* Posts by David Given

322 posts • joined 4 Aug 2008

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'Utterly unusable' MS Word dumped by SciFi author Charles Stross

David Given

Re: I admit, I am Word Processor inept.

The biggest rule is that writing and layout are different steps of the process, and need to happen at different times. If you try to build the layout while you're entering the text you'll keep fiddling with the layout as your requirements change, and both the layout and the writing will suffer.

Ideally you should write your text in as simple an editor as you can manage which still supports all the features you need, then once it's done (and you've done the first draft proofreading and editing) you import it into a proper DTP app and do the layout all in one go. That way you know how many levels of heading you have, how big your chapters are, whether you have sidebar boxes, etc, etc.

Now the inevitable plug:

<plug type="shameless"> I wrote a word processor specifically for doing stage 1 in; it's called WordGrinder: http://wordgrinder.sourceforge.net/ It supports plain text with bold, italic and underline; a small handful of non-configurable paragraph styles; it imports and exports most standard formats, including HTML and ODT. It runs on Windows, OSX (but you'll have to build it yourself), and Linux (it's in Debian). I've written about 150k words on it. It's small and relatively efficient and it gets the hell out of your way and lets you get some work done --- you can configure it to give you a completely black screen with your text on it and *nothing else*. </plug>

Or if you want to spend money, use Scrivener.

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David Given

Re: well that might be OK as an amateur

...that does not make me feel better about open source word processors.

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Raspberry Pi, meet face: You're probably NOT Blighty's biggest PC maker!

David Given

Re: Archimedes

I spent a while trawling through the RISC OS kernel, and:

(a) the GUI, user facing front end, CLI, module system, etc --- sheer brilliance; consistent, orthogonal, working.

(b) the underlying OS framework and kernel: KILL IT WITH FIRE.

As an OS it's awful. All the problems of a microkernel OS *plus* all the problems of a monolithic OS *plus* all the problems of a protected memory OS *plus* all the problems of an unprotected OS, etc. The system APIs have grown organically and are weird and inconsistent and full of duplicate, but slightly different, functionality. The bottom page of each process is writeable solely to allow one or two system flags at hard coded addresses (although this may have been fixed after I complained). The main system memory allocator, of which there are several, has a huge amount of code whose purpose is to grope up the stack to find out whether the allocation routine is being called reentrantly, and if so, it follows a different code path. The purpose of this? To allow memory allocation from interrupt routines!

*breathes*

OTOH this huge pile of hacks (with no threading or preemptive multitasking, mind) does actually run really well on the Pi, and I deeply admire the people who've made it done so. I would encourage you to think carefully if you ever find yourself wanting to use it for anything, though.

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David Given

Re: Amstrad

Nooooo!

Or rather, yeeeess, the PCW-16 *was* complete garbage, but that was because of the crappy software. Underneath it was a 16MHz Z80 with 1MB RAM and 1MB flash (in 1995!) and it would have run CP/M and Locoscript beautifully.

It seems that Alan Cox has just aquired one, so we may get a Fuzix port at some point...

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BLOOD STAR of the NEANDERTHALS passed close to our Sun

David Given

I couldn't find it in Space Engine, but I did find this picturesque red dwarf binary near where it should be:

http://i.imgur.com/NQGxrg3.jpg

(The planet and its moon are orbiting the bigger star on the left; the smaller star is on the right. There's also a bunch of planets orbiting the pair way further out which are too dark to take good pictures of.)

It is, alas, wholly imaginary, and is procedurally generated.

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David Given

Re: New BBC Program: MEGA TSUNAMI is coming by Passing Suns

If you mean Patrick Moore, I hope he's no longer hosting the programme, given that he died in 2012.

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David Given

Re: Timely...

I think you'll find that a chap called Herbert Wells can claim prior art on that, with his 1897 story _The Star_:

https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/wells/hg/star/

Thanks for prompting me to reread it. (It's quite short, only about 4500 words.) Even 118 years later it's got surprising power, and it's scientifically not bad either, even by today's standards.

(I was going to add that the body in question is too small to be a real star, but a closer reading of the story shows that Wells knows this quite well --- before the collision with Neptune it's not luminous. A dark gas giant from the Oort cloud, maybe? Of course, what Wells *doesn't* say is that whatever it is is probably now on a highly elliptic orbit taking it into the inner solar system, and another Earth interception is likely, although not for a while. At least it's going to threaten the Martians as well. Serves them right, the smug gits.)

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El Reg's plucky Playmonaut eyes suborbital rocket shot

David Given

Re: You mean I can build an open source rocket to hit targets several miles away? Cool!

Frankly, if you can get your missile into low orbit, there are *way* more profitable things you can do than drop them on people.

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In praise of China’s CROONING censors: Company songs NOW!

David Given

Not just songs

Back when, the startup I worked for got briefly involved with Amiga in its Gateway incarnation, at which point a bunch of us got copies of the Amiga *album*.

Luckily, it hasn't been uploaded to Youtube, but unluckily, here's a video of the main song (lyrics: "Rising up / Like a phoenix / From his sleep // Coming out / From the darkness / And the deep // etc") being performed 'live' at a conference somewhere. With dancers. And a rather small, utterly bemused audience not dancing to it.

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

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First look: Ordnance Survey lifts kimono on next-gen map app

David Given

Maverick FTW

Free Android app with some nice features and no nagware which supports map tiles from a couple of dozen different sources --- including the Ordnance Survey. It switches seamlessly between 1:50000 and 1:25000. I mainly use it for the OS maps when in the UK and the OpenStreetmap maps outside. (Unfortunately it doesn't know about the Swiss mapping service maps, which is where I now live.)

Finding the OS map tiles is a bit fiddly; the UI's not great in that area. But once you've set it up you can switch between map sources with a couple of taps.

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Doomsday Clock says 3 MINUTES to MIDNIGHT. Again

David Given

Re: Pete2 All those nukes...

Oo. Got a link? I'd be fascinated to know more.

I've always wondered whether *anyone* has done a proper end-to-end test of a nuclear tipped ICBM. (Probably not.) If nuclear war ever broke out, and it turns out that design flaws in the missiles on all the different sides meant they all failed to work, then it would be hilarious. Also, somewhat of a relief.

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Hola HoloLens: Reg man gets face time with Microsoft's holographic headset

David Given

Re: Hell Officially Froze over for me on the 21st of January 2015...

Me, I've always preferred Gehm's Corollary:

"Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced."

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Come and Twiddle Tek Gear's one handed keyboard

David Given

Re: Old age

For me, that posture's the natural curl of the hand in its relaxed position, or when holding the shaft of my joystick[*].

I've been looking for a chording keyboard for ages, ever since seeing an advert for the Quinkey in 1984 (http://www.naec.org.uk/artefacts/hardware/quinkey); I'm very conscious that my entire income is dependent on my ability to fend off RSI, and I'd love a text entry mode which allows me to rest one hand. But not 175 pounds looking.

[*] You're welcome to whatever mental image you like here, but the one *I'm* talking about is my Logitech Wingman flight stick. WHICH I USE TO PLAY KSP WITH, GODDAMMIT.

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SCREW you, GLASSHOLES! Microsoft unveils HoloLens

David Given

Re: Microsoft usually does..

Yeah, Microsoft's my go-to name for peripherals (he says, typing this into a Microsoft Internet Keyboard with a Microsoft travel mouse beside it). (No. I use Linux.)

My Microsoft Internet Keyboard is years old. I use it a lot and it's shown no signs of wearing out --- even the keycaps are barely worn. Plus it's got some great design; undo a couple of screws on the underside and the entire top shell lifts off, keycaps included; you don't even have to unplug it, as all the electrical parts are in the base section.

...and then you put it in the dishwasher. Cleans all the gunk off the keys like a beaut. The keys unclip, too, and there are little troughs round each one to protect the electronics from coffee spills.

It's a rubber-dome action rather than real keyswitches, but frankly I've never been that taken with keyswitches and I'm perfectly happy the way it is. It'd be nice if the internal USB hub was better than USB 1 so I could plug USB keys into it, but I think that USB 1 was all there was when it came out.

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Microsoft has made excellent software, you pack of fibbers

David Given

Microsoft's good software

Word 5 for DOS was pretty decent, too.

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SpaceX six days from historic rocket landing attempt

David Given

Re: Why land at sea?

Bear in mind that the first stage isn't making orbit --- it's strictly suborbital, with a fairly low apoapsis (although I haven't been able to find the exact figure). Its ability to manoeuvre is limited, basically being a falling metal can aimed about 400km east of the launch site.

I'd say that the most likely reason for using a barge is that's the only way to get a landing site in about the right place. Although I do see that some of the Bahamas are very roughly at the right range, for launches to the south-east. Watch out for SpaceX land acquisitions...

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Purple glistening plasma, you say? Orion plummets back to Earth

David Given

Re: I'm curious

Getting from a Mars->Earth transfer orbit into Earth orbit would use loads of fuel, which you'll need to haul all the way to Mars and back; plus it's another complex manoeuvre in an already complex mission profile. (It's possible to reduce fuel requirements by aerobraking the entire vehicle in Earth's atmosphere --- that way you just need a small amount of fuel to circularise your orbit once you've been captured --- but that's even more hairy.)

Given that you're not going to be reusing the Mars transfer vehicle anyway (it'll be several years old and rather beaten up), you might as well just dump it in the atmosphere and land the crew in a capsule. That way no braking is required --- your transfer orbit just dives straight into the atmosphere.

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Sonic BOOM: 10 blast-tastic soundbars

David Given

Re: £800 for a SOUNDBAR!

Possibly the explosions, screaming , fires and general mayhem when little Bobby pushes a knitting needle through the grille?

I agree they sounded good though - mainly due to being huge and flat and simple, not needing clever trickery to pack them small.

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BORGED! Expat moves from New Zealand to Norway to be acquired by Cisco

David Given

Re: Don't go if you like beer

My guidebook said that there is a cultural drinking problem, even more so than the UK; plus a marginalised indigenous population (I was really astonished to see homeless people in Tromsø). The combination is problematic. I don't blame them for taxing the hell out of it.

Incidentally, it's also the only place I've ever found zero-alcohol beer that was worth drinking. Also cheaper than soda.

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David Given

Don't go if you like beer

...because it's scary expensive. We're talking twenty quid for a six-pack of beer at the supermarket. And when I say beer, I mean Heineken. Drinkable beer is extra!

I was on holiday there earlier this year; I went to Tromsø to see the midnight sun, and had a great time. The scenery is fantastic, the people I met were friendly (although I wanted to see empty places, so I wasn't socialising much), the hill walking is great, if a little surreal --- I walked up the local mountain and about 900m up was trudging through the snow in shorts and a T-shirt and when i was passed a family with a six year old bounding up the mountainside, shortly followed by a couple of women in bikini tops --- and there's plenty of it. But the prices are terrifying. I got an Airbnb apartment which was astonishingly reasonably priced, but even self catering and buying from the local supermarket, the prices made me cringe.

...and I'm an expat living in Zürich. Yes, it's true. Norway is even more expensive than Switzerland.

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Space Commanders rebel as Elite:Dangerous kills offline mode

David Given

Re: Cue the mass demands for refunds.

Except Kickstarter isn't a shop. When you fund something on it, you're not buying anything; you're just giving them money, in the hope that you'll get something in return. There is no guarantee that the something will actually turn up, and the T&Cs you signed up to are totally clear on this.

I don't think you're going to find your credit card company very sympathetic.

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BOFH: An UNHOLY MATCH forged amid the sweet smell of bullsh*t

David Given

Re: What's a female BOFH?

This also has the advantage that you don't need to change the notepaper.

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It’s PAYBACK time as HUMANS send a PROBE up ALIEN body

David Given

Re: Escaping aliens

*cough*

https://twitter.com/hjalfi/status/533027465053356032

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'Yes, yes... YES!' Philae lands on COMET 67P

David Given

Re: "land on comet and return science"

Where do you think they get the mystery goo from?

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SUPER-JAMMY Philae comet probe got down WITHOUT harpoons

David Given

Re: Good luck, at the end of the day

IIRC, for any piece of space hardware like this they build multiple copies of each component anyway --- to test against each other, and in case someone drops one (it's happened, they've dropped a complete $300M satellite on the assembly room for before), and to give them something to try potentially risky procedures on, etc. So yeah, I'd be totally unsurprised to hear that they have a complete identical Philae in a lab somewhere.

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Philae heads for comet, reports back to mothercraft Rosetta

David Given

Re: The videocast is terrible.

You mean inane talking heads and celebutards talking over the top of anything with technical content while occasionally cutting to people going RAH RAH MURIKA HUNH and making fist pumping gestures?

I'll stick with ESA, thanks very much.

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Breaking records: Google exec in terrifying SKY PLUNGE DRAMA

David Given

Re: Brilliant, but...

*twitch*

He'll only feel weightless *while he's accelerating* (because gravity is pulling him down and there's no resistance). One he *stops* accelerating, due to air resistance, he'll stop feeling weightless (because gravity is pulling him down but the air's not letting him accelerate).

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David Given

Re: THE CHUTE OPENED...

These days, apparently, we're not supposed to call it 'splat' any more. The preferred phrase is now 'earth hug'.

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David Given

Re: bailing out

Actually...

They have looked into ways of getting people out of space, wearing nothing but a spacesuit and some emergency equipment. This includes the hilariously named Project MOOSE:

http://falsesteps.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/paraconemoosesaverairmat-escape-pods-from-orbit/

There's several stages to the problem; do your deorbit burn, then survive reentry, then land safely. These experiments show that it's possible to solve #3 by simply cutting yourself loose of your reentry vehicle at a relatively high altitude and coming down by parachute; which is valuable knowledge.

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Billionaire's pet DRAGON SPLASHES DOWN off Pacific Coast

David Given

Re: Probably a question for http://what-if.xkcd.com/

They use tidal forces --- the station's big enough that the Dragon is nowhere near its centre of gravity, but is being carried along in the same orbit as the station because it's physically attached. This means that when they let go it'll naturally follow a non-trivially different orbit. The result, seen from the station's perspective, is that the Dragon will slowly fall away.

They use this effect when undocking to get vehicles far enough away from the station that they can safely use their thrusters. They also use it when docking --- it mean you get a natural braking force for approaching vehicles (along a particular vector), which is dead handy as it means you don't need to fire your thrusters towards the station.

Physics is awesome; and you can simulate this in Kerbal Space Program if you want to try it for yourself. Just make sure your two vehicles are lined up along a planetary radius.

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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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