* Posts by Peter Gathercole

1939 posts • joined 15 Jun 2007

CSC confirms $1.5bn NHS IT write-off

Peter Gathercole
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Money going back?

Who said anything about money going back?

This is all about money they have spent that has not resulted in payments coming from the customer. Still a quite good thing from the NHS's point of view, but I'm sure everyone really wanted a working, applicable system developed within the budget.

Still, not sure whether that was ever possible.

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EFF helps MegaUpload users claw legit stuff back from Feds

Peter Gathercole
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@Ogi

Not sure if you are still reading, but I am a sysadmin using LTO tapes in my daily life.

Even if the tapes are still readable in 30 years time (debatable), are you still going to have a device that will read them reliably in 10 years? In my time as an admin (~30 years), I've used 1/2" mag tapes, DecTapeII, QIC cartridges, 1, 2, 5 and 20GB 8mm Exebyte, 4mm DAT, DLT, IBM 3840 and 3570 cartridges, and even Sinclair Microdrives. All of them are now obsolete, and I would expect that of all of them, you would probably have better success finding someone who could read 1/2" tapes than any of the other formats. LTO says that it will read and write current generation and last generation tapes, and read one previous generation, but that is all that is guaranteed.

Also think of floppies. Remember 8" floppies? I still have some (out of nostalgia because I can't read them). 5.25", 3", 3.5". All dead. Jazz drives and the others. Gone and mostly forgotten.

Disks are no good either. ST506 Shugart is dead. ESDI is dead. Older SCSI is dead, IDE and EIDE are dying, even the older SATA disks will not be able to be connected at some time in the near future.

My view is that CD and DVD still have some life left in them as backup. I just wish I could trust them more.

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Peter Gathercole
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My rule is...

...put it on a hosting site for others to see and for my convenience when I am away from home, but keep my own copies it on the most persistent media I can find. For extremely valuable information, keep copies outside of the home as well! Unfortunately, what counts as a persistent media at the moment. I'm finding writeable CDs from the late 90's are already becoming a bit dodgy.

Having said that, I must backup my laptop. Ho hum, I'm busy, so that will have to will wait for another day(!)

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Revealed: Apple's plea for fairness in mobile patent war

Peter Gathercole
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@AC re: "Perfectly useable"

I still power my Palm Treo 650 up and marvel at how much easier it is to do so many of the day-to-day things than any of the smartphones I have had since. Granted it is not as powerful, and is not a 3G device, but it does (with some added apps I admit) 80% of what I do on my current Android. And the battery lasts close on a working week with light use, even after 7 years.

So much so that it is still in my bag, charged, with a PAYG sim in it as my backup phone.

Shame it does not run Angry Birds, though!

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Quarter of Wolfram Alpha brainteasers come from Siri

Peter Gathercole
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@Marvin re:R is an emulation of S

If there are any R proponents here, I'm sure they will dispute this. R is indeed a re-implementation of S, but it has evolved hugely. AFAIK, development in S stopped sometime in the mid 1990's (I was using it in about 1987). I don't even know if S is in the AT&T Toolchest any more.

Of all of the tools listed in the OP, R/S is about the only tool that covers a significant proportion of what Mathematica can, and is the only one that can (creditably) claim to have pre-dated it. All of the others have been produced for part of what Mathematica can by those who could not afford it.

The only other thing that I came across that was used to do similar things was SPSS, but that was originally not a package in itself, but allowed you to do data manipulation more easily from inside other programs. I think that it has changed since I used it in 1980!

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Has Microsoft finally killed off Windows 8 Start button?

Peter Gathercole
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There's other problems here

Many users will transition from XP directly to Windows 8 when MS finally convince people that older versions of IE are insecure, and they nagware that is Automatic Update starts shouting that there are no more fixes even to SP3.

So what some commenters here are seeing as incremental change XP->Vista->7->8 will appear like a big-bang.

I personally cannot abide any interface where I have to drill down to what I regard as the root window in order to open something new. I want and need something that gets out of my way when I am not using it, but can be called up when I do. I tend to set autohide on any/all UIs that I use, and run with several overlapping windows on multiple virtual desktops obscuring any 'tiles' or desktop icons. This is one of the main reasons I don't like Unity and probably won't like Windows 8 if this article is correct.

Looks like I am condemned to be a technical dinosaur, at least as far as mainstream UIs.

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UK gov rejects call to posthumously pardon Alan Turing

Peter Gathercole
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@AC re: House of Lards - A heriditary house?

Probably not, but a second chamber, quite definitely.

But most of the hereditary peers were removed from the house by the last administration. Those peers that remain are selected life peers who have been elevated for their contribution to the country, and society as a whole (or at least that is the aim). As a result, they are supposed to be respected, and as such are given some power to ask the government to reconsider prospective legislation, which is a good idea.

The real problem is that although a second house is a thoroughly good idea, it must be disconnected from the House of Commons by having a completely different selection mechanism. There is no point in making it elected in the same time-scales as the lower house, because it then becomes just a rubber stamp body, reflecting the same issues that were in vogue when the election was held.

I for one feel that a house selected by merit is a suitable system. Maybe there should be a time limit on how long members of the Lords should be allowed to remain, but if the AC actually bothered to watch Lords debates on the BBC Parliament channel, then I think that they would be surprised about how interesting and well informed some of the speeches are. I was particularly impressed by a seemingly old foagy (can't remember who it was, I really should find out) standing up in the Lords during the ID card debates and making one of the most reasoned and interesting 20 minute contributions to the debate that I have ever heard. Changed my perspective completely.

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Colorfly Pocket Hi-Fi C4

Peter Gathercole
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@Fats

I read the sentence about Beats and Bose, and just had to hit the upvote!

In addition to all of your thoughts, I'm pretty worried about what pocket lint will do to the volume slider after a few weeks.

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Android dominates first-time smartphone buyer biz

Peter Gathercole
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The upgrade stats will be skewed

because there are more users of older iPhones who will probably want another iPhone, and rather fewer Android users from the same generation who are actually be in the position to upgrade.

It may also be that the users of Desires et. al. are still happy with their phones, and see no reason to upgrade.

Run the survey again in a year to 18 months when more of the older Android phones become obsolete (not able to run beyond FroYo), and see what it says.

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IBM bit-twiddlers want point releases for big iron

Peter Gathercole
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PCIe 3.0

Interesting thoughts about PCIe, but by exposing the GX+ bus on almost all of it's models, IBM has had the ability to side-step some of the bottlenecks associated with slower I/O buses.

Of course, this does require having suitable adaptor cards, but if you look at the P6 IH (P6 575) supercomputer nodes that IBM sold three years ago, the main interconnect was provided by 2 quad Infiniband cards plugged directly into the GX+ bus to give these systems the required grunt without having to use PCI or PCIe cards.

The downside of this is that you are forced to buy whatever offering IBM has, because very few third party hardware vendors will actually be interested in the investment required to produce such cards.

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The Register Comments Guidelines

Peter Gathercole
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I doubt

changing your handle will make a difference for moderation. The mods will identify the account by the login name, not the handle.

I don't know what their policy is on registering two accounts against different email addresses. I thought I read somewhere that it was either discouraged, or maybe that it was enough to get the accounts suspended.

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Peter Gathercole
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@madra - Hope this was meant in a light-hearted manner!

So you're wanting to ban some of the non-English first language commentards, as well as those not as educated as yourself?

Whilst I find it difficult to read some of the comments written in poor English, I have known many people with very valid technical information and comments who do not have English as their first language. I think I can put up with poor grammar so long as the comment has substance.

I think that those who use bad grammar as a reason to shout down a comment they don't like is just as bad as gratuitous use of poor English.

If your comment was tongue-in-cheek , then might I suggest that you use the Joke Alert! icon, rather than the Troll icon.

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Peter Gathercole
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I feel the registers forums have lost something

I just wanted to point out that I had a visible (on the forums) conversation with the The Register's then most celebrated moderator about having the reason for comments being rejected made known. What has been detailed in the new rules may go some way to getting what I asked for. IIRC, Drew was also in on the exchange, which should still be visible.

I didn't have to mention The Moderatrix's name, but I wanted to express my continued feeling of loss of the witty banter that typified us the commentard's collective exchanges with her.

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Peter Gathercole
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At last

Does this mean that we may get some feedback about why some comments are deemed unpublishable.

I had a long exchange with Sarah on the last comments rule article about wanting to be told why some comments were rejected. I try to self moderate, but I do have comments rejected on an infrequent basis.

I know that what you have said here is not quite that, but it's a step in the right direction IMHO.

I miss Sarah. It's just not the same trying to bait the rest of you to jump into a comment trail!

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Court defies Apple demand to ban Samsung tablet

Peter Gathercole
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Funnily enough

I have temporary custodianship of one of these while I try to get the calibration of the screen correct for Ubuntu.

It uses the FinePoint driver (which has, unfortunately, been pulled from Xorg's source tree now), and I cannot get the scaling and offsets to make the pointer accurately follow the touchscreen. And no, the documentation about the values to put in the xorg.conf and the sample calibration utility do not work as the documentation says (at least for this system). I can get the offsets set correctly for the top left of the screen, but the scaling makes the pointer fly off the right and bottom sides with minor movements regardless of the numbers in the configuration file. It looks like there may be an overflow or a divide by zero in the offset calculations in the driver going by the errors in the xorg.log file. I've not had the chance to look through the source yet. If anybody has any ideas, I would be interested. Ubuntu 10.4 (the last release with the touch screen driver in Xorg) also cannot drive the nvidia display correctly with hardware acceleration turned on.

Unfortunately, even if I get it working, it's still unreasonably slow, with the example I have it's got a 1GHz Transmeta Crusoe processor (which is another interesting point about this machine), so even when loaded with the maximum supported memory, it's still not going to be very usable.

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LG 3D TV ads misled buyers, judges watchdog

Peter Gathercole
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I understood that

Sky's HD service was 1080i.

Of course, what you see is dependent on the original quality of the material (up-scaled SD Simpsons will never look good). If you have Sky HD and at least a 1080i TV connected through HDMI, look at some of the HD documentary channels. Unfortunately, too many of these carry up-scaled material much of the time, but you will see some real HD. Some of the BBC sport coverage is also very good (I remember my first Wimbledon in HD, which really showed the difference).

As somebody else pointed out, BlueRay can be full 1080p, as can some of the games consoles.

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Most EU states sign away internet rights, ratify ACTA treaty

Peter Gathercole
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What we have is a Representative Democracy

You are represented by the person who obtained the majority vote in their (your) constituency.

Not only can you not vote for your MP or MEP at the next election, you also have the ABSOLUTE RIGHT to lobby them to hear and your concerns, and if sufficient interest is expressed to convince them, act on the concerns. Obviously there are limits (don't go stalking your MP, use the surgery process and letters and email), but you should give it a go sometime. You also have the same right to lobby members of the upper house when legislation passes to the House of Lords.

What breaks this is the Party system, that imposes a whip on the way that they vote. In my view, there should be no such thing as the party whip in Parliamentary votes, and MPs should be free to vote in line with what a majority of their constituents want. This would, however, make passing legislation and running a government much more difficult.

Unfortunately, it is necessary to have a representative system for all but the most important issues (where you have a referendum), because the great unwashed masses (and in fact, many of your MPs) are really not interested in the minutia of day-to-day government. When was the last time any of my fellow UK citizens even bothered to watch the BBC Parliament channel, let alone read Hansard or attend parliamentary sessions, and this is often the most interesting bits!

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E. coli turns seaweed into ethanol

Peter Gathercole
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@Ru

I though nucleosynthesys during the Big-Bang went further. Wikipedia suggests that it went no further than beryllium. I was obviously wrong. OK, just supernovae.

I Am (obviously) Not An Astrophysicist either!

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Peter Gathercole
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@Runcible - OK, obvious contradiction.

Comes of going back after writing a post and adding to it and clicking submit without re-reading it properly. Yes, heavy elements were pre-solar, but pretty much everything else is some form of solar energy. Still not helpful for the discussion, though.

My apologies.

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Peter Gathercole
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@Ru

I like the idea of floating farms, although the energy that falls on the surface of the deep oceans is used by free-floating plankton at the base of the food hierarchy, and also produces the warm water and water vapour that conditions the weather systems. Capture the energy, cool the oceans, and starve the animals in the deep.

As people like Robert Heinlein and others before him said, There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch!

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Peter Gathercole
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@Richard Ball

All energy on Earth is in some way directly or indirectly solar powered. All wind, wave, bio, hydro, ground heat, and fossil fuel comes from the Sun (some may argue that wave power may be driven by tidal forces, but the energy derived is effectively potential energy left over from when the moon was captured, as a result of gravity maintained by the gravity wells in the solar system, the largest of which is the Sun's)

Even nuclear and geothermal power relies on processes long ago that were caused by the Sun (accretion during the formation of the solar system).

You may possibly claim that the heavy fissionable elements are actually left over from the Big-Bang or supernovae, I suppose. If we ever get hydrogen fusion reactors, that would be the first energy source that has nothing to do with the Sun.

Anyway, it's all Entropy.

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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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Power7 chips going for a song in Big Blue January sale

Peter Gathercole
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We've still not seen Power7+ announced

so it may be that this is making space for upcoming higher-performance systems within existing products, and doing it early to try to maximise the amount of the existing systems sold before any announcement.

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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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