* Posts by Paul Cooper

70 posts • joined 7 Mar 2007

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Container ship loading plans are 'easily hackable'

Paul Cooper

This report (https://www.gov.uk/maib-reports/listing-flooding-and-grounding-of-vehicle-carrier-hoegh-osaka) shows the causes of the grounding of a car and truck carrier. The grounding was caused by a combination of a) inaccurate recording of the weight of vehicles loaded and b) failure of the system for measuring the contents of tanks, resulting in the officers relying on adding and subtracting weight as the contents changed. The latter is subject to errors well-understood by most here and resulted in the figures being used bearing little relationship to reality.

Basically, how could a hacker cause more problems than arise without malice anyway?

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User asked help desk to debug a Post-it Note that survived a reboot

Paul Cooper

Way back, when we used BBC Micros with a Z80 board to run CP/M, the connection between the BBC and the monitor tended to be a bit shaky. Despite me saying again and again "check the monitor connection" I STILL got called about 2-3 times a week to point out to someone that the monitor cable had come loose! That was in the mid 80s; nothing changes!

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Someone liked dwarf planet Haumea so much they put a ring on it

Paul Cooper
Boffin

Re: Hal Clement fans!

Well, yes, I knew all that - but the images are just like the images Clement published in his essay on Mesklin.

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Paul Cooper
Alien

Hal Clement fans!

Did anyone else think "Crikey, they've found Mesklin?"

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They've only gone and made a chemical-threat-detecting ring

Paul Cooper
Joke

Whatever happened to Unicorn Horn?

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Forget trigonometry, 'cos Babylonians did it better 3,700 years ago – by counting in base 60!

Paul Cooper

Re: We use base 10 for a reason

I did O-levels (pre GCSE!) in the good old pounds, shillings and pence days. I had to learn how to add, subtract, multiply and divide sums in pounds, shillings and pence. However, the only sensible way to do compound interest calculations was to convert to pounds and decimals of a pound, do the calculation, then convert back! However, there were a lot of useful hacks for less demanding arithmetic, some of which I can still remember - the dozen rule, for example (things were often sold in multiples of 12 in those days, so knowing that the price of 12 items in shillings = price of one item in pennies was very useful), the score rule (same in shillings and pounds), and several others I've now forgotten!

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Lottery-hacking sysadmin's unlucky number comes up: 25 years in the slammer

Paul Cooper

Random?

Unless the system used a genuine source of randomness (e.g. the noise from a diode as in ERNIE in at least one of his incarnations), it was using a PSEUDO-random number generator. If he knew the algorithm and the seeding source, he might have been able to predict the "random" number sequence - at worst, by replicating the code and simply running it with appropriate inputs! The fact he was able to replace the random number generator suggests that it was indeed only pseudo-random.

There's also the issue that some pseudo-random number generators are badly designed and in fact produce predictable sequences; certainly predictable enough to skew the statistics of a random draw well away from the expected probabilities, making it worth spending money on buying numbers that are more likely to appear than true random selection would suggest.

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Why, Robot? Understanding AI ethics

Paul Cooper
Boffin

Ways round Asimov's rules

Asimov himself recognised that a robot (i.e. strong AI) could be made to circumvent his laws in several ways:

1) Alter the internal definition of a human so that some classes of human are excluded. This is explored in "The Naked Sun", where there are attempts to kill Lije Bailey by persuading a robot that he is not fully human on the basis of prejudice against Earth humans. There was a recent study showing that current "AI" systems are biased in just this manner because of the preponderance of white faces online!

2) Engineer a situation where a robot in an unmanned vehicle does not comprehend that a vehicle CAN be manned. Again, explored in "The Naked Sun"

3) More weakly, First Law can be circumvented by daisy chaining actions each of which is innocuous but which have a fatal cumulative effect. Again, two scenarios (one succesful) in "The Naked Sun".

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Breaking news, literally: Newspaper's quakebot rumbled for fake story

Paul Cooper

Y2K

Looks like the Y2K bug has bitten, 17 years late!

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First-day-on-the-job dev: I accidentally nuked production database, was instantly fired

Paul Cooper

Re: There are two types of people in this business

Amen! There have been a few occasions I have had that awful feeling a moment after hitting return that I really shouldn't have done that... Fortunately, all recoverable either from backups or at the cost of a couple of days redoing stuff!

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The biggest British Airways IT meltdown WTF: 200 systems in the critical path?

Paul Cooper
Black Helicopters

Re: Management

Mine only has two buttons - a power switch and a volume control. The rest is all touch screen. I suppose that most Management types can manage to understand two buttons... But then, I always was an optimist!

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Huge flying arse makes successful test flight

Paul Cooper

Things that look like bums seem to be common around here! My daughter always refers to this as the Bum Tunnel: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/7/7e/Weston_Hills_Tunnel_2007-09-23.jpg

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'I feel violated': Engineer who pointed out traffic signals flaw fined for 'unlicensed engineering'

Paul Cooper

PE status

It's easy enough to get PE status, and I guess anyone posting here would easily qualify - membership of the IEEE confers PE status, or at least it did when I was a senior member! As I'm on the right side of the pond, it was always irrelevant to me, but a source of amusement in that my main qualification is in Geology!

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Goodbye, cruel world! NASA's Cassini preps for kamikaze Saturn dive

Paul Cooper
Coat

Inevitable 2001 reference

What will they do if the response to uploading the commands is "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that"?

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Lochs, rifle stocks and two EPIC sea gates: Thomas Telford's Highland waterway

Paul Cooper

A real user!

I used the Caledonian Canal for its intended purpose last April - I brought my boat through when taking it from the Clyde to a marina near Walton on the Naze. The complete passage from the Clyde to Walton was a bit of an epic ; we took 3 weeks (including rest days and the days when we decided the weather forecast was too bad!). We didn't use the other scenic canal - the Crinan Canal, while a very pleasant and scenic route is ridiculously expensive for what you get. Also, from most of the Clyde, it doesn't give a time advantage, so we went round the Mull of Kintyre.

The Caledonian Canal was very interesting, and we spent nearly a week on its waters, entering at Corpach and leaving at Clachnaharry, where the Clachnaharry Inn provides an excellent pint and a decent meal. Going up and down the staircases of locks was awe-inspiring, and even a little vertigo inducing when looking down a flight from the top! As a user of the canal, the only real inconvenience was that movement on the canal is prohibited after about 5.30 pm, and the last obstacle (the swing bridge carrying the road below the Muirtown locks) can't be used for about 2 hours before the canal shuts down for the night because rush hour traffic takes priority. Sadly the mooring above the Muirtown locks doesn't have much in the way of facilities, and at that time of the year we valued the availability of mains electricity!

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Oh, the things Vim could teach Silicon Valley's code slingers

Paul Cooper

I remember zed on the University of Cambridge' Phoenix system, in about 1980. That was fun!

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Euro space agency's Galileo satellites stricken by mystery clock failures

Paul Cooper

Re: It's not a GPS-alike it's a GPS!

The usual acronym for a generic satellite positioning service is GNSS (global navigation satellite system). The one provided by the US Navstar satellites is called GPS. Yes, it is a Global Positioning System and the acronym would do perfectly well as a catch-all term, but is has become so strongly associated with the US Navstar system (like Hoover with Vacuum cleaners) that GPS on its own is usually taken to mean the US one.

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90 per cent of the UK's NHS is STILL relying on Windows XP

Paul Cooper

As other have said, it's the issue of direct interaction between hardware and software that is the killer. Many moons ago, we had an expensive stereo-plotter (a device for analysing stereo-photographs). It was vital for our operations for many years. Snag was that a) it was built and maintained by a tiny company and b) the operating software (which was written by a one-man band) REQUIRED direct access to hardware ports, and this couldn't be worked round because some of the timings were critical. The software ran on MSDOS, so it could have access to hardware interrupts! And as time moved on it became harder and harder to move data from the stereo-plotter to our main network. Eventually, we reached the position where completely software based solutions were available and cost-effective, and at that point we retired the kit. But of course, hospitals are full of kit where a complete software solution isn't feasible, and many of the more specialized bits of kit, even ones with a big price-tag, are produced by tiny companies. I'm actually surprised that XP is the earliest OS in use; I wouldn't have been at all surprised if it was a DOS version.

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MPs want Blighty to enforce domestic roaming to fix 'not spots'

Paul Cooper

Re: OFCOM Powers

Well, there are plenty of church towers, and they make good sites for mobile phone transmitters. As I understand it, there are no problems with the ecclesiastical authorities providing they merge in with the architecture. Most churches would welcome the income from leasing a spot in their tower, providing, of course, that the access to the top of the tower is in a safe condition (not all are!). And as no-one would notice the equipment (I understand that "stealth" versions of the kit are available to match a variety of architectures), who's to object?

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Getting your tongue around foreign tech-talk is easier than you think

Paul Cooper

I speak very little Cantonese, my wife's native tongue. However, I can often follow a conversation in Cantonese under one of two constraints: 1) it is with a second generation British member of the family and 2) it is technical in nature. In both cases, every second or third word is English, and Cantonese sentence structure is similar to that of English, so I can pick out enough familiar words to work out what is going on.

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Self-driving cars doomed to be bullied by pedestrians

Paul Cooper

Re: Automated lifts will never catch on

You mean, like a JonnyCab?

https://youtu.be/1H37k00DNow

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You're fired (into space)! Trump tops Martian ejaculation poll

Paul Cooper

Better be the same sex as the winner - we don't want them breeding!

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Zilog reveals very, very distant heir to the Z80 empire

Paul Cooper

Obligatory "When I were a lad..."

When I were a lad (actually in my late 20s/early 30s) I worked on software for a prototype data logger for an ice sounding radar. We used an S100 bus single card computer with a Z80 processor. The development system (using Wordstar, asm and link!) was an Osborne 1. It has left me with an enduring impatience with bloated software (I know what you can do in 2k of EPROM!) and memories of keeping vast amounts of code in my head so I could debug stuff in an environment where reassembling, linking , blowing a new EPROM and then testing the result could take an hour or more!

I still have the Leventhal Z80 Assembly language Programming manual on my shelf!

3
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HP Inc's rinky-dink ink stink: Unofficial cartridges, official refills spurned by printer DRM

Paul Cooper

Re: Are the complainers...

The printhead and ink reservoir are separate on large format printer/plotters; we ran a 60" HP job that used 6 ink colours. There was a tiny "ready use" reservoir on each printhead that was refilled as required from ink containers that held around a litre of ink each! Amazing quality, providing you used good paper.

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Curiosity rover likes big buttes but it cannot lie around

Paul Cooper

Re: Very optimistic...

Not necessarily. The Devonian Old Red Sandstone of the UK, characterized by massive cross-bedding, was traditionally thought to be an aeolian deposit, but they are now thought to be mainly fluvial. Large dunes and sandwaves, where cross-bedding is formed, is not confined to aeolian deposits, but is commonplace in deposits laid down from flowing water. Large dunes are also found in submarine environments.

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Paul Cooper

Re: Very optimistic...

Not very likely if these are subaerial deposits; similar deposits in the UK (e.g. Old Red Sandstone) have very few fossils. Fossils are more likely in fluviatile and marine deposits, where organisms either live in the sediment or can be rapidly buried by flood events after death.

That said, I wouldn't have immediately said these were subaerial deposits; opinions of the classic Old Red Sandstone in the UK have varied from subaerial dune deposits to estuarine or shallow water megadunes

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Phoney bling ring pinged by Tolkien's kin

Paul Cooper
Boffin

Re: That depends where and what part

Both Priest and Baxter (AFAIR) acknowledge both the prior art AND the explicit support/permission of the relevant estate.

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Trade body, universities row over US patent troll act proposals

Paul Cooper
Big Brother

Re: Inventor based system

Well, a developer selling a house on an estate in the UK certainly CAN tell you what colour to paint it, and often does if it can be justified to maintain a certain overall appearance of the estate. Such covenants are usually time-limited and CAN be challenged, but they certainly exist - there was one on a house I bought in the 1980s.

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Facebook image-tagging to be tested in Californian court

Paul Cooper

Face tagging unreliable

My experience of the automated tagging is that it's unreliable, anyway! My wife is usually automatically tagged as one of her sisters. OK, they're obviously similar in looks, being sisters, but not THAT similar - and her sister is 12 years younger, at least!

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ZX Printer's American cousin still in use, 34 years after purchase

Paul Cooper

Re: Good tip

Faxes are often used when exchanging contracts between organizations, as a fax is regarded as legally valid where an electronic copy isn't. Of course, the fax is backed up (a week or so later for transatlantic affairs) with a pukka printed and signed copy.

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Europe's Earth-watching sat beams back icy first pic

Paul Cooper

History

Amazingly, Julian Dowdeswell and I published the first more or less accurate map of Austfonna only 30 years ago! (Dowdeswell, J. A., and A. P. R. Cooper, Digital mapping in polar regions from Landsat photographic products: a case study, Annals of Glaciology, 8, 47-50, 1986.) In fact we did the work a few years earlier (in about 1983) but there was some delay in publishing. Worth bearing in mind that in those days, digital processing of images was confined to a few specialist laboratories; the equipment was extremely expensive; far too much so for a small research group, even in the University of Cambridge.What is striking is that even at a fairly cursory glance, there are major changes in the ice cap since then.

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'Microsoft Office has been the bane of my life, while simultaneously keeping me employed'

Paul Cooper

Re: I can imagine a coworker coming for someone's kneecaps

AMEN!!!

Many years ago, I worked as the software half of a two person team developing a prototype one-off data logger for a low-frequency radar. The number of "discussions" we had along the lines of "The software's fine - it must be the hardware" "No, the hardware's fine, it must be the software" probably went into 3 figures! And at least one problem never went away - we upgraded to a 9-track tape drive, and we could never get that to run completely reliably - once in a while, it crashed the system for no apparent reason. The previous cassette tape system worked fine, but was almost impossible to extract data from after a field season!

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Schlock and .aw as Dutch net registry rebrands

Paul Cooper
Angel

Re: And the old logo looked like...?

Sorry - not the coldest domain name by a long way. .aq is the domain name for Antarctica, and Antarctica is the coldest continent by a very long way.

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When customers try to be programmers: 'I want this CHANGED TO A ZERO ASAP'

Paul Cooper

Re: Volatile?

I can recall ancient fortran compilers that would "optimize" pseocode like this to a loop that was either executed once or forever:

while (rand(j) < 0.5) {

Do stuff

}

Because j never changed in the loop, it assumed that rand(j) never changed and optimized rand(j) outside the loop! And of course, half the time the loop would execute once, and the rest of the time it would never exit.

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How to save Wikipedia: Start paying editors ... or write for machines

Paul Cooper

Catch 22

Wikipedia's rules on content sometimes mean that someone with expert knowledge of a small subject area cannot post their knowledge. I've fallen foul of this one myself; it was removed under the "no original research" rule - but in a small field, someone sufficiently expert to write an encyclopedia page is almost certainly going to be reporting their own work!

There are also problems when the best source for a particular topic does not comply with their rules on "free" source data; even if the unfreedom is purely concerned with commercial exploitation.

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US Military enlists radio hams to simulate fight with THE SUN

Paul Cooper
Mushroom

This is what can happen:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_storm_of_1859

And note that even in a pre-electronic, pre-electrical era, it caused damage to telegraph systems. Such a storm would almost certainly severely damage orbital infra-structure - NASA on their pages about this event simply state that it is impractical to shield a satellite from such an event. GPS, Comsats etc. would probably all go west for a period of at least days; potentially years until new satellites were launched. A lot of ground-based repeaters etc. would get fried as well.

Records from polar ice-cores suggest that events like this happen, on average, every 75-100 years (opinions vary; some say 500 years). So, we're probably overdue!

4
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Joining the illuminati? Just how bright can a smart bulb really be?

Paul Cooper
Thumb Down

Bayonet?

Why not a bayonet cap option? Every house I've lived in has had bayonet light fittings, with a very small number of Edison screw types, mainly in outdoor fittings.

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Rights groups: Darn you Facebook with your 'government names'

Paul Cooper

Re: "Real" names

Yes, it's commonplace among Chinese people, who routinely take a "Western" name in addition to their Chinese name. The only name on their birth certificate is their Chinese name.

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POLAR DINOSAURS prowled ARCTIC NIGHT, cast doubt on COLD BLOOD theory

Paul Cooper
FAIL

This is news???

Dinosaurs have been known from the Polar regions for many years; so much so that the BBC had an entire episode of "Walking with Dinosaurs" devoted to them! And to avoid confusion, the dinosaurs concerned lived in an area that was close to the South Pole. Some of my former colleagues studied these dinosaurs; the BBC didn't invent them!

Concerning the temperature regulation of dinosaurs, a) Birds are dinosaurs (related to Velociraptor!), and are warm-blooded and b) the latest publications suggest that some dinosaurs occupied a sort of middle ground on thermal regulation; it only cut in if their temperature dropped below some limit.

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Typewriters suck. Yet we're infinitely richer for those irritating machines

Paul Cooper

The old days weren't better - or even as good

Mt favourite rebuttal of anyone who says the old days were better is a simple comparison of three generations - my mother's, mine and my children's. In my mother's childhood, a substantial number of children died from measles. In mine, antibiotics meant few died, but most people got the disease and some lived with damaged sight or, in the worst case, mental handicaps. Through vaccination, my children don't know what measles is, and an outbreak of a few hundred cases is called an epidemic.

The old days certainly weren't better.

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Brit boffins want £50 million to launch exoplanet observatory

Paul Cooper

Collage of Colleges

While the University of London is a collage of colleges, UCL is a college that is part of that collage!

6
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ZX81 BEATEN at last as dev claims smallest Chess code crown

Paul Cooper

Programming in small spaces

Back in the 1980s, I had to write a data logging program for an S100 bus based single card computer with a Z80 processor. The program had to fit in the space allocated to EPROM - about 2k, if I remember correctly. No operating system, prototype hardware doing the data acquisition, time constraints on data acquitistion and logging, and I had to allow for buffering up to about 20 seconds of data during a tape rewind. I also drove a real time data display and accepted minimal commands from a keyboard device. I did have a reasonable amount of RAM, but had to dedicate pretty much all of it to the data buffer; only a few hundred bytes were used for program variables.

I hate to think how big a program to do all that would be today, written in a high level language and without access to the hardware!

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Humanity can defeat SkyNet with BOOKS, says IT think tank

Paul Cooper

Iain Banks

Covered a lot of the issues of genuine AI - including AI with intelligence vastly beyond human - in his Culture novels. It is, perhaps, noteworthy that it is implicit in his treatment that the main means of enforcement of "morality" in his universe is peer pressure. In fact, one of his characters in "Player of Games" when tempted to do "wrong" notes that there are no effective dincentives EXCEPT that he would no longer be able to participate in society as he had before.

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ROGUE SAIL BOAT blocks SPACE STATION PODULE blastoff

Paul Cooper

There seem to be some misunderstandings here.

1) No-one - not even the range safety officers at places like Lulworth - can actually close a patch of sea for navigation. They can advise that you'll be putting yourself in danger, but that's all. As these launches take place on the high seas, there is NO way that entry to the danger area can be banned.

2) Although most yachts do carry VHF radios, they are not required to and many don't. Far from land, few sailors would have the VHF switched on; indeed many sailors who do have VHF don't have it switched on routinely. Most yachts operate on a very tight electrical budget.

6
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Mobile Broadband just not fast enough

Paul Cooper
FAIL

Speeds

If you are lucky enough to be in an area covered by 3G, then speeds are acceptable (but only acceptable!). But if you aren't, so-called "broadband" drops to dial-up speeds, and isn't acceptable at all. The recent release of 3G coverage mapping is a damning indictment of the over-selling of so-called "mobile broadband".

0
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It shouldn't happen to a vetting database

Paul Cooper
Boffin

@Big Bear

Yes, Priests and other ministers and lay workers (including voluntary ones) are CRB checked as a matter of routine. As I am a lay minister, the CofE automatically CRB checks me.

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Jaunty Jackalope release candidate unleashed

Paul Cooper
Boffin

Plenty X names

Xenopus is well known in genetics laboratories!

0
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BT does Italian Job on London traffic lights

Paul Cooper
Boffin

Missing cabls isn't easy

The problem is that most older tunnels, pipework and so on are not accurately mapped. In fact, a lot of them were last mapped by the Victorians, using survey reference points that no longer exist. And at 34 metres deep - or even34 feet deep - it is pretty much impossible to locate the tunnel or pipework by surveying. The only way of accurately locating such things is by doing what the contractor did - dig them up!

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Terry Pratchett cuts ribbon on Treacle Mine Road

Paul Cooper
Boffin

@Pete

Because Gandalf isn't unique to Tolkien, or even original with him. The name "Gandalf" was used by William Morris in "The Well at the World's End" in 1896. So, I doubt if the Tolkien estate could claim IPR on the name Gandalf without other LOTR associations.

0
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More execs quit Phorm

Paul Cooper
Pirate

Rats, ships?

says it all!

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