Thursday, December 29, 2005

Leap second for 2005

Have you ever said "I can't take this a second longer"? If so, I hope you had a good 2005, because you're having an extra second of it whether you like it or not...

Update: Someone has written an interesting article about how the leap second propogated through the NTP network (via DrunkenBlog).

Independence at a price

The BBC is reporting that the launch of the first of the Galileo constellation of satellites, Giove-A, has been successful and telemetry from the satellite indicate that all systems are performing correctly.

CREDIT: Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL)
The actual launch at 5:19 GMT on the 28th December

The 600 kg satellite was launched from Baikonur on Wednesday, and is the first of thirty satellites that will give Europe its own version of the US GPS and Russian GLONASS positioning systems.

However, as being able to work independently Galileo will be interoperable with both of the existing systems, users of the system will be able to take a position with the same receiver from any of the three satellite positioning systems in any combination.

As a result we've bought independence for Europe's military, and as a consequence it's civilian population, of the almost ubiquitous GPS system over which the US military retains control, reserving the right to limit usage, or switch it off entirely, without any notice.

Of course we paid a price for our independence, costing an estimate of €3.8 billion, the new system is hardly going to be cheap, however the launch this week draws a firm line in the sand. It indicates that global positioning has become so deeply embedded into our the fabric of life that we're no longer willing to risk someone else having control over it, even if that someone else is theoretically a friendly power.

The second test satellite, Giove-B, is due to launch in spring next year.

Update: More from New Scientist...

Update: The BBC is reporting that the first navigational signals have been successfully received from Giove-A.

Looking back over 2005

Otherwise known as "How to get a cheap blog post in over the Christmas vacation". My top ten most popular posts this year, measured by click throughs from my RSS feed, were:
  1. Behind the scenes at Google
  2. Hell freezes over
  3. Disassembling the Mac mini
  4. Disassembling the iPod shuffle
  5. The iPod shuffle
  6. Perl 6: End-game
  7. Mobile Python under Mac OS X
  8. Google & satellite maps
  9. Bluetooth hacked
  10. Queues at the pumps (via my Flickr feed)
Personally I'm a bit miffed by this, as I think I've written some good posts this year. I've done some bits and pieces of writing I'm actually proud of, for various different reasons, and in no particular order of preference:
I've also covered some major events this year, including the ill-fated launch of Cosmos-1 [1, 2 & 3], the UK General Election [1 & 2] and the flight of the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer [1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6].

However, typically, the posts I consider to be 'good' rarely get as many hits as the typical piece churning over the latest Apple rumours. Although I have noticed that they get heavier traffic directly on the site than via the RSS feed. I'm still trying to figure out what that mean demographics wise...

Of course that isn't the most annoying thing, want to know the most clicked through, heaviest traffic, post on the site? It's my post on GMail invites. Go figure...

On the way to Web 3.0?

We haven't even decided what Web 2.0 means, and some people are already starting to talk about what to expect from Web 3.0. However I'm not sure I agree with Phil Wainewright when he talks about what Web 3.0 means, I agree that the "four pillars" are important: Publishing, Discovery, Fulfilment and Conversation. But isn't he just taking about Web 2.0 concepts? I mean, what's new there? What's the difference between what he's talking about, and Tim O'Reilly's meme map of Web 2.0?

I think there is one difference, Web 2.0 has been driven from the ground up. You only have to look at sites like Flickr to see that Web 2.0 is about nifty technology, interaction and user communities. Or as Paul Graham put it, "AJAX, democracy and users"...

Phil's vision of Web 3.0 is top down, men in suits are trying to decide what we want and impose the frameworks we're going to have to work with online. I think he, and the men in suits, are going to be surprised. The arrival of the Web changed the Internet for good, or perhaps for evil, from an interactive to a "download only" medium.

However as Tim Berners-Lee recently argued in his own blog it was never meant to be that way, and the rise of the blog, along with the prevailance of RSS feeds, mashups and wikis is, at least in my opinion, the reaction by the the people on the ground to what the Web did to the Internet.

So I think his prediction of the death of RSS, or at least the death of a stand alone feed reader, is quite off the wall. He might not be looking at his RSS feeds anymore, and he might not be the only one, but I, along with a lot of other publishers are seeing a growth in feed subscriptions and a corresponding drop in page views.

More people are reading the feed than coming to the web site, and that means big changes are coming. It also means an arms race amongst the feed readers is heading our way, the race between intrusive adverts and the ad-blocking software is going to be run all over again, this time in your feed reader.

Because after all, where else are you going to get the information you now get in your feed reader, we orginally got it via Usenet, then from a variety of websites, and then bundled back in one place again via RSS. How abstracted from the original content can we get? You can only go so far and retain the semantic content of the original information.

While Phil argues that feed readers are dead, he doesn't suggest anything to replace them, he doesn't tell me how I'm supposed to get the information flow I'm used to, and still need, to get on with what I do day to day. Is he arguing that we should just stop reading feeds and return to the sites? If so, is he afraid of falling advertising revenue? Perhaps so, I'd argue that it's going to be easier to win the warn against intrusive advertising in feeds than it has been in the browser, especially if the feed reader is under the user's control, on their desktop. Which, suspiciously to my mind, he's arguing against...

However Phil's other argument that search has become a commodity has, perhaps, some merit, although it isn't news to anyone paying attention. Everyone has already figured out that the continuing stream of new and interesting web applications from Google are simply a way to keep fresh eyeballs in front of their advertising. So does "search as a commodity" challenge the Google model? Maybe, but not if Google can innovate fast enough and keep people interested in their products. The introduction of advertising to Google Earth shouldn't have surprised anyone...

So where am I heading? Beats me, maybe I should steer clear of ZD Net in future if it's going to raise my blood pressure like this...

How to ship anything

After their recent foray into the world of documentary making, Joel Spolsky's company Frog Creek Software has had to get into shipping actual boxes rather than software and it looks like it hasn't been an easy ride.

CREDIT: Frog Creek Software
Automated shipping...

Joel's post on how to ship anything talks about how Frog Creek solved their shipping problems, and shows you how a geek obsessed with automation and ergonomics goes about solving problems with, more or less, off the shelf components. It's an interesting read for anyone thinking about shipping things, and perhaps also for anyone trying to automate repetitive tasks as Joel talks about what computers can do, but also what they can't...

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."

What he said...

As you can probably tell from my blog's sidebar, I'm a heavy user of both Flickr and But I'm not a big fan of Yahoo, as their bloat laden front page epitomises, at least to me, everything bad about the portal concept. As most people working with me in the VO probably have figured out by now, I'm also not a big fan of portals in general...

So the acquisition of Flickr by Yahoo didn't seem like good news. However, unlike a lot of their other offerings, they didn't immediately set about breaking it. Perhaps they were afraid to meddle with something obvious so sucessful, and rightly so...

So their recent purchase of doesn't frighten me as much as it might, although unlike Flickr I more easily see how it would fit into the Yahoo portal, in other words I can see how they might want to break it. I'm still holding out some hope, but I sort of have to agree with Rui Carmo's comments on the acquisition. You have to wonder how long bother Flickr, and now, will hold out against the Yahoo corporate culture.

Stardust due home

The BBC is reporting on the return of the Stardust spacecraft, which will attempt to make a soft landing in the Utah desert on the 15th of January. The velocity of the sample return capsule, as it enters the Earth's atmosphere at 28,860 mph, will be the fastest of any human-made object on record.

However after the crash landing of the Genesis probe last year due to the failure of its parachute deployment system, and despite the results of the review board, there must be some concerns at NASA about the landing, as Stardust shares the same design for its deployment system.

The comet Wild 2, which NASA's Stardust spacecraft flew by on Jan. 2, 2004. This image is the closest short exposure of the comet, taken at an 11.4-degree phase angle, the angle between the camera, comet and the Sun.

Stardust was launched in February 1999 with a 5 year mission to investigate the makeup of the comet Wild 2 and its coma, and after passing the asteroid 5535 Annefrank in 2002, Stardust reached its mission target in January 2004. During its flyby of the comet it took detailed pictures of the nucleus, and collected dust samples from the comet's coma which will be returned to Earth in the sample-return capsule in January.

Update: A safe landing for Stardust...

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Beagle 2 spotted on Mars?

The BBC is reporting that the crash site of the ill-fated Beagle 2 probe may have been identified by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor.

CREDIT: Beagle 2/MSS via BBC News
The possible Beagle 2 crash site

Personally I don't find the images entirely convincing. Although you have to wonder, after two years, does it really matter what happened?

Update: I guess most people seem to think [1, 2, 3, 4 & 5] it does...

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Apple rumour mill

In the lead up to Macworld in January the Apple rumour mill is running at full speed. From a line of iPod accessories to widescreen iBooks, or even no new hardware at all, the rumour mill is spinning almost as fast as it did in the aftermath of the infamous "One More Thing" press release, which heralded the launch of the new iMac and the video iPod.

Me? I haven't a clue what's going on, nobody tells me anything. In the past I've guessed right, but I've also guessed wrong. But I'd still like my 3G enabled Powerbook or my Bluetooth iPod, or even a Bluetooth version of the Mighty Mouse.

I also still like the conspiracy theory gone mad idea suggested by the Unoffical Apple Weblog, although it is a but far fetched.

What ever the truth of things, the announcement of a live satellite broadcast of Steve Jobs' keynote address is sure fuel the mill...

Update: ...and of course you have to wonder whether the almost ubiquitous Intel Inside™ co-branding will kick in, chime, or no chime?

Update: Looks like the rumours that the iPod shuffle might be due for an update during Macworld in January might have some evidence backing them up...

Update: Blogging the keynote live...

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Google Earth for OS X (10.4?)

While Google has always claimed that an OS X version of Google Earth was coming soon, there has been very little to indicate that it was a real project. However close on the heels of the initial rumours that a pre-release version of Google Earth for Mac OS X has been in limited distribution, verisons of the Mac OS X build started to leak onto the Internet.

While there have been several reviews of the leaked version, from my own experiments it appears that the leaked build is for Mac OS X 10.4 only.
Date/Time: 2005-12-10 20:48:40 +0000
OS Version: 10.3.9 (Build 7W98)
Report Version: 2

Command: Google Earth
Path: Google Earth
Version: ??? (???)
PID: 544
Thread: Unknown

Link (dyld) error:

dyld: Earth can't open library: /System/Library/Frameworks/Quartz.framework/Versions/A/Quartz (No such file or directory, errno = 2)
It looks like the leaked build requires the updated Quartz.framework which as far as I know is only available for Tiger. However the leaked application circulating is a "not intended for public release" version so this might be solved when the official beta turns up. Hopefully there will be a Panther version for us trailing edge people...

Update: For the record, it runs on my 10.4 box...

Google Earth running under Mac OS X

Update: A month to the day later we have an official release of Google Earth for Macintosh at Macworld in San Francisco.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Back in transit

I'm sitting in the departure lounge of Tucson International which amazingly turns out to have free WiFi access throughout the terminal. Who'd have thought? Anyway, I'm on a United Express flight to LAX out of Tucson in a half an hour or so, and then I've managed to bag an exit row on my trans-atlantic hop back into LHR. Not as good a free business class upgrade, but you can't complain...

Update: Made it as far as LAX. However the Red Carpet Club at LAX doesn't have free WiFi, or even a paid T-Mobile hotspot. Instead we've got intermittent access to a Boingo hotspot, although I'm guessing that this is actually spill over from a hotspot in the terminal concourse itself, rather than one in the lounge. At least if the signal strength and the number of connection drops I'm getting is anything to go by...

Update: Tired, jet lagged, but now back home in Exeter...

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

VOEvent Workshop II

The first day of the second VOEvent workshop in Tucson kicked off with a Roy Williams and Rob Seaman talking about where we've got to, and where we're going...

The NOAO main conference room

After the introductions I was the first to talk. This was both a blessing and a curse, it was a blessing because I got to thump the table and tell people what I was concerned about, and it was a curse because I sort of felt I had to go through everything. I talked for some time, I'm sure everyone else thought it was a curse at that point...

We actually got a lot done in this meeting, and we're walking away with a provisional protocol and transport standard for event messaging, which is more than I thought I'd get out of the meeting. So I'm a happy man, at least I will be if we finally sort the ongoing STC issues that are still plaguing the standard.

If you want to see what we were doing during the meeting, I've dropped some photographs into my Flickr feed...

Friday, December 02, 2005

In transit

I'm currently in transit to the second VOEvent Workshop, which is being held the at the NOAO in Tucson, Arizona, next week. Another day, another airport, another hotel...

Update: After six hours stuck in SFO I arrived into Tucson later than I would have liked, the hotel was a welcome sight at that point. I've even got a good view from my balcony...

The Moon and Venus over Tucson at sunset