* Posts by Flocke Kroes

2601 posts • joined 19 Oct 2007

Boeing backs biofuel boffinry

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Biofuels are made by collecting a little solar energy using plants, then adding lots of energy to convert plants into fuel. There are some numbers here: http://www.grist.org/article/biofuel-some-numbers Unfortunately that site does not go into detail about what energy costs are included in the calculations. I was using figures for corn, which I have just found out is abysmal compared to practical and profitable feed crops. That site has corn producing 1.5 litres of fuel for each litre used in production. If they have missed anything out, that could easily drop below one litre of fuel out for each litre in. Local processing reduces transport costs of the plants, but increases transport costs for the other raw materials and removes economies of scale. There are theoretical constraints. The sun is not getting massively more bright. Thermodynamics gives limits to the amount of energy you get extract from feed stock. While biofuels remain an insignificant source of energy, they can get cheaper. Go back to that site and look at yields per area and the amount of fuel that is used. Even using the most efficient plants, scaling up biofuel to replace fossil fuel will massively increase the price of farm land.
Flocke Kroes Silver badge

Terrible idea

The most efficient plants convert 1.5% of solar energy into biomass. The fuel required to transport biomass to a processing plant, covert it to fuel and transport the fuel to an airport is about equal to the fuel created from biomass. The fuel required to create and transport fertiliser and pesticides makes the entire process use more energy than it supplies. Abolish the subsidies and let this eco-disaster bankrupt itself.

Battery powered aircraft are technically challenging. They are possible, but do not have anything like to capacity and range of a fossil fuel powered aircraft. Investment in battery technology will close the gap a bit, but I suspect the real place to invest is in converting CO2 + water into fuel using chemical reactions and nuclear power.

By all means put solar panels in the deserts where they can be cost effective and do not compete with agriculture, but do not expect them to make a significant contribution to the energy budget. Wind and solar power proposals always include a statement like: this project will power X thousand homes. What they mean is X thousand homes with gas central heating, gas hot water, fossil fuel transport and fossil fuel agriculture. For real numbers, divide the claim by something between 5 and 10.

There is a reason why the world is powered by fossil fuels and nuclear power - those are the only two that can scale to meet demand.

Nuclear Mars tank prepares for 8-thruster dance

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Send in the cryptoendoliths

Instead of sterilising our martian invasion scouts, why not send in some plants that might survive there. A million years later, there could be a measurable amount of oxygen in the martian atmosphere.

Apple land-grabs fuel cells for mobiles

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Prior art predates the register

Older readers will remember when video was stored on mag tape. There was a TV program called Tommorrow's World that covered the pocket calculator, mobile phones, jam covered CD's and fuel cells. All of this predates the standardisation of TCP/IP.

Fuel cells where expected to power mobile devices because the devices used much more power than modern toys and the batteries were not as good either. It proved challenging because the catalysts were expensive (modern manufacturing techniques allow massive reductions in the required amount of platinum), also storing hydrogen was difficult (still is), other fuels poisoned the catalyst, oxygen supplies are inconvenient and air poisoned the catalyst.

Fuel cells were used on the space shuttles. (The space shuttles were re-usable manned space vehicles - honest - you can see 3.5 of them in museums). Space shuttles had liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for their rocket engines. The price of the catalyst was only astronomical, and the waste product of the reaction - water - was handy to prevent the astronauts from dying of thirst. I am not old enough to have watched the first man set boot on the moon. If the patent system continues as it is now, then I did watch the last.

If things go as I expect, we will get some standardised battery sizes which Apple will not use. If fuel cells ever become cost effective, they will come in standard battery sizes and be fitted as an after market upgrade for phones that are not welded shut. Apple can defend their fuel cell patents the way Edison's Motion Picture Patents Company defended theirs.

Latest El Reg project: Rise of the Robot Sheep

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The obvious name is Kusanagi, but I have to start cooking now, so I cannot pick a backronym.

Iran spy drone GPS hijack boasts: Rubbish, say experts

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All correct, and ...

Stone age GPS units had a tiny number of correlators and antennas that rejected left hand circular polarised signals. The satelites transmit right hand circular polarised signals, which get reversed if they reflect off something. Reflected signals arrive late, and made the GPS units report a position further from the satellite than reality. Also, when first switched on, the GPS would pick two satellites on opposite sides of the plannet, divide the correlators between those two, and give each a different guess at the time delay. If they found nothing, they would try other guesses or other pairs of satellites until they eventually guessed right.

Bronze age GPS units had lots of correlators. They could assign dozens to each satelite and find them from a cold start in seconds - unless the satelites were hiding behind buildings.

Modern antennas accept both left and right hand signals. This allows the GPS unit to get a signal when the direct path to a satellite is blocked. Modern GPS units expect to spot the satelite signal and multiple reflections of it. They assume the earliest signal is the right one, and the others are reflections. This allows them to remain locked on even if a satelite is temporarily hidden. Even if the GPS does lose its lock on a satelite, it has hundreds of correlators available to get it back again in under a second.

If you try to spoof a modern GPS, it will have enough information available to know something is wrong, but may not be programmed to recognise the problem or do something sensible about it. After all, the Americans know beyond all possible doubt that spoofing will always be well beyond Iran's technical abilities no matter how much GPS technology has changed since the first attempts to spoof them.

IBM: 'Your PC will read your mind by 2016'

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No biometrics please

Almost all fingerprint scanners are happy with a photocopy of your finger print. Some of the more expensive ones require that the photocopy be warmed by someone's finger. I do not want theives to think that my severed finger or gouged out eyeball will ever be of any value at all. I do not want my bank to hand out my money to anyone with a recording of my voice.

I have a different randomly generated password for each website I use with a login. I keep these passwords on a file encrypted with GPG so I only have to remember one password. GPG is free. Please start using it today so the banks do not waste any more time or money on pointless broken authentication gimmicks.

LOHAN fires up sizzling thruster

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NAR test results for AeroTech RC 32/60


BT's gift to Google: A patent war over ads and Android

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No-one reads patents before releasing a product

Patent offices grant thousands of invalid patents every month. Not even google has enough money to read them all, find the one or two that are actually valid and create work arounds for them. The old solution was to get a stack of invalid patents of your own to cross licence. That does not work against trolls. In Oracle verses Google, Oracle did their best to hide which patents were at stake. The judge ordered Oracle to identify a small number of patents to go to trial, and if anything survives re-examination, Oracle can try again with more patents. The vast majority of Oracle's claims have already been invalidated. Now BT wants to have their patents trashed too.

The whole idea of working via a troll is that a troll can declare bankruptcy to avoid paying fines for barratry. Oracle and BT have money, so they will have to pay up eventually.

Zombie Microsoft antitrust case shuffles to retrial

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All 12 jurors found Microsoft guilty of anticompetitive behaviour

11/12 decided Novell was damaged by that anticompetitive behaviour. A big part of the delay in this case was that action was stayed pending Microsoft being found guilty in other anti-trust cases. Judge Motz loves this case. After being overruled on appeal, he started commuting to a different district so he could continue to preside over it. Microsoft made a lot of noise along the lines of Novell have shown no evidence that they complained at the time. You can read that evidence on groklaw, but Judge Motz ruled that the jury was not allowed to see it.

This report is better than some. There are reports that Judge Motz dismissed the case when in fact he dismissed the Jury.

US spy drone hijacked with GPS spoof hack, report says

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That cannot work

GPS signals are weaker than the background noise. To detect them, you create the expected signal, then create several copies of that signal that are delayed by different amounts, then correlate each of the delayed signals with the noise from the antenna. If you know the random number sequence used by the satellites and have a rough idea of the time then one of your delayed guesses will correlate with the detected noise much better than the others. If you do not know the random number sequence then you cannot receive the signal.

The random number sequence for the civilian signal is publically available. Spoofing the civilian signal while jamming the military one is plausible. A civilian GPS can be reflashed with the codes for the military and civilian signals. I would be surprised if the drone programmers were given a military GPS to test. I would be amazed if they had spoofing and jamming kit available to test their software. It is utter fantasy to entertain the mere possibility that the programmers ever had any time to write spoof+jam detection software in the first place.

Laptop display pixel counts to quadruple in 2012

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Sometimes, the sun shines

Resolution is nice, but I would massively prefer a panel I can read in daylight.

Mythbusters cannonball ‘myth-fires’

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I have had it backwards all this time

I thought it was every American's right to arm bears.

US Senator demands answers from Carrier IQ

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Be careful what you ask for

What if this spyware was created at the request of the US government?

Barnes & Noble hires Microsoft’s legal nemesis

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Boies has not made a real court appearance for SCO

He won a mock trial that was used to convince people to invest in SCO's interminable litigation. For some reason, he delegated SCO to Stuart Singer. SCO was lucky there because Singer has done remarkably well considering that his client gave him nothing to work with and Boies could not win a legal argument with a gardener. I hope B&N end up with someone as good as Singer.

Duqu attackers: master coders, Linux rookies

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Not necessaily ignorant but definitely overconfident

History logging in controlled by some environment variables that are set in one of the files that bash reads when it starts up. Which files are read depend on how bash is started. That choice of files was changed, and the documentation took some time to catch up. Not cancelling bash history correctly when started via ssh on the first attempt is an easy mistake. The embarrassing mistakes are not checking that history was disabled and getting it wrong on an active machine instead of testing the procedure where no-one will notice a mistake.

The man page for sshd_config is over 30 pages long. There are some changes I could make to that file from memory. If I was working on a remote machine, and the version of ssh could be different from my local machine, then I would read the manual on the remote machine. A mistake might make it very difficult to log back in and fix my mistake.

Linux has dozens of ftp clients. If none of the ones I am familiar with are installed, then I would have to read the manual to do something unusual. Iptables is for setting up the firewall. The firewall is made up of many kernel modules. New features are added with new modules in most kernel releases. The syntax for an experimental module can change. Getting it wrong on the first attempt is almost certain. Getting it wrong on a remote machine is dangerous - you could easily add a rule that blocks ssh and so make the machine hard to fix by remote.

The easy way to wipe the disk on a local machine is to boot from a live CD and type 'shred /dev/sda'. On a remote machine, you need to copy all the files for a minimal operating system into a ramdisk and use the pivot root command to run shred from the ramdisk. This is something you have to practice at home until you get it right because a partial failure will prevent further remote access.

PS: Shred is not a good choice to use on an SSD. Upgrading the firmware should do the trick, but you need to pivot root into a ramdisk to ensure the firmware upgrade completes.

UK nuclear: Walking into darkness with eyes screwed shut

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Figures with sources are easy to find


Coal - world average: 161

Coal - China: 278

Coal - USA: 15

Oil: 36

Natural Gas: 4

Biofuel/Biomass: 12

Peat: 12

Solar (rooftop): 0.44

Wind: 0.15

Hydro - Europe: 0.10

Hydro - world including Banqiao: 1.4

Nuclear : 0.04

(I did not check the biofuel. I expect that if you include the coal/oil needed to make the fertiliser required to maintain soil quality then the death rate will increase to match the coal/oil. Intensive agriculture is powered by chemicals not sunlight.)

Flocke Kroes Silver badge

Windmills on houses are decorative

They are designed for met-office windspeeds - measured on top of a pole in the middle of a field. A windmill on a rooftop feels slower winds because it is too low an in a town. It will rarely turn fast enough to generate power. There is one on top of my nearest school. It does not generate power because the gear box is broken and they cannot afford to replace it again. There is an alternative energy centre near where I lived in London. The funding dried up when the local councillors change colour. The local school uses it as an educational resource. It has a windmill with a broken gearbox. Very educational.

You could design a windmill to take advantage of the low windspeeds on a rooftop. You could design one strong enough to survive a storm. It would be more expensive and have a lower installed capacity rating (but would generate more power than existsing designs because it would get its minimum required wind speed more of the time). You could use them to run some expensive lightbulbs, but not to take a shower or wash your clothes. Forget about driving to work or heating your home.

Solar voltaic is just as expensive and low power in this country. They can be cost effective in a desert.

Solar thermal can pay for itself if you buy panels appropriate to your climate. Heat pumps are also a cost effective way to reduce energy bills. They both not enough to meet a reasonable energy demand. See: http://www.withouthotair.com/

Flocke Kroes Silver badge

All the anti-nuclear arguments in a single post!

Thankyou for taking the time to explain all the valid anti-nuclear arguments complete with citations of the evidence needed to back your position. Please post more like this so everyone can understand why we do not have much nuclear capacity.

PS - why don't you start a company that sells only sustainable power that is not from fossil fuels and nukes. Remember to wrap up warm, go everywhere by bicycle and keep well away from the rest of us: Without hot showers and a washing machine you will smell awful.

Got a few minutes to help LOHAN suck?

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Only if you have plenty of pressure gauges ...

... or if you can find one with "Not wrecked by rocket exhaust or your money back" written on it.

Chief Rabbi: I admire Jobs and Apple and use my iPad daily

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Activities prohibited on Shabbat

There are 39 classes of activities that are forbidden on the Shabbat (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset). There are different ideas about what is and is not a prohibited activity. For example, flicking a light switch can cause a spark, which is interpreted by some as lighting a fire. Turning a light on or off can count as igniting or extinguishing a fire (fire was used for lighting).

Using a timed switch to avoid a prohibition is either acceptable or naughty depending on who you ask. Writing, erasing (preparing a surface for writing), applying the finishing touch and transferring between domains are also prohibited. (At first, "transferring" looks like carrying a physical object, but when you look at the definition of domains, publishing an article, photograph or being a commentard look suspicious to me.)

I am sure computer use on the Shabbat was debated ad nauseam decades ago. Considering some of the activities that are definitely dodgy, I am surprised that iPads are allowed.

Seafaring boffin bots in record-breaking bid to chart Pacific

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Ducks have a 20 year head start


Pakistan bans rude text messages

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Scunthorpe & Penistone

I am sure Pakistan has equivalents where the locals will not be able to text their addresses.

US general: 'We're cleared to cyber-bomb enemy hackers'

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What is he going to do?

Lets say I break into some military computers and issue orders for people to fire missiles at each other. General Kehler decides I deserve some retribution, and activates his malware in my computer. Next time a toy robot falls on the delete button the block of C4 in my computer detonates and ... wait a minute ... I forgot to install a block of C4 in my computer. I cannot find them at Misco or Novatech. Where did Matt Farrell from Die Hard get his? Do I need a free PCI or PCIe slot? Is there a Linux driver?

BSA name-and-shame tactic may have backfired

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Two good things about the BSA

1) They only have power over you if you use proprietary software.

2) http://news.cnet.com/2008-1082_3-5065859.html

Another new Russian nuclear powerplant comes online

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If you want to differ, give some figures

I know of one successful wave power plant. It is sited where the coast line naturally focuses waves to a single point. The resulting tall but narrow wave fills a reservoir at the top of a cliff. If you have an example of a cost effective wave power plant that does not rely on a unique site, please post manufacturing, installation and running costs plus the average power generated per km of coast. If it is any good, I will invest and encourage others to do likewise.

Waves are created by the wind blowing over the ocean. As a result, there is even less power available from waves than there is from wind. The only reason waves are visible is because there are thousands of kilometers of ocean for them to build up strength. Waves suffer from other windmill problems: you must design tough enough for a storm, but you do not get the power of a storm every month. Also, peaks of power to not correlate well with peaks of demand.

By all means build some little wave power plants in the one or two sites where they are effective. Trying to build a fleet of wave power plants is even more stupid than the fleet of windmills that provide a piddling amount of power, but make are electricity bills here more than double what the French pay.

Tidal is much better. It is predictable, does not have the extreme fluctuations like wind and wave, and there are some big sites like the Bristol channel (you would need some big sites like that for tidal to provide a significant fraction of demand). Here is a working, cost effective example that supplies 0.012% of the power demand of France:


Solar voltaic is a complete waste of money in this country. It can be cost effective in the desert. (Solar thermal can pay for itself if you can get it installed at a good price.) The cost effective wind sites were populated years ago. The current craze of building them on second rate sites is the reason for our crippling energy bills, but still only provides a small fraction of demand.

Gas is cheap and nukes are long term. You can differ all you want it you pay the difference yourself.

HTC prepares quad-core smartphone for 2012

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Four cores will be under powered ...

... if Microsoft provide the software.

Ubuntu republic riven by damaging civil wars

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Who is in charge - you or the window manager?

I found KDE 4 very irritating until I found Trinity. With KDE 3.5/Trinity I could disable almost everything (like the panel/task bar/start button/kicker and icons), set up keyboards short cuts for things I do regularly, and put a different customisable menu for each type of mouse click on the desktop to access everything else. When I tried KDE 4, nepomuk trashed the machine's performance. All the off switches for nepomuk did not work. Luckily I found Dovydas's solution at http://www.freetechie.com/blog/disable-nepomuk-desktop-search-on-kde-4-4-2-kubuntu-lucid-10-04/

There was plenty more in the new KDE that I hated and could not get rid of at all. I could not set up my keyboard shortcuts. KDE 4 was telling me how to work instead of the other way around. I was extremely angry that I might have to buy a graphics card louder than a tornado just to switch between tasks. When I found KDE 3.5 was alive and well with its name changed to Trinity I calmed down and now I do not care what the KDE 4 developers do. The only fly in the ointment was the intense boredom that set in waiting ⅕ of a second for the web browser to smooth scroll. (In the [KDE] section of ~/.trinity/share/config/kdeglobals, add: SmoothScrolling=false)

US pols sack Santa Claus in cost-cutting drive

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Not 2000 years old

Saint Nikolaus of Myra was born in 270, so he is about 1741 years old.

Catholic Bishops: 'Would you mind not bringing guns to church?'

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"God has created us to be truly free"

For contrast, here are are some quotes attributed to Jesus:

"All slaves should show full respect for their masters so they will not bring shame on the name of God and his teaching."


"Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ."


I have yet to find any quote attributed to Jesus that says keeping slaves is wrong. The OT includes instructions on buying slaves, beating them and selling your daughters as sex slaves.

UK.gov threatens to 'pull plug' on smart meter rollout

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Not just £6

£6 extra the first year, £12 extra the next, then £18 and so one. There is no plan to bring prices back down afterwards. I pay all that money and still do not own the meter. Sounds just as sensible as paying for fibre that BT rents back to me.

PC shortages 'inevitable' says Gartner

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Please can I buy my computer without a hard disk

I used to pull out the pre-installed drive, fit a 7200rpm one and use the old drive as a USB backup dive. Now I pull out the installed drive, fit an SSD and use the old drive as a paper weight. I would much prefer to buy a boxen with no pre-installed hard disks.

As a bonus, no hard disk means no need to pay the Microsoft tax. I am happy to split that cost reduction with the distributor.

HP hooks up with Calxeda to form server ARMy

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Power, perfomance and the thing Intel doesn't talk about

So in a year or two the next generation Intel chips will be able to compete on power requirements with the last generation of ARMs. Some tasks are sequential and benefit from a big high performance core, but servers mostly run parallel tasks that can be run more cost effectlively on several small cores. Intel's real challenge would be to compete on price, but I cannot see that happening this decade.

Microsoft trousers yet more royalties from Android gear

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Missing statements

If these companies are actually paying Microsoft real money, is there any evidence that they are not receiving more in return for allowing Microsoft to publish these press releases?

Do these patents cover the device no matter what OS it runs, or are they apply only when Android is installed.

Unless these deals are published openly, I will assume it is just Microsoft paying hush money so their investors do not find out that all these patents are a load of rubbish.

Reg hacks confront really wide Oz load terror

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Bagger 288 was moved to a new site in 2001



UK has enough sheep shearers, needs more coders

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Why do we need secondary school science teachers?

I thought we stopped teaching sciences in secondary school years ago. (Sciences are hard, some students might fail and bring down the school's grade point average.)

'Mental act' computerisations no longer automatically unpatentable

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Nothing new here

For ages the UK patent office has said you cannot patent software as such, but you can get a patent for software if you call it a computer implemented invention. Now they are saying you can get a patent for software as such. As there was never any difference between a such and a computer implemented invention, nothing has changed. As before, software patents although granted are still invalid. Given time, money and luck you can still get software patents declared invalid through the courts. But don't worry, they will fix that when they require all patent disputes to be conducted in a special patent court that will never invalidate any patents.

Write to your MP. Get referred to the party's minister responsible for software patents. Write to that MP. Get a fobbing off letter. Reply with a debunking. Get another stupid responce. Copy the correspondence back to your MP. This is time consuming, mostly to calm down enough to avoid flaming, but it does work.

DeLorean goes electric for 2013 roll-out

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There are plenty of definitions of horse power, but for a car motor, 260hp is probably a little over 190kW. Electric motors that size are usually 90-95% efficient so with 1.21GW, you can power well over 5000 DeLoreans.

The first GPS satellite was launched in 1978, so GPS would be useless before that. Until 1989, there were only ten satellites. You need to be able to see 3 satelites to do anything useful (4 if you want to know your altitude). If you need GPS in the 1980's, get a hover conversion. You stand a better chance of seeing satelites if the signals do not have to go sideways through a thick atmosphere, some hills, buildings or a wet leaf.

Gigantic KRAKEN fingered in prehistoric murder mystery

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Soft bodied animals can leave fossils

Google will find you pictures (non-playmobil) fossil squids:


Looks like giornalista intentorem inhibens is an endangered species.

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Evidence for the existence of this kraken?

Show us a photo of a fossilised playmobile kraken or it didn't happen.

Would you trust a dot-bank site more than a dot-com?

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First educate the bankers

The Halifax owns halifax.co.uk, but if I try to do some internet banking, I end up halifax-online.co.uk, which I have no confidence in. If it does belong to The Halifax, it shows such an abysmal understanding of internet security that I have to assume the actual site contains some more equally brain dead design decisions.

Samsung, Micron bake 3D chips for next-gen RAM

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Well done ARM

Last time I saw innovation from the DRAM industry, Intel ignored it and went for RDRAM because they got a sweet patent licensing deal that let them crush third party chipsets. Things must have changed radically enough that DRAM manufacturers are confident that their R&D spending will turn into a mainstream product. AMD and Via do an excellent job of keeping entry level x86 under $1000, but they do not really challenge Intel. If this product gets anywhere it will be because Intel worries 3DRAM+ARM will be cost effective.

Gas bill climbed £13,000 after correct online reading given

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Should have read the instructions

"This is our flexible meter reading and bill service. Here you can enter your meter reading whenever you wish."

The web site is clearly for readings from flexible meters. Most people have rigid meters. Also, only use the website if you want to. If you coerce someone into using the site against their will, you will be charged extra.

Patent troll lawsuits may be on thin ice

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This came up decades ago with dail modem chips

The manufacturer paid for a license to make the chip. The chip was then licensed no matter how often it is resold, given away or scavenged from a skip. The legal term was patent exhaustion.

Ellison: 'There'll be nothing left of IBM once I'm done'

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BCD and Decimal Floating point are a waste of space

I have read about decimal floating point, but have never used it because fixed point integer has always been a better solution. I have used fixed point integer on 8041, 6502, Z80, 68000, TMS320, ARM, MIPS, X86 and AMD64. When I needed arbitrary precision, I used GMP or Python. If POWER or Z ever fit into the available budget, space and power requirements, I will stick with fixed point integer.

Android's scariest nightmare: resurgently sexy Microsoft

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Nothing is new in software. My desktop apps ran fine when 200MHz was fast. I still use them so an ultraportable is just an ultra stealable.

AMD Llano vs Intel Sandy Bridge

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One important feature missing:

Cut the price by a factor of three and I would be interested.

Adobe: crashing 100 million machines not an option

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I have always disabled flash



Pandemonium as Microsoft AV nukes Chrome browser

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Who doesn't backup their bookmarks?

"Chrome's beta version is unaffected, making it a suitable substitute until Microsoft can correct the error."

What was the error, deleting Chrome or not deleting the beta version?

Boffins invent miracle pill that counteracts effects of booze

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Quick! Send some to Australia.


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