27th December 2002

At last, Telekom deign to install DSL, so I can waste even more of my time reading pointless sites like this one, revealing this disturbing fact about the fondly-remembered, ground-breaking, but still ever-so-slightly crap UK TV extravanganza The Crystal Maze:

You see, even though the fans were blowing the tokens in the air, most still stayed on the ground at the edges, so most of the time the team just stayed on their knees collecting them. This doesn’t look very exciting on camera, so this part of the show had to be filmed twice, to make it look like the teams were doing something!

So after years of shouting “Look! Stop jumping around like rabid fleas! All those gold slips are on the floor next to your feet, you idiots!” at the television, it turns out it is me who is the idiot, as usual.

Even worse is this revelation from one of the contestants about the impotence of the team captain:

At the beginning of each zone, you are told which three (or four) games are to be played, (i.e. physical, mental, skill or mystery) and a strong recommendation as to who should play them.

All my childhood illusions, shattered! Curse you, The Internet, and your all-too-comprehensive library of human knowledge!

In your last updateful of parasite stuff for this year, we grimly present: DailyWinner, HighTraffic, IPInsight and new variants of FavoriteMan, InetSpeak and SaveNow.

17th December 2002

[Skip geekiness]

Once again c’t has scooped everyone, with detailed benchmarks of AMD’s upcoming Athlon 64 processor. Okay, I know I normally complain about Germany’s rubbish media, but c’t beats any UK computer magazine with a big stick. With nails in.

In fact as far as I can see c’t is the only computer magazine of any use left on the newsstands anywhere. Byte is gone; the trade papers seem not to be interested in anything beyond the pronouncements of technologically illiterate CEOs (“We feel this agreement will facilitate the leveraging of underlying synergies in our teamwork business model” ad nauseam); and the rest of the mainstream press has descended into a mush of adverts*, weak and criticism-free ‘reviews’ by a tiny editorial team with no specialist expertise, and inaccurate intelligence-insulting instructions like “How to get the best out of Windows XP! (by buying pointless system-optimisation software)” and “How to build your own really good e-commerces! (with FrontPage, for God’s sake)”.

c’t also scores points for looking at the whole of the computing world, not just Windows/Intel. And for covering the legal, political and consumer issues that shape the way we can use computers. Okay, it’s in German, and it doesn’t have too much by the way of humour (it’s no Your Sinclair or Amiga Power, alas) but it still looks at the marketplace with a critical eye, and that’s something unusual in itself.

Perhaps people just aren’t buying computer magazines for technical news and information any more, now that the internet offers all that in spades.

Anyway, to summarise the Athlon 64 article: it’s still only a prototype, and the 64-bit extensions weren’t tested at all, but the in-built northbridge and larger L2 cache show a significant speed improvement (20-25% in typical tasks) over Athlon XP, in standard 32-bit code alone. It still remains to be seen whether AMD can release it with a high enough clock to compete with Pentium 4 (whose amount-of-work-per-clock-cycle is really very low, but at 3+GHz it can afford to be), and whether the 64-bit instruction set will actually see much use.

Like most sad computer spods, I like AMD: their rise in the last few years has forced Intel to produce really competitive products for once. Intel have the edge on pure speed at the moment, true, but the higher-end Pentium 4s are still rather excessively expensive. Which is why I was very glad to see Shuttle releasing an Socket-A (Athlon) version of their latest small-form-factor PCs, the SK41-G.

In fact I was so impressed, I bought the company. Or I would have, if I were a millionaire jumper-debobbling mogul. Since I’m not (yet), I simply bought one of their fine computers instead. There it is on the left, being demonstrated by my little sister, playing Grand Theft Auto 3. (This age-rating sticker on the box means 18 months, right?)

They’re good, these dinky little things. True, they’re not cheap compared to a bog-standard minitower, but they use standard parts (no expensive-to-upgrade hard-to-find laptop bits) and you can put top-of-the range processors and AGP graphics cards in without a problem; and yet, mine still fits nicely in my rucksack. Woo and yay!

If you already have one, here’s a template (in original Xara X format or simplified EPS format) you can use to design and print your own replacement front panel. More woo and yayage!

Despite this professed liking for AMD, I’m not entirely convinced by the idea of the Athlon 64 and its x86-64 instruction set. Because architecturally speaking, it’s an absolutely horrible instruction set to code for. x86 has never been a pleasant assembly language, but with the majority of the instruction set being composed of bags on the side (x87, long-mode, MMX/3DNow, SSE[2] and now these 64-bit-mode extensions), it’s a terrible mess. Read the x86-64 spec for a taste of how insanely complicated it is now, with all the prefixes and modes and flags which change the meaning of other flags and that. Foul!

Having been in DoggySoft back in the day, I’m quite used to writing in assembler; we were well-known for doing everything (from games to utilities to a full internet suite) purely in assembler. But that was ARM assembler, one of the cleanest processor designs; the thought of doing anything in x86 — never mind x86-64 — gives me the squits. Do we really want to go forward holding on to this dire design disaster? With a machine language that only a compiler could write?

Well, we probably don’t have much choice, as every other attempt to ditch the botch that is x86 has failed. Will Intel’s better-designed* but incompatible alternative instruction set IA-64 (for Itanium) fare any better? Probably not, in my opinion, and that’s a shame. The x86-PC-hardware market is a wonderful and all-too-rare example of a free market really working, competition delivering ever-lower prices to the consumer, which is after all what capitalism was supposed to do. However, the x86-hardware market is so successful that other markets simply cannot easily compete.


Today’s bundle of superfunpacked update action: just loads more parasite stuff I’m afraid. There’s SearchitBar, MySearch, eXactSearch, SuperBar and MoneyTree, plus new variants of FavoriteMan, Xupiter, HuntBar and OnlineDialer, and more information on CommonName and lop.

Oh, and in random gratuitous humour-based linkage, if you don’t already know about the Framley Examiner Advert Calendar, you really ought to remedy that. They haven’t quite managed to top the awesome “Baby Spud Spud” yet, but still...

26th November 2002

Hello, BBCi readers! And Slashdotters for that matter. Lawks, this is really going to help after that denial-of-service attack, eh?

Speaking of which, an annoying lack of DoS-related expertise from my hosting company means this site is stuck living at www.doxdesk.com instead of the usual address you see in the corner, for a while at least. Thanks a lot, guys.

So yeah, update time again and that of course means more parasites. We’ve got AdultLinks, FreeScratchAndWin, a bit more info on Xupiter, and more dialler stuff: OnlineDialer, Comload and StripPlayer.

I don’t mean to target premium-rate diallers specifically (unlike, say, Spybot), because I don’t think they’re necessarily a bad idea. But so many of them seem to get themselves installed against the owner’s will, and then leave gaping security holes just waiting to be exploited.

Oh, and I also finally updated my webliography, as well, including this XHTML Strict (yay!) site for Network Auditing, who are, I guess, the kind of people you want to be talking to if you’re a UK company fearing spyware on your network!

16th November 2002

Oh god. I thought we were rid of her, but Sarah Connor is back. And she hasn’t got any better, you know.

In case you are lucky enough to live in a country where Sarah Connor is not played endlessly on the radio, I should perhaps explain who she is. She makes records, you see. Excruciatingly bad ones as a matter of fact. And she’s not the one out of Terminator. (Sadly. As Linda Hamilton could easily write a better song, hell, even Arnie could sing better.)

If you haven’t heard her first big single, the dire “From Sarah with Love”*, I can’t begin to explain how bad her music is. If you have, all you need to know is that her new one (“Skin on skin”) is pretty much exactly the same. Same banal lyrics, same generic melody, same bloody cheesy key modulation before the last chorus. In short, worthless shite.

To make up for this utter lack of beauty, creativity or any redeeming feature whatsoever in the music, her record company decided to make her sell by tarting her up in the kind of whorish looks (tits all over the place, excessive makeup etc.) that the FHMs of the world seem to spend most of their time trying to persuade us are attractive, but actually look more deformed than anything else.

Sarah Connor not only represents everything bad about the record industry, she represents everything bad about the world. She is worse that Hitler.

No, she is worse than two Hitlers put together, with an Osama stapled on top.

In order to fight this evil hellspawn [he means Sarah Connor —Ed.] I am today launching a series of effective public relations campaigns. I hope I can count on you to join me.

Artistic Advisory Warning Campaign. Print out these stickers (English, German) on 68x27mm labels (Avery or one of the many compatibles). Enter your nearest CD-selling establishment and affix the stickers carefully (get a grown-up to help you) to the cases of all copies of Sarah Connor’s CDs, to warn potential purchasers of the danger they face. Personally I think the industry should take this up as a standard labelling scheme. I mean, how often have you bought a CD for one track or because you liked their last one, and it’s turned out to be crap? An industrywide Artistic Advisory scheme would help us all.

P2P Decoy Campaign. Please download this track and share it on as many P2P filesharing networks as you can. For once I’m with the RIAA on this: people who download unauthorised copies of Sarah Connor tracks should be severely punished. (However, I believe the same of anyone who purchases a legitimate copy too.) The above track is not adequate punishment of itself but it’s the best I can do. It certainly has more artistic integrity than the original mix. But so does a ham sandwich.

Friend Alienation Campaign. Ask everyone you know if they like Sarah Connor. If they say “yes”, point and them and shout “IMBECILE” repeatedly. If they object to this, shout “IMBECILE” more loudly. If they try to retract their likingness, point and shout “IMBECILE”. Keep doing this until they begin to cry and run away. Studies suggest this Campaign may also be effective substituting the word “CRETIN”.

[details of the Ignite Incendiary Devices In Sarah Connor’s Bathroom Campaign have been removed on legal advice. —Ed.]

...anyhow. You might have had a few problems accessing this site over the last week; if so, I apologise. This was caused by several upstream network providers putting a block on accesses to it after a Denial of Service attack last week. Who would be childish enough to DoS this site? Why, none other than Asher Nahmias of trixscripts.com, whose TinyBar parasite installation exploit was used to install the attack. Check for ‘atk.vbs’ in ‘System’ or ‘System32’ inside the Windows folder — if it’s there, see the TinyBar info page for details on how to get rid of it.

Other new unsolicited commercial software: more on PerMedia and Cytron, and [...fanfare...] the fiftieth parasite to be targeted. Which must be either a cause for celebration or despair, but I’m not sure which. The lucky winner is CashToolbar.

Meanwhile, the first public beta of hotly-anticipated new browser version Opera 7 has been released. Haven’t had time to check everything yet, but initial tests are good:

  • Bugs in image and justification scaling with the Zoom feature are gone, which makes Zoom officially the best feature in a web browser ever!
  • DOM Core and CSS seems to be all there! There seem to be some bugs where the screen isn’t properly reformatted and updated when some style properties are updated, but hopefully these will be fixed by final.
  • Bugs in implementation of CSS ‘background-attachment: fixed’ are gone. And ‘overflow: scroll’ works — excellent! ‘auto’ needs work, though, at the moment it doesn’t seem to add the scrollbars independently.
  • Progressive rendering during page load works much better and more often. And! Supports <link> navigation! Ooh!

The new interface needs work though. The MDI/SDI switch has been replaced by a Mozilla-style tabs-plus-windows scheme which is an improvement, and there’s new sidebars and toolbar arrangement and stuff, but it’s all a bit rough-edged and none of the interface preferences seem to work yet.

And something for script authors to look out for: Opera have decided — inexplicably — to emulate IE’s ‘clientInformation’ object (an alias for the ‘navigator’ object). So any scripts that assume that only IE provides clientInformation (along with document.all, and probably more I haven’t found yet), are likely to go wrong...

More of this tedious technical stuff when I’ve had a chance to play with it more. Worryingly, my Opera 6 serial number doesn’t seem to be valid for 7 — hope Opera’s free upgrades policy hasn’t been nixed*...

2nd November 2002

Blimey! I haven’t even exhausted Grand Theft Auto 3 yet and already the sequel, Vice City is out! (In the US, anyway — the UK still has a week to wait. And for the Playstation 2 only, curse it; still no word on when a PC version might appear.)

GTA3 has already received enough plaudits from everybody who’s ever played it (and if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you, are you stupid, or something? Or what?) so instead of laying more praise on its excellent free-form gameplay and consistent game world, I’ll tell you its faults instead. Because “moaning git” is what I do best after all, eh.

  • The missions. None of them are very long, and they’re generally not that difficult. (With the exception of ‘S.A.M.’ if you do it the way the mission tells you to, as the ’plane is impossible to hit from below. But only a fool would try to do it that way.)

    Fixed in Vice City? Yes, by all accounts the missions are more involved and won’t feel like they’ve ended before you’ve even got your teeth into them.

  • The main-mission plot. This seems very rushed in GTA3: the story comes to an end very abruptly with lots of loose ends. What was the CIA’s involvement with SPANK? What was the mcguffin Donald Love had me chasing for the half the game? What was the connection to the Oriental Gentleman and why was he so important? Where did they both disappear to? And so on. Just as the game starts to draw you into a story, it is curtailed. Much of the meticulously crafted map (particularly Shoreside Vale, subways, etc.) goes pretty much unused by the missions.

    Fixed in Vice City? Possibly; the storyline seems a bit more central this time. Don’t know about the ending though (no-one has completed it except for the testers and they’re not talking).

  • Limited simulation. Very little of the area around the player is properly simulated and anything outside of this area that isn’t part of the current mission is forgotten. This means that cars fade in from nowhere in front of you (an annoying hazard when you’re driving fast), disappear before you can catch up with them, and change completely if you swap between looking forwards and behind you. This is the biggest violation of the game’s reality and leads to counterintuitive strategies. As do the really strange rules about which new vehicles appear around you, which seems to depend on what vehicle you are driving.

    Fixed in Vice City? No, but the area simulated does seem to be a bit bigger.

  • The radio stations. This was a triumph of superb production (and good gags) in GTA3. It’s actually worth opening the ‘Play CD’ and listening to the radio tracks on their own (look for the capital-letter files in the Audio folder) as you can hear them better without the usual car engine noise and people shooting at you. Anyway, it was scuppered by the quality of the game itself: that is, because you end up wasting half your life playing the damned game, you quickly find you’ve listened through to the entire output of all the stations several times over, and it gets repetetive. Which wouldn’t have happened had the designers had the foresight to make the gameplay only average.

    Fixed in Vice City? Yes, there’s now loads more radio content, up to about nine hours of it, which might be enough unless the idiot game designers have decided to make the game even better. It’s a shame, though, that only real 80s music is used (because of the setting); this means there are none of the excellent original compositions that Craig Conner and Stuart Ross came up with for the Head and Lips stations in GTA3. Actually they slipped up a bit here as these were supposed to be spoof radio stations playing crap-pop, but the songs were far too good — much better than the output of an average GWR local radio station...

  • The requirements of the PC version. Officially GTA3 needs a graphics card with 16Mb of video memory, but in reality you can forget that: it was only just playable on my GeForce 2MX-based card, which really isn’t that old; integrated graphics even on the newest PCs is a no-no. It’s not just that it feels jerky: some missions can’t be done. When I caved in and bought a GeForce 4200-based card, missions like “Big ’n’ Veiny”, previously practically impossible, became quite trivial. Shelling out for a new graphics card kind of made a mockery of my consumer victory of being able to get the game for half the retail price really. (You can’t beat Computer Exchange.) Still, the 4200 is a nice card, capable of running everything at my flatscreen’s native resolution of 1280x1024, and seems to be around the sweet-spot for video cards even now. (It’s the one nVidia were forced to release to compete with ATI’s newer Radeons, for people who aren’t fooled by the GeForce 4MX. Which despite its name isn’t a GeForce 4-based chipset, and is a bit rubbish. And tends not to have DVI output on its cards, too, which these days is very poor.)

    Fixed in Vice City? No idea as no details of a PC version have been released, but it seems unlikely when they can just wait for more people to get better graphics cards, something which isn’t an option for the PS2 obviously.

  • Bugs. As well as some missions just mysteriously not working on machines without enough oomph to run the game properly, there are all sorts of graphics bugs on various cards and operating systems (the no-text-on-Windows-XP one is particularly bad, they should really have included the Microsoft patch for that one in the game). And saved games can be problematic, either failing to save or taking forever to load sometimes for no apparent reason. This may be something to do with the copy protection, which also makes the game itself painfully slow to load, on my CD drive anyway.

    Fixed in Vice City? No, there’s no chance this will be fixed. All PC games are crammed full of bugs and graphics problems, it’s the way we like it. We’d secretly be quite disappointed if we didn’t have to download a 100-megabyte patch (which doesn’t fix the problems) immediately after buying each game.

    And, alas, the big games distributors won’t ever release games without copy protection, even though it constantly screws up for legitimate customers, and fails completely to hinder commercial pirates and crackers. According to my scientific research into the subject, this is because they are spazzmoid smelly bumholes.

“Hello! My name is Little Bobby Wogan, and this is my Hints ’n’ Tips Corner! If you like Hints ’n’/or you like Tips, you will love my Hints ’n’ Tips Corner, with me, Little Bobby Wogan! Did you know — I bet you didn’t!! — that you can get to the blocked off second and third sections of the map in GTA3 right from the start of the game?! Just get onto the right-hand edge of Callahan bridge (use a car to climb up on, stupid!!) and walk towards the broken section. Walk right onto the rounded barrier at the point where it joins the edge of the bridge. Then run (don’t jump!) down the barrier, you’ll slip and fall forwards onto the barrier at the other side (unless you jumped, I told you not to jump!). Now you are on Staunton Island, thanks to me! And you can save the game and carry on because you didn’t have to turn any cheats on, unlike the tips from all the other Hints ’n’ Tips Corners which tell you to use the flying cars cheat!! Boy are they stupid, not like me, Little Bobby Wogan! Also, you can get back the same way or by using a boat, or dying or getting busted!! And you can get to Shoreside Vale by taking the subway (or driving a car through the subway tracks which is better yes)! I hope you liked my Hints ’n’ Tips Corner it is mine by me, Little Bobby Wogan. Thank you bye!!!!”

Anyway, today’s updates are all to the parasite script. There’s a workaround to stop it detecting the inoculations set up by JavaCool’s new SpywareBlaster program as false positives. Also lots of new targets: PerMedia, ASpam, new variants of InetSpeak (‘eBoom’), Xupiter (‘BrowserWise’) and NetworkEssentials (‘ME’), plus a whole family of dialler-related nastiness: RapidBlaster, DialerOffline, ACXInstall and IEAccess.

13th October 2002

You know, I’m getting increasingly concerned at the behaviour of NAI/McAfee, who own half the anti-virus world these days.

What brought them to my attention was the ‘Security Center’ application, which they have recently started bundling with such applications as Morpheus 2 and Xolox Ultra. The pretext for this bit of unsolicited commercial software is that P2P file-sharing users are more likely to be affected by viruses and so need protection.

That might be so, but unfortunately McAfee Security Center fails to provide any protection at all. Instead it loads every time you start Windows, waits for you to click on it, and then tells you you need to buy all of McAfee’s products.

This advertising takes the form of four ‘security level’ sliders, each of which handily corresponds to one McAfee program. If you have that program installed you are give a security level of ‘10’, if you don’t you get a ‘1’. (It is supposed to detect other competitor software too, but it didn’t recognise the AV and firewall software I had to hand.)

No other checks are done — it doesn’t care what your IE settings are, or what network services you have running, or what browser or mailer you use if any. (It assumes everyone needs a Spam Killer, regardless of whether you even read mail locally.) You either have the software installed or you don’t. And if you don’t, you had better go buy some from McAfee now.

Now I’m not proposing to add McAfee Security Center detection to my anti-UCS script right now, because it isn’t really harmful, but I do find this software distasteful. And when I went for a look at McAfee’s web site I became even more disappointed.

The first thing you see when you enter McAfee’s current site is one of McAfee’s new extra-large pop-up adverts. Depending on which one you get, it’ll warn you that “your computer performance may be low” or “your PC’s data might be at risk”, or give you an “important security bulletin” stating that web sites might “use unauthorised browser windows, JavaScript or cookies” (all of which the McAfee site itself has indeed just done)... and so on.

These adverts, as well as most of the other advertising at McAfee’s site, are dressed up to look like part of Windows — 2000/XP-style pop-up bubbles, configuration windows, ‘system performance’ wizards, and so on, offering misleading promises of vastly increased performance or stability, and misleading threats of insecurity.

If you are unfortunate enough to click on one, you get the full sales pitch, replete with fake window elements, unfulfillable promises (“Increase Your Computer Speed by up to 100%!”) and spurious threats (“Your computer may experience slowdowns, lockups, crashes and serious memory leaks!”). It’s all the worst kind of dishonest advertising, and it’s all 100% endorsed by McAfee.

(Look at their ‘advertise with us’ page — they offer to market anyone’s software like this, with their logos and official endorsement. They even suggest sending junk e-mail to their lists of McAfee users. And they use the same kind of advertising themselves — currently at sites such as blubster.com there are adverts for McAfee Security Center using fake Windows elements and the assurance “Your computer’s data is currently at risk!”.)

Let’s just get this clear: there is no software you can run to double the speed of your internet connection. You can optimise it for different purposes (gamers might want to turn off link compression for reduced latency; downloaders might want to increase the MTU if possible — more about this sort of thing), but if you have paid for software that claims to give blanket speed increases for general-purpose internet use, you have been conned I’m afraid.

There is no software you can run to increase the speed of your computer’s memory. Memory speed is affected only by BIOS settings which the manufacturer should have got right already. (Or yourself, if you built or overclocked your own box.) At one time, some people used ‘RAM-doubling’ software, which compressed parts of memory not currently in use to make more space; however this is complicated, disastrous if not absolutely correctly implemented, and with the price of DRAM these days, it is far cheaper just to buy some more memory. If you have paid for software that claims to speed your memory up, you have been conned — sorry.

A computer security company should be above suspicion. Many of their visitors will be naïve beginners, who have not yet learned to ignore this kind of deceptive advertising. For McAfee to prostitute its previously decent reputation and dupe them into wasting money on this kind of nonsense is a huge betrayal of trust.

There has always been an element of hucksterism in the anti-virus industry, hyping up random viruses with scary doom-prophecy to sell more software, and pretending to have a magic bullet solution to the problem of malware. But McAfee’s current marketing efforts, for its own software and others’, are a new industry low. And I for one will no longer be recommending McAfee VirusScan or any of NAI’s other products to anyone.

Today’s updates: there’s a new version of the form.py module. The Unicode stuff is now in [final], file-upload handling is more efficient (especially on Win32 servers), and there are some changes to prepare for Python 2.3. New stuff detected by parasite.js: Aornum, IGetNet and SearchAndBrowse. Also a new variant of CommonName has been released (addressing some of the problems with previous versions).

1st October 2002

In a world gone mad, it was a time... of sequels.

I’m sure it used to be that only exceptionally successful films were given a sequel; this year, that rule seems to have been suspended. Why on earth did anyone think a Tomb Raider 2 would be a good idea, after the original was roundly hated by everyone not specifically paid by Paramount to suspend their critical judgement and produce piss-poor trailers-’n’-sycophancy movie shows on ITV?

And whose idea was Charlie’s Angels 2? Given that the first film was so offensively, intelligence-insultingly dire, failing even at the simple task it had set itself of being simple mindless fun, why bother make another? Are there really many more minutes of movie magic to be wrung out of —

  • senseless unconvincing fighting;
  • weak “being distracted by Cameron Diaz’s skinny bum” gags at the expense of male cardboard cut-out ‘characters’;
  • mercilessly prolonged close-up shots of Cameron Diaz’s skinny bum?

The original failed despite having Bill Murray in it and Pizzicato Five on the soundtrack, and the new one hasn’t even got that much. It’s not looking good.

Whilst Charlie’s Angels is far and away the worst film I’ve ever been subjected to on a ’plane journey, the best was probably Spy Kids, which despite being a kids’ film (reminding me heavily of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but maybe I’m just weird) is quite enjoyable all-round. I didn’t think it had been that successful, but no, there’s a sequel out to that too. (Which I haven’t seen but which does at least still have Alan Cumming in. You’ve got to like Alan Cumming. It’s the law. Bring back The High Life, that’s what I say!*)

And the less said about Scooby Doo 2 the better, really.

Most strange, though, is that apparently a Final Destination 2 is in the works. Final Destination [or should that be ‘Penultimate Destination’? — Smart-alec Ed.] was reasonable entertainment but hardly a monster hit, and the story didn’t really leave any scope for a sequel, did it?

(If, like most people, you didn’t see the original, why not catch up with this abridged script in the style of Rod Hilton’s The Editing Room?)

New things today: more Pokeys and a new (although technically quite old) parasite, DownloadReceiver. The detection page has also been fixed — there was a really strange bug in the InternetExplorer ActiveX control in IE5 which was causing the page to generate false positives and sometimes crashes on this page (though not others that use the parasite script). Argh!

26th September 2002

Off to Britain again soon, but being there is always a bit uncomfortable as I feel I have to apologise for the German music that seems somehow to have made it into the charts. Pop music must be getting pretty bad if you’re resorting to buying this stuff.

That’s not to say German pop is bad — on the contrary, there are enough decent bands (from Ingolstadt alone, where I live, there are Slut and the Remington Portable, whose gig earlier this week was top). But apparently everyone prefers to buy DJ Ötzi and Scooter singles instead. Bah.

DJ Ötzi is Austrian, of course, but is always associated with Germany because of his popularity there, a bit like Hitler. (But with less artistic integrity.)

(See, I reckon if Herta Däubler-Gmelin can get away with comparing George Bush to Hitler, I can get away with doing it to DJ Ötzi. Although to be fair her description ‘[using war] to distract attention from his domestic problems’ could apply not only to Bush but also her boss Gerhard Schröder, whose close re-election the other day probably has at least a little to with his popular stance against war with Iraq.)

The great thing about the UK, that you never appreciate when you’re there, is crisps. Foreign crisps are just invariably crap. Especially German ones, which are all Nothing Flavour (or ‘paprika’, as they call it).

Whilst I can’t remember very much at all of being a kid*, I do have fond memories of one thing at least: Football Crazies, spheres of crunchy bacon-flavoured Monster Munch-style crispgunge, which I would eat until my mouth started to bleed. They were superb.

So far, so typically tedious nostalgia, you say. But! (But!) They’re back! Sort of. Some manager at Walkers has decided to revive the recipe under the exciting* new* name “Footballs”! They’re slightly smaller than before but they’re still fab! Go buy some now! And if you are that manager, e-mail me now — and I’ll send you a pound!!!

KP, however, have meanwhile inexplicably ballsed up the idea of making new flavours of Skips, by changing the texture (which was Skips’ only unique selling point, surely?) and forgetting to dose the back of the crisp with too much flavouring powder. Or indeed any flavouring at all. They’ve solved the problem where two Skips get stuck together and go hard (eurgh), but their Skips-related boring Buzz Bolts blunder cannot go unpunished: no cash money prizes for you this time, KP executives. Sorry.

(Now, McCowan’s, there’ll be a pound in it for you if you bring back fantastic green Wham-like chew bar Gorgo. Go on, you know you want to.)

New things today! The parasite script now detects stuff under IE6/WinXP Service Pack 1. And detects the new things Cytron and Wazam. Oh, and I noticed FavoriteMan has been busy; the list of things it installs has also been updated.

11th September 2002

A year ago, a momentous event took place which will be remembered by everyone for the rest of their lives. A turning point that would affect the world forever.

I’m talking, of course, about the launch of and.doxdesk.com, which, judging by the nice hefty bill I’ve just got from my hosts, is now one year old. Yay! In that time, there have been:

  • 24 updates (see, that doesn’t count as a blog really does it?)
  • 37 nasty pieces of software
  • 5* swear words (bugger, is that all?)
  • 0 redesigns (this is of course unique for a personal site)

Oh, and also a year ago there was some sort of incident involving some planes, I think, which some Americans seem to be really terribly upset about. Still, it’s an ill wind that blows no-one any good, as it means I get a flight to Blighty today for cheap.

(I am not this callous in real life, promise.)

Oh, and MS have released IE6 Service Pack 1, which though still insecure as anything, manages to fix some of the more egregious bugs. And they’ve finally removed* the undocumented capability of ‘about:somenonsense’ URLs to generate a page, something I recommended a long time ago only to be met with the usual denial that it was a problem.

However, it’s a fabby wind that blows no-one any bad [Eh? —Ed.], and the upgrade’s restrictions on what can be in an <object codebase> have stopped parasite.js detecting anything! Bah!!

I’ll have to come up with a workaround when I get back next week. In the worst case I’ll have to go back to the old way of detecting ActiveX objects for IE6SP1 users, which unfortunately doesn’t detect half the parasites.

Anyway, speaking of parasites, here are two new ones: Xupiter and SideStep. And there’s a new variant of CometCursor around too.

5th September 2002

The music industry’s fun adventures on the Internet, vol 274: the late lamented AudioGalaxy strikes back, with a new music download service. Except that it’s not from AudioGalaxy (it’s actually a rebranded version of the listen.com service), and it’s not actually a download service.

Instead, you are expected to be on-line permanently. You can’t download tracks; they are only cached on the hard disc in a single encrypted dump file. To play a track, or even to skip back and forth in a track, you have to connect to their authorisation server, which takes several seconds (making seeking useless). You can choose broadband connection (reasonable quality but takes far too long to download without broadband) or modem connection (sounds really awful), but switching between them (eg. to preview tracks before downloading) is a chore.

The listen.com software (“Rhapsody”) takes over all functions. Its unwieldy single-window interface contains a player, lists of tracks, search and downloading. Compared to the extremely simple and practical interface AudioGalaxy used to offer (single upload/download list window, with web site used to search and queue tracks) it’s rather painful. There’s no small player you can have open: it’s the huge multi-purpose window or nothing. You cannot use any other application to play the tracks. You cannot use the Rhapsody player to play any other tracks. The search interface is implemented using IE, but with a nasty frames interface and none of the useful browser navigation features you would expect. This is typical ‘acquisitive software’ — you cannot use it without letting it take over everything you do with music. There is zero flexibility.

You cannot move the tracks to another box or portable player; you cannot use another OS on another partition; you cannot listen to anything without an internet connection, and when their servers go down or they go bust you will be left with no music at all. Go bust? I hope so, to be honest, because it’s a really, really shit service.

You’d think the music industry would learn from past failures (Liquid Audio, MusicNet et al), but instead they keep serving up the same hopeless DRM-crippled business model again and again.

So why am I even bringing up this sad state of affairs? Well, AudioGalaxy are offering access to the entire listen.com archive, and there’s quite a lot of decent stuff in there that you can’t get hold of through eMusic. Unlike the usual listen.com service, the AG trial scheme works without a credit card number, so us non-Americans can use it too. (The normal service is, as usual, closed to anyone outside the US, in just another example of how little they understand the internet.)

So take advantage of it whilst you can. Which is, up until 15th September. Install the software*, enter a fake e-mail address (obviously), set broadband connections on and set a track to play. Once it’s cached, set it to play again and record your sound card’s Wave Out channel. Save as .wav and you can copy, compress, organise and play it in your own favourite software to your heart’s content.

Would you like to be able to buy music directly without having to go through all this nonsense? Me too. You might want to let them know that... but the industry has shown no sign of listening to its customers so far, so I wouldn’t hold your breath.

But how am I? Very well, thanks for asking mate. Starting to calm down again after all that work stuff, I’ve even had time to watch a film or two, and notice the increasing prevalence of product placement. Even a film that you wouldn’t have thought could sustain placement of a modern-day product is not safe; observe the blatancy of the MS BackOffice logo being placed upon Elrond’s elvish bonce in Lord of the Rings [left]. What’s coming in the next chapter, Saruman managing his army with the awesome power (and low, low total cost of ownership) of his Cisco routers? Maybe Frodo will just avoid all that tedious stuff in the middle and drive straight to the Crack of Doom in his Audi TT?

Oh yeah, there’s some new parasite pages up too: ezCyberSearch and TinyBar. Mind how you go, there. Oh, and with the latest version, you can download the script, take it to another computer and run it as a stand-alone, if you like. It’s not a substitute for a full anti-spyware application like Ad-Aware or Spybot S&D, but it’s small and effective.

30th August 2002

Today’s musical recommendation: (Last night we were) The delicious wolves, by Hawksley Workman. Somewhere between Robbie Williams and Neil Hannon, the boy can write a song — there’s not a bad track on it.

Speaking of which, whatever happened to our Robbie, eh? Still no sign of any new songs from the cheeky chimpy Williams chappy. Swing When You’re Winning was a good delaying tactic to allow Guy Chambers to come up with some new songs for him, but now the little lad’s reduced to Noel Gallagher-baiting to get attention. Which, let’s face it, is the simplest and most tedious sport imaginable. (Apart from football, natch.)

So to keep you, the reader of and.doxdesk.com informed, I have cyber-hacked into the inter-web e-security systems (aka ‘Microsoft Exchange’) of Chrysalis Records to find out what’s coming up from Britain’s favourite musical chancer.

Chrysalis internal memo — 8.8.2002 — do not distribute

For release September: Robbie’s tribute to tree-shagging wrinklebopper Gordon Sumner, featuring cover versions of such classics as Fields of Gold, Buckets of Cash, and I’m So Rich I Don’t Need To Come Up With Tunes Any More Mum. Pre-order now for Sting When You’re Winning.

After his memorable interpretation of ’50s standards in Swing..., Robbie takes a stab at the classics, with his unique unrehearsed conductorship of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, Strings When You’re Winning. He’s utterly hopeless of course, but we expect the decline of standards in pop to continue with enough speed that the album will be saleable by Q3 2003.

Around Christmas: Robbie teams up with inanity’s DJ Ötzi to bring you an entertainment extravanganza in the aprés-ski style. All your favourites from the Schirmbar’s badly-distorting PA system, including Dicke Dicke Titten, Anton aus Tirol, 20 Zentimeter, and Ficken Meinen Arsch Mit Penisen [single entendre mix]. Everyone will love Skiing When You’re Winning. Even though it’s complete crap.

For Q4 2003, a fascinating experiment in music: an entire album recorded by Robbie whilst monged up to the cheeks on coke and skag. You’ll enjoy the new musical direction of incoherent paranoia and rambling aggression on Syringe When You’re Winning.

[Claire, didn’t we already put that one out, as Life Thru A Lens? Check with Marketing]

New on the site today: minor bugfix updates to the minmax and position scripts, and two new parasites: 7FaSST and HuntBar, both masquerading as search toolbars (as if we didn’t have enough of those already). Come on malware companies, think of something more original!

Or, come to think of it, don’t.

28th July 2002

Hello! I’m not very good at this whole updating thing, am I? Well at least this site isn’t xbollox, which is very lovely but does tend to get a redesign twice as often as a new article. (Oi! Mark! Where’s that GameCube thing eh?)

It might get some more stuff done in a few weeks’ time though, when this nasty dose of working is over. Or alternatively I might just spend all my time drinking at bierfests and seeing top bands and meeting fab people and that.

In the meantime all I have to offer you is more parasites, bah. Namely Gratisware and CnsMin, and new variants of CommonName, InetSpeak and FavoriteMan.

Is iMesh the most hideously spyware-ridden program ever, or what?

2nd July 2002

I’ve done some updates, but before I write down what they are I have to whinge about something, because that’s how this thing works. So, what to choose, what to choose?

Well how about Palladium, Microsoft’s plan to take ultimate (root, in Unix parlance) control of your computer away from you?

It’s sold as a way to increase general security and mitigate virus risk, but in practice it’s designed primarily to stop you using your computer to do anything that Microsoft and other large copyright-holding firms don’t want you to do, and secondarily to lock out non-commercial software. (As for fighting viruses, it would seem a lot more effective to allow the user to execute software with limited permissions — an option easy to build using user rights, sandboxing or a proper capabilities-based approach to security — than to resort to preventing the user from running anything Microsoft does not trust with full access. But anyway.)

However, in a way this has been going on a while. Windows NT/2K/XP has a ‘SYSTEM’ user with higher privileges than the Administrator, and the workarounds for the Administrator to get control back are getting trickier. As an example, it turns out the recent security patch for security bugs in Windows Media Player includes egregious EULA terms [the ‘DRM’ paragraph of the full EULA mirrored here] allowing Microsoft to install anything they like on your computer without your knowledge or consent. You can download the patch and give Microsoft admin-level access, or not download the patch and be insecure so anyone can get user-level access. Even if you never use Windows Media Player*, you are still vulnerable, thanks to Windows’s “integration” — meaning other programs such as Internet Explorer and Outlook [Express] are capable of invoking Media Player automatically.

The obvious solution would be to uninstall Media Player and use any other audio or video player* you like. Unfortunately there is no option to do this, because Microsoft want you to use Media Player. You can’t delete the Media Player program files, even if you are the Administrator, because Windows File Protection, which runs as SYSTEM (ie. more powerful than you) keeps a copy of the files and will put them back repeatedly. (This is another dubious ‘feature’ supposedly designed to prevent badly-behaved applications replacing DLLs with older versions, something that would have been far easier to do with far fewer annoying side-effects* by implementing a simple versioning system.) WFP also protects such ‘essential system files’ as the Movie Maker application (useless to 99% of users) and empty directories across the system for things that aren’t even installed, most amusingly Pinball on 2000 Server.

The obvious solution to this would be to remove Windows File Protection, but again there is no option for this, and being (unnecessarily) a part of the winlogon if you did manage to delete it you wouln’t be able to log back in anyway. To get rid of WFP you will actually need to grab a binary editor (for example xvi) and hack sfc.dll to allow it to be subverted. Then you can finally delete all the bits of Windows you don’t want.

Palladium will make tricks like this impossible, or at least will disable major functionality if any operating system files are changed by anyone not trusted by Microsoft.

The Trusted PC initiative of which Palladium is a part has realised that all software can be hacked by the person who owns the hardware, so in order to make their own software safe they wish to make sure the hardware is effectively owned by themselves instead of the user who actually bought it. Just as you can build a secure channel from your computer to another using public key crypto, Trusted PC uses it to create a secure channel from the people who make your computer into a controller at the heart of its hardware, taking ultimate control away from user, because ultimately users cannot be trusted.

Hmm. On the other hand, I can’t really have that as a whinge, as everyone else’s blogs are already complaining about it. (Still, it was only the mass whinge that persuaded Intel to give up on its original ‘Processor Serial Number’ scheme which now seems so benign in comparison, so maybe it’s worth mentioning.) I’ll have to come up with something else to moan about.

How about Deus Ex 2 still not being out ? There’s some tantalising bits of information dropped about it in this Harvey Smith interview, but as far as anyone can tell it won’t be out for another year (at least... you know how computer game schedules are).

Deus Ex has got to be the best single-player FPS-style game I’ve played, and it looks like the immersive, freedom-of-action elements of the original are going to be even more evident in the follow-up. Yet not all of the gameplay of Deus Ex was planned for, as this fascinating article in Gamasutra reveals.

Annoyingly, that link probably won’t actually work for you, as Gamasutra is one of an increasing number of sites to require registration just to read their articles. And their registration process is long and asks many intrusive questions.

This is pretty dumb: it will only ensure fewer people bother to read their articles (I know I would never have started reading Gama if I had had to sign up in advance), alienate users who don’t like having to enable cookies just to read a page, and naturally ensure their user database is clogged up with useless fake details. Like for example: e-mail ‘guest@gamasutra.com’, password ‘guest’, which you might like to use to read the above article until such time as they cotton on and remove the account, eh?

But that’s still far too technical and geeky a whinge. What about, er, Catchphrase?

It used to be a fantastic show, Catchphrase. Admittedly the catchphrases themselves were usually total rubbish...

Roy Walker: Say what you see.
Music: doodle-oodle-doooo... diddle-iddle-ooh.
Buzzer: Neeeoooorriiiiiiinng!!!
‘Stu’: Errrr... is it, Mickle Mickle Muckle... Moo?
Roy: Ah. It’s good, but it’s not the one. Dave, yer back in pleh.
Music: doodle-oddle-doooo...
Buzzer: Neeeoooorriiiiiiinng!!!
‘Dave’: Many a Mickle Makes a Muckle, Roy.
Roy: Riiiiiiiiiiiiight!!!! Fefty paends!!!!
Audience: What the chuff’s a muckle?

...but the amazing thing was the show still managed to be great fun despite being completely ridiculous. Alas, it is no longer so. The show they’re running now under the name Catchphrase is just crap in a crap way, instead of crap in a funky skillo kind of way.

And the reason is simply that it’s so cheap. The show used to give away terrifically expensive holidays to the winners and thousands of pounds in cash to all and sundry (so of course as students we all desperately wanted to get on the show, if only Action Time would let us). In its heyday, the show’s host Roy Walker would keep five hundred quid in his jacket pocket and nonchalantly hand it to the winners at the end on top of everything else they had won, for no apparent reason whatsoever.

In today’s show there are no cash prizes, making the main game rounds pointless (play for points, not pounds? It’s certainly not fast, nor furious) and more significantly taking out the great bits where the hapless player misses the £150 square and ends up playing for two pounds fifty pee per catchphrase, ho ho ho. The top prize should the winner get through the endgame is still a holiday, but only a weekend now. In northern Europe. Yes, you can win a booze cruise to Calais on the all-new Catchphrase, wa-hey! I know ITV are officially skint, but surely they can do better than this?

There isn’t even an audience any more, only a painfully unconvincing reaction CD, which becomes particularly embarrassing when new host Mark Curry pretends to talk to the audience, or they appear to laugh at one of his hopeless gags. He’s not a bad presenter at all, but he can’t compete with the gin-soaked antics of Roy*.

Curry also has the somewhat undesirable trait for a quiz show host of telling you the answer if he feels sorry for you, eliminating any tension left in the format. Roy, on the other hand was always a hard bast. (“No, it’s not ‘Treading on Thin Ice’, it’s ‘Walking on Thin Ice’! No holiday for you son, so that’s more gin money for me! Hooray!”)

Come to thing about it though, that was a pretty sad kind of whinge too. Maybe I should just give up and tell you what I updated. Yes, I will do that then. New parasite: SearchExplorer; more vaguely useful mailing list posts archived; and over at www.doxdesk.com, the first draft of a web templating language that Python people may find mildly interesting.

My knees hurt.

21st June 2002

Hurrah! That accursed football thing is finally over! Thank you, Brazil. Now at last St. George’s Bores can take their flags of conspicuous conformity down from their homes, cars, faces etc. and stop pretending that it really matters terribly much how well a bunch of eleven blokes in Japan manage to kick a ball around.

And yes, I am only saying that because I was crap at footy at school, of course. (Your point is...?) Me, I blame the hayfever. Of course everyone told me I would grow out of it, but I’m still here as an old man* with red eyes that can’t stay open and a nose that’s bleeding from excessive blowage. Despite being doped up to the gills on every ineffectual drug ever produced by the allergy exploitation cartel.

(I always knew I wasn’t going to grow out of it, of course, but am experiencing no significant satisfaction from being right. I suspect the same will be true when I prove the “oh, you’ll make someone a lovely husband, you just haven’t met the right person yet” idiots wrong and die alone in a pool of gin and vomitus.)

Anyway, there aren’t any samples from last Sunday’s RaW Hacks show, I’m afraid, since neither Mr. Browne nor myself could be bothered to make a recording. Then again it was every bit as shambolic as the shows we used to do four years ago, so that’s probably not such a bad thing. Still, ringing up random people in Coventry asking if they like jam was quite fun, especially getting one girl to admit her favourite radio station was the non-existant Koala FM.

What I have got hold of, thanks to Andy Bolton and Pauly G, is the first five episodes of the Vengaboys’ tour diary. Hooray! Don’t know what happened to the rest though.

Other new things: well, the parasite stuff, as usual. New pages on Bulla and NowBox, and minor updates to FlashTrack and AdBreak.

That is all. You can go away now.

7th June 2002

Excellent article from Microsoft here which for some reason Slashdot and co. haven’t found and linked yet. It’s all obvious stuff: that mandatory copy-protection in all digital devices and attempts to "plug the analog hole" would cripple computing and electronics as we know it.

What’s impressive is that it’s Microsoft saying it, since MS have a big interest in the kind of Digital Rights Management software the CBDTPA would make mandatory; it could effectively outlaw all competition to Microsoft. One great point they bring up:

A more effective solution would be for entertainment companies to invest in digital distribution. Few companies have made much content available online, yet the popularity of file sharing among music fans suggests that the market is large. Making legitimate content available easily and affordably would help to counter the illegal supply.

Bingo. Wake up, RIAA: you could kill the music-sharing P2Ps overnight, without firing a single lawsuit. What made Napster popular wasn’t simply the allure of “get stuff without paying” — although this may be true for the idiotic breed of packrat warez collector that unfortunately does exist, such people are unlikely to buy the music anyway.

No, the great thing was that you could simply type in the name of a band or song you had heard about, and listen. This suddenly makes music criticism make sense; if you read about a band that strikes your interest, or your friend recommends something, or you read on a blog that, ohh, say, Plus-Tech Squeeze Box are really great, you can just download and find out for yourself. Personally I’ve discovered more fab tunes on eMusic and AudioGalaxy (caution: installs spyware) in the last year than I’ve heard on the radio. Admittedly German radio is crap, but still.

If the members of the RIAA got together and created a single music download site where you could do the same, the file-sharing networks would become a minority activity. Instead, we’ve got the laughably useless MusicNet and PressPlay, whose offerings completely miss the point on every front. To make this work:

  • There must be one site, one search form, for all music. Not one per label, and not with half the music missing. Or users will go back to their easier, more reliable Gnuclei and WinMXes.
  • The downloads must be in a DRM-unencumbered format like MP3 or OGG. Music that is tied to one particular installation of one operating system on one computer is of no use to anyone. And music that expires when your subscription runs out is not attractive to the consumer. We like to own our music. We like to make a collection. We don’t like having to get permission to play “our” music.
  • There should be poor-quality downloads for free so users can try a track for sampling purposes without commitment and with a fast download. These should be freely redistributable. Users should be able to pay to receive a range of higher-quality encodings, with deals for buying collections (albums) of tracks.
  • The site should be open for any artist to submit their own music, with the maintainers receiving a cut of any paid-for downloads.

Rather than doomed attempts to maintain their monopoly on old-style music distribution, the recording industry should take advantage of their content assets to get a monopoly on new-style music distribution that would provide benefits to artists and customers and could be very lucrative.

Record industry bosses! I’ll build the site for you for free if you like! ...unfortunately I fear getting all the responsible execs to discard their control-freakery and get on with providing a useful service to the public would be all but impossible.

Anyway. Stuff today. Oh yes. I’ve updated the information pages on the AdBreak and NewDotNet parasites. The detection script has also been updated to avoid a problem where the latest version of NewDotNet would redirect the browser to an empty page when the script was run. This can be quite annoying, so if you’ve made a local copy of the script to serve on your pages I’d advise you to grab an update!

2nd June 2002

I finally got around to installing my log analyser on this box to have a look at what’s been going on. It was a nice surprise to see all the referrers I’d never heard of! Hooray!

Some of them are pretty suspect though. There are an awful lot of single-hit referrers from pages that seem to have nothing to do with this site, and certainly no link to it. Including porn sites. And government reports. Very very odd. The only discernible pattern seems to be that the browser making the request is always IE 5.0 or 5.01 for Windows. Is there some sort of strange bug in IE5 that nobody knows about, causing referrers to be occasionally and randomly sent when they shouldn’t? Or something? Tell me!

IE browser share here is currently over 90%, scarily. Of the 5% of requests coming from Netscape, though, over half are now Netscape 6/Mozilla, which is encouraging. Opera and Konqueror, the other browsers that can do CSS well, are still under 1% here.

Not that this is necessarily indicative of anything in particular, but I’ve got to put something in this update before I tell you about the new parasite and the updates to two others.

Oh yeah, this is more useful: Glasshaus’s new book on CSS should be out about now. Should be good judging by the earlier drafts I reviewed. And also, the next radio show will be on 16th June at, er, 2pm I think. Now with added extra Matt Browne free! Probably!

19th May 2002

Yikes. I forgot how annoying work is. You know, proper work where you turn up at eight and work all day. Rather than turn up when you feel like it and work either a few hours or all weekend, depending on when the deadline is, which is the kind of work I’m more used to. I would like to give you my impressions of being back in England, but I’ve been too busy to form many, really. And keeping up with the e-mail is trickier than ever — sorry if you’re still waiting for a reply; I will get around to it. Promise. Maybe.

It’s pretty quiet out here. Ingolstadt was never terribly urban of course, but Towcester does feel very small. I don’t enjoy the pubs closing on me (forgot about our daft licensing laws), and the graffiti’s not up to much after Ingolstadt’s Wall of Fame (hopefully Dan will get some pictures of his stuff up sometime). So far I have only noticed two examples of the art:

  • observation added to dog-waste bin: "Dog Shit in here" (witty!)
  • scrawled on the bridge into town: "Kristy is a porstitue and a bich."

Ah, the eternal cry of the rejected male. Normally I would take no pleasure in this, being a loser myself of course, but in this case one can only point at the lad, who clearly has the intellectual capacity of a porpoise [do porpoises have unusually low intelligence? check before publishing — sub ed.] and laugh. I mean, I know dyslexic people who can spell better than that. (Hi, Chan!)

So, kudos to you, Kristy. Although going on the accuracy of the rest of it, your name is probably actually Kirsty.

Or maybe Katy. Or Wilhemina. Who knows.

There are some more parasites today. (Do you know how bored I am of typing that at the bottom of every update?)

7th May 2002

Oh well, looks like it’s back over to Britland for a few months, then. Unemployment is great and that but all good things must come to an end.

England, I have missed your chip shops and curry houses. I have missed your variably decent music. (You may think the music’s bad on Radio One and the ILR stations, but it’s nothing, nothing, compared to the sheer unceasing banality of all German radio I have heard. Well, except FM4 but that’s Austrian and I can’t get it here.) I have missed your special offers, and your TV which doesn’t feel the need to add appallingly-done dubbing to its English programmes. I have missed being able to breathe in pubs, without choking from a million cigarettes. (Approximately 136% of all Germans smoke.)

What I haven’t missed are your miserable surly inhabitants, your universal filth, your fantastically poor rail system and your idiotic hatred of foreigners — Europeans included — as is evident from the existence of this bunch of jokers.

(and it pains me to see in that article Eric Coates’s Dam Busters March once again misappropriated. It’s a shame it has become the Thugs’ Alternative National Anthem. As it’s actually a rather lovely tune. Bah.)

So, yeah. When this work is done, I hope I will be able to come back out to Ingolstadt. Because it’s really quite pleasant, you know.

New Things today: two more parasites (sigh), and an update to the Python form module with crunchy new features. (Look out! Beta code!)

Updated update

Cripes. They wouldn’t even let the clock get past midnight without releasing another bloody parasite. And it’s a bad’un folks.

23rd April 2002

Oh blimey. Yet more parasites: the closely-related Network Essentials and DownloadWare, which is especially bad news.

I honestly thought when I started writing the parasite-detection script that the spyware threat would die out, as people became more aware of it and the companies behind it ran out of money. Instead, more and more companies have appeared to replace the old ones, each with the idea that, somehow, sneaking software onto people’s computers, spying on them and bombarding them with ads is a valid business model. I can understand a post-bubble dot-com desparate for funds resorting to such sleazy measures, but do people really start up companies with the fantastic plan of annoying the yoghurt out of the general public? Apparently, they do. You humans disgust me.

And so this has become far more work than I had bargained for! What was initially a detector for half a dozen parasites has ballooned to twenty, and there are at least another half a dozen it can’t catch. I’m not pleased.

This update is in memory of my ski boots, who slipped away last Sunday after a long illness of basically being broken since last season. Bought second-hand goodness knows how long ago [probably about 1995, And. cheers, —Goodness], they survived numerous injuries and abuse before finally passing away (underneath me, sending me flying, natch).

Tributes from the public continue to pour in. “They were tough as old boots, and stunk dramatically of rancid feet, but we’ll all really miss them as they rot away in an Austrian dustbin”, commented one well-wisher. “A bit like the Queen Mum”, he added, in an predictable and unnecessary punchline.

Commemorating my boots. Who died earlier.

18th April 2002

It’s odd... I hate JavaScript. Whereas Python is a cleaned-up amalgam of various popular programming languages, JavaScript manages to take the worst bits from its ancestors and add all-new cruft and lunacy of its own. What — other than consciousness-altering drugs in the Netscape water cooler — could be the explanation for the bizarre object system that no-one understands, and the typing system so loose as to let you access a non-existent property without complaining? (Yeah, the JavaScript idea of always avoiding generating errors is brilliant... until the uncaught error causes something to go wrong a few steps down the road where it is impossible to work out what has happened. Nice one, Mister Netscape.)

Even the name of the language is designed to confuse, since it has nothing to do with the original Java language. It was originally going to be called LiveScript; presumably some clever-trousers Marketing guy came in with and said, “I know! Java’s really trendy! Let’s pretend our new language is Java! And also, let’s make it really, really crap!”.

I find the thought that the next generation are getting into programming through JavaScript on web pages utterly chilling. This is a language that makes Spectrum BASIC (© 1982 Sinclair Research, Ltd.) look good.

And that’s before you take the different browser object models into account.

I could create a better language by putting the text of K&R through a word-order randomiser, but, apparently, I choose to spend much of my time hacking it. Am I stupid, or something, or what? (Well, yes I am, obv.)

For your edification today, new revisions of the event, minmax and position scripts and a new bit of spyware for the parasite script.

Plus, more tasty script-assisted CSS! Use standard CSS 2 fixed positioning, and fixed backgrounds even in nasty old IE for Windows, with the fixed script. Huzzah! Now, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll go and code something — anything — that does not involve JavaScript.

3rd April 2002

It’s not fair! I’ve injured myself whilst skiing — why do I not get sympathy?

Just because the injuries are sunburn (from shorts-and-T-shirt-skiing in the baking Easter sun) and a big scratch on the arm (from falling over in the Hütte whilst rat-arsed and wearing ski boots). For some reason this means I deserve no compassion. Curse you, you unfeeling swine!

Anyway, back now (hopefully with photos of the Amazing Runaway Snowboard Hunt and the lasses’ breast ‘implants’ to follow, amusement fans), so it’s time as ever to recount things I’ve done to this here web site thing. There’s a general update of the JavaScript modules, including a new CSS edge-positioning module which I had to develop to get the layout for a new site working.

Then there’s two new parasites (nothing too harmful), an update to detect the latest new.net, and a bit of a change to the detection page: it now tells you if your browser was tested and found clean, or if it couldn’t perform the test for whatever reason.

The script will still remain quiet when no parasites are detected if you use it on your own site. It seems, though, that quite a few people have linked directly to this site as a checking service instead, and in this case it makes more sense to have the script tell you what’s happening even if it doesn’t find anything.

Oh, and if you want a key to the silly new styles used for code snippets on this site: Shell/DOS code, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Python. These look best in IE, where the rounded dots sort-of look like printer paper holes (and worst in Netscape 4, natch). Anyway, that’s yer lot. If you wanted any more new bits than that you can’t have any. Sorry.

21th March 2002

Being, as I am, stuck down in Bavaria, I don’t get much chance to read any more — bookshops here are filled with books in German, which is pretty inconsiderate if you ask me. Reading German for pleasure is far too much work, and anything I buy whilst back in England immediately gets read on the ’plane, so it was a nice surprise to find English books I actually wanted to read at München station.

So I picked up Stephen Baxter’s The Time Ships, a sequel to H. G. Wells’s Time Machine. I’d previously liked some of his SF work, both the big-ideas-hard-SF and the more-realistic-with-characterisation stuff, but despite it having won this and that award for being great, I personally found The Time Ships a bit disappointing.

True, Baxter’s mimicry of the speaking style of Wells’s Time Traveller is amusing enough, and the story is kept moving at a good pace, but the plot seems strangely bereft of point: more like “Traveller ’n’ the Morlock’s Zany Adventures in Time!!!” than anything Wells himself would have written.

The Time Ships expands the original story into a Multiplicity explained along the lines of a quantum-theory many-worlds-interpretation, with every possible universe branching off at every point in time; however it doesn’t explore the implications of this, it just uses it to try to obtain the ever-sought SF “sense of wonder” by sheer brute bigness. In a multiverse where every possible thing happens, what of free will? Is it merely consciousness choosing which branch of reality to follow and observe? If so, one’s actions cannot in themselves make existence a better or worse place, so what of morality? All the questions and more are entirely ignored by the book and its hero, who, after observing the enormity of Everything, prefers to go back to the Eloi/Morlocks future he first observed out of an affection for Weena that was entirely absent from the original book. Bah!

Book cover

At least the stock sci-fi book cover features something that could conceivably be the eponymous Ships of the story, unlike the last one I picked up, Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead, which features a futuristic mega spaceport [left] on the front, despite nothing even vaguely resembling such an edifice existing in the story. Do they have a production line churning out dodgy SF illustrations, and just randomly attach them to whatever book is next in line, or something?

Ranting aside, I’ve updated the parasite section a whole bundle today, with more new horrors than I can be bothered to list. I found a new, slightly different of detecting software from JavaScript, which enables the script to catch a few more bits of revoltinglyawfulware, but much to my chagrin it involves javascript: URLs, which are the worst idea ever. More Bah!

28th February 2002

Having linked to Squish last time I thought I ought to check his site out again, in case Network Solutions had decided to steal the domain and sell it to a pr0n firm. That hasn’t happened (yet) but it does seem that, like every other site on the web, it’s slowly turning into a blog. Bah!

Still, blogs aren’t totally useless, eh.* It lets me in on important news like James having re-played through Half-Life recently, which strangely enough I’ve been doing too (you’ve got to love unemployment, it’s like being a student again). It’s still pretty good fun I suppose, though after the excellent Deus Ex the interactivity does seem a bit shallow.

Anyway, he also mentions his purchase of yet another Half Life sequel, which is news to me as I’d thought they’d run out of possible material. But no! After the various multiplayer efforts and Opposing Force (yes, kids, play as one of the soldiers sent to kill Gordon Freeman!), we now have Half Life: Blue Shift (play as a security guard who meets Gordon Freeman at some point, wahey!).

Are the Half Life team content to stop there? Why, no sir! After penetrating Gearbox Software’s sinister cyberpunk security network (aka ‘Outlook Express’) I’ve uncovered these top-secret design document summaries for the upcoming HL line-up:


Half Life: White Coat

Play the part of the petrified scientist who hides in the skip near the beginning of the game — if you dare!

  • make a cup of tea before the accident and complain about the lack of decent tottie at Black Mesa (or indeed any female characters in the facility in any capacity whatsoever);
  • watch as Gordon Freeman briefly runs past, shooting monsters;
  • special action: press ‘T’ to say one of three annoyingly repetitive canned remarks!

Half Life: Yellow Blood

What all the fans have been asking for — finally, you can play a Headcrab who scuttles around a bit and then gets killed by Gordon!

  • super-realistic dispiriting constant death scenarios!
  • be unavoidably shot, blown up, or bludgeoned to death in a split second! By Gordon Freeman! Without even seeing him coming! He’s super!
  • and of course there are still two dozen mysteriously-deactivated power generators to turn on before you even get past level one.

Also coming up, Half Life: Mushy Peas (play as a chip shop worker from Solihull who once got off with Gordon Freeman in a nightclub), and Half Life: Resonance Cascade Scenario, which is really just Tetris except all the sound effects are replaced with mysterious voices whispering “Gordon Freeman! Gooooor-don Freeeeee-man!!” and you have to play it wearing crap NHS glasses. Buy them all! Otherwise Valve might have to come up with some new ideas!

Sorry: I’m rambling now; I’ll stop. New Update Fun Action today: a new variant of an old favourite in the parasites bit, a German CV translation, and a couple of new Pokeys.

15th February 2002

Oh all right then, since you asked so nicely, you can have a CV. It’s over there in the exciting new narcissism section. Gizza job then.

Actually I’m quite enjoying not going to work. Maybe I’ll even manage to get the fabled l-bomb site up and running at some point. But dial-up internet is bobbins and costs too much. So I’d probably best find some job so I can spend the whole day on-line again, posting to web design mailing lists and downloading obscure MP3s.

(Employers: hang on, come back! Let me rephrase that...)

1st February 2002

So, I don’t know what to write here really. On the one hand, I’d like to excoriate eMusic for introducing location-based filters. What was previously a great music download outlet for everyone is now really only of use to residents of North America, as the majority of the content is now “unavailable outside” it due to “licensing restrictions”.

eMusic have split the world into two regions, ‘North America’ and ‘Not North America’. If a song is distributed by a record label other than the US label with which eMusic have an agreement anywhere in the rest of the world, no-one in ‘Not North America’ can access it. For instance, the fab Pizzicato Five are on Matador everywhere except their native Japan, where they’re on Columbia, who don’t have an agreement with eMusic. So no-one in ‘Not North America’ is allowed to download any of P5’s tracks, not even here in Europe.

(That’s the new global market for you I suppose. The Global Market of region coding, licensing deals and price differentials, giving global companies the freedom to own, exploit and dictate terms to local markets, that is. Not any strange concept of consumers having the freedom to buy what they want from any company elsewhere in the world. Why that’s just a zany idea isn’t it!)

On the other hand, I can’t complain too much at eMusic because they’re still the best music download service out there. You may not find anything very mainstream there, but there’s loads of great obscure stuff, lots of British Indie (though of course none of it’s actually available to the Brits any more). It’s mostly quite well organised, except for the large Classical section, which can be tricky.

The main reason for liking eMusic, though, is that they simply give the customer what they want: downloadable, copiable, portable, burnable music files. (MP3, as it happens.) Meanwhile the major record labels are busy trying to get people to download proprietary, inflexible files crippled by Digital Rights Management, and to pay a fee to PressPlay or MusicNet every month for the rest of one’s life (or until they go bust, whichever comes first) to ensure that the tracks you’ve “bought” don’t all suddenly stop working. Not so much "the customer is always right, give the customer what they want" as "the customer is a dirty thief, give them what we want them to have and tell them to go get stuffed". Even the new Napster wants to charge you money to access a limited selection of similarly crippled tracks, whilst still using your own bandwidth to distribute them to other users. What a joke.

So I’d still recommend eMusic to people who live in North America. And I’m still a member myself. But only because there’s an easy way to sneak around the filters. Amazing you have to go to such lengths to be allowed to spend your money though.

Anyway, enough of that rant, what have I done to the site? Mostly little cleanups (the whole thing’s XHTML 1.0 Strict now), but there’s also a happy new module that allows you to use the previously unsupported CSS ‘min-width’, ‘max-height’ and have it work in Internet Explorer.

You’d think since I’m supposed to looking for a new job as of today I’d have got a CV up or something, wouldn’t you? Nahh, fiddling with scripts is much more fun...

8th January 2002

Hooray, that’s another awful year out of the way. Hopefully they’ll let me die soon! (And a happy new year to you, too.)

Seriously, New Year’s Eve must be the most terrible of all holidays. Time to look back at all the great things you’ve achieved (or, more likely, not) and make more laughably impotent resolutions to change things so next you won’t be back in the same hopeless mess this time next year. Most of all there will be Fun and Smiling and Laughter, by order, and if you don’t like it you’ll just bloody pretend, okay? Screw that. Early bed for me from now on. Yay!

Oh, and what I really came to say is that there’s some more lovely adware to look out for in the parasite section. Will the madness never cease?