Archives for: "November 2008"

VAT reduced, rich taxed more

So Darling in his pre-budget report announced that VAT (sales tax for those non-UK readers) will be cut from 17.5% to 15% from the 1st of December.

Good. We'll see if in a few weeks time I'll have people asking if all our £39.99 products are now £39.14 or there abouts. I'm sure a lot of retailers will be keen to soak up the decrease, especially as it so small and easy to hide. However in more competitive areas like on the high street I'd expect it to be used to fund more aggressive offers to get people in the door.

He also announced that income tax will rise to 45% for those earning over £150,000 a year from 2011.

Good. But why not 50% or more and starting next month? Honestly, £150,000 thats more than I earn in 10 years! These people can easily afford it and in many cases have been making money at our expense for years.

The government is definitely moving in the right direction to tackle this crisis.

As for the Tories, well you only needed to see their childish behavior during the Chancellor's report yesterday to see that not only don't they take things seriously but that they're living in cloud cuckoo land when they try and blame a global economic downturn on Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling personally.

Images of exoplanets around Sun-like stars!

You don't get many days like this. The first image of an exoplanet around a Sun-like star has been released. Previously we had only visually detected a 5 mass Jupiter exoplanet around a brown dwarf star. Brown dwarf stars are too small to undergo any nuclear fusion, and as such they just dimly glow from their original formation. This makes planets far easier to detect around them as they put out millions of times less light, which normally hides any planets. This however is a proper star.

Yup that tiny little dot is a planet estimated to be around the same mass as Jupiter.

The planet Fomalhaut b orbits Fomalhaut (aka Alpha Piscis Austrini) once every 872 years, it is pretty far out. The star itself is not easily visible from the UK, it hugs the horizon even at this time of year when its at its highest point.

In this image the star is blocked out (artificially eclipsed if you will), and the remaining starlight is then subtracted from the image by using a template of another star. The dust ring around it is actually real, as is the planet, the lines radiating from the central star are artifacts.

And that's not all, we've also got the first image of multiple planets orbiting the star HR 8799, this time taken in infrared, which reduces the contrast differences between the star and the planet. Again the light from the star had to be blocked out. This system is only about 60 million years old which worked in our favour for detecting these planets as they're still warm from their original formation and as such release much more infrared light than normal.

The ten most popular entries on this blog are...

I've been doing a bit of tidying up late this afternoon, and a bit of optimizing to a lot of the stuff on the server (I halved the size of the database running these blogs wooo), moved a bunch of old websites around a bit and put them into read only mode (aka I'm never going to touch them again mode). Anyway since I was digging around there I thought I'd check out and see what the most popular entries on this blog are, for some reason it's not exposed via the interface anywhere.

The most viewed entry is: The Earth is older than 6000 years with 49,170 views.
2nd: Holy Combat with 44,094 views.
3rd: d3dx9.dll is missing or not found or installed with 43,352 views.
4th: Hamad Darwish's Windows Vista wallpapers released with 25,336 views.
5th: Windows Vista DRM nonsense with 18,630 views.
6th: Command & Conquer 3 problems with standard user with 13.626 views.
7th: Apple iTunes copying Microsoft again with 13,380 views.
8th: Why the iPod sucks with 9,439 views.
9th: Configuring AVG Free 8 anti-virus for the best experience with 8,957 views.
10th DreamScene Preview now on Ultimate Extras with 8,890 views.

Ending the right to a tenancy for life?

The Times reported yesterday that Margaret Beckett is considering proposals similar to what the Chartered Institute of Housing came up with last month. I hope her considerations involved quickly moving the proposals from her desk to the bin.

Booting people out of their homes because their "circumstances have improved", be they a slightly better paying job or their kids moving out is unacceptable, and so is offering them friendly advice on cheap home ownership or private renting with a wink and nudge, and then threatening them with higher rents or booting them out which is what these proposals basically call for.

If there's a shortage of family sized homes you don't tackle it by threatening to kick people out, you offer them financial incentives to move to a smaller house and give them 5 or 10 years to take advantage of it so they're not pressured straight away and can think it over in their own time.

If Beckett has just realised there's a shortage perhaps she and her predecessor should of been making plans to build more houses, something the left have been saying for years. With the construction industry facing shortages of work due to the private sector grinding to a halt there is no better time to organise a large scale building project.

Update: Margaret Beckett on Question Time denied these reports completely.

HTC Touch HD review

So here's a review of the HTC Touch HD, no I don't have one but the first are trickling into the UK:

Two points I have to make:

1) You can slide your finger along the buttom to quickly move through the different options, not just going one at a time like demonstrated here.

2) It doesn't come with Opera Mini (the freeware browser for low-end phones) like mentioned, it comes with Opera Mobile the high-end browser which normally you have to pay for.

Religious fundamentalists score victory banning gay marriage

Not everything is going well on the political scene in the United States, three states, Florida, Arizona and California banned gay marriage, this brings the total number of states to 40, although some still allow civil partnerships.

From the NYT:

"It was a great victory," said the Rev. James Garlow, senior pastor of Skyline Church in San Diego County and a leader of the campaign to pass the California measure, Proposition 8. “We saw the people just rise up."

Unfortunately issues like this just don't seem to want to die in the United States, both this and abortion (although I'd like to believe the worst of that is past us) seems to be caught in an endless cycle, the fundies just never giving up and then striking while everyone else is distracted. This move also leaves in doubt the legal status of thousands who took advantage of the ruling by the Californian state court which declared same sex marriages to be legal earlier in the year. In Arizona a similar ban was defeated a couple of years back.

Hopefully with all the people who voted for the first time this week the power of the Christian fundamentalists can start to be worn down over the coming years, not only in the United States, but also here where they represent an increasingly dangerous threat to modern progressive values and education.

Security Intelligence Report for 1H08 released

The 5th Security Intelligence Report has been released this covers January to June 2008. The full report can be downloaded here. Here's a quick look at it:

First up we see the percentage of browser exploits on Windows XP vs Windows Vista. We can see on Windows Vista only 5.7% of the exploits are targeting Microsoft code, while on Windows XP that figure is 42.3%.

A break down of the security vulnerabilities on Windows XP looks like this, a mix of Microsoft and 3rd party vulnerabilities.

On Windows Vista however none of the top 10 vulnerabilities being exploited effect Microsoft code. We see a make up of RealPlayer, Apple's QuickTime and several browser toolbars and plugins instead being responsible for the exploits.

Lastly we see the infection numbers for Windows XP and Windows Vista. The most secure client version of Windows being Windows Vista SP1 x64, followed closely behind by the 32-bit client.

What can we draw from this? If you want to keep your system secure 1) Use Windows Vista 2) Don't install any Apple software, RealPlayer, or any dodgy toolbars or plugins on your computer.

Culture change at the BBC

The recent issue over the BBC and Jonathan Ross and that other guy, Russell Brand or whatever his name is, the one who says "like" too much, has continued to be in the news. So I thought I'd just comment on it (makes a break from the endless tech stuff - sorry PDC and WinHEC conferences back to back means there's a lot of tech going on).

Old time readers of my blog will no doubt remember multiple instances that I've said the BBC needs to raise its game. This is largely in relation of the quality of its science programmes which have been steadily dumbed-down.

I think we all agree that the BBC needs to stop the dumbing down and trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator, that means not giving people like Jonathan Ross a job, and all the other overpaid presenters who aren't any good. The private media companies can manage that fine by themselves and we shouldn't be blowing money on trying to compete with them on their terms (however tempting that may be).

It also needs to develop more high-quality programmes in-house and stop buying elsewhere, if done right this can help fund the organisation by selling them abroad, I think there is an appetite for high quality programmes especially in the United States where I do believe there is a growing section of the population who are getting fed up with the dire state US television is in, especially from an educational, scientific and news perspective.

The real question is how do we go about this? In the past I've half-jokingly suggested we need to bring together Richard Dawkins, Patrick Moore and David Attenborough and put the BBC's science under their control. The key is we need the people running the BBC to truly believe in raising the quality of the organisation, not to dumb down but to educate and inspire, and of course we need a plan. The BBC has so much potential, and we must find a way to unlock it.

I've also long maintained that the BBC should be funded from central government, I'm pleased that Kevin Davis mentioned how the license fee should be paid in a blog post he did today on the subject.

When it comes down to it, at the moment 10 million or so people need to remember to pay their TV license, let's say they spend 10 minutes per year thinking about it, that's about one and a half million hours per year wasted. When instead we could just get Darling to write a cheque once a year taking 20 seconds.

Microsoft copied the Windows 7 Taskbar from... Microsoft?

Check this guy out:

He claims the Windows 7 Taskbar is copied from the Mac OS X dock. He even includes an edited image featuring the same Adobe icons he has in his dock to try and make it seem even more similar. Apart from that he also makes numerous mistakes and wrong assumptions about how the new Taskbar works, and does the standard everyone is copying Apple line, which is completely and utterly false yet it something the Apple fanboys repeat ad nauseum.

Here's a little time line for graphical user interface (Hat tip to ToastyTech for the screenshots).

1973:
Xerox PARC create the Alto - the first computer to use a mouse and a graphical user interface (no Taskbar yet).

1979:
Apple employees visit Xerox PARC to check out the Alto, after seeing the Alto they begin work on a graphical user interface for their Lisa computer (no Taskbar yet).

1981:
Xerox introduce the Star, featuring overlapping windows, double-clicking and dialog boxes (still no Taskbar).
Microsoft begin work on Interface Manager, later to be renamed Windows (still no Taskbar).

1983:
Visi Corp releases Visi On, the first GUI for IBM PCs (no Taskbar).
Microsoft introduce Windows (no Taskbar).
Apple release Lisa (still no Taskbar).

1984:
Apple introduce the Macintosh (still no Taskbar)

1985:
Geos released for Commodore 64 (no Taskbar)
Amiga Workbench announced (still no Taskbar)
Microsoft release Windows 1.01. The first operating system to have something resembling the Taskbar, an area of the screen reserved for iconized programs. See below:

Windows 1.01

1987:
Apple release the Macintosh II, featuring colour graphics at last, if I was a fanboy I'd say they copied colour graphics from Windows, but I'm not (no Taskbar though).

1989:
Acorn Computers release Arthur (the forerunner to RISC OS). Featuring something resembling the Taskbar, its been so long since I've used RISC OS I've forgotten the name for it.

1995:
Microsoft release Windows 95, creating the Taskbar we all know today, featuring a Start button to start new applications, and a tray for running applications to sit in.

Windows 95

1998:
Microsoft release Windows 98, which allows shortcuts to programs to be placed in the Taskbar (called Quick Launch).

Windows 98

1999:
Apple release Mac OS 9, which features a slide out "dock" along the bottom of the screen.

Mac OS 9

So no I don't accept that Microsoft copied the Taskbar/dock whatever you want to call it from OS X.

He could of quite easily shown the Taskbar with text labels, and without the Adobe icons which were edited into the picture he used.

Windows 7

Or the new Taskbar configured to look like the existing one:

He also claims because the Taskbar items also have menus that they've also been copied from the dock. Newsflash: The Taskbar items have always had menus which have always been customisable by the applications running, now there is additional APIs to plug more information into the Taskbar.

But of course if this guy told you the truth he wouldn't have an argument would he?

Windows 7 "Superbar" can function like the old Taskbar

A few people are concerned that the new Superbar in Windows 7 forces you to have giant icons and that it can't be configured to work like the classical Taskbar.

It can. Here's how the new Taskbar looks by default in 69xx builds:

Here's the new Taskbar running on 6801 with labels and large icons:

Notice the file copy operating progress is also displayed in the Taskbar.

And here's the new Taskbar running with small icons and labels, and the Quick Launch toolbar:

The little gap between Explorer and Internet Explorer is due to how jump lists work in this build (an arrow pops up when you hover over the gap), as far as I know these gaps and arrows are gone in later builds and you just right click to get a the jump lists.

You can change the settings by right-clicking on an empty area of the Taskbar, go to Properties. There's an options for using small icons, and the button grouping drop down list controls if the icons have text labels or not.

So panic not those who are being freaked out by the changes to the Taskbar. :)

Update: Apparently in later builds the Quick Launch toolbar has actually been removed.