* Posts by Martin Gregorie

891 posts • joined 10 Apr 2007


The internet is going to hell and its creators want your help fixing it

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: It's fascinating to see how people are so much behind the times

The problem is that critical thinking is still not taught at any level and people are also not taught how to recognise people exploiting logical fallacies to spread total nonsense, or question why things are being presented in the way that they are.

Spot on!

There only four things that schools need to teach:

  • Critical thinking / the scientific method
  • How to learn
  • The ability to read the local language and to write it clearly and simply
  • Basic numeracy

With these taught properly, virtually all other subjects, apart from sciences and manual skills, can be self-taught as needed and individuals will have the tools to distinguish truth from lies and fantasy.

Of course this will never happen because politicians would never allow it.

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Saving democracy

Anonymity, protecting the innocent from trolls since forever.

I disagree with you here: if there was NO anonymity on-line that would almost certainly get rid of the vast majority of trolls, stalkers, confidence tricksters etc. but it would be very hard indeed to implement securely enough to make it work.

The few legitimate uses [*] for anonymity, e.g. whistle-blowing, should be easy enough to handle via anonymising servers by ensuring that incoming messages are securely sent only to the owning watchdog organisation and responses are only sent to the originator.

* Voting NOT included as that is most (only?) secure and verifiable when paper ballots are used.

Official: Voyager 2 is now an interstellar spacecraft

Martin Gregorie Silver badge


Double up your 16.6 hours: that's just one way. It will take 33 hours before the response from your keypress gets painted on your screen.

OTOH nothing stops you sending more keystrokes before you see any characters echoed from Voyager. You could type:

ssh root@voyager<CR>

without any pauses, but then you'd still have to wait 33 hours to get the password prompt - assuming you didn't make any typing mistakes and your session didn't time out in the meantime.

Boffins build blazing battery bonfire

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

And a few dozen other pumped storage power stations worldwide?

Sure they exist - where the landscape topology and underlying geology make it practical to build high and low ponds that are leak-free and unlikely to be harmed by earthquakes - but there aren't many suitable places to build them and the total energy they store is tiny by comparison with the energy flows in the electricity grid they're attached to. IOW the pumped storage capacity is too small to make much contribution to balancing energy supply against demand.

OTOH including a suitably sized storage battery (using silicon, molten salt, flow technology or whatever) as an integral part of a renewable energy farm seems like a good idea, especially if national grids are redesigned to act more like a set of interconnected regional grids. Co-location makes the losses due to high energy flows between energy sources and storage batteries easier to minimise because the links would be very short.

Thought black holes were donut-shaped? It turns out they're more like deadly fountains

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Nice work by Atacama and Kagoshima

Sounds like an excellent bit of science. Well done to both observers and theoreticians. That deserves a few cold ones.

It's nearly 2019, and your network can get pwned through an oscilloscope

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Why is insecurity 'inevitable'?

Subject says it all. It doesn't seem so inevitable to me.

Given that many of the light-weight realtime OSes you might find running instruments such as oscilloscopes often have little security [1], an obvious, simple and cheap way to secure the instrument would be to fit, say, a RaspberryPi model B inside a spare corner of the case and use it as a built-in network front end. For very little money this would provide a firewall and a reasonably capable login mechanism in addition to acting as a GUI for the 'scope. As a bonus it could also buffer and queue output sent networked printers and plotters or support one or two USB connections to local devices.

[1] I used Microware's OS/9 for several years. Its a capable and very reliable OS both for desktop and realtime uses, but security? not so much apart from a login and file permission bits which are there as much for keeping the idly curious out and protection against fat fingering: you can easily run it in single user mode if you want. In this I don't think its all that different from any other small realtime OS.

Boeing 737 pilots battled confused safety system that plunged aircraft to their deaths – black box

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Question

Were they

(a) able to disable MCAS?

(b) trained on how and when to disable MCAS?

Serious design and training errors were made unless both (a) and (b) can be answered 'Yes'.

Consultant misreads advice, ends up on a 200km journey to the Exchange expert

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Spoilers in Tech Docs!

You start with a "Header" that documents what the procedure does,

Absolutely essential while writing Java, but if you go quite a bit further you'll have something that anybody can understand and, better yet, YOU will understand if you need to tweak it in a year or five.

  • The class-level description needs to say what the CLASS is intended to do, no more and no less, though it may also be a good place to describe the meanings of any public constants
  • The method level descriptions can be quite brief. They should give guidance about when to call them, unless they're a simple getter or setter, but should not paraphrase any of the @param annotations
  • This documentation must be run through javadoc and read to check that it makes sense

If you don't do all the above BEFORE you write more than than a skeleton class and methods then (a) you probably haven't thought the class design out properly and (b) for sure you'll piss off future developers.

The same goes for writing C except the the 'class' level stuff goes at the top of the source file and you need to check what's in your comments by running the code through your chosen documentation tool.

Last but not least, if the class or function package does anything thats even slightly complex write a test harness and a set of regression tests that get put into version control and/or backed up with thre code it tests. A PHB will tell you this is not necessary and/or a waste of time but IME he will be very wrong. A well-considered set of regression tests (covering simple usage, edge cases, and as much misuse as you can imagine) will save a LOT of wasted time and swearing. The test harness need merely take a line such as

methodname param1 param2 ... # comment saying what you expect

and split out the method name and parameters into an array of, say, strings and ints before executing an if.. then.. else.. totem pole which calls all the methods and displays all results interspersed with a listing of the test script. Dead simple: no conditionals needed because you can simulate that by the order of method calls in it.

If you're clever, you'll put all the script reading, parsing and printing into a driver structure that can run scripts against plugins that are specific to the class being tested and add something that compares test output with a set of expected results: a regression test pass is when the comparison produces no output.

Microsoft menaced with GDPR mega-fines in Europe for 'large scale and covert' gathering of people's info via Office

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Zero Exhaust?

Of course MS could *add* such a configuration parameter. But it was implied that they've already done so - in which case it's a question of how to find it.

Yes and No. In two places the article says there is no way to disable slurping and then the Zero Exhaust system is mentioned with an (apparently) documented slurp control switch. The crux of the biscuit is: if that's already out then they could simply make the Zero Exhaust version the mainstream product and put it on immediate release. So, if this is the case, then why does M$ think it will take until April next year to make it generally available?

Fish? I can smell it.

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Zero Exhaust?

How do you turn off the slurping?

Add a single configuration parameter. All right, maybe one in each application that makes up the Office package. All it needs to do is to control whether the telemetry port is written to or not. If Office programs are well-structured code this should be quite easy: the sort of thing that one competent programmer can install and test in time for the following month's Patch Tuesday. So why do they need five months to do something that should be so simple?

5.. 4.. 3.. 2.. 1... Runty-birds are go: 12,000+ internet-beaming mini-satellites OK'd by USA

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

If you want fictional education about dense space-junk problems, read Ken Macleod's "Fall Revolution", a set of four related novels The Star Fraction, The Stone Canal, The Cassini Division, The Sky Road -a major background theme is the impossibility of spaceflight for 200-250 years after a destructive space war in Earth Orbit. Quite apart from Macleod being one of the few authors to give this problem serious treatment, the books are a rattling good read.

Up to three million kids' GPS watches can be tracked by parents... and any miscreant: Flaws spill pick-and-choose catalog for perverts

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Why does the server need any details about the child?

If the watches are intended for use by parents to track their own children, why does the server need to hold ANY of the child's personal details? This seems like a violation of the principle of storing only data needed for the devices intended purpose and means that the server should only store parental contact details, IOW parental names, e-mail and phone numbers, so if the child is injured, sick, gets lost etc, the authorities can use the watch's unique identity (it does have one doesn't it?) to get contact details for the parents.

Between you, me and that dodgy-looking USB: A little bit of paranoia never hurt anyone

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Did you accept the USB?

Acceptable answers to:

1. Did you accept a free USB stick at the entrance ?

2. Are you going to put it in your device ?


(a) No

(b) Yes, and I'm going to reformat it before I mount it or give it to anybody.

Anything else shows insufficient paranoia. But of course (b) requires that you know how to reformat it and that you are running an OS that gives you the option of reformatting a USB device before its filing system is accessed.

Thank $deity that week's over. Look, here's some trippy music generated from pixels of a Martian sunrise to play us out

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Some other algorithmic music

Thats an odd way to compose music, but the result turned out better than I was expecting from the description.

For a somewhat more intentional and certainly less random way of generating music, how about a slow-news day piece about Supercollider,


- "a platform for audio synthesis and algorithmic composition, used by musicians, artists, and researchers working with sound."

Something about "burglar music", a programmatic composition method would sit well with a piece about Supercollider, since it should be well suited to composing with this technique.

Todd Yvega https://www.united-mutations.com/y/todd_yvega.htm

sorted out how to do this on a Synclavier. You can hear an example of his work if you listen to: 'Calculus', the last track on "Dance Me This", Frank Zappa's last album:


Mything the point: The AI renaissance is simply expensive hardware and PR thrown at an old idea

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Quite.

But there's a HUGE difference between the human child and today's AI systems: when the child comes to a conclusion you can ask them to explain why they think that is so. You can't do that with any current AI system.

So, my take on this is that, if/when you can ask an AI to explain how and why it did or deduced something, then it actually is an AI. If you can't ask it that question and get an understandable answer then what you're dealing with is definitely not an AI and may well be just a dangerous piece of junk.

There are real-world ramifications too: if an autonomous car crashes or kills somebody you need to know why that happened and the ability of the car to tell you (or not) is likely to have legal consequences. If it can explain itself, it and its driver and builders may be shown not to be responsible for the event: if it can't then responsibility should automatically pass to the driver and builders.

Stairway to edam: Swiss bloke blasts roquefort his cheese, thinks Led Zep might make it tastier

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Controlled experments: thats the ticket

This whole experiment seems badly thought out. Here's how to do it properly:

Run the set of experiments in one of those big, Swiss communal underground nuclear shelters so all the cheese shares the same environmental conditions.

Put each set of different cheese types in its own soundproof enclosure

Keep one set silent as a control.

Each of the others gets a different type of music during the whole maturing process, including but not limited to: Monastic plainsong, Wagnerian Operas, Mozart, Brass bands, Trad jazz, Bebop, Folksong, Reggae, Heavy Metal Rock, Prog Rock, Stones, Zappa, Top Ten pop hits, Andean mountain music,...

Then the tasters get to rate which music goes best with each type of cheese.

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

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Where's Rutherford?

And add in James Chadwick, who discovered the electron.

John Dalton should be there too, as the first scientist to put atomic theory on a usable basis and make it the foundation of chemistry.

However, atomic theory was all a bit theoretical until Chadwick discovered the electron, proving that the were smaller particles than atoms, and Rutherford discovered that the atomic nucleus existed and was very much smaller than the atoms that contained them. This led directly to the Bohr atomic model and so to modern nuclear physics.

As far as I know none of the three - Chadwick, Dalton and Rutherford - have much recognition outside science: none are as well known as they deserve.

Nikola Tesla's greatest challenge: He could measure electricity but not stupidity

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: country & western singers

You omitted an obvious target: MBAs - especially those who attempt to manage anything technical.

GitHub lost a network link for 43 seconds, went TITSUP for a day

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Wasn't Split Brain solved 30 years ago?

Yes, VMS cluster, Solaris cluster, Veritas cluster, they all do that for local HA, and it works. Disk vendors like EMC and HDS can also do it for their distributed storage.

Don't forget Tandem NonStop systems, which distributed the whole kit and caboodle (CPUs, disks, disk controllers) over geographic distances as a networked set of up to 16 nodes, each containing between 2 and 16 CPUs with all hardware duplicated and hot-pluggable. The whole distributed system was fault tolerant by design with automatic fail-over for all components. Result: 99.99% up time.

... and that was early '80s technology, so there's really no excuse for current systems supporting worldwide 24x7 services to offer less guaranteed availability than was available in 1984.

The D in Systemd stands for 'Dammmmit!' A nasty DHCPv6 packet can pwn a vulnerable Linux box

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Old is good

A garden gate's purpose is to be opened let somebody through and closed to keep them out - full stop.

Fitting a rain gauge is a backward step: it not only adds unwanted complexity, but degrades rain measurement due to spillage when the gate bangs in the wind.

F***=off, Google tells its staff: Any mention of nookie now banned from internal files, URLs

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: US military services

I'm not American: in countries where I am a national the Coast Guard is a branch of the Navy, so it never occurred to me that it wasn't part of the USN.

AFAIK the Space Force is still pretty much a figment of the Trumpian imagination.

Put it this way, I've seen nothing about the USSF since the first announcement. In any case, to be a real Space ForceTM, it should surely control all US nuke-tipped missiles, ABMs and manned military space vehicles, but as the missiles and ABMs are currently owned by the USAF and USN I imagine these outfits are lobbying hard against giving any of them up. So far there are no manned military space vehicles and no announced plans to build any. So, with no hardware of its own and nothing being planned for any time soon, the USSF is just a Governmental boondoggle.

Martin Gregorie Silver badge


The US airforce, army, marines and navy*, all speak Army Creole. For a concise definition and examples, see the Urban Dictionary.

Tom Wolf's "The Right Stuff" contains a more graphic description of Army Creole: Chapter 6 'On the Balcony', 11 or 12 pages in - page 119 in my copy.

'The Right Stuff' is a much better book than you'd expect if you've only see the rather pathetic film. It's still a very good read that offers insights into the lives and backgrounds of the pilots who became the Mercury Seven at the beginning of the space race and of NASA.

* The US military services are listed alphabetically - no form of ranking is implied.

EU aren't kidding: Sky watchdog breathes life into mad air taxi ideas

Martin Gregorie Silver badge


All parachutes need plenty of height to deploy: very few people have survived a bail-out under 2000 ft. That said, a whole-vehicle recovery system should work from a lower height because it is designed to lower the aircraft with the people still inside, so there's no bail-out needed and the only predeployment activities are to realise there's a serious problem and to pull the red knob.

However, even the rocket-extracted Ballistic Recovery System isn't guaranteed to give a safe recovery from less than 400 ft in straight and level flight or from less than 1000ft if the aircraft is spinning. Almost any other imaginable circumstance is likely to have a safe recovery height within that height range, though there doesn't seem to be much, if any, data on how well a BRS system would deploy after engine failure in a hovering aircraft which would still be falling relatively slowly.

But, IIRC all the above minimum survival height estimates assume deployment is over flat ground, so no allowance is made for the incident occurring over trees, tall buildings etc. or the possibility of the aircraft colliding with something while the chute is deploying and the plane still has significant forward speed.

AI's next battlefield is literally the battlefield: In 20 years, bots will fight our wars – Army boffin

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Top. Lel.

Yep .. a quote from Philip K Dick's "Second Variety". Pretty much hits 'robot war' nail smack on its head.

You should at least have made the PKD attribution, but being an AC, I suppose its no surprise that you didn't.

Dick was good: he also wrote "Minority Report" and ought to be required reading as a vaccination against trusting the political class and their tame military any further than you can throw them.

Then watch "Dr. Strangelove" or, even better, read Peter George's book; that film was based on it.

Powerful forces, bodily fluids – it's all in a day's work

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Leaking barium enemas

But is it true that a barium meal is difficult to flush?

Yes, absolutely.

Back in the day I remember a university flatmate with suspected stomach ulcers being prescribed a barium meal and an X-ray. The resulting 'sausage' a day later was both very heavy and strong, so flushing and the usual bathroom cleaning implements both refused to move it. All that happened was that the organic material got progressively washed out of it. So, after a few days we had what looked like a plaster of paris replica lurking at the bottom of the pan, daring us to try and move it. We finally got rid of the thing by smashing it into a coarse white sand drift with a blunt instrument, probably a poker. This was flushable, though it took several cycles to transfer it all into the sewer.

Microsoft Windows 10 October update giving HP users BSOD

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

I'd be quite happy for a default auto-update and you can change that if you know what you're doing, approach.

A better idea would be the system update process to have an option to take a backup before applying system updates. BUT, this should also have the ability to defer the update until somebody is there to attach the backup medium or to use a permanently attached backup device, which could be anything from an external USB drive to a NAS box or the cloud.

Its all perfectly feasable: this would just automate what I've been doing for years with Linux:

(1) disable the auto update system

(2) manually make a backup immediately before triggering an update.

I do this on a weekly basis. Its a three step manual process (1) Backup, (2) System update, (3) reboot.

This has remained manual for three reasons: first because its never been enough of a nuisance to try automating it, second because the backup disks are stored offline and thridly I use encrypted partitions so the encryption password has to be entered on the local keyboard at boot time.

My house server, which runs 24x7, also keeps seven generations of a compressed nightly backup of user space on a permanently attached disk, but this is for fat finger and disk crash protection rather than surviving a system update. For the latter you need a full backup rather than something that just secures locally created files and data.

Google Cloud boss promises 'security built into every layer of the system' at UK shindig

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Missing data protection terms

This piece is more noticeable for what it omits that for what it says.

The thing that most surprised me is that, although it seems that you can lock things regionally so that system management and access are restricted to a particular geographic region, it doesn't say what, exactly, this means. Is a region a continent? the EU? a country? a region within a country? a city? a building with a postal address? All or none of these? Can the same restrictions apply to the location of stored data, i.e. can I configure things so that, as an EU or UK based data controller, I can be guaranteed that my data will never be stored on UASian servers?

And last but not least, there's no reference to how this data storage and access scheme maps onto the GDPR. It would be interesting to know if this question was asked and, if it was, what the response was.

I've read the article together with the Google document it links to and the relevant document that the latter links to, but none of these mentions GDPR or covers user control over data storage location in other than the most general terms: neither of the linked documents give any more detail than El Reg's write-up.

Self-driving cars may not have steering wheels in future, dev preview for PyTorch 1.0 is here, etc

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

What about towing trailers?

Quite a number of drivers still need to tow stuff, ranging from using kiddie-size trailers to take the hedge trimmings to the Civic Amenity (as our local dump is officially named), through boat trailers, caravans and mobile chippies to balloon and glider trailers. All of these need to be taken off road and parked with some precision on grass or hardstanding, usually without any markings for guidance.

How, precisely are these going to be used if the tow vehicle has no manual controls? Are they really expecting the driver to get out and use a box on a cable like many cranes have? Or maybe to yell instructions at the tow vehicle?

Former General Electric boss explains how he got the internet wrong

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Password managers

I have a password manager for my home PC - it's a text file.

Substitute a set of HTML pages for 'a textfile' and so do I, but my pages are on a password protected encrypted partition on a server, so inaccessible to anybody who nicks either my laptop or that server. In addition, a username and password is needed as well as the usual Linux login to access the password collection from either machine.

Brit startup plans fusion-powered missions to the stars

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Mission energy requirements....

@AC - slight correction: solar power isn't much use beyond Mars because the energy collectable for a given area of solar collector decreases as the square of distance from the sun.

It took solar-powered Dawn, with its 36 sq.metre solar panels, dry mass of 747kg and 425kg of xenon propellant at launch, 15 months to get from Earth orbit to Mars and a further 29 months (plus a gravity slingshot from Mars) to get to Vesta. While its enormous solar array provided 10 kW in Earth orbit (1AU radius), this had dropped to 3kW at 3AU. Vesta, its first target, orbits at 2.15 AU from the sun. It then took another 30 months to get from there to Ceres,which orbits between 2.56 and 3 AU from the sun.

I think this shows that Ceres at, a bit under 3AU from the sun, is about the practical limit for solar powered spacecraft. The next planet out, Jupiter, is at 5.2AU, so if Dawn was orbiting Jupiter, its solar cells would only be providing 1kW.

Bombing raids during WWII sent out shockwaves powerful enough to alter the Earth's ionosphere

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Bah!

Its always seemed to me that in the run-up to WW1 almost all the participating nations' rulers and military were just looking for an excuse to have a go at each other. Any semi-believable excuse would be justification enough, so one hot-headed Serb did very nicely, thank-you.

Once the war was rolling the various Empires got dragged in along with the Americans.

Hindsight shows that the Versailles Treaty was vindictive enough to virtually guarantee trouble would erupt a bit later. I've always wondered about its severity: possibly something to do with the pro-war politicians on the winning side distracting attention from their own misdeeds?

HP Ink should cough up $1.5m for bricking printers using unofficial cartridges – lawsuit

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: The 'Trust' Factor: Toxic Patches / Firmware Updates

Get a laser printer rather than an inkjet, particularly if you're happy with a monochrome printer, because they have one or two advantages over inkjets.

For starters, if its only used infrequently it won't clog because there's no ink in it to dry out and block the print head. Even it its not been used for a month or two it will fire up and print with no fuss or cleaning issues.

Epson and HP printers use control codes, ESC/P for Epson and PCL for HP Lasers, that have been essentially unchanged for decades apart from adding extensions to support features appearing on newer printers. This means that a new printer in either range will work happily with an older driver, which can help a lot if you use older software. For instance, I was able to do anything I needed (in monochrome) in the way of printing letters, reports, envelopes etc. using a driver developed for an Epson MX-80 (9-pin dot matrix) to control an Epson Stylus 850 colour inkjet. Similarly, a driver originally set up for use with an HP Laserjet 2 worked perfectly with a Laserjet 5 and is now working just as well with my new HP Laserjet Pro M402dne.

BTW, the Laserjet M202dne came with a free 'starter' cartridge which is claimed to be good for 1500 pages. At my usual printer usage this will keep me going for several years. The full cartridge does twice that: 3100 pages. Given the capacity of these cartridges, printing should cost about 2.6p per page after I've used up the free starter cartridge. That is £80 with free delivery for an HP 26A cartridge at the cheapest current retail price found with a short search. Other estimates: 3.26p/page at Amazon prices (£91 plus a tenner P&P) or under 1p/page (eBay, £20 + guessed fiver for P&P). This probably makes a decent mono laser cheaper to run than an inkjet.

You're alone in a room with the Windows 10 out-of-the-box apps. What do you do?

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: If you found yourself in charge of the in-box Windows 10 apps, what would you do with them?

Install Linux

I did. Fifteen years ago.

30-up: You know what? Those really weren't the days

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: MY thanks to Ms Stob

Make that CVS and I'm with you.

Revealed: The billionaire baron who’ll ride Elon’s thrusting erection to the Moon and back

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: This counts as _not_ going to the Moon

The Bomber On the Moon was described as a B-17, but the photo in the story showed a B-29: a World War II vintage rather than Dr Strangelove era, so nothing as modern as a B-52. Of course, thats assuming you're thinking of the Sunday Sport story and its followup piece about launching a Shuttle to tow it back home.

Back on topic a bit: of course the Space-X flight will be just a remake of Apollo 8 rather than Apollo 11.

Redis does a Python, crushes 'offensive' master, slave code terms

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: We can't be having descriptive nomenclature.

Frequency and Hertz is another example of confusion.

Bad example: 'frequency' and 'hertz' are not synonyms: Nobody would ever say "That was an annoying high Hertz noise" or "Radio 4 is on 93.5 frequency". IOW frequency is a synonym for the general terms 'oscillation' or 'vibration' but Hz denotes a measured frequency, which is a much more precise statement.

Hertz replaced cycles/sec as the preferred term denoting a measurement of frequency 40-50 years ago during a sudden mania for naming derived scientific units by the names of related scientists. The changeover was confusing: when I started University we used cgs units. By the time I graduated, we'd moved first to MKS units and then to the current names. Apart from the Hertz (Hz) losing information because you have to know what a Hertz is a synonym for (cycles/second) which is annoying for units you seldom use, it is easier to write Hz than cps, cycles/sec or c/s and it gets even better when you're dealing with KHz , MHz or GHz.

Oracle tells students: You're not going to solve the world's problems – but AI and ML might

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Blockchain, blockpile, blurgh

The more I hear about blockchain, the more it looks like a solution in search of a problem - particularly if the problem requires both continually increasing CPU power slurpage matched with reducing data transfer rates.

$200bn? Make that $467bn: Trump threatens to balloon proposed bonus China tech tariffs

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Trump's new tariff can only work as he thinks it will if there's another, partly idle source of similar items, with the spare capacity to seamlessly take over from Chinese suppliers and is one that is guaranteed not to be nuked by a sudden extension of the Tariff.

Does such a source exist?

If not, then, as others have said, this new Tariff is just a tax on American consumers[1]. The importers don't give a toss because they'll just pass the Tariff cost on to the next guy along with the imported items.

[1] I really hate the term 'consumer'. Have we all really no other use than to mindlessly gobble up everything the producers, advertisers and vendors of 'stuff' want us to?

Dear America: Want secure elections? Stick to pen and paper for ballots, experts urge

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Why? A cross made with a pencil, black biro or felt-tip will do just as well and, indeed, is much better if the ballots are counted by humans.

For machine-counted ballots a black mark in a box read by an Optical Mark Reader (OMR) is also better because it will not be subject to the 'hanging chad' problem.

OMR is old, tested and reliable technology: I was writing systems to use it back in 1971/2. With reasonably well designed forms it provides an easily used offline interface that works in places where online access isn't usually available, such as a polling station. When polling closes, the marked-up ballots from each polling station would be securely transported to the counting centre and fed through its OMR reader. Security is good because there's no need to connect any part of the voting system to a network.

The first example I saw of a live OMR system belonged to a magazine distributor. This is the middle man between the publishers and newsagents. The distributor's delivery van driver delivered magazines to the newsagent and collected last week's unsold copies. Both were recorded on an OMR form in front of the shop owner and passed to the distributor's computer dept to be read into the stock control and accounting system. The OMR forms had been printed with the retailer's code and the list of magazines he sold before being handed to the van driver, sorted into delivery round order - a very slick operation. Using then-traditional data prep methods took 3-4 weeks to produce invoices etc: the use of OMR reduced this to 3-4 days.

The OMR system I worked on used a set of forms to record case histories for a hospital cardiovascular unit: there were forms, designed by medical staff, to record pre-op examinations, details of the operation, post-op examinations and outcomes. We developed a system that read the OMR documents and stored the details in a database. As well as generating outcome statistics (its main purpose), it printed easily readable case histories that went back to the surgeons for checking/correction and to be added to the patient's case notes.

Premera Blue Cross hacker victims claim insurer trashed server to hide data-slurp clues

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Staging computer A23567-D

What class of a computer was it that could be compromised for at least eight months without anyone noticing?

One used by several developers for a variety of tasks? I can well imagine that, in a somewhat chaotic environment, nobody would know exactly what should be on it or what anybody else may have installed.

Space station springs a leak while astronauts are asleep (but don't panic)

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

I wonder if...

...Wednesday's ISS ground controllers managed to resist using:

ISS, you have a problem

for their wake-up call.

Russian volcanoes fingered for Earth's largest mass extinction

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Plumes

Good write-up - thanks.

I notice you didn't mention the much hyped Yellowstone supervolcano and wonder why not. Is it simply not that much of a potential threat?

Don't mean to alarm you – but NASA is about to pummel the planet with huge frikkin' space laser

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Height measurement precision

I see the satellite's orbit is being measured by star-tracker and GPS. Thats fine for Lat/lon determination to about a metre, but vertical GPS resolution is a lot worse, somewhere in the 3-5m range, so either there's another scheme thats not being talked about for measuring the orbital altitude, correcting for gravitational variation etc., or the +/- 3cm height resolution calculated from photon flight time and mentioned in the referenced graphic is somewhat irrelevant.

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Missing information

So, now we know that the horizontal resolution is an impressive 70cm, but not so much about the vertical resolution.

Resolving round trip time to a billionth of a second gives a theoretical accuracy of 0.1mm, but when other factors such as the accuracy with which the orbital altitude is known, atmospheric interference, etc are included, the measurement accuracy will almost certainly not be +/- 0.1mm. Its disappointing that the expected error bars on this measurement weren't quoted.

Tax the tech giants and ISPs until the bits squeak – Corbyn

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: How 'bout no

I don't and won't have a TV in my house, so like you I don't and won't waste time watching it, but I DO listen to BBC radio and, more selectively, to internet streamed radio, not least because I can do something else while listening.

So, I would be happy to pay for a BBC radio license if one existed.

One other thing I want to see is the likes of Drooble, Farcebook and Amazon pay their fair share of UK taxes.

London's Gatwick Airport flies back to the future as screens fail

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: "no redundancy in the internet link"

One thing nobody seems to have forgotten - BT and other wonderful network providers currently operating in the UK have been known to engineer their own single point of failure. It happens this way:

  • The system design team specifies a disaster recovery site and a high speed connection to it
  • Their network design requires separate dual redundant links from the operations centre (LGW in this case) to the main ops site and to the disaster recovery site via at least two paths which are required to leave the building via separate ducts and then follow different routes.
  • These specs get handed to the network provider, whose contractors promptly ignore all the fancy separate routing details and put all the cables through a single duct so they can trouser all the money they saved by skipping all that costly separate routing nonsense.
  • The local council puts a digger through the cable duct....

UK.gov agencies told to drop fancy tech or risk 'reinventing the wheel'

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: I think...

Better yet, each time a Government department's IT project fails, fire those responsible for its management, starting from the head of department and working down until signs of competence is found. That should only need to happen once, though history suggests it may need to happen at least once per department.

Kaspersky VPN blabbed domain names of visited websites – and gave me a $0 reward, says chap

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Yubico later apologized, and gave the researchers credit for the discovery.

....but did they keep the cash?

Internet overseer ICANN loses a THIRD time in Whois GDPR legal war

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Costs?

While part of me agrees with your sentiments the problem is that ICANN doesn't have any money of it's own.

Are you sure? IIRC there have been several stories in El Reg about the millions ICANN made by selling rights over newly invented TLDs to various registrars. For some reason TLD name auctions starting at $185,000 a pop spring to mind. IIRC quite a lot of it is said to be still in the ICANN bank account despite what they've spent on running conferences in exotic places.

MessageBird, Twilio tout low-code tools for DIY comms app plumbing

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Um hire more? In particular, hire more greybeards.

Never going to happen as long as companies are run by MBAs, accountants and so-called 'activist investors'[1]. who wouldn't recognise talent or experience if it walked up and kicked them in the nuts.

[1] back around 1900 these 'gentry' were known as robber barons and corporate raiders - much better names for anybody whose main aim is to syphon off money made by the hard work of other people.


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