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* Posts by Peter Gathercole

1817 posts • joined 15 Jun 2007

E. coli turns seaweed into ethanol

Peter Gathercole
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TANSTAAFL

If you take energy out of a system (or even an eco-system), it is no longer there for what it is currently used for.

The seaweed will currently be passing the energy it gathers up the food hierarchy in one way or another (what eats it either when it is alive or even when it is dead). Removing a large amount of energy by harvesting it is likely to affect filter feeders and sea-born bacteria and krill. Remove these, and you eventually take out things like crabs, prawns and other invertebrates, and then all of the things that prey on those, for example cod and the other large fish (remember, even large fish are very small when they first hatch, and will live on the even smaller things). Also, the seaweed will provide a habitat for animals that may not actually eat the seaweed, and harvesting will damage or destroy this.

Of course, this is no different from any other intensive agriculture (aquaculture?), but when we started cutting down the forests, planting crops and breeding sheep and cows on the land, we did not have environmentalists telling us how much the land would change!

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Poll: Linux's big data guzzling worries melt away

Peter Gathercole
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@AC

A 'checkstop' is a detected CPU failure (such things as an internal register parity error). A re-startable checkstop is one where the instruction being executed can be restarted from the beginning in order to retry the instruction.

This may be IBM only terminology but I'm surprised you cannot find it in search engines. If you search for 'checkstop', 'powerpc' and 'restart' you will find references, and it is used when discussing mainframe and Power processors.

From experience, some processors either crash or silently return incorrect results to the application (I've not looked after systems with very recent Intel or AMD processors, so the hardware capability may now be in these). IBM hardware will attempt to re-run the instruction, and if it still generates an error, will de-configure the CPU (if it is a multi-CPU system) while still allowing the system to run. It will probably kill the process that was running when the checkstop happened, but the system will keep running. But even re-startable checkstops are reported through to the error log to warn you that there may be a hardware problem creeping into a system.

I agree that this was not mentioned in the original article, but I was commenting on my perception that none of the Linux distributions I have seen have the same degree of RAS as the proprietary UNIX systems out there.

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Peter Gathercole
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Happy

I'm all for Linux in the datacentre...

...but (and you knew it was coming), I find that as a sysadmin looking after Linux and UNIX systems, I get much better feedback about the health and stability of my UNIX systems than I do from Linux.

It's fine as long as everything is running well, but when things start going wrong, the proprietary error logging extensions that are present in most UNIXes make it much easier to spot and fix problems than Linux on generic hardware.

Such things as ECC memory having to fix memory corruption errors, or disks having to re-read data multiple times or relocate sectors, or CPUs taking a re-startable check-stop. UNIX (in this case AIX) tell me this is happening, even if the system kept running. If I'm lucky on Linux, I may be able to find out disk errors by examining the S.M.A.R.T disk interface, but I would not want to have to do this for all 3000+ disks that run in the environment I currently work in. And the other errors....

Of course, if you are in a cloudy environment which is designed to be able to cope with systems falling out of the environment (e.g. Google, Amazon), then this may not really be a big problem, and that is probably where Linux is gaining acceptance.

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Apple launches three-pronged education assault

Peter Gathercole
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@AC 21:38

From my days as a student (very dim, I must admit), I remember the regular jamboree in the student union bookshop buying as many second-hand text books from my reading list as I could in order to save some money. I never felt the need to sell them again, but I know friends who did.

I can't see that happening with iBooks (even it it were legal!), so there may be a fault in the business model, although give students an incentive to break the DRM on the eBooks, and they probably will.

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NASA shuts off Voyager 1's central heating

Peter Gathercole
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Alien

@Sceptic Tank

It's amanfromMars1. You are expected to read it several times to get the meaning (if there is one). Click on the name in the comments and see some of his other 1854 (and counting) posts to get some practice reading his style.

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Windows 8 hardware rules 'derail user-friendly Linux'

Peter Gathercole
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May last post was directed at AC@18/01/12 18:35

See comment.

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Peter Gathercole
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1 - A responsible company would patch it and re-sign it. Others could then include that in their repository.

2 - Yes I agree. Because Windows is more secure than DOS, it is completely possible that they could lock it down in a manner that would prevent chain loaders from working.

3 - Yes again, and this is what I was referring to when I said 'marketing pressure'. I am completely aware of the discount that MS could withdraw from manufacturers. I have commented on this in these forums in the past.

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Peter Gathercole
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ARM

I don't think that all ARM devices would be thus locked; only those that are destined to run Windows 8.

MS would have to use some marketing pressure (like providing a large discount on Windows 8 to the HW manufacturers if they promise to only include an MS key), but this probably will not matter, because there will be ARM devices that will be sold not running Windows 8. If MS attempt to stifle other OSs on generic devices, then I'm sure that Google would be quite happy to see them in court.

E_Nigma: There are many reasons Linux is only at 1% of the market, and most of them revolve around MS making it difficult for a vendor to sell a system without Windows, and the fact that most people who buy PC's don't really care about the OS provided that they can do everything they want. A huge number of them (those that do not run games mostly) could cope with Linux quite happily, but are never given the chance. With things like Silverlight gaining traction, however, this is becoming a bit more difficult (blame MS again!)

BTW. I would guess that your statement that "PC users have been expected to be smart enough to pop into BIOS and toggle a single on/off setting" is not quite as inclusive as you suggest. Finger in the air, I would suggest that less that 25% of all PC users even know what the BIOS is. Your statement may have been true 10 years ago, but I know lots and lots and lots of people who do not watch or care about what comes up on the screen before Windows presents them with either a login screen or desktop, and would not how to get in to the BIOS without someone telling them.

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Peter Gathercole
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I've not missed the point

although it is possible that I did not make it clear enough. MS should not be the only software company allowed to provide keys to be installed in UEFI as part of anti-monopoly legislation.

As long as there is one key in the UEFI to allow grub to be signed by a responsible company, then this is all that is needed, and this need key not be 'owned' by MS. Once you have a signed Grub, it is not necessary to sign all Linux kernels separately. So all it takes is for RedHat, Canonical, IBM or Google to apply for and hopefully be granted the right to add a key, provide the key to the HW manufacturers, and they would be able to provide a signed Grub image for the rest of the community. I'm sure that most HW vendors would consider adding a single non-MS key if it was provided by a reputable company - that is unless MS use their market power to dominate the HW manufacturers.

As a matter of interest, there used to be a mechanism of booting other code using what was called a 'chain-loader' that would run from DOS (it's that old) and overlay DOS with another OS. I know that Windows is a different beast and is much more secure, and there would still be the 'Windows Tax' to pay, but this may be another way around this type of issue.

I think that MS would be in for a serious anti-competitive lawsuit in the US if they prevented another software vendor from being able to have a key included in the UEFI. That would effectively mean that they would have a monopoly on all PCs sold, even if there was a way to add additional keys.

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Peter Gathercole
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Signing keys

It's interesting to think how this works. To me, it looks like the first executable run off media by UEFI must me signed with something that acts like a checksum and a cryptographic key in order to be executed. It must act like a checksum to prevent a previously signed piece of code from being subverted after-the-fact. The key or certificate must also be part of the executable.

In the current Linux space, the affected component would be Grub. Once Grub was running, anything could be run as far as I can see.

So surely, it is not the Linux kernel that needs to be signed, but Grub. This is a much easier thing to achieve. Grub is rarely re-compiled by normal users, so a canned, signed installation should be possible.

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A preview of SOPA: Web shut down before my eyes

Peter Gathercole
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JCB and Union Pay

It does not matter where the card payment system is run from, if the US administration decides and has legislation that would prevent that operator from processing payments from/to US banks, then the location of the card operator is irrelevant.

Say, for the sake of argument, a US person used a foreign credit card to pay for a service outside of the US, if that person was not able to pay the credit card company back (because no US bank would be allowed to transfer funds to the card operator because they were on a blacklist), then the payment vector soon becomes unusable to US customers. This would be in addition to it being unable to operate as a payment processor in the US as well.

If the person tried to use some off-shore method of paying the card, then eventually they would either be pulled up by the money laundering legislation that the US and western countries have, or that offshore financial organisation would also be black listed.

Even in these times of financial stricture, the US is still an important enough market that non-US financial organisations try to keep within the US's obnoxious rules. And sufficient numbers of foreign governments follow the US (and Japan where JCB is based is one of these) will just roll over and let the US walk all over their national legislation.

The US is too powerful, and becoming too led by business to be fought, unfortunately. I think we will all see this over the next 5 years, unless the dollar looses it's pre-eminent position of de-facto world currency (replaced by Renminbi perhaps?), there is nothing that can stop this.

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Reg Hardware Awards 2011 Winners

Peter Gathercole
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Orange Broadband

sent me a pre-configured router, but also included the set-up info for another device.

I had actually already deduced that the standard BT set-up (I'm not in an LLU area) worked in my already installed router, and got the thing working two days before the 'official' start of service date.

Previously, I was a Virgin ADSL (not cable) customer, and they encouraged a 'bare wires' service with no router when I first switched to ADSL 10 years ago.

I never intend to use a service that does not allow me to install my own router, and even then I have a separate firewall between the ADSL router and my internal network just so I can be sure that if the ADSL router is compromised, my internal network is still safe.

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Welcome to the latest forum features

Peter Gathercole
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Happy

This is novel

Does this article announce that you've been blessed by the Register!

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Peter Gathercole
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WTF?

Hmmm.

If I look at my posts today, then I appear to be able to approve or reject my own posts. Not sure whether this is a good thing, or even if it is intended!

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US killer spy drone controls switch to Linux

Peter Gathercole
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@Davidoff

Many of the 'potential buffer over-run' problems that were flagged against Linux were found by syntactic code analysis of the openly available source code. I have often wondered whether anything like the same was done on propriety OSs.

I don't know how much code you look at, but peer review, which is practiced by most software companies, does not make you immune to code defects. It may protect you from howlers (stupid mistakes or typos), but it is unlikely to protect you from complex logic problems unless you are prepared to spend more time analyzing the code that was spent writing it. But it has it's place.

The main difference in security between an OS like Windows, and a UNIX-like OS is the amount of time you have to be running a privileged account when using the system. I'm sure that if you were to look at most personal Windows XP installations, and probably Vista and 7 as well, the primary account used is an administrator account. This nullifies *ALL* of the actually quite good security model of Windows. It's not the design of Windows that is the problem, it is actually the way this design is implemented and (mis-)used in normal practice.

If you look at most Linux distributions, although the primary account is in an admin group of some sort, allowing the use of sudo, the accounts are not actually privileged in any other way. This means that for any infection vector, you *STILL* have to cross the privilege barrier in order to touch the OS. And if you are worried, it is easier still for an everyday account to be set up that does not even have this privilege. But that will not protect personal information or code that is installed and run from user-space, just the system. But in a multi-user world, I prefer to know that the basic OS is mainly immune from something somebody else is doing.

This is not complete protection. Anybody who thinks that one measure on it's own will provide total protection is a fool, but it is a fairly large first hurdle to jump for infection vectors involving users compared to Windows.

BTW, although I know that Android is based on Linux, I don't count it as a Linux for exactly the reasons you are thinking of. It still has privilege separation, but most of the code is installed and run in user-land.

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Acorn King Moir: BBC Micros, Ataris and 'BS' marketing

Peter Gathercole
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Wordwise - BAH

Whilst I used WordWise, I preferred Acornsoft View, as it felt more like a commercial grade word processor.

But I didn't really use micros for my word processing. I used my Beeb as a basic text editor (normally the editor in the Acornsoft Pascal system) and a terminal to a PDP-11 that I looked after, and had been using roff/nroff on UNIX and Runoff on RSX-11M for text formatting. But I also had access to a Qume Sprint 5 daisy-wheel printer for my quality documentation.

I do remember someone (was it CC, or possibly Watford Electronics) who produced a very good printer ROM for the BBC which would format a line of text as a graphics image, and managed to get very passable NLQ output from printers like the Epson FX80 and compatibles that otherwise produced some very dotty text.

I believe that the other product that took the BBC micro world by storm was Speech!, which allowed you to *SAY pretty much anything through the Beeb's speaker.

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Samsung hauls Apple into court over emoticon patent :-(

Peter Gathercole
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@Ken Hagen

Interesting slant. By thinking of it like this, you can consider emoticon replacement as an assembler or compiler.

I'm not sure whether a basic assembler pre-dates mark-up systems for printing, but I think that it might, although....

IIRC, special card images used to exist for carriage control in the days of Hollerith cards, pre-dating electronic computers, and dating back to mechanical card sorting machines. Would this count? Or possibly particular sequences of cards in Jacquard looms to weave patterns in cloth. That may be a bit of a stretch, but it is still taking one sequence of symbols and producing a related but different graphic.

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The moment a computer crash nearly caused my car crash

Peter Gathercole
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OK, my car actually has a basic rotor as well

but it's so old that nobody in their right mind would think to steal it!

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Peter Gathercole
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Surely you mean 'used to be'

Modern cars have fully electronic ignition systems, so don't have any form of rotor arm at all!

Spark is controlled by thyristors (or are they old-hat as well), and directed to the correct cylinder without mechanical intervention. Timing is taken from a some non-moving rotational sensor looking at either one of the cam shafts, or the crank shaft.

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Google's Siri-a-like to be named 'Majel' after Trek actress

Peter Gathercole
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@Artic fox

Yeah, what I wrote could be read as me repeating what was in the article, but the aside was the Nurse Chapel bit, which all Trekers should already know, but many others won't. It's amazing how the lag between posting and the post appearing can make it look you've not read all of the comments.

The thing is that ST:TOS was made about 45 years ago (it took a few years to reach the UK), which is before many of the commenters here were born. As Next Generation, Deep Space 9 and Voyager are much later series, with more episodes, and have been syndicated much more than the original series, and the voice of the computer appeared in almost every episode, I would say that she was much better known as the voice of the computer than Nurse Chapel.

I understand your sentiment, though.

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Peter Gathercole
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Has anybody spotted whether Apple have filed any patents with regard to controlling phone functions using voice commands?

I'm certain that if they have, they should be invalid, but we all know the US patent system.

I think that 'Majel' is great as a name for this type of application, especially if they can get a sound-alike to do the voice. Anybody produced an LCARS theme for Android yet?

Interesting aside, Majel Barret (as she was then) had a recurring role in ST:OS as Nurse Chapel, as well as being the voice of the computer on board Federation ships circa NCC1701D.

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Capita signs £560m deal with BBC

Peter Gathercole
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@Mark 5

See my previous correction about my lax language, and I think that if you had actually read the whole of the post, you would have seen that I do/did know that it is the operating of the receiving equipment to receive broadcast television that is what is covered by the law.

But a computer with a link to the Internet is also classed as receiving equipment.....

I sympathise with your treatment, it sounds a bit harsh. As I have suggested before, you can't catch the real cheats without also looking at the people who really don't watch TV. I appreciate that they could just take your word, but if that is all it took to avoid investigation (and that really means that someone is evaluating whether you should be purchasing a licence), then the people who say to themselves that they aren't going to buy a licence would have no difficulty lying.

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Peter Gathercole
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@jonathanb

No, not everybody, but a significant number.

I know that this is a question that cannot easily be answered, but I wonder how many addresses on the post-code database actually do not watch broadcast television?

Certainly those that are empty, but I would guess (and this is a finger in the air guess with no research) that television watching probably has about a 98% penetration of all addresses (this would allow for ~600,000 residential addresses to not watch TV, which is, I think, probably an over-estimate)

If you follow the odds and apply these figures, then the odds are that a good number of the people who do not buy a licence should. Wikipedia states that 27% of all visits in 2007-8 found that a licence should have been purchased. It's difficult to quantify how accurately the visits are targeted, but that is a significant amount of lost revenue, and a large number of people (possibly up to a million if there were 3.5 million visits, although this number probably includes multiple visits to the same address) who ARE prepared to LIE and break the law.

So the numbers probably justify some of these accusations, even if it is unpleasant. If you are one of the real people who do not watch broadcast TV, put at least some of the blame on those people who do cheat.

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Peter Gathercole
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I was talking about

operating the TV as a receiver. I admit I was a bit lax in my language, but if you read my post, I do say about receiving broadcast TV (which includes simulcasts over the Internet). I was assuming that people would read the whole comment.

The whole concept of what can receive TV is a moot one. Some time back, I bought for cash a TV signal amplifier from Tesco. I used the household Tesco Club card, which silently provided the address information required which prevented the checkout assistant from asking me to provide identity information (normally, they take it from the payment card).

Unfortunately, the card is in my wife's name, not mine, but the TV licence is in my name. We do not have anything stupid like different surnames, so the surname match.

A few months later, my wife gets a letter from the TV licensing authority, accusing her of not having a TV licence. I immediately checked, and found that the licence was still valid, and I checked with her, and yes, we were still married, and we were both still living at the same address for which the licence was issued.

This begs two questions. Firstly, do they not accept surname and address as proof of living in the same household, and secondly, a TV amplifier is not strictly speaking receiving equipment for broadcast TV. I know that it will be used with a TV most of the time, but it is not proof that a TV is being operated. Being a bit of a an electronics fix-all, I may have just been wanting it for spare parts, or I could have been using it to boost and distribute a signal from a DVD or Video player around the house.

I actually bought it for my parents house, because their booster had just failed.

I sent the licensing authority an email, quoting the TV licence number, and never heard anything back again, not even an apology.

On another occasion, Tesco actually would not allow me to buy a £220 TV for cash unless I provided some ID. I'm not sure whether that is legal, although I understand that a shop has the right to not serve anybody if they so wish.

As another slightly humorous incident, a shop actually asked me to fill in an identity form when I purchased for cash a cheap DVD player (no TV receiver in it). Just shows how poorly the message is understood.

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Peter Gathercole
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Stop whinging

Anybody who really chooses not to have any TV receiving equipment can skip over the rest of this post, because I agree that there should be a real opt out from the abusive mail for people who do not watch any broadcast TV.

Now. For everybody who just disagrees with the licence fee - move to another country.

It may be outdated. It may be the wrong model to pay for public broadcast TV. It may be inequitable for people who don't watch BBC content, but it IS the law for owning TV receiving equipment.

It is as much a legal requirement to have a TV licence if you own and operate a TV in the UK as it is to tax a car if you keep it on the road. If you think it is wrong, lobby your MP to have the law changed.

I don't watch as much broadcast BBC as I used to, but I don't begrudge paying the money. It's a hell of a lot less than I pay Sky, and there is so much more real content generated by the BBC than Sky (buying content is not the same as making it or commissioning it).

The BBC generate content that appears on a lot more than the 8 main BBC channels (1, 2, 3, 4, CBBC, CBeebies, BBC Alba and BBC News 24).

I challenge anybody to flip through Sky or Virgin without finding some BBC generated content on the non-BBC channels. And a significant amount of the licence fee actually makes the terrestrial broadcasting system affordable to the other users such as ITV. Remember when OnDigital and ITV Digital effectively went bust because they could not generate the required revenue.

Actually thinking about it, maybe there should be an equivalent of SORN for non-TV owners. Make it an annual declaration, make it a criminal offence to make an incorrect statement, but make it enough to stop the mails. Ask people who buy TV receiving equipment for non-TV receiving purposes to renew their declaration. Back this up with an an investigation arm that can get warrants for entry, but put heavy penalties paid to the innocent party from the investigation arm if the entry does not find any infringement, and the penalties should come from the profits of the company operating the investigation, not from the fees charged to the BBC to run the collections.

I'm sure that this will not satisfy everybody, as no doubt there will be libertarians who see this as unnecessary in an ideal world, but hey, breaking news, this is not an ideal world, it contains liars and cheats.

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iOS finally gets Palm compatibility

Peter Gathercole
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Graffiti on capacitive screens

I use a Graffiti app on my android phone (it's in the market), and I find it a bit strange.

The problem is that I am (still) completely used to popping the stylus out when writing. Using my finger (especially as I play classical guitar and keep my nails long) is just unnatural.

I find that using one of the capacitive styluses that you can buy is no good either, because they generally have some form of rubber or latex tip that drags on the screen, making accurate swiping difficult.

Every now and then I will get my Treo 650 (with Graffiti Anywhere installed) out and marvel how natural it feels to use compared to my Galaxy. Of course it has a small screen, unwanted keyboard, and does not do WiFi or 3G, but it did most of what my android does now for the previous five years. And the battery (still) lasts 3-4 days! I just wish that they had produced a TX with a phone built in.

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The BBC Micro turns 30

Peter Gathercole
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Yes, too true.

Econet security was almost non-existent.

You could have your BEEB as a privileged station, which enabled you to do all sorts of things like peek at the screen of another station on the network, or even remote control other machines. Tremendously useful in a teaching environment.

The only problem was that the only thing that marked your station out as privileged was a single bit in a particular memory location of your machine. It was easy to poke (well, use the ? operator) this byte, and hey presto, your system became privileged. Yes, we know you did it frequently, Gary Partis, wherever you may be.

Unfortunately, being on a privileged station, you could then do all sorts of bad things to the file server (yes, Econet Level 3 allowed you to have a hard disk based fileserver on the network), so we had to warn the lecturers not to keep their assessment marks on the file server.

Putting together the computer appreciation BBC micro lab we had at Newcastle Poly in the early '80s was one of the most fun things that I ever did in my working life, and as of last year, my BBC Model B with an Issue 3 motherboard, serial number in the 7000's and BBC Basic 1 in EPROM is still working (it's missing the OSBYTE, OSWORD and OSCLI keywords, amongst other things)

BTW. Anybody know where to get double-sided single density soft sectored 5.25" diskettes from? Mine are shedding oxide, and many are unfortunately unreadable.

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Peter Gathercole
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Ditto.

Why do I have to put something in the body?

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How digital audio ate itself and the music industry

Peter Gathercole
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@DF118

Um, Yeah. I got that. I was just being pedantic as he should have said "playback with Dolby B off" (I've corrected the capitalisation as well), because if you were using Dolby C, you probably also used decent quality Metal, Chrome or Ferro-chrome tapes anyway.

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Peter Gathercole
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Boffin

@JimC

Very few commercial tapes were created with Dolby C, Dolby B was the norm.

Dolby C appeared on high end audio systems for users when recording their own material, and as far as I am aware, no record labels actually sold tapes recorded with Dolby C.

IIRC, Dolby B had a fixed expansion above a single frequency, Dolby C used multiple frequencies (two or three) and different levels of expansion for each, and Dolby D used a continuously variable expansion level dependent on the frequency. I can't ever remember seeing home grade equipment with anything better than Dolby C.

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How Apple beat IBM in Steve Jobs' first retail war

Peter Gathercole
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"technically better"?

It really depends on what you mean as "technically". The C64 had the same speed processor, less available memory, and only really had an advantage in hardware sound and sprite facilities. It did not even look better! OK, it had a 6510 rather than a 65C02, but the differences where not huge, and most software did not take advantage of the re-instated 'missing' instructions in the 6502, or the extra I/O processor port.

The IIc had a screen resolution that was more appropriate for real work (rather than games) and a software portfolio that included real business software. It could be seen by affluent people as a 'real' computer, running 'real' programs, rather than a home computer that was only ever going to be used for games. And if you had good tax advice, it would not surprise me if you could get a tax break in the US for buying something like the IIc that could be considered a business machine!

It also had about as long a heritage as a personal computer could have at the time. I suppose that you could say that a C64 was an evolved PET, but in reality, there was nothing that made a C64 able to claim to be an updated PET except for the possibility of using some of the same (expensive) peripherals. The Basic was not really the same, the character set was different, and the memory map and OS entry points were completely different.

I used an European Apple II color (or should that have been colour), and was always impressed by the card slot capability that allowed the system to be extended in ways that were not imagined by Apple (like the UCSD Pascal system). The IIc only had marginal expansion capability, but included much of what made the II so useful (like disk drives, memory expansion, and I/O ports) in the base system.

There was no way that the C64 could offer many of these features without expensive and often ugly add-ons.

I will not deny that the C64 was successful, but that was entirely down to it's relatively low price rather than it's technical merit, which made it accessible to a much wider customer base. At the time, even £199 in the UK was a significant purchase, and for a normal working family to try to justify spending £800+ (which was the price of a reasonable 2nd hand car at the time) on something with only intangible benefits was just not going to happen. Most families at the time would pay £50-70 for a ZX81 or £125 for a Spectrum if their kids pestered them long enough.

As a foil to this, I don't believe that IBM even offered the updated PCJr in the UK, because there was just no market for it!

I still keep my original BBC Model B running though!

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Huge PDP-11 in a lorry: How I drove computers into schools

Peter Gathercole
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@JimmyPage

PDP-11 running UNIX. BBC Micros. Polytechnic. VMS.

I know that all these were quite common in education, but was this Newcastle Poly?

The PDP-11/34 (in SYSTIME 5000E covers) in the Maths department (which taught the computing courses) there was my pride an joy, and I was instrumental in getting a network of BBC Micros installed there. Was a Golden Period of my working life, and set me up for a life of supporting UNIX systems.

We were at constant tension with the Polytechnic computer service department, who had a passion for HARRIS systems (strange beasts that were neither Super-mini nor Mainframe), RML 480Z systems and a little later, 1st generation IBM PCs. Eventually, they gave up on Harris systems, and switched their main systems to a VAX 8600 and an 8300 running VMS, and an 8250 running Ultrix.

All seems a long time ago.

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Dragonriders of Pern author Anne McCaffrey dies

Peter Gathercole
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"...and dragons raised their heads as one and keened"

She was for many years one of my favourite authors. So much, that I paid full price on launch day for "Dragondrums" IN HARDBACK, in the days when books were published in hardback many months before they appeared in paperback, and were horribly expensive.

I'm trying to think of a suitable quite from something like "The Ship who Sang" or "Masterharper of Pern", or even from "Dragonsong" (something from the dirge sung by Menolly during Petrion's Dirge would be suitable), but memory fails me.

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Facebook phone rises from the dead, again

Peter Gathercole
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Thumb Up

Love the reference

to 'Buffy - The Musical'.

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Router glitch causes widespread net outages

Peter Gathercole
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Don't buy....

...all your core products from a single supplier.

Makes it difficult to put together a coherent service, but at least when it comes to networking gear, prevents you from having the same flaw take out an entire layer of your infrastructure.

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Japan develops powered armour suit for nuke workers

Peter Gathercole
Silver badge

Japan, powered suits

All of my anime dreams are coming true! Now all we need are the A.D. Police and the Knight Sabres, Patlabor Mobile Police or possibly the Olympus ESWAT teams to pick up the pieces when the powered suits run amok.

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Android 'stands on Microsoft's shoulders', says MS lawyer

Peter Gathercole
Silver badge

@cloudgazer

Right sentiment, wrong details. According to the Levenez timeline document, Xenix was derived from 32V, which was a 32 bit port of Version/Edition 7 for the Interdata 32 system. As far as I am aware Version/Edition 5 did not make it outside of Murray Hill.

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UN set to dump GMT for tech-friendly Atomic Time

Peter Gathercole
Silver badge

Why standardise on BST?

Surely it would really make more sense (sun overhead at midday) if we were to standardise on GMT.

It's only those who want to regularise our time with Europe who really want to go to permanent BST.

It constantly annoys me when people keep saying that the clocks change for Winter to make the mornings lighter.

The clocks change in Summer, for an entirely out-of-date and arbitrary reason.

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HP hooks up with Calxeda to form server ARMy

Peter Gathercole
Silver badge

Ahh yes. The vaunted efficiency argument....

I'm not sure I agree about the vendors preferring the days of separate servers, because the rackmounted server market became very cut-throat, and the vendors were not making much money per server, even it they were selling a lot of them.

What virtualization has allowed is vendors to tell customers that they are justified in replacing perfectly serviceable datacenter servers with years of life with brand new, high margin, expensive servers. For the vendors, high margin small volume is preferable to low margin high volume. That's why IBM's mainframe business is still very profitable.

I'm sure that the vendors can produce spreadsheets and charts to prove that they will save money on power, space, infrastructure and support costs by doing this, but that is what marketing people do. It will be interesting looking back in a few years time, but I'm not sure whether anybody will be publishing figures to see whether the savings were realised.

I was working on introducing virtualized systems six years ago in the UNIX space, and whenever we tried suggesting combining workloads so that the average usage of the workloads approached 90%+, we always got tripped up by the customers (separate departments in a large UK bank buying computer services from a central IT department) wondering loudly what happened to their workload if unscheduled peaks in separate workloads coincided. They never liked the fact that in these situations they might get less predictable batch timings than if they paid for guaranteed capacity. The result was that we put hard limits on each of the LPARs, effectively the same as them having systems of fixed size. They could not afford missing critical deadlines by uncertainties regarding job run times.

I admit that this was before it became easy to shuffle partitions live between different physical systems, but it became clear that end customers were not prepared to compromise in order to make more efficient use of the installed capacity.

I'm not involved in such work at the moment, so maybe 'education' or 'marketing presentations' are better at convincing customers nowadays.

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Peter Gathercole
Silver badge

@Matt

I seriously consider the push to virtualisation as being a hardware vendor led campaign in order to justify the purchase of ever larger and expensive single servers.

It would be just as easy to have a server farm mentality using very small footprint, high density separate address space individual systems with networked shared filesystems. You know, network booted devices with common OS images. Maybe dozens of them per 2U server like BlueGene or blade centres, running much more simple OS's than windows has become.

In fact, if the cost and power consumption is right, why even go down the distant processing model at all. Put ARMs in the display devices (oops, they are already there!) with decent network connectivity (which is already required for RDP/VNC/Citrix) and a lightweight network based OS, and dispense with the huge server based processing complex completely. Move back to a file server model with much more modest systems with lots of storage in the data centre.

You would have to be careful about management issues, but I'm not advocating a return to the every-pc-has-it's-own-OS-and-applications, more like the SUN's "The Network IS the Computer" diskless boot model, so that the device on every desk is identical. One fails, replace it with another. All user data is on the fileservers, and the device on your desk is just a way of accessing it.

This is where low power SOC ARM systems can really go, and can probably provide at least 70% of the requirements of the business community with huge cost and energy savings.

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Ten... small screen HD TVs

Peter Gathercole
Silver badge

Recycling TVs

I don't like discarding anything that works, and I do like fixing things that break in obvious ways.

Thus, I still have the last 4 TVs that have served as our main one, three of which have been repaired, often on more than one occasion.

The latest is a 32" 1080i HD LCD in the living room (still good enough for Sky HD - don't have or want a bluray player or PS3). The previous one is a 26" HD Ready LCD in the kids play/games room that my mother said should be our dining room. The one before that is a 28" widescreen CRT and is in the room where the HiFi and all the music instruments are (and is used only when the wife is watching boring home improvement programs), and the one before that is a 19" 4x3 CRT in the main bedroom. All the CRTs are physically turned off when not in use, to save power.

The kids have TVs in their rooms (bought as Christmas and Birthday presents), but none are larger than 20", and that is quite large enough.

I just can't stand the thought of perfectly serviceable equipment going to the tip.

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Dennis Ritchie: The C man who booted Unix

Peter Gathercole
Silver badge

@Sean Baggaley 1

"BSD Unix (which really *is* UNIX)" - not in the most pedantic sense.

A lot depends on your definition. BSD (which was originally a series of add-ons and modifications published in source) became a full OS distribution and split from Bell Labs UNIX around version/edition 6/7, and was never re-integrated (although SVR2/3/4 all added BSD features back into to the AT&T sourced versions).

As a UNIX pedant, I would say that BSD is *NOT* UNIX. Remember the lawsuit that forced AT&T code to be removed from BSD, leading to BSD/Lite, FreeBSD and BSD/386, so it is difficult to justify the claim that BSD is UNIX.

By comparison, HP/UX, AIX, Xenix, UNIXWare/SCO UNIX, Altix, SINIX and many more were derivatives of AT&T code, and passed UNIX branding tests, so could legally be called UNIX.

I accept that a lot of people who were from outside the Bell Labs/AT&T world may well have seen BSD before any commercial version of UNIX, and may well have referred to BSD as UNIX before AT&T got commercially sensitive about the UNIX brand, but that does not alter the fact that it was a very early fork of UNIX which never gained UNIX branding. I am not arguing that BSD is no good, because clearly it is, but that it's claim to be UNIX is subject to interpretation.

As far as I am aware, the only BSD variant that passes any of the UNIX compliance test suites is OSX!

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UK has enough sheep shearers, needs more coders

Peter Gathercole
Silver badge
WTF?

What a surprise

that sheep shearers are not required in the winter!

I'll bet they appear on the list again next March.

Having seen some of the specialist sheep shearers from the antipodes, I'm not surprised that they are required. I've never seen anybody work so hard for so long as some of these guys. 8 hours or more with minimal breaks, averaging a sheep every 2-3 minutes or so, often for six days a week.

What they do is take two to three years travelling around the world from country to country as each reaches their spring. They work their bollocks off while spending almost nothing on accommodation. They earn a pile of money, which they then go back home with as the buy-in stake for a farm or ranch.

While I've seen some good UK based shearers, there are not that many, and certainly not enough for the number of sheep in this country.

I dispute the graphics designers, though. My daughter got told that the number of UK graphics students that get jobs in Graphic Design after completing their course is only a small fraction of the total. More like graphics agencies don't want the tedious job of breaking in inexperienced graduates when it is easier to recruit experienced workers from abroad. I cry Shame! on this and all past governments for not encouraging people trying to take the first step on the ladder. There really is no shortage!

I'm sure that the same must be true for software developers, although I do question the value of some of the computer and IT courses that run in this country.

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Ubuntu's Oneiric Ocelot: Nice, but necessary?

Peter Gathercole
Silver badge
Happy

Funnily enough

A TTY33 would still work fine if you found one with an RS232 interface, (current-loop support is probably a bit esoteric for Linux, but no doubt someone supports a driver and hardware somewhere).

Shame you can't say the same for Gnome 2.3.

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Peter Gathercole
Silver badge
Unhappy

But that's only 6 months away

and there is almost no bug fixing going on in that version, even though it is an LTS release. There's lots of unhappy LTS users in the Ubuntu forums, myself included.

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Peter Gathercole
Silver badge
Unhappy

In the server release

there are a number of items that will not appear on the backports list for fixes from later releases. This includes all of the desktop items like Firefox, Evolution, and even Google stop producing fixes for Chrome once an LTS release goes out of support (as Hardy did earlier this year).

From my experience, once an LTS release has been out for a year or so, anything that is regarded as a bug rather than a security problem just will not get fixed.

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Feds slurp WikiLeaker's email with secret court order

Peter Gathercole
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Hmmm, makes me think of secretmail

on UNIX systems 30 years ago. See, nothing's new nowadays.

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Future Firefox to slurp updates silently

Peter Gathercole
Silver badge

@Oninoshiko

It has been a convention since UNIX made it outside of Bell Labs, which I can testify to since 1978 when I first used UNIX version/edition 6.

I agree that this does not suit all organisations or even all users in the same organisation, and the flexibility of UNIX allows this *convention* to be controlled where it is necessary. That does not alter the convention, merely the implementation.

Your statement that "Users should NOT install apps" is as blunt as me saying that they should. Neither can completely cover all situations. I also wonder whether you differentiate between locally written tools, and applications from external organisations, and also whether you also differentiate between compiled code and such things as shell scripts or other interpreted code (which actually can be run as long as you can run the interpreter, even if the noexec flag is set!). Do you also prevent shell access or disable aliases and functions?

Where I currently work, if the users were not allowed to compile and execute code, they could not work. But that is because our users are scientists who are working on creating computing models. There is no one-size-fits-all model for all organisations.

I'm not sure if that statement about 'self-declared admins' was aimed at me. If I am not a UNIX system admin (30 years looking after UNIX systems from many vendors in lots of industries, including writing some of the security standards and many operational procedures at some organisations), then I don't know what I am, or what a UNIX sysadmin should look like.

Believe me, I have been involved in enough hardened UNIX installations to know exactly what you are saying, and the convention stands.

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Canonical enterprise chief jumps for Eucalyptus cloud

Peter Gathercole
Silver badge
Unhappy

Maybe Ubuntu has lost it's shine

Having made a name for itself over the last 6 years or so, I think that people are beginning to realise that the corporate-customer-pay-for-support model that Canonical have been trying to work towards is a difficult one to build a business on.

The move towards the shiny has not helped, having polarized their advocates into those who don't understand the need to change, and those who love it. The former category, IMHO, is the one most likely to suggest Ubuntu in the server space, so in many ways the dis-Unity spat is indirectly doing more damage to their corporate support model than anything else they have done.

I'm sure that some people will remind me that Gnome is still in the repository and can be installed, and that server releases are different from workstation ones, but those people are missing the point about the work necessary to run server type systems.

To survive, Canonical has to approach profitability at some point, because Mark Shuttleworth won't bankroll them forever. If they are losing some of their high up managers, it appears to me that this thought may be occurring within the company as well.

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Royal Navy halts Highlands GPS jamming

Peter Gathercole
Silver badge

Local time sources

Generally if you buy a time appliance that provides a NTP stratum 1 source using GPS, MSF or DCF, then they put a high-precision temperature controlled clock in the appliance for just the situation where your exterior time source is not available.

Normally these are accurate to <2ms per day drift (this is for the entry level device from Time and Frequency Solutions Ltd. - other NTP time appliances are available), so will take over a year to drift even a second from real time if they lose their external feed. There are better ones if you need more accuracy.

So if you need accurate time, relying on a regular feed from GPS is just not necessary.

Of course, some people might be doing time synchronisation on the cheap, but that is then their problem.

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