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* Posts by tfb

47 posts • joined 11 Jan 2010

Today's get-rich-quick scheme: Build your own bank

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Boffin

Re: @Chris Miller

A 100% reserve bank can't offer credit. If it does so then it is just an ordinary bank.

To be more precise: the deal with a 100% reserve bank is that if all its depositors turn up and ask for their money at once, it must be able to satisfy that request. So it can't lend any of the money deposited in it since if it does it's not a 100% reserve bank. It could lend other money, such as, for instance, any profit it makes.

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You'll hate Google's experimental Chrome UI, but so will phishers

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Re: search box / address bar

Well, google's browser is always going to do that: as far as it is possible they want everything you type to be a search so that get to see it. If you don't want that you need to use a browser which isn't Chrome (which you probably are doing).

It's also significant that this "show the domain part of the URL" thing is happening too late for many purposes: by the time you realise that the site you have just visited isn't where you thought it was it is very often too late: they've already seen you. What you need is for the domain to be obvious before the browser actually starts talking to the server, and (for instance) google search results don't seem to do that very well, which isn't actually very surprising I suppose. Of course, it can still, perhaps, save you from further trouble.

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Why won't you DIE? IBM's S/360 and its legacy at 50

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Boffin

Mission critical

'Searches on Google and status updates on Facebook are the new mission-critical: back in the day a "mission critical" was ERP and payroll.'

This is false, although it is false in an interesting way. If I do a search on Google then I get some results: perhaps I will get the same results if I search again but perhaps not; and perhaps the results will be useful but perhaps not. Or, possibly, I'll get no results at all so I'll need to resubmit the query. It doesn't matter very much: all that actually matters is that the results are good enough to keep me using the service and that they contain sufficient advertising content that Google make money. Similar things are true for Facebook.

But if I send a bunch of money to someone from my account then it matters very much that money gets to the recipient, that either it gets to the right recipient, that it leaves my account and so on. In desperation it might be OK that none of these things happen, so I can try again. It is never OK for only some of them to happen: if my bank fails to send my rent to my landlord while taking it from my account then I will end up living in a cardboard box under a bridge.

Searches on Google are simply not mission-critical: moving money around has always been mission-critical.

The clever trick that organisations like Google and Facebook have done is to recognise that certain sorts of activity, such as search, don't actually need to work very reliably which allow for enormous scaling.

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

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Boffin

It didn't oversleep by eight hours

It was due to wake up at 10 UTC, it then needs to warm itself up, look at the stars to work out which way it is facing, stop itself spinning, position itself so the antenna points to Earth and turn the transmitter on. Then the signal needs to get here. The estimated time to hear from it was between 17:30 and 18:30. They actually heard from it at 18:17 I think, which was within the expected window. Obviously it was towards the end of the window, and equally obviously things must have been fairly tense.

But the article is just wrong.

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RBS MELTDOWN LATEST: 'We'll be the bank we should be ... next YEAR maybe'

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Boffin

Re: useless

I think you are confused. Firstly, as others have said most of RBSs employees and customers are not in Scotland, so the whole Scottish thing is just a (rather nasty) red herring.

Secondly, try and work out how much the banking guarantee would be worth to you at the point that your account stopped working: my guess is that it's worth something only if it works immediately and if it makes all your direct debits and so on magically work in whatever new bank you are now with. It would not do that. The knowledge that at some future point the government is going to pay you what is in your account is not much help until they do, because before that point you have no access to money, which you might need if you like to eat. And of course this is all assuming that the failure of RBS had not caused a cascade failure of other banks, which it likely would have.

So there was really no short-term option but to keep RBS running.: it really was too big to fail. What is, in my opinion, not forgivable is that they then have done nothing about it or really any other bank, with the result that all this is going to happen again (not RBS in particular, but somewhere).

That's all I have to say on this.

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tfb
Boffin

Re: useless

This is just a stupid thing to say, sorry. Have you thought about what "being left to fail" means? It means that at some point RBS would have declared bankruptcy and at, or shortly after, that point all its customers would have lost access to their accounts for some indefinite period. That means that, if you were a customer, what happened on Monday night would have gone on for weeks. That's a pretty bad outcome, to put it rather mildly.

"Oh no" you say, "what would have happened is that someone would have bought the business as a going concern". Here's a clue: that's what happened, with the "someone" being "the UK government" since there were no other organisations willing or able to buy them.

The real problem is that RBS's new owners (that's the people who hang out in Westminster) have done essentially nothing: in particular they have not split the investment bank from the retail bank, possibly split the retail bank further, and they certainly have not done anything to deal with the IT mess in RBS and the other banks over which they directly or indirectly have power. It's not, unfortunately, very hard to guess why this might be, though saying it out loud would probably result in accusations of defamation by said Westminster people.

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Apple dodges data privacy sueball: Fanbois didn't RTFM*, says judge

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Re: Ask the Judge what the privacy policy is for her phone...

She probably doesn't know. However that doesn't make it reasonable: if you use a device without reading the conditions of use then that doesn't somehow absolve you of any problems you might have as a result.

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Lavabit founder: Feds ORDERED email providers to stay open

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Re: Off the top of my head.

I think this is fairly vulnerable to attack. If the bad guys have all the books you have, then they can index them the same way you can and use word/letter frequencies to try and guess which book it is. So for instance maybe "the" and "a" are common words, so they take your message and match it against all the books, selecting ones which look to have about the right density of "the" and "a". For those they then try and match the remaining text until they get something like English.

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Twitter turns off Tweetdeck's life support after lengthy coma

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Why do it this way?

I know this is trivia, but wouldn't it have been more conventional to wind the company up in the normal way rather than just stop submitting accounts? Perhaps they are above that sort of thing?

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Handwriting beats PowerPoint's teaching power says MIT boffin

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Boffin

Of course if you are using Powerpoint ...

Then almost by definition you are not teaching a hard science or maths, since your notes presumably have little or no mathematical content.

The same goes for printed notes to a great extent: even with the best tool (some TeX variant) creating anything typeset with significant mathematical content is a *lot* of work.

Hand writing maths, on the other hand is very easy since it was designed to be hand-written.

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Boffin

I agree with the make-them-take-notes: as a student I fairly rapidly discovered that just writing stuff down during the lectures (ie taking notes) made a huge difference, even if there were notes handed out (for a hard-science degree if it matters).

It may be that there are people who can get away without this, but I never met any: my suspicion is that you can get away without writing notes in lectures only in easy subjects.

It turns out that there are al sorts of subtleties with this though. One thing that lecturers tend to do is to make use of the fact that both blackboards and whiteboards are mutable: if you have some big complicated equation and you need a slight variant of it, you can rub out various bits and create the variant. But the people taking notes can't do this, and get completely screwed each time you do it, as they have to write the whole thing out again. Later in my course when there were fewer of us and we knew the lecturers better, we would tell them to stop when they did this so we could catch up.

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New Year's resolution: Don't use Instagram, it'll sell YOUR photos

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Devil

Re: If i upload something that i don't own

The case that's specifically interesting is what happens if I take a picture of someone, which Instagram then use to sell advertising? That's commercial use and I think at least very questionable. Of course it is probably you, not Instagram who are liable for this.

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Musos blast US copyright bods: 'ARTISTS MAKE LOUSY SLAVES!'

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Mushroom

Re: What is there to cherish

A hundred years or so ago infant mortality was about 20% in manufacturing towns in England and women could not vote. Does that make it OK now?

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tfb

Re: The way to do it...

I suspect the answers to this are "essentially none of them do" and "in the brave new world where people will no longer pay for records, it is essentially their entire income". Connecting these two is left as an exercise.

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Boffin

Re: What is there to cherish

You need to read the original as a critical part was omitted above. I'll put it here: "So here are a few slogans and threats, to make your eyes roll and dismiss another lunatic:". The "occupy" stuff is explicitly taking the piss in other words.

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Falling slinky displays slow-motion causality

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Boffin

Re: Both

If the speed of sound were infinite then the slinky would be completely rigid: that's what it *means* for the speed of sound to be infinite.

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tfb

Re: Seems overcomplicated

What tells the top it should start moving is that nothing is now holding it up. The question to ask is: how does each bit of the slinky realise that nothing is now holding it up?

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tfb
Boffin

Re: Centre of mass

Information is indeed constrained by the speed of light, or rather: if information can be transmitted faster than c then it is relatively easy to build a time machine, and that's assumed not to be possible.

However as you rightly say, the speed of light has nothing to do with this experiment at all. The information that tells the bottom of the slinky to start moving is transmitted by a longitudinal wave travelling down the slinky, which is essentially travelling at the speed of sound in the slinky, which is remarkably slow. This is, of course, the same for any object: if you drop a vertical metal rod then the bottom will not start falling until the information has reached it, by the same mechanism. In this case you don't see it because the speed of sound in the rod it rather high. You might *hear* it: as the signal is reflected from the end of the rod it may audibly ring.

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Boffin

Re: Seems overcomplicated

The way to understand what is going on is to think about it from the point of view of the bottom of the slinky. Initially it's at rest: when the top of the slinky is released what tells it that it should start moving? The answer is: nothing does, so it stays still, until the signal moving down through the slinky reaches it.

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London Blitz bomb web map a hit-and-miss affair

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Other cities

As others have mentioned, I think it would be very interesting to see equivalent maps of other cities, and particularly German ones. My mother (who was a child during the war) really won't believe that we gave as good as we got, or in fact much better. I've seen pictures of Frankfurt though, and I'm pretty sure that we did. Of course it may be that they did not record stuff as well, particularly towards the end.

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Report blasts NASA for 'lack of consensus' on goals, plans

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Boffin

Re: wonder why?

Well, Kennedy's speech about going to the moon was 25 May 1961, and they were on the moon on 21 July 1969, so that's 8 years and a couple of months. So, really, two terms to put someone on the moon. The decision that Apollo 8 should orbit the moon was made in a day, 4 months before the flight. Once upon a time NASA could do astonishing things quickly: could it now, even with the money?

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NASA: 'Those life-on-Mars rumors? Chill, dudes and dudettes'

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Boffin

Re: BIG NEWS?

Also, outside of a mind deformed into believing that computers are more important than stuff, who'd care? Why spend a huge amount of money sending a computer whch probably won't work to Mars when you could send the same weight of something with which you can do actual, you know, science?

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Real sci-fi space ships coming at last? NASA tests nuclear engine

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Boffin

Re: Where does the heat go?

If you want to run a propulsion system then what you are going to be doing is taking something, making it very hot indeed, and then spitting it out at the highest speed you can manage. That's where the heat goes: into the extremely hot exhaust.

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Wii U disassembly reveals unusual innards

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FAIL

Our favourite thing is: delivery driver leaves a note telling you to collect it from depot. After finding the depot you discover that the driver did not write whatever obscure hundred-digit reference number you need to pick it up on the card. Returning home you discover that the driver has, now, thrown it into the garden, apparently from a great height as most of it now resides in a small crater. You never find all the fragments.

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Mozilla needs to find alternatives to the Google umbilical

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Devil

Re: Gotta say

"Firefox's goal is the success of Firefox. Chrome's goal is the success of Chrome. "

I don't think so: Chrome's goal is to help Google sell you advertising.

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Easy to use, virus free, secure: Aaah, how I miss my MAINFRAME

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Flame

Two sides to every story

I've been on both sides of this debate, and I have a lot of sympathy with the force-people-onto-managed-systems thing. But unfortinately centrally-managed IT often fails dismally to provide what people need.

At a recent contract, working in, I guess, a development support role, we wanted to build a number of test environments. These would consist of 2-6 VMs for each environment, and perhaps we needed up to 10 environments. We needed to be able to snapshot the VMs so we could test stuff and back it out, but we didn't need backups for instance. So we went to the IT people and asked. The answer came back that a VM cost £4,000, and we couldn't have snapshots because of performance impact. So that would be £8k-£20k per environment, for something which did not meet our requirements. After a lot of fighting we managed to persuade IT that yes, we could have snapshots, but we would have to make a request every time we wanted one, or wanted to revert to one, meaning something that normally took a few seconds would instead take a few hours. This would merely cripple development rather than prevent it altogether.

We could have bought suitable hardware and licenses to support all our environments for the cost of having IT provide one environment which just marginally met our needs.

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Pristine WWII German Enigma machine could be yours

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Boffin

Re: unbreakable

What no-one ever mentions is that, of course, the Germans were breaking our codes too, and doing so, I think, quite successfully. Indeed, there is at least one case, I think, where a convoy was rerouted based on reading German codes, and the Germans then read the British rerouting instructions and told the U-boats where the convoy would now be.

It's kind of sad that the Wikipedia entry on "B-Dienst" (the German naval codebreaking organisation) is one short paragraph. I mean, they clearly were the bad guys of course, but it would be interesting to get an even slightly unbiased opinion as to what actually went on. Apart from anything else it might help understand how the battle of the Atlantic was actually won, which probably really wasn't the heroic people at Bletchley, but rather a combination between US support and (mostly) the RN and RAF finally pulling their fingers out and talking to each other properly and sorting out air cover that worked (in particular the RAF were obsessed by bombing Germany and just willfully ignoring the "if we don't fix the U-boat problem *right now* we will not be in the war in 6 months" problem, and the RN really didn't get the "you have to defend the convoys, that's all that counts" thing for a long time).

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Astroboffins to search for mega-massive alien power plants

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Boffin

Re: Ah, but...

Indeed, they may have built a device for turning matter into energy. Perhaps a very large, gravitationally-bound fusion reactor which will burn for billions of years.

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Boffin

Re: If we are no alone

"Even if they're not hungry, there's no reason (based on Earth experience) to expect technological advancement to correlate with peaceful and benevolent behaviour.".

Actually, there are lots of reasons to expect just that. The most obvious is that technologically advanced civilisations of the sort that might, for instance, be able to build a Dyson sphere have access to and the ability to control huge amounts of energy. The ones that are not peaceful wipe themselves out in wars pretty quickly.

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Thank Freeview for UK 4G by mid-2013 - NOT the iPhone 5 nor EE

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Boffin

Re: "35 / 12 = 2.196666... (6 recurring)."

And 35/12 is not even the right sum to do, since they need to cover interest. I can't do the sum in my head but at 5% a random online thing reckons about 3.8billion/year (320 million a month).

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US flags from the 1970s SEEN ON MOON

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Boffin

Re: Hubble

This isn't right: the moon is effectively at infinity for hubble, as for other telescopes. Even if you're not convinced by this, you should be convinced by one of the earlier links, which is to a picture of the Moon's surface taken by Hubble.

In fact the reason they can't see the Apollo sites is because they can't resolve them. For a telescope with radius D, using light of wavelength lambda, then its angular resolution is approximately theta = lambda/D. Equivalently D = lambda/theta. To resolve something on the moon 1m across, where the moon is about 370x10^6m away, then theta is approximately sin(theta) is 1/(370*10^6). The wavelength of visible light is around 500*10^(-9)m.

So plugging all this in you get D = 185m or for an object of 4m (lunar module is about 4m across) D=46m.

Hubble's mirror is 2.4m, and it's effectively on the surface of the earth (orbit around 600*10^3m). It can work in UV so can gain something there, but it's nowhere near being able to resolve an Apollo site (and neither is an earth-based telescope)

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Firefox 'new tab' feature exposes users' secured info: Fix promised

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Boffin

Re: Seriously?

I think the point is that until it started storing these thumbnails it wasn't storing secure data anyway: in particular it was (I assume, based on this not having been discovered earlier as it's a very obvious attack) caching secure data. It does store https things in the history, so there is information that you have visited a secure site, but no secure content was cached, I hope.

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So, what IS the worst film ever made?

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Devil

Avatar

A competitor in its own right, of course, but in terms of goodness per currency unit it must beat anything else into dust.

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US spy drone hijacked with GPS spoof hack, report says

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Boffin

@That cannot work

Ah, that's what I'd not understood. If you can't *find* the signal you can't spoof it, and since it is (a) in the noise and (b) pseudorandom, you need to know the pseudorandom sequence to find it. Thanks.

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Boffin

"Encrypted military GPS"

Since GPS is a one-way communication (ie there is no mutual authentication), if you simply listen to the data from the satellite and retransmit it with a suitable delay (and repeat for enough satellites) then how is a GPS receiver meant to know it is hearing your streams rather than the satellites' streams? The only way it could know is by already knowing both its position and the time very accurately, in which case it would not need GPS.

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Mozilla promises more speed with Firefox 9 beta

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Nothing has changed

Other than them changing the version number for each release: there were always relatively frequent updates. If the version number matters that much, well...

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Sony Alpha SLT-A35 translucent mirror camera

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Boffin

Dirty mirror

fortunately the mirror is not in, or near, the focal plane, so dust is not such a problem as it is on a sensor.

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Spotify tethers future to Facebook

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FAIL

Alternatives to Spotify?

I'm a (paid) user of Spotify. I'm not a Facebook user (and I hope never will be). Although it seems I can still use the service it's become noticably more painful and naggy about connecting to Facebook, of course. What alternatives are out there for legal, advertising-free unlimited music streaming (for money)?

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Neil Armstrong: US space program 'embarrassing'

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Boffin

They could have had the money

Apollo programme total cost around $192 billion, in 2011 dollars. Iraq campaign cost around 757 billion in 2011 dollars, Afghanistan campaign cost around 416 billion. Without going into the whole question of whether they should have been in Iraq in the first place, Iraq was a big government project so let's assume they spent double what they needed to on it: they could have gone to the moon on the cost savings.

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Software suppliers not ready for HMRC online tax filing system

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The CT600 PDF catastrophe

The CT600 PDF disaster is not just a UI problem. We very carefully downloaded a copy of it in plenty of time - months ahead of the filing date, and filled in almost all the numbers. The day before our filing date we filled in the remaining numbers and submitted it. Which failed, eventually leaving us with a CT600 PDF file which would essentially only display a blank page.

This turns out to be because the halfwits at HMRC had //changed the interface// since we had originally downloaded the form, so the old form which we had could not now be submitted, and in fact would not even let us see the numbers in it. Needless to say we didn't find out anything useful from HMRC but worked this out ourselves. We eventually worked around the problem by: reverting to a backup of the CT600 PDF file (a very good thing we kept lots), which would still let us see the numbers, downloading a new one, //type everything in again//, and submit it.

Whoever designed this needs a good killing.

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OED goes the way of all flesh paper

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Boffin

"It's a snip"

The online version is cheap compared to the printed one if you intend to use it for less than 3 years. If you think you might perhaps keep the print one for longer than that, then it's cheaper. Obviously I understand that most of us replace our dictionaries every 6 months or so, but perhaps there remain a few people who might find the printed one worth while.

Seriously: if ever the was an application for something like the Kindle, this is it.

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Solar plasma aurora storm ONGOING UPDATE

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Black Helicopters

Natural radiation

Of course, there is a huge difference between unnatural WRONG AND EVIL radiation and natural GOOD radiation. This is why, for instance, sheep farmers in the lake district have not been able to sell sheep (BAD radiation from Chernonbyl) while we all enjoy a nice holiday in Cornwall (GOOD NATURAL radiation).

It's important to keep these distinctions in mind.

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Prof: Carbon sequestration 'as bad as nuclear waste'

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Boffin

RE: And I thought

You thought wrong then

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Boffin

Carbon sequestration is such a good idea

Storing nuclear waste: we need to store quite small amounts, and it gets less dangerous over time.

Carbon sequestration: we need to store absolutely enormous amounts, and it is dangerous essentially for ever.

Storing nuclear waste: EVIL AND BAD, because it's NUCLEAR and anything NUCLEAR is BAD AND EVIL, and certainly NOT GREEN.

Carbon sequestration: GOOD, because it is GREEN (er, how?) and GREEN IS GOOD.

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New prototype US spy satellite rushed into active use

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Boffin

Resolution

So, this whole "detecting IEDs" thing. This is a satellite, so it's a fair way up: let's say at least 200km if it's going to stay up for any length of time. What kind of resolution does it have (using the real laws of physics, not some made-up tinfoil ones, and not making obviously silly assumptions about being able to do optical interferometry)? Could it be they're just making this stuff up?

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Wireless signals to be jammed in Canada for G8 summit

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Boffin

Nagative

So, how hard is it to design some kind of device which explodes when it STOPS hearing signals from its owner? Thanks to a little script, my laptop locks its screen when it stops being able to talk to my phone, so I'm guessing not very hard. I suppose the assumption is that terrorists are just very stupid.

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Mozilla teases surfers with near-final version of Firefox 3.6

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WTF?

Why do you need a 64 bit version?

I mean, what exactly is it buying you?

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