Saturday, June 30, 2007

Liam's Kindergarten has a summer party

From Liam's Kinder...

We went along to Liam's kindergarten this morning for their Sommerfest. The weather was not great, but the kids were happy to be performing their song and dance routines regardless. Liam got to wear a costume consisting of triangular glasses, which didn't fit perfectly, but looked pretty cool regardless.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

3 Birthdays is one Weekend

I just got around to uploading photos from a weekend heavily loaded with birthdays which we attended.

On Saturday afternoon we were at Celina Schwab's second birthday. Celina is Liam's cousin once removed, or the daughter of Heike's niece, depending on how you want to look at it.

From Celina Schwab...

We then went on to Gisela Birnstihl's 70th birthday (this is also where I filmed Liam speeding around on his bike).

From Gisela Birnst...

On Sunday afternoon (after an eventful climbing wall session with Richard Schlenk) we were in Oftersheim for the Seel family Grillfest, ostensibly celebrating Michael's birthday, but also Emil's christening. I'm guessing that there were about 15 kids under the age of 5 (or maybe it just seemed that many because they were so dynamic) which was both exhausing and great fun. The most popular attraction for the kids was naturally the water in the form of a pump and trough in front of the grill hut. Michael's father kindly assisted those children present to splash around, and hence test the limits of clothing changes which their parents had brought :-)

From Seel Family G...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The great Google Mail German Shutdown debacle

There have been several articles in recent days (e.g. VNUNet, Secure Computing and Heise) about Google's threat to close down its German email service, should the Bundestag implement new data retentention laws. Google is normally keen to retain all info about our digital lives, in order to better target advertising, yet in this instance they're saying no to state supervision. So what is all the fuss about?

The best overview I've found to this is on Spiegel (in German). The issue is critical, and not just for ISPs. In general, the aim is to log by default as much addressing info as possible for digital communication: email, VOIP, SMS,... An example of the extent is that MNOs will be required to save details of your cell location while you are calling and texting! The fact that it is illegal to save the content of the email, SMS, whatever, is only a partial reprieve, because the addressees, subject line, sending IP address, etc. already provides an unhealthy indication of message content and intent.

Although ostensibly a tool for the state authorities to monitor terrorism (come on, what terrorist is going to register his name and address, this is only going to affect honest people) the data once saved will doubtless be nirvana for the litigation-minded content industry, eager to know who's been surfing where.

Of course the ISPs and MNOs don't want to go along with this, as it raises their operations costs and scares away their customers. It's also highly improbable that they would be able to implement the technical changes required by the proposed date of 01.01.2008.

This legislation is still in draft form, and I encourage all respecters of privacy to visit this site (unfortunately only in German) and send a letter to your Bundestagsabgeordnete.

Footnote: As I'm geo-located in Germany with a address, I'm still not sure whether this would affect my email. I'm fairly sure that I can connect to gmail via a proxy, but I'm hoping it won't come that far...

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See also this post on, with quotes from Google's global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Liam on his bike

Whenever I say that Liam has been out on his bike, English-speaking people say he's too young for a bike. Yes, I say, but it's not a pedal bike, it's a Laufrad.
Anyone know of a better translation to English for the device below? It's the direct descendant of the "Walking Machine" invented by Baron von Drais in 1817.

Entertainment industry encourages piracy

The DVD Copy Control Association want to render DVD ripping impossible, according to the Register. Allegedly, they are doing this to prevent piracy. However the result is likely be exactly the opposite.

To see why this is the case, consider the efficacy of copy control mechanisms so far. They do not work. Every DRM system requires an encryption scheme and a licence key. Most modern encryption schemes are so advanced that with a sufficient key-length, it is very unlikely to be cracked by brute force. No-one is going to break AES-256 in order to watch Die Hard. They don't need to, because the key must be available in the user's system, and key security is always a weak link. Ironically the DRM for DVDs, CSS, is so weak that both encryption and key-finding attacks work just fine.

The current proposal to strengthen the (badly broken) CSS system is as follows:

"DVD products, alone or in combination with other DVD products, shall
not be designed to descramble scrambled CSS data when the DVD disc
containing such CSS data and associated CSS keys is not physically
present in the DVD player or DVD drive (as applicable), and a DVD
product shall not be designed to make or direct the making of a
persistent copy of CSS data that has been descrambled from such DVD
disc by such DVD product."

In a nutshell, if you don't have the original DVD in the drive, then software won't play. Playing from a file on your hard drive won't be allowed.

Sound robust? Not a bit. Programs like DeCSS remove the CSS crud layer, leaving the file in the clear. There is nothing to stop it playing.

The desired effect may be to make the physical reproduction of discs more difficult, i.e. necessitating CloneDVD or similar. However the serious pirates are already well equipped, they can make 1:1 copies without effort.

So, who is affected by this proposal? The normal consumer who is not aware of DVD decryption tools. S/he will be unable to make backups of DVDs bought via legal channels, and will therefore look for alternatives. My expectation is that this will drive average consumers to seek out non-CSSed physical discs, probably directly per mail-order from Malaysia.

My counter-proposal to the entertainment industry would be to stop considering your customers to be either criminals or suckers, and start to satisfy their needs. Drop all DRM efforts, and concentrate on cultivating the consumers who are willing to pay for content. There are plenty of us about, all we require are reasonable products to buy.

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Climbing Wall Accident

Richard Schlenk and I were at the Vertigo climbing wall yesterday, which was fun for the first hour and a half. Then on the last move of the last route of the morning, Richard pulled awkwardly on a hold, and dislocated his shoulder. He was in a lot of pain waiting for the ambulance, and suffered a bit of ribbing from the nurses (I think they enjoy seeing doctors in pain). Once the shoulder was popped in again though, he seemed to cheer up immensely, and could see the funny side of it.

Here's wishing Richard a Gute Besserung.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Blair's last shred of credibility lost

Tony Blair is apparently about to convert to Catholicism. I'm all for religious tolerance, but not for those fundamentalists - some of them actually believe in god!

OK, even I'll admit that it's a far smaller fault to belong to a misogynistic, backward and cruel religion than to defy your country's wishes by going to war with Iraq. But hey, if you're in a hole, stop digging.

On the plus side, he was obviously able to stand up to the Islamofascists in order to knight Salman Rushdie. In order to properly even the score, he needs to give Richard Dawkins at least a peerage.

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How do you listen to Internet audio?

I saw an interesting piece of market research on Digital Media Wire. As the study says:

"Nearly three-quarters of U.S. online adults listen to audio on their home computers, but only 9% have it set up so they can listen to music on their computers on home stereo systems"

This says a couple of things to me. Firstly (and seemingly obviously) is that there's a disconnect here, so that 63% of online adults have a need for some extra hardware to connect the computer to the living room. This seems like bread and butter for the Sonos, Creative X-Dock, Apple TV, and at the lower end, the Noxon type devices. To one extent or other, these devices are trying to bridge the PC-Stereo gap. Then you don't have to be in "work" mode while you're listening to music.

The second thing that occurs to me is that part (most?) of the disconnect is explained by device sideloading, i.e. most people search for and select music at the PC, but then just dump it on the iPod and listen to it there. I'm typical of this category. Sure I play music on the PC occasionally, if only to refine my selections. But my main consumption is offline iPod use (for which commuting and dog-walking provide ample opprtunity).

Regardless of this qualification, it's clear that we're going to be moving audio and video around the house in the near future, and probably wirelessly. Analysts have been saying for years that it's just around the corner, and merely a question of whether the PC or the TV/Hifi is the central hub. This seems to be an over-simplification, the market will most likely fragment more. Some people will consume media sitting at their PCs because they want the extra control, some will stream to the living-room, some will carry all their media in their iPods and simply plug'n'play in car/living-room/earbud as desired.

So where does this leave the hardware vendors above trying to connect PC to the living room? I think they face essentially 3 hurdles, and if these are overcome then their products will fly off shelves:

  • Usability. Probably Sonos and Apple can sort this out. Synchronisation with online music services will help.

  • Price. Too expensive. Will drop.

  • Marketing. Paradoxically the hardest. Do you find it in the computer or the hi-fi section, or worse still household goods? These things don't fit into known shopping themes, so people don't know they need it. There'll be an uphill struggle to get shelf space. Then comes a tipping point in market awareness, and "Connected Media Devices" will be a whole new shopping section.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

What are the class of '87 up to now?

I recently got an email invite to a 20-year re-union for St. Michael's College leavers from 1987. This got me curious in a "what-are-they-up-to-now" way, so I thought I'd have a go at finding out on the web. Here's what I found out:
  • Alan Healy: After spells of investment banking and South Afican brick factory founding, Alan is now an author of a sci-fi book, Tommy Storm. I attempted to purchase it here, but the webshop wasn't feeling good that day. I have a sourcing order in with, (4-6 weeks). Alan tells me that he's in discussion with distributors for a re-launch which should ease the ordering situation.
  • Barra Faughnan: Barra's a barrister, see his professional credentials. He also gets link love from Wikipedia for winning the 1991 Irish Times National Debating Championship individual title.
  • David Ganley: According to Google, David could be a used car salesman or fund manager or Arizona realtor. The jury is out on this one.
  • David Kelly: Unfortunately David's GoogleJuice has been hijacked by the unfortunate weapons inspector who was hounded to suicide by the vast right-wing conspiracy. There may be more info hidden in the about 75,600,000 results, but I was not that diligent in my search.
  • Edward Gleeson: No data available
  • James Kelly: Film-maker and founder of independent production company Feenish. The site looks good James, I'll look out for your productions in future!
  • Kealan McCowan: not recognisable from Google results.
  • Kevin Reynolds: Actuary (this I know because I met him a couple of times between 1987 and 1998). Picture number 14 in this link.
  • Macartan Cassidy: Played at being an industial mathematician, then became an IT consultant. Has a 2-year-old son and a heavily pregnant wife. If you're reading, then you probably know enough about MC.
  • Mark Caffrey: works for Ulster Bank and keeps a low profile online.
  • Mark McKeever: works for Tesco, and any Google results he may have are masked by a football player of the same name.
  • Michael McCarthy: Not sure. If he's there, then he's swamped by other results.
  • Neil Brady: Hard to say. There are 6 Neil Bradys on LinkedIn. He might be one of those, or not.
  • Raymond Donegan: head honcho in the Re-union organisation activities. Very professional Internet presence here.
  • Robert Reid: Became an accountant, and worked at several companies to judge from the various legacy email addresses I've had from him over the years. Was living in Delgany at last count with wife plus 2 kids.
  • Stephen Duffy: Pilot with CityJet. Shares name with a host of other people. I bumped into him in Turin airport in 1998, and he seemed to be doing well.

This little search exercise was interesting to me, particularly that there are so many creative people among my former classmates, cancelling out the corporate drones like me. I hope there's a good turnout for the November bash.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Ultrasound #8

Heike had another ultrasound today, this time it was in the morning and I couldn't make it. All is well, the estimated weight is now 3100 grams, which is pretty good for 35 and a half weeks.
The birth could take place any day now, which made it all the more scary that my new Blackberry Pearl is acting up and going into aircraft mode on its own initiative :-((

Monday, June 18, 2007

Jürgen Dubbrow

On Saturday we attended the christening of Jürgen Dubbrow (pictured above). Jürgen is the son of our friends Patrick and Anna, and he'll be like our children insofar that he'll be brought up bilingual (though german/italian instead of german/english).

As the picture indicates, Jürgen himself slept though most of the ceremony and ensuing party. The guests had a great time regardless, there are a few more pictures here.

I should also mention that Jürgen's was not the only christening ceremony over this last weekend. On Sunday my youngest nephew Oran Phillips got the going-over with the holy H2O. Unfortunately we were unable to get to Dublin for this event, as airlines have a thing about barring 8-month-pregnant women from flying :-(

Sunday, June 17, 2007

SpaceMonger, Download - Version 1.4.0 - Win95/98/NT/2K/XP

Here's a software recommendation that I picked up from the Security Now podcast. SpaceMonger is freeware which gives a graphical representation of where space is being used on your hard disk. This is really useful, because it's not at all easy to see in Windows Explorer where all your precious space is being used.

I tried it out and got back 3 GB right away from an old PDA GPS Sync software which had not cleanly uninstalled. A screenshot is below...

Apparently the author now has a paid version, and for this reason doesn't recommend the old version 1.4, but I found it perfect for my purposes. It's a really lightweight download, just the exe and a readme. You can download it here (note - select tab "Free Software", then scroll down a bit for version 1.4).

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Microsoft PowerToy Alt-Tab Replacement

Here's a useful tip from the Lifehacker guys. Normal use of Alt-Tab enables you to switch applications with an icon, so that e.g. 2 instances of Word are indistinguishable. Installing the Microsoft PowerToy Alt-Tab Replacement enables you to see a mini-screenshot of the app window, making the choice easier.

Here's the direct link to the Microsoft Download.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Ultrasound #7

We were at the Frauenarzt today for another checkup and scan. All is well, sex prediction of girl is intact, estimated weight at 33 weeks and 2 days is 2300 grams, which is great :-)

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Congratulations to Everest summiteer Roger McMorrow

I read over on Conor Boyd's blog that ex-QUBMC friend Roger McMorrow summitted on Everest on May 24th! Congratulations!

Roger has come a long way since I climbed together with him in Chamonix in the 90s (1994/5? not sure exactly). A fine achievement in both sporting and scientific terms.

Eddie sent me this photo which he claims is Roger on the summit, although with that face mask it could be anyone :-)

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Holiday in Texel

Here are Liam and I on the beach in Texel, on the first day or two of our holiday. The weather was still pretty nasty at this point, as evidenced by our rain gear.

Unfortunately we'd packed in haste and heat in Heidelberg, so didn't have an enormous amount of cold weather gear with us. Heike had to buy herself a new coat, which she's proudly modelling in the North Sea surf here:

Electra was as usual captivated by her frisbee, regardless of weather

Our accomodation was spartan but comfortable, although the bed did get crowded now and then.

Soon enough the weather cleared up a bit, and we were able to hit the beach without rain gear

and even the sandals were brought into play

Liam kept the dogs occupied, and was occasionally able to convince them to do his bidding

Finally of the last couple of days the good weather came, and the swimming gear was used in anger...

although even then we were more on the beach building sandcastles than actually in the water

All in all a fun holiday, as exemplified by Heike's chirpy laugh below...

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The new car arrives

Our new Fiat Ulysse arrived just in time for our holiday in Texel.

I was most impressed by the amount of space which we had...

and the junior family members were happy with the extra space too...

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