Thursday, September 30, 2004

More GMail invites

As I mentioned earlier, I had some GMail invites to give away. Well now I have another six. I don't understand why everyone is so desperate for an invite, at this rate I'll have given away eighteen invites in less than a week, and I'm sure they'll only go and give me another six once these are gone. Anway, anyone that wants a GMail account. Mail me...

.Mac Upgraded

As has been widely reported, Apple have finally gotten round to upgrading it's .Mac offering. Everyone seems to be concentrating heavily on the increase in space to 250Mb, shared between your iDisk and email inbox, but to me the ability to create disposable aliases as email addresses which can be thrown away afterwards if they attract spam is the most useful feature.

Airline Pilot and Laser Weapons?

The Washington Times reports that the pilot of a Delta Air Lines jet was injured by a laser that illuminated the cockpit of the aircraft as it approached Salt Lake City Airport last week. That's a pretty odd story, makes you wonder about the cause of the incident. Predictably the press is going into melt down about the possibility of a terrorist threat.

Vobster Quarry

Jason Brown has just published an excellent updated map of Vobster Quarry, one of the local inland dive sites I've frequented a couple of times. The new map is much improved over the existing efforts.

Copyright © Jason Brown
Download the PDF file (1.4Mb)

Jason is also working on a new website for the dive site, which should go live in a couple of weeks time.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Tense moments

Predictably has good post-flight coverage of the X-Prize flight, with as much as is currently known about the unscheduled roll maneuver during engine burn.


According to the post-flight discussion Scaled's current plan is to conduct the 2nd flight on Monday 4th October, which is the 42nd anniversary of Sputnik 1.

White Knight carrier coming in for landing

Mike Melvill, SpaceShipOne's pilot

Glide and touch down

A sucessful glide home and touch down for flight X1 of SpaceShipOne. The late roll during the engine burn resulted in a manual shutoff of the engines 11 seconds early, but re-entry and touch down was nominal. We don't yet know whether the reoccurance of the roll on this flight, replicating a problem experienced during the earlier test flight, will delay the second X-Prize attempt.

Glide and touch down of SpaceShipOne


There seemed to be some roll to the ship during the burn stage, possibly due to wind shear, which caused an early engine shut off. However unofficially SpaceShipOne has reached 338,000ft at the peak of it's flight, this figure has still to be confirmed from the "gold box" readings by X-Prize officials.

SpaceShipOne at the peak of it's sub-orbital trajectory

Release for SpaceShipOne

SpaceShipOne releases from White Knight on schedule at 48,000ft, while travelling at 130 knots. It begins it's scheduled 87 second burn, accelerating to Mach 3.

SpaceShipOne begins it's burn

X-Prize Update

Seperation of White Knight and SpaceShipOne is expected in 40 minutes, at around 16:15 BST.

White Knight and SpaceShipOne from the ground

X-Prize Attempt

I'm currently watching the live webcast of the SpaceShipOne first X-Prize attempt on NASA TV. White Knight taxied for take-off at around 15:00 BST, and started the long climb to release altitude.

Climbing to release altitude

What the Bubble Got Right

Paul Graham is fast becoming one of my favourite dispensers of wisdom. His new article What the Bubble Got Right talks about the .com bubble and the fact that just because people got carried away doesn't mean that everything that went on during the .com era is invalid. He makes some good points about how new communication media don't come along often, and how every time they have, they've changed things in the long run.

Paul's recent keynote at OSCON attracted a lot of attention, but having heard him speak I immediately went out and bought his book. I'd recommend it, it's a good read, and he makes some telling points about the culture of the new economy.

Hackers & Painters: Essays on the Art of Programming
by Paul Graham, ISBN 0596006624, 225 pages, £11.16

Eric S. Raymond, author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar, writes in the foreword to Hackers & Painters: "Paul's writing is, as you'll soon learn from the rest of this book, wonderfully lucid stuff. Reading Paul's essays is like having a conversation with a genius who doesn't need to score any points by proving it to you, except that most geniuses aren't as articulate as he is. You get to share Paul's sense that the Universe is a fascinating place, and his knack for looking at it from an unusual angle."

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Tracks on Mars

A remarkable set of pictures from the Mars Global Surveyor has been released by JPL. They show the tracks the Spirit Rover is leaving on the Martian surface, as well as individual debris pieces such as the lander, backshell and parachute.

The view looking back from the rover itself

The tracks imaged by Mars Global Surveyor

Apple seeds Mac OS X 10.3.6

As reported in Apple Insider, the current pre-release version of Mac OS X 10.3.6 has been seeded to developers by Apple. Looking good, I wasn't expecting another minor revision with the upcoming release of 10.4 so close.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

GMail invites...

As I mentioned earlier, I now have a Google Gmail Beta account. I also now have six, count them, six invites to give away. Anyone want one?

Wired News

The project press release has been picked up by Wired who are running a story about Robonet-1.0 and the eSTAR project.

CREDIT: Liverpool John Moores University
The Liverpool Telescope on La Palma

Friday, September 17, 2004

Biting the hand that feeds IT

Looks like the Register has picked up Wednesday's press release and is running a story.

There is actually more information about eSTAR in the article than PPARC put in the release, so it looks like they may have done a bit of background reading.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

I, RoboNet

Looks like a PPARC press release about the Robonet-1.0 and eSTAR projects is starting to stir some interest amougst journalists. We'll have to wait to see if it makes as big a splash as the previous release, which came out towards the tail end of last year, about our work with the JAC.

CREDIT: Faulkes Telescope LLC
Faulkes Telescope North, part of Robonet-1.0

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

iChat Jabber Support

AppleInsider is reporting that iChat 3.0, shipping with the forthcoming Mac OS X Tiger, will have Jabber support.

While iChat has always used Jabber for Rendezvous messaging, this will be the first build with full scale Jabber support. This will give iChat users access to standard Jabber servers, and interoperability with other open source instant messaging programs.

Monday, September 13, 2004

The Mouse BT

I'm sure I'm not the only one that's been waiting for this, MacMice seem to have finally set a date for shipping their new three button bluetooth mouse. It'll be on the shelves by the 5th of October.

I have an Apple Wireless Mouse and I love it, it's sleek, reliable, works flawlessly, and of course it's wireless. But it's only got the one button, and when I'm running X11 applications it would be really handy to have a more normal three button mouse. The MacMice Mouse BT looks just as sleek as the Apple mouse it's imitating, but it has those three buttons. I'm looking forward to getting my hands on one...

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Support for ext2 under OS X

As a result of poking around the Jim Buzbee's site, which discusses how to modify your Linksys NSLU2 to make it more useful, I tripped over a SourceForge project which provides support for the Linux ext2 file system under Mac OS X. That'll come in handy...

Peer to Peer Backup?

A recent Slashdot article about peer to peer backups got me thinking.

Surely combining a (modified) Linksys NSLU2, and a couple of cheap USB2 hard drives, and deploying the combined (self-contained) bundle of hardware at a remote site would do just as well. Better perhaps, especially with automated incremental backups.

I guess I'm a total Neanderthal but giving someone else control of your data, even if they're giving you control of theirs at the same time, doesn't sound like a good thing. Then again, I guess some people don't have remote sites to push hardware at...

No more Linux support...

Catching up on my reading, I've just discovered that Linux support for Philips USB webcams has been discontinued by the author. The eSTAR project has bunch of these cameras, which we use to monitor remote sites, and we bought them specifically because of the excellent hardware support provided by the Linux kernel module.

The Philips webcam kernel module made use of another binary only compression module, the author had signed an NDA with Philips, and it seems that the kernel development team had removed the hooks for this from the open code in the main module. This meant that full support for the Philips hardware was unavailable from a stock kernel, and to get full support you'd have to recompile the kernel. The author of the module didn't like this and asked for his code to be removed from the kernel tree entirely. He's also decided to throw in the towel and stop supporting the module instead of backing it out to non-core status.

To me this seems like a victory for doctrinal purity over common sense on behalf of the kernel development team. This is not a good result for anybody.

Friday, September 10, 2004

The weirdness of crowds

Chris Lightfoot has done something quite interesting in his recent blog posting where he discusses the weirdness of crowds.

His post summarizes the results of his estimation quiz, where he asks questions like "What is the latitude of London?" asking for a value, and also, your estimate of the error in your answer. I'd recommend having a look at his results, it makes interesting reading...


DDPLAN is the highly respected, and free, dive planning software written by Gordon Henderson.

DDPLAN is Copyright © 1999 - 2004 Gordon Henderson
DDPLAN running under Mac OS X 10.3.4

As some of you may know I recently acquired a shiny new Apple Powerbook, and while Gordon distributes binaries for Red Hat and Debian Linux, Solaris, MS DOS and MS Windows, there wasn't a precompiled Mac OS X version of DDPLAN available. So with Gordon's cooperation I have recompiled and packaged up a version for the Mac OS X, which he'll shortly be making available on the DDPLAN site.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Genesis Crash Landing

I've just come from watching the live feed from JPL of the Genesis Probe mid-air recovery over Utah. The drogue and main parachutes failed to open and the probe struck the desert at terminal velocity.

Copyright © Reuters TV
Aerial shot showing the Genesis capsule in the Utah desert after it's parachute failed to deploy, this picture taken from NASA video

This was the first sample-return mission for NASA since the Apollo programme in the 1970's. Considering the speed of the impact, over 100 mph, it's likely there will be little of scientific value to recover.

NASA is reporting that there was some concern that the sample return capsule battery would fail, jeopardizing the re-entry, as the battery was overheating.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Sun SPARCstation 2

While I was dumpser diving today I also managed to get my hands on a Sun Microsystems SPARCstation 2, which was serious kit back when I was an undergraduate.

Sun Microsystems SPARCstation 2

Like the Macintosh Plus the SPARCstation I grabbed doesn't have an internal hard drive, as most machines of that era relied on external SCSI drives. On the other hand, unlike the Macintosh, I do actually know how to make this boot from the floppy drive....

The NVRAM battery on this machine is dead, which means it's reporting an "The IDPROM contents are invalid" error on boot. This isn't too much of a problem if you spent too much time mucking about with Sun's arcane Forth OpenBoot monitor when you were an undergraduate, as it's possible to use it to reprogram the IDPROM with moderately sensible values.

After playing around for a bit I managed to get the machine to boot Debian Linux off it's internal floppy drive. The hardest problem was finding the floppies...

The Age of the Essay

Paul Graham has just published a new article called "The Age of the Essay". While it isn't as directly related to hacking as much of his previous work, such as his excellent book Hackers & Painters, it is an interesting read...

Macintosh Plus

Today I went dumpster diving. The Physics Department where I work is having a major clearout and a lot of very outdated computer hardware has ended up in the skip. I ended up pulling an intact Apple Macintosh Plus out of the garbage, something I've been wanting to get my hands on for a while...

My "new" Apple Macintosh Plus

The Plus didn't have it's own hard drive, but it did have an Apple 25 pin SCSI connector to allow it to be connected to an external unit. While I came away with a lot of AppleTalk cabling and splitter boxes, and something that looks like it should be the external hard drive to go with this beast, I unfortunately didn't find the cabling to go with the drive.

At the moment I'm currently trying to track down a System 6 or 7 boot floppy to see if my find still works. I can certainly turn it on, and it makes all the right noises and displays the "where is my boot floopy" icon I was expecting. So I might actually have a fully functioning Mac Plus here!

Okay, so I'm a geek, but at least I'm a happy geek. If anyone knows where you can still source a SCSI to Ethernet adaptor I'm certainly in the market for one...

Monday, September 06, 2004

Back in the water...

Well I got back in the water at the weekend, diving the Salsette and the Pomeranian. Having replaced the scrims and the canister o-rings I went diving with, I'll admit, some degree of trepidation. However all went well, and with good weather for the weekend, I got some decent dives in despite the early start on the second day to catch the morning tide...

Weymouth at dawn, catching the early tide

Portland Bill Lighthouse

The P&O liner Salsette was torpedoed by UB-40 in 1917, and lies in 48m. I spent 30 minutes on the bottom, using an 18/40 diluent, with 37 minutes of decompression

The Pomeranian is a 4,241 ton Canadian liner which was torpedoed and sunk the following year by another German submarine, and lies in 37m. I spent 40 minutes on the bottom for around the same amount of decompression penalty.

Visibility for the weekend was around 3 to 4m.

Friday, September 03, 2004

More on CO2 Breakthrough

I got a lot of mail after the recent posting about my CO2 breakthrough last weekend. It seems to me that we're just starting to find out that CO2 works very differently at depth than it does on the surface, the classic early warning signs of a CO2 hit aren't there, and the symptoms you do get are just, well, different.

Next time I'll know what to do, I'll hopefully recognise the symptoms a lot earlier, and manage to do a diluent flush before starting an immediate ascent. The reason I went public is to try and spread the knowledge about what the symptoms are, because as I said before, the symptoms people tell you to look for don't actually seem to be the symptoms people are getting in the water.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Debate over How to Contact Alien Life

NPR has a segment debating the recent Nature article about "message in a bottle" SETI versus the more traditional radio, or even optical, SETI.

GMail Account

So somebody, thanks Brad, finally gave me a GMail Beta invite. First impressions? I like the interface a lot, it's also fast, blindingly fast compared to any other web mail interface I've ever seen...

But, the burning question is, will I use it day to day?

It seems unlikely, the pain involved in moving my non-work related email to yet another email address I don't control will probably be too great a hurdle. If I could easily import my mail archives, and if it offered the option to retrieve mail from my other accounts via IMAP and POP3 then I might be tempted in the long run. As I said, the interface is very nice, although I'd prefer that Apple used some of the ideas in instead. I prefer local storage, neandertal, me? Perhaps...

SETI not Likely!

On the other hand the BBC are reporting it's "All hype and noise..."

SETI at Last?

The New Scientist is carrying a piece suggesting that Arecibo has detected some unexplained signals which may be a candidate for SETI. It's probably going to turn out to be something mundane and boring, but watch this space...

CO2 Breakthrough

As I mentioned in a post yesterday, I had what I'm now presuming is a CO2 breathrough on my unit last weekend. I'll state up-front that the scrubber fill was well within it's recommended lifetime.

I was diving the Everleigh, which is in about 45m and was was running towards the end of the planned bottom time, around 35 to 38 minutes into the dive, when I started to feel very out of breath. This progressed to the point where it was almost impossible to breath, with the rapid breathing being almost uncontrolable. As a result I got very stressed, and despite having 18/40 as a diluent gas felt distinctly narked (confused, slow to react).

I desperately wanted to go up, right away, and the thought of the oncoming ascent and decompression filled me with a sense of despare. I managed, barely, to control my panic and deployed a delayed SMB and started up with the assitance of my buddy.

Although some of the cannoical symptoms such as headache or drowsiness were not present, everything about the incident fits with a CO2 breathrough, especially the fact that I felt better during the ascent, where the gas being dumped from the loop and the extra O2 being added by the unit would reduced the percentage of CO2 present.

During our time on the bottom the weather had deteriorate quite severely and I had to work hard to get back onto the boat in force 7 conditions, this resulted in another incident on the lift where again it was impossible for me to get a breath. This time however I violently spat the mouthpiece out and preceeded to take great gulping breaths, I had to be assisted onto the boat and took some time to recover.

During the incident, I can honestly say I didn't recognise it as hypercapnia, I was feeling confused, paniced, and paranoid. The thought of bailing out to OC, even if possible due to my rapid breathing, never even occured to me in the circumstances. If it wasn't for my buddy who babied my through my decompression I probably wouldn't have managed the ascent, I didn't feel "well" until the 6m stop.

I've now broken down the unit down. Looking at the cannister O-ring the O2 grease I'd applied to to it had gone, well "lumpy" is the best way to describe it, "sticky" also springs to mind. Not really what you'd expect from grease, I'll stick to silicone grease in the future, if at all. I've ordered new O-rings, and some scrims just in case, from Ambient Pressure which should arive for the weekend when I'll be getting back in the water to dive the Salsette.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Diving out of Weymouth

So the plan for the bank holiday weekend was to to diving out of Weymouth on Woody's new, and as yet unnamed, boat.

Copyright © Steve Jones
The new boat, looking a lot like the old boat.

We were going to have a four day weekend, but the traditional bank holiday weather meant that Friday was blown out. The weather on the Saturday had settled remarkably however and we dived the Aparima, a 5,704 ton liner lying in 42m, sunk in 1917 by a German submarine while going from London to Barry.

Diving the Aparima on Saturday

I was diving with Pete Steggle, and did about 35 minutes bottom time, followed by around 45 minutes of decompression.

Ken using his baby booster.

The weather on Sunday wasn't so good, but we pushed out to the Everleigh, lying in around 45m, sunk in 1945 by a German submarine while sailing from London to New York. I was diving with Pete again, and had a pretty decent dive until near the end of our planned run time when I had a CO2 break through on the unit.

All I can say about this right now is that every horror story you've heard about this is true, it isn't pleasant. I've ordered a new scrim kit, cannister O-rings, and some other bits and pieces and once I've got the unit stripped down I'll post again and in more detail.

All things considered I decided not to dive on the Monday, which seemed like an even better idea once I found out that Woody's new lift broke later on that day.

Steve Jones has written a trip report for the weekend.

Update: A more detailed report of the breakthrough and my experiences in the hope that this will help other divers.