* Posts by Charlie Clark

3339 posts • joined 16 Apr 2007

Vodafone hikes prices to 37.5p/min – and lets angry customers flee

Charlie Clark
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FWIW in Germany all such call centres are no longer allowed to charge while you're in a holding pattern. They're now pretty much all single fee (understandable) affairs with an explanatory note at the start of the call.

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Charlie Clark
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Re: Thanks El Reg

ah, I think you'll also find that that's the same lavatory where you go to vote in (next year's?) referendum!

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Would EU exit 'stuff' the UK? Tech policy boss gets diplomatic

Charlie Clark
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Greece in 2025 could be well on the way to being a solvent, independent, state building it's way back to prosperity.

Indeed it could. On the other hand, and the post-junta history would perhaps suggest this, it could still be a basket case. Greece's problem isn't its debt, which now has maturity dates that effectively are never never, but structural: non-extant land registry, ineffective tax system and inefficient labour market, etc.

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Charlie Clark
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Re: Leaving the EU would be stupid.

The CAP is a mess, but you're right that the UK is a net contributor. However, it has increasingly little effect on prices.

If the UK were to leave the EU then there would be the following would happen:stuff that doesn't grow so well in the British climate would be harder to import and most probably more expensive (this would appreciably hit Spanish farms and British winter tables); it would be a lot harder to find cheap farm labourers from eastern Europe to work on British farms (this could push up prices and also reduce availability. In time, of course, new supplies could be found for both but the price could be higher.

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Charlie Clark
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The Greece thing is being hyped up out of all proportion. Financially nothing will happen but there is the political risk of having a "failed state" on the south eastern border of the European Union. The bankers, alas, have already taken the money and run with it. That was largely the point of the last five years.

Cameron, having dug himself in a silly hole but also having reasonably effectively seen off UKIP, is going to try and sneak the referendum through early while no one is looking.

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Charlie Clark
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Re: “national measures” continue to entangle the single market

All of that is put at risk by leaving.

None of that is put at risk by leaving, given that it all existed and worked just fine before the EU existed, when there was just the common market (i.e. an EEA-level agreement).

Most of it at risk. The situation pre-1974 is not the same: there was little freedom of movement of goods; no freedom of movement of people and no freedom of movement of capital. The UK has profited significantly from all three.

Good luck wishing to turn back the clock. Why not go the whole hog and pretend Victoria is still Empress of India? The corn laws would still be in place and children could employed to do all kinds of useful work because they are cheap and nimble. Ah, happy days…

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Charlie Clark
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Re: A question of English?

The real questions are how to do that, and whether the EU will let it happen. Many of the Eurocrats are just petty enough to do everything they can to ensure that a country which leaves will fail, if only to avoid the embarassment of it being more successful outside of Brussels/Strasbourg's political control.

That's FUD.

The Single European Act is the basis for the single market and it is purely political. If the UK leaves and wishes to negotiate new treaties, then while they will be negotiated with the European Commission, it is the member states who will decide the fate. The UK can "survive" outside the EU but, given the scale of integration, then leaving will be extremely disruptive to large parts of the economy as well as things like research cooperation.

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Charlie Clark
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Re: “national measures” continue to entangle the single market

You don't need to be an EU member to be in the EEA. Furthermore, there's nothing stopping bilateral trade agreements with whatever countries you like.

Both true but the UK isn't a separate member of the EEA so it will have to apply to join and this will inevitably mean signing up to EU standards as the existing members have to. As to bilateral agreements, that was the basis for most of the agreements that Switzerland had with the EU. If you follow the current contortions that the Swiss parliament is going through to try and avoid implementing the immigration restriction, you'll see that bilateral agreements of any kind with individual member states, let alone trade agreements, are getting much harder to make because they potentially conflict with the Single European Act, so the Commission gets the chance to vet them.

Farming subsidies aside, the EU's budget is still tiny compared to national ones.

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Intel inside: Six of the best affordable PC laptops

Charlie Clark
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Not tempted by this lot

Would pay a premium for a nice, light 13" that can take a lot of memory and docks nicely. Not too fussed about screen resolution as it's going to be docked most of the time, but I'd rather shave 500g off for when I do have to lug it around.

No? Looks like I'll be sticking with Apple…

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'Nothing to see here', says ECJ as Safe Harbour opinion delayed

Charlie Clark
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Re: Amazon S3

This is why many companies, including those that run services on AWS, are moving European data to European data centres. Sufficiently pliant governments exist to give the US spooks access whenever they want it but there will be a fig-leaf of oversight.

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INTERNET of BOOBS: Scorching French lass reveals networked bikini

Charlie Clark
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Coat

Re: So who will be the first to hack this device

I can think of a more effective monitor than temperature for that… Available shortly in Japan, no doubt.

Mine's the dirty grey mac with suncream and tissues in the pocket!

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Charlie Clark
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Basic flaw

If you're already exposed to strong UV, it's usually too late to start applying sun cream as that takes a few minutes to be effective. A dog-tag worn round the neck or attached to the shoulder straps, similar to a radiation detector, probably makes more sense as it measures the actual UV exposure rather than the intensity probably makes more sense.

Still, full marks for suggesting that the software was developed by women (I've no idea whether it was or not and I'm not suggesting it wasn't).

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Only good thing about Twitter CEO storm: 140 character limit gone

Charlie Clark
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Re: Large textual messages direct to another person?

Why should a company using Twitter for customer support

I think you mean why should a company use Twitter for customer support?

Twitter has always been about PR only. Every minute spent on using PR for support is a minute taken away from support.

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Microsoft spunks $500m to reinvent the wheel. Why?

Charlie Clark
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Re: Could be a couple things...

Microsoft is hell-bent on making a go of Windows Phone, and also hell-bent on convincing PC users that they'd rather be using tablets with Store-curated apps

Really? The recent announcements about Office and Cortana for Android suggest that Nadella is winning the internal services over platform argument. There's a lot of money to be made from the Exchange solution on Android and IOS which is why Microsoft is going after it.

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Compromised SSH keys used to access Spotify, UK Govt GitHub repos

Charlie Clark
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Fact checking

Python hosts its own Mercurial repository so there could only be a mirror on Github.

Oh, it's a Darren Pauli article, so fact-checking by readers is required.

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Germany licks lips, eyes new data gulp with revised retention law

Charlie Clark
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Report contains several factual errors

Once a fierce opponent of data retention

That's not true: Germany agreed with other member states on the directive that led to mass snooping (it was a pioneer of the technique back in the 1970s) only to have the law struck down as unconstitutional. Much to the disgust of the government at the time. There was no majority in the previous government for a revision and the Commission had initiated action for failing to implement the legislation until the ECJ ruled. The lack of urgency about drafting a replacement reflected current jurisprudence that the constitution trumps EU law.

There is no doubt that the current draft will be sent to the constitutional court even if the current opposition officially does not have enough votes to enforce this. It might squeak through because only metadata is being collected. There is even talk of putting the law up for automatic review given the lack of evidence that any of the mass surveillance has prevented any attacks and is very expensive.

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Google spins up 'FREE, unlimited' cloud photo storage 4 years before ad giant nixes it

Charlie Clark
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Re: Nonplussed

What Google giveth, it taketh away. Google Code, Glass, Reader, Wave, Talk, etc etc, projects axed when Google gets a bit bored of them.

Mixed bag there: Google Glass was never free and Google Talk got rolled into Hangouts. What about GMail and Maps? Both still there and still free as far as I can see. Personal data like photos are very sticky which is why there are so many services out there vying for our business. Be interesting to see if the paid option gets any traction.

There were good reasons for folding Google Code and Reader. Wave should never have been released.

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The 'echo chamber' effect misleading people on climate change

Charlie Clark
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Nothing really to do with the debate on climate change

You could substitute evolution, gun control. mass-snooping, etc. and get the same results. So, where is the relevance to climate change?

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That EVIL TEXT that will CRASH your iPhone: We pop the hood

Charlie Clark
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Re: Restart required

If you can cause a system to crash you're well on the way to hacking into it.

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Queen's Speech: Snoopers' Charter RETURNS amid 'modernisation' push

Charlie Clark
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Re: Well...

They hold a majority of 12, so if the rest of Parliament vote No, it isn't that far out to think 12 Tory MP's with a conscience could vote no as well.

That's the government majority but, as the Ulster unionists will generally vote with the government (there will be sweetener of course), and Sinn Fein MPs don't take their seats, the working majority is actually quite a bit more. At least when it comes to regressive measures.

Now, if they were to try and introduce any progressive legislation then that majority will look a lot thinner.

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Charlie Clark
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Re: Well...

It's also likely to contravene EU legislation (data protection, civil rights, single market, etc.) which may be why there's also going to be a referendum on that. "We're British! We've never had civil rights and don't intend to start having them now!"

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German watchdog rips off Facebook's thumbs after online fracas

Charlie Clark
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Re: Good, but not quite right

And this is considered informed consent?

No, all the cookie notices are legally worthless. But as enforcement is largely dependent upon the national ICO, most of which have been deliberately hobbled, the issue is somewhat moot. Things will probably change next year with the new EU data protection directive. Fines for breaches could be up to 10 % of turnover though unlikely for that kind of thing.

The BBC's cookie page is pretty reasonable except all optional cookies should be disabled by default.

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Charlie Clark
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Re: Twitter et al should be covered by this too

The search with Google is less of a problem because users actively seek it out and it's labelled as being from Google. The problem is with anything that automatically includes third party code in a page.

Google understood the problem earlier than most and, for example, explains how to embed YouTube videos in a page reasonably, ie. not tracking someone just because they load a page with a YouTube video.

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Charlie Clark
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According to the consumer watchdog, Facebook uses cookies to automatically track website visitors, whether or not they click the offending button, and whether or not they even have a Facebook account.

No, it's not according to the watchdog, it's exactly what's happening: the "like" button is a clever bit of social engineering to facilitate user tracking across websites.

Website owners should think twice about using these kind of things. Not only out of respect for users' privacy. These trackers aggregate data across websites which website owners don't have access to and are the basis for Facebook and co for selling adverts to the sites. With the data gathered they can, and do, happily talk to the competition about the kind of visitors that visit a site. By placing the button on the page you give these companies to hoover up data about your customers but they don't have to share this data with you.

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Windows and OS X are malware, claims Richard Stallman

Charlie Clark
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Re: Shut it you tedious old windbag

Because the GPL says it must be.

Fortunately, the law is not whatever the FSF says it is…

Encumbrance is a legal term, look it up. The provisos of the GPL count as encumbrance. Companies avoid it because they don't want to have to pay lawyers to check anything. Cases against TIVO et al indicate that this is the right approach: no GPL code in a product, no expensive court case.

The automatic assignment of copyright in the GPL is another bit of stupidity for fanbois. Why on earth would you want to assign your copyright to a litigious group like the FSF is beyond me. In most countries copyright is automatic and strongly protected.

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Charlie Clark
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Re: Shut it you tedious old windbag

"Free" in FOSS does not mean "zero money cost". It means "free of encumberances". Meaning, you *must* publish the source code when distributing binaries.

I fail to see how you can draw the conclusion that published source is unencumbered.

In any case, in legal terms, GPL software is considered as encumbered (there may be a claim on it) which is why many companies have strict policies about when and where it can be used.

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Charlie Clark
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Re: Shut it you tedious old windbag

And you would be very wrong. USL vs. BSDi had nothing to do with GPL or FOSS. Source code released under the BSD licenses is not FOSS, unlike GPL.

I never said it did have anything to do with the GPL but giving the distribution of open source software a legal footing.

Pushing for strict liability for software might have been an interesting tack, but, of course, the GPL makes a big show of abrogating responsibility.

Oh, really. And licenses other than GPL assume full responsibility? Have you ever read an Open Source license? I bet you haven't. Why don't you read the 3-clause BSD, which is the oldest one.

Again you miss the point: the FSF could have done a lot for consumers by pushing for strict liability in software. Instead it focussed on political side-shows.

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Charlie Clark
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Re: So what did YOU do then ?

But for tools like g++, gdb, &c, GPL is fine, and the GPL license for tools like these really don't hurt things.

I beg to differ: the change in some of the GNU tools to GPL3 is what has driven a lot of developers away from them. Most notably FreeBSD which has gone about removing them from the tool chain but look also at the CLANG and LLVM licences. Quite weird if you think open source is about encouraging code reuse and peer review.

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Charlie Clark
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Re: Shut it you tedious old windbag

If it wasn't for Stallman the IT world would be a much poorer, more restrictive place than it is. Imagine what the internet would be like if it hadn't been for GNU and the GPL. Maybe the bastard son of Compuserve and AOL?

I doubt that very much. Legally, AT&T versus the University of California was far more important in establishing a legal basis for distributing open source software than any case based around the GPL. The GPL is mainly politics. Pushing for strict liability for software might have been an interesting tack, but, of course, the GPL makes a big show of abrogating responsibility.

Also, Stallman would do his cause a lot better if he was able to listen to alternative opinions.

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Charlie Clark
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Re: So what did YOU do then ?

I write and use open source software. FOSS gives me hives.

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Boffins silently track train commuters without tripping Android checks

Charlie Clark
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Given how easy it is to get people to agree to giving away location information, and the current settings in Android are either give an app everything it wants or you can't install it, I don't think this has much general applicability. Add to that the fact that the accelerometer won't tell you very much about direction: it can tell whether someone is walking or running but not in which direction.

And this is in China where I'm pretty certain the state has access to all mobile phone data and the mobile phone operators routinely collect all the data they can.

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Charlie Clark
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Re: Research purposes

Not really as you have to get the software installed onto the relevant peoples phones. Much easier to use Wifi and Bluetooth snooping from people who leave these radios on, which is most. And this is indeed the method used to measure footfall in shopping centres.

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Celebrating 20 years of juicy Java. Just don’t mention Android

Charlie Clark
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Re: Facts

It was established server side because it is incredibly reliable and cross platform.

That might be the case now, it wasn't then. Remember Sun was shipping its own hardware. Java was only as good as the JVM on the target machine. It took a lot of work to get all those JVMs working both well and fast. The cross-platform experience on mobile was much worse because the JVMs were much worse. As there was no money in it for Sun or IBM they didn't really have much of an incentive to work around the quirks of mobile OSes and chipsets. The initial attraction of Java was much more than it didn't get the same kind of memory errors that were only too common in C++. The excellent standard libraries and standardised deployment also appealed both to the enterprise and academia and JDBC still stands out for working with databases.

I've never got on with Eclipse but I won't discount its popularity in some areas, though I note that you again highlight use by enterprises. The IDEA J stuff is much nicer but look at the resource use compared to something running more native. Hasn't Google switched to IDEA from Eclipse for just that reason?

Sure QT requires compile and test steps for every architecture but modern hardware have made those far less of an issue than in the past. Companies are, however, driven by the productivity of their programmers, not by compile times.

I'm not really knocking Java but I do think it has peaked as a programming language.

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Charlie Clark
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Re: JavaScript???

To be fair to the article it linked to the source of the ranking.

"most popular programming language" is one of the many willy-waving contests on the interwebs. There's still a fuck of a lot of FORTRAN and COBOL and others out there that almost certainly doesn't get picked up on.

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Charlie Clark
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Re: Facts

Cross platform in Java works really well.

Which is why all our desktop apps are written in Java… Oh wait, they're not. The LibreOffice lot are even busy ripping Java out – not that I'm personally convinced that this is such a good move.

On the server-side Java got established in the corporate space and will remain for the duration But it wasn't because it was multi-platform, it's because it was what IBM, Sun, et al. were able to convince the suits to buy.

As I said, the work done on the JVM has made it a lot easier for other languages to be reliably cross-platform. Also: thank god for QT!

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Charlie Clark
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Re: Facts

I used to think the same, but then I worked at two companies that made massive use of Java in web clients. One was a wide range of tier-3 trading platforms distributed as Applets, the other a massive online game, also an Applet.

Applets, while no doubt important in some areas (I remember Brokat for banking and I think WebEx still uses it), were still very much niche on the web. There's no doubt applets were essentially the precursors to the rich client wheel we've recently reinvented in JS, but there was no money in them for Sun.

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Charlie Clark
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Facts

Java took off rapidly. It met an immediate need on the fast-growing World Wide Web

I've been doing web stuff pretty much since Java was around. It was only ever niche on the web. Back then computers didn't have the oomph to do much fancy graphics in a virtual machine so Java was essentially limited to cryptography.

The cross-platform stuff was then, and still largely is, marketing. Sun was a single platform hardware company. But it managed to successfully market Java as a better (because memory managed and thus safer) C++. Netscape PR aside, the real work was in getting Java onto CS degree courses meaning that graduates were trained in something that was being pushed at managers. Moore's law meant that memory was much less of a restriction than it had been: for enough money Sun or IBM could sell you hardware beyond your wildest dreams. This is why Sun did so well out of the dot-coms.

It never really went anywhere on the desktop. I can only think of a handful of applications written in Java that I've ever used. The Java ME stuff was also pretty limited, largely due to the hardware (phones didn't have much memory and write once, run everywhere never really worked).

Flash, developed by Macromedia succeeded by being a better development environment for non-programmers than Java. ActionScript may have been a shitty runtime but it did what it needed to well, or well enough to create sufficient demand for ubiquity. This is why many new languages target non-CS graduates so much: traction is perhaps more important than having the best runtime.

Java's legacy may well be the work that went into JIT compiling which has now become pretty universal. Develop in whatever language you like and the right JIT will compile it to near native speed.

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City of birth? Why password questions are a terrible idea

Charlie Clark
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Holmes

Security theatre

Effective security has been understood for a while: something you have and something you know. This is the underpinning of 2FA in systems like PGP (you have a private key which only you can decrypt with your passphrase). So why isn't it standard? HTML5 forms even contain a field for key generation. Given the complexity of many of the security theatre alternatives out there, the difficulty of using such a system can't really be an argument.

Could it be that companies don't really care about the security of the systems? There is certainly ample, albeit anecdotal, evidence to support this theory: banks have at times actively resisted improving the security of debit and credit cards. It is only now that the US is moving from easily scammed magnetic stripes to chips. One of my companies asks me to verify the first few characters of my password when I call them, which means that at least part of it is stored as plaintext!

At some point, of course, studies like Google's can be used to justify liability claims. This is when we tend to see movement. In general, companies like to have systems that can be judged secure enough so that they cannot be held liable for individual breaches. The backup question strategy would seem to fit in here: people routinely forget passwords, which is why they are so unsuitable in the first place. Google's study is valuable, I guess, because they have access to such huge study samples and can thus empirically verify some the ideas: people choose weak passwords because they are memorable; behaviour is eminently predictable.

Of course, if we do do things correctly then we risk falling foul of the law: restrict access to our private keys by encrypting our disks and we can now be prosecuted.

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Mobiles at school could be MAKING YOUR KID MORE DUMBER

Charlie Clark
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Old news

Research on how using a mobile phone impairs other cognitive functions has already been done. As has research on the demands placed on us by brief, mediated communication: like low cocoa chocolate it's sweet but unfulfilling thus requiring a more frequent fix.

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Twitter CRAWLS to Google ON ITS KNEES, starts blowing content

Charlie Clark
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Mushroom

Why do companies still waste time and money on Twitter.

This isn't directly related to the news but I hate Twitter so much I thought I'd share it. I'm flying shortly with KLM, who've generally done a good job with their website, it must be said. As is now fashionable for airline companies you have to opt to pay to take luggage, though how anyone travelling for more than a couple of days expects to get away with just hand luggage is beyond me*. I get confirmation of my flight and my luggage allowance only to get another e-mail yesterday telling me I have no luggage. The website tells me I can in touch by Twitter or Facebook and even has dials estimating response times. I call and ask for confirmation: yes, you have paid for checked baggage and can ignore the e-mail. This annoys me and costs KLM money. If they spent more time fixing the communication between their systems and less on PR gimmicks like customer support via Twitter they'd provide better service and save money.

*I'm starting to avoid airlines that do this as it only seems to encourage people to try and carry everything, including the kitchen sink, as hand luggage, significantly slowing down boarding and not unusually involving bumps and scapes as people try cramming the stuff wherever they can.

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Google, Twitter search deal: Did micro-blabbing site gag racy tweets to satisfy ad giant?

Charlie Clark
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Re: It's official:

If only they would extinguish it… I fear, however, that they won't.

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PHOTON SPACE SAIL successfully Kickstarted into orbit

Charlie Clark
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Re: Efficiency

To change direction, one angles against the current.

Not without a current you don't, and you don't have one in space, only the gravity of any planets.

Ion drives are potentially self-sustaining feeding off any atoms they can harvest on their travels. A couple of kilos of xenon give them a nice kick-start. Hardly noticeable in comparison to any payload when getting into space.

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Charlie Clark
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Efficiency

Photons have very, very little momentum. Even with the currently relatively poor yields from photo-electric cells I can't see any advantage of a solar sail over an ion drive that harvests hydrogen from space. Anyway, give the lack of any current, how do they expect to steer the damn thing? And braking?

Still, if people want to put their money into this, then good luck to them.

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You've come a long way, Inkscape: Open-source Illustrator sneaks up

Charlie Clark
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Context

Graphics professionals working on Linux… are as rare as mermaids?

There are lots of good alternatives to the Adobe products that cost a little money. Anything that takes 4 years to fix 700 bugs is not being used by professionals.

I'm not a fan of Adobe and happily use alternative products (Photoline is pretty good) but the new pricing model actually makes it easier to pick up casual business. Some professionals will no doubt (rightly) complain about being fleeced by the new model but it does allow for faster release cycles. As soon as it costs more money to use the stuff than you get make from using it you should cancel the subscription.

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Robots.txt tells hackers the places you don't want them to look

Charlie Clark
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A good honeypot should do little or no work itself but give the potential miscreant something they think is useful but is actually worthless and log any relevant information. In days gone by redirecting to a tarpit might have been an idea but now script-kiddies have almost limitless resources so it doesn't make sense any more.

Don't think robots.txt is as good for this as some of the other files that are regularly looked for.

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Google sells .car, walks away from generic domain names

Charlie Clark
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I suspect that was very tongue-in-cheek. How about "we can get those with spare change and see if a market develops". Remember, it's always the first million that's hardest to get.

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Charlie Clark
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Re: I don't get it.

We can assume that Google has profited from the experience: financially by being able to find the market price (the initial auction was really only a beauty contest) for generics. But they presumably also gathered information about the kind of market there will be for these kind of domains and decided it wasn't worth committing resources to.

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Blocking pirate sites doesn't weaken pirates say Euroboffins

Charlie Clark
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The costs of piracy

It's long been established that digital piracy doesn't reduce direct sales. What it does tend to do is drive money away from possible alternatives: people download more US TV and films and watch less local stuff.

The increasing popularity of legal streaming services shows how much people value convenience.

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Verizon in SUDDEN $4.4bn AOL GOBBLE, aims to make fourplay more exciting

Charlie Clark
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Probably but presumably unrelated: your bill will go up because you're stuck in an uncompetitive market so they own you.

It's a cash-only transaction which suggests that Verizon has some profits it wants to offset against debt to reduce the tax burden.

40:1 price to profit is pretty steep but, seeing as cash is returning less than nothing, a carefully engineered purchase could work financially whatever else happens. And if it does fail then it's always possible to squeeze more out of those captive customers.

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Amazon creating 500 ‘fulfilling’ jobs in the UK

Charlie Clark
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Re: So...

Surely it is about time they had robo-pickers and packers?

People are probably cheaper and more flexible for their needs, though I don't think warehousing costs are that high for them anyway. The real money goes on delivering individual packages to individual houses.

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