MonthOctober 2005

Steve Jobs piece in The Independent magazine

The Independent magazine did a special on technology; I wrote a profile of Steve Jobs. Meh.

I’d have to say that I think Katy Guest’s piece on Living in the past (ie not using anything invented beyond 1959) is great – quite an intellectual challenge, that – and the things that people can’t live without is really interesting too.

Spam Karma: read those stats and cheer

Here’s what Spam Karma is telling me about how much it’s caught since I installed it on Sept 26 (that’s just over a month ago):

  • Total Spam Caught: 2019 (average karma: -254.08)
  • Total Comments Approved: 151 (average karma: 8.74)
  • Total Comments Moderated: 17

And in that period there have been 150 real comments, and 1 (count it!) comment that slipped through – a “free iPod” site advert that was manually posted.

Hmm, 2020 spams and 150 real comments. Spam outweighs real people just as in email.

My new job: editing the Guardian’s Technology section

OK, it’s probably the only job (certainly the only one I could think of) that would pull me back from freelancing, which has been hugely enjoyable.

But anyhow, from late November, I’m going to be taking over the editing of the Guardian’s Technology supplement. (The blog is here.)

Yes, I’m sure everyone wants to know in fine detail how it’s going to change. I’d rather get my feet under the desk first. It’s already had one radical change – with the redesign – so this is hardly the time to go mad. One obvious thing to say: no plans for any personnel changes.

But of course if you’d like to suggest what it should have more (or less) of, feel free. Comments are open.

“Tails are cool”

So says the intriguingly-monikered Bourgeois Wife, who went to the Frieze Art exho and saw

One girl had attached a fox tail to the back of her jeans and I’m coveting one badly. The only other person I’ve seen with one is Alison Goldfrapp, who wore a horse tail on the back of a leotard to Glastonbury which was, again, great. Unfortunately the only ones on Ebay are real, which is a bore. Should anyone happen to have a fake fox tail lying about, I will pay good money…

I once has a tiger tail, but it was just a little fake thing one got as an Esso promotion. I had it when I was 5. Heaven knows where it is now – if not in fake tiger tail heaven, then probably on eBay.

Already an interesting read (and she’s got a photo of La Goldfrapp with tail). Enjoy.

How ATM fraud almost brought down the British banking system

Over at The Register (actually, there for a while, but I’ve been busy) is the tale of how all the phantom withdrawals in the 80s and 90s weren’t phantom at all – but how the high street banks couldn’t admit that, and had to insist that their systems were infallible and that everyone was either lying or had left their PIN inscribed on cash machines, along with copies of their cards.

Not the most sustainable argument, of course.

It’s a long read, but interesting. And Alistair Kelman, the protagonist, asks me to point out that there is one inaccuracy: he got £450 per hour, not the £1,750 that I somehow put in. Blame the bumpy train ride when I was transcribing.

The Thick Of It: back, and still brilliant

If you’ve not yet caught The Thick Of It – Armando Ianucci’s fantastic satire on the inside world of New Labour powerbroking – then where have you been? It’s back, and still brilliant.

Peter Capaldi as a Scottish version of Alastair Campbell is fantastic yet again, and so reminiscent of some people I’ve met (and worked with, near enough) it’s scary. Down in the No.10 Policy Unit – really a boiler room where young Turks are forced to spin as though their lives depended on it (which in a sense they do), he is trying to stop a story about MoD overspending getting prime position on the news. “RIGHT!” he roars. “Send out statistics, everything you’ve got about anything, and tell them that if they haven’t mastered it before they print a f-ing line then I’ll be up their arses like a Biafran ferret!!”

Or when he ambles over to ITN to try to stop a story about a hapless minister (Chris Langham) being fronted by a furious woman about her mother’s care – in a clear echo of Tony Blair being confronted in the same way during the election – he goes into the edit suite and says “God, what a tit. He’s a tit, isn’t he? But come on, that’s enough titting. No, you’ve got to give him a couple of serious. Two tits, then that’s enough.” Meanwhile he has sent his dogs out to sniff out anything bad about the woman; they’ve gone through her bins and found nothing. They call him and he takes the call just outside the edit suite. “Is that right?” he whispers. “That’s what you’ve got?”

And then strides back into the edit suite. “She’s BNP,” he says flatly. “Standing in Stamford Bridge. You can’t go ahead with that, she’s BNP. How will you [he says to the editor] look when that comes out?”

Catch it as often as possible.

Quantum lighting, nano scratching suits, and cochlear implant promises, promises..

  • Accidental invention could light up the future – LiveScience – MSNBC.com
    Michael Bowers, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University, was just trying to make really small quantum dots, which are crystals generally only a few nanometers big. That’s less than 1/1000th the width of a human hair.

    Quantum dots contain anywhere from 100 to 1,000 electrons. They’re easily excited bundles of energy, and the smaller they are, the more excited they get. Each dot in Bower’s particular batch was exceptionally small, containing only 33 or 34 pairs of atoms.

    When you shine a light on quantum dots or apply electricity to them, they react by producing their own light, normally a bright, vibrant color. But when Bowers shined a laser on his batch of dots, something unexpected happened.

    “I was surprised when a white glow covered the table,” Bowers said. “The quantum dots were supposed to emit blue light, but instead they were giving off a beautiful white glow.”

    LEDs are already great for light – quantum dots next? Yum, can’t wait.

  • Suit filed over Nano scratches | Tech News on ZDNet
    Claiming that the iPod Nano has a widespread propensity for scratching easily, lawyers this week filed a class action suit against Apple Computer on behalf of those who have purchased the diminutive music player.

    The lawsuit charges, however, that the Nano contains a thinner coating of resin than on previous iPod models. “The amount and durability of the resin applied as a protective coating during the Nano manufacturing process is clearly defective in that it is not sufficient to adequately protect the face of the Nano from extreme scratching and ultimately irreparable damage,” the lawsuit says.

    Scratches? On the nano? Get out of here. (But the stuff about resin is interesting, eh?)

  • BBC NEWS | Health | Implant may help deaf hear music
    “The challenge is to miniaturise the elements so that they still resonate at audible frequencies.”

    He said this means a commercial implant is likely to be at least 10 years away.

    But once complete, the implant should enable people to have manual control over the frequencies they hear, enabling them to tune in to individuals in a crowded room and filter out the background chatter.

    Damn! Ten years? Now I know why stories about cancer cures drive cancer patients mad – it’s always the mice getting well, never (it seems) the humans.
    Meanwhile, to see how the present-generation cochlear implants are going, see this post at Hearing Mojo: Cochlear Ltd, with 70% of the market, expects to be used in 20,000 implants this year.

iPod arrives… and is a clunker^W^W ..maybe OK

So the iPod Photo arrives from Computer Warehouse, and I unwrap it and plug it in. Register it. Rename it. And it disappears from iTunes.

That’s odd.

It has the “Do Not Disconnect” icon up, even though it’s not showing up anywhere in the disk system – not on iTunes, not in the Finder. System Profiler knows it’s there, but that’s about the only thing that does.

So I disconnect it and force-restart it (hold down the play and Menu buttons together). It restarts, after a lot of thought.

Plug it in. Ah, it’s got a name, but I have to use Disk Utility to erase it. No matter, there was nothing on it. Now, to iTunes again. (Oh, helped by this excellent page if you have an iPod problem.)

And so I fill it up from iTunes. Great. And eject it. Yes, it disappears from iTunes. And the Finder.

But the screen still says “Do Not Disconnect”. And it won’t stop saying that, no matter how much I press the buttons.

Doesn’t matter whether I plug it into Firewire or USB, it doesn’t show up. There’s no disk activity. The screen just says “Do Not Disconnect” – even when it’s disconnected.

This thing’s a paperweight, and now I’m starting to get properly bugged by it.

Your advice welcome. The frustrating thing is that any replacement has to be an iPod Photo, not video, for reasons stated previously involving the iTrip.

Later.. Having left it overnight with the iTrip plugged in the top, in the hope of running down the battery so it would behave, sanity seems to have returned. Plugging it into the mains gets it charging, and the content’s all there. Fingers crossed..

Why dropping Firewire from the iPod is, frankly, annoying as hell

The wife had a birthday. I bought her a present: an iPod Photo, because she wanted to be able to show our photos on it. I also got a Firewire cable, because her computer is a 2001 iBook, which has Firewire, and USB 1.1 (“slow USB”). You’d need to be immortal, and patient with it, to load up a 20GB iPod over slow USB. Firewire was the thing that made the original iPod a revelation – remember? The songs whizzed over in a way that with USB 1.1 they most definitely don’t, and didn’t. I also got her an iTrip, because her car doesn’t have a cassette player, so you have to send the music as FM radio and tune in to that.

We went on a work/holiday trip to Australia and New Zealand and magically managed not to lose the iPod over the course of nine flights halfway around the world and back again, with three kids and even more suitcases in tow, and stopovers that lasted a single night. We packed and repacked and we didn’t lose it.

Until, that is, we got to Heathrow. Somewhere between the landing and getting into our car, the iPod escaped. We searched everything but – gone without a trace.

So, ho hum, claim it on the travel insurance. There’s a £50 excess, but it could be worse. And indeed, they did accept that we’d not got it, and with a little note from Heathrow Lost Property (for which HLP charges £5..) they repaid us the cost of the original, minus that £50.

OK, so let’s buy a replacement iPod. Oooops – in the period between us getting home and the claim being approved, Apple has released not one, but two replacement iPods.

And neither one takes data over Firewire.

Oh, great. So here’s the choice: buy a new iPod, and suck up the price of a new iTrip (because the old one won’t fit the new connectors), and also suck up the fact that it will load slowly as hell, because Firewire doesn’t work.

Or descend into one of the vaguely outer circles of hell, and try to find someone who sells iPod Photos reliably. Tried the local Dixons, ready to bargain them down on price (“it’s obsolete.. people know there’s a video one..”) but they were finished, and awaiting video iPods.

Next stop (via Google) was a company called MyDV.co.uk. I tried ringing the London number: it turned out to be connected to an office in the US. MyDV is a front; Google them and you’ll find a lot of people who’ve paid money but seen little. I decided to avoid.

Next, a company that seemed to have a good price. Until, that is, you add in the VAT and P&P, by which time it goes up beyond the price of a new video iPod. Riiiight.

Finally (via Kelkoo) a company that does have a decent price – Computer Warehouse, for £179 inc P&P, and no VAT tricks. We’ll see how long it takes.

But it would have been a hell of a lot easier if Apple had simply stayed with Firewire, instead of throwing out its baby with the bathwater. And people wonder why consumers get annoyed at the way the computer industry changes formats for no apparent sensible reason.

(Update: noticed “Why Firewire will never make it” at Ian Hobson’s blog. OK, so it might not, but it would still be nice if people with four-year-old computers made by Apple could use a ten-year-old Apple technology to transfer songs to a new Apple product in something less than geological time.)

Finding a NNW bug (the tiniest), does Backup backup? and the slow train to Quicktime

  • NetNewsWire 2.x Bug: More than 100,000 unread articles loses leftmost ‘1’ in Dock
    If you have, say, 300 feeds where you’re keeping articles beyond their expiry from the feed – say, for 900 days – then when you reach the level where you have >99,999 unread articles, the Dock will show that you have 00533 unread articles (say). Obvious enough to the user why this is happening.

    Yes, I’ve discovered the most wonderfully minor bug.

  • Apple’s Backup App is Sh*t
    This weekend while I was in North Carolina, my primary hard disk decided to corrupt itself. A minor inconvenience, I figured. After all, I’d been backing up with Apple’s “Backup” application every night.

    Little did I know what a steaming pile of shit Backup turned out to be. The list of things Backup can not do is astounding, including:

    Restoring a backup to a blank hard disk (you need to have the same username as before, with an OS installed). Restore incremental backups in one fell swoop. No, now I have to go through and figure out what the differences are between the 170 GB full backup and the nineteen incremental backups that occurred after that.
    Backup Help is absolutely no help at all. Go figure.

    OK, that’s got me worried now. After all, isn’t the idea of Backup 3 that it actually.. you know… backs up in a fashion you can restore?

  • iKudzu: you wanna watch the keynote? You gotta upgrade Quicktime! And would you like Pro with that?
    Crap, i need to install Quicktime to see this? Dammit. Well, i do want to see the keynote, so… here goes.

    Hi! Thank you! Here’s your link to Quicktime with iTunes. Would you like the professional version?
    No, i want the free version.

    Here’s the free Quicktime iTunes version, Ooh, all the cool kids have this! It’s what you want!

    Funny. Real Player used to be like this. (Maybe still is?) A conversation between man and machine, except machine isn’t listening.