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* Posts by David Given

292 posts • joined 4 Aug 2008

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Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody

David Given

Re: I'm old - as I've never heard of him.

Absolutely. I've done NaNoWriMo four times. Actually got a completed and terribly bad novel out of it, which is now up on my website. (The other three times I completed the word count but didn't actually finish the story; I must get round to doing so as they're actually not too bad.)

I can strongly recommend it. As Terry Pratchett said, writing is the most fun you can have on your own, and the feeling of accomplishment after you're finished and look back at what you've achieved is awesome. See http://nanowrimo.org.

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It's not always about you: Why the Apple Watch is all about China

David Given

Re: Please explain

...I do wonder sometimes how having a hundred thousand ideograms in your head affects your worldview. Because you'll start to see meaning in random noise in the environment; chances are a handful of sticks dropped on the floor will look enough like an ideogram you know to be readable. (Pretty sure there are forms of divination that do just that.)

Even in English, I will occasionally find a word jumping into my head, and then a careful search of the environment will reveal the word written somewhere; my eye fell on it and I unconsciously read it.

Of course, finding out is easy enough; all I need to do is to learn Mandarin and memorise a few tens of thousands of ideograms. Simple, really.

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Proprietary OS source code LEAKED to web – from 40 years ago

David Given

Well worth looking at

CP/M is a surprisingly decent operating system --- it's a miracle of minimalism: the absolute smallest number of features required to do a decent abstraction over the hardware, and not a single one more.

On CP/M 2, the OS proper, the BDOS, was 3kB, and provided some I/O streams, a filesystem, and... nothing else (see http://www.gaby.de/cpm/manuals/archive/cpm22htm/ch5.htm). The command shell, the CCP, was another 2kB and could be overwritten if applications needed the RAM. These talked to the underlying hardware via the BIOS, typically another 2kB. On a 64kB system this meant apps got about 59kB of available RAM.

And these modules all talked to each other via standard, platform-independent interfaces. The CCP and BDOS supplied in binary form by Digital Research; the BIOS you could write yourself (and they provided all the tooling, docs and a sample BIOS for you). The BIOS interface was ludicrously tiny (see http://www.gaby.de/cpm/manuals/archive/cpm22htm/ch6.htm#Section_6.6) and porting was straightforward, particularly as the hardware requirements were so minimal --- you didn't even need interrupts!

It's worth playing with. There's still a wealth of ultra-minimal software out there, including actual C compilers (provided you like K&R). You can actually get proper work done on it, including internet access.

The later versions supported bank switching, network file systems, multiple concurrent users (yes, with time slicing!) and stuff like that, but to my mind they don't have the beautiful simplicity of CP/M 2.

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Inateck BP2001 Bluetooth speaker: The metalhead sysadmin's choice? Not exactly

David Given

No, that's 'si reprehendis, deinde Ricardum es'.

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Weekend reads: Douglas Adams' bio in The Frood, The Bone Clocks and Harry Partch, Hobo Composer

David Given

And Another Thing?

...has anyone actually read it? What's it like?

My only encounter with it was three minutes of it being read on Radio 4. It totally failed to grab me and I found myself simply not caring. Given that as a child I more or less read the books weekly and could recite them on demand, I found this a bit sad. Is it worth trying?

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Your chance to WIN the WORLD'S ONLY HANDHELD ZX SPECTRUM

David Given

Re: In order to stand a chance at winning

IIUIC, the reason why this kind of competition always asks really noddy questions is because then it's a quiz rather than a lottery; lotteries are regulated by law, quizes aren't.

I suspect that if they *didn't* check you'd answered them correctly then they might have trouble explaining to The Man that this is in fact a test of skill and not simply gambling. But that's assuming that the law makes sense (which is in itself a very dubious assumption).

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Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen

David Given

Re: Philae will make a seven hour descent before slowing to "walking speed"

Awesome --- thanks! That gives me the magic Google keywords to find this paper:

http://issfd.org/ISSFD_2012/ISSFD23_GC_2.pdf

So the lander ejection mechanism imparts a dV of between .05 and .5 m/s; then there's a backup spring which provides a fixed dV of .17 m/s; the ADS has a maximum dV of 1.85 m/s, of which they're going to use up to 1 m/s for a course correction during descent and the rest to hold the vehicle down while the anchors bite. That all sounds quite reasonable.

The paper discusses descent strategies, BTW, and is rather interesting.

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David Given
Boffin

Re: Philae will make a seven hour descent before slowing to "walking speed"

There must be some way to deorbit it. I haven't seen any mention of how they're going to do this. The only real options are either (a) use a small engine on Philae itself, possibly a single-shot solid rocket; or (b) use Rosetta's main engine to do it.

For option (a), I *have* seen a reference that there's a small engine on Philae to hold it down while the screws dig in; but that was on a page talking about Lego.

Option (b) would be pretty ballsy, as what you basically end up having to do is to deorbit Rosetta, detach Philae, and then boost Rosetta back into orbit again. If the second boost fails, for whatever reason, then Rosetta will land alongside Philae, and I doubt it's designed to do that.

Admittedly, orbital velocity is only about 1 m/s, so it's not much of a burn.

Hm. Maybe they're using option (c): eject Philae with a big spring. Be nice to have some actual information...

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Spin doctors crack 'impossible' asteroid hurtling towards Earth

David Given

Re: The Only Rubble Pile is Between Astronomers' Ears

Electric Universe? Wow, I remember those posts from Usenet! Is it still David Talbott behind it? Is it still based on Velikovskyism, where most human catastrophes are caused by close passes of other planets by Earth? Have they come up with a plausible theory of how where the energy comes from for the dV to change a planet's course yet?

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Philip K Dick 'Nazi alternate history' story made into TV series

David Given

Re: Prometheus wasn't a bad film at all. Stop whining.

Prometheus is a pile of really great effects, sets, scenes and some reasonable acting all desperately searching for a plot which makes sense.

This is the best summary of Prometheus I've seen yet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-x1YuvUQFJ0

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You 'posted' a 'letter' with Outlook... No, NO, that's the MONITOR

David Given

Re: Regarding the terminology problems...

Not hardly; I grew up in the 8-bit era with, yes, 5.25" floppy discs.

Which were square.

And stopped working if you bent them.

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David Given

Regarding the terminology problems...

...I do think that as a member of an industry which has things called 'floppy discs' which don't bend and are square, we do really have only ourselves to blame.

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Today's bugs have BRANDS? Be still my bleeding heart [logo]

David Given

Bring back Ada

After Heartbleed I found myself reading up on Ada --- the original safe programming language. And you know what? It's *really nice*, and I say this as an old-school C hacker. It compiles into real machine code, it's suitable for writing both the really low-level stuff (you can specify the exact bit layout of structures, for example) as well as the high-level stuff (generics and object-oriented code support on a par with C++'s); it's got a beautiful concurrency model that makes juggling threads not just safe but *really easy*; it's got robust support for programming by contract --- preconditions, postconditions etc; and on top of all this it's fast: CLBG shows it to be about equivalent to C++ performance-wise. It even has pointers! But the type system makes them impossible to misuse...

I did a writeup: http://cowlark.com/2014-04-27-ada

I'm becoming increasingly convinced that there is simply *no excuse* for writing stuff in C (and C++) any more. There's just better ways to do it these days.

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US-Russia Soyuz 'nauts STUCK IN SPACE after ISS dock fail

David Given

Re: Huh?

Both. The capsule/on-orbit section is the Soyuz-TMA. The launch vehicle is a Soyuz-FG. Yes, confusing name overloading FTW.

The unmanned Progress supply drones usually launch on top of a Soyuz-U launch vehicle, just to make life even more interesting (although I see that they've launched at least some on a Soyuz-FG).

If you care, there's tonnes of borderline-obsessive information on Wikipedia.

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Star Wars movie to start shooting in UK this summer

David Given

Disco Lando? Your wish is my command...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lJQ5PmmleQ

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Curiosity gets an OS upgrade, plans new round of selfies

David Given

But not *too* real.

May 25 23:07:07 curiosity powerd: device unreachable

May 25 23:07:08 curiosity powerd: Pu on fire

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Bizarre Tolkien-inspired GCHQ Xmas card CAN'T BE READ by us PLEBS

David Given

That picture's pretty old

...feeding it into Google Image Search shows it seems to have originated from the New Zealand magazine The Listener, sometime in July. The image search may be here: http://tinyurl.com/lsllmkf

Unfortunately the article is paywalled, but here's another reference to the image from August:

http://humanrightsfoundation.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/twenty-seconds/

So yeah, I reckon that card's about as genuine as a chocolate fiver. Mmm, chocolate money...

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Asteroid-hunting beauty AWAKENS, takes cheeky snaps of neighbours

David Given

Running a spacecraft costs quite a lot of money: you need to assemble a team of flight engineers to actually make the thing go, plus a team of scientists to actually do something useful with it, plus equipment for both; and you also have to book and pay for time on the Deep Space Network to actually communicate with the satellite.

The DSN is heavily overbooked and if a satellite has completed its primary mission and therefore, in the eyes of the funders, paid for itself it's not uncommon to hibernate it so as to free up time and resources to manage another satellite.

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El Reg's contraptions confessional no.2: Tablet PC, CRT screen and more

David Given

Where are the tiny monitors?

There's a lot to be said for having a small monitor on a shelf somewhere for general use --- syslog output, portable console, wiring up to a cheapo composite spycam for spying on the neighbours... but they're surprisingly expensive. A 7" will typically cost you about half again as much as a full sized desktop monitor, and while it's possible to get 4" monitors for about 20 quid they're typically 320x240 composite and too small to read text on.

I suppose it's all about economies of scale, and that there are more desktop LCD panels shifted than 7" panels and so the desktop panels are cheaper. But it still makes me cross that I can buy a 7" LCD panel with a satnav bolted on the back for less than I can buy a 7" LCD panel with VGA input.

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David Given

Re: Model M

The only trouble with the Model M is that if you use one in an office environment, you do eventually run the risk of being beaten to death with your own keyboard --- they're not quiet. I have heard it's possible to get variants that don't have the Incrediclicky(TM) sound, but I don't know if they're any good.

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Delia and the Doctor: How to cook up a tune for a Time Lord

David Given

Check out _White Noise_

...which is a fantastic album, and most of it's on Youtube. My favourite track is _Firebird_, which is a brilliant mixture of dated and undateable:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMWg92GGI-g

(Music video not original.)

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What a plot of nonsense: Ten Master master plan FAILS

David Given

The Mark of the Rani?

Please tell me we haven't skipped over the Master's ultimate least great moment, which is when he gets kneed in the groin by the Rani? (Who, for my money, is a much more interesting antagonist than the Master --- she's not evil, just amoral. And her total lack of patience for the Master's moustache-twirling is a joy to behold.)

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Our MOM's LATEST EGGS: 'Looking GOOD', chuckle Indian space boffins

David Given

...you know, I *so* want an orbital schematic app of the solar system (er, Sol System, that is) which uses the same UI as the KSP map view. Complete with live updates. It's a really nice way to see where the various spacecraft really are, rather than just being 'somewhere in space'.

It's probably not very hard to do. WebGL, plus the Heavens Above database of orbital elements? Hmm...

Oh crap, I feel a project coming on.

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ULTIMATE ELECTRIC driving machine? Yes, it’s the BMW i3 e-car

David Given

Re: Finally an electric car I may want...

...and the power controller. A 125kW electric motor power controller doesn't come cheap --- a quick Google shows one for £9000. I once talked to a guy who did aftermarket conversions of cars; rip out the IC engine, install batteries and an electric transmission. He said that you typically paid 1/3 each for the batteries, motor, and power controller. That adds up to about £30k for this thing, which makes the price not unreasonable for what you get.

Not that I'm willing to pay it, mind, although this thing does tick all my electric car want boxes. I think it looks great, too.

Would be really interested to rent one, though.

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Right royal rumpus over remote-control 'RoboRoach'

David Given

Cockroaches have a long and proud history...

...of being used in scientific experimentation; their key value being that nobody really cares about them.

For example, four Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches were launched on Bigelow Aerospace's inflatable space station prototype:

http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060807/full/news060807-7.html

Turns out they can survive vacuum for short periods of time, and in low pressure environments will actively pump air into their abdomens, causing them to swell up to one and a half times normal size. Luckily I haven't found any pictures.

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Classic telly FX tech: How the Tardis flew before the CGI era

David Given

Re: BTW there was other stuff, too

...the globe in the last shot reminds me of the old BBC1 ident, which showed a spinning globe against a distorted map moving in sync. This was generated with the following wonderful piece of lateral thinking:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/articledan/4882377578/

That's the best shot of the kit I could find, but there's more info here:

http://www2.tv-ark.org.uk/bbcone/1974_idents.html

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David Given

Re: Faking CGI

Hell, just go watch the original Tron. The CGI's okay, but the really stylish and striking scenes were just colourised black-and-white shots of the actors superimposed on traditional animation and hand-coloured. Although I wouldn't exactly call it easy --- apparently it was hideously labour-intensive.

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David Given

Re: Trial of a Timelord Opening Shot

It's a really nice shot, yes --- and a very effective opener for an ambitious story that I was thought deserved better than it got --- but those stars have always bugged me. I assume that they were *supposed* to look like that, given the care and attention that shot got, but I don't know why...

I wonder what happened to the space station model?

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Ten top stories from Classic Doctor Who

David Given

The funniest moment in 26 years

People may be amused by this brilliant clip from _City of Death_:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYSj3rJGO4I

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Facebook fans fuel FAGGOT FURY firestorm

David Given

Re: Could've Been Worse

I actually just spotted 'em at the supermarket (Tesco's deli counter, 35p each; not Brains', either). I'm actually quite tempted, if I can figure out what to do with them. A lot of the weird old British traditional food can be rather good cooked well.

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Indestructible, badass rootkit BadBIOS: Is this tech world's Loch Ness Monster? VOTE NOW

David Given

Re: a guy who's run Linux on a hard drive motherboard:

Sorry, I don't follow you. He has a ucLinux kernel running on the ARM microcontroller on the HDD board (see the video). That's running Linux on the HDD, surely?

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David Given

Reprogramming USB stick flash firmware?

Does anyone have a reference for how to do this? It's something I've been interested in doing for ages --- a flash microcontroller is typically an ARM SOC, and programming them should be easy. But I've never actually found anyone who's done it. It'd be a very interesting platform to play with.

(It's not as ludicrous as it sounds. Here's a guy who's run Linux on a Western Digital hard drive motherboard:

http://spritesmods.com/?art=hddhack&page=1

)

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Fed up with Windows? Linux too easy? Get weird, go ALTERNATIVE

David Given

Re: Haiku's well worth looking at...

You're quite right. Shows how long it's been since I've looked at Ubuntu.

Haiku did it first, though!

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David Given

Re: Haiku's well worth looking at...

Yeah, but Linux and Windows both require *different* images for booting off CD and from USB. The Haiku image can be dd'd to a USB stick or burnt to a CD and it works on either. I haven't seen that for Linux yet.

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David Given

Haiku's well worth looking at...

...if you're interested in alternative operating systems. Won't the article doesn't mention is that it's almost completely Posix compliant; fire up a terminal window and it's bash, and your configure scripts run, and stuff Just Works. There's basic graphical acceleration which makes the GUI nippy, and it's really lightweight, much more so than Linux, making it an excellent way of turning an old laptop into a box for doing ssh from. Definitely worth a look. The installation image can be burnt to CD or booted from a USB stick, which is a cunning trick I haven't seen elsewhere.

That's not to say it's perfect: the underlying syscall architecture is in C++ and dates from the days before C++ ABI standards, so there's quite a bit of mess involved in using a compiler more recent than gcc 2.95; the wireless system is still under construction, and while you can get WPA working on it, I never have; and there are a number of semi-obscure kernel bugs that are still being looked at. (There's a reason why the website firmly calls it an alpha.)

But unlike a number of these alternative OSes, there's an active developer community and even some people who are *paid* to work on it!

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SR-71 Blackbird follow-up: A new TERRIFYING Mach 6 spy-drone bomber

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Fiery bits of Euro satellite to rain down on Earth this weekend

David Given
Thumb Up

It's got wings!

The GOCE satellite actually orbits within the atmosphere --- it uses its solar panels as wings for lift, and an ion engine to counter drag. The wikipedia page has an awesome picture:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:GOCE.jpg

So I suppose technically it's an aircraft (although now the engine's out of fuel, more of a glider).

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Need an internet antidote? Try magic mushrooms

David Given

Not so magic mushrooms

The school where I grew up (long story) was in the country in Perthshire; its playing fields were apparently reckoned to be one the the best sources in Scotland for magic mushrooms. During the season there used to be all sorts of weird people lurking in the undergrowth, not all of them pupils.

Eventually the school started patrolling the place with big dogs to try and keep them out. Yeah, that was... strange.

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Not so Saucy after all: Ubuntu reveals Mirless Salamander... and what, no Britney?

David Given

Re: @ David Given - @ Gunnar Wolf - At loss understanding Ubuntu

@ Gunnar Wolf

Okay, now try running an application *you don't know the name of*.

Being able to launch a named application quickly is *not* the same thing as good application discoverability.

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David Given

Re: @ Gunnar Wolf - At loss understanding Ubuntu

I dunno. I had to consult online help to just find the *applications menu* (it's an uncategorised list folded away between unrelated items in the dash). That doesn't seem intuitive to me!

The problem I have with Unity is that it seems to be carefully optimised for use cases which I never want to do, and counter-optimised for the uses cases which I do want to do. Want to run more than one xterm at a time? Want focus-follows-mouse? Want to be able to actually find out what applications are installed? Unity does not make it easy to do any of these, which means it's not easy for me to use.

The only thing I use Ubuntu for these days is a quick and easy way to get the configuration nightmare which is PolicyKit and NetworkManager working --- and even then, I use it with awesome.

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'Microsoft Word is a tyrant of the imagination'

David Given

Re: Mircosoft makes 'Productivity Software' sound like an xymoron

Don't most Excel users work in cubicles?

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Japanese pussies slurp 'meow meow' sex wine

David Given

So basically what you're saying is...

...nyan nyan is snoo snoo?

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All cool kids' phones run ALTERNATIVE alternative custom Android ROM

David Given

It's better than most manufacturer crap

In terms of general code quality and ease of use, it's very much:

Vanilla Google > Cyanogen > ...long gap here... > anything provided by a manufacturer, such as Samsung

I've used Cyanogen very happily on rooted devices, and would do so again. It's so much better than HTC or Samsung's bastardised Androids. Friend put Cyanogen on his HTC Desire and ended up with 30% better battery life.

But I'd much rather have the closed, locked-down Android from Google. (I'm very happy with my Nexus 4.)

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Leaping SpaceX GRASSHOPPER ROCKET jumps 2,500ft, lands safely

David Given

Re: *scratching head*

The last Falcon 9 launch did some first stage tests to check out exactly this. (The first stage started to spin longitudinally, which centrifuged the fuel away from the inlets at the bottom of the tanks, and the engines went out. They're working on it.)

It's also worth pointing out that:

(a) the F9 first stage carries extra fuel *anyway*, in order to compensate if an engine dies on launch --- this happened on a previous flight. So a landable first stage doesn't need more fuel. It just lands on the safety margin left in the tank. If you end up using this safety margin in launch then you don't get to recover the first stage. No big deal.

(b) falling through air soaks up an enormous amount of velocity. Instead of having to decelerate from 7000 km/h at mach 6, you let the air do it for you; when you get close to the ground you're only moving at a few hundred km/h. This saves an incredible amount of fuel.

Regarding (b), go get the eval copy of Kerbal Space Program and try it out for yourself.

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David Given

Re: Awesome soundtrack

I actually found it a little disconcerting the way the sound synced up with the action --- sound is *slow*, dammit, and takes a long time to get from the ground to the camera. I think that's one of the things that contributes to that wonderful air of unreality to the whole video.

I know why they did it, of course. I'm pretty sure the sound was recorded on the ground, otherwise mostly all you'd hear would be hexacopter drone. (At least, up until that scarily close fly-past.)

Do you think we could get them to rerecord it from a hot air balloon? They're quiet.

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Down with Unicode! Why 16 bits per character is a right pain in the ASCII

David Given

Re: Good idea

...just tried to post something with astral plane characters and got back 'The post contains some characters we can't support'. MySQL FTW!

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David Given

Re: Good idea

Back in 2009 I posted a comment to the Reg containing astral plane characters (code points with a value above 0xffff). I got back an apologetic email saying that I'd broken their database and they'd had to remove them from the comment.

Some time later I found a bug in Thunderbird's treatment of astral plane characters. I tried to file a bug. Then I had to file a bug on Bugzilla complaining that it didn't handle astral plane characters properly... which was quite hard, as Bugzilla's bug tracker is also Bugzilla.

(All of these stem from the same underlying problem, which is MySQL assuming 16-bit Unicode. This is why 16-bit Unicode must die. MySQL too, of course.)

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The Vulture 2: What paintjob should we put on our soaraway spaceplane?

David Given

There is only one possible choice

Checkerboard red and white on the body, solid red on the wings.

http://www.torpedo-emscher.de/wr/union/rakete/img/tintin_rocket10_.jpg

You know it makes sense. (And it's nice high visibility when the inevitable treetop search happens, too.)

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CERN releases retro 'Line Mode' browser

David Given

Markov Chain text generation has improved a lot, but it's still not very convincing, is it?

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Here at last, our 3D beauty: Vulture 2 spaceplane flies in

David Given

Where did the design come from?

...because it's a rather unusual shape for a plane; fairly short wings, the big winglet things on the tips, big canards, and lots of straight edges rather than curves. Was any simulation modelling done, and if so, how well does it fly? Decent flight characteristics through such a wide range of air speeds and altitudes sounds like a challenge.

(Disappointingly, the shape, while stylish, is also rather unfriendly to simulating with Kerbal Space Program...)

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