost behind our old Spyker friends, who weren't doing so badly by the end of last season.

I've got strangely high hopes for all of the teams;
Ferrari - always strong, and they've got the World Champion behind the wheel.
BMW Sauber - two fantastic young drivers, and a real motiviation from BMW to get the job done this year. They've got the skills, they've got the funding, it's looking good.
Renault - Double World Champions with Alonso, looking to get their title back from Ferrari
Williams - Looking good with Rosberg. I'm not sure what's going on with Williams at the moment; they really should be doing better than they have done in recent years.
RBR - Two solid drivers; Coulthard's good for gaining steady points throughout the season. Webber's got a bit more flair, but I'd expect the pair to come out of the season quite close to each other. The real thing that RedBull need this year is to build up the team, and get the tech working for them. Last year was a big stepping stone.
Toyota - How much money have the Japanese pouring into F1 over the past few years? Toyota and Honda have put a lot of effort into building up some really strong teams, with only lacklustre results. Toyota look like the effort is paying off - they have had the occasional spectacular finish.
Honda - Jens and Rubens back at the mill for another season. I really hope the stability of the team pays off this season - they all deserve it.
Super Aguri - okay, these guys won me the F1 Losers league last year, but really, I hope they can come up with the funds to race this year; we would miss them.
McLaren - I thought that we were getting ProDrive alongside them in the back-end of the garages? Apparently not; that could hurt in the battle against Ferrari's excellent pair of drivers.

1. Kimi Raikkonen
2. Felipe Massa
Luca Badoer [ test driver ]
Marc Gene [ test driver ]

BMW Sauber
3. Nick Heidfeld
4. Robert Kubica
Christian Klien [ test driver ]
Marko Asmer [ test driver ]

5. Fernando Alonso
6. Nelson Piquet Jr
Romain Grosjean [ test driver ]
Sakon Yamamoto [ test driver ]

7. Nico Rosberg
8. Kazuki Nakajima
Nico Hulkenberg [ test driver ]

Red Bull Racing
9. David Coulthard
10. Mark Webber
Sebastien Buemi [ test driver ]

11. Jarno Trulli
12. Timo Glock
Kamui Kobayashi [ test driver ]

Scuderia Toro Rosso
14. Sebastien Bourdais
15. Sebastian Vettel

Honda Racing
16. Jenson Button
17. Rubens Barrichello
Alex Wurz [ test driver ]

Super Aguri
18. Takuma Sato
19. Anthony Davidson

Force India
20. Adrian Sutil
21. Giancarlo Fisichella
Vitantonio Liuzzi [ test driver ]

22. Lewis Hamilton
23. Heikki Kovalainen
Pedro de la Rosa [ test driver ]
Gary Paffett [ test driver ]

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