* Posts by Peter Gathercole

2924 posts • joined 15 Jun 2007

So long Lotus 1-2-3: IBM ceases support after over 30 years of code

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


"look at Linux, same mistake".

That statement makes it sound like there is one person or organisation in control of Linux who could fill that gap.

I'm sure that you realise that it's just not like that. Linus was interested in creating a UNIX clone, originally for his own use. He did not really have any ambitions for the desktop. It's true that someone like RedHat or Canonical could attempt to fill that gap, but most of the Open Source projects just don't have the resources to produce something on the scale of a full-blown office productivity suite.

The one realistic candidate, StartOffice, was a project that came from proprietary and commercial package that was offered for free, non-commercial use on various platforms after being re-written in C++. When Sun purchased the company, they forked StarOffice to create OpenOffice, which had some of the copyright-encumbered components removed (particularly the database component, which was IIRC a cut-down ADABAS implementation). Sun kept StarOffice on their product catalogue as a commercial product, but as time went on, they had difficulty committing serious resource to it's development.

And Oracle's purchase of Sun was the death knell for StarOffice, and a serious kink to the development of OpenOffice. Whether the fork to produce LibreOffice will be enough to kick-start attempts to make is a serious contender for deployment at Enterprise level (it's already perfectly capable for SOHO or most SME uses) remains to be seen.

If you have the odd few tens-of-million dollars (or more) to develop a new, compatible competitor for MS Office, I'm sure that the whole world would wish you well! I'm sure that there really is a niche for a cross-platform, commercial suite, but trying to play catch up with Microsoft will always be a difficult task. Maybe you should invest in Corel, and try to get WordPerfect and Quattro ported, but I suspect that even this would be a quite herculean task!

Microsoft's nightmare DEEPENS: Windows 8 market share falling fast

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

I agree...

...but I object to the categories, particularly "Cheapskates".

This does not take into account the low end of the income demographic, where just obtaining a PC was a major challenge in the first place. These people may be faced with a decision like "Do I replace the (working) PC, or do I pay all of the electricity bill, the rent and do the shopping?".

These are not cheapskates. They may not fully understand the issues but are mainly not ignoramuses, and they are certainly not doing it to prove a point (the "brave"). These are people who effectively have no choice other than to keep a machine with XP, or give up on the Internet completely.

I can see the tail-off of XP systems being very slow.

Music-mad Brits drive up hardware sales too – claims BPI

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: "Copyright exception allowing them to make a private copy of a music CD"

In the UK, there was no exemption for media conversion (backup), but it was commonly accepted that there was no point in trying to prosecute someone for copying their LPs to cassette for use in the car.

Nothing in the digital age had changed that until this recent change, so technically it was still against copyright law, and this included ripping CDs for use in an MP3 player or computer. There is no fair-use provision in UK copyright legislation.

There had been various suggestions about formalising exceptions, but none had made it into an amendment to the copyright legislation until now.

Hackers thrash Bash Shellshock bug: World races to cover hole

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: OpenBSD for the win @Michael Wojcik

I never got to see AIX V1 on any platform or V2 on the RT source code (actually, I think I did have a login on one of the machines that used to hold it but I never looked). But the preceding port (IX) that was done by Locus was pretty much a pure SVR2 port, first onto the s370. That was used as the base for AIX on the RT, even if they did re-write parts.

I have had access to various Bell and AT&T distributions from Edition 6 through to R&D UNIX 5.3. and whatever was layered over SunOS 4.0.3 for the R&D additions to that OS.

I would never have said that AIX for the RS/6000 was ever SVR4. AIX 3.1 was definitely only SVID version 1 compliant, which meant that it was really only an SVR2 implementation.

The more modern features were mainly added through the OSF side of things, because IBM was on that camp, not the SVR4 camp.

The convergence really came with the UNIX 98/SUS2 accreditation of AIX 4.3.1, but as this is an interface specification, the underlying code could be written any way you wanted provided that it complied with the interface definitions.

Indeed, if you go through the include files for a current version of AIX, you will find almost no copyright statements left for Bell Labs, AT&T, USL, Novell, XOPEN or The Open Group. This does not prove how little AT&T code is left in there, but it does give some indication.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: OpenBSD for the win @iEgoPad

I'm thinking in terms of shellshock here. No OS is totally secure, and I have acknowledged that often in other posts.

The business of reading another processes environment variables is not totally true anyway. You could read the environment that was passed into a process, but not any variables that were defined since the process was started were invisible.

That behaviour was not just AIX, but several other UNIX-like OSs (I've just checked, and the same behaviour is in RHEL 6.5), and it has definitely been fixed now on AIX (in 2008 - I can get you the APAR numbers if you want), so that you can only get to see the initial environment of processes you own. That is unless you're thinking of something other than the "ps ewww" output that pretty much every other UNIX-like OS also suffers from.

I think that you should look at some of the AT&T - or even better the Bell Labs. UNIX source. It's not perfect, but compared to some of the bloatware and spaghetti that is contributed to open-source projects including Linux, it's a model of conciseness and well documented code.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Wanted : amputation patch

No. It's really not like sourcing another file. It's more like ksh FPATH libraries, or the shell rc files (normally .kshrc or .bashrc), where the functions are automatically defined every time a shell starts.

I'm uncertain about the feature of exporting functions. I see it could be useful, but I've lived for so long not using it that I don't see it as essential. In fact, I get really pissed of about the amount of pollution that infects a users environment in most Linux distributions. I mean, just log on and type env or set or typeset+f and see how much crap is in there!

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: OpenBSD for the win @iEgoPad

"They'll be calling vacuum cleaners Hoovers next!"

That's the most stupid thing I've heard on this thread. Linux is not UNIX. Linux is not even POSIX compliant in almost all of it's various distros. There ain't no way that you can call Linux UNIX, even if they look superficially similar.

Oh, and by the way, I'm an AIX zealot, and am feeling a bit smug. AIX was derived from AT&T code, and I use ksh as my default shell, and will not allow any bash scripts to be deployed to action service requests on any system I am in control of!

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: If you do not sanitize CGI input @DainB

I was initially sceptical, but looking into the problem, it appears that Apache and other web facing services actually do accept some information and then passes into CGI-bin scripts as environment variables. Variables such as REMOTE_IDENT and REMOTE_USER are examples documented in rfc 3875.

This is where the problem lies. If Apache, or whatever, does not do any checking (and why should it, it would have to second-guess what is meant to be passed into CGI-bin programs), and allows the variable to be set up in the way described, and then for any reason spawns a bash, the extra code will get executed as part of the bash setup before any script starts running.

It is not that the function gets set up and can be called, it's that the extra code appended to the function definition gets executed at the time bash starts.

Look again at the proof of the bug at the shell level. I set the following environment variable up. Note this is just a variable, not a function at this time, and I can actually be running any shell (csh would need a setenv command to set it up).

never_run='() { : ; } ; echo "Vulnerable"'

This sets up an environment variable in the same pattern as bash uses to allow exported functions to work. When a bash starts, it effectively evals all of the environment variables in the new shell which will either set a variable up in the new shell, or will in this case define a function 'never_run' which would execute a null shell command and then exit. What the function does is completely irrelevant. What is important is that while the new shell evals the string to set the function up, it then also runs the code after the second semicolon. It does this immediately, not when the function is called. So in the example above, if I export the new variable

export never_run

and then start a bash, any bash, it will execute the code. So,

$ bash -c date


Fri Sep 26 11:03:57 BST 2014

runs it, as does just entering a new interactive shell with bash by itself. Note that I've never run the function it's set up. This is where the danger lies. I'm sure that when bash was written, it seemed like a elegant way of exporting functions to subshells. It is clever, but obviously not thought through.

Apache is a limited examples, as it should run as a non-root user, and if set up properly, will run in a chrooted environment (not that this will prevent all information leakage). But the same exploit may be available in any poorly written service that passes user-specified data on to another command through the environment variables.

DVLA website GOES TITSUP on day paper car tax discs retire

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Abolish it @Down not across

As soon as the tax runs out, then it becomes an offence to store the car on the road, obviously. The car is no longer taxed so you fail the "a taxed and insured vehicle" test!

That does not alter the fact that it's an anomaly. I don't understand why of the three things you need to legally drive a car on the road, they've not made it a requirement to have an MOT in order to keep it on the public highway. It's just inconsistent.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Abolish it

The same ANPR systems that the Police use to detect untaxed vehicles on the road is also used to detect that an uninsured vehicle is on the road.

It is now illegal (and has been for a couple of years) to have an uninsured vehicle on the road, even if it is parked and not being driven.

So we have the strange situation where an untaxed or uninsured vehicle must be stored off the road, but at the moment, a taxed and insured vehicle without MOT can be parked on the road, but must not be driven.

I'm sure they will fix this deficiency at some point.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: A little common sense is called for... @Martin

You can still queue up at the Post Office. They will take your money however you want to pay it, and inform the DVLA (they've had a direct route to the DVLA for many years). The only difference is that you won't get a round piece of paper to put in your car!

I too don't understand. The old site (which I did some work on the backend servers for some years ago) coped very well. The rate of transactions is quite predictable. Whilst there is normally a surge at the end/beginning of the month, it should not be that different with the new system.

Sounds like there is some misinformation flying around here.

Supercapacitors have the power to save you from data loss

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Does not compute

It's because the drive flags back to the RAID adapter that the write is complete before it has actually been committed to disk. The RAID controller will invalidate and delete it's copy in it's battery-backed DRAM, and the only copy that exists for the period until the disk write is complete is in the DRAM in the drive.

If the RAID set is large enough, you could hope that only one drive's copy is lost, which would allow the data to be reconstructed in RAID modes 5, 6 or 10 (but probably not RAID 1), but I would not want to bet the farm on it

Soundbites: News in brief from the Wi-Fi audiophile files

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


Oops. Can't do arithmetic. 11.025 KHz. Still, does not alter the case significantly.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


You've been reading the Wikipedia article on the Nyquist Frequency, and particularly the section on Aliasing sinusoidal waveforms.

This is a very special case, and does not mean that you can reconstruct any waveform from a sample of 1/2 of the frequency of it's highest component. It's really pointing out the minimum sampling rate that allows you to differentiate between one sine wave and another with an integer multiple of the it's frequency. The important thing is that you have to know is that it is a sine wave before you start.

There are many special cases, and the one that I like to think of is a sine wave at 1/4 of the sampling frequency, which at 44.1 KHz sampling, would make the frequency of the sinewave 11.25KHz, well within the hearing range of most people. This would mean that if sampled at exactly 90 degree intervals, you would get something between a perfect sawtooth and a square wave. Of course, if you know it is a sine wave, you can reconstruct it, but on a CD player it would be stupid to assume that everything you play will be a sine wave, so it tends to use some mathematical spline to smooth the waveform, and this is what will be fed to the analogue part of the system. Different implementations of CD use different smoothing functions, but none of them can perfectly reconstruct the original signal in every case.

As has been pointed out, this is a pathological case, but it illustrates that digital sampling can never be anyway close to perfect unless the sampling rate is many times the maximum frequency, certainly more than twice, whereas a mechanical system could be perfect within a range of frequencies, even though it is unlikely to be so because of material physics.

Monitors monitor's monitoring finds touch screens have 0.4% market share

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Obsession with tablets @localzuk

The assertion is a leap of faith without anybody doing the proper market analysis.

What marketeers are seeing is PC sales, particularly desktops, slowing down (because people are happy with what they have) at the same time as tablets sales have increased. They put 2+2 together and get something close to 10, and then predict that tablets are replacing PCs.

I totally agree with you. I've been saying for a long time that technological pressures to replace desktop and laptop systems has effectively been removed from the equation. Systems have become too powerful. Any non-budget machine built in the last 5-7 years will still be very usable today (my current laptop is a 9 year old Thinkpad running Ubuntu with Gnome Flashback). To paraphrase, if it ain't broke, don't replace it!

The manufacturers were hoping with XP out of support, that many people would ditch older but still serviceable machines, leading to new sales. It hasn't happened. Lots of people I know still keep their Vista, Win7 and even XP systems running for real PC work, especially if they have augmented their IT provision with a phab/tablets for media consumption. And when they do replace a system because it breaks, a member of my extended family is doing quite good business selling refurbished ex-corporate systems at a significantly lower price than a new system. Computers are getting even more like cars!.

I still say that there should be a push from someone like Which! to encourage people to see whether their Core systems can have their life extended still further by installing Linux once the security situation for XP and Vista becomes untenable (i.e. when Banks and on-line shopping emporia stop letting IE8 and earlier, and older versions of Firefox, from connecting).

Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

The secret is...

... to prevent the batteries dropping below a certain critical temperature. So the batteries powering the heater must be inside the heated enclosure.

It's really a bit of a shame that the internal resistance of the batteries is not a bit higher. If it were, the act of powering the electronics may generate enough heat to keep the batteries warm, or at least slow down the cooling rate!

But according to the specs. Energizer Lithium should be good to around -40 C, so I'd be a bit surprised if they would be a problem for most of the ascent.

Run little spreadsheet, run! IBM's Watson is coming to gobble you up

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Watson is not a single computer any more

While what we saw on Jeopardy! could clearly be seen as a computer cluster running as a single service, what IBM have now is an analytics application that runs as a fenced cloud service. This means that it runs on just your data, and that data is separated from another companies data, as much as anything is fenced in a cloud service.

So, if you trust company data separation in the cloud, you're just as safe using the IBM Cognitive Computing service as any other cloud service.

I'm not saying how safe I feel that is, however...

'Windows 9' LEAK: Microsoft's playing catchup with Linux

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: And does anyone actually use this in Linux?

At work I support four separate HPC clusters. I have one virtual desktop allocated to each so that I can have all the windows on each cluster grouped together. When you have hundreds of nodes, most of which should be identical, but often have specific problems

I have another four, one for a full-screen mail session, one for a full screen web-browser (with multiple tabs), another for various monitoring tools, and one used for anything else that takes my fancy (typically local windows on my workstation).

Counting the open windows I have today (which has been a quiet day), I have 18 windows open, scattered across all 8 desktops. On busy days, I can have between 30 and 40 open windows. I can switch between workspaces easily and know that all of the windows open on one desktop relate to one particular facet of my work. I would hate to fit all of that into even 2 or 3 monitors, even if I were prepared to sacrifice the desk space.

I've been working in a similar fashion to this for nearly 25 years!

I use virtual desktops at home as well on my personal laptop, mainly to separate out different things I am doing at the same time. For example, at the moment I am working out how to typeset music while referring to on-line tutorials (full screen musical notation editor without intruding window decorations in one desktop, browser in another, rapidly switching between them by pressing two keys).

Honestly, unless you are incredibly single-minded and can really concentrate on just one thing at once, I believe that almost anybody could benefit from multiple desktops.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: FFS!

vtwm is normally described as the virtual tab window manager. The relationships between the various twm family members are documented here.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


I was using vtwm on UNIX in 1990. Both CDE and OS/2 Warp had it from 1994.

Vtwm was interesting, because rather than separate 'desktops', what it gave you was a scrollable/snappable window over a much larger desktop than the size of the screen. This meant that you could have a huge window that you could move the visible screen over. Coupled with hotkeys to control the window manager rather than on-screen buttons, it made a very usable and flexible environment. I did find the source for it a while ago, and compiled it up again, but I'm afraid that I'm now corrupted by the need to support freedesktop extensions from more modern window managers.

And IIRC, the AT&T 5620 Blit had some rudimentary multi-view extensions to Layers in the mid '80s.

I can't remember whether the Sun 3 that I played with in the early/mid 80's had a virtual extension to SunView. I think that they preferred icon boxes to contain multiple minimised windows that you could open and close as a group.

Every billionaire needs a PANZER TANK, right? STOP THERE, Paul Allen

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: For heavens sake

He could do a James May.

Get someone to life-size the plastic kit, and have fun building it. He could also put 'himself' into the driving position.

Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: A year left to run on the EE contract?

Firstly, the shares will drop like a stone once the news was out that there was a brick wall ahead, and that may affect the way they can generate operational credit. A potentially solvent company operating without credit is doomed to fail (remember what happened to Woolworths).

Secondly, the current owners may want to bail out of the business, and this looks like a simple way of doing it while offloading the hassle of trying to find a new operating model to someone else. The current owners will just become creditors, and will either get some money back if it is wound up, or will get shares in the newly re-invented company if a new operational model can be found.

Drones swarm over bearded Brit billionaire's island getaway

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Look at my own personal island from the skies...

Why did I think of Tracy Island when looking at the pictures.

Maybe with the island, technology gained from Virgin Galactic, and his altruistic tenancies will enable him to set up International Rescue?

Hmmm. Not got enough children though.

'There is no downside – unless you count the total bath you take moving your stuff'

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Not the Dart!

I followed the link, and then looked for the Dart.

It looks sort of smart from the outside, but the austerity of the inside is a bit bleak. But I think I would probably prefer it to the Goggomobile featured in the advert!

I think that the world could do with smaller engined cars*

* I'm currently doing a round-trip daily commute of ~90 mile in a three-cylinder, 800cc car, and apart from the fuel savings, don't really see the difference from a larger car.

Heavy VPN users are probably pirates, says BBC

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: The BBC is really starting to piss me off. @bill 36

I think you need to understand how satellite transmission footprints work.

In order to be able to cover the whole of Europe, it would be necessary to transmit from several Astra satellites.

The move from Astra 2D to Astra 2E could have been for many reasons. Astra 2D may have been being retired (I know that it wasn't, but it could have been). The BBC's lease of the service on 2D may have expired and they were forced to move to a different satellite. Or maybe, UK license payers in the extreme north may not have been able to get a signal from 2D, but 2E coveres them better.

Hmmm. As the BBCs mandate is primarily to provide broadcast media to the UK, the last appears to be a pretty convincing reason. It's enabled them to provide a service to parts of their core area that were previously not serviced.

To me, this seems entirely reasonable. What would you have wanted. That they increase the cost of providing the service by hogging satellite bandwidth by using channels on two satellites?

It strikes me that what expat's are suffering from is collateral damage from an entirely justifiable action. Only if you can prove that the BBC did it solely to cut off people from outside of their core audience could you really claim that it was a deliberate TVWF infringement.

Apple's SNEAKY plan: COPY ANDROID. Hello iPhone 6, Watch

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Two important differences for Apple Pay

I've found a use for NFC. I have smart-tags scattered around the place that changes the mode of my Sony Xperia depending on where I am.

When I'm in the car, it selects car mode, with big icons and the phone automatically in speaker mode. When at work, it turns the phone to silent mode with vibrate on.

And so on. I'm still finding uses for it, although setting up the actions is a bit tricky. It's really a useful feature, and doesn't appear to affect the battery life too much.

DEATH TO TCP/IP cry Cisco, Intel, US gov and boffins galore

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

I might be being stupid here...

but... I cannot see anything in the article that suggests the replacement of IP. Indeed, the diagram still has IP listed in layer 2, along with (strangely) UDP. Extrapolating from this, what they may have done is eliminated TCP.

It looks to me like it is a super-network that sits above the network layer, probably as a way to make it network-independent. It's not in itself going to replace IPv4 or IPv6, which may exist for some time until some other alternative comes along.

Video: Dyson unveils robotic tank that hoovers while you're out

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Try a double-coated Husky. They never seem to stop moulting, and the soft under-fur is great at gumming up the brushes of a vacuum cleaner.

Power station fault cuts electricity, water and internet in Cairo

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: UK too this winter

During "The Winter of Discontent", I used to do my homework by candle-light listening to Radio 2!

It was one of the reasons I asked for my own radio as one of my next birthday presents, just so I could listen to Radio 1 or Radio Luxenbourg (I was too far away from the Thames Estuary to get Caroline).

If the lights went out now, I'd probably reach for the guitar and pick away for a few hours. I have a battery powered practice amp, so could even use my electric.

I think my kids would probably play "cards against humanity" or another card game for a while. They've also recently re-discovered board games.

BBC: We're going to slip CODING into kids' TV

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: *All* TV programs?

Many is the time I've seen text and graphics on a monitor on the Tardis console generated by a BBC micro in old era Dr. Who (mode 2/5 is a dead give away).

OK, I'll bet that the 'code' shown was nothing to do with the story, but there is a precedent for using a popular micro like the RPi in Dr Who.

Ofcom will not probe lesbian lizard snog in new Dr Who series

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


What "New Series" are you talking about? If it's Series 8 of the New Era, then that's not surprising, it was the first episode.

If it's the New Era itself, starting with Christopher Eccleston, then you cannot really categorise it as a single "series", seeing how variable it has been.

I hope that they can bring it back from the travesty I feel it had become with Matt Smith as the Doctor, but I fear that the problem now is the lack of imagination of the writers. The last seriously good episode in my opinion was "The Doctor's Wife", which was written by Neil Gaiman, not one of the stock writers.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

It's a shame no-one complained about the story!

Derivative, to say the least.

In my view, this was NOT a good start to Peter Capaldi's term as The Doctor.

At least it makes it easy to get better.

Software bug caught Galileo sats in landslide, no escape from reality

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Russian sanctions against European sanctions about Ukraine

"Nice satellites you've got there, tovarishch. Would be a shame if they ended up in the wrong orbit, nyeht!"

Raspberry Pi B+: PHWOAR, get a load of those pins

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Good, but Banana Pi is the better beasty. @Gert

Only 30 addresses? My DHCP server struggles to allocate addresses even though it has ~100 to play with (the other 100+ addresses are in reserved ranges for static IP addresses). And I have used something like 30 of these static addresses for machines I want to have fixes addresses - like the main laptops for each of the kids so that I can monitor/arbitrate who is using the most traffic as well.

I have seven adults in the house, with WiFi mobile phones, tablets and eBook readers, laptops and larger gaming rigs. Add to this all the consoles and hand-held games, set-top boxes, and a smattering for the infrastructure devices (WiFi hubs and routers) and we've used up a significant part of a Class-C subnet just in one house! I'm really not looking forward to transitioning IPv6 (I'll probably set up an IPv4 island when I have to!)

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: @VinceH (@Peter Gathercole)

The ATPL board had some jumpers, but I think that it synthesized a write enable from the address bus.

As a result, you could not move the various buffers (like the disk buffers) or worksapce for DFS into sideways RAM. There were hacked DFSs (I think the Watford DDFS was one) that could work in shadow mode, but it did that by changing the addresses of the buffers in the code, not re-directing the addresses.

The Solidisk board for the Model B was more sophisticated, but I believe that it required a wire either inserted into one of the chip sockets in parallel to the chip pin, or a fly lead soldered to the board.

The way that the ATPL add-in worked was basically that any write to an address above &8000 got directed into the (single) bank of static RAM, regardless of the ROM select register. Some ROM providers got canny to this, and during ROM setup, would do a write to overwrite some of the ROM image (Wordwise was the first one that I came across) to cause the initialisation to crash the BEEB if it was running the ROM image from RAM. This could be prevented by adding a switch to the write-enable line of the static memory (there was a solder link and pads for a switch on the ATPL board) that would disable the writes to the RAM. The sequence would be load the image, write protect the RAM, and reset the BEEB (in fact you did not need to reset the BEEB, there was an OSCLI call to initialise the new image - something I used to enable switching between the runtime and compile ROMs in RAM of the Acornsoft ISO Pascal system, which came as 2 ROMs).

Back to Wordwise, when I got a Master 128 (at work), which did not have a write defeat switch for the sideways RAM, I hacked Wordwise to remove the offending code in the image to still allow it to work. Not that I used Wordwise. If I was using the BEEB as a word-processor, I preferred View, but if I just wanted an editor, I used the one built in to the ISO Pascal runtime. Most of my documentation was actually done on my (well, work's, but I was the sole sysadmin, so it was "mine") UNIX box using nroff and a Qume Sprint 5 daisy-wheel printer.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


The shuffling of the programmes down was something that was done way before the B+ or B+128. You would load a small piece of machine code into the cassette buffer or somewhere, *LOAD the cassette image into a higher memory, and then move the data down before changing the video mode.

Some of the ROM toolkits did this for you. I think that both DISK DOCTOR and the ROM based BEEBUG monitor had this feature.

What the B+ and B+128 did do, however, was allow the disk subsystem to use 'shadow' memory for the various disk buffers, meaning that PAGE remained at &0E00, rather than the &1900 that was normal for a machine with Acorn DFS on either the Intel 8271 or WD1770 disk controllers, or &1A00 for a system with disk and Econet, or &2100 (I think) for a system with ADFS (yes, you could get ADFS for BBC Model B's, it was used to run the 10MB hard-disk in a Level 3 Econet server).

They also moved the screen into shadow memory so that memory up to &7FFF was available regardless of the screen mode. The primary use for the extra 64KB of memory in the B+128 was to hold RAM copies of sideways ROM packages. I have an ATPL Sideways RAM board for that (but only 16K of static memory) so I never invested in a B+ or B+128, or a Solidisk add on shadow RAM board.

Must have a play again sometime.

Hackers' Paradise: The rise of soft options and the demise of hard choices

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: @LDS - Not sure what you mean. @oldcoder

The first UNIX system I ever used had 2 RK05 cartridge disks, each 2.5MB in size, and 128KB of memory (this pre-dated the PC by several years). It was never about the size of the disk, it was about the speed of the disk and the model used for running commands, especially if they were chained together in a pipeline.

I used a system that had a minimal UNIX-like OS (it was so similar, I wondered whether it was a direct port of V6) on two floppy disks. One was the system, and the other was used for user/application data including the pipe files (if you remember back as far as UNIX Version/Edition 6/7, you will remember that unlinked files were used to keep the data that was in the pipeline).

The amount of thrash that went on between the two disks whenever you ran something as simple as "ls -l | more" (IIRC it was a port of UNIX V6 with some BSD 2.3 enhancements, possibly called IDRIS) was more than anybody could bear, and for these systems, you could only really use the OS as an application launcher, not in the way that a UNIX power user would use it.

AFAIK, all systems that Ken worked on either had Core memory, which was persistent and had the OS loaded from paper tape or DECtape, or had hard-disks. There were no floppy based UNIX systems at Murray Hill.

PDP11s (except for the very smallest ones) had MMUs that allowed them to address up to 256KB or 4 MB of memory dependent on which model they were.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

@LDS - Not sure what you mean.

I am positing that PC-DOS was never provided by Microsoft. If CP/M-86 had been the OS for the IBM PC, then MS-DOS, OS/2 and Windows would never have happened, and the PC would have evolved to multi-tasking and protected mode machine as the hardware became cheap enough, because the rudimentary features were already in CP/M-86. With a proper multi-tasking OS, a windowing desktop would have followed quite naturally.

I've deliberately not mentioned UNIX, although it has been my career, because I'm well aware that in the early '80s, the requirement for a hard disk that UNIX has would have prevented it from appearing on commodity hardware.

Yes, I admit that some historic features of UNIX may be undesirable, particularly the security model which is effective but probably too simplistic by what is required today, but I would again suggest that if UNIX had been more prominent outside of the server room, there would have been more pressure to modernise some of the least desirable features of UNIX. In some respects, UNIX is a victim of being as good as it was when it was written. It's been just about capable as written, so people were able to work around problems, never requiring significant re-write.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Nice to see the PDP-11 architecture being used as the reference for mini-computer memory management. Should always be regarded as a classic architecture.

But the final analysis is flawed. There were micro's with MMUs available when the IBM PC was produced. There were MMUs for 68000s and Z8000s that would have allowed proper protected mode OS's like UNIX or Concurrent CPM/86 to run on the desktop. They were, however, too expensive for the types of machines that IBM envisaged (single user, single task machines that worked like Apple ][s, but with a more 'modern' processor). Cost and maximising profit was the main cause of using poor hardware that did not have the required capabilities for security.

It was a failure of imagination that led to the development of the IBM PC and PC/MS-DOS in the first place, and once out there, nobody was going to be able to shake the dominance of these platforms on the desktop, even though they were technically flawed and limited, even when they were new.

Imagine if Gary Kildall had actually met and agreed to supply IBM with the OS for the IBM PC. I'm absolutely sure that with a CPM/86 derived OS, multi-tasking, potentially multi-user and running protected-mode processes, together with a supervisor mode OS would have appeared in desktop machines way before WinNT.

Windows even now is still living with the legacy of poor design decisions taken in MS-DOS and early versions of Windows, which persisted well into the times of hardware (and indeed Windows core security capabilities) capable of running properly protected.

Ex-IBM CEO John Akers dies at 79

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Incredible Business Machines @naive

I would not say that it was only disks and tape drives that broke. I've been involved with many other hardware failures across the spectrum, but the one thing RS/6000/pSeries/Power systems will do is actually tell you what is most likely to have failed.

It also had (actually, still has) very good hardware diagnostics (for AIX systems) to back up the POST and BIST checking, although almost everybody has forgotten them. Add in the HMC call-home and remote console functions that were added somewhere around the millennium for the pSeries systems, and you have a platform that is robust, stable and supportable, and is IMHO still best-of-breed (of the UNIX systems) when it comes to running a service.

Intel's Raspberry Pi rival Galileo can now run Windows

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Standard Windows timings @kain preacher

And people say that changing settings in Linux is obscure and convoluted!

Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Compass

I know, I just could not resist the double-entendre.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Waggle Worry

Chances are that the canards probably won't have a huge effect at the launch altitude because of the rarefied atmosphere.

They will come into their own as the 'plane descends.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Compass in ships

Look up what a binnacle is. Since the advent of iron ships, they have been incorporating magnets in the binnacle to correct for the field distortion caused by the ship.

That's what the Navigator's Balls are for!

Microsoft: Azure isn't ready for biz-critical apps … yet

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

"servers nearing end of life over the next five years."

That would probably be all of the servers that they are currently running, as most companies depreciate capital assets including IT over a period of 3-5 years.

And that's just the financial side. At the current rate of change, they would be technically obsolete before then.

BTW. My home IT infrastructure is built on obsolete or discarded systems, so if anybody wants to get rid of their working 5 year old Xeon or Core Quad system, I would be quite happy to discuss giving it a home (running Linux, of course).

Ad regulator pulls down Branson-backed magic undies

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: It used to be women

Harmful emissions from CRT tubes wasn't all nonsense, it's just that the concerns persisted well beyond the point where they were relevant.

Shooting high power electron beams in the direction of people, even though there was some form of screen between the beam generator and the people did result in various types of radiation, from visible through to X-ray, low-energy beta and possibly even alpha particles or fast ions.

Very early CRTs probably did emit small amounts of harmful radiation. But by the time they were commonplace in offices and homes, the problems were sufficiently well understood that any alpha (which were probably stopped by the glass anyway), beta and even X-rays were being blocked by coatings on the glass or diverted away from the person sitting at the screen. There is not enough energy in the electron beams to generate gamma radiation.

So any terminal/monitor made after the late 1970s were not a problem, but the information persisted.

An interesting page is the description of the stickers on the tubes of Lear Siegler ADM3a terminals (an early glass TTY) at http://www.tentacle.franken.de/adm3a.

Premier League wants to PURGE ALL FOOTIE GIFs from social media

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: GIF's?

The interview on Radio 4 this morning was talking about posting video clips obtained from television coverage onto YouTube or other social media. With no fair-use provision in UK copyright law, any video obtained from transmitted material that is redistributed is a breach of copyright, unless allowed by a specific waiver of copyright.

What is not copyright breach is using a phone in the ground to record part of the match, and then posting that. That may breach the terms and conditions of the ticket, but would not be a copyright offence (unless the owners of the advertising objected to that appearing - but they'd be stupid to complain about wider distribution of their adverts!)

Time to move away from Windows 7 ... whoa, whoa, who said anything about Windows 8?

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: But this has four!!

You forgot longevity. A pen with only one colour probably has more of that ink, and will last longer.

Another similarity to WinXP!

A-level results: Before you smile at that jump-for-joy snap...

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

"Degrees make sense though"

While this is generally true, it depends on what counts as a degree.

I used to think that a degree meant that the person had succeeded in achieving an advanced qualification, requiring learning and diligence and often independent thinking, without being watched all the time (like at school), and all the time exhibiting restraint against the worst excesses of the results of being free from parental oversight.

This lack of oversight was one of the primary differences between universities and polytechnics. Poly's kept a close watch on their students, and offered better support services to advise students and keep them on their courses. Universities often just let the students sort themselves out, or fail.

Nowadays, it seems to me that students are given subjects that are less rigorous, and also have much better support services that attempts to prevent the students from failing. This means that University is much less academically and personally demanding (although I acknowledge that there are financial pressures), resulting in the value of a degree being diminished.

I know that I am generalising. I'm sure some universities are still turning out excellent graduates. But many aren't, and this means that industry no longer values a degree as a guarantee of certain qualities, and that is what is damaging.

Bring back the rigour that a degree used to represent, and I will agree wholeheartedly with your statement.

P.S. I graduated in 1981 from one of the long-established universities, after nearly failing my degree at the end of the first year. The fact that I nearly failed was scary, and taught me a lot, and I believe that it enhanced my resultant work ethic and character..

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

The large increase in numbers of students

is actually because the Government believed the crap they were being fed about more graduates in the job market leading to higher productivity and a move to a skills-based economy.

They forgot that in order to have that number of students, it was necessary to actually have courses that kids wanted and were able to do, and that led to degrees in the most unlikely and useless subjects. To cap it all, they encouraged all the Polytechnics, which were turning out useful people with lesser qualifications, but suited to industry, into second-class universities (I worked at a Poly. before the switch, and it was excellent at what it did, but that was not turning out degree graduates). Couple that with the travesty that is a "foundation" degree that pollutes the meaning of a degree, and it's a real mess.

And then, because there were more students, they could not afford the the grant system, so introduced loans, which are not saving *any* money because of the poor rate of pay-back (often graduates do not pass the threshold at which they start paying the loan back, because they are not using [or can't work in the field of] their degree).

We need to go back to Universities being elitist, turning out the right number of the right people for the jobs that really need a degree, and move back to apprenticeships and on-the-job training for the majority of young people. Competition for fewer university places means that those that want to go work hard at 'A' levels, and stay working hard to keep on the courses.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019