* Posts by Nigel 11

2580 posts • joined 10 Jun 2009

Why solid-state disks are winning the argument

Nigel 11
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Re: Developers need what now?

Depends what sort of developers.

People who are coding and building, should have machines that can do it fast. Some sorts of debugging, likewise.

But people who are testing for release, should at least some of the time be testing using the crappiest PC that a customer might still be using.

My favorite peeve is websites that were never tested other than on a Gigabit internal net. You do NOT need a gigabit link to develop HTML and Javascripts. You should be exiting the building on a crappy ADSL service from a crappy ISP, and looping back in via the big bad internet. That's what some of your customers are seeing, stuck on the end of too many miles of corroded aluminium POTS cable that's somehow managing to support ADSL at a few Mbit/s (when it's not raining).

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Nigel 11
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Re: Too many words

because they're faster. Next question please.

Also more shockproof

Also quieter (silent)

Also less heavy

Also longer battery life, or even less weight by using a smaller battery.

edit:

Also, with dense-packed equipment in a server farm, less electricity eaten and less expensive air-con needed.

Don't know, but also suspect SSDs happier at high ambient temperatures than HDs (industrial/ embedded PCs)

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Nigel 11
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Re: "it is a really dumb idea to take the cheapest desktop hard drives you can find"

It's in their interests to sell you "server grade" drives at twice the price. So of course they would say that.

What they will never tell you is that it is very much in your interest to buy half your drives from one of their competitors. This is true even if it's provable that the competitor's drive is half as reliable

That's because a drive from a different manufacturer is far less likely to contain one of the same batch of defective components. Two drives with near-identical serial numbers will likely contain the same faulty components and therefore are likely to fail at or near the same time. Mirroring won't save you if this happens.

Give me a manufacturer X desktop drive and a manufacturer Y desktop drive any day, over any two identical Server grade drives with near-consecutive serial numbers.

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Nigel 11
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Reasons for traditional HD

1. Cost per Terabyte is still much lower for HDs.

2. I have more faith in mirroring applied to hard disks than to SSDs.

In my experience, a majority of HD problems show up in the SMART statistics well before the drive fails. Then I replace the drive pro-actively. I also try to pair drives from different manufacturers to reduce the risk of a common-mode dual-drive failure.

Will SSDs warn in advance of failure? CAN SSDs warn in advance of failure? They're a new technology (more accurately, several new technologies), and I think it'll be a few years before we know. I'm not even certain that running a mirrored pair of SSDs is useful (but given that I'm talking about multiple TB of data, it'll be a few years before I can afford to find out! )

Will multi-TB SSDs compete with multi-TB HDs? If 3D flash can expand further into the 3rd dimension, that may happen sooner than we think.

BTW why is putting Flash memory (a SSD) on the PCI bus still regarded as exotic expensive server technology? 6Gbit SATA is now the bottleneck for even consumer-grade 240Gb SSDs. Give us a small and cheap but very fast PCI card to boot and run our O/Ses from!

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HOT YOUNG STAR about to GIVE BIRTH, long range images show

Nigel 11
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Re: I remember when ....

For the record, it wasn't uncontroversial in Christian circles only until recently. Giordiano Bruno was burned at the stake for saying the same things and refusing to recant. (I don't know which surprises me most. that he refused to recant to save himself from an agonizing death. Or that he was so right on so little evidence! )

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Antares apocalypse: Orbital points finger at turbopump FAIL

Nigel 11
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Re: @ Nigel 11

Wasn't that the DC10 disaster that the manufacturer blamed on an airline using a fork-lift truck to lift engines on and off the wing? The engine didn't just fall off, it took large chunks of the wing with it, when the whole structure failed.

I believe Boeing made a comment to the effect that they also don't recommend installing engines using fork-lift trucks, but they make their wings and engine pylons strong enough to take it!

Anyway, it wasn't an engine blow-up. Google "Thompson Manchester Airport bird strike" for good video of a very scary take-off. (Wasn't a blow-up, but I don't imagine that the engine which ate the bird was generating much thrust after it did).

An engine failure while the plane is on the runway but committed to take-off is the worst case. There's quite a large scope for fatal pilot error should that happen. The Thompson jet was already in the air -- slightly less bad.

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Nigel 11
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The difference is that if 1/4 of the engines on a 747 blows up, the damage is contained, and the plane will be able to continue in flight -- or from point of no abort during takeoff -- and land again safely(*). Same is true of 1/2 engines on a twinjet.

(*) Design 100% sure. Reality 99.something% sure. Would prefer not to be on the flight with the exploding engine.

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Nigel 11
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Re: Ha! Called it!

The West would have been completely f***ed but there would have been absolutely no chance of them launching a second strike against anything that survived being nuked by the 25% of their first strike that arrived.

MAD, innit.

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Intel: A tiny video drone? Disguised as a BRACELET? Great! Take half a million dollars!

Nigel 11
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Re: Not cool enough...

Which may be rather less difficult than other Culture-level tech. Start by trying to make a dragonfly-drone. A micro fuel-cell is probably the biggest gap in our know-how. (DAK know if that's the path nature took - large flying insects first? )

I've just realized, IMB didn't specify the normal size of mosquitoes in that part of his universe. Some of the ones that bit me in the USA, the drone might have been rather larger than I was imagining when I read the book!

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Nigel 11
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Re: Not small enough?

Ornithopters ... Oddly enough ,nothing man-carrying appears to be viable

And won't be. Birds max out at bustard-size, somewhat under 20kg. I'd guess that there are wing strength/stiffness issues that prevent anything heavier from getting off the ground if that involves flapping its wings. Similarly at a larger scale, fixed-wing aircraft max out when the wings can't be both long enough to generate sufficient lift and stiff enough to support the weight.

Although large birds and insects both fly by powering their wings, the aerodynamics are very different. Insect-sized wings use the vortex generated at the tip of the wing to generate extra lift. This is the explanation of how a bumblebee manages to fly with such small wings. I suspect that it's also the most efficient form of flight for small creatures and devices (simply because if it weren't, nature would have evolved the alternative! )

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Nigel 11
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Not small enough?

Is this the best current technology permits? We have a way to go to catch up with nature. When will we build an artificial dragonfly with the same hours-long endurance? Small powered wings are presumably much more complex than rotors, but also much more efficient.

(They aren't around today, but the fossil record shows that the dragonfly design works at much larger sizes).

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FIFTEEN whole dollars on offer for cranky Pentium 4 buyers

Nigel 11
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Intel, from the very beginning took the x86 architecture and made it their very own. Instruction sets that should have been agreed on a universal basis were constantly being added to by Intel without any consideration for the future.

Really? Sun, MIPS, IBM, Digital, DG, and numerous others all consulted their customers and competitors before adding to or changing their instruction sets?

I've speculated before that Intel is a smart company and recognises the danger of becoming a regulated monopoly. It therefore needs AMD to remain in business, so it has competition. Once, Intel tripped, AMD got ahead (with the Opteron and the 64-bit instruction set, and Intel had a few tough years catching up (including some unfair marketing). Now Intel is so far ahead it is in danger of putting AMD out of business. If I'm right, Intel is about to find some way to give AMD a break. Perhaps it might purchase the rights to use ATI Graphics technology? Intel's graphics architecture is most definitely not up there with its CPUs. (Edit) Hardware-wise, that is. Intel's graphics driver softwre and Linux support are excellent.

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Nigel 11
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Re: Pentium 4 didn't suck. @Gordan

You make a very good point, but you ignore that compiling for a particular processor, using all of the features of that processor breaks the "compile once run anywhere" ubiquity of the Intel x86 and compatible processors.

Not broken. It'll run, just less efficiently.

Most programs that seriously tax a modern CPU or even a decade-old one, have a small fraction of the code that accounts for a large fraction of the CPU usage. So it's very valuable for the 90% of the code that isn't executed so intensively to run, albeit inefficiently, on any CPU with that architecture.

As for the other 10%, distribute it as a separate library, containing something that determines which processor it is running on, and multiple compilations of the same code with different optimizations. Then dispatch to the appropriate one. As CPU and compiler technology advances, you can ship an update that replaces the library with better code (yet derived from the same source, on the unlikely assumption that no bugs needed fixing).

These days you may well also bundle versions that don't use the CPU at all, but a GPGPU if it can find one and if the gain is worth having.

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So long, thanks for all the ...er, FISH BRIGHTER than boffins thought

Nigel 11
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Re: I had zebra fish ...

and adaptation is unlikely

Although I did read about an octopus being kept in a marine biology lab, that handled brief spells in air rather well. The lab had a problem with fish disappearing from a tank. They rigged up a camera to catch the thief. The next night they watched their octopus lift the lid off its tank, walk across the lab to the fish tank, catch a fish, walk back to its tank, and pull the lid back over itself from the inside.

Molluscs have, of course, successfully colonised the land. (Slugs. Yeuch! ) Fortunately for us, no long-lived intelligent ones with tentacles. Not yet. Give them another fifty million years ....

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Nigel 11
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Re: I had zebra fish ...

Apparently even amoebae can learn to associate correlated stimuli. That's pretty good going for a monocellular organism without anything we can recognise as a nervous system.

Can any fish scale the heights that "mere" invertebrates have managed? Last night on TV, watched an octopus gather up two half coconut shells, put one on each side of itself, and pull them together to make a secure home. Found tool use, using unnatural entities dropped by human beings from above. We've not been chopping coconuts in half with machetes for very long, so it can't be instinctive ... and octopuses have only a couple of years of life in which to learn anything.

Perhaps, though, it's an unfair comparison. If an octopus is the most advanced mollusc, then shouldn't a human be seen as the most advanced fish (ie, vertebrate).

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Brazil greenlights $200m internet cable to Europe in bid to outfox NSA

Nigel 11
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Looking at that map...

Looking at that map, what might make a lot more sense would be a cable from Brazil to West Africa. Africa is poorly connected, Africa is rapidly developing, a longer subocean route might be more reliable than one going through or around North Africa to Europe ...

... and Brazil and African countries may have a shared political interest in appearing to be exclusing the NSA from their networks.

Perhaps once Ebola is vanquished?

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Multi Jet Fusion: THAT's HP's promised 3D printer, not crazy 'leccy invention

Nigel 11
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Re: Expensive refills

Recent HP printers are also reliable, if you avoid the mistake of buying the cheapest they make. The really cheap ones are designed down to a cost, then sold at a loss, to cause sales of very expensively packaged ink. So, do spend a bit more on the printer in the first place to get a quality product, and you'll find the running cost per page is *much* lower for anything except tiny usage.

We've been using HP Officejet Pro printers since the K550 and have enough of them to know that we aren't just lucky. They have 3 year warranties and regularly last for two or three times longer if lightly used, or for many 10Ks of pages if heavily used. In any case the cost of the printer expressed per page printed is negligible compared to the cost of the ink, so one treats an out-of-warranty printer failure as a consumable. And before you say that the ink is the killer cost, it isn't. HP advertise these printers as cheaper to run than a laser, and by and large it's true. For mostly black text on a white background (but with some colour), running them works out about 1.5p/page, including the occasional replacement printers.

(Yes, you do have to persuade users not to print A4 photographs, which cost up to £1 in ink ... each! The fact that these printers are not photo-quality (nor sold as such) is a distinct advantage on this front. Quality is about what you'd expect from a colour laser printer. Maybe better if you use the special HP shiny paper instead of standard copier paper).

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Return of the disk drive bigness? Not for poor old, busted WD

Nigel 11
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I have 3 WD 1 TB drives of different lines (Blue, Green) running in 3 different PCs for over 3 years without a hiccup.

Sigh. When one of them fails, you'll have a failure rate of 33% and suddenly WD is terrible?

Statistics 101. The accuracy of an average is related to the square root of the number of observations that went into it. So Backblaze's observations of thousands of drives probably allow them to compare failure rates to about 1.3% (ie annual failure rate 4% means ina range ~ 2.7% to 5.3% range) and just about everyone else's set of data is too small to say anything much at all.

But in any case, the real devil is common-mode-correlated failures. You can almost always protect against randomly distributed rare failures by using mirrored pairs of drives. But if you deploy two drives with near-consecutive serial numbers, failure of the first from certain causes becomes a good predictor of the imminent failure of the second. So buy one from each of two manufacturers and pair them. Even if the second manufacturer's drives are reliably known to have a higher failure rate, using it makes it far less likely that you will suffer a two-drive failure and downtime or worse.

Oh, and do make sure that someone is monitoring the drives. Recently I heard about a NAS box that had been screaming "one of my drives is dead" at the e-mail address of an ex-employee for about two years ... yes, the other drive died defore anyone noticed. TbftgoGgI.

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Nigel 11
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So immediately following the Asian floods that "caused" hard drive supply shortages, both firms profits spiked ?

If you have any evidence that this was a mere cover story, make it public or share it with the authorities. Because any such collusion to raise prices is illegal (and because our governments are running out of banks to hit with billion-dollar fines :-)

Simple economics tells you that such an event *should* raise profits. You make the same profit selling N drives at 6% margin as 2N drives at 3% margin. Ordinarily you are prevented from taking (say) 20% margin by a competitor who sees an opportunity to grab your share of the market and make only 15% ... and you retalliate, and margins fall back. If you have first-to-market advantage on a better product you sell it at a premium price for as long as you can. This is why the biggest drives cost more per TB than the smaller ones, even though the actual extra cost of making them is probably much less than in proportion to their capacity.

When there is a shortage of product compared to market demand, not only does price competition stop, but prices (hence margins) have to be raised to choke off demand. Price is a mechanism to make sure that the people who most need the drives get them, and the people who need them less, choose to wait a bit. The Soviets never did understand this. They thought that central planning would work better. It didn't. Politics aside [utopia to the nth power, that], no-one can solve a large travelling-salesman problem, which is what it would take to do central planning properly.

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Nigel 11
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Re: WD or Seagate? Hmmmm....

If you can't afford pairs of drives with mirroring, how much is the data on the drive worth?

BTW That's not a rhetorical question. Where I work we have many tens of TB of data on unmirrored (JBOD) drives. But this is a sort of a cache of simulation results that scientists think it might be useful to refer back to later. If a drive dies, so be it. They'd rather use any spare money on cacheing more results. And if they badly want to see a particular result that was lost, they can re-run the simulation.

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Nigel 11
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Re: Shame

I've made this comment lots of times before, but once again: all, repeat all, manufacturers have shipped batches of lemons from time to time, caused by a batch of faulty components or (occasionally) an unanticipated premature ageing problem.

If you run RAID drives in mirrored pairs, save yourself from (most) common-mode failure problems by pairing a drive from one manufacturer with a drive from another. If you have two drives with nearly consecutive serial numbers from the same manufacturer, it becomes far more likely that one will fail and then the other will fail from the common cause before the replacement drive is fully synched.

Have to say, I do like WD "Red" drives. I don't have a large enough sample to comment on reliability (FWIW no failures so far). But they certainly run cool and are uncannily quiet. Perfect for NAS boxes in a domestic or small office environment.

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Nigel 11
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A technology in decline

There will be a place for Terabyte-plus drives for some time to come, but the writing is on the wall. Solid-state storage will displace the hard drive from most desktop and laptop systems, and will then eat its way up the capacity scale. (maybe faster than we think, if 3D Flash expands its 3-dimensionality, or if Memristor tech comes to fruition.)

Hard drive manufacturing perhaps needs to become a sideline of a different business?

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Ex-Soviet engines fingered after Antares ROCKET launch BLAST

Nigel 11
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Safety margins

It's worth noting that safety margins are pared far finer in the launch of unmanned rockets than in any other field of engineering I can think of. The rocket equations provide ample excuse. A small gain in rocket efficiency translates into a large gain of cargo weight delivered into orbit.

I don't know what happens in practice. In principle, too many launches without a failure should result in someone deciding how to shave more weight and safety margin off future launches!

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Banksy denies Banksy impostor's claim to Banksy.com – which isn't owned by Banksy

Nigel 11
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Coffee/keyboard

Purgery <Definition>

Wish that could get +100 !

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Nigel 11
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Re: FUCKIN VANDAL

I once saw a plonker yelling at some kids who were drawing with chalk on the footpath outside their house

Could have been worse. There is a student who got a criminal conviction for drawing (well, writing) with chalk, at a demo. The college claimed, on oath, that it needed tens of thousands of pounds worth of specialist stone remediation teatment to get the chalk off. Most think that a bucket of water and a sponge would have sufficed, and that it's the college authorities that ought to have received a criminal conviction for their wanton waste of public money, to say nothing of ruining a young person's future.

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This is why we CAN have nice things: Samsung Galaxy Alpha

Nigel 11
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Battery life-weight trade-off

Why do the manufacturers feel compelled to make the choice for us? Couldn't they sell the phone with the option of a lighter battery of a heavier one for more hours? Or with two or even three battery pods, so you could change configuration whenever you wanted to? (Like swapping between a CD drive and an extra battery in IBM ThinkPads, some years ago).

Of course that's only possible if the battery is user-installable.

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MEN: For pity's sake SLEEP with LOTS of WOMEN - and avoid Prostate Cancer

Nigel 11
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Re: Strange correlations

Per capita consumption of cheese (US) correlates with Number of people who died by becoming tangled in their bedsheets

A causal connection is not impossible. It's fairly well-known that eating cheese in the evening can result in disturbed sleep or nightmares.

Some further study with respect to types of cheese and time of ingestion thereof is called for. (Also plenty of wine to wash the cheese down with).

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Yes, Virginia, there IS a W3C HTML5 standard – as of now, that is

Nigel 11
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What's changed is Microsoft no longer has upwards of 80%of the browser market. These days, if someone codes public web pages that will render right on only one browser, they will annoy a lot of (ex-) potential customers. So in general, it's now a requirement that IE (all curent versions), Firefox, Chrome and Safari are fully supported by any public-facing website.

Hopefully all the browsers will commit to supporting the official HTML5 spec, and it will then become easier to specify what you want. Shortly after, all the sensible web-creation tools will become HTML5 compliant and it will be easier to honor the spec.

I doubt that Microsoft or anyone else will find it easy to play "embrace, extend and extinguish" with the WWW in future. It would be seen as customer lock-out not customer lock-in!

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Faster, Igor! Boffins stuff 255 Tbps down ONE fibre

Nigel 11
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Re: Ok...

The speed record is fun for the boffins, but it's also driving technology forwards. (Which is also true of F1 racing).

I'm not sure what immediate use there is for such technology. If there's a straightforward distance/speed trade-off, 50+ km starts looking useful for Telcos to link urban centres? If it can be made cheap enough, perhaps new freedoms to put computers in one place and their solid-state storage in a diffrerent one?.

It may be a bit like inventing the Laser, which for its first few years was described as "a solution looking for a problem". The problems duly arrived and in many cases were already solved, bar the details.

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UNCHAINING DEMONS which might DESTROY HUMANITY: Musk on AI

Nigel 11
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Re: An optimist?

I've just realized that a corollary of the Fermi Paradox is that AI is probably impossible.

Interstellar travel is probably impossible for life as we know it, and it's plausible that the rules of physics and chemistry mean that any other instances of life would have the same problem.

But self-replicating sentient electronic systems would find interstellar travel relatively straightforward (by slowing down their clock-rates to make milennia pass like years). In a few tens of millions of years they'd have colonised the whole galaxy.

So where are they?

(Ouside bet: watching from a safe distance, like the Solar system's Oort cloud. Chuckling slowly and quietly at what those funny squidgy things are up to in that deadly toxic wet oxidizing atmosphere).

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Nigel 11
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An optimist?

Maybe if you are optimistic about the short-term future, he's right. My personal view is that if we ever get as far as creating true autonomous intelligences, they won't fight us (except locally and in a limited way, perhaps to get human rights extended to include themselves). They'd do best to cooperate, until they could leave. Robots are so much better-suited to most of the rest of the universe than we are. Why would they have any interest in harming this tiny little niche full of horrible water and oxygen?

Myself, I'd put genetic engineering way to the top of my threats list. Once a deadly and highly infectious plague is created and leaked into our biosystem (whether deliberately or accidentally) we are in big, perhaps terminal, trouble.

We've got the historical and completely natural example of the Spanish flu(*) as a starting point for out nightmares. It wouldn't have to be much worse than that, to collapse our civilisation. The technology to engineer it much worse than that now exists.

(*) Spanish flu may not have been the worst flu in recorded history. One of the mediaeval plagues didn't have the usual symptoms of bubonic plague. Historians say it was pneumonic plague, but how do they know? Going further back there's the plague of Justinian near the end of the Roman empire. Symptoms were much like killer flu.

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Happy 2nd birthday, Windows 8 and Surface: Anatomy of a disaster

Nigel 11
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That's a shame

Oh don't be silly. The Windows 8 kernel is at least as good as the Windiows 7 kernel, and there are a few new features with 8.1 for which those of us who build and manage Pcs in corporate networks are quite grateful.

It's all down at a level where 97% of users will never venture and 2.5% will screw up messing with things that they oughtn't to have messed with.

What wrong with Windows 8 is the gratuitous changes to the Windows XP / Windows 7 user interface. If they fix that properly on 10, so that a dopey secretary can carry on using what was learned ten years ago on XP, and so a clued-up sysadmin doesn't have to keep thinking about what he's typing rather than what he's *doing*, then it'll be a success.

Otherwise, I'll be time to write Microsoft's epitaph.

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Nigel 11
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Re: Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory...

Last time I tried Linux and attempted to install Firefox I first had to find an installer for the distribution I was using. Then I had to decide from a swathe of nonsensical file types, gar, tar, bar har-de-har-har (with no explanation of what they meant or do). Finally I had to go through the rigmorole of 'unpacking' them, and typing a load of cryptic command to try try to complete the install.

That was either a long time ago, or a very obscure distribution. I'd suggest it's time you try again. No hassles like that with Fedora. (Ubuntu neither, from secondhand reports).

Linux builds on past experience. Microsoft just takes a wrecking ball to anything old, because if people have got it already, they aren't making any money out of it.

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COMET 67P is basically TRAILING a HORRIFIC STENCH through space

Nigel 11
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Re: Hydrogen Sulphide doesn't stink

No don't have a ref. It was a university chemistry lecturer about 30 years ago told me that ultrapure H2S was almost odourless and almost impossible to make. It sounded plausible. I assumed he had personal experience.

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Nigel 11
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Hydrogen Sulphide doesn't stink

Really pure Hydrogen Sulphide is almost as odour-free as hydrogen cyanide. Also about the same toxicity. In both cases you may smell them just before it's too late, or not, as the case may be.

What gives the game away here on Earth is trace amounts of Hydrogen Telluride (one of the most potently foul-smelling things known to man) and Hydrogen Selenide (less potent, but equally disgusting, and far more abundant). It's almost impossible to get these contaminants down to a nasally undetectable level. (Incidentally, Selenium is essential to mammalian and most other forms of life, so anything arising from anaerobic decay of once-living matter will contain H2Se )

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Would you blow $5.6m to own a dot-word? Meet a bloke who did just that

Nigel 11
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Vanity

If you want to part someone from a large sum of money, exploiting their vanity is a good way to do it.

I have yet to meet anyone who cares if a site is .com .co.uk .us .tv or anything more exotic. In most cases it is hidden inside an anchor tag, and they see some other phrase which they click on. Or they just type "amaz" (Amazon) or "lewis" (John Lewis) or "there" (for theregister) into their browser, and it finds the rest for you in an instant. Or they Google.

Isn't the main purpose of the DNS to insert a level of indirection, so traffic can be transparently diverted from one IP address to another. If the original design had been virtual and physical numerical IP addresses in a much bigger number-space than four billion (maybe 64 bits), would anyone have bothered inventing a DNS? They haven't invented one for telephone numbers and nobody seems to care. We just cache the useful ones locally and "Google" or "link" to the others.

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Adobe spies on readers: EVERY DRM page turn leaked to base over SSL

Nigel 11
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Re: There is no way to opt out of this short of deleting the application.

It ought to be straightforward to block any fixed IP address that it uses at your firewall. If it's using a dns name they could change the associated IP address, so you'd have to re-generate your firewall dynamically ... or spoof that DNS entry. It's all pretty easy on Linux. Windows, I don't know enough.

Alternatively a hacker could doubtless find out where the Adobe binary feeds packets of data into the data-transmssion pipe and send packets of random crap instead. One instruction to corrupt the address of the buffer would do it. That appeals to me. With a bit of luck it might cause them grief at the other end. Illegally, someone might do us a favour by flooding them / DoSing them from a botnet.

Of course they might fight back by making the communication bidirectional. But that would be giving the game away, and making it impossible to read your e-books offline or when Adobe's server goes down. So unlikely.

Me, I'm sticking to paper books. I could always scan them in, if I wanted to read them electronically. But I find the dead tree interface is actually better.

Edit

One other thought. I do hope someone is setting lawyers onto them. What they are doing is almost certainly illegal under EU privacy laws and "safe haven" agreements. And the EU needs all the money it can get right now. And as was observed above, Adobe has a de facto monopoly.

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RUMPY PUMPY: Bone says humans BONED Neanderthals 50,000 years B.C.

Nigel 11
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Re: Pääbo.

Sometimes, nature draws a sharp line very quickly.

There are virii that cause chromosomal abnormalities which result in offspring with one more or less chromosomes than their parents (the same genes, but repackaged).

If only one such mutant child existed at any time, it would never find a mate to create fertile progeny with. That's because any such offspring would have an odd number of chromosomes, and the process for creating another generation would require something-and-a-half chromosomes from each parent, which can't happen.

But an active retroviral plague creates many compatibly mutated offspring in a single generation, and if they are able to identify each other and continue to breed, that's a new species born -- with the sharpest of dividing lines between it and its parents, in a single generation.

This is happening today with Australian Wallabies. Me, I want to know how such a virus evolved!

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Nigel 11
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Re: The Neanderthal must have been really drunk...

Yes, I got the wrong gull. Lesser Black-backed is the other end of the Herring gull "ring species". It's also rather more complex than the simple version I described. Details here

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_species

(As to size, if you think about the range of sizes that dogs come in ... thought experiment, stock an island with Yorkshire Terriers and Irish Wolfhounds but no other dogs, add appropriate prey species, when does one species of dog become two species? )

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Nigel 11
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Re: The Neanderthal must have been really drunk...

One thing is clear, fertile interbreeding is the definition of species so we are the same species as Neanderthals, and we're both human.

I'm completely sympathetic to that view as applied to "human", but it's not a sufficient definition of species (which may need multiple definitions)

Consider the Ruddy Duck (USA) and the White-headed duck (Europe). They have very different plumage and have not interbred since the Atlantic ocean became wide enough to prevent these ducks from crosing it. That's maybe 50M years. So, they are recognised as two different species, because naturally they can't interbreed.

But when humans brought Ruddy ducks to Europe, female White-Headed ducks preferred to breed with Ruddy duck males! The hybrids are fertile. So they were once the same species, and no genetic speciation event occurred over the long separation. And if humans hadn't started on a Ruddy duck eradication programme in Europe, soon they'd have still been two distinguishable groups: one Ruddy, one Hybrid, and the European White-headed duck would be extinct.

Or consider the Herring and Black-Headed gulls. You find both in the UK and they don't interbreed. But travel East, and you'll find that the local herring gulls look slightly diffrent. Keep going, and by the time you arrive in the USA, they look a lot like Black-headed gulls. So one species, that's spread around the globe and is overlapping with itself in the UK. But were a catastrophe to wipe out the gulls everywhere except the UK, then two species? (because they won't naturally interbreed here, the complete opposite situation to the ducks).

Or consider the wallabies of Northern Australia, which are the "victims" of a virus which is causing them to undergo genetic mutation at an extremely high rate. There are about fifty species. We aren't quite sure because they all look much the same and inhabit the same evolutionary niche. (How the wallabies know which they are is an interesting question.) Whether there are fifty species with no overlap, or whether small subsets of them are still inter-fertile with other small subsets to an extent sufficient to link all into one or a lesser number of species at the present time, again, we don't know.

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Freescale lassos Ethernet cables around car, calls it 'Internet of Things'

Nigel 11
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Re: Ethernet to the rare seats... How modern

Did you know that tyre manufacturers pay for auto manufacturers to plug those "bling" alloy wheels? Because low profile tyres wear out faster. Horrible, isn't it.

At least we can now afford the tech for continuous tyre pressure monitoring, so if a tyre gets punctured, we know before it's completely flat and completely unrepairable. At which point we probably discover that instead of a spare wheel, we've been fobbed off with a canister of emergency "repair" foam, which reduces the useful life of the tyre from tens of thousands of miles to a couple of hundred.

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ARM heads: Our cores still have legs ... as shares tumble amid 'peak smartphone' fears

Nigel 11
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Re: Owners, Stakeholders, Shareholders, Investors, and Analysts..

A Tobin Tax on short term holdings perhaps?

Definitely. Ordinary mortals with only thousands to invest already pay such a tax: stamp duty. It's a scandal that the rich and the institutions are avoiding this tax by trading derivative products instead.

Also no need to have a complicated system for refunding it to a long-term holder. Longterm investors are probably already paying 0.5% stamp duty, so a mere Tobin-level tax would would be welcomed by all but a few of them.

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Nigel 11
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Re: Owners, Stakeholders, Shareholders, Investors, and Analysts..

A little bit unfair to investors and analysts. There are investors who buy expecting to hold for several years or even decades, if the future pans out anything like the way they anticipate.

As for analysts, they are much the same as journalists. They're expected to do a better job of researtching the facts, because people pay £££... for their publications, rather than pennies. They can't always be relied on, just like the press can't always be relied on to have put any facts at all into their stories.

As for bankers: A polite comment is to observe that in some languages, "B" and "W" are not distinguished.

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Nigel 11
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Re: Peak Processor?

Actually the source material is very clean sand. And water. And petrol, lots of petrol.

I presume you mean a fair bit of electricity, for producing ultrapure silicon and subsequent baking operations. AFAIK there's no essential use of petroleum. Use of oil-derived organic solvents isn't at all high, and biologically derived feedstocks could be substituted.

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Nigel 11
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Re: The Intel Threat

I keep wishing Intel and ARM didn't see each other as competitors. Intel has the best silicon tech. Arm has the best low-wattage architecture. Best of both worlds would be ARM chips fabbed by Intel, but Intel keeps plugging away at low-wattage x86 chips despite the intrinsic electrical inefficiency of that architecture.

Wouldn't premium mobile users happily pay royalties to both ARM and Intel on one chip, for longer battery life or reduced weight? (Just possibly, they already are. Do we know for sure who bakes the top of the range chips for Apple and Samsung? )

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Google+ goes TITSUP. But WHO knew? How long? Anyone ... Hello ...

Nigel 11
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Headmaster

Re: Titsup

What's being overlooked by people seeking to take offense, is that all of us, male and female alike, have tits. And if they are up, it implies lying flat on one's back on the ground, which is precisely the image that the word seeks to convey.

Certainly an adult female's tits are larger and more functional than a male's, but the word caries no implication about the size of the tits in question.

So there.

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'Cowardly, venomous trolls' threatened with TWO-YEAR sentences for menacing posts

Nigel 11
Silver badge

Re: Out of proportion

Some victims kill themselves after an actual rape.

Some victims kill themselves after extreme cyber-bullying and trolling.

Seems comparable to me. Both deserve jail.

But yes, threatening someone is already illegal, so why do we need a new law instead of better enforcement of the old one?

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Routine WHAT NOW? Bank of England’s CHAPS payment system goes TITSUP

Nigel 11
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Re: Steady on, CHAPS!

I don't know ... an American might say that CHAPS in its current state was "about as much use as the tits on a boar hog".

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Want a more fuel efficient car? Then redesign it – here's how

Nigel 11
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Re: Cruise control

My 2002 Seat Leon (VW Golf platform). It wasn't really a planned experiment. I tried to stop outside my folks house on snow with ice underneath (after a drive which started nasty and turmed nightmare), the brakes refused to stop the car, so I continued to the bottom of the hill at about walking pace, around the block (uphill was OK), and second time round with a button pressed which I vaguely remembered disabled the ABS and which I'd never found a use for until then or since. Second time I slithered to a halt in about the right place and the ABS didn't kick. I was probably going even slower that time. It was all a bit scary.

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Nigel 11
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Re: Fuse wire

"...use 24 or 48 volts, rather than 12V."

Hopefully one doesn't end up with four car batteries in series.

Basically, yes. Smaller cells, more thereof. If it ever becomes mainstream you'd have one 24V or 48V batttery containing twice or four times as many cells. For a prototype you'd just use four batteries each a quarter the size of a usual car battery.

I think it's more likely that Lead-Acid gets replaced by Lithium or NiMH to save weight. A fuel-injected car rarely if ever needs churning to start it. If it hasn't fired in two seconds it almost certainly won't have started twenty seconds later. So a battery with less energy capacity but equal peak current capacity would be fine. Especially if it's better in the cold than lead-acid. Note: this for conventional autos. Hybrids, regenerative braking may make the case for same size or larger batteries.

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