Wednesday, 23 June 2004

Don't panic

The press in general like environmental and health scares because it makes for great alarmist articles. Spiked dissects a few of those and tell us "Don't panic!" Certainly the best advice since The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

Tuesday, 22 June 2004

Shopping in your birthday suit

The Plaza Shopping Centre on Oxford Street in London organised the UK's first ever naked shopping event on Monday night. They blame the Euro 2004 for the low turnout: they had only 15 nude shoppers. Indeed, how can you expect attendance at an event that takes place the same night as England beating Croatia 4-2 in one of the best matches of the championship yet? Nude or not, most English shoppers were in the pub last night.

Merrill Lynch computer systems can't cope with Google

Merrill Lynch has dropped out of the Google IPO. Apparently their computer systems are not up to date, would be unable to cope with the particular requirements of the unusual IPO structure and they are not willing to upgrade it. Knowing how most banks manage their IT infrastructure, I am not particularly surprised.

The best homage to Douglas Adams

The BBC is planning to do a new adaptation of Douglas Adam's Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy that would cover the last 3 books of the "trilogy in five parts", taking the cult series back to its roots, as it started as a BBC radio series in the 70's before spawning a book, a TV sitcom and countless other things, except a movie so far (but this is also in the making). The best part about this new radio show though is that they will use recordings that Douglas Adams made before he died to give his voice to Agrajag. I can't wait to hear it! In the meantime, you can go to the BBC shop to find the original radio series recordings.

Monday, 21 June 2004

PADI Open Water Diver

I finished my PADI Open Water Diver course over thw week-end by doing the open water dives at Wraysbury Dive Center. The weather was great and the dives fun. This small reservoir has been set up especially for dive training. It is 14 meter deep at its deepest and has a few wrecks, such as a bus, a London black cab, a camper van, etc. Now I just can't wait to go on holidays and make good use of my newly acquired diving skills.

Solution in a box

If you need a specialist appliance, such as an intranet search engine, you probably find that it's impossible to get it for a reasonnable price. You can choose a professional product with extensive support but it will cost you a fortune. You can put together open source solutions on a dedicated box but you might not have the skills to do so and maintenance will end up costing you a lot. Pre-Emptive are here to solve this problem. They can provide you with a "solution in a box", i.e. they will provide you with a computer that has all the right bits configured and running to solve your problem and that you can just drop into your network. The acquisition cost is low because the solution is based on open source technology; maintenance is minimal because Pre-Emptive does it for you. Hence a low TCO and a happy CFO.

Ultimate fan accessory

Winbledon 2004 has just started and, as usual, the rain is part of the festivities. If you want to support you favourite star, the BBC sport academy gives you the ultimate fan accessory in the form of a face mask of your favourite player. Well, ok, right now they only have Federer, Henman and Myskina so you'll have to support one of them three.

Friday, 18 June 2004

Why DRM is bad

On a similar subject from the previous post, here is a great article on DRM and why it is A Bad Thing (tm). It is very clear, well explained, definitely very worth reading even though it is quite long.

Copy-blocked vs making the most out of technology

Some music companies have been introducing copy blocking mechanisms on music CDs that mean they are impossible to read in a PC CD drive. Alledgedly, it is meant to reduce illegal copies. The first artist to use this mechanism was CĂ©line Dion who released a European edition of her A New Day album that could potentially crash your computer. Other artists who used this technology include Eminem and Velvet Revolver whose copy-protected CD shot to number 1 in the US. Now, does it mean that people have been buying it because they can't rip it or just because they like it?

Whatever the reason is, I think this is a very stupid way to improve CD sales. I personaly refuse to buy a CD that is copy protected for the simple reason that I want to be able to enjoy the songs on my Palm while going to work on the tube or on my computer at home when my stereo decides to pack up, which has happened twice in 3 years. And I'm not going into the potential damage to my computer or the data it contains if the CD actually makes it crash. This is just plain stupid.

Contrast this with the attitude of artists like Garbage and Dido whose respective CDs Beautifulgarbage and No Angel include extra goodies, a song reconstruction game for the former, a couple of video clips for the latter, that are available when you put the CD in a PC drive. So rather than protecting their CDs against technology, they actually use the same technology to provide their fans with material that makes the CD more valuable and therefore more attractive to buy for people who might otherwise have downloaded it from the net.

Maybe the music industry will one day learn to listen to their customers and embrace technology rather than fight it? We can dream but at least some artists understand it and they are definitely the ones who will see the colour of my money.

Being too cautious can be dangerous

spiked has an interesting article on why being too cautious can put us at risk when we follow advice that has been given without full understanding or that is not adapted to our local situation. The author argues that in cases where the information is not sufficient or adapted, we are better of taking a risk than following cautionary advice. In practice, it is consistent with what Bruce Schneier says in his book Beyond Fear where he explains how to evaluate risk in day to day situation so that we can do what we want to do while taking risks that we deem acceptable and that we understand.

A simple example of this principle is crossing a busy road. The only completely safe option is not to cross the road at all, which defeats the purpose. The most dangerous way to cross the road would be jaywalking with your eyes closed. Between the two, you have lots of options that will get you on the other side of the road with a probability of being hit by a car low enough that you are willing to take the risk.

Beer Blunder

One of my colleagues made a terrible beer mistake last night while we were in the pub watching England win 3-0 against Switzerland in their Euro 2004 game. He offered to buy a round and brought me back a Budweiser, while I had been drinking Budvar. Now this is terrible! He claimed he didn't know the difference. This is even more terrible! I can understand that American people might not know Budvar because they've only ever heard of Budweiser. But for a European, Englishman, working in London, where Budvar is easily found, it is inexcusable. I wouldn't mind if the American beer was a reasonable copy of the orginal Czech beer but I find the American one tasteless, whereas the Czech one is one of my favourites. Incidentally, the two companies are aware of the confusion brought by having the same name and have been battling in court in various countries, such as the UK or Latvia, while in Germany, they just wouldn't buy the American brand. Having said that, beer is something the Czech have been doing for ages so they are rather good at it.

Wednesday, 16 June 2004

PADI Go Dive Log

I just found that PADI provides a Palm application called Go Dive Log to plan and log dives following the rules of the PADI dive planner. I've just installed it on my Tungsten T3 and will try it over the week-end when doing my completion dives for the Open Water Diver certification.

Tuesday, 15 June 2004

Elton gets special treatment

Special treatment for visiting stars is not new and can sometimes take interesting forms. In the case of Elton John, it means being allowed by Aberdeen airport to fly out later than normal.

Virgin Atlantic to launch amphibious limo service with Gibbs Aquada

Obviously, Richard Branson enjoyed his cross-Channel trip in the Gibbs Aquada because he is now talking of using it as a limo service for Virgin Atlantic customers.

The French, the English and the Channel

The English currently find it quite hard to swallow their amazing defeat in their Euro 2004 opening match against France. Consequently, a few papers try to find every possible excuse to print the words French defeated and Richard Branson just gave them a good excuse by crossing the Channel in an amphibious vehicle and breaking the previous record for doing so, which was held by two Frenchmen. Having said that, the Gibbs Aquada looks like a fantastic vehicle and I could certainly do with one of them to go back home when I feel like it.

Friday, 11 June 2004

PDF, XML and Java

Adobe are about to unveil a new document services platform based on Java. At last a professional document company going the Java way! This should give us the opportunity to do some funky things in J2EE applications beyond just producing PDF documents. Hopefully, this will be able to interact with tools like Jakarta FOP. See also TheServerSide.COM.

Gummi bears defeat fingerprint sensors

This article on The Register shows that defeating fingerprint sensors doesn't require high-tech or expensive equipment. Of course, fingerprint sensors assume you are going to apply your finger to the sensor, not something that looks and feel like a finger and has a fake fingerprint on it.

Seattle ferries to offer Wi-Fi

Seattle ferries to offer Wi-Fi. No way this would ever happen on the London tube, they'd have to get mobiles to work there first.

Thursday, 10 June 2004

Photo in the PMJ

Nameplate of barquentine Shabab Oman Posted by Hello

I took this photograph of the nameplate of barquentine Shabab Oman while in Bergen during the Cutty Sark Tall Ship Races in 2001. This photo was used in the April 2004 issue of the Postgraduate Medical Journal. You can find the original version of this picture at DHD Multimedia Gallery.

As mentionned in the gallery, Shabab Oman means Youth of Oman. She is a superb barquentine that is used by the Sultanate of Oman as an ambassador to other sailing nations. Under sail, she is definitely one of the most beautiful ships I have ever seen and regularly takes part in international sailing events.

Wednesday, 9 June 2004

Monday, 7 June 2004

Open Water Diver

I spent a good part of my week-end in the swimming pool at London School of Diving, doing the theory and confined water part of the PADI Open Water Diver certification, which teaches you the basics about diving. I now have to do the open water dives to complete the certification. Hopefully, this will happen in two weeks time. And then the world's my oyster... literally!


vox.machina has got a new skin and it looks great!

Friday, 4 June 2004

Henman's out (again!)

Once again, Tim Henman nearly made it but not quite. Coria proved too strong for him at the French open. As one of my colleagues just said: I'd like to see one Englishman win a grand slam during my lifetime but it's not likely to happen, is it?

Finite Monkeys

Andrew Yahner has been reading his SPAM email rather than throw it away and has come up with poetry on his Finite Monkeys blog. I particularly like A Simple Life.

Thursday, 3 June 2004

The Opte Project

The Opte Project is quite cool. It is all about building a colourful map of the internet, using different colours depending on domain names and/or IP addresses. Here is an example:

400x400 map of the Internet

400x400 map of the Internet

You can also see the maps in VRML. Cool!

SpaceShipOne ready to go

Scaled Composites have just announced the date for the first space launch attempt of SpaceShipOne. So, if you're anywhere near Mojave Airport on the 21st of June, go an see it.

Travellers Hit by Air Traffic Computer Failure

Apparently, today was not a good day to be traveilling by plane in the UK. But what on earth where they thinking? Doing tests on a live system? Any IT professional worth his salt would tell you this is playing with fire. If you want to do tests, have a test system, that's what they're for. An organisation like NATS should have test systems that mirror the live ones and on which they can perform tests. If they don't, it is gross negligence.

Trying block quotes

I just modified my template slightly to support block quotes, as in the one below, taken from Mighty Quill:

It's so nice being a baby camel
And I don't give a damn
For being a wild tiger in the jungle!

Wednesday, 2 June 2004

Wave Messaging

Nokia have just come up with yet another fun (or useless might say some) way of communicating. It's called wave messaging and enables you to make a 15 character message float in the air. The BBC has an article that explains how it works in more details. Potentially a great way to find lost friends in big noisy crowds.

Tuesday, 1 June 2004

Arranged Marriage

I went to Northumberland over the week-end and took the train from King's Cross station, which is currently a bit of a mess due to some redevelopment work. On the train, I found a 4-page document that someone had forgotten, entitled The Nine Rules of Arranged Marriage. It was apparently written by someone from Indian origins, who got married through an arranged marriage. The 9 rules (in fact 10 because there are two number 6 rules) are meant to give advice to other fellow countrymen who are considering an arranged marriage. What stroke me is that the advice sounds very much like what you'd say to someone who wants to buy a new car, the way he speaks of elligible women as girls being just an example. Some of the comments also show complete lack of experience in terms of relationship with women. So I showed the document to a colleague of mine who is of Indian origin and just got married through an arranged wedding. His comment was The guy is an idiot. Not just me thinking this then. Now, I'm not making a judgement on the practice of arranged marriage but I just hope people get better advice than what I found in this forgotten document.