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Monday 29 September 2003

Rebot and SMS [lurks]

We've had a couple of different implementations of SMS in Rebot over the years. The first one had a proper user/number database but people had to have their own e-mail to SMS gateway, Rebot didn't do the SMS bit itself. The second one was based on Brit's SMS facility which was some sort of work thing but then, if memory serves, the rackshack boxes got reformatted or something and it was never reimplemented.
We've been missing the SMS facility for some time. So one day I just decided to have a hunt for commercial services that provide SMS support and I found text force. They rock basically. Nice little http interface to send messages. Just add credits to the account with a credit card and it's only 6.5p a message. So I got the lads to paypal me some dosh and slapped on 300 credits, built it into Rebot and added all our phone numbers. It works very nicely indeed.
The next job is to sort out SMS inbound. I asked text force about it and it's ninja money. Well, £40 a month at least. Fuck this, I thought, why don't I just get a pay-as-you-go phone and jack that into Wench, fire up some SMS gateway software and we can have a dedicated phone for Rebot. Since I don't use the phone for outgoing SMS, it shouldn't ever need touching again. So that's what I did. Orange PAYG SIM card in an old 7110 I found lying around. I've also got a spare DAU-9P Nokia cable.
After some farting about, I get Oxygen SMS Gateway up and running. The thing is, this is the only SMS software that will work with the cable I have. There are two different cables and if I had a DLR-3, the 7110 can be accessed via generic AT modem-style commands, apparently. Then I can use lots of software including the very promising looking SMSDemon which is a very lightweight app that will just write out the inbound SMSes to a text file. That's mondo cool because I can have Rebot watch that rather more regularly than it checks for mail.
At any rate, I have made inbound SMS work with Oxygen right now. Hilariously the developers of Oxygen want $399 for one of the nastiest, buggiest and haphazardly written applications I have ever seen. The SMS format to send to a gateway is ridiculous, there *must* be a space between Email: and the e-mail address, and the e-mail address is case sensitive (morons, don't they know you press a full stop and Nokias autocase upper?) and has to have a carriage return on the end of it. The format is so arcane that half the EED boys trying it out now are getting it wrong. They're 'tards, but still. :)
I've ordered a DLR-3 cable off Ebay and when it arrives, I'll kill off Oxygen and one should just be able to SMS Rebot's number and that'll go to channel. I've also set the 'From' of the outbound SMSes to Rebot's number so folks should just be able to hit reply on any messages coming from the channel. Mondo cool. I've also got some plans to add some useful info bot stuff from Rebot to the SMS interface. The 'What' glossary look up might be handy, text blogging, IMDB lookups (dead handy for when you're at blockbuster no?) and anything else I can think of.
The last work I've done today is put in addsms and delsms so the EED chaps can add their own phone number/nick pairs into Rebot's database. Next on the coding list is groups so you can set up groups for types of games or locations (London posse!) which will make chasing around for lads for a game or a Friday swifty sesh a bit easier.

Verisign start fucking around [brit]

Things are afoot with the root .com and .org servers as run by Verisign.
Type this in your browser:
It's an invalid domain - it doesn't exist. It doesn't return a DNS error however, oh no. Look what Verisign has gone and done...

Thursday 25 September 2003

Financial institutions [muz]

Right. I've had a savings and current account with NatWest for as long as I can remember, and for the most part have been happy with the service they offer. However, recently, they just haven't been up to scratch, especially with regards to their online service.
Today was the final straw. As some of you may know, due to circumstances that are best left, ermmm, circumspect, I have had the need to purchase a laptop. Specifically, a Dell Inspiron 500m. But that will be another blog.
Getting back to NatWest. Dell, for better or worse, require that any address that you ship an order to be associated in some way with the account used for payment, either as the account's billing address, or a registered delivery address. So, I call NatWest this morning in order to get an office address registered as a delivery address. 'I'm sorry Mr. Suriar, but we don't offer this service. You'll have to temporarily change your billing address, then change it back.' OK, says I. Can you do that for me? 'Unfortunately, not over the phone, sir. You'll have to do it online or visit your branch.' Fine, says I. Hopping over to NatWest Online (which isn't all that bad, in fairness, apart from the fact that it requires IE), I attempt to find a section to alter my billing address. There exists no such option. FFS!
So, now I have to go into my branch, change my billing address, hope that the change is processed before Dell process my order, and then change my billing address back after Dell have billed me.
Given this farcical turn of events, I've decided to tell NatWest to shove it. Therefore, my fellow clanmates, I request wisdom of the sage variety. With whom do you entrust your money? His Honour Am Teh Unfeasible has extolled the virtues of HSBC, and [EED]Lurker seems to swear by Anymore for anymore? I am primarily concerned with the usability of online banking, and having the ability to register delivery addresses for accounts would obviously be a bonus.

Complaining works [lurks]

My breadmaker blew up. I knew you'd be thrilled. It blew up because the bit at the bottom of the bread bin wot holds the paddle shaft, seized up. It seized up because I placed the bread bin on a gas hob for a few seconds to dry it after washing, and then promptly went back to my PC and forgot about it. The rubber seal crumbled and the bearings seized half way through making the next loaf.
Like I said, I knew you'd be thrilled. Anyhow this was a top-of-the-line Panasonic breadmaker. I ring them up and, given I'm skint and devious (deviousness can be plotted as a square to the degree of skintitude, I find) I basically make out that the unit has failed of it's own accord. It's only 3 months old. They have no sympathy whatsoever so I go to fallback plan and try to order the part that's shagged. They stuff me around a bit, say it's out of stock and put me onto a third party parts company. I phone them, order it from them. £30, three weeks later and it still hasn't turned up.
So... for the sake of a 20p stamp and some spare time, I click on blue 'W' icon and type a letter of complaint to Panasonic. Now to my mind, there's two forms of letters of complaint. Normally, I favor the first kind. The kind where you do not expect said useless fucks to deliver and you would just like to take time to clue them in on their diminished position in the world, compared to say a 'leprous scab on the anus of the British Banking industry'. Closing with an request to kill the order, close the account or whatever.
Such a letter, while extracting some small measure of pleasure from a poor situation, is unlikely to persuade a company to do nice things. When that is the goal, we need the second type of complaint letter. Now this sort of thing doesn't come naturally to me but it's an interesting excersize in writing skill and downright two-faced cunning.
In this type of letter, one simultaneously complains but also is complimentary about the company or it's goods. One is aiming for a sort of concerned-uncle tone, 'I'm sure this is just an unfortunate oversight' sort of thing. You are a nice, reasonable man. Not, in the case of the first type of complaint letter, a raging psychotic arsehole. Or at least, that's the goal.
So anyway, I've got me a lovely ham, cheese and Branston pickle sandwich made with my own special 6-seed bread. It's lovely and this is because the part for my Panasonic breadmaker arrived in the post, free of charge from Panasonic just a few working days after they got my letter. I penned this blog while I rang up the parts company and cancelled the £30 order. So far, this is the fourth letter of this type that I have written and every single time I've had a positive result.
See these companies have customer service people whose job it is to put things right like this. It gives them a warm fuzzing feeling inside. But of course if you're a horrible customer, they'll probably dig their heals in. Or it's evident that this is the approach they're going to take from the outset. In which case, you can merrily fall back to complaint type 1.

Wednesday 24 September 2003

We are Anal - part 1 [houmous]

You arrive in ze vonderful UK on ze Shuttle -rrr.. manifick...le Great Britain le Waterloo station! just like I imagine et..vunderbar!
Hang on ma chere I need to go for a jimmy...wandering down the stairs to the homme pissere you encounter a turnstile which does not work - pourquoi? Vhat? I have to insert 20p to have a jimmy? Mon dieu! This is outrageous! Your country stinks! I return immediately to my home country where we can (and do) piss anywhere gratious!
Ok leaving our EU brethen to one side (but seriously I am embarrassed to be British on this ) wtf is having to pay 20p to piss at Waterloo station all about especially when
1) I never have a 20p piece when I want to piss and
2) the change machine never works
but its more than that its just so stupid - if we get our act together we can obviously just piss on the train anyway - it just somehow strikes at the very core of inconvenience! Its my god given right to piss and poo - whats next a small charge for air? (yes I know its to stop HIV ridden heroin addicts trying to kiss you at the urinals, but other countries manage to deal with this without resorting to 20p entry )
The catalyst for this blog is new signs which have now appeared at Waterloo asking you not to use train toilets in the station because it comes out on the track - errr well get 21st century toilets then please!
I feel better now :)

Tuesday 23 September 2003

That's not a graphics card... [lurks]

This is a graphics card! It's a 256MB Asus Geforce FX 5900 Ultra. It just doesn't get any faster than this at the moment. Two fans on the bastard! Fortunately they're pretty quiet. It replaces a Radeon 9600 I had in this rig for awhile, a non 'Pro' version. Does the Asus look like it's worth 4 times as much in comparison?
All I need to do is run some benches. So far I've just been enjoying playing Tron 2.0 in 1280 x 1024 with 4X AA and Anisotropic filtering...

JSDV32 [beej]

Seen this DVD player up on Play? There is something about it which looks pretty appealing. Totally don't need one (can't think who does to be brutally honest) but it's certainly cute... and £300, well I guess it must be aiming at the digicam-or-iPod price point?

Monday 22 September 2003

Dredd vs Death [lurks]

How can it have gone so terribly terribly wrong? At first glance, we're talking Rebellion who did the magnificent AvP and we're talking 2000AD. So they've got the coding skillz and the IP and the art talent and, you would have thought, the passion for the subject matter to make a good game. Well, yesterday I fired up the demo. Jesus wept, it's awful. I mean it's really really bad.
It's basically a bog standard FPS only throw in braindead AI, very samey graphics which haven't moved on from AvP, terrible level design and not a lot of fun. Terrible level design is one thing but they're taking the piss on this demo. Megacity One, right? The shipping yard. So stuff getting across the whole Megacity One atmosphere, let's just chuck some shipping containers in instead. Yes, shipping containers. Oh and the game features the worst and most blatant product placement in a computer game just yet. Every second box has Redbull on it.
This is a crushing disappointment. It has completely destroyed Rebellions reputation for me. What the hell were they thinking? This sort of tripe makes me wish someone like EA would have bought 2000AD, at least they'd have farmed it out to a half way competent dev studio. The only saving grace is we're not short of good games at this time of year with Homeworld 2 and Half-Life 2 due imminently. However when I think of the mind-time I've given Dredd vs Death, thinking about how great it could have been, it makes me really quite angry at the piss poor state of British development at the moment.

Exploiting eBay tards [lurks]

Hard drives fail, right? They just do. This blog isn't about that though, it's about my fear of it. I had my mp3 collection on a big external 160GB Maxtor drive. It's 6 months old and it's been on the entire time. Only recently did I back it up to an DVD-Rs, it was backed up on another drive. So when I backed it up to DVD-Rs, that freed up 90 welcome gigs of HD space!
Thing is, it's a Maxtor and I've seen a good deal of them fail. I just don't really trust it but I can live with it backed up. Thing is, the Pundit system i spoke about earlier only has firewire ports on the front which means the front panel has to be open. If I could close it, the whole thing would be sexeh as hell. Also, it wont mount the firewire drive on a reboot. I have to physically unplug and replug it and then restart the services which wouldn't start because the drive is missing.
I've digressed, haven't I? Well fuck ya, not like you're writing the blog eh! Anyway, I spied a lovely cheap USB 2.0 external HD enclosure on Ebay for £30 odd quid and snapped it up. No one else was bidding on it and I couldn't see inexpensive units like it selling in the retail channel so that was a bit of a find. Then I bought some lovely Barracuda 7200.7+ drives for myself, Muz and Am and slapped one of those drives in the enclosure. Copied all the stuff across and whammo, very happy. Sexier looking enclosure, quieter drive which I trust more, it's faster and it mounts on boot.
So I slap the old Maxtor on eBay. It's fetching £122 as I write with over three days left. That's paid for the brand new £115 drive and it's already a fiver into paying for the USB 2.0 enclosure. I fully expect that it'll fetch enough to pay for my upgrade in it's entirety with a little bit left over besides.
This, my friends, is a classic example of how you can get naive bastards on eBay to pay for your upgrades. In the nicest possible way, of course. :)

Friday 19 September 2003

PC naming conventions [lurks]

I've had this tradition going back a number of years concerning the naming of PCs. Well actually, it predates PCs. When I worked on CU Amiga, my office A4000 tower was known as Bitch. My first incarnation of lounge server was called Wench and so has every other incarnation thereafter. My desktop is called Slut, the wide's machine is called Slapper. Tart is my work laptop. Small Tosh laptop was called Bint, I think Spiro has that now and EED's game server has traditionally been called Snatch.
I'm running a bit low on names. Since I have proven weak and ordered a Sony tr1mp same as Am in blog 478, I need a new name. It must reflect small and perfectly formed but with the proper feminine connotations and a good lashing of disrespect. Any suggestions?
But what about you guys anyway, what's your machine naming conventions?

Thursday 18 September 2003

Spirited away hits the flicks [slim]

Spirited Away hits teh cinema's in London next week, dates and shit can be grabbed from the veeery swish UK release web site. Now, I live on a rock orbiting Ireland, so I can't make it, but if you live in the area, please go and see it. Please tell your friends to go and see it, and if they enjoy it, tell em to get their freinds to go too.
This is a thought provoking, emotional, beuitiful film that's taken forever to arrive here. We need more like this on our cinema screens, and the way to get it is by supporting them when they're on.
Do it for me. Ta.

Tuesday 16 September 2003

Why are Americans so stupid? [spiny]

More 'Game Inspired' killings, pah.
'But the law is that if you make a product that is linked in a chain of events, and but for that link the final tragedy would not have occurred, you are liable. You don't have to have little angels turned into killers.'
But they won't stop kids carrying hand guns before they can drink, eh?

Monday 15 September 2003

Steamed turd! [lurks]

Valve. Sigh. I'm forcing myself to confront the issue at hand and not chat about the company that has wronged us in oh so many other ways such as never bringing out Team Fortress 2, fucking up Counter-Strike, taking over 5 years to create a Half-Life sequel and as if all that is not enough, now foisting upon us a badly conceived and poorly implemented broadband delivery service called Steam. Over the last few days, we've been fighting with getting this working. Not because we want to, none of us ever asked for Steam. It's a shit idea.
The fact is, when we want to patch up a game for playing, we want to do it ourselves. Get the file from a fast location so we know when our bandwidth is being used and we'll know when we have the files. What we don't want is some super lame tray icon thing which leeches unknown quantities of bandwidth for an unknown length of time. And then of course, the application itself is a steaming (ho ho) pile of turd. It's unresponsive, it crashes, it hangs, it provides cryptic error messages and just plain sucks.
None of us wants to run it but we have to because soon you'll have to authenticate with it, no more playing of CS without it. It's just astounding that a company like Valve feels that it has us all over a barrel enough that they can foist this shite on us. Who in fuck do they think they are? Oh yes, we're all sign up for a subscription so we can get all the extra content they put out, right?
Ahem, far be it for me to point out that Valve are hardly prolific going on past experience. It's just so infuriating! We've got systems that work, who in fuck do these people think they are?! They are not fucking EA. They aren't even a fucking publisher. It's one poxy game developer. I'd have more time for their grandiose plans if Steam actually fucking worked properly but it doesn't. It's falling over badly before HL-2 is even out! This is rock star game developer mentality taken too an extreme. Everyone wants to play our games and they'll do whatever we ask to make it so.
I'm running out of patience with Valve and a quick straw poll says I am not alone. The way things are going, I can see some hacker group stepping up to the plate releasing hacks and patches so people can play Valve multiplayer games without all this shit. Fucking tossers!

Thursday 11 September 2003

Blane hur hur hur [slim]

Tuesday 9 September 2003

The role of the microwave in modern society [houmous]

I've never really thought about microwaves much. I've always had one of course (even I'm not that weird!) but they don't come on the radar of boys toys as far as I'm concerned, and since I avoid white goods stores like the plague I never get to see them in their natural habitat.
Anyway all this changed a few months ago while I was sitting on the toilet flicking through my 'Wallpaper' magazine, as you do, when I spot an advert for a microwave. An advert for a microwave in Wallpaper? What ever next! But this one was... nice. It was in stainless steel for a start, and it had what appeared to be a particularly attractive over engineered handle on the front. It was like heavy machinery. I felt a strange stirring in my loins like when you hear a motorbike or a steam train – this microwave had pressed a button somewhere deep within my masculine physcie...
The first effect of this semi religious experience is that I announce to Di that our current microwave (horrible white thing) is now 'out of date' and that I will be carrying out an exercise to ascertain the best one to replace it. Di is bemused pointing out the current one is fine and we only ever use it for defrosting and heating things up anyway ( apart from cooking my porridge in the morning which enables me to get up 5 mins later than when I used to do it in a saucepan).
I politely disagree and set about my research which included at one point discussing the merits of various models with a woman at Currys on my mobile while I was driving and then spotting an internet café while we are talking, pulling over and going in, and while still talking to her, calling up a picture of the one she was suggesting would met my needs – that’s modern living for you I guess! haha
The trouble I was having was that I had quickly ascertained that there had been a quiet revolution going on on the microwave front and that there were loads of stainless steel/aluminium ones.
This was giving me a problem until I saw something that, in an instant clarified every thing and I knew my destiny – the Panasonic top of the range microwaves had....CHAOS defrost! Now I didn't have clue what CHAOS defrost is (and I still don't) but that didn't matter..I felt an over whelming affinity with this, and indeed, wondered how I had managed this long without it.
Now there was now only one more hurdle. Though general enquiries and chatting in the pub etc I discovered that my mate (also Dr Dave – spooky!) had bought one with CHAOS defrost too! Without rousing suspicion I tactfully ascertained his model details and then got straight on the web. THANK GOD! THERE WAS A BETTER CHAOS MODEL THAN HIS! An order was immediately placed.
IÂ’m now the proud owner of this modern icon. Which brings me onto the next point. This microwave appears to be able to do everything - conventional cooking (what does it go out and get a take away for you then? haha), baking, some kind of half microwave half something else that makes it crispy on the top, it automatically works out the correct time to cook things etc etc.
Now this is the weird thing. If I buy, say, a pocket PC, a bit of hifi kit, or a new mobile I play for ages with everything on it, usually breaking something in the process – but I realised that I have (and still have) some kind of mental block with microwaves. Whenever I get one I flick through the instructions and think 'ooh yes I must try that fish dish' but, the truth never happens – we only ever use the microwave button! Is this a common occurrence or will you all be bombarding me with your recipes for your favourite 'sur de mer' dish with the special sauce?

Wooohooooo!!!!!!! 500!!!11 [slim]

Here it is fuckflaps! The 500th blog, and it's a best of. Chip in with your fave and why it makes you cry...

Do you ever get bored at conferences? [houmous]

I do. I've been to a million conferences and seminars and most of them are crap for at least most of the time.
Some years ago I started realising how much of my life I was wasting in seminars working out ways to kill myself while some ill prepared person was rambling on at the front about something I had long since lost interest in, so I started to get up and leave at this point, often to do something constructive like go home and play EQ :)
Lately, however I have been trying a different tactic, as evidenced here at my firms Dublin tax partners conference a few weeks ago. It had been a long day in a windowless room and I was still nursing a monumental hangover...all of a sudden it became crystal clear what I had to do.... (warning:19mg file)
p.s the first few secs is just me being given a pint of guiness for my birthday :)

Monday 8 September 2003

Our own show [teeth]

I wonder if this will work? My first blog.. here goes!
I was reading a thread on the other day about how shit Sky's new games show Gamesville is. It got me thinking about computer games shows in general, as far back as I could remember.
They were all shit weren't they?
I mean, perhaps a few were entertaining but I've always thought the whole concept was wrong - that being that the show was aimed at kids. A mean fine, kids play more games than most but do they want a show aimed at them? Kids like cars, kids like football - they seem to get on just fine watching shows about cars and football aimed at adults.
I really think whichever producer realises the following will have an incredibly successful and long-running show on their hands:
Gamers (be they kids or adults), no more than other people, cannot abide watching people who are shit.
People who are into history wouldn't tune into the Time Team if the presenters didn't know what they were doing.
People who are into cars wouldn't tune into TopGear if Jeremy Clarkson or the Stig were clueless.
Who would watch something like Late Night Poker if all the players were newbs?
When you think about it, there are an awful lot of 'nerdy' programmes on TV. Gardening shows, history shows, DIY shows, car shows, sports shows etc. The content of these shows is pitched at fans, but is accessible to the casual viewer.
In the same way, I'm not going to tune into a games show to watch a bunch of ten year olds mess about. Why the fuck would I listen to some dumb kid review a game? Am I supposed to care what he thinks?
We need a games show modelled after TopGear imho. A few presenters who really know their stuff, who are pitching at a level far above the casual audience. It'll also need some really top players (a la that Stig guy) to show people how its done. I want to see l33t sk1llz. And lastly, some entertaining guests, possibly interesting celebs (a la JayK and Jodie Kidd on TopGear).
So go on Shinji, I'd watch you review stuff on tele I would. And get Bettinson on to tell people they suck and talk about his latest gadget. We could pitch our own show to the beeb and be famously leet. EED becomes synonymous with gaming. Beer, bubbly, freebies and fit birds fall from the skies into our laps. Yes.

ED.COM gets RSS [lurks]

Well, I've put this RSS stuff into Rebot and hence Apparently it means we can syndicate the titles of our blogs out there. Apparently there is a point to this, or so Slim tells me.

The Secrets Out [spiro]

I've just bought Battlefield 1942 Secret Weapons expansion pack, Cost £20 same as RTR but unlike RTR you get a little more for your money.
Included in the pack are:
16 new Vehicles, Including a personal rocket pack (haven't used it yet). 8 maps including night time missions. 7 Weapons, you get throwing knives now.
And adding the British Commando and German Elite units.
I haven't played much so far, but the maps I've played have been balanced and a lot of fun. The jet aircraft are sensitive to fly and the Wasserfall guided rocket is almost impossible to stear on your first go. I'm looking forward to playing more. Anyone else got it and have any comments ?
Couple screen shots for you.
Fighter Escort.
Moon at Night.
Defending a Bridge.

Saturday 6 September 2003

Wench upgrade = Asus Pundit [lurks]

If anyone recalls the various hardware incarnations of Wench, you may recall that pretty much every upgrade has ended up in a hardware failure apart from the second generation ancient incarnation consisting of a Celeron 500 with a passive heatsink in a Slotket on an Intel BX mobo. This has been up 24/7 for years now. All is good and I'd leave it like that but unfortunately some of the things running on Wench are fairly processor intensive and they're snailing - namely Netjuke.
So an upgrade is in order. I have learnt the number one rule of servers now. That rule is that Thou Shalt Be Intel. This is going to cost me a lot of performance/price ratio at the lower end of the performance bracket. I wish I could slap in a Duron 1.3GHz but I've been there, done that and scrapped the remains of the motherboard out of the case. Never again.
As a typical lounge server, there are some priorities which need to be looked at, here they are in order;
  • Noise - server must be as quiet as possible.
  • Connections - USB and stuff on the front panel.
  • Looks - Beige boxes? We've moved on.
  • TV out - watch some movies innit!
  • Integrated stuff - audio and LAN at least.

Fairly quickly I realised it was a toss-up between one of the cube-designs and some sort of build-it-yourself box. The cubes carry a price premium and they struggle on the noise front since they have to force air through confined spaces. However they certainly do meet the looks criteria, front panels are bristling with all the connections you need and they always have built-in LAN, audio and often video etc.
I investigated a number of mini systems and it looks to be that Shuttle is still the king of the cubes. I had set on the Shuttle SB51G as the best choice. Intel i845 based box, fan controller on the heat pipe job. Looks superb. There were a couple of good reviews. Actually there's better reviews than that but I can't find them at the minute.
The other option is building a box myself, I had a look around for cases and had some difficulty sourcing one good for the job. An Antec Sonata would do the job possibly. That'd allow me to slap in a decent Intel mobo etc. Plenty of space in it. Good plan that. Bit of a faff to buy quiet cooling but, well, this is the approach I took with Wench and it served me well. Despite the Antec case costing a good whack of wonga, this case plus a full spec mobo would cost less than a cube.
It was a hung jury, then I discovered a compromise. The Asus Pundit. Weird name I know but basically it's an upright mini-itx mobo based case. The base can be removed from the side to sit down as a mini desktop. It has nice panels to cover the drives and the ports. On the ports from, the front is absolutely bristling. Audio, USB 2.0, Firewire 4 and 6 pin (!), S/PDIF in and out (!), memory card reader (!) and even a fucking 32-bit cardbus slot!
The other thing that drew me to the pundit is that it has a reasonably large PSU and fan and Asus have particularly targeted noise. The back has all your usual connectors, a DVI connector and a couple of PCI slots. The only negative thing is the lack of an AGP port. Oh and the chipset is SIS based, I was hoping to have an AGP port so I could slap in a graphics card for TV-out if the built in was shit (got burnt on the Shuttle like that in the past). The SIS, well, just an issue of trust. However the box has ATA133 which means that the external Maxtor 160GB drive can go in the box.
CPU cooling on the Pundit is simple but very effective. It has a bunch of holes in the case, an 80mm fan with a plastic funnel blowing onto a heatsink on the CPU. There's a temp fan controller to set the speed. So it draws air specifically from outside the case with a large fan. That's ideal. The reviews I found are comprehensive and quite clear about noise. There's bugger all.
You always make compromises here and I've found little mention of the quality of tv-out of these SIS chipsets. If it's stinky, I'm in the same boat as I am now, using the Xbox media player so it's not a disaster. I managed to get a P4 2.4GHz off Ebay for £80 which was a bit of a bargain and a good step up from the Celeron 2.0GHz I was going to buy new. 512MB stick of PC2700 from Crucial, bosh. Wench will be about as fast as this desktop, I expect. Better at encoding and ripping, which is excellent since I plan to shift that sort of job to Wench.
I will probably also put my DVD-R drive in the new machine too, since Wench can happily sit there burning stuff while I'm mucking about on my desktop. That'll take care of DVD and CD-ripping requirements too.
So far this is all theory, my next post on the subject will be after the components have arrived and I have upgraded Wench. Again, the standard XP 'repair install' will be utilised then a lengthy patch up to current security patches etc. We'll see how it goes.

Thursday 4 September 2003

Knock-on effects of sorting power [lurks]

By and large the power is pretty reliable in London although recently I had 3 surges/brownouts lasting a second or two in the space of 24 hours. Each time this required rebooting of the server and manually running some service stuff. That's a bit annoying so I ordered a nifty and inexpensive APC UPS called the Back-UPS ES. This is basically just a chunky powerboard with a small 350VA UPS built-in. Three UPS sockets, 2 surge protected sockets. It was about £60 or so from Dabs. It'll run my server, ADSL Router and external drive for about 15 minutes. Which is plenty enough for the few seconds the power runs out.
Thing is, it kind of forced me to climb into the huge birds nest of wires in the back of my HiFi set up and sort things out. I discovered that the power leads for some devices were very long and threaded underneath pretty much everything else. There were redundant leads, an entire redundant power board (out of 4!) and a few redundant power supplies. I wrapped up all the wires for the things going on the UPS and sat them rammed next to it.
I half expected this to be the case but as you may recall from my blog about the Pundit upgrade to Wench, video quality was very poor. To some degree this was the Pundit's fault but it also looked like a bad case of interference. At a 1Hz frequency or so, the picture would shift a few pixels horizontally and back. That's a typical symptom of having two systems on the same frequency interfering with eachother without being precisely coupled. IE the 50Hz television outputs etc. I could digress into some nasty technical speak but we'll leave it at that.
Meanwhile, I had placed a Geforce 4MX 440 in the Pundit and the picture was improved dramatically (better insulation from the Pundit's power supply than the on-board video) and it is a just plain better TV-output card (more later). But after I fixed up all the power and fired it up, UPS went into test mode and ran Wench, router and hard drive off batteries for a minute or so before switching back to mains... then I tried the TV-out.
Oh my lord. It's good. I mean completely and utterly interference free. It looks astounding. Better quality than the Xbox TV out even. Running 1024x768 out to the TV means there's some scaling going on (because PAL doesn't do 768 lines, especially not in the visible frame) didn't make much difference. I could read IRC on my TV. I turned the flicker fixer down (so it flickers more, but more resolution) and it got even better. Chucked some vids through it, absolutely stonking.
What fixed it? Electrically the server and the TV set both operate on filtered power now but in particular, the server is completely electrically isolated because it's on the UPS side having power generated for it from a DC to AC switching transformer. Exactly what fixed the problem, difficult to say because I fixed up a fair few things in one swoop. However, it's fixed and it's absolutely astounding.
Now I've actually got the lounge set up I always wanted. Wench is as quiet as hell and as powerful as hell. It looks dead sexy and thanks to the excellent Nvidia drivers which just promote 'overlay' mode to the television - any media player type application results in full screen video on the television and I can minimize the player on the actual desktop. That means full screen XViD playing on the TV while I'm typing away on IRC on the little TFT to one side. Bliss!
All this technology, all this mucking about. Takes ages to get the perfect result but when you get it, it is very sweet indeed. Of course, then I play some VHS capture MPEGs of Blake's 7 which are so low res and blurry it would have looked the same as before anyway :)
(Actually I watched Treasure Planet with the missus and it was brilliant, looked stunning. Oh a slight audio buzz I had from PC audio has also vanished)

Wednesday 3 September 2003

Houlantastic [am]

Well frankly the stakes have been considerably upped and they're so up we may never manage to drag em back down again. To what do I refer? Well this weekend, though the locals may not have wished it to be so, several member of The 'Death were in attendance at an annual lan-party what is held by Houmous at his gaff on the south coast. Now other clans may fuck around with managing to hook up with people who live in a town on the south coast and feel that has given them a sufficient quota of beached southness but EED does not. We demand beach front property and this is exactly what was provided for at your actual Houlan.
Built on stilts (presumably to avoid attacks of pigmy monster floor-eating spiders - very sensible), Hou's Gaff, is excellently appointed for maximum 0wning and compulsory pooning which as regular readers of these blogs will know we manage to do, mostly to ourselves, by the ingestion of far too much alcohol. And so it was again. Lurks, Am, Muz and Brit (turning up late on the train and managing to wait outside for an hour - niiiice) proceeded to test out, once more, the comfy proposition that if you've had too much to drink, you'll be too stupid to give up now.
If ever Homo Sapiens Mortis Electricus was to feel that there really might be a deeper mystery to life - perhaps tribes of one people separated in the depths of time, it would be hard to feel this had been more aptly illustrated by finding Hou's boat in his drive. From this point on, which is to say as soon as we got there, it was clear there was never any danger of the Houlan sucking.
We had two rooms kitted out with tressle tables and a smattering of new mates from Clan Spam already in attendance. Spam have very posh cases whereas we do not but they were very nice people nonetheless in particular in being polite enough not to point out our general grubbiness. For this I can only apologise. While I'm at it, I'd like to apologise for everything else. That should just about cover it.
Our two rooms were governed by Lord Houmous in his red chair of commandingness which gave him a aura not unlike an italian male model crossed with Davros. Next door was a living room with raised up wooden flooring so clearly from the seventies that I spotted Peter Sellars and Brit Ekkland bunked up behind the sofas and which had an array of beplasma-d toyz so frightening in their leetness that you'll probably find them listed in an appendix of the Geneva Convention.
So we got down to a little gaming and played large amounts of RS and some Interstate for '42 which provoked yells of 'I've got spam on my bonnet!' and generally started proceedings in the direction they were s'posed to continue which is to say downward. The whole proceedings were occasionally looked in on by Hou's partner Di who it must be said, was an exceedingly good host within the living room DMZ in that, let's face it, how many non-gamers in a lovely home do *you* know would listen to Lurks and Am explaining the attraction of gaming at 3am after 15 hours on the sauce? *Exactly*. (Memo to self - look up Hougaff on multi-map and check this wasn't just some chimera introduced through aggressive use of military hallucinogens).
On day one we managed to get locked out as we proceeded to have a chinese which was easily resolved by Hou borrowing a girl who didn't look more than about 13 from the restaurant and getting her to stick her arm through the letter box. The London contingent shook their heads sadly and whiled away the time wondering just how many members of SO19 would descend on their local restaurant if a bloke said 'I need to borrow you for a minute and come to my house' to a pre-pubescent waitress. Thereafter we ate more duck than you'd find at a duck convention and talked rubbish. Very pleasant. Returning to gaff, we continued 0wnerage until (well at least personally) the effects of having to get up at 5am and the two and a half gin and tonics I had consumed made me mumble 'Oi Sellars / Ekkland - out my way' and collapse on a sofa. I remember going to bed thinking 'Do try not to get so excited when you haven't had a drink for a couple of weeks' and thinking about the swearin! g ratio, which as any fool knows, goes completely off the scale in clan events almost entirely due to something known as The Lurker Halo Effect and fell asleep counting waitresses (also about two and a half).
The next day, Saturday, commenced with a spot of breakfast outdoors in some cross between a cafe and a cider farm which I presumed to mean that the eggs are started by throwing a dead cat in the pan. But it all tasted scrummy despite the presence of a couple of clearly deeply dodgy sorts. Thereafter we pottered around the local village and bought up the entire supply of local tesco champagne at £15 a pop which won a blind champagne tasting beating all the famous stuff out of the water and was pretty sweet. By which I mean London sweet not sweet as in Hemasetas. Oh shut up. Thereafter (or was it before - linearity was not our friend this weekend), we shot some semi-automatic weapons, watched in amazement as Clan Spam went for a swim (pretty nice but for someone else's stunt-toes thank you) and played a few more games.! [EED]Jay, [EED]Pod and finally, when he could be arsed to get off his lazy butt, [EED]Spiro turned up as did a number of other Spams. We were quorate, the venue was rocking and the champagne was cold.
Sometimes there are weekends where you think to yourself 'that was great' and blogging it out in detail almost seems to miss the overall-ness of it. And so maybe with this one. For me, memories from that point, in the rather pleasant garden, the house or on the beach, are maybe done best by dipping in and out of what-happened-next;
-- Walking down the beach to the pub before our Indian on Saturday night
-- Houmous treating The Lurker Halo Effect
-- Houmous saying 'You're alright aren't you - I wasn't too sure last night' which only goes to show, on careful reflection, you can still be wrong....
-- The Indian restaurant kitted out for fifteen hungry gaming maniacs {{Oh can I just interlude at this point that members of Electric Death should note that Spooning is now officially banned by order of his Phatness and is no longer allowed due to three of us now carrying scars. I'd like to point out that just because I started it in Amsterdam, like all non-proliferation treaties, this kind of thing would have been much better sorted out if I could have just handed it out and not had to receive any thank you Spiro you bastard}}
-- Back at Hou's drinking, playing games (if you could be arsed which I just couldn't after getting back due to extreme relaxnessed) and staying up til a ridiculously early hour.
-- Lurks deciding he wasn't toasted enough at god knows what hour of the morning and proceeding to toast himself some more thereafter...
A great weekend and massive thanks to Hou for the planning and effort. There's two pictures that sum it up for me, and in a way, like Shroedinger's cat (if it's not indeed using it at the local caff), they're both simultaneously true states of being at a Houlan;
It's a bit like this and then it's also a bit like this....
In summary, if you weren't there, you missed out. Are we going back for 2004? Only if he lets us!

Holiday Readage [spiny]

Read these three on me hols & can thooughly recommend them:
D-Day : Most of you have probably read this. Exhaustive account of the intelligence, logistics & bravery of 6 Jun 1944. Stephen Ambrose, author of Band Of Brothers.
Pegasus Bridge : Focuses on the british airborne raid to capture a key pair of bridges that opened the fighting on D-Day. More detailed & personal account than D-Day, given it's specific focus. Much shorter too. I guess a good intro if you're not sure you'll like Ambrose's books.
First Light : Absolutely stunning memoirs from Geoffrey Wellum, a WWII spitfire pilot. Exceptionally well written account of combat, bravery, humor, personal loss & pride in the service of his country. An humbling, riveting, entertaining read. You will not be dissapointed if you read this book.

Monday 1 September 2003

IT jobs goin down 't pit [thesun]

Does anyone remember the Superman movie where Richard Prior learned to be a programmer because there was good money in that game? Does anyone believe that now? IT jobs have been under pressure the last few years from cash strapped companies cutting down on expensive stuff like new developments and gear, that's fair enough too, if they can't afford it, tough. But there's also a trend for outsourcing IT to places like China and India where the locals have a low cost of living so can work an awful lot cheaper than us here.
Now that naffs me off, but I also understand the realities. If somethings available that offers a comparable service at a much lower cost, what can you do? But is it a comparable service? Is a room full of Indian programmers as effective or even more effective than a department nearby? I've no idea in truth, but I've heard a few horror stories. And what happens when supply in those countries outstrips demand, as it surely must if all the IT for the developed countries slides down there over the next few years. Can the Idian and Chineese universities pump out enough graduates to cope? Or are our schools supposed to educate them too?
I think what's required is re-education in the way people spend. People need to take some responsibility and realise they demand lower prices, they need to know that demanding cheaper phone calls will force BT to send its call centre to india. That demanding cheaper chicken nuggets will force supermarkets to buy the shittest frozen chicken from Mexico. That when they buy a motor insurance policy from a direct global company instead of the broker on the high street they're taking jobs away from their families.
On the back of this, should our leaders actually be encouraging foreign labour into our strapped job markets? The Reg reports that the EU are actively seeking to make it easier for foriegn nationals to seek employment in our countries. How can that be acting in the interests of the local populations?