* Posts by Peter Christy

58 posts • joined 27 Nov 2007


I am just a mapper: Solar drones take to the skies above Blighty

Peter Christy


Didn't take off from anywhere near Gatwick, did it?

Army had 'naive' approach to Capita's £1.3bn recruiting IT contract, MPs told

Peter Christy

In days of yore, you walked into an Army recruitment office and they asked you your name. If you managed to score more than 50% on that, you were in! My grand-son has been trying to join the army for nearly a year, and getting absolutely nowhere!

In any normal business, heads would roll for this.....



Oregon can't stop people from calling themselves engineers, judge rules in Traffic-Light-Math-Gate

Peter Christy

Technician Vs Engineer

A Technician is someone who knows where to slap something to make it work.

An Engineer knows WHY you have to slap it there.

In a similar vein:

To a Pessimist, the glass is half empty.

To an Optimist, the glass is half full.

To an Engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.



London's Gatwick airport suspends all flights after 'multiple' reports of drones

Peter Christy

As a responsible model aircraft flyer, I'm seriously p***ed off by all the idiots flying drones without any idea of what they are doing. As many of us pointed out at the time new legislation was being proposed, new laws are pointless unless they can be enforced. The Civil Aviation Authority are responsible for draughting the rules, but enforcement is down to the already over-stretched police.

However, as others have pointed out, there are aspects of this story that simply don't add up. First there is the length of time of the sightings. This would indicate either very many drones, or very many re-charges close to the airport. Secondly, the weather last night was foul, with heavy rain, strong winds and even stronger gusts. I doubt if any "consumer" drone could operate in such conditions, and its highly unlikely that any "commercial" grade drones could either. Has someone nicked some military drones? How reliable are eye-witness accounts under such conditions? Perhaps most importantly, were these drones spotted on radar - either air or ground - which should surely have been able to detect them?

Lots of unanswered questions here. I shall be following this with interest!

College PRIMOS prankster wreaks havoc with sysadmin manuals

Peter Christy

My first "hands on" experience with computers was at college. It was a DEC PDP-8, running FOCAL, and had the capacity of sharing <gasp!> FOUR teletypes! We only had three connected - budget restraints, even then! But we did have the optional 4K RAM expansion - a box the same size as the PDP-8 itself, full of ferrite cores!

FOCAL had a debug command. To run a program normally, you just entered GO at the "prompt", but if you entered "GO?", it would go into full debug mode, printing out everything it was doing, while it did it!

This not only resulted in reams of paper spewing out of the teletype (there goes the ole rain forest!), but also reduced the other teletypes to a 1-character per minute crawl!

Unfortunately, the reams of paper were something of a giveaway as to the identity of the culprit, so it wasn't really a very practical joke! But it did encourage you to write bug-free code - or at least, not use the debug option to, er, debug it, for fear of swift and violent retribution!

Happy days!



Bloke fined £460 after his drone screwed up police chopper search for missing woman

Peter Christy

Whilst it may be arguable whether the pilot believed the flight could be made safely or not, what is not in dispute is that he flew it beyond Line-Of-Sight - a clear breach of the Air Navigation Order.

I fly RC models - which cannot maintain stable flight beyond LOS - and unfortunately I and my fellow RC pilots have been caught up in the drone legislation through no fault of our own. This leaves me very unsympathetic to idiots who fly these things in inappropriate areas.

I live in a semi-rural area, near the coast and with a steam railway running nearby. Twice in one week, I had idiots taking off from the pavement outside my house, flying at low level over the (busy-ish) road and my neighbours' houses to get photos of the train! One at least had the decency to look sheepish and disappear when challenged. The other claimed to be a licensed professional at first, but then scarpered pretty quickly when I quoted the relevant sections of the Air Navigation Order to him.

From my perspective, this guy got off lightly.



Uncle Sam gives itself the right to shoot down any drone, anywhere, any time, any how

Peter Christy

A bigger problem is that the term "drone" encompasses legally and safely operated model aircraft - not just autonomous or semi autonomous quad-copters.

I can foresee some very angry US citizens when a cop shoots down an expensive (in terms of both money and time building it) model, just because he's taken a dislike to it!

Here in the UK, the CAA (our equivalent of the FAA) has taken a more enlightened approach, and members of the major modelling associations have been exempted from the more draconian regulations, subject to some not unreasonable conditions.

The other problem here in the UK is enforcement! The clowns that have caused the present problems by operating "drones" in unsafe ways are not going to be deterred by any new regulations, and the CAA don't have the manpower to police them. According to the documentation, that is going to be left in the hands of our already over-stretched police!

In any case, the aforesaid clowns were already in breach of any number of regulations by operating "drones" in an unsafe manner.

If the existing laws could not be enforced, what is going to change with the new ones?



Attempt to clean up tech area has shocking effect on kit

Peter Christy

It happened to colour TVs, too....

Back in the late 60s, between leaving college and starting a "proper" job, I worked as a salesman / delivery driver for a local shop that supplied TVs, washing machines, Hi-Fis, etc. One of our customers had just bought one of these new-fangled colour TVs - a dual standard 405/625 model, if memory serves correctly. These early sets were very sensitive to stray magnetic fields - even the Earth's - and had to be carefully aligned by a service engineer in situ.

Our resident alignment expert went out with it on delivery, carefully de-gaussed the screen and carried out all the usual purity and convergence adjustments, leaving the customer with a crystal clear picture.

A week later, the customer called to complain his TV had gone screwy. The service engineer went out again, and sure enough, the purity and convergence had all gone to pot. He carefully re-aligned it all, and left the customer with a perfect picture again.

Exactly a week later, the same problem ensued! By now the customer was getting a little irate (these sets were very expensive!), and the service engineer very puzzled!

Since the problem always seemed to happen on a Thursday, the service engineer convinced the boss to let him go and sit in the room on Thursday - all day if necessary - to see what was going on.

He arrived at 9 o'clock sharp, and the TV was fine. It stayed that way until around 1130, when the cleaning lady arrived and proceeded to hoover the room containing the TV, pushing the hoover with its heavy and powerful electric motor under the TV! Needless to say, the picture immediately went bananas, and required a careful de-gauss and re-alignment to restore proper operation!

The cleaning lady was very apologetic, but in truth it wasn't her fault! No-one had anticipated the effect a powerful vacuum cleaner might have on a CRT!

Later TVs had much better screening and better built in de-gaussing systems, and of course, modern displays aren't affected by stray magnetic fields. But back then, it was all one big learning curve......!



Greybeard greebos do runner from care home to attend world's largest heavy metal fest Wacken

Peter Christy

There's nothing like growing old disgracefully! ;-)

Oldest swinger in town, Slackware, notches up a quarter of a century

Peter Christy

I've been using Slackware for more years than I can recall, and its always been absolutely stable and a joy to work with.

As Jake mentions above, although the last stable release was in 2016, continual updates have kept it reasonably up-to-date. However, I've always found the "bleeding edge" (-current) development version to be extremely stable too. Indeed its a lot more stable than the "release" versions of many of its rivals (Stand up whoever called out "Micro$oft!).

May Slackware continue for many years!



Universal Credit has never delivered bang for buck, but now there's no turning back – watchdog

Peter Christy

Perhaps its just me getting old, but looking at the front benches (and many of the back benches!) of ALL the political parties, I can't see a single member that I'd trust to run a corner sweet shop, let alone a government!

Party dogma must be followed at all cost, and to hell with the consequences!

Its all very well saying we voted for them, but look at the choices on offer! I'm sure many of us end up voting for the "least worst" candidate, simply because there isn't a "best".

People talk about the "ship of state". Fine. But to be captain of a ship, you need qualifications. What qualifications to run a country do this collection of failures have? And NO! I DON'T count being a barrister as a qualification to be an effective administrator.....!



2001 set the standard for the next 50 years of hard (and some soft) sci-fi

Peter Christy

One of the sad things about 2001 is that it is now impossible to see it as originally intended. Cinerama was the Imax of its day, tricking the viewer into seeing a two-dimensional image as in three dimensions. I originally saw it at the Cinerama in London, and that scene where the stewardess walks in, up the wall and out - upside down - had the whole cinema audience retching as one! It really did feel as if the whole cinema had suddenly inverted itself!

It just doesn't come across on TV - or indeed ordinary wide-screen cinema - the same.

Someone needs to get the original Cinerama prints and re-print them for Imax. The you would really know the meaning of "stomach-churning"!

Software gremlin robs Formula 1 world champ of season's first win

Peter Christy

Frankly, that the Australian GP was boring, even by current F1 standards! Whatever happened to *racing*? It all seems to be about strategy, software and knowing every tiny nuance of the rule book these days. When someone actually manages to overtake (and it doesn't happen very often!), it is the highlight of the event! (I hesitate to call what I watched on Sunday a "race").

For heaven's sake - do away with all the telemetry and computers. Give the driver the car and let him get on with it. Team radio should *ONLY* be used to warn of safety hazards, not coaching the driver.

I sincerely hope the rest of the season isn't as dreary as Australia proved to be.....

Poop to save planet as boffins devise bullsh*t way of extracting gas

Peter Christy

This article dates from 1971 - and Harold Bate had been running his car for some time then!


A few years back, when petrol prices were getting close to £1.50 a litre, I deliberately bought an old carburetor car with building one of these in mind! The price of fuel collapsed before I got round to it, but I still have (and use) the car - just in case!



Boffins trapped antiprotons for days, still can't say why they survived the Big Bang

Peter Christy

It is all about TIME.........

It is actually very simple. Cosmologists tell us that time and space are essentially part of the same thing - one can't exist without the other. Newton tells us that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. As far as we've been able to measure, all the mass in the known universe is traveling forward through time at the rate of, er, 1 second per second. That's a whole lot of temporal inertia. So where's the reaction?

If the Big Bang created equal amounts of matter and anti-matter, perhaps in kicking us "forward" in time, the "bang" pushed the anti-matter "backwards"!

This neatly explains our motion through time, where all the anti-matter went, and what happened before the Big Bang!

Of course "forward" and "backward" are relative, as Einstein pointed out. If we could see the anti-matter universe it would appear to be traveling backward in time to us. But from *their* perspective, we would be the ones traveling backwards in time.





Essex drone snapper dealt with by police for steamy train photos

Peter Christy

Re: A Part Time Drone Pilot's Perspective

Quite right! And there are lots of responsible drone pilots out there. But as usual, its a stupid minority getting all the publicity, and messing things up for others.

I fly "conventional" R/C models, both fixed wing and helicopter. I carry substantial 3rd party insurance, just in the unlikely case that one of my models does go astray. I fly responsibly and in remote locations. But like all other enthusiasts, I am now being threatened with legislation which will require me to register all my models (no doubt at great expense!) and to notify the authorities of all the sites where I intend to fly them, just because of a few idiot drone pilots.

The "powers that be" accept that ordinary r/c model enthusiasts are not the issue, but seem incapable of drafting a definition that distinguishes between "drones" and ordinary models.

The idiots flying these things in public places and around prominent landmarks deserve all they get, and it is refreshing to see at least one police force waking up to the problem.

Peter Christy

Re: Fair cop?

He was charged for a breach of the Air Navigation Order - basically the law that covers all man-made flying objects in the UK. Model aircraft operate under specific exemptions from the ANO, the main ones being not flying over people or property which are not under your control, within certain distances of buildings or other property, or above certain heights (depending on location).

Above all, the main rule is not allowing your aircraft to endanger people or property.

Far too many idiots are getting hold of drones - which unlike model aircraft, require little skill to operate - and using them in totally inappropriate locations. I've had one flying very low over my house - close enough to hear it over the TV - before it zoomed off to track the nearby steam railway.

Some of these drones are big and heavy, and could cause serious injury or major damage. A little bit of action by the powers that be is to be applauded in this instance.

I was, however, amused to note that NR had a "Head of Air Operations"!




Er, Ofcom, please tell us more about Murdoch's £11.7bn Sky bid

Peter Christy

Re: Laser Law

Previous to that, he took out UK citizenship in order to get control of The Times. I refuse to have Sky or any Murdoch papers in the house. If others did the same, he'd soon clear off - and good riddance!



Brits must now register virtually all new drones and undergo safety tests

Peter Christy

But what is a drone.....?

Part of the problem is that in all the documents coming out government, EASA, etc, no-one has actually defined exactly what constitutes a "drone"!

They all acknowledge that conventional model aircraft are not a problem, and put out proposals that will sweep up all the RC model enthusiasts, but be completely ignored by the criminals and idiots!

You couldn't make it up........!

Fresh cotton underpants fix series of mysterious mainframe crashes

Peter Christy


"In a far galaxy, a long time ago"... I was helping out a friend who manufactured radio control gear. The American designs he was using were well past their sell-by date, and I offered to design something a bit more up-to-date for him. My design entailed the use of new-fangled CMOS chips in the decoder, so I duly gave him the traditional warnings about static, etc, when assembling them. A week or two after my system had entered production, I went round to his factory, and found him sitting at his workbench soldering in the chips, wearing nothing but his cotton shorts!

Not a pretty sight, but at least he'd listened to what I told him!

Around the same time, I worked in the videotape department of a major broadcaster. The old quadruplex VTRs were monsters that cost around 3 times as much as a small semi-detached house. The video heads only lasted about 200 hours before requiring a re-work at £1000 a throw. The company had replaced the worn out "computer" floor tiles, and the new ones were causing enormous static build ups. You only had to walk across the booth to get an almighty belt when you touched the machine.

The solution was an aerosol can of anti-static spray, which you sprayed over the floor and your trouser legs to reduce the static build up. This worked a treat! Unfortunately, the anti--static spray was in orange cans, almost identical in appearance to the cleaning agent used to clean the video heads on the VTRs! The anti-static stuff had the unfortunate property of completely stripping the insulation off the delicate heads.

I'm not sure how many heads got destroyed before all the anti-static sprays were removed, but even if it were only a few, the expense must have been enormous.......



Fighter pilot shot down laptops with a flick of his copper-plated wrist

Peter Christy

Between leaving school and getting a proper job, I worked for a while as a salesman and van-driver for a local TV and radio retailer. Colour TV had just come out, and a wealthy customer bought a very expensive, top of the range set. For the first week, he was delighted. Then the set went really weird, and a service engineer had to be called. He carefully de-gaussed the tube (remember when we had to do that?) and spent a few happy hours re-doing all the purity and convergence from scratch!

A week later the same thing happened. And the following week! Eventually the service man went to the house early on the morning the fault was due to manifest itself. The set was fine. He watched it for a couple of hours, and was just about to leave when the housekeeper came in with an ancient Hoover. She pushed it under the TV, and the picture went all psychedelic again! The motor had such a powerful magnetic field, that it completely screwed up the tube, beyond the repair of the internal de-gaussing coils!

Another couple of hours re-aligning the set, followed by some friendly advice to the housekeeper, and the problem was solved.....!



Drones over London caused aviation chaos, pilots' reports reveal

Peter Christy

EU Rules

The "EU Rules" (actually EASA) being considered appear to have little to do with safety around airports. They are more concerned with clearing the airspace below 400ft so that the military / police / Amazon / etc can fill it with their own drones.

The model aircraft community appear to be collateral damage in all of this, as EASA seem unable to distinguish between an autonomous or semi-autonomous drone, and a model aircraft which can require as much skill to fly as a full-sized aircraft.

systemd-free Devuan Linux hits version 1.0.0

Peter Christy

But, of course, Slackware, one of the oldest and most stable distros out there, has never adopted systemd - nor does it show any inclination to.

Sysvinit may not be the most elegant system, but it works, and is easy to understand.

"If it ain't broke, don't "fix" it!!"

Manufacturers reject ‘no deal’ Brexit approach

Peter Christy

Re: It'll be fine

Yes, but the EU is very good at breaking its own rules! Under EU rules, Greece and Portugal - and possibly Italy and Spain - should never have been admitted to the Euro, as their economies did not meet the required criteria. They were allowed in anyway, because they were "trending in the right direction"! That worked well, didn't it?

My home town is close to a major fishing port. When we joined the EU at first, Britain was the only country enforcing EU fishing quotas, with fishery inspection vessels checking every trawler they came across in British waters - much to the detriment of local fishermen. How the Spanish and French fishermen screamed about the unfairness of it, when they got caught up in the net - because their governments were just ignoring the rules.

Don't get me wrong! I understand the importance of fishing quotas. What I cannot stomach is other countries just ignoring their obligations under the supposedly universal rules.....

Super-cool sysadmin fixes PCs with gravity, or his fists

Peter Christy

A technician is someone who knows where to slap a device to get it working.

An engineer is someone who knows why you have to slap it there.

A GOOD engineer is someone who knows precisely how hard to slap it!



Biz claims it's reverse-engineered encrypted drone commands

Peter Christy

I suspect that the "poor quality" of the "encryption" used in drones - or indeed any radio controlled aircraft - is more to do with the need to avoid latency at all costs rather than anything else.

You don't want the control system lagging half-a-second behind the pilot. That way lies disaster.....!

IT team sent dirt file to Police as they all bailed from abusive workplace

Peter Christy

Some years ago, I was working for a small company as a video editor - in fact the only video editor! It was a great company, and the bosses became personal friends, but this was at a time of financial crisis, when interest rates were going through the roof. It became clear that the financial assumptions made when the company was set up were no longer true, and the business was in trouble.

Sure enough, one day a load of suits turned up, and we were informed that we were now working for the administrators. I was duly summoned in to meet them to "discuss my future".

The order books for editing were full, at the time, so I was pretty busy, something that the accountant interviewing me was quick to point out. "We need you to stay on," he said, "but we're only going to pay you the legal minimum wage!"

I pointed out that I'd already taken a substantial pay drop from my time working with a major broadcaster, and that I certainly wasn't going to take any further cuts to my pay.

I also pointed out that if I walked, he'd have to employ a freelance to complete the work, and that it would cost him at least double what I was being paid.

He decided to call my bluff, and said "Well we're not prepared to pay you any more."

"Good-bye!" I said, as I headed for the door.

"What do you mean, good-bye?" he screamed!

"Just what I said! I'm off home now, and I won't be coming back!"

"But what about all this work we have lined up?"

"That's your problem now!", I said, and left!

It was the most satisfying expression I've ever seen on an accountants face!

I walked out of there on a Thursday, and the following Monday I was back working for a major broadcaster on a proper salary again.

Speaking to my former colleagues a while later, I discovered that the administrators had made a total cock-up of their handling of the sale of assets. They hadn't realised that the property was owned not by the company, but personally by one of the directors, which meant they had to pay compensation when a wall had to be demolished to remove equipment! They sold priceless equipment for peanuts, and tried to sell junk for well over its market value. Totally clueless!

But at the end of the day, it was one of the most satisfying exits I ever made!

Poor software design led to second £1m Army spy drone crash

Peter Christy

Re: So someone in Britain......

Well, we've bought two very expensive aircraft carriers, for which we have no aircraft! And the aircraft that we've ordered to (eventually) fly from them are not only exceedingly expensive, but according to reports, less capable than the aircraft they were supposed to replace!

I wouldn't be surprised if we never see the F-35s. Just like the F-111, the contract will end up being cancelled, but we'll still end up paying for them.

Who writes these contracts, and why have they still got jobs?

Power cut interrupts UK.gov cloud service supplier

Peter Christy

In complex systems, its often difficult to spot "single point of failures". Many years ago, I used to work for a major broadcaster. The videotape machines back then required compressed air for the bearings in the video heads. We had three compressors, and the whole area could run on any two. Half the area could run on one. I walked in one morning to find the whole area shutdown due to a compressed air failure! Why? Because the compressors were water-cooled, and workmen digging up the road outside had breached the water main!

I worked for a while at remote transmitters. One of the main transmitters covering the north of England had three 27-litre V6 marine diesels as standby generators. The oil and water was kept up to temperature by electric heaters, so that if the mains failed, we could start the generators almost instantly. Even so, we ran one up for an hour each week in rotation, so that we KNEW they would work when needed.

Boffins eschew silicon to build tiniest-ever transistor, just 1nm long

Peter Christy

Re: Shirley

Not only grease, but an excellent additive to engine and gearbox oil too! Back in the day when I used to race karts (2-stroke engines), our team used to use moly based oil, when our rivals all used castor based. We were the only team that regularly got through a whole season without having an engine seize at some point....

Still use it in my 45 year old classic car, which is running as well as it did when new.

I wonder if the chips made with it will last as well.......

Ordinary punters will get squat from smart meters, reckons report

Peter Christy

How much space do these things need?

The man came to try and install smart meters at our home some months ago. They have to do the electric first, because it apparently feeds info back via the mains. Our mains units are in their own little closet, about 8 ft high (I need steps to reach the breakers, should one trip), 2 ft wide and 18" deep. The breakers and existing meter occupy about the top two feet of the closet, the rest being empty space.

"Won't fit in there, mate!", says the installer, "we'll have to send a special team around!"

"Don't bother!", says I, "I don't want the d**n thing anyway!".

Not heard anything since, but just how big are these things???

High rear end winds cause F-35A ground engine fire

Peter Christy

Oops! Forgot that one! - But wasn't that given to us as a sop because of the political furore over the F-111?

BTW, the F-111 did finally become an almost respectable aircraft, bit it reached that goal far too late, and was pretty much obsolete by the time it entered service. The swing-wing mechanism also made it far too heavy - a trait it shares to some extent with the Tornado.

The problem with trying to make something that is both a fighter and a bomber is that it ends up as a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none.

Far cheaper and easier to build the right tool for the job! Follow the good old Unix philosophy: "Do one job, and do it well"!

Peter Christy

Without wishing to appear disrespectful to our American cousins, have we in the UK learned nothing from experience? The only other occasion (post WW2) when we bought operational war-planes from the USA was when we bought F-111s. In case you are wondering why the RAF and Navy never actually got them, it is because the contract was cancelled before we took delivery. Why? Because the thing was way over budget, way behind schedule and didn't meet its performance targets! Does this sound familiar?

We ended up paying for them anyway - even though we never got them - because the idiots at the MOD had apparently signed the contracts without reading the small print!

At least on that occasion, we still had other aircraft of our own manufacture on which we could fall back.

This time, the idiots in charge scrapped our Harriers and their carriers before the replacement had even flown in prototype form! As a result, we will be without a useful carrier borne aircraft for over a decade, and reliant on the charity of the US - or France (!) - should we need one!

Even when we do get them, they will be far too few and far too expensive to risk in actual operations. And all being paid for with money that we really can't afford to spend.

It makes you want to weep!

Windows 10 backlash: Which? demands compo for forced upgrades

Peter Christy

Don't use windoze myself - had too much hassle with it in the past - but my daughter was having issues with win 8. something or other, so accepted the upgrade. All went well for a short while, then following an auto update, the screen went blank and stayed that way. Call in dad! Well, I tried everything I knew, and couldn't coax it back to life. It would only work at all in "safe" mode, so I suspected the graphics driver (its a simple Intel gfx set, for heaven's sake!).

So, I did a full, clean, re-install. All went well until it got to the "automatic updates", which I couldn't stop. Once again the screen blanked! After three attempts, I gave up and put Mandriva Linux on it.

It has run perfectly ever since!

Clearly, there's nothing wrong with the hardware. If the "auto update" doesn't qualify under the computer misuse act, I don't know what else would. It rendered the device completely inoperable....

'I thought my daughter clicked on ransomware – it was the damn Windows 10 installer'

Peter Christy

Shortly after Windows 10 was released into the wild, my (grown-up) daughter started getting the nagware to upgrade her Win 8.1 laptop to Win 10. She's reasonably computer literate at a user level, but was aware of Microsoft's record on updates, so asked me to do it for her. The update went well enough, if slowly. There were a few niggles, but nothing un-fixable - but then I discovered that nearly all the available disk space had vanished!

A quick google revealed that this was not uncommon on machines with small-ish drives, and recommended a "clean" install once the various keys had been recovered. Another couple of hours passed whilst this process went on, and I handed my daughter a fully functioning Windows 10 install on her laptop, with adequate disk space left over.

All went fine for a couple of months, then I got a call: "The screen is blank!". Sure enough, once past the initial boot stage - about the time the Intel graphics driver kicked in - the screen went blank and stayed that way.

"Safe" mode showed a graphics driver update coincided with the problem, but no amount of rolling back would undo the damage!

A fresh install went fine until it came time to install the updates, when again the screen went un-recoverably blank! Nothing I tried would stop that b*****d upgrade from installing itself at the first opportunity, and borking the whole machine!

After several hours (again!) of fighting the system, I wiped the disk, installed Mageia 5 Linux, and the machine has been running happily ever since. Daughter couldn't tell the difference between LibreOffice and Microsoft Office, and was very impressed by how much quicker and more responsive her old laptop had become!

So that's another convert to Linux, thanks to Microsoft! Keep up the good work, Redmond! At this rate, Linux will soon be the dominant desktop system, thanks to your efforts!

Dodgy software will bork America's F-35 fighters until at least 2019

Peter Christy

Lessons of History....

I would have thought that after the F-111 disaster, Brit governments would have learned their lesson! We cancelled a perfectly good British plane to buy a fleet of F-111s. The order was cancelled when it became apparent that the F-111 was never going to meet its contracted performance figures, but because our dimwit politicians never read the small print, we ended up paying for the things anyway!

Regarding VTOL, the experimental Short SC-1 demonstrated back in the late 50s / early 60s exactly the problem of having a separate lift engine - dead weight and reduced payload in flight, and burning holes in the runway! The Harrier was developed specifically to overcome these issues. Something the American military was quick to recognise when the idiots in Westminster flogged them all off for peanuts......!

Brit teen bags $250,000 in first World Drone Prix

Peter Christy

There has been R/C helicopter racing!

I know, because I did it! Our club used to hold an open pylon race every year - racing aircraft around a triangular course. It was open to any R/C aircraft, with a handicap formula based on engine size and weight. Tjhis worked fine for fixed wing, so I thought I'd have a go with a helicopter. Helicopters tended to be heavier for a given engine size, as a big propeller turning slowly (ie: a rotor!) is more efficient than a small prop turning quickly. Thus the handicap formula worked in my favour!

Three aircraft would fly the course together, so at the start, three of us set off down the straight heading for the far pylon. We all arrived pretty much together, but when I performed a "bank and yank" turn around the pylon, the other guys just scattered - terrified of being chopped to bits by the flailing rotors!

I won, but helicopters were banned after that!



Why a detachable cabin probably won’t save your life in a plane crash

Peter Christy

Nothing new.....

Back in the late 60s, the father of a school-mate of mine was a senior manager at Bristow Helicopters. At the time they were investigating buying one of those big, Russian, "Flying Cranes". These were designed so that different pods could be attached to the skeletal fuselage for different purposes - a bit like Thunderbirds!

Following a demonstration ride in the thing, the management bods were questioning the pilot. One asked about passenger loading. "VIPs travel in the cabin behind the cockpit, and the peasants go in the pod!", came the unexpected answer!

"And what happens in the event of an engine failure?", asked another.

"We drop the pod!"



Beware the terrorist drones! For they are coming! Pass new laws!

Peter Christy

Re: yeah, that'll work..

"What is the practical difference between RC model aircraft / helicopters and Drones anyway?"

R/C model aircraft - and particularly helicopters - need a degree of skill to pilot. Drones don't!

Pilots who have flown both model helicopters and full-size report that the models are actually trickier to fly than full-size. In any event, a model helicopter needs to be flown comparatively close to the pilot, if effective control is to be maintained. Unlike a fixed-wing aircraft, it ain't necessarily going the way its pointing!

Drones - the kind we're talking about, anyway - don't need any particular piloting skills. They can just be steered around, and some can even right themselves in an emergency and return to the point of take-off.

So the natural filter of skill level doesn't generally apply to drones. Probably the reason they've become so popular amongst idiots, as a quick peruse of youtube will confirm!

UK energy minister rejects 'waste of money' smart meters claim

Peter Christy

They tried to install smart meters at my home last year (a 60s/70s built bungalow). Despite having a large cupboard specifically for the electricity meter (over 6 ft high, about 18" wide and over a foot deep), they said they couldn't do it as "there wasn't enough room"!

Just how big is this thing???

So. Farewell then Betamax. We always liked you better than VHS anyway

Peter Christy

Re: Wow

Actually, there were two versions of Betacam: Betacam and BetacamSP. BetacamSP used chrome tapes that were difficult to erase without professional gear, but ordinary Betacam used the same oxide tape and cassettes as Betamax, though the recorded format was completely different. The company I worked for at the time used to junk Betacam tapes as soon as they'd been archived, and I used to salvage them as they worked perfectly in my C7 Betamax (and still do, come to that!).

There is also a "DigiBeta" format, again using the same cassette, but with different tape inside. This is still widely used in broadcasting as a high end mastering and distribution format. Servers are all very well for transmission and editing, but not so good for archiving and distribution, where tape still serves a useful purpose.......

(I'm a former broadcast video editor......)

IT knowledge is as important as Maths, says UK.gov

Peter Christy

So how come so many government (and opposition!) MPs are not only computer illiterate, but apparently proud of it? Does this make them, by their own standards, unfit to govern?

Spain clamps down on drones

Peter Christy

RC Models

The rules aren't different. RC models operate under certain exemptions to the Air Navigation Order, but these generally exclude commercial use, although a licensing procedure for this is now in place. Further the exemptions place constraints on how close you are allowed to operate to people and buildings - something which some in the drone community either don't grasp or choose to ignore.

The Spanish position is nothing new. A few years back, Spain hosted the World Championships for RC helicopters, and competitors were warned that only the contest site and a very small number of officially designated practice sites could be used. Prosecution of anyone failing to observe these rules was threatened!

Luckily the British team found a very obliging mayor in a nearby area who was quite happy to designate a suitable bit of land for us to practice. "Area 51", as it became known, looked like something out of one of the desert scenes from a Clint Eastwood western, complete with abandoned villages......

More worrying is the fact that no move has been made internationally to establish a secure frequency for the operation of drones. 2.4 GHz - the most used band - is already worryingly overcrowded, especially in urban areas, and in the UK, Ofcom have made it clear that 35 MHz is for non-commercial use only. 459 MHz is UK only, and hence equipment is difficult to obtain. This situation may be fine for operating a small drone out in the sticks, but as soon as you start operating near people or buildings you *really need* a very secure command frequency, and 2.4 GHz is NOT it!

Drone 'hacked' to take out triathlete

Peter Christy

But what about the control frequency?

I've been flying RC aircraft for nearly 50 years now (started in 1965!), and nearly ALL "loss of control" incidents can be ascribed to pilot error. Having said that, nearly all these drones use 2.4 GHz as the control channel. However, this is an unlicensed band open to anyone. Although a modern 2.4 GHz system is pretty immune to interference, it can easily be jammed by a strong enough broadband signal - say as used for a short distance video link? Since this was a very public event, apparently being covered by a number of media organisations, I would think a more likely scenario is that the drone passed close to someone using a video link on the same band, completely swamping the control channel. Using an open, unlicensed band to control an aerial platform close to people is the height of stupidity, as this operator has now discovered.

Interestingly, the Australian ABC network reports that in Australia, commercial drones need to be approved, and that the operators of this drone don't appear on the list of approved operators. In other words it was probably some chancer using cheap gear to undercut properly approved operators.

Luckily, it appears the injuries sustained by the athlete were minor - this time. But as far as I'm aware, the drone industry has yet to apply to the World Radiocommunication Conference (the governing body for international frequency allocations) for any exclusive frequencies for commercial drone operation. It can take as long as 12 years from the initial application to final approval.

Its all very well the CAA, FAA, et al, introducing regulations for the operations of commercial drones, but these will be worthless without a secure and exclusive frequency for their control channels.

1953: How Quatermass switched Britons from TV royalty to TV sci-fi

Peter Christy


"Apparently videotape was also part of the 1950s rationing regime, as the BBC subsequently wiped the four remaining episodes. " Actually, broadcast videotape didn't exist until 1960 (some seven years after the original Quatermass). The programme was broadcast live. The few programmes that were repeated later in the week had to be done live all over again!

The only way to record a program back then was via a "telerecording" channel - basically a 16mm camera pointing at a TV screen. Quality was not particularly good, but it did enable programmes to be sold worlwide, which is probably what happened to the Quatermass recordings. Very rarely were programmes archived back then.

So don't blame it on the videotape purges of the 60s - that all happened MUCH later!

Pete (retired videotape engineer)

Sir James Dyson slams gov's 'obsession' with Silicon Roundabout

Peter Christy

Money? Status?

I wonder how much Mr Dyson pays his engineers? Most engineering jobs in the UK pay a pittance, and the job has all the status of an oily rag found on the floor!

No wonder all the bright ones leave as soon as possible....! (Or else take up Law, accountancy, politics - you know, all those jobs that serve to prevent people doing anything useful.....!)


Why James Bond's Aston Martin Top Trumps the rest

Peter Christy

A couple of years ago, my wife bought me a track day driving classic Le Mans cars, including a DB6 Vantage and an E-type.

The E-type was like driving a lorry! The clutch was heavy, the gearbox obstructive, and the steering so over-assisted, it felt like you were driving on ice! Totally devoid of any feedback or feeling whatsoever! The brakes were also viciously over-assisted!

In contrast, the DB6 was perfection! Everything fell perfectly to hand, the clutch was smooth, the gearbox a delight, and it *communicated* with you! You always knew exactly where you were with it - a real thoroughbred!

I also got to drive a D-type! It was a total contrast to the E-type, and an infinitely better car to drive!

OK, all these cars were track-day hacks, that had probably been flogged within an inch of their lives, but even that could not hide the sheer thoroughbred nature of the DB6. It was a joy to drive.

I know which I'm buying if my lottery numbers ever come up.....!!!

Twelve... classic 1980s 8-bit micros

Peter Christy


You omitted this ancient but improtant machine from your list! Sure, it was an Anglicised copy of the Ohio Superboard, but it was available a couple of years before either the BBC Micro or Sinclair offerings!

Mine ended up with an Elektor memory expansion board and an overdriven cassette interface. Crude it may have been, but it was much more capable than the PDP-8 that I used at college!

And yes, I still have it, and it still works! And I really need to get out more........

RIP Ceefax: Digital switchover kills off last teletext service

Peter Christy

The digital text services may (arguably) have better content, but they are P A I N F U L L Y S L O W compared to teletext!

Until Tuesday, I found it much more convenient to switch to analogue and get the information off teletext rather than the digital text services. Ceefax was lightening fast in comparison.

<Sigh!> Another triumph for technology.......!

NASA study identifies the ‘low hanging fruit’ in climate change

Peter Christy

The lack of "joined up" thinking never ceases to amaze me! Methane makes an excellent fuel for internal combustion engines, so instead of just "capturing" it and stuffing it in the ground somewhere, why aren't farms and sewage works producing bottled fuel gas?

If you reduce the methane to methanol (a liquid), it gets even better, as most petrol engines would only require very minor modifications to run on it (it needs a slightly richer mixture). This reduction could easily be achieved by using the off-peak power from nuclear power stations, which otherwise goes largely to waste!

A methanol fuelled car would run cooler and cleaner, and also develop more power. Model aircraft enthusiasts have been using methanol as fuel for decades, and their engines easily match the best that Formula One can offer in terms of specific output.

All it needs is someone to join the dots........!!!


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