* Posts by Nigel

158 posts • joined 4 Jun 2008


Miracle airship tech sustained by DARPA pork trickle


Methane Airships, anyone?

Has anyone ever considered methane-filled airships? Inflammable, true, but a lot less prone to leaking than hydrogen, and less explosive. They even let us use the stuff to cook with.

It's lighter than air.

If the airship were fuelled part with its own methane and part with liquid hydrocarbon it could maintain correct bouyancy: loss of lift from burned methane = loss of weight from burned liquid fuel.

Methane can also be "compresed" without much pressure, into cold water, to yield methane hydrate or clathrate. A little warmth reverses the process. This might also be a useful property.

BTW the Hindenburg disaster was not primarily caused by hydrogen. The primary cause was an electrical discharge setting fire to the highly inflammable metallized-paper-and-dope outer skin. That fire then released and ignited hydrogen from the gasbags. Had the gasbags been helium-filled, the Hindenburg would still have burned and crashed, but not such a big fire. I'm fairly sure that a hydrogen-filled airship built with modern materials could be safe. Ish. Cheap flight in a third-world country sort of safe, anyway.

EFF reveals vastly expanded search policy at US borders

Black Helicopters

Fortunately it's not 1984 any more

That's an interesting club that the USA has joined. Other members include bastions of freedom such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea ....

But they are a few years late. Today there is little reason ever to carry a hard disk across borders. Just download your stuff after you arrive (using an encrypted protocol, of course). Of course, this'll be a lot easier if you carry a flash-card-based Linux system such as an EeePC, rather than a Microsoft hard-disk-based one with no segregation between the system files and your own personal data. And one less sale for that US corporation as an unintended consequence? I hope so.

As for "if you're innocent, what have you got to hide"? It should be obvious. Company or personal confidential data. Once it's in their systems, do you really think it'll stay confidential? Even if you trust the US government, do you trust every single person it employs?

Gemalto glues DVD onto a SIM


A neater fully-recyclable idea

A nice idea, but I fear many DVD drives will choke on it and a few will be damaged.

A better idea. Mould one of those micro USB flash drive "chips" next to the SIM and load it with the manuals. Assuming that the smallest flash chip these days is half a gig, that's a useful freebie for the user: about 450Mb of free space to use as he desires as well as the manuals and software kit.

Lenovo drops web sales of Linux machines

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They just don't get it

Linux users don't want laptops, or any other PCs, with Linux pre-installed. We all have our favorite distribution and disk partition schemes, so "one size fits all" doesn't, especially if we're paying for it. Installing Linux is quick and easy, since it's not encumbered with the DRM and other anti-copying schemes that Microsoft inflict on their users.

What we most want is a option to buy a system without paying the Windows tax - i.e. a "No Operating System" click-box giving £50 or so knocked off the price.

The next most important thing is avoiding hardware for which open-source drivers do not exist. If chip manufacturers find that the reason their chips do not sell is that someone else's competing chip DOES work with linux, they'll open up.

Any manufacturer that does these two things in perpetuity and has a decent track record for reliability will gain many orders from Linux users.

Red Hat sprints past ESX on VM running


@Glen, Hypervisors a hack?

There's one reason why hypervisors might be a good idea: security. I'm talking in the abstract here, rather than w.r.t. any particular product. It ought to be possible to design a htypervisor such that it's not accessible to a remote hacker - a secure "ring -1". Such a hypervisor would not be made accessible to the internet. It would provide network access for its client VMs through one network interface, from which it would itself never accept any packets. It would offer the control services on a separate interface, that the organisation using it would keep completely separate from its main corporate network and the internet. If the virtualization is perfect, hacking the hypervisor from inside a VM is impossible. There are parallels to a well-designed SCADA (plant automation) system.

Another form of hypervisor security is to run it from read-only memory or disk, so the only way to change or subvert it permanently would be to physically replace its media. (I'm guessing, linux-based KVM might happily boot and run off a CD? )

Digital divide looms again over superfast broadband for all


One Gig

one Gb/s is presumably the maximum speed that the fibre could carry, if it existed. Presumably it's (much) the same as standard gigabit Ethernet over fibre. Its end user would get what he paid for, in terms of actual usable bandwidth to the internet. It's much the same with copper, except that if you live more than a mile or three from yourt exchange, the copper wire becomes the bottleneck and you won't see (24,8,4) Mbps however much you pay.

Does anyone remember them digging up all our roads to install cable? It would not have added much to the cost to pull dark fibres into place at the same time, and would have only required a government decree to make it happen. Unfortunately, Margaret Thatcher was PM at the time and let the cable companies save a few percent. Penny wise, pound foolish, short-term thinking, as always. In France, they did it right.

Open source release takes Linux rootkits mainstream


Offline scan the only answer

Once a system (Linux, Windows, whatever) has been penetrated and left with a sufficiently sophisticated rootkit, there is no guaranteed way for it to be able to detect the damage done by itself. Theoretically it's possible for no way to exist. The only answer is a periodic offline scan, i.e. shut the system down and scan by booting off some other trusted medium, such as a CD. Once the files on the disk are inspected by a non-compromised kernel, discovery of permanently-installed rootkits should be easy.

Easy to do with Linux, that is. With Windows, Microsoft goes out of its way to prevent you from running it off a CD, and the antivirus companies don't seem keen to send one down this road either. (I guess it would be embarassing to be seen using Linux to clean up messed-up Windows boxen).

Of course if your system has a security hole, there's nothing to stop a hacker breaking in again after you reboot, until that hole is discovered and patched. A daily 4am reboot might at least raise the risk and effort level for hackers, if being up 23.95x7 will do.

For CPU manufacturers - perhaps the hardware support for kernel debuggers should come with a disable instruction, such that once disabled, only a hard reset will re-enable?

Northrop in electric blaster cannon milestone


Half a megawatt

It's really not hard arranging for half a megawatt of power for a short amount of time. Even a humble car battery can deliver 1000A (i.e. 12kW) for a good few seconds, so forty of them (or a smaller number of truck batteries) would do the job.

NiMH would be better. The battery pack in a Prius probably delivers 60kW when you floor it.

Capacitors can deliver much higher amounts of power per unit weight, but for shorter amounts of time. Either way the real question is how much energy is needed during a period of hostile incoming (minutes? hours?). It's that which will dictate the size of the generator, etc., not the peak power drain.

Anatomy of a malware scam

Black Helicopters

Where are Microsoft's lawyers?

There is a lot of infringement of Microsoft's copyrights going on there. It's going on in a context that damages the value of Microsoft's brands: a worse example of "passing off" is hard to imagine. So where are Microsoft's lawyers? Surely it's possible for the combined legal might of the Microsoft Corporation to accomplish something even in relatively hostile juristictions such as the Ukraine?

Or is it a black-helicopter job? Microsoft wants XP dead, and its security is different to Vista, so they're actually turning a blind eye and will later do something to make Vista more "secure" while leaving XP to be killed by the parasites?

Microsoft to protect furtive web searches


The right way ...

... to do browsing that you don't want to embarass you is to get the (free beer) VMware Player and one of the browser appliances, and use (a copy of) that. After you're done, blow the "polluted" potentially incriminating copy away.

Of course, you've still left footprints all over the net that the powers that be can find, but at least co-users of your PC won't.

A third of Vista PCs downgraded to XP


About user interfaces

In the early days of cars there were many user interfaces. Brake pedal on the right, the left, the middle, a hand-operated lever. Gears arranged in any pattern pne could imagine: linear forwards or backwards, grids with a vertical or horizontal axis, mounted on the floor, the dash, next to the door, in the middle ....

I'm sure there were arguments about which was "best". But eventually sanity (and safety) prevailed, and one pattern was adopted as standard for the major controls, so a motorist could safely drive any car without re-learning everything.

It's high time Microsoft (and every other interface designer) realized this. The existing layout, that every user has investyed much of his time in learning, is automatically best unless there is huge and widespread dissatisfaction with it. Evolutionary changes should be small, and only when forced by unavoidable changes to what underlies the interface. (One good use for an interface is to *hide* changes to the underlying code!)

So to Vista. Whether or not it was a good idea to rewrite the kernel, the basic layout of XP's functions should have been kept. (If you must "freshen" the appearance, fine, but don't move my controls around, or change the icons or rename them! ) If they'd obeyed this simple principle, a lot of the initial user hostility would have been avoided. Though I'll also say, what underlies the interface is so crap, that the result would only have been to reveal the second layer of reasons for hostility much sooner!

BTW WIndows server 2008 works and is based on the same kernel, so it is demonstrably possible to ditch the crap and make Windows 7 work OK. I'm not saying that they will, just hoping.

US customs: Yes, we can seize your laptop, iPod

Dead Vulture

Jokes aside

Jokes aside, it is no longer safe for any businessperson to take more or less any business laptop to the USA (or indeed, just about anywhere else outside the EU). EU law requires personal data to be protected. US law requires you to had it over. So unless you are certain that there is no personal data on your lap-top, you should not travel abroad with it.

Of course, since these days only US citizens are protected by US law and anyone foreign can be arrested, held indefinitely without charge and even be tortured, you might prefer not to go there at all. To think it was once "the land of the free"!

(That's a non-white vulture with the same name as a terrorist, in case you were wondering).

Microsoft Mojave 'outs' secret Vista lovers

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Nothing Fancy?

Why don't they show us happy Vista users preferring Vista to XP running on the same 2-year-old hardware, say a 2.8GHz P4 on an i915 MoBo with 1Gb RAM? Perhaps, because they can't, even with the full resources of the MS corporation to tweak and spin things?

Because that's the sort of hardware that many users have purchased and expect to get another two or three years of useful life out of. Which they will, if they don't migrate to Vista. It would be different if Vista offered any wonderful must-have new features that people really wanted to upgrade to and were willing to buy new hardware for ... but it doesn't. Just glossy eye-candy and a totally un-necessary and time-wasting rearrangement of all the basics that we used to know our way around. And a built-in coffee break every time we boot it.

If you think that's unfair, connect electricity meters to the XP system and the Vista system with the same hardware, to show how green Vista is NOT!

Microsoft slams 'sensationalist' Vista analysis


Linux on Laptops

If you try to install Linux on a random laptop, it may well be a pain. The reason is nothing to do with Linux. It's that the laptop is constructed with components which in the worst case are not publicly documented at the hardware level necessary to write drivers, and which are available with Windows drivers only. A less bad case is that the information is available but not in advance, so that Linux drivers are forced to be a year or more behind the Windows ones written by the manufacturer during the chip's development.

The main honorable exception is Intel. If you don't want to do loads of research before buying a laptop to run Linux, choose one with all-Intel chips (graphics, networking, audio), install an up-to-date Linux distribution such as Ubuntu or Fedora containing the latest Intel drivers, and it'll probably be painless.

For Linux-bashers, this is not anything you can blame on Linux. It is purely the result of monopolistic practices by Microsoft and the chip manufacturers. In a perfect world they'd be slung in jail, and no PC-component chip would be permitted to be sold that had not made its programming information available to all interested parties in a free and open manner (such as publishing it on the net - hardly expensive to comply!)

incidentally if Microsoft continue to push Vista, expect soon to see Vista-only hardware in laptops and some desktops to prevent "downgrading" to XP, and share the pain of the Linux community. I rather hope that chip manufacturers will be the next to be investigated and fined by the EC for witholding interface documentation!

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It isn't just techies who hate it

About the least technical PC user I know decided to buy a new laptop. He didn't even know in advance that XP and Vista were different! He forked out well over a grand for a near state-of-the-art Toshiba with a fast Core-2, 2Gb RAM, and Vista.

He shows up in my office, very unhappy, and asks why it is that his old laptop is faster than the new one? Faster to boot, faster to browse, faster to open Office docs, MUCH faster to copy gigabyte folders across the net (that's when it didn't just crap out. He's a keen photographer hence the big files).

I "downgraded" it to XP and now he's a very happy bunny. I expect his next new laptop will be a Mac, unless Microsoft very publicly admit that Vista is ME2 and either release XP SP4 along with a fullsome grovelling apology, or actually come up with something better than both XP and Mac. Every pissed-off ripped-off customer is ultimately another ten-plus converts to Mac or Linux, yet Microsoft chalk it up as another sale and carry on taking the happy pills.

LG plotting autumn offensive against Eee PC?

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Totally missing the point

This is just another shrunk notebook (to Microsoft minimum Vista spec, I imagine, though with just an Atom it'll be slower than slow!). Yawn.

Too expensive, and I'd much rather have all solid-state rather than a hard disk with moving parts and standby power drain.

EU abolishes the acre


Is it useful?

I'm all in favour of keeping everyday units that are easy to visualize or simply in everyday use: inches, feet, pounds, pints. Everyday conversion is easy anyway. A kilo is a heavy two pounds. A litre is a small two pints. Half a litre is the beer in a rim glass with a Northern-type head on it. A ton of muck is much the same as a tonne of muck. A foot about the same as a metric foot which is 30cm (and timber is supplied in, yes, metric feet, not metres). Type is still measured in points not mm, and a point is not exactly 1/72 of an inch. Printer pixels are still 1/600 or 1/1200 inch. Gigabytes are stlll not 2**30 bytes. Electricity is still sold in kilowatt-hours, not MegaJoules. Air conditioning is still measured in British Thermal Units per hour, wall insulation in BTUs per square meter per hour(!), and duvets in togs(!!). Anyone care to tell us what a tog might be, apart from a sensible unit to rate a duvet in?

I'm not sure an acre is an everyday unit, although I'm not a farmer. A hectare is 100 metres square which is pretty easy to visualize. If one prefers yards it's about 110 yards square, or 1/16 of a mile square (which is neat in binary).

Researchers release 'cold boot' attack utilities


Wot no hard reset?

Who forgot to implement the hard reset signal for DRAM chips? And was that incompetence or malice (or maybe even just technological necessity)?

MoD: We lost 87 classified USB sticks since 2003


Encrypted data sticks?

@Frank Gerlach

Modern high-grade encryption is a totally superior kettle of fish to the Enigma machines of WWII. The cyphers are almost certainly unbreakable even by intelligence agencies unless someone obtains the key, which will certainly not be found on the data medium. (I'm assuming some degree of competence. After the Inland Revenue CDROM fiasco, that may be a poor assumption).

Also if an encrypted USB key, even a trivially encrypted one, is merely lost rather than stolen by a spy (and provided neither it nor anything visible inside it are labelled "TOP SECRET" in plaintext), it's most likely that a person who finds it will just wipe it and re-use it.

AMD confirms 'Atom-smasher' chip on its roadmap

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Integrate the graphics?

AMD were talking CPU and GPU integrated on one chip. Wouldn't a small cheap computer chip be a good place to start?

And they should call it Neutron. One of the things you get when you smash atoms. (Proton is of course already taken by a Malaysian car manufacturer). Neutrino sounds even better but it might be asking for a lawsuit from Intel!

Oyster system failure causes travel misery


@Anonymous coward

Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence. And in the immediate aftermath of a vast cock-up, it's not even incompetence, just a lot of staff who haven't had time to be fully instructed in the finer points of the system and just know to hand over a form and get it filled in.

I'd suggest complaining via the tfl.gov.uk web site (which should get a response apologising for ill-trained staff). then go back to the station next week, armed with this reply.

Incidentally as explained in TfL's own brochure when I last read it (~2 years ago), an unregistered PAYG card is just like cash. It's fully transferrable, and if lost, whoever finds it can keep it.

Criminal record checks could hit over 14 million people


ID cards here we come

Can someone who has had a CRB check comment on what information you have to supply in order to get the thing done?

I'm concerned that they are filling in the ID database via the back door, storing and cross-checking everything that is supplied by what will soon be the majority of the adult population who are forced to get CRB checks. Do they ask for your NI number? Passport number? NHS number? Bank account details? Mother's maiden name? Everything else someone keen on ID theft would want to know?

In theory I would not be at all concerned about the result (though in practice, if they get it wrong and confuse me with a paedo, mud might stick). But also in theory, they should not store any of the information one provides after the check is complete. Frankly, even if they say this, I do not believe them!

MS takes Windows 3.11 out of embed to put to bed


Not long gone

Not long gone, stuck with it. Because it's embedded!

We're a university science department. We have a number of instruments that would be very expensive to replace with modern equivalents, and which are still usable and useful. "Very expensive" means five or six digits. They were made in the early 1990s. The control computer runs Windows 3.1. The company that made the instrument never made available any upgrade path that did not involve replacing the instrument, and has since gone bust.

So continuing to run Windows 3.1, and keeping a stockpile of ancient hardware to do repairs with if needed, are what we do. As for the venerable O/S, it's just a boot-loader and operating environment for one executable, and a means of getting small amounts of data saved on floppy disk.

The end will come when some bit of hardware fails in the instrument, or when the control computer fails and it is no longer possible to obtain anything that'll run Windows 3.1 and support four ISA cards (the interface). In the meantime, obsolete and dead should not be confused!

TVonics MFR-300 micro digital TV set-top box

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The price is wrong

Nice idea, but is it really worth £40 to keep a telly going, that's so old it doesn't have a SCART socket? My mum's telly is early 1990s, but does have SCART. I expect most folks will go out and buy a new Freeview-tuner TV, once they're widely available and analog TV in their area is about to be turned off. At £15 they'd sell a lot better.

BTW the hidden cost of digital TV that they are keeping quiet about, is that something like 80% of old TV aerials won't hack it. This will surprise and upset a lot of grannies.

Greene washed out of VMWare as revs undershoot


Fortunately ...

There are now open-source virtualisation alternatives, should VMware now abandon its former commitment to software that is both quite outstandingly good and operating-system neutral.

Hoping this won't happen, but if the new CEO brings the MS definition of quality with him, methinks those open-source alternatives will rapidly gain traction.

EMC CEO's ego has cost investors billions


The remarkable thing about VMware

The remarkable thing about VMware is that theirs are extremely complex technical products of astoundingly high quality. Which is why I fear for the future. Sooner or later someone will put short-term revenue above quality control and shipping stunningly reliable software. Boardroom bust-ups resulting in the ousting of a "perfectionist" suggest sooner.

At least there's an open-source alternative, should VMware quality ever decline.

PS it's far faster to install XP from CD into a VMware VM running under Linux, than it is to install XP natively onto the same underlying hardware. It also boots faster. Go figure!

Microsoft pledges to fight Vista 'myths'

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Microsoft is losing it

This is how it works on the ground.

Customer: I want to buy a laptop with XP like my old one.

Salesman: You can't. They all come with Vista these days.

Customer. I don't want Vista. My partner / son/ daughter bought one of those a few months ago and it's crap

Salesman: It's not. (insert Microsoft proganda. Customer is unconvinced).

Customer: Haven't you got *anything* else?

Salesman: well, you could buy a Mac.

Customer: but aren't they horribly expensive?

Salesman: well ... how does £xxx sound ...

Customer leaves with a Mac, or nothing. In a variant the customer is talked into buying Vista, discoverers it's even worse than he feared, and joins the crusade to tell his friends not to get ripped off like he was. In a rare variant (to become commoner? ) he leaves with an Eee PC running Linux.

I fear Microsoft are falling victim to believing their own propaganda and spin. True, they've shipped a lot of copies of Vista. That;s because they've used their monopoly power to deny customers the ability to choose XP. Corporates just use their right to "downgrade" to XP. Private individuals either buy a Mac, or go back later to pay extra for a retail copy of XP (if they still can? ) or end up with a loathsome piece of bloatware, and tell their friends how Microsoft ripped them off.

Microsoft criticizes EU's 'unreasonable' judgement

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Wasn't this fine per day?

I seem to remember that Microsoft were being fined per day for being in contempt of court, after not releasing the protocol specifications that the court ordered it to.

In which case the size of the fine is purely of Microsoft's making, and were presumably calculated to maximise their profits by holding up the development of competing products for as long as possible.

Thumbs up for the EU, because in this case they are the 100% good guys.

File system killer leads police to wife's bones


Definitely a bit wierd

From what I've read about Reiser, I'd gess that he is close to what is called Asberger's syndrome when it makes it impossible for the person to live a normal life. One feature of this trait is being very good at something, usually narrowly defined and technical. Obviously coding filesystems, for Reiser. Another is a poorly developed interface to other human beings, and in particular a lack of empathy. They have to think through and rationalize what is instinctive or intuitive to most people. Speculating, I'd imagine that rational thought might have been too slow to cope with a murderous implulse, and that after that, the concepts involved in confessing to a crime of passion and loss of self-control might well be utterly foreign ones.

A penguin, because I don't believe that because someone is a murderer, everything else that he has ever touched is tainted. And because I hope that they can find a way to allow him to continue to develop filesystems while he is incarcerated. If I'm right about the psychology, denying him this will be as cruel and unusual as denying a semi-deaf man a hearing aid.

Prius hybrid to get rooftop solar panel


Try comparing like with like!

Some of the Prius-knockers out there should learn to compare like with like. A Prius is a family-sized car. Comparing it to a Mini or Polo is comparing one peach to one apricot. I'm not aware of any similar-sized car that can get nearly such good economy around town. I do hope Toyota do a hybrid Yaris next and would expect it to beat all non-hybrid small hatchbacks in city traffic by 10-20%.

The battery is not there to power the car for long. It's there to store energy when the car slows down, instead of wasting it as heat in the brake disks. The electric motor assists the petrol motor for brief bursts of acceleration and for uphill. For cruising, it's all-petrol, using an Atkinson engine that's more efficient than a standard car engine, but which is insufficiently flexible to be used in a standard un-assisted car.

If your everyday motoring is not in stop-start traffic, the advantages of a Prius are lessened, because there is less braking to be regenerated. Rural motorists might do better with a non-hybrid, though electrical assist still gives a nice combination of efficiency and decently zippy performance.

In case you think I'm biassed by owning one, I'm not. I don't need to carry a family and I mostly drive on motorways at week-ends. For me, a smaller diesel hatchback is more efficient.

There's no point Toyota building an all-battery car until big fast-charge batteries exist and a nationwide fast-charge service-station infrastructure is in place. It may come (for batteries read Ultracapacitors). Until then, not turning forward momentum into waste heat every time the car stops or slows is a good idea, which the Prius has solved. Frankly, if we accepted the argument that a small improvement was too small to be worth making, we'd still be driving model-T Fords (if we'd ever bothered to invent the car in the first place, that is!)


NOT PR stunt

Say a 1m square panel catching sun 8 hours/day (for a sunny place like California, parked outside during a working day). With a 10% efficient panel, that's about 0.8 kw/h, or 2.8 MJ.

30 Litres of gasoline is about 1GJ. So 2.8MJ is 0.084 litres of gas per day. If the daily commute uses two litres (~20 miles), that's a 4.2% improvement in fuel consumption.

To decide if it makes economic sense one has to know what the solar panel option costs. To decide if it makes "green" sense, what the CO2 cost of making the panel is, compared to the fuel saved over the life of the car.

In the UK, halve the saving. The UK is probably the worst place in the developed world for deploying solar power. Most of the world is sunnier!

'HD TV gas' 17,000 times worse for planet than CO2, claims boffin



Has someone got the wrong end of the stick?

Sure, NF3 is a greenhouse gas, but as correctly pointed out above, 4000 tonnes of it per annum is insignificant compared to CO2, and probably not persistent.

However, if it persists long enough to transport Flourine into the ozone layer (a few years), then (like CFCs) it's an ozone-destroyer, and needs to be very carefully watched.

One other point, just because a gas is heavier than air it does not mean that it does not diffuse through air and ultimately mix with the atmosphere. If heavy gases just sank to the floor then CO2 (also heavier than air) would have sufficated everyone living at sea-level by now.

And a Tonne is a metric unit (1000 kg), a Ton is an old imperial one (20 cwt or 2240 lbs). They're near enough the same for rough and ready comparisons.

Alan Sugar leaves Amstrad



Viglen thse days make darned good desktop PCs, servers, and high-performance computing clusters. We (a university customer) configure exactly what we want from an on-line configurator, and know that we'll get exactly the hardware that we ordered, and for how many subsequent months we'll be able to order exactly the same before it EOLs. None of that "we reserve the right to continuously improve" rubbish that a certain large American supplier used to inflict on us, with the result that two systems that look identical right down to the model number on the front panel actually need to be Ghosted with two different system images. This matters a lot, because here in education we need to do a lot of system re-loading to counter what our customers (students) do! It also matters because we know we'll be able to do our own upgrading or maintenance after the warranty runs out, for as many years as we want to or have to. None of those power supplies with standard connectors wired in a non-standard way inside Viglen kit.

The systems are also very reliable and are well-supported on the rare occasions when they break down. No call centres in India staffed by robots who speak with a pronounced accent and can't possibly divert from their script or accept that you know more about the innards of your PC than they do. Viglen are probably not the cheapest, but as I've indicated, cheap in the short-term is usually expensive in the long term. I'd recommend Viglen to anyone who cares what's inside the boxes they're buying.

What's going to power Small, Cheap Computers?


Lightweight Cheap computers (small if you want)

What people really want is a usable lightweight (sub-kg) computer that doesn't cost a packet, and is cheap enough to be covered on one's household £500 all-risks insurance. The Eee 901 screen is big enough to use on the go, the keyboard just about big enough to type on. (Some will prefer the 10 inch model when it ships and I'm sure someone will be working on 11in or 12in ones).

With an Eee at home or work just plug a proper big monitor into the VGA port and a proper keyboard and mouse into the USB. Buy a USB DVD burner if you need it often, borrow one or share one around the office if you don't. It's the ultimate thin client!

I'm operating-system agnostic. A friend has a somewhat-upgraded Eee 900, with 2Gb RAM and 20Gb solid-state disk. It runs Linux native and XP in a VMware VM, simultaneously, and acceptably fast. Heaven!

Poor Microsoft. One thing it'll never do is run Vista. (Quicker to boot Linux, VMware and XP-VM on his Eee, than to boot Vista natively on a top-of-the-range Toshiba laptop).

BTW for a system that allows users near-unlimited choice of apps, a chip with virtual memory management is essential. ARM doesn't have it. So however good it is for phones and suchlike, it'll never break into the general-purpose small computer market.

Duff UK nukes risk 'popcorn' multi-blast accident apocalypse


You can handle Plutonium

Quote "Plutonium is actually pretty safe, you can even handle it safely for short periods of time as it only really throws out alpha particles"

Yes, you can. Richard Feynman did, while he was working at Los Alamos on the bomb. In his memoirs, he comments on how it felt warm (from the heat the radioactivity was giving off). He lived until 1988. On the other hand he died of a rare cancer.

I have always suspected that the story about Plutonium being an extreme chemical toxin is a myth. However, radioactively it is EXTREMELY dangerous once it's inside you. Alpha particles are stopped by your skin (the already-dead outer layer thereof), but a tiny particle of an alpha emitter inside you massively irradiates the surrounding tissue, until it goes cancerous. Also Plutonium in solution gets locked into bone, cue leukaemia or bone cancer.

Which is why a non-nuclear detonation of a nuclear bomb trigger would be very bad news for the people downwind of it.



What you're missing is that the guy is claiming it could happen by accident, starting with an accident such as a warhead being dropped or caught in a fire.

Which it couldn't. I'm not privy to any secrets, but the basic physics is well-known.These things are made out of a hollow sphere of Plutonium that is imploded, by means of many almost-simultaneously detonated explosive charges, to form a super-dense super-critical Plutonium mass at the centre.

If the assemblage is distorted, or if the explosive charges are not detonated in exactly the right time sequence to within microseconds (maybe nanoseconds) the result will be just a conventional explosion and some Plutonium scattered around the neighbourhood. Very bad for anyone close at the time, very expensive to clean up afterwards, but definitely not Hiroshima.

So in purely relative terms and thinking only about accidents, they're "safe".

Dell offers 'Windows Vista Bonus' to frightened customers



I said it ran slow, slower, slowest. I didn't say anything about its bogo-security feature.

But since you insist: Vista asks security questions out of the blue without giving you sufficient context to know whether it's safe to say yes. You may feel more secure for being invited to click things in this way, but it's as much real-world use as a small kid's security blanket.

I could also have added that before I downgraded to XP, the next two things I found out about Vista (as shipped by Toshiba) were (a) it consistently crashed within 15 minutes of plugging it into a wired GB ethernet, and (b) that it couldn't connect to a wireless network that wasn't broadcasting its SSID. And that for all the time I was struggling with it, and despite its huge 2Gb of RAM, I did not see the hard disk activity light go off once.

Like I said, numerous superficial design flaws made quite irrelevant by the fundamental design flaws. A chocolate teapot (but less tasty, and slower).


A lesson from history.

I was recently trying to remember when I last saw a company that had forgotten that its job is to sell what customers want, not railroad them towards something that they don't want. And I remembered. That company was Digital, a.k.a. DEC, in the late 1980s. Less than a decade later DEC was history. If Microsoft don't kill Vista soon (maybe they can call XP SP4, Windows 7? ), then Vista will kill Microsoft. Might take a few years, but it will.

Douglas Adams famously invented the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, which made products whose "fundamental design flaws are completely hidden by their superficial design flaws". With Vista, Microsoft have managed the converse. When a state-of-the-art laptop straight out of the box runs far slower than the three-year-old laptop it was intended to replace, the fundamental design flaws are clearly so great that there's no point even thinking about the details of what doesn't work right with it.

AMD rolls out line-leading four-core Phenom

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The tortoise and the hare?

Interesting to note that AMD is doing with 65nm technology, what Intel need 45nm to accomplish. Which means that when AMD are able to process-shrink, theirs should benefit from a 40% speed gain, and Intel will only keep their lead if they're ready with a 32 nm process or a new architecture.

I just hope AMD don't run out of money before they get to 45nm.

North Carolina targets WTF licence plates


Go North-East young man

... and see what you can find in Scunthorpe.

Hyper-V climbs into Windows


A leaf out of the MS book?

I wonder if any Linux kernel hackers will find a way to work ouf if the kernel is running under Hyped-V, and take appropriate action? Like maybe eat extra CPU cycles to the MS host's detriment?

ICO slaps TfL over Oyster data hoard


The real danger

The real danger is in a bit of data that many will think innocuous. It's the kid's birthdate. If a paedophile gains access to that and the rest (for a kid under 10) he can turn up at the kid's school or tube station with a present, and convince the kid that he (almost certainly he) is an uncle or family friend that the kid has forgotten since last year.

And it's the only bit of data that they can't justify for dealing with unruly or worse behaviour on the tubes and buses. Yes, they should purge or anonymize the travel history after a week or two (if the police haven't needed it by then, they won't). But the birthday is the most dangerous and unnecessary datum. "Age at time of application" would suffice., if they need to know if the kid is six or sixteen.

If I were a parent I'd get the birthday wrong on purpose whenever it's asked for.

Gas crunch: Jatropha, kudzu, algae and magic to rescue

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Poor reporting.

You're wrong about algae.

Like bacteria, and unlike the higher plants that you rightly disdain as hopeless, algae grow exponentially until they run out of a critical resource. Mostly what they need is CO2 (from the atmosphere) and sunlight (the more the better). And some strains are 80% oil when you squash them - oil that's very easy to process into diesel fuel.

Algae can be grown both in saltwater (no shortage in the oceans) or in polluted freshwater (which they detoxify as they grow). They don't need much in the way of other nutrients, beyond having what's left after the oil is squished out of them returned to the pond for recycling into more algae. It's bio-solar power in its purest form, and (usefully for vehicles) it generates oil rather than electricity.

Yes, it would take a vast amount of land covered in ponds to supply our needs. No, that wouldn't be agricultural land. It would be barren desert. There's no shortage of desert. Much of it adjacent to oceans, for the water supply.

Algae are one of the three renewable technologies that could actually scale up to a big enough scale, the others being solar-thermal and solar-PV. All can make good use of desert land.

CERN declares Large Hadron Collider perfectly safe

Black Helicopters

It's safe

It's very simple to say why it's safe. The universe has been bombarding the earth with particles as energetic (and far more energetic) than anything they can make at CERN since the planet was formed(*). The bombarding particles are called cosmic rays. The earth is still here. So is the moon. So is the sun (a MUCH bigger target). So are eight other planets in the Solar system. What we don't see is any former planets or moons collapsed into black holes or strange matter.

If highly energetic particles could collapse matter into black holes or cause destructive phase changes with any non-vanishing probability(**), it would have happened by now and we wouldn't be here. Or more likely, would have happened to the sun by now because it's so much bigger, and we also wouldn't be here.

Black helicopter, because some people won't believe anything except a conspiracy theory that says mad scientists are trying to blow up the world.

(*) this can be proved. Cosmic rays leave scars in crystals called zircons. Zircon is the first mineral to crystallize out of hot molten rock, and has such a high melting point, and is so hard, that once having formed, zircons are almost indestructible by geological processes in the Earth's crust. One can date them by radioactive decay of Uranium traces that they contain. The oldest are around four billion years old. Before then the planet had not formed, or was all molten.

(**) In a quantum universe, everything has a probability, it's just that it's zero to a gazillion decimal places for most things. There's nothing except probability to stop your arm falling off because all the molecules in it happen to move away from your body at the same time ... trust me, that won't happen either, but feel free to worry about it if you need to.

Dutch boffins clone Oyster card


Can't do on-line DBMS

The cost of an on-line DBMS that could process a transaction for every passenger starting a journey during rush-hour would be horrendous. Further, it would need to process all the trasactions within a second or so of real-time to keep the passengers flowing through the gates.

So. much smarter for every barrier to process the transaction locally and send a record of it to a central computer for auditing later. This process will pick out any card that's been topped up by means other than buying credit, and get the card onto the list of "hot" blocked cards, which is then distributed to the gates for local rejection of the bad cards.

So I believe them when they say that the worst that can happen is a day's fare-dodging. The bigger danger is if someone can completely clone a card by remote wireless access to your pocket (as opposed to hacking extra credit into a unique legitimate card), then they could repeat the exercise daily, and legitimate cards will frequently get blocked. We'll end up having to invest in tinfoil-lined wallets, and extract our cards at the gates like we used to do with paper ones. Sigh.

Daewoo's laptop is child's play – literally

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Yet another boring cut down laptop. Depressing that Intel is behind it. I would have hoped that Chipzilla would be doing something innovative with solid-state memory and no moving parts. Maybe that's the 3rd generation?

MSI Wind Windows XP Edition sub-notebook

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Just another laptop

This isn't different to any other 10in Laptop. Hard disk based, way over a kilo, designed to run Windoze. Boring.

These things should be called LCRCs - Lightweight Cheap Reliable Computers. Small isn't necessarily a plus point, but under a kilogramme certainly is, whatever the size. No moving parts is always good for reliability.

What's exciting about the Eee PC is that it's all solid-state, and designed for Linux. So more reliable, and weighs less. Cheaper too, as long as 8Gb suffices for the O/S and apps.

Microsoft are badly wrong-footed. They can shoehorn XP into it (but XP is obsolete soon isn't it?) and there's not a hope in hell of it running Vista.

I think I read that ASUS have a 10 inch Eee in the pipeline, hopefully still all solid-state. Ideally they'll keep the weight under a kilo.

And customers seem happy enough with Linux. Let the floodgates open!

Asus Eee Box to debut in UK... minus Linux


Upgrade Path

Can someone ask them, on the record, what the upgrade path is when Microsoft withdraws life support from XP? Vista? (Cue manaical laughter).

It is possible that Microsoft is giving away XP licenses, or even paying ASUS to ship it with XP, if MS is scared enough of Linux being seen to be the better option. And if I were Microsoft, I would be.

I'll buy one to run Linux if the price is right, XP or no XP.

Mother pleads not guilty in cyber-bullying suicide test case


Child abuse

Because of the dangerous precedent it would set, I hope the prosecution fails. I also hope that the woman who did this awful thing is forced to spend all her savings and to remortgage her house to pay for her lawyers, and that she ends up bankrupt.

What she is morally guilty of is nothing less than child abuse. Just because there wasn't a law against this particular sort of abuse, it doesn't mean she shouldn't be made to suffer for it.

UK prisoners offered data cabling training


Not a good idea

About the only place I can see such (ex?-)criminals being at all employable is installing the initial "flood-wire" network cabling in new buildings. That's a modern versoin of training them as bricklayers or electricians. Even so, they get a good look at the floor plans (and maybe the alarm systems) while they work.

It's far worse if they are used as contractors in any working IT environment. They then may have physical access to hardware, and almost certainly can see exactly what hardware is in use. They could install bugging devices or firewall bypasses under the floors.

Sorry to say this, but ex-cons and security-critical infrastructure should be kept apart.


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