* Posts by Martin an gof

807 posts • joined 27 Jan 2010

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Doctor, doctor, I feel like my IoT-enabled vacuum cleaner is spying on me

Martin an gof
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Re: IoT foolishness

> I can't think of a good reason why your vacuum cleaner needs access to the internet at all. This is just more IoT madness.

So you / I can control it from the comfort of $wherever you like$ without having to physically go and fetch it.

But as has been pointed out here many, many times in the past, it doesn't need internet access for that.

If there must be a smartphone app, then the thing can communicate across the home network. But why must there be a smartphone app? A very simple remote control is probably easier to carry with you (smaller, battery lasts months, not hours) and with a teensy bit of thought the crumb-collecting device could respond to any one of a couple of different remote button pushes to "start full clean routine now" or "clean dining room" or "stop cleaning and go home because the cat has just been sick".

The key thing here, of course, is making sure that when the device leaves the factory it actually works and doesn't need to be updated at all.

M.

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'Fibre broadband' should mean glass wires poking into your router, reckons Brit survey

Martin an gof
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Re: Any connection with some fibre would be nice!

If anyone has any ideas of how to get a connection, I'm all ears!

Come to an arrangement with the owner next door? Get your own kit cabled up next door, pay a nominal rent for a bit of shelf in a cupboard and access to power and drag a cat.5 through a hole in the wall? Make sure VM know the billing address is different to the connection address.

Not entirely joking...

M.

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Martin an gof
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Re: Is it important?

How many home users have the traffic to saturate a 1Gps link?

That's the key question. Yes, in an ideal world we would all have our Copper swapped for glass the next time an Openreach van parks up by the cabinet, but in the real world only two things matter in the domestic sense:

  • cost
  • is it "good enough" for 99% of subscribers

Fibre to the Cabinet is - relative to Fibre to the Premises - cheap to install (particularly thinking of retrofits) and will satisfy 99% of subscribers who only really care about being able to stream Netflix and play an online game without too much lag, and don't want to pay through the nose for it. Even if a section of the Copper cable ends up being replaced, this is a relatively quick and easy job.

Let's face it, for many purposes 10Mbit/s (down) is just about adequate* and 20Mbit/s would satisfy most people. FTTC speeds usually start at 20Mbps and in some circumstances could potentially reach 100Mbps.

In other words, I imagine that policy makers think that at present there is no overwhelmingly pressing need for everyone to have FTTP, and they can have a much bigger, cheaper and quicker immediate impact on most people by upgrading their ADSL or ADSL2 to FTTC. Unless someone comes along with a "big vision", or until some must-have application comes along that requires higher speeds for all houses, FTTP will continue to be expensive and rolled out extremely slowly.

M.

*My own ADSL2 syncs at somewhere south of 8Mbps and when it's working well I get a throughput of between 6 and 7Mbps. We don't do online gaming or streaming 4k video, but it's only in the last year or so - as three of my offspring are now in secondary school - that we occasionally get "it's being a bit slow today dad". Frankly though, (video aside) they are patient enough not to mind waiting two or three seconds longer for a web page to download than they would if we were on FTTC, which is available at our cabinet, but would add £6 to the monthly cost, for an estimated 38Mbps.

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You wanna be an alpha... tester of The Register's redesign? Step this way

Martin an gof
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Re: My Comments

Why all the little grey lines everywhere?

Seconded. Not too bothered about the occasional isolated line, but putting boxes around everything (particularly around the small stuff - a box around the main story is ok) makes it all a bit messy.

M.

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No, seriously, why are you holding your phone like that?

Martin an gof
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Re: What was that quote allegedly from Cardinal Richelieu again?

the readings are limited to half hourly

Just because they are now, doesn't mean they will be forever. The meter is capable of sending readings as often as it is programmed to (though whether the mobile network uplink will cope if every meter sends readings every 30 seconds is another matter). Our "smart" meters at work have been logging readings with 5-minute resolution for perhaps 10 years now. I don't think they upload each individual reading, probably buffering a bunch and sending them together, but the point is that it can be done, if someone decides it's necessary.

M.

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Martin an gof
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Re: What was that quote allegedly from Cardinal Richelieu again?

I'm not breaking out the formulae for boiling a sodding kettle.

Nah, but it would have been a good excuse to make a cuppa and glance at the clock... hang on...

...full pot of tea made. 2.5kW kettle, half full, boiled in about 2m15s

:-)

M.

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Martin an gof
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Those who play music and videos, loudly, on public transport

My eldest travels to school on a bus where one of his schoolmates is in the habit of playing (bad) music loudly on a Bluetooth speaker.

Eldest thus took it upon himself to load up his phone with all sorts of "worthy" choonz (everything from Fleetwood Mac and Abba right on to Thomas the Tank Engine) and hijack the BT speaker as often as possible.

He's been doing this all year, and the miscreant still hasn't twigged and seems to think there's something wrong with his speaker...

M.

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Martin an gof
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Slight variation

I think there are two variations on the basic method. In the first, the phone is still in "normal" mode. In other words, in this mode you are working in "half duplex" where only one party can communicate at a time. Marvellous for making sure it's impossible to be interrupted.

But by far the most annoying mode is when the phone is in "speakerphone" mode. When used like this, it's less important exactly how the phone is held relative to the ear or the mouth, but now - instead of just catching half the conversation - anyone nearby can hear the whole blasted, boring, inane twaddle from both parties.

You have to wonder if the person at the other end knows that their conversation is being broadcast to anyone within listening radius, and some phones in speaker mode can be quite loud these days...

M.

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Cancelled in Crawley? At least your train has free Wi-Fi now, right?

Martin an gof
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Re: hopping along between masts

"I thought GSM (2G) was designed to work well at speeds of up to 150mph and that later standards have improved on that?"

Citation(s) welcome

That's why I asked the question.

Ok, so I've just spent my lunchtime looking. There doesn't seem to be an easy answer, mainly because GSM (2G) and later protocols are adaptive - they can alter various transmission parameters depending on the state of the radio link. There are several issues; there's the absolute distance from the base station - this applies to all mobile terminals and the standards have defined parameters which limit the physical size of a cell.

There's doppler shift - if the distance between the mobile unit and the base station is varying (the ultimate case, of course, being a mobile heading directly towards or away from a base), again standards have defined parameters which allow a certain range of frequency shifts before everything fails.

These two seem (if I've read the standards correctly) to be at least partly adaptive by varying the transmission parameters, trading off robustness for capacity of both the individual link and of the cell as a whole.

There is also the "network overhead"; that is the time it takes to handover a call from one cell to the next and the amount of data that must be passed around the network in order to do so. If the cells are close together and if the mobile station is moving tangentially relative to the cells there are some circumstances where the overhead of handoff becomes too great for the network to handle and calls might be dropped.

However, finding a simple reference which puts simple numbers to these parameters has been somewhat difficult. Anecdotally, most people have little or no trouble making calls from trains in areas with good coverage. Trains in the UK operate at up to 190mph(ish) though more normally at 140mph or less. Anecdotally there are also reports of passengers making successful calls from aircraft, below a certain altitude anyway.

One slightly-relevant reference I've found is this PDF which explains GSM-R. GSM-R is effectively standard GSM with some parameters "tweaked" (and some security enhancements) to make it more usable for rail. Some of those parameters affect the maximum speed at which the system works, and GSM-R is specified for speeds of up to 500km/h (310mph). That document is linked from this web page which explains the rationale behind GSM-R. There is also this overview (PDF) of the situation regarding a successor technology, which claims that with some tweaking LTE could be made to operate at 500km/h (see, for example, footnotes on p44).

Without reading (and understanding) all the specs it's a bit difficult to be more specific. Some more information might be gleaned from: A comparison of GSM-R and TETRA though this appears to have been written by someone with an axe to grind.

Phew! That was a busy Friday lunch break.

M.

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Martin an gof
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Re: hopping along between masts

Quite hard, actually.

Really? I thought GSM (2G) was designed to work well at speeds of up to 150mph and that later standards have improved on that?

M.

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Martin an gof
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Re: The joys of "market forces"

Some of your tunnels in the valleys are too short

Even Brunel didn't think of pantagraphs for GWR

On the Rhymney line they will be using "tri mode" trains, specifically to avoid having to electrify awkward sections. For example, the mile-long tunnel between Lisvane and Caerphilly stations will not have to be cabled, and the trains will run on (probably) battery for this section.

Electrification of the main line hasn't been going too well, with recently installed equipment in the Severn Tunnel reportedly having to be replaced because it's rusted. Who'd a thunk?

M.

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Martin an gof
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Like that other literal convenience that is rapidly disappearing.

As part of the upgrade of the Wales railways I previously mentioned, some lines are to get "tram trains". These will not have onboard toilets, but that's ok because all stations on those routes will have upgraded toilet facilities and the last train each day will timetable a toilet break! (do a search for "on-board toilets" and read on)

M.

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Martin an gof
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Re: I guess you mean regular public rail, rather than novelty or heritage?

Suspect the Ffestiniog could have a claim here as its services form part of the rail network...

Do they? I know you can buy a through ticket, (we did that some years ago, travelling from Llandudno Junction to Pwllheli via Blaenau and back), so if that's the criteria then yes, you might be right.

Some of their engines currently in use Prince and Palmerston date from 1864.

M.

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Martin an gof
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Re: If only...

Assuming you're talking about the third rail

Doesn't have to be the third rail (which you will notice is non-continuous anyway) but I don't think it could be made to work well using the normal rails, to be honest, mainly because they are already used as part of the signalling system and vehicle wheels short them out.

M.

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Martin an gof
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Re: If only...

Whats so great about Point "A",

Am I the only one to get the HHGTTG reference?

:-)

M.

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Martin an gof
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Re: The joys of "market forces"

Virgin said this multiple times: Make the franchise longer and we'd invest more money

The new scheme in Wales involves several interesting "innovations". Firstly, the lines will be looked after by a local entity (i.e. not Network Rail, except for the main line), secondly the rolling stock will be owned by (effectively) the Welsh Government (via arms-length not-for-profit Transport for Wales) which takes away much of the franchise-rollover pressure. I think they took a few hints from Transport for London :-)

Found the timeline. Or at least, a version of it. It's on p13 if this 43 page PDF.

M.

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Martin an gof
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The joys of "market forces"

As with many infrastructure projects, things like this just don't react well to market forces. Take the initial ADSL rollout. The local authority where I live actually paid BT to "enable" every exchange in the area back in the early 2000s. If they hadn't done that, we'd probably still be waiting for some of them - and this isn't an out-of-the-way rural idyll, this is the heavily-populated South Wales Valleys.

30 year old Pacers? We still have a few down here too, alongside a lot of Sprinters which are marginally better (at least they have bogies!) but just as old (the newest ones were built in 1987 according to Wikipedia). Market forces and short(ish) term franchises mean there's no incentive for one incumbent to buy new stock, and then hand them over if they lose the franchise in the next round. East Coast Main Line anyone?

In the Valleys there has also been the added problem of will they / won't they electrify, not just on the main line but also on the valleys lines.

Finally the Welsh Assembly has made a decision and is forming some kind of partnership with the next francisee of the Wales and Borders to upgrade everything. Under this scheme all Pacers are to be withdrawn next year (woo hoo!) but Sprinters will still be with us until 2022 (I think - can't look it up now as the ADSL line I'm using is currently running at 250kbit/s).

Looking forward to not seeing toilet waste between the tracks at my local stations.

M.

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East Midlands network-sniffer wails: Openreach, fix my outage-ridden line

Martin an gof
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Re: "But given the problems being reported, we're going to investigate further. "

What they really meant was "Given the bad publicity that this article could generate, we might get off our lazy arses

Also known as the Watchdog Effect, or the You and Yours effect (other consumer advice programmes are available...)

M.

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Tired sysadmin plugged cable into wrong port, unleashed a 'virus'

Martin an gof
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Re: Common trick

Our 2950 / 2960 switches are very old, so they only do "old fashioned" Spanning Tree - the protocol which protects against loopback. Old fashioned STP takes about 30 seconds in "learning" (blocking) mode before it transitions to "passing". We have had occasional problems with this, particularly kit which wants a network as soon as it's booting. To this end it is possible to put switch ports into "fast" mode, which allegedly bypasses the learning phase but still allows STP to work. I can see how this might allow a loopback storm to begin... I think.

M.

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Martin an gof
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I found a home router in our network a couple years ago being used as a hub.

Still happily offering to hand out IP addresses and collecting followers

We have a projector at work which hands out DHCP even though its address is configured manually and the DHCP function shows "off" in all the relevant menus. Panasonic just deny it's possible.

We also found some "unknown" devices on the network recently. Turns out that the one Mac on the network would happily "share" its network connection with any iDevice nearby. This one was possible to turn off, but unfortunately some users of that machine need Admin (on the machine) rights, so there's nothing to stop them turning it back on again. We suspect it was simply the easiest way to download files from an iPad...

Our "pool" addresses were always banned from external access, but we've turned them off altogether. If DHCP doesn't have your MAC, you don't get an IP. It's only a minor pain when setting up new kit.

M.

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Relive your misspent, 8-bit youth on the BBC's reopened Micro archive

Martin an gof
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Re: Damn, daniel!

I never knew there was a woman involved in the project at that level

Interesting that on a music programme the other day they were talking about Walter Carlos, when she's been Wendy for a very long time.

Never mind Roger / Sophie (I first learned about this while at Poly in the late 80s / early 90s and was initially confused), I always wanted to know who were the people behind the "FRED", "JIM" and "SHEILA" memory blocks.

M.

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Martin an gof
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"As we have discssed recently in another topic, ICT is now off the curriculum for most schools in England,"

Which is a shame, became as has been mentioned, ICT is the modern version of reading, writing, 'rithmetic.

Which is exactly how it is being treated in many schools. You don't "do ICT" any more, you "do" English (say) and part of the task is to produce a poster using (say) Publisher. You "do" History (say) and part of the task is to use Word (actually, these days it's more likely to be Google Docs) to produce an information leaflet. You "do" maths (say) and part of the task is to use a web browser to research the fuel efficiencies of cars online using manufacturer websites, then enter the data into a spreadsheet and plot graphs or produce ordered tables of cost, power, efficiency etc. This last one is something my 14-year-old has been doing today.

Once the (very) basics have been taught which, just as with reading riting and rithmetic, tends to be concentrated in what is now called "Foundation Phase" (nursery and infants, effectively), the rest is taught (in the better schools at any rate), incidentally, as a byproduct of other activities. Very 1960s :-)

One thing which isn't taught in many (any?) schools is touch typing. However popular tablets may be at the moment, the keyboard is not going away any time soon, and is necessary for fast, accurate, efficient content creation right the way through most people's careers. As I think I have mentioned previously, I believe touch typing should be taught alongside teaching how to hold a pencil and do "joined up" writing. It will - at the least - help to avoid many future RSIs!

M.

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Martin an gof
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As for your analogy, I also wouldn't expect "driving" to need an understanding of "automotive engineering",

The analogy I usually trot out in these circumstances - so apologies if anyone remembers me saying it in these hallowed halls previously - is that of a (hypothetical) newly qualified driver whose car breaks down one day, shortly after passing his test. He calls the AA out who diagnose a simple lack of petrol.

"But I never had to put petrol in my instructor's car!"

I feel the same about computer "users". Without some kind of basic understanding of what the computer is trying to do under the hood, users make all sorts of assumptions and end up making a bigger mess of things.

Like the scenario (this one is real - from one of my first jobs) where I get called up from the basement (where us engineers live) to the office because "the printer isn't working". I arrive to find the user repeatedly clicking the "print" icon (Word 5 I think, WfW 3.11) and no printout appearing on the Laserjet at the end of the table.

On the other hand, half a dozen printouts are making their laborious way through the colour HP A3 Deskjet at the other end of the table.

Because in those days, the print icon meant "print using last settings", and the user didn't have the nous to check what those were, despite having recently returned from a training course in Word and us having explained the printer setup to everyone repeatedly, since installing the second printer some months prior.

M.

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Martin an gof
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Re: Aaaarrrrghhh!!! Lisp!!!!!

seen the function it describes actually take place before your very eyes without the need for a computer,

Your name is Robert (Bob) Howard and I claim my 5p reward.

M.

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Martin an gof
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But "Word and Excel and stuff" *is* ICT. You're thinking "ICT" means "programming", it doesn't

As we have discssed recently in another topic, ICT is now off the curriculum for most schools in England, and Computer Science, which contains a lot more of the stuff we would be familiar with from O-levels back in the day, is the new fashion. It's just a shame that teachers who were perfectly competent teaching Word and Excel are struggling to stay ahead of the class when it comes to Python or Boolean Algebra!

M.

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When Google's robots give your business the death sentence – who you gonna call?

Martin an gof
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Re: re: it's just somebody else's computer you can't control

don't pretend the cloud doesn't have any benefits to go along with the bad bits.

I think the point being made is that there really, really isn't a one-size-fits-all offering. Every use case in every organisation is different.

We know very little about this particular case, but the valid point is probably that while Google's offering was undoubtedly useful while getting the thing set up (little capital outlay, ability to scale up - or down - as required), by the time it became "mission critical" there should have been a more robust system in place, even if that merely involved stepping up a tier (or two) on the support ladder.

The problem is that sales droids are extremely good at convincing PHBs that "the cloud" is the answer to everything, without explaining that moving to a cloud-based solution, particularly where an existing on-site solution has been in place for many years, involves looking at every aspect of the operation from the roots upwards and re-evaluating which bits are "worth" what to the company.

All a PHB sees is "it's working" and "it's cheaper". Once those two things are established, best of luck.

On a much smaller scale, at home I have a NAS(*) which stores all our digital media. It's based on an E450 AMD processor and six 1TB 2.5" HDDs in Z2 (ZFS equivalent of RAID6) for approximately 4TB online.

Occasionally a disc dies and is replaced - no problem.

However, I now need to expand the array and I can't do the trick of swapping out the 1TB discs for (say) 1.5TB or 2TB discs because NAS-capable 2.5" discs simply don't come in sizes greater than 1TB(**). What's that all about? I blame SSDs. I wanted to build a small, low-power, quiet(ish) NAS and I gambled that HDD capacities would continue to rise. Well 3.5" capacities have, but 2.5" HDDs have been stuck at 1TB (except for WD Blue etc.) for about five years now.

So I need to rebuild the whole caboodle, either to support more than the 6 x 2.5" discs I currently have (i.e. a new motherboard with more SATA and/or more PCIe) or a new (bigger) case which can take 6 or more 3.5" discs. To be honest, a new m/b is a good option anyway as the existing one is well over 5 years old and I recently lost a similar E350.

In my case, the PHB is my wife, and the constraint is the bank balance. "It's working well, so why do you want to spend all that money building a new one?"

Now then, what are the current offers on HP microservers?

M.

(*)Actually there are two, physically separated, in theory replicating each other. For various reasons this isn't quite working the way I need it to at the moment...

(**)For home I'd be happy using WD Black or Barracuda Pro rather than a WD Red or Ironwolf, but even they don't come larger than 1TB.

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Automated payment machines do NOT work the same all over the world – as I found out

Martin an gof
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In Australia, they recently removed the ability to pay at the pump. Too many people driving off without paying.

It all sounds very complicated - I don't understand the problems. I tend not to use PatP lanes here in the UK, but when I have done, you don't get any fuel until your card has been read and the PIN checked, then you get your card back and can pump fuel. The transaction is "open" until you finish fuelling, whereupon the exact amount is charged to your account and a little receipt is printed to that effect. No opportunity to drive off without paying, no scamming by dodgy attendants and - unless the bank payment systems are compromised - no mis-charging.

How is it difficult?

M.

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Martin an gof
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Re: Might be the compass

Can't make those "point it at the stars to see their names" apps work on my Moto G for similar reasons, I think. GPS on or GPS off, "calibrated" by tumbling or not, the compass just doesn't seem consistent.

Playing with my micro:bit recently, I simply can't get the compass to work in any kind of consistent manner. Even after "draw a circle to calibrate". Apparently it's a 3-axis unit, but I'm blowed if I can work out which axis I'm supposed to hold it, moving it some ways it seems ok for about a third of a rotation, then suddenly flips, moving it other ways gives seemingly random results, and the compass function only returns a 0-359 degree value so maybe it's doing some kind of pointless averaging.

Anybody with any clues?

M.

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Software changed the world, then died on the first of the month

Martin an gof
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Re: Data format parsing

I'm sure many readers have will have had a letter addressed to Mr. Suchhand Such, something St. London, London because the person supplying the address has had to put London for both City and county

Many years ago I filled in a form and put the town as "Caerphilly" and the county as "Caerffili" (obviously, one being the English, one being the Welsh spelling). In this case, it is valid to put both down since the town of Caerphilly lies within the County Borough Council of Caerphilly, and either spelling is valid for either name.

Presumably at some point this was subsumed into one of those postcode databases because to this day I find that some sites auto fill "Caerphilly / Caerffili" when I've entered the postcode.

I'm assuming here, of course, that I'm the only one daft enough to do such a thing :-)

Others auto fill "Caerphilly / Mid Glamorgan" which is annoying, as Mid Glam ceased to exist back in 1997 IIRC.

M.

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Martin an gof
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Re: @Rich 11

"exactly what I'd asked for" but "didn't do what I wanted".

First came across this way back when I was taking O-level computer studies. The task was to produce (in BBC BASIC) some kind of maths drill-and-practice game. I spotted the problem immediately - the spec. said that on an incorrect answer some kind of response should be given, and should be displayed for ten seconds. On a correct answer, an appropriate response was given and then the user could progress to the next question by pressing (say) the space bar.

So (because this wasn't an assessed task and the teacher was usually quite friendly) I deliberately coded a non-breakable pause for incorrect, but a breakable one for correct.

And got moaned at (and marks docked) for being so pedantic.

It's stuck with me though, and I do tend to "sanity check" any specification, as far as possible, and intend to point this sort of issue out before I commit too much effort :-)

(developing software isn't my main game, it's not even my second or third, but I do do it occasionally)

M.

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HTC U12+: You said we should wait and review the retail product. Hate to break it to you, but...

Martin an gof
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Re: 18x9 = 2x1?

why do they put "18:9"

Because then it matches 21:9 (approximately the ratio for cinema films, and the way it's described on the DVD sleeve) 16:9 (normal widescreen TVs) and 12:9 (older tellies, also known as 4:3).

Another case of "bigger is better" I suppose. Now, how about these 16:10 projectors I have?

M.

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Martin an gof
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Re: Usual errors

Just because something is hidden or disabled doesn't mean it's removed

Or that it can't be re-enabled by a future update? I'm sure I had this some years ago; disabled apps re-enabling themselves. Is that still possible?

Since then I've used Cyanogenmod and LineageOS...

M.

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Do UK.gov wonks understand sci-tech skills gap? MPs dish out Parliamentary kicking

Martin an gof
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Re: So many issues...

don't make the assumption that you're conversing with a peer.

I wasn't making that assumption. I am fortunate to have just about scraped through a degree course before tuition fees and loans came in and I am fully aware of the vast difference that has made to my subsequent career choices. I did go back to do a postgrad course later on, and am still - 18 years after finishing that one-year course - paying the loan off.

No, my question was in reply to the comment about whether it's worthwhile getting into so much debt. I was wondering just how many 18 year olds can truly grasp what they are about to let themselves in for.

The careers advice they are getting will (mostly) be delivered by people like me, who have never had to worry about the debt getting a degree can saddle you with (or who have the much lower level of debt from the early years). When I was growing up, going to university was an aspiration. It would help you get out of the dirty, physical, badly-rewarded "careers" that our parents and grandparents suffered*. Apprenticeships were in a severe decline and the kinds of industries which offered them locally - heavy engineering, steelmaking, coal mining - simply don't exist any more (I'm about an hour away from Port Talbot if that counts).

That sort of careers advice often isn't relevant these days, and to be frank there are many careers where a degree isn't actually necessary, though the degree-holding management of those employers may not realise that fact.

M.

*I'm speaking generally. I grew up in the south Wales valleys where a large proportion of my peers' parents and grandparents were of coal mining and other heavy industry stock. Personally I was better off. One grandfather worked in the docks, but the other was a chartered accountant (latterly with the NCB). One grandmother was a seamstress, but the other was (until she married) a teacher, and both my parents were teachers too, though my dad started off as a mechanical engineer. Only my mother had any kind of degree. These days you wouldn't even get in the to the ground floor of those careers without one.

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Martin an gof
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Re: Stream the schools not the children

It can't work effectively in sparsely populated rural areas

Good point, and the same goes for the policy of so-called "choice".

I believe that local authorities need more say in how they fund and deliver their services

You may not be aware that most secondaries and many primaries in England (notably, not in the other parts of the UK) have been converted - willingly or unwillingly - to Academy Schools. These schools get their funding directly from the Department and the local authority has no say at all in how they are run.

This has had a negative impact on many of the services that are traditionally provided centrally. Music and Pupil Support (special needs children in mainstream schools) come to mind. Academy schools are able to choose where to spend their money, or indeed whether to spend it at all. They are also free to create their own curriculum, ignoring the National Curriculum.

The upshot is that (for example) in many schools it is no longer possible for children to learn to play a musical instrument for free or at low subsidised cost or to take part in youth orchestras. Because of the reduced revenue, centralised music services are closing down, hurting even those schools which are willing to continue to fund them.

There are some things which work well when subjected to the full force of capitalism. There are others that really do not. Education is - I'd suggest - one of those latter things. Transport infrastructure may be another, and Health is definitely a third: Little-known Nye Bevan quote

M.

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Martin an gof
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Re: Stream the schools not the children

I see my argument has drawn many replies about grammar schools, but none about the education of midstream and weak pupils

I think - if you read the replies properly (and I'll admit that mine are some of the longest, sorry) - that many people have talked about the midstream. It all comes together. If you talk about "streaming schools" then almost by definition you are talking about Grammar Schools, and if you talk about the "top 20%" then you have instantly highlighted (highlit?) the basic inequity of streaming pupils at age 11.

As JGH and others have pointed out, pupils mature at different rates, and age 11 - 13 is the period where the greatest differences are apparent and (in general) girls are way ahead of boys both in terms of social maturity and often mental acuity. It is at this point that education needs to be the most flexible, not the least. Where one pupil who is brilliant at maths but finds English difficult can be both in the top set for maths, and perhaps in a lower set for English, so that their maths is stretched and their English is developed.

In a Grammar school, such a pupil might be fine with the maths, but find themselves struggling at the bottom of the class in English while the other pupils race on ahead. At a "secondary modern", such a pupil might have their English brought up to a standard where a good B or C passing grade is possible, but find that they get bored at maths and perhaps - perhaps because this is the policy of the school - they are not even entered for the correct papers to enable them to get an "A*".

If you stream schools then again, almost by definition, you have lots of small grammar schools for the top 20% (this is mainly good, for those pupils) and you have lots of small "special" schools (to use a term that is utterly out of favour now) for the bottom 15% or 20%.

Then, of course, the middle 60% get put into a few huge "secondary moderns" where they are often lost in the crowd.

Then there's the social aspect. Yes, some low-ability pupils can be disruptive, but that is not a given, and allowing them to mix with more able peers and (crucially) allowing more able pupils to mix with those of lower capabilities helps people come to terms with the fact that we are not all the same.

Far, far better, to have lots of mixed ability schools - note I am not advocating completely mixed ability classes - where there is flexibility to move between levels for different subjects. Many schools already achieve this, though it gets more difficult when you start GCSEs due to timetabling constraints. I fell foul of this myself for my O-levels, where because of one choice of subject I could not be put into the "higher" Geography class, and found myself in the "lower" one. The curriculum was the same, but discipline was more difficult. It was hard, but thanks to the help of the Letts revision book and a very patient mother, Geography ended up being one of my two "A" grades.

and none about my suggestions re the civil service.

I think we all agree that the civil service needs a good seeing-to (ooo-er missus) but you aren't exactly expansive about your thoughts on the matter, so it's difficult to comment on them. Perhaps if you had explained further?

M.

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Martin an gof
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Re: So many issues...

you see the words "Computer Science" and take it at its words and you think it is actually computer science. It isn't, it's typing.

I think that was true of the ICT courses (Information Communication Technology), but today's Computer Science courses are actually more like the O- and A-levels I studied, with modules on the fundamentals of computing including maths, logic, program design and suchlike and even a project which involves actual "programming" (mind you, the GCSE syllabus for our local exam board says this can be undertaken in languages as diverse as Python, Pascal, Delphi, VB.net, C (etc.) and PHP!)

WJEC Computer Science Specification

M.

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Martin an gof
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Re: Stream the schools not the children

You've got that the wrong way around

I think he mis-typed. Most of the following comments seem to have taken it for granted that he meant "anyone who remembers the 1970s Secondary Modern schools..."

:-)

M.

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Martin an gof
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Re: So many issues...

If so, then the continually increasing tuition fees would have had an actual impact on student numbers. It doesn't seem to have done so.

At 17 / 18, would you have been fully aware of the potential impact of a £30,000 - £40,000 debt? Would you have been able to understand the implications of a 6% interest rate over the first five years of your career where you aren't actually repaying the loan because you don't earn enough, or the effect this would have on your credit rating or your ability to rent a flat or raise a mortgage?

Or would you have listened to your careers adviser saying "Get a degree, you'll get a better job with a higher wage. It doesn't really matter what the degree is".

I think politicians are skirting over the fact that current thinking is that nearly half of all student loans will never be repaid. Maybe by the time they've left university, graduates have realised this and so are perfectly happy to sit in dead-end jobs at just below the repayment threshold, knowing that by the time they reach 50 the loan will be written off.

M.

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Martin an gof
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Re: Stream the schools not the children

The large number of pupils made it difficult to maintain an ethos.

Can I suggest that it wasn't the large number of pupils - per se - that made this difficult, but rather the merging of three or six (or whatever it was) schools that would previously have seen each other as rivals. If you have spent the last five years throwing abuse at the "posh kids" from the school down the road, how on earth do teachers suddenly persuade you to smile nicely to each other in the classroom?

There's a similar situation - worse in some ways - developing at the school my children attend.

For political reasons, what should have been two completely separate schools, ten miles apart, have been run by the same management since the second school opened. Unfortunately, management is more interested in the older school which admittedly has more pupils (though not very many more now) but also for geographic reasons probably has more borderline C/D pupils than the newer site (see my previous post). Children rarely travel between sites (and get abuse from the "locals" when they do) and most teachers spend all or nearly all of their time based at one site or the other. There is very little sense among pupils (or some staff) that they are actually "one school". The successful sports teams, for example, are the ones based at one or other site, while the whole-school choir has had all sorts of problems.

Unfortunately the policy (for now) is to site sixth form students only at the older site. Students from the newer site are very wary of this and many (more than would normally do so) have chosen to "jump ship" and take sixth-form studies at one of the local colleges instead.

M.

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Martin an gof
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Re: So many issues...

ICT is my particular bugbear, which in most schools is given a very low priority and taught by non-specialists.

In England, of course, you can no longer take ICT; it's Computer Science now and there is good evidence that the number of pupils taking CS is a lot lower than those who used to take ICT.

In Wales, both are still available and certainly at my children's school it is interesting to note that the teachers have consistently said things along the lines of "you don't want to take CS because it's too hard and the pass rate is low. Take ICT instead, it's still a GCSE and most employers will count it exactly the same".

Of course what they mean is "please take the easier subject so our percentage of good grades improves".

Oh, and it isn't (completely) true, either. Last year's ICT and CS A*-C results for this examination board were 69.9% and 60.3% respectively. Note that Physics was 92.1% and Chemistry 91.8%!

M.

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Martin an gof
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Re: Stream the schools not the children

The top 10% will succeed anywhere. It is the middle 30/40% who suffer most because they will already have been written off.

In many cases it's actually the opposite - yes, the top 10% will do well, but many schools will actually concentrate a lot of resources on the middle 30%, the ones who are borderline "C/D" grade because league tables mean that just pushing a few more children out of "D" and into "C" counts for a *lot* more than getting C-grade children to achieve a B, or B to achieve an A. (A to A* is a different matter).

I'm using "old fashioned" grades because that is what they still use where I live, and I haven't quite got my head around the boundaries between the new 9 - 1 numerical grades.

M.

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Martin an gof
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Re: Stream the schools not the children

The education system is failing at all levels. It fails to properly develop the bright children because it stuffs them (*) into bog-standard comps.

There is some logic in your argument, but please, please don't advocate for the return of Grammar schools and the 11+ because the quota system means that a (variable) number of "borderline" children each year are condemned to a second-tier education. Some children mature more quickly than others and due to the way our schools are organised into cohorts (best of luck changing that one) it is entirely possible for children in the same cohort to be almost a whole year different in ages.

My eldest, for example, is, and always will be the oldest child in his year (in fact his school at the moment) because he was born at about 1am on September the 1st. In that sense he has had a developmental advantage over many of his classmates.

My youngest was born half way through August and has the exact opposite problem. In y6 she will be looking forward to her 11th birthday while some of her classmates are mere weeks off their 12th.

Comprehensive schools were originally born in a spirit of optimism and decent budgets and in those circumstances they can work very well. It doesn't matter if only five children want to take music (for example) or there are only ten top-set children taking extended maths - it may in itself be a "loss making" subject, but what counts is that things balance as a whole.

The school attended by my eldest has (effectively) in his year three academic "streams" and children can, and do, move between them during their school career. This makes a difference to their futures. For example, top stream children get to take "triple science" at GCSE while middle stream children take a "double award". Top stream children take French as a compulsory GCSE subject, while middle and lower stream children have to choose to do a Modern Foreign Language as one of their optional subjects - and all streams get just three options.

I know of several children who would have been borderline passes of the 11+, or would have failed it, who have subsequently been moved up a set or two, and it's no good saying that in your system they could move schools, because certainly in the past that was only possible in exceptional circumstances, and of course it also means moving friends and peer groups which is hard.

Separated schools also raises the possibility of children being in different schools and all the taxi-driving hassles that involves (yes, I have more than two children, yes they are at different schools).

M.

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Buttonless and port-free: Expect the next iPhone to be as smooth as a baby's bum

Martin an gof
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Re: More Deadly Waves!

Three feet away, up to a 30-foot "envelope"

Trying to think like someone who doesn't understand maths or physics...

If you take 3ft as the radius, then the area of a circle drawn around the charging point is about 28.3ft2. Would that work?

Of course what you should be talking about is a sphere or hemisphere and... goodness, the absolutely crippling inefficiencies of air-coupled inductive power transfer.

M.

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Atari accuses El Reg of professional trolling and making stuff up. Welp, here's the interview tape for you to decide...

Martin an gof
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Re: I can't believe the Ref didn't stop the fight!

[it's actually harder than it looks, to stick to four letters or less]

Surely it'd be more sporting to use the rules of Just a Minute or, better still, Just a Minim!

M.

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Martin an gof
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Re: Oh how the might have fallen...

So why were so many of the BBC Master Race addicted to Chuckie Egg and Frak! ?

Quality over quantity. Chuckie Egg, Frak!, Aviator, Revs and - who can forget - Elite. The Spectrum and the C64 may have ten times more games released for them than the BBC, but that didn't matter if you had the likes of the above.

Of course, price was another issue. I seem to remember anything in BBC format (software or hardware) costing about 50% more than the equivalent Spectrum or C64. Quality costs.

Speaking as someone who bought a rubber Spectrum 48k using most of my savings, and those of my sister, back in 1983 (I think - it was just after the price came down from £180 to £130) but carried on saving and sold it a couple of years later to help fund a BBC Micro B together with Christmas donations.

M.

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Martin an gof
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Re: Oh how the might have fallen...

Those rich BBC kids never got involved

No, we didn't need to. We knew our machine was superior and we knew that you knew that as well.

Games library? Pah.

;-)

M.

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Please tighten your passwords and assume the brace position, says plane-tracking site

Martin an gof
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Re: Panic

I can still see the picture of horror on his face when he saw the plane had turned around some way across the Atlantic

Similar thing happened to my sister, whose eldest (then 15) was due to return from a rugby trip in Canada. FR24 showed them taking off, getting about half way across the Atlantic, then turning around and going back...

...then suddenly, miraculously, being transported from a few hundred miles off the East Coast of the US to a few hundred miles off the West Coast of the UK.

Coverage in the Atlantic is a bit sparse, and something went wrong with the "it'll carry on on its current track unless we hear otherwise" algorithm.

Phew!

M.

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Martin an gof
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Some private aircraft - even gliders - are also visible through whatever tracking devices they use.

I believe that FR24 - as do other flight tracking websites - filters some aircraft out of the map. If you have a Raspberry Pi with USB TV stick and Dump 1090 installed you can not only feed data into FR24 (thus gaining a "business" class subscription for the price of a Pi and a stick) but you can look directly at the data Dump 1090 collects about aircraft near you. This data is unfiltered.

The "tracking devices" are ADS-B transponders, which continuously broadcast various data about the aircraft (or, yes, airport vehicles) to which they are fitted. Most commercial aircraft are required to carry these. Many private aircraft do, but not all military.

See also: FR24, how it works

and Flight Aware page on ADS-B

M.

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This HTC U12+ review page is left intentionally blank

Martin an gof
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Reviews are not El Reg's primary business

As the article says, El Reg is not under the pressure to publish that gadget review sites are. In circumstances such as this I'm very happy for them to publish a short story along the lines of "HTC is about to launch the U12+, it has these headline features and we will publish a full review on/near launch day".

Reviewing non-production product is fraught with dangers, particularly because (as someone pointed out above) that review is often higher up the search results than the subsequent "now we've had it for a month, here are the caveats" article. A case in point that hit us a couple of years ago was a Sandisk Ultra SSD where most of the reviews we found were very positive for this relatively cheap device, but we found them so-so. I can't find the reference now, but I think it was Anandtech who did some digging (they were the source of one of the glowing initial reviews) and found that Sandisk had changed the controller between the review / early production devices and the mainstream production devices, leading to a significant drop in performance, while keeping the exact same model number.

M.

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Men are officially the worst… top-level domain

Martin an gof
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Re: Serifs are goooooood...

Most of the Ioans I know are really nice blokes.

It's worse here, because my eldest is Ioan so I effectively default to reading "loan" as "Ioan" when there are no embellishments.

Yes, he's a nice bloke. Most of the time...

M.

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