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* Posts by Mike Banahan

104 posts • joined 4 May 2007

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DAYS from end of life as we know it: Boffins tell of solar storm near-miss

Mike Banahan

Loss of GPS

My suspicion is that the EMP risk is heavily overstated and that most electronics on earth would survive. Some power grids might well have trouble for a while and it would be an important lesson learnt in a number of developed economies that their infrastructure may not be as stable as they think. We have historical precedent to go on for that.

I am willing to bet though, that if whatever-it-is fried the majority of the GPS satellite constellation, and that GPS then became unavailable, a whole lot of trouble might come up that we are poorly prepared for.

Most of the world's trade is carried in large ships. As far as I can tell, once-mandatory knowledge of how to navigate without GPS is no longer a requirement, nor a skill in evidence amongst the majority of crew, even if they could find the sextant and blow the dust off it. Being lost at sea is NOT a pleasant experience (and that I can attest to from first-hand knowledge). I'm practically certain that a substantial loss of GPS would be a very serious issue for the bulk of maritime activities.

Aircraft supposedly have backup for GPS navigation - I'd love to see the effects on the typical flight-deck though if you popped the fuses for them and told them they had lost the GPS and would have to live with whatever INS they have, plus dead-reckoning and direction-finding from beacons. There might be a lot of sorting out of sheep from goats all of a sudden.

The Royal Academy of Engineering has published a study (http://www.raeng.org.uk/news/publications/list/reports/Global_Navigation_Systems.pdf) which highlights some of society's dependencies on GPS not only for positioning but also for the provision of accurate time signals (which, for example, the Airwave comms system for fire, police and ambulance is now dependent on). It's likely that the loss of GPS will cause some substantial headaches for a while.

Who is willing to bet that any proper DR procedures are in place for this kind of thing and exercises carried out to see what the effect would be before the event actually happens?

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That stirring LOHAN motto: Anyone know a native Latin speaker?

Mike Banahan

Re: dead Manx

Strangely (or not) Manx is coming back from the dead. There's now a school on the island teaching purely in the medium of Manx, reviving it from numerous books and recordings of the last lot of native speakers prior to their expiring.

You can argue how 'native' or 'Manx' it is, but this clip is illuminating:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uA7hlurc9EQ

I'd say those kids are about as native speakers as you can get and if they carry on with it, the language is going to expand - there's a fair amount of interest in it on the island.

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Our Reg reader 'mutt's nuts' dictionary is le chien's biens

Mike Banahan

Irish version

I looked for a version in Irish of 'bollocks' and only found the rather lame polite word for testicles. I'm not a native speaker but I'm sure someone here will be, so to set the ball(s) rolling I suggest we could start with magairlí na madra in the absence of a better translation.

I find it *exceptionally* hard to believe that Irish doesn't have several rude words specifically for that part of the anatomy, but of course they wouldn't be in my dictionary. Still ' Brísfaídh mé do magairlí' is apparently a not-uncommon interjection (I will break your balls) so perhaps it will do for the task.

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British Pregnancy Advice Service fined £200k for Anon hack, data protection breaches

Mike Banahan

Pour encourager ....

It's not a random bit of French though. It's a fairly well known quotation and to use it carries an implication above and beyond just its simple French meaning. As with most quotations, it's going to get lost if the reader isn't familiar with it but one assumes that general knowledge and a good educayshun plays a part in that.

From

http://thepoormouth.blogspot.co.uk/2007/03/pour-encourager-les-autres-no-pardon.html:

The expression “Pour encourager les autres' is a well known quote from Voltaire’s Candide. The full quote is "dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres" - in this country (England), it is good, to kill an admiral from time to time, to encourage the others'). It refers to the fate of Admiral John Byng who was executed in 1757.

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LOHAN chap brews up 18% ABV 'V2' rocket fuel

Mike Banahan

Just mead isn't much cop

I salute your desire to make a strong brew but would prepare to be mildly disappointed. Plain mead by itself tastes like watered-down cheap sherry - that's why the good folk of the middle ages came up with all kinds of things to make it drinkable (well, it's going to be drinkable, perhaps 'enjoyable' would be closer to the mark). Metheglin - a spiced mead with stuff like cloves and cinnamon in it, think 'mulled mead' but without necessarly being drunk hot - now that's a different matter. Or mix it with fruit juices to make a mead-based alcopop, known in the jargon as a melomel. Perhaps that's the purpose of the orange honey?

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A BBC-by-subscription 'would be richer', MPs told

Mike Banahan

Might be a blessing

I love some of what the BBC does but find that love getting harder and harder to deliver when I look at what's happening to its output. So much that they could do that they don't, as well, particularly their almost complete abnegation of quality educational TV (where is the broadcast backup to the National Curriculum, for example?).

However - having lived in countries with utterly shit tv, it's interesting to observer that there's often a vibrant culture as a result: people going out in the evening and meeting each other, talking, forming clubs and societies, doing stuff together. If that was the result of the disappearance of the BBC and then a rush-to-the-bottom by the commercial broadcasters, then maybe in the long run it wouldn't be such a bad thing after all.

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Cicada 3301: The web's toughest and most creepy crypto-puzzle is BACK

Mike Banahan
Black Helicopters

I'm with @JustaKOS here - who says that the puzzle-setter's motives are benign?

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Leaked MS ad video parodies Chrome as surveillance tech

Mike Banahan

Pot this is Toaster

Kettle is working on another channel and unable to receive your transmissions. Out.

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

Mike Banahan

PAL and sync frequency

The PAL trick of using a delay line and averaging colour over two lines got rid of 'Venetian blind' effect. The colour (chrominance) of the signal is dependent on the phase of the colour subcarrier, the saturation of the colour on its amplitude - just like NTSC (famously derided as 'never twice the same colour'). Phase linearity is VERY hard to achieve in cheap consumer grade electronics so the colour signal would often arrive way out of phase and that's what gives you lurid red or green flesh tones. Alternating the phase on each line allows the eye to average that out if the distortion is low, but it it's high, then each line looks noticeably different (Venetian blind effect). The delay line halves the colour resolution but gets rid of the visible effect by doing electronic averaging.

Human eyes have very low colour resolution so nobody notices. If you ever see a tv picture with just the colour there and the sharp luminance edges of the monochrome signal removed it turns into just a mess of coloured blobs moving around and it's weird.

Dear me, I can still recall from memory the 625 line 50hz colour subcarrier frequency after all these years: 4.43361875 MHz.

Choosing a frame rate that's the same as the AC line frequency isn't about avoid strobing with studio lights. Those have massive filaments and thermal lag means you get little noticeable mains-related hum on the light signal. Again, it's the cheap consumer receivers with low-cost power supplies that you have to worry about. If the frame rate isn't the same as the mains frequency you get very noticeable strobing effects where light or darker bands appear to roll through the picture at the difference between the two frequencies and it's extremely distracting. A fixed darker or lighter bar can usually still be seen but it's much less annoying. Old valve sets usually were worse than transistorised ones and on those it wasn't unusual to see the dark (or light) bar slowly drifting up and down the screen when the national grid changed frequency to accommodate different load levels, the TV stations remaining locked to high-precision reference timebases.

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Watch out spooks: STANDARDS GROUPS are COMING AFTER YOU

Mike Banahan

The problem with email encryption

All the claims from the spooks so far (and I've watched with more than passing interest but not with a microscope) are that they are not reading emails but looking at the headers to see who is talking to whom.

You can encrypt your email messages all you want - I and some of my correspondents routinely use PGP/GPG (which is not actually difficult to set up), but encrypting your email doesn't get around the problem of the plain-text From: and To: headers in the mail and its envelope and THAT is what the shadowy ones are interested in. Apparently. Oh, and if you do use encrypted messages, watch out for the unencrypted Subject line as well, which often pretty much tells you all you need to know without even reading the message.

After conducting a moderately in-depth analysis involving a couple of mates and several pints we concluded that it's a fairly substantial piece of work to produce an anonymised encrypted email protocol that's going to make traffic analysis hard and also be proof against compromised servers. It's not easy to see a way of persuading people to lose the convenience of having their mail stored on a relay/hub waiting to pick up when they log in and you have to assume that the hub is compromised, so something like single-use To and From lines are going to be needed. And probably Tor-like anonymising of endpoint addresses as well so they can't get you by IP address.

I'd love to see some good proposals to get around this, I'd be an early adopter. One bonus of a new protocol might also be to practically eliminate spam at the same time.

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Blighty promises £49m to get more British yoof into engineering careers

Mike Banahan

Supply and demand

Economics might suggest that if the salaries went up then the supply would increase but that's far too simplistic to match actuality. I loved science and engineering growing up through the sixties at a time when the feats of good engineering were widely celebrated in popular culture, particularly of course the buzz around the moon landings. As well as cultural encouragement there was practical encouragement via government sponsored training schemes - a levy was laid on the larger companies that hired engineers to reinvest in training and most of them had their own training centres, taking on and sponsoring students through their university courses. This was at the time of the Labour government's "white heat of technological revolution" rhetoric.

As a result I was a student sponsored by Plessey, doing something close to a kind of graduate-cum-apprenticeship scheme where I was paid a stipend during my university time plus the fact that I didn't have to take out a loan to pay for my course and my accommodation. I (amazingly) actually managed to run a car and live a frugal but adequate existence during my four years. The concept that I might not have a job waiting for me at the end of my studies was simply not present. I can't think of a single one of my contemporaries who weren't going straight into a job when they graduated. Society and the jobs market just felt organised that way.

There was an obvious career progression from junior engineer through to senior roles with plenty of opportunity to cross over into sales and management if you showed talent for it.

I don't see that in place nowadays. As a result, the substantial investment that one has to do (studying allegedly 'hard' subjects. i.e maths and physics at GCSE and A level, taking an allegedly 'hard' degree) for no guaranteed outcome, that looks like a MUCH higher-risk option. And in the UK, social prestige of engineering is nil and the salaries are nothing special. Why would a sane person make that decision? The government chucking some cash around may persuade a few at the margins but that's not the same as changing the whole approach and perception of the career.

Yes, it could be done, but there's a lot of inertia in the channel and it's probably a ten to fifteen year project to turn it around so that it becomes a sane and exciting decision for 15-17 year olds who are making whole-career choices. Most people will only make that kind of decision once in their lives, it is going to have to look very appealing to make it worthwhile.

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How to spot a coders comment

Mike Banahan

RIP Dennis Ritchie

I can't believe that nobody has yet posted Dennis Ritchie's famous comment from the context switch code in the middle of the Version 6 Unix kernel, something which has passed into hacker folklore:

/*

If the new process paused because is was swapped out,

set the stack level to the last call to savu(u_ssav).

This means that the return which is executed immediately after

the call to aretu actually returns from the last routine which

did the savu.

You are not expected to understand this.

*/

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Surface 2 MYSTERY: Haswell's here, so WHY the duff battery life?

Mike Banahan

Re: Battery life under Linux?

Why dual boot? Not that I want to overdo the Linux angle but for the past couple of years or more my little ThinkPad Edge has been running Ubuntu for most of my work but with a VirtualBox copy of XP for the odd Windows program I have to use, sharing files via SAMBA and printing into a virtual printer that produces PDFs on the host.

If I'm not using the Windows instance I suspend it (it seems to chew CPU a bit more that is good for it, even at idle it's using 65% of one of the four cores) and resume it when I need it. And if I'm plugged in to the mains I just leave Windows running all the time, it's not THAT big an overhead.

I'm sure you could do the reverse, hosting Linux under Windows too. Running both at the same time seems a much better solution than dual boot unless you have a really good reason for the latter.

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Leaky security could scuttle global ship-tracking system

Mike Banahan

Yep, it's mostly bollocks

For those who don't know - AIS basically broadcasts in plain text a vessel's position, heading, speed, ID and a couple of other ancillary bits of stuff. You typically view it on a chart plotter when navigating busy traffic lanes so that the collision-avoidance software can put flashing red circles on the chart to warn you where your collision risks are. Of course you can capture the information and use it for other stuff if you really want to. It goes out at low power on VHF radio.

It was EXTREMELY useful the last time I sailed over to the Channel Isles in a small yacht because the kit is cheap and simple to install and when you are on a 35' long vessel that may not be easily visible from the bridge of the supertanker 10 miles away, it adds an extra layer of safety. We could plainly see the vessels on collision course with us altering course a degree or two to avoid us (as we were under sail, not power). I have a man-overboard AIS transmitter sewn into my lifejacket just in case it's needed - very helpful to lifeboat crew and the search and rescue people in an emergency.

Once when the skipper ran us aground in the Thames Estuary an incoming bulk carrier saw that we were located not moving over a sandbar and called the coastguard (embarrassingly, I must say) on our behalf. Te be fair it was blowing a gale and the sea was rough, if we hadn't got off quickly the boat could easily have broken up, the coastguard were quite a lot more concerned than we were, as we'd actually got 30m off the sandbar but chucked the anchor over to stop us getting aground again until the tide had risen a metre or so.

Yes, any muppet could fake those signals, though it's hard to see what they would gain from it apart having a bit of a laugh with the coastguard - or maybe to confuse those on the bridge of vessels receiving the information. But you augment what you can see on AIS with the mk 1 eyeball and binoculars, you don't RELY on it, unlike GPS.

AIS is a cheap and easy aid to safety, as I see it. Not a lot more. Oh, and very, very handy in fog when you need all the help you can get.

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4 Brits cuffed after shutdown of internet drug shop Silk Road

Mike Banahan

Re: Sigh

Not only did the government ignore the advice of the advisory panel on drugs, when its chairman made the (apparently) reasonable comparison of risk between taking ecstasy and riding horses (the horse riding was said to be riskier) they sacked him. Not for being right or wrong, but for saying it at all.

Smart.

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Atomic clocks come to your wrist

Mike Banahan

Mine cost about £100

You can get 'em all over the place - radio controlled watches that synchronise to a time signal that is also atomic-locked, without having the bother of a laser on your wrist. My particular G-shock model is solar powered too. Never have to wind it up, no battery to replace and I never have to adjust the time (though if I shift time zones there is a bit of button-pressing to do to tell it).

Admittedly if I'm out of range of the time signal it supposedly falls back to internal timekeeping and re-adjusts when I'm back home, but though I travel a fair bit in Europe and the Americas, that hasn't happened yet.

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Don't tell the D-G! BBC-funded study says Beeb is 'too right wing'

Mike Banahan

Any update from the same source on ursine defecation habits?

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Headmaster calls cops, tries to dash pupil's uni dreams - over a BLOG

Mike Banahan

Re: Truth or consequences

Best reference I ever saw (well, had described to me, so it's probably urban legend) went along the lines of "You will be extremely fortunate if you can get this man to work for you".

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Reports: NSA has compromised most internet encryption

Mike Banahan

Re: Ah well...

ISTR (too lazy to check) that the Navajo Code Talkers used Navajo words to transmit still-encoded messages, so even when a Navajo speaker was captured, all he was able to say was something along the line of 'green cheese pickle egg' in response to the demand to decode a message. You would need access to the code books too to figure out that that actually meant 'attack at dawn'. Effectively, the encryption was multi-layered.

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'Silent' staff stood by as £100m BBC IT project tanked – DG

Mike Banahan
Thumb Up

Re: Not the same thing

Seriously, that deserves a whole page in a book about project management. It's a brilliant observation. Nearly as good as "Deputy heads will roll".

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Holiday HELL: Pourquoi, monsieur, why is there no merdique Wi-Fi here?

Mike Banahan
Unhappy

Re: Sad

It's a fair point, and would be even fairer if everyone else says 'Oh yes, he's on holiday, so I won't email him".

I'd rather be able to delete all the pointless emails and reply to the odd one that NEEDS a reply, instead of having them all stack up and make the first few days back home a maelstrom of urgent replies to messages that are now a fortnight old and have had three increasingly testy follow-ups because everyone thinks everyone is connected all the time nowadays. Knowing that I'll have that shitstorm to deal with actually spoils the holiday for me.

And the later comment about having a daughter - yes, spot on.

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Legal bible Groklaw pulls plug in wake of Lavabit shutdown, NSA firestorm

Mike Banahan

Re: I' not buying the Groklaw arguments - see the evidence..

Apart from the fact that all SMTP based email systems expose the mail headers, so From: To: and Subject: in particular give a lot away about your communication, it's entirely possible to conduct S/MIME or PGP/GPG encrypted email conversations via Gmail using a client like, say, Thunderbird. True, you can't read the encrypted messages through the web interface but that's just something you live with. Thunderbird works well with both encryption standards and unless you are likely to be approached by the authorities with a demand to yield up your keys and passphrases, should be good enough for a lot of peoples' confidentiality needs.

Whether Groklaw routinely did that I can't say, but personally I'd feel a lot happier using Thunderbird with Enigmail and a 'no privacy' email provider like Gmail than not encrypting my mails and trusting the email provider to do it for me. But you do have to watch the Subject line, you can give a lot away through that.

Of course, your correspondent has to have enough of a clue to agree to use encryption, and that's probably the stumbling block until more are educated about what to do.

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British spooks seize tech from Snowden journo's boyfriend at airport

Mike Banahan

Re: Care? Do something!

There are significant downsides in sending your emails with digital signatures. Whilst I would (and do) routinely encrypt emails to certain recipients I avoid signing them. Almost any body of text a few lines long or longer can be misconstrued in malicious hands to appear seriously disadvantageous to you. If the bloody thing is signed into the bargain you have serious harmed deniability, where your response would be "but I didn't write it".

I would advise against routinely digitally signing ANY document unless you have absolutely no other option.

Though I don't have a link to the article in question, I think I remember an example which goes along the lines of:

- chap sends a signed message to his mistress saying "Our time together is over, you bore me and I no longer find you desirable"

- mistress strips out the signed part of the message and sends it on with forged email headers to the poor sap's wife who believes it implicitly as it is even signed by the sender. The fact that the To, Subject and From headers don't form part of the signed message are forgotten in the heat and emotions of the moment

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Boffins harvest TV, mobile signals for BATTERY-FREE comms

Mike Banahan

Illegal in the UK

I'd like to see some references to that story about the farmer and the fluorescent tubes, just to prove that it's not urban myth (though a good one). I heard something very similar when on a tour of the LW transmitter at Droitwich, at least as far as the leeching-the-power bit went. Given that the transmitter there delivers 500kw into the antenna (what I was told on the tour and also what Wikipedia claims), even though the antenna efficiency is probably lamentable, there will still be a pretty strong field in the locality.

I can quite believe that a few hundred yards away you can wire up a fluorescent and get some dim light off it, but I'm sceptical about the stealing electricity claim until someone can quote a case number or a reference to the judgement.

It's actually REALLY impressive to see a full-length fluorescent alight in the presence of a strong RF field. A friend of mine who (motto: "it's rude to be weak") liked to run well up to the legal limit on HF frequencies from his car would do it as a party trick in pub car parks. A few hundred watts into a short car vertical antenna will keep a full-length tube glowing albeit not at full brightness (once it's struck) up to about 10 metres from the vehicle.

0
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The secure mail dilemma: If it's useable, it's probably insecure

Mike Banahan

PGP email

PGP works fine, but with email, only encrypts the body of the message and attachments.

The fly in the ointment is the severe problem that using standard SMTP to exchange email, the subject and to/from (in fact all the headers) are in plain text rendering a lot of snooping (who are you talking to, how often and what about) completely open.

Email needs re-architecting and probably needs to move away from SMTP altogether to make traffic analysis and web-of-correspondent tracking hard to do. At the same time one might as well incorporate other messaging types to include text, voice and video messaging all in the one encrypted package. At the very least everything needs to be encrypted and not to leak information if someone happens across / intercepts the whole message or its parts.

As far as I'm aware even PGP/GPG encrypted messages will yield up the key ID of the person they are encrypted to, allowing interception to perform at least some analysis of correspondent webs, but there may be an option to turn that off.

Thunderbird and Enigmail work very well and actually take very little effort to set up and understand, if all you care about is confidentiality of the message body. But watch what you put in the subject line!

A root-and-branch look needs to be taken at this, as sticking plaster solutions aren't going to work. PGP is probably an important component but the protocols, key exchange and transport mechanisms need serious work to keep the bastard's noses out of private correspondence. And they aren't going to like it.

2
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Boffins, Tunnel Tigers and Scotland's world-first power mountain

Mike Banahan

Restarting the grid

I'd be interested to hear from anyone with current knowledge of the state of generation infrastructure in the UK as to whether the line about restarting the National Grid really has much truth in it. I'm sure that the pumped storage systems could be used that way, but in fact would they? If the grid was in such dire circumstances that it needed a restart, would the pumped storage systems be full or already drained?

I have a vague recollection garnered from years back when I mixed with the heavy-power fraternity that most large power stations were self-starting, being built with some hefty diesel and gas turbine auxiliary generators so that they could be more or less bootstrapped by some handy chappy with a starting-handle to get the starter motor for the starter motors ticking over. You would think that would be a fairly obvious precaution, after all. If there's going to be a major outage, presuming that the grid remains intact so as to allow remote pumped storage to get, say Drax steaming again seems a bit of a risk. But then, since it's under the control of politicians at the end of the day, maybe I shouldn't be surprised.

1
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Quid-a-day nosh challenge hack in bullet-hard chickpea drama

Mike Banahan

Home made bread

A few weeks back, prior to all this starting, I got annoyed by what Tesco were selling bread for, so I made some in the bread machine and carefully costed the whole lot.

Using a 10kg bag of Atta (chapatti flour) which was substantially less expensive than the 1.5kg bags of bread flour, and costing everything (as I recollect, yeast at 7p), including sticking a wattmeter on the bread machine, the cost of consumables for a 1200g loaf came out at 72p. Admittedly, this didn't allow for the capital cost of the breadmaker.

The result is a really nice well-risen, well-textured loaf which, when I have a couple of thick wedges toasted for breakfast, lasts about 5 days. I've yet to have a failure using Atta, so it would seem that the brands sold in the UK tend to have pretty good gluten levels and the texture comes out well. YMMV.

2
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Police use 24/7 power grid recordings to spot doctored audio

Mike Banahan
Big Brother

I call bollocks on this

I have extreme doubts about this technique. As others have pointed out, the frequency of the AC mains is usually extremely close to the nominal amount, so you need very accurate frequency measurement to spot the differences.

Problem is, most home recordings are done through a soundcard (no shit, Sherlock?). Those soundcards typically get asked by the PC to sample at x samples per second and they deliver something like x - but their internal reference frequency is based on a nasty cheap ceramic resonator which is close to but not exactly the frequency asked. Maybe it's within 0.1% of the requested frequency, so instead of delivering 44100 samples a second it SAYS it's doing that but in a real second it's delivering 44050 instead. That goes into your file, you play that back through another sound card with a similarly off-reference oscillator and suddenly you have 0.2% (say) error in the actual frequency being replayed. A musician with perfect pitch might spot something very slightly wrong but to most people it will sound fine - just all the tones are ever so slightly off.

I first had this brought home in no uncertain terms trying to record off-air weather fax broadcasts, where accurate time sampling is crucial or your fax comes out all slanted. A cheap outboard SoundBlaster gives frankly hilarious results and you need to be able to tweak the alignment in software to fix it.

So, anything which takes 50 or 60Hz mains hum and thinks it can correlate that with something that was measured against a highly accurate refernce source but was actually recorded with something far worse - well, I look forward to seeing that stand up in court if the expert witness isn't a complete fuckwit.

8
0

And the latest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is ... the EU?

Mike Banahan
FAIL

Nato played no role then?

Ah right - it was the EU, of course, that prevented another war in Western Europe.

Or maybe the mutual defence pact of NATO had something to do with it: start a war against one of the members and America plus the remaining dwarves will immediately destroy you.

No, you are right, that couldn't possibly have had anyone thinking twice.

2
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Assange granted asylum by Ecuador after US refused to rule out charges

Mike Banahan
Black Helicopters

Re: Independently of the merits of the case...

"Such a stupid own goal by the [British] government"

Possibly, or a devious ploy intended precisely to persuade them to give him asylum as they appeared to be wavering.

I'm not usually a one for conspiracy theories so on the balance I still subscribe to this being a complete cock-up, but it's of such monstrous proportions that it's stretching credulity.

0
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Darwin alarmed by six-legged mutant cane toad

Mike Banahan
Headmaster

No Less?!!

No FEWER, thank you.

9
1

Microsoft's offices gutted in Athens arson attack

Mike Banahan
Mushroom

Motto for Ballmer's desk

δέσποτα, μέμνεο τῶν Ἀθηναίων

0
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Pints under attack as Lord Howe demands metric-only UK

Mike Banahan

Re: and talking about cars...

But cars nowadays don't quote horsepower, they quote that crucially important figure of PS ('Pferd Stark').

Oh, hang on, when I translate that from German it comes out as Horse Power. Damn!

0
0
Mike Banahan

Re: Imperial to Metric and back again

Boats and planes generally don't use miles for navigation. They use Nautical Miles (approx 1.1 statute miles) for a good reason.

Nautical miles are based on the size of the earth and the not-unreasonable approximation that the earth is a sphere. If you accept the idea of 360 degrees in a circle and 60 minutes in a degree, you discover that minute of latitude corresponds to one nautical mile. This is not an accident.

It's entirely reasonable to argue that the nautical mile is a much more 'natural' measure than any invented measurement such as the imperial mile or the metre (which was itself originally (allegedly) some arbitrary division of the distance between Paris and the equator, or similar nonsense).

If only we had been born with 12 fingers, we'd be spared the decimal fascists who can't comprehend that there are, actually, better number bases to work from. Now, how many pennies would that actually give to the shilling? Oh yes, I remember ...

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Mike Banahan

Re: Napoleon and his metric system conquered Europe,

I'd also point out (no doubt to be corrected) that bicycle tyres the last time I was in Germany were measured as things like 21 Zoll. To the best of my knowledge 1 Zoll is equal to 2.54cm which is pretty close to an inch.

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Intelligence a genetic mistake

Mike Banahan
Happy

Algernon

@Graham Marsden - thank you for reminding me of one of the most moving short stories I've ever read.

For those to whom the reference is a bit obscure, look up the Hugo Award winning short story 'Flowers for Algernon', or at least read the Wikipedia entry if you are too lazy to read the story.

There's even an eery resonance with the subject of The Register's item.

3
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Glider pilot 'swallowed camera memory' say plunge tragedy cops

Mike Banahan
Joke

Great opportunity for a pun

When retrieved, the card was found to be interred (think about it).

0
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GPS jamming rife, could PARALYSE Blighty, say usual suspects

Mike Banahan

Re: Re: Re: And a more mundane consequence of non-jamming

Using a sextant isn't going to be easy to navigate an ambulance. It might get you close enough to ask a local for directions - in anything other than ideal conditions and your watch being spot-on, you do well to get a fix to about 3-4 nautical miles and based on my own experience, even that's a fairly ambitious ask. Without a natural horizon you need to use an artificial one (a bed of mercury or a bubble spirit level seems popular) and that doesn't help the accuracy either.

0
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No bail for Kim Dotcom

Mike Banahan
Joke

With a name like that ...

I would have thought he'd claim diplomatic immunity and ask for help from North Korea

1
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Australia should head-hunt Michael Gove

Mike Banahan
Unhappy

A true but sad story

I started teaching programming language courses in 1977 in a British University, initially FORTRAN and BASIC (ugh).

I then moved to commercially teaching C, then C++ then PHP programming as fashions changed. The age of students coming on commercial programming courses varies, but didn't change substantially and would typically be mostly in their twenties to thirties.

I stopped when an old stalwart exercise became unteachable: having shown students variables, loops and output statements, they were given the simple formula and then asked to write a program which counted 0-100 and printed that value, plus its equivalent in Fahrenheit if it were a Celsius temperature.

For years that was one of the ease-you-in starter exercises, total time expected about 5 mins including getting a biscuit to eat while you did it.

My disillusionment came when increasing numbers of students would look upon this exercise with blank faces. I well remember the first time I said:

"Ok, I've shown you variables, statements and loops, how do you plan to do this exercise?"

Answer: "You haven't show us how to do it"

Me: "I've shown you the tools you need and the formula, how do you think you might start?"

Them (baffled): "But you haven't shown us how to do it"

And that was when I realised what British schools were now turning out. The difference in attitude and approach was truly striking.

I stopped teaching programming courses not long after.

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Satnav mishap misery cure promised at confab

Mike Banahan

Would love a standard for speed limit data

Whilst doing this I wish the wonks would come up with a standard for defining road speed limits and the areas they apply to.

The gentle 'bong' sound from my TomTom is a VERY useful adjunct to eyballing speed restriction signs.

A UK (or EU) standard for publishing that data with a statutory requirement to publish it (and a get-out for an offending driver if its not up to date or is incorrect) would be a much greater contribution to observing speed limits than any number of speed cameras.

I think I'd work hard to keep that information up to date.

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Father of Lisp and AI John McCarthy has died

Mike Banahan

Emacs

There was time, long long ago, when the joke acronym for EMACS - Eight Megabytes and Constantly Swapping was very funny, because 8 megabytes was incomprehensibly huge.

How times have changed.

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C and Unix pioneer Dennis Ritchie reported dead

Mike Banahan
Unhappy

A nice bloke too

I was fortunate enough to have visited Bell Labs and met Dennis Ritchie (along with Ken Thompson, Brian Kernighan and Bjarne Stroustrup) in the mid eighties. What struck me, apart from the sheer intellectual horsepower he had, was what a nice bloke he was too.

Having had the opportunity to share a beer and a pizza with him remains one of the more memorable moments of my professional life 25 years or so on.

The work done by the Unix team (and he'd be the first to acknowledge the huge input of less well-celebrated people like Joe Ossana, Bill Plauger and many others) did change the world I knew, and in most respects for the better.

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Royal Navy halts Highlands GPS jamming

Mike Banahan

Sextants etc.

I think you might find something along those lines - using a digital camera as an emergency sextant - in The Lo Tech Navigator by Crowley combined with the excellent Emergency Navigation by Burch.

Problem is, a single sextant reading can only give you a line of position (long line drawn across your chart) and not a fix where two lines cross. Admittedly, if you can do that then it helps anyone searching you a lot as they only have to look up and down a line instead of hundreds of square miles of sea.

I was thinking of doing an solar navigation app for my Android, but hadn't thought of trying to combine it with the camera ...

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Boffins tail bees with tiny radio tags

Mike Banahan

@CaptainHook

Be careful about believing everything they tell you on the course.

Get a hive full of Fen Bastards (the affectionate name for the local wild black beasts we have out in six-toe territory) and they'll fly at ridiculously low temperatures. A bright frosty day has mine out and not just for a poo, they came back with snowdrop pollen on their legs whilst the snow isn't even melting on the ground.

Admittedly, I've never seen them trying it in fog. Maybe it's time for a pissing contest "My bees will fly at lower temperatures than yours" etc. :)

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Should IT departments tackle desktop virtualisation on their own?

Mike Banahan

DIY vs call a plumber

Declaring an interest in this, since it's what my company does for a living, I'd say you need to be near-crackers to do this yourself.

It's not just about virtualising stuff, it's about knowing in advance what works and what shouldn't be virtualised. There are some applications that cry out for their very own fat client PC (badly behaved memory and cpu hogs) which, if they are mission-critical for the user, are going to be very bad news.

Also, a good design would split off the users who need full virtualisation from the (probable) majority who will be entirely happy with something like Terminal Services, a very much lower cost option.

I'm highly sceptical of involving just 'consultants' who don't know what they are talking about, but when you can find real subject expertise out there, it's foolish not to draw on it.

And there are plenty of solutions which don't involve replacing all the desktop real estate at once. Consider gutting your existing desktops and turning them into thin clients if the exorbitant price of bespoke thin client devices looks too high. You get the management cost benefits if not quite the power saving.

This isn't rocket science - but it's a specialist area and what's the point of discovering all the 'well known' problems for yourself?

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FAA to pilots: Expect 'unreliable or unavailable' GPS signals

Mike Banahan

Anybody got a sextant?

And (for ships at least) an accurate watch, a sextant and knowledge of how to use it will get your position to within about a mile. Unless it's cloudy, oops.

I doubt if any aircraft still carry them or have anyone who knows how to use them.

Ebay usually carries a few - I've tried a plastic Ebbco for £20 which isn't much less accurate than a Freiberger I picked up for about £350. The latter is a fabulous piece of optics and engineering but overkill for a casual sailor.

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US bumblebees in 'alarming' decline

Mike Banahan
Thumb Down

Shome mishtake shurely?

According to my reference books here, tomatoes are predominantly self-pollinated and don't rely on any form of bee, honey, bumble or otherwise.

For futher reference: http://gardening.wsu.edu/library/vege016/vege016.htm

Not saying the article is necessarily wrong but when one spots an obvious and easily avoided mistake, that doesn't exactly increase confidence in the rest of the article

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Coalition launches extradition treaty review

Mike Banahan
Thumb Down

Prosecution is also a form of punishment

I'd like to see something about the disproportionate disruption to peoples' lives be taken into account on this as well.

Let's say that McKinnon's situation has been reasonably fairly represented as minor and probably in the uk for a first offence liable to lead to, say, a fine of around a thousand and couple of hundred hours of community service. I'm not saying that this is necessarily appropriate in this particular case, it's a for-instance argument. That's a substantial punishment for many people.

But as a punishment it's nothing compared to the harm and stress that would be caused to all but the most extraordinarily resilient person by their forcible extradition and then prosecution in a foreight court along with the total disruption of their life, employment, family and all the rest. For the ordinary person you are going to lose your job - certain. You have a house and mortgage? Oh, bad luck on that one, but hey, if you get off you'll be back in two years, no harm done, you will be able to pick your life up again. Your wife left you while you were on remand in the US and has taken the kids? Bummer, but it's easy to produce kids, just get another woman you love.

Now I know that that's not appropriate in this particular case but surely only the most absolutely heinous kind of crime should even be considered suitable for extradition? The process itself is a ghastly form of punishment that you receive whether guilty or innocent.

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Brazilian banker's crypto baffles FBI

Mike Banahan
Black Helicopters

Of course we believe them

Let's say the Feds did manage to crack the data. Would they want to tell everyone that they did or would it be more in their interest to slide out a deceptive story saying 'Oh no, we can't crack Truecrypt' to discourage others from using something stronger?

Maybe they now have a lot of information that they can use to uncover other evidence which mysteriously seems to have come to light anyhow, nothing to do with that encrypted data, honest.

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