Monday, January 31, 2005

Apple releases new PowerBooks

Apple has just announced an update for it's PowerBook range. Although this means we'll have to wait a bit longer for those G5 PowerBooks we've all been hoping for, the new models come with lots of new goodies.

The 12" now comes with a 1.5GHz G4, with the 15 and 17" models shipping with a 1.67GHz G4. All the models now comes with 512MB of memory as standard, Bluetooth 2.0, a sudden motion sensor, a scrolling track pad and updated graphics cards.

The three Apple PowerBooks

The updated graphics cards are probably the killer feature as the 15 and 17" PowerBooks now get dual-link DVI with 128MB graphics cards allowing them to plug into the Apple 30" Cinema HD display.

Talk about a desktop replacement system; a 15" PowerBook along with a Bluetooth Keyboard and Mouse and a 30" Cinema Display for the office. Nice...

Peer to Peer, made illegal?

This one had passed me by entirely. Apparently the MGM vs Grokster case, currently on its way to Supreme Court of the United States, may make peer-to-peer software illegal (at least if the decision goes the wrong way) in the US under the DMCA.

That's pretty scary, we're not talking about distributing illegal copies of movies or songs here, that's already illegal, well at least in most places anyway. We're talking about making a specific type of software architecture illegal, this would cause no end of problems. After all, the architectural ideas behind peer-to-peer software aren't just limited to sharing files, for instance Apple Rendezvous is built around a peer-to-peer architecture. Would that be illegal?

A lot of the concepts I've been talking about for mobile data are entirely peer-to-peer based. What happens to them? I can see a day where carrying my mobile phone into the States would be committing a crime. Worse yet, I can see a day where doing so in the UK would be committing a crime. May I should emigrate after all...

Data Mining the "Real World"

In October last year the UK's Environment Agency put its flood data online. At the time I was in the process of buying a house, and I was very interested to find out that I could get my hands on this data so easily.

Today the BBC is reporting that the Land Registry has put the register of properties online so that you can obtain excerpts from the register and title plan information for any property (in England and Wales) for just £2. Although this data has always been publically available, in the past its been a lot more difficult to obtain.

Okay, so me talking about mobile location dependant searches is probably getting old, but couple this data with that from the Environment Agency. Add in data from your own GPS fix and associated maps, drive-by data similar to that generated for the A9 yellow pages, and perhaps data harvested via Bluetooth from nearby devices via some sort of peer-to-peer mechanism, and augmented reality is just a wearable computer and some decent software away. You can probably tell I find all this stuff really interesting?

This is, as far as I'm concerned, the next leap forward for computing. Desktop systems will always be with us, but integrating the extra information that is now readily available into our daily lives going to bring major changes to the way we live. Of course, like most people, I'm going to wait until they make a moderately fashionable pair of HUD glasses.

Another an interesting question, at least for those of us in the UK, is what this means for solicitors and the conveyancing process? The data I obtained, for free, from the Environment Agency was exactly the same as that obtained for me by my solicitors. However, my solicitors charged me for the data, the Environment Agency did not. One of the major costs when buying a house in the UK is down to these types of searches. It'll be interesting to see how solicitors can continue to justify charging for searches when the information, which used to be hard to obtain, becomes more easily available online.

Gutting the Mac mini

Some people have no respect for a work of art! Kevin Rose has eviscerated a Mac mini and replaced the insides with an x86 PC.

Apparently only possible due to VIA's yet to be released Nano-ITX boards, it looks the resulting PC was none the less a fair bit less powerful than the orginal Mac mini. I don't think that the 1GHz VIA C5P Nehemiah Kevin used, nice as it is, is as powerful the 1.25 GHz PPC G4 that it was replacing. Interesting hack though, you have to give the man credit for trying...

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Climate change warning

Following quickly after my post on Tuesday about solar dimming, the BBC is now reporting that the latest, admittedly most pessimistic, estimates are for a global temperature rise of 11C. This is almost doubles any of the previous estimates, and moves the predictions of climate change from "worrying" to "terrifying".

Does anyone have any good news?

US to RFID tag visitors? is reporting that, not satisfied with the introduction of biometrics, the US Department of Homeland Security has decided to trial RFID tags for tracking visitors to the US.

I can't find any confirmation of this, but if true, I guess it means I would no longer be willing to visit to US. Considering I currently visit the US two to four times a year, and have done for the last five years or so, and how inconvenient it's going to make things for me not to be able to go to the US, that's a pretty big decision. But there comes a point where you have to make a stand, for me this is it. I'll not be tagged and tracked for any reason, it's just offensive.

At least, I won't be tagged and tracked by a foreign government. With the introduction of identity cards and biometric passports to the UK I soon might not have a choice about such things at home. Perhaps it's time to think about emigrating, if I can find anywhere left to go...

Update: The rumours would seem to be confirmed at this point. The statement that " will be impossible to track the whereabouts of someone holding such a passive tag without a corresponding reading device", doesn't reassure me for obvious reasons.

More on searching

It seems that I write about two things more than anything else in this blog, and those would be Apple hardware and search engines. At least where search engines are concerned I mostly talk about Google, not only because they're the most visible, but also because they do cool stuff. But there are other engines out there, and while some use there own technology, some sit ontop more well known engines and try and provide added value.

The Amazon A9 search engine sits on top of Google but enhances the returns with hopefully relevant content from, amongst other places, Amazon's own Search Inside the Book®. It also does some moderately nice other stuff, but nothing exiciting enough for me to switch away from Google on a full time basis.

Well now, at least for searches about actual physical places in a number of cities, which critically for me includes Los Angeles, CA, and Portland, OR, I might just be using Amazon A9 a lot more.

Yesterday I talked, at least in passing, about location dependant searches. Today I find that the guys at A9 have driven round a bunch of cities with a GPS unit and taken video of the streets, and made still images from it available.

The Amazon A9 Yellow Pages entry for the Portland Marriott Downtown

If you search for the Portland Marriott Downtown, home for the last few year of O'Reilly OSCON, you not only get the address and a map, but pictures of the streets around the hotel. That's pretty cool, although as Russell Beattie pointed out in his blog, not as unique as the guys at A9 initally thought.

Okay, so that's pretty nice. Of course what would be nicer is if we had a mobile interface into this data. Combining these results with the results from the mobile operators current "Find my nearest..." services and some custom directions based on your own GPS fix, and we might actually have something useful here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Plug into the Sun ®

A while ago I was talking about solar power and how economical solar cells never seem to reach the consumer. Now that was for large scale installations, things that could power houses and cars. However I've just come across the Solio. It's small scale, about the size of an iPod, and can recharge a variety of devices like your mobile phone, your PDA, or (of course) an Apple iPod.

Copyright © Solio
The Solio, a portable solar charger and backup battery

Maybe the mobile revolution means that the traditional model of central power generation and then distribution doesn't really fit anymore, maybe everyone should be carrying one of these instead? Of course the Solio is being advertised on its green credentials, but I was actually fairly suprised to learn that it's been designed "to achieve a net energy benefit over its lifetime". That's pretty hard to do for a consumer product, and it has been one of the sticking points for small scale solar cell installations.

Very interesting stuff, I might just be forced to buy one, purely in the interests of research of course! More information can be found at, the heavily Flash based,

Update: It's a meme thing I guess, but I just noticed that C.K. Sample actually has one and has written it up on AppleMatters. Perhaps this should be billed as the ultimate iPod accessory for the geek who has everything?


There have been rumours of this for a while, however today Sun officially announced that it was going to open source it's Solaris operating system.

While you can't get your hands on the code just yet, if you're keen to have a look at the previously hidden internals you should jump over to Byan Cantrill's blog where he does a walk through of Sun's excellent DTrace framework.

Building a better search

I talk a lot about Google and the interesting things that are coming out of the Google Labs. But interesting things are also happening happening elsewhere, and Scientific American has an intriguing article about search engines and data mining.

People have been talking about augmented reality for over ten years now, and we are perhaps finally reaching the stage where connected technology is becoming ubiquitous enough to support it. Data mining, and especially integrating GIS and other related systems into a location dependant search, are becoming increasingly common. Services such as "Find my nearest..." are now commonly offered by the mobile operators, but they're still at a fairly primitive stage. It doesn't really help me to know that my nearest postbox is on Church Street, if I don't know where I am, or where Church Street is either. The integration of GPS, either directly into the mobile handset or via a Bluetooth connection to a seperate unit, will improve things a lot. However, the real improvements needed are in the software, we already have the hardware to do a lot of very powerful stuff, but our software is falling behind. Like a lot of other people I'm currently being put off writing the software to make use of the hardware by the steep learning curve of the mobile platforms and by the knowledge that this is a going to become a great deal easier very, very, soon. So why struggle now?

The introduction of Python for Series 60 is, I think, going to prove to be a ground breaking move by Nokia. For the first time writing code for a mobile platform is easy. We've all gotten lazy, and we're too used to high level languages these days to want to spend time talking to the hardware directly. Of course, I'd rather they'd released Perl for the Series 60, but I can't have everything...

So maybe I should stop talking about this and write some interesting software, of course, I'd have to buy some more hardware to do anything interesting. Pity that!

In local news...

I knew the recent storms here in Devon have been pretty severe, but I was a bit shocked to walk in from one of the outlying car parks this morning to find my usual route blocked by a casualty.

For comparison, the stump is taller than I am...

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Google Video

Jan 2006: More about Google Video Marketplace

Are you still in shock from the last good idea to come out of the Google Labs? If so, you probably aren't ready for the next one...

Google Video, which went live yesterday, allows you to search through the closed captioning text of all the programs in their archive.

However, despite the name, the service doesn't return videos, at least not yet. Instead it returns still snapshot images at the time stamp where the closed captions indicate the show was covering your search term, along with a text snippet from the captions with your search term highlighted.

So does it make me a geek if one of the first things I plugged into the new engine was a query about the Apple iPod?

The actual usefulness of this service is obvious limited by the archive material available, and at this point that's fairly limited. It'll be interesting to watch this one evolve, does this mark the start of Google's bid to be capture the video on demand market? The current version of Google Video has fairly limited functionality, but I think that it's potential is obvious to everyone watching, no pun intended. If they can do this, with a bit more time and effort, what else can they make it do?

Update: Apparently Google Video came about due to a cheese factory in Wisconsin. Who'd have thought it?

Update: Interestingly, although probably unrelated, it seems that Google is looking for dark fibre. Perhaps my off the cuff comments about video on demand aren't so far fetched after all.

The 'setting' Sun

Talking about extinction level events, the BBC reported a couple of weeks ago that the Sun seems to be 'dimming', and the following post has been sitting in my edit queue ever since...

CREDIT: Met Office
This image of the Earth shows surface air temperature change from an IS92a experiment using a HadCM2 model carried out by the Met Office, it includes the cooling effect of sulphate aerosols. Click on the image for a movie (MPEG Movie, 2.1Mb).

The 'dimming' effect was first noticed by Gerry Stanhill who published his findings in 2001 to some scepticisim, however the effect has recently been independently confirmed. Although highly variable, the overall globally rate of decline of sunlight levels is one to two per cent every decade from the 1950s until the 1990s.

Dimming appears to be caused by air pollution. While burning fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide, the main gas responsible for global warming, it also produces particles of soot, ash and other pollutants. Airborne, and carried high into the atmosphere, these particles reflect sunlight back into space. The particles also provide seed for rain clouds, and research now shows that polluted clouds contain larger numbers of water droplets than normal clouds, which also increases the reflectivity of the atmosphere to sunlight.

What is worrying of course is that this increased reflectivity has caused us to, dramatically perhaps, underestimate the strength of the greenhouse effect.

Despite the large amounts of extra carbon dioxide we have produced there has been a suprisingly small change in the mean global temperature, just 0.5C to date. A similar rise in carbon dioxide levels, during the Jurassic period, led to a rise ten times this, at around 5.0C. However if the effects of global warming have been offset by dimming, then we may be in trouble, as particle pollution has been brought more firmly under control than carbin dioxide emission. While particulate levels are predicted to fall, the level of carbon dixoide in the atmosphere is set to continue to rise over the next few decades.

This means that the cooling effect will decline, while the warming effect continues to grow. Even the worst predictions for the effects of global warming may now be too optimistic...

The BBC has made a transcript of the Horizon episode on "Global Dimming" available, along with some questions and answers.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Disassembling the iPod Shuffle

Following quickly after the leaked video of a Mac mini being disassembled, AppleMatters has a series of shots showing the iPod shuffle being taken to bits in a slightly more rough and ready manner.


Yesterday HP announced the availability of OpenVMS 8.2, some things never die...

W3C where are you?

I'm guessing that the latest announcement from Google, amongst others, to try and prevent comment spam doesn't have the blessings of the W3C. The question you have to ask yourself at that point is of course, is that a bad thing?

HTML was designed to be extensible, and browsers were designed to ignore markup they didn't understand and render the pages on a "best efforts" basis. Additionally the HTML standards change and grow constanty, and as new tags are added, older features are eventually deprecated.

But the fact we can talk to each other at all over the Internet is due to the existance of standards. Just because HTML is a high level standard and isn't crucial to the nuts and bolts underlying the network, and also the software that deals in it is now so ubiquitous, it doesn't mean that the standards process itself is irrelevant.

While I welcome any move to try and do away with comment spam , I'm not sure I approve of the way they've approached things. Don't standards mean anything anymore?

Update: Should my face be red or not? I haven't decided yet. While nofollow isn't one of the standard link types, other additional types that are not described in the specification are apparently allowed. However if you use non standard types, you should use a profile to cite the conventions you used to define the link type. So long as the right information goes into the HEAD element, then everything is above board. Err, want to guess how many people will do this correctly?

Amateur Huygens images

Amongst others, Nature is reporting that an amateur effort beat ESA to publishing the first images from the Huygens probe. They took the raw data which was made immediately available online by ESA and in less than eight hours published the first mosaics to the web. Of course there are obvious issues with calibration and quality control with these amateur images, and you have to remember that the amateurs aren't putting the careers on the line if they got it wrong, however the entire thing must must have caused some embarrassement for the ESA project scientists. That said, the amount of press coverage generated about the mission (which includes New Scientist, Nature, der Spiegel and of course Slashdot) due to the images must go some way to making up for the embarrassment.

CREDIT: Mike Zawistowski/ESA/NASA/U. Arizona
This seaside view of Titan was created by Mike Zawitowski using the Terragen software. The terrain details are based on aerial images returned to Earth by the Huygens probe as it fell towards Titan on Friday 14 January.

The amateur's efforts are being coordinated by Anthony Liekens and more information, along with more images, are available on his Huygens pages.

More London Perl Workshop...

Simon Wistow from has just published the talks from the London Perl Workshop in December. Only the PowerPoint is available for now, although the video should be coming soon apparently.

However if you're interesting in getting your hands on my talk on wrapping legacy software, you might want to pick up the annotated version rather than the version which seems to have ended up on the LPW pages as I've added some notes that might make it a bit more sensible to someone who wasn't actually in the session.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Disassembling the Mac Mini

Slashdot is reporting on the latest Mac mini news. Interestingly a leaked disassembly video shows that it might actually be fairly easy to get at things like the RAM and hard disk so that you can replace them yourself. User servicable components may not yet be dead...

The Mac mini main board

Also floating around the web are the shots of the Mac mini mainboard. The board is slightly smaller than Mini-ITX at around 160mm square, and includes Ethernet, Modem, DVI, USB, Firewire and audio connectors.

Update: Russell Beattie has had a go at replacing the RAM in his new Mac mini fairly sucessfully. So it looks doable...

Monday, January 17, 2005

Update from Boesmansgat

There has been some further news on the status of Don Shirley who suffered a severe DCS during the recent attempt to recover the body of Deon Dreyer, which ended in the tragic loss of David Shaw.

It seems that Don may now be on his way to recovery. He has undergone eight chamber treatments, the first treatments were on the Comax 30 tables although the later ones used Tables 5 and 7. He can now walk without someone to assist him, and can move his eyes and head without much of a problem.

Additionally, the bodies of both David Shaw and Deon Dreyer were retrieved a few days after the recovery attempt by Peter Herbst and Petrus Roux, who went into the water to collect the decompression cylinders used during the dive.

Attaching lift bags to the line to bring the cylinders to the surface also brought the bodies of the two divers with them as the cave reel that had been attached to Deon was also snagged on David, and when David's BCD became bouyant both were lifted to the surface. The video camera that was strapped to David's head during the dive was also recovered.

My best wishes go to Don Shirley and his wife, along with my continued sympathies to the family of David Shaw. More information about the dive can be found on the IANTD South Africa site.

OSX native OpenOffice port?

It looks like there will be no further work done on the native port of OpenOffice by the "official" team, which is apparently due to licensing issues and insurmountable technical problems. Although this announcement follows suspiciously, at least to me, close to the announcement of iWork '05 by Steve Jobs in his keynote address at MacWorld.

CREDIT: NeoOffice/J
Screenshot of the first public alpha release NeoOffice/J 1.1, with the Aqua menu patch. Note the "proper" use of the Mac OSX menus, it could almost be a real Mac OS X application.

However, all is not lost. NeoOffice/J sits on top of the X11 version and takes advantage of OS X's Java integration to produce a more traditional Macintosh user-interface. So maybe the technical problems aren't all that insurmountable after all...

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Successful landing for Huygens

A successful landing for the Huygens probe after its seven year journey to reach Saturn's moon Titan...

CREDIT: ESA/NASA/University of Arizona
This composite was produced from images returned yesterday, 14 January 2005, by ESA's Huygens probe during its successful descent to land on Titan. It shows a full 360-degree view around Huygens. The left-hand side, behind Huygens, shows a boundary between light and dark areas. The white streaks seen near this boundary could be ground 'fog' of methane or ethane vapour, as they were not immediately visible from higher altitudes. As the probe descended, it drifted over a plateau (centre of image) and was heading towards its landing site in a dark area (right). This dark area is possibly a drainage channel which might still contain liquid material. From the drift of the probe, the wind speed has been estimated at around 6-7 metres per second. These images were taken from an altitude of about 8 kilometres with a resolution of about 20 metres per pixel.

Launched in October 1997 on a Titan-IVB/Centaur from Cape Canaveral, and after making four gravity-assisted swing-by manoeuvres, Cassini-Huygens arrived at Saturn in July last year. Towards the end of Cassini's third orbit around the gas giant it released the Huygens probe on a ballistic trajectory towards the Saturn's moon Titan.

A view of ESOC's Main Control Room taken at 13:12 GMT, 14 January 2005, as flight control staff awaited the arrival of the first data from Huygens which was by then known to have survived it's entry in Titan's atmosphere.

Huygens entered Titan's atmosphere at 10:13 GMT yesterday, and at 10:25 GMT telemetry was recieved by the Green Bank radio telescope in West Virginia, USA indicating that the first of three parachutes had deployed, removing the rear cover from the probe and uncovering it's main antenna. A sequence of parachutes then slowed it's decent, and the probe touched down at 12:34 GMT. Data from the probe, relayed to Earth via the Cassini probe, was later picked up by NASA's Deep Space Network and handed on to ESA's European Space Operation Centre in Darmstadt, Germany for analysis.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

A few days at RAL

I've been in transit again, although fortunately I've avoided airplanes or airports. I'm currently camping out at Cosener's House in Abingdon while visiting Rutherford Appleton Laboratory for the Starlink programmer's meeting.

RAL Ground Station S-Band Antenna at night

It's the last day of the meeting tomorrow, I'll be heading back down to Exeter tomorrow lunchtime, and from there to the OU briefing on Saturday. Which leaves me Sunday to get some actual work done before the eSTAR meeting on Monday.

Google goes blue

The new Google blue box is, at least according to the Google Blog, "...practically an impulse buy at the Google Store" at only $4,995.

Copyright © Google
The Google Mini, is everyone going mini?

Smaller, and more limited, than the Google Search Appliance it's targeted at small to medium sized organisations rather than the enterprise customers of the original search appliance. But like the original, it's plug and play. Drop it onto your local network, and it'll automatically index everything it can see...

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

More Mac mini

Gizmodo links to the various reactions to the new Mac mini, including their own...

Predicably there are a lot of people second guessing Apple as to whether this is the right way to go, although it's mostly whether the new Mac has the right feature set. Even I'm doing that, I still think it should have included Airport Extreme and Bluetooth by default rather than optional extras.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The iPod shuffle

I'm a lot less excited about this than the Mac mini, but to go along with the mini-Mac came a mini-iPod, the iPod shuffle.

The iPod shuffle with headphones

Unlike it's larger cousins, but as predicted, the shuffle is based on a flash drive and comes in two models. A 0.5GB (120 song) model for $99, or 1GB (240 song) model for $149, and it's shipping today.

Update: The iPod shuffle is available in the UK for £69 for the 0.5GB model or £99 for the 1GB model, and again it's apparently shipping today.

Update: Russell Beattie has a good review of the iPod shuffle on his blog.

The Mac mini

So, not the iHome, but instead the Mac mini...

The Mac mini, 6.5" × 6.5" × 2" of brushed metal Apple goodness...

Just 6.5 inches wide and 2 inches tall the square shaped box has a brushed metal finish with rounded edge it features a slot-loading CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive, USB 2.0, FireWire 400, DVI and VGA ports. It comes in two models, a 1.25GHz G4 with 40GB HDD system for $499 or an 1.42GHz G4 with 80GB HDD system for $599. Both Airport Extreme and Bluetooth are optional extras though, I'm surprised, I would have thought it'd ship with at least Bluetooth by default.

Apparently Steve Jobs described it during his keynote as a "Bring Your Own Display, Keyboard and Mouse" box. It'll work fine with with Apple's own peripherals, but you can also use other "industry-standard" peripherals.

So, a sub-$500 Mac, who'd have believed it...?

Update: The Mac mini is available in the UK for £339.00 for the 1.25GHz model or £398.99 for the 1.42Ghz model directly from the AppleStore, shipping as of Jaunary 29th, and adding an internal Bluetooth module will cost another £35.

Ready for impact?

NASA has released some really interesting images taken using the MODIS instrument on the Aqua and Terra satellites. the images show the movement of a 100 mile long iceberg which will collide with the Drygalski Ice Tongue, near McMurdo Research Station, around the 15th of January...

The MODIS instrument on NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites captured 13 images of the shifting B-15A iceberg between November 9 and January 2, 2005. Click on image for a movie of the sequence. (MPEG Movie, 4.4Mb)

The Rocket Man

Wired has a interesting article about the rise of Richard Branson and his new venture Vigin Galactic.

CREDIT: Wired/Art Streiber
Branson at Scaled Composites, home of the X Prize winning SpaceShipOne, in Mojave, California.

Britain doesn't have many high profile intrapreneurs, Branson and Dyson are the only two that really spring to mind, presumably the British attitude to money means that while they might exist they try and keep a lower profile than elsewhere. None the less, it's nice to see some positive publicity for our Richard, even though, with a personal fortune of $2.2 billion he probably doesn't really need it...

Monday, January 10, 2005

Solar power for the masses?

In a similar fashion to the claims that "economical fusion power technology is now just twenty years away", and has been for the last twenty years, every couple of years someone comes along and claims to have made the breakthrough that'll make solar panels economical at last. This announcement is usually accompanied by great fanfare, and then you hear little, if anything about the technology again.

There are lots or reasons for this, first and foremost, it's hard to produce a solar cell with high enough efficiency to be worth building. If you manage this, your solution has to be cheap enough that it can be economically produced and then the materials have to be able to stand up to years of wear and term a relatively hostile environment.

Slashdot reports on a "A new solar cell material [which] has been discovered that converts 30% of the sun's energy to electricity". Looking at the original press release from the University of Toronto it looks promising, but it looks to be several years (at least) away from consumer level hardware. Lets hope this one comes to something, considering the current state of the environment, we could do with a breakthrough...

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Return to Flight

Reuters reports on the painful progress towards return to flight for NASA, with a feel good piece from the astronauts of STS-114.

The crew of space shuttle Discovery on Mission STS-114 is shown during a press conference at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, January 7, 2005. From left are Mission Specialist Wendy Lawrence, Mission Specialist Andrew Thomas who was born in Australia, Mission Specialist Stephen Robinson, Commander Eileen Collins, Mission Specialist Charles Camarda, Mission Specialist Soichi Noguchi of Japan and Pilot James Kelly.

Missing presumed dead

David Shaw is missing, presumed dead, after the attempted recovery of the body of Deon Dreyer who lost his life 10 years ago on a diving trip at Boesmansgat (Bushman's Cave) in Southern Africa. During a record breaking dive in October 2004, David found Deon's remains at 270 meters. He attempted to lift Deon, but was unable to do so since Deon's cylinders were stuck in the mud. However, David attached a line to the body for later recovery.

A volunteer team of eight divers returned to Boesmansgat, the third deepest freshwater cave system in the world, to attempt to recovery the body this month. Intial reports indicate that David did not meet his team mate Don Shirley at his first stop of 220m as planned during the recovery operation, and is presumed lost. At this time Don Shirley is still in the water, however it has become clear that Don is suffering from DCS, although he still has some hours of decompression to undertake before surfacing.

David leaves a wife and two children, my sympathies go to his family and friends at this time.

Update: From later reports it appears that Don Shirley is now safe. Shirley had descended past his station to 250 meters to search for David when he did not reappear on schedule and seems to have suffered a bend as a result. He will be recieving treatment in a recompresison chamber over three days using the Comax 30 schedule, but it is hoped he will make a full recovery. As per David's contingency plans made before the dive, and at his request, there will be no attempt to recover his body.

Update: There has been further news from Boesmansgat concerning the status of Don Shirley, and the recovery of the bodies of both David Shaw and Deon Dreyer.

This is not the iHome

Someone looks to have gone to a lot of trouble, Engadget is reporting pictures porporting to be of the "new" Apple iHome. It seems likely that these are fakes, as there are some telling slips. The word "Centre" while spelt correctly for the UK isn't spelt correctly for the US, and it seems unlikely there would be an "international" version of the product so soon. Surely they wouldn't announce the product at MacWorld using a UK box? Also, amoungst other things, at least one of the photos seems to show the product with a dented corner, implying that it could be a cardboard mockup rather than an actual box.

The Apple iHome Media Centre?

More pictures and video can be found elsewhere, however nobody seems to have a back story or to be able to offer any credible evidence that these are shots of a real product. I think we're going to have to write this one off as fake until, or unless, Steve Jobs proves us wrong at MacWorld next week in San Francisco.

Update: Rui Carmo has done an analysis of the image headers and they seem fairly self consistent, if it's a hoax, it's a good one. However, Simon Woodside has done some forensic analysis of the photos and I'd agree they don't seem to hold up to scrutiny.

On the other hand, Robert Cringley has some interesting reasons why even if these photos aren't real, a (very) sub $500 headless iMac could definitely be on the cards.

Update: Steve Jobs' keynote speech at MacWorld did indeed produce a sub $500 Mac, but it was the Mac mini not the rumoured iHome (above) that was finally unveiled.

This is not the iPhone

This time I agree with Russell, this is not the fabled Apple iPhone. You don't even have to look closely to see the clunky Motorola interface, this is just a mobile phone with access to iTunes...

Friday, January 07, 2005


I've just noticed that yesterday's Astronomy Picture of the Day was brought to us by the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) and WFCAM, which had it's first light at the tail end of last year as Brad mentioned in his blog at the time.

Shuttle external tank delivered

The BBC is reporting that the NASA has taken delivery of the external tank for the May 2005 return to flight mission of the Space Shuttle.

The arrival of the shuttle external tank at Kennedy Space Centre

Apparently Bill Parsons, the Program Manger, was quoted as saying "This will be the safest tank we've ever flown, no doubt about it", which to be honest, seems a rather odd thing to say...

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

More airline laser incidents

The Register is reporting that there have been several more mysterious laser incidents, where airline pilots have reported that their cockpits have been illuminated with a laser beam during take off or landing. Very odd...

PyBlogger on Series 60

One of the things I've been wanting to do for a while was post directly to my blog from my Nokia 6600. With the arrival of Python for Series 60 this looked like it was going to be fairly easy to manage. The Blogger API is fairly trivial, but before reimplementing the wheel I thought I'd better look around and see if anyone had got there first with code that could be simply ported to the Series 60.

Mark Pilgrim's PyBlogger wrapper, which is now being maintained by Brent Loertscher, looked to be the thing to try and get working. In the end this proved to be pretty easy...

PyBlogger sits ontop of the XML-RPC Python Library ( which isn't included with the Series 60 distribution. I downloaded this and pushed it onto my phone using Bluetooth, installing it as a library using the Python Installer along with the lower level which I grabbed from my laptop's Python 2.3 installation.

I then installed Mark's library in a similar fashion, and fired up the bluetooth console on my Mac,
>>> import blogger
>>> username = "USERNAME"
>>> password = "PASSWORD"
>>> blogs = blogger.listBlogs(username, password)
>>> myBlog = blogs[0]
>>> print myBlog["url"]
Worked flawlessly. Can't really complain at that point. So I think my first project, just to get me used to the UI coding issues on the phone, will be a nice little app to let me blog directly from my phone. This is so much easier than Java ME...

How to write good software...

These days I consider myself a software engineer, but my background was never computer science, at times that makes me feel like everyone else must know more than I do about how to develop software. At other times it feels like I'm the one eyed man trying to lead the blind. Some of the accepted computer science paradigms make no sense to me, and I'm not sure whether it's because I don't understand them, or whether everyone else has just missed the point, which after all has to be to write good software, right?

Trying to find better ways to write my software, I am finely balanced between the sometimes opposing view points of Joel Spolsky and Paul Graham, who incidentally has a new essay entitled "Made in the USA" on his site. At times these two people seem to have the only sane outlooks on the increasingly crazy world of software development. Perhaps because, despite accepted wisdom, as far as I'm concerned software engineering isn't yet computer science, it's still a work of art, a creative process. At least if you're going to write good software, writing software is art. After all, any idiot can churn out cookie cutter code. But that's not what it's all about, is it?

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."

Joel on Software: And on Diverse and...
by Joel Spolsky, ISBN 1590593898, 362 pages, £11.77

The publishers write, "This is a selection of essays from the author's Web site. Joel Spolsky started the web log in March 2000 in order to offer his insights, based on years of experience, on how to improve the world of programming. His extraordinary writing skills, technical knowledge, and caustic wit have made him a programming guru. This log has become infamous among the programming world, and is linked to more than 600 other websites and translated into 30+ languages! This book covers every imaginable aspect of software programming, from the best way to write code to the best way to design an office in which to write code. The book will relate to all software programmers (Microsoft and Open Source), anyone interested in furthering their knowledge of programming, or anyone trying to manage a programmer."

Burning down the libraries

Anyone reading this blog on an ongoing basis can't have failed to miss the fact that I make extensive links into the Wikipedia, usually to provide some background colour. This shouldn't lead people to the believe that I think Wikipedia is an accurate sourcce of knowledge on all, or any topic. I love Wikipedia, but I don't entirely trust it.

Recently it seems that a lot other people don't entirely trust it either and I'd agree quite whole heartedly that, from the point of view of a specialist, Wikipedia needs work. Of course the notion that any encyclopedia is unbiased is absurd, indeed despite the modern view, this probably wasn't the original point of these books.

However before Wikipedia, or the Web come to that, there existed Usenet FAQs. They embodied a large collection of knowledge on diverse topics, and while theoretically open to all in practice they, unlike Wikipedia, were heavily peer-reviewed and pro-expert. Perhaps, in part, because unlike Wikipedia after a few months reading a specific Usenet group, it was very obvious who the experts were...