Everything, Everything - December 2007

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Monday 31st December, 2007 21:15
I recently spotted an advert for the TV show Damages, which follows the turbulent lives of Patty Hewes (Glenn Close), the nation's most revered and reviled high stakes litigator, and her bright and ambitious protégé Ellen Parsons, played by Rose Byrne, as they become embroiled in a lawsuit with one of the wealthiest and most corrupt CEOs in the country. Definitely worth watching next year.
Monday 31st December, 2007 19:54
It appears I'm not too bad at Tiger Woods golf on the Nintendo Wii, having won last night and again tonight :D
Friday 28th December, 2007 20:08
I've come up with an idea to reduce congestion and accidents on motorways: ban crap cars from going on them.

Along with my plan to scrap car tax and raise the amount of tax on petrol, cars will be placed into a category at the same time they go through their MOT. This would allow the government to stop cars without saftey measures such as Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), and possibly even Electronic Stability Control (ESC, built on top of ABS) and Emergency Brake Assist (EBA), from driving on the motorway. You could also apply the same logic to crap cars like the G-Whizz (maximum speed of 40mph) or underpowered cars that are fine for driving around town and squeezing into small spaces, but lack the required acceleration to comfortably join motorway traffic, and some (e.g. Smart cars) look like they'd flip and roll like a die across the road if they ever had an accident. Your old "classic" cars wouldn't be able to drive on motorways, but they could still get to their destination via the A roads. Just like other car drivers could follow non-motorway routes. And with a large increase in tax on petrol, you might put off more of the commuters, pushing them onto public transport (although this really does need improvement) or forcing them to live close to where they work (or perhaps into a better car so they can keep driving in motorways). As an exception, certain vehicles will be allowed on motorways where required, but will have to travel with a police escort and only during certain offpeak hours. And with all those measures in place, it would hopefully be safe enough to raise the speed limit on the motorways to at least 80mph. Possibly even 100mph. After all, most people already seem to drive somewhere between 80 and 90.

And a slightly more radical proposal: mandatory eye tests for drivers. This has the added benefit of early detection of problems caused by working conditions or health problems, but mostly stops short sighted people from being allowed to drive cars. I haven't had my eyes tested in about a decade, but I know my right eye isn't as good as it used to be. I dread to think about other drivers, especially the older ones that passed their tests decades ago, when driving was a totally different experience.

Here are some facts to help make sense of my suggestion:

A 2003 Australian study by Monash University Accident Research Centre found that ABS:
  • Reduced the risk of multiple vehicle crashes by 18 percent
  • Reduced the risk of run-off-road crashes by 35 percent.
On high-traction surfaces such as bitumen, or concrete many (though not all) ABS-equipped cars are able to attain braking distances better (i.e. shorter) than those that would be easily possible without the benefit of ABS. In gravel and deep snow, ABS tends to increase braking distances, but motorways aren't usually known for their gravel or deep snow.

Some argue that, with ESC, very dangerous drivers will be able to drive faster before traction limits are reached, so when the vehicle loses control, it will happen at higher speeds, causing more severe crashes. However, this is not possible because ESC only applies brakes and/or reduces power and does not increase the traction limit of the vehicle. Therefore a vehicle with ESC cannot be pushed faster through a corner than a vehicle without ESC. Because ESC applies brakes and/or reduces engine power, it tends to slow the vehicle down when it reaches traction limits and typically prevents the vehicle from surpassing traction limits. Overall, ESC systems have resulted in a marked drop in accident rates, overriding most arguments against its implementation.

Traction control is not just used for moving a vehicle from stationary without slippage. During hard maneuvers in a front wheel drive car there is a point where the wheels cannot both steer and drive the car at the same time without losing traction. With traction control, it's less likely for this loss of control to occur. There is a limit though, when the tires lose grip. The car will not corner as sharply as indicated by the front wheels, this is Understeer. In some front wheel drive cars, Traction Control can induce Lift-off oversteer due to its throttle retarding capabilities. This can keep some cars stable in long maneuvers. In rear wheel drive cars, traction control can prevent Oversteer.

Crumple zones work by managing the crash energy so that it is absorbed within the frontal section of the vehicle, and by preventing intrusion into or deformation of the passenger cabin. This acts to ensure front seat occupants are properly protected against injury. In simplistic terms, this is done by strengthening the passenger cabin part of the body by using more reinforced beams and increasingly, higher strength steels. A common misconception about crumple zones is that they reduce safety by allowing the vehicle's body to collapse, crushing the occupants. The marked improvement over the past two decades in high speed crash test results proves this is a misconception. Modern vehicles using what are commonly termed 'crumple zones' provide, on average, far superior protection for their occupants in severe tests than older models.
Wednesday 26th December, 2007 08:08
A meteor flies through space, its violent impact cannot be heard. But the effect is devastating. Just like when a speck of dust blows into my eye.

Confessions Of A TV Addict
Wednesday 26th December, 2007 07:30
You can tell you're a TV addict if you consider pausing TV before dealing with any kind of emergency

Yes, that is Ugly Betty on TV. At some point I'll get around to making it a colour version of the logo. Done.
I Love Tortoise
Wednesday 26th December, 2007 05:30
No, I'm not quoting Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, I'm talking about TortoiseSVN:

A Subversion client, implemented as a windows shell extension.

TortoiseSVN is a really easy to use Revision control / version control / source control software for Windows. Since it's not an integration for a specific IDE you can use it with whatever development tools you like. TortoiseSVN is free to use. You don't need to get a loan or pay a full years salary to use it.

I'd originally started using it to grab nmap's latest source code, but I've recently started using it properly, modifying source code and submitting unified diffs that can be generated by TortoiseSVN. You get little green ticks for files that it's monitoring, and red exclamation marks when a folder/file is modified. If/when you screw up, simply right click the file and revert the file. It also has some cool tools for merging files. It works fine on Vista (although I must admit, explorer.exe has crashed a couple of times, but that might equally be down to Truecrypt's encrypted hard drive). Perhaps there are better Windows SVN clients out there, but this looked like the best/easiest to use at the time, and the more I get to grips with it the more I love it.

Anyway, to make this a bit less geeky (although geeks will probably notice a potential reference to LAMP), here's the quote from Anchorman:

Brick Tamland: I love... carpet.
Brick Tamland: I love... desk.
Ron Burgundy: Brick, are you just looking at things in the office and saying that you love them?
Brick Tamland: I love lamp.
Ron Burgundy: Do you really love the lamp, or are you just saying it because you saw it?
Brick Tamland: I love lamp. I love lamp.
Monday 24th December, 2007 17:37
They've got a new(?), deceptive looking, bar of Galaxy. It looks just like a normal bar, but they've put the word NEW in the corner, and a small couple of nuts, and some text about roasted hazelnuts. Damn them. Why can't they make the bar blue, like the blue bottle top on the rubbish (sugar free) version of Dr Pepper? Then I can tell the difference when I'm not in a rush. Damn nuts.
Anne Hathaway
Monday 24th December, 2007 14:05
I spotted her on BBC One earlier today, and immediately identified the movie as Ella Enchanted. She looks particularly attractive in this movie. But just in case I don't get a big enough fix, it seems that The Princess Diaries 2 is on later too! I still haven't seen Havoc or Brokeback Mountain (she apparently goes topless in them, according to IMDb), but I have seen most of the other movies that she's been in. I've had a huge crush on her for years. I'm still looking forward to watching Becoming Jane sometime. I'm not sure what to make of Get Smart, but I'll probably end up watching that next year. She does have a dog though, but as long as she eventually lets me have a cat I'm sure we'll be okay (assuming she ever breaks up with Raffaello Follieri - I heard they had an argument a few months back, so maybe... just maybe...).
Christmas Back Home
Monday 24th December, 2007 07:08
Christmas Back Home

So true, so true.
Facebook Status
Tuesday 18th December, 2007 10:03
A friend that I used to swim with has updated her status to say: "is happy she has found her camera charger and can't believe she didn't think of looking in the airing cupboard sooner!" :)
How Big's Your Hard Disk?
Sunday 16th December, 2007 23:43
Diesel Sweeties by R Stevens: DS Print: 12/7/07

all i need is a nano

I have so many computers, I can't give you a single answer, but the smallest is 120GB (laptop). My fileserver only has an 80GB drive, but it also has a couple of large RAID5 arrays. No, I'm not making up for any inadequacies! :P
Google's Changed
Tuesday 11th December, 2007 08:55
I noticed I had trouble connecting to www.google.co.uk and .com around 7 this morning, but their servers seems to be back up now... with a slightly different homepage! They now have a bar at the top of the screen, allowing them to push even more of their services. I don't think I like this new look (especially as the bar isn't completely consistent between sections, it seems to wiggle about a bit), but I'm sure it'll grow on me. Maybe.

I like how clicking on Mail takes you to Google Mail, abandoning the new top bar (Calendar does too). And Blogs seems to have the old style interface. Groups, confusingly, puts Mail on the left and has Web as the penultimate link. Don't you love consistency?
New Design
Friday 7th December, 2007 04:59
Very occasionally, for no apparent reason, IE7 will display a scrollbar at the bottom of the (diary, but also potentially index) page because the page is 1 pixel too wide. Even though it works fine in Firefox. Even though there's no reason to do it (and it has to be based on the content, otherwise it'd occur on every page). I've tried copying stuff about, but I can't work out what the cause is. Argh.

Anyway, despite that little quirk, I've decided to throw the new design up on the index page as an incentive for me to finish things off (e.g. make login page match, possibly sort out search page so it use GET instead of POST, and provide search fields on the page itself, finalise the new diary design for 2008).

Just spotted another quirk, for some reason the border-bottom on the navigation links (INDEX, BLOG, LOGIN) don't show up unless there's some content underneath it (but, again, works fine in Firefox). It's the same code so it really should be consistent. I've added something to pad it out.

EDIT: I think I've worked it out.

This is a test sentence of italic text that is long enough that it might cause problems. At least I think this should do the trick.

Yep, here's why. Italic text causes the problem if the end of a sentence hits the edge of the browser. A few pixels less wide and the word falls onto a second line. A few pixels wider and the word isn't at the end of edge of the screen. But, similar to Goldilocks, if you get it just right, you get the annoying 1 pixel scrollbar. It appears to be because IE is not treating the width of the fullstop correctly. If you close the italic tag before the fullstop then all is well. It would appear that the comma is okay, perhaps it only affects the fullstop? You might not see me posting a lot of italic text from now on. Or maybe you will.
Diesel Sweeties
Thursday 6th December, 2007 04:44
I don't usually find them that funny, but occasionally one will make me smile:

free networks, free love

Tuesday 4th December, 2007 06:32
According to Sophos, 41.4% of reports come from two viruses: W32/Traxg and W32/Netsky. The sad thing is that they've both been around since July 2004 and March 2004 respectively. But it's not just a lack of AV software (presumably combined with Admin credentials), first position is taken by Troj/Pushdo. Its ongoing success is down to the guilty cybercriminal's ability to quickly create different variants, which are being spread voraciously in a range of spam messages. Each new piece of spam that harbours the trojan has been created to tempt users, usually enticing people (presumably aimed at men) to watch videos of Britney or view naked pictures of Angelina. Their tactics are working.

Mind you, it is possible to run a computer without AV software. But that's a whole other story.
Fighting Piracy
Monday 3rd December, 2007 23:04
After watching Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, I was thinking about piracy and how to combat the illegal distribution of TV shows (and movies).

Firstly, I admit that a lot of the DRM/Windows only issues are less of a concern for me and my almost entirely Windows based environment, but it'd be nice to see a DRM free solution, as I do have Linux machines (I've even got XviD running perfectly on my copy of Slackware) and I wouldn't want to tie myself to a device. Given that virtually all DRM formats have been broken, it's more of a nuisance than anti-piracy measure.

So here's the big question: if illegal downloads are faster, higher quality and less restrictive, what's the incentive to be legal?

The delay between episodes airing and episodes being available on the players (iPlayer, 4oD) is too long. The first step would be to make the digital download appear immediately after the show has aired. That way people will watch it first on TV, where you have full control over what they are watching, and can display adverts to bring in some revenue.

But that's more like putting a plaster over a gaping wound. What the broadcasters need to do is reevaluate their business model. They should probably assume that a show will be watched by millions of people for free, and that they can't assume they'll make money on selling digital downloads.

They could still charge a premium for a retail copy (DVD/HDDVD/BluRay, in a nice box) for people without the internet or to give to people as presents. They could charge a nominal fee to cover bandwidth costs for legal downloads in the country that you broadcast (and perhaps, for the UK, restrict it to UK based credit/debit cards?). You can assume that a lot of people in the UK and across the rest of the world will trade the files over P2P networks, but that won't affect bandwidth costs, and if you never assume you'd make money on internet downloads them you're not losing money through piracy. You can still go after people like you are now, but hopefully providing a decent legal alternative will reduce the number of people you'd need to go after.

So how do you counter the loss of revenue? You can make some money from "subtle" advertising in the show (e.g. product placement, and not the obvious kind like you see in the Bond movies), and stick to the traditional advertising model when you show it on screen. The BBC can worry less about this as they have the licence fee money that means they don't do adverts. And as their original business model didn't include the internet, it shouldn't matter if they're putting the existing content onto the net for a nominal fee.

The final step would be to provide your own teaser clips from the show on sites like YouTube, so people can legally embed/link to things, which would stop people having to illegally upload their own versions if they want to link to that clip of Gareth's stapler in the jelly.

And what do you do about movies? Pretty much the same. You make your money in the cinema, with the big screen, the experience, the popcorn, the crowd. You make more money on the DVD/HDDVD/BluRay sales for people that want physical copies (perhaps include decent physical promotional items such as a booklet with behind the scenes photos, or even an exclusive cuddly toy?). You charge a nominal fee for the electronic version, which you release - for example - four weeks after it's out in the cinema. You also abandon this silly idea of different dates for different countries, and release things at roughly the same time all across the world, not 6-12 months later. It might cut into your margin a little, but think of it as an incentive to make decent movies, instead of all those remakes and expensive sequels that often rely upon expensive and extensive CGI sequences. Perhaps this is why Collateral turned out so much better than the remake of Miami Vice (even though both have Jamie Foxx and Michael Mann).
Monday 3rd December, 2007 05:08
Talking of xkcd.com:

xkcd.com comic

The alt/title tag on the original page says: Sometimes an impulsive 2:00 AM cross-country trip is the only solution.
Random Numbers
Sunday 2nd December, 2007 03:27
I made a post earlier tonight on a friend's forum, and my signature is based on this comic, which is quite apt given the recent Windows 2000/XP random number vulnerability (which, to be honest, isn't that much of an issue if you need to have Admin access in the firts place).


xkcd.com comic
Saturday 1st December, 2007 15:11
I was looking forward to watching a new episode of QI last night, on BBC Four, until I realised that it was a repeat of the first ever show. It's odd seeing Hugh Laurie on there, now that he's a huge star in American actor. I'd forgotten all about his small roles in Friends and Spooks, now I want to go back and watch them (which will be quite easy, seeing as I have both on DVD). Laurie is reported to currently earn $350,000 per episode and has extended his contract for an additional year, allowing for at least a fifth season to be produced, so there's plenty more House to look forward to. Assuming the Writers Guild of America ever end their strike.
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