* Posts by Mark Honman

64 posts • joined 19 Apr 2007

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Feeding the XPoint cuckoo and finding it a place in the storage nest

Mark Honman

Re: 3D XPoint is a new form of RAM, not SSD

Yes - if anything it reminds me of the merits of magnetic core, without the poor density and high power consumption.

The most interesting use, short-term, would be paging store. Systems already have a mechanism for paging stuff in and out of memory, but it's pretty useless these days as mechanical drives are too slow/thrashy and SSDs wear out.

If you view the paging mechanism as providing a RAM cache of the contents of the backing store (as if it were just a giant binary file that has been memory-mapped), the application is pretty obvious.

For HPC this means that the size of the data set can exceed the size of available RAM; and as RAM no longer limits the data set size, new RAM tradeoffs become possible. The amount of RAM can be chosen to suit the number of pages that are "hot" at any given time, thereby reducing cost/heat/size. The savings then become available for more processing power.

There is one element that would be a handy addition to the present virtual-memory model: a prefetch capability (analogous to that used in floating-point DSPs) that would extrapolate data-access patterns to identify data that should be brought into higher levels of the memory hierarchy before it is needed.

By "higher levels" I'm really thinking of processor caches rather than DRAM, which is pitifully slow in comparison to the performance of HPC compute engines.

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The insidious danger of the lone wolf control freak sysadmin

Mark Honman

Re: Lone Wolf..

1. By the law of averages, at least some of the team will be either already competent or teachable.

2. So it is fair to say that the "toxic lone wolf" is one who hoards information and doesn't share it within the team, and actively works to prevent the others from getting anything done.

After all, if one really is the most competent person around, what harm is there in sharing information?

And the reality in a team is that people tend to be different, and each one has their own area of competence (or in the case of junior members, potential to become really good in one area or another).

Personally I've tried to stick it out in this kind of situation, hoping that the person in question would change, but it wore me down and in the end for my own sanity I had to quit.

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Watch out for the products that have snuck in behind your back

Mark Honman

Back when I were a lad, "IT" was mainframes and shadow IT was PCs and Sun workstations. Actually my first job was to look after some Apollo workstations that had been bought _after_ a run-in between a bunch of engineers and the corporate IT dept (corporate IT insisted on getting an IBM mainframe that was unsuited to number-crunching, and then charged royally for processor time).

It's one of the eternals of "the business" - IT depts need absolute control to run systems efficiently (= cheaply, really) but because it costs a lot of money to establish that much control, it only happens when technology is mature. So the empire of control is vulnerable to new technologies, especially from vendors who do not have a legacy money-spinner that is at risk of being killed by new & more nimble technology.

There's no point to whingeing about the situation; there is no solution, only mitigation. i.e. monitor the new technologies that are appearing and look at how they might be valuable to the business; and make a plan to work with early adopters to find out the best way of assimilating these technologies into the existing infrastructure. Resist the temptation to tell all the users to wait for the supposedly equivalent product from $INCUMBENT_BIG_VENDOR, for it will always be compromised to the advantage of their legacy products.

One of the biggest problems with "the thrill of the new" wasn't really mentioned in the article, namely the problem of divergence. e.g. the multiplicity of cloud storage offerings resulting in siloes of information and wasted end-user hours as users manually try to keep track of what information is where. That is probably the best reason of all for IT departments to engage with early adopters: at least get agreement on no more than two competing solutions that will be evaluated. Those early adopters can be your friends, as they have tremendous energy and power to influence other users.

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Beowulf Gods — rip into cloud's coding entrails

Mark Honman

Well it certainly was revolutionary - for quite a long list of reasons; but my favourite is that for once computer scientists and electronic engineers worked together to make a chip that was conceptually elegant and practical to use.

It was made by a smallish British semiconductor firm (Inmos), and they simply ran out of money to take the architecture further in the face of the onslaught from RISCs and Pentiums. And even though the Transputer made it easier to write and especially debug parallel software than any other architecture, the combination of Moore's law and superscalar processor architectures was enough to keep single-core performance advancing fast enough to keep everyone happy.

BTW Transputers found a niche in space applications, and especially the clever serial links have been standardised as SpaceWire.

The concepts live on in the XMOS multicore microcontrollers - for anyone wanting to play, XMOS offer a "startkit" for something like a tenner.

What I still find utterly beautiful is the predictable and low-latency communication model. And I'm _still_ waiting for someone to make a big bad floating point chip based on these principles, a T800 for the modern era.

Edit: back in the day we had a 40-Transputer box; saw one of those at TNMOC but not operating.

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Chip rumor-gasm: Intel to buy Altera! Samsung to buy AMD! ... or not

Mark Honman

Re: Buy or shed? Gotta keep with the latest Wall St fashion

With both the FPGA behemoths (Alteria & Xilinx) using ARM, that is certainly a threat to Intel. Not really the current cortex-A9 dual-cores which are just about good enough to run an OS, but the upcoming quad-core 64-bit ARM based parts that also have a full spectrum of "proper" peripherals that would enable them to be used as the heart of a computer system.

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'It's NOT FAIR!' yell RICH KIDS ... and that's a GOOD THING

Mark Honman

Re: Altruism & Culture

> If you live in a desert you are overburdened with sunshine and you need to be very efficient to survive.

Pierre - you are right! I'm from Zululand, so associate sunshine with greenery and abundant tropical fruit - didn't think of deserts at all.

That said, the Sudanese are also very hospitable...

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Mark Honman

Altruism & Culture

Tim, you may have this one the wrong way around.

Many poorer societies (e.g. African, Latin American) are relationship- and group-oriented rather than task-oriented and individualistic.

In that kind of society there is an expectation that those who have an income will share it with less fortunate family or group members. That is surely a higher degree of altruism than in the "developed" world!

If the concept of "cutting off one's nose to spite your own face" is alient to the culture, it becomes perfectly acceptable to accept $1, because then another person is benefiting - and if you fall on hard times you know where to find someone who has a bit of money!

Something I've observed but don't have the background to draw any conclusions from, is that these "warm south" cultures are quite enterpreneurial - lots of people making or selling things on a small scale. Not efficient, but if you live somewhere with plenty of sunshine you don't need to be efficient...

Back to the point - the $99/$1 split makes perfect sense in a "we" culture where it is not acceptable in a "me" culture. Perhaps the comparison is telling us more about negotiation styles than economics?

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Intel: Grab these platform shoes and dance to OUR Internet of Things standard

Mark Honman

Re: What platform?

Not to mention that the protocols mentioned are verbose and text-processing intensive. Not what one wants in a sensor that should run on battery or harvested energy.

An earlier el Reg article (which I'm too lazy to look up) made a compelling argument for a 3-layer IoT.

1. Sensors and controllers continue to be low-power, using high-volume microcontrollers, bare-metal programming, and lightweight proprietary protocols.

2. A gateway product (embedded SoC with RTOS) provides the integration point at which sensor/controller functionality is exposed using standard protocols. This sits within the customer's network and supports direct access from customer devices (computing and mobile).

3. The "big cloud" is mostly useful for analytics or as a higher-level integration point. For example to forward traffic between the on-site sensor gateway and mobile devices when the user is off-site.

The key point made in that article is that bandwidth is more expensive than processing power; thus uploading untold millions of sensor readings to a data centre for hypothetical future data-crunching is neither cost-effective nor energy-efficient.

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ARMs head Moonshot bodies: HP pops Applied Micro, TI chips into carts

Mark Honman

This is a leading question as I have some hardware pals who build this kind of stuff - how much would you think of spending on a 1U solution? The TI 66AK2H chips are pretty expensive on account of the 8 DSP cores - TI are asking about £1000 for their 66AK2H EVM.

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What's the point of the Internet of Things?

Mark Honman

Re: Fishtanks are useless

My next-door neighbour would disagree - when on holiday his main stress factor is whether the fish in his tank are doing OK - and would love to get notifications on his mobile phone to confirm the fact!

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HP targets supercomputers with Project Apollo

Mark Honman

Re: What OS for Apollo

Well the last one out was Domain/OS SR10.4 or 10.5, IIRC?

BTW there were rumours that HP had DomainOS running on the 9000/700 series but chose not to release it....

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Windows 8.1: A bit square, sure, but WAIT! It has a Start button

Mark Honman

Son of Clippy?

That Office Upload Centre dialog sounds like a chip off the old block...

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Windows desktop VDI

Mark Honman

Re: KISS

Big thumbs up for CiviCRM.

It does take a while to get into, but as there is never enough time to do everything it is better to invest the time that there is into high-level work that benefits the entire organisation than one-by-one PC-shop jobs.

Some other things we have been using:

* email - Zimbra (not perfectly happy with it)

* files - OwnCloud (just getting into it, if it works as adertised it should be possible to sync the desktop and my Docs of each PC)

* server backup - BoxBackup

All of these things could run on a local server or in a data centre, depending on the size & sophistication of the organisation (and its Internet links!)

The biggest problem has been rollout, training, and subsequent hand-holding.

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Mark Honman

Sounds over-complicated and high-risk, I'm afraid...

There are some additional risks that others have not mentioned - mostly related to that fact that you are looking at a customer-specific solution. Firstly, even as a volunteer your time is valuable and you are likely to spend many hours getting a setup based on creaky old desktops to work. Then there is the problem of the *sysadmin* becoming the single point of failure - i.e. it will be really hard for someone else to support a bespoke system that has been cunningly constructed to minimise costs, especially as it may be complex/creative and therefore time-consuming to document fully. And of coure the creaky old desktop hardware remain creaky old hardware.

This is a "Been there, done that, got the T-shirt" comment - I personally have made all the above mistakes (though not with VDI), and in the long run really regretted taking that approach.

If I were in your situation I'd look at replacing the desktops with three year old ex-corporate machines (Windows 7 licensed). If you can get Windows 7 licenses from CTX for a couple of pounds each, you could look for early Core2 machines that are contaminated with Vista licenses. The key thing here will be to get machines that are similar enough that you can support them with a single image. I think you have a fighting chance of finding *free* machines of this era - what you would have to do is upgrade the RAM and if possible the disk drive (which is the main performance bottle-neck in these systems). For older machines I'd also look at replacing the fans.

The standard-image desktop approach works well for us, as we can have a couple of machines on the shelf "ready to roll" so that if a machine dies when I'm not around, it can be swapped for a working one and no-one's work is affected (assuming they have played ball and kept their stuff on the server).

BTW for servers our entire setup is open-source, using DRBD for server-to-server replication (ask if you want more info). Servers for the users are virtualised using KVM, and virtual disks are mirrored by the VM hosts - so the users' servers don't need any funky configuration for data redundancy.

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Think your IT department's parochial? Try selling to SMEs

Mark Honman

Re: Communication

The challenge in scoping a technically complex system is that it is very hard for the business decision maker to understand the proposal. What has worked for me is to prepare 3 proposals - high road, middle road, low road - with a description of how they vary in cost and benefit (finding the "best cheap option" makes for a stimulating challenge).

Then it's up to the leaders to choose an option - and the compromises inherent in the chosen option become their responsibility, not that of the IT guys.

What is a killer (learned the hard way) is to try to do things as cheaply as possible, because that *will* cost time and ultimately need re-doing. However sometimes it is necessary because until the benefit of some new technology is perceived, the funds for a proper implementation will not be forthcoming. Probably what is key here is that the "quick cheap option" must be accompanied by clear written caveats expressed in business terms, e.g. "this system will support at most 10 users and the equipment will need to be replaced in 3 years' time".

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Microsoft tops list of software piracy nailed in UK by FAST

Mark Honman

@Khaptain

This is OT, but I've just been through the pain of reloading my laptop - XP suffered fatal internal disintegration and was bluescreening. So I bit the bullet and installed a Win 8 upgrade. Cue several hours of faffing around with Classic shell etc. OK, finally all working... except for a USB to serial converter for PICAXE programming.

I'm completely with you on the distro confusion, but I followed the herd and went for Mint with MATE - simple install alongside Win8, everything worked out of the box. I've not needed to drop to the command line at any point. Although the intention was to only boot into Linux when wanting to play with the PICAXEs, I haven't bothered to go back to WIndows.

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Barnes & Noble bungs Raspberry Pi-priced Nook on shelves

Mark Honman

Knowing a smidgen more about these things (maybe?)

A few weeks ago we bought a Nook HD for £119 at JL.

As an ereader it is a bit of a loss (I would definitely buy a different product, probably the Kobo one), but the "great enabler" for this device is that it can boot from SD.

The first step was to get the Google apps onto the Nookified Android. A 4GB microsd card is needed - instructions here:

http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=2062613

The result is pretty good, the only problem is that some Play Store apps are listed as not available - e.g. Evernote had to be installed from the B&N shop thing.

However there is an even better plan - get a fast microSD card (e.g. UHS type) and install vanilla Android on it, run the thing from the SD card:

http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=2063968

That's working really well for me, all apps install happily (Evernote and Skitch included) and the device has a nice his-res screen that's bright enough to be usable in sunshine.

As a device it *does* have e-reader type limitations - no cameras, no GPS...

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Got a Windows XP end-of-life plan? Neither does anyone else

Mark Honman

Exactly!

in due course there will be frustration at the reliability (or not) of those solutions and training gaps and the fact that different and incompatible solutions are used in various departments. Some bright spark will say "why don't we hire someone to take charge of this chaos". A couple of hiring cycles and a smidgen of empire building later later and the result will be indistinguishable from the much reviled It dept of old.

And some groaning user will exclaim "there must be a way that involves less red tape"...

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Vinyl sales reach 15 year high, Blighty becomes No. 3 music buyer

Mark Honman

Re: The music industry: @Mark Honman

> On the other hand, the sound quality was dreadful, commercial pressings of the most atrocious quality

You must be a fellow South African, then... one of the big benefits of visiting the UK in the early 1990s was to buy some decent LPs. On the other hand classical LPs were of brilliant quality (N.O.T. pressed in SA, obviously) and any warps were my own fault, really. What used to drive me nuts was end-of-side distortion...

There is the whole quasi-religious thing you describe, and it's hard to even guess at how much that affects the perception of sound quality (or one might put it, the index of overall satisfaction gained from playing an album).

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Mark Honman

Re: The music industry: Still late for their own funeral

Although I'm something of a vinyl luddidite, you still deserve an upvote.

But where are these cheap Chinese styli you speak of? Any self-respecting vluddite will spend as much on a stylus as the rest of the world spends on an iThing, and probably for the same reasons (an elevated life-form has descended to their plane and offers a tangible object thickly encrusted with magic pixie dust).

While like you I'd still tend to buy CDs for convenience and rippability, the weird thing with vinyl is that while objectively speaking it cannot match CD for sound quality, for most types of music the deficiencies of vinyl are less annoying than those of CD.

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First C compiler pops up on Github

Mark Honman

Re: PDP-8 any good?

Don't think so, I worked with PDP-8 derived HP1000s which had a totally different instruction set/register architecture to the PDP-11. Much as I loved the HP1000s, I have to admit that the PDP-11 had a much more elegant architecture.

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Forget wireless power for phones - Korea's doing it for BUSES

Mark Honman

Re: Why under?

The closer the vehicle is to the loop, the more efficient the energy transfer is.

What I want to know is why the electric trolley buses were done away with all those years ago...

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Stanford super runs million-core calculation

Mark Honman

Re: So it's partly the communcations overhead and the synchronosation that's the problem.

You're thinking of Transputers. Which were certainly the right idea for CFD, not so much on account of the architecture but because of the good balance between compute and communication speeds, and especially the very low communication latency. Low latency meant that relatively little time was wasted hanging around at the end of an iteration, waiting for data to arrive from neighbouring processors. But they had their problems too - especially absence of any kind of global/broadcast communication.

I don't know how things have changed since those days, but at that time there was a tension between algorithmic efficiency and parallel processing - the more efficient CFD algorithms coupled cells across the whole domain, which was generally OK to parallelise on a shared-memory system but was no-go on a distributed-memory architecture where less efficient algorithms could be used.

So... real kudos to the guys & gals, both system architects and software developers, who have pulled off the feat of building a system and a real-world application that scale across 1^^6 processing elements.

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My top tip for Microsoft: Stop charging for Windows Phone 8

Mark Honman

Windows Phone 8 is free (beer) already... just about

Due to platform support payments from MS to Nokia, WP licenses for Nokia phones are effectively paid for by Microsoft. I'm not sure how that will change as the number of phones sold by Nokia goes up or down, but as Nokia produces the vast majority of WP phones, the average Windows phone has a free OS.

Once the tablet sales breakdown - Surface vs. the others - becomes available it will be possible to determine whether the average Windows RT tablet also has a free OS (i.e. MS hardware effectively has a free OS, even if it is paid for by internal funny money).

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What Compsci textbooks don't tell you: Real world code sucks

Mark Honman

Re: Comment wisdom

@Gerhard

The 20 lines bit comes from the terminals of old - that's how much you can see at one go (60 lines on a printout page).

I've got to agree with the "wrapper" type of function, hat you've described. I guess my opinion comes from having done a lot of maintenance, and the frustration of following the flow of control in OO code that passes from one inconsequential little method to another. is a maze of twisty little methods, all alike.

On the other hand there were some shockers in the old days, 1000-line Fortran IV routines (don't get me started on common blocks) , and a supervisor who having discovered the Pascal CASE statement considered that it made IF... THEN.. ELSE obsolete.

OO shockers seem to be small, e.g. a simple "pure" function (no state, global references or side effects) that was implemented as a method, and the caller of this 8-line function was expected to instantiate an object of this class, call the method, and then throw the object away.

In fact there's a pattern here... it's so easy when one has discovered something new (COMMON blocks, CASE statements, object-orientation) to unthinkingly use this new shiny (or orgnisatoinally mandated tool/method) to solve every imaginable problem including those that can be more effectively solved the old-fashioned way.

As another commenter said, that is a common factor in poor-quality code.

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Mark Honman

Comment wisdom

It's so long ago that I can't give credit where it is due, but the best approach to commenting that I've found is:

* If you need to comment a line of code, that code is obscure - do it differently. (not always possible, as it may be a toolset restriction) - but line-by-line comments should be exceptional and are there to say "here be dragons"

* every module and routine should have a comment header that explains its purposes, inputs outputs and side-effects, and an easy-to-read outline of the steps that occur in processing

* write the header comments before writing any code

The rationale is that line-by-line comments generally make code harder to read because one can't see the totality of a routine on-screen. On the other hand the header comments are an expression of the programmer's understanding of the requirements and allow one to clarify how the problem is going to be solved before getting into the nuts-and-bolts of language and toolset specifics.

BTW the old rule on function size probably still holds - if it is less than 20 lines, it's probably too small, more than 60 definitely too big (yes I know OO results in lots of dinky methods... but too much of that results in lousy readability as one has to skip from one routine to another to follow the logic).

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Mark Honman

No time to refactor

and it was ever so....

One thing that works for me is to allocate some time for "while you're in there" refactoring when estimating development times. Then there is a bit of buffer when changes need to be made to some particularly manky old piece of code - by the time one has understood it it's not that much extra work to refactor it.

The biggest problems are that (a) I'm an optimist and (b) managers always try to compress the development schedule, so there isn't much in the way of buffer.

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New guide: Bake your own Raspberry Pi Lego-crust cluster

Mark Honman

Got Occam?

Hmm, if every family member gave me a Pi for Xmas that would be a decent start.

from the enquiring minds want to know (and are presently too lazy to read the blog) dept:

* can the graphics part of the Pi processor be used as a floating-point vector processor?

* what is the computation/communication performance ratio?

* Linpack performance?

I guess it will all become clear in time...!

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Windows Phone 8: Microsoft quite literally can't lose

Mark Honman

Re: @Mark H

Android isn't free to OEMs who want to offer the Google stuff - I guess the store is particularly important here.

Probably still cheap compared to the offical price for WP licenses.

What I'm getting at with that is that maybe WP8 is technically better than iOS or Android (as the MS fans on here would have it, but my guess is that the three will be very much of a muchness in terms of quality/stability).

I chose OS/2 anaolgy because, back in the days, OS/2 was technically way ahead of the MS offerings, was well thought through, had the might of IBM (then the 800lb gorilla of the IT world) behind it, and still failed to gain traction in the market because Windows was "good enough" and already there (for a fairly small value of "good", admittedly). I wonder how OS/2 sales compared to Mac, though?

So even if WP8 turns out to be significantly superior to the competition, my guess is that the same combination of "good enough and everyone knows it" and "expensive comfort zone" competitors will not leave any room in the market for it.

But if WP8 is truly based on the traditional Windows kernel I have a horrible feeling that it will suffer from traditional Windows problems.

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Mark Honman

In the case of Nokia, Nokia are paying full price for the WP7 licenses and then getting some kind of "marketing support" from MS that is set up to magically counterbalance the cost of the licenses. So MS can report revenue on WP7 while hiding the subsidy as marketing expenses. (See Nokia financial results for a glimmer of how the deal works).

Win-win for both companies, MS gets shipments & revenue, Nokia gets free software. No wonder it was a no-brainer for Nokia to go for WP7 rather than Android.

A side-thought there - given the history if internal feuding at Nokia, it's very likely that any Nokia Android would have taken a lot longer to get to market that the WP7 phones - the hardware spec of the latter is so locked-down that it leaves no room for turf wars over what the hardware will be and how much of a classic Nokia personality it should have.

Ironically I think this time round WP8 is probably in the spot where OS/2 was in the PC operating system wars, with Android 2.x/4.x in the role of Windows 9x/NT respectively.

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Mozilla shoots down Thunderbird, hatches new release model

Mark Honman
Megaphone

May well be positive if they are first going to put some effort into stabilising it

We have a lot of TB users here, and the main pain points are

* bugs that haven't been fixed for years

* the accursed upgrade treadmill confuses the users

* add-on functionality that really should be core

* the accursed upgrade treadmill breaks add-ons

IMO they should look at integrating the add-ons that provide collaboration functionality (Lightning, the IMAP permissions thing, Folder Account, etc.), fix the bugs, and NOT MESS WITH THE UI. After that, maintenance mode... it's a solved problem, no need to keep turd-polishing.

Ahem, please excuse the little scream of pain there.

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Larry vs Larry: Oracle and Google in courtroom smackdown

Mark Honman

Not forked, re-implemented

More accurately, the re-implementation is Apache's Harmony.

Re-implementation of Java is OK but you can't call it Java (see famous Sun-MS lawsuit).

Nicking other people's source code is wrong - and Oracle did find some test subsystem code that was present in Android distributions. That was removed as soon as it was brought to the Android people's attention, leaving the copyright focus of this case to be the Java API.

By definition a re-implemented API is going to look *very* much like the original (think SysV vs. BSD Unix header files) and it's hard to tell how much may have been copied vs. how much just has to be the same for that API to be useful.

Up til now nobody has thought it worthwhile to sue over APIs, so the rights and wrongs are not clearly established, but every dev who has worked on multiple platforms has probably seen the same basic API ingredients rehashed on each one - so probably not much hope for Oracle except where the APIs in question are uniquely Java-ish and not derived from something else.

Something like the time Apple sued Microsoft and HP over the appearance of Windows 3.1/NewWave - and got off on the basis that Apple had themselves based their UI on Xerox's work.

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Publisher hails CS Lewis 'space trilogy' e-book debut

Mark Honman

Re: Misconceived idea of Lewis' work

It's sci-fi as written by a professor of ancient literature, i.e. quite bookish. The plot of 'Out of the silent planet' is not unlike 'Avatar', i.e. greedy humans go and strip-mine alien planet for its wealth) and similarly has a great deal on how the alien society works.

However the third book, 'That Hideous Strength' is a fantastic read with broad English caricatures - very funny with its observations of human nature and especially that of ladder-climbers in large organisations.

All three of these are definitely written from a Christian worldview.

Of Lewis' novels for adults, 'That Hideous Strength' is probably my favourite, but 'Til we have faces' while quite a difficult read draws one into an other-world (based more on Greek mythology than anything else) which has the greatest emotional impact of any of his books.

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Surprise: Neil Young still hates digital music

Mark Honman

Shannon's theorem applies to continuous signals

The Sampling Theory applies to continuous signals, rather different from the complex shapes of musical notes which have attack and decay - not just a bunch of frequencies, but contained within an 'evelope' shape.

There is also a practical problem with replay of digital audio streams, which is jitter - imperfections in the clock frequency of the digital stream.

Another lesser problem with signals resulting from D->A conversion is the sampling noise at frequencies above 22.1kHz - while inaudible to adults it may affect the performance of equipment that was designed on the assumption that the input signal contains only audible frequencies. Example: some metal-dome tweeters have resonances around 22-25 kHz.

But these three effects pale into insignificance when compared with the destruction wreaked by modern dynamic range compression.

Although the technical performance of CD is better than vinyl, the debate still rages - I think because the shortcomings of vinyl reproduction are less noticeable when concentrating on music. Perhaps because static click are essentially random, and surface noise is concentrated in the lower frequency range and therefore less objectionable.

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BT comes clean on Infinity modem 'upgrade'

Mark Honman

the fuss

the fuss is that up til now BT have not been taking responsibility for the problem or being pro-active about it. In Oct our FTTP modem failed, but we first had to go through a ritual with the ISP (PlusNet) and BT technicians who fiddled with wiring in the DP thus changing an intermittent problem to a hard fault. Then as our phone services are purchased through a 3rd party we have to contact *them* to get BT to send a technician to fix the wiring - after which we were back to an intermittent brandband fault (well more like intermittently working). Eventually we were lucky enough to be assigned a BT technician who was aware of the root cause and simply replaced the modem.

The whole thing took about 3 weeks from start to finish and I've very glad we had additional broadband links to fall back on (supplied by Be). It wasn't the nature of the fault, it was the run-around that was so galling and we are now trialling a bonded Be service as a possible replacement.

Much better for the company and customers to send out a £20 router and save N site visits and unhappy customers.

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NSA constructs hardened Android, unleashes it on world

Mark Honman

Autowipe

Free remote wipe for Android 2.2 onwards. Also provides for wipe on SIM change, wipe on excessive "password" attempts.

As the other poster says, OpenVPN is at least in progress so AFAIK the only missing ingredient is local encryption.

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OCZ refunds punter for dud drive shortly after El Reg steps in

Mark Honman

yes, they can fail that often

out of 3 OCZ Onyx entry-level SSDs, we have one fail (total loss of data), had it replaced under warranty, and then had the replacement fail. The other two have been fine.

The bummer with SSD failures has been that it is a total loss of data, very rare for 'real' disk drive failures.

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Nokia sheds light on latest Lumia

Mark Honman

Or there's the ZTE Skate

Double-fail!

ZTE Skate (aka Orange Monte Carlo) has a nice 4.3 inch screen with an even better (and more useful) resolution of 800x480. Not as fast, of course - but fast enough.

Battery lasts 9 days with wi-fi off. very surprise to see some posters claiming that Android needs regular reboots, app killing, etc... all that is alien in my experience & that of the Mrs (who has a ZTE Blade). I guess that must be astroturfing?

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Laptop display pixel counts to quadruple in 2012

Mark Honman

Good advice!

Another happy punter here - just got an ex-corporate Finkpad with 1920x1200. It's 4 years old, but at £200 who's complaining? ... especially not after having fitted a 60GB SSD.

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Durban failed: Relax, everyone

Mark Honman

actually we flog it

SA does burn a lot of coal, but the best coal we export so that others can burn it... in excess of 60 million tons a year.

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Server virtualisation: How to pick the right model

Mark Honman

On the cheap

We're in the SMB bracket, and use a KVM cluster (using the Proxmox VE distribution).

Direct attached storage is used with 2-way disk replication (DBRD). So with a small number of VM hosts it is possible to get the speed advantage of direct attached disk, and still have live migration.

What we aren't able to do is have a pool of VM hosts that are effectively interchangeable.

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Before 'the cloud' was cool: Virtualising the un-virtualisable

Mark Honman

Not virtualisation, I'm afraid...

The SVSV and BSD syscalls were actually mapped to underlying Aegis calls - so it was really one OS with multiple personalities on the surface. And X was dreadfully inefficient when running in a DM window.

That said, it really was an amazing OS with particularly impressive features like the ability to host diskless clients having different CPU architectures (and hence executable files containing code for 2 different architectures). And the distributed networking stuff... and having 2 or more DM windows open on the same source file, all nicely synchronised...

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Apple updates full desktop Mac line-up

Mark Honman

@Sergie - computational error - reboot programmer

Uhh, the US price when converted to squids is 599*.71 = £420 ish.

So the comparison is between 420 and 434 pre-VAT - not too bad. Just a pity that the pound has fallen from US$0.50! The missing £14 is probably "forward cover", i.e. insurance against the pound getting worse.

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Apple more closed than Microsoft

Mark Honman
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You get what you pay for

Apple is an old-style company that sells vertically integrated systems (like old IBM, DEC, etc.).

Every company wants to "farm" its customers like a bunch of cattle, taking them for milking twice a day. Companies that sell a hardware-software system usually link everything to the hardware.

And it used to be that companies made or lost their reputation on the hardware.

Microsoft has no effective control over PC hardware, so it's important for their business model that there are no effective competitors in the software space... which is why they are so forceful in seeking a monopoly position.

With Xbox you can see that Microsoft employs a vertically integration model when it can - and it would be a lot more representative to compare Mac vs XBox in terms of openness.

The big difference between the two is that while Apple makes overpriced toys, Microsoft makes over-hyped buggy bloatware AND over the years has employed an astonishing number of illegal or at least highly unethical stunts to exclude competitors from the marketplace.

Microsoft tries to prevent other firms from making a business from selling the same kind of thing that they do... Apple tries to prevent others from entering their ecosystem. There's a world of difference.

No, I don't have a Mac (and probably never will) but I regularly recommend them to people who are incapable of being their own system administrator.

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What if computers went back to the '70s too?

Mark Honman

Perkin Elmer?

One of my lecturers once was involved in developing a compiler on Perkin Elmer hardware - not sure whether that was genuinely British or OEM'ed murrican hardware - circa 1983 I'd say.

Though I cut my teeth on HP minis, the VAXed were really very very good.

Need patriotic icons for long-gone computer systems.

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Linux weaktops poised for death by smartphone

Mark Honman

Real life non-geek use

We have a non-geek (but smart) friend who ditched his smartphone in favor of an AA1 which he carries *everywhere*.

The neighbours' kids all want one for Christmas.

And the obligatory IT angle, the geek writing this is a bit clumsy and has put both a Clie PDA and the wife's AA1 to the involuntary drop -from-table-height test - of the two, the AA1 is the one still working.

Give the chipmakers a year and we'll be seeing Pentium-M performance levels from these toys, still at the £200 price point. Sweet... especially if one can has 20" widescreens at home and office to plug into.

For those sufficiently well off, the future is something like that - carry your life around and plug in the usual peripherals wherever you stop. And a Mac Mini with a few terabytes of external storage at home, for doing the media stuff.

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The netbook newbie's guide to Linux

Mark Honman
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Keeping it simple

This emphasis on the command line does a disservice to Linux systems. As an old-timer I usually dive into the command line because it works consistently on just about any kind of Unix system (another big advantage of *nix).

However with the rise of netbooks the friends who just want to do a bit of internetting get the horrors when I explain the quick way of doing things.

So, any takers on how to do useful stuff on a netbook without command-line magic?

Here is the first step to AA1 bliss without the command-line

hit Alt-F2 to get a dialog in which you can specify the program you want to run.

Type xfce-setting-show and press Enter

Click on the Display icon and on the Advanced tab (I think... our AA1 has a bat flattery) tick "Show root menu on right-click".

You can now right-click on the AA1's desktop to get a menu of all installed programs.

From the System submenu, there is a Package Manager GUI that can be used to download and install programs.

Newly installed programs can be accessed from the right-click menu. Putting programs in the Acer menu is text editor stuff, unfortunately.

Other niggles with the article...

so what about no root login... that's so 20th century. Open a terminal window and type "sudo su" and the world's your ostrich.

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VMware renders multitasking OSes redundant

Mark Honman

@jacqui

SR10... sorry to say much as I love Apollos I never noticed a virtualization layer in there. But I've ready to be educated as there are so many technologies touted as "new" that I first encountered in the Apollo OS.

One I'm still waiting for someone to reinvent is the "just hook the new machine up to the network and it talks to all the others" idea.

And not to subvert the discussion into a totally Apollo-head direction:

* Which is the better, SR9.7 or 10.4?

* Anyone here seen the PA-RISC port of Domain/OS in operation?

(why is there no Apollo icon here?)

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Mark Honman

No guest OS??

Well, that would mean that all resource management would be handled by VMware... in which case it wouldn't be significantly different to a normal OS - especially as the guests would need some ways to communicate and share data.

In which case we would want a hypervisor to run multiple instances of VMware on the same hardware.

The other fallacy with this idea is that most of the big-beastie apps are either multithreaded or multiprogrammed - so inherently require some sort of task management. Not to mention the cloud of helper apps that usually accompany such a beastie - app specific data loading, backup, etc.

Actually it's funny to see this band-aid being applied to the axe wound of Windows one-app-per-server mentality. That was certainly necessary in the days of Windows NT, but the sheer number of Windows boxes and accompanying CALs meant that at the end of the day the cost was similar to the single AS400/HP3000/Unix box it was supposed to replace.

So, in this modern day and age, is it still not possible to configure a Windows server to reliably fulfil more than one task? I ask this because we are happily running a linux box as a combined file/email/intranet server and we all know that proprietary software is supposed to be better.

I must admit that there are open-source apps out there which assume that they have a machine to themselves, or just take everything over anyway (Zimbra I'm looking at *you*). But that's the app rather than the platform.

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Beware the innocent systems 'health check'

Mark Honman

you win some, you lose some

Was part of a team developing an in-house replacement for a wonky custom-built MES system. A "new MBA" was hired to lead the financial systems guys... and soon started poking his nose in everywhere. Didn't have a clue about technology, his rule of thumb was "if a corporation is big, their technology must be good". So he set about convincing the IT director that Windows was the way forward (this is in the days of NT 3.1/3.5).

Brought in some so-called consultant to look at everything and then say that "NT can do it". What a waste of productive time! This guy wasn't from the firm's regular fleet of consultants - he was cherry-picked to give the answers desired by mr "new MBA".

Fortunately the sotware we were doing was going to use existing hardware (HP unix boxes) - so just the operator stations went onto NT. Except they didn't - it couldn't cope with running Oracle Forms and an X server and two screens all at the same time.

So, often consultants are brought in to whitewash management's preconceptions.

There are also a lot of consultants that are a walking health risk - the dodginess of the system we were replacing could be directly traced to the inaccurate and incomplete specifications produced by consultants from a well known accounting firm that sounds like sanitaryware.

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