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Sunday 22 November 2009

The Climate Research Unit Hack

In the last couple of days, it has emerged that The University Of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit has had one its servers hacked, and a number of emails and documents stolen. Furthermore, a number of these emails have found their way onto the internet - and are causing quite a stir.

The emails date back more than a decade, allegedly sent by a number of high up figures in the recent IPCC reports for the UN. More interestingly, and alarming, they appear to show a number of instances of, what can only be described as, unscientific practices.

There are three main examples that are currently doing the rounds in the blogosphere.

Regarding data manipulation:

I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.

Regarding peer-review:

This was the danger of always criticising the skeptics for not publishing in the “peer-reviewed literature”. Obviously, they found a solution to that–take over a journal! So what do we do about this? I think we have to stop considering “Climate Research” as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal. We would also need to consider what we tell or request of our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board… What do others think?

I will be emailing the journal to tell them I’m having nothing more to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome editor. It results from this journal having a number of editors. The responsible one for this is a well-known skeptic in NZ. He has let a few papers through by Michaels and Gray in the past. I’ve had words with Hans von Storch about this, but got nowhere. Another thing to discuss in Nice !

Regarding concealment of data requested under the Freedom Of Information Act:

Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4?

Keith will do likewise. He’s not in at the moment – minor family crisis.

Can you also email Gene and get him to do the same? I don’t have his new email address.

We will be getting Caspar to do likewise.

I have to admit, it all looks pretty damning on first inspection. I expect that a lot of people will have a lot of questions to answer. But I don't think it is the smoking gun that the climate change skeptic lobby hopes it is.

There is a danger with reading private correspondance out of context. Scientists go to great length to word peer-reviewed papers in a very specific way, so as to avoid uncertainty and ambiguity. It just makes good sense. However, they are not so circumspect in supposedly private email - and I think this is what this leak shows.

In the examples quoted above, the first (and potentially most serious) is the easiest to explain away. At first glance, the use of the word "trick" and the phrase "hide the decline" seem to scream data manipulation. But on closer inspection, by looking at the discussions around this area, it seems that he's using "trick" to refer to a method of combining the data - in this case, to present a smoothed dataset including proxy (tree ring, ice core) temperatures and modern, instrumental tempaeratures to show temperature behaviour beyond 1980. The decline referred to is probably a reference to the "divergence problem", a well discussed problem in dendrochronology relating to the unreliability of tree-ring data from the mid-20th century (DailyKos explains it better here)

The second example also seems quite disappointing. Why would a scientist organise a boycott of a peer-reviewed journal when the journal in question published a paper that didn't follow the party line? Especially since the most common complaint about anti-science factions is that they don't have any peer-reviewed work...

Again, a bit of background is needed. The email refers to the journal "Climate Research" which, in 2003, published a paper (Soon and Baliunas, 2003) that had broad anti-AGW conclusions (it was actually a literature review). Despite passing review, the paper was so widely seen as flawed that it caused three of the journal's editors to resign in protest at the breakdown in process. Similarly, 13 of the paper's references disputed the authors' interpretation of their results. Finally, a reconstruction of the paper's methods, but using valid proxy temperature measurements, found a completely opposite result.

In this situation, something has clearly gone wrong with the peer-review process. So what is a scientist supposed to do? A paper like this has the potential to knock research back by years, purely because society really, really wants it to be true. Perhaps a boycott is over-reacting, but it certainly isn't a conspiracy to silence dissenters.

Finally, the deletion of emails requested by the FOI. This one, sadly, as yet has no legitimate explanation. On the surface, it points to a conspiracy to hide data or methods. But perhaps this extract from another email points to the real story:

We should be able to conduct our scientific research without constant fear of an “audit” by Steven McIntyre; without having to weigh every word we write in every email we send to our scientific colleagues. In my opinion, Steven McIntyre is the self-appointed Joe McCarthy of climate science. I am unwilling to submit to this McCarthy-style investigation of my scientific research. As you know, I have refused to send McIntyre the “derived” model data he requests, since all of the primary model data necessary to replicate our results are freely available to him. I will continue to refuse such data requests in the future. Nor will I provide McIntyre with computer programs, email correspondence, etc. I feel very strongly about these issues. We should not be coerced by the scientific equivalent of a playground bully. I will be consulting LLNL’s Legal Affairs Office in order to determine how the DOE and LLNL should respond to any FOI requests that we receive from McIntyre.

This excerpt seems to tell of a unit under constant scrutiny by a hostile critic. I can well imagine the scenario where this might prompt scientists to close ranks. Should they delete emails and withold information? No, of course not. What they've done here is clearly wrong and answers must be provided. But it doesn't point to the tax-greedy conspiracy conclusion that pretty much everyone is coming to.

What this leak really shows us is that scientists are humans, and fallible. They gloat over the death of an opponent, they fantasise violence to an annoying critic, they use sloppy language. But it shouldn't detract from the real and relevent results that they do produce.

Sadly, it already has. A cursory glance at pretty much any mainstream coverage of this story reveals an almost overwhelming tide of opinion against AGW. Furthermore, I see it cropping up in the blogs of other anti-science factions, the thinking being "if climate scientists can lie, why can't biologists/vaccination scientists/spherical earth proponents?".

CRU need to do something to extinguish this fire, because there is a very real chance that it will spiral out of control to the point that we take our eyes off the ball and miss our change to halt climate change. And in the worst case, this will have knock on effects to other "controversial" sciences.

Friday 6 November 2009

What Google knows about me

I've had some disagreements on the interwebnet about the benefits of centralised data vs a more federal model. My view is that it's far easier to throw resources at securing important data if it's all held in one place rather than scattered around in small pockets. Many commercial organisations operate in this fashion, but when governments try to achieve it, it's met with hostility and suspicion.

Google have recently created an interesting tool which I think illustrates my point of view. The google dashboard:

Shows you everwhere you're identified on the various google systems, and what information they hold about you. It also diferenciates between what's private and what's public. It's very effective, I hadn't remember granting a twitter app 'log in on my behalf' permissions, which showed up on the dashboard, and I was able to block it's access. Very effective, and I'd love a similar ability from government, log in, click my name, and have the application list everything the government knows about me. Only really possible with some sort of central identification of who I am, such as an ID card.

Of course, the danger is someone getting access to my single google account, and therefore having access to all this stuff. My view is that I'd happily pay to make this account more secure than worry about lots of little accounts all over the shop.

What do you think, is this kind of centralisation a bad thing?

Friday 23 October 2009

360 Update preview

Got on the preview thing. Quite impressed! Everything installs like an app rather than integrated into the dash, kind of how the quiz thing worked.

Zune Video: Very impressive. 1080p instant video shouldn't work, but it does, and it looks bloody amazing. Pretty simple, loads up your last fm account and your stations are available. It shows pictures of the band and stuff as you listen. Doesn't work outside of the app though, so you can't listen to while playing a game. Scrobbles your stuff too. Nice, but the quality of seems really bad once you've got used to spotify.

Facebook: Pretty basic facebook, shows your status updates, picture feed and a newsfeed of status updates. Links your xbox account with your live account. Picture slideshow thing is nifty on the telly, but the status updates and stuff is a bit useless as it wont follow weblinks. No apps work of course. Not bad for pics, but crap for everything else.

Twitter: Pointless, as everything on twitter is links, and this doesn't do it.

There's a news feed thingy added too, only got dilbert and cnn at the mo, but could potentially be an rss news reader, which would be ace if you could add your own feeds. Perhaps you could fool it by changing in your dns?

Quite a good update, all free of course.

Sunday 11 October 2009

Google Wave Experiment

Okay, Google Wave isn't exactly "great" in its current incarnation. It definitely doesn't live up to the initial expectations. But it is nevertheless an interesting piece of technology and, immature UI notwithstanding, still holds great promise. So here's an experiment. Embedding a Wave in a blog. Not sure how this will work out... (you'll probably only be able to see this if you have a Wave account)

Stuff which is hot and stuff wot is not

In a decidedly intermittent series of posts, I thought I’d update some recent experiences of what’s rocking and what’s not rocking to the blog. You never know, some clannies might follow.... Anyway - is it hot or not? Lets find out...


Podcasts for commuting. Currently about 45 episodes into Mike Duncan’s History of Rome podcast. Absolutely brilliant tales of empire, bloodshed, wenchin and plottin. All the better once you get past the early bits and he starts loosening up. Warren Buffett is currently one of the richest men in the world at around $40bn. Dollar for dollar in ancient Rome, Crassus was worth $150-180bn equivalent, all made in his lifetime. How did he do it? He had hundreds of informants around Rome and when a house fire started, he would turn up with hundreds of slaves with buckets of water. There wasn’t any fire brigade see. And no insurance neither. So Crassus would put out your fire but on the condition that he would then buy the remainder of your home from you. At a price decided got it... Crassus. That’s a lot of sestertii, citizen.


Once a year clan meets. This must end. I am making it someone’s job to end it. It’ll probably be me appointing myself but life it too short. Watch this space.

Rocking the Socks:

Spotify. If you haven’t got it, get it. I suspect this one is ultimately doomed to failure because it’s just too fucking good and I have stopped buying music. Bands may ultimately gang up to kill it if they can. Anyway, in the meantime, if they’d actually write the API so it could stream to Squeezebox and Sonos, I might have to elevate them to godlike genius status. The mobile client is already extremely close to godlike genius. 3,333 songs offline for you here and now. Brilliant.

Old Knickers:

King of Shaves’ recent products. I want King of Shaves to succeed. Their inventor, founder and Managing Director is a genial cove who gives good interviews and frankly I’d love someone to scythe (see what I did there?) the legs from under Gillette. However, the much touted King of Shaves razor is fucking dire. It blunts faster than a cheese scalpel and is an ergonomic mess. Now lord knows I have many undistinguishing features, but a large or weirdly shaped schnozz is not one of them. Therefore when I say the lubra-strip on the top of the King of Shaves cartridges is retardedly huge, just go with me on this. It is retardedly *too big*. It means that you cannot get the cutting edges up to the top bit of your top lip under your nose. It therefore leaves you with a tiny tiny strip of uncut hair despite your best efforts. The end result is the Hollywood landing-strip of moustaches. Use the King of Shaves razor and you are left with what I can only term a porno-Hitler under your sniffer.

Second, their shaving oil. Two moderate sprays and you have something that sticks around your face and bathroom sink in perpetuity. Nations could rise and fall and this stuff would still be there caking up your bowl. Try and clean it off and you are in for a long hard battle. It’s not so much a lubricant as WD40 mixed with superglue in an aerosol. Fucking rubbish.

Bonzer!: Recently as snagged by moi I got a £450 room in St James in London for £120 for the night. It ain’t gonna work always and you have to take your courage in your hands to wait until the last minute, but when it works it’s rocking. And as we all know, it doesn’t have to be good, it just has to rock!


Google Wave. We’re gonna have to see if this is like the transistor – a good idea in need of an inspired use or whether it is simply pants. Currently it appears to be wearing its pants outside of its trousers in a remedial rather than a superhero kind of way. Demo now considered to be basically a con-job where pre-scripted collusion by the developers made it look like something that worked really well. When. It. Doesn’t.


geoDefense for the iPod / Phone / Touch. Rarely enjoyed a game so much for sheer quality. Classic tower type game but with stunning visuals given the platform. If you see someone on the train frantically wiping their finger over an iPhone like a teenager who has found his girlfriend’s nubbin for the first time, it’s probably this.


Recession. Taxes are at an all time high. Unemployment is on the rise and the winter is coming in. I shall now be voting Conservative for the first time in my adult life. Just simply too sick of the current lot. Is there no humility in them? Resign! Fall on your sword! Be a Roman! Have done with it! (Twats).

Until the next time...

Thursday 1 October 2009

Useful Android apps on my HTC Hero

THERE'S AN APP FOR THAT! Thanks macspacks, we know you're into Steve Jobs for £50/month for 2 years! What we need is my overdue blog on what's running for free on my HTC Hero! Here are some apps I'm trying.

Here's my home screen. You know it has 4 virtual desktops to the left and right though? :)

This is beebPlayer.

WifiAnalyzer, useful for seeing what's around, or troubleshooting at home.

Google Scoreboard. Tell it any sport you want updates on, like an F1 driver or women's volleyball team. It will notify last/next game, and notify on goals as well.

Shop Savvy! Still testing this. It thought this can of Stella 4 was something totally different :(

3G Watchdog to check how much data I'm using. I found on holiday in Scotland, roaming all day every day, that I still didn't get near my 1GB limit (do youtube streaming over wifi, that's my tip!), but my next test will be trying it abroad where data roaming is charged 1MB @ £6 (ulp!).

gTraffic, much better than the similar UK Traffic. Lists roadworks and accidents or plots them to a map.

The terrifying Mileage app. Which I regret using. As I am learning what I'm REALLY spending on planet-killing through the medium of precise fuel statology!

Scorchio, an unofficial hotukdeals app. Heat and rep added!

Anyone else want to share Android app experiences...?

Tuesday 29 September 2009

Winter lighting for tightwads

I need a night light for my mountain bike for the ole winter training. I've the following considerations:

- I'm a total tightwad
- I might want to use this on a few bikes
- I walk/run too so want something flexible
- I've a load of gadgets in my gaff that use rechargeables, so I've invested in some high quality batteries, I'd like to use those if poss.
- I really am a tightwad

Dedicated mtb setups look lovely, but they're blooming expensive, like £200 plus, but that could be for good reason. I've never done any winter mtb'ing in the dark, and I'm sure others have tried to shortcut this so I'd like to draw on any wisdom if there's any out there?

I think I'm being clever by coming up with the following. A torch like this or even two:

Rigged via some recycled tubes and a bit of luck to the bars, like so:

..equipped with some high qual AA's should fit the bill and be loads cheaper and more flexible than a dedicated lighting rig.

But if it's that easy, everyone would do it, right? :)

Friday 31 July 2009

Daftest anti-congestion ever?

Is this the worst thought out congestion reducing scheme ever?

I'm a big supporter of the reduction in car trips, but any system has to be fair and work for everyone, not just businesses. This is daft, it's going to get passed right on to people in employment, while other car users will not be affected at all. What'll happen is firms will reduce parking spaces (the number of which are usually enforced by planning anyway), but still drive to work and park in public spaces. Silly.

Far better to just increase fuel duty if you want to stop people using the car. When the oil price went up, less people drove. It's been proven to work, why not just do that?

Thursday 30 July 2009

Streaming Spotify

As a clan, we're loving spotify. It's like having the worlds biggest itunes library without having to buy anything and sharing playlists is great fun. But one downer is that it doesn't stream to your upnp devices, it's PC only, bugger.

I found a nifty solution though: Jamcast . It's a little upnp server that will expose whatever your PC is playing as a playlist item, called 'virtual soundcard', now your 360 or Soundbridge or Sonos can hear whatever your PC is playing. You can't control it obviously, and it borks if you've a microphone plugged in, unplug or disable that recording device and you're flying along. It's also got the nice side effect that each of your streaming devices are kind of synced, but as they all buffer different amounts, it's a bit lagged, ok for rooms a long way from each other, but not very good for stuff close by.

Oh, it's a music only upnp server, but it seems to behave well enough alongside Twonky on my setup, so that's ok.

Wednesday 22 July 2009

Google Wave

Back in May, Google announced that they were rethinking the whole dated concept of communications that we hold so dear. With Google Wave they claimed to have gone back to the start and invented electronic messaging from the ground up, with none of the baggage of SMTP or the various IM network protocols.

Indeed, their keynote presentation at I/O 2009 was almost universally praised. Wave looked to be just as revolutionary as they'd claimed - and, more enticingly, almost finished. It was genuinely exciting to see this working, and so polished and the concept seemed to just work as well. Meanwhile, for the developer, the prospect of a rich API and bot specification was almost too good to be true. The possibilities were endless - both for communication, for collaboration and for fun.

So, I put my name down for the developer programme, indicating that I'd happily put up with bleeding edge APIs and shakey service. And, finally, this week I got my access.

I've not yet tinkered with the bot APIs yet, I'll maybe tackle that in a different blog, but I've had a couple of days of intermittent usage. So what's it like? Is it as revolutionary as we hoped? Yes, kind of, maybe...

First off, it's worth mentioning that Wave is very early. It is slow, half of the features don't work, and half of the working ones don't work properly. It is memory hungry and you really don't want to leave a tab open with Wave running in it - not unless you like 500Mb Firefox processes that is. It pretty much kills my EEE901 stone dead, but runs okay on my desktop. This is very much a developer preview of a product that is probably six months from a proper launch, so being rough around the edges is to be expected.

How is it to use?

In this developer programme, every participant is subscribed to the Wave-Discuss list - like an old-school mailing list, but with Waves - so the first thing you notice about Wave is that it seems alive. Your inbox writhes like an organic thing as active Waves jostle to the top constantly. Individual Waves ripple with activity in the right hand pane as the much-talked-about realtime typing going on around you. The consequence of all this activity is that it can initially seem overwhelming - Waves slip out of your control if you neglect them and you never seem to be on top of your inbox.

I suppose this is an artefact of thinking like an emailer. We feel the need to absorb every bit of information, and information should persist for longer. Wave is different, it is sort of like a cross between email and twitter - conversations yes, but conversations that are time dependent. If you try to reconstruct the flow of information in such a thing, you'll soon get lost - even with the replay feature. Waves are both persistent and disposable - a strange contradiction.

It's this aspect that I'm not sure I like about Wave, and one of the reasons why I'm not as convinced as I was that it will supplant email.

More positively, this model works very well for collaboration. There's a number of Waves on the developer list that contain FAQ information, and are free for everyone to edit. These end up like a cross between a Wikipedia article and a forum thread. This kind of thing is one of Wave's strengths and it should find a corporate home if nothing else.

Wave is also home to a number of bot entities. Bots are currently hosted on Google App Engine and can be added to any Wave simply by adding the bot as a participant. From there, they can manipulate existing "blips" (snippets in the Wave), add new ones and pretty much do anything that a user can do. As such, they're open to massive amounts of abuse - especially since anyone on the Wave can add a participant.

It's quite weird to see Waves that have been abandoned because a runaway Elizabot has spammed it into uselessness. It's even weirder to see a counter-measure bot deployed to take care of unwanted rogue bots. What on earth will happen when the Chinese start coding for it??

And this is what I think is a major problem for Google - security. Both in terms of phishing/spam and informational integrity. At the moment, there is nothing to stop anyone from doing anything. If I start a Wave, then you can edit any part of it to your heart's content. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the idea of someone changing one of my posts from "I dislike Nazis" to "I love Nazis". Okay, so there is replay feature, but it is virtually useless for long running Waves, with no timeline to skip between periods. Wave desperately needs a "padlock" icon to lock blips.

My final gripe is with organisation of Waves. Google got Gmail's organisation dead right. But Wave, which arguably needs it far more, has it dead wrong. At least at this early stage. Waves currently land in your inbox. You can then send them to a folder (currently not working) or define a search, which you can save and which can also be applied as a filter. The search thing is horrible to be honest, it is arse backwards. Come on Google, let's have labels like Gmail please.

I sound quite negative don't I? I'm maybe being a little harsh on a product in the very early stages of development. All of the things I've mentioned are issues that can, and probably will be sorted.

In fact, using Wave is very cool, and very addictive. Actually being engaged in a conversation within a Wave is kind of like IRC, but with persistence and threading. And gadgets. And like IRC, you can find that the topic rambles on till it no more resembles the original point of the Wave than any conversation resembles its first sentence. For this alone, Wave is still worth watching. We just have to hope that Google attend to the really quite obvious gotchas before they release.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

The Ultimate Burnout Playlist


Paradise City / Guns N' Roses
Race / Yello
Always Crashing in the Same Car / David Bowie
Crash Dance / Yello
Cities in Dust / Siouxie & The Banshees
Smash / Offspring
Smash You / The Ramones
Bad Habit / Offspring
Cars / Gary Numan
Take Me Out / Franz Ferdinand
This Wheel's on Fire / Siouxie & The Banshees
Fine Young Cannibals / She Drives Me Crazy
Big Road Blues / Canned Heat
In The City / The Jam
This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us / Siouxie & The Banshees
Crushing Day / Joe Satriani
17.08 - Burn it Up / Offspring
Surfin' Bird / The Ramones
Paradise Place / Siouxie & The Banshees
Doctor Jeep / The Sisters of Mercy
The Lorry / Yello
Hit the road Jack/ Ray Charles
Road to Nowhere/Talking Heads
Further on up the Road/ Gary Moore
Highway Chile/ Jimi Hendrix
Highway Song/ Iggy Pop
Motorcycle Driver/ Joe Satriani
The Passenger/ Siouxie & The Banshees


This is what I came up with after a quick 5 minute dig in my library, help out for the AMLan Burnout soundtrack!

Thursday 16 July 2009

Google Integration

For a lot of years, it looked as though Google were just throwing any old tat out there with no real purpose or direction. Apps like "Notebook", "Bookmarks", "Base" and countless others seemed clever, but very indicative of Google's "start an idea, but never finish it" mentality.

Like most Google watchers, I quietly despaired and craved a little bit of integration. Well, it seems that they're getting the idea now. It's been fairly obvious for a while now that one sphere of integration is coalescing around their suite of Office apps - Google Mail, Calendar and Documents. As time goes on, and these applications mature, we're seeing more and more tie-ins between them. Mail integrates with Calendar to produce events, Calendar now allows you to attach a Document to an event, Tasks has finally come out of labs and things are generally a lot more polished (especially Documents collaboration, if you haven't used it, try editing a spreadsheet with multiple users!)

So the office suite is maturing nicely.

More interestingly, Google seems to be positioning a group of apps around a kind of "Social" sphere. I would include in this group: Reader, Talk, Latitude, Profile, Picasa, with perhaps iGoogle as a hub.

This move towards integration is in the early stages, but seems very obviously aimed at the Facebook/Twitter market. Look at how these apps currently integrate - as of today, Reader allows you to open up your following to pretty much any user with a public feed. You can "like" items, and these are carried across to every user who views that item. Basically, Reader has become a kind of social RSS application - a Facebook for news. Now this is all tied into your profile page, which links in your Talk status, and Latitude position if you have one, as well as your latest Picasa items and any personal information you wish to share (again, very Facebooky). On the Talk side of things, the previously innocuous "status" line has become a kind of Twitter-like information box, containing perhaps your Latitude information.

I have a feeling that we'll start to see more of this kind of thing - perhaps integrating Contacts further, maybe you'll get a timeline of your contacts activity, incorporating Reader shares, Talk update statuses and Picasa posts - like the Facebook news feed. All of this is an easy win for Google, especially if they sneak it in as an iGoogle function. The infrastructure is already there, the users are there, and integration will bring it all together.

Wednesday 15 July 2009

Apache FAIL



P45 sir?


Source: Muz :)

Saturday 11 July 2009

Gadget surprise

Ever had a gadget which confused you, its too unexciting to want...but works that well you've got to! Borrowed a power washer this weekend and the results off it stunned me. But its such an old man gadget I don't want to buy one!

We've all these cobbles out the side of front door, blasted all the moss and crud off them. cleaned the path, then all the slabs out the back. Four hours of high pressure water blasting, the chinese police have emailed asking if i want work, place is transformed.

But its an old fogey toy, tell me I'm wrong here and it's ok to own one of these things!

Monday 29 June 2009

Sci-Fi Must Read Shortlist: Part The Second

The bookclub didn't really work. Well, it was an EED project after all. Actually, that's not quite true... it didn't work in it's stated aim to get us all reading and discussing books (blame: Spiny) but it did succeed in getting your old pal Dave reading again. Since our foray into the world of the high brow, I've found my baths getting longer and longer, and even spent long afternoons ploughing through more books than I've read in the last two years.

Okay, I'm still in my comfort zone, 800 page Sci-Fi page turners, but I figure that at least it ain't no Bronte, dig?

I've just finished the last Hyperion book, Rise of Endymion, which I found to be utterly excellent, and the latest Peter F. Hamilton void trilogy novel, The Temporal Void, which I found to be hard work in places.

So now I'm looking for a recommend-me-do, in a similar vein to the well-trod but long dead blog "Scifi Must Read Shortlist". What's good scifi reading at the moment?

Thursday 25 June 2009

Glacial IE8 Tabs?

I had a problem with new tabs & links in IE8 taking aaaages to open. 15 seconds or so.

Turns out the problem is the Java addins, even with the latest at the time of writing ( Disable these and it’s back to being nearly as quick as firefox ;)

IE8 Manage Addins


Thursday 18 June 2009

Ex Directory your mobile

118800 is a site some may find useful, but I personally feel is taking things a bit far. A directory listing mobile phone numbers for the UK, it boasts. I'm not in favour however, so to the nitty gritty. Short and sweet.

Enter your mobile on this page , then the code is sent to your phone by text message.

Put that in the box and you're exempt from their effectively unathorised publication of your mobile number.

Friday 12 June 2009

Safari So Goody


Being the OCD sort for trying out new stuff, I downloaded & installed Safari 4 for Windows final, even though I found the beta, utter utter rubbish.

And you know what? It isn't half bad.


Things I like:

  • It’s quick. Noticeably so over Firefox & especially IE8. It makes Google Reader & mail a whiz.
  • It’s sleek. Typically Apple, the UI is very good, much more visually appealing than other browsers.
  • No more crappy Apple font rendering, it defaults to Windows rendering. Although you can still choose the Apple one if you’re weird.
  • Top Sites. This is a special page that comprises of your most visited sites, presented in a flashy pseudo 3d curve. It makes a nice compromise between having one home page and multiple home pages like FF & IE and means your frequent sites are just 2 clicks away.
  • Page Search. Works very well. On finding a match Safari dims the page and highlights where the matches are in white, the current position in the search is yellow. Caret hunting when searching is something that continually frustrates me in FF & IE.
  • RSS. Handling is pretty good & better than other in-browser viewers. If you have a small number of subscriptions it would be really good, but for RSS addicts it’s, still no match for Google Reader. I’d go so far as to say it would be worth using for some high priority feeds (that have full text) in addition for using Google reader for the others. No sharing mechanism though.
  • Search Results SnapBack. If you Google something (forgetting to open a new tab), follow a link browse around a bit, whacking SnapBack jumps you straight back to your search results page. Neat!
  • Installation recognised I was British & the dictionary spells “colour” !
  • Cover-Flow. I thought this was a bit of a gimmick, but… Cover-Flow. I thought this was a bit of a gimmick, but… it’s absolutely fantastic for browsing your history, especially when you can’t remember the URL you’re looking for.

“Not so much”:

  • No add-ins. On Windows anyway. There are some on Mac, but they’re mostly pay-for, yuck. So no add-block, X-Marks etc ;( Although poking about in the installation folder does reveal a Java plug-ins JAR.
  • Password saving, not a handy-dandy one like in FF anyway.
  • Search bar. You are limited to, & in the search bar. I heard somewhere before that there were other countries besides the US, but I think it was just a rumour. You can’t  change it to, or whatever.  You can’t add your own search providers. Steve Jobs uses, so you should use Doing things your own way is not the Apple way. You do things Steve’s way or you are not cool. </sarcasm> Retarded.

For me, it’s very nearly a Firefox-killer. Lack of extra search providers being the main deal-breakers. If you’re not fussed about this it’s well worth a look.

I did find a way of synchronising bookmarks, but it’s a bit of a faff. You have to create a sync folder using either Dropbox or Mesh and also locally sync your Safari bookmarks file with copies in these folders using something like PureSync.

You don’t really want to sync the whole Safari data folder (%appdata%\Apple Computer\Safari) as that will sync your cookies and history too, and I doubt your boss would appreciate your seeing adult sites list :) It would also trigger Mesh or Dropbox to sync every time a cookie landed or your history changed.

Saturday 23 May 2009

Public Safety

Dave posted a link to a new V trailer on facebook. Sure, looks nice enough, but only about 19 seconds in i see something very important. Public Safety important.

A bookshelf falling.

Now i am as crazy as the next guy, but not anchoring bookshelves to the wall? Thats institution crazy right there. Its very common for all of us to think about our homes and offices as someplace safe, a slowmoving area. But reality can be cruel, reality can surprise us, and thats when we will find ourselfes quite unwillingly in the emergencyroom, bleeding and whining in shock and in pain.

Now i bet you start thinking about what a hassle anchoring a bookshelf would be. But i assure you, its not that bad. It doesnt involve heavy duty wallsurgery or even that much work. Since most everyone has atleast one bookshelf from ikea you will have what you need at home. Its a simple little strap. Yes, thats right, the little plastic bag with things you ignored when you put it together. If you have thrown it away use a L-bracket of your choice, it really doesnt need to be that big, just make sure you fasten it properly in the wall behind the shelf.

Its always better to be safe than sorry. The next rainy day, go over your home and/or your workplace, you could even involve the whole family and make a game out of it! Lets find those hidden dangers!

Good Luck, and Happy Hunting!

Friday 22 May 2009


Tetris crossed with Pengo! Why hasn't this been done before? Gel on Xbox Live Arcade has got Pengo's sliding and pushing blocks, now in 3d but instead of just matching the special blocks and busting the ice, you've got to get four like colours together to make them dissolve. That's nifty on it's own, but Gel ads combos. The gel blocks don't disappear when you group them, they slowly dissolve. If you can get another same coloured block alongside the gooey mass before it goes pop, it'll dissolve too giving you a combo where the points will climb as you keep adding blocks and the board will clear faster. It takes a mediocre puzzle game up to a fantastic puzzle game, worth trying out for yourself.

Monday 11 May 2009

Sometimes Free Is Better

If you’ve used Microsoft development products before, you’ve most likely come across Source Safe. It’s “ok” I guess but does suffer from some problems, and I’ve been too close to more than one corrupted database for comfort.

A more robust version control solution is the open source Subversion. Widely used in the Java community it’s also available for use over the Microsoft side of the fence. As well as being very robust, a couple of other features are it’s optimistic Copy-Modify-Merge model and excellent support for distributed teams. All these together make it suitable for use on large projects.

Version control isn’t just for code either. I’ve even heard a few celebrity geeks on TWIT say they use it for a document repository.


SVN Install

Grab the SVN installer for the server & client. You’ll want SVN 1.5 as the latest version isn’t supported by AnkhSVN yet.


imageLeave both boxes checked so it installs the subversion server and Apache web server.









Choose the path to your repository. Ideally this should be on another machine, but below I’m choosing a folder under My Documents, so it at least gets backed up with the rest of my stuff.

I’d recommend creating a root folder for SVN then a folder for your first repository under that. As you may want more than one repository in the future. Doing this also makes the setup work without having to tweak the Apache configuration.




The next setup screen alters some stuff in the Apache configuration for you. You’ll probably want to change the port away from the default of 80. Now, the repository path isn’t the path you put in above, but the root SVN folder. The location prefix tells Apache to pass any URLs starting in “svn” through to the SVN server.





imageIf you’re on Vista, I’d also recommend installing elsewhere than “C:\Program Files” to avoid UAC pain.







After the installer' has finished, start the relevant services. (“Apache2.2” and “Subversion Server”).

Then crack open a command prompt and create your repository with

svnadmin create <path to repository>

In this example, the path I gave it was “D:\Users\Brian\Documents\svn\repos”

Badaboom – SVN is all up & running. You can test it by opening a browser and going to http://localhost:81. You should get a page that says “It Works!” – that’s just Apache. To test the SVN server is working & Apache is forwarding requests to it, browse to http://localhost:81/svn/repos/ You’ll get “repos - Revision 0: /”


This bit’s optional, but you’re better off knowing the relevant bits in the Apache config, just in case you want to change it.

The config is in <Install folder for the subversion software>\httpd\conf\httpd.conf & these are the important bits:


LoadModule dav_module modules/

This tells Apache to load the WebDAV module, so you can access your repository through a web browser.

LoadModule dav_svn_module modules/

This tells Apache to load the Subversion module.

Listen 81

The port Apache is listening for HTTP requests on.

DocumentRoot "E:\Program Files\CollabNet Subversion Server/httpd/htdocs"

The  root folder for the web site served by this Apache instance. You can serve up HTML pages form here if you like. One thing Apache is really good for though is serving up XML schemas & doing nifty things like URL rewriting.

<Location /svn>
   DAV svn
   SVNParentPath D:\Users\Brian\Documents\svn

This tells Apache that if it gets any URLS starting in \svn just to pass them onto the SVN module loaded earlier. SVNParentPath is a bit of configuration for the module. It’s the folder above your repositories. This is handy If you want more than one repository. If you’re sure you only want one, then you can change the directive to SVNPath and the argument to point directly to the repository folder itself, instead of the parent.


The installer for Ankh is just a click through. So no sweat. You’ll want version 2.0 if you’re using VS 2008.


Adding a Solution

imageRight click the solution & choose Add Solution to Subversion.










As for where to, you’ll have a couple of choices. If the repository is on your local machine, you can just use the file protocol and give the path to the repository:


or the Subversion protocol:


Alternatively, if it’s on another machine, you can go through the SVN service with the URL:


or over HTTP:





I’d recommend checking the Add a Trunk folder box. To understand why, have a read of the “Version Control with Subversion” pdf book that was installed with SVN. There is a link on your start menu.








imageAdding the project doesn't commit the changes straight away, you’ll see the list of changes in the Pending Changes window. It’s fairly obvious how to drive it from here. Check the AnkhSVN site for more details.







Optional – Tortoise SVN

image While you’re at it, grab Tortoise SVN, a GUI client for Subversion. You can do everything with the command line tools, but really, why would you? It’ll create and browse repositories, call SVN diff & much more all from a right click in Windows Explorer.

Thursday 7 May 2009

Space Invaders Extreme (360)

The style of Space Invaders Extreme reminds me of Pac Man CE, jazzed up enough to include some trippy visuals and music but not overdone so you can't see and here the original classic game. Visuals are superb in HD on a large screen, particularly as I'd only played it on the DS where it was very cramped. The whirly backgrounds seem to be nuon inspired, or even nuon itself, but quite low key and not something you notice most of the time.

The game itself is still 'shoot a block of enemies', but it adds a combo system where you can shoot a row, a column or a colour at a time to get power ups and activate bonus levels. The bonus sections whip you out of your current wave, into a bonus screen for a few seconds, then plonk you back where you were. Seems a bit bonkers but it does help to make the game feel more varied. Chuck in some boss fights, power ups and wave variations and you've got quite a lot to concentrate on.

Other goodies are the mandatory live leaderboards for all game modes and a bunch of multiplayer cooperative and versus modes including a great coop mode with individual objectives that me and my boy are having a blast with. It's 800 points too, which is a third of the PSP and DS versions price, so an absolute bargain.

Thursday 2 April 2009

EED Bookclub Month 3: Nominations

No rush for this one, since I know some people are still reading the last book, but let's open up nominations for the next book.

Another change of format this time. Rather than pick the next three people on the list (who mostly seem to have given up), anyone can nominate a book. We'll then vote on all the suggestions. So, titles of book choice please, link to Amazon or other online store and a paragraph describing the book or why you've picked it.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

EED Bookclub Month 2: One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

Everyone ready to discuss this one then?

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is exactly why we should perservere with the bookclub, after a less than smooth beginning. It is a modern classic, with an interesting theme, and is a book that you might not necessarily chose to pick up if left to your own devices. Like me, you'd maybe assume that since you've seen the film there's no need to bother with the book.

As it happens, OFOTCN is a rare example of both the film and the book being perfecty complementary. The film is really a Jack Nicholson vehicle, and as such the story tends to focus around Randle P. McMurphy. The book, on the other hand, is told from the perspective of Chief Bromdon, so has an entirely different feel to it.

The first person narrative tends to dip in and out of the Chief's psychosis in a way that can't be conveyed in film format. The Chief visualises the goings-on of the hospital in a kind of dream state - Nurse Ratched morphs before his eyes into a kind of demon; the air fills with water causing the Chief to float between room. It is all so vividly described with no concession to the fact of his hallucination that you're left to wonder if the way the Chief sees the world is perhaps some kind of truthful depiction, a feeling that carries through the whole novel.

The underlying theme of OFOTCN is the power of authority. The power that people in particular situations wield over each other - whether it is the power of authority that Nurse Ratched weilds over the inmates through humiliation and medication, or the power of authority that McMurphy wields in the ward (through the respect given to him by the other inmates). The Chief conceptualises the power of the hospital, the government, the state as being that of a single entity - The Combine. Through the Chief's viewpoint, we see The Combine as a vast machine (literal and metaphorical) which exists solely to homogenise people, to smooth out the wrinkles and bumps in society.

The Chief sees The Combine wherever he looks, in the sometimes monstrous form of Nurse Ratched, or in the government men who took his father's land. Indeed, through clever use of language, once again you're left wondering if maybe the Chief isn't right, maybe The Combine is a real thing? I think this is partly due to the fact that both he and the rest of inmates don't seem particularly disturbed, just eccentric maybe. Indeed, most of them are voluntary inmates, there of their own volition. Is the hospital there to cure them of a real problem, or to damp out the spikes of non-conformity that exist?

That most of the inmates are just normal men with normal issues (fear of homosexuality, fear of sexuality) underlines a strong sense of emasculation in the narritive. The Harding character, who's expressions and mannarisms are described at least as well as they were portrayed in the film, cuts a quite pathetic character - his self-loathing at his repressed homosexuality, combined with his inability to please his beautiful wife - and exemplifies this emasculation. Similarly, the character of Billy who is so afraid of women (especially his mother) that he has attempted suicide on numerous occasions, represents another side of The Combine's dominance. Both Harding and Billy are victims of Combine oppression, this time expressed through the power of women over men.

The Chief sees this oppression in himself as a literal physical "shrinking". As McMurphy reinvigorates the Chief, he becomes re-masculated somehow, ultimately gaining enough physical presence to break free of the hospital. Kesey casts McMurphy as the lost spirit of old-mankind - wild, unpredictable, undiminished - something that is missing from the Chief and the rest of the inmates. See how McMurphy sweeps through the ward, giving George Sorenson back his boat, giving Billy Bibbit the power of sex (and ultimately setting him free) and giving the Chief back his physicality. Even to the point where his violence injures the oppressing female presence (Nurse Ratched) and allows the inmates to scatter or flee. That McMurphy does not survive is ultimately of no consequence, since his invigorating spirit has been passed on to the now-free inmates.

Ultimately, I see Kesey's novel as a scathing critique of modern society. His themes of authority and emasculation speak of a world in which the eccentric is shunned and contained, "cured" ultimately by electricity; where the powerful and physical are repressed by the weak and the beaurocratic. But it is a world in which all it takes is a McMurphy to ignite that which was once thought lost.

Excellent novel, very recommended.

Monday 30 March 2009

Router haxxage

I’ve just moved ISP to O2 on account of Nildram’s grandparent company, Tiscali being a bit fubar.

As part of the deal they ship you a free modem which is no surprise these days. What is kind of surprising is that they give you the option of not taking it, whilst also saying that they can’t provide support on your connection if you’re using a third party router. Hailing from the “not thick” section of the population, took the freebie as it would be interesting to see what turned up if nothing else.

The O2 supplied box is a white brick replete with the usual selection of modem blinky lights. The admin pages on the modem are nice, with a few consumer level friendly things like fault diagnosis & various wizards, dynamic DNS & so on. There’s also a very nice set of pages for setting up port forwarding games and other applications, which rather amusingly contains several flavours of bit torrent. Most common games up to a year ago are there, as is Xbox live. There’s no line stats available, so you can’t see your signal to noise ratio etc which is a bit of a shame. A more serious omission is the inability to change DNS servers. I can see why they’ve done this, but it does mean that you can’t start using the very wonderful OpenDNS service.

Not to be deterred a bit of googling turns up that it’s actually a rebadged Thompson TG585, which you helpfully get told when telneting into the box, having found the admin logon. Once you’re in, it’s a snap to change the DNS settings to use OpenDNS and life is good.

Of course, this, being an EED blog will tell you exactly how to reach domain name service nirvana. Naturally I, no one I know or even my (rather handsome) cat will take responsibility if you brick your router. So proceed at your own risk.

Step One – Login

Open a command prompt & type

telnet o2wirelessbox.lan

The user ID is SuperUser and the password is O2Br0ad64nd.

This should greet you with a nice ASCII art graphic, the router information and an all important admin prompt.

______ Thomson TG585 v7
/ /\
_____/__ / \
_/ /\_____/___ \ Copyright (c) 1999-2008, THOMSON
// / \ /\ \
_______//_______/ \ / _\/______
/ / \ \ / / / /\
__/ / \ \ / / / / _\__
/ / / \_______\/ / / / / /\
/_/______/___________________/ /________/ /___/ \
\ \ \ ___________ \ \ \ \ \ /
\_\ \ / /\ \ \ \ \___\/
\ \/ / \ \ \ \ /
\_____/ / \ \ \________\/
/__________/ \ \ /
\ _____ \ /_____\/
\ / /\ \ /___\/
/____/ \ \ /
\ \ /___\/

Step Two – Verify Existing DNS

To find out what the existing DNS settings are type

dns server route list

and hit enter. You’ll get a list something like this:

DNS Server Entries:
DNS Server Source Label Metric Intf State Domain
D 10 O2_ADSL UP *
D 10 O2_ADSL UP *

The IP addresses should match with those you see on the admin pages of the o2 box. The interface (“O2_ADSL”) will change between providers (or also probably between ADSL & ADSL2+). The point is, it may be different for you. Metric is the priority that the DNS entry has where lower number = higher priority. This is important, because if we don’t make our new settings have a higher priority than the ISP’s DNS servers, they’ll just get lost.

Step Three – Change to OpenDNS

At the time of writing, OpenDNS’s servers were and You may want to check this if you’re reading this blog a long time after publication :)

You’ll need to type the route add commands into the telnet session, specifying the IP addresses you want (OpenDNS), a higher priority than 10 (5) and the interface from above (for me, O2_ADSL).

Do this after a flush, that will ensure everything is up to date:

dns server route flush
dns server route add dns= metric=5 intf=O2_ADSL
dns server route add dns= metric=5 intf=O2_ADSL

Step Four – Get The Hell Outta Dodge

OK, before you celebrate, you’ll need to verify that everything’s stuck. List the entries out as you did above & you should see the new IP addresses along with the priority of 5.

Type the following to save & quit:


Optionally, check the router admin page to verify the DNS settings and go to – the page should will tell you “(You’re using OpenDNS!)”

Step Five – Sip Champagne & Nibble Nachos

Well, it is EED :)

[Update: found the CLI manual]

Friday 27 March 2009

Mutating weasels, and admitting mistakes

Over twenty years ago now, back in 1986, Richard Dawkins released his book "The Blind Watchmaker". I've blogged about this before: an excellent book, second only to "The Ancestor's Tale" in terms of sheer readability and good old fashioned, enjoyable science.

In this book, Dawkins attempts to dispell the "junkyard tornado" fallacy, the old creationist canard that usually goes something like this: "The chances of a tornado blowing through a junkyard and forming a complete Boening 747 from scrap parts is 1 in [very large number]. So the chances of natural selection being able to create fully formed creatures randomly is similarly unlikely!"

Dawkins tackles this by way of an analogy. Imagine we're looking to generate a phrase: "METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL" (a random phrase from Shakespeare's Hamlet, in case you were wondering). One way we can do this is by sitting a monkey in front of a typewriter and having it type out random strings of 28 characters. This is an analogous mechanism to the spontaneous generation misunderstanding that creationsists have about evolution.

Obviously, this is going to take some considerable length of time. There are some 10^40 possible combinations that the monkey could stumble upon. In fact, if the monkey was working really hard and producing one 28 character string per second, it would take somewhere around the age of the universe to get to it. Obviously, this isn't a very efficient search mechanism.

Luckily, this isn't how natural selection works. Dawkins goes on to contrast this "random search" with the idea of "cumulative search". Cumulative search works by starting with a reproducing parent - in this case, a random string of characters - and producing offspring from it. The offspring are then subject to mutation - in this case, some of the letters in the phrase can change into other ones. Finally, the offspring are inspected and their fitness is measured - fitness here is closeness to the target phrase, "METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL". The fittest of the brood is then used as the parent for the next generation. And so on, until the target is reached.

Dawkins illustrates this with a simple computer programme. It is a remarkably simple algorithm, so I spent ten minutes knocking together my own weasel code. Here's a sample run from it:

Generation 20: Best offspring: ZTJINKS ITPIXULFVD A WEASEW
Generation 40: Best offspring: YTJINKS IT IS LZZB A WEASEL
Generation 60: Best offspring: MYTJINKS IT IS LKKB A WEASEL
Generation 80: Best offspring: MTTHINKS IT IS LKKE A WEASEL
Generation 100: Best offspring: MSTHINKS IT IS LRKE A WEASEL
Generation 120: Best offspring: METHINKS IT IS LRKE A WEASEL
Generation 140: Best offspring: METHINKS IT IS LINE A WEASEL
Target reached in 153 generations: METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL

This shows the fittest offspring for every 20th generation (for completeness, the parameters of this run had each generation consist of 50 offspring, and each character in each offspring had a 5% chance of mutating). You can see that using cumulative search, we reach the target in just 153 generations. This is massively more efficient than generating phrases at random!

This is, very loosely, how natural selection works. By small modifications to offspring, then selection for the fittest offspring in their particular environment, complexity can be gradually accumulated - there is absolutely no need to invoke any junkyard tornadoes.

Ultimately though, weasel is just a clever toy - a simplistic view of natural selection used only to illustrate the power of non-random selection. It is not a very good model of how evolution really works, since each generation of offspring's fittness is measured with respect to a distant ideal. In fact, it is perhaps a little misleading when taken out of context since evolution doesn't work towards a perfect ideal. It is a blind process that has no target or goal. Most of the world therefore enjoyed a clever demonstration, learned the limited lessons that weasel has to offer, and moved on.

But not the creationists.

Over at Uncommon Descent, intelligent design creationist William Dembski (the self-styled Isaac Newton of Information Theory) perpetuates a long running mistake of his. Dembski has long attempted to dismiss weasel as a misleading and irrelevent model of cumulative selection. Back in 2000 he published an essay containing a description of the algorithm:
(1) Start with a randomly selected sequence of 28 capital Roman letters and spaces (thats the length of METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL); (2) randomly alter all the letters and spaces in the current sequence that do not agree with the target sequence; (3) whenever an alteration happens to match a corresponding letter in the target sequence, leave it and randomly alter only those remaining letters that still differ from the target sequence.
Now, Dembski's mistake isn't necessarily easy to spot, but it is there. Firstly, his (2) suggests all characters mutate, when in fact all characters are subject to a chance of mutating. More importantly, his (3) claims that a kind of "latching" occurs, that whenever a correct letter is found, it is somehow locked in place and not subject to further mutation.

This might not seem important at first, but consider this: if weasel is claiming to be a simulation of natural selection (it isn't really, but there you go...) then what is the process that locks the characters in place supposed to represent? An intelligent intervention? Dembski seems to be claiming in this paragraph that weasel's search algorithm is more supportive of an ID position than a naturalistic one.

Of course, the reality is that no "latching" of letters occurs in a real weasel algorithm. No such mechanism was described by Dawkins in 1986, and indeed no such mechanism occurs in my algorithm above. In fact, if you compare a real-weasel with a latching-weasel, the number of generations to reach the target is not much worse for real-weasel. Certainly still massively better than random search. It has become something of a badge of honour among scientists to write your own weasel algorithm, just simply to confirm to yourself how good this method is, even without latching.

So Dembski's insistence that latching occurs is confusing, since Dawkins himself has long since refutted the claim, and countless versions of real-weasel have shown that the result was consistent. Indeed, Dembski had this error pointed out to him back in 2000 and many times since. He's failed to act on it though, and has even gone on to reproduce the error in subsequent (non-peer reviewed) papers.

In his latest post, Dembski links to a youtube clip (start around 6:00) that explicitely shows each generation, and as such sometimes shows a supposedly "fixed" letter changing into something else. This is clear proof that Dawkins algorithm was not of the latching kind. But even now, Dembski cannot admit his error. He innocently wonders:
That leads one to wonder whether the WEASEL program, as Dawkins had programmed and described it in his book, is the same as in the BBC Horizons documentary.
Nice conspiracy theory: Dawkins wrote a programme that cheated in order to produce results that are practically the same as a non-cheating version, then subsequently re-wrote the programme for television to not cheat. Hilarious!

I don't understand the problem here. Weasel would have been forgotten by now if Dembski had admitted his mistake in 2000. It isn't a good simulation, it is simply a demonstration of a concept. His "science" doesn't depend on weasel being right or wrong. And he's been shown countless times, over and again, that he's wrong. So why not just admit this one tiny mistake? The truth is, Dembski seems so invested in finding flaws with anything Dawkins related that his mindset simply will not allow it. Not a very good example from the Isaac Newton of Information Theory eh?

Using altova schema agent 2009 with apache 2.2

Unashamedly geek post this. I my role as a data architect, I’ve been playing with Altova Schema Agent to manage XML schemas & WSDLs. Here’s the best way I’ve found to set things up for local development purposes:

The first problem you’ll notice is that you can’t just throw a bunch of files at it. It’ll load your schemas & WSDLs OK, but will also try & resolve and any imports etc, so you’re left with a bunch of un-resolvable imports, if your namespaces don’t resolve to a real world interwebs address, which most don’t.So, you’ll have to serve the schemas up locally using something good like Apache 2.2. Installing it is trivial, so I won’t go into that, but you’ll need to make some changes to the configuration file httpd.conf.

Turn on WebDAV

So schema agent can traverse all your schemas, you’ll need to turn on WebDAV in Apache.LoadModule dav_module modules/
LoadModule dav_lock_module modules/
and add LoadModule dav_fs_module

Point Apache At Your Schemas

Assuming your schemas are just served up off the root of your local apache, you’ll need to set the document root, say

DocumentRoot "D:\www\myschemas"

Configure Access

Then you’ll need a Directory tag to specify that WebDAV should be turned on

<Directory D:\www\myschemas">
Options Indexes FollowSymLinks
AllowOverride None
Dav On
Order allow,deny
Allow from all
Require valid-user

Dav On turns on WebDAV for that folder and the LimitExcept tag will disallow all HTTP operations except those listed, so you can turn on write access if you need it too. This can be useful as Schema Agent integrates with XMLSpy so you can browse & edit schemas directly from Schema Agent.


…and Bob’s yer uncle!


Friday 20 March 2009

Google Street View

After a year or so of legal wrangling, and watchdog pacification, Google finally released the UK version of their excellent Street View application. Providing 360 degree panoramas at thousands of points around the UK's streets, Street View effectively lets you tour the country's cities, peer into the nation's gardens and experience the true majesty of the Great British Public vomiting and urinating. It's a wonderful thing.

Actually, it is a wonderful thing. A massive accomplishment almost unparalleled in the history of photography. Think about it: Street View represents a unique historical document - a slice of life through much of the world's cities in the early 21st century. It has no agenda, no goal, no prejudice, no purpose other than an almost blind recording of life. In many ways, it reminds me of those old black and white street scenes from the turn of the 19th century: fascinating glimpses of people going about their business, largely unaware that they are being cast in historical amber; neither posed, nor artificial, nor contrived.

As such, you can find the whole range of human activities, from the mundane to the unique to the downright bizarre - fights, crime, love, every weave and stitch of humanity's peculiar tapestry. And because of this, Street View is a resource of incalculable worth for future generations.

Of course, the antagonistic British media fails to recognise and celebrate this. Instead, it prefers to amplify the almost vanishingly small minority voice of the Luddites who see only fear and threat in everything great and unique. People who are quick to assume that baser human failings will prevail and should be protected from at all costs. People for whom knowledge and enlightenment are lesser goals than the cocooned sanctity of their garden fence.

Do I believe that Google Maps will never be used for wrong-doing? Of course not - I'm sure that it will be employed by the world's ne'er-do-wells, whether it be to plot the theft of church roof lead, or to orchestrate an audacious terrorist event. But I also happen to think that this will happen anyway, regardless of whether Google Maps existed or not. Should we also ban atlases and compasses, back packs and cameras? Of course not.

Furthermore, I believe that the positives of such an undertaking greatly outweigh any perceived negatives. Imagine the educational potential of Google Earth and Street View. No longer are school children confined to books and second hand descriptions of the Colosseum or the Parthenon, or the streets of Gaza city or Mumbai. There now exists the potential to experience places in context, a richer learning experience than anything yet conceived.

Ultimately, I believe that surest way to combat the negatives that the Luddites foresee is to educate and enlighten, since there is no greater fuel for the fire of discontentment than ignorance. Isn't this a goal worth pursuing, even at the expense of our sex-shop privacy?

Thursday 19 March 2009


I have to confess that I'm not a lifelong Watchmen fan. My comics tastes always veered more towards the big-titted, latex-clad hyperbole of mainstream Marvel or DC. Watchmen and its ilk always seemed a bit... intense. Nevertheless, when the hype machine cranked up in anticipation of the film adaptation a few months ago I dutifully picked up a copy of the graphic novel and dived in. I was, predictably, blown away. There's little wonder that Watchmen is often held up as an example of high art, a pinnacle of graphic storytelling and is even included in Time's Top 100 Books list.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached the film.

Watchmen is a strange story, very much a product of its time. Set in the mid-80s, at the height of the cold war in the middle of a nuclear stand-off between the US and Russia, it tells the tale of a world where costumed superheroes are common-place. The genius of it is that the heroes (the Watchmen of the title) have no powers, they're simply masked vigilantes and villains. All except Dr. Manhattan, a physicist-turned-blue-demigod. Manhattan's limitless control over energy and matter acts as a deterrent, keeping the Soviet union in check.

The presence of Dr. Manhattan has changed the world in many respects - his involvement in Vietnam led to the Vietnamese surrender within days, and his knowledge of materials and energy have given the world new technologies. Meanwhile, world opinion has turned on the costumed heroes and, through an act of government, sent most of them into hiding. Only Rorschach, the iconic black and white masked vigilante, and Comedian, the morally questionable government operative, remain active. Like the book, the film opens with the death of the Comedian...

The first thing to applaud the film for is how it has resisted the temptation to update the setting. I expect a number of Hollywood whoremasters would have pressed very hard to replace Cold War with "War On Terror" and move it forward to the far more aesthetically pleasing 21st century. Kudos then to Zack Snyder for sticking to his guns and insisting on remaining faithful to the source. In fact, Snyder's direction rarely deviates from the storyboard of the original. Many scenes are word-for-word dialogue copies of the comics, with many scenes even shot from the same angle. It's clear that Snyder is a massive fan of the original (similar to his adaptation of Frank Miller's 300).

His slavish devotion to the source is also evident in his casting of the main characters. There isn't a single big name actor in the whole film, nobody you'd recognise, and this has left Snyder free to find perfect matches for each part. I defy anyone to question the casting of Rorschach, an actor seemingly born to play one role only - Walter Kovacs. Similarly, The Comedian, Night Owl and Silk Spectre are very well cast and the combination of actor and CGI make Dr. Manhattan just the right combination of the human and the miraculous.

Aesthetically, the film is a masterpiece - every scene drips with details from the comic book - the newspaper vendor and Black Freighter comic book reader (an excised subplot) appear in one or two panning shots, Snyder reminding the audience that they are there, if not fully realised; the Rorschach interview scene (an entire issue in the original) remains intact and complete and magnificent and Snyder somehow manages to make unpowered, costumed vigilantes seem believable and not ridiculous (more a testament to the original, where the actual costumed parts are sparingly used).

Okay, so some parts of the story have been cut, necessary to retain at least a semblance of brevity: a large part of the Holis Mason subplot is left out (which has impacts on the development of the Night Owl character), the aforementioned Black Freighter doesn't even get a mention, save for brief glances of the comic reader, and the ending deviates massively (in detail if not in spirit) from the original. That said, I think I actually preferred the ending of the film to the ending of the book - it seemed somehow less random, more tightly plotted. I think the giant squid of the original would have simply confused and lengthened the film.

And at 2:45, the film is already long enough for the average movie-goer. But for someone with an interest in the original, 2:45 seemed almost too short. With every scene packing in as much visual detail as reasonably possible, I felt that it could have gone on for another hour and I still would have felt it too short.

Sure, there were flaws - some characters suffered from the removed or shortened storylines - the Silk Spectre/Comedian plot seemed rushed, almost forgotten. And what was happening with Nixon's nose? Overall though, I don't think you could reasonably expect to see a better adaptation of Watchmen. Hopefully a director's cut will see some elements restored, but even without them what is left is a faithful, loving and visually staggering rendition of a classic.