* Posts by Primus Secundus Tertius

1107 posts • joined 31 Oct 2010


Godmother of word processing Evelyn Berezin dies at 93

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Re: Love at first sight

My first approach to word processing was using the EDT program from Digital Equipment Corp, first on 16-bit PDP-11 computers running RSX11M, and then on 32-bit VAX machines. EDT was able to re-flow a paragraph of text, and do cut and paste, so a document could be tweaked until it was right. I would then print it on a lineprinter, and copy-type the text on a regular typewriter. With the VAX machine came laser printers, and then a diktat from an old-fashioned boss that we were to use typists for documents, not laser printers.

After that I bought an Amstrad Word Processor, a cheap device which sold so well IBM actually noticed. The Amstrad was designed to work very neatly with just the keyboard; I never felt the need for a mouse. Meanwhile at work I was still expected to use Digital Standard Runoff. I knew one small company that tried to get its secretary to use DSR, with predictably negative results.

They say software will eat the world. Here are some software bugs that took a stab at it

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Quality of design

I saw many instances in my career where I thought the initial analysis was poorly done, and processes were not cleanly separated. This led to variables being corrupted in unexpected ways. Coding standards cannot correct for poor analysis.

All too often, so-called design documents were a restatement of requirements: they said what was wanted but did not show how to achieve that. For 1950s programmers transcribing mathematics into Fortran, the requirements were often enough; but, for example, a modern database meeting modern requirements needs much more thought. Even a simple members list of an organisation should be more than just getting correct postage labels: e.g. reports on how many by county or country, ...

Design reviews ought to emphasise these matters, but often they don't. Management often feels they obstruct the need to get on with the coding.

I spent my career wondering how to turn an engineering graduate into a good programmer, and never did find the answer.

For fax sake: NHS to be banned from buying archaic copy-flingers

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Fax software

"Yes, Mr Auditor guv, this is a computer, honest. Look at these super spreadsheets showing how much money we are saving. Fax, what fax, no fax around here, mate".

Mr Auditor moves on, operator hits start button to reveal fax icon.

Boffins build blazing battery bonfire

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Re: Photovoltaic?


I have to admit I did not properly understand the scheme until I read the paper cited in the article.

Molten silicon (the element, not the oxide aka silica or sand) is being pumped around by electromagnetic arrangements with no moving parts apart from the molten silicon. Its "low" temperature is 1,500C and its high temperature 2,900C. Radiation and "solar" cells are a plausible way of extracting energy from the high temperature phase, rather than traditional heat exchangers.

Years ago I worked on software for a nuclear power station. The CO2 reactor coolant then generated steam at 800C -- red heat -- and high pressure.

You're legit and you know you are... Thanks to chanting racist footie fans, linking to dodgy stuff isn't necessarily illegal (well, in Europe)

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Good English law

As ever, a journalist expresses his dislike of the English law of libel.

That law says in effect that if you claim something as fact you must in the last resort be prepared to prove it in court (to a civil standard, less demanding than a criminal standard).

If you make it clear that it is an opinion, it is necessary only that other people might share that opinion: it does not have to be factual, or politically correct.

What the law does forbid is reproducing rumour as fact. It also forbids printing something and than claiming that the source cannot be revealed. Both these bans remove a lot of worthless reporting and are worth having.

PS This is an opinion.

Tech support discovers users who buy the 'sh*ttest PCs known to Man' struggle with basics

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Re: Alternatively...


There was a famous law case in England.

The judge said to the barrister, "I have listened patiently to your long explanation, but I am none the wiser".

Barrister: "No, my lord. But much better informed."

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Re: I spent two years in tech support

Back in the 1970s I used a machine that had good old physical buttons on it. One was START, another was RUN. There were others too.

START? RUN? Where did one begin?

Awkward... Revealed Facebook emails show plans for data slurping, selling access to addicts' info, crafty PR spinning

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Re: Users should pay to use Facebook


Thank you for replying to my comment.

My career in the software industry showed me that people are generally willing to pay for hardware, but sorely begrudge paying for software. Your reply shows that FB will pay for hardware, but does not disprove my point about paying for software.

PS I do not use Facebook. Ghastly nonsense for American extroverts.

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Re: Users should pay to use Facebook


The reason the World Wide Web exists at all is that Berners-Lee made it available at no cost. Who now remembers the contemporary whatever-it-was (I've forgotten the name) that died after they tried to charge for it. There was an interface to it in Windows NT3.

Facebook, Google, and others are well aware of that history.

Edit: from another comment, I see that I was talking about Gopher.

Er, we have 670 staff to feed now: UK's ICO fines 100 firms that failed to pay data protection fee

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Re: Mafiosa


I was about to ask: should "…failed to pay data protection fee" read as "failed to pay protection money"?

Microsoft menaced with GDPR mega-fines in Europe for 'large scale and covert' gathering of people's info via Office

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Re: "If Office programs are well-structured code"

The history of Star Office -> Open Office -> Libre Office suggest that it is a mountain of quick fixes, with zero logical integrity. MSO will be the same.

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Re: "The Dutch authorities are working with the company to fix the situation"

@Sleep deprived

Munich, and other German places, tried that. The problem was that they had to exchange lots of documents every day with other German places still using Microsoft Office.

The word "compatible" has a special meaning in the computer industry: good enough for salesmen but not good enough for actual screen bashers.

So Libre Office will not be a practical choice until the vast majority are using it.

Douglas Adams was right, ish... Super-Earth world clocked orbiting 'nearby' Barnard's Star

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Re: What's the Gravity on it?


On Earth, the weight of a unit mass is GM/(R**2).

This becomes proportional to GM**(1/3).

The new exoplanet is described as 'rocky', with mass at 3.2*M. If its average density is similar to Earth, gravity at its surface will be greater by 1.47. But who cares about gravity if you live in an ocean?

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Re: Getting a proble there?


Well said.

Hitting a grain of dust at near light speed will be like an atomic warhead destroying the probe.

I have long thought the science fiction of cruising the galaxy in star ships is indeed fiction for just that reason.

Windows XP? Pfff! Parts of the Royal Navy are running Win ME

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Re: Keeping it that way

During WW2 my dad was a radar technician in the RN. He told us of one ship where, as soon as they had left port, people in his position were ordered to do normal sailor duties.

There are such people in the armed forces -- not too many of them, one hopes. "Man management with discipline" is the key phrase.

Dutch cops hope to cuff 'hundreds' of suspects after snatching server, snooping on 250,000+ encrypted chat texts

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Re: So

Correction: "Technically not yet guilty".

Web Foundation launches internet hippie manifesto: 'We've lost control of our data, it is being used against us'

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Same as TV

But did not the same thing happen to TV?

People should not be allowed to post fake news unless they are wearing a penguin suit.

UK.gov to roll out voter ID trials in 2019 local elections

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Re: Lack of a secret ballot is a greater problem

The polling number is on the back of the ballot paper. When the papers are being counted, they are kept face-up so the candidates and their agents lurking behind those doing the counting do not see the polling number. Traditionally the only time the polling number is reconnected to the voter ID is when there are court actions over the vote.

Postal votes are slightly different. As they are received in the days before the election, they are vetted by election staff and then put into a ballot box ready for counting. As a candidate myself, I have wondered what checks there are on that vetting. The candidates are not invited to oversee things for obvious reasons. Does the Electoral Commission do any overseeing here?

Nikola Tesla's greatest challenge: He could measure electricity but not stupidity

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Re: Anti-intellectual?

Some of us -- or me, at least -- suspect Mrs May was imposed on us as Conservative leader by the religious mafia. Same for the earlier man, Idiot Duncan Smith.

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Re: Anti-intellectual?

It has happened before. Religious nutters destroyed the School of Euclid and the Library of Alexandria. Here's hoping the books of Euclid will still be in use when all the religious books are forgotten.

I as a single man paying just about the maximum in British taxes feel that the education budget on STEM subjects is achieving nothing and is, unfortunately, a total waste of MY money.

However, I suspect it is a cunning plan by our invisible galactic overlords to prevent us from reaching a point where we might challenge them.

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Noted scientists

Britain, typically, put Isaac Newton on the lowest denomination banknote -- £1. Then they abolished that note and replaced it with a cheap coin: the brass sovereign.

West Germany put Carl Friedrich Gauss on their smallest banknote, the ten Deutsche Mark note. I would have expected more respect for scientists from them. Then they abolished the DM, replacing it with the Euro.

Which scientist should be on the new £50 note? El Reg weighs in – and you should vote, too

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Crystal clear

I nominate Lawrence Bragg, for his work in X-ray crystallography. It was that technique which elucidated the chemistry of the silicates, the rocks that make Earth's crust and mantle. See Wikipedia.

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Re: One problem with this

@Graeme L

As a child, I never saw one of the then-current black and white fivers. Then they were abolished, before photcopiers came to be. Give it time, and a £50 note will buy just one Mars bar - the chosen currency unit of that weekly rag The Economist.

The best way to screw the competition? Do what they can't, in a fraction of the time

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For my souvenir, I have a copy of a program on paper tape.

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Re: "Ethernet is so much better"

You mention 100baseT.

I was once monitoring ethernet links with an oscilloscope. I forget exactly why, but it might have been an attempt to monitor how quickly a particular system would respond.

The 10Base2 was baseband signalling. The 100 megabit link was a modulated signal; all we could see was a carrier.

Americans' broadband access is so screwed up that the answer may lie in tiny space satellites

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Re: So much for 'digital by default'...

The issue is not security; the big boys are not interested in the security of the common man. The issue is the cost of supporting 57 varieties of old and new browsers.

It would not be a problem if the web pages used just static text and pictures. But no, it has to be all-singing all-dancing technology to support what the b****y advertisers want.

Linguists, update your resumes because Baidu thinks it has cracked fast AI translation

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Polyglot parliament

The European Parliament allows members to use their own EU language, and a team of interpreters provides translations into the others. The members know that they have to pause for the interpreters. The result is that oratory is destroyed.

It is possible to simultaneously listen to the speaker with one ear and to one of the interpreters via a headphone; but that causes remarkable brain strain.

Science: Broke brats glued to the web while silk-stocking scions have better things to do

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Re: D'uh

When I made an exchange trip with a German boy, his mother told me a story. One day the teacher in her class said to her and another girl that they had not yet joined the Hitler Youth. They took the hint, that day.

That is how things are done under such regimes. Lucky are the countries where people are unaware of such matters.

Apache OpenOffice, the Schrodinger's app: No one knows if it's dead or alive, no one really wants to look inside

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Re: The only reason it is popular...

@Charlie Clark

Sometimes office software hits on something new and useful. For example, MS Word 2013 and later can read pdf files and save them as editable Word documents. Yes, I use that.

Chinese Super Micro 'spy chip' story gets even more strange as everyone doubles down

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Re: The main problem...

I once applied for a science editor position at a weekly journal. Got nowhere, no interview, no nothing. Probably because I was a techie (now retired), not a journalist. I also have the honour of having been turned down by El Reg.

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Re: phoning home

The prime purpose of Stuxnet was not to phone home but to sabotage the industrial plant that it reached.

Microsoft yanks the document-destroying Windows 10 October 2018 Update

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Re: @AC But that wouldn't bring three thousand million...


I know people who have defected to Apple for the same reasons.

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Re: "The guy who wrote the update"

In my career in the software industry I never saw QA get their hands dirty actually doing an independent code check. Their excuse was that their function is to ensure procedures have been followed. All known mistakes documented in triplicate, meetings minuted, actions acted upon, documents duly signed off.

Good paperwork is proof of a good product, is it not?

Microsoft deletes deleterious file deletion bug from Windows 10 October 2018 Update

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files are for everyone

@Lee D

If I understand you correctly you are saying that each app should have its private file area. If I have misunderstood, apols.

I disagree about each app having its separate area. In MS Office, for example, there is one area for Outlook/your data, and another area for One Note/your data. Other commenters have also noted that documents may be needed by many different apps.

Like everyone else, my 'My Documents' gets filled with directories for Outlook, One Note, Data Sources, etc. My answer is to create 'My Documents\Ownfiles', and then various directories below that. It keeps things reasonably clean.

Astroboffins may have found the first exomoon lurking beyond the Solar System

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Re: Habitability

The Miller experiment showed that a mixture of amino acids and other small organic molecules is readily formed. Since then these compounds have been observed in meteorites and interstellar dust.

The unanswered question is how do you get from such a mixture to DNA and proteins. Perhaps via RNA, but it is still a question of how do you get to RNA. The analogy is with how do you turn a pile of bricks, doors and windows into a house? Pushing the analogy further, did things start with a tent that then somehow turned into a house?

It has been suggested that clay played a part; or that a primitive "soup", very dilute, somehow reacted with hot rocks reached through cracks in the ocean floor. Neither of these options would be available on a gas giant planet.

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Re: Moons of the moons?

Big moons have little moons

That can be seen to orbit 'em

And little moons have lesser moons

And so ad infinitum.

US government use of AI is shoddy and failing citizens – because no one knows how it works

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Naturally obscure

Nobody really knows how human intelligence works, either. There is a good case for not employing dodgy wetware.

Office 2019 lumbers to the stage once more as Microsoft promises future releases

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Singular Note for MSFT

I have been using One Note since Office 2010 to create new documents, if I am not sure what the final shape of the document will be, and if it needs items of information to be drawn from various sources and held in a file that is easy to organise and navigate.

I was recently working on a Windows 10 machine with Office 2016. This had both the Windows One Note and the Office One Note. The Windows version is crippled in comparison with the Office version, particularly in exporting files in various formats.

I hope Microsoft will not axe the features of Office One Note.

What we really need is a Libre One Note, that MS will be unable to ignore.

Whoa – oh no, Zoho: Domain name no-show deals CRM biz, 40m punters a crushing blow

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Small organisations

This domain loss also happened to a small charity I am involved with. No warning, one day there it was, gone! Most of my colleagues there are not computer people, and I do not want to be the computer slave of every organisation I join.

Most other businesses are used to the polite reminder, followed if necessary by the cough-up-in-seven-days letter.

Couldn't give a fsck about patching? Well, that's your WordPress website pwned, then

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Re: Lack of maintance


Answer: the former.

Thanks for your comment, though.

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Re: Lack of maintance

I am involved with a small voluntary group which has a Wordpress website. Over the years, we either have nobody who wants to really run our website, or else an enthusiast who takes it in a direction not all of us agree with.

The site is with a hosting company. We hope they know what they are doing in relation to the problems this article reports.

Leeds hospital launches campaign to 'axe the fax'

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Patient use

In her later years my mother was very deaf, and the telephone therefore useless (she could not even hear it ring). She was too old to adapt to computers, although as a young civil servant she had been the only one in the office who could operate the telex machine.

A fax machine worked brilliantly for her, to keep in touch with family, the doctor's surgery, and the social services.

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Re: Easy for internal

It is fairly certain that a fax has reached the destination machine. The feedback is instantaneous, whereas an email bounce can take days.

What is not so certain is where it goes after it has reached the far machine.

Equifax IT staff had to rerun hackers' database queries to work out what was nicked – audit

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Re: Impressive consequences

Two possible reasons why it was not noticed.

1. It was noticed but managers and beancounters ignored it.

2. The original person responsible had moved on, and management were simply unaware of these things.

The internet – not as great as we all thought it was going to be, eh?

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Let us calculate the standard deviation in percentage terms. A binomial distribution, p=0.75, q=0.25, n=2000, sigma=sqrt(p*q/n).

Result (approximate) sigma=0.01 or 1%.

So the reported change is significant.

Dear America: Want secure elections? Stick to pen and paper for ballots, experts urge

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Re: Blue sky / Out of the box thinking...

In Britain, that is what the political parties do. They call it canvassing.

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I have stood for election to my local council in England, and was therefore one of those "party scrutineers" you mention. The people counting the ballot papers are a mixture of council officials and others such as bank tellers, used to sorting and counting slips of paper.

Those counting people are instructed to ignore useless and irrelevant interjections from the party scrutineers. The counting process is simple if just one councillor is to be elected, but becomes complicated in a large ward that elects two or three councillors.

Some ballot papers are queried. This ranges from the one that used ticks instead of crosses, to the one that just said "s*d off". A council official will gather representatives from all the parties to decide these cases. Where the voting intention is clear, it is usually granted. In the cases I saw, it would not have affected the result, but in a marginal seat there exists an escalation procedure.

I doubt that an electronic process could replace all that.

AI biz borks US election spending data by using underpaid Amazon Mechanical Turks

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Random AI

Perhaps they should use this AI to randomly select members of congress/parliament/duma. It would save the voters a lot of bother, and the candidates a lot of election expenses.

You want how much?! Israel opts not to renew its Office 365 vows

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Re: Libreoffice is free and just fine.

I had an interviewer ask me about the time I had been self-employed. The agency had changed the word "unemployed".

UK getting ready to go it alone on Galileo

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There were many "think tank" types of reasons for joining "the greatest alliance in history". But ordinary English folk have always instinctively felt that there was something not quite right.

Compare that "greatest alliance" with the United States: its parliament is ineffective compared with Congress; and it is effectively run by EU civil servants rather than by elected politicians. Fifty years after it started in 1957 it needed a new constiution (just as the US is on number two). But all we got was more of the same.


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