* Posts by Clive Harris

189 posts • joined 1 May 2007


Fun fact: GPS uses 10 bits to store the week. That means it runs out... oh heck – April 6, 2019

Clive Harris

Re: Can't use smartphone GPS in Australia

Have to correct you on this. It is illegal (at least in Victoria) to touch a smartphone in any way whilst in control of a car (i.e. being in the driver's seat, or having keys in the ignition). That applies even if it's in a proper holder. If it's not in a commercially-provided holder (i.e. not a home-made one) then you can't use it at all. I have had this confirmed by Vicroads. Only last week, there was a report in "The Age" of a Uber driver who was fined $400 because he pressed the "accept" button on the Uber app whilst in his car. (The newspaper was campaigning for a law change to allow Uber drivers to do this). If you've been touching your phone whilst driving and haven't been caught, then you're just lucky.

Regarding probationary drivers, anything that can connect to the mobile network is deemed to be a mobile phone. So your dedicated GPS unit would only be exempt if you could prove that it had no means of connecting to the mobile network (e.g. for updates etc). You'd probably need to take a high-powered lawyer and a technical expert into the courtroom with you to prove that. Good luck trying to explain that to the cop at a roadside stop.

Clive Harris

Can't use smartphone GPS in Australia

Here in Australia, the regulations make it difficult or sometimes impossible to use the GPS app in your phone for navigating whilst driving. It is illegal in most states to touch a smartphone whilst you are in the driver's seat or the key is in the ignition. This includes anything to do with the GPS app. So, unless you key in the address, route and all other information before getting into the car, you risk a fine. Plenty of drivers have been prosecuted when they stopped in a parking space to set the GPS or to answer the phone, but neglected to first remove the ignition key and get out of the driver's seat. I have been told by a Vicroads official (the government body controlling road use in Victoria state) that if my phone was to catch fire whilst I was driving, then I am forbidden to touch it and must continue driving until I find a safe place to pull off the road.

It's even more strict for probationary drivers. They are forbidden to use a smartphone for any purpose whatever whilst driving. Thus they can be prosecuted even if they set up the GPS before starting, or get a passenger to look after it. (They're still "using" the phone by listening to to the directions from theGPS)

Why these crazy rules? In most states, fines from drivers are an important source of state revenue and they will do anything to keep up this source of free income (justifying it on "safety" grounds). Apparently they don't get enough money by allowing bushes to grow up in front of speed limit signs, whilst ensuring that the traffic camera further down the road has a clear view.

Pencil manufacturers rejoice: Oz government doesn't like e-voting

Clive Harris

Would an "informal vote" still be possible?

In Australia, voting is compulsory and you have to number the candidates in order of preference. If your first choice is eliminated then you're deemed to have voted for your next choice, and so on. In a (quite likely) situation where most or all of the candidates are so repulsive that you don't want them to get your vote under any circumstances, then you have the option of spoiling your ballot paper (known as "informal voting"). That way, you can stop your vote going to someone you despise, without being fined for not voting. "Informal voting" is not actually illegal, but it's illegal to encourage anyone to do it. In any case, it should be (hopefully) impossible to trace a spoiled ballot paper back to an individual.

This may seem a waste of a vote, but I've several times been in a situation where I could not, with a clear conscience, endorse any of the candidates. Since the number of informal votes is published, it's a good way of telling the candidates that you don't think any of them deserves your vote. I'm worried that this will no longer be possible with electronic voting. Any attempt to vote "none of the above" will be rejected, and you would be fined for not voting. I suspect that there will be some combination of button pushes which would register as an informal vote, but that it would be illegal to tell anyone how to do it.

Bright spark dev irons out light interference

Clive Harris

Re: My dad once ground down the edge of a SIP memory chip

Way back in the dark ages, IC's were mostly dual-in-line (DIL) and generally mounted on sockets for easy maintenance. The fault on this circuit board was traced to a failed 741 Op Amp, which was in an 8-pin DIL package. We had some spare 741's, but they were all in 14-pin packages. According to the data sheet, the 14-pin device had exactly the same pinout as the 8-pin one, but with extra unused pins at both ends. We needed to get the board working again quickly and the 14-pin device was too long to fit in the available space even if we cut the extra pins off. My colleague Danny Goldburg thought for a few moments. Then he took the chip to the workshop and carefully applied a hacksaw to it, reasoning that the die itself was probably at the centre of the package, well away from the unused pins. He was correct, and within a few minutes the board was working again with the replacement "8-pin" 741. (I should add that we later replaced it with a "proper" 8-pin chip when could get hold of some)

Afterwards I asked Danny how he thought up the idea of fixing something by chopping the end off it. His reply: "Well, being Jewish, that would obviously occur to me".

Enigma message crack honours pioneering Polish codebreakers

Clive Harris
Black Helicopters

Re: Polish contributions

There's a story my father once told me about his wartime experiences. As a teenage draftsman working for the military, he was called in for a "special" job. He was taken to an isolated building with an armed guard at the door. He was then told to go inside and prepare engineering drawings for the "thing" inside. He was told to then hand the drawings to the guard, walk away and, if he valued his life, to forget the entire incident.

He described the "thing" as a bit like a typewriter, but with numbered dials on it. It was, of course, one of the Polish decryption devices, recently smuggled out of Poland.

It was that job, and several others like it, that saved him from being "called up" on active service. Anyone with knowledge of these devices could not be risked being captured, so he was forbidden from any service overseas. He did his fair share of air raid patrol and similar service though.

Black helicopter because I'm probably breaching the Official Secrets Act by telling this story.

Sysadmin misses out on paycheck after student test runs amok

Clive Harris

At least it wasn't as bad as a place I worked at in the early 80's when one of the cleaners unplugged the PDP11 payroll computer half-way through its run, to plug in her vacuum cleaner. It took a couple of days to get that one sorted out. (There's a good reason why hospitals etc. have special sockets just for vacuum cleaners)

Phased out: IT architect plugs hole in clean-freak admin's wiring design

Clive Harris

Re: Bridge rectifier?

These must have been more recent than the old valve TV's I worked on, way back in the last century. These ones had one mains terminal (hopefully neutral) connected directly to the chassis, with the HT provided by simple half-wave rectification of the mains. (No-one worried about mains waveform distortion in those days). This rectification was invariably done with a massive selenium rectifier about 8 inches long. Valve heaters were connected in series and driven directly from the mains via a big dropper resister. This generally had taps on it to adjust to different mains voltages.

These selenium rectifiers were notorious for the stink they made when they failed, which has been compared with a robot farting. Often a TV repairman would be greet with profuse apologies from the householder who couldn't work out the source of the smell and generally blamed their cat or dog.

Fender's 'smart' guitar amp has no Bluetooth pairing controls

Clive Harris

Re: If it's not full of valves...

>>Them ain't "valves", pardner. Them's "tubes".

Do you say "electron valve", "vacuum valve" and "cathode ray valve"?<<

Nah. Fender amps (being American) are allowed to have "tubes" in them. Marshall's (being British) use valves.

Clive Harris

If it's not full of valves...

If it's not full of valves then it's not a real guitar amp.

(Recently finished building a replica '60s Marshall design - all valve, point-to-point wiring, sounds lovely)

Fun fact: US Customs slaps eyeglass taxes on optical networking gear

Clive Harris

Re: Not just US Customs

Trouble was, they insisted on me specifying their power output. I told them it depended on how fast you flapped them. I think in the end they decided to re-classify therm as "ladies accessories"

Clive Harris

Not just US Customs

Many years ago, when I lived in the UK, I had a small sideline importing hand-painted silk fans from Thailand. UK Customs & Excise classified them under the heading "Fans, Vacuum Pumps and Air Compressors".

To hack Australia and learn its secrets, buy second-hand furniture

Clive Harris

I was handed a secret military radar station

It was a long time ago and I've since emigrated, but I'm still a bit nervous about telling this story.

This incident happened in the run-up to the first Gulf War. I was living in the UK, and I had a small sideline importing hand-crafted ornaments from Thailand. The Customs shed at the local airport called me to say that one of my shipments was ready for collection, containing seven boxes of assorted ornaments. When I arrived, I was surprised to find that the boxes were unusually well packed - usually they were scruffy re-used cardboard boxes. But the Customs people assured me me that they were definitely my shipment, so I loaded them up and took them home.

I got the boxes home and started opening them up, helped by my neighbour, who wanted to see what goodies had arrived this time. I was rather surprised when the first box revealed a rather complicated-looking piece of electronics, accompanied by a label saying "Secret. To be opened at secure location only".

My neighbour wanted to plug it in to see what it would do, but I decided that was unwise (probably would have targetted a cruise missile on me. or something). I immediately called up the Customs people, and found myself talking to a very relieved Customs officer.

"Err, I think you've handed me the wrong boxes"

"Heck, I'm glad to hear from you. We were just about to send a load of lacquerware and silk fans to the local US airforce base. We've given you their new military radar station"

"What shall I do with it?"

"Please bring it back, but very carefully. It's worth a fortune"

"well, OK. But there's no way I'm insured for a cargo like that"

" Right, please just drive very carefully"

I got the boxes back to them without any more trouble, and swapped them for my Thai ornaments.

I never heard anything more after that. I assume the equipment was part of the preparation for the pending war with Iraq.

Unlocked: The hidden love note on the grave of America's first crypto power-couple

Clive Harris

Knowledge is Power

Knowledge = Power

Time = Money

As engineers we know that Work = Power x Time

Solving for constant value of Work, we find that as Knowledge tends to zero, Money tends to infinity

Australia won't prescribe its national broadband network a high-fibre diet

Clive Harris

This NBN rollout is rapidly turning into a shambles. My daughter ( a few miles down the road from me) had NBN installed a few months ago and she reports it as constantly breaking down and significantly less reliable than the ADSL she had before.

Meanwhile, it's starting to become serious for me. My father (who lives with us) had a bad fall over Christmas and, as a result, I have to get an alarm button fitted. Mobile reception is very dodgy here, and we have frequent power cuts, so I need a reliable phone line. The NBN FTTN boxes are starting to sprout up in our street and I'm getting frequent letters and emails from NBNCo urging me to "make the switch".

I can't get any reliable information on what happens to FTTN phone and internet services during a power cut. The advice on the NBN website is that they will stop working and I must "make alternative arrangements" (carrier pigeons I suppose). When the boxes first started appearing in our street, I cornered one of the technicians and asked him about this. His reply was that the boxes were supposed to be fitted with batteries, but they were being left out to save money. A couple of days ago, I saw another NBN technician working on the box outside my house. He told me that the boxes now had backup batteries and would run for up to 16 hours. He then opened the box to show me rows of 12V SLA packs inside it. However, he then told me to delay switching over as long as possible because the boxes were not yet working properly. He also commented that, in his opinion, these boxes would soon be ripped out and replaced with something more reliable.

An FTTH connection would be ideal for me, provided I could supply backup power within the house but, from what I'm hearing, I first have to get FTTN fitted and then ripped out again, and it would than cost me thousands (if it's even possible). This whole thing is rapidly becoming a real headache.

Telly boffin Professor Heinz Wolff has died

Clive Harris

Re: Young Scientists of the Year

Hey, that brings back some old memories. Were you on "Young Scientists" the same year I was (1975)? I still remember my meetings with Heinz Wolff, Sir George Porter (Nobel prize and don't you forget it!), Patrick Lowther, Paddy Feeney and a few others whose names I've forgotten, up at Pebble Mill.

I think I've still got that "YS" tie somewhere, the one material thing I got out of the show (apparently the union insisted we got those or otherwise the BBC would have been forced to pay us). I wore the tie for years until people kept asking me why I'd joined the Young Socialists.

We won our first round and then got knocked out in the finals by a couple of girls who'd discovered an interesting quirk in a common chemical reaction (which impressed Sir George immensely)

I'm afraid I also assumed that Heinz had "passed on" years ago, but I do remember him as a really nice bloke, who was very nice to us school kids and who played a big part at the start of our scientific careers.

Birds are pecking apart Australia's national broadband network

Clive Harris

Re: Wot? And no one's tried popping a few on the Barbie?

Fry me kangaroo brown, sport!

Australia commits to establish space agency with no budget, plan, name, deadline …

Clive Harris

Re: Space port (Woomera)

Actually, I think Woomera was part of the British space program, before the program got cancelled due to short-sighted budget cuts (and back in the days when Australia did anything the "Mother Country" told it to do)

Interesting fact: a "woomera" is an Aboriginal spear-throwing stick - a sort of notched stick used to give extra leverage when throwing a spear. Apparently the town got its name after the local aborigines decided that the the British were building a new, very big, spear-throwing gadget there - a pretty accurate description of what they were actually doing (mostly ballistic missiles).

Last time I was there, the town was pretty run-down. Maybe it can be be revived if this goes ahead.

NASA Earthonauts emerge from eight-month isolation in simulated Mars visit

Clive Harris

Re: They had their own greengrocer aboard?

They probably had several greengrocer's (sic)

Ancient IETF 'teapot' gag preserved for posterity as a standard

Clive Harris

Only barbarous savages or coffee drinkers ... would even consider instant 'tea'

And socialists. Because socialists believe that "proper tea" is theft.

Commonwealth Bank: Buggy software made us miss money laundering

Clive Harris

CBA lost $650000 of my money!

I've never trusted Commonwealth Bank since they managed to lose $650000 of my money in 2001 (OK I got it back eventually)

When I emigrated in late 2000, I sold my house in England and, on the advice of my local adviser, I put the money on deposit at CBA. I didn't understand the process of buying a house in Australia so, when I bought a house over here, I trusted CBA to handle all the paperwork. About 2 months later I received an eviction notice! It appears they had set me up with a large line-of-credit mortgage. The money I had brought over from England had apparently vanished, so no repayments were coming in. When I called them, they apologised for a "small paperwork error" and promised to sort it all out. A month later I received another eviction notice, and the money from England was still nowhere to be seen. That's when I threatened to call the police, citing evidence of fraud. The reaction from my neighbours and colleagues was interesting, generally along the lines of "Yeah, mate, this happens all the time. Lots of immigrants lose all their money. You just have to put up with it". There was also some comment along the lines of "How dare you foreigners attack our great Australian banks". The bank's response was that I had obviously attempted some sort of currency fraud, and I only had myself to blame.

Eventually it was sorted out. It appears that my branch was closed just as the house purchase was going through, and some paperwork was mis-filed when my accounts were transferred to another branch. The $650000 was eventually found (in a non-interest-bearing account!), and I used it to pay off the mortgage, which I had never needed in the first place. I wasted thousands in stamp duty, conveyancer's fees, lost interest etc, but I finally got the deeds back in my hands. CBA never officially admitted any responsibility, although one branch manager told me, strictly unofficially, that she was "livid" with how the bank had treated me.

They put one last sting in the tail, which I only found out very recently. Last year I took out a mortgage to help my daughter buy her house. It turned out that CBA still had a caveat on my deeds, which they had "forgotten" to remove. That cost me a few hundred to fix.

CBA! Not happy!

P.S. The other banks over here aren't much better. Last year I donated $50 to the Mozilla Foundation from my Westpac account. Westpac responded to this "suspicious transaction" by freezing my account. They didn't give me any warning, or even tell me that they'd done it. I only found out when I started getting calls from people whose payments had bounced. When I phoned Westpac, their response was that I should be grateful for their "alertness" in responding to an unusual transaction.

Juno beams back first closeups of Jupiter's unsightly red acne

Clive Harris

Where's the monolith?

Can you see the black rectangular monolith, with sides in the ratio of 1:4:9, right in the centre of the Red Spot?

New work: Algorithms to give self-driving cars 'impulsive' human 'ethics'

Clive Harris

"The wheels on the bus go round and round"

After watching that video, I tried the same experiment with my 4-year-old grandson. I didn't have a toy train or Lego people handy, so I improvised with a large wooden bus and four small toy cars. I lined up three of the cars in a row and a fourth car on its own to one side. I then explained to him that the bus was going to crash and had to hit one car, or group of cars. He carefully removed the car sitting on its own, explaining "That's MY car". He then ran the bus over the other cars, singing "The wheels on the bus go round and round".

Not sure what that proves, but I suppose a claim of ownership over one of the "victims" could tip the moral balance.

Clive Harris

A third option .. and possibly a fourth

The traditional runaway trolley-bus dilemma has it that you you see a runaway trolley-bus approaching, whilst standing near the points. You have the option of diverting it to hit one or other of two groups of people. To make it interesting, one group is usually more "deserving" than the other - possibly a choice between a group of school children or a load of drunks who've fallen asleep on the tracks.

There is, however, a third option. By throwing yourself into the path of the trolley-bus you could derail it, or at least slow it down, thus saving both groups. This option has the questionable advantage that you won't have to live with the consequences of your choice (or with anything else, come to that!). I suppose the motoring equivalent of that is where you could avoid a collision with both oncoming vehicles by steering into a concrete wall, or over a cliff. Your choice in that situation says a lot about the sort of person you are.

There is another variant of the dilemma which offers a fourth option. Here, you're still standing near the points watching the runaway trolley-bus. But this time you're a policeman who's just apprehended someone suspected (but not convicted) of committing a particularly nasty crime. You thus have the option of throwing him in front of the trolley-bus instead of yourself. (I can't think of a motoring equivalent for that)

Fresh cotton underpants fix series of mysterious mainframe crashes

Clive Harris

Back around 1980, and fresh out of university, my first job was for a company making control systems for printing equipment (Crosfields). A customer asked us to help with a static problem and, as part of my training, my boss took me with him to look into it.

The customer was printing the wrappers for fish fingers, using a toluene-based ink onto cellophane. The cellophane passed from one roll, through the gravure printer, onto another roll (each roll a few thousand feet long). There had been a history of explosions, thought to be caused by static. These were tolerated until the local union boss took a look round, peered into the machine, and lost his eyebrows when it blew up in his face.

He immediately called everyone out on strike, which was when we were called in. When we arrived, my boss handed me an ancient field-strength measuring machine and told me to take a look round, while he went to speak with the managers.The printer had been started up for our benefit, so I waved the meter near the take-up roll. The dial immediately swing up to around 300kV/foot (almost 1MV/m in modern units).

When my boss came back, I reported that to him, and showed him where I had taken the measurement. He didn't believe me and pointed to the machine in disbelief. "Don't be ridiculous. It can't be that high. You must have made a mistake. Look at that th....". At that moment, a thunderbolt shot from the roll to his outstretched hand, throwing him across the room.

He slowly staggered back to his feet "Yes. OK. I get the point. We do have a static problem".

In retrospect, it should have been obvious. The setup was effectively a Van der Graff generator. Static was being generated by the cellophane flexing as it ran through the printer and it was steadily accumulating on the periphery of the take-up roll, which was acting as the dome of the Van der Graff generator. The big trough of toluene-based ink was just waiting for a spark to set it off.

I think the problem was eventually fixed with some carefully-placed electrostatic "tinsel" placed next to the rolls (Icon depicting what was happening there several times a week)

US engineer in the clink for wrecking ex-bosses' smart meter radio masts with Pink Floyd lyrics

Clive Harris

A member of the University Rock Climbing Club

When I first arrived at the University, back in '75, I was quickly told that the University rag week was banned until further notice, on the orders of the Hampshire Police. A couple of years previously, a group of students, presumably the rock climbing club, had done a rag week stunt which went too far, even in those lenient times. They had broken into Parkhurst prison (max security), put up posters in some cells, and then left undetected. The police still hadn't figured out how they'd done it.

I could mention about our team's (non) appearance on "University Challenge". The night before filming, the whole team got so drunk they were too hung over to take part, and the recording had to be cancelled. I don't think we were every invited again, at least not in my time.

Clive Harris

While I was at university (Southampton) back in the '70s, the University Radio Club managed to intercept the microwave link to one of the BBC's radio relay stations (Radio 1, I think), and substitute their own program material. It went unnoticed for about 20 minutes until they broadcast an "emergency message" requiring all pensioners to report to their local police station for mandatory euthanasia.I don't recall any significant punishments being handed out in those far-off, innocent, days.

A few years later, a member of the University Rock Climbing Club climbed up a BBC TV mast to unfurl a large banner at the top. When asked when they wanted to prosecute him, one of the the BBC technical managers is supposed to have replied "Nah!. He's been punished enough already. He's just climbed through the near field of a powerful transmitter. Just wait till he wants to have children!".

WannaCrypt outbreak contained as hunt for masterminds kicks in

Clive Harris

Real people are getting hurt

Let's not forget that real, innocent, people are getting hurt by this. My sister was in hospital when this broke out, recovering from surgery. Last Saturday, the hospital had to send her home early, in a wheelchair, when their IT. systems completely collapsed.

KickassTorrents kicked out again, this time by Australia

Clive Harris

Unfair to donkeys

What harm have the donkeys done? why does everyone keep wanting to kick them?

eBay threatens to block Australians from using offshore sellers

Clive Harris

This will be a confounded nuisance

This will be a real headache for me if eBay go ahead with their threat. Despite the assertion of eBay being just a "Tat Bazaar", in reality they provide a convenient outlet for a lot of suppliers of tools, machinery and spare parts to conveniently sell to Australia. I have frequently used eBay to get tools, spares for agricultural machinery etc. Availability is much better than from local suppliers, prices are frequently much less than what's charged locally (even after paying postage) and, surprisingly, delivery is often faster.

Only a few weeks ago, I used eBay to source some (quite heavy) central heating components to do some much-needed repairs on my house and my daughter's house, from a UK supplier. The quality was excellent and the prices were less than half what local companies were charging. (Interestingly, some of the parts were made by an Australian manufacturer - work that one out!)

International outfits like eBay, Amazon etc. have well-organised processes for shipping large and heavy items across the world, so it would be a lot more difficult for me to buy locally and then ship the stuff myself. I don't mind paying an extra 10% for my imports, but it would be stupid for the government to make things so complicated that suppliers just stop sending to Australia. I do hope sense prevails and some sort of deal can be worked out.

Boeing 737 turns 50

Clive Harris

Re: I always feel safer in Boeings than Airbus.

<<Logically you should always fly on Airbus 340s then as they are accident free.>>

That's probably because I designed part of the A340 ;)

Actually it was only a small part - one of the chips in the LGCIU, the module which makes the wheels go up and down. It was almost 20 years ago, but I remember it well. Anything to do with aircraft is very bureaucratic, with mountains of paperwork and testing for the tiniest part (as it should be).

The undercarriage controller on a big jet is actually quite complex, with multiple operating modes. It has to cope with a complex series of operations, opening and closing doors in the right sequence, tilting the wheel bogies at just the right time to squeeze them into the allocated space, etc. You have the added complication that the pilot sometimes chooses to not use all the wheels when lightly loaded. Then you have the possibility that, with the wheels half extended, or half retracted, he may change his mind and reverse the process, requiring the sequence to be worked backwards from wherever it's got to. You have various maintenance modes where, with the aircraft on a set of over-sized axle stands, you want to extend or retract wheels one at a time (but make sure that never happens at any other time!). To add to the complexity, the module also had to work with the A330 and A320.

I must have worked on that IC for almost two years, and there was still work being done on it when I left at the end of my contract. A year or so later, I heard that an A340 had done a wheels-up landing at Sydney (so they're not entirely accident-free). Fortunately for me, this was found to be the result of a mechanical fault.

Make America, wait, what again? US Army may need foreign weapons to keep up

Clive Harris

Re: Dayton Codebreakers

<<"the Americans manufactured 120 (!!!) of the 'Bombes' "

Yes, using the designs given to them by Bletchley Park.>>

Interesting fact: my father, as a teen-aged draughtsman, helped draw up those designs, based on one of the encryption boxes smuggled out of Poland. The work was done under tight security, in a remote building behind armed guards. Everyone was told that they'd be shot if they ever breathed a word about what they saw in that room. He never said anything about it until the 1980's and, even then, he was reluctant to say much.

Less interesting fact: I was married in Bletchley Parish Church, just at the edge of Bletchley Park. This was long before the place became a tourist attraction.

Clive Harris

Re: Military-industrial 101

<<we cracked the German enigma cipher>>

Strange. I always thought Bletchley Park was in England.

Our pacemakers are totally secure, says short-sold St Jude

Clive Harris

St Jude? What a name!

St Jude, otherwise known as St Judas, is traditionally the patron saint of lost causes. I'm not sure I'd want his name attached to a vital piece of medical equipment.

Explanation: St Judas, i.e. the "good Judas", or the "other Judas", seems to have been a good bloke, but had the misfortune to share the same name as the worlds most infamous traitor - a bit like having the surname "Hitler", only worse. As a result, he was going to have a rough ride whatever he did. I think that's why, in some peoples' minds, he ended up as the "Saint of Last Resort", specialising in doomed enterprises.

Flight sim records show MH370 captain practiced 'flight' near search area

Clive Harris

Re: When you're considering landing Hercs on aircraft carriers...

How about a Lancaster?

A story I got from my uncle - like most wartime stories, it's probably been "embroidered" a bit, but I think it's mostly true.

At the end of WW2, a friend of his was ferrying a Lancaster back home. He knew he was going to be demobbed and grounded as soon as he landed, so he decided to have a bit of fun on the way back.

Crossing the English Channel, he spotted a US aircraft carrier, also heading home. He radioed the aircraft carrier, saying that he had engine trouble and requesting permission to land on it. Permission was, of course, refused. He then declared an emergency and said he was landing anyway, lining up his heavy bomber with the ship, wheels down and showing every intention of landing. He pulled up at the last moment, watching with amusement as the carrier crew frantically ran in all directions, trying to avoid the inevitable disaster.

By the time the incident report worked its way through the system, he was safely home, grounded and "civilianised".

Happy 50th birthday, optical fibres for telecoms

Clive Harris

Re: Institution of Electrical Engineers

A number of years back, my (American) boss decided he wanted to add an "MIEE" (as it was called then) to his collection of memberships, and asked me to fix it for him. I had to explain to him that it wasn't that simple, and the size of your chequebook wasn't the deciding factor. Fortunately, it turned out that he did have the required qualifications so, after a lengthy process involving me finding three more members to sponsor him, and a lot of paperwork, we eventually got him in.

Now it looks like I'm likely to lose my membership soon because of this confounded CPD (Continuing Professional Development) requirement they've just introduced. When I'm living in rural Australia, how am I supposed to satisfy a London-based organisation that I'm doing at least 30 hours of approved training every year.? Of course I'm continually educating myself to keep up to date with the latest technology, but proving it to their satisfaction is another matter. I'm seriously wondering if it's worth the effort, just to get a few letters after my name (which I never use), an a magazine every couple of months. Anyone else in my situation facing the same problem?

Clive Harris

Institution of Electrical Engineers

<<Proceedings of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (now the IEEE)>>

Incorrect. The (UK-based) Institution of Electrical Engineers is not now the IEEE. It is now the IET (Institution of Engineering and Technology).

The (American) IEEE is an entirely different organisation. (And a lot easier to join, from what I hear)

Clive (C.Eng MIET)

Philando Castile death-by-cop vid mysteriously vanishes from Facebook

Clive Harris

Encounter in Chicago

A couple of years ago I was touring America with my wife, visiting relatives and exploring route 66, amongst other things. We were walking through Chicago trying to find a particular building, when my wife (who is of Asian appearance) decided to ask for directions. A very feminine idea, but probably not a very wise one in the circumstances. She saw a man in uniform, walked up to him and tapped him on the shoulder. The man was some sort of security guard and, of course, was armed. He immediately grabbed his gun and whirled round to face her. He relaxed and became very courteous as soon as he realised what was going on, but it was a tense few moments. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if her skin had been a few shades darker. By the way, it turned out that he didn't know the city much better than we did, and didn't know where the place was.

Bees with numberplates will soon be buzzing around London. Why?

Clive Harris

Re: Thorax?

An extract from a school biology essay I came across in my younger days.

The body is divided into three parts, the Head, the Borax and the Abominable Cavity. The Head contains the brains and thinking parts. The Borax contains the lungs, the lights and the liver. The Abominable Cavity contains the vowels. There are five vowels; these are 'A', 'E', 'I', 'O', and 'U'.

I don't think that student got very good marks.

Plutonian 'lava lamp' seas give dwarf planet a regular face lift

Clive Harris

Re: Chronicles 4:2

Bad translation.That's not what it actually says.

A couple of years back I got in a discussion with a Jewish friend of mine about this. We finished up phoning a rabbi in Jerusalem (his brother) to get a definitive translation of that passage. What it actually says is "The distance across it was 10 cubits, and the measure around was 30 cubits x 111/106'", that's accurate to about 26ppm.

Put simply, the original English translators didn't fully understand the fiendishly complicated Hebrew writing system, which uses the same symbols for letters and numbers, relying on context to work out the difference (hence our need for a rabbi to work it out). The translators saw a mathematical equation and thought it was a grammatical error, so they ignored it. Subsequent translators never corrected the error.

It's interesting that someone worked out pi to about 5 decimal places, some 2000 years before decimal places were invented.

Now, when can we have an "angel" icon for cases like this. In the meantime I'll use the angry schoolmaster instead.

Tech titans demand free speech law to head off President Trump

Clive Harris

Re: Absolute Defense

<<The absolute defense against a libel suit is the truth. If you tell the truth, they can't win.>>

Sadly that is not the case. If your attacker has more money than you then they will crush you with legal costs, even if you spoke the whole truth. The accurate definition of libel should be "Criticising someone who has more money than you". Poor people never get libelled, they just get lied about.

I found this out the hard way, albeit in the UK legal system, which works a bit differently from the US system. A job agency spread lies about me to stop me getting a job. When I complained about it, they sued for libel, on the grounds that I had libelled them by calling attention to their lies.

That was 15 years ago.The memory is still painful.

Clucking hell! Farcical free-range egg standard pecked apart by app

Clive Harris

When my daughters were young, they kept a couple of pet chickens. One year both chickens died just before Christmas. In order to save their Christmas, I had to embark on a frantic search for two new chickens on Christmas eve. The only place open was the local battery farm, so I went there.

I won't describe what I saw in that place, except to say that it put me off battery eggs for life. I bought the only two hens I could find that still had any feathers on (I think they cost me $10 each).

At first, these animals were terrified of the outdoors, and spent all their time huddled in a corner of the shed. After a couple of weeks they ventured out and I think they had a happy few years of freedom before a fox got them (digging under the buried netting to get into the shed).

At a rough calculation, I could have bought another 39998 of those chickens and still still have legally been "free range" (I have a rather big garden), but I don't think the neighbours would have liked it.

We're doing SETI the wrong and long way around, say boffins

Clive Harris

Re: Give him 48 hours and he'd have them all converted to Atheism

I don't think so. I think he'd meet his match. Anyone who has mastered interstellar travel and made that sort of journey would be very very bright. Dawkins likes to pick opponents who are a bit dim or inarticulate. Most of his arguments can be picked apart if you have the time and inclination to do so. On the rare occasions he's been "ambushed" by someone who's both clever and articulate, he hasn't come out it very well.

Anyway, my original comment was intended to be humorous. Looks like I've accidentally touched on a raw nerve. Have I started a flame war? (see icon)

Clive Harris

Interstellar missionaries

There seems to be an assumption that any visiting aliens will be on either a military expedition, to conquer us, or a scientific expedition, to study (and hopefully enlighten) us.

There is another possibility. From our own historical experience, who have usually been the first people to make contact with "undiscovered" tribes? Generally it's been missionaries!

I await the arrival of a flying saucer full of bug-eyed monsters wearing dog-collars, waving leather-bound books, and urging us all to repent.

The resulting cultural re-adjustment could be very interesting! I wonder how Richard Dawkins would handle that.

Parallels opens new Windows with app virtualistion upgrade

Clive Harris

I gave up on Parallels when they stopped supporting their Linux products

I gave up on Parallels when they stopped supporting their Linux virtual machine products. I was left with several useless Parallels licences and several Windows VM's which I could no longer access.

They're alive! Galileo sats 9 and 10 sending valid signals

Clive Harris

Re: Use Planck dimensions

The only proper dimensions to use are Planck dimensions since, with a few exceptions, they represent the extremes of what is measurable.

Planck Length = shortest length which has any meaning

Planck Time = shortest time period which has any meaning.

Plank Temperature = as hot as anything is ever likely to get


Of course, we'd have to get used to putting around 30 or 40 zeroes after everything, but at least it would get rid of the metric/imperial debate.

I'd love to go to my local builder's merchant and order a plank in Planck lengths.

Incidentally, the Plank energy (the energy content of a black hole that's one Planck length across) is roughly equal to ten gallons of petrol. I suppose that means my car has a "Planck tank".

BBC veterans require skilled hands to massage their innards

Clive Harris

Ohio Superboard software manuals

I never had a BBC, but I had an Ohio Superboard (a rival 6502 machine of that era). I recently came across a set of software manuals for it ("The First Book of OSI" and "The Second Book of OSI"), when I was clearing out some junk. Are they any use to anyone? Sadly, the Superboard itself is long lost.

Come on kids, let's go play in the abandoned nuclear power station

Clive Harris

Re: invited on a tour of the facility

It was remarkable casual in those days. I turned up completely unannounced and was invited in with no identity checks of any kind. The only noticeable concession to security was that we were asked not to take any photographs inside the reactor hall.

How things have changed since those far-off innocent days of yore

Clive Harris

I visited Dounreay in 1979 and nearly got a job there

I visited Dounreay whilst touring Scotland in 1979. Young and recently graduated, and still recovering from a serious road accident, I'd just had to abandon my PhD due to funding problems, so I was looking around for my first proper job, Driving past, I stopped to take a look and was invited on a tour of the facility. Apparently there was an organised tour about to start and I'd just turned up at the right time.

For me, the most memorable moment was when the lady running the tour stopped us at a particular spot and invited us to look down."You are now standing on top of the main reactor. Beneath your feet there is 3.9 tons of plutonium.". She then explained that, at that moment, the reactor was only idling at a few megawatts while some maintenance work was being done.

A few months later, I was offered the chance of a job there. I turned it down, largely because I didn't was to live on the North coast of Scotland. I sometimes wonder how different my life would have been if I had taken up that offer.


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