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* Posts by Nigel Whitfield.

444 posts • joined 12 Jun 2009

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IBM Hursley Park: Where Big Blue buries the past, polishes family jewels

Nigel Whitfield.

Not the only high tech in the area

Growing up in Winchester in the 70s, there were quite of lot of IBMers around, but they weren't the only high tech people in the area.

The IBA had their engineering base at Crawley Court, not to many miles to the north. They knocked down a big old country house and put up a new building, and that being back in the days when TV companies besides the BBC actually did real engineering, they did a lot of early work on digital television there.

The site passed to NTL after abolition of the IBA, and now belongs to Arquiva

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BBC, ITV gang up on YouView with 'FreeView Connect'

Nigel Whitfield.

A Public Service Broadcaster is one that has public service obligations; the funding mechanism and presence of adverts isn't relevant to the definition.

It's about things like the amount of news programming, including local programming (though given the way ITV has been diligently jettisoning that, perhaps it shouldn't count as a PSB), and also childrens' material too.

Historically, heavy regulation meant the only broadcasters ( BBC, ITV and then C4) on the airwaves all had some public service obligations. As alternatives have proliferated, those original incumbents have been granted certain things (like mux capacity, guaranteed EPG positions) in return for maintaining those obligations.

There was a suggestion a couple of years back that ITV might be considering walking away from its PSB obligations, though that seems to have come to nothing; they probably just wanted to persuade Ofcom they should rip up their local news operations a bit more.

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'No, I CAN'T write code myself,' admits woman in charge of teaching our kids to code

Nigel Whitfield.

See that bandwagon ...

Let's all go jump on it. Yes, programming is important (one of the reasons I studied it at IC), and it should be taught rather better than it has been - but most especially to the students who have the aptitude.

I honestly can't quite grasp this idea that because computers are everywhere, everyone must learn how to program them. It seems to me a bit like saying that because TVs are ubiquitous, everyone must learn how to direct.

Yes, learning to programme can teach problem solving skills, but there are other ways to teach those too, which may well reach some people who have no desire to learn to code. And ultimately, some people will be better served by learning different skills, rather than programming.

How about a year of UX? Arguably, that could make just as big a difference as coding, couldn't it? That people still need to be aware of which physical or logical device they clicked on when writing a letter to a gas board seems bizarre, frankly.

This whole thing really smacks not so much of actually caring about what kids learn at school - if that were the case, they might, for example, make foreign languages more prominent - but of a quick simple way of looking like Something Is Being Done. "Oh look, apps are popular and in the news a lot. Apps are made with code. Let's teach children to code; it's bound to help the international league tables"

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New Doctor Who's new costume newly REVEALED by Beeb

Nigel Whitfield.

It's the pelvic thrust ...

.... that really drives me insane

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UK smut filter may have sent game patch to sin-bin

Nigel Whitfield.

Re: There have been stories like this...

And the magazine now known as "Canada's History" was formerly called "The Beaver"

Hilarious japes and mix-ups ensued.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/the-beaver-gets-a-new-name-1.865851

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4K-ing hell! Will your shiny new Ultra HD TV actually display HD telly?

Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Broadcast HD resolutions

Yes, the BBC stuff was side by side; they did a fairly cunning simulcast a couple of christmasses ago of Streetdance 3D http://gonedigital.net/2012/01/02/more-3d-on-bbc-hd-streetdance/ where they used the side by side format for the main transmission, with a red button to change to 2D.

That used the scaling capabilities of the interactive engine to scale the left hand side of the image up to full screen. Less bandwidth than you need to do it the other way - a full HD stream and a separate side-by-side stream for the 3D version - but the consequence is that the effective resolution is lower whether watching in 2D or 3D.

Back when 4K was first talked about, one of the touted advantages of such a high resolution was that it would mean that there wouldn't be such a loss of quality when viewing 3D material. Of course, since then, 3D has become the red headed bastard that won't be inheriting the throne any time soon, and they'll have to think of another way to persuade us we really, really need it.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Wow... just wow

One of those graphs is included in an earlier piece we linked to, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/05/19/tv_sizes_deconstructed/

So far, most of the sizes of 4k panels being pumped out are excessive for a typical UK living room. Not to mention, quite simply vulgar.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: "Ready" = NOT

Technically, I'm sure that they would say it's not a misleading description.

The HD Ready symbol has a clear definition, one which distinct from the HD TV symbol, and it has never been claimed by those who came up with the label that it meant anything other than being able to display from a different source.

They are aided and abetted in that by the fact that a logo or symbol is usually treated quite differently to the actual words themselves.

I think, in the UK at least, you could make a much better argument for the "HD TV" symbol being misleading, where it's applied to kit that doesn't have DVB-T2 and H.264, because it won't receive the UK HD broadcasts.

I'm not excusing the massive confusion caused by the HD Ready symbol - just explaining that I'm pretty sure that, as far as the ASA would be concerned, the symbol itself has a clear meaning, which is explained on the website, and so is unlikely to actually be considered a misleading description.

Of course, a lot may also depend on the context too; just putting the "HD Ready" logo in a corner of the ad is one thing, but saying something like "Watch Freeview programmes in high definition on this HD Ready TV" is a different matter entirely and would very probably be misleading, if it wasn't made clear additional equipment was necessary.

Part of the problem, of course, is the poorly trained sales staff who didn't make things clear, too. And while the ASA can regulate ads, it has no power over the sticky labels granted to TV makers and printed on their boxes, or what salesmen say.

To be absolutely clear, I do think the HD Ready/HD TV labelling turned out to be a monstrous balls up. I'm just not convinced you'd actually have any joy with the ASA.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: These are not the pixels you are looking for.

Quantifying those extra things is, one might think, precisely the sort of thing that a labelling system might try to do. A "Fabulous HD" logo might encompass "Sharper pictures; true-to-life colour; smooth movement" and so-on, in a way that might make it a little easier for the less savvy consumer to grasp.

Unfortunately, after the mess and confusion of "HD Ready" I don't personally have much confidence in that, and perhaps still less after seeing that the proposed DE baseline mentions only 8 bits of colour depth, when it's very likely that sources - including BD - will be offering more than that.

After the frustrations many had with 5.1 on Freeview, I'm also a little worried about the specification for audio simply being 2.0 PCM.

A quickly released labelling scheme could end up confusing things even more. But then, when it comes to labelling, I suppose there's a long and pretty dismal history of that sort of thing.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: But first

That's the switchover point, according to an interview with Netflix.

The general aim will be 15.6Mbps, from memory, and 11Mbps is the point at which their adaptive streaming will fall back from UHD to standard HD, using HEVC (H.265). They'll also, where possible, be using HEVC for lower resolutions, to save on bandwidth, though it'll obviously take a while before there's a substantial chunk of kit out there able to decode it.

The paper we linked to in the article really is well worth reading.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: But first

And that's why, even with multicast, which is only really going to make a difference with live TV, IP distribution will be a pipedream for huge areas of the country, for quite some time yet.

You might get HEVC to squeeze UltraHD down to 11Mbps (which is the point at which Netflix will fall back to 1080), but even that is way more than a lot of people can get.

And that's one reason why, for live stuff at least, there's still a need for broadcast services. Unless you're going to say to a large chunk of the population (including those, like you, in cities), "Sorry; you're never going to get 4K"

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Isn't bingo the preserve of the blue rinse brigade?

Indeed; and I have never felt as utterly slow and out of my depth as the time I stumbled into a bingo night in a lesbian pub in Islington. I simply couldn't keep up.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Broadcasters penny pinching

Some of that is the broadcasters, but it's also down to the evils of capitalism ;-)

Once spectrum became an "asset" or "resource" and was something that people had to pay for rights to, the end result was inevitable.

Commercial broadcasters want to get as much cheap cheerful schlock in front of the eyeballs of the viewers as possible, and so they'll squeeze in extra channels, regardless of the shocking effect on picture quality.

The BBC will want to justify their position by being seen to be broadly competitive, and so have their extra channels too.

The PSB services have at least some technical constraints imposed upon them, but beyond that everything is up for grabs, sadly.

And all this will be made worse by the intention to squeeze broadcasting into an ever smaller chunk of spectrum, so that the rest can be "monetised" more effectively; expect to see muxes switch to DVB-T2 and H.264 in future, even for SD, so that as the space shrinks, we can maintain roughly a similar level of service.

And one of the sad things about this is that, frankly, a lot of people don't even care that much about picture quality; they're quite happy to watch 4:3 stuff zoomed in weird ways, for example, or have their TVs lined up with the most lurid colours imaginable. The conditions in which many people choose their TV don't exactly help them realise what they're missing out on, either.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: 2K intermediate

There are quite a few 4K cameras around now. Netflix is making content in 4k, as I mentioned in the article. And there will be stuff filmed at various forthcoming sporting events, too.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: multicast is already here, but 4k is not the answer you were looking for

Damn good question; HDMI 2.0 was only last September; and even now, there are sets shipping that have 4K screens and HDMI 1.4.

I fear that at the cheap end of the market, we may well see lots of kit pumped out - like that 'bargain' Kogan set - that only has 1.4. But the less savvy punters will be smitten by the sales patter about 4k, and not realise that they won't be getting anything near the best quality for their money. They'll plug in a fancy new 4K BD player, or a network streamer, and it'll drop down the frame rate, and the colour depth, to match what the set is capable of, when for a little bit more they'd have been able to get the full package.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: multicast is already here, but 4k is not the answer you were looking for

Yes, there's some multicast, but not enough for the sort of wholesale switch away from terrestrial transmission that some tech-utopians believe will be coming along Real Soon Now. Wasn't it TalkTalk that gobbled up the old HomeChoice network, which was built primarily for delivering TV in the first place?

Unless companies dig deep into their pockets, those outside major areas are going to be stuck with pretty poor service for a long time, multicast or not; for quite a few years, I would guess that the only practical way to deliver multiple channels of HD to people in those areas is going to be via broadcast, whether terrestrial or satellite, rather than IP.

Some of the demos at recent IBC shows have used much higher frame rates; there have been some BBC demos with rates over 100Hz, and it does make a massive difference to how moving things look on screen. I didn't see the 2013 demos, but I was there in 2012 and it's pretty impressive. There's a little about that at http://www.bbc.co.uk/rd/blog/2013/09/4k-crazy-at-ibc

Of course, if anyone's to broadcast at those rates, they'll still run up against the problem that the HDMI 2.0 spec only covers 4K up to 60p, so we'd need another spec bump on that side. Which, I guess, is another good reason to wait before jumping in.

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EU eyes UHF spectrum: What do you think, biz bods... broadband?

Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Whenever I hear of UK terrestrial broadcasting I start to break out in tears

But isn't cable penetration far higher in Germany than it is here? And you used to have (not sure it's still the case, though) a much stronger tradition of FTA satellite than we did. I know now you have things like Sky Deutschland trying to convince you that everything has to be pay, but for a long time places like Germany managed to do very well without satellite being centrally organised, a fixed EPG and so on.

In the Netherlands, cable penetration is over 90%; it's much much lower here.

To a pretty large degree, the UK has relied much more on terrestrial broadcasting in the past than a lot of other countries, notwithstanding Mr Murdoch's attempts to change that. The old analogue services covered most of the country very well, with lots of small relays, rather than the black spots that others countries put up with.

We only have 13% of households connected to cable, and I suspect actual reach of cable is not much over 50-60% (can't find the figures this morning); satellite has generally been associated with pay TV, and thanks in part to the BBC, we have a pretty strong tradition of free to air telly.

All that has helped shaped what we have today in terms of terrestrial services. Unfortunately, the spivs of the mobile industry want to grab some of that space for themselves; while coordinating spectrum at an EU level makes sense in many ways, it will be a shame (for consumers, though not big businesses) if the end result is to squeeze the terrestrial UK services so that they can only offer a small fraction of what is available now.

This squeeze is why, perhaps a little counterintuitively, we have just gained some extra HD channels; wider adoption of DVB-T2/H.264 kit will enable a later switch to that standard for SD, freeing up space for other uses.

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ESA rejoices as comet-chasing Rosetta probe wakes from 3-year nap

Nigel Whitfield.

I sent a probe to a comet once ...

All it came back with was an overpriced HDMI cable

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Pregnant? Celebrate your proudest moment ... by 3D-printing a copy of the foetus

Nigel Whitfield.

Utterly repulsive

It's bad enough working in an office where people don't have the manners to wait until their baby's been born before showing it off, and insist on bringing in their scans for people to coo over. Imagine the yummy-mummy-to-be bringing one of these in, wrapped in a hand knitted llama wool shawl, seeking praise for her fecundity.

And it will surely not be long before some nutjob american politician proposes a law that says anyone seeking an abortion must be made to hold a model of their foetus beforehand. Probably while praying, or something equally risible.

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BT 118 phone number fee howler lands telco giant with £225k fine

Nigel Whitfield.

It was free until 1991. (2nd April, according to http://www.britishtelephones.com/histuk.htm)

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Nigel Whitfield.

Quite. We used to have one number, easy to remember, which was free.

"Competition rules" decreed that that was apparently no good to the consumer.

So we had to have instead lots of different numbers, each of which had differing ways of charging, so in fact it was probably impossible for the consumer to be anything other than confused, and very probably pay over the odds.

But in the mad world of free marketeers, it's competition. And that always works in the best interests of the consumer. So it's clearly better.

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UK 'copyright czar' Edmund Quilty quits as Blighty's Director of Copyright Enforcement

Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Copywrong

So if I spend time researching and writing an article for The Register, should I not own it?

Should I not have the ability to agree with The Register that they will pay me for it? And once they have done, should someone else decide to reproduce it on their own site, without paying either me or The Register for it, potentially making money by running adverts next to it, why should that be permitted?

I honestly can't see how believing that I put some effort into some work, and deserve to be paid for it, is "crap"

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Ten classic electronic calculators from the 1970s and 1980s

Nigel Whitfield.

There were loads we could have mentioned; the fx350 isn't so different to the 550, though. And having limited myself to ten, I didn't want to end up with huge numbers of Casios; they were pretty ubiquitous, but there were the other brands as well.

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Gift-giving gotchas: How to avoid Xmas morning EMBARRASSMENT

Nigel Whitfield.

Re: OPTIONAL

The astute reader may have noticed a certain cynicism running through all my Xmas pieces here. While I won't be out walking, I will be ignoring the festival and catching up on DIY before treating myself to a lasagne that O intend to lace with so much garlic that it will keep those with an excess of festive cheer at a safe distance for several days.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Just a moment on camera battery advice

One other thing I didn't want to get in to, or we'd have spent the whole article talking about batteries, is of course that some makers have firmwares that reject third party batteries, so you need to check that first, if you're going to buy extras.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Top Marks for advice

Yes, you do get the invoice later. But the service from FedEx, in my experience, is so far beyond execrable that it needs to see a proctologist as a matter of urgency.

I've ended up telling a few companies in the US that I won't be able to order again from them unless they offer an alternative to FedEx.

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World+dog: Network level filters block LEGIT sex ed sites. Ofcom: Meh

Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Something you all seem to have missed...

Gays, and also plenty of other groups, too.

For those seeking information about coming out, or sexual health information, this will make it really difficult. The demands to filter public wifi will put a lot of this material beyond the reach of many of those who need it most.

In that regard, I think that what Cameron is doing is, to a degree, a digital version of Section 28.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Why block porn?

That's why I labelled it political; it's a deliberate attempt to get longer sentences, and look tougher.

But once again (as with the whole filtering issue, of course), avoiding the obvious issue of getting politicians to pass a law to get the results. Increase the penalty for possession, and amend sentencing guidelines appropriately. That would be the sensible decision, and then use charge people with "making" only when that's exactly what they have done.

The current option is a lazy option that bypasses all that, while at the same time applying the subtle pressure you mention to get the results that are wanted. It needs no parliamentary time, no law change, and makes people think they're actually doing better than they really are. It's hard to see that as anything other than politicking, in my view.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: I Don't Understand

Part of the stupidness of this system is that there is no clear idea of what sites are banned. There are no clear criteria beyond "protect the kiddies"

At least the Internet Watch Foundation has a remit, and a specific area, even if it has on occasion resulted in collateral damage.

However, when it comes to filtering, we actually have a complete pigs ear, and in many ways we have the ISPs to thank for this, just as much as the government. The government has made vague noises about blocking "extremist" material, but failed to really define that. "Extreme pornography" will be blocked, and "simulated rape" which are apparently deemed beyond the pale, though I'm not aware of any peer reviewed research (and also, much of the focus is solely on straight material, though clearly gay stuff will be affected; when anti-porn campaigners talk about the abuse inherent in porn, they usually do so from a feminist viewpoint, which completely omits not-hetero material).

I digress; I would imagine that in terms of reporting stuff you think should be banned you will be able to continue to report it to the IWF. Whether they - or anyone else - will accept reports of other material is not clear. Nor is the exact decision making process involved, or who exactly is making the decisions.

At least part of this is because, just as Cameron is frightened of the Mail and Mumsnet, so too are the ISPs. Rather than having the balls to say "No. We're not going to do this" when Cameron told them they should or he'd legislate, they've rolled over and done it.

So, now we have filtering or censorship of the internet, which is driven by the demands of a politician (albeit responding to whipped up hysteria), but with no political oversight. Because this has not been mandated by law, politicians have not had to stand in the Commons and argue over evidence, or what reasonable procedures there should be for reporting material, or for companies and organisations wrongly blacklisted to appeal, or even who should be performing classification.

Instead, we have a privately operated system, where large companies are making decisions on your behalf. They may get some data from groups like the IWF. They may get some of it from elsewhere. Perhaps the Met or GCHQ has a quiet word when it comes to "extremist" content.

We don't know. And they don't have to tell you.

David Cameron still gets to pretend he's not really censoring the internet, and ponce about the world lecturing people on human rights, without appearing quite such a hypocrite, and the Mail/Mumsnet crowd get to pretend their children are safe, because that block screen will surely protect them from the weirdo uncle doing the babysitting.

Don't worry about not understanding. The private sector has this all covered. You're not expected to do anything other than carry on paying your bills.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Possibly exactly what they're hoping for...

What a ghastly prospect, but exactly the sort of thing some of the anti-EU brigade would love: "first the meddling EU protected the terrorists, now it's protecting the paedos. This is why we need to get rid of all your rights now"

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Nigel Whitfield.

@cracked

I wonder if there's a way people could be encouraged to opt out and also sign up on a website to indicate that they have opted out as a matter of principle, and wish the government to butt out of their lives.

Perhaps by creating such a list using the e-petitions site so handily provided by the Government...

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Why block porn?

Unfortunately, there is a general dislike of sex in this country it seems. There's a massive desire to look the other way and distract people from talking about real problems. And there's a near deification of non-experts who happen to have had bad things happen to their relatives.

All of these combine to provide a veritable shitstorm of ill-conceived anti-sex ideas, which arguably cause more harm than anything else, without actually doing anything to protect people properly. To do that would require a level of introspection that is not welcome.

For example, following the Bulger murder, much was made of the presence of a film that there was no evidence the kids had seen. Some papers even urged that copies of it be destroyed, because it was evil. But where was the soul searching, the questioning why people saw a child in distress, yet didn't intervene. Perhaps they were scared of being labelled a paedo by readers of the same papers...

After the unfortunate death of a teacher due to strangulation/suffocation games, we were treated to the sight of bereaved family members being co-opted to talk about how that sort of porn should be banned; there's no evidence that it would have helped, but again, the heart strings are tugged, and we end up with things like the Extreme Porn law that can see lives destroyed, and people dragged through the courts, for possession of images of acts that are themselves perfectly legal. (In the Simon Walsh case of 2012, the police actually considered, though the prosecution didn't proceed with it, that the possession of a picture of a person in a gas mask might constitute extreme porn, because of the control over breathing; on that basis, I've recently submitted 'Extreme Porn' to a photo competition in Italy. Whoops...)

And when it comes to child porn, the police, the media and the CPS collude in charging almost everyone with the offence of "making" indecent images; it lets them get a longer sentence, which is probably a good thing, but when you hear talk in the media of someone being charged with "making" remember that they almost certainly weren't standing with a camera, as a child was really being abused. Their computer copied an already existing image onto the hard disk. Pursuing the charge of "making" seems to me almost a political issue - it makes it sound to the casual reader as if the real abusers are being caught; in that regard, it's dishonest, but serves the needs of the police and CPS well. (Honesty, in this case, I think would be for them to ask for a change in the law, to increase sentences for possession, and charge people with making images when they are actually doing so).

But the focus there is again not on the real issue; it's the headlines, the fancy dawn raids with TV cameras in attendance, the extra sentences they can get, even though the people often aren't actually physically abusing children. Because, as almost everyone accepts, the vast majority of abuse is carried out by someone known to the child.

Talking about that, and really doing something about it, of course, is much harder than shouting at people who protest against censorship "if you really cared about the kiddies, you wouldn't have a problem with this"

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Nigel Whitfield.

I do tend to the view that, once it's realised that this isn't very effective, the 'something must be done' brigade will certain demand that there must be something more.

We've already had the blathering of Cameron about "Good clean wifi" echoing the loathsome way in which people on some dating sites refer to not having had a positive HIV test as being "clean"), and it just betrays an utter cluelessness about technology and the sort of lives that some people lead.

We believe such bizarre rubbish about sex in this country; but I can say with a pretty high degree of certainty to parents that their censoring of what I'm allowed to see in my own home will not make a single bit of difference to the safety of their children.

One of my comments on the WiFi thing: http://gonedigital.net/2013/04/24/the-chilling-idiocy-of-camerons-good-clean-wifi/

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Nigel Whitfield.

There needs to be an open approval/appeal process

One of the sites that I manage is, while principally for gay and bisexual men with an interest in specific gear, not porn; as we don't allow nudity, or explicit photos. We don't even permit bare chests (not out of prudishness, but because the gear is the thing). The site's a (free) member's only site, and there are very few photos visible via the landing page, other than, for example a collection of photos from the Pride Parade and similar public events.

But it won't surprise me at all to discover that it's blocked, because in the minds of many people, gay = filth. Back in the 1990s, when the Met's OPS wanted to block newsgroups "because kiddie porn" the list of groups that they were asking ISPs to bar included many that were simply gay groups, or those related to other consensual but less mainstream sexual practices.

There needs to be a way for organisations and companies to easily determine whether or not their site is listed (and some of those, of course, may not even be in the UK), and to appeal if appropriate. But if Ofcom is rolling over and saying "we don't really care, you know?" then this really is going to end up inconveniencing a lot of people, either community groups like mine, or businesses that might be selling some products, and suddenly find many of their UK customers cut off, as well as useful sites with information about safety and health.

We're actually thinking of setting up a non-profit company to manage the site on a more formal footing; frankly, the feeling I get at the moment is that we're just not welcome in the UK, so we may as well establish it in a more enlightened country.

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No anon pr0n for you: BT's network-level 'smut' filters will catch proxy servers too

Nigel Whitfield.

Re: And so it begins

There is indeed a weird belief that simply telling people about sexual acts is enough to persuade people to try them. I should have a much more interesting life if that were the case.

Pretty sure I've mentioned here before the illogicality of some of these beliefs, eg that homosexuality is at once so abhorrent that no one would want to do it and yet so attractive that the mere mention of it will instantly turn every boy queer.

And these days, with the ever increasing list of "things that are too horrid for words" you an probably include just about any type of sex act in there.

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Nigel Whitfield.

There's more to it than just the filtering. There's the compilation of lists of "people who want porn"

Whether or not someone has opted to have an unfiltered feed as a matter of principle, they will be on the "porn users" list in the eyes of many. Let's see how long it is before these lists - kept by companies, who have been scammed for phone records of celebs before - end up in the wrong hands. When someone's wrongly accused of a crime and monstered in the papers like Chris Jefferies, and "has access to porn on his computer" is added to the list of "evidence" or when an acrimonious divorce case ends up with "he shouldn't be allowed to see the children, he's a porn users" or a job application ends after a company decides that you're not a "moral fit" for them.

There will be other sorts of damage too, given the information that will be filtered out as collateral. Do you really think it's going to be easy for a teen confused about their sexuality to ask the parents to turn off filtering, because they want to access resources online, for example?

This is a deeply disturbing project, for many reasons. A shame that our government has sunk so low.

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Excise Xmas prezzie indecision MISERY with El Reg’s gift guide²

Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Hard-learned lesson

That's one of my pet annoyances with a site I run that has a few thousand users. People email and say "photo uploading doesn't work" or "the web site's broken" as if that will give me enough information to fix a problem that no one else has mentioned.

Some of them get quite shirty and accuse me of patronising them when I ask them to explain exactly what they were trying to do, and what appeared on the screen.

But I don't think anyone ever takes their car to a garage and simply throws them the keys saying "It's broken." You would, even if a non mechanic, probably venture something like "there's a funny noise when I change gear" or "smoke comes out the front" or "the brake's don't work anymore."

Somehow, though, people think a generic "it's broken" is perfectly acceptable when it comes to computers. Perhaps part of this is because they often don't pay for the help they expect, whereas even a cursory experience with a mechanic at a garage is likely to lead to the conclusion that being vague and having them examine the car from end to end because you didn't say what was wrong is likely to be pretty expensive.

Perhaps, in the manner of that photo that's been doing the rounds about a cafe charging more for coffee the less polite you are, I should operate a sliding scale; "it's broken" get your problem fixed for £50, something a little more specific costs only £25 and if you can explain exactly what you were doing, as well as tell me the OS you're using, and the browser version, then the help is free. Include a screenshot, and I'll throw in a snog when the job's done.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Sprogs

Seems eminently reasonable to me, too, frankly. The best that most people will get out of me this year is a scowl.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Buy yourself a grammar/readability checker or plain old english language manaul.

I do believe there's a missing "be". It's only two letters. Considering the fee for the article, those two letters cost hardly anything, so you've not been particularly short changed, I feel. But naturally, my sincere apologies if the loss of two letters somewhere between my word processor and your web browser spoiled your enjoyment.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Hard-learned lesson

It's also why I recommended getting them the same platform you use. Trying to remember where on earth the various options are in Outlook for Windows, when you're sat in front of OS X Mail, is a painful experience. Especially since you can almost always guarantee that when you ask someone to describe the options they have on the screen in front of them, they'll miss out a crucial detail.

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Ghosts of Christmas Past: Ten tech treats from yesteryear

Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Which reminds me of the various early 80s scanned argos catalogues...

I use my mother's Kenwood Chef, an A701A; the only thing I've had to do was replace the mains cord, which eventually wore out around the hinge. It's older than I am; the same device that used to puree food for me as a baby is now used to whip up margaritas in the summer.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Great days

An excellent choice, sir.

I was wondering if no one had noticed, of it they were simply respecting the seven second delay we use.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Handspring Visor Deluxe

The Deluxe, of course, is the one with the real hair...

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Handspring Visor Deluxe

Translucent plastic was all the rage at the turn of the century; I still have my Visor Deluxe (in the same blue as pictured, but there were more sober options too).

I also have a Magellan GPS module for it, the VisorPhone, OmniRemote, and a backup cartridge. Plus a folding keyboard on which I wrote quite a lot of one of my books.

Things come and go in waves, and often the latest materials advances are picked up by one company and then echoed by others who want to ride the wave; I daresay in a few years time people will look back in horror at the various vulgar gold smartphones that seem to be popular at the moment and smile with the same wry amusement they now use when confronted by Formica.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Great days

I think that's certainly true; when you consider that, as mentioned before, for many of us, even colour television was a fairly new thing, yet here over the course of not much more than a decade were devices with incredible "silicon chips" suddenly appearing in our homes, or the homes of the posh kids up the road, doing things that seemed unimaginable only a few years before.

In the cinemas, we had things like Star Wars - with the first experience for many of surround sound - as well, and I think it all added to a tremendous sense of wonder, and the idea that we really were living almost in the future.

The year 2000 was far enough away that it seemed like anything could be possible by then; didn't Blue Peter have a competition for people to 'design' gadgets that they thought we would be using then? Not to mention the time capsule.

Yes, there have been some great things since then, like the internet, but it also seems that a lot of what's appeared since then - admittedly it's easy to look back through rose tinted specs - is smaller, faster, more integrated. Rather than things from the bloody future, in our 1970s living rooms.

Of course, we're not the first generation to have felt that; my grandmother doubtless found things pretty startling, with the arrival of radio, and can still recall the name of the first loudspeaker they bought, so that people didn't have to listen with headphones, and the subsequent arrivals.

And not so long before the period we looked at in this piece, there were those imagining what a beautiful world it would be, a glorious time to be free. Spandex jackets for everyone!

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Apple QuickTake 150

There were some Sony Mavica models that did that, and one of those almost made it in - if this had been more than just ten products, it probably would have done.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: memories

We got colour in late 1980, just before Xmas, a rented set from Rediffusion. I think that was four years or so after we'd made the leap to UHF-only with a Grundig black and white set to replace the old Ferguson dual standard model.

I'm sure we weren't the only kids for whom Saturday tea time was often marked by us pestering to be allowed to go to friends up the road to watch Dr Who in colour.

So, things like the VCS and Simon really did seem pretty amazing back then, both in their technical novelty and the fact that they were the exception, rather than just another chip-packed bit of gadgetry to add to the toy box

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Ten top tech toys to interface with a techie’s Christmas stocking

Nigel Whitfield.

Re: "it sure as heck isn’t going to be the year of desktop Linux..."

That was a little tongue in cheek, but still, I think:

A lot of home computers will eventually end up infested with malware as new and exciting exploits come to light.

Some people will decide to buy a cheap new computer, very likely replacing an old desktop with a much more compact laptop.

Some will conclude that since they only ever used it for email and Skype, they can make do with something like a Tesco tablet.

A vanishingly small number of the people who've so far resisted upgrading from XP may decide to put Linux on their aging hardware. But you'll probably be able to count their numbers on the fingers of a pretty badly mutilated hand.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: TP Link TL-WDR3600

I picked this mostly as a platform for OpenWRT, though of course there are plenty of similarly priced options, depending on the exact functions you require. Raspberry Pi gets all the love at the moment, but for some sorts of projects that need a small Linux system, I feel that you are very probably better off with something like this - even if not this exact model.

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Nigel Whitfield.

Re: Sphero

That may indeed be the case; I don't recall the UK stockists lists being available when I wrote the piece. So, apologies.

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