Archives for: "April 2009"

Windows 7 RC up on Connect, MSDN and Technet

As well as the new XP Mode VMs. Public release still on for Tuesday.

Office 2007 SP2 released

Go get it here.

New features include OpenDocument support, integrating the XPS and PDF functionality that was previously a free add-on (removed before the original release because of Adobe's complaining). More changes here.

Windows 7 RC due for public release 5th May

Microsoft have officially confirmed that the Release Candidiate of Windows 7 will be up for download starting from the 5th of May for the general public.

MSDN and Technet subscribers will get it the bits on the 30th of April. Sweet.

Support for Dr Starkey and freedom of speech

So Dr Starkey has found himself in a spot of bother over his remarks he made on Question Time last night. Basically when asked if he supported having a public holiday for Saint George's day:

"If we decide to go down this route of having an English national day, that means we become a feeble little country, just like the Scots and the Welsh and the Irish." and "We don't make a great fuss about Shakespeare like the Scots do about that deeply boring provincial poet Burns" and "What the Scots and Welsh are, are typical small nations with a romantic 19th Century-style nationalism".

What's the problem with that? Oh wait yeah, people don't like having their cherished petty nationalistic beliefs trodden on. WELL TOO BAD. Dr Starkey has the right to say what he thinks and let's be honest, he knows a tad more about British history than the lay-people sat in the audience booing - not only that he does have a point. Just think what we'd have to put up with if we had English nationalism on the same scale as in Wales or Scotland, it would do my head in and would probably end up destroying the union.

I don't take offence with all the points he made on QT which I disagree with, I don't demand an apology for him stating a position contrary to mine.

These people have no counter argument and so they resort to getting "upset" and demanding an apology, essentially admitting that their position is baseless.

I'm sick to death of people being "offended" and trying to curtail freedom of speech. Dr Starkey should not apologise to these people. To do so would be like apologising to the Christian mobs that burned down the Great Library in Alexandria because they found reason, logic and knowledge, offensive.

Iowa State University's IT department clueless?

It isn't very often I come across such bad advice from IT departments - actually that's a lie - in my experience most IT departments are clueless, yes neighbouring County Councils I hear about you guys a lot.  But this has to be one of the dumbest things I've things I've come across.

Iowa State's student newspaper reports that Internet Explorer 8 isn't compatible with their Web Course Tools software, software which by the way is generally regarded as breaking almost every web accessibility rule in the book.

Anyway, their IT department wrongly claims that IE8 was released this weekend.  It was released a month ago.  Automatic rollouts will start this week in very small numbers, but even they're not automatic, and require the user to actually accept the installation.

The department also recommends students using Internet Explorer turn off automatic updates to their browsers.

What?  Turn off automatic updates?  Are you utterly incompetent or just INSANE?  I have a general rule of thumb for dealing with people who recommend average computer users turn off automatic updates, that rule involves punching them in the face, words just cannot express the utter stupidity of such a statement.

They then recommend that people who have already installed IE8 uninstall it.  Alright fair enough, if you didn't do your job properly 12 months ago and test these things and there's no other option, yes they're going to have to uninstall it.  But they go on and say "run the browser in Internet Explorer 7 compatibility mode."

What?  You're telling me it works in compatibility mode and you're telling people to uninstall it?  You're telling me that you recommend people waste 20 minutes uninstalling it, and go back to a slower and more insecure browser than take the 0.5 seconds to press the compatibility icon next to the address bar?  Are you utterly incompetent or just NUTS?

Incompetent and LAZY by my reckoning.  If compatibility mode works you don't even need to hassle your users to do anything - you guys could actually make the change on your server so it tells IE8 to render in compatibility mode.  How?  If you're using IIS use this in your web.config file:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?> 
          <clear />
          <add name="X-UA-Compatible" value="IE=EmulateIE7" />

If you're using Apache uncomment this:

LoadModule headers_module modules/

And then add this:

Header set X-UA-Compatible "IE=EmulateIE7"

Seriously guys, why didn't you test this 12 months ago when the first beta version of IE8 was released and implement the above fix?  Doing that would have meant your users wouldn't have even noticed any difference, it all would have happened completely transparently to them. Why did you wait until a month after its release to even realise something isn't working right, and then why did you give your users such bad advice?

Raise your game, there's a reason IT departments are getting a bad rep.

Photosynth goes Silverlight

Photosynth, the online service which creates a 3D "synth" you can explore out of 2D photographs, has moved over to Silverlight for its default viewer. Formally you required a Direct3D based browser plugin to make use of it, and as such this opens up Photosynth to a much larger audience.

The biggest advantage from using Silverlight is obviously embedding it in other websites, if I embedded a Photosynth with the D3D viewer - about two people would have it installed, however most people visiting this blog do have Silverlight installed. Heck let's embed one I did earlier today:

It does have its downsides, such as lower performance, but once Silverlight 3 is released and we get some hardware acceleration the difference should level out. At the moment you can still use the Direct3D viewer if you have it installed on the Photosynth website.

There's also a new highlights feature. Which enables the synth author to select specific images of interest, this is also welcome as you can get lost in a synth comprised of several hundred images quite easily. Above is my synth of Norton Sub Hamdon church updated with a some highlights to give you the idea.

Science, evolution and god - a reply to a reader

Somebody recently commented on my entry describing why the Earth isn't 6000 years old.  I wrote an e-mail reply to them but it seems like they didn't provide the correct e-mail address when they posted the comment.  So instead I'll be posting my reply to them here, in the off chance that they read it.

Hello (hidden e-mail address), thank you for your comment on my blog.

Unfortunately I can't see much, if any connection between science and the word of god. There's no evidence to support the Earth being made from Ymir's flesh, or the mountains from his bones or the rocks from his teeth and jaws, or the seas being created by his icy blood. Nor any evidence to suggest that the stars, the Sun and Moon are the giants of the North and the South.

As for your remarks on white supremacists, I am somewhat confused. Europeans enslaved Europeans thousands of years before enslaving Africans. You don't need to setup a condition where whoever you're enslaving has to be sub-human. As we can see throughout classical civilisation, owning slaves was perfectly normal for the ruling classes regardless of whichever race happened to be involved in - you just need to setup the concept that owning people is acceptable, attempting to base a moral position on science is always a risky business as we saw the best science of the 19th century showing how closely related Africans and Europeans actually are, and not how distinct and seperate they are, as it turns out being seperated only by 50,000 years.

The prevailing mood in the 17th and 18th centuries among the slave-owning religious community was that they were separate species, and this provided the justification used against those who opposed it for the slave trade. This persisted right up until the civil war in the United States, where the largely religious southern states fought against the abolitionists of the more secular northern states.

Evolutionary theory unified all life on Earth, there's nothing different about us, we are all descended from the same self-replicating molecule, the genetic alphabet is the same in every species on Earth - the differences are trivial compared to our oneness with each other.

The default scientific position on the origin of life is obviously that life came from non-life, but this is nothing to do with the Theory of Evolution, which assumes we already have life.  We call this abiogenesis. Clearly we are here today, so this probably happened. To suggest a super-natural, extremely complicated entity being involved is much more unlikely than natural processes occurring and creating a molecule which could make copies of itself, and as such the burden of evidence would be upon those who imply a super-natural, complicated entity to prove its existence and role in the origin of life. To date no such evidence has come forward, in addition to that the implausibility of such an entity coming into existence itself - being far less likely than a relatively simple molecule coming into existence that can make copies of itself, practically places such a hypothesis on a level almost equal to that of an impossibility.

You'll notice I don't say it is impossible or never ever. In science we don't have absolutes, anything can change in light of new evidence.

Science is also not a god. Science is a method of understanding the world, a method for generating ideas, and then the testing of those ideas to see if they're actually real and exist in the real world or not. God on the other hand is a super-natural all powerful being that some humans speculate is actually real. They seem pretty different to me.

The prevailing mood in the scientific community is also that life changes - most obviously there are species alive today, like horses which weren't alive 100 million years ago. Back then we see completely different species, and we see gradual changes from species alive then, to species alive today. An example of life changing today can be seen in strains of flavobacterium that can digest nylon (an artificial substance). In the middle of the 20th century there were no bacteria that could digest nylon 6 - because it hadn't been invented yet. However this strain of flavobacterium evolved a new gene, a gene which enabled the digestion of nylon.

Obviously a chicken never gave birth to a giraffe - the two species are separated by over 100 million years of evolution. However we do see chickens giving birth to chickens that are slightly different to their parents, and we see giraffes giving birth to giraffes slightly different to their parents, like we see with all species. Over the course of millions of years these differences mount up. You mention chickens, cows and dogs. Just 10,000 years ago these species were considerably different to how they are today, since we domesticated them, we've been artificially selecting them as opposed to naturally selecting them so that traits we want survive, and the traits we don't die off and become extinct.

Evolution is not a religion, the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection is a scientific theory that describes the origin of species and their unity with each other. Just like how the Theory of Gravity describes how mass affects other mass in the universe, or how the Germ Theory of Disease explains, well, diseases. By scientific theory I don't mean guess, a theory in science is an idea which is backed up by evidence, and in the case of evolution it is backed up by a lot of evidence.

To say evolution is ungodly - whatever that means - is silly. Evolution explains how species change overtime. It says nothing about any gods. To say it is racist is in my opinion even more silly - there is nothing else I know of in all of religion which so brilliantly explains how life on Earth is so closely intertwined and related to each other.

Threatening me with burning in hell for all eternity isn't going to do you any favours. I can quite easily say that the Flying Spaghetti Monster will taunt you for all eternity with His Noodley Appendage. I hope you agree with me when I say such groundless remarks do not add to the conversation.

My belief, if you want to call it a belief, in evolution is based upon the prevailing scientific consensus that has existed over the last 150 years on the matter. How you could associate that with foolishness is beyond me, especially when you are unable to offer an alternative hypothesis to explain the diversity of life we see on Earth today, let alone any evidence to support it.

Again thank you for your comment.

Catching homeopathic pseudoscience on the Obama's visit

I was just going over some of the BBC's coverage of the Obama's visit to London today and caught something rather odd during Mrs Obama's visit to a London hospital.

The clip I'm speaking of can be found here. Why the BBC bothers to publish such short and trivial clips is beyond me, and why the BBC calls Sarah Brown the first lady is questionable too, as we do not use the term in this country and if we did it would apply to the Queen. Anyway...

About 9 seconds into the video Mrs Obama is being spoken to by some woman, and the only thing I can make out is "naturopathic homeopathic route". What the hell? If somebody has more information about what was being said I would love to hear it. Perhaps my American readers could also enlighten me as to where Mrs Obama stands on this sort of thing, she strikes me as being a pretty intelligent woman so with a bit of luck she was just rolling her eyes at this.

Seriously why is this even being talked about in a hospital? Or was she visiting one of our world famous and utterly ridiculous homeopathic hospitals – god I hope not. The only time anything like this should ever even need to be mentioned in a hospital is if a patient brings it up, and needs to be informed about it, namely with somebody sayings it bollocks.

Worse still it's not only rubbish. HOMEOPATHY KILLS, heck so-called ALTERNATIVE... (aka not scientifically proven, made up by a bunch of random people who don't bother to do any tests, heck why test things when you can make vague claims about whatever junk you put into a bottle and sell it) ...MEDICINE KILLS.

And even worse in the UK homeopathic hospitals are funded by the tax payer, the only thing the tax payer should be involved with to do with homeopathic or alternative medicine in general is banning it and putting the proponents of it in jail, yes Prince Charles I'm looking at you, and the rest of you lot.