Feet up! : tech

Beyond torrents, using the cloud

If you download a file with http or ftp it's obvious that you've "downloaded" it and where you downloaded it from, with a torrent it's less clear-cut, but what if the file just turns up in you Dropbox directory? I suspect this and similar situations are likely to keep lawyers busy in the future.

Case 1 is Dropship a software project which took advantage of Dropbox's file de-duplication functionality to "copy" files between different users' Dropbox accounts requiring only file meta-data (filename, hash) information. Dropbox have made api changes such that Dropship no longer works, but future projects that take advantage of the de-duplication loophole are almost inevitable.

Case 2 is Boxupus who also download torrents "directly" to your Dropbox account. I don't know the mechanics of how they do this, but taking advantage of Dropbox's de-duplication algorithms seems to be a possibility. They also have been stopped by Dropbox, but surely they or others will be back.

One thing is certain "downloading" and file sharing are not going away any time soon, and at some point it's going to be difficult to determine "where" the bits are, and "who" is actually downloading.

[Thu, 28 Jun 2012 07:45] | [] | #

Re-enabling Ubuntu Hibernation

For some (sightly odd, imho) reason, Ubuntu decided to disable hibernation by default in the latest release - 12.04

Fortunately re-enabling hibernation (on machines that support it) is reasonably simple, with step by step instructions on help.ubuntu.com and askubuntu.com.

This is one of those occasions where I believe Ubuntu made the wrong decision, it might save them bug reports from unsupported hardware, but disabling a useful - working - feature on many machines is never a great idea.

[Thu, 24 May 2012 07:16] | [] | #

When the cloud bursts

What do you do when all your data is in "the cloud", and the cloud "bursts"?

That is the question being asked by users of social bookmarking site ma.gnolia.com this morning. Ma.gnolia are just the latest in a long line of services that have disappeared or lost user data. In this case getting the data back appears to be reasonably straightforward (use the rss Luke!), a bigger question will be how to use this data.

I have a few rules of thumb on what I look for in a service, but first, and most important, do I place any value on this data? Do I care if it vanishes overnight? If not then I ignore most of the following.

What's the big winner? Open standards, imagine that Gmail ceased to be available as a free service, you could use imap or pop3 and take your email elsewhere, similarly opml for an aggregator. Sure these examples don't include meta-data, but you've covered the basics.

When you hand your data to a silo, can you get it back in a usable form?

Update: Kevin Smith from the Psi Jabber/XMPP Client project has written a useful tool to migrate your data between xmpp servers, try doing that between MSN and AIM...

[Thu, 05 Feb 2009 10:46] | [] | #

Chrome not so shiny?

Rusty bolt Think of this as a grumpy old man's first-thoughts on Google's Chrome browser. I'm torn between a few feelings on this, I'd like it to be good, but I don't know if we need yet another browser, and I don't want to be forced to support Google's world domination plans. I'll drop my first thoughts into three traditional categories.


It's "open-source", and uses Webkit. However, with the closed/restricted source track record of Android, I'm a little sceptical, and the source code is not yet available at Chromium.org, plus the Google build "is based on" Chromium, so the Google build is still effectively closed source.

Anecdotal performance and memory usage tests are comparable with most of the other top browsers, which for a beta is a very good start.


First off, the Comic, so I've got poor dress sense, and mediocre social-skills, but I'm not 9 years old any more, please don't insult your audience completely. A cynic might think that Google had presented the info in graphical rather than textual form so that it was harder to archive and compare if Google ever decided to re-write history.

Google's EULA, maybe it won't stand up in court, but they can buy better lawyers than you or me. A EULA where you "let Google use any of your copyrighted material posted to the web via Chrome" is not good. You'd expect a hastily drafted, poorly written EULA from a startup, not so Google. So much for "do no evil".

Carpet bombing, oops, it's a beta so there's going to be problems, but I'd have thought security should have been further up Google's priority list.

Crashing? Not a problem according to the comic, each tab is an isolated process, if one crashes then you carry on with all the others running happily. Not so, in my experience, and all the reports I've heard are of the whole browser going ka-boom.

Google's apparent attempt at rebuilding the Austro-Hungarian empire, you may wonder how far Google's world-domination plans extend, but I think we can file this under satire, can't we?

Extensions and plugins? Not supported as yet, the infamous comic mentions these, but's who's going to bet on Adblock Plus being available on Chrome any time before hell freezes over?

Windows only? Surreal, but as one of my colleagues pointed out, it's only a small step from running a "browser" as a seperate process in a tab to running any type of process you want "in a tab". The whole compartmentalising of each tab, with a security model and controlled access to external resources like storage is very much like an operating system. What's to say that the role of the "shell" that currently runs and supports the individual browser tab processes can't be extended enough to make the premise of "what OS does this browser run on?" entirely redundant.


Hard-coded Vista theme for the shell, which looks OK on "standard" Vista, and looks like a turd on XP or XP-themed Vista. I can only assume no UI experts were used in the making of this product.


I'm still sceptical about Google's good intent, but I can't fail to be impressed by how good a product this is for a version zero browser. Charles Nutter's thoughts on Chrome aren't that dissimilar to mine, the "why didn't you just help Firefox" question and the "ship beta, release code later" approach stick in my craw. I'm going to give Chrome a miss for another six months or so, perhaps the time to use Chrome is when it becomes the standard browser on Ubuntu. Which would either be a statement of faith by Ubuntu in Chrome's quality and Google's good intent, or a sign of Ubuntu selling out...

[Wed, 03 Sep 2008 18:43] | [] | #

Wiki changes

Nothing major, just an update on a few things I’ve changed recently on the wiki. First off, I’ve added details of the various operator specific S60 devices that were announced a few months back. Initially I wasn’t going to cover these, but after seeing a fair bit of traffic looking for these I decided they were worth covering (it is hard to find details of China Mobile’s 6122 in English).

Also new is a stub page for The Symbian Smartphone Show 2008 with basic venue details and links to the show’s site and a venue map, but no details on the All About Symbian pub meet, or much else yet.

I’m starting to find that I’m getting buried under the sheer numbers of S60 and UIQ phones on the market, so I’ve moved the older S60 devices off the specific phones page. For a more eclectic view of the most interesting devices, I’ve added the Latest and Greatest page, which has a brief list of the S60 and UIQ phones that I’m most excited about. Some of these aren’t officially announced yet, whilst others are old stagers that still appeal strongly.

Talking of exciting, I still need to complete the page covering the very interesting Samsung INNOV8 – Samsung finally seem to be taking S60 seriously, and this phone shows their intent. Watch this page with interest!

[Wed, 06 Aug 2008 18:24] | [/wiki] | #


There seems to be two camps on how IE8 should behave:

MS & Joel: IE8 should be broken in different ways to previous IE releases, but it should nearly work on IE specific sites.

Everyone else: It should be standards compliant, if sites built to work around previously broken IE behaviour no longer work, tough. Fix them and reap the benefits.

Various linkage:

[Wed, 19 Mar 2008 18:51] | [] | #

Toshiba Tecra A8 Mini Review

Tecra A8 image

Just before Christmas the nice folks at talkToshiba lent me a Tecra A8 laptop to play with thoroughly review.

After the usual DHL fun and games (fortunately not as much DHL fun and games as Carlo's Moto Z8), I got the lappie just in time for the run of Christmas parties, childrens' Nativity plays etc. so I didn't get very long to play with it, and I had an email halfway through from talkToshiba effectively saying, "don't worry too much as it's now been replaced by the Tecra A9 in Europe". So as others have already gone into depth reviewing the beast I'll cut to the chase, it's a nice bit of kit, well made, very well specced and more than fast enough for 99.9% of the stuff you'll want to do on any laptop. On the minus side, it's no midget and it's got a trackpad rather than a "nipple mouse" - both personal preferences rather than damning indictments. One final minor niggle is that some of the keys had marked the screen slightly, but given this was a hard worked, used, and abused review machine I'm not sure if this would be entirely representative.

Nutshell specs:
Intel Centrino Duo Mobile Technology featuring Intel Core.2 Duo Processor T7200 - Genuine Windows XP Professional - 100 GB Hard Disk Drive - 1,024 MB DDR2 RAM (533 MHz) - 15.4 WXGA TFT display - DVD Super Multi (Double Layer) drive

So, picking the good bits out of that, pretty much everything, the processor's plenty quick enough, XP Pro is a saner choice than Vista for anyone who has to run Windows, I'd personally add a bit more ram, and I'm still not entirely convinced about widescreen displays; they're great for watching films, but as a developer I'd be happy to sacrifice width in favour of height, the human eye/brain can't read long lines of text anyway, why do you think newspapers use multiple narrow columns?

Along with XP, Toshiba bundled some interesting utils, one being a utility which detects any movement or vibration and moves the hard disk head to a safe position to prevent any damage. Perhaps this is overly sensitive, because it appeared to be in constant usage when I used the laptop on the train. Also bundled was Toshiba's Bluetooth stack, I gave this a once over and easily got it to use my phone's 3G connection for internet connectivity (which promptly cost me a couple of quid courtesy of Windows Update...), one thing I didn't check was whether the Toshiba stack had a headset Bluetooth profile, this would be a useful improvement over the standard Microsoft stack for things like VOIP.

After a few hours play I was quite impressed, and also rather bemused by just how sparse a bare-bones Windows install is for a developer, where's C++/Python/Perl, webserver, editor, ssh client? etc. etc. It's not Toshiba's fault, but highlights how badly the out-of-the-box Windows experience fits the needs of one particular market segment. To attempt to remedy the situation, I spent 30 minutes installing Ubuntu 7.10 with the only obvious problem being a lack of audio, this fix should resolve that, but I didn't get around to trying it. The 30 minutes installing Ubuntu was also significantly quicker than the hours spent downloading Windows security fixes...

So, to wrap up, would I buy one? No, but I would recommend one for someone who didn't mind the size. Personally, I'm looking more for Eee PC sized (or perhaps a little bigger and better), something small would be a much better fit for my usage patterns; I wonder if I can get talkToshiba to lend me an R500 at some point?

[Tue, 05 Feb 2008 18:50] | [] | #

Insecurity via stupidity

Have you ever run into the email configuration that some network admins think aids security? This one: "you can't send me a zip/doc/exe file by email, you have to rename the file first"

This approach might add a little security if users hadn't spotted the obvious loophole of renaming the file, but instead it reinforces user belief that the admins are just there to be worked around, so it's a security, PR and policy failure.

Anyway cutting to the chase, I've been backing this site up to Gmail for quite a while using a variant of Gustaf's Gmail backup script. It's worked great, but it stopped working last week, it turns out that Gmail has started dropping tar.gz files just like it used to block zip and exe files, sorry Google, but that's evil!

Fortunately, a simple rename of the files worked fine, but Gmail's behaviour is just lame.

[Mon, 10 Sep 2007 18:38] | [] | #

Apple as the Cargo Cult of Steve

Lots of blind fanboy ravings about the latest stuff from Apple, but when it comes down to it what have we got?

For starters they're still copying Nokia with pride, first the Nokia 7710 -> iPhone and now the Nokia 770/N800 -> iPod Touch. I'm not too impressed, first thoughts are that it might hurt iPhone sales, although they've probably already sold most of the phones they were gonna sell.

Red "friend of Bono and Bliar" shuffle - yeah that's cool, they might as well rope Paul McCartney and Michael "I'm forever blowing Bubbles" Jackson in for added lack of street-cred, Ann Widdicombe sounds like the target audience.

iPod 'classic' going up to 80gb and 160gb, yay! Four and a half years after we (Europe) gets pretty much universal 3G data coverage we still have to lug around a fragile spinning disk that might not hold all our music collection, a small cache (flash memory anyone?) and ota access to one's music would do a far better job. Apple innovation, there's today's oxymoron.

A final bitch? Ok, 8gb iPod Touch at $299, and 8gb iPhone at $399, so the phone bits are worth $100? Symbian were looking at a BoM of $100 for a complete (3g capable) smartphone, not just a gsm radio. And how about the 16gb iPhones at $600, $200 for 8gb of flash? Nice margins guys, and no sd slot that I could use to plug in an extra $80 8gb sd card either...

[Wed, 05 Sep 2007 20:30] | [] | #

Are you a Linux fan?

Tux penguin tee-shirt

The actress wife of one of the chaps in the office is currently on tour around the Uk, last night she ended up chatting to some geeks in a Cambridge pub, one of whom had a picture of the Tux the penguin on his tee-shirt.

Somewhere in the course of conversation she said something like "so you're a bit of a Linux fan then?" to the Tux wearer, the crowd of geeks burst out laughing, turns out he was a certain Linus Torvalds, small world.

[Wed, 05 Sep 2007 18:48] | [] | #

Is it all going Pete Tong for eBay?

It is begining to look like a host of serious problems are starting to stack up for eBay.

With eBay's three main products almost turning into de-facto monopolies in their marketplaces, eBay really need to get a handle on their apparently crufty systems and their appalling customer service. PayPal and eBay have long had a reputation for poor slow customer service, my assumption is that the current business strategy is to maximise profits whilst heavily reducing any investments in staffing, development, and infrastructure. This strategy appears now to be severely hampering day to day operations. Perhaps this is a consequence of the execs leaving PayPal and Skype last year, or maybe that was just part of whole cost-paring scenario.

It may be that my judgement is wrong, but I will try to avoid using any eBay services until they can do a better job. It looks like Craigslist can do a better job selling items, and I've always preferred standards-based VoIP products - SIP works fine for me. However, I've yet to find really good alternatives to PayPal, the concept of digital gold appeals to my inner anarchist, but the realities seem far too shady for my liking. Suggestions?

[Mon, 03 Sep 2007 18:01] | [] | #

SCO survives, just

SCOX share chart

So after the legal defeat, were you (like me) wondering how SCO's share price had remained above zero?

I think the answer might be in the comments to this Register story:

SCO : assets = $ 19.85 m (last SEC filing)
SCO : liabilities = $ 12.65 m (last SEC filing)
Due by SCO to Novell for SUN and Microsoft's SRVX licences : $ 25.46 m
Net worth : $ -18.26 m

However, if SCO are still arguing about the license fees, then they've got around $7 m to play with, and at 40c/share their market cap is around $8.5 million. Watch it creep down though, as the hopeless reality of their position becomes clearer.

[Wed, 15 Aug 2007 08:13] | [] | #

Half a cheer for Dell Linux

Ubuntu logo

Dell are now selling Linux powered computers with the Ubuntu distro in Europe, interestingly with different models to those already on sale in the US.

It's a great move, but there are some downsides; it's not easy to find the Ubuntu PCs on the Dell site, the easiest route is to follow this link http://www.dell.co.uk/ubuntu or the similar ones for other European countries (list on the Ubuntu site).

More curious, is that if you spec up the Ubuntu equipped Inspiron 6400 to the same spec as that offered with XP or Vista, the price for the Ubuntu laptop is higher (£405.37 vs £398.99).

The basic spec Ubuntu laptop is cheaper (at £329), but adding a comparable processor (single to dual core), memory (from 512MB to 1024MB), and optical drive (DVD/CDRW to DVD+/-RW) makes the Linux laptop more expensive. With pricing like this, smart Linux users will buy the Windows lappy, and install Linux themselves, whilst Dell will drop the Linux option due to lack of demand...

I hope this is just a glitch in Dell's pricing model, component upgrades prior to purchase have always been an area where Dell make their profits. In this case though, it appears that Dell's greed has exceeded the Windows tax. However, my assumption that it is cheaper for Dell to supply a Ubuntu laptop may be wrong, their OEM deal with Microsoft might charge them for every computer shipped.

[Thu, 09 Aug 2007 22:44] | [] | #

Dopplr starts expanding

Dopplr logo

Dopplr has been in private beta for a while, and it appears to be starting to stretch its wings and take on more testers. To this end I've now got "unlimited invitations" to give away. However, to maintain my sanity - and the ethos of Dopplr - I'm restricting the invitations I give away to friends, and people I "know" online. I'm not being overly picky, but if I've never heard of you, sorry no invite.

For some background, Dopplr is aimed at increasing serendipity for frequent travellers. Dopplr's CTO Matt Biddulph has written a good overview of Dopplr's intent. For further background the Dopplr blog is worth reading too.

My two-pennorth on Dopplr? I like it so far, although I don't travel enough to make it truly worthwhile; the attractive interface is minimalist, verging on spartan. The best bit for me is that "it just works", nothing fussy, nothing too prescriptive. As someone who seems to live their life via IM, a Jabber interface would be useful, but the sms, web, and rss interfaces cover all the essentials. There is an api in the pipeline, so perhaps I could write a Jabber bot for this anyway. The Dopplr approach to feature-creep appeals to me, although it does make me a little wary of requesting new bells and whistles.

Still puzzled by Dopplr? their About page sums it up better than I can (snippet below):

Dopplr is an online service for frequent travellers. It was created by an international team of world travellers as a tool for our own use. We liked it so much that we decided to open it up to our global friends.

If you travel more than five times a year and have friends who do as well, then Dopplr is for you.

How does Dopplr work? It lets you share your future travel plans with a group of trusted fellow travellers whom you have chosen. It also reminds you of friends and colleagues who live in the cities you're planning to visit. You can use the service with your personal computer and mobile phone.
[Wed, 06 Jun 2007 18:54] | [] | #

Joost Invites

Like Gustaf I've got a handful of Joost invitations to give away. If you're interested get hold of me on irc or Jabber (not in the comments here, that's far too easy), if you need a hint, Foaf...

I'm not going to be online much this weekend, so "patience Grasshopper". If you're also thinking of blogging about your invites, please link to any other folks you see ofering them, it'll make invite hunting much easier.

Update 2006-03-19: I've still got a few left, and a Google search for "Joost invites" throws up a few others offering invites, such as Martin Varsavsky, Tom Raftery, and Chris Green.

[Mon, 19 Mar 2007 13:50] | [] | #

FON's Starbucks challenge

I'm actually rather amused by this, FON offering free routers to people who live next to a Starbucks (or any other cafe or restaurant if you read the small print).

Now, I did the rough maths a while ago to justify whether a restaurant, cafe or bar could profit from FON, and 2 to 3 paying customers a week would be plenty to cover costs. With a free router the figures get slightly more tempting, and dsl prices in Europe have been creeping down a little over the last year.

I have no idea whether FON are making any money yet, my hunch is that they're burning VC money KLF-style right now, but if they can get to a tipping point of enough coverage, the user numbers will ramp up enough to make it worthwhile for everyone. Offering free routers is a small part of this, getting FON coverage in places where people expect to see Wi-Fi (Starbucks) is a bigger move, not unlike the Burger King's cunning restaurant placement technique in many ways.

Personally, I still think that 3G/HSDPA etc are too well entrenched to be beaten by FON, but with current European mobile data-prices there's a significant niche that FON could own.

[Mon, 05 Mar 2007 21:32] | [] | #

Wikipedia Search for Firefox

I spotted this create a Firefox search bar plugin how-to (via lifehacker) the other day, and it looked rather droll, so I lashed up a Firefox search plugin for here and then started on one for Wikipedia – as part of deciding whether it would be better to Google’s or Wikipedia’s own search for Wikipedia I had a quick search and found I was re-inventing the wheel.

Not only are there pre-existing search plugins for Wikipedia and dozens of other sites, but you can also create your own custom search plugin at Rollyo

Seems like it’s best to search before you leap…

[Wed, 25 Oct 2006 07:23] | [] | #

How many routers?

So, I was musing about just how many routers FON would need for total world domination, I'd already sussed out the a million routers wouldn't go far, and then a guy does the maths properly and comes up with around 5-600 million routers, woah! Sure there's holes in the theory, you don't need coverage in the middle of a desert, but that's still a hell of a lot of kit.

In other news, Portugal is now bathed in a 3G signal (HSDPA) at up to 3.6Mbps. Hey that's a little simpler than relying on 888,219 routers to be all working, and you'd be able to stay online whilst on the move...

[Tue, 12 Sep 2006 21:27] | [] | #

More Virtual Dapper Drake

So following on from my earlier adventures running Ubuntu’s Dapper Drake under Microsoft’s VirtualPC I decided to try VMware instead.

The free VMware Player installed painlessly, and with their pre-built Ubuntu Image I was up and running in a matter of minutes.

However, the pre-built image (virtual appliance in VMware parlance) is for the Breezy Badger release of Ubuntu, rather than the latest bleeding edge Dapper Drake version that I wanted to try. That’s no problem though, just change all mentions of ‘breezy’ in /etc/apt/sources.list to ‘dapper’ then run apt-get update and apt-get dist-upgrade and voila a nice shiny new Dapper Drake install.

The official instructions for a Breezy to Dapper upgrade are a little more lengthy and worth following if you have problems.

The only other problem I had was with the clock running too slowly, which appears to be a known VMware issue which is easily reolved by adding clock=pit nosmp noapic nolapic to the kopt= line in to /boot/grub/menu.lst (keep this line commented out!) and then running update-grub

And best of all, if the standard virtual-appliances don’t suit your taste then it’s easy enough to create your own with tools like VMX Builder. Thanks for the tip, Craig.

[Tue, 18 Jul 2006 22:14] | [] | #

Fon's five buck challenge

FON's cheap routerFON's charging scheme

The guys at FON are getting plenty of press for their latest efforts at rolling their WiFi network out into more locations. Five Euro/USD (plus P&P) sounds pretty tempting for a WiFi router, but, are a million routers enough to get a critical mass of FON WifI coverage around the globe?

No, it won't be even close as the basic maths just doesn't work out. FON will be useful for many people, if only because it's provided them with a cheap router, or a simple way to serve WiFi to their customers, or because they regularly travel to some of the tiny islands of FON's WiFi coverage. But as a way to get WiFi everywhere, forget it.

Martin Sauter has some fascinating figures about the municipal WiFi rollout in San Francisco, with 25 WiFi routers per square mile, At a similar density, FON's one million routers would only cover 40,000 square miles, or 4 major cities.

Then again if global domination and uniform coverage isn't the aim, FON will win a lot of customer goodwill with their easy to use and cheap (that word again) routers. The basic costs of a FON router make it an attractive proposition for say a bar or coffee shop. Rough maths - costs of a dsl line at say 20 Euro a month plus a FON router (say 20 Euro once VAT and P&P are included) i.e. 260 Euro for one year, you can cover that with 130 paying users a year (Aliens or Bills in FON-parlance) i.e. 2-3 a week. Tempting, no? And, if you've already got the dsl, then all you have to cover are the router costs and possible bandwidth fees if things take off.

Whether FON can make or raise enough money to cover their costs, buy new routers, and keep the whole caravan on the road is another matter altogether, it's certainly an interesting experiment, almost collective entrepreneurship. One to watch, and perhaps an opportunity that's worth grabbing.

For the record I've been running a FON router for a while, it's had minimal usage by myself or any other users, and the next nearest FON router is 20 miles away, is that indicative of Fon's future? Who knows.

[Thu, 29 Jun 2006 07:18] | [] | #

Jim Hughes
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