Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Fun products, Apple style?

There has been a lot of rumours surrounding today's special event. With the rumour mongering cumulating in the saga of the video iPod, which sadly in the end turned out to be a hoax. We were left with, what? The only fact that any of the rumours sites had been able to discern was that you could no longer bulk order the Mac mini. That wasn't really a lot to go on considering the leaks surrounding some previous special events.

CREDIT: Engadget

In the end it looks like AppleInsider had the inside track, although their predictions of a widescreen Intel iBook were well off base, their forecast of an updated Intel Mac mini was spot on and their other prediction, of an "iPod BoomBox" was pretty close. Since nobody else seemed to have the vaguest idea what was coming out, I think you have to hand them the prize for the closest guess.

The new Intel Mac mini, looking a lot like the old Mac mini...

The main star of today's event pretty much has to be the new Intel Mac mini, it's not quite the media centre some were hoping for but the specifications are pretty nice, and it does come as predicted with Front Row and an Apple Remote. Both Core Solo and Core Duo models are available, and the new minis ship with Gigabit Ethernet, four USB ports, and both analogue and SPDIF audio out. Apple are advertising them as between 2.5 and 5.5 times faster than previous models, depending on the processor. However surprising perhaps the prices have gone up, the two models are now priced at $599 and $799 in the US, and £449 and £599 in the UK. On the up side, the new minis are apparently shipping today...

CREDIT: Engadget

Interestingly Front Row comes with a new feature, you can now share your iTunes and iPhoto pictures and videos from any other Mac or Windows computer running iTunes. This squarely positions Apple on the way to a media centre, staking out the ground, even if the mini isn't quite a media centre yet.

Apple also announced an iPod Hi-Fi unit, and some leather cases for your 5G iPod. Which really doesn't rack up when compared to the rumours of a video iPod. When it comes down to it, considering the rumours flying thick and fast before hand, you have to class this as a pretty disappointing event...

Update: I'm still confused about the invite, normally there is some connection between the invite and the final product announcements. If I were seriously into conspiracy theories I might speculate that the iPod leather case, and perhaps the iPod Hi-Fi as well, were last minute stop gap products to fill in for a something a bit more interesting that just wasn't ready yet. After all, neither of them are exactly ground shattering leaps forward are they? I wouldn't call a press conference to announce I was charging $99 for a leather case, even if I was Steve Jobs. So maybe we'll get our video iPod, or even an Apple PDA, after all...

Update: Another interesting question you have to ask is, what does Apple want with a $50 million data centre, if not to sell full length movies via their iTunes store?

Update: If you haven't seen enough already Inside Mac Media have now put a video podcast of the event online...

The Inside Mac video podcast

Monday, February 27, 2006

What would Steve do?

Engadget have just announced the results of their WWSJD 3 competition. The winning entry was a palmtop computer that looks like a neater, cleaner, Apple version of my HTC Universal which is sitting in-front of my iMac right now...

CREDIT: Adam K (via Engadget)
The winning entry, iPalm anyone?

As I've mentioned before I'd pretty much kill for this, or an iPod sized PDA, which I could easily sync with my iMac and Powerbook. Failing that I'd take a small tablet Mac as a good substitute, come on Steve mobile computing is the way to go, give us what we want...

Update: Coverage of the Apple Special Event and the new Intel Mac mini. Nothing mobile related after all, despite the fact that virtually all the entries to Engadget's competition had a portable angle. Isn't mobile what people want?

Da Vinci Code copyright theft?

The BBC is reporting on the weird case where two authors, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, are suing their publisher Random House over the publication of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code because it featured the same "idea" as their own book, also published by Random House.

It doesn't appear they're suing their publisher because Brown's book directly plagiarises their own, instead they're suing because publication of the book which explores similar ideas constitutes "theft of intellectual property".

Huh? I don't understand this one at all, you now can't publish a book which explores the same ideas as someone else? The world has officially gone mad...

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The "real" video iPod?

After several days of the rumour mill running at full speed, it looks like we might finally have some hard information about the upcoming special event. MacShrine has posted a picture (via TUAW and Engadget) of what appears to be a pre-production sample of the much rumoured video iPod.

CREDIT: MacShrine (via TUAW and Engadget)
The rumoured video iPod?

Interestingly this looks a lot like the leaked images that circulated in the hours leading up to the "One more thing..." announcement, which turned out to be accurate. The serial number on the picture reads "MB719ZA", and according to MacShrine the Chinese characters on the tag read "this way up", which doesn't exactly help us out a lot...

If this is a fake, it's a very good fake indeed. I'm still wondering about the iCal related invite though, could we be looking at an iPod with at least some PDA functionality? Now that would be fun...

Update: Does that cable look like the MagSafe connector from the MacBook Pro to anyone else, or is it just me?

Update: There seems to be some discussion over on TUAW about the veracity of the Chinese characters,
The Chinese isn't written by a native. The characters aren't even consistent with one another as each character has the same radical, but whoever wrote this didn't know that and they wrote each radical differently, an idiosyncrasy NOT characteristic of any Chinese speaker. - Eno Compton
Strictly regarding the so-called Chinese characters, the two characters are copied incorrectly. I'm assuming they are supposed to be 这边, literally meaning "this side". I can't remember if the two characters are in long-form or short-form Chinese but aside from the incorrect use of root characters within the two characters, the stroke patterns, ie. number, direction, connection of strokes, are also incorrect. most definitely not "written" by native Chinese speaker nor anyone with a formal education in Zhongwen. - Timothy
However a video iPod would fit well with the other rumours (via The Register) of a iTunes movie store, so I guess your milage may vary.

Update: Despite these images, Apple Insider still seem to think that we're looking at an updated Mac mini. Interesting, do they have a source, or are they just guessing?

Update: Dan Abrams has had a close look at the picture, and has come to the conclusion that it's a fake. Unfortunately his analysis looks pretty sound, so on balance it's looking like this is yet another video iPod hoax.

Update: Following close behind a second image of the video iPod, a video showing how the fake image was made has shown up (via Digg). It looks like we have to conclude that this one, at least, is definitely a fake. I must admit to not being a little just a little bit disappointed...

Quicktime 3.4MB

Update: Coverage of the Apple Special Event and the new Intel Mac mini, and my musings on the importance of a $99 leather case...

Update: In the wake of the special event more rumours about the video iPod, possibly shipping as early as March, have started spreading...

ROM upgrade for the SPV M5000?

Current rumours suggest a ROM upgrade from Orange for their new SPV M5000, to offer the new push email facility, should arrive before the end of the month. It's also been suggested that the update will offer some new Bluetooth functionality, such as support for the Bluetooth stereo profile.

However, having just got my device working as a Bluetooth modem I'm a bit loathed to do the update, especially when you have to be running Exchange to take advantage of push email which, funnily enough, I'm not...

Google Page Creator

Yet another online Web 2.0(ish) application from Google, this time allowing you to build and host your own web pages, with the release of Google Pages. It looks like you get 100MB of free web hosting when you sign up but, as usual, it doesn't seem to work with Apple's Safari...

The new Google Pages

Potentially Google now has control over my search history, email, instant messages and my web pages. Well I for one welcome our new Google overlords, and I'd like to remind them as a trusted blogger, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground, err, search farms...

Update: There isn't much point me talking about the new Google Pages, since Nik Cubrilovic, standing in for Michael Arrington over at Techcrunch, has done a pretty good write-up of the new service already...

Update: So, can anyone figure out why there doesn't seem to be any integration with Blogger? Also owned by Google, also used to create web pages? Surely a Web 2.0 tool to create a website should have support for blogging? A tool that would let you author an entire site, which also has a blog, rather than just create a website, or create a blog, and have the same look and feel running through both the site and the blog would actually be useful...

Update: Inside Google also has a write-up of the service and, just like Techcrunch, they aren't that impressed with it...

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The rumour mill rolls...

Close on the heels of the announcement of an Apple special event on the 28th come the traditional rumours, fakes, hoaxes, and the odd honest to God actual leak from Apple.

In the total absence of any actual facts Engadget reports on a "leak" which claims that Apple will be releasing a new Media Cube. The leak is accompanied by an unconvincingly photoshopped picture of a spray painted cardboard box, so we probably won't be seeing that one on the Apple Store.

CREDIT: Mac Daily News (via Engadget)
The new Apple Media Cube?

At the same time AppleInsider is quoting analysts who are speculating on the release of a widescreen iBook replacement, presumably without any more insider knowledge than the rest of us...

Secrecy surrounding the event is tighter than we've seen before, either that or what Apple are announcing is so minor that nobody actually knows what it is yet. I'm still hoping for an Apple branded PDA, but I might be in for a long wait.

Update: The latest rumour (via faq-mac.com originally?) comes from an "anonymous tipster", and features a Nokia Series 60 N80 in black, with an added iTunes button.

CREDIT: faq-mac.com (via Engadget) & Mobile Scraper (via Gizmodo)
iTunes and FrontRow, on a Nokia?

Gizmodo picked this one up, but called shenanigans almost immediately claiming that nobody outside the cellphone community knows what a Series 60 phone is...

Update: Engadget aren't impressed with the veracity of the leak either. I'm starting to wonder if anyone outside of Apple knows what's up, none of the normal rumour sites seem to have any better idea of what's coming up as the rest of us...

Update: We might have the first solid hint at what's coming, it looks like Apple has halted bulk ordering of the Mac mini (via TUAW). Could this mean an Intel mini? Presumably they wouldn't replace the mini with a pure media centre box and do away with something that fills a niche so successful, but the announcement did say "...some fun new products"...

Update: Of course we also shouldn't forget the rumours that circulated just after the last Macworld of something "...much cooler" than a 12 and 17 inch Powerbook replacement.

Update: The Register has picked up on the same sources as Apple Insider, but is carrying an article focusing on the prediction that event next week is to launch Apple's plans to sell full length movies on the iTunes store, rather than the widescreen iBook replacement, which they mention as more of a footnote. I'm going to be really disappointed if this is all about selling movies on the iTunes store, especially since it'll almost certainly be restricted to the US store if it happens.

Update: While admitting that nobody seems to know anything for certain, Chris Seibold reverts to first principles at Apple Matters and tries to guess the answer. He speculates that an Apple PVR is the most likely product to appear on the 28th, and you can't fault his reasoning. But I can't get over feeling that the iCal related invite picture is significant, although it doesn't really say "fun" does it?

Update: In what has to be the best leak so far, a picture posted to MacShire seems to show a pre-production sample of the much rumoured video iPod.

Update: Despite the leaked images, Apple Insider still seem to think that we're looking at an updated Mac mini. Interesting, do they have a source, or are they just guessing?

Update: Dan Abrams has had a close look at the leaked picture of the video iPod, and has come to the conclusion that it's a fake. Unfortunately his analysis looks pretty sound, so on balance it's looking like this is yet another video iPod hoax.

Update: A video showing how the picture was faked has shown up on Digg. Definitely fake then, very disappointing...

Update: Coverage of the Apple Special Event and the new Intel Mac mini...

Wind turbines for mesh networks

Late last year Nature carried a news snippet about mini-wind turbines for powering wireless networks, which cited a paper in Applied Physics Letters by Shashank Priya which talked about using piezoelectric materials and mini-turbines for distributed power generation. I actually meant to post something about it at the time, but the link has sat in my edit queue since November.

However Engadget's post about the micro-windmill for charging your mobile phone, developed by an Indian graduate student, started me thinking about wind turbines and mesh-networks again.

The interesting thing about mesh-networks is that they don't really operate in the same way as more traditional network designs, they're often compared to cellular networks but the comparison is flawed. In mesh networks each network node participates in the routing process, relaying packets intended for other nodes. This isn't the case in a cellular network where routing takes place only over the backbone network connecting the cell base stations, rather than between individual handsets although I've talked about how to use Bluetooth to do mesh networks between handsets in the past.

Of course the really different thing about a mesh network when compared to traditional network designs is that mesh-networks are ad-hoc in nature, and are fully self-configurable and self-healing. After distributing the nodes over a widespread area (perhaps by parachute drop?) the nodes themselves discover their nearest neighbours, and discover routes to other nodes in the network independently. If an existing link fails then network automatically reconfigures itself to compensate. Funnily enough this aspect of mesh-networks means that a lot of work has been done on them by the military, whose network nodes (e.g. tanks, soldiers) tend to get shot out from under them a lot. Although after a long time as specialist equipment, gear to do mesh-networks is starting to become mainstream although it's not exactly a cheap solution at the moment.

However in the past mesh-networks have tended to rely on batteries, which eventually have to be replaced, or mains power, which in a lot of situations defeats the point. This probably comes from the military background of most of the work done on them, the military usually aren't that interested in long term operations and aren't really that concerned about cost. Mesh-networks are perfect to networking large sparesely inhabited regions, think third world countries, or to serve as the network backbone for a ubiquitous computing environment in a more developed and urban environment. The holy-grail of mesh-networks would be to make the node itself cheap enough to be thrown away. You air drop the nodes out of a transport plane and they're basically self-sufficient, and when they do finally fail, they're cheap enough to be replaced without an expensive operation to retrieve the first one. For that, you need distributed power generation.

I've talked about distributed power generation before, and of course wind power isn't the only solution to the problem. With spiralling energy costs centrally provided power might eventually become a thing of the past as more people want to take control into their own hands.

Technology is giving us a choice, we can follow the path of central control, or that of decentralisation. More and more, technology is giving governments or large corporations the power to federate information and monitor its flow. Alternatively, it's also giving us the power to decentralise. Things that before were only provided centrally because of the prohibitive cost, such as power and networking, can now be distributed, and done entirely on a peer-to-peer basis. We face a cross roads, and the technology itself won't tell which way to turn.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Fun new products, from Apple

Coverage of the Apple Special Event

Following previous rumours, that were later proved to be a hoax, of an Apple special event tomorrow, Engadget apparently has reliable information that this time it's for real...

CREDIT: Apple (via Engadget)

The invites usually give some subtle hint of the type of product that Apple are going to announce, what are we to make of a iCal related invite? Can Apple finally be shipping a replacement for the Newton? Are the recent rumours surround Apple's touch screen patents wrong, are we heading for an Apple branded PDA?

Update: The Register points out that security surrounding this launch has been particularly tight. Thinking about it I can't remember the last time we had a special event actually on the Infinite Loop itself, or when we knew so little about what was going to be announced? Either this is a really big announcement, or a really small one. Do they want it on-site so they can have total control of things, including venue security? Or was the Moscone Centre just all booked up? Does anyone have any leaks? I haven't seen anything yet, which is quite telling. This could be interesting...

Update: The Apple rumour mill starts to roll, more news on what might be arriving at the special event...

Update: Coverage of the Apple Special Event and the new Intel Mac mini...

NASA to retire Atlantis

Spaceflight Now is reporting (via Slashdot) NASA's decision to retire the Atlantis orbiter by 2008 after just 5 more flights, which will put a lot of pressure on the agency to keep remaining two orbiters, Discovery and Endeavour, flight worthy so that NASA's commitments to their partners in the ISS can be fulfilled.

Of course since all three of the orbiters are currently still grounded, after the previous flight of Discovery showed that the debris problems which caused the loss of Columbia had not yet been fixed, it is perhaps a bit academic...

JPL solar sail missions?

Slashdot is carrying a story which links to an interesting interview with Neil Murphy of JPL about the future of solar sail technologies.

I first got interested in solar sails back when I was an undergraduate, more than a few years ago now, with the launch of the Russian Znamya-2 experiment, a spinning sail 60ft in diameter which was sucessfully deployed from a Progress vehicle after undocking from MIR back in 1993.

Disappointingly the funding crisis facing the Russian space programme meant that follow-up missions were cancelled and the technology, along with other interesting developments coming out of their programme around the same time, was moth-balled.

CREDIT: The Planetary Society
The Project Operations Pasadena (POP) room, the attic of the carriage house behind The Planetary Society, in the run up to the launch of Cosmos-1 on the 21st of June 2005. From left to right: Greg Delory, Sam Dallas, Emily Lakdawalla , and Paul Fieseler.

Then for a brief moment last year it looked like that the first operational solar sail would come from the private sector. We were left on tender-hooks for several days as to the fate of the Planetary Society's Cosmos-1 spacecraft and whether it had or had not obtained orbit. Again disappointingly for sail enthusiasts, in the end the Society were forced to conclude that the spacecraft was lost.

CREDIT: NASA/Marshall Spaceflight Center (via Digital Bits)
The NASA/ATK sail which was successfully tested in a series of ground-tests in the 100-ft.-diameter vacuum chamber at NASA's Glenn Research Center

It seems likely that, despite the sub-orbital tests flown by the Japanese, the first in-orbit free flying test of solar sail will be carried out by NASA, at least if the current funding crisis facing science caused by NASA refocusing on the manned programme doesn't cause the test flights to be cancelled. Ahead of a planned ambitious interstellar probe, it's possible that the frst flight of a NASA solar sail will be part of the ST9 programme, and has a tentatively sheculed launch date of 2010 or 2011.

Like a lot of sail enthusiasts who have been looking on from the side lines, I wish them well...

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Life cycle of an Apple rumour

The Apple rumour mill moves fastest before an Apple special announcement, and before, or even after, the annual Macworld. But these days it hardly slows down at all...

The latest rumour arose from Think Secret's prediction the release of a "proper" video iPod, rather than the existing generation of iPods which merely play video, although the distinction is perhaps a bit unclear to someone who hasn't been following the minutiae of Apple news with the proper amount of religious zeal.

The initial rumours were quickly followed up by O'Reilly and attractive looking mock-ups (via Engadget) of the video iPod started to appear as the weight of the rumours were strengthened by Apple's recent patent application for a virtual click-wheel.

The much-publicised mock-up of the video iPod

The rumours were then dissected in various blogs and truth blends almost seamlessly with total fiction. The rumour begins to take a life of it's own, and in this case if Apple don't now release a video iPod with a virtual click wheel people will be disappointed, perhaps to the extent that Apple's stock price might actually fall as they fail to meet people's expectations.

Me? As I've said before I haven't a clue what's going on, but want to hear my latest whacky conspiracy theory? I think Apple deliberately leaks most of these rumours, I think the entire rumour mill culture arising from Apple's traditional product secrecy is a vast focus group experiment run by Apple themselves. How does that sound? Want to make a rumour out of it..?

Update: Are these leaked pictures of a pre-production sample of the "real" video iPod?

The rise (and fall?) of microformats

I've written about microformats before and I've been thinking a lot about them since I read Ian Kallen's post about distributed conversations last month, and this post has been sitting in my edit queue gathering dust while I thought about it...

It isn't much use embedding all that data into your pages, or feed, if you can't get it back out again and thats always been the problem even before microformats arrived on the scene. Vast amounts of data are sloshing around the web, getting passed back and forth, that most users don't see and that gets consumed only by a few specialist sites and programs. Interfaces that let the user see the embedded data are still few and far between.

When we're creating microformats we have to think pretty hard about what the target audience is, and whether the meta-data you're embedding into your data is supposed to be machine readable. I've been involved in various standards processes for a while now, and the fatal flaw in quite a few proposals is unclear meta-data. There isn't much point embedding data which isn't supposed to be seen by a human if it takes human judgement to discern what it means.

The success, or failure, of a standard is tied very tightly with user uptake, if people in the trenches see that your standard is useful to them and it takes less effort to adopt it than for them to roll their own, they will. If it's actually less effort to roll their own, if your standard is too complex or badly documented, or poorly implemented then they will. Unlike you they have no investment in the standards process. When it comes down to it, users don't care about standards, they just want to get stuff done.

I'm starting to worry that microformats are falling between the cracks, not because they're too complex, but because there are so damn many of them and nobody seems sure which will end up being "adopted" and which will end up being ignored, and many of them overlap in scope. Think about that next time you want to create a microformat, can you get your stuff done using someone else's work? You don't have to reinvent the wheel every time you do something...

6,500 year old voice recording

Almost unbelievably, Belgian researchers have managed reproduce sounds by using scans of the grooves in 6,500 year old pottery, originally produced by the vibrations of the tools used to make the pot. The sounds recorded in the pottery include the voices and laughter of the people making the pot. Absolutely amazing stuff, does anyone have a link to a journal article for this one?

MP4 File (in French)

Via Make: Magazine

Update: Totally unbelievable, it's an April Fool's hoax...

Update: Apparently the idea was also the basis for a short story by Gregory Benford called "Time Shards".

Saturday, February 18, 2006

New bluetooth worm

Close on the heels of OSX/Leap.A, the first Mac OS X trojan found in the wild, is yet another worm. This new menace has been dubbed OSX/Inqtana.A.

F-Secure describes OSX/Inqtana.A as a "Java based proof of concept bluetooth worm" and it appears that it will only affect systems running Tiger unpatched against CAN-2005-1333. F-Secure advises us that unlike Leap.A the new worm hasn't yet been seen in the wild...

Friday, February 17, 2006

A 12GB 1-inch HDD?

I guess I'm starting to making a habit of this, right after I bought a 20 inch iMac, Apple released the iMac Core Duo. Now, right after I bought a 5GB 1 inch HDD to carry my stuff around on, Seagate releases a 12GB version. It's all a bit painful really, I think I'm cursed...

HTC Universal as a Bluetooth Modem

I've complained in the past [1, 2] about my total inability to get my Orange SPV M5000 (a.k.a the HTC Universal) working as a Bluetooth modem with my Apple Powerbook, and I wasn't the only one [1, 2] to be having problems either.

I'd pretty much given up, therefore my congratulations have to go to Ross Dargahi (found via Juston Blanton) for working it out...

The instructions below works for my Orange SPV M5000 (a.k.a the HTC Universal) and my Apple Powerbook, running Mac OS X 10.4.4. Your milage may vary, but from other reports they seem to be fairly generic for all Windows Mobile 5.0 devices.

  1. Download Ross Barkman's iPAQ modem script, and install this into /Library/Modem Scripts. It's okay to rename this file to something more appropriate, e.g. HTC Universal GSM, if you want to do that.
  2. On your HTC Universal enable Receive all incoming beams in Settings > Beam, and then turn on Bluetooth amnd make the device discoverable in Settings > Bluetooth.
  3. Set up an new Incoming Port (COM0) under Settings > Bluetooth > COM Ports.
  4. If you're running Mac OS X 10.4 then go to System Preferences > Bluetooth > Set Up New Device to run the Bluetooth Setup Assistant. When prompted choose Any Device when asked to select the device type, as the HTC Universal does not advertise itself correctly as a phone. If you're running 10.3.9 then you should see Ross Barkman's comments on my post talking about my problems with Panther and the Universal's dial-up networking stack.
  5. Select your device from the list of detected Bluetooth devices and pair the devices in the normal way, remembering to select Access the Internet with your phone's data connection when prompted.
  6. Enter *99# into the Phone number field, rather than your networks APN. For instance I'm on Orange in the UK, but despite this I still enter *99# rather than the Orange APN, "orangeinternet" into the field. Additionally, even if your network does not require a username and password you should enter something in those fields. Orange doesn't require me to pass a username or password, but none the less I entered "orange" for both. However if your network doesn't require it, you can enter whatever string you like here it won't make a difference. But if you don't do this, the script will not work correctly. Information about APN information for your network can be found either form your network provider, or from Ross Barkman's GPRS information page.
  7. Select your freshly installed modem script in the drop down menu in the setup assistant and finish setting up your device.
  8. In System Preferences > Network > Bluetooth, in the PPP tab click on PPP Options and make sure that Use TCP header compression is unchecked.
  9. Go to the Bluetooth Modem tab and make sure that Use TCP header compression is unchecked. Disable both Enable error correction and compression in modem and Wait for dial tone before dialing and apply your changes.
At this point your Mac and HTC Universal should be set up and you just have to hit Dial Now and then Connect and it should all "just work"...

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Linux boots on Intel Mac

While you might not be able to run Windows on your new Intel Core Duo iMac for a while yet, it looks like you can now run Liunx if you really feel the need.

CREDIT: Mactel-Linux Project
Gentoo booting on an Intel Core Duo iMac
Using elilo and a modified Linux kernel, we can boot from a USB hard disk on the 17" iMac Core Duo. We are using the hacked vesafb driver to inherit the bootloader's framebuffer, keyboard and a USB network card work. Gentoo runs and can compile the Linux kernel with a compiler that runs on linux, which was compiled in linux. - Mactel-Linux Project
Well done to the guys at the Mactel-Linux Project, who did it without the help of Red Hat. Despite promises, Red Hat apparently don't yet have an Intel iMac in house...

Update: Slashdot has picked up the story...

A live Mac OS X virus?

The Register is reporting that a OS X Trojan has been sighted in the wild for the first time. Apparently the worm, dubbed Leap-A by Sophos, spreads via iChat instant messaging, forwarding itself as a file called latestpics.tgz to contacts on the infected users' buddy list.

Update: More from the Washington Post, Slashdot and MacRumours. Andrew Welsh has done some initial disassembly of the worm and posted his results on the Ambrosia Software web boards. The worm apparently uses Spotlight to find the other applications on the infected machine and then inserts a stub code into each executable. Andrew concludes that,
In the end, it doesn't appear to actually do anything other than try to propagate itself via iChat, and unintentionally prevent infected applications from running - Andrew Welsh
Update: More on OSX/Leap.A from F-Secure...

Update: News of the worm has finally made it into the mainstream media...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


When you think about the capabilities of modern handsets, and how much raw storage you can cram into an SD or MMC card these days, the fact that a standard GSM SIM can still only store 64k of data is actually pretty poor going...

About time perhaps that something was done about it? It's being reported that Orange, M-Systems and Oberthur Card Systems are set to rollout a new MegaSIM, which will have up to 1GB of onboard storage, sometime this year.

Presumably however these new super-sized SIM cards won't be fully useable in non-Orange phones. No more moving your SIM between your collection of unlocked GSM handsets. So you have to wonder who this is supposed to benefit, us or them?
More crucially, analysts pointed out, the product should help Orange to discourage customers from switching to rival mobile networks. - The Times
Despite the product specifications claiming that the new MegaSIM will maintain USIM functionality compatible with "legacy standards", which presumably means that it'll act like a USIM in a normal handset, I'm not so sure how seamless the transition would be between enabled and non-enabled handsets would be...

Technically this is a good step forward, although you have to hope that M-Systems are talking to the right people in the standards bodies. But it could either be a really good thing, or a really lousy thing, for those of us who actually want to use our handsets in ways that Orange haven't thought of already...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Stressful end for the Global Flyer

Steve Fossett successfully took the world record for the longest non-stop flight yesterday. But failed to make it all the way to his planned touch down in Kent, after an electrical malfunction occurred just 45 minutes before landing during his preparations for the decent into Kent International Airport.

After declaring a Mayday and flying with an iced over windscreen due to the electrical failure, Steve and the Global Flyer made a successful emergency touch down at Bournemouth Airport on the south coast of England with what was later found to be only 200lbs of fuel left onboard the aircraft.

CREDIT: Graham Hustings/BBC News
Steve Fossett landing in Bouremouth
CREDIT: Graham Hustings/BBC News
Emergency crews on hand after landing
CREDIT: Gary Ellson/BBC News
The burst tires on the Global Flyer

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Google Earth, Mac beta 2

A new beta of Google Earth for Mac OS X has just be released. Amongst various bug fixes, the new release now has support for Mac OS X Panther 10.3.9...

Friday, February 10, 2006

The cult of Mac

We're currently interviewing for two new lecturer positions here at Exeter. Out of the ten short listed candidates that gave talks yesterday and today, eight of them were using Powerbooks or iBooks. Which is kind of interesting, you've come to expect that sort of thing at OSCON, but a random bunch of academics? It certainly shows how deeply Apple has managed to infiltrate the Astronomy community...

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Take-off for the Global Flyer

After repeated delays, the BBC is reporting that earlier today the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer took off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 12:20 GMT (07:20 local time).

CREDIT: Virgin Atlantic
Take-off for the Global Flyer

Update: After a troubled take-off, Steve Fossett and the Global Flyer were followed by the Starship chase plane for the first several hours of the flight...

CREDIT: Virgin Atlantic
Monitoring the flight from Mission Control
Take-off was a bit scary to say the least. I had to use most of the runway to get off the ground. This was particularly hairy because I could not have aborted even if I had wanted to. To make matters worse, two birds hit the aircraft on take-off, luckily there does not seem to be any sign of damage. - Steve Fossett
Update: You can now track the Global Flyer in real time...

Update: An emergency landing in Bournemouth...

Why I use Perl, not Java...

Ian Kallen has an interesting article about using Berkeley DB and Perl's tie operator to generate a tied persistent hash without using Storable. His example of how to do this is just 30 lines long...

Interestingly the Berkeley DB Java Edition also lets you implement something that looks a lot like a tied persistent hash in Java, despite the fact that Java doesn't have a tie operator. It's 128 lines long, that's more than ×4 longer than the Perl version.

High level languages are supposed to make your life easier, they aren't supposed to make you jump through pointless hoops to get stuff done. They're about giving you the power to implement stuff quickly and easily. That's why I use Perl, not Java...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The iPod nano, now in 1GB

Both the Unofficial Apple Weblog and Engadget, and presumably a few other people, are reporting the surprise launch of the 1GB iPod nano, shipping today at $149 in the US and £109 in the UK.

The iPod nano

At the same time, the price of the 256MB and 512MB iPod shuffle has been cut to $69 and $99 in the US (£49 and £69 in the UK) respectively. All just in time for the billion song count down at the iTunes music store...

Update: The iLounge review (via Engadget) of the iPod nano notes that the backlight on the new 1GB is dimmer than the 2 and 4GB models.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Google and censorship

There has been a lot noise over Google's recent move to censor content on its chinese site. I really don't want to get into all that, but these screen captures say everything that needs to be said. The first is an image search on "Tiananmen Square" done on google.com, the second the same search on the chinese site. Note the lack of tanks on the second screen capture...

Search on google.com

Search on google.cn

Update: More from the International Herald Tribune...

Google AdSense outage?

Is Google AdSense down? I'm currently getting "No data available" instead of the normal report of page impressions, clicks, click through rates and of course earnings...

AdSense down?

Update: Apparently it's all working normally, as I got the following through from AdSense technical support...
Please note that reports on impressions and clicks are usually updated every 15-30 minutes, but occasionally there may be a delay of 24 hours or more before your reports are fully updated. We assure you that your clicks and impressions are being tracked even if they don't show up immediately on your reports.

Which, while perfectly true, doesn't really seem to explain the "No data available" messages. I've certainly never seen that before..?

A web 2.0 moratorium

Ian Kallen calls for a Web 2.0 moratorium, no more Web 2.0 site launches for 48 hours so we can all go off and actually do some work. You have to hand it to the guy for having his finger on the pulse, forget five minutes, your start-up now has about five seconds to sell itself to me...

Like Ian it was TechCrunch's move to provide a form to capture data about new start-ups that want a write up in the blog that broke me, especially when someone suggested that this was a whole new Web 2.0 product in itself. I'm a broken man, where do I get off the Web 2.0 roundabout?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Apple Special Event?

Rumours of another Apple special press event has just surfaced on digg. According to John Ellenich, Apple has just sent out invitations for a special press event on Feburary 22nd to be held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco...

CERDIT: Posted on Flickr by netgem21
Yet another Apple special press event?

Update: The general consensus now seems to be that this is a fake, and as none of the usual candidates have stuck their hands in the air to say that they've received an invitation, for once general consensus is probably correct...

Update: It looks like other alternative versions of the Apple special event invite are now turning up on the web. Some are obvious fakes, I don't think spelling "February" incorrectly is something that's going to happen in an Apple press invitation, do you? and none of the obvious candidates to get one of these has stepped forward and confirmed that it's all real, I think we have to write the "special event" off as a fake. Unless anyone knows differently?

Update: The Unofficial Apple Weblog is now actually running a contest for the most convincing fake invite to the presumably non-existant Apple special event on the 22nd. Isn't the Internet weird?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Internet or Intranet?

Reports that AOL will be charging to white-list incoming mail and that Google is working on it's own private internet are depressing. What part of "inter" didn't they understand?

Presumably unlike a lot of people now working at AOL and Google, I remember life before the Internet. I remember having to manually bang path an email to route it across the still relatively unconnected networks. I also remember having to multiple email address on different (unconnected) networks so everyone I needed to talk to could actually reach me, rather than because you just randomly accumulate them.
Before auto-routing mailers became commonplace, people often published compound bang addresses... to give paths from several big machines, in the hopes that one's correspondent might be able to get mail to one of them reliably. Bang paths of 8 to 10 hops were not uncommon in 1981. Late-night dial-up UUCP links would cause week-long transmission times. Bang paths were often selected by both transmission time and reliability, as messages would often get lost... - Wikipedia
The Internet isn't a network in itself, it's a network of networks. Here in the UK the academic sites sit on something called JANET. The network was originally intended to operate solely as an X.25 network using the coloured book protocols. But in 1991 a test bed service called JANET IP Service (JIPS) was established to route some TCP/IP traffic over the JANET network, and by November of that year IP traffic exceeded the native X.25 traffic. For those of us who were using JANET at the time it became another indistinguishable part of "the Internet".

This didn't happen because TCP/IP was a better protocol, although it was, at least the level where the user had to interact with it, but because that's what everyone else had decided to use. Nobody really cares about the underlying technology except for a few geeks like you and me, they just want to be able to send email to their Uncle Fred.

The steps AOL and Google are taking are going to threaten your average user being able to send an email to Uncle Fred, in the long term that's going to be affect the bottom line, and it's a return to the bad old days. It's also probably not going to work...

Within half an hour of Google launching it's shiny proprietary network to the public there will be e-mail gateways springing up to bridge messages from inside the Google-net back out to the existing Internet, and before long some users will figure out how to route their messages through these gateways by default. Other protocols will be bridged onto the new network, and eventually no matter how hard Google fights it'll be just one more network amongst networks. Just another indistinguishable part of "the Internet". Its been proved countless times that walled gardens don't work well, you only have to look at CompuServe or AOL itself to see that...
Tunc tua res agitur, Paries cum proximus ardet. - Google Secure Access
Maybe, but maybe not. People are really bored of spam, of the commercialisation of the web, and sheer amount of junk. What if Google isn't planning yet another walled garden, what if they're planning a ground up take-over of the existing infrastructure? What if, in five years time, there will be more Google-net traffic over the existing Internet than native TCP/IP?

If Google can figure out the right balance they might have a chance of pulling this off and maybe, just maybe, they're doing it for the right reasons. I think the Latin motto on Google's Secure Access client is interesting. It roughly translates to "It is your concern, when your neighbour's wall is on fire". Perhaps the bright young things at Google are actually old enough to remember a few things after all. Perhaps Google finally intends to end September?

Update: Inside Google reports that the story has made it into the main stream press. Predictably they've got a very different take on things, and they don't seem to understand what the phrase "competitor network" actually means when it comes to talking about the Internet. If Google is planning a walled garden, I think they're toast, if they're planning some sort of ground up take-over of the Internet I, like a lot of geeks, might even get behind them and push...

Update: Nick Carr has more on AOL's, and apparently Yahoo's, move towards tiered email delivery accusing them of attempting to destroy the treasured "network neutrality" that has defined the way the Internet works, at least up till now. Interestingly Daniel Dreymann, a co-founder of GoodmailSystems replies to Nick arguing that at least in "email space" this network neutrality is long gone.
There is an overwhelming consensus against being neutral about spam and phishing: filters are using artificial intelligence and manually tweaked whitelists and blacklists in an attempt to route messages... to the spam folder, and legitimate messages... to the inbox. Our endeavor is to do the same in a more rational way and with much better results. - Danial Dreymann
This is an interesting argument, but there is a fundamental difference between the filtering messages at the user end, and prioritising network traffic based on how much a user is willing to pay.
If AOL proves the viability of creating a tiered pricing system for email, would that provide its parent, Time-Warner, with a model and a precedent for introducing a broader tiered system for delivering internet content through its big cable business? - Nick Carr
At least to the backbone, your packets should be the same as my packets when it comes to delivery, and Nick's point is that anything anything that prioritises data based on willingness to pay hints that breaking that backbone neutrality is possible. That can't be a good thing, surely?

Update: I think the point I'm trying to make here is that Daniel's statement that "...of legitimate commercial email, 20 percent is caught in spam filters and not delivered or sent to junk mail folders" misses the point. Surely the point is that client side filtering means I get to decide what's legitimate, whereas tiered delivery means that AOL decided for me...

Update: More from the mainstream media, this time BBC News picks up the story of AOL and Yahoo charging for incoming email. They get all the facts right, but the story reads like a press release from GoodmailSystems and AOL or Yahoo, and in all probability that's where it originated from. There isn't any discussion of network neutrality or the down sides to charging here, only the cheery "you'll get less spam" message...

Update: Gizmodo have and different take on why the AOL's pay per email scheme just won't work. However they do think that the current system is so broken it needs throwing away and starting again, and they want us academics to do it for them,
...an entirely new system of email “subscriptions” which ensures that email to and from the folks you want to receive email from is in your mailbox and everyone else is buffeted back. This will take a concerted effort by open source/academic folks to adopt and maintain this new system which will then trickle down to the corporate level.
Which is interesting, I think this is the first time I've heard suggested that the solution to the spam problem is in the hands of the academics...