* Posts by Ken Hagan

5263 posts • joined 14 Jun 2007

Excel hell messes up ~20 per cent of genetic science papers

Ken Hagan
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Re: Killing spreadsheets for fun and profit

You appear to be assuming that everyone using Excel is using it as a database. Actually, some of us use it as a spreadsheet and it works fine.

But the auto-formatting, auto-correct, auto-as-you-type... Yeah, they all need to die. They also need to die in word-processors. (End-users should learn how to spell and computers should stop trying to enforce one rather ignorant person's grammatical and stylistic prejudices.) Actually, the only instance I can think of where I am occasionally grateful and never actively narked by a computer trying to change what I type is Google's search engine.

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Ken Hagan
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"The paper's silent on why genetic scientists, who The Register will assume are not short of intelligence, have been making Excel errors for years."

Since they only studied published papers and (by the sound of it) did not also study the papers as-submitted to publishers or at any even earlier stage of drafting, I'd say they haven't a clue when the errors are creeping in or which piece of software is responsible. Excel isn't the only piece of software that "helpfully" changes what you type and the original authors aren't the only people involved in the publication process. (I presume that authors are offered the final version to proof-read, but as long as it is largely correct I expect they just skim it. They're busy people, you know.)

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Kindle Paperwhites turn Windows 10 PCs into paperweights: Plugging one in 'triggers a BSOD'

Ken Hagan
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Re: Shrug

"Maybe it's a confuence of various bits of other software causing the issue?"

A lot of USB3 chipsets (or their driver stacks) are still fairly crap in my experience, and by "fairly crap" I mean that the USB 1 and 2 functionality is broken, leading to random disconnects or other trouble.

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Ken Hagan
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Re: Who's driving?

The kindle does not have a proprietary driver. It is possible that Windows includes a kindle-friendly driver in the basic OS, but I think it is far more likely that this is the bog-standard driver for a USB-storage-class device. The BSOD may also be triggered by other (less common) storage devices, or it may be triggered by something in the USB device descriptors issued by a kindle paperwhite. The latter is more likely, but it is still embarrassingly poor programming from MS if Win10 can be made to BSOD based on data it receives from an external device. (It is a major security problem if someone who doesn't even have an account on the machine can DoS the box given a few seconds of physical access.)

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Ken Hagan
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Re: Printer drivers. why

As far as I'm aware, such standards already exist (defined by the USB consortium) and are implemented in Windows. Despite this, printer and scanner manufacturers apparently believe that having their own driver stack is a good thing.

Perhaps this is because it lets them push crapware (for which, presumably, they get paid) alongside the driver installer. Or perhaps it is because Microsoft's implementation is so bad that no vendor wants to associate their kit with the bugs. (This was certainly the case for USB comms devices until at least Win8. *Everyone* wrote their own driver on Windows but just used the standard one on Linux.)

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Ken Hagan
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Re: is there a comprehensive list of cockups?

"Oh, I didn't know you all support your customers indefinitely for free."

Smart businesses do. It is well known that finding new customers is harder than keeping existing ones. It is also well known that a sufficiently bad experience will mean that customers black-list you and for a number of years afterwards will buy from anyone-but-you. Bluntly, there's no point in producing new products if the support experience of the older ones is bad.

Support isn't *that* expensive if you have half a brain. Most genuine problems only need to be fixed once, properly, and most non-problems don't cost you anything but time. After 5-10 years, depending on the product, they may well be open to the suggestion that the best "fix" is to replace their gizmo with one of your more recent offerings.

In that last respect, Microsoft's repeated failure to convert XP and 7 users to more recent versions of Windows stands out as an oddity. Even without seeing the later versions, you can tell that they must really suck, based on the low conversion rates. It is astonishing that a company as large as MS has not shed more blood internally because of this demonstrable under-performance.

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'Second Earth' exoplanet found right under our noses – just four light years away

Ken Hagan
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Re: I wish they would can "Operation Starshot"

"And the sensors are too small to return any meaningful data."

Correction: the craft are too small to return any data whatsoever.

The inverse square law applies. 4 light-years is about 250,000 AU which means it is about 2000 times further away than Voyager 2 right now. The latter is a much larger craft than this "postage stamp with a sail" and can only deliver 160 bits per second where it is now. Reduce that bit-rate by 4 million. (1200 bits per year = 150 bytes per year.) Then try to deliver a 20-kilobyte JPEG of Proxima Centauri. Plan to wait about 150 years for the results. Then remember that you've forgotten to reduce it still further to account for the lower transmission power of a postage stamp. I'm not sure what an appropriate guess would be here, so you can make up your own and multiply the 150 years by whatever number you think of. Finally, realise that after 150 years of travelling at 20% of light-speed (because you've no brakes) the inverse square law *still* applies and you are wasting your time.

Edit: No, *finally* stop and wonder what the fuckity-fuck Stephen Hawking is doing lending his reputation to something so innumerate.

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Facebook, Twitter and Google are to blame for terrorism, say MPs

Ken Hagan
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"slick and effective propaganda machine being run by Daesh"

I must have missed that. The only propoganda I've seen has been along the lines of "Join us and you get to rape and murder innocent foreigners (fellow Muslims mainly, but don't worry, they aren't *proper* ones) for a year or so before being bludgeoned yourself by the armed forces of the countries you've chosen to attack.".

The evidence is that this appeals to at most a few hundred disaffected teenagers out of a population of millions, who are resistant to the counter-propoganda not only of their own age group but also their parents and wider family. So yeah, they're really going to sit up and take notice if The Government starts telling them what to do.

So did the whole select committe sign up to this verdict, or are some of them *not* utter cretins?

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Windows Update borks PowerShell – Microsoft won't fix it for a week

Ken Hagan
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But, but...

They *can't* fix it because some people might write scripts this week that depend on the broken behaviour.

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Your wget is broken and should DIE, dev tells Microsoft

Ken Hagan
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Re: Reminds me of a very very old joke from the 90's...

To be honest, I'm not sure that the C standard at the time (C89) *did* allow it. There was a pretty strong presumption that "long" was the longest integer type. Since ptrdiff_t and size_t had to be 64-bit, that meant inventing a long long that could be used for them, thereby breaking an assumption that pretty much all C programmers had made for the previous quarter century.

The trajedy is that it was so unnecessary. Porting from Win32 to Win64 was going to be a line-by-line re-write no matter what you did. (MS introduced a plethora of COBOL-esque typedefs to help, but none of them really helped you any more than size_t and ptrdiff_t.) Keeping long as 32-bit merely forced you to re-write for Win64 differently from Unix64.

Perhaps that was the plan. Assume that Win32 shops everywhere would have the porting resources for just one re-write and then fix the rules so that this re-write only targets one 64-bit platform. Then sit back and hope that everyone chooses Win64.

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Ken Hagan
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"Don't want wget to do what it currently does? Then change the alias which is a reference to .NET assembly entry point."

And then convince all of your customers to do the same.

You sound like all those people who say that <insert offensive desktop feature here> isn't a problem because I can change it. Yeah, but we aren't *all* hobbyists playing in our bedrooms, so the out-of-the-box behaviour matters. It is what our customers will be using whether we like it or not.

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Oracle reveals Java Applet API deprecation plan

Ken Hagan
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Re: True enough.

"Just pick an existing language that was designed with security in mind and support it in browsers."

Hmm. The idea sounds familiar. I'm sure I've heard of such a thing mentioned in the past. Quite recently, in fact. I just can't quite place my finger on it.

More seriously, today's story demonstrates that the language needs a third attribute, beyond secure design and widespread support. It needs to be one that anyone can implement without getting their arses sued off.

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Systemd adds filesystem mount tool

Ken Hagan
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The article goes into some detail about how the new command does dependency checking that "mount" never did ... and then uses the aforementioned to do the mount.

So it is a pretty good example of what you just wrote. Somehow though, I think you were being sarcastic. Unfairly in this case.

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DVLA misses out on £400m in tax after scrapping paper discs

Ken Hagan
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Re: CONGRATULATIONS

If it serves no useful purpose, it isn't work. It is just a way for some unemployed people to enjoy a higher rate of "benefits" than the rest.

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Microsoft promises free terrible coffee every month you use Edge

Ken Hagan
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I see no basis for that assumption. He is quite correct to note that an opt-in program for a service (bad coffee and worse search results) that most people probably don't want in the first place, is no big deal.

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Ken Hagan
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Re: Wrong data

Android has only this year reached 80% market share. Windows had that share (or better) on the desktop for the two decades from about 1990 to about 2010. I'm not a lawyer (*), so I don't know what sort of market share you need to have before anti-trust laws kick in, but Microsoft's troubles began in the early 90s, so Google may soon face an attack.

(* Actually, I think there are at least as many answers to that question as there are lawyers, since there are several jurisdictions where the question might be asked and no fixed rules in any of them to define either "monopoly" or "abuse".)

On the other hand, apart from the legal costs I can't see much evidence that MS were actually inconvenienced by losing the case.

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Microsoft has open-sourced PowerShell for Linux, Macs. Repeat, Microsoft has open-sourced PowerShell

Ken Hagan
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Re: Microsoft Open Source ©

"Microsoft was doing open source back when I was a PFY. "

For a specific example, MS released ANSI C source for the compound file format used by OLE applications (such as the original Office apps) about 25 years ago. A number of FOSS packages use that source or something modelled on it for their own support of such things.

The Win3 SDKs also documented the WRITE document format and a couple of other applets as I recall. It was sufficient for me to produce .WRI files as an output option for a program back then. The WORD 6 and EXCEL file formats have also been open for a couple of decades.

These aren't *big* examples, but they are *old*. MS has never been 100% closed source.

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Intel fabs to churn out 10nm ARM chips for LG smartphones next year

Ken Hagan
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Re: StrongARM?

"Ask yourself which can do a better job of register allocation - a compiler that can take its time and do the job once considering the code as a whole, or a few transistors that have to do the job each and every time, in a matter of nanoseconds, and considering only a handful of instructions on either side? The answer is obvious."

The answer is obvious because the experiment has been done and OoO wins hands down because *it* has information about the actual data being used whereas the compiler can only guess. Intel bet the farm on your hypothesis with EPIC and Itanic. They spent *billions* trying to beat OoO and gave AMD their best years ever.

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Ken Hagan
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Re: StrongARM?

"$30-40K revenue per wafer"

I think that (with whatever numbers are now appropriate) is the key observation. Intel make most of their cash selling at the expensive end of the market. Anything that boosts ARM, which currently looks like an attractive alternative at the cheap end, damages AMD more than Intel.

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Ken Hagan
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Re: StrongARM?

"I've wondered for a long time what kind of performance you'd get if you exposed the raw RISC chip inside AMD and Intel's products."

I think you'd get exactly the same performance, but only after persuading everyone to recompile their binaries. Remember that only 1% of the die area actually does instruction decode these days and it is massively parallel and its output stream of micro-ops is then executed out-of-order. OoO execution is what (in the Pentium Pro and successors) delivered the death-blow to the RISC architectures of the 1980s. x86 as an ISA hasn't been significant for performance for over 20 years now.

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We're going to bring an asteroid fragment into Lunar orbit

Ken Hagan
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Re: Still doubtfull

"Beyond the sciency side of early solar system research, asteroid mining could be phenomenally useful either on the Earth side resources front or on the space bound raw resource requirements."

You want to re-read some of Tim Worstall's article on this site. On the Earth-side resources front, we are nowhere near short enough of anything to warrant mining asteroids and bringing bulk materials down to Earth's surface.

On the space-bound side, mining is an energy intensive business and unless you have plans to plonk a power station on the asteroid (briefly, because it can only generate electricity via some sort of thermodynamic cycle and so you'd be boiling off its limited stock of volatile compounds) I think you'd struggle to mine quickly enough to make it useful. Of course, you'd have to launch that power station from somewhere, too.

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Ken Hagan
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Re: Giving Skynet an Asteroid to Drop on Us?

The link says that 2008 EV5 is 400m across. On the other hand, if we have the wherewithall to push it into lunar orbit, we probably have the wherewithall to push it onto the moon if it looks like we've computed its orbital parameters wrongly. Back on the first hand, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impact_event suggests that a 400m rock is a 1-in-100,000 years event.

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Intel teases geeks with 2017 AI hyper-chip: Xeon Phi Knights Mill

Ken Hagan
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Re: Er, I have a genuine question...

(Edit: in support of this, wikipedia reports that the thermal conductivity of silicon is 149 watts per metre-kelvin. I think this means you can pump 14.9 watts across a 1mm thick slice of silicon that is 1cm square with a temperature drop of only 1 kelvin. My estimate of 1mm thick for the RAM slice is probably generous. Presumably each layer is a *few* times thicker than the feature size, but the latter is measured in nanometres, so I think there are a few orders of magnitude to play with.)

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Ken Hagan
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Re: Er, I have a genuine question...

The RAM isn't an insulator. Even a 1mm thick layer of silicon isn't going to prevent the waste heat from the CPUs going straight through. Further, the multi-core nature of this beast means that the CPU heat is being generated fairly evenly over the whole die, so the thermal problem is probably easier than it was a decade or so ago when the CPU die probably had hot-spots.

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£11bn later: Smart meters project delayed again for Crapita tests

Ken Hagan
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Re: communicate with the grid... mmmmm

"Suddenly dropped load is ****ing terrifying."

But, but, but ... as I recall, one of the claimed benefits of smart meters to end-users was that they'd see their own consumption figures in real time and would be encouraged to adjust their behaviour accordingly. We were even promised that our white goods might eventually be smart enough to do this themselves.

I'm old enough to remember the attempt to break the grid during the miners' strike in the 1980s. That was a one-off attempt. It failed. If you actively encourage people (with high prices) to install domestic equipment that effectively *automates* this attack, it is only a matter of time before it works.

So have we just put 11 billion onto leccy prices in order to build the weapon that destroys our grid?

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Ancient radioactive tree rings could rip up the history books

Ken Hagan
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Wasn't this done decades ago?

I'm away from home at the moment, but I've definitely got books that explain how dendrochronology can be used to calibrate C14 dates, complete with graphs of how C14 levels varied across history, spikes and all, those graphs being derived from tree rings.

It is also, if I may venture to say so, pretty effing obvious that if you have two dating methods then you can use one to check the other and vice versa, so even if I didn't have the published evidence in my bookcase I'd be pretty gob-smacked to discover that people had omitted to do this over a period of several decades.

So what's actually new here?

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Physicists believe they may have found fifth force of nature

Ken Hagan
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I believe the pedantry is correct, but old habits die hard.

As far as I know, the unification between EM and weak is undisputed amongst those who can do the maths but any further unification between EW and strong is possible in several different ways and we haven't yet got the evidence to tell us which one of the candidates (if any) is the right one. (Isn't that why CERN keep looking for super-symmetric partners?) So there are (currently) 3 fundamental forces.

Despite that, I think it is true to say that everyone talks about the 4 fundamental forces, even if they are working at CERN and know full well that there are only 3. Based on previous physics-y threads on these forums I'm almost certain that there are regular commentards who work at CERN, so if I'm wrong then I expect to be enlightened about current practice.

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Microsoft to overhaul Windows 10 UI – with a 3D Holographic Shell

Ken Hagan
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Re: They have to be joking

The 3D apps that I've used have tended to make heavy use of modifier keys (like Ctrl or Shift) with the mouse and pretty much every app (even ones geared mostly at consumption like video players) use the keyboard from time to time. Virtual keyboards on touch-screen devices are pretty ropey -- those operated by Wii-mote are even more so. All in all, I'm not holding my breath. I think this has a very limited number of real-world uses.

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Linux malware? That'll never happen. Ok, just this once then

Ken Hagan
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Re: How is this a Linux issue?

"try running it as a user and see just how easy that is"

Been using Windows NT and its successors with an ordinary account since version 3.1. No harder than Linux. (Specifically, you or someone friendly needs to have an administrative account for occasional use, like installing software or working around the incompetence of (mainly Microsoft) developers who *themselves* ran as admin and so don't know how shit their product is. That apart, the OS works fine. Never understood why MS have "pants down, bent over" as the OOBE.)

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Bungling Microsoft singlehandedly proves that golden backdoor keys are a terrible idea

Ken Hagan
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Re: Maybe that's all we ever really needed?

If you only ever really needed a serial machine, von Neumann's model is sufficient. We're still waiting for something that is sufficient for the massively parallel case.

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Revealed: How a weather forecast in 1967 stopped nuclear war

Ken Hagan
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"the economy would be destroyed but people would survive"

So we'd be fine as long as the invading aliens have some sort of Marshall Plan to keep us fed for the several years until we've rebuilt enough of the economy to feed ourselves, and also to police the world against the inevitable nut-jobs who would reckon there was still something worth fighting for.

Edit: and those 1000-plane raids ... they were equivalent to *one*, *small*, nuke. There's a reason why the Japanese surrendered so fast. (They didn't know the US had run out of bombs.)

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Ken Hagan
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"90% mortality in one year"

Probably not in one year, but if you take away all the industrial infrastructure that keeps us going then I have to wonder what level of population is sustainable afterwards.

For most of history, world population has been stable. In particular, there's a stonking great flatline from the peak of the Roman Empire across to the Renaissance where technology didn't (much) improve and so the Malthusian limit remained stubbornly put. Going back even to early 19th century levels of *available* technology would take away a lot of our ability to grow, let alone distribute, food to an over-sized population.

On the other hand, we *have* the know-how, at least for a few decades, and that might be enough to bootstrap things. We don't have to repeat all the mistakes of history. (For example, we can get the frigging plumbing sorted without having to spend several generations puzzled about all the cholera outbreaks.)

It's an interesting puzzle, as long as it remains a what-if.

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London's Met Police has missed the Windows XP escape deadline

Ken Hagan
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Is this a problem?

I mean, *surely* police systems are kept behind some sort of air-gapped nuclear-bomb-proof firewall, no?

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Ken Hagan
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Re: Windows 8.1 is NOT an upgrade...

If you want timely and reliable patches, 10's the only version getting any attention and only the bleeding edge anniversary edition at that. MS never were terribly good at supporting anything except the very latest version of any given product. They are now officially not even doing that, since everything is now "rolling release" (or "beta as a service").

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Windows 10 Anniversary Update crashing under Avast antivirus update

Ken Hagan
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Re: Two questions

"What the hell is Avast doing..."

You should note that this was an MS patch to a previously working configuration. Avast did something that MS-in-the-future didn't like. Failing to test that scenario isn't quite as lax as you suggest. It depends on how fully-featured and documented are the kernel hooks that MS (presumably) provide for AV vendors.

"Why is Microsoft allowing kernel patching at all?"

Because third-parties like to install drivers for specialised hardware and don't like paying MS to write them? I know a fair bit of hardware can run in user-space once MS have provided a generic driver for the relevant bus, but not everything fits that mold. Notice also that if you have Administrative rights on a Windows machine in user-space it is only a matter of time before you can override any restrictions on kernel patching.

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Ken Hagan
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Re: Ahh yess

You aren't. See the article the other day about drive-by installs? Notice how all the virus scare stories are about zero-days? AV doesn't work. It hasn't ever worked. It can't work because distinguishing "malicious" software from what comes out of big-name vendors just isn't possible, even for human intelligence after the event. AV is a gigantic scam. You are better off without it. Run as a normal user. Don't follow phishing emails. Don't install crapware you downloaded from a sharing site. In short, use Windows the same way you'd use Linux.

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Looking good, Gnome: Digesting the Delhi in our belly

Ken Hagan
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Re: So basically...

Red Hat management's plan (company revenue wise) is fairly obvious: turn Linux into a walled garden by making everything dependent on projects that only they can support because though notionally FOSS, *they* have all the key developers who can say "no" to anyone wanting to take it back in a more open direction.

Myself, I can't honestly see why someone would use Linux if what they wanted was to get shafted by a vendor with every new release. There are alternatives who shaft you just as hard but who are more compatible with what the majority of the world's users are using.

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Three times as bad as malware: Google shines light on pay-per-install

Ken Hagan
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Re: Not malware?

Absolutely correct. Delaying installation is clear evidence of malicious intent. Any AV package that doesn't detect this is *manifestly* broken beyond repair and you should ditch them in favour of either something that isn't utter shit or nothing. (Either would be better than something that just sits there telling you how great it is whilst letting obvious malware through.)

What's that you say? NONE of the commercial AV packages detect this? Gosh! Colour me surprised...

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Ken Hagan
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Re: Understand...

Have you heard the phrase "free as in speech, not as in beer"? Your cynicism suggests that you've been exposed too much to the latter rather than the former. Yes, we boring FOSS enthusiasts actually *do* enjoy something that is really "FREE", as you put it. The people who face endless disappointment in life are those who chase the free beer, only to discover that it is someone else's piss.

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Classic Shell, Audacity downloads infected with retro MBR nuke nasty

Ken Hagan
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Re: More reason to use Linux

"Can Microsoft really put GPL applications in their 'windows store' without breaking the GPL ?"

I don't see why not. They aren't offering as part of their own product. It's just a transfer of data. Last time I downloaded some GPL-ed code, the bits passed through a number of commercial operations, such as my ISP. Even RMS doesn't have a problem with that ... surely?

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Ken Hagan
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On paper, MSIEXEC could do all of that. The MSI file that you feed it could be just data and the operations that it requests on its behalf could be sanity checked and classified for end-user (well, Administrator) approval.

In practice, MSIEXEC lets you do anything that can be written as an MSI and MSI files can contain custom DLLs that do anything you want as the running user. To add insult to inury, there's an instance of MSIEXEC that runs as SYSTEM, in case Administrator isn't sufficiently god-like.

All this has been true since MSI debuted almost (?) 20 years ago. MS has never felt it necessary to add these features. There *may* be an option, buried deep inside some Group Policy template, to disable custom actions. Or there may not. Since it isn't enabled, or advertised, by default it hardly matters whether it exists or not.

Tl;dr: the Windows Installer is utter, utter loathesome crap.

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Ken Hagan
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Re: UAC limitation

Had it been signed by Ivan Beltchev, would you have installed it?

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Ken Hagan
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Re: UEFI affected as well

"Surely it's not that hard to intercept disk writes to the boot sector and partition table and ask the user for approval first?"

I had a BIOS that did that, about twenty years ago, so it's not that hard. However, I haven't had a similar warning anytime recently, so apparently it isn't something that modern BIOSes bother with.

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OK, we've got your data. But we really want to delete it ASAP

Ken Hagan
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Re: Verification

The same way that you "verified" that you didn't need it anymore.

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Android's latest patches once again remind us: It's Nexus or bust if you want decent security

Ken Hagan
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Perhaps Google should re-architect Android so that it is a set of applications that run on top of an OS. The OS would, obviously, contain device specific code, so it would be up to the hardware vendor to maintain that bit. The Android bit would be just algorithms adhering to open standards. Google could update that on any device whenever they pleased.

But a Mongolian clusterfuck is just so much easier for all the developers concerned.

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Ken Hagan
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Re: the combined clusterfuck of manufacturers and carriers

In the MS case, they've issued guidelines for at least twenty years (basically following on the tradition set by IBM who documented what the PC spec was) and any OEM who doesn't produce a compatible machine can't sell it to customer because Windows won't work properly.

So if the OP had said designer rather than manufacturer, they'd be basically correct.

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You think Donald Trump is insecure? Check out his online store

Ken Hagan
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You realise this makes you a terrorist, Reg

Does this mean there is a way of selectively targetting Trump supporters for wallet-emptying shenanigans?

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Someone (cough, cough VeriSign) just gave ICANN $135m for the rights to .web

Ken Hagan
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Re: in the other auction...

I don't think I can buy a third level domain for $1, so getting a whole TLD is quite something. Leicester City fans must be shaking their heads in disbelief and thinking "we're not fit to lick their boots".

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Russian spy aircraft are flying over Britain – and the MoD's cool with it

Ken Hagan
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Re: UUVs

So by the time any Trident replacement has been built, it will be no less detectable than a land-based silo and (being in the middle of an ocean, rather than, at most, a few dozen miles from a population centre) rather easier to take out without anyone actually able to prove what happened.

Yes, I can see how some vested interests on this side of the pond might want to keep that quiet.

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It's time for a discussion about malvertising

Ken Hagan
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Re: Agreed

Perhaps they need a "donate" button.

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