* Posts by Keith Oborn

139 posts • joined 9 Mar 2007


The Large Hadron Collider is small beer. Give us billions more for bigger kit, say boffins

Keith Oborn

"What benefits do we actually get from projects like CERN?"

I give you a famous quote:

"Of what use is a new born baby?"

Keith Oborn

Re: This sounds snarky, but it's not meant to.

Another spinoff/convergence: much of the technology that goes into particle accelerator rings is close to what is needed for Tokamak fusion reactors.

Nissan EV app password reset prompts user panic

Keith Oborn

App and website been out for a week

App says "Use ID / Password invalid"

Website says "please enter user ID and password"

Forgotten password link never sends reset email

Attempt to register an account says "server error"

Been like that for a week now.

Cyber-insurance shock: Zurich refuses to foot NotPetya ransomware clean-up bill – and claims it's 'an act of war'

Keith Oborn

Re: Eh, it’s Mondelez.

Look at https://www.hotelchocolat.com/uk/shop/collections/chocolate/milk/

Vastly better: it's actually chocolate. I'd never call Cadbury's that (even before Mondelez made it worse)

Millennium Buggery: When things that shouldn't be shut down, shut down

Keith Oborn

Yep, I was thinking that too. My Very First Home Internet Connection (apart from dialup to the office) - except when the aerial fell off the chimney (not T2's fault: the bricks were rotten). But I only got 128k--. Very dependent on where you lived, as it needed line of sight to the base station, which was on a tower block in the centre of Reading.

Heard the one where the boss calls in an Oracle consultant who couldn't fix the database?

Keith Oborn

Re: When things could be worse

Years ago, in the early days of Thinkpads, IBM had a wonderful network of local service centres. I used them a couple of times, and their fix times tended to be quicker than the 30 minutes it took to get back to the office.

One day, a sales guy called me: "I'm in Glasgow, got to do a presentation in a couple of hours, and the laptop power supply has died".

So I call IBM, who said "There's a service centre about 20 minutes from him. Give us his details and get him to drop in".

I call him back. He'd switched his phone off ;-(

20 minutes later, IBM rang: "We've spoken to your colleague" (ME: "wow, how did you manage that?"). "

"We can swap his power supply, but he has to bring the dead one in."

ME: "??"

"He says he left it in the office" (that was in Byfleet, Surrey)

ME: "Thank you so much for such superb service. I will KILL the idiot next time I see him".

IBM: "<giggle>"

(the power supply was, needless to say, on his desk and fully functional).

Keith Oborn

Re: Vindicated

Throughout my working life (I recently retired) I harboured a secret Unix hostname convention. I never dated use it:

1: Name your hosts after common Unix commands

2: Write complicated and undocumented shell scripts to do mysterious things between them

3: Resign

An upset tummy and a sphincter-loosening blackout: Lunar spaceflight is all glamour

Keith Oborn

That Genesis reading

Sad that a bunch of narrow minded idiots could tarnish that. The term "infamous" is just plain wrong. And "famous" barely does it justice.

I'm an atheist. a physicist and engineer.

I think the combination of those majestic words and the majestic setting was a high point in human history, no matter what you believe.

Oxford startup magics up metamaterials for next-gen charging

Keith Oborn


Using the wonders of "t'web" I see 23 Park End St, down by the station. Definitely unassuming.

Boffins build blazing battery bonfire

Keith Oborn

Re: Thorium Cycle Reactors

Thorium reactors have been built, but not for some time.

Why? Because they don't produce tasty isotopes of elements like Plutonium, so the military/government gains no benefits, doesn't put in any investment--. Look at where all the fundamental money for Uranium fission technology came from.

Add to that the reduced need for complex mining operations, and the near-elimination of all those juicy waste reprocessing, storage and decommissioning contracts, and it's no wonder the commercial nuclear operators aren't interested. No gravy train.

I understand, though, that India and China are putting money into Thorium.

UK's BT: It's not unusual to pull Huawei from our core mobile networks

Keith Oborn

Huawei within BT

Until not that long ago - and possibly still - Huawei had dedicated office space at BT Adastral.

Many of us were amused when HM Gov. required Huawei to pay for the establishment of the independent security audit centre. They duly did. The centre then looked around for staff, and ended up contracting with an outsourcer, who looked for people with Huawei expertise. Guess where they found them?

When asked if they considered that having the independent security audit staffed by people from the company being audited was a problem, HMG representatives said "Of course not, why would it be?"

As I recall, even the BT folk were gobsmacked.

Side note: I don't think Huawei are squeaky clean, but they do at least try to engage with all this stuff, and keep a little distance from the PRC. ZTE are the ones to watch.

How the mighty have fallen: Anglian Water knocks Google off perch as UK's best workplace

Keith Oborn

SAP and Salesforce?

Proves that product quality and employee satisfaction are not cognates--.

BTW, how would El Reg fare ;-)

If I close my eyes, the end-of-life kit vanishes: UK banks in doghouse over poor resilience

Keith Oborn

A few years ago a Canadian company advertised for a support contract to maintain a pdp8. That was controlling a nuclear reactor.

Second reaction (the first is obvious) "hmm, that is a machine that is comprehensible, well engineered and designed to be maintainable. Perhaps its best not to replace it"

Analogue radio is the tech that just won't die

Keith Oborn

Mystified by the endless complaints about DAB

I have no axe to grind here, just playing the dumb user.

We've had DAB and FM, both portables and in-car, for some years. In absolutely every case to date, the DAB wins hands down: far better coverage, more reliable sound quality, and so on.

We live near Basingstoke and can SEE the Hannington mast. However, the same applies wherever we've been in the car in the UK: DAB rarely fails, FM is very hit and miss, and indeed the last two cars with FM we simply gave up, didn't get any signal at all near home.

Having worked in the past in the audio industry I find the comments about FM having superior quality quite funny: maybe downhill with a following wind toting a giant aerial and £1k audiophile receiver near Crystal Palace - but not in the real world!

What are we doing wrong?

TalkTalk hackhack duoduo thrownthrown in the coolercooler: 'Talented' pair sentenced for ransacking ISP

Keith Oborn

The shed--

-had a faded "tiscali" sign. It was supposed to have been demolished and the contents stored safely but some bean counters objected to the cost.

Not defending TT but I remember thinking "there but for the grace of god--"

Find me a company that doesn't have at least one similar problem. I'll buy it.

Washington Post offers invalid cookie consent under EU rules – ICO

Keith Oborn

Ownership and extraterritoriality

Amusing that the ICO is attempting to apply EU law extraterritorially, Shurely any fule no that only the US can apply its laws in other countries? Or so they always think--.

Oh yes, who owns the Washington Post, and might have an interest in better tracking of users? And who also makes a shedload of money from Europe?

Rocket Labs mean business, Brits stick pin in Mars map, and Japan celebrates HTV-7’s dive into the atmosphere

Keith Oborn

Ooh err missus--

"Rocket Labs launched six satellites into the nether"

So they've reached Uranus then?


My hoard of obsolete hardware might be useful… one day

Keith Oborn

Kind of sweet--

That Melinda Gates, of all people, has an Apple III as a favourite bit of junk. Has she told Bill?

As for stuff that might be of some historic interest, in the UK try the National Museum of Computing. In California, the Computer History Museum. There are lots of others--.

Which scientist should be on the new £50 note? El Reg weighs in – and you should vote, too

Keith Oborn

Good God. Was this written by a smart ten year old?

Riddled with inaccuracies, eg:

Rosalind Franklin "Because she discovered DNA". No. She was instrumental in working out the *structure* of DNA. None of the four main protagonists in this "discovered" it.

Terrible copy editing.

El Reg: are you writing intelligent news or a breathless kiddie's comic?

If you have inner peace, it's probably 'cos your broadband works: Zen Internet least whinged-about Brit ISP – survey

Keith Oborn

Re: I'm not a fan of Virgin...

My pi setup uses a several year old pi b, and indeed one of the nics is on the USB. I tested it and it can support 40Mbps bidirectional when NATting. As my downstream VDSL is only 16Mbps that's fine. It was not compute-bound, so I suspect this is the USB limiting things.

Haven't looked at the newer models, but a 3B should do a lot better if you use it's wireless NIC for the internal side. Even then, you may not get 200Mbps overall simply because of the real-world performance of 802.11 b/g/n/ac, but a bit more creativity would use one or more of the USB ports to run wired network segments for some stuff and offload the wifi.

ISPs selling 200Mbps or more services should really take a long hard stare at what wifi can actually deliver on the LAN side. It would help with customer complaints.

Keith Oborn

Re: I'm not a fan of Virgin...

Don't confuse downstream bandwidth with perceived performance. Latency is a particular problem on cable networks, as is upstream bandwidth. No good having 200Mbps downstream if it takes 500ms for a request packet to crawl upstream, and another 200ms for the first response to arrive.

As for DNS, NEVER use the ISP router for this. If their DHCP forces it, find out the DNS IPs the router itself uses, and use those on the clients. Home routers are essentially all pieces of crap. If you want to get a little creative, a Raspberry Pi makes a really good home router/firewall/DNS server.

Keith Oborn

Re: Virgin works like a charm

:-) - I love the bit about DNS. I was responsible for the VM DNS from 2003 onwards, and from 2006 onwards we could demonstrate, via Ofcom/SamKnows distributed test probes from real customer lines (not selected by us, BTW), that it was the fastest of all the "majors" by a factor of 3 over the next best.

From 2007 onwards it was also "revenue generating", in that it produced sufficient income to fully offset the NPV capex and opex.

Perhaps you had a different problem? What I do know is that ALL ISPs have a standard "customer moan" in their list: "Crap DNS", when it's actually something else entirely. Getting that out of the call centre response scripts is a losing battle. VM's CC folk used to recommend users swap to, despite that being 4-5 times slower, when the actual problem was usually a poor last-mile signal to noise on the upstream (a bane of cable systems, BTW). We banged our heads against that wall on a weekly basis.

VM are not alone in this: find me a major ISP that doesn't have the same problem and I'll buy it for you. The company, not the service ;-)

Keith Oborn

Usual flawed and partial statistics

One thing is for sure: you pay peanuts--. Having been inside the industry (not any more) for some time, the main problem is the race to the bottom on price. That means less money to run the network, less to pay good support people, etc.

Zen and AA have persistent good reputations going back years. I'd add Eclipse, who I've been with since 2002, and despite them being acquired by Kcom, they also provide good service and good support.

This report also fails to explain to customers who they are actually dealing with. For instance, Plusnet is owned by BT, and is only partly independent, most particularly at the network level. Post Office is entirely operated by TalkTalk - and so on.

And below that of course in all but one case you are reliant on the Openreach local loop to the street cab (for VDSL) or the exchange. If you report a fault, your ISP has to call OR. Now OR's field staff seem very good (afaik they are actually employees, not contractors), but there is a chain of command problem there.

The "one case" is of course VM. afaik field staff are contractors, although I think that may have changed. Problem is that DOCSIS, being a shared medium on the "local loop" can suffer congestion on the last mile, and also has inherently more difficult latency characteristics even when not saturated. Add to that the problem of street cabinet maintenance: cable systems are rather like token ring, and any single loose screw-on F connector can mess up the whole segment. xDSL doesn't have these problems - if your Krone connection is bad it only affects you - but does have the well-known speed/range problem.

Call centre staff have no clue about all of this, and no control even if they did.

Marketing is very guilty: "Fibre broadband" (no it isn't), "Speed up to xxx" (downhill with a following wind if you live next to the exchange and the entire route to the destination (let's say Facebook) is uncongested). "Lowest price" (no, we can't afford to pay to keep it working or answer your calls). Etc.

It's a wild west industry still.

British Airways: If you're feeling left out of our 380,000 passenger hack, then you may be one of another 185,000 victims

Keith Oborn


Department of Hollow Laughs: British Airways just told me that I am one of the people who’s credit card details got taken in the recent breach. To be fair to BA, they have been pretty proactive in fessing up to this. The email includes a free offer to join Experian ProtectMyId. So I completed that form, and the last item was a requirement to take a credit card to “validate”. Then I thought: “Hang on. Experian. Kind of frying pan to fire here--“. Ho hum.

What a crane in the ass: Bug leaves construction machinery vulnerable to evil command injection

Keith Oborn

Re: oooh just had an idea

Any of this kit used for remote handling in nuclear reactors?

Have you ever, ever felt like this? Have strange things happened? Is high-speed data going round the twist?

Keith Oborn

Re: A (potentially) astonishing step change in FO bandwidth.

That's not entirely true. Fibre transmission characteristics do degrade over time, exacerbated by stress - the latter was learnt the hard way by Energis, where the bright idea of putting fibre on the neutral lines at the top of electricity pylons started to fade when the wires waved around in the wind.

Even underground or sub-sea will degrade. I was peripherally involved in a project to put Raman amplifiers on an existing subsea run to extend its life - maybe an extra ten years before it had to be completely replaced. That was on a link that was maybe 25 years old at the time, to give an overall idea of lifespan.

The exact mechanism of degradation may vary, but consider that the fibres rely on very precise control of impurities over a very long distance, and that they have to be encased in materials that may, over time, leach impurities into the fibre.

This technology will mainly be of use in backbone links: it is quite unlikely that the sort of bandwidth available will be needed in last-mile domestic links. And if it ever is, the backbone will need LOTS of investment! Last mile links also will have so much native capacity that a bit of degradation won't really matter, so they may well last a lot longer than backbones.

It's Two Spacecraft, One Mission as BepiColombo gets ready to launch

Keith Oborn

Ariane 6 --

Wow: the web page for the Ariane 6 includes a 14Mb PDF user manual.

Which? That smart home camera? The one with the vulns? Really?

Keith Oborn

Which? reviews are usually best treated with a large pinch of salt

- and not just "IT" ones.

Years ago, I worked for <redacted> hifi manufacturer. We had two brands, cheap and reassuringly expensive. Each brand had a model of bookshelf speaker. Which included them in a "group test".

The expensive ones came top. the cheap ones bottom.

The products were internally identical, the only difference was case finish and trim.

Mind you, Which? was *still* better than the typical hifi mag review.

Ex-Cisco chief John Chambers: Tech biz bods are 'too arrogant'

Keith Oborn

He should know

This from the CEO whose company routinely boasted of their "unrivalled expertise in integrating acquisitions". Almost all of which sank without trace.

The only real exponent of humility I see in the uber-rich is Warren Buffet - notable NOT a member of the Silicon Valley set.

Barclays and RBS on naughty step: Banks told to explain service meltdown to UK politicos

Keith Oborn

Not in the case of Barclays last thursday. My wife had to make an urgent payment on a property transaction. Went to main branch - which of course is entirely automated, has, oh, maybe two staff doing equivalent job to those people who kick self-checkout machines in supermarkets.

All machines were down. NONE of Barclays branches had any access to any banking services that afternoon.

So if "online" is out, and "branch" is out, exactly how were Barclays still a consumer bank that day?

Fallover Friday: NatWest, RBS and Ulster Bank go TITSUP*

Keith Oborn

Barclays out was not just "online"

Not only Barclays "online" stuff was out yesterday. My wife had to make an urgent payment on a property purchase. Ended up going to the local main branch. The were dead as well - Barclays branches have, of course, been largely automated in recent years.

So there was no way to use any Barclays retail banking services yesterday. Luckily they fixed in late afternoon.

Boffins ask for £338m to fund quantum research. UK.gov: Here's £80m

Keith Oborn

So the US gives us some hope

Make large box

Insert Trump into box along with radioactive atom


50/50 is better than the status quo!

First it was hashtags – now Amber Rudd gives us Brits knowledge on national ID cards

Keith Oborn

Re: Not wishing to trust Big Gov, but--


Pressure your MP for the introduction of a simple ID card, make it clear that this should NOT be linked to any backend systems other than a record of who you are.

Instead, the Great British Public allows itself to be whipped up into opposing frenzies by those who withhold key information - on all sides. I guess we just Like Shouting, to channel Python.

Why does the UK find it so hard to apply solutions that other countries simply do at the drop of a hat?

"Parents must not take kids out of school during term time to go on holiday when prices are lower"

"Let's have staggered school holidays"


"How come pretty much every other country does it then?"

" "

Repeat ad nauseam for subjects of your choice.

BTW, the ECHR, like all legislation, is open to abuse. For instance, we have a Traveller problem - illegal occupation. They got an ECHR ruling that says "Their way of life must be protected" - even when that way of life involves long-term trespass, environmental crime, petty theft and vandalism, and routine intimidation. And no, we cannot apply for a ruling to protect OUR "way of life" because it is not recognised that "ordinary citizens" have any such thing to protect.

</rant> ;-)

Keith Oborn

Not wishing to trust Big Gov, but--

The UK is the only advanced country (apart from the US, I think) that does NOT have an ID card system.

Yesterday, a Belgian minister made the point that one reason illegal immigrants are so desperate to get to the UK from Belgium/France/wherever is that, without an ID card system the UK cannot track them, whereas other countries can.

Good grief, the Germans have one, and if there is any nation that is wary of over-reaching government powers it is surely them.

Within the UK, an ID card would dramatically simplify control of access to health, social security and other benefits.

Most of us already have a card - it's called a passport. It is simply not required to be presented for these purposes.

PLEASE let's have a central system and stop moaning.

I care much more about commercial entities tracking me. The government can be voted out, Google is harder.

Abracadabra! Tales of unexpected sysadmagic and dabbling in dark arts

Keith Oborn

An apocryphal one

BAck in the days of mainframes with green screen terminals - ICL as it happens, lots of mates worked there.

User routinely complained that her keyboard added spurious spaces. Numerous engineers failed to find anything wrong.

Last chap walked in, looked at her sitting at the desk, and said "why don't you get a cup of tea while I look at it."

As soon as she was out of sight, he wound her chair up a couple of inches.

Problem solved: she was short and well-endowed. Observation is the key to good outcomes!

Blast from the past: Boffins find the fastest exploding non-supernova star

Keith Oborn

"bounced off of"?

Please desist

Heatwave shmeatwave: Brit IT departments cool their racks – explicit pics

Keith Oborn

Some years ago-

At a large machine room in Tokyo owned by a well known consumer electronics manufacturer whose (short) name begins with "S":

A long row of very heavily loaded racks, with front and back doors off, and in front of each one a standard tall office fan set to maximum.

The entire division's operations depended on those fans working.

East Midlands network-sniffer wails: Openreach, fix my outage-ridden line

Keith Oborn

Re: Hate to say this, but....

--publically available if you care to do a quick Google search for, say "CEO email".

BTW, in my time at Virgin Media I once had a phone call that started "This is the CEO's complaints office". Most companies now have a department like that, and believe me a call like that to a member of staff concentrates his or her mind wonderfully.

Keith Oborn

Re: Good results from Plusnet

They may well be better than some, but be aware of who owns them,

Keith Oborn

Re: This is why I pay a premium...

Well, I'm still with Eclipse and have always been a "consumer". The service is labelled "business" and is priced accordingly, but to this day (he says, tempting fate) on the occasions when there's been a fault they step up and fix it intelligently. You get what you pay for.

Note: I used to work for Virgin Media, and I've seen the insides of almost all the main UK ISPs. Always go for the small operator, and leave if it gets too big. But that applies in almost any area of business-.

Nintendo Labo: After a day spent fiddling with flaps, you may be ready to, er, Lego

Keith Oborn

Re: How does this differ...

Go here for Meccano buts:


Visa fingers 'very rare' data centre switch glitch for payment meltdown

Keith Oborn

Another case where regulators should require a detailed public report

As per TSB and the BA failures. Where is the regulatory requirement that a detailed analysis and report be made available to all relevant bodies (all equipment and component suppliers, all their customers, all end users of the service and relevant regulators).

Contrast with a major aviation accident. The entire industry gets told the full details, is required to make recommended changes, and the details are available for scrutiny by any interested party.

Until the finance and it/networking industries are held to these standards, we will continue to suffer this sort of failure.

One positive mark to Visa though, for at least offering a superficial but reasonable explanation with little delay.

No lie-in this morning? Thank the Moon's gravitational pull

Keith Oborn

Re: Interesting times...

One friend once said of another "X is now 1F, but looks 3F"

As it happens, X is now 3F +2

I managed to retire just 4 days before achieving my 7th bit

Finally: Historic Eudora email code goes open source

Keith Oborn

Re: I paid for it...

I ran a 75 desk win 3.11 setup with Eudora as mail client, the data directories all on the fileserver using PC-NFS (remember that?). Worked a charm, although when people started getting laptops the NFS side had to go.

The future of radio may well be digital, but it won't survive on DAB

Keith Oborn

DAB is the only thing that works reliably here

FM is almost useless, 3/4G mobile drops out if you move your heard - never mind the car.

DAB has the odd blank spot on the road, that's all, but never garbles.

DTV is messy: lost BBC4 HD in March, and it looks like the only way is an even bigger aerial.

Of course, this may be because I live in a very out of the way place called Basingstoke (someone has to)

I can *see* the local transmitter (Hannington) that FM, DAB and TV comes from.

BTW, El Reg: "FM already uses MPEG audio" (I paraphrase for brevity). WTF??

DAB is not perfect, and it's always a problem when you are an early adopter as the BBC was, but for the vast majority of current use it does seem to beat the others.

Keith Oborn

Re: Cars are priority, but what about DAB?

RDS is a total pain. I always disable it.

1: Information is usually way out of date

2: It's usually not "local" at all


3: Idiot broadcasters who press the "RDS announcement" button and then forget to turn it off. So suddenly, the debate I'm listening to is interrupted by a short traffic announcement and then a stream of DJ wibble that can only be turned off by - disabling the RDS on my receiver.

Keith Oborn

Re: Out of sync

Look at the delay between SD and HD TV broadcasts - latter is several seconds behind.

And let's not start on the ridiculous wandering audio sync: I have to fiddle with the "audio delay" setting on the TV almost daily, and it's not a question of each channel being different, it changes between programmes.

Software development slow because 'Most of our ideas suck'

Keith Oborn

Hello, is that TSB?

Can I speak to your CIO please? I have an idea--.

People like convenience more than privacy – so no, blockchain will not 'decentralise the web'

Keith Oborn

Hammers and nails

The Blockchain enthusiasts are just the latest in a very long line of groups who, having invented a hammer, think all problems are nails.

I'm sure I'm not alone in having experienced this attitude repeatedly in professional life (cue one of the last conversations with an engineering team at my former employer: "and we'll be using a new DB for this bit". Me "what, *another* DB type? That means the product has three different types of DB and multiple instances of each. Customers already think it's too complicated". Them "<shrug>" ).

Blockchain *may* be useful for low transaction rate applications where you need to guarantee zero deletion errors, but nothing else. And what happens when the code is no longer maintained and won't run on available hardware? Pity if the world had put, say, property transactions on it--.

Boffins build smallest drone to fly itself with AI

Keith Oborn

Re: re: Dodgy Geezer


If you are on a "renewable energy tariff" your supplier commits to buying sufficient renewable power on average to cover their total customer load on average. Doesn't mean that at a given instant *your* supply is totally sourced from renewables, but averaged over a period it will be.

Sometimes the renewable supply is below sold renewable demand, so non-renewable kicks in (those CCGT units start and stop quickly). Sometimes is exceeds demand, and the surplus can be sold to the general market.

Just because we cannot *completely* change to renewable energy in one step is not an excuse for not moving towards that target. Same with electric cars: sure, right now they are not suitable for all purposes, but from personal experience they cover *most* of the requirements already.


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