Non-Tech City

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Thursday, March 31, 2005

New Link Image to New Site

Non-Tech City

Friday, March 18, 2005

Shiny New Website!

We have received such a lot of interest in the past two months that we have decided to move to a flashy new host. So, thank you to all you readers, thank you to positive fusion for helping me out even though I was a pain in the arse about the word press install, and check out the new site. This site will stay here as a pointer, and as a curiosity to future generations after I become a world famous tech writer.

New Site
New RSS Feed

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Eye Controlled Camera

This is a cool demo of eye tracking software, cameras follow the pupils. Apparently this could be used in market research, big brother will be following you around the supermarket, checking out what catches your eye.

Weird Case Mod No. 2

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Confused Flash Drive

This is an odd product, i'm not really sure what it's trying to be. It's a normal flash drive with a built in mic, when it's plugged into a computer an icon appears which allows you to place VOIP calls. Now, give this thing wifi and make it a cell phone in wifi hotspots and I get it. But if you're at your PC, you can just use that to make VOIP calls, I don't see why you need to speak into your flash drive. Maybe i'm just upset that it doesn't work on Macs yet.

Longhorn to Have No Passwords

The new windows, Longhorn, is apparently knocking passwords on the head in favour of two factor authentication. Will this solve all our security problems, and make windows the most un-break-in-able OS? Not according to Bruce Schneier: "It solves the security problems we had ten years ago, not the security problems we have today". Oh well, I have a Mac.

Electric Cars Scrapped

78 clean, efficient electric cars have been scrapped by GM. The EV-1's were being scrapped as the product line was no longer profitable. They could not be sold on due to the cars 2000 unique parts making them impossible to service by anyone other than GM. This would cause liability issues should anything go wrong. I think it's a travesty that these machines are being destroyed, and there were many protesters trying to stop the lorries. Surely you could just sign a form that would resign any possibility of legal comeback should the car die. They would still sell, and there would be 78 less petrol cars on the road. GM has donated some to universities and museums, places where they won't be used. The technology developed in the EV-1 has been used in hybrid cars, which are becoming more popular and can still be bought. So that's good news.

DIY - Pimp my Shuffle

This is an awesome hack, I would love one of these. You could even make it with a smaller set of earphones if you took the shuffle's inards out.

DIY - Teleprompter

Videoblogging is starting to take off, maybe you need this for that. Maybe your dumping your online girlfriend and you've written a little speech for your next video chat. Whatever the reason you need a homemade teleprompter, this is the site for you.

Weird Case Mod No. 1

Scariest Robot in the World

The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center has developed this, the ROBART 3. Which, I have to say is quite intimidating, it carries a gun that is capable of firing tranquilizer darts. Equipped with a host of sensors to track down baddies and shoot them in the arse with a dart this thing is bound to become popular as a security guard replacement eventually.

Downhill Battle

I just received a CD from the good folks over at downhill battle, now, just to cover myself here - I do not think you should steal music, it is wrong, and very very naughty.
Now, this awesome CD is being sent out to radio stations all over the world and contains several jingles explaining the state of the music industry today and how current copyright law is strangling creativity. Licensed to Ill by the Beastie Boys was almost entirely composed of samples, that album could not be made today, and it's an awesome album. That sucks. If you also think that that sucks, head over to their site and check it out. You could download one of their posters, print it out, stick it up. If you are a DJ then you could play it on the radio, like I will be on Livewire.

Thanks to Readers and Call for Help

Thanks everyone, we've had over 12,000 unique hits now, and many more in total. Hopefully that means we have some readers. Due to this success I have been thinking of setting up a blog away from Blogger. What I need is advice, are any of you particularly happy with your hosting/blogging tool/domain seller? Leave a comment and let me know.
Also, we're looking for contributors, not necessarily on a permanent basis, but if you have just bought a new gadget then write a small review and send it in. You'll be labeled as the author and we can put a link to your site if you have one. You can get in touch by email (matt.sparkes(at), or on the forum.
Thanks again for reading everyone.

iPod Super

A man dropped his iPod and broke the hard disk. He then dissasembled the connector and soldered it to a standard size hard disk (iPods use 2.5 inch hard disks), and now he's experimenting with making a 300GB iPod Super. This thing would be big, but not too big to lug around, and that is a hell of a lot of storage. I'm not too sure how you would make an enclosure for the new pod though.

How to Wipe Your Hard Disk

Have old computers around, want to throw them away, sell them, or give them to me? (I need a firewall machine) Well i'm sure you've read about the horrible things that can happen when hard disks fall into the wrong hands. The good folks at Engadget have written a how-to on erasing your hard disk good and proper like.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Commonwealth Baton

The commonwealth games baton got started on it's long journey by the Queen last night, it will be run in relay until the start of the games in 2006. The twist is that it contains a GPS system and two cameras and you can track it's progress online.

GMail Going Public

It looks like GMail is going public, not that it's been hard to get an invite recently. Apparently every few google hits is offering an invite, at least on the American site. If anybody does still want an invite, then let me know in a comment, but it looks like this is it.

Lego Mindstorms

There is an exact copy of this in one of the labs at uni, so i've seen it in action. I always assumed it was someones dissertation, but this guy obviously did it first, maybe someone passed it off as their own work, anyway. This is a brilliant example of using lego midstorms to solve a comlex problem, i've used it a bit and it's pretty powerful. The RCX is the CPU etc and runs Not Quite C (NQC), which is almost C, allowing some real programming.

Energy Producing Bag

Isn't this cool? Walk to work, and charge your iPod as you go, or your phone. Or, if you're chilling out somewhere you could power some external speakers and plug them into your MP3 player. I think this is something I could use, if anyone wants to send me a review model before summer...?

AK47 MP3

Isn't it funny sometimes, when you see things that you were thinking of just a moment before? I was sitting there, thinking, 'what can I do with this old machine gun, and wouldn't it be nice to upgrade from my iPod?'. Then, all of a sudden I see this site and it all becomes clear. Seriously though, what sort of demographic can they aim this at? (no pun intended) Who in their right mind would want one of these? I would list the specs, but they're on the site, and none of you are thinking of buying one, are you? I hope this is a prank, here's a quote from one of the guys at the company:
"Hopefully, from now on many Militants and Terrorists will use their AK47s to listen to music and audio books…They need to chill out and take it easy."

Moon Sites Re-Visited Soon?

If we take pictures of landing sites, then it will kill a major online industry: crackpot conspiracy theorists. It will be far more challenging to believe that no-one landed on the moon with that sort of proof. They would really have to bring their A game.

Wooden Laptop

It's a laptop, a wooden laptop. This must have taken so much work, it's a shame to see technology grow old and obselete already, but when this much work goes into it, it's going to be heartbreaking to get a new laptop. Personally I wouldn't like this, but it is interesting. Talking of old technology, I just bought a TV today, it's an old Sanyo, made in the UK where you have to turn a key to tune it in. I love the contrast of that on my desk with my iBook.

Talking To/At Aliens

A new service has been launched where you can call a premium rate number, and leave a message that will be broadcast into outer space. Recently, the Craigslist bigwig won an ebay auction to broadcast some material into space, but he paid $1225. With this new service you need only pay $3.99 per minute. Still, surely this is unnecasary, as all broadcasts will reach an indefinite distance, albeit at a reduced signal strength dependant upon distance. If an alien technology really wants to listen to my mobile phone calls, they'll have to filter out the fuzz, turn up the volume and decrypt it. But you get my drift, if you do have a legitimate reason for trying to get in touch with little green men, then just DIY.

Worried About RFID?

Worried about the privacy implications of RFID? I can see some scenarios where I would like to wipe the tags, perhaps marketing companies could drive around making logs of addresses and what products are in those houses. It looks like there will be a solution in time for the widespread adoption of the tags, a couple of companies are working on RFID wipers. Here and Here.
More on RFID Here.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Google Fired Him, Plaxo Hired Him

This is the blog that got that guy fired by Google. It's quite a good read on it's own, despite the interesting background, detailing what he's been up to since the incident; being inundated with job offers and how he chose to work at Plaxo. Plaxo is one of those online contact books that I think can really work, but i've tried some terrible ones. The problem is that my contact book is mostly composed of non-geeks who have a very low tolerance for this sort of thing. They've signed up for a bad service before, it's not fair to ask them to try another. Anyway, this sort of thing doesn't work unless people keep them updated, something that non-geeks probably won't do. If it was tied in with IM then maybe it could work, as non-geeks would have to load the client up reguarly and would keep it updated. Still, I hope that this service takes off, because it seems to currently be the field leader in good design and features. Personally I give it 6 months before this sort of thing gets added to MSN and all the other services go under.
Add me at Plaxo, matt(dot)sparkes(at)gmail(dot)com.

Linux Goes Apple

Via Pixelsurgeon: It appears Linux originator Linus Torvald has succumbed finally to Mac Envy. I see his argument, but if someone offered me a free Mac, I doubt I'd go to the trouble of putting Linux on it.

And a news search on Linux unearths this other titbit, courtesy of Slashdot; IBM have a nifty piece of software in the works that will boot a no-doubt cut-down version of the OS from a USB storage device, allowing you to perform "rescue and recovery" functions. Clever stuff, but sounds a bit limited in application..

Thinking back to the old Acorn days, wouldn't it be great to have the OS hardwired again? No bulkware OS clogging up your drives and generally making everything difficult? Almost makes me want to crack the old beast out and play Zarch. Ah, it all comes full circle... Zarch (also known as Virus on the Amiga) is apparently packaged with Suse distros.

New Bastard Operator From Hell

Courtesy of the good folks over at the register, comes another BOFH story:
Episode 9 - So I'm having a quiet lager at a downtown pub whilst waiting for a presentation on wireless networking to start when I notice a brace of Windows geeks all jabbering away to each other. (You know the sort of thing - "I ported Server 2003 to my cellphone in Java in two days - want to browse my file share?" war stories, etc.)

Identity Theft?

There is an advertising campaign at the moment, warning all of us in the UK about the dangers of identity theft. They're very over the top, including one where the 'criminal' runs off to L.A. and fills a bath with champagne, all on 'your' card. The criminal is played by a popular impressionist which is quite clever. I heard a rumour today that he himself was the victim of identity theft, poor guy I thought, but what a great story. Too good to be true, meaning it's not true. The tabloids here have been making a habit recently out of performing weird acts in order to create a story. We've had journalists go undercover and gain access to the queens bedroom, etc etc. Now we have this, from the Mirror, where they dug through his rubbish for items that may be used in identity theft. They did actually find a valid debit card and his actors union details, so they do have a point. The story though is fabricated and over the top, but not as over the top as the actual campaign. It states that 1 in 4 people have been a victim of this crime or know someone who has been. Initially, like me you freak out a bit, until you realise that 'knowing' someone who has been is so loose a term. The actual figures could be anywhere from 1 in 4 to one in thousands of actual people who have been victims.

Typos Cause Mayhem

A document mentioning nuclear tests carried out in Sedan, Nevada, was mis-typed and instead said that the tests where carried out in the Sudan. Sudanese officials understandably got worried, but it's resolved now.
Link 2

Another typo gave the wrong phone number to lorry drivers wanting to renew their licence, instead including the number for a physcic hotline.

Most of my posts include typos, but if you're writing down a phone number, or location of a nuclear test site, then just give it a quick check over, yeah?

Mac Mini in VW

This guy works miracles, look how clean this install of a Mac mini is. Nicer than the previously posted Mac Mini in Lexus I think. Still, this sort of thing is getting far more popular, you can buy BMWs and other cars with a factory made iPod connector in the glove box, so how long will it be before this sort of thing can be done officially? Longer than it takes for me to install one I hope, i'd like to get a few months of smugness in before just anyone can have one. Check out the rest of the site too, there's some impressive stuff.

Who Wears Bluetooth Devices?

Well, taxi drivers. And cows. That's it. I am NOT making a connection there, just in case I have any taxi driving readers; you all do good work.

Awful Laptop

When the old school iBook came out, the one with the carrying handle, I drooled over it. My brother drooled over it, we both wanted one. But, Macs sucked back then, and I think we both knew that we would look like fools. As much as we would both like to live in silicon valley, mincing about with a tech fashion accesory, we couldn't. It just doesn't cut it in Norwich. Still, I do now own a rather more subtle/gorgeous/useful iBook of the new school Apple design. How long that stays cool before it becomes as old as the previous: 'but it's translucent, and comes in five colours!' I don't know. Right, what was I talking about? Oh, yeah, this laptop is hideous.

What Do Geeks Keep in Their Bags?

I like this, quite voyueristic, but also a mine of tips. Some of these geeks have labelled everyhing and given me some ideas on what to take/replace/keep in my bag. I'll do one of these when I get the chance to take out all the embaressing stuff, put in the cool stuff that I don't normally carry etc.

Thrust SSC Usurped?

Remember Thrust SSC? I was privileged enough to catch a glimpse of the machine and it's driver after it's record breaking run and it was far bigger than it looked zipping along in the desert faster than the speed of sound. Well, some Americans think that they can do better. This is crazy, it's a pointless, stupid, dangerous attempt involving the need for brilliant small budget (relatively) engineering. That means that Britain should keep the record. It's what we do. Need to compute lots of data? Let's make the first computer. Need to fly quicker than the Germans? Let's make the first jet plane. Etc, etc. Come on Britain, i've got a Ford Mondeo, let's start with that?
P.S. I don't mean it. Good luck, I love this sort of record attempt.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Comment Craziness

Ok, so i've been away from a PC for a couple of days, and now i'm back. Checked my e-mail and what do I see? A barrage of mostly idiotic and occasionaly bigoted comments. I have had to warn people from a certain site before, that racist, sexist or homophobic comments will not be tolerated here. We just don't like them, and frankly, being a technology news site, we never thought we'd have to deal with them. Commenting has now been limited to registered users. So if you want to leave those kinds of comments, you'll have to be brave enough to do it under a real name. By the way, all the comments were left on this post, just in case you wondered who was responsible.
Here's an example of one of the comments:
I have read up more on LUElinks, it seems that they use a free box delivery service to send lots of empty boxes to their 'enemies'. So, is that a death threat from LUElinks? If so, it seems they need little or no provocation, merely mentioning them is enough to warrant one. Or is it a threat that I will be sent empty boxes? If so, bring it on, I have to move house soon, they'll come in handy.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Far Too Busy

I. Am. Uber. Busy. Here's some links to tide you over:
Apparently not evil.
Xbox Next?
Anyway, i'm off on a train, hopefully coming back more sane and happy, with some spare time.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Want to Try Linux?

Want to, but too scared/lazy? Then live CDs are perfect for you. You just put them in and reboot and, voila, a perfect install. Try it out, see if you like it, but pop the CD out and reboot and you're back to normal because it never installed to the hard disk. Lots of distributions do them, but I just heard of a clever one from Puppy Linux that uses a multisession CDR to allow you to actually save data about the session when you shut down (shame about the god-awful logo though). This is weird, because it;s kind of like a mobile computer, with your own session of linux on it. I'm sure this has some cool uses, but it's too late at night to think of them.

Interesting UNIX Command

Do you run UNIX? If so run this command: cal 9 1752
If your ussing a Mac, you can run that in terminal. This is the output:

Sparky> cal 9 1752
September 1752
S M Tu W Th F S
1 2 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

See, the missing days? Honourable mention to the first person to explain that in a comment.

Mobile Phone vs PDA

Can you compare them? Well, increasingly so. A PDA with WiFi and tools like skype VOIP, MSN messenger or even goodd old email could conceivably replace a Mobile, for me at least. People say that PDA sales are going down and that smart phones are taking over. And it is true, but I have to question how long that will hold out for. I do want to stay in contact, but I spend 95% of my time at home, or uni. Now, both these places have wifi, so give me and my friends a slick PDA with wifi built in...
I could use skype, or msn messenger, or even email. But it gets me away from using a mobile phone, no monthly payments, no small choice come upgrade time, buy the one you want and keep it. That's the way I would prefer to see it go, there are cool tools now, and with more WiFi i'd rather a PDA than a phone. If PDA's got better looking, smaller and had WiFi, and more places had WiFi then I think it would all shift again. Mobiles are ok, but they are showing their age, and 3G just isn't doing it for me.

Apple Handheld

There's a crazy amount of people who still own, use and find new uses for old newtons. Well, hopefully this will stop them, there are rumours that Apple are bringing out a new handheld. I'd like to add that I used the word rumour, and that I am not starting the rumour - so no lawsuits please. It's allegedly being shown around Apple HQ at the moment, so it will probably get released at the next reasonably high profile Apple event. This thing is supposed to be running a cut down version of Mac OS X and has a keyboard. There's no pictures yet, hence the Newton pic.

CPU, then GPU, now PPU

My computer has a CPU, mind you these days so does my toaster, my watch, and my stereo, and all but basic computers come with a graphics processing unit. But now, there is a new weapon in the never ending fight to stuff more polygons on your screen, heaven forbid that games stop the massive increase in visual complexity or everyone might notice that they're all the same and have rubbish gameplay these days. Now the CPU can concentrate on adding numbers up, the GPU can concentrate on rendering splashes of blood as you run over innocent pedestrians and the PPU can concentrate on making things bounce, fall, or whatever.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Applicants Turned Down For Peeking

119 applicants for Harvard Business School are to be turned down after following advice posted on a forum on how to snoop at decisions early. The school were using an online 3rd party system that was apparently vulnerable to a simple attack, the applicants that used this attack are all being turned down automatically by the school who claim that it was unethical. I have experience with these online systems and they are very slow to process applications, indeed Harvard had posted decisions a month before they were to be released. A friend recently applied for a postgrad course and waited weeks past the date she was told that she would be informed of a decision via a new website, she phoned eventually and was told instantly that she was accepted. The website didn't show this for over a week more. So, the fact that they were stressing out, waiting on such an important, life changing decision, the fact that these sites are sometimes behind, and the fact that they weren't doing anything harmful or malicious should cause this thing to blow over (in a common-sense led world).

Mesh Networking

Remember what I said about distributed networking? How everyone coulf have free, fast 'internet' connections wherever they went, but that it would be done by a company rather then open source, and cost a fortune? Prove me wrong Intel, and make this a really cool, benevolent technology.

Human Area Networking

Old idea, new company. This is a plan to enable users to network PDAs/LANs together all by conducting traffic through the skin at 10MBps. Tingly. An interesting example is syncing your email whilst touching doorhandles connected to a network, or exchanging business cards by shaking hands with another user.

Stop Hiding Behind That Firewall

Firewalls are good at keeping people out, but they also protect your anonymity, you all look like the same person on the inside of it. With Network Address Translation everyone inside the firewall has the same IP, and therefore are indistinguishable from each other. Well, not anymore. One clever researcher has discovered a way of spotting individual machines that is so simple that once you've heard it, you can't believe it hasn't been done before. Of course, this would be of benefit to law enforcement agencies for tracking criminals who hide behind the now defunct security measures. Basically, each packet sent out contains timestamp information, and this differs slightly from machine to machine. This is due to varying lag on each computer, making some clocks noticably behind or ahead of others. By tracking these you can tell from what computer a packet came. One way around this that I see is the use of software that automatically synchronises the clock times of each computer, or that varies each slightly at random points to cause confusion. Although the second plan would screw up all sorts of things.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Masters Degrees Useless?

Well, this guy thinks so, and so does everyone I talk to. I'm taking mine right now, and a lot of people are telling me it's pointless. Oh well, anyone want to give me a job? BSc and MSc (soon) in Computing Science, and I make a good cup of tea too...

Things That Annoyed Me Today...

Starting with google scholar, must they only provide me with links to PDF's that I have to pay for? I am not going to pay for 30-40 papers to read to do a bit of coursework. Thank god for citeseer.
Secondly, my iBook screen is still off centre and Apple show no signs of wanting to reply to my letter, see saga 1 and saga 2. This was made all the worse today when I read this fascinating blog about a Mac Genius. How can a company who have it so right like Apple get customer service so wrong?
Also, eBay, who charged me £210 for an auction that they cancelled, have now charged me a further £183 after promising to refund the first charge. Wrong ammount, and wrong payment direction, but nice try!
Well, that's it, but on the flip side, I bought 12 Isaac Asimov books for £2. Bargain. Sometimes I think I hate technology, but at least when you buy a book, it can't go wrong/charge you £100's.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Scary Farm Tech

These machines are SO weird, but also pretty amazing. If I had to get 20,000,000,000 chickens into cages in a hurry, i'd be buying one of these.
Likewise on my farm, if I had to shred a boat, computer or barrel full of set cement I would buy one of these.

Dud Nokia

On that note, this was found in Iraq a while back. Thank god for poor soldering skills, that's all I can say.


Ok so the internet is a wonderful thing that allows you to do practically anything with almost anyone in the world. And yesterday it became highlighted as a means of recruiting terrorists for the Al-Qaeda network. See here for more details.