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I love remote-control software.  Partly because it just geeks me out, and partly because it's a useful tool in my work (yawn) but mostly because it means I can stay in my pit and not get exposed to all the horrible diseases our patients carry.

But nothing stays the same and our licences for the current stuff are coming to an end.  Our shiny MS tools (hella expensive but we already have them) have remote desktop in 'em, but it fails at one of the standard operations we do: Log the user off, log on with local admin rights, install stuff, then let the user log on and test while we watch.  MS, they don't keep the session up during the logged-off stage.  Ambassador, with this epic fail you are really spoiling us.

What do you nerdy chaps use?  We've got over 5000 desktops, mostly XP with a scrag of 2000, a handful of 7.  The scale of our kit makes per-machine licensing painful, especially In These Troubled Times, so I'm thinking UltraVNC.  
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We've got 5000 Windows desktops and a Windows 2003 Enterprise two-node print cluster.  The print cluster carries 850 printers in 60 models from 10 manufacturors.

It's creaking.  It's creaking particularly because HP (our main supplier) drivers share components and are crappy desktop-grade filth.  Every so often a change to one printer's spec will cascade through the whole model line or worse, the whole brand.  Joy is unfolding, from the heavens, like a lotus blossom of migraine flashes.

Do you do enterprise-scale printing?  How the hell do you keep this ball of string tight? 
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Yesterday's overtime was made bearable by building and tweaking a bootable Ubuntu Linux setup on my shiny new 8Gb USB stick.  It was alternately straightforward and vexing: when I tried to be clever, it all went titsup; when I left it alone it was great - and I mean really great.  Example: "full visual effects" was a sumptuous bouncy delight out of the box, but when I updated the graphics drivers, it died.  Bah!  I broke it three times, the last one downloading "all system updates" and choking the reserved disk space; even deleting the junk left me with a crufty interrupted mess.

The lesson here is that there's more than one way to skin a snuffleupagus:  Ubuntu Live Peristent on a stick is not a full desktop install, kids, don't treat it like one - it's a demo CD with a memory.  Portable Linux looks like a much better way of doing it, this time it's a 'proper' install, no reserved faux diskspace to run out of while your phonebook wiki is tapdancing next door in a 4-Gb empty ballroom.

Question is, is a bootable stick anything more than a geek toy?  Most of my world is Windish - I'm only exposed to other stuff when I choose to be.  Perhaps just a big ol' encrypted bucket and a stack of portable apps is the way forward instead. 

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Here's a tag cloud Firefox add-on for Google: it's kinda obvious and kinda nice.  I've found it tasty for refining the obvious away from the chaff, and for spotting connections I hadn't known about ("ooh, they're touring?" etc).  Worth a punt if you love tag clouds as much as everyone else.

What do scarily-named Russian provider Intespei get out of it?  A sniff at every Google search you do, which is nicely marketable data.  :)

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Been working from home today, a spot of overtime moving user shares from one (old, stuffed, wheezy) server to another (new, fast, capacious).  The data, as is data's wont, is old and crufty, full of illegal filenames and impossible permissions dating back to 2002: half a terabyte of the worst of the worst - and by crikey, the whole gruesome job went according to plan.  And the overtime will pay for the trip to Jay (who just won a convention comp) for more ink next weekend.  Sweet.
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Lock a whaler up below decks for a week and he'd take out his knife, find a wonky walrus tusk or a sperm whale tooth, and carve a highly detailed, fiddly, intricate little scene in the ivory.

Lock a techie up in a bubble of loud music for a week and he manually recreates an entire regional print cluster, all four-hundred-and-fifty devices, each individually configured and checked.  Why?  Because the old, wheezy server's instances and drivers were so crufty that we didn't trust the migration tools.  Not only is it painstaking, fiddly work, but there's a degree of black magic included too when it comes to drivers. 

Four hundred and fifty little men and fishes and seabirds and whales and clouds and flags and rigging and waves.  I need a drink.  And an Easter egg: the cluster will respond to "Scrimshaw" as well as its proper name. 
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"Fred, this is IT.  What's that ginormous six-gig Google cache in your filespace?  A Google Desktop search installation?  Of all the clinical drives you use?  That's nice."
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Star Wars?  Russian?  Folk art?  You want that all in one?  Here you go!  (Yes, that's R2 in the corner)  Though I prefer the War of the Worlds one.  Aren't they just awesome?

I dabbled in this style once a few years back and it's surprisingly hard to unlearn realistic rules like perspective.  The creatures are magnificent. So's his take on Arnie ("I need your clothes, your boots, and your drasienne.")


Feb. 18th, 2008 08:26 pm
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If you don't know it already, Wikileaks is a wiki site for leaks.  It's big news - things like the US unpublished rules of engagement for Iraq and all manner of political and corporate whistleblowing get leaked there.  It's where you go if you've got the minutes from a really juicy meeting and want it public with your identity protected.

Recently they tickled a Cayman Islands bank by leaking some of their stuff (alleged money-laundering leaked by a former exec)... and got savaged by lawyers.  Down, down went the site, for the judge ruled that the hosting ISP:

"shall immediately clear and remove all DNS hosting
       records for the domain name and prevent the
       domain name from resolving to the website or
       any other website or server other than a blank park page,
       until further order of this Court."

Slap! Take that, you naughty web anarchists!

Of course, taking down the DNS doesn't take down the site, as any fule kno.  You may enjoy the Streissand Effect gloatfest here at:

And of course, as soon as word got out (and Wikileaks is very popular) mirror sites were spawned like a rash. Which means that they effortlessly survived the DOS attack and the fire at their colocation host's UPS.  And Wikileaks, very much alive and well, plans to put up as much as it can possibly find about corrupt Cayman banking.

Ah, le chortle.

Hey, Anonymous, these guys are the real deal.  "Oh fuck, the Internet is here" is not a bunch of goons exercising of a grudge in V masks, though the masks are a really nice touch.  "Oh fuck, the Internet is here" is this sort of thing: credible, robust, serious, unstoppable and making real the omniopticon that really does kill privacy dead dead dead. 
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"So what's your name?"
"Kevin.  Kevin Binks."
"I won't say it."

Poor sod :)
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Four, or maybe five undersea communications cables have ceased working - been cut or shut down due to a power barf.  Nobody's sure who did what.  Early theories about anchor-dragging boats are now being denied, Iran is in a little net black hole, and the USS Jimmy Carter (the cable "maintenance" ship) is in the area.  Sober speculators and paranoid nuts alike are fizzing with ideas as to who, what and why.  Tinfoil beanies are go!

I know who dunnit.  It's obvious really: deep undersea action, a sense of paranoia, building yet unplaceable dread?

Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fhtagn!  Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn. Ia!
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Looking at the last year's flaps over data leaks, and the building of ever-larger databases, and the latest round of guidance and action here at work, it's clear to see that the IT consensus is that data is precious and must be secured.  Cory "Zeppelin Blogger" Doctorow even compared data leaks to nuclear waste leaks in a piece he wrote for the Guardian. 

I'm not so sure.

Data tends to leak.  That's just an observation of its behaviour.  IT is all about copying and transforming data, and very little about securing or deleting it: you have to make an effort to do those.  So I think that securing data is a fool's errand.  I don't think it's possible to reliably, securely tie down all the copies of data unless there are exceptional circumstances (such as you creating it on a tinfoil-hat OS and carrying the storage media physically with you and being able to fight off goons).

This observation is no more fatalistic than observing that the tides always come in is fatalistic.  The current frenzied attempts to secure stuff (we're ordering a pile of fingerprint-locked USB sticks, for example) are a predictable response but, like banning shampoo on airlines, a flawed one.  The avalanche has started: it's too late for the pebbles to vote.

So the next wave of killer security isn't going to be biometric scans of your perineal wrinkles stored on an orbital server.  That's just another database in another location: No, the next big thing is going to be systems where it simply doesn't matter what gets out.  I'm not sure what they will actually be, but that's the shape they will take. 

And the cultural response will be significant too.  With all sorts of your leaky information out there, everyone will be able to pick up on everyone else's foibles.  Already we're seeing nonsense where students are being sent down for being boozehounds.  That breaks when the person doing the sending-down is also exposed.  There will be predictable horror at this panopticon of pecadilloes, and some people will retreat into caves - almost literally: doing cash-in-hand work to buy stuff at farmers' markets and avoiding the blanket CCTV coverage.  But the mainstream will (with a few shocks and judders) move into a post-anonymity age.

Damn, I sound like a prophet of the Singularity. 


Jan. 21st, 2008 10:55 pm
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Which of these did I actually send tonight at 10pm after checking in on my server migration (after a great night-school session: vertical down outside corner welds, you are my bitches)?

1: "Dear users, the migration of your data to the new, spacious and high-performance server cluster will not go ahead tonight as planned due to technical issues which we'll investigate as soon as we can.  In the meantime, please continue to work on the current server as before."

2: "Dear users, the migration of your data from the creaky old fossil box to the preposterously over-spec server cluster will not go ahead tonight as planned because you've chosen to use such staggeringly long filenames that they crashed my migration routine.  I mean, come on, I'm all for lucid file structures but whole sentences as folder names?  You've saved every webpage you've ever found interesting with its full name, then given a "that huge name - comments" subfolder with more inside that, ad infinitum?  Easy, tiger.  We gave you a namespace but you eated it.  Your linguistic legerdemain did things that Windows, in its deep stupidity, permits but cannot handle, which I shall try to cheat my way around as soon as I can face it.  In the meantime, please continue to create novella-size file structures on the current server as before."
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1: Visit all your old houses in order.  I'm kinda glad that Cowper Road is still standing, but what the hell, the place I grew up -- they demolished the factory?  Turn on the Flickr and Panoramio layers for maximum notsalgia.

2: The Youtube layer is just utter lifesuck death.  But it tells me one thing: People are the same the world over.  Granted, people are mostly lame, but they're the same sort of kinda-funny kinda-annoying lame.  Country, colour, creed, it's trivial compared to the uniting power of looking like an ass on the internet.
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Heads up if you're wired into the ticking of the cosmic orrery or are convinced that any planetary alignment will boost gravity and suck the (radio-receiving) fillings from your teeth.  There's a Grand Conjunction happening right now - Jupiter, Mars, Earth, Mercury, the Sun and the Galactic Centre are all lined up.
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Thanks to [personal profile] estaratshirai for pointing me to this damnfine webcomic: Dresden Codak.  Laugh-out-loud physics and philosophy gags.  And hot chicks with goggles.  You know you want to click it.

And while we're at it, take a look at Rice Boy.  Beguiling simplicity and charm.
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Fall of the damned3D printing - fabrication or fabbing - is a funny thing.  You start with a digital file and a make-anything 3D printer machine.  The printer chugs away and makes whatever you've given it, from shot glasses to Second Life characters, through to the Danté-esque Fall of the Damned on the right, lamp depicting writhing, interwtined bodies.

The lamp is a limited run of forty pieces at a super-premium $45,000 price.  But there's absolutely no reason for that.  Digital file, makey-machine.  This is only limited because someone has chosen it to be limited.

Fabbing has the potential to be a truly disruptive technology: think of the Feed in Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age - a consumer-level technology that lets the average person work a consumer-level interface to get shoes or a burrito.  Closer to reality is the RepRap project, home 3D-printing open-source enthusiasts who are trying to make printers which can print their own parts.  Now that truly would be a disruptive technology.

So, if anyone wants to upload Fall of the Damned to BitTorrent, let's get the revolution started. 
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Just a quicky: In SL, does anyone know how to tweak an avatar to a physical size?  For example, making an avvie six feet tall - it's not obvious from the unitless sliders for each body part in the avatar editor.  Indeed it can't be, because there isn't one for, say, "chest" - the chest parameters (chest, muscularity, fatness, shoulder width) are arbitrary and the chest size is an emergent property of them.

I've seen plenty of gadgets which report back an avatar's height, usually in clothing shops.  They usually startle me with the cartoony hugeness of yer vanilla avatar (apparently it's because the camera is so far away).  I wonder if a thing exists that can do a full stat report? 
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Now here's a fascinating article: The premise is that you can use Amazon's Mechanical Turk to argue with you.  If you're a nerdy reader, you'll already know that the Turk is an automatic job outsourcing engine: it passes small jobs to people who are paid small amounts for usually small efforts.  Newsworthy uses include the attempt to find adventurer Steve Fossett's crashed plane in satellite photos: a Turk user would get a photo, and the question "is there any wreckage in this picture?". 

What the author has done is ask the Turk to challenge his philosophical argument.  He's asked it for the one thing machines really suck at: an opinion.  And it turns out he got plenty, which makes me think that this could be a great way to, say, refine a thesis for logical holes, inconsistencies and oversights.  The best part is, he got good quality opinions for a dollar a pop, without alienating his friends or drowning in friendly agreement and Usenet-style argumentative biff. 

It's still a funny creature, the Turk, but this is a novel use that makes me smile.  Now, I don't just have to listen to the voices in my head.
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There, that didn't take long, did it?  One plushie weighted companion cube courtesy of 4chan.  The real thing will be available from Valve in a little while.  Meawhile is there any gaming comic that hasn't done Portal gags?  Weebl, VG Cats, Userfriendly, Penny Arcade...


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