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Brian Grainger

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13th April 2008

It is a long time since I have had anything worthy to blog about. This week Microsoft solved the problem.

Here is this month's entry for the longest link in a legitimate mail. It was taken from Microsoft's Technet newsletter for the 9th April.


Sign up for the Top 10 Downloads RSS Feed <http://www.microsoft.com/communities/rss.aspx?&Title=Top+10+Downloads&NumberOfItems=10&Params=%7eCMTYDataSvcParams%5e%0a%7earg+Name%3d'languageID'+Value%3d'F49E8428-7071-4979-8A67-3CFFCB0C2524'%2f%5e%0a%7earg+Name%3d'productID'+Value%3d'E49D77BF-D5AE-4EC6-9DFA-D7A19DBA995E'%2f%5e%0a%7earg+Name%3d'dcCategoryID'+Value%3d'11'%2f%5e%0a%7earg+Name%3d'sortCriteria'+Value%3d'popularity'%2f%5e%0a%7earg+Name%3d'sortOrder'+Value%3d'ascending'%2f%5e%0a%7earg+Name%3d'freeText'+Value%3d''%2f%5e%0a%7esParams%5e%7eparams%5e%7eitem+name%3d'Consumer'+value%3d'scdataconsumer'%2f%5e%7e%2fparams%5e%0a%7e%2fsParams%5e%0a%7e%2fCMTYDataSvcParams%5e&CMTYSvcSource=MSCOMDownloads&RSS=10&RssTitle=Top+10+Downloads>

I think I'll give that one a miss.

4th March 2007

PC versus Mac 'holy' war and comedy sketches is not something one naturally associates with each other! Imagine my surprise this week, when listening to 'The Now Show' on BBC Radio 4, to hear such a sketch. I found it funny as well.

The reason for mentioning this is that, if you are quick, you can hear it for yourself. The BBC is trialling the download of certain programmes via an audio stream, podcast or mp3 format. This programme is one of them. Presumably the programme will be replaced by this coming week's edition on 9th March, so get in quick.

The mp3 download is at:

You can download the audio stream, podcast or mp3 from:

The mp3 file is just over 11.5MB in size and the audio programme lasts for 28 minutes. The whole programme is very good, but if you want to cut to the sketch then play the mp3 from 19 minutes in. The sketch lasts for just under 3 minutes.


29th November 2006

Do you have a copy of 'A Brief History of Time'? Have you read beyond page 10?

Most people didn't apparently.

Anyway, its author, Stephen Hawking, is probably the world's leading cosmologist and is probably the scientist most recognised by the general public.

Tomorrow, the Royal Society will honour Professor Hawking by awarding him its 'Copley Medal', one of the oldest awards in existence. Einstein was a previous recipient although it goes back much further than that.

This medal is a little bit different from the previous ones. It has flown to the International Space Station aboard the Discovery shuttle last July.

If that alone is not special enough then the presentation party will add to the importance of the occasion. No less a luminary than the Chief of NASA himself, Michael Griffin, will be in London to present the medal.

Well done Professor Hawking. Another Brit who has influenced the world.

Further details can be found at http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=21367

15th October 2006

I came across an article this week, at http://www.space.com/adastra/061012_adastra_star_money.html, about how the space industry needs more private individuals, like joint founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, to fund the space effort. It included a couple of quotes that I liked.

Quote 1:

The mathematics of making money is a lot easier to grasp than physics and engineering. You don’t even have to be particularly good at making money, you just have to be good at saving it.

Quote 2:

When Albert Einstein was asked what the most powerful force in the universe was, he replied, "Compound interest."

I was not sure I believed that the last quote could come from Einstein so I did a Google search and found the exact words of the quote, and its origin, questionable. I also found out about 'The Rule of 72', which I had never heard before.

The rule of 72 tells you how long it takes to double your money if you save it at a given interest rate. Divide 72 by the interest rate and that's the number of years to double your money.

There is a flip side to this. The rule of 72 also tells you how long it takes to halve the value of your money at a given inflation rate. If you believe the figures of the government that inflation is 2.5%, then the value of money halves in 28 years.

Things can quickly change though. 30 years ago inflation ran around 16% for a few years. At that rate the value of money halved in less than 5 years.

16th July 2006

What a week it has been. Last week was the Football World Cup Final, where the main talking point after seemed to be the head butt from Zidane rather than the final result. That seems fair as such an important game being decided on penalty kicks seems rather daft to me - and that is not just because England appear to be useless at taking penalty kicks. In my opinion, extra time should be first one to score wins and should last as long as it takes. It is quite clear during this tournament that teams try to defend a draw knowing that penalties will decide it. If the opposing team can goad an ace penalty kicker into being sent off, so he cannot take a penalty, all the better. That's not football.

Anyway, this is far too serious. If you want to have a look at a suggestion how the infamous head butt was viewed by different nations take your browser to:

This week, July 11th, has also seen Microsoft withdraw support for the best operating system they produced, Windows 98 and Windows 98SE, along with support for the worst operating system they produced, Windows ME. What this means is that while previous support responses will remain on the web, there will be no further help if new problems arise. More importantly, no more security updates will appear, should they be necessary.

We all recognise Microsoft's bad business practice of ensuring everybody has to keep buying their latest software, irrespective of whether we want to, but what is more disturbing is how it permeates. Zone Labs, the provider of the free of charge ZoneAlarm firewall software, has already announced it will not longer support Windows 98. Black mark to Zone Labs there.

I know my statement that Windows 98 is the best OS will be viewed as controversial. All of you using Windows XP will say how wonderful it is. Maybe so for its ease of use by the less technically able - but not so for those of us trying to solve the problems of those same less technically able people when XP doesn't quite do what they expect!

Will I seek to change the OS on my desktop, now it is no longer supported? No. Being on dial-up Internet access I cannot realistically download all the security updates. Windows 98 is now probably more secure than Windows XP anyway. The crackers target Windows XP users, or just the plain gullible, with their tricks.

Talking of gullibility, here is something from the 'I wish I'd never said that' pile that appeared this week.

In his first public appearance since taking a Cabinet Office role, John Suffolk said the public sector spends £1bn a year on PCs and questioned the security implications of the technology.

‘The best way to secure a network is to make the end points as stupid as possible,’ said Suffolk.

Well, as the end point is the user of the PC, workers in the public sector may take issue with that statement. However, I suspect Suffolk is well on the way to achieving his aim in the Cabinet Office!

What John Suffolk was trying to say was that he was replacing PCs as you and I know them with 'dumb terminal' like versions, where there is no processing power at the desktop. I guess to make them as stupid as possible they will still run under Windows terminal server!

How they chose their staff in the Cabinet Office is their own affair but I do wish our government would stop demanding that the general public be stupid.

This week I came across the Government News Network, http://www.gnn.gov.uk, where you can find out all the news about how wonderful the government is doing. At least it is a place to find out what they ARE doing, but beware that it is biased, all good news! Anyway, if you try and go there with a simple browser, OffByOne, it demand that you download Internet Explorer or Netscape before it lets you see anything. Not sure how Firefox or Opera copes, but I expect there are some settings to make it look like one of those browsers. There are for OffByOne, so I adjusted my settings and viewed the biased government news.

What I find so annoying is that a government web site is demanding you use a specific browser. As I have said before, and will continue to say, the government should just stick to the browser independent standards of the W3C and then any compliant browser will work. The government should not be a marketing arm of Microsoft or whoever owns Netscape.

15th March 2006

Here is something for Broadband users who want to take a flight above the surface of Mars. NASA, in conjunction with Arizona State University, have released a movie that simulates a flight above the Mariner Valley on Mars, the largest canyon discovered in the solar system.

The movie has been created from the many images taken by the THEMIS instrument on-board the Mars Odyssey orbiter.

Two versions of the movie exist, in mpeg format and in QuickTime movie format. The latter has subtitles for the narrative.

The MPEG format file can be found at:
or download direct from:
http://video.mars.asu.edu/valles3d.mpg (~54MB)

The QuickTime format file can be found at:
or download direct from:
http://www.nasa.gov/mov/144568main_odyssey-20060313-320cc.mov (~15MB)

It is truly amazing what can be done these days and thanks to the Internet we all get to see the results.

5th March 2006

A couple of unrelated Blog items this time - an advert and a puzzle - or perhaps 2 puzzles! The following advert, which I write EXACTLY as per the original, was in the small ads of my local paper this week. Can you guess what it is?

HEWART PACKARD previllian CPU processor inter-cellaron 600 M42 memory bank maximum 512MB. hardrive 15GB, ultra ultradha DVD 12X softdrive. £100

It must be difficult transcribing a technical ad down the telephone! It may be a bargain - I want to know what a softdrive is.

Now for the real puzzle, courtesy of 'Computer Weekly'. It just struck me as intriguing - not difficult.

Essex boy, Tom Marlow, has been looking at the numerical properties of dates in the format DDMMYYYY. The last time a valid date had the property that ALL the digits were different was 25 June 1987 - 25061987. That's a long time ago I thought but, if you ponder, it makes sense. Anyway, the puzzle is to determine the NEXT valid date when all the digits are different.

The answer is: 17062345, 17 June 2345

(Highlight the text to the right of the ':' above and you will see the answer)

27th January 2006

I do not know what it is. but computer news web sites seem to have an affinity for news related to Space. Maybe it is because they are both on the leading edge. I am no exception - but then I work in the space industry.

At this time of year it is a time for reflection. The three major disasters in the American space program all have their anniversaries within the next 6 days.

On the 27th January 1967, Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee died in a fire in the capsule of Apollo 1 during testing on the ground.

Tomorrow, the 28th January, is the 20th anniversary of the Challenger Shuttle disaster. Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe all lost their lives on that day in 1986. It was particularly poignant because Christa McAuliffe had been selected as the first 'non- astronaut' to fly in the shuttle. She was a teacher. This meant the flight had more publicity than usual and the disaster happened at launch, so was in full view of the watching world. I still find it very hard to watch the launch sequence when it is shown on television. In fact I usually turn off.

Three years ago on February 1st, the Columbia Shuttle was lost with Rick Husband, William McCool, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, David Brown, Michael Anderson and Ilan Ramon on board. This time the mission had been completed and the disaster happened during the descent back to Earth.

We remember them all.

Further details of this story can be found at:

Our attitude to risk and disaster has changed over the years. I was doing some research on the web today and was amazed at what I found. After the Challenger and Columbia disasters, it was at least two years until the next flight. Even now, the space program has not fully recovered from the Columbia disaster, with flights on hold again until at least May of this year.

Compare this with the program after the Apollo 1 fire in January 1967. The next manned flight, the first of the Apollo programme, took place 1 year 9 months later and within a further 9 months Neil Armstrong was walking on the Moon.

Today the plans are to return to the moon no later than 2020 - 14 years away, compared to the 9 months it took in the 1960s. OK, I may not be taking full account of the work done in the Mercury and Gemini programmes in the 1960s, but even if I counted all the time from the first American in space to the landing on the moon it would only be 8 years 2 months.

8th January 2006

The BBC have started an online library of news items. Currently, it is only in trial but you will find nearly 80 entries of various major news happenings from years gone by. You will find the items, such as the first man on the moon, in various formats, including Quicktime and Windows Media. The link to the library is:


3rd January 2006

Solution to the Christmas Puzzle:

If you just try and solve it without too much thought you could take 10 minutes or more. There is a quick way though.

If I number the rows from the top as 1, 2, 3, 4 and similarly columns from the left, consider what the card in (4,4) might be. It cannot be a Jack or Ace, because the Ace is already in the diagonal and the Jack is already in the column. By similar reasoning it cannot be a black suit. Bearing in mind the cards already in the top row it must be either the King Hearts or the Queen Diamonds. Pick the Queen Diamonds. It should be clear that the King Hearts must go in the other corner (4,1).

You should now be able to fit the cards left on the diagonal, (2,2) and (3,3), without problem. (2,2) is a Jack and it must be a Heart because the club and diamond are on the same diagonal and the Jack Spades has already gone in the top row. Similarly (3,3) is King Spades.

The rest of the cards are now easy to fit and the solution is:

Ace Clubs - King Diamonds - Queen Hearts - Jack Spades
Queen Spades - Jack Hearts - Ace Diamonds - King Clubs
Jack Diamonds - Queen Clubs - King Spades - Ace Hearts
King Hearts - Ace Spades - Jack Clubs - Queen Diamonds

If the King Hearts was put originally at (4,4) we have a second solution as follows:

Ace Clubs - King Diamonds - Queen Hearts - Jack Spades
Jack Hearts - Queen Spades - King Clubs - Ace Diamonds
King Spades - Ace Hearts - Jack Diamonds - Queen Clubs
Queen Diamonds - Jack Clubs - Ace Spades - King Hearts

That should have taken a couple of minutes at most!

24th December 2005

Christmas is almost upon us again and I will soon be having my usual Christmas break with the family. I have to say that Christmas, as defined by commercialism, seems to have been with us since October and I am getting a little tired of it.

The true meaning of Christmas seems to be extinct. The busybodies that say that anything that might promote the Christian meaning of Christmas is an offence to other non-Christians seem to be getting the upper hand. I don't mind some commercialism, but this year I have yet to hear a Christmas Carol.

Apparently the most popular Christmas record is either 'Do they Know its Christmas' by Band Aid or 'The Fairytale of New York' by the Pogues, depending upon which poll you read. As good a record as that by the Pogues is, I am not quite sure how it reflects Christmas. Now, it may not be the best, but 'Mary's Boy Child' has been hits for different people in different decades and it does say what Christmas is all about.

May any Pagans reading this have a Happy Yuletide and other denominations have a Happy Winter Holiday. I do not wish to offend anybody. But to all the Christians out there - have a Happy Christmas.

May I wish all of you good fortune for the new year and I will be back at the beginning of January with a new improved Puppy (Linux) and more stuff from the world of computing.

If you need something to pass the time, after eating the turkey and sleeping off the Christmas pud, here is a little puzzle with more than a passing reference to that other religion of the year, Sudoku!

From a pack of cards take out the following cards: four Aces, Kings, Queens, and Jacks (Knaves). Lay the following four cards in a row at the top:

Ace Clubs - King Diamonds - Queen Hearts - Jack (Knave) Spades.

Now arrange the other 12 cards in 3 more rows of 4 cards each, below the top row, so that each of the four rows, four columns and two long diagonals each contain four different suits and one each of Ace, King, Queen and Jack (Knave).

My thanks go to Jim Howson and Computer Weekly, where this puzzle was published recently.

Solution after the holiday.

12th December 2005

It started with a news item making reference to a flash demo of how packet switching works, the technique that the internet uses. You can find it here:

Then I started to try working back through the directories to see what I found. I found a wealth of interesting information and ultimately a hook in to the stuff that Robert Cringely is doing. Robert told the story of the early days of computing in the PC/Apple world in his book 'Accidental Empires'. Regular readers of mine will know I rate this book highly. This was followed by a TV special, 'Triumph of the Nerds', on the Internet revolution.

Robert still writes a regular column on his thoughts on the technology scene. He also runs a regular TV show on the American Public Broadcasting System. All this and more can be found on the pbs web site. The best page to start from is:

There are 10 downloadable podcasts with the great and the good on the technology scene. Today I listened to an hour long program with Dan Bricklin, one of the guys behind Visicalc, the first spreadsheet.

This site is well worth a look.

27th November 2005

Ever since Google became a public company and was floated on the Stock Exchange I expected it to go downhill. While they have branched out into areas that have received critical acclaim, such as Google maps, I believe the sponsored ads on the basic search results pages have got less relevant.

First of all you get the global ads irrespective of what you type in. For example, if you search for "Space Shuttle" you are likely to get pages about the space shuttle, as you would expect, but also a sponsored ad saying 'Buy a Space Shuttle' on E-Bay. Perhaps someone should tell NASA.

This week, I found out they now cannot be bothered to spell. I was looking through my directory of Space related links and looked at a page on the latest Ariane 5 space launch. This particular page had sponsored ads provided by Google. The ad on this page was for Arianne Lingerie UK. I was amused to find the link address was www.figleaves.com but less amused that the basic premise of sponsored ads is being ignored. The page had nothing to do with Arianne with 2 'n's.

It seems as if Google is just trying to display as many sponsored ads as possible, however irrelevant. Perfectly in keeping with a public company, whose sole purpose is to make money. When Google was a private company it seemed to have providing the best service as their priority.

Google is still the best search engine for me, but its standards are slipping.

If you feel similarly irritated by Google, or even if you are not, you may want to look at: http://www.doogle.org
I urge you to click the links and try a few searches. It is good to see that the guys of Trinity College, Dublin are providing such an important service.