Archives for: "February 2008"

Microsoft announce WorldWide Telescope

So today is the day I've been waiting for Microsoft officially announced WorldWide Telescope.

Sadly it isn't available yet for general download, but it will be sometime during the Spring.

WorldWide Telescope (WWT) is a rich visualization environment that functions as a virtual telescope, bringing together imagery from the best ground and space telescopes in the world for a seamless, guided exploration of the universe.

WorldWide Telescope, created with Microsoft's high-performance Visual Experience Engine™, enables seamless panning and zooming across the night sky blending terabytes of images, data, and stories from multiple sources over the Internet into a media-rich, immersive experience.

Microsoft WorldWide Telescope

This is what Dr. Roy Gould had to say about it:

The WorldWide Telescope takes the best images from the greatest telescopes on Earth ... and in space ... and assembles them into a seamless, holistic view of the universe. This new resource will change the way we do astronomy ... the way we teach astronomy ... and, most importantly, I think it's going to change the way we see ourselves in the universe.

Although obviously stunning are the pictures we can get nowadays, they lack context because there is no way to see what is outside the edges of the image. I still remember the first time I saw a really high resolution image of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, now we've all see images of the Horsehead Nebula and the Great Orion Nebula, but to see a huge portion of the sky in really high resolution and look at the structure to see that the bright nebulae we were used to seeing were simply areas of a much larger nebula condensing was incredible. This software does this for the whole sky, and not only in visible but other wavelengths too.

The Daily Mail as reactionary and hate-filled as ever

So for those that don't know how right-wing and reactionary the Daily Mail is check this e-mail that one of their writers sent out.

From: rsreply@dwpub.com [mailto:rsreply@dwpub.com]
Sent: 13 February 2008 15:57
To: (hidden)
Subject: Response Source - Diana Appleyard , Daily Mail (Request for personal case study)

PUBLICATION: Daily Mail (Request for personal case study)

JOURNALIST: Diana Appleyard (staff)

DEADLINE: 14-February-2008 16:00

QUERY: I am urgently looking for anonymous horror stories of people who have employed Eastern European staff, only for them to steal from them, disappear, or have lied about their resident status. We can pay you £100 for taking part, and I promise it will be anonymous, just a quick phone call. Could you email me asap? Many thanks, Diana

Now I don't know about you, but I think newspapers should report the news, and not create a story (Eastern Europeans are bad) and then look for evidence to fill in their story, in this case evidence anybody can make up and then get £100. What a joke, of course they all do it, but the Daily Mail has a long history of being among the worst newspaper out there, doing today what they did in the 1930s, pick on an ethnic group, then the Jews, the Indians in the 1950s and etc and blame them for all our ills.

Obviously the concept of a free press is a laughable when the press are controlled by a small handful of individuals - who do have an agenda and do push it with their newspapers.

Government's online anti-piracy proposals unworkable

So the government have been drafting out proposals that, at least at the moment would force Internet Service Providers to side with the big content companies, and would place sanctions on ISPs that fail to tackle piracy.

I don't know who they've got putting these plans into place, but they're technically unworkable.

How do you determine a packet being sent over a network contains illegal content or not? Short answer, you can't.

The only thing ISPs could afford to do would be to block ports commonly used by applications such as BitTorrent clients, which will do absolutely nothing to prevent piracy and just create an added hassle for people who legitimately use such ports for data transfer. BitTorrent clients can quite easily be told to use different ports, if such measures became commonplace they'd all simply pick a random port.

The next thing you could do from a technical standpoint would be attempt to analyse the packets of information going over your network, however there is no way at this level to reasonably determine if the packet contains part of a Word document or an MP3 file, let alone if the file is actually being shared illegally.

The only way for ISPs to realistically be able to analyse packets and work out if they were illegal or not, would be to match their users' computer base, and copy everything their users are downloading and then check against a blacklist of illegal files, for examples file names containing song titles, or against MD5 hashes. Even this however would not be reliable.

The biggest problem with this (other than it being illegal under the Computer Misuse Act, and no doubt under dozens of privacy laws) is cost. It would be hugely expensive you'd have to reproduce everything your users are doing online, that means huge networks of computers equal in power to the number of computers your users currently have online.

Then comes the next problem, that won't work. Why? The data will simply be encrypted, the internet would completely go underground, ISPs will end up having a huge pile of scrambled zeros and ones.

In the process what will of happened? They would of also lost the ability to track down more important things like people downloading child-porn, terrorists sharing who knows what data. The pirates would continue to happily download things, knowing now they're more anonymous than ever before.

Not only that, as I previously talked about, people's home networks aren't secure, somebody could login to three of those networks as easily as I login to my own and download whatever they like, once its done there is no evidence of their involvement, trying to drive piracy underground will simply hurt legitimate internet users.

The people putting forward these proposals are living on fantasy island, do they even know what an internet is, let alone how it works. They're just caving to the demands of the music and film industries, its the same old nonsense they pulled with the release of the cassette tape and VHS. You didn't go out of business from that, you won't from losing a few percent of sales from piracy either, you'll just have to adapt without infringing on people's rights like you did before.

Instead of siding with them, the government should be siding with the end-users. There's virtually no limits to how far these companies will go, we have Sony bundling rootkits on their retail-brought CDs, destroying people's computers, losing who knows how much data. Honestly these people are in no position to make any demands, not how they've behaved.

Frankly we need a socialist solution, heck even something similar to the USSR would solve this whole issue. Tetris was copied to practically every computer in Moscow in a matter of weeks and that wasn't illegal, why? Because Tetris was the property of the people, to be shared among everyone.

Speaking long term, content creators need to be able to create music (for example) and be supported by the society for doing it - in return the society owns their work. We lose record companies suing 13 year old girls for sharing a few songs with their friends and we lose the extreme in-equality of a handful of people making hundreds of millions, and tens of thousands of musicians desperately trying to put food on the table. Personally I think that's win-win for the vast majority of the population.

Seems far fetched? Even something like the BBC works almost in this sort of principle, everybody pays a TV licence and in return they get to view whatever the BBC create. Ideally of course the licence fee would be paid from general taxation, so we have one less bill people need to worry about, and unlike the BBC, no works would be copyrighted, they'd be under a form of public licence, after all the public paid for it.

We can do great things if we put our minds to it, these so called proposals however aren't great things, they're a joke, and an impossible joke at that.

Northern Rock bank nationalised

This afternoon the government will bring a bill to parliament that will nationalise the troubled bank Northern Rock. Only the Tories are expected to oppose it.

Virgin's bid for the bank - frankly an insult to the taxpayer was, as even the treasury admitted "out of the ballpark". I wish I could of seen the look on Richard Branson's face when the Alistair Darling told him the government wouldn't accept his ridiculous offer - expecting the taxpayer to prop up his attempts at profiteering what planet is he living on?

As I mentioned back in my post some months ago when this issue first made its appearance, nationalisation was the only solution to effectively safeguard the money that has gone out of the public coffers in order to protect people's savings and mortgages.

The Tories of course think shareholders should come first, that they should get a fair and reasonable offer - frankly they should get nothing, they know the risks of the stock market, they're all too keen to pocket the winnings, yet don't want to take the risks when they lose. It was after all their short-sighted profiteering as well as the management that created this crisis in the first place.

The nerve of some of these people is unbelievable, a few choice quotes from the BBC website. One guy writes:

Northern Rock is a Private Limited Company.

Correction: It was a Private Limited Company. Now it is owned by the British public.

If the Government simply takes it over without paying us a fair price (which I consider to be the book value of about £4 per share), then this is nothing short of THEFT.

£4 per share! You're having a laugh mate, the shares closed at 90p on Friday! If it wasn't for the government intervening in propping up Northern Rock in November your shares would be worth nothing.

And from somebody else, this made it to the BBC opinions piece, along with many other pro-shareholder views:

She questions why the government did not make the decision to nationalise earlier, when share prices were stronger.

Gee, because the government were really keen to get rid of the problem and hand it over to Richard Branson? Because the government however incompetent you think they are, aren't going to be paying ridiculous prices to compensate shareholders - they're spending taxpayers money after all, and our interest it to get the cheapest possible price.

"Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown have made a real mess of everything. It's a Whitehall farce." Now Northern Rock is being nationalised, Sylvia intends to move the remainder of her savings to another bank, because she does not trust her money in government hands.

That's rich coming from somebody who had her money in a business that was so poorly run would of gone bust had the government not stepped in.

She also needs a history lesson by the looks of it:

"Look at what happened to the carmaker Rover when it was nationalised. The company went bust", she added.

Rover was effectively nationalised in 1975 because they were hanging on the edge of collapse and they were considered a key part of the British economy, where they continued to operate quite successfully until 1988 when they were privatised by the Tories - a move which began their steady decline.

Still left to be decided is how much the shareholders will be paid, this will be decided by a panel set up to look at the question.

My thoughts are the government should absolutely not offer anything above 90p per share. Ideally I'd like to see the entire bank brought for a handsome sum of £1, we'll let the shareholders fight over trying to divide that up.

Alistair Darling has however admitted he wants to sell Northern Rock back to the private sector as soon as the taxpayer gets their money back. I'd like to see a more long-term commitment, one which won't have large sections of the Northern Rock staff made redundant like they would of been under Virgin's plans, the business should continue to operate as normal and remain under public ownership for as long as necessary, such a business will get a better price than one which suffers from a quick round of cuts to quickly move it into profitability for privitisation.

Free Zunes and bitter Apple fans

As some of my readers might of heard Microsoft are saying "sorry" with free Valentine's Zunes. From Ars Technica:

Today we've heard from readers who say that Microsoft is mending broken hearts with some TLZ: tender loving Zunage. Microsoft is e-mailing customers who are on the cusp of not receiving their special Zune orders on time, saying that while they are trying their best to get orders out in time, they might not make it. Maybe your Valentine won't mind, however, because Microsoft says that they are refunding customer's money, too. If you're one of the unlucky people to be sitting on the cusp of a February 14 delivery date, then all of the sudden you're not so unlucky, since you're getting a free Zune out of the deal.

Of course the Apple fanboys are out on patrol, both on Digg and numerous other news websites. Here's one of the best responses:

By the way, this move is anti-competitive. Everyone knows that Microsoft is desperate to eat into the iPod's lead and they have already been convicted of illegal trade practices. This "miss" may be legitimate this time, but still the 100% discount seems to be a little much. If Microsoft starts to orchestrate more ways to distribute Zunes at a price that is FAR below cost, the regulators will need to look into that.

Anti-competitive? So by competing in the market where they have a minority market share they're being anti-competitive - right whatever.

The iPod? They're so 2001. The Zune is a far superior player, although it does have its weaknesses, lack of PlaysForSure support and lack of support for Windows Media Player, that's miles better than the iPod.

Best of all - what this guy is really bitter about, is when Apple bugger you over by dropping the price of something by $200 a week after you buy it, Microsoft for possibly getting something out to you a couple of days later than originally estimated give you the thing for free. Apple fans had to whine to Steve Jobs for ages to get a crappy $100 Apple Store credit note out of him.

As for the regulators needing to get involved, don't speak too soon. What they should be (and are in the EU) looking into is how Apple force extra crap on you - iTunes, and then lock you into them forever, unless you want to buy all your music again with DRM.

Space shuttle over the UK this evening

STS 122 launched yesterday on time (to my surprise after the weather forecast), and will, with the space station be visible over the UK.

This evening (8th) the ISS will pass overhead at about 17:55 (and later at 19:25), and the space shuttle will probably be between 10 and 20 minutes behind it.

Tomorrow (9th) the shuttle will be docking with the space station, I haven't been able to find out at what time, but if they haven't already docked by tomorrow evening they will be much closer in the sky, hopefully only a few seconds apart or less. It'll pass overhead at about 18:15.

To get exact times check Heavens Above. Be a tad sceptical with the times listed for the space shuttle as it is changing its orbit gradually which can often throw the numbers out.

Windows Server 2008 = Windows Vista SP1

Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista SP1 both hit RTM on Monday, and already there seems to be some confusion around about why Windows Server 2008 has Service Pack 1 mentioned in winver and System Properties.

This is normal. Something similar happened with the 64-bit version of Windows XP, it was SP1 out the box because it was built on Windows Server 2003 SP1.

In this case Windows Server 2008 isn't built on top of Windows Vista SP1, it is Windows Vista SP1. They both have the same code base, and as a result the same build number 6001.18000. The only difference is the applications and features built on top. That means the same patches will apply, and even service packs going forward.

Home wireless networks a security nightmare

The number of wireless networks around here is slowly growing, there was just one insecure network a couple of years ago. I just checked now, and I can find 6 other wireless networks, there's probably more during different times of the day.

Wireless networks

The lower six networks shown here are all insecure. Three have no security what-so-ever, and the other three use WEP, which was part of the original 802.11 standard from back in the 90s and deprecated about 5 years ago as it can be broken in just a few minutes.

This isn't just about keeping people off your own network, this is about stopping people from receiving information you send back over the internet, when a machine is physically wired in, you'd have to be on a machine between you and the server to eavesdrop - on a wireless network however information you send out goes to everybody around you as well. A lot of non-financial information is still sent over the internet as plain text, use a lot of social networking sites? Your password gets broadcasted as plain text, if your network isn't secure anybody can get your password and username, the same goes for web forums, a lot of e-mail servers etc.

Make sure your wireless networks are set to use WPA or higher, pretty much all devices nowadays support WPA (the Nintendo DS is the only exception I can think of - I have no idea why Nintendo don't do something about this).

If there are legitimate reasons for why a network needs to be open, make sure you use HTTPS when available, even if the server doesn't have a certificate to prove its identity.

Manufacturers should also do their part and ensure WPA or WPA2 are the default options. All WEP does is provide a false sense of security, the fact it is deprecated and insecure should be made clear when the user is configuring the device.

Beatles crawling about NASA

Why the hell is NASA wasting public money on giving publicity to this group of attention seekers, yes I'm looking at you Paul McCartney.

In case you haven't heard NASA will be broadcasting the Beatles song Across the Universe towards Polaris on the 4th.

Amazing! Well done, NASA! Send my love to the aliens. All the best, Paul.

Yoko Ono of course had her bit to say as well.

I see that this is the beginning of the new age in which we will communicate with billions of planets across the universe.

As nutty as ever, has anybody told her that Polaris is 400 odd light years away? Wait, she probably doesn't even know what that means. Enjoy waiting 800 odd years for a response, if any, Yoko.

Why NASA are doing this is totally beyond me. There is zero scientific justification to this, all it seems to be doing is wasting US tax payers money on promoting the Beatles. NASA's budget is tight enough, with dozens of scientific programs being cut without wasting money on this nonsense.

If you want to send messages out into the cosmos (we've only done this once or twice before, it is expensive), at least do it properly. Use some mathematical sequence which can only be interpreted as artificial, and send it to high probability targets that are closer to the Earth - and then keep transmitting.

The private exploitation of space needs to stop, yes that means you too Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic - even the name is false advertising! I think its time for a campaign - Keep Space Public.