Saturday, June 05, 2004


I have a piece on Brian Lara's century in the West Indies v Bangladesh test over at ubersportingpundit.
Memories of Green

It seems that this is going to be the definitive image of me for some time. Oh well.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Fiddling with desktop computers

My old laptop was retired because of a really weird problem, which was that the computer would only start in exceptional circumstances. Most of the time when you pressed the power button it would whir for a moment and nothing more would occur, other than that a fan would keep spinning. (After a couple of hours the fan would then stop spinning). Sometimes if you left that fan to spin for a couple of hours and then tried to boot the machine again, the computer would then boot.

But usually it would not. And the time between successful boots steadily got greater, until the computer became essentially useless. And when it was working I would dread software crashes (which were not all that uncommon, given that it was using Windows ME) or anything else requiring me to reboot, because I never knew if the computer would come back up again.

But some parts of the computer were still okay. Just for the fun of it I recently removed the hard drive and installed it in my newer Dell laptop. Somewhat to my surprise, the Dell laptop proceeded to boot perfectly fine in Windows ME, which was what was on the hard disk. (It did complain a lot about the presence of hardware it did not recognise and wanted me to give it permission to search the universe for compatible drivers, however).

So, nothing wrong with the hard drive. One can't easily have two hard drives in most laptops, but now that I have a desktop computer as well, it is pretty easy to install the old hard drive in the desktop box. Although the actual IDE/ATA interface is the same, 2.5 inch drives use a different (44 pin) connector to the (40 pin) one used by standard 3.5 inch drives. (The 2.5 inch drive also incorporates the power - hence the extra pins - and the pins are smaller and closer together). Therefore I had to get an adaptor of some kind. I have seen adaptors that plug into the back of the hard drive and give the hard drive the larger connector, which can then plug into a standard size IDE ribbon cable, but I couldn't find any of those. However, the shop I went to did have an IDE cable with a large connector on one end and a small one on the other, which worked fine.

So I now have a computer with a 164GB main drive, a CD-ROM drive and a 5GB secondary drive. If I put it that way, it sounds completely pointless. However there are advantages in this. One is that I can now access all the files on the hard drive of my old laptop whenever I want. (There is something to be said for simply copying the entire contents of the little drive onto the big one, but I needed to mount the little drive to be able to do that). Another is that I can now boot the desktop machine in Windows ME from the second drive. (Is that a bug or a feature?) The third is that I actually have two hard drives. I could for instance install linux on the little drive, and that way I would have a dual boot system without having to mess around with partitioning the main hard drive.

And when I say little drive, I do mean it. 2.5 inch drives are much thinner, and they really do only take up a tiny fraction of the volume of 3.5 inch drives. I have never seen a 1.8 inch drive, but we are talking tiny. (As for a one inch drive, imagine a Compact Flash card).

Update: What is annoying is that the cable I bought yesterday only has two data connectors: one (40 pin) for plugging into the main board and another (44 pin) for plugging into a 2.5 inch drive. This means that if I use this cable, I can only attach one device (the 2.5 drive) into that IDE port. IDE ports are capable of connecting two devices (a master and a slave) and normal IDE cables have three 40 pin connectors, to allow two devices to be connected to the board via one cable. I now have my main hard drive and my CD-ROM connected to one IDE port and the 2.5 inch hard drive to the other. If I want to add another IDE device (eg a DVD+/-RW drive) I can't unless I get a different adaptor or cable. (Also, I would really prefer the main hard drive to and the CD-ROM drive to both be masters connected to different IDE ports, which is more efficient. But for now, that's how it is).

Thursday, June 03, 2004

New developments

Toshiba have just announced a 60GB two platter version of their 1.8 inch hard drive, most famously found in the full size Apple iPod. Presumably there will also be a 30GB one platter version. Apple are also expected to announce a fourth generation iPod in a few months, which will have a colour screen on which you can display digital photographs, a more sophisticated operating system and a few other features. It will be interesting to see what the iPod evolves into. I doubt that that many people will use 60GB of storage, but there are lots of other features you could add while you keep the same form factor. Maybe the full size iPod is going to evolve into a PDA, or maybe Apple will find a clever way to make it a mobile phone as well, or various other thoughts. (Apple has been adding more features to subsequent models anyway). I think the trick is to keep the form factor, keep the music interface the same, and provide other functions as add ons that are easy to use but which do not affect the core functionality. Before long there will be higher capacity versions of either the 1 Hitachi drive used in the iPod mini or of Toshiba's 0.8 inch drive. Once we can get an iPod mini with a capacity of 15GB or so (as a guess, this will be two generations of product down the line - another 18 months or so) the iPod mini is likely to satisfy most people who just want a music player, so the thing that sells the full size version (if anything does) is going to be other applications. And this 60GB disk is something that is helping Apple go that way.

And of course one great thing about the iPod is that it is really pushing development of those small hard drives. If you decide you are going to build a laptop based on the full powered Pentium M CPU, a 14 inch screen, and a 2.5 inch hard drive (which is what most laptops are), you end up with a machine weighing five pounds or a little more and which looks like this. Most laptops are approximately thus (with another family based on 15.4 inch widescreens instead). The maximum specification of such laptops at present is a 2.0GHz Pentium M, and a 100GB hard drive, as this is as fast as Pentium Ms come and as big as 2.5 inch hard drives come. Having built such a computer it is hard to miniaturise, as it requires a fair bit of power (and consequently a fairly big battery) to run. If you want to build a smaller and lighter laptop you have to use a smaller and lighter battery, so you need to choose smaller or less powerful components.

As it happens, Intel has also released lower power variants of the Pentium M. Actually the chip comes in three varieties: there are the standard versions, the low voltage versions and the Ultra Low Voltage versions. I haven't noticed the low voltage versions so much, but the Japanese manufacturers have been doing all sorts of interesting things with the Ultra Low Voltage version. Readers of this blog will know I am sadly much enamoured with the Sony Vaio TR series. This is a laptop based around the ULV Pentium M, Toshiba's 1.8 inch hard drive, and a 10.6 inch WXGA screen that Sony has sourced from somewhere. The good thing about this machine is that it is just about the smallest and lightest laptop you can get that includes an optical drive. (Fujitsu has a very similar machine that is available only in Japan). The first version of this laptop included a 0.9GHz Pentium M, a DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive, and a 30GB hard drive. The most recent version includes a 1.1GHz Pentium M, a DVD-RW drive, and a 40GB hard drive. I suspect that Sony will release another new version as soon as it can source a reasonable number of the 60GB Toshiba drives, at which point the TR series will have a 1.1GHz CPU and a 60GB hard drive. That's a little behind a typical larger laptop in terms of processor power, but otherwise it really isn't bad.

I want one.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004


I had a couple of interviews today, for a really good job. I thought I did really well on the first one, but on the second I did less well. I didn't do a terribly great job of answering some questions on differential equations I should have done a better job of answering. (This was stuff I knew well a decade ago, but on which I was rusty, and I didn't start thinking clearly until the end - and of course the answer to one of the questions popped into my mind fifteen minutes after the end of the interview). What I managed to avoid doing was panic and start talking really fast as I have been known to do in the past. (The worst thing you can do in such circumstances is show fear, and at least I didn't do that). Still, I don't think I will get any further with this job. (Of course, I don't yet know).

Damn. I think I really got close.
Wednesday Evening Song Lyrics

I came across a cache of old photos
And invitations to teenage parties
"Dress in white" one said, with quotations
From someone's wife, a famous writer
In the nineteen-twenties
When you're young you find inspiration
In anyone who's ever gone
And opened up a closing door
She said: "We were never feeling bored

'Cause we were never being boring
We had too much time to find for ourselves
And we were never being boring
We dressed up and fought, then thought: "Make amends"
And we were never holding back or worried that
Time would come to an end

When I went I left from the station
With a haversack and some trepidation
Someone said: "If you're not careful
You'll have nothing left and nothing to care for
In the nineteen-seventies"
But I sat back and looking forward
My shoes were high and I had spots
I'd bolted through a closing door
I would never find myself feeling bored

'Cause we were never being boring
We had too much time to find for ourselves
And we were never being boring
We dressed up and fought, then thought: "Make amends"
And we were never holding back or worried that
Time would come to an end
We were always hoping that, looking back
You could always rely on a friend

Now I sit with different faces
In rented rooms and foreign places
All the people I was kissing
Some are here and some are missing
In the nineteen-nineties
I never dreamt that I would get to be
The creature that I always meant to be
But I thought in spite of dreams
You'd be sitting somewhere here with me

'Cause we were never being boring
We had too much time to find for ourselves
And we were never being boring
We dressed up and fought, then thought: "Make amends"
And we were never holding back or worried that
Time would come to an end
We were always hoping that, looking back
You could always rely on a friend

And we were never being boring
We had too much time to find for ourselves
And we were never being boring
We dressed up and fought, then thought: "Make amends"
And we were never being boring
We were never being bored
'Cause we were never being boring
We were never being bored

Being Boring, from the Pet Shop Boys' 1990 album Behaviour

Update: I will confess that this is one of my favourite songs. However, my feelings for it are clearly mild compared to those of some people. For when I was googling for the lyrics, I found that someone else had created a 150 page website devoted purely to this one song.
The multicultural world

This evening I had another interview for a job with a bulge bracket American bank. (The financial markets are hiring - this is good). Of course, in this globalised world, it is remarkable how much you have in common with the people you encounter. The interviewer knew someone who had been studying for a Ph.D. in the same department at me in Cambridge at the same time. And as he was Indian, we had much in common. No doubt I could have talked cricket with him for hours.

Monday, May 31, 2004

The joys of copyright

Over in the comments section of Cathy Seipp's blog (where Cathy's daughter Cecile Dubois was guest blogging), I this afternoon found myself having a conversation with Tim Minear (who wrote many episodes of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff Angel) about the forthcoming DVDs of the recent television series Wonderfalls, which despite great reviews was cancelled after only a few episodes early this year. Apparently one obstacle to getting the DVDs out is some of the songs used in the television series: the producers do not have the rights to for the music as it applies to a DVD release, and obtaining it would be too expensive, so the music has to be removed from the television episodes and it has to be replaced with less expensive music.

Tim says that this is quite a common situation. Given the way in which music copyrights work, I can believe this. In particular recorded music is subject to two copyrights, one belonging to the composer and the other to the performer. The copyright of the performer (ie the record company) is much more restrictive than that of the composer (ie the publishing company), which means that the performer can charge whatever he wants to allow use of the song, and can prevent its use if he doesn't want to. The copyright of the composer is subject to compulsory license, however, which means that the composer cannot stop use of the song, and cannot choose how much to charge for it - this is set by the copyright laws. This is why you will sometimes hear a new version of a familiar song on a movie soundtrack - it means that the producers were unable to obtain rights to the music they wanted to use and therefore had someone else record a new version of the same song, which nobody can stop them doing but which can be much cheaper). And in many instances the copyright law that applies to the broadcast of music is not the same as that that applies to selling recordings of music.

Which reminds me of another, older, example of this. It applies to the radio rather than television, for which the rules are different again, so it's not quite the same kind of thing, although it's close.

Shortly after Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series was broadcast in the UK in 1978, the producers wanted to put the series out as an LP record. (The CD player existed in labs in Eindhoven at that point, but was not yet a consumer product). This was offered to BBC records, who in one of many acts of legendary cluelessness passed, but another record company picked it up.

Copyright law contains various provisions for the broadcast of music on the radio. In some instances it falls under fair use, and in other instances compulsory licences apply. In any event, it was relatively easy to use quite famous music for the radio series, but it was legally much harder if you were going to put it on a record. Resources were limited in terms of paying for the rights to use music on the record, and it thus wasn't possible to release recordings of the original radio series including the original music. Also, the original series had 29-30 minute episodes, and you can only fit 22-23 minutes on one side of an LP record. So the radio series was remixed with different music, cut in length, and substantially rerecorded for its release on LP. There are many mutually contradictory versions of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and the LP records are one of the more obscure ones. They weren't especially obscure at the time - in fact they sold very well - but they are something of a collector's item now due to the fact that records are now an obsolete medium. The Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy was later released on CD, but this time actually by the BBC. This time round there was a lot more money, and it was possible to obtain the rights to all the music of the original radio series (and there is no difficulty fitting two 30 minute episodes on a CD, given that CDs fit a maximum of 74 minutes of recording). So the CDs were (and are) of the original radio series, not the remixed and rerecorded LP record version.

Most people would agree that this is for the best: the radio series was the original and in some ways definitive version after all. This is possibly true, but in a way it is also a shame that the LP versions have faded into obscurity (although they are something of a collector's item). For they are actually very good. The radio programs were a bit rushed, but for the LP versions there was time to fix a few things that had not been got right the first time. And in one or two places this shows. So if you are a serious Hitchhiker's collector (I'm not) you probably do need a set of the LPs.

And it really seems necessary to find a set of the LPs to listen to this version. Because although it is easy to find MP3s of the original radio series (ie ripped versions of the CDs) it is not for the LP versions. As programs that originally went out on vinyl records and which have never been released in digital format, they are a little hard for people to rip.

Update: A little further reading informs me that episode three of Hitchhikers released on CD does contain a brief cut due to the the difficulty of obtaining the rights to Shine On You Crazy Diamond by Pink Floyd and Rock and Roll Music by the Beatles. (I doubt that obtaining the rights to Also Sprach Zarathustra would be difficult, although this is also mentioned in the article).

Sunday, May 30, 2004

More breakfast blogging

Nominally Italian pancetta and parmesan sausages this week once again from the Sainsbury's luxury sausage line. Unsurprisingly they are less garlicky and more cheesy than the Tolouse sausages I had last week. (I would attempt to make some comment about how that describes the differences between Italy and France, but France is plenty cheesy too. The pancetta and parmesan sizzled a little more in the pan, perhaps mainly because of the cheese. In any event, they were quite delicious, even more so than the Tolouse sausages I think.

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