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Saturday 29 May 2004

Slimbo Speilburg [slim]

My old Sony Handicam was becoming an embarrasment, even my kids were ashamed when I'd lug it out and stand near the other preening dads with their cool little DV players. So I invested in a cool little dv player of my own, the Canon mv700i, as I'm a bit fond of canons still cameras.
It's a lovely little thing, nice chromey buttons, good build quality, absolutely tiny too. The tapes I got with it gave you an hour of vid which is plenty, especially as they're only a couple of quid and the whole thing fits into a camera bag instead of a big video camera bag. Image quality is superb, and of course you dont get any degradation when you transfer it as with analog, becuase it's digital and leet. I bought the 'i' model for an extra few quid because it accepts analog in, so I can transfer my old vhs stuff to DV tape for storage without degradation. I figure using a little DV cam to do the capture is a lot less faffy than rigging up my video player to my pc.
There are a couple of downers, both relating to the size of the thing. First its so small that it's quite hard to hold steady. It does have image correcting gubbins but it's still hard to get a shot as steady as with my older bigger cam. Also, as its so tiny, the mic is obviosly too close to the drive motor, so you get a bit of that noise on the soundtrack of your vid. Bit of a shitter really, you'd have thought they could have designed around that or something?
Now with my old analog camera, you recorded shit with the camera, you plugged it into your domestic video recorder and recorded it off to vhs. A dv cam is a whole different kettle of shit. This plugs into my firewire port on my pc, and appears as a device on my 'my computer' list. Double clicking on the icon on the camera allows me to watch the vids off the tape on the pc. I think the camera was supposed to ship with some movie editing software, but mine didn't, bleh, so I started off using the Microsoft Movie Maker thing. This isn't bad on first view, it does lots of stuff like transitions and fx (if you download the free update v2 off their webby), in fact I spent a lot of time building up nice movie with lots of leet features, until I realised it was shit. Why's it shit? Well it appears to encode everythign into windows media format, which is useless for making DVD's out of. So I got me a copy of Pinnacle Stuido, and had loads of fun makign dvd menus, sound tracks, ! titles, transitions. It's a world apart from the free stuff, and well worth investing in if you've got a dv cam. Problem here is it offers so much over the old analog transfer to tape and watch method that you spend much more time on it. Of course the end result is far better so worth it in the end. The rendering of the final dvd for writing also takes a long time, a couple of hours on my p4 3.2 ghz machine with 1ghz of ram.
Oh, another iffy bit. An hours Digital Video in raw format is about 12gb, whereas a dvd is about a quarter of that, so the video must be encoded to fit. So what do you do with the source? Delete it? Keep the tape, what? I dunno!
Oh, final a bonus is that you can get software to allow you to back up 12 gb of data to the things, which is kinda comparable with DVD-R costs, but of course the tapes are re-writable.
I'm happy overall, some catchas, and some dissapointments but it is a lot of fun. The end result is an amazing dvd of my family events which I can copy, show off and pass around without worry about it being degraded or worn out or being chewed by someones shitty old furgason or whatever.

Friday 28 May 2004

The irony of the BNP [beej]

So, right wing politics then.
I was just talking with the continuity announcer for BBC TWO and tonight she has to introduce the BNP's Party Election Broadcast (its on BBC ONE later as well). People are quite touchy about the whole BNP thing, especially your average pinko media-ite, but she's very matter of fact about how the UK is a democracy and if one political party can have five minutes of air time then they all have to.
Now what is so wonderfully ironic is that she's Asian and she was wondering whether to put on a bit of an Indian accent just for laughs. The BNP wouldn't see the funny side would they :)
It's a bit like that Louis Theroux ep where he meets the white supremacists and they tell him he's Jewish (ummmm... no he's not you KKK retards!)

Wimmin. Wimmin and Work. Sigh. [brit]

I'm sure you've all heard of the glass ceiling that wimmin face; if shaven-headed lesbotarts are to be believed, every woman struggles to earn more than 40p a week because of the evil man things that control teh worlds!
Anyway since the glass ceiling is now all but defunct, a throw back to the 80s much like most of Beej's record collection *g* they've decided that this time it's the glass cliff they face! oh yes dear reader, a cliff no less!
So, what can we do eh? if wimmin don't get promoted to CEO within 5 years, it's because they are being sexualised against. NOW if they DO get promoted, it's only in those roles that are so fraught with danger and risk that they can't get down the shops at lunch or pop in for a 'doo and then they end up breaking down with teh stress and teh wimmins problems.
It's a win win for the Sinead O'Connor-a-likes that fill out all those Take-A-Break style one-third page 'shock exposes' on people like Harriet, who after working 14 hours a day for 3 years was only given a bonus of a million quids!
14 hours? is that all I hear you cry! damned right that's *all* - you don't hear those Nike footwear makers in Bangalore complaining and they do 200 hours a day!
Holy smoke!

Digital video - options, options, options. [brit]

I can't be the only one with this problem.
We have a gazillion hours of footage stored on tape; covering everything from Umatic to digital media in various formats (my personal favourite being the various Ogg Vorbis audio streams. In short, if it's a medium used for storing audio/video, we have it, and we have truck loads of it.
A few years ago, some bright spark bought a Mediahawk 2000 series. You probably won't have heard of this unless you work in the broadcast arena, but it's the sort of thing Sky and NTL use to deliver video on demand - or in their case, pay per view movies. The system runs PowerMax OS which is basically a Flash based OS and is a complete and utter nightmare.
So, I'm in a quandry. The assets we have, both in terms of hardware and media cover off pretty much the whole spectrum - and I need to sort a single entry and delivery point; and more importantly format, for the whole lot; on the MediaHawk itself there are some 6,000 ads (covering only the work we do here) at both MPEG1 and MPEG2, with various 0.5-1TB arrays holding the rest on other systems.
Faced with this scenario, what is your thinking in terms of choosing a single format for both video and audio? The target audience for this is user's desktops on the internal network here (to start with) - given that it's a Gbps backplane and 100Mbps to the desk, the actual file size of each asset isn't really an issue.
As far as I can see, there are four options:
1. Microsoft Media (HTTP/MMS) 2. Apple Quicktime (HTTP/RTSP) 3. Real Media 10 (HTTP/RMS) 4. MPEG 4 via either DivX or Xvid
Each has it's positives, each has it's negatives; either way, I'm happy to hear what anyone has to say on this subject as it's taken me weeks to research each and set up test beds, and I'm still not convinced any of them deliver 100% of our requirements (quality of stream, web compatibility, embedded player, downward compatibility with previous versions of player, ease of encoding etc).
As far as audio, I know that it's MP3 at 192kb/s and that's that; as we have practically every radio ad ever broadcast in storage already.

Thursday 27 May 2004

Phone companies [muz]

In case you couldn't tell by the topic, this blog is about the scum of the earth, otherwise known as mobile phone companies. Now, some of you may be aware of my ongoing battle with T-Mobile - it essentially boils down to their being inept, and then covering their ineptitude by sending customers round infinite voicemail loops. Well, finally, things got to be too much, and I called them and requested a PAC number. The conversation went something like this:
Customer service rep: 'I'll just put you through to our customer management team.' Me (wanting to avoid a 30 minute conversation about 'Why are you leaving' and 'What we can offer you if you stay'): 'Er no, thanks. I'd just like a PAC number sent out, thank you.' Customer service rep (in an irritated fashion): 'Yes, sir, customer management will have to deal with that.' What the fuck?! I'm leaving because of shit service, and they think that being rude to me will somehow induce me to stay? Genius. And the thought that a customer service rep can't click on the icon that says 'Send PAC number' is somewhat ludicrous, too.
After a 20 minute conversation with a customer manager, who was actually quite polite, I managed to convince her that there was no chance I was going to stay with T-Mobile. She then pointed out that if I waited until the 18th June, to request a PAC number, I wouldn't have to pay the early termination fee of some 15 notes. Now, faced with this dilemma of principle versus pecuniary saving, I took the only correct choice. I said I'd call back on the 18th. Damn these underhand, conniving people.
Anyway, I went ahead and ordered a Nokia 6820 from O2. Handset was free on a £30/month contract, which includes 200 cross network minutes, 500 free texts, 500 WAP minutes, and 0.5MB of GPRS traffic. (Depending on how much I use, I may add one of their GPRS bolt-ons to my tariff.) All very reasonable. Call up O2, as instructed, to discuss eventual porting of my existing number, and am told by the customer service monkey that the 6820 is out of stock, and it wouldn't be delivered for tree to four weeks, as opposed to the 'next three days' displayed on my invoice. FFS! I bleet at them a bit and then hang up, not overly impressed. What should turn up the next morning but a suspicious package with 'O2' on the side. Madness. In summary, don't trust what mobile phone customer service reps tell you. Ever.
Expect a blog on the phone in a couple of weeks, after I've been using it a while.

City of Heros and why its not just another MMORPG... [houmous]

Some of you will have noticed I haven’t been in channel much recently and I’ve now often got a CoH prefix on my nick. SPAM have always been a clan that has experimented with MMORPGS ever since EQ hit the streets when, a bit like heroin, it single-handly destroyed what had been our thriving, active and very social Mirc channel. Overnight it became a ghost town as everyone became obsessed with levelling and anyone who didn’t soon got bored with hanging around with no one to talk to.
Ever since then we have tried nearly all the MMORPGs that come along with varied results – Asherons Call (week) Dark Age of Camelot (about 3 months) Anarchy online (month), Star Wars Galaxy (week), FFXI (month). However nothing has ever seized the clan like City of Heroes which we have all been playing non-stop since its release.
So why is it so good? Like all MMORPGs it’s based on improving skills and powers as you level up but what we are looking at here is a game that’s really thought about the bits you don’t like about MMORPGs and come up with solutions. A perfect example is the Side Kick system. How many times have you been unable to find a group close enough to your level or been pissed off when you can’t play with your mates because they are 5 levels higher than you? In CoH you can join a group of any level by being side kicked by one of the higher level members. This boosts you to their level but still giving you the same exp that would expect at your actual level – an amazingly social tweak.
The powers and skills are all genuinely exciting and the visuals are first class. Running around a kind of Gotham City killing hoodlums is a refreshing change to goblins and rats. The missions are not mindless grinding but require strategy and thought to complete because of the toughness of the mobs. The game also runs amazingly smoothly and is virtually bug free.
This brings me to another example of an adaptation which makes this game so good. When you die you lose exp as you would expect but instead of having to then simply make it up again (groan) so you get to where you were before after, say, a couple of hours, CoH has a debt system.
What happens is that with each bit of new exp you get half goes to repaying the debt and half goes on adding to your exp level that you had before you died – a far more motivating arrangement!
Anyway I could rant on about how good this game is for ever but have a look at it on their web site here. You can download it here and buy an activation key on their site, if you cant be arsed to order the box.

Wednesday 26 May 2004

Napster - not bad but... [lurks]

Oh look, a week away and no one does any blogs. Surprised? No, I expect not.
Anyhow, Napster have launched in UK today. I have a professional interest in the service so I leeched it down and checked it out. I think they could be a lot clearer about how things work so I'll summarise here.
If you sign up to Napster and use Napster Light, it'll cost you a whopping 1.09 sterling (Beej still hasn't fixed pound symbol) per track or 9.95 an album. You can stream the first 30 seconds of anything in their collection. This as opposed to forking over a tenner a month in which case tracks can be as 'low' (hoho) as 88p and no mention of how much an album is. You can stream anything you like, listen to radio stations and get access to the forums and stuff. Here's a handy comparison page.
It's a step in the right direction. It's sort of file-based like the Napster of old but the top panel ushers you into finding artists, their entire biography and pulled in content from AMG (the guys) and so on. Also plenty of recommendations on another tab. There's certainly no shortage of music on it so far and big stuff that you'd expect to find too. All's well and good.
On the other hand, you're looking at paying the same - if not more - than buying a CD from Amazon. Only you don't get a CD, you get some lame DRMed WMA files which wont play on ass loads of MP3 players including the iRiver stuff. Where's the value add here exactly?
I think I'll stick to Amazon which has highly accurate recommendations and I get proper CD of uncompressed audio which I can then compress to my favorite format and play it anywhere I goddamn like. I get printed artwork and a CD backup incase my computer(s) go tits up too. If it's stinky, I can always flog the CDs on eBay too.
I think we really need stuff like Napster and iTunes music store. I like the whole streaming idea before buying but I fail to see why I should put up with DRM rubbish and higher prices than CDs. What's more, they want me to give them a tenner retainer and for me to pay for the bandwidth/net connection to download this stuff and for me to pay for the hardware (HD, CD, flash etc) to store it on and charge more than a CD.
Where's the value? There isn't any. I might use the Light version to listen for some good stuff and then go buy the CDs off Amazon and rip to MP3 like I've been doing for years already.

Friday 21 May 2004

Ebuyer Beware [slim]

I've previously sang the praises of computer etailer ebuyer. The prices are good, the site is very good, delivery is quick and I've had no reason to think that they weren't worthy of my praise...
Until the dreaded returns procedure is experienced. Now this isn't something unique to ebuyer, I've been through returns with both scan and dabs before, and they were far from ideal. Ebuyer however was utterly useless. It started off well with them providing a highly automated system for generating rma numbers, a printable lable to stick to your box, clear instructions, all sorted. Box got there a bit late, but thats the wanking posties fault not ebuyers. They tested it within hours of recieving it, pronunced the bit dead and approved a replacement immediately, so far so good.
Then nothing happened. My bit sat in my orders screen on 'awaiting picking' for three days. I 'enoted' them, ebuyers preferred contact choice, no response. So I phoned em, bloke says ahh... yeah... ok I've sorted that out, you'll get it tomorrow, soz. Cool, except tomorrow comes, no change in status. Phone again, same story, it'll go out tomorrow sir, you'll have it thursday. Thursday arrived and it wasn't even dispatched let alone arriving, a week had passed since the bit was approved, still no sign of the fuckers sending it. Another phonecall gets a bit more info, it seems that ebuyer dont actually stock things themselves, they use 3rd parties, who ship the bits to ebuyer once you buy em, and ebuyer send them on. Weird! Anyhow the supplier in question was being a div, and still wouldn't send the bit. Give me a refund I say, ok say they, sorted, start again with dabs, who dispatched the fucker a few seconds before I'd completed ordering it...
You'd think I'd be happy? Well, no. I'm a couple of weeks without a pc, which is a pretty serious situation for me, and I've lost out on the cost of the postage of the item back to ebuyer and the postage and 'handling fee' for buying it again from dabs, so in the end I'm only a few fucking quid up. Add it to the postage I paid when I bought the thing in the first place, and we're well above the price I'd have paid if I'd have bought it on the high street.
This internet shopping thing, it'll never catch on!

Sony DCS-T1 - 5MP in your palm [lurks]

When I was over the States, one of the journos handed me a digicam to take a look at. A Sony DSC-T1. Here's some reviews. It's somewhat similar to my old Casio EX-Z3 - a superslim compact digital camera with a large LCD on the back. The only thing is, the T1 is 5 megapixels and has a 2.5 inch screen on the back, that's bloody huge. For some reason I don't quite fathom, Sony have included 3X optical and gotten away without the elaborate telescoping lens which the Casio needed. The lens is all internal.
I was impressed and when I found the thing for sub $400 in a CompUSA, I thought I'd grab one since I can hardly lose with the exchange rate. God Bless eBay! I virtually filled the card on my Casio with shots from E3 and San Francisco etc, only to have it nicked from my baggage on the way back to the UK. Joy. So anyway, today I took the T1 out for a spin in Hertford town at lunch. It's overcast but enough light to get the job done. Here's the gallery. These were all taken with regular auto mode rather than using the specific scene settings. Some of them are flybys with the camera moving. The keyboard shot is obviously a macro test.
Instant thoughts: The resolution is amazing and the thing really seems to be much more intelligent and faster with regards to focus and exposure than the Casio. The large display is fantastic, no two ways about it. The settings system is pretty straight forward too. Macro mode is almost as good as the Casio and every other aspect of image quality is superior with the exception of in-doors noise. I guess that tiny lens on the Sony isn't very fast.
It only comes with a 32MB Memory Stick Duo. Memory Stick, groan. Why do Sony do this? Basically the Duo is a card format similar to SD and it goes in an adaptor. Just as well my Sony TR1MP notebook has a Memory Stick port or it would really annoy me. I leave the adaptor in the notebook. Also, the T1 records 640x480 proper MPEG videos. It'll do it on the regular 'Duo' card in normal mode, which seems to be highly compressed and 16fps. 32MB is tiny for five MP shots so I ordered a 256MB Duo Pro. The Pro means it's faster and equipped with one of these, the T1 will record 640x480 at 30fps at a bitrate which is in excess of a megabyte a second. Gosh and it's really very good too. I'll up a clip later when I find something decent to video.
It comes with a cradle and there's no way to USB it without the cradle, which is annoying, so I'm forever having to take the card out of it (which is a bit of a faff and the battery doesn't clip in so it falls out when you open the hatch) to get shots out when I'm not at home. Yet all said and done, it basically does what my Casio did but better and faster. An amazing amount of spec and quite a workable video recorder all contained in an ultra portable camera. It's enough to make me put up with the Memory Stick rubbish. Big thumbs up.
There's also a Neat Image profile available on their web site. Very handy to clean up the noise.

Wednesday 19 May 2004

Huzzah [am]

Und zo, the muppetry that passes for BT's normal record updating process has ground round slower than an arthritic hamster in a very rusty exercise wheel but has finally updated to show that I do indeed have the telephone number they provided me with and which has been live since last friday. Sigh. Why does this matter? Well because I couldn't order broadband before ffs!
Anyway, I've succumbed to the small hops, the low pings, the joy of dsl (no cable in my area) and in summary I've gone 1meg Nildy. 7-10 days it says. Come on!

Tuesday 18 May 2004

Scales should be banned [shedir]

Wifey's on a diet. No biggie there, it's summer. However she left the scales a the sink.

So I stood on em while shaving. FFS, Im 14 stone!

Last time I did that about 3 years ago I was 13st 3. I just assumed the tumble drier was shrinking all my clothes. Ah well.

Time to buy a bigger size.

Reactive glasses [lurks]

I lost my glasses and so headed down to specsavers to get a replacement, exactly the same as the last set I had. Apparently I can have a free set if I choose some cheaper frames or pay the difference. No thanks, says I, one is enough. But hey ho, you can get these reactive lenses for 'free' instead. Opticians are funny with their eternal specials - in essence the real cost of everything is half the ticket price so they make it seem like they're cutting you a deal.
Anyhow, I got these reactive glasses. Purely because, I figured, in the summer when I pop out for a bit of lunch down the town centre, it'd be nifty if I could leave my work glasses on and they'd darken up a bit to protect my poor geeky sun-shunning vampire eyes. So they any good then?
Well yes, they're quite good actually. They really don't dim out monster hard like real sunnies but fairly rapidly they darken up a bit, even in sunset type levels of sunshine. I find it just about right too. The only thing they're a little lame at is kicking back into transparency. I notice this in the morning if it's been sunny and I've popped on my elite reactive glasses early.
Then again, that's not so bad. I turn up to work, everything is black and only as I'm sitting down, fumbling with my coffee does the office slowly become visible - easing me into the working day. S'all good.

Friday 14 May 2004

Lappies recovered! [am]

In an incredibly erm enthusiastic moment I delblogged this blog. Bless the power of google cache ;)
Sony are holding a press gravy trip out to Brussels this weekend for their Vaiovision tour. I can't make it since I'll be over at E3 but it seems that they've kicked off the launch of the new products in Japan already.
E series - What looks like budget notebooks based on Celeron-Ms. A series - Super sexy widescreen sleek desktop replacements based on Dothans to Celeron-Ms. All with DVD writers. U series - The tiny little tablet things seem to have turned into little media players with little add-on keyboards?! Madness. A series - Media player cum iPod type thing. Vaio Pocket... Hmm. Nice new lappies. Nothing particularly new on the sub notebook side of things so nothing which is going to make the EED TR1MP owners get jealous. The tablet thinggy looks pointless to me and the A-series iPod competitor looks too big and overly complex. Bet it doesn't do MP3 either. Screen looks odd, it has some colour bit in the middle with B&W status displays to the side? I really don't get what they're doing with that matrix of buttons, anyone else?
rabido: You missed out the S-Series
Lurks: Hmm, widescreen portables. Smaller screens. Top models are Radeon 9700 powered but widescreen is no good for games. Nice kit but not startling. You made noises about something that was gonna blow socks off, any of this lot? I'm a tad underwhealmed so far.
rabido: Personally I'm going for the S1 series with a Mobility Radeon 9700. I do a lot of number crunching at work - thus making the dothan part really useful whilst I still want portability. You can always play games in XGA with out a zoomed screen....
Am: Well it shure wurz purdy that S range and the thinness of an after eight mint but unfortunately, old bean, until it gets Onyx Black screen technowlodgee NO DICE BATMAN!!!!

Rolling, rolling, rolling, rolling [am]

Well so it comes to pass. I sit here in my den (sorry lair) of 0wnerage and like Alistair Macfuckface I sign off on my last letter from Sarf East Lahndan! For the entire time I've been in the clan - five years? - I've been writing total bollocks in your general direction from about the same square mile in Lee, SE12, three of a half of it in this gaff. Tomorrow we move, unless some cunt wants to cunt the whole thing up in a level of cunting that will bring a new definition to the possibilities of cunts' cunting, to our new gaff in Whitstable on the North Kent Coast.
Readers, it's not an unsad moment for me.
Over the last five years+ I've had more laughs than I could ever have imagined possible from randomly replying to a 'Clan needs members' posting on gameplay. Lurker recruited me because 'his email was complete garbage and I didn't understand what the fuck it was on about but it seemed entertaining' and in that respect, I hope I've managed to keep standards to a consistent low. Simultaneously, we've roadtripped, we've lanned and by god have we had a couple of drinks. In short, as I sit here in the dimmed out solitude of my lair for the last time, I'm feeling a bit nostalgic. I remember it all - from not actually knowing what the fuck lurker meant by 'drop by #eed' and managing to elicit it was IRC without him dropping me (good hair day) to the general insanity that came to pass. Coming from never having played a PC game of any seriousness to smacking Slim up in a Q3 duel in a year in a half remains a favourite :)
Anyway, by the time I read this again, I'll have a different IP and I'll deny I ever posted it. But this has been a home from home, a place of my most favourite mates, and a place where I've pissed myself laughing and got pissed until laughing I pissed myself. Or something.
I can't wait to plug in from the coast and give you more ritual abuse. The best news is I know Nildy have a 2meg potential in the new gaff so I'm going to be 1 / 1.5 megged up. In the meantime I'll hit the diseased return button on this keyboard one last time and wish you adieu from the south of the smoke. Tomorrow, turning right at the burning cars, I depart for a different life.
Ta ta

Tuesday 11 May 2004

Music Plasma [lurks]

This thing called Music Plasma is the coolest thing ever. You basically type in the name of a band you like and it draws a graphic depiction of bands somewhat similar, so it's superb at finding shit you might like. If you leave it on a favorite, a window pops up and it shows you all their albums too. Bugger me, nifty!
They do fuck it up mind. The Streets and Kings of Leon? Oh please!

Tube driver scumbag [lurks]

When my alarm goes off, Radio 4 comes on. So I lay there listening to the current day's news and they've got that tube driver bloke on. The bloke who was sacked by London Underground on account of the fact that he basically didn't show up, on average, one day every week for the last year or so. He's off sick again, right, broken leg or something. Acting on a tip off (obviously not a well liked chap), one of the managers pops down to the local sports club and spies said tube driver coming out of the squash courts. When taken to task, apparently it's all doctors orders and it's OK because he lost most of the games...
So why is this bloke on the radio? Well, you may recall that the union kicked off some strikes because of the 'unfair' sacking of said tube driving scumbag. I think I blogged about it before? The thing is, at the tribunal, this bloke got off. That is to say, he won his case for unfair dismissal. Won it. On a technicality. So boss of transport worker union turns up to the tribunal and awards the guy ... a squash racket.
Words fucking fail me. Well, they would if I wasn't such a gobby fucker. Just how does one express the necessary contempt for this lazy workshy scumbag and the union which has seen fit to penalise the entire capital city of this country on behalf of said lazy workshy scumbag? Even if this bloke did turn up to work, he'd do around 30 hours a week and takes home £35K per year. For pushing the fucking FORWARD AND STOP lever and occasion the DOORS OPEN and CLOSE buttons.
That's all this wanker has to do. That's it. So he can fucking transport all the people in the train to their infinitely more taxing jobs. He wont even do that. He skives, he pulls sickies consistently. This man was on the radio. They interviewed him. He had absolutely nothing to say for himself. No sorry for skiving, no sorry for holding the city randsom for a lazy workshy scumbag. Nothing.
And of course we have these seemingly all powerful unions protecting scumbags like this. It's a mockery, a sham. They're laughing at us. Laughing at us as we pay our drastically inflated tube fares, laughing at us as they hand a squash racket to this talentless skiving fuckstain.
This is what our great society has managed to achieve. Something which is far more concerned with the rights of someone who has no intention of pulling their way, than it is the meagre concerns of a productive and functioning society. It almost makes you wish we had a proper monarchy again. Hauled up in front of Her Majesty with a full list of crimes against the State read out, I feel sure that a Queen would have no other choice than to cry;

Monday 10 May 2004

The Ultimate Router or is it? [lurks]

Few weeks back this uninteresting box landed on my desk, another WiFi router - yawn. Actually it's an Asus, who aren't particularly well known in this area. I had an Asus ADSL router in the past and it was sort of competent but it nothing special and it got ditched for one of the many units I've used since.
As a result of that prior experience, I wasn't expecting much. The device is the Asus WL-500G. Asus' web site is in its typical broken English and they describe it as the 'The Most Smart WLAN router in the world'. Yeah right. So I plug it in and check it out. Err, the web config is nothing short of sex - this isn't the Asus crap I've seen before, thinks I. Interest piqued, I make a grab for the manual and check out some feature. Bugger me, this thing has features. Rather than rambling through them all, I'll just the impressive ones;
  • 802.11G 54mb networking
  • NAT, static routed or WAP modes
  • Proper WPA security
  • Printer server
  • USB port for mass storage and webcam
  • Two firewalls, for LAN and WAN

Some of those are pretty standard, some of them are seriously damn cool. First off, the web interface. I think some pics are in order here. Here's the front end of the web interface. Now take a look at the virtual server stuff for port forwarding. It's perfect. Scrolly list of mapped ports which supports ranges (thank Christ!), just what you need.
Before you get too bored of that, just take a look at this page which shows you the built-in FTP server. Take special note of the little box, quite a lot of the settings in the router have little pop up explanations. That is very cool for beginners. And in fact, as you can see from the nav on the left side of those shots, there's some easy set up wizards. These make getting the WL-500G and running seriously easy for people without too much of a clue. Simple defaults for cable or ADSL modems etc.
It should also be mentioned that it comes with two printed manuals, one of which is a full guide and is surprisingly in depth while the other is a quick start guide. Again, perfect. You starting to spot a pattern here?
Let's just back track again to when I said USB and that features list. This router has a USB socket on the back. If you plug a mass storage device into it, you can set up a WAN accessible FTP server on it and it's pretty comprehensive too. You could just slap in a little 64MB pen drive in the back of it, for example, and FTP some documents home.
That's cool right, but the webcam shit is *really* cool. It supports a load of different webcams and, get this, if it detects movement - the WL-500G will e-mail you with the image file attached to the mail. I don't have a supported webcam (a lot of the ones it supports are easy to get hold of and very cheap like the Trust SP@CECAM 150, but I've got some Creative NX Pro thing which isn't supported) but I'll get hold of one and try it out later.
Let's talk about the wireless. It has a detachable aerial as you'd expect. The signal to my lair from it is 'Good' as opposed to the 'Poor' I got a D-Link 614+ in exactly the same position, according to my Sony TR1MP notebook. I got WEP sorted very easily. The WPA stuff is far better than WEP of course, and I got that working on the notebook with an 802.11g card in it too. The icing on the cake is the fact that you can disable the radio entirely and it has a separate wireless firewall, oh and a schedule too.
So, you could run your own hotspot with this and just allow people mail and web access and only during the day times. Jeez, it even supports RADIUS authorisation too and given that it'll also work in a distributed Wifi environment, it sure looks to me like it'd be sweet for more commercial heavy duty use too.
All the rest of the stuff you'd want is there. Port triggering, proper firewall, UPnP support, configurable DHCP, DNS relay etc, you name it. All, as near as I can tell, work flawlessly. DHCP hands out a different IP address submask when the wireless firewall is running. I changed the IP address of it and it actually prompted me in a pop up that I ought to change the DHCP server IP ranges and sent me onto that page before setting changes and rebooting. Perfect.
Physically, it's very nice too. Here it is next to my Motorolla cable modem. It will also lay down and the vertical stand folds away into it to retain the lines. The LEDs are quite bright. There's a proper 4 port fast ethernet switch of course. If you mong a firmware upgrade then it will go into emergency mode so you can restore the firmware, which is a damn sight better than Netgear which will just eat itself and you 're left fancy doorstop.
I've had it running for a few days and it hasn't crashed but then no other router I've looked at is quite *that* bad but after a month, we should know if it's more stable than Netgear's (yes I know most of their ADSL routers are OK but their broadband routers just aren't stable). Game server scans didn't phase it, which is a good acid test. There's no DoS protection mentioned but then I can't quite see how useful that's supposed to be when you have filters for types of ICMP traffic anyway. Gaming on it is as good as a D-Link, which is as good as it gets.
Now to quantify and summarise my view of the WL-500G, first it might be worth mentioning that I have used and tested, at length, a very great many broadband and ADSL routers so I think I'm in a pretty good position to comment on this. The WL-500G does not strike me like the work of some tech monkeys belting out another commoditised router. This router strikes me as a labour of love. Whoever designed this router has seen the competition and they've spoken to people who use them and who place above normal demands on consumer routers and they have delivered the finest router I have seen, Wifi or otherwise.
Asus does actually have a UK office for support, I know because I've spoken to them. Availability of this unit is the tricky one though, a google turned up nada and none of the usual suspects seem to carry it. This is a recent Asus push into the UK though and I gave Dabs a call, filled them in on my findings and they said they would stock it so look out for it there in the next couple of days.
Want to know the RRP on this? Try £60. Yes, the RETAIL price and that is inclusive of VAT.
Now, here's where the 'or is it?' bit comes into this blog. This is actually a redo of the original blog due to my findings after putting the router into a pretty tough working environment - my house. The wireless was flawless and net connectivity all well and good, as mentioned above - but after awhile, the net connection would die. At first I thought it was the ISP, then perhaps the router had crashed but it looked like it was OK, web config worked. I even chased my tail for awhile suspecting some sort of DHCP renewal problem and I discussed that on the end of the original version of this blog.
To simplify the issue I killed that blog and resubmitted with my real findings. The WL-500G is a kit-reviewers nightmare. Under all but the most thorough of examination, it is absolutely exemplary but when tested in a manner which is only befitting an unfeasible amount of testing, it turns out to have a flaw which is not just a nuisance or a drawback but a complete showstopper.
One taxing thing for a router to end up having to work with is Bittorrent. This results in many incoming requests on a single port, requesting a port back and a pretty complex exchange of data. Each one of the requests requires mapping through NAT and each one uses a bit of memory every time. Some routers have been known to crash under these circumstances. Belkin is famous for it, some Netgears will die after a few days of this punishment.
Sadly the WL-500G is somewhere in between. It will randomly self destruct on the WAN routing side anywhere from minutes to 24 hours after a Bittorrent is fired up. There is no evidence of a flaw other than WAN routing dying. One flaw of the router is a pretty basic level of diagnostics logging and absolutely no real-time diagnostics such as throughput and so on. So I was left in the dark isolating it.
Yet on two occasions now, I have seized up the router just by firing up a Bittorrent client on a particular busy torrent with a generous tracker (which hands out lots of IPs), and it has seized within minutes and no hours. It doesn't come good of it's own accord, it needs to be rebooted manually.
So there you have it, a complete showstopper. The router is useless. So while the engineers at Asus did an amazing job of looking at all the things incorporated in a router and excelling in their implementation on the WL-500G, in the final analysis they failed to test the router adequately under demanding conditions.
Bugger. Back goes the D-Link.

Sunday 9 May 2004

Football haters unite [lurks]

I was over at the Guardian and I spied this wonderful piece by a former football writer who has since seen the light. Here's an extract:

Despite appearing to be an adult, and, scarily, being allowed to vote, this person wishes to be defined by his football team. Ich Bin Ein Arsenal Fan. He has opted out of the complexities of human life and adopted a somewhat simplistic persona: Arsenal fan. Given the merest pause in the conversation he will pavlovically and rhetorically ask: 'Three greatest Arsenal left-backs of all-time? Lee Dixon, obviously ...' His epitaph will be: 'He watched football and read the sports pages.'

I'm in my own personal living hell at work. I'm surrounded by these simplistic personas. There's nothing else on the agenda, nothing else that defines them than commenting on the bizarre and expensive politics of swapping players and other dreary football shit which isn't even about playing football.
Fucking insane, make it stop for fuck sake. There must be a way we can implant some some additional personality into these people?!

Friday 7 May 2004

Nailgun error [lurks]

This bloke here right. This is an Xray of Isidro Mejia. 39 year old builder in Hollywood. You might see something odd, you know, like the six bloody great nails embedded in his brain. Apparently this is the work of a nailgun that has both a manual and 'fully automatic' setting. It slipped and err, well, own goal type thing.
Does anyone remember that big ass nail gun in quake. It was well nasty with those ricocheting nails. See now had he played Quake, he'd have known right, that's my assertion.
But really, what gets me about this sort of nonsense is that after all that, the bloke didn't even have the bloody decency to die and thus create - presumably - an amusing and fresh entry into the Darwin Awards hall of fame. He's expected to make a full recovery, for Pete sake. You know, I've had people cheat me like that in Quake too.