What The Hell Is IPv6?

IPv4 exhaustion
The Red Line Shows Remaining Available Internet Addresses

So did you enjoy World IPv6 Day?

All right, there’s a fairly large chance that you have no freaking idea what I’m talking about. To put it as briefly as possible, the Internet is running out of addresses. The old system (IPv4) could only handle four billion of them. And as every computer, phone, tablet and other device connected to the Internet needs one, we were going to break the four billion mark sometime very soon. So, much like when your local telephone system adds an extra digit to its numbers to make room for new subscribers, the Internet is making its addresses longer. The new system is called IPv6.

We do not talk about IPv5.

But adding one digit to a phone number lets you create only ten times as many. The switch to IPv6 is more expansive than that. Seriously more. It will allow for 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times as many Internet addresses as now. This is what mathematicians call a “silly number”.

As an end-user you’re not going to notice any difference. The process started years ago, and will take more years to complete. Yesterday’s “World IPv6 Day” was more or less a publicity stunt organised by some of the Net’s bigger names, Google and Facebook among them, to alert the industry to the necessity of upgrading. IPv6 was tested on a bigger scale than ever before and, well if you’re reading this then I guess nothing broke too badly.

So, a good thing then. We needed more addresses for the Internet to keep on expanding. But… this many? It will mean we could all have a few trillion to call our own. My toes can have a Skype account each. You could Internet-enable every leaf on every tree. It’s hard to imagine how you could ever use that many.

And there may be a downside to that. More anon!

Little Boxen

A USB flash drive in the shape of a piece of i...
I'm Starting To Hallucinate

Sitting in a late pub, torn between throwing up my hands in despair at those damn computers, and going back and coddling them all like sick hens. They really are depressing. Aside from some of them being basically made of string and spit, they have been the unfortunate victims of good ideas.

Naturally in a net café you want to keep the computers safe from the customers and whatever crap they might download or bring in on their dirty little flash drives. Someone had a scheme here, to totally lock down these computers. Good? Unfortunately, they’re locked to Windows Updates, to new software, to antivirus that can still  get updates… You can’t change anything as a user and you can’t log on as an administrator, even in Safe Mode. These computers are frozen in the past.

There are supposed to be Norton Ghost images to restore them from, but so far every one I’ve tried has this anti-change software on it, so they’re just frozen further in the past. It’s like whoever did this job last decided to set a fiendish puzzle to those who came after. Normally I’d relish such a challenge, but this café does need to start making money some time.

Your Phone Can Replace Your PC

Tux, the Linux penguin
The Penguin Cometh

My big tech news: I have a desktop computer on my phone now.

It’s running Linux, the free alternative to Windows or Mac. With it I can edit Word documents and spreadsheets, create PDFs, do Photoshop-class image editing. The screen is pretty tiny for that kind of thing of course, but it’s doable. In essence, I don’t need a computer anymore. It even runs Firefox. Not the new mobile version you can get for Android, but the full-scale desktop one.

Oh, and it still makes phone calls.

I’d tell you more, but I’ve been messing with this stuff half the night and I take on an even bigger project tomorrow. More of both these things anon.

Be Vewy, Vewy Quiet…

The woman in my life is asleep beside me. She’s had a long day. First working all Saturday until late, then a bus journey of three hours. To see me. I feel privileged; spoiled even.

It’s been a very full day. I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to write much. Later I hope to fill you in on the further travails of the Very Sick Computer. Also, I have an announcement to make: I know which is the best phone.

Hint: It probably isn’t what you think is the best phone. But I hope to write a guide to help you choose the right one for your needs and desires.

Good night

The Cookie Monster

Cookie CartoonLook at this, this is cool! The classic arcade game Defender, but miniaturised to the 16-pixel square of the page’s favicon (the little logo that appears in your browser’s address bar and bookmarks). You can actually play it.

Of course, you may fairly ask what is the point of playing an old video game in a space about one ninth the size of a postage stamp. But I don’t care, it’s a wonderfully clever bit of Web programming.

Speaking of which, do cookies worry you? The browser ones I mean. Perhaps they should. They were innocent things to start with, just a simple file that a website you visit is allowed to leave on your computer. Yet that can be extremely useful, allowing sites to recognise you when you visit again and log you in automatically.

But then, they can be abused… Suppose you visit a site that has an advert on it. The ad will normally be served from a whole other computer, belonging to the advertising service. And that computer gets to leave a cookie too.

Think what happens next – you go to a lot of sites, you see a lot of ads. But many of these will actually come from the same source, and when that computer reads the cookies it put on your computer earlier, it has a record of other places you’ve been.

A picture can then be built up of your movements across the web, and even used to serve adverts tailored to your particular interests. Or predilections. You might see that as a boon and a convenience, but others may find it uncomfortably intrusive. Especially if they share a computer with family or colleagues.

I’m in two minds about this. After all nothing you do on the Web is really private anyway, so making a fuss about cookies is like complaining that the gorilla on your chest has dandruff. And yet I don’t much care to look at adverts in the first place, so I like the idea of them watching me back even less. I routinely block all cookies, making exceptions only for the sites I visit regularly. This is easy enough with Firefox, using an add-on like Cookie Monster. Call me paranoid, but I’ll get upset if you do.

And it seems the European Commission agrees with me. An e-privacy directive will mandate that sites will only be able to track you with your explicit permission. Is it going to work though? Some argue it will make browsing irritating, with sites continuously popping up messages saying things like “Can I track you please? There are many benefits!” But in the competitive world of the Web, I doubt that users will put up with such nonsense.

So I think it will work. The real danger perhaps is that the ban will give people an illusion of privacy. It means no such thing. If you want real privacy on the Internet, use a proxy.

The Last Paper Column

This will read a little strangely. It’s unedited from the version as it appears in the paper.

Alas This is Fake
The Paper Gives Me A Decent Send-Off

This is the last Micro Cosmopolitan in the City Tribune. I’m leaving the paper. After sixteen years – can you believe it? So much has changed over that time. Why back then there was a Fine Gael/Labour government.

I’m going to miss it badly; in particular, being able to say “I write for a paper”. There was something grand about that. But the world is changing, rapidly. Instead of being a columnist, I’ll be a blogger. Instead of it appearing once a week it will be several times a day. Instead of writing on Wednesday for you to read on Friday, it’ll be instant comment on events as they happen. There will be cartoons too, and you’ll be able to have your own say.

I gave you the address before, but now there’s a new and much shorter one – “I doubt it”. Simply type I.doubt.it and you go straight there. Neat, no? Just dots between the words, no W’s or nothin’. And if you don’t like going to websites you can receive it by email for free. Those of you without computers may find that you can read it perfectly well on your phone.

Otherwise though, you’re stuck. This is the sad fact about the way things are going. You won’t have to buy a daily paper, but you’ll need a machine. In the time I’ve been at the Tribune, the publishing industry has changed out of all recognition. I am fortunate perhaps to have started back when we were still something you might recognise as a “classic” newspaper. I actually brought my column in on a piece of paper, held in my fist. Someone had to type it out again. That almost seems crazy now.

1995 wasn’t quite back in the age of typewriters though. The paper had Macs, and I had a primitive sort of word processor you would point and laugh at now. There was just no way these two computers could communicate with each other. Two years later, while doing volunteer work in South Africa, I started e-mailing my stories. I soon had a computer of my own, and though I couldn’t yet afford an Internet connection – and certainly, not a Mac – I was bringing my stories in on floppy disk. And now… Well, we’ve cut out the paper altogether.

I mean, the whole newspaper.

The business is going through a crisis. On one hand it’s being squeezed by new media; I get a large proportion of my news from blogs, from upstart online-only papers, even from Twitter. Now it’s the papers that can’t afford to buy Macs. The oldest mass medium can and will adapt, they have the core skills that are essential for gathering and recounting the news. But they have to find new ways to make it pay, and they need to do that now – right in the middle of the worst recession since the war.

You support those skills when you read the print version of the Tribune, so I hope you will continue to get it – even without me. And do tell all your friends who stopped buying it while I was here.

http://I.doubt.it – Think of me whenever you hear a politician speak.

Love and out,

Richard Chapman

Untangling The Cables

Enough about the government for a while. Time to catch up on the gizmo fun we’ve been missing.

When I heard that the new MacBooks sported a connector called Thunderbolt I admit I was mystified. Sure, it’s said to be twice as fast as USB3 (only just out itself), but twice as fast was not enough. I knew that Intel had a fiber-optic connector called Light Peak in the works. In future, computers were going to be linked by light, not by the same old copper wires that have been with us since the days of the telegraph. It wasn’t like Apple to be going down a technological cul-de-sac.

It turns out of course that Thunderbolt is Light Peak – but in a transitional copper-wire form. If things go according to plan, it will be upgraded in the future to fiber-optic versions. We’ll see. For the moment though, it does 10 Gigabits per second. That may not be light speed, but it is roughly twenty times faster than USB2. Fast enough to, say, transfer a HD feature film in 30 seconds, or enough MP3 files to play non-stop for one year in just ten minutes. So, it’s a start. And though it’s being launched in cooperation with Apple, it should soon be everywhere.

But the really interesting thing about Thunderbolt is that it isn’t just for the usual things you’d connect up by USB – printers, hard drives, scanners and so on. It can also be used for external displays. So in the near future, the same cable could be used for just about every device a computer can connect to.

On top of that, it also carries power – like USB does, only more so. It’s capable of providing 10 Watts. That means many devices that now need external power supplies such as printers or routers, and even some displays, will be able to get it over the connection to the computer instead, cutting down greatly on cable clutter.

It makes you think, doesn’t it? 10 Watts is sufficient to charge some quite potent devices. The iPad requires a 10 Watt charger, funnily enough… Charge your iPad by plugging it into your MacBook.

So you can imagine Apple very soon building a device with just a single socket – used for charging, printers, displays, everything. A single port, a single cable; it can’t really get much more simple than that.

Why l Won’t Buy an iPad 2

iPad2 CartoonBecause Apple censor. All right, I don’t care much either way if they want to reject apps with sexual content, but when they disallowed political satire it became both personal and a matter of principle. They may have relented in the most celebrated case, but until the policy is changed explicitly they can insert the iPad 2 in landscape orientation.

Otherwise, it’s a fine device. In particular I like the cover. Seriously. It protects the screen in transit, then it converts to a stand. Apple design cuteness at its best.

The original was not at all feature-rich, the better to focus attention on the core concept. Now, again in typical Apple fashion, they add just a well-chosen few at a time so that each seems a choice delicacy. It finally has cameras and a gyroscope. Not the rather decent camera of the iPhone 4 though, and nor does it get its high-resolution display. There are real if fairly small improvements to its thickness and weight, but the only truly substantial change is a faster, dual-core processor.

So this is, if you like, the iPad 3GS; most of what the last version lacked is fixed, but cool cover aside (which is an accessory anyway) there are no show-stopping innovations. This is the iPad released just to keep up with the burgeoning crop of Android competitors. It doesn’t blow them away – that will have to wait for the next release – but it undermines their most obvious advantages.

So you want to wait for that next release, or go with one of these rivals? To answer this question, you must ask yourself why you need a tablet.

And the answer of course is that you don’t need a tablet. Don’t be ridiculous. These iPad things are computers with all the parts you might do real work with actually removed. Get a grip, it’s a leisure device. A media consumption appliance. A toy.

The question is, which is the best toy?

Right now, I’d say the rivals are well in the lead. And it’s not about hardware (though we’ll get back to that). It’s more about freedom. Though Apple stuff is beautifully done, it is done with rather controlling ends in mind. Some say they are reinventing the publishing industry, and that may be true. I’m just not so happy about them wanting a 30% cut of it.

Fine Gael to Tax Freedom


Barring a miracle of the ballot boxes, it looks like Fine Gael are going to be our masters for the next few years. So I guess some people will have to actually drag their eyes through the bloody manifesto and see what may be in store. Friend and fellow cartoonist Allan Cavanagh alerted me to this gem:

TV Licence: We will change the TV Licence into a household-based Public Broadcasting Charge applied to all households and applicable businesses regardless of the device they use to access content.

Do they really mean to charge all households for RTɹ, whether they watch TV or not? That would be a new general tax, just one that’s collected through its own separate – and therefore ridiculously wasteful – system. Further, it forces me to pay for something I don’t want. I do not own a TV, and one of the reasons for this is that I don’t think what RTÉ broadcasts is worth paying for. If you saw it, you wouldn’t too.

RTE ThumbnailBut perhaps they mean you will be charged if you have any device in your home capable of viewing RTÉ ‘content’. (Do you get nervous whenever anyone uses that word?) They’re hardly going to come round and check what sort of phone you have, so unless they go the unthinkable² route of tracking all internet activity to make sure no one secretly watches television, the logical and simple way to do this will be to charge a tax on every broadband connection or data tariff.

So in the guise of a TV licence, they introduce a tax on freedom of information and of expression. No way, Fine Gael.

  1. RTÉ is the publicly owned broadcasting service, funded in part by a television license fee in a similar fashion to the BBC. In a highly dissimilar fashion, it also has commercials.
  2. Please God they do realise this is unthinkable, don’t they?

The Computer Whisperer – Part 1

Red Button CartoonA couple of days ago I mentioned that I had to help a friend with a very sick computer. I’d run into him in Dublin, and he’d told me he wanted to add the drive from his old PC into his new one. I assured him that as someone with mechanical skills, he should have no problem. These things are quite straightforward.

How naïve I can be.

A day or two later he texted me. Something was wrong, the screen had gone mad and he couldn’t read it. I thought at the time he just meant that there was an error message he didn’t understand. When I saw it later I couldn’t believe it: Neat vertical stripes like a butcher’s apron making everything – including an error message – completely unreadable. Weirdest way I’ve ever seen a screen go awry.

But that only came later. First, while investigating the screen problem, he’d found a switch. A red switch. Red-for-a-reason red.

That’s right.

Just about any PC can work on the two most common voltages used worldwide: 110v (US etc.) and 230v (Europe etc.). Most switch between them automatically, but older and/or cheaper ones have – you guessed it – a red switch, on the back of the power supply. Throw this in the US and your PC shudders to a half-powered halt. Throw it in Europe…

Bang.

You know, I can’t be annoyed with him. Sure, they made the switch red so that people would know it’s not something you can just throw. And in most cases that works. But there’s another kind of person that it has a completely opposite effect on.

I like the people who can’t resist red switches.