* Posts by Mike Banahan

128 posts • joined 4 May 2007


HMS Queen Lizzie impugned by cheeky Scot's drone landing

Mike Banahan

Re: "to defend against this"

I see your 12 bore shotgun and raise you the 4 bore. They weren't uncommon when I was a lad and though you need to be a big chap to handle the recoil they do significantly more damage at greater range with a suitable load.


Report estimates cost of disruption to GPS in UK would be £1bn per day

Mike Banahan

Re: That said ..

I tried sun sightings in my back garden a couple of years ago to see how easy it was. A 12 quid plastic sextant off ebay, a mirror and a spirit level to get it flat (since I can't see the horizon here) and with a bit of practice I could get fixes to within about 3 miles. Good enough for navigation though not pilotage.

Apparently people with more skill can get within half a mile, which I find rather impressive, but it's not GPS and you need to take sightings several hours apart to get the lines to cross at sensible angles. So the OP may be right about the Hondas.

A router with a fear of heights? Yup. It's a thing

Mike Banahan

Fear of heights

A long, long time ago I was doing some work at the mathematics centre in Amsterdam (the home of the famous mcvax which became a hub of uucp email, so that must be 30 years ago at least). The DEC salesman was there to sell them a VAX and seemed convinced he had his sale (and these were big-ticket items).

"Ah, there seems to be a problem" said the MC.

"What?" asked DEC in fear of losing juicy commission.

"It's specified to work at altitudes of 0 to 15,000 feet .... "

".... but we are below sea level."

Gloomy look on salesman's face.

"But don't worry, we'll put it on the second floor." Cue beers all round and laughter.

King Battistelli tries again to break Euro Patent Office union

Mike Banahan

Re: Too many ego maniacs in charge

Out of interest, how catastrophic did it prove to be that there was nobody in charge? I have long harboured a suspicion that politicians are of marginal-to-negative benefit to the community at large and seek, from a purely philosophical viewpoint, evidence on either side of the view.

FM now stands for 'fleeting mortality' in Norway

Mike Banahan

Re: Spectrum?

"I'm curious to see what happens to that spectrum, who gets to use it."

My guess is that it will fill up with pirate radio stations providing content to all the people who can't get DAB and the authorities will be unable to get any other use out of it. .

Ham-fisted: Chap's radio app killed remotely after posting bad review

Mike Banahan

What better hand warmer can be found than an 807 power beam tetrode valve/tube?

807? Pah! A pair of 813s with 2.5kv on the anodes. 100 watts just for the filaments.

I remember a conversation with (names redacted):

X: How are you getting on at your new location?

Y: It's ok but I'm having trouble with the street lights.

X: What, lots of RF noise coming out of them?

Y: No, they go out on voice peaks when I'm running full power

(He did have a 'surplus' 10 KW Marconi transmitter in his cellar).

Das ist empörend: Microsoft slams umlaut for email depth charge

Mike Banahan

Tá siad ina amadáin

Is féidir leo póg mo thóin. (Is that enough unicode?)

Must listen: We've found the real Bastard Operator From Hell

Mike Banahan

Re: They could use Pink Floyd's "Time" as hold music.

You can suck out the pleasure factor from Floyd fans by giving them a dose of Polka Floyd: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urAUcYJxKjc

It's worth persevering to the final guitar solo which really will surprise. Spot the use of pitch shift done perfectly.

E-borders will be eight years late and cost more than £1bn

Mike Banahan

Re: People tracking? Leave it to the experts.

That's probably quite a good idea. Have an upvote!

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

Mike Banahan

Re: Clock Sovereignity / FM Radio power consumption

Sadly, as far as I can see, modern portable radios have now started using DSP chips to receive FM with a corresponding increase in power consumption. Not something that the manufacturers like to shout about. If you try to buy parts to build your own old-fashioned analogue FM receiver, the components seem to have disappeared from the supply chain.

I heard one apologist being interviewed trumpeting that 'modern radios use no more power for DAB reception than for FM' which whilst technically probably true, was highly deceptive in purpose.

30 years on from Challenger, NASA remembers the fallen

Mike Banahan

Time for an update

On where the senior managers who made the launch decision for Challenger are now, after overruling the engineering advice.

What are the odds that they never worked again / were promoted sideways / didn't miss a beat in their career progression?

Four Boys' Own style World War Two heroes to fire your imagination

Mike Banahan
Thumb Up

For the technically minded

I can't recommend 'Between Silk and Cyanide' by Leo Marks more highly. Funny, insightful, and deeply sad in places, the author was responsible for codes and cyphers in the Special Operations Executive and closely involved in briefing many of the agents.

A great personal memoir. Top read and beautifully written.

Irish government websites hit by widening DDoS attacks

Mike Banahan

Eiri amach

B'fhéidir gur na Gaeilgeoirí 'dearg le fearg' iad.

US Navy grabs old-fashioned sextants amid hacker attack fears

Mike Banahan

Without an accurate watch

It's not true to say that without an accurate watch a sextant is useless for navigation. Within sight of land it has various uses which don't need time, but more importantly, far offshore it can still be used to get your latitude accurately enough for most navigational purposes - and if you sail down a line of latitude to make your landfall, you will be copying the navigators of pre-chronometer time. If you want your longitude too, you do indeed need an accurate watch to use a sextant simply.

With modern computing support, it should actually be possible to use other techniques to determine the time from our moon or the moons of Saturn (fiendishly hard to do by hand). But if you have a computer you probably have time accurate to a second or two and that's adequate for longitude too until you sight land, unless it's featureless and you can't pick out landmarks.

It all depends on how precisely you need to know your position of course.

Visitors no longer welcomed to Scotland's 'Penis Island'

Mike Banahan

Re: With all due respect to Gaelic speakers...

The 'accent' is a key piece of orthography (spelling) in the Gaelic languages that I'm familiar with. You might as well say that the English words 'cop' and 'coop' are somehow the same and likely to be confused! English spelling tends to use doubled vowels as a length indicator, whereas the Gaelic languages signify that with the sínead fada (long accent) instead so you never see 'aa', 'ee' and so on. Oddly, Irish and Scottish Gaelic have differently slanting fadas. Manx orthography, just to be different, does tend to use vowel doubling as a length indicator despite being quite closely related to Irish.

Take your pick: cop/coop or fear (man) féar (grass) in Irish, with distinctly different pronunciations in each case. There's numerous examples where two entirely different words in either language differ only in the length of the vowel sound.

I can't vouch for the meaning in Scottish Gaelic, but when I've heard 'bod' in Irish, it has a substantially earthier implication than the rather medical 'penis'.

Ditch crappy landlines and start reading Twitter, 999 call centres told

Mike Banahan

Opportunity missed in GSM?

Looking at the comments above it does seem that an opportunity has been missed in GSM for an emergency call type. By contrast, modern VHF ship radios have an integrated Digital Selective Calling feature with specific emergency call abilities. Press the big red button on the set and a digital Mayday message gets sent along with the unique MMSI number of the vessel and the GPS coordinates (as long as the radio is connected to a working GPS receiver). It's a broadcast message so everyone within range gets alerted with the relevant details - in general you hope that the Coastguard get it but if they don't, the fallback should be to other vessels within range.

It may be too late now, but if that had been included in the GSM specification, most phones could have had an emergency call facility which one would imagine would also request the cells to do their best to provide location information - either range from the base station, or, if in range of more than one, triangulation.

In memoriam: Christopher Lee, Hammer's Count Dracula

Mike Banahan

Man of many talents

I remember years ago when living in Germany, watching him being interviewed on the "Gottschalk" chat show (which was often well worth watching). It was very common to see non-German actors being interviewed with simultaneous translation and the process was by and large not too bad, though obviously the conversation didn't flow quite so easily.

About two minutes into his interview, Lee decided to dispense with the translation, switched from English to German (which he averred he 'had never been taught') and then finished the rest of the interview speaking what was clearly pretty good German. Highly impressive.

Facebook flings PGP-encrypted email at world+dog. Don't lose your private key

Mike Banahan

A good step

Overall I am encouraged to see this. I find it hugely annoying that I have, on a daily basis, to log in to eleventy-one different websites all with different usernames and passwords just to download invoices, bank statements and a load of other stuff which, when I berate them for not caring about my convenience, elicits the 'email is not secure' excuse.

I now mostly refuse to deal with suppliers who can't/won't email me invoices and routine communications. If this move by Facebook pushes others towards routinely encrypting fairly simple stuff like invoices and statements, I for one will be happy.

Yes, the five eyes agencies will indeed be able to tell that I received a communication from Barclays/Santander/HSBC/whatever. But they know that already. It's not a solution to the metadata problem but the more it encourages people to ponder the issues of confidentiality, the better I reckon. Making something appear mainstream and 'normal' is a good step on the road to getting it accepted.

PCI council gives up, dumbs down PCI DSS for small business

Mike Banahan

Utter pain

The PCI DSS procedure, audit process and general bullying is a complete pain for a small business. You get threatening letters from them, phone harrassment and endless emails, all ending up in spending a day a year filling in a ridiculous questionnaire about which, I am sure, most people lie through their teeth just to get rid of the problem.

It was such a pain that I got rid of the in-house credit card acceptance system and used an on-line provider instead - voila, the problem has gone away and I took enormous pleasure in writing the eff-you letters to my previous merchant account provider. This is presumably the background of the whole ponderous apparatus - it couldn't have been designed for any other purpose than semi-malicious intent.

So what would the economic effect of leaving the EU be?

Mike Banahan

Ireland / Éire

And if you do still choose to use the Irish name Éire for pity's sake use the síneadh fada (the accent above the É). With the fada the word means Ireland, without, it means 'burden' and that's a particular cause of agrravation that takes us far off topic.

Snowden scandal latest: NSA, GCHQ lingo-spies replaced by unstoppable RHINEHART robots

Mike Banahan


Ba chóir duit Gaeilge a fhoghlaim - tá cainteoirí dúchais annamh

Digital killed the radio star: Norway names FM switchoff date

Mike Banahan

Re: All hail analogue switch off

What will happen to the frequencies when FM is switched off? My guess is that it will be a bonanza for pirate broadcasters and the authorities will have the devil's own game to clear the channels for any other purpose - it may be years before much else can be squeezed in there, a whole generation will have to pass before people stop using cheap FM receivers with battery life counted in more than minutes.

The Revenue achieved RECORD numbers of e-tax returns ... by NOT shifting to GOV.UK

Mike Banahan

Did they hire the Barclay's designers?

Looks like they hired the muppets who have made Barclay's online banking so slow and barely usable. Or is there an infinite supply of these clowns available whenever anyone thinks it's time to spoil something that users have found the workarounds for?

Attack of the drones: ‘Nefarious’ private use rising, says top Blighty copper

Mike Banahan

Re: Or - STOP PRESS!!!

'Bee stings man' - whilst I agree with the sentiment, drones can't sting, at least honey-bee drones can't. The female bee's stinger is a modified version of what the drone uses to mate with, unless memory has totally failed. I draw a veil over the rest. And indeed my head when I go anywhere near the bees.

DAYS from end of life as we know it: Boffins tell of solar storm near-miss

Mike Banahan

Loss of GPS

My suspicion is that the EMP risk is heavily overstated and that most electronics on earth would survive. Some power grids might well have trouble for a while and it would be an important lesson learnt in a number of developed economies that their infrastructure may not be as stable as they think. We have historical precedent to go on for that.

I am willing to bet though, that if whatever-it-is fried the majority of the GPS satellite constellation, and that GPS then became unavailable, a whole lot of trouble might come up that we are poorly prepared for.

Most of the world's trade is carried in large ships. As far as I can tell, once-mandatory knowledge of how to navigate without GPS is no longer a requirement, nor a skill in evidence amongst the majority of crew, even if they could find the sextant and blow the dust off it. Being lost at sea is NOT a pleasant experience (and that I can attest to from first-hand knowledge). I'm practically certain that a substantial loss of GPS would be a very serious issue for the bulk of maritime activities.

Aircraft supposedly have backup for GPS navigation - I'd love to see the effects on the typical flight-deck though if you popped the fuses for them and told them they had lost the GPS and would have to live with whatever INS they have, plus dead-reckoning and direction-finding from beacons. There might be a lot of sorting out of sheep from goats all of a sudden.

The Royal Academy of Engineering has published a study (http://www.raeng.org.uk/news/publications/list/reports/Global_Navigation_Systems.pdf) which highlights some of society's dependencies on GPS not only for positioning but also for the provision of accurate time signals (which, for example, the Airwave comms system for fire, police and ambulance is now dependent on). It's likely that the loss of GPS will cause some substantial headaches for a while.

Who is willing to bet that any proper DR procedures are in place for this kind of thing and exercises carried out to see what the effect would be before the event actually happens?

That stirring LOHAN motto: Anyone know a native Latin speaker?

Mike Banahan

Re: dead Manx

Strangely (or not) Manx is coming back from the dead. There's now a school on the island teaching purely in the medium of Manx, reviving it from numerous books and recordings of the last lot of native speakers prior to their expiring.

You can argue how 'native' or 'Manx' it is, but this clip is illuminating:


I'd say those kids are about as native speakers as you can get and if they carry on with it, the language is going to expand - there's a fair amount of interest in it on the island.

Our Reg reader 'mutt's nuts' dictionary is le chien's biens

Mike Banahan

Irish version

I looked for a version in Irish of 'bollocks' and only found the rather lame polite word for testicles. I'm not a native speaker but I'm sure someone here will be, so to set the ball(s) rolling I suggest we could start with magairlí na madra in the absence of a better translation.

I find it *exceptionally* hard to believe that Irish doesn't have several rude words specifically for that part of the anatomy, but of course they wouldn't be in my dictionary. Still ' Brísfaídh mé do magairlí' is apparently a not-uncommon interjection (I will break your balls) so perhaps it will do for the task.

British Pregnancy Advice Service fined £200k for Anon hack, data protection breaches

Mike Banahan

Pour encourager ....

It's not a random bit of French though. It's a fairly well known quotation and to use it carries an implication above and beyond just its simple French meaning. As with most quotations, it's going to get lost if the reader isn't familiar with it but one assumes that general knowledge and a good educayshun plays a part in that.



The expression “Pour encourager les autres' is a well known quote from Voltaire’s Candide. The full quote is "dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres" - in this country (England), it is good, to kill an admiral from time to time, to encourage the others'). It refers to the fate of Admiral John Byng who was executed in 1757.

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

Mike Banahan

Just mead isn't much cop

I salute your desire to make a strong brew but would prepare to be mildly disappointed. Plain mead by itself tastes like watered-down cheap sherry - that's why the good folk of the middle ages came up with all kinds of things to make it drinkable (well, it's going to be drinkable, perhaps 'enjoyable' would be closer to the mark). Metheglin - a spiced mead with stuff like cloves and cinnamon in it, think 'mulled mead' but without necessarly being drunk hot - now that's a different matter. Or mix it with fruit juices to make a mead-based alcopop, known in the jargon as a melomel. Perhaps that's the purpose of the orange honey?

A BBC-by-subscription 'would be richer', MPs told

Mike Banahan

Might be a blessing

I love some of what the BBC does but find that love getting harder and harder to deliver when I look at what's happening to its output. So much that they could do that they don't, as well, particularly their almost complete abnegation of quality educational TV (where is the broadcast backup to the National Curriculum, for example?).

However - having lived in countries with utterly shit tv, it's interesting to observer that there's often a vibrant culture as a result: people going out in the evening and meeting each other, talking, forming clubs and societies, doing stuff together. If that was the result of the disappearance of the BBC and then a rush-to-the-bottom by the commercial broadcasters, then maybe in the long run it wouldn't be such a bad thing after all.

Cicada 3301: The web's toughest and most creepy crypto-puzzle is BACK

Mike Banahan
Black Helicopters

I'm with @JustaKOS here - who says that the puzzle-setter's motives are benign?

Leaked MS ad video parodies Chrome as surveillance tech

Mike Banahan

Pot this is Toaster

Kettle is working on another channel and unable to receive your transmissions. Out.

Classic telly FX tech: How the Tardis flew before the CGI era

Mike Banahan

PAL and sync frequency

The PAL trick of using a delay line and averaging colour over two lines got rid of 'Venetian blind' effect. The colour (chrominance) of the signal is dependent on the phase of the colour subcarrier, the saturation of the colour on its amplitude - just like NTSC (famously derided as 'never twice the same colour'). Phase linearity is VERY hard to achieve in cheap consumer grade electronics so the colour signal would often arrive way out of phase and that's what gives you lurid red or green flesh tones. Alternating the phase on each line allows the eye to average that out if the distortion is low, but it it's high, then each line looks noticeably different (Venetian blind effect). The delay line halves the colour resolution but gets rid of the visible effect by doing electronic averaging.

Human eyes have very low colour resolution so nobody notices. If you ever see a tv picture with just the colour there and the sharp luminance edges of the monochrome signal removed it turns into just a mess of coloured blobs moving around and it's weird.

Dear me, I can still recall from memory the 625 line 50hz colour subcarrier frequency after all these years: 4.43361875 MHz.

Choosing a frame rate that's the same as the AC line frequency isn't about avoid strobing with studio lights. Those have massive filaments and thermal lag means you get little noticeable mains-related hum on the light signal. Again, it's the cheap consumer receivers with low-cost power supplies that you have to worry about. If the frame rate isn't the same as the mains frequency you get very noticeable strobing effects where light or darker bands appear to roll through the picture at the difference between the two frequencies and it's extremely distracting. A fixed darker or lighter bar can usually still be seen but it's much less annoying. Old valve sets usually were worse than transistorised ones and on those it wasn't unusual to see the dark (or light) bar slowly drifting up and down the screen when the national grid changed frequency to accommodate different load levels, the TV stations remaining locked to high-precision reference timebases.


Mike Banahan

The problem with email encryption

All the claims from the spooks so far (and I've watched with more than passing interest but not with a microscope) are that they are not reading emails but looking at the headers to see who is talking to whom.

You can encrypt your email messages all you want - I and some of my correspondents routinely use PGP/GPG (which is not actually difficult to set up), but encrypting your email doesn't get around the problem of the plain-text From: and To: headers in the mail and its envelope and THAT is what the shadowy ones are interested in. Apparently. Oh, and if you do use encrypted messages, watch out for the unencrypted Subject line as well, which often pretty much tells you all you need to know without even reading the message.

After conducting a moderately in-depth analysis involving a couple of mates and several pints we concluded that it's a fairly substantial piece of work to produce an anonymised encrypted email protocol that's going to make traffic analysis hard and also be proof against compromised servers. It's not easy to see a way of persuading people to lose the convenience of having their mail stored on a relay/hub waiting to pick up when they log in and you have to assume that the hub is compromised, so something like single-use To and From lines are going to be needed. And probably Tor-like anonymising of endpoint addresses as well so they can't get you by IP address.

I'd love to see some good proposals to get around this, I'd be an early adopter. One bonus of a new protocol might also be to practically eliminate spam at the same time.

Blighty promises £49m to get more British yoof into engineering careers

Mike Banahan

Supply and demand

Economics might suggest that if the salaries went up then the supply would increase but that's far too simplistic to match actuality. I loved science and engineering growing up through the sixties at a time when the feats of good engineering were widely celebrated in popular culture, particularly of course the buzz around the moon landings. As well as cultural encouragement there was practical encouragement via government sponsored training schemes - a levy was laid on the larger companies that hired engineers to reinvest in training and most of them had their own training centres, taking on and sponsoring students through their university courses. This was at the time of the Labour government's "white heat of technological revolution" rhetoric.

As a result I was a student sponsored by Plessey, doing something close to a kind of graduate-cum-apprenticeship scheme where I was paid a stipend during my university time plus the fact that I didn't have to take out a loan to pay for my course and my accommodation. I (amazingly) actually managed to run a car and live a frugal but adequate existence during my four years. The concept that I might not have a job waiting for me at the end of my studies was simply not present. I can't think of a single one of my contemporaries who weren't going straight into a job when they graduated. Society and the jobs market just felt organised that way.

There was an obvious career progression from junior engineer through to senior roles with plenty of opportunity to cross over into sales and management if you showed talent for it.

I don't see that in place nowadays. As a result, the substantial investment that one has to do (studying allegedly 'hard' subjects. i.e maths and physics at GCSE and A level, taking an allegedly 'hard' degree) for no guaranteed outcome, that looks like a MUCH higher-risk option. And in the UK, social prestige of engineering is nil and the salaries are nothing special. Why would a sane person make that decision? The government chucking some cash around may persuade a few at the margins but that's not the same as changing the whole approach and perception of the career.

Yes, it could be done, but there's a lot of inertia in the channel and it's probably a ten to fifteen year project to turn it around so that it becomes a sane and exciting decision for 15-17 year olds who are making whole-career choices. Most people will only make that kind of decision once in their lives, it is going to have to look very appealing to make it worthwhile.

How to spot a coders comment

Mike Banahan

RIP Dennis Ritchie

I can't believe that nobody has yet posted Dennis Ritchie's famous comment from the context switch code in the middle of the Version 6 Unix kernel, something which has passed into hacker folklore:


If the new process paused because is was swapped out,

set the stack level to the last call to savu(u_ssav).

This means that the return which is executed immediately after

the call to aretu actually returns from the last routine which

did the savu.

You are not expected to understand this.


Surface 2 MYSTERY: Haswell's here, so WHY the duff battery life?

Mike Banahan

Re: Battery life under Linux?

Why dual boot? Not that I want to overdo the Linux angle but for the past couple of years or more my little ThinkPad Edge has been running Ubuntu for most of my work but with a VirtualBox copy of XP for the odd Windows program I have to use, sharing files via SAMBA and printing into a virtual printer that produces PDFs on the host.

If I'm not using the Windows instance I suspend it (it seems to chew CPU a bit more that is good for it, even at idle it's using 65% of one of the four cores) and resume it when I need it. And if I'm plugged in to the mains I just leave Windows running all the time, it's not THAT big an overhead.

I'm sure you could do the reverse, hosting Linux under Windows too. Running both at the same time seems a much better solution than dual boot unless you have a really good reason for the latter.

Leaky security could scuttle global ship-tracking system

Mike Banahan

Yep, it's mostly bollocks

For those who don't know - AIS basically broadcasts in plain text a vessel's position, heading, speed, ID and a couple of other ancillary bits of stuff. You typically view it on a chart plotter when navigating busy traffic lanes so that the collision-avoidance software can put flashing red circles on the chart to warn you where your collision risks are. Of course you can capture the information and use it for other stuff if you really want to. It goes out at low power on VHF radio.

It was EXTREMELY useful the last time I sailed over to the Channel Isles in a small yacht because the kit is cheap and simple to install and when you are on a 35' long vessel that may not be easily visible from the bridge of the supertanker 10 miles away, it adds an extra layer of safety. We could plainly see the vessels on collision course with us altering course a degree or two to avoid us (as we were under sail, not power). I have a man-overboard AIS transmitter sewn into my lifejacket just in case it's needed - very helpful to lifeboat crew and the search and rescue people in an emergency.

Once when the skipper ran us aground in the Thames Estuary an incoming bulk carrier saw that we were located not moving over a sandbar and called the coastguard (embarrassingly, I must say) on our behalf. Te be fair it was blowing a gale and the sea was rough, if we hadn't got off quickly the boat could easily have broken up, the coastguard were quite a lot more concerned than we were, as we'd actually got 30m off the sandbar but chucked the anchor over to stop us getting aground again until the tide had risen a metre or so.

Yes, any muppet could fake those signals, though it's hard to see what they would gain from it apart having a bit of a laugh with the coastguard - or maybe to confuse those on the bridge of vessels receiving the information. But you augment what you can see on AIS with the mk 1 eyeball and binoculars, you don't RELY on it, unlike GPS.

AIS is a cheap and easy aid to safety, as I see it. Not a lot more. Oh, and very, very handy in fog when you need all the help you can get.

4 Brits cuffed after shutdown of internet drug shop Silk Road

Mike Banahan

Re: Sigh

Not only did the government ignore the advice of the advisory panel on drugs, when its chairman made the (apparently) reasonable comparison of risk between taking ecstasy and riding horses (the horse riding was said to be riskier) they sacked him. Not for being right or wrong, but for saying it at all.


Atomic clocks come to your wrist

Mike Banahan

Mine cost about £100

You can get 'em all over the place - radio controlled watches that synchronise to a time signal that is also atomic-locked, without having the bother of a laser on your wrist. My particular G-shock model is solar powered too. Never have to wind it up, no battery to replace and I never have to adjust the time (though if I shift time zones there is a bit of button-pressing to do to tell it).

Admittedly if I'm out of range of the time signal it supposedly falls back to internal timekeeping and re-adjusts when I'm back home, but though I travel a fair bit in Europe and the Americas, that hasn't happened yet.

Don't tell the D-G! BBC-funded study says Beeb is 'too right wing'

Mike Banahan

Any update from the same source on ursine defecation habits?

Headmaster calls cops, tries to dash pupil's uni dreams - over a BLOG

Mike Banahan

Re: Truth or consequences

Best reference I ever saw (well, had described to me, so it's probably urban legend) went along the lines of "You will be extremely fortunate if you can get this man to work for you".

Reports: NSA has compromised most internet encryption

Mike Banahan

Re: Ah well...

ISTR (too lazy to check) that the Navajo Code Talkers used Navajo words to transmit still-encoded messages, so even when a Navajo speaker was captured, all he was able to say was something along the line of 'green cheese pickle egg' in response to the demand to decode a message. You would need access to the code books too to figure out that that actually meant 'attack at dawn'. Effectively, the encryption was multi-layered.

'Silent' staff stood by as £100m BBC IT project tanked – DG

Mike Banahan
Thumb Up

Re: Not the same thing

Seriously, that deserves a whole page in a book about project management. It's a brilliant observation. Nearly as good as "Deputy heads will roll".

Holiday HELL: Pourquoi, monsieur, why is there no merdique Wi-Fi here?

Mike Banahan

Re: Sad

It's a fair point, and would be even fairer if everyone else says 'Oh yes, he's on holiday, so I won't email him".

I'd rather be able to delete all the pointless emails and reply to the odd one that NEEDS a reply, instead of having them all stack up and make the first few days back home a maelstrom of urgent replies to messages that are now a fortnight old and have had three increasingly testy follow-ups because everyone thinks everyone is connected all the time nowadays. Knowing that I'll have that shitstorm to deal with actually spoils the holiday for me.

And the later comment about having a daughter - yes, spot on.

Legal bible Groklaw pulls plug in wake of Lavabit shutdown, NSA firestorm

Mike Banahan

Re: I' not buying the Groklaw arguments - see the evidence..

Apart from the fact that all SMTP based email systems expose the mail headers, so From: To: and Subject: in particular give a lot away about your communication, it's entirely possible to conduct S/MIME or PGP/GPG encrypted email conversations via Gmail using a client like, say, Thunderbird. True, you can't read the encrypted messages through the web interface but that's just something you live with. Thunderbird works well with both encryption standards and unless you are likely to be approached by the authorities with a demand to yield up your keys and passphrases, should be good enough for a lot of peoples' confidentiality needs.

Whether Groklaw routinely did that I can't say, but personally I'd feel a lot happier using Thunderbird with Enigmail and a 'no privacy' email provider like Gmail than not encrypting my mails and trusting the email provider to do it for me. But you do have to watch the Subject line, you can give a lot away through that.

Of course, your correspondent has to have enough of a clue to agree to use encryption, and that's probably the stumbling block until more are educated about what to do.

British spooks seize tech from Snowden journo's boyfriend at airport

Mike Banahan

Re: Care? Do something!

There are significant downsides in sending your emails with digital signatures. Whilst I would (and do) routinely encrypt emails to certain recipients I avoid signing them. Almost any body of text a few lines long or longer can be misconstrued in malicious hands to appear seriously disadvantageous to you. If the bloody thing is signed into the bargain you have serious harmed deniability, where your response would be "but I didn't write it".

I would advise against routinely digitally signing ANY document unless you have absolutely no other option.

Though I don't have a link to the article in question, I think I remember an example which goes along the lines of:

- chap sends a signed message to his mistress saying "Our time together is over, you bore me and I no longer find you desirable"

- mistress strips out the signed part of the message and sends it on with forged email headers to the poor sap's wife who believes it implicitly as it is even signed by the sender. The fact that the To, Subject and From headers don't form part of the signed message are forgotten in the heat and emotions of the moment

Boffins harvest TV, mobile signals for BATTERY-FREE comms

Mike Banahan

Illegal in the UK

I'd like to see some references to that story about the farmer and the fluorescent tubes, just to prove that it's not urban myth (though a good one). I heard something very similar when on a tour of the LW transmitter at Droitwich, at least as far as the leeching-the-power bit went. Given that the transmitter there delivers 500kw into the antenna (what I was told on the tour and also what Wikipedia claims), even though the antenna efficiency is probably lamentable, there will still be a pretty strong field in the locality.

I can quite believe that a few hundred yards away you can wire up a fluorescent and get some dim light off it, but I'm sceptical about the stealing electricity claim until someone can quote a case number or a reference to the judgement.

It's actually REALLY impressive to see a full-length fluorescent alight in the presence of a strong RF field. A friend of mine who (motto: "it's rude to be weak") liked to run well up to the legal limit on HF frequencies from his car would do it as a party trick in pub car parks. A few hundred watts into a short car vertical antenna will keep a full-length tube glowing albeit not at full brightness (once it's struck) up to about 10 metres from the vehicle.

The secure mail dilemma: If it's useable, it's probably insecure

Mike Banahan

PGP email

PGP works fine, but with email, only encrypts the body of the message and attachments.

The fly in the ointment is the severe problem that using standard SMTP to exchange email, the subject and to/from (in fact all the headers) are in plain text rendering a lot of snooping (who are you talking to, how often and what about) completely open.

Email needs re-architecting and probably needs to move away from SMTP altogether to make traffic analysis and web-of-correspondent tracking hard to do. At the same time one might as well incorporate other messaging types to include text, voice and video messaging all in the one encrypted package. At the very least everything needs to be encrypted and not to leak information if someone happens across / intercepts the whole message or its parts.

As far as I'm aware even PGP/GPG encrypted messages will yield up the key ID of the person they are encrypted to, allowing interception to perform at least some analysis of correspondent webs, but there may be an option to turn that off.

Thunderbird and Enigmail work very well and actually take very little effort to set up and understand, if all you care about is confidentiality of the message body. But watch what you put in the subject line!

A root-and-branch look needs to be taken at this, as sticking plaster solutions aren't going to work. PGP is probably an important component but the protocols, key exchange and transport mechanisms need serious work to keep the bastard's noses out of private correspondence. And they aren't going to like it.

Boffins, Tunnel Tigers and Scotland's world-first power mountain

Mike Banahan

Restarting the grid

I'd be interested to hear from anyone with current knowledge of the state of generation infrastructure in the UK as to whether the line about restarting the National Grid really has much truth in it. I'm sure that the pumped storage systems could be used that way, but in fact would they? If the grid was in such dire circumstances that it needed a restart, would the pumped storage systems be full or already drained?

I have a vague recollection garnered from years back when I mixed with the heavy-power fraternity that most large power stations were self-starting, being built with some hefty diesel and gas turbine auxiliary generators so that they could be more or less bootstrapped by some handy chappy with a starting-handle to get the starter motor for the starter motors ticking over. You would think that would be a fairly obvious precaution, after all. If there's going to be a major outage, presuming that the grid remains intact so as to allow remote pumped storage to get, say Drax steaming again seems a bit of a risk. But then, since it's under the control of politicians at the end of the day, maybe I shouldn't be surprised.


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