108 posts • joined 8 Apr 2012
Who'd a thunk it?
Strewth! What a coincidence! Who'd a thunk it?
Just at he very self-same moment that Abbott is being hammered every day by headlines all across the nation about his "no cuts to the ABC" lie the night before the election, just as he finally has to admit his failure to get the massively unpopular unfair budget passed, just as his mob is about to get right royally smashed out of office in the Victorian state election .... guess what?
By an amazing coincidence, Abbott's generals happen to suddenly break their months-long policy of military secrecy about everything to make a big announcement about dropping a lot of bombs on somebody rather nasty in Iraq. And today, by an even more amazing coincidence, Abbott pops up to make a big headline motherhood announcement about nuking some even scarier-sounding somebodies out there in cyberspace. Hey, it's got the word "security" in there, so it must be threatening and important!
Naturally, Abbott's new cyber security task force will take months to figure out what the problem is, many more months to figure out how to deal with it, and even longer to actually do anything about it, by which time that particular problem will have long since been sorted, forgotten, and replaced on the radar of working techs by three or four new and different ones, which we will deal with as and when they arise, same as always. That - clumsy and belated action to fix last year's problem - is the down-side case. The upside case, of course, is that the new committee will meet once a month for a year or two, drawing a nice fat fee meanwhile, and do absolutely nothing, same as usual.
Isn't life full of nice little surprises?
Too little too late
So a few of the scum are being prosecuted. All very well, but WTF have the authorities been doing for the last two years? FFS, this scumware has been around and widely known to anyone in the trade - certainly anyone working on the front line of support and security - for a very, very long time, and nothing whatsoever was done about it. It's good to see the scum merchants shut down, but this is IT, it is the 21st Century: we need to see action against this sort of large-scale fraud on a reasonable timescale. 18 months doesn't cut it.
a couple of misconceptions
Overall, a very sensible, rational article. I won't pass comment on the details of UK administration, but those are not important to the overall thrust of the piece.
On a carbon tax, two or three misconceptions seem to be floating around.
First, it doesn't matter where you place the tax, it can be anywhere at all in the supply chain and the effect on prices, consumer behaviour, and manufacturer behaviour is the same. Economics 101. Same with any cost or any tax. (Of course, there may be practical differences of implementation: naturally, you place the tax at the point in the chain where it is easiest and most efficient to administer.)
Second, it is vital to avoid the mistake Australia made. Australia exempted imported goods, which was madness. The carbon tax became a powerful incentive to close down your local plant and import stuff from China, which at that time was a relatively high-carbon economy. Result: pain at home and less carbon abatement than there might have been. (I should note that even so, the carbon tax significantly reduced emissions in a remarkably short time. Sectors exempt from it (imports, motor fuel, agriculture) continued to increase emissions, but many other sectors improved a great deal. Since the tax was abolished they have started to get significantly worse again.)
Third, it does not matter in the slightest what you do with the money raised by the tax except insofar as we all have an interest in taxation income being used to some worthy purpose. The main benefit of the carbon tax, just like that of tobacco taxes, isn't the income the government gets from it, it is the expenditure on the part of economic actors like consumers and manufacturers. Because high-carbon goods become more expensive, consumers find ways to avoid the tax by buying cheaper, low-carbon substitutes, and manufacturers find ways to cut their costs doing things in a more efficient way. As pointed out in the article, the government does not and should not specify how manufacturers and consumers avoid paying the tax (and thus produce less carbon), the market figures that out. Markets are really, really good at doing that. It's what markets do best.
Still on the third point, once we understand that spending the funds raised by the carbon tax is largely irrelevant to its purpose, we are at liberty to do anything we like with the money. It still works just as well to reduce carbon regardless of whether we spend it on schools and hospitals, fighter jets, income tax cuts, perks for politicians, education, research, paying down debt, building wind farms, foreign aid, buying a billion tons of boiled lollies, or even just shred it and bury it in a big hole. There are individual benefits and problems with each of these possibilities, of course, and we are free to debate the merits of each one, but the key point is that these don't matter so far as the benefit of the tax is concerned. If you want to spend the tax on solar PV collectors or whichever other renewable technology you prefer, that's fine, but it will still work almost as well even if you go the boiled lolly option.
Fourth, once we understand that the tax income is fungible, we can immediately see that there is no "right" level for it. There is a minimum appropriate level, which depends on how much high-carbon activity you are aiming to take out of the economy and replace with low-carbon substitutes, and on how fast you want that transition to happen, but provided only that the total tax take as a proportion of GDP remains where you want it (at the current level, for example) there is no particular maximum appropriate carbon tax. Set it as high as you like, provided you reduce or abolish other taxes to compensate, and also provided that you don't ramp it up so fast that it disrupts the whole system. Economies can cope very well with change, especially known, expected changes, but very large, sudden changes tend to cause trouble, so phase it in over a few years, increasing a little at a time until it's where you want it.
Personally, my preference would be to start removing other taxes one by one as the carbon tax increases, starting with daft ones like (Australian) payroll tax (a tax on jobs! How dumb is that?) and working through as many of the others as possible. What is your most-hated tax? VAT? GST? Income tax? Poll tax? No reason we can't get rid of it and have a carbon tax instead.
Re: Do I feel lucky?
Fluffy Bunny writes: "won't settle for anything less than FTTP? Go into your local NBN shop and tell them you want the "real deal". Oh ... you will need to pay what it really costs, and deservedly so. Now get your filthy hands out of my pocket."
Oh please learn some basic economics before posting such silly nonsense. As eny fule kno, in the short-term proper FTTP costs very little more than low-rent FTTN - around 20% difference on the project cost as a whole. Over time, however, proper FTTP is vastly, repeat vastly cheaper, because you only have to do it once. Abbott's sleazy FTTP scheme is good only in the short-term: it has no future or growth in it. By the time construction of Abbott's Fraudband network is finished, we will already be tearing it out again to retrofit a true fibre system with the capability to serve for many, many years - the capacity a real NBN would have built in from the start. Total cost of Abbott's cheapskate scheme: vastly higher. Total benefit: substantially lower.
PS: the "true cost" you cite is bullshit. That's the punitive price they will charge you to be the only house in the street with fibre. Of course that is expensive; you are doing it for just one house with no benefit from shared infrastructure and no economies of scale in either equipment supply or design and construction cost.
NBN: do it once, do it right. Much cheaper in the long run.
Do I feel lucky?
Which lucky suburbs are getting the permanent real NBN thing, and which new digital ghettos are getting the low-rent short-term-only fraudband service?
We know that the provision of other "universal" nation-wide services like education facilities and civic amenities is massively targeted at Coalition-held seats and a selection of key marginals (see for example "Coalition electorates favoured 3 to 1 in Abbott government infrastructure spend" at http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/coalition-electorates-favoured-3-to-1-in-abbott-government-infrastructure-spend-20140615-zs675.html ) - what do we know (if anything) about the distribution of NBN construction, and why do we fear the worst?
Simple, for dummies details please
For dummies like me, what does this actually mean? In particular, what does it mean for people running unsupported, unpatched versions of Windows? Obviously, anyone running (say) IE on XP is going to be vulnerable, but nothing in the two or three El Reg articles I have seen gives any clear hint as to whether a system running (for example) current-release Firefox on XP is vulnerable or not. (XP, let us remember, still accounts for something like 25% of in-service web-connected systems.)
Re: If it...
No. Sorry. Yank doesn't sound remotely like English.
Opera is dead. The second-rate Chrome clone they push now is inferior in pretty much all respects - and not just inferior to real Opera, inferior also to the likes of Chrome and Firefox. It's a crying shame, as Opera was responsible for the great majority of the ground-breaking innovations in browser design we take for granted these days and consider routine, and Opera's UI has never been matched. (The next best, though a long way behind, is probably SeaMonkey, or non-Australis Firefox.)
This BOFH rant would be very funny, but it isn;t, 'coz it's very very true. Usually we laugh at the BOFH 'coz he exaggerates real life so cruelly and accurately, but this time it's pure and simple truth.
On an off-topic note, Foxit used to be good. Used to be. Now it's just another slab of marketing-riddled bloatware with a screen-robbing Sinofsky-inspired UI from Bedlam. Despite having used and recommended it for quite a while, I stopped installing it a couple of years ago and switched to one of the three or four excellent little free no-BS alternatives. (My favourite is PDFExchange but there are several others which seem pretty nice too.)
Re: A year?
In the Southern Hemisphere, we have to deal with writers thoughtlessly using those weird back-to-front northern seasons all the time. It's routine to have to translate into the real seasons here down under - but rather annoying because you have to do it all the bloody time and you get a bit tired of it.
Now we have ONE instance back the other way and it's a capital crime. Time for you to HTFU, princess.
Re: Sounds like a flaw in their data collection
Thankyou Doug. 16 posts down and someone finally has the sense to spot the obvious.
(Not having a go at you here, not at all, just wondering a bit grumpily why none of the previous 15 contributors bothered to think it through and post such good sense on-topic.)
Of course, it's possible that this is just a one-time methodological glitch and the numbers will return to more typical ones next time, but my money says that it is just as you say it is - they finally found a .major problem and corrected it, carefully not telling anyone about the precious goofs.
XP nevertheless remains very common out there in the real world and there seems to be no particular reason why it won't go on doing useful work for a very long while yet. In my workshop, the pace of XP replacement work has slowed significantly over the last month or two. It's pretty rare now to get a straight XP upgrade job come in. To be sure, we are still replacing XP installs on existing hardware and replacing XP machines with new ones, but mostly now as a byproduct of some other presenting issue (such as a hardware failure or general deterioration) rather than specifically because the customer isn't happy running XP any longer. In short, the ones who haven't already switched look as though they will be running XP until the machine breaks or they can't find space for it in the nursing home.
social media = future (not)
What sort of person thinks there is any necessary connection between social media use and taking the future seriously? The premise of this idiotic meme seems to be
(a) social media is where I waste most of my time
(b) I am young, not too bright, and have a future (probably)
(c) therefore social media = future.
If I was paying the taxes that support this minister's wages, I'd want a refund for every hour she wasted on Twitter when she is supposed to be doing useful work.
I'm calling this one out as headline-hunting non-research. For more information, just dial Code Red on the Bullshitometer.
Control-C was around and had enjoyed its original meaning for several centuries before someone - doubtless Microsoft, seeing as we blame them for everything else - hijacked it as a for-the-dummies duplicate of Control-Insert. Where were you when computing got started? Didn't you ever use CPM?
(Well, OK, probably not centuries.)
Re: Clean energy NOW
Nuclear is not the answer. It may not even be a significant part of the answer. Why not?
No, it's not because nuclear is an evil big-capital outgrowth of the military-industrial complex. (It might be just that, there are certainly some people who think so, but for our purposes that question isn't relevant and we do not need to answer it.)
No, it's not because nuclear is horribly dangerous and produces very, very nasty waste products. (People argue that point too, again with some reason, and other people argue that it is in fact very, very safe with proper management and modern technology; they even claim that the long-term waste problem can be solved too, and provide some credible evidence to back that up. But again we don't need to decide this; again the question isn't relevant.)
No, it's not because there is a shortage in the medium to longer term of uranium ores. (There isn't. At least not enough of one to matter.)
No, it's not because widespread use of nuclear energy could and in fact does lead to proliferation of nuclear weapons in the hands of people we don't trust. (Let's face it, those people we don't like, if they have the will and the ability to make an atom bomb - which isn't something you can knock up in a handy basement over a weekend with your Acme Home Scientist kit - equally have the ability to develop and deploy any number of other only somewhat less dangerous and destructive things; so don't decide your entire future energy policy on this point either.)
It is because of one great, unanswerable, insoluble problem: money. Nuclear energy is very, very, very expensive. Why do we still use coal even though we know for certain that it's doing us and our children massive harm? Because it's cheap. That's pretty much the only reason.
In broad, we use whatever energy is the cheapest and easiest to get. In the past, that was mostly coal and oil. Today, the cost difference between fossil fuels and renewables is quite small. Take away the substantial subsidies for fossil fuel (mostly hidden away in the national accounts under other headings, different ones in different countries) and the cost difference is smaller yet. Throw in a reasonable allowance for the unpaid external costs of fossil fuels (notably carbon pollution, but there are others) and it turns out that renewables are often cheaper than new-build coal or gas plants. (That's for electricity generation; transport will take a lot longer.) Finally, add the very rapid and sustained reductions in the cost of mainstream renewable generation and storage year by year as economies of scale take effect and the technology improves, and it is - as the article says - entirely to be expected that renewables will overtake fossil fuels simply because they are cheaper.
Current expectations are that the break-even cost point for households, the price point where it makes economic sense to disconnect from the grid and be self-sufficient using rooftop solar with storage will arrive in about 5 years. (That's for warm temperate places like Australia, South Africa and the US; it might take a little longer in colder climates, and the mix of technologies will vary from place to place.) On the utility scale, similar change towards break-even is taking place. Large-scale wind installations are particularly cost-effective and have already reduced the wholesale price of electricity in many countries, and utility-scale storage is dropping in cost very fast. All the publicity goes to ever more efficient battery technology but pumped hydro storage is a real game changer - it's moderately expensive to build but that's a one-off cost: the infrastructure lasts lasts for decades, even centuries, and the running cost is practically zero. Amortised over the life of the facility, pumped hydro + wind and/or solar is already cheaper than new-build coal. It's not yet cheaper than existing coal using legacy plant which was built and paid for years ago, but that's just a matter of time. (Of course, people holding large investments in coal mines and thermal generation facilities are trying desperately hard to delay the end, and doing everything they can to hold back the tide of new, clean technology, but they can't and won't succeed.
But where is nuclear in all this?
Basically nowhere. It costs too much. way too much. No-one is building nuclear plants anymore unless they can wangle a huge subsidy or permission to massively over-charge consumers, or both. (The latest trick to get new-build nuclear plant up seems to be to trick a government into agreeing to pay you for all the power you could produce if anyone wanted to buy it even if you don't actually produce it at all. The technical term for this sort of gun-to-head contract is "scam". Don't fall for it.
I like the way you think, not-Spartacus. :) Like you, I split tasks between mobile devices, albeit with a differently placed dividing line. My laptop does the bulk of the heavy lifting (yes a full-size laptop with 2 1TB hard drives and enough grunt to more-or-less replace a desktop); the phone just does phone calls and the odd SMS. Oddly enough, it's not so much the size and weight of the laptop that cuts into the ideal of use-anywhere, use-anytime, it's the mucking about you need to do with unfolding it and finding something like a table to rest it on and adding the essential accessories - real pointing device 'coz I hate those horrible touchpad thingies; broadband dongle on a longish cable 'coz the outback places I go often have marginal reception and built-in often doesn't cut the mustard. A tablet would make much more sense for travelling, but I'm not interested in anything that doesn't have the essentials of a proper keyboard and lots of storage .... and there we are, straight back into laptop land! Maybe I'll look at these new very large phones that are almost tablets; that might work for me. Or maybe I'll just carry on as usual until the ancient dumbphone self-destructs in half a decade or so.
Sneer all you like, but the more I learn about the current trends in smart phones, the happier I am with my ancient dumb phone. (No not a feature phone, a proper dumb phone. No apps, no games, no spyware, no problems. Oh, and the battery lasts a week between charges.)
Yes, they still have a line known as the "Pentium G". Essentially, the Intel chip naming system goes like this:
(I'm ignoring the bigger iron, just the consumer chips.)
Curiously enough, AMD have done exactly the same with their low-end chips. No-one outside of AMD marketing department can remember what their 57 different mainstream chips are called now, but their cheapest and slowest CPUs are now called "Athlon" and "Sempron". I built a very cheap low power system using an "Athlon 5150" the other day. Perfectly capable of doing the simple task it needs to do, but obviously sluggish. It's actually a part designed to power phones and tablets stuck into a standard ATX form motherboard and called 'Athlon". God only knows how slow the even cheaper "Sempron" part is! Damn shame, actually - "Athlon" is a glorious name and shouldn't be sullied by this slug. Why they choose to use the no-one-ever-heard-of-it "Sempron" (in its original incarnation a lack-lustre part which gained little market recognition) instead of the warmly-remembered "Duron" (a wonderful series of cheap, fast, reliable chips which earned a very good name with the buying public) I have no idea. Perhaps the old rumour that "Duron" unexpectedly turned out to be the Spanish word for "contraceptive" has some truth in it.
Meanwhile, the Intel (current version) Celeron and especially the Pentium G parts are remarkably good performers with dual cores and more than enough oomph to use in non-CPU-intensive roles. Cash registers and POS systems, light-duty secretarial and office work, your Granny's email and Skype, these are all good uses for a Pentium G. (For that matter, my own file server has a Pentium G. It has four 4TB hard drives storing archived data and spends most of the day doing nothing at all. When I do ask it to do stuff, it's fine. I could take an i5 or an i7 home from work and upgrade it in five minutes or so, it's the same motherboard and socket - but why?)
Re: What pleb uses Opera 12 still?
Please learn a little about the subject before posting nonsense.
1: "Opera 24" isn't Opera, it's just a buggified version of Chrome with different wallpaper.
2: The "performance improvements" (if any) delivered by the third-rate Chrome clone now masquerading as Opera are next to useless because the UI is so bad. This is not just a matter of taste or preference, many of the basic Opera functions are missing or broken or just horribly wrong. Chromepera doesn't even have a functional bookmark system. (Possibly that particular shocker is finally fixed now, I haven't checked the last couple of releases Certainly in numerous major releases of Chromepera it wasn't just broken it was completely missing. No bookmarks at all! Err ... what is this, 1987 again?)
2b: In any case, under heavy workloads Opera 12.x easily outperforms both IE and Firefox. (Under light loads, of course, performance doesn't matter 'coz any browser copes just fine.) Unlike IE and Firefox, Opera 12.x stands up robustly to very large numbers of open windows and tabs; the system remains responsive and Opera 12.x keeps running happily long beyond the point where Firefox curls up into a little ball and cries itself to death. (IE has long since given up at the Firefox death point, of course, though the later versions are at least much improved. I can't really comment on Chrome's ability to deal with high page counts - the Chome tab-management UI becomes dysfunctional quite early on, so it's doubtful anyone ever goes there with it.)
Re: Will somebody please think of the Elderly
Michael, Pale Moon pretty much works just like Firefox. Real Firefox, I mean, not this psudo-Chrome Australis thing. Just install it and use it; it works the way you expect it to work. The hardest thing to get used to is that the icon is a different colour.
The guy responsible for Pale Moon has expressed a very clear intention to retain the current UI. The only thing likely to derail that is the possibility that the Sinofsky-clone Australis zealots at Mozilla.org will figure out a way to cripple the underlying codebase in future versions such that the UI can no longer be fixed without an unreasonable amount of effort and lots of difficult-to-maintain third-party code. So far, that isn't a problem. Keep your fingers crossed.
Dumb and dumber
Horrible idea. First Australis, now this. If Microsoft really need some talented new people to comprehensively bork the next generation of Office and Windows products (now that MS no longer has the moronic design "skills" of Sinofsky on hand), the fruitcakes in charge of Firefox are very well-qualified.
Meanwhile, the elephant in the room is Firefox's existing tiles page, which was brain-dead at birth and hasn't improved so that anyone would notice.
(1) You can't set it to be your start page, which is pretty much the whole point in the first place. (OK, OK, there is doubtless some obscure extension or an about:config hack. The point stands.)
(2) It isn't under direct user control like a proper tiles page. Firefox sticks stuff on it without your permission and moves stuff around when you don't want it to, and can't even figure out that it shouldn't spam the page with multiple instances of the same site.
(3) It breaks the back button. try it: click on a tile, decide that you don't want that one and click "back" to return to the tiles page and go somewhere else, it doesn't work.Sorry, that's just brain-dead.
The really stupid part is that they didn't even need to think hard and invent something to get it right, they could have simply copied the original (and by far the best) speed dial / tiles page design, which was invented by Opera years ago and was part of that browser right up until Opera was replaced by a third-rate Chrome clone and everybody stopped using it.
Re: hooray for carbon capture
You could try reading the article. If you did, you would discover that the worldwide release of ozone-depleting chemicals is way, way down on historical levels, and that this particular one (amongst many) is also well down, but not as far down as hoped and expected, hence the mystery.
You might also be interested to learn that the atmosphere scientists got it dead right: there was a hole in the ozone layer, it did (and still does) cause significant harm to (among other things) human health because of massively increased skin cancer rates - this is very serious business in the southern hemisphere and it would be vastly more serious if it wasn't for the huge public health campaigns which have led to a profound change in the way we expose ourselves to UV. 50 years ago, practically no-one wore a hat on the beach, sunblock cream was largely only used by girls and even them not much (everybody used to go dark brown all over every summer), and no outdoor worksite would have dreamed of treating sunblock cream and protective clothing as essential health and safety equipment to be issued to everyone as routin.
Thankfully, the cooperative worldwide controls on ozone-depleting chemicals have been largely successful and we are starting to see the ozone layer gradually recover.
You can read more at http://www.environment.gov.au/protection/ozone/ozone-science/ozone-layer
The next Hitler is alive and well and pretending to be Prime Minister of Australia.
Re: More work
Sigh. The first of a series of well-meant but ill-informed replies, and some very dumb down-votes. I don't mind an honest down-vote when I'm wrong, or juist when someone disagrees, but these are daft. The arrogance of some people is extraordinary in missing two obvious and vital points.
(1) The post you downvoted and/or criticised was expressing a willingness to comply with these new requirements, and indeed support for them. Read the post before replying, huh? Or is that too hard?
(2) Some developers and publishers know who their their target audience is and know who visits their sites. For example, of the 20-odd sites I do the code for, I can think of one - just one - where I can even imagine a non-English speaking person wanting to participate, and even there it's marginally useful 'coz all else aside, the query would have to be written in the native language of the staff member responding to it - i.e., English. (Who could read it otherwise?) But (sigh) I'll doubtless code up the changes for it anyway, though not as any sort of priority, and might as well port that new code to the other sites too.
Out in the real world, vast numbers of Internet sites and Internet-present organisations are locally based, concerned with local people and local issues, and are neither interested in nor interesting to people outside a small geographical area. It is a crazy arrogance to claim that you know how to do someone's job better than they do when you don't even know what that job is - but sadly, far too common a thing in Geekville.It is, in fact, exactly the same ignorant arrogance you think you are complaining about only in reverse. It is just as daft to insist on adding useless cross-language features and complexity to a product which will only ever be used with one single language in one single place with one single character set as it is to refuse to add those features to a multi-country product which will be used by many different people with many different languages and character sets.
PS: sorry about the rant, but those posts were so dumb they got right up my nose.
Good idea, at least in theory. But now I'm going to have to re-code a whole stack of web stuff 'coz sooner or later some bugger will start using an "illegal" email address that is not illegal anymore and it will be rejected by my code. Revision and patch time.
Shhhhh .... don't mention the real problem
Shall we talk about the real problem now? The crucial cause of Microsoft's current browser issues? It is, of course, Internet Explorer's long and disgraceful history of weirdness and incompatibility and the effect this history has had on the way web developers work and think. No-one with even the slightest web-design clue ever trusts a Microsoft browser to behave in a sensible or obvious way. Anyone with any experience or expertise automatically expects to code work-arounds and weird proprietary hacks to accommodate the Browser from Hell. Often when even the weirdo hacks fail to tame it, we fall back on giving the Microsoft browser degraded content while we hand Firefox and Safari and Opera and Chrome and Seamonkey and all the others the real thing with all its features. This has become almost reflex, an automatic, habitual practice any web designer follows to greater or lesser degree, largely depending on the amount of time and money available for any given project.
So now that Microsoft has (so they say) finally released a browser that works properly (do we believe them? there is another question), it has discovered that millions of web sites don't trust their product and do all the weird stuff that Microsoft forced them to learn to do with past products, and this latest IE can't cope with all the weird stuff. How sad. It has to pretend to be Firefox, sort of, and put itself through hoops. That's fine by me. Anyone who has had to waste years of his life hacking and mangling perfectly good code just so that the Browser from Hell wouldn't fail as miserably as it mostly did most of the time will shed not one single tear for the bastards.
Note also the other reason for their current practice: their barely-higher-than-zero mobile market share. Now that they are (in this segment) a global irrelevancy, no-one does special code for their latest product anymore and it has to stand on its own two feet, if it can.
Re: Headline wrong?
DavCrav, the point here is that the fake press release made sense to investors, which is why they panic-sold, and the reason it made sense is that the coal industry in the 21st Century is living on the edge of doom. Everybody knows (or should know) it won't go on much longer - not as a growth industry with huge profits - and everyone knows that it is starting to run into significant difficulties raising finance. In the main this isn't because of ethical investors going elsewhere (though that is a factor as well, of course), it is because of the high business risk. Just today, as an example, the Australian business newspapers are reporting that the Carmichael project in the Galilee Basin - planned to be the biggest coal mine in Australia, the world's biggest coal exporter - is in doubt because of difficulties raising the finance. (That's not me saying that, it's KPMG.) Coal is no longer a safe, boring investment. There *might* be money to be made in new ventures still, but with slowing worldwide demand growth and lower market prices plus competition from both gas and the renewables sector, plus the inevitability of carbon price increases, coal shares are high-risk and not something the ordinary investor or pension fund should be considering.
Re: Headline wrong?
Those investors and speculators were happy enough investing in a high-risk company, in a high-risk market sector, in a type of business that will be deservedly history before too many more years go past. The very fact that they were spooked by a trivially simple little trick shows just how close to the edge that business is. By all means feel sympathetic to them if you wish, but don't overdo it: they went into a high-risk investment of their own free will, and the fact that they were willing to invest in one of the most harmful industries of all demonstrates that they (the investors & speculators) had no concern or care for other people - so why should we care too much about them?
The hoaxer was in one sense very lucky to get off with such a modest penalty - the maximum penalties for stock market manipulation are very serious. On the other hand, in this country fair-dinkum shysters in flash suits and plush offices who get caught defrauding multiple millions for no better reason than greed generally get let off with token penalties, if they even get prosecuted at all, so in another sense this bloke can think himself a bit hard done by. Unlike most stock market frauds, he at least meant well.
Last point: what the hell is a pension fund doing putting money into a dodgy high-risk investment like this anyway? If that was my pension money these turkeys were managing, I'd be screaming mad at them.
Microsoft, please don't add a start menu ....
... 'coz I'm worried that an official Win 8,x start menu will cripple or disable the best start menu Windows computers have ever had.
Its name is Classic Shell and Microsoft had nothing at all to do with designing it; which is probably why it works so well. Apart from the luxury if being able to choose for yourself which overall style you find most productive and prefer (Win 7, Win XP or the timeless Classic itself), you, the user, can easily mix and match individual different elements, styles, and behaviours to make it do exactly what you want it to do - and isn't that what computers are for? Mixing the best of several different Windows start menu models, it is better than any of them.
Do whatever you want with your bound-to-be-inferior menu, but please, Mr Microsoft, don't take my Classic Shell away.
(PS: possibly similar comments apply to Start8 and one or two others. My brief experience with Start8 suggested that it was competent and practical but no better than the mediocre native Windows 7 menu. It may have improved since then or I may well have overlooked really good features. It was a while ago and I didn't spend long with it.)
Re: Best practice
Yes. And when "best practice" becomes "World Best Practice" it's time to call for the strong sedatives before someone gets hurt.
destroying their own industry
These ultra-cheap (read heavily subsidised) Windows products are going to place still greater pressure on Microsoft's bread and butter customers - the thousands, probably millons of small, specialist computer shops around the world. Microsoft charge small OEMs $US 100 per copy of Windows. No exceptions, take it or leave it. The price has not changed in 20 years - which means that in real terms, it has gone up and up and up. In 1995, a bog-standard new computer was around $AU 2500, a half-decent laptop half as much again. You paid $499 for application software that is $20 now, or free. Windows, in other words, was around 3% to 5% of the cost of a computer. Today, that same typical standard computer costs around $AU 900, Windows is $AU 120 of that. It comes with a 2TB hard drive, 8GB RAM, DVDRW, dual core CPU, 23 inch TFT screen .... features you couldn't even dream about 20 years ago. Today, Windows accounts for between 10% and 15% of the system cost, more than that for the smallest budget systems.
But Microsoft give the same product away to the gigantic multinational companies sending the smaller concerns out of business. Before too long, there won't be any small OEMs left, there won't be any shops giving Microsoft those massive profits, and MS will be in deep, deep shite. They are killing the industry, and when it's dead, they will die too.
Re: What's to look forward to?
Trevor wrote: "Office 2013 has a rubbish interface design by lobotomised slugs ..."
Wonderful turn of phrase there!
Re: But these are actually intelligent people ....
Learned helplessness, yes indeed. It can apply to almost any skill, not least language. Would it be too much of a stretch to diagnose it in the case of someone with apparently decent skills who suddenly writes "mother-in-laws" meaning mothers-in-law?
OK, fine. Sorry I asked.
cheap, nasty, short-term
It's not a meaningful question. They will do what's cheap. Bank on that; this government will do whatever is cheap, nasty, and destined to need replacing with something practical and competent almost as soon as they themselves are out of office (which won't be long) and replaced with someone more competent (which won't be at all difficult).
So this will apply to ... who? Um ...to the very small percentage of low-skill users who stick grimly to Internet Explorer instead of using Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera, whatever else? Internet Explorer share is below 20% now, and still shrinking. In short, hard to see how this actually matters much. Presumably, everyone will buy Win 8.1 with Bing and (as usual) run Chrome or another third-party browser, making the pre-set IE search engine irrelevant.
Quite so, Boone7. I was really writing, between the lines, about being surprised about something I should not have been surprised by. Over the last decade, despite working with users at somewhere around about this woeful level of incompetence every week, I (probably like many others in similar shoes) had gradually come to accept that times have moved on and the average know-nothing user, these days, actually knows at least a little bit, knows enough to master simple basic tasks like typing in a web address or using a bookmark.
My two hopeless users yesterday - granted, they were two particularly bad cases - showed me that a lot of what I had assumed was a gradual improvement in general understanding at the lowest end of the competence scale was, in fact, nothing of the kind. In reality, it seems, their incompetence hadn't changed much at all, it has simply been masked by the very long time they all spent using Windows XP and clicking on the same things in the same way through the various reinstalls and hardware upgrades the decade brought; clicking, it now seems, without even the fragile and shallow understanding I had ascribed to them.
I thought, after more than two decades in the computer support caper, that I was long past over-estimating user competence. Obviously, I was wrong.
As for Chrome and these proposed changes to URL display, I agree with you: changing the machine to dumb down the interface to the point where it becomes essentially meaningless is a daft idea. We need to stick to our guns and help users understand the basics, make things clearer without oversimplifing. The real enemy here is non-human-readable URLs. I mean that is the point of a URL - it is supposed to be more human readable than "126.96.36.199".
I was going to say that the right answer is to educate the users.
But then, earlier today, I had two customers in a row who honestly didn't understand the concept of typing a URL into the address bar. One was starting Chrome up and his home page was set to Google Maps. From there he opened a new tab, from the new tab he clicked on the "welcome to Chrome" tile, then he turned to me and said "see, I can't get into Chrome, there's no Internet". Navigating to Chrome's well-hidden bookmarks control was way beyond him. Eventually I installed Pale Moon for him, where at least you can have an always-visible "bookmarks" link on the menu. The second one wasn't much different. Both were recent upgraders from XP and Internet Explorer, now running Windows 7 or 8 and really struggling to cope with the change.
These guys really do need a "do stuff" button.
Re: They can't leave well enough alone
PunkTiger says: "this whole Australis interface on their latest version made me see red. (Where did those IE back/forward buttons come from? Why is the bookmark star joined at the hip with the Bookmark editor, and out of the URL bar?? Why is the refresh page icon at the end of the URL bar, and not next to the Back/Forward buttons?? I'm in Customize, but why can't I move those buttons around?! WTF IS THIS $#!+??? "Easily customizable" my left nut! This is all broken!"
Exactly! There is no design here, just pointlessly random controls in random dumbed-down places 'coz someone thought "they looked nicer that way". Function subordinated to form, and even the form isn't anything to write home about. The UI has been deteriorating slowly for years, now it's no better than Chrome's - which is harsh criticism indeed. This is what you get when kids graduate from graphic design school without learning anything about practical usability. Firefox was a good, practical girl once, but now some idiot disciple of the Steve Sinofsky School of Bork the Interface has given her new lipstick and subjected her to footbinding.
I'm uninstalling it.
Not "probably". They don't even try to pretend that it is anything other than what it is: a gigantic tax evasion trick. By borrowing money to give to shareholders, they can claim the interest on that money as a tax deductable expense and meet the repayments out of their massive pile of tax-evaded dollars in offshore bank accounts. Perfectly legal, and as honest as a once-in-a-lifetime email from a Nigerian dictator.
DougS, Apple don't defer taxes by shifting almost all their profit offshore, they avoid taxes by parking the money in tax havens. And not just in the USA, they do it in every major market stupid enough to let them keep on getting away with it, which is pretty much all of them. They don't have to account for it in the country where they operate because, according to their accounting system, this vast pile of money "wasn't earned in the USA" (or Australia, or the UK, or whatever other country they are avoiding tax in today), it was actually 'earned" in Taxhavenstein, where it just so happens that they have a huge management, design, manufacturing, and distribution centre consisting of an answering service and a post office box. Oddly enough, the chap who drops in to check the mail three or four times a week, who is 100% of their Taxhavenstein payroll, is so productive that on his own he makes fives times as much profit as the 600,000 lazy Americans do all put together.
Networking's answer to Windows Vista
IPv6 is the Windows Vista of networking. Or possibly the Windows 8. Yep, it's got all the features, yep, it is technically miles ahead of what went before, yep, it is very clever, yep, it's got loads and loads of gee-wiz new features, and yep, everybody hates it because it doesn't work the way they expect it to and it breaks stuff.
IPv6 has failed in the market the way Vista failed. If it was anything remotely like what people wanted, it would have been a huge success by now, but hardly anybody uses it or wants it. Everybody understands IPv4, even your granny can get her mind around it if you make analogies with street addresses and post box numbers. Above all, IPv4 has those non-routable address blocks and with readily available $30 NAT boxes, with only a very basic skill set, anyone can make sure that packets which belong inside the building stay inside the building. Simply, the market does not want IPv6, it wants IPv4 with extra numbers.
To the IPv6 Committee: piss off.
We, the rest of the world, don't want your bloated, over-complicated, intrusive Vista of a product. That's why we have been assiduously avoiding it for longer than we have been laughing and pointing at Windows ME. It's been around and been "about to become the future" since before most teenagers were born, since HTML 4 was an RFC awaiting official approval (never mind XML, let alone HTML 5), since OS/2 was a not uncommon operating system, since Netscape Navigator was high-tech and popular, since search meant Yahoo or Alta Vista, since nine years before the very first iPhone was released, and it still hasn't caught on. That's what we people in the trade call a "hint".
As regards foldable zooms, perhaps the way forward for very small cameras (like phones) will be in liquid lenses (like an eye) where the lens stays in place but changes shape. No doubt there are people working on this as we talk, though I have no idea how far away practical introduction might be.
Yes, no doubt. And no - no possible way
Today's lesson is how to take a new fact and draw an absurd conclusion from it.
1: Observe that telephone cameras are getting better and that this new development will make them better still.
2: Fail miserably to notice that the cameras under threat from this improvement are not DSLRs, nor their newfangled interchangeable lens mirrorless brothers, but the smaller, cheaper point and shoot cameras which are directly threatened by phone cams and which are in fact already suffering from massively reduced sales worldwide because phone cams, while inferior in many respects, are not all that inferior and are, for many people, good enough.
3: Instead, pretend that this has something to do with DSLRs, which are in a completely different market segment, serve a completely different purpose, and are not in the least threatened by telephones, not now and not in the future.
4: Illustrate your story with a particular SLR lens which hardly anyone owns or uses and which sacrifices all of speed, weight, cost, and depth of field control to the one virtue of large focal length range - a lens, in other words, which concentrates on something SLR lenses don't do particularly well at and P&S cameras are often quite good at, as opposed to concentrating on the things that most other SLR lenses do best, none of which are or can be challenged by a P&S camera, let alone a telephone.
DSLRs have vastly bigger sensors which is why they are so big, heavy and expensive, and is also why they produce vastly better image quality and always will. Well, always until someone invents a completely new universe with new laws of quantum physics. For quality imaging, there is no and can never be any substitute for large numbers of photons striking the imaging sensor. This has nothing to do with optics or technology, it is a fundamental product of the quantum nature of electromagnetic radiation.
(Of course, for many purposes a low(ish) quality image is perfectly OK, and it's hard to see dedicated P&S cameras lasting for too long on the market when (more or less) the same functionality is available free with the telephone you were going to buy anyway. But DSLRs ... just learn some physics, OK?)
Re: WAAAAAIT a minute....stop.
Old special-purpose hardware is a huge issue in some industries. An example from Australia. Some years ago I was asked to repair an ancient 386 system in a factory. It had an ISA card in it which communicated with and controlled a complicated metal-folding machine, which was used to custom-make air conditioning ducts. Without going into tedious detail, they wanted me to take on the difficult task of getting this system back up and running with the existing software and communications hardware. That was going to cost them what I thought was a fortune - there were complications which added up to lots of time and effort on my part - and it was still going to leave them with an upgraded but nevertheless ancient system. So I told them it just didn't make sense to fix it. For half that cost they could just buy a whole new computer and get a new model control and communications card from the manufacturer of the machine (who was still in business). Much easier and cheaper too, I thought.
But no: even setting aside the cost of the new control card and associated upgrade to the folding machine electronics, they would have to start by flying out (at their expense) a factory technician from Germany to do the upgrade. In short, it didn't matter if I spent weeks on the job and charged them thousands for it, it was still going to be vastly cheaper than upgrading, and get them back into production again sooner too. So that's what we did, I cobbled up some ancient old parts and fiddled about with it for as long as it took. The duct-folder and the computer I rebuilt went on happily making them money for another decade, and keeping their staff in work. Sadly, the large cheque they gave me in exchange for my efforts didn't last nearly as long: I spent it.
The point, of course, is that sometimes it's worth doing things in IT that seem mad on first sight, but which from a whole-of-business perspective, are sensible and practical, even if they do make life difficult for you, the IT person.
Doh yes we are aware. But you don't seem to be aware that it is usually printed or stamped so faintly and with such poor colour contrast that most people can't easily make it out without their reading glasses, and even if they can, it doesn't help much because they still don't know which way around the port to plug it in to has been oriented.So they guess, and 50% of the time guess wrong, sometimes breaking stuff, not least because they have learned to use quite a lot of force because some socket-plug combinations are very stiff and need a very firm push to insert correctly while others are as loose and sloppy as your logic.
Kev99 wrote "Uh, goofballs, all you need to do is look at the connecter. Where the seam is on the connecter goes on the bottom of the port."
No. Ports don't generally have an obvious "up" - a great many of them are vertically oriented, and they are sprinkled at random on front, back, left and right side of the system. Some laptops even have some vertical ports plus some other horizontal ones. So, in reality, this is not much practical help. People still fumble and waste time looking for the right way round to plug things.
Secondly, the seam (or the label) is often far from obvious, particularly in poor lighting conditions, and in any case you can't see it if you are fumbling around on your knees feeling for the back of the computer wondering why your USB gadget won't plug into what later turns out to be a ridiculously-similar looking HDMI port.
Thirdly, laptop manufacturers take gleeful pride in sloping the sides of the laptop such that you can't see the ports anyway. (Standfast one particular model from ... er .. might have been Medion ... which very sensibly sloped outwards meaning that you could see all the ports without turning it upside down.
The USB standard plug should have been semi-circular in the first place. Or reversible, of course.
The elusive brain cell discovered at last!
The total cost to business and consumers of the existing connector design over its lifetime must be enormous. Yes, it's only a few extra seconds, but add them all up and we are talking billions upon billions worth of lost time, and all because some design committee was brain-dead on the day the connector was finalised.
This - finally! - addresses the absurdly longstanding design farnarkleup. Yay! Unfortunately, it also continues the recent obsession with miniturising every damn thing, and I'm not convinced that that is a good idea. Will it be, despite the double-sided design, as fiddly to insert as most small connectors are? I'm guessing it won't be too bad, but that remains to be seen. And will it be robust enough to stand up to repeated use? Small connectors tend to break easily - they simply don't have enough metal in them to be very strong - and it would be a disaster to see USB easier to use at last but more prone to breakages. These days, remember, it is pretty much never cost effective to repair things like USB sockets (except on proper desktop systems, where everything is always repairable), and I can imagine a steady stream of sorry-sir-I-can't-fix-it, throw it away devices coming across my desk.
But maybe, given that the designers have finally discovered a brain cell to use for the basic design of the connector after all these years, they have pressed that cerebral item into overtime and designed a connector that's too tough to break in normal use. Let's hope so.
Re: Am I the only one...
No you are not the only one, Wilber. Pretty much everyone with a technical clue regards the underlying Windows 8 system as somewhere between good and excellent. In essence, the Windows 8 fundamentals do to Windows 7 what Windows 7 did to Vista. Most of it is the same code, but there has been a great deal of attention to detail and a lot of effort put into performance and efficiency enhancements. The Windows 8 file system is the most obvious example: it is easily faster than Windows 7, just as 7 was a big upgrade on the appalling Vista.
Alas, Sinofsky's Metro disaster grafted the worst windows user interface of all time onto the top of the best Windows code yet written. The dreadful interface is only one small part of a massive code base, but It only takes one spoon of dog poo to taint a whole gallon of cream.
At this point, there are two schools of thought. Many (probably most) throw the whole sorry mess away and return to Windows 7 (or 'nix, or some other alternative, including even XP, but many others discover that it is very easy indeed to replace the terrible Metro front end with any of several well-crafted third-party shell replacements or enhancements - the excellent Classic Shell is just one example. It costs you three minutes to install Start8 or Classic Shell, plus a few weeks of occasional frustration while you learn to tame a few random other stupidities, or at least find workarounds.
Mostly you won't see these issues, just now and again you discover something that worked fine on XP or 7 has to be done a different way on 8 and you'll waste 20 minutes figuring it out. There is some downright brain-dead weirdness in the interaction between NTFS and networking file permissions, for example, that can be devilishly difficult to diagnose and fix if it applies to you, but once understood, hacked into submission, and appropriately sworn at is no problem at all. Note that this type of issue is not by any means unique to Windows 8, there were similar hurdles to overcome with 7, and a great big stack of them with Vista. You can guarantee there will be more with 9. Microsoft, I sometimes think, just like to break things.)
Are you the only one who thinks Win 8 is fine? No, I agree with you. It's the best Windows ever, and by a fair margin. It is also the worst Windows ever, and that by an even bigger margin, which is really saying something when you remember it has to outdo the horrors of ME and Vista and even the truly dreadful 3.0.
EDIT: As an afterthought, it's perhaps sensible to regard Windows 8 as a sort of hacker's Windows. Like Linux back in the day - say a decade ago - or various Italian cars, it can be excellent but only if you are happy to have to hack it around and beat it into submission first. If you want it to work properly straight out of the box, buy Windows 7 instead, or jump ship to a non-Windows system.
“It is surprising how conservative Windows users have turned out to be” says a Microsoft executive. Spot on! I couldn't agree more. In fact, most of them are so blindly and rigidly conservative that they still want to do useful, productive work on a Windows computer, using real programs and ignoring toy-store apps. Blind fools! Don't they know that Metro is the future?
Re: It's not the OS you have to worry about
Cheers Ian, I think that depends on which market you work with. In my working life I never see these corporate and government machines you speak of (the ones still running XP because they have ancient intranet setups which depend on IE). I don't doubt that they exist, but I'd expect them to be a very small proportion of the massive total XP user base. To be fair, I mainly service the home, home office, and small business markets, with few corporate and no government clients, so I'd be unlikely to see those machines anyway. Nevertheless, I do not believe for one moment that the total of locked-in-by-IE XP systems in corporate and government use would add up to more than a small fraction of the whole. (Wild guess? Let's say 10%.) Further, these systems presumably have some at least notionally competent IT department staff to look after them. (A mixed blessing there, I freely grant.)
Then there are the completely clueless consumers you mention who don't even know what an operating system is, and yup, there are certainly plenty of them. The Microsoft end-of-support messages are bringing lots of these people out of the woodwork and everyone in retail IT is working longer hours just now to deal with all the upgrades. (I certainly am! A bit too much of a good thing right now.) Those that ignore the messages without understanding them will very likely fall victim to some scumbag malware in short order, but then these are the exact same people who have been getting viruses and spyware on their systems since Windows 95 was new and fast Internet was a 56k modem. I am not convinced that the end of Windows XP support will have all that much effect on these people: their already-high infection rate will double or even triple for a while and people like me will do a lot of malware removal and security reeducation. Shrug. We have been doing that for a couple of decades now, and this won't be the first spike in malware work, nor will it be the last one.
Thirdly, there is the vast pool of XP users who are not clueless (they range from near-clueless at one end of the scale right through to very bright and well-informed at the other). They are still using XP out of simple practicality. For these people - probably the largest single group of XP users by a fair margin - computers are just a tool which does the things that they require with a minimum of fuss, bother, and expense. These are practical people who don't throw working tools away without good reason.
But all of this is dancing around my main point, which is that the main problem here isn't Windows XP as such, it's the various Microsoft add-ons associated with XP, such as Internet Explorer and Media Player. A very large proportion of existing XP users have long since upgraded from IE to Firefox or Chrome, from OE to Thunderbird, from the Windows Picture and Fax viewer to Picassa or Irfanview, and/or from WMP to VLC or SMPlayer. The simplistic "XP is bad" message is largely wrong. The bad things (like IE) can be replaced (and often have been already) by superior alternatives and the remaining risk is by comparison quite small.
Does this mean that no-one should upgrade? Of course not. But it does mean that we (as IT professionals) should be advising clients on a case-by-case basis. For some XP users, the right answer is "do nothing, you already have good security and backup, and your system is low-risk". For others it is "buy a whole new machine, this one has reached the end of its useful working life", and for some it's "throw this machine away and just use your tablet, it's all you need". And for others again, it is "Let's upgrade to a newer OS version and, while we are at it, add some extra RAM and a few tweaks here and there". This last response is the right one for more than half of my users, but every case is different, and your client mix will vary, of course.
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