Everything, Everything - May 2007

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Mortgage Lending
Thursday 31st May, 2007 11:06
23 April 2007: Mortgage lending is still booming

Mortgage lending is still rising strongly, says the Council of Mortgage Lenders. Total lending in March amounted to £31.3bn - 10% higher than a year ago and another monthly record. The continued strong lending has come despite three rises in interest rates since last summer.

5 weeks later...

Thursday, 31 May 2007: Mortgage lending dips to year low

New mortgage lending in the UK fell to 12-month lows in April, Bank of England figures show. Mortgage approvals totalled 107,000 down from 111,000 in March - the third monthly decline in a row. The data also hinted the market may be slowing as the value of home loans rose £8.9bn, compared with £9.9bn in March.

I can't help think that the statistics are fairly meaningless, and that they're being abused to create "interesting" stories by the media.
Windows Live Messenger 8.5 BETA
Thursday 31st May, 2007 09:30
There's a UK version you can download (see mess.be for other languages, or check out the Microsoft site), and if you move a file (msimg32.dll from C:\\Program Files\\MSN Messenger to C:\\Program Files\\Windows Live\\Messenger) you can keep Messenger Plus! Live working (although many things are apparently broken, such as logging).

EDIT: The latest verson of Messenger Plus! Live now supports the beta.
Counter-Source: Strike
Saturday 26th May, 2007 22:26
Methinks Tom is drunk :)
Friday 25th May, 2007 10:32
I came across an article about how the DC++ client was being conned into performing Denial of Service attacks, and if a malicious person was an operator on a big Direct Connect hub then they could cause a lot of grief. They redirect the client to the target address, and the hub can change the IP address of other clients, so attempts to other peers will also flood the target. The redirect issue was fixed a few versions ago, but not all users will have upgraded. A suggestion was apparently made to block certain ports used in the redirect, such as 25 or 80, presumably as any running services would knock the server out far quicker than if the request were made to another port that was filtered; but it doesn't look like anyone went through with it.

And it got me thinking. What happens when The Next Big Thing turns up on BitTorrent? This could be something like the new Harry Potter movie. All you'd need to do is get hold of a nice TeleCine, create a new torrent using a well known public tracker, but also specify additional trackers that are your targets. Most BitTorrent clients will try to connect to all the trackers in a round robin fashion, typically because the legitimate (and semi-legitimate) trackers have a tendency to go down. The trackers use HTTP, so you arguably couldn't block ports like 80 (however, many trackers use different/non-standard ports). The torrent could look like a legitimate download of the new Harry Potter 5 TeleCine (and by legitimate I obviously mean the file is of the Harry Potter movie and not some dodgy porn or loaded with spyware, as copyright infringement is clearly illegal), and gain popularity very quickly (especially if you obtained the file from a private tracker and were first to share on a public one and/or you're seeding the file over a fast connection). If you controlled one of the trackers you could probably return the IP address of the target instead of some of the other seeds/peers. Otherwise you simply rely on the fact that the clients will try and connect all the freakin' time. Even when they're seeding it afterwards, which could last hours or days.

Thankfully, I don't think this will be a huge problem, as there are typically minimum intervals for connecting/reconnecting, and many clients will stop trying to reconnect to hosts that don't respond correctly. These safeguards are really there to protect the tracker from becoming overloaded, and to stop certain organisations and badly written clients from slowing down the swarm by sending bad data, but a side effect means it's unlikely to be used in a DoS attack. Which is pretty cool, and a relief seeing as BitTorrent makes up the majority of traffic sent over the internet.
Credit Card Fraud
Thursday 24th May, 2007 16:22
I'm not going to name names, but I was sent the log files from a server that may have been compromised, as a few of the company's customers had information missing from the database and had discovered fraudulent charges on their credit card. It didn't take me long to spot the glaringly obvious activity. It seems one of the pages (although I wouldn't be surprised if other places are potentially affected) allowed SQL injection. This is probably the best example I've seen of why you need to escape and filter user input before performing a query. The attacker(s) had knowledge of the database, probably from previous attacks, and was able to retrieve everything that's required to perform credit card fraud, including the three digit CVV number. That's the type of card, the number, the name on the credit card, the full address, even the home phone number. The logs revealed IP addresses that were predominantly based in Vietnam, but one was based in Texas and appears to be a web server that displays the Fedora Core default page and has presumably been compromised. One of the IPs appears to be a web admin interface for a DSL router that has probably been compromised using default usernames and passwords. They appear to have covered their tracks quite well. The server logs go back for years, so it should be possible to work out when the activity started, but it's too late for the many people that have already had their details stolen. So make sure you always correctly filter and escape user input. If you're expecting an integer, the first thing you should do is make sure you've been given an integer. Imagine if it were your details that were stolen.
Tuesday 22nd May, 2007 16:13
I'm listening to "Paolo Nutini - New Shoes" while I read Scott Adams' blog entry about shoes (Footwear Theory of Motivation). I can hear Helen sighing with relief because I'm finally writing about shoes instead of computers for once. In his blog, he says:

His observation, after years of playboy behavior, is that a woman who takes off her shoes at your place isn't planning to put them back on until morning. If she doesn't take them off, she's mentally prepped for a quick escape.

You might wonder if removing shoes causes the sex or it's simply a sign of comfort that predicts it.

I suspect it's the latter, perhaps the next time I invite a woman over to mine and have sex with her, I'll ask her afterwards. I generally take my shoes off when I plan on staying, sometimes I'll wear them to avoid feeling cold, but I generally take them off when walking on laminate floors otherwise the noise annoys me. It must be worse in high heels, but I haven't tried that (anyone got any size 9.5 high heels I can borrow? :P).

Getting back to Paolo Nutini, I have new shoes, but I keep wearing my old Kickers. Sure, they might be approaching ten years old, and I've replaced the laces at least three times, and I've had to glue the soles back on a couple times at the back, but they're really comfortable. And unlike women, I choose comfort over style. Although I do appreciate the effort you women make when you wear nice shoes. And I like when you wear nice perfume. And only women can get away with wearing bright coloured clothes like orange jumpers.
Tuesday 22nd May, 2007 12:05
It might be good, but I don't think I'd trust this 450W ATX power supply in any of my PCs. It might be "low noise" with "special dust protection", but it only costs £5.29 including VAT. And that's just wrong. My two main PCs use this expensive but silent (as the fan has never kicked in on ether system) 460W PSU as I like silent/quiet parts, although I do wish it had more power connectors. I also have a 480W Tagan PSU with loads of connectors, although the fan's a little noisy after about 1.5 years of constant use (I may look into replacing the fan, but I might replace the entire PSU).
How Windows Server 2008 Got Its Name
Tuesday 22nd May, 2007 10:32
Mark Ronson
Monday 21st May, 2007 15:32
The more I listen to his latest album, the more I like the album tracks. Currently enjoying Inversion, Diversion (and obviously LSF, which it goes straight into) and Outversion. And the Lily Allen track still rocks no matter how often I hear it (her next single, by the sound of things). The Robbie Williams track sucks though.
Teenager Dies After Pylon Climb
Monday 21st May, 2007 11:50
I Have Business Cards
Monday 21st May, 2007 11:20
I've been here over a year, I thought it was about time.
Friday 18th May, 2007 14:54
The Advanced Access Content System (AACS) Licensing Administration's soon to be released patch, designed to keep pirates from copying HD-DVDs, has already been hacked. According to ArsTechnica the new volume key used by high-def films scheduled for release next week has already been cracked before it even hits the shops.

The AACS LA had invalidated the previous volume key after it was shared across the Internet. Chairman Michael Ayers said earlier this month that the only way his organisation could deal with the problem was by clamping down on key dissemination; the Internet community responded by posting the key everywhere. Version 3 will be used on all HD DVDs from now on. It appears that hackers are able to adapt to AACS revisions and is demonstrating a capacity to assimilate new volume keys at a rate which is making the AACS look very silly.

EDIT: I should have picked up on it sooner, but they must have meant processing key and not volume key.
Friday 18th May, 2007 11:59
Men have become too concerned about political correctness to pay women simple compliments, according to a survey. Their concerns are backed by 65% of women who suspect there is always a motive behind a flattering remark from a work colleague or new acquaintance. While 89% of women loved to receive a compliment, 67% felt uncomfortable if it came from anybody other than their partner. Among those in long-term relationships, 63% of women said their partners paid them fewer compliments now than they did five years ago. Some 12% said no one had paid them a compliment in the past three months. Fewer than one in five women questioned (16%) received the recommended five compliments a day.

There's a recommended number of compliments? I think someone's having a laugh. And why should men compliment women if women rarely compliment men?
Funny Videos
Thursday 17th May, 2007 23:30
Creative X-Fi XtremeMusic
Thursday 17th May, 2007 20:26
I finally sorted it. After browsing the forums at Creative Lab's Soundblaster.com website, I came across the following advice to get the SPDIF passthrough working under Vista x86 (I gather the Gamer version doesn't work as it uses optical out, and x64 users can't get it working either):

1) Install the latest beta driver: 2.13.0012 (SBXF_PCDVT_LB_2_13_0012.exe)
2) Under "Playback Devices", right click "SPDIF Out" and select "Set as Default Device"
3) Double click "Speakers" and select the "Custom" tab. Check "Enable Digital IO"
4) Plug the digital DIN/digital coax connector into the DIGITAL_IO hole in the card (at the very top of the card)
4) You can "Test" the "SPDIF Out" to check it works. I had a crackle and the way it changes between speakers doesn't seem entirely right, but at least it works
5) Install AC3Filter 1.30b, then bring up the "AC3Filter Config". On the "Main" tab, make sure "Use SPDIF (Passthrough)" is checked. Under the "System" tab, make sure the correct things are checked for your receiver (in my case, AC3Filter is used for all of the checkboxes on the left except for PCM and MPEG Audio, as there can be some clicking when my receiver switches to and from AC3, with AC3 Filter as the preferred decoder, and AC3 checked on the SPDIF passthrough section, and it all goes into my 7 year old Cambridge Soundworks setup that I bought many years ago with my first SBLive card - incidentally, the X-Fi might be the last Creative product I buy).

And now I can finally hear the AC3 audio streams in surround sound, just like I could in XP. Hopefully I can listen to DVDs in surround sound too, something I shall look into later. And maybe I'll add some screenshots to this post.
Thursday 17th May, 2007 18:10

I only hope that Kristin is right that the show could return for midseason. There's a rumour that a decision will be made on June 15th regarding a spinoff (hopefully the FBI one, as it sounds interesting).

What would Veronica do?
Primal Scream
Thursday 17th May, 2007 14:29
I was playing TrackMania Nations last night and someone chose Primal Scream - Rocks to be played on one of the fun tracks, and now I've got Primal Scream songs stuck in my head, and all I can find are 30 second clips at Last.fm.
Thursday 17th May, 2007 12:17
I want to go home and climb into a warm bath and watch TV. Yes, at the same time (I can rest my laptop and stream everything across the wireless connection). I'm not feeling very motivated today and my hair feels greasy. I might have an early night tonight, although I do have a lot of TV to watch today. Only five hours to go...
Going Bald
Thursday 17th May, 2007 10:08
You might not have to, although right now it might only work if you're a mouse. And if you are a mouse, congratulations on reading this.

"The implications of the observation are many fold, but principally perhaps for what it tells us about the reprogramming power of adult stem cells, and its applications in regenerative medicine and wound healing."
Solid State
Thursday 17th May, 2007 09:46
I want one of these, I think it's dropped in price since I last looked, as I'm sure it was over £400 last time. Transfer rates look okay (perhaps not as high as the WD Raptor can go), but it's the incredibly quick response rate, because there's no seek time, that makes it attractive. Plus the fact you can presumably let it rattle around your bag without having to worry too much about losing data. It's not cheap, but I'd look cool. I really should be saving my money for a house though. Damn my first month without having to pay off the car!
Notes To Self
Thursday 17th May, 2007 00:05
1) Don't forget to screw the CPU fan back above the CPU before attempting to run the dual Xeons at around "half load" (the system didn't crash though)
2) Deleting a volume from a dynamic disk will delete the entire volume from that disk and all of the other disks
3) You need to initialise and then convert the basic disk into a dynamic disk before you can add it to the failed array
4) Read the help files
5) Learn how to count
6) Stop being so impatient and stupid
Wednesday 16th May, 2007 14:21
Did anyone else watch the Panorama documentary? It wasn't that good, all you really concluded was that Scientology still spies on anyone that might criticise them (part of the "Fair Game" tactics that were apparently abandoned in 1968). Tommy Davis, the guy with the suit that turned up everywhere that John Sweeney went, seemed to like re-iterating any dirt they had on anyone that Sweeney tried to interview, rather than attacking or debating what the "heretics" had said, and Davis accused Sweeney of lacking objectivity despite the fact he wasn't present for many of the interviews - he was clearly jumping to conclusions (even if he was correct that they had a negative view of the "religion"). Davis also got aggressive whenever Sweeney quoted anyone that that had called Scientology a "cult", despite the fact that Sweeney was not directly calling them a cult. If anything, Sweeney was perhaps offering them the chance to explain why there might be a misunderstanding and to put forward their reasons as to why Scientology isn't a cult (or just using it as an excuse to label them a cult). Perhaps it was due to the editing, but Panorama made it look like Davis was overly protective and closed minded, and his actions helped give Scientology a very bad impression. Another thing that gave it a very bad impression was their criticism of psychiatry. Even if part of what they say is true about the holocaust (and I doubt it is, but I wasn't there and I'm not a historian), I'm pretty sure you can't tar all of psychiatry with the same brush. The rest of the programme revealed nothing about the "religion" itself. It should be poined out that Hubbard introduced the concept of "auditing" in Dianetics, a two-person question-and-answer therapy that focused on painful memories (which sounds a lot like psychiatry). According to Hubbard, dianetic auditing could eliminate emotional problems, cure physical illnesses, and increase intelligence. It also gives you plenty of dirt to blackmail people with, but perhaps that's just a cynical view.

Sweeney did raise the old idea of Xenu, which current members dismissed. Sweeney claimed that "The Incident" is revealed to members after they've paid as much as £100,000 and reached Operating Thetan Level Three. The story might be rubbish, but it does make you wonder how much money has been invested for anyone that's above level three (I'm pretty sure the celebrities were meant to be level seven). That's a lot of money coming into the "religion", and I doubt their outgoings are that high. One possible theory might be that it's all a big pyramid scheme, which members join without their full knowledge. And it's only when you're high enough in the scheme (and sunk enough money into it) that you find out it's a pyramid scheme that relies upon the new recruits to invest money into the "religion" (and to save face, you continue the charade - probably because you can't easily back out of such an organisation without them digging up all of your dirt - and possibly make a lot of money if you're at the top: Forbes magazine estimated Hubbard's 1982 Scientology-related income as at least US $200 million). Some documents written by Hubbard himself suggest he regarded Scientology as a business, not a religion. In one letter dated April 10, 1953, he says calling Scientology a religion solves "a problem of practical business", and status as a religion achieves something "more equitable...with what we've got to sell". In a 1962 official policy letter, he said "Scientology 1970 is being planned on a religious organization basis throughout the world. This will not upset in any way the usual activities of any organization. It is entirely a matter for accountants and solicitors." A Reader's Digest article of May 1980 quoted Hubbard as saying in the 1940s "Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion."

One point I nearly forgot was that it was claimed that L Ron Hubbard lied about many of the things he'd done in his life. The Church of Scientology official biographies present Hubbard as "larger than life, attracted to people, liked by people, dynamic, charismatic and immensely capable in a dozen fields". However, the Church's account of Hubbard's life has changed over time, with editions of the biographical account published over the years differing from each other. In contrast, biographies of Hubbard by independent journalists and accounts by former Scientologists paint a much less flattering, and often highly critical, picture of Hubbard and in many cases contradict the material presented by the Church. For example: his grades at univeristy varied widely, and records show he attended for only two years, was on academic probation for his second year, and left the University in 1932 without a degree. The Church of Scientology's official account does not mention its premature conclusion. According to the Church's official account, "Here he studies engineering and atomic and molecular physics and embarks upon a personal search for answers to the human dilemma. His first experiment concerning the structure and function of the mind is carried out while at the university." One of his classes was a second-year physics course entitled "Modern Physical Phenomena; Molecular and Atomic Physics", for which he received a grade of "F". On the basis of this class, however, Hubbard claimed to be a "nuclear physicist" and asserted expertise in dealing with the problems posed by radioactive contamination of the environment.

It's all far too secretive and sinister for my liking. A religion shouldn't be so secretive, it should share its message to all of its members and even to the rest of the world, so they can choose to belong if they want to. I can see why Sweeney might accuse them of brainwashing, Scientology appears to take a passive aggressive approach, but this is arguably no worse than some of the other religions and religious nuts out there. At least they don't have bibles to bash people with.
What Do You Get...
Wednesday 16th May, 2007 00:24
What do you get when you take my UK Radio Player gadget, remove the themes, ditch over 50 stations, add a green tint to most of the graphics I created, add a mute option (personally I prefer a stop button as it saves on bandwidth) and "forget" to give any credit to the original author (i.e. me). You end up with the XFM Radio Player. I suppose I should be flattered that they liked my gadget enough to steal so much of the code, and I'm glad they at least removed the redirect via my server (otherwise I might have intentionally broken it and forced my lot to upgrade hehe). But they could have changed the volume code so it didn't use UKRPVolume, and they could have removed the CSS code for the flyout they're not using. And they could have made the settings page less tall, instead of having a big gap. I think what annoys me the most is that it's currently rated 0.5 stars better than mine, and the BBC Radio Player gadget is higher when you sort by the number of downloads.

I'd love my gadget if it weren't for the fact that a couple of people are having trouble with changing the theme and station, and I don't know why. It works fine on my PCs, I can't seem to replicate it, and no one else has complained. I hope, with their help and patience, that I can fix whatever is wrong.
Penryn Predictions (And Nehalem Info)
Monday 14th May, 2007 03:20
Intel's Penryn processor will appear in Q3 2007, at speeds of 2.33-3.33Hz, and will reach 3.6GHz before being replaced/surpassed by Nehalem. Penryn will offer similar performance at the same clock speed to AMD's Barcelona, but SSE4 optimized applications will walk all over AMD, and Intel will offer faster clock speeds for the same price, keeping Intel on top. This isn't surprising given that Penryn has been demonstrated since the very start of 2007 (at around 2GHz), while AMD only recently finished their B0 Barcelona design that gave a big (~500MHz) improvement in clock speed (allowing them to launch up to 2.9GHz). Intel recently demonstrated a 3.33GHz part.

There will also be Xeon versions of Penryn, which run at a 1600MHz bus (instead of 1333MHz), but these will be more expensive, and I'd need faster RAM and I'd probably end up having to replace it with DDR3 stuff when Nehalem arrives, so I can't imagine any consumers buying it, and possibly not many businesses.

It looks like Nehalem could be launched in 2008, which means I mght have to change my plan of buying Penryn and Nehalem over the summers of 2008 and 2009 to buying it at the start of the summers (or even Spring 2008 and Spring 2009).

Making a return with Nehalem is the ability for single cores to run multiple threads as Intel has added a "hyper threading" like SMT feature. Nehalem will also introduce the first multi-level shared cache architecture that will allow the different cores on a processor to share data at the L1 and possibly L3 cache levels in addition to the current L2 cache sharing implemented on the Core architecture. This can allow for better data sharing between cores and increase performance for highly threaded applications. There's also talk of 1-8+ cores, offering 1-16+ threads, which suggests that an 8 core 45nm chip might be possible, although it's unclear whether the cache will be smaller (perhaps possible if shared correctly) or if they plan on making the chip larger. Nehalem will add on-die memory controllers, much like AMD's, and there's talk of an (off-die) integrated graphics in the CPU package! It appears this will all use the Common System Interface, similar to AMD's HyperTransport, which I hoped would be a good thing, but - perhaps rather ominously - it sounds like a number of Intel developers involved in CSI have since left.
Saturday 12th May, 2007 22:47
"Can we not watch the commercials?" asked Terry Wogan, and I agree with him.

Seeing as all the Eastern Europe countries vote for each other, can Western Europe split up some of the countries in order to help their voting? If Scotland becomes independent, can they get a vote? Can we give Wales a vote? And Northern Ireland? And maybe we can split Germany in half again, but without the wall.

And how come Israel, part of Asia, gets to be in Eurovision?

Thank you Ireland, at least the UK has 7 points.
I Think I'm Going To Cry
Saturday 12th May, 2007 02:50
One of my brand new hard disks appears to have died on me. Until I replace it, it appears I can't access my new software RAID array (kind of makes sense). Which means I can't move the data off the other disk that I've been recovering data onto (which, possibly related to the dead disk, was displaying error messages and despite having moved lots of data off the disk, the files appear to still be there, so it could be fiddly to move valid data off it - I may have to re-recover it from the original failed array). In addition, until I've moved off the data, I can't easily continue recovering the rest of the data as I'm running out of disks to store it on (I might rebuild my main machine and move some of the data about, as I trust those disks that are two years old). I hoped to be able to recover the rest of the data over the weekend, except I can't Remote Desktop into my PC for some reason - the connection died and now all the ports are coming back filtered, but another machine on that hub is still up and running okay so it must be the machine that's played up. I also discovered during the recovery that I think I have a dodgy disk. I'm not having much luck. And I'm very worried that just as it looked like I'd be able to recover most of the data from the failed RAID-5 array, I might have another - twice the size - RAID-5 array going wrong on me. I don't like that all of my data is currently stored on two RAID-5 arrays running with the absolute minimum of hard disks. All I want is a stable fileserver with trustworthy disks storing my data with a bit of redundancy. If one more thing goes wrong, I think I'm going to cry.

EDIT: The disk is definitely dead, you can tell from the scorch marks on the disk that was below it and the burnt out chip on the failed disk (the chip should be flat aside from a small circular indentation in the top right corner of the first pic). Sorry about the quality, they were taken by my cameraphone (and then cropped):

Burnt Chip Scorch Marks

The good news is I only had to reactivate the array and although it says "Failed Redundancy" for now, it does mean I can still get to my data - if necessary - when I'm missing a disk. Think I might leave the fileserver off for now though, play it safe.
Page 1
Saturday 12th May, 2007 01:50
It didn't last long, but for a brief while today I was on the first page of Microsoft's gallery of Sidebar Gadgets (when sorted by rating)!

Highest Rated Sidebar Gadgets

Thank you to everyone that's voted! And I'm sorry if there are any bugs with the latest gadget, I've had a few issues of explorer crashing, but I think they've been caused by overheating issues (that appear to be related to my RAM, not the CPU). I've just submitted version 1.3.2 with the improved Settings window and some user friendly touches. I hope it works fine, as I haven't been able to test it on my main machine as it's out of action until I've finished moving the data off the SATA disk (so I can retrieve the PCI card and SATA adaptor so Vista won't complain that it's missing anything).
Wealth And Power
Friday 11th May, 2007 19:34
According to an article on the Sky News website, the Pope has urged young Catholics in Brazil to steer clear of sex, drugs and other "snares of evil" while resisting the temptations of wealth and power. This is coming from a guy that can influence the behaviour of over a billion people and lives in "Apostolic Palace" in "State of The Vatican City". Riiiight.
Controversial Ideas
Friday 11th May, 2007 15:15
  • Scrap the juvenile justice system, treat children the same as adults. If it's their first offence (as an adult or child) then the punishment can be less harsh, fines will still be based upon what they can afford (i.e. children will get lower fines as they're - generally - still in full time education). Many offenders are repeat offenders whose behaviour could be influenced by harsher punishment in their younger - character shaping - years. The downside is it would possibly put further pressure on an overcrowded prison service, and you'd still need to separate younger children from adults in order to a) avoid abuse/bullying b) allow children to interact with people their own age c) provide them with an education.
  • Increase the age of consent to 18. Smoking, voting and drinking aren't allowed until 18, this would put sex in line with that age (and the age for people in a position of responsibility). The consequences of teenage pregnancy are often as bad, if not worse, than the consequences of alcohol abuse.
  • Increase the age you can learn to drive from 17 to 18. This would also put things in line with the things mentioned above, and studies suggest that most motorists would support a move to 18. Research by Robert Isler, director of the traffic and road safety research group at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, concludes that the brain doesn't mature until the age of 25. He told an international road safety conference that the brains of younger motorists predisposed them to more dangerous driving.

    Brain studies have shown that the frontal lobes are not fully developed until young people reach the age of 25 years, the same time when age disappears as a risk factor for crashes, even after driving experience is taken into account. It seems plausible that immature executive functioning (of the brain) may lie behind the poor hazard anticipation and detection skills that seem to characterise many adolescent drivers. But like any other brain function, they can be enhanced with appropriate training.

    The downside would be that anyone that doesn't continue their education beyond the age of 16 would find it more difficult to travel (e.g. for work).
  • Charge everyone the same price for a car tax disc. The current system is based on emissions, but a car that does very little mileage and travels 5 miles a year is obviously going to give off fewer nasty emissions than an eco-friendly car that does 100,000 miles a year. You could perhaps charge car tax based upon mileage, but that would always be based on old data, and would be a pain if you bought a secondhand car that had done alot of miles last year. So the fairest way would be the current way the government makes money: high tax on petrol/diesel. This means gas guzzling cars that do high mileage will inevitably pay more money to the government.
  • Increase the amount of tax on petrol/diesel. I know, it's already hideously expensive, but to appease commercial use, companies will be allowed to claim back tax for business miles. That way the tax will only apply to normal people, and would help discourage commuters that clog up the roads.
  • Raise the stamp duty land tax threshold. After it's been raised, make it follow the inflation/deflation seen in average house prices in the UK on an annual basis. To make up for the shortfall, charge stamp duty on all additional homes. This would help reduce the amount of "Buy To Let" places, as it would stop people renting out a second home and driving up (already insanely high) house prices, and would make them far less appealing to investors - they'd have to invest money into things like the stock market instead, which would hopefully help the economy.
  • Mandatory Anti Lock Braking (ABS). Seatbelts in a car are a legal requirement. As is wearing them. Why not make it a legal requirement that cars have ABS? This would help reduce accidents and take most of the crap cars off the road. It would also help encourage people to buy newer cars, which may have economic benefits. With sufficient warning, such as the switchover to digital TV, people could plan their purchase. And if they can't afford a new car, then they'll just have to take public transport instead (or walk). Eventually, if necessary, you could add a requirement for additional safety features, such as airbags or side impact bars. Cars from abroad would have to meet these safety standards in order to drive on our roads/be allowed in this country.
  • Scrap congestion charging. If you don't want people to drive (or sit in traffic) in busy areas, then don't let them drive there. For anyone that lives in the busy areas that cannot be pedestrianised, give them continued access via numberplate recognition and/or a device that controls barriers/bollards. Don't allow the people that can afford it to drive through the congestion charging areas, force everyone onto public transport (or let them walk on the newly pedestrianised area). One of the reasons why people don't walk in London is because of the incredibly low air quality, due to the pollution. Get rid of the traffic and the air gets better and more people would walk. Anyone that's walked around the heart of London before 9AM knows that the pavements aren't that busy. Plus the exercise is bound to be good for stressed city workers.
  • A child support system that doesn't encourage single mothers to have as many babies as they can possibly pop out. For the first child, the mother gets lots of benefits (more than the current system). For a second child, the mother doesn't get as many benefits (they can potentially re-use the same clothes during the early years, if there is a small age-gap it might be possible to save the cost on baby-sitting). No additional benefits are given for a third child. For any additional children, the mother must pay money (to help cover the increased benefits for a first child). To help mothers avoid having too many children, the government could offer free hysterectomies, free condoms, free birth control pills, free morning after pills. Abortion would not be free, partly to encourage prevention/protection. In the long term, it must be cheaper to provide these things than pay out for a child. Anyone that is on a high income would therefore be able to support a large family, if they choose to. The downside is that a person may choose to have a large family and then become unemployed and have to start paying the government even though they don't have an income. This could be dealt with like the (admittedly rather poor) student loan system, where the person gradually accumulates a larger debt, but payments are taken directly out of their salary once they're employed (and if the parent dies, payments are exempt - it's not like we'd make the child pay for themselves, and the inheritance - if there is one - might make them more self-sufficient).
  • Scrap inheritance tax. If you've worked hard to get your money, probably paid 40% tax on a fair chunk of it, then why should you get punished 40% all over again? The problem has become more prevalent with the rise in house prices, as this often takes people well over the threshold. HBOS says that 2.4 million UK homes are now valued above the threshold. It seems to mostly affect the upper-middle-class, as rich people seem to find clever ways to avoid it (although that can involve having to trust your family, although it might stop them from trying to kill you off for a while). Most other countries don't have it. Germany has it, but you'd have to inherit 32 million Euros before hitting the 30% tax rate.
  • Ban mushrooms - okay, maybe not, but I really don't like them!
I realise that not all of these ideas are carefully thought out, but they should at least get people thinking. If you have any comments, let me know and perhaps I can start a "wiki" style entry for each idea and we can bounce around points until we abandon the idea or make it into something decent.
Friday 11th May, 2007 11:08
Tony Blair is going to resign, and the announcement comes at the same time as a redesign of their website. I must say, it doesn't look too bad: a pleasant mixture of purple, black and grey), with a hint of red for emphasis (the home page appears to use red with a hint of purple). Take a look at The Conservative Party website and it's a fairly hideous mixture of green, blue and two shades of grey. I know the Tories are trying to attract a younger audience, but this sort of colour scheme can only really appeal to children (the same children that appear to have designed their logo - I'd also like to know why they have slightly different versions for each country). The Liberal Democrats have the right idea, going for a simple black and yellow approach, but are unappealing because that yellow colour is fairly hideous. All three sites appear to have RSS feeds, although Labour's feed appears to be broken, and the Lib dem one is a bit dodgy and isn't proeprly supported by IE7's RSS Feed reader (also, you have to click the RSS FEED link, rather than provide browser support in the page). Labour also have blogs, unlike the other parties, which I hoped would be interesting, but you currently have an empty looking page (aside from third party links on the right that take you to blogs written by Labour supporters). This might sound fairly unimportant (and you should obviously vote for people/parties based on their policies and what they want to do for the community), but I get the impression the apathetic voters they're trying to capture are people like me, that have grown up with marketing and technology all around them. You have to hope that the policies and performance in politics make up for their lack of communication skills. I don't like to vote based on "hope", "the unknown" and "big assumptions" - I like my facts.
What's The F**king Point?
Thursday 10th May, 2007 13:45
Another article by Mr Greene. What's the point in disabling these things? Turning off the search will stop certain Vista features from working (if the service is stopped or disabled, the Explorer will not be able to display virtual folder views of items, and search in the Explorer will fall back to item-by-item slow search), and it simply stores (admittedly limited) search information in the registry instead, making the entire thing a bit pointless. Especially when the files that hold the index data are tightly configured and locked down using NTFS permissions - and if you can change them, you can access the files anyway. The same with System Restore. Fairly pointless article.
VMWare And Vista/Longhorn
Wednesday 9th May, 2007 14:45
In the past I've had problems installing the Beta, pre-RC and RC versions of Vista, and more recently I've had trouble installing Longhorn, within VMWare. Telling it to use an ISO image would make the Windows installer claim it couldn't see the DVD (despite the fact it had managed to see it to get that far in the first place). My workaround was to burn the image onto a DVD-RW so the installer would see the proper DVD drive and everything worked. But I've discovered a new method, which saves me burning a DVD-RW: mount a second DVD-ROM drive using the same ISO image and exactly the same settings. For some reason, having a second (identical) drive is enough for it to work. Don't ask me why. It works. Leave it at that.
Tuesday 8th May, 2007 14:11
Note to self: turn down the volume before playing loud music with decent headphones.

In other news, I passed Kat as I was walking back from the shops at lunchtime. She looked really nice. I know I've been told that she has a boyfriend, but she's lovely and pretty (and hasn't mentioned him once in our little email exchanges!).

*dances in chair to the sound of Mark Ronson*

Winamp rules (seamless change from God Put A Smile Upon Your Face into Oh My God). I want to produce an album someday.
Practical Jokes
Tuesday 8th May, 2007 09:47
Manchester-based law firm Peninsula says that when jokes go wrong - or the victim does not see the funny side - it is often the employer who ends up in court. The company surveyed more than 800 workers in a number of industries across the UK and found that most had taken part in a practical joke against a colleague.

Two thirds of those surveyed said they did not think about the repercussions of the joke, even though most people questioned admitted they felt bullied if they were on the receiving end. Among the examples it gave of jokes that can actually be construed as bullying were:
  • Loosening the top of a salt cellar so a colleague's lunch is covered in salt.
  • Spiking a teatotaller's soft drink with alcohol.
  • Sticking a sign on someone's back saying 'kick me' or 'slap me'.
  • A worker locked in a stockroom with the lights switched off.
  • A worker who was afraid of spiders finding them planted in his desk.
The salt thing is funny, annoying, but funny, and I can't think of anyone here that I've seen using salt. I don't even know where they keep the salt. Maybe we don't have any. A sign on someone's back is a laugh, it's not like people actually kick them, and - in the right context - can actually be a bonding action that shows you've been accepted as part of the team. But I do think slipping alcohol into a teatotaller's soft drink is completely unacceptable. It's their choice not to drink alcohol. Locking someone in a stockroom (for more than a few seconds) isn't right either. The spider thing is a grey area, I wouldn't do it, and I wouldn't be too happy if people did it to me, but I'd probably see the funny side after a while. Just as long as they were one off jokes and not part of a string of events that felt like a targeted bullying campaign.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Tuesday 8th May, 2007 09:38
Scientists have found a way to turn on deep sleep at will using a machine that magnetically stimulates the brain. Scientists in the US used a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to induce slow waves - indicative of the deepest phase of sleep and essential for learning ability and mood, in a group of sleeping volunteers. A TMS device sends harmless magnetic signals through the scalp and skull and into the brain, where it activates electrical impulses.

Are these the same sort of harmless magnetic signals that certain people think are responsible for things like cancer? The same sort of waves that are generated by mobile phones? During slow wave sleep, waves of electrical impulses wash across the brain at a rate of roughly one a second, which is a tiny fraction of the frequency used by mobile phones, and I suspect the close proximity means it's far less powerful than a mobile's transmitter. But it still sounds a bit scary to mess around with nature like that.

The research appeared in an early edition of the American journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Creating slow waves on demand could some day lead to treatments for insomnia," said study leader Prof Giulio Tononi, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It'd be nice if it does, and if they can prove it's safe. As someone that often finds it difficult to fall asleep, I'd be interested in the benefits, but I'm still not sure I'd trust it.
Tuesday 8th May, 2007 04:30
Being 20-something sucks. At least it does if you're a guy and you're single. All the girls your age are after guys in their 30s, and all the younger girls are at sixth form or university or are just starting their careers and aren't looking to settle down. But perhaps that's partly my fault, because I want to settle down with the right person. According to TV Addict, the latest episode of Family Guy poked fun at one of my favourite TV shows, How I Met Your Mother:

TV Announcer: We now return to How I Met Your Father
Ted: Oh Barney, I'm never going to meet the right girl and get married
Barney: You know Ted, don't you think it's kind of strange for a guy in his twenties to always be talking about getting married rather than getting laid?
Ted: Barney, I'm in love with you
Barney: (takes out a condom) Suit up (They start making out)

It's even funnier if you understand that "suit up" is Barney's defining catchphrase, and that the guy that plays Barney is gay in real life - on the show he spends his entire time chasing after one night stands with women, but virtually the only kiss you've seen him do was in the first episode when he kissed Marshall:

(Ted calls Barney - Barney's playing laser tag on the other end of the line)
Barney: (Phone) Hey loser, how's not playing laser tag? Because playing laser tag is awesome! Oh, I killed you Connor; don't make me get your mom!
Ted: Hey, listen. I need your opinion on something.
Barney: Okay, meet me at the bar in fifteen minutes - AND SUIT UP!
[Slides to Bar Scene]
(Lily, Ted, Barney and Marshall sitting at a table)
Ted: So these guys think I chickened out. What do you think?
Barney: I can't believe you're still not wearing a SUIT!
Ted: She didn't even give me the signal.
Barney: What is she gonna - is she gonna bat her eyes at you in Morse code (bats eyes)? Ted (bats eyes) Kiss me - No, you just kiss her!
Ted: Not if you don't get the signal.
Barney: Ee - (Kisses Marshall) Did Marshall give me the signal?
Marshall: No! (To Lily) I didn't, I swear.
Barney: But see - at least, tonight, I get to sleep knowing, Marshall and Me... never going to happen. You should've kissed her.
Ted: Urgh, I should've kissed her. What about when she gets back from Orlando?
Barney: A week? That's like - a year in hot girl time. She'll forget all about you. Mark my words: you will never see that one again.
(notices Robin on Metro News 1 On TV)
Ted: There she is...
Lily: Ooo. She's cute!

And Robin is cute, the actress is "my type" and Ted reminds me of me. Except he's not as skinny, his nose isn't too big, his teeth look better, and he does actually get together with Robin (although, ultimately, he doesn't marry her and we have no idea who he does marry on the show). Anyway, I'm losing sight of the original topic... So, am I crazy for wanting to settle down? Maybe. I'm lonely, but I'm picky, and if I'm going to be with someone it's going to be with the right person, and if they're the right person I'd like it to lead to something serious... like marriage.

But recently I've felt like it's never going to happen. At least not while I'm 20-something. Perhaps when I'm 30-something. I only have to kill time for the next 5 years. Ironically, women will probably find me more attractive when I'm 30-something, going bald and have less energy and stamina.
Doctor Who
Monday 7th May, 2007 23:01
I have to wait two weeks for the next episode?! At least it looks like a really good one, and we get to see Captain Jack again - hopefully explaining his sudden departure at the end of Torchwood.
Saturday 5th May, 2007 14:12
I was reading an article on The Register (one that felt incredibly dated, with its references to 2000 and XP - and is probably a rehash of a much older article) and was getting a bit annoyed with it. Then I noticed who had written it. Anyway, I'll try and keep this short, but the article makes the following points:
  • The files pagefile.sys and hiberfil.sys are unencrypted on the hard disk for Windows 2000 and XP users
  • Tools that encrypt these files cost money for Windows 2000 and XP users
  • Linux users can use free tools to encryt/securely wipe their swap file, and Linux doesn't typically support hibernation
I agree that they're both valid points, and that it'd be nice if there were an option to enable encryption (and the related performance hit) as part of Windows - which might explain why it's present in Vista*. But I also think it's all a bit paranoid, as to gain access to those files you generally need physical access to the machine and/or you need it to be poorly configured.

For example, if you were hoping to boot off a Linux Live CD and gain access to the files, you need the BIOS to be configured to boot off the CD before the hard disk. Ideally a BIOS password will also have been set, so you can't change the default setting, and the option to access the boot selection menu should have been disabled.

Otherwise, you need to unscrew the case and pull the hard disk out and attach it to another system. You can buy cases with a basic locking mechanism, which would put off most people, and/or attach a nice Kensington lock so it suddenly becomes a lot harder to access that hard disk.

The attacker also has to gain physical access to the computer, which means either they broke into your house (specifically to steal you hard disk?) or you invited them in (and then left them alone in your house for an extended period of time).

If a user really has access to the drive or system, there are easier ways to gain entry. If Remote Desktop is enabled and the user has a password, you could try and bruteforce your way in (less likely to lock the account, assuming the user even bothered with an account lockout policy) - this could even be done over the internet without the user realising/you having to steal the computer. You could perhaps steal the system and wait a few months until a nice vulnerability is discovered and use that to gain access (assuming that the system isn't left connected to the internet and automatically installing patches from Windows Update). You could use a tool to disable SYSKEY on the disk and then blank out or set a new password (not 100% reliable) for the user.

Or you could stick with the typical methods, such as targeted malicious documents that silently install trojan software. It might not be as reliable, but it's probaby a hell of a lot easier than breaking into a house to steal a hard disk.

Either way, these "privacy" measures of encrypting/wiping pagefile.sys and hiberfil.sys are mostly a waste of time (there are typically easier ways to gain access to the same data) and will affect the performance of your computer (hint: not in a positive way).

* Windows Vista can encrypt the page file, eliminating the need to set the "clear virtual memory pagefile" option. The entire design of Offline Files has been reworked in Windows Vista. In addition to much better performance and stability (as well as a generally more user-friendly interface), client-side caching is now per user, meaning it is possible to securely encrypt the cache without the use of SYSKEY mode 2 or 3. Windows Vista also allows administrators to configure encryption of the Documents folder directly through Group Policy, without having to utilize a separate script. The image below illustrates the new EFS properties available via GPO in Windows Vista.

EFS Options
Oyster-Barclaycard Trials
Friday 4th May, 2007 10:38
Transport for London (TfL) and TranSys have said they have successfully completed the first technical trials of the combined Oyster and Barclaycard.

Since December, 60 Barclaycard employees have taken part in a technical trial to test the card's functionality and reliability. A contactless terminal was installed in the coffee shop at Barclaycard's head office in Northampton, and the cards have been used on the TfL network more than 2,500 times to make journeys or add Oyster products to the card.

So the terminal is installed in Northampton, and then the employees involved in the trial have to travel to London in order to test it with the TfL network?

Cards are now being issued to a larger number of employees, including those based at Barclay's head office in Canary Wharf, to test the technology under greater volumes. Two contactless terminals have been installed in coffee shops at Barclays in Canary Wharf.

Wouldn't it have made more sense to install the terminal in Canary Wharf for the initial trial?
The Best Vista Sidebar Gadgets
Friday 4th May, 2007 09:34
I had hoped to give a nice list of interesting gadgets, but the majority of the ones on Microsoft's Windows Live Gallery are crap. They're either calculators, clocks, system resource monitors or weather related. Whenever I need a calculator I use the one in Vista (calc.exe). When I need to know the time, I look in the bottom right corner (or my watch), and I can click once to see the date and a pretty clock. I can use Task Manager (or Process Explorer) to see CPU usage. I can look outside to see what the weather's like.

But once you get past all the crap (and the buggy, memory leaking gadgets) you end up with this little list (I haven't actually used all of them yet):

UK Radio Player
Sorry, but I had to. It rocks.

Daily Dilbert
I'm still not sure it's worth so much space on the Sidebar for something that only updates daily, but it's Dilbert and it's different.

BBC News 24 Video Feeds
BBC News are well respected, and rightly so. Great if you're not near a TV and want to know what's going on (although I subscribe to their RSS feeds anyway).

PHP Function Finder
Useful for anyone that writes PHP. Not incredibly pretty though.

Royal Mail Postage Calculator
I'm crap at posting things, but other people may find this useful.

And that's basically it. Sorry. I wish there were more.
Thursday 3rd May, 2007 17:07
Today's post by Scott Adams made me smile:

Einstein has famously said he believes in Spinoza's version of God. I always wondered why he invoked Spinoza. It was time to find out about this Spinoza dude. I'm far too lazy to read an entire book, so I went to Wikipedia and read what strangers with no credibility had to say about him.


Holy cow! My opinions match Spinoza's perfectly. It turns out that being ignorant is almost exactly like being a well-read student of philosophy who can quote from the work of the masters. How lucky is that?

Now I know why Einstein invoked Spinoza when talking about his beliefs. Einstein discovered more than the theory of relativity. He also found a way to act like he believed in God, so all the God-lovers would accept him as their own, while simultaneously saying God is nothing more than semantics, so atheists would embrace him too. And he blamed it all on a dead guy, Spinoza. How many ways does Einstein need to keep proving he's a genius? I mean seriously, this is just showing off.

Ash - Twilight of the Innocents
Wednesday 2nd May, 2007 23:51
The name of their new album, and also the fantastic title track. I first heard it on Radio 1 a few weeks back when they played a live performance somewhere, I think it might have been in Northern Ireland. You can see a video of the performance there, but it's Flash and you can't appear to skip until it's loaded the entire video. There's a Real version too, but I dislike Real and don't bother installing it anymore. Anyway, it's a great track. It's dark, it's got strings, it has a good drum beat. I think I might even buy their new album, although I don't think the rest of the tracks will be as strong as this one.
One Year
Wednesday 2nd May, 2007 22:10
I've been working for my company for over a year now. Time flies when you're... time flies.

I have other things I plan on posting, as soon as I find the bookmarks and have the energy to write witty things. Okay, here we go:

I don't like spiders, they make me shudder, and occasionally scare the life out of me; but if I ever get myself a horny girlfriend, I've got to get myself one of these. In Brazil, emergency room staff can immediately spot the victims of a bite from the Brazilian wandering spider (Phoneutria nigriventer). Patients not only experience overall pain and an increase in blood pressure, they also sport an uncomfortable erection. I'm pretty sure the sex will make me forget about the overall pain.

But what also caught my attention was why they think it'll work on humans. Researchers separated the different components of the spider venom and ran tests on rats. A tiny needle-like device inserted into each rat's penis measured the pressure change, which corresponds with the increase in blood flow to the blood vessels inside the penis. Compared with control rats, those injected with the peptide showed a significant increase in penis pressure. Sounds like a fun day at the office :S

Email has changed the world. More specifically, it's allowed teachers to discretely contact their pupils outside of school. This one might not have had sex with her 15 year old pupil, but the fact she sent emails saying she loved and missed him is a little bit disturbing. Mrs Saville-King admitted meeting the boy at two hotels, but said it followed contact from the boy who was said to be distressed and emotional and threatening to commit suicide. I'd have thought there are guidelines on how to treat such students, and going alone to a hotel room to meet them is not one of them. You'd think common sense might have kicked in too. Jurors cleared Mrs Saville-King of seven counts of sexual activity with a child and one count of abuse of trust. Afterwards, she said: "Although it was my job to provide pastoral care for the pupils in my charge, I allowed a situation to develop which he could distort and misrepresent to such a grotesque degree". Being a teacher, you'd think she'd know that young kids are total bastards. They don't go around stabbing each other for fun (have you seen you can buy Kevlar hoodies and some kids wear kevlar vests to school?), they do it because they're hooligans that deserve to be punished for their actions.
Tuesday 1st May, 2007 11:30
I think I have an obsession with Zalman's Fan Mate 2 controllers. I already have 4 in my case (for just 3 fans), and I've bought another 3, as I plan on using 2 to control another couple of 120mm fans that I've just fitted. And I might use the last one to reduce the speed of the exhaust fan in another computer. Still, it's better than trying to volt mod them and accidentally electrocuting myself or blowing something up.
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The views and opinions expressed on this site do not represent the views of my employer.