* Posts by Hugh Pumphrey

69 posts • joined 20 Apr 2009


So, that's cheerio the nou to Dundee Satellite Receiving Station: Over 40 years of service axed for the sake of £338,000

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: STEM Education is Expensive

"Edinburgh Uni flushed its Chemistry department down the drain around 2000 (give or take 5 years)."

We did? What, then, is that big building across the street from here which has suspicious smells coming out of it?

Twilight of the sundials: Archaic timepiece dying out and millennials are to blame, reckons boffin

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: Dr King

I remember being taught by Frank King to how to log on to the mainframe and compile my first Fortran program. I'm not sure if I ever met him in person, or whether I just remember a series of short video clips of him showing how it was done.

Dr. King is also a well-known figure in the world of bellringing --- the only sport for people who like permutations and group theory.

Click this link and you can get The Register banned in China

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: Travesty...

What Adair said deserves its 48 upvotes and zero downvotes. The disnification of Winnie the Pooh has made me want to do something violent since I first saw it. A hell of hard radiation would do just fine.

Fake NIPS slip site scandalizes AI world

Hugh Pumphrey

Happening everywhere

I went to a big conference for the first time in many years a few weeks ago (EGU in Vienna, should you care). This scam was being perpetrated on the attendees at that conference too, so I guess it is now a common business model.

Russians poised to fire intercontinental ballistic missile... into space with Sentinel-3 sat on board

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: Launch partner?

This was noted as a problem by John Clark in his famous book "Ignition" --- see one of my blog posts from a couple of years ago for this and a few more quotes: https://hughpumphrey.wordpress.com/2015/01/11/rocket-science-it-should-impress-you/

I heard recently that "Ignition" is going to be re-published legitimately; I suspect that more than one Reg reader will want a copy.

Zucker for history: What I learnt about Facebook 600 years ago

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: Marshall McLuhan?

... There's Howard Hughes in blue suede shoes

smiling at the majorettes smoking Winston cigarettes ...

(The Lamb lies down on Broadway, of course, about halfway through side 1)

Samsung to let proper Linux distros run on Galaxy smartmobes

Hugh Pumphrey

Some if this is already possible ...

... by using GnuRoot Debian ( from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.gnuroot.debian&hl=en_GB ). I have installed python/numpy and R on my phone, just because I can. Doing anything useful on a phone's touchscreen keyboard is like pulling teeth, of course, even if you install the excellent Hacker's keyboard ( https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.pocketworkstation.pckeyboard&hl=en_GB ).

Just in time for summer boozing: Boffins smash world record for the most perfect ice cubes

Hugh Pumphrey

Halos from cubic ice? Rly?

You write:

"Scientists think cubic ice may be responsible for creating light halos that are sometimes visible around the Sun, as the sunlight is reflected from the clouds."

Most haloes are caused by refraction rather than reflection. Although it is true that a very rare halo display seen in Chile has been explained by the presence of cubic crystals (see https://doi.org/10.1364/AO.39.006080 ) , most of them (including all the ones in your picture) can be explained by ordinary hexagonal ice. Readers who want to waste a LOT of time looking at pretty pictures of haloes can head over to http://www.atoptics.co.uk/halosim.htm

Three non-obvious reasons to Vote Leave on the 23rd

Hugh Pumphrey

I'm In

It is a change to see an "out" piece that is impenetrable lefty political theory TLDR stuff; usually they are over-simplified xenophobia for Sun-readers. I don't accept either type of argument and am voting "remain". The overall reasoning is that I do not like any sort of politics which likes to draw a line on the ground, point to the people the other side, and say "Those people over there are your problem. We can fix it by walling them out.". All the politicians that I have seen peddling this sort of politics have been lying scoundrels

Really, my main reason for saying so in here is

(*) This thread is the first place I have been in real life or online where there seem to be some "leave" voters.

(*) Many leave voters say that their main reason for voting "leave" is that they don't know any "remain" voters. You do, now.

Randomness is a lottery, so why not use a lottery for randomness?

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: BlumBlum-Shub?

Surprisingly, yes, really. Google it and you get lots of hits about random number generators and none (on the first page) about porn.

T'was the night before Christmas, and an industrial control system needed an upgrade

Hugh Pumphrey

But the loop had no test in it.

It looks as if WG managed to discover what happened to Mel: http://www.catb.org/jargon/html/story-of-mel.html

Post-pub nosh neckfiller: Itty-bitty pyttipanna

Hugh Pumphrey

"[...] finds they're called something else there [...]"<br>

As any old Cambridge man knows, Chelsea buns come from Cambridge (and preferably from Fitzbillies, if they are still in business). You used to be able to get sweets called "American hard gums" in the UK. I never saw them in America, a place where you can get "English muffins" which are nothing to do with the thing that is actually called a muffin in England.

BOFH: Press 1. Press 2. Press whatever you damn well LIKE

Hugh Pumphrey

Best BOFH for ages

I spent far too much time playing Advent when I first had an account on a Unix system in the early 1990s. It was old then, of course. Anyone who likes it should have a go at "curses" and "jigsaw", both of which have also consumed a lot of my time.

Google robo-car suffers brain freeze after seeing hipster cyclist

Hugh Pumphrey

Track Stand? Bah.

As a regular cycle commuter for the last 40 years or so, there are few things that provoke a greater level of irrational annoyance in me than people who do a wobbly track stand at traffic lights. I struggle to resist the urge to push them over. Put your Bl**dy foot on the floor! And if it is too hard to get your foot off the pedal, then those shoes and pedals belong on a race track, not on a public road.

Pale backside of lovely Luna flits past in imagery from 1 million miles out

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: Bright

I suspect that the NASA boffin didn't mean that he personally didn't know the Moon's albedo, more that most people find it surprising that it is so low because the only time they see the moon is against the background of space (albedo = 0.0000...). Compared to pure black, the moon looks white, so the natural assumption is that it has a fairly high albedo. I introduce the concept of albedo in a basic meteorology lecture, explain that the Earth's albedo is about 0.3 and ask the students to guess the albedo of the moon. Most of them go for values that are far too high. (The actual value is not all that well defined because it is strongly angle-dependent, as well as varying from place to place on the moon. But it is a lot lower than 0.3)

This is TRUE science: Harvard boffins fire up sizzling BACON LASER

Hugh Pumphrey

For all you PFYs out there ...

.... who can not remember the 1970s, the lyric is from "War Pigs" by Black Sabbath. Many thanks to Rich 11 for cheering me up on an otherwise annoying day.

SPY FRY: Smart meters EXPLODE in Californian power surge

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: Distribution architecture vulnerability

Although we don't tend to have medium or high voltage on the same poles as the domestic supply in the UK we do sometimes have all three live phases of 240V plus the neutral. If something causes one of the three live phases to touch the neutral, and your house is supplied via one of the other two phases, you can end up with about 400V instead of 240V. This happened at my parents' house about 30 years ago and it was quite enough to blow a lot of light bulbs and to fry the control board in the washing machine. I can not recall whether the electricity meter survived the experience.

Are you clever enough, and brave enough, to give a Register lecture

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: Not sure about the IT angle but...

Give us a shout when your book comes out, Pen-y-gors. There may be no IT angle, but I remember visiting some of those mines as a child, and was left with more questions than answers.

BLOOD STAR of the NEANDERTHALS passed close to our Sun

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: Pern anyone?

I ploughed into these comments with the assumption that I would be able to count tens of posts mentioning Pern, thread, dragons and so forth. I suppose it was just too obvious ...

El Reg's plucky Playmonaut eyes suborbital rocket shot

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: Great, but....

can't help thinking that it's not going to help the space junk situation. Maybe not this project, but one like it and soon

Probably not this one, and probably not for a good while. To be a proper space junk problem you need to be leaving stuff at the orbital height of the ISS (400km) or higher. Below that, the junk drops out of orbit fairly fast and there are not many satellites for it to break, because they too would drop out of orbit rather fast.

Once people start building amateur rockets that leave junk around at 700km, that will be a very serious problem as it takes ages for the junk to fall out and there is lots of expensive hardware for it to mess up (including the satellite I have been working on for the last decade). I am not actually a rocket scientist, but I get the impression that reaching 400km and leaving stuff there is a whole different game from reaching 100km.

NASA to launch microwave SPACE LASSO to probe Earth's wet spots

Hugh Pumphrey

Three days?

"SMAP will orbit the planet every three days." No, it won't: SMAP is at an altitude of 685km, so it will orbit the planet about once every 90 minutes. A given point on the Earth's surface gets observed once every two or three days (depending on latitude).

NASA finds ancient films that extend Arctic ice record by 15 years

Hugh Pumphrey

Cracking story: more like this please!

But, "UC Bounder"? Is that a university peopled entirely by cads and rotters?

Carbon tetrachloride releases still too high, says NASA

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: Sensors

"So put some sensors aboard normal commercial aircraft, map the concentrations, and publish the maps. "

The problem with many of these Cl-bearing compounds is that down here in the troposphere they are essentially indestructible and hence become very evenly mixed. These molecules are not like farts: if you can smell farts, someone near you is farting and you can probably find out who by following the smellyness gradient upwards. And the entire planet doesn't smell of fart because the molecules get destroyed and rained out of the atmosphere quickly. Ozone-depleting molecules, OTOH, are emitted in tiny amounts but do not get destroyed until the air reaches the stratosphere. So if you measure them down here you tend to get the same answer nearly anywhere, unless you are right next to a leaking factory (in which case you probably knew where the CCl4 was coming from already).

LOHAN seeks stirring motto for spaceplane mission patch

Hugh Pumphrey

In spaaace ...

In vacuo nemo clamorem audit

iPhone 6 FEELS your heat, wetness... and it'll TELL Apple – report

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: weather

>>GPS location is okay but it's very poor at telling you your altitude

> Really?

Depends on what you mean by "really bad". The height precision on a normal GPS tends to be about half as good as the horizontal precision. The latter is what they tell you about, so if your GPS says it is working to a precision of 5m, the altitude reading is probably only good to 10m. You may have a large offset (several 10s of metres) from the heights on your OS map IF your GPS is not correcting for the difference between the geoid and the ellipsoid.

So, if your geoid correction is working, the altitudes from your GPS are good enough for hiking etc. They are probably as good as you get from the cheap-ass barometers --- these are only good to about 1 hPa or 10m, and you have the additional problem that changes in the weather can re-calibrate the altitudes from your barometer by several 100s of metres.

The GPS altitude is therefore definitely as good or better than you will get from a cheap barometer, and better in some ways than even an excellent barometer. It still isn't brilliant: if you want centimetre accuracy you need to use differential GPS (MUCH more expensive) or old-fashioned surveying gear (heavy and slow).

Plusnet goes titsup for spectacular hour-long wobble

Hugh Pumphrey

DNS problems likely

I'm not at home right now. But I have had internet supplied by PlusNet and their predecessors since the days of dialup. I have had sporadic problems for a while now and I strongly suspect that they are DNS-related. When the problem occurrs I can view simple web sites and ssh into work as long as I use the numerical IP address. Usually, the problem only lasts a few minutes. I keep meaning to nag PlusNet about it but I have been too busy. Today's fracas seems like a more widespread version of the ongoing problem I have been observing.

LOHAN chap brews up 18% ABV 'V2' rocket fuel

Hugh Pumphrey

Read it. Now!

"This is from Clark's excellent and entertaining book 'Ignition' available out there on the interwebs."

I just went off to look for this, and I suggest you do the same. I'm up to page 10 and it is utterly gripping and pants-wettingly hilarious. Chuck out whatever dull novel you are reading --- this is guaranteed to be better.

I'm sure that the BOFH has a copy that he has not lent to the PFY.

El Reg BuzzFelch: 10 Electrical Connectors You CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT!

Hugh Pumphrey

F---ing connectors

In these days of DAB radio and satellite TV, can I really be the first to mention the F connector? And what is the name of those odd co-ax plugs used for analog TV aeriels? And for proper wake-in-the-night-sweating nightmares: SCSI. All 573 varieties.

Ten classic electronic calculators from the 1970s and 1980s

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: No early casio?!?

"check em under a magnifying glass to see the slightly glowing red anode lines..."

cornz 1, your post inspired me to put some batteries in my 1975(ish) casio fx31, just to see the turquoise glowing display light up again. You can indeed see the anode lines glowing; I can't remember if I ever noticed this before.

BOFH: One flew over the PFY's nest

Hugh Pumphrey


I would be happy with an installment once every two months if they were all as brilliant as this one!

Secret ROYAL BABY birth VIDEO leaked! (And other malware scams)

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: Obsession?

When monarchy has been broken (historically) it was fixed good and proper (one execution, one forced abdication).

You forgot "one replacement by a Dutch bloke because he was the only Stuart who wasn't useless".

LOHAN chap to launch Raspberry Pi eye in the sky

Hugh Pumphrey


I'd say "North Sea" was more likely than "English channel" A quick look at the forecast charts suggests the balloons will fly somewhere between Stavanger and Schleswig-Holstein, depending on your rise rate.

Spies in the sky: The leaps and bounds from balloons to spook sats

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: SR-71 some planes are so cool

If you like that stuff, but live so far north that Duxford is not a day trip, you might like the museum of flight at East Fortune some 15 miles east of Edinburgh. There is a concorde and a vulcan, among other stuff. Lighter-than-air fans will enjoy the fact that it is the starting point of the R34's double Atlantic crossing.

Solar undercuts coal in New Mexico

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: re: clueless rubes

Does the heat stored in the soil / sand that is being released in the evening too help a solar plant somehow? I would have thought that it's only the sun rays that are converted into energy. But I am often wrong, so...

You are correct, it doesn't help the power plant at all. Solar power requires the short-wavelength (500nm) photons that come from a very hot thing, i.e. the Sun. The long-wavelength photons (10 um) that are emitted by the ground are essentially energy that is already more-or-less in thermal equilibrium with its surroundings. The second law of thermodynamics means that you can not get it to do any useful work.

BEST reiterates ‘no solar forcing’ claim

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: Open Journals

"Open Journals Will never have the endorsement of the scientific community as a whole"

This is a rubbish generalisation. Per se, the open-access-ness of a journal does not make it a bad journal. In atmospheric science the open-access jounal "Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics" costs a similar price (for the author) as the non-open AGU journals, has a similar impact factor, and has just as rigourous a peer-review process. (I know because I have published papers in both). Over the last decade, ACP has gone from a new journal that had people asking what it was for to being one of the two or three most important journals in the field.

Quite independent of the above is the recent phenomenon of junk journals with (I suspect) feeble peer review, many of them put out by Chinese and Indian publishers that you have never heard of. These publishers are a major source of spam email for working scientists. Their journals are often open-access, but it is not the fact that they are open-access that makes them an annoying waste of space.

For BEST to have chosen what appears to be one of these junk journals for their paper seems odd. It looks at first sight to be competent enough to get into a more established journal. It remains to be seen whether "Geoinformatics and Geostatistics" becomes the next ACP, or whether it vanishes without trace.

Moon riven by colossal cracks

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: Request for technical information

The thing about the Moon is that it has no atmosphere, so you can orbit it at a much lower altitude. Grace's initial altitude was actually 500km (typical for low earth orbit satellites: much lower and you drop out of orbit quite fast). GRAIL orbits at a mere 50km above the moon surface, so it can achieve much better horizontal resolution.

Power to the people - if you can find a spare socket

Hugh Pumphrey

Ewww! Really?

The "real world" out there is clearly a very different place from the gummint research labs and universities that I am familiar with, all of which have plenty of power sockets. Rutherford Appleton lab even hands you a temporary WiFi account as soon as you go through security if you are there for a 1-day meeting.

BBC iPlayer downloads BORKED by Adobe Air update

Hugh Pumphrey

Annoyingness ^ N for some large N

I used to dislike iPlayer desktop because it uses Air, and Adobe stopped supporting Air for Linux, having first sold Air as "cross-platform".

Having spent an hour this week working out what was wrong with iPlayer on the family Windows machine, I decided that I hate iPlayer desktop because it uses Air, and the combination is a bug-riddled mess on any operating system where it is still supported.

And the reason the problem is serious is that many non-geeks (e.g. the wife, the mother-in-law) find that the "download now, watch later" service is exactly what they want, when it is working, and is therefore a huge annoyance when it is broken.

Boffins create 100,000 DPI image

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: It is over here:

Far too classy. I blame the "o" key on this keyboard.

Hugh Pumphrey

It is over here:

http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~chuck/lennapg There is a link at the bottom of the page to a scan of the whole image.

<=== Not Paris: Lena is far to classy to be compared to Ms Hilton.

Amazon Kindle Touch Wi-Fi eBook reader review

Hugh Pumphrey

Uh, wot they said

Both the reviewer and Neil Barnes are pretty much on the money IMHO. We have both a touch and a Kindle-4-with-buttons and there are not many reasons for paying the extra for the touch, especially if all you want to do is read books. The touch is noticeably heavier and thicker, and its propensity for turning over a page when you didn't intend to touch the screen is annoying. You also can't use the touch inside a ziplock bag: a useful ploy when reading the K4 in wet or sandy environments. And the whole touching and scrolling experience is petty clunky; not at all android/iPhone-like.

The touch wins only if you want the rudimentary mp3 player, or for anything that demands you enter text --- using the on-screen keyboard is much faster on the touch than the K4. My intention is to jailbreak it so that I can entertain myself by using its command line --- you wouldn't want to do that on the K4; it would be laborious to type "ls" or "cd".

'Biocoal' fuels steam train comeback

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: Loco has been stabilised?

Tornado FTW: it would probably have a far better chance than a restored Mallard as far as re-capturing a record. But the other posters are surely correct: that 3463 thing has about the same chance of beating 126mph as $HEAVYWEIGHT_BOXER has of winning the 100m at the Olympics. (Look at http://www.a1steam.com/ if you don't know what Tornado is. Having been on the platform at Edinbrugh Waverley to see it start with a full rake of coaches, I was left rather deaf and blubbing like a girl.)

Another thing that various other posters are correct about is the efficiency. The thermodynamic efficiency of steam locomotives is pants. You can do MUCH better in a power station because you have the space to condense the steam rather than blasting it up the funnel. You get the suck as well as the blow. And you only lose a small fraction of your gains in transmitting the power to an electric loco and converting it into mechanical energy when it gets there.

Greedy LOHAN draining away mankind's vital fluid ... allegedly

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: But....

Natural gas is mostly methane. Methane (molecular mass 16 units) is considerably lighter than air (about 29 units).

Vulture 2 trigger triggers serious head-scratching

Hugh Pumphrey

Pressure: Nae Proablem.

I don't think that using a pressure sensor represents the problem that some people have made out. The standard sensor used on radiosondes (http://www.eol.ucar.edu/instrumentation/sounding/gaus/eldora-specifications ) goes down to 3 hPa (0.3 kPa) with a sensitivity of 0.1 hPa (0.01kPa). An entire radiosonde is only a couple of hundred quid and most of that isn't the pressure sensor. Sondes have temperature sensors as well, but I would avoid that as an idea because of the necessity of working out whether you are above or below the tropopause.

(I note that a quick trawl of the web suggests that there are various suppliers of industrial pressure sensors for vacuum equipment but goodness knows what those cost.)

Actually, modern radiosondes have a GPS unit in as well as the meteorological sensors. So that tells you that GPS will definitely work at radiosonde altitudes and speeds. And ordinary, un-assisted GPS is entirely adequate: it has an accuracy of about 20m in the vertical. I would avoid all of the various Heath-Robinson suggestions and concentrate on which out of a pressure sensor or a GPS unit can be obtained for the least money and at the smallest mass.

New satellite will blow your socks off - and spot them from spaaaace

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: ...anywhere within 24 hrs

Fail yourself. Near IR is not much better at seeing through clouds than VIS. Even thermal IR (not on this satellite) isn't much better. Seeing through clouds, guv? You need Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) for that.

Publisher hails CS Lewis 'space trilogy' e-book debut

Hugh Pumphrey

It's a long time ...

... since I read these. I recall finding the books absorbing but I also recall being annoyed by the way he bangs on against contraception and against sex as a thing to be enjoyed except at the moment when you are actually procreating.

To correct an earlier post, the university which features in the stories is neither Oxford nor Cambridge, but an invented one called "Edgecombe" (supposedly older and much smaller than its better-known rivals).

LOHAN's fantastical flying truss menaces kiddies

Hugh Pumphrey

Re: Quit launching balloons?

"I have a feeling what the payloads of weather balloons weigh a lot more than LOHAN"

A modern radiosonde such as the Vaisala RS92D weighs between 150g and 280g, depending on which battery you order. It is about the size of three fag packets.

NASA snaps show Arctic melt

Hugh Pumphrey

Nice article but ...

... slight remote sensing fail. The data certainly didn't all come from Nimbus 7 because it was launched in 1978 and switched off in 1994 (and the SMMR instrument may well have failed before that date). As with any 32-year satellite dataset, this one would have been made by merging data from several missions which overlap in time.

Conclusive proof of human activity causing glacier to vanish

Hugh Pumphrey

No, he was descended from ....

... Juan de Fuca. But never mind these rude-named Hispanics. Where did they get a Bernardo O'Higgins to name their national park after?

BOFH: Licence to grill ... stupid users

Hugh Pumphrey

Rehash ...

"...rehash of last weeks episode?" I think that is the meta-humour-style point, is it not?


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