* Posts by Tim Starling

77 posts • joined 30 May 2010


Why do driverless car makers have this insatiable need for speed?

Tim Starling


That is a mapping problem, not a GPS problem. The solution is like Worstall says -- get a few humans to drive the last 100m into the correct entrance, log the route they took, and then make that route available for subsequent cars.

YOW! Pluto STUNS boffins with HAZY, SHRINKY atmosphere

Tim Starling

Cryogenic store

There's a place on the Moon's south pole where the temperature never gets above 35K http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8416749.stm

Behold: Pluto's huge ICE MOUNTAINS ... and signs of cryovolcanoes?

Tim Starling

Re: Uranus Boring?

The Voyager 2 pictures of Uranus were pretty much featureless, but that was at the summer solstice. Since its axis of rotation points almost at the sun, it doesn't have much diurnal variation in solar radiation to drive weather. It has a remarkably low internal heat. Pictures of Uranus from the HST taken closer to the time of the equinox show storms and bands: http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2007/32/image/c/format/large_web/

We know so little about Uranus. Its atmosphere does not retain a geological record; how much could you say about the Earth by looking at its clouds? The rocky surfaces of Uranus's moons may hold clues as to its history.

Wikipedia: YES! we’ve SAVED the INTERNET again!

Tim Starling

Senior member...

Not senior in as in authority, just senior as in a dev who has been hanging around for a long time. I was speaking for myself at the time and I am speaking for myself now.

It's my job to keep the site up, and I didn't think blackouts were consistent with that goal. Blackouts seem to directly conflict with our educational mission. I let the SOPA thing go without making much noise, but in July 2012 it was looking like we had set a precedent, and I was worried that blackouts would become a common event. That's why I spoke out at that time.

There's no evidence that anyone was lying, it's just that I (a developer, not a lawyer), had a different opinion to that of the WMF legal team.

Get paid (airline) peanuts with United's new bug bounty program

Tim Starling

Re: Don't knock it

It's only worth £4000 if you were planning on spending £4000 for that flight but didn't have to because you had air miles. If you would never consider doing such a thing, then the value to you is lower than the retail price.

Bug bounties don't pay much per hour worked. In 2014 in Facebook's bug bounty program, the top 5 countries were India, Egypt, USA, UK and Philippines, in that order. Now tell me, how many Indians want to save on their business class travel?


Inequality increasing? BOLLOCKS! You heard me: 'Screw the 1%'

Tim Starling

"Moral precepts aren't economics"

Perhaps moral precepts aren't economics, but a connection with utilitarianism is often made in introductory textbooks on economics. For example:

"Economics is not about the financial fate of particular individuals or particular enterprises. It is about the material well-being of society as a whole. When economists analyze prices, wages, profits, or the international balance of trade, for example, it is from the standpoint of how decisions in various parts of the economy affect the allocation of scarce resources in a way that raises or lowers the material standard of living of the people as a whole."


Ukrainian teen created in lab passes Turing Test – famous nutty prof

Tim Starling

AI is harder than Turing expected

The original article by Alan Turing which El Reg linked to was interesting, and funny in places. Certainly it's clear that passing the test turned out to be a lot harder than Turing expected, in terms of hardware requirements:

"As I have explained, the problem is mainly one of programming. Advances in engineering will have to be made too, but it seems unlikely that these will not be adequate for the requirements. Estimates of the storage capacity of the brain vary from 10^10 to 10^15 binary digits. I incline to the lower values and believe that only a very small fraction is used for the higher types of thinking. Most of it is probably used for the retention of visual impressions, I should be surprised if more than 10^9 was required for satisfactory playing of the imitation game, at any rate against a blind man. (Note: The capacity of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition, is 2 X 10^9) A storage capacity of 10^7, would be a very practicable possibility even by present techniques. It is probably not necessary to increase the speed of operations of the machines at all. Parts of modern machines which can be regarded as analogs of nerve cells work about a thousand times faster than the latter. This should provide a "margin of safety" which could cover losses of speed arising in many ways."

I don't know what kind of hardware Eugene runs on, but I suspect it is a lot better than 125MB of memory (including program and data) and a clock speed measured in kilohertz. And we are still a long way short of being able to construct a "learning machine" of the kind Turing describes in his final section.


Linux distros fix kernel terminal root-hole bug

Tim Starling

Re: Definition of "local"

Nice to know you can patch it within the hour. By the way, the fix was committed to the public kernel source 12 days ago, and Ubuntu had the fix 10 days ago.


The CVE number was allocated last December, and that timing roughly corresponds with a public discussion about potential race conditions in the relevant code:


Stephen Hawking: The creation of true AI could be the 'greatest event in human history'

Tim Starling

Scary artist AI

An AI will presumably have "drives" or goals, defined by its creator. You could express it as an optimisation problem -- "provide a sequence of actions which will maximise utility function X", where X is, say, the extent to which the AI is winning a chess game, or the likelihood that a Jeopardy host will say "yes, that is the correct answer", or world peace, or human misery. The nature of the goals will follow from the humans who create them -- practical people might create an AI which optimises for safe driving or interesting journalism, whereas people with a whimsical streak will probably create four-legged robots that act like puppies. I wouldn't worry about a military planning AI going rogue, such things would be made by engineers with very specific goals. I would worry about an AI created by an artist, with vaguely-defined human-like goals -- set loose on the world as an experiment to see what it might do.

Internet is a tool of Satan that destroys belief, study claims

Tim Starling

Re: Build schools not temples!

Your own completely uninformed speculation makes you angry? You must have a short fuse. Go read http://results.usaid.gov/afghanistan and calm down a bit.

It's funny to see such a comment on an article about the internet making people better-informed.

Why a plain packaging U-turn from UK.gov could cost £3bn a year

Tim Starling

> I thought the Australian change in packaging also coincided with a massive increase in tax on cigarettes.

No, it didn't, see page 20 of the KPMG report.

The Reg explores technology in a remote aboriginal community

Tim Starling

Simple English Wikipedia

A possible literacy resource:


It is aimed at adult non-native speakers, as well as children.

Torvalds frustrated at missing simultaneous release

Tim Starling


I thought microkernel architecture was largely discredited, due to poor performance. Even Darwin, which has its roots in the Mach microkernel, was forced to adopt a more monolithic design, and is now described as a "hybrid".

'Hand of Thief' banking Trojan reaches for Linux – for only $2K

Tim Starling

Re: So how does it get onto the system?

> actually it does when you have wine installed, that's a bug

I tried it in Chromium just now. If you navigate to a .exe file, it automatically downloads it for you, then one click on an unlabelled "open" icon at the bottom of the window is all it takes to execute arbitrary code. There were no warnings.

Tim Starling

Re: Problem with this idea...

We get a lot of comments on El Reg saying "I installed Linux for my Mum and she loves it." So presumably there are some naive end users.

They don't recognise us as HUMAN: Disability groups want CAPTCHAs killed

Tim Starling

Source link


Carbon capture to biofuel process gets go-ahead

Tim Starling

How does this reduce CO2 emissions?

It's best thought of as an efficiency measure. The carbon gets burnt twice, so you get approximately twice as much useful energy per tonne of CO2. So the CO2 emission per unit energy is cut in half.

First quartet of low-latency broadband satellites now in space

Tim Starling

Re: $1.3Bn?? Considering what Iridum spunked on this that's a bargain.

They're pitching it at mobile backhaul. The end user would just have a phone.

The Register's NBN study: a good start, let's ramp it up

Tim Starling

Why I'm not donating

Firstly, before I donate to something, I like to know what is going to be done with my money. The questions are vague. It's implied that economic modelling will be done, but not it's not specified what will be modelled and what techniques will be used. You could answer the question in any number of ways. It's like asking an essay question without specifying the word count.

Secondly, I can pretty well guess what the results will be, since I read international studies with similar goals around the time the NBN was first proposed. When you try to do a cost benefit analysis of broadband, the concrete benefits are small, and the far-future benefits are ill defined, so the error bars are large. There are inconvenient facts the study could point out, like the relationship between price and penetration and the effect of poor penetration on social benefits. But the ABS has had data on that since the NBN was proposed, so surely any political impact of such data has already run its course.

Thirdly, I'm pretty convinced that neither the broadband policy of Liberal nor Labor will lead to collapse and downfall of Australian society and industry. They differ in scale, not direction. The same cannot be said with such confidence about other causes that I might be willing to donate to.

Ecuador: Let's talk about not having Julian Assange on our sofa

Tim Starling

Evidence that the US wants to arrest Assange

> Why do you assume that the US does want him?

Maybe on the basis of the evidence?



It seems strange to me that so many commenters here are talking about this as mere speculation.

Hold our tiny silicon spheres, say gravity wave detection scientists

Tim Starling


Like MichaelGordon says, the existence of gravitational waves is proven to several decimal places and is not disputed. But it's easy to forget that when grants for scientific megaprojects are on the line. "Testing Einstein's theory of relativity" is a nice thing to have on your grant application, perhaps better than "it's like a telescope except with terrible spatial resolution and a million times more expensive"

Flat mobe battery? Just light a fire

Tim Starling

Re: Butane is pointess

You could try following the link. Obviously the guy is aware of the prior existence of devices that use the Seebeck effect, since he just bought one off the shelf. As for carrying butane, that is just for testing. As he says himself: "[...] if you use gps tracking the phone is empty in half a day. If you are away for one week, that means 14 recharges and a lot of batteries. If you can power the phone by using only wood, then you only need to bring my 400 grams and a lighter."

Ubuntu without the 'U': Booting the Big Four remixes

Tim Starling

Re: Any distro recommendations for use on an old Thinkpad 365XD?

Time to put that one out to pasture, I think. It wouldn't be much use for anything other than nostalgia, and more recent computers do just fine at nostalgia thanks to DOSBox etc.

If you really can't let it go, you could try http://www.thinkwiki.org/wiki/Installation_instructions_for_the_ThinkPad_365 . Apparently you can make it into a very bulky and power-hungry MP3 player.

Boffins explain LED inefficiencies

Tim Starling

Re: Weird physics

> Heat _is_ light .. just at a lower frequency.

Um, not exactly. Heat is energy transferred from one body to another due to the two bodies being at different temperatures. The mechanism of the energy transfer -- whether it is infrared light, visible light, kinetic energy, etc. -- is not relevant to the question of whether or not it is heat.

Ten Windows tablets

Tim Starling

You can't have a picnic without ants

And you can't have an internet community without trolls. What a troll wants is a rise, and obviously Eadon is doing pretty well provoking anger from the community here. He's not going to go away, but you could at least try not multiplying everything he says by 20, by posting offended replies to it. Just downvote and leave it at that. If an ant crawls on your picnic lunch, you flick it off, you don't burst into tears and then call the cops.

Lasers capture 3D images from a kilometre away

Tim Starling


I don't see what it's got to do with privacy. Surely if you wanted to identify someone at a distance of 1km, you'd use a long-focus camera lens or a small telescope, not a million dollars worth of LIDAR equipment. To me this just looks like awesome technology.


Tim Starling

Re: Filtering spoofed packets

There is a hint of an answer at http://mailman.nanog.org/pipermail/nanog/2013-March/057235.html

Tim Starling

Source IP filtering

Open resolvers are a problem. But so are the transit providers who are failing to filter the source IP addresses of traffic entering their network. If more providers did this, there would be fewer zombies capable of forging source IPs.

Nanowires boost photovoltaics sunlight capture by 15X

Tim Starling

One–ten thousandth of a human hair = ?

Can someone convert that to linguine for me?

Are your servers PETS or CATTLE?

Tim Starling

Pet flea

What would you call a much-loved virtual server hosted on AWS? A pet flea?

IT sector needs to keep getting greener: Alcatel-Lucent study

Tim Starling

Quick, someone build 10 times as many power plants, the Internet needs electricity

Power usage of network gear has been growing exponentially for decades, because it was not a significant proportion of costs, so there was little incentive to optimise for energy usage. Now it has become a significant proportion of costs, so it's time to pick all the low-hanging fruit left after years of having R&D concentrate on other things.

The ICT industry can't afford to fund a massive expansion in the world's electricity supply. Traffic would not continue to grow if such costs were passed on to end users. This study shows an exponential curve extrapolated until it becomes ridiculous.

Top tools for junior Linux admins

Tim Starling


Definitely, the manpages are excellent, except for coreutils for which the complete documentation is here:


If you're writing C code, then the manpages of the Linux Programmer's Manual (the "manpages-dev" package in Ubuntu) are extremely useful, and often better as a first reference than the glibc manual. They're useful even when you're writing Python or Perl, since so many functions in higher-level languages are just wrappers for the C functions.

I use man2html to allow me to read man pages in a browser. It gives you some creature comforts like scroll bars, a variable-width font, and links you can click on. And if my local man repository doesn't have the command I need, I use http://manpages.ubuntu.com/ . You don't have to be hard core to be a good Linux admin.

Boffins spot Luna-sized exoplanet

Tim Starling

Plenty of shade

Kepler 37b might be tidally locked to its star. If so, half the planet would be in shade.

Ubuntu's Shuttleworth embraces tablet terror: Our PC biz will survive, too

Tim Starling

Somewhere around 1%

Ubuntu's market share is probably somewhere in the vincinity of 1%, considering data such as this:


combined with this:


Wikipedia's Gibraltar 'moratorium' - how's it going?

Tim Starling

Recent discussion on this issue

Since it was not linked in the article, here is most of the recent discussion on this issue:


Satanic Renault takes hapless French bloke on 200km/h joyride

Tim Starling

Re: Hmmm

> Although you can't help wonder why the software engineers didn't build in some sort of safety feature whereby if it detects throttle open and brake signal at the same time (for say > 5 seconds), that it would significantly cut the fuel delivery so that the brakes would be able to overpower the engine and slow the vehicle.

That depends on the computer actually receiving something it recognises as a brake signal. If the input layer of the software was at fault, then that might fail. Maybe it could be done reliably with a separate microcontroller, but then if someone, say, modified the car to use hand-operated brake lever, the engineer who modified it would have to remember to connect the new brake lever to both the main system and the safety backup.

Review finds Wikipedia UK board needs major leadership overhaul

Tim Starling

Re: Ignoring Wales - no surprise

He still has full access to the web interface


So he can ban users, demote admins, protect pages, etc. So, maybe he has slightly more power than the average editor. But unless he wanted to demote a thousand admins and install a few lackeys, he's constrained in what he can do by the limits of his influence.

Speedy MySQL 5.6 takes aim at NoSQL, MariaDB

Tim Starling

Re: Backups?

@Charlie Clark: like spodula says, it does support pipes. If you pipe through gzip then the overhead of not using a binary format is minimal.

In case there is anyone reading this who, having read the manual and acquired a clue, still has an actual problem with backing up a MySQL database that they wish to solve: with innodb_flush_log_at_trx_commit=1 you can take an snapshot of the data directory, e.g. with LVM. Then to recover, you just restore old data directory and start mysqld -- it will think it crashed, and will recover successfully. If you also enable binlogs and keep copies somewhere safe, you can replay them starting from the time the snapshot was made.

It's not exactly user-friendly, but it is cheap.

Tim Starling

Re: Backups?

That's always been possible with InnoDB. Use mysqldump --single-transaction.

Wikimedia gets the travel bug with Wikivoyage

Tim Starling

Wikitravel and WikiVoyage

The author seems to be unaware of the relationship between Wikitravel and WikiVoyage. WikiVoyage is a fork of Wikitravel, started by people who were unhappy with the way Wikitravel was managed by Internet Brands. WikiVoyage started outside of Wikimedia, and its community later asked to become part of Wikimedia. The recent announcement from Wikimedia marks the completion of this merger.

Technology, bushfires and AM radio

Tim Starling

AM or Twitter

AM radio is nice in that unlike SMS, it makes a noise even when there's no emergency, so you can tell whether it is working or not. So it's kind of like Twitter in that respect.

AM radio towers are quite expensive to build, and listener numbers have been falling. So there is no guarantee that the ABC will continue to support AM radio indefinitely. Maybe in a few decades, satellite will be the best option.

Ubuntu for smartphones aims to replace today's mobes, laptops

Tim Starling


Ubuntu for Android was just demonstrated, not completed. Canonical wanted phone manufacturers to buy support and trademark licenses from them.


I guess that never happened since nothing was announced in almost a year, and no source code ever released.

This new "Ubuntu for phones" seems to be the same kind of arrangement, except that they have reimplemented more of the stack. The blog post does not say that any manufacturers have signed up, only that Canonical is "ready to start working with partners".

If the image The Register used to illustrate this article looks familiar, it's because it's actually the same image used to promote Ubuntu for Android last February.


Wikipedia doesn't need your money - so why does it keep pestering you?

Tim Starling

Felon executive

Actually she was very warm and friendly, calm and professional. Nobody guessed there was a problem. Yes, background checks should have been done, but you have to admit, it was tremendously bad luck for the Foundation. I think she was only the third employee to be hired in an accounting role.

Internet shut-down easier, in more countries, than you think

Tim Starling

Number of phone calls

Renesys describes the metric as a first approximation to the "the number of phone calls (or legal writs, or infrastructure attacks) that would have to be performed in order to decouple the domestic Internet from the global Internet."

Governments in developed countries have a fairly large capacity for making phone calls. If the government of, say, the Netherlands passed a law requiring a shutdown of international transit, I find it hard to believe that the need to make a few hundred phone calls would prevent its implementation. Major ISPs would prefer to shut down than face criminal charges, but even if they didn't, there are enough police in the Netherlands to visit every organisation with an AS number, if that proved necessary.

The Rensys article made the interesting point that the government of Afghanistan is effectively powerless to shut down the internet in that country. Perhaps a better metric could have been constructed by dividing the route diversity by some measure of government power.

Equinix's new Sydney bit barn built to survive TOXIC FLOOD

Tim Starling

Re: Couldn't they just put it on the 5th floor?

There is no 5th floor.


Can a new TCP scheme give wireless a 16-fold boost?

Tim Starling

MAC retransmission

Yes, wireless sucks when you have IP packet loss, that's what MAC retransmission is for. The IP packet is only lost after the MAC layer exceeds its retry limit. You could make a test like this look a lot more flattering by disabling MAC retransmission in the baseline case, so that's the methodology data that I would be asking for.


Tim Starling

Two species of venomous spider

There are many species of funnel web spider:


Probably a lot of them would have a lethal bite if you managed to convince one of them to bite the right person and then denied that person medical attention for a few days. Mouse spiders might be deadly also. It's just that there are only two species of Australian spider that have been confirmed to have ever killed anyone.

Berkeley Lab proposes 4D clock

Tim Starling

Re: multipole energy loss

Like the paper says, there is no radiation because the ring is already in its ground state. It's like an atom, where the electrons can orbit without radiating.

Tim Starling

Re: "how does one use them as a crystal?"

If there are enough ions in the ring, you can read the ion positions without exciting the ring into a higher state, using laser pulses. The more ions there are, the greater the perturbation it can tolerate. However, a nonzero temperature does cause the "clock" to slow down. It's all in the paper.


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