Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Wed, 03 Nov 2004

Another Distributed Computing Success

I've gone on before about the fact that most computers spend 99% of their processing time waiting for users to do something. There are many projects that allow this wasted capacity to be applied to solving various problems, from detecting aliens to finding cures for cancer. One of the oldest projects is over at They started off trying to win competitions for breaking encrypted messages, but diversified into some hard mathematical problems. This week they completed the OGR-24 project. See their page for the details. I contributed many hours to their projects in the past, but have moved on to other things.
[09:15] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Tue, 02 Nov 2004

Secret Messages

I've been fascinated by the science of encryption for a few years now. It's gone way beyond the old letter substitution of my youth into advanced mathematics, giving codes that could take longer than the age of the universe to crack. There are a multitude of free tools that allow you to protect your communications from anyone who might be listening in. It doesn't have to be the government spooks, your email could be read by anyone with access to a server that it passes through.

The basis of my encryption options is GPG (Gnu Privacy Guard, descended from PGP, Pretty Good Privacy). This uses public key encryption techniques. This means that you can freely publish a key for people to encrypt messages to you with, but only you can read them with your secret key. One of the interesting concepts is that other people can 'sign' your public key to say that they confirm that you are who you say you are. Yesterday Simon and I met up with Rob from Rotterdam to exchange keys. This was coordinated via Biglumber.

There are utilities for most email clients that allow easy use of GPG. My chat client of choice, Psi, can also use it to encrypt instant messages. Simon and I are using that now. I just need to bring some of my other contacts up to speed.

I don't have major secrets, but I like my privacy.

Assorted encryption links on my

[09:11] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Mon, 01 Nov 2004

To any Americans

I don't generally do politics, but I would just like to ask any Usians who may happen to read this, please go out and vote in your election, but don't vote for Bush. That man scares me more than Saddam or Bin Laden.
[20:55] | [News] | Comments | G

Fri, 29 Oct 2004

Someone jumped off our office building

I got in about 8am this morning and all was quiet. Around 9 I saw the Virgin air ambulance flying very close to us on the 19th floor. I looked out and saw a couple of police cars. The helicopter landed up at the Ace Cafe. Then a fire engine drove up that way. Eventually I went for a coffee and I was told that someone had jumped from the canteen on the 21st floor! I heard they landed in the River Brent, but that's not very deep. An hour later there is still some activity out there.
[10:05] | [News] | Comments | G

Mon, 25 Oct 2004

Really Simple CMS

I'd been thinking for a while of re-working the PFGM site from very basic HTML to something more maintainable. The old version was produced using the Mozilla editor. Most CMS like Postnuke are just too over the top for a simple site with mostly static content. Then I found CMSimple.

This uses PHP, but doesn't require a database. Infact it uses a single PHP file and all the content is stored in another file. There's a load of other files for things like the templates. Installation was just a matter of copying the files to the server and setting the appropriate attributes. Within an hour I had the basics of the site up and running and it can be seen here. I may play around with the templates to make it more individual, but the basics are all there. Once it's finished I'll set things up so that the domain points straight at it.

The saga of my poorly PC continues. Over the weekend I opened it up and removed large amounts of dust as well as modem and TV cards that were not in use. I re-seated the memory and some of the cables. Plugged it back in and it fired up first time! Unfortunately that may have been a fluke as it's back to it's old habits again now. As a stopgap I may move the drive to the current Linux box. It's slightly slower, but should be more reliable.

[13:22] | [Site News] | Comments | G

Fri, 22 Oct 2004

Geek Wiki

A wiki is an on-line encyclopedia that can be modified and added to by users. It usually includes simple methods to link articles without resorting to HTML. One of the largest examples is Wikipedia, but there many others dedicated to different subjects, such as software projects.

My friend Simon has recently created his own wiki based around interesting engineering and architecture around the world. My own, minor, contribution was a piece on the new Wembley Stadium.

I'm pleased to see the wiki includes some nice semantic data for things like location and links.

[13:37] | [Friends] | Comments | G

Wed, 20 Oct 2004

Great Neal Stephenson Interview

Over at Slashdot there's an extensive 'interview' with one of my favourite authors. The questions were previous submitted and ranked by the site's readers.

He manages to give a multi-screen answer to just one question that is very interesting. The guy is obviously seriously bright. The answer to 'who would win a fight between him and William Gibson' is hillarious.

Ending are not his strong point and this interview does not change that.

I have most of the books apart from the latest ones if anyone wants to borrow.

[22:18] | [News] | Comments | G

Sun, 17 Oct 2004

More FoaFery

One of the blogs I read is by Danny Ayers who writes a lot about the semantic web subjects that I'm interested in. One of his projects is expanding the FoaF idea to cover pets. I think this is just a fun project, but I thought I may as well add it to my site. We've got a cat called Deedee who makes sure I get up in the morning. She now has her profile on the web. You can see it via the link on my name at the top of the page. I ought to add a nice picture of myself there, but I can't find one.
[20:37] | [Site News] | Comments | G

Tue, 12 Oct 2004

Plink gives up

I had a button on my site linking to a site called Plink. All this site did was to read FoaF files and display the links between people and some of the other details in the files. Unfortunately the owner has had to take it down after getting complaints from people who objected to having their names on there. They are only there because someone they know has included them in their foaf file. It didn't give any personal details away. There's an explanation here.

Fortunately there are still sites like FoaFSpace and the FoaF Explorer linked from my name in the About block.

One of the things I'd like to play with on this site is generating the buttons and friend links down the right side from my FoaF file. This is what FoaF Explorer does. It involved me learning about XSLT to convert XML/RDF to HTML. I've had to learn a bit about XML for work lately, but it's useful stuff generally for understanding Semantic Web concepts.

[13:28] | [Site News] | Comments | G

Fri, 08 Oct 2004

Computer problems

My main PC that has been happily running Windows 2000 for a few years started playing up recently. It powers down whilst booting Windows and was taking several attempts to actually get it to a log-in. Once running it was still stable. I suspect the PSU may be playing up, but I could be wrong. Then this week it came up with a message saying that a Windows file is corrupt. I tried doing a repair from the CD, but that didn't fix it so, reluctantly, I re-installed. This is a pain as I will need to re-install all my other software and drivers. Or it could be an oportunity.

I've been thinking for ages about moving to Linux. Most of what I need (internet, word processing, home accounts) is freely available. It also opens up possibilities for playing with some interesting new technologies. I just need to ensure that all my data can be transferred across. There's also the issue of using my peripherals. I just bought a Canon printer that is not officilly supported in Linux, but I found a comment on a forum that suggest it might work. See my links.

I will still have at least one Windows PC in the house if I really need to run Windows software. The kids use one for web and some old games.

[08:35] | [Computer] | Comments | G

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