* Posts by Peter Gathercole

2953 posts • joined 15 Jun 2007

Lucid Lynx fights 'major' X-Server memory leak

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Maybe I should have checked, but...

...I was taking the article at face value, and it says that the patches were rolled into the release candidate. The release candidate is supposed to be what is released unless something seriously bad is found.

The reason why it is important is because there was bad press and lingering stories of woe for a couple of weeks after Karmic was released, and Canonical cannot really afford the same for Lucid.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Important indeed

This is newsworthy because we are two days away from GA, and this is not a bug in a beta, it is a bug found in the Release Candidate. Generally speaking, it is unusual to get late fixes in the RC, because of the alpha and beta programs.

One question, however. I know why you might want to keep a server on for months at a time (my firewall system gets restarted about 4 times a year when I have a loss of power), but why stay logged in for all that time? Every time you log out and in (at least on Dapper, Hardy and Jaunty, and various RedHat and Mandriva distros), the X server is re-started, recovering the lost memory.

Revealed: Public sector's web gravy train

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Please look at the scale

What are you comparing a council to?

If you do like-for-like comparisons between a county council with maybe 30,000 workers serving around 400,000 households with 850,000 residents (these are the approximate figures for Norfolk) against a corporation with 30,000 employees and close on a million customers, I think that the figures may be surprising.

How much do you think that a small bank, or possibly IBM UK spend on their web sites. I'm sure that the comparison would be very interesting. I would not be surprised if the councils spend less.

And look at the services they are being forced to supply (by government regulation) on the web, even if only to tell people their rights and entitlements. Housing, social services, schools, care provision, refuse collection, environmental health, roads, planning, enforcement of regulations, business rates, council tax, court services, local business development. And I'm sure I've missed many out. All the information has to be correct within guidelines.

It's a big, big problem that is quite beyond the experience of most people to comprehend (and probably most councils). This leads to the problem being treated as an elephant task, one bit at a time, which as we all know leads to inefficiencies.

Southwest One is an example where private-sector companies come in and manage to spend more money doing less than the councils ever did.

Gene that allows growing a new head identified

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

This make me feel uneasy

Surely, playing around at this level could well cause cancers and teratomas (some of the pictures of these just make me feel sick!).

After all, it is a breakdown of the controls on cellular division that cause both of these conditions.

Microsoft wins big in Chinese piracy lawsuit

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Bad comparison

OpenOffice is not written as a commercial product. The fact that it is so good is a tribute to the people who have contributed their time and other resources, and the companies who believe that they can make other sales as a result of being apparently altruistic (Old Sun comes to mind). They are entitled to give their effort away if they choose.

But just giving away software is not a business model, which makes it an unfair comparison. In this respect, I do actually agree with Microsoft. They have invested effort producing the software, they are entitled to get reward for their effort if people want to use it. It would be their right to give it away, but it is not a duty for them to allow anybody to use it. It is more an argument of value and worth.

Now I'm not saying that people should stop using OpenOffice, but just that they be aware that free at the point of use does not mean free to produce. I also disagree with the prices that they charge, but I agree about their right to charge something.

You could almost turn the tables, and claim that Microsoft's commercial product is being undermined by the supply of a free alternative. This is very similar to the argument that Mozilla used when arguing against Microsoft giving away Internet Explorer (OK, OO is not an integral part of any OS, but that was not what was initially argued).

HP: last Itanium man standing

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Not that simple

As I remember it, the HP/Intel tie-up looked like a good fit, even though in retrospect I would say that Intel took HP for a ride.

At the time HP decided to jump to a joint-developed chip with Intel, it was engaged in an arms-race with IBM. Tim said that it was the Itanium that made IBM invest in Power, but in actual fact this investment pre-dated the Itanium by at least 5 years. IBM bumped development of Power, PowerPC, RS64, and Power2-7 at various times, but it has been an almost continuous process if we overlook the stumble that happened with the 64 bit PowerPC 620 processor.

The original RIOS based IBM POWER systems, the RISC System/6000, was launched in 1990, and had been under development for at least 5 years before that. The driver was to be an industry leader in the Open Systems market place, as IBM had at last recognized that there was money to be made.

When first announced, the RS/6000 model 530 killed everything on the market stone dead, it was so much faster. HP had PA-RISC running in their MPE/iX line at the time, but it was not a single microprocessor, being built from discrete logic. The RS/6000 caused a huge stir, both because it was so much faster, and also because IBM put significant marketing weight behind their new systems. Sun were immediately knocked off the top of the workstation market, and never managed to really get back up there, and DEC invested heavily to try to produce a really hot chip in the Alpha, that was as a result of the need for speed, was significantly flawed and never really delivered on it's promise.

HP rushed systems to counter the RS/6000 based on the single chip implementation of PA-RISC, and running HP/UX. These were the HP 9000 model 720, 730 and 750, and the race was then on between IBM and HP to see who could have the fastest system. This reached it's peak in the late 1990's, when some models of RS/6000 had marketing lives of less than 6 months.

This was tremendously expensive, and HP, who did not have a big chip-fabrication division valiantly struggled to keep up, but was ultimately doomed to fail.

The way I remember the Itanium being pitched was that Intel were going to take on the development of the PA-RISC single microprocessor replacement, keeping most of the instruction set, but putting in features that would allow the processor to also run x86 binaries, and enhancing the x86 architecture for 64 bit. Intel would get access to HP's IP for the PA-RISC (which included high clock rate silicon and cache IP), and would use their considerable chip making skill to drive the product forward. HP would get a class-leading processor to keep their workstations and servers going. At least that is what was said by Intel.

What actually appeared to happen was that they designed Itanium to be their own processor, with less emphasis on making it a PA-RISC replacement, and more on trying to make it an upgrade path for 32bit x86 servers. They delivered it late, and the product did not live up to their claims as either a PA-RISC replacement, or a 64 bit x86 migration path. Intel attempted to use some of the IP to produce high speed x86 processors, but botched it with the Pentium 4, which was ultimately a dead-end.

Because of the delay, the world in general, and HP in particular, started looking elsewhere. HP appeared to loose interest in the UNIX market place, allowing both their own products and the subsumed products from DEC/Compaq (and to a lesser extent, Tandem) to fall into the legacy category. They produced Itanium based servers, but they were never up there with IBM, except in the very-large system market. Only customer pressure has kept many of the OS's alive.

In the meantime, IBM has been left with the only non-Intel/AMD UNIX offering that was actively being developed, and as a result, has kept market share. Even though there has been no real competitive pressure, IBM has used the convergence of the AS/400 and RS/6000 lines, and to a lesser but significant extent the z series, to move the architecture forward. They have borrowed from other IBM systems (and their competitors) to introduce type 1 hypervisors, hosted application partitions, and a pretty much unrivaled virtualization capabilities. The supported filesystems have scaled, the support for other technologies such as SAN and SVN has gone hand-in-hand with other IBM products.

'Beauty with antimatter bottom' created out of pure energy

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

...and made sure it was really hot

I'm off to find a teacake, and some perspective.

BOFH: Forgive and forget

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Bit of a strange one today...

I'm struggling to work out whether the PFY was the cause of Simon's disappearance, or whether he did it on his own. I mean, if the PFY had actually attempted to dispatch the BOFH, how come Simon managed to claim the accident compensation (after all, you cannot make a claim for yourself if you are 'dead'), especially if you keep having your life support machine broken.

I feel that this story could have been much more (although maybe it is, and I am just commenting too early)

And why the requirement to stitch the PFY up with a potential fraud if you intend to let him back to work? It would make him more likely to try to get a 'promotion', especially if Simon is using that information for some form of blackmail.

Anyway, hoping that there is more details of this story to come.

IBM debuts new Power7 iron this week

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

What a climbdown

Shock news....

Matt Bryant, using an amazing piece of ass-covering, claimed that his original post was just troll bait, rather than a real comment.

Unfortunately, the more sensible members of the Register commenting community were able to see through this with apparent ease, identifying Matt as one of the trolls that he claims to be targeting.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


WTF are you talking about!

Any AIX code that is compiled with the compiler defaults will work. It just does, and has done for years.

There is a good chance (greater than 80%) that if you pulled a binary compiled for RS64 or Power2, or even the original RIOS chipsets from a system running AIX 4.3.2 or later, and placed it *WITHOUT CHANGE* on an AIX 6.1 system running Power7, it would run.

*IF* you are talking about extracting every ounce of performance for some code, then I agree that if you have optimized the code for cach size and processor affinity or the particular properties of the floating point pipeline (as is being done where I work currently) or any number of other factors, you will need to re-compile it with the relevant options to get the best performance, but even then the Power6 optimized code will probably run on Power7. This is not new nor specific to IBM processors, and hasn't been ever since I was working on PDP/11's and VAXes.

It is acknowledged that there will be a different execution profiles for Power7 from Power6. The design requirements for the processor were different, and I talk to some worried people talking about how scalable their model is at the moment. We currently have some code that tops out at about 768 processors, and gets worse if you increase the number above this. If the overall clock speed is dropped without a corresponding increase in the number of instructions per clock cycle, then this code may well be slower on Power7 than Power6.

But it's not certain. The speed of the level 3 cache, together with the less deep pipeline required for slower clock speeds may just offset the drop in overall clock speed (pipeline stalls become less of a problem). And as the bottleneck with the code is in inter-thread communication, the high bandwidth between cores on the same die, and on the same QCM may also offer realistic hope of performance gain. And the interconnect between the nodes in an IH supernode should also perform better than what is currently used. And I believe that the number of possible in-flight speculative execution threads possible with more available execution units may reduce pipeline stalls even more.

Remember the Pentium 4 vs. Pentium 3 debacle, where a Pentium 3 at the same clock speed out performed the Pentium 4 when it was first launched, and the follow up Pentium M and D processors dropped the clock speed and again outperformed a Pentium 4.

The talk of in-order vs. out-of-order is bogus. The results for the same stream of instructions should be the same regardless of whether it is in-order or out-of-order. If it's not, the processor is broken. The difference is that out-of-order may allow the hardware instruction scheduler to better utilize the available execution units, leading to more-instructions per clock.

And anyway, the only applications that really are affected by the clock speed are speed-daemon floating point hungry single threaded research types of workloads. From my 30+ years of experience, this is a very small (but admittedly valuable) part of the AIX customer base.

For your commercial workload customer, the difference between Power5, Power6 and Power7 architecture and instruction sets will be largely ignorable. What will be more important is the number of cores, the number of simultaneous threads that can be executed and the memory constraints of the hardware. For these customers, the application providers may not even have optimized versions of their code for the different processors, but a one-size-fits-all distribution. Power7 is probably a big step forward for them. I know application providers who still compile on Power4 hardware with a generic set of compiler switches to allow the code to run on the entire processor set.

In fact, AIX is like this. The version of AIX 5.3 that runs on the Power6 575's (the current speed freak machine) is EXACTLY THE SAME as that which runs on an RS64 44P 170 (same install disks, I know, because I have done it!). There is no distinction on FixCentral for patches. It is just all the same.

Your comments about AIX5.3 are interesting. Yes, there are some features that will not be available to AIX5.3. Things like Turbo mode. But AIX 5.3 is still supported (not sure if there is an end-of-life date yet, would expect it if and when AIX 6.2 or AIX 7.1 is available), and there is likely to be a new Technology Level (TL12?) for Power7 that will add some of the new features. IBM have always kept the latest 2 releases of AIX under active support, and normally publish withdrawal from marketing for an OS about 2 years prior to that date. This means that there is at least 2 years of AIX 5.3 support, not that I would recommend anybody installing Power7 to use AIX 5.3 at this time.

The instruction features are more likely to be conditioned by the compilers (which, incidentally, are currently OS version agnostic, the Fortran and C compilers are the same packages for AIX 5.3 and AIX 6.1). What's even more impressive is that you can compile Power6 code on, say, a Power5 system, drop it onto a Power6 box, and expect it to run as well as if it had been compiled on a Power6 system.

All of this does not sound like the scenario you paint. Maybe you ought to work in a big AIX shop sometime, and see what binary compatibility is really like.

BTW. I cannot say where I am working, but we have more than one cluster in the first 100 of the November 2009 Top 500 Supercomputer list.

Brit astrophysical model scoops £1.1m at poker

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Is there a course on writing ambigious headlines?

Because this would be a prime candidate for a case study.

Completely accurate, but you have to actually read the article before you understand what it means!

Android on an iPhone? There's an app for that

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Thumb Up


Sounds like a way for early adopters of the iPhone who have resisted the urge to upgrade to recover some of the value by making a market for their second-hand devices.

I expect an upsurge of these early iPhones appearing on eBay.

'Gossips' say Apple will acquire ARM

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

@AC. My bad.

Intel only announced that Atom was running Android last week (apparently, I appear to have missed it. Must have been because I had a busy week doing some real work).

But as to Atom and Windows, may I point you in the direction of what is happening in the NAS space, where Atom is already pushing ARM out. Almost all of the recent devices run Windows Media Server on Atom, possibly because this is of use to people with Windows PC's but also because Atom is sufficiently low power that the ARM advantages are being eroded.

If Apple were to buy ARM and restrict advances in the architecture, do you really not think that the real winner would be Intel?

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Not an immediate collapse

ARM do not produce processors. They license the technology, and guide it's onward development.

The current generations of ARM processor made by people like Qualcomm and Marvel would still be produced under an existing license that Apple could do little to change (unless the Qualcomm, Marvel etc. lawyers were sleeping at the wheel).

What they could do would be to stifle innovation for new developments and licenses, keeping the best for themselves and allowing the rest of the world to struggle on with what they have already.

But I would hold up what happened to Mips and Alpha (and to an extent PA-Risc) as examples of what happens when a company not in the primary business of designing processors have control of a processor architecture. And SPARC may be going the same way (do you really think that Oracle are really interested in investing significant sums to progress SPARC beyond what we have already).

I rue the day when we have just Intel and AMD (lumped together because they produce code-compatible processors), and possibly IBM if they decide to continue developing Power, are the only game in town.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


ATMEL are ARM licensees. They have a series of ARM7 and ARM9 based products.

Below this, they have the AVR Microcontrollers, which are much simpler beasts.

Do you think that there is much overlap? I don't think so.

So they have the fab. and they have what looks like their own range of micro-controllers. How long would it take to develop their 32 bit AVR to provide the ARM functionality? By which time, everybody else would have switched to Atom or whatever lower power processor Intel has in the pipeline.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

This is bad news

An independent ARM allowed the processor to become ubiquitous. If Apple buy and then restricts ARM technology, it gives Intel a clear playing field to clean up.

And with Atom comes Windows...

Google's going to have to port Android to Intel!

Reverse-engineering artist busts face detection tech

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


Is this a reference (Gripping hand) to "The Moat around Murcheson's Eye", aka "The Gripping Hand" by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

If so, well done that man! Excelent book!

Epic Fail: How the photographers won, while digital rights failed

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Answer to your first question

On paper. The paper system still exists, and will continue to do so for those exceptions (like not having an Internet feed) that will continue to exist in the future.

Just because Internet filing is the preferred route does not mean that it will be the only one.

School secretly snapped 1000s of students at home

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


...cannot be used for this type of wake-up remotely, unless the system generating the WOL packet is either on the same physical (wired) network, or there is some form of MAC level routing set up.

By definition, WOL packets have to be at the MAC level (if the laptop is off, DHCP cannot allocate IP addresses), and these do not route through standard IP routers.

And this also means that the laptop cannot be on a wireless network, as WOL does not work over an 802.11abgn network.

My suspicion is that when the laptop in on, there is a VPN set up to allow the laptop to access and be accessed by the school systems, regardless of the network, routers and firewalls between the school and the laptop. This will be a software VPN, which relies on the OS, which means that the system has to be on.

Unless someone has produced a LAN card that is integrated in these laptops that does IP and VPN actually in the NIC when in standby mode. If they have, I suggest that these would be laptops to avoid, as who knows who would be able to snoop.

Fedora 13 - Ubuntu's smart but less attractive cousin

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

How long ago

...was your last Linux install.

I've put Hardy and Jaunty on lots of systems, and generally it just works.

Almost every wireless card I've used (and I've got many rattling around in drawers at home) is recognized without need of a vendor supplied installation disk.

The last problem I had was the hacked Atheros chipset in my EeePC 701 with Hardy (fixed by a specific module from the community), but by the time Jaunty came along, it worked without problems.

What impressed me recently was when I took my mule system, and replaced the motherboard, which resulted in different processor, support chipsets, graphics adapter, memory, network - well pretty much everything besides the wireless card (it's a deskside system some distance from the core of the home network) and the media peripherals.

The existing Hardy install (yes Ubuntu 8.04 - two years old, but kept up to date) barely batted an eyelid. It recognized the onboard Nvidia graphics (it previously had an ATI AGP card), asked to install the correct driver for it, and came up as if nothing had changed. It just coped with the fact that the support chips changed from a VIA set to an Nvidia nForce set, or that the processor changed from an AMD Athlon XP to a Pentium Dual Core.

The last time I did this with Windows XP, I had so many problems, mainly because the Windows 'you've changed your machine, are you still entitled to run Windows' checks caused me to have to call Microsoft to re-authorize the retail version of XP (which is allowed to be moved between systems as much as you want). And the specific IDE drivers for the original motherboard refused to let me access the optical drive to enable me to load the correct ones from the driver CD packaged with the new motherboard to fix the problem.

I've not used Vista, but have built a Windows 7 system last Christmas. I was genuinely impressed by how easy it was to install, and it is clearly a step change from XP, The install I did was on pretty much generic hardware, so I would hope that it would be quite easy.

But comparing the installs of Linux and Windows is largely bogus, because almost nobody outside of the technical community actually installs Windows on any system. They buy it pre-installed, and just use it until it becomes so cluttered and slow that they discard the whole system. To somebody who has never installed a system, it will always be a traumatic operation to partition their disk and install a completely foreign OS with no experience of building systems. This probably explains many of the 'tried it, found it so difficult that I just switched back to Windows' type of comments.

Many of these people would find a second or third install so trivial compared to the first that they would change their view.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

CPU cycles

If you have a modern GPU with OpenGL support, this is almost exclusively handled there (fading, bouncing, wobbling etc.)

Unless you've harnessed your GPU to do calculations, you've probably got ample spare cycles there.

I leave Compiz on on my laptop, jut to try to get people to notice it to increase user awareness of Linux. It doesn't really chew up a lot of CPU cycles on my lowly 2GHz Pentium 4 Thinkpad T30 unless you are using rapidly changing pixmaps (like video), and I don't normally do this when I am working.

The ATI MobileRadion in this Thinkpad is not up to water or flame backgrounds, but it runs a mean desktop cube.

Administrator access: Right or privilege?

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

sudo lockdown

It's perfectly possible to lockdown sudo so that you cannot run any shell, and there are many books around that will also show how to prevent user-escapes from allowed commands (like shell escapes from vi, for example).

This is another advantage of UNIX and UNIX-like OS's. There's lots of documentation and experience 'out there'. When your only avenue to reliable knowledge is a vendors training program, you become their technical and economic hostage. This is one reason some vendors like changing their product frequently, so they have the opportunity to sell their training over-and-over again.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Another view.

I'm sure I don't agree. Yes, UNIX is nearly 40. Yes, there are uglies in the way that you administer it, and also in the crude security model, but what are you holding up as a shining example of something better? I've seen administration tools that looked prettier, but they generally end up being so locked down as to be largely useless, or so complex to set up (I'm thinking CDE with it's cross-system authentication here) that you have to be a real propeller-head in order to get it working.

UNIX has seen off so many alternatives, and still lives on, while everyone else learns the hard way over-and-over again that hidden complexity leads to difficult-to-manage systems. The more layers of 'gloss' you add to 'simplify' administration, the more problems you build in when it goes wrong. (I'm coining Gathercole's Law as being "Apparent simplicity causes hidden complexity" )

If you need something better for users, then Gnome and KDE will provide you something just as pretty as other OS's (and a product from the 1980's called Looking Glass, which predates usable Windows systems also springs to mind), so the so called unfriendly* command line is not necessary for those who don't need it. Sometimes you ought to look and see what it is possible to do with the simplicity of the shell command line as practiced by real power users. It may not LOOK pretty, but it is elegant and functional.

I have frequently stunned managers and younger colleges by piping together several small tools with simple stream processors (think awk or sed) to achieve in a matter of minutes things that they were prepared to commit days of work to do. This is especially true in clusters or networks of near homogeneous systems, which is where UNIX excels.

It is a testament to the original design criteria of the shell and the base UNIX command set that most of the commands I use on a daily basis came out of Bell Labs. Version 7 UNIX, dated 1976. This has been augmented over the years, but you would still recognize that system as UNIX today. This may mark me out as a dinosaur, but hey! I'm still working, and I appear to have the respect of my peers who keep asking me to do things they cannot work out an easy way to do.

In my view, what is wrong with the example quoted WAS a UNIX design flaw, that of allowing spaces in filenames (space should have been made a banned character), but the very flexibility of the shell and filesystem interface allowing almost any character in filenames has allowed multi-byte character set languages to be integrated into UNIX with comparatively little effort.

(*) Often, the reason why it was seen as unfriendly is that most users were too lazy to learn the dozen or so commands that were the core set needed to do their job. They got frightened because two-and-three letter abbreviations were not close enough to english (e.g. cat - catinate is and English word, but one many people are not familiar with). This was a matter of perception and training. Possibly the only OS that got it right on the command line was VAX/VMS with DCL, which allowed you to use full command names, or any unique abbreviation. But this made the command processor one of the largest tasks in the system and was still not English!

P.S. I'm really not looking forward to a time when role-based security (which is already present in the few genetic UNICES left and also Linux since the 2.6 Kernel) becomes the norm. I predict that we will see stories of administrators who don't fully understand the importance of local privileged accounts locking themselves out of their systems when the LDAP or ActiveX directory servers cannot be contacted to authenticate them to fix the problem.

Guy Kewney, pioneer, guru, friend - RIP

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


I've been reading Guy's work for over 30 years, since the early issues of PCW. He was one of the computing journalists who made it worth buying a magazine just because he had written an article for it.

I cannot say how much I will miss seeing his clear and concise style of writing.

I especially remember his reviews of the original Acorn Archimedes in Byte, where he was able to do a quality job of reviewing a world-class product in a US publication. This is one of the few issues of Byte that I have kept in my keepsakes collection, and it will become all the more treasured as a result.

My condolences to Lucy, and everyone else who had the privilege of knowing him personally.

New Reg comments system ready to launch

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

I'm honoured..

.. by having amanfromMars respond directly!!

I've often wondered whether he was speaking in code rather than translated Martian. I think that this post clarifies the matter, don't you?

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

I sincerely hope...

... that this is another April Fools story.

Do you really believe that paying to post comments is actually something that the majority of commentards will actually do? It's just a bit of light relief, and the ability to see whether other people are of like mind.

Next you will be saying that BOFH will be only available to subscription holders.

Hang on. This over 250 words yet is it?


Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Yawn. Pinch, Punch etc.


we've all been playing Half Life, and quipping about the LHC for too long for this to be remotely regarded as amusing

Greenpeace fears clouds will turn earth brown

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


I know the term is used in a broad sense, but I would suggest that viviculture (animal farming) is actually contributing to greenhouse gasses. In it's strictest sense, agriculture is farming of plants, which I would guess is actually is a net CO2 consumer, and only produces methane if something goes wrong.

Mind you, without an animal sector of farming, the following would happen:

1. We would have to try to work out what to do with millions of tons of straw every year

2. Without animal fertilizer, you would have to learn to rotate crops or fortify land with artificial fertilizer (which is related to oil as it requires energy and some oil by-products), or suffer a large drop in productivity.

2. Upland/marginal/river margin land would become unproductive (a sheep can graze on land you cannot get a tractor on).

3. You would have to learn to live without other foods, not just burgers. Think milk, cheese, yogurt, cream, bacon etc..

4. If you include Chickens (major methane producer) in the mix, you also loose eggs, and the cheapest and most widely eaten protein source

5. There would be a serious protein shortage, which would require serious management of the populations diet in the West.

6. The countryside becomes huge expanses of either fallow scrubland (uneconomical to grow crops on), or vast belts of arable monoculture.

7. Nature abhors a vacuum. Natural animal life (admittedly a lower greenhouse gas producer) will move in where the farmed animals used to be.

8. And finally, if the human population were to move on to a pulse and/or brassica based diet (think brussel sprouts or cabbage for the latter), then WE would probably become the largest producer of methane (at least in my experience!)

Royal Navy starts work on new, pointless frigates

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Type 12 (improved)

This was Leander. It was built on the basic hull form and machinery of the Type 12 Whitby and Rothsay frigates, which were specialist AS and AA frigates.

Interestingly, the last batch Leanders ('broad-beam') were actually completed with different specialist configurations (Ikara AS, or Sea Wolf AA, and I believe that some had Exocet) in place of the Twin 4.5" turret, and many older vessels were converted during their lifetime.

So we went from specialist to general, then back to specialist.

After this, the Navy wobbled a bit. The Type 21 (Amazon) which was a commercial design, which was regarded as a poor as a result of not having sufficient upgrade potential built in, but then the Type 22 Weapon or Broadsword, which was a Navy design, and the later 'stretched' versions were so successful that some remain in service today. As I understood it, the extra space was not for additional weapons, but for Command and Control capabilities to allow these vessels additional radar and tactical control facilities to allow a conflict to be run from on-board.

Looking back, it seems strange now to consider that the Leander class ran to 26 ships. Nowadays, the entire major surface fleet is not much larger.

And the other thing to note is that today's destroyers are the size of 2nd WW cruisers, the frigates are the size of flotilla leader destroyers. There are effectively no vessels in the small frigate/corvette category, as these do not have full ocean-going capabilities without sacrificing either speed or weapons for endurance.

In reply to everybody saying that the modern warships are armored, that is not really the case. Whilst they do have survivability design features, a single missile or largish bomb will actually take a frigate out, and they would suffer quite badly from shrapnel damage from a near miss. What they do have is the ability to operate in nuclear or bacterial contaminated fields of war (so called ABC, Atomic, Bacterial or Chemical), and the Type 45 destroyer is intended to be a 'stealth' ship, with surfaces and water sprays designed to scatter radar, to make it look smaller on radar than it actually is. Imagine how large a container ship, with large flat sides must look.

These features are most comically illustrated by the so-called Kryten turret (Mk. 8 improved), which looks, naturally, like Kryten's (from Red Dwarf) head.

In addition, a warship must be able to move at least as fast as the rest of the group it is with (and with allied Navies), and to be able to react rapidly (which is why they switched from oil fuel steam turbines that had a startup time measured in hours, to Gas Turbine and/or Diesel, to allow a ship to be underway in a matter of minutes). Keeping j-fuel safe in combat is MUCH more difficult than keeping heavy oil fuel, which requires more design work.

And Lewis's ill-informed musing about carriers being able to protect themselves does not take into account amphibious warefare vessels like HMS Ocean, which do not have all the trappings of a full carrier.

Putting it bluntly, frigate sized ships are much more cost effective and useful in any number of different, and possibly un-expected environments than helicopter-carrying RFA's.

So Lewis. 3/10, could do better.

Lords: Analogue radio must die

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Insults abound

but are you seriously saying that you either only know people who do not have cars, or ones so rich they opt for every gadget! Every car has had a radio fitted as standard for several decades.

I'm sure that even if you have the most expensive media player in the world in your car, that there is probably an analogue radio hidden in it somewhere. After all, a single chip radio adds almost nothing to the cost of a device, so why would they not throw one in!

Ditto radio alarm clocks and portable media players. Do you not know anybody with a latest gen. iPod Nano or a recent Nokia phone.

I suspect that when asked whether they have an analogue radio, most of your friends say "dunno, I've never looked".

Radio lobby 'hides' 2m analogue receiver sales

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

You don't have to care, but I do.

Sounds like your mate is also in line for paying TomTom or someone else for traffic updates which can be got for free from local radio.

There's more reason to listen to radio than to drown out the engine noise!

One wonders when they intend to count digital radio on Freeview boxes in the future. Would enable them to easily meet their targets!

BTW, if you are a not a radio listener, WTF are you doing commenting, or even reading the article. You self admit that you are not an interested party, go somewhere else to rant!

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Not only...

...do I listen to analogue radio, I even listen to it on my pocket DAB receiver. I get about 3-4 hours of DAB or 30+ hours of analogue out of a pair of AA's.

If my local commercial FM station had not just fallen foul of the receivers last week, I would even claim that not having local radio on DAB was a reason to stay analogue.

Reception is a poor comparison as DAB reception is pretty poor for people who live more than 5 miles outside of a town regardless of what you listen to it on.

Biometric harvest network can handle just 700k a year

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

And the NHS...

...is just sooooo god at identifying people allowed treatment that they can be trusted to confirm identity!

I've seen my GP once in 10 years. I'm sure that he would recognize me again. Oh yes.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

DMV equivalent

That would either be the DVLA Local Offices (all 39 of them, all in big cities, see http://www.dft.gov.uk/dvla/contactus/localoffices/findnear.aspx), or the Post Office. Just looking at the US, California on it's own has more DMV offices that the UK has DVLA Local Offices.

We do most of our driving license work by post, the Internet or in the Post Office. And unlike you, our license lasts from when we pass our test to 70. Identity is confirmed by having an influential person (doctor, MP, business owner) vouching for the identity only once when the provisional license is first issued. I believe that there is a requirement to apply for a new photo card every 10 years, but that is done just by sending a new photograph by post.

Even the old-style passport (the non-biometric ones) were done the same way. This is why it is such an outrage (to us) that the new passport or ID card requires visiting such a centre.

Having mentioned California, it's obvious why I've used the Terminator icon!

'Switch to Century Gothic to save the planet'

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Ariel on a Mac?

Me thinks you must have a Microsoft font pack, possibly for the Mac version of Office.

I cannot say for sure, but I would not expect a Microsoft specific font to be shipped with OSX.

Google booted from China's number two carrier

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

... forfeit their membership?

Why do they need to , bearing in mind how much the rest of the world now relies on them as the worlds manufacturer.

If China withdrew from the WTO, who exactly would boycott trade with them? It's a fine idea as long as you don't want computers, TV's, other electronic devices, plasticware, knives and forks, kids toys, tee shirts and jeans... and even a place to send all your plastic waste to be re-used rather than dumped in landfill.

I could go on.

Next time you buy something non-food, pretty much anything, have a look at where it was made. Just think how you would like to wait a year to get non-Chinese production scaled up, and how you would embrace paying three times as much for it. And that's not to mention the billions of dollars that China has invested from it's sovereign wealth fund propping up UK and US companies.

No, China is not afraid of the WTO. We should be afraid of them leveraging their dominant manufacturing position on us. Still, we only have ourselves to blame for letting our manufacturing sector to become so niche.

I don't like the human rights issues either, but if you examine the United Nations Charter, you will find that not even this allows any country to interfere with another sovereign nation (Article 2, Paragraph 7 apparently). Mind you, this appears to be something that the US and UK governments have forgotten over the years.

The other concern I have is why so many people think that the western democratic system is the only one worth merit? It should be quite obvious from Afghanistan and Iraq that it does not fit the whole world's moral and ethical systems. We (in the west) are just being moral snobs. I don't think that the Chinese system is currently fair, but that does not mean that we immediately have to schedule a western style election for China. The Chinese representational system, if it were implemented correctly could work, as long as the people at the top loose their desire to stay in power (hmmmm, probably not going to happen).

Anyway, enough of this Friday Afternoon politics, I need a pint!

Darling confirms telephone line tax

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Confusion unbounded

Malcolm Corbett has *nothing* to do with the announcement of the phone tax, so his comments about fibre to the home are just that. Comment on the main story by an interested party. While he makes good points about providing real competition for the 'last-mile' (or five) to BT, he is really completely detached from the real world. We really cannot afford a complete new infrastructure for the countryside.

What many people commenting here do not understand is that it is not just people living in the middle of Dartmoor who cannot get broadband, but people who live 5 miles out from a town with a local telephone exchange. Where I live in Somerset, I get ~7Mb/S, but I live about 0.75 from the exchange, as-the-crow-flies. But if you live a couple of miles out of my small town (population of around 10,000), you are lucky to get 1Mb/S, and if you are unfortunate enough to have significant runs of copper-on-a-pole (or worse, aluminium), then you are likely to get zilch, nada, nothing. We're not talking about wilderness, we're talking small towns and villages with green space between them that do not need an exchange to provide phone services.

It is too easy to complain that people should not have moved to the country, there are many, many people for whom it has been their whole life, not a lifestyle choice. Why should they make a 'lifestyle choice' just to get *ANY* internet access.

What I think that the bill aims to provide is a basic 2Mb/S service to 95% of the population. This hardly counts as a "super-fast" broadband service, and the comments about 50Mb/S for farmer Giles who just looks at sheep-porn just show how fnorking blinkered and uneducated some of you cnuts are.

Technology limitations and cost is what is preventing universal fast net access (how I hate it when 'broadband' is used inappropriately).

What should be the aim is single fibre bundle to a roadside box in the middle of a village, with copper to the house, possibly combined with the phone system to provide a DSL type connection. But even this is a major upheaval when you currently have separate metal wires from each dwelling to the nearest exchange. Whilst I abhor additional taxation, providing some financial support for rural *communities* is almost certainly a Good Thing(tm)

Reading through the BS that some people are spouting makes my blood boil. I'm off for a beer to cool down!

Commodore 64 reincarnated as quad-core Ubuntu box

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Apple ][

There was a color (sic) version of the Apple ][, but the original was black-and-white (actually black-and-green, as Apple only sold a green monitor). I never saw one actually with a coloUr monitor (damn the Yanks and their spelling), but I did use one with a monochrome monitor. It was a PAL model so it could have been that the colour was provided by a third party board, replacing the Apple PAL card.

At the time that the C64 was selling, Apple had moved on to the Apple ][e and the Apple ][c, which were enhanced and compact versions.

I preferred the Beeb myself. Just could not see the attraction of the C64's poor Basic, slower processor, minimal expansion, expensive (and slow!) floppy drives, and lack of bank-switched ROM that allowed you to switch applications on a whim. The (one) hardware sprite, and a more flexible sound hardware did make a difference, but the extensive software interrupt driven sound system on the BBC allowed similar effects to be created, albeit with a greater effort from the programmer.

The C64 was a better system than the Spectrum, though, but that should not detract from the design genius that produced the speccy at the price it sold at.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


Not on a C64, unless someone snuck in a 8-bit 6510 (6502 with the 'missing' instructions re-instated) UNIX port that I missed!!

HTC Legend

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Funny, yes

That the iPhone bears a passing resemblance to a Palm T5 or TX. If only Palm had put a Treo phone chipset in to that, rather than jumping onto the Handspring model for Palms-with-phone, then we might be saying something completely different.

My treo 650 is still soldiering on after 4 1/2 years, but it obviously isn't as sexy as an iPhone, Android or a Pre.

BTW, I know it does not have WiFi or built-in GPS (my GPS unit connects by Bluetooth), but I charge it on the way home on a Friday in the car, use it all weekend for calls, games and media, and it is still over 50% full when I get back in the car on Monday morning. And I can get LOTS of applications for free from many different sites.

US Navy plans self-building floating fortresses

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


Pods containing specific equipment that can be loaded and unloaded when needed.

A floating Thunderbird 2 then!

Mandy quango says Apple, Amazon are too obscure

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Must admit

that I find more music that I want to listen to on Amazon MP3 downloads that I do in my local (25 mile away) HMV store.

Even the majors, and I must admit that I can only think of HMV as remaining, having lost Virgin/Zavvi, MVC, Our Price (OK, I know it was a long time ago), and Woolies, and the jumped-up News Agents like WH Smiths and the Supermarkets, only stock items that they think they will sell. Hardly any back catalog at all.

I don't choose to listed to what the Music Industry think I want to listen to.

But I do miss analogue music formats. I'd probably still buy vinyl if I could!

Sky to pack pubs with 3D TVs

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

What technology - just guessing, but...

You need to send out information for each eye with a different polarization. I do not know for certain, but I can envisage two ways this could be done.

One is to install switchable polarization filters across the whole screen, and interleave left-and-right images while altering the polarization of the filter. This is quite simple to do (LCD screens rely on cross-polarized filters to work anyway, so probably means that instead of the single set of red-green-blue filters, you put two sets in, which allows you to have both-left showing the left image, both-right showing the right image and any combination of left and right showing nothing. It is not quite this simple, unfortunately, as you need degrees of filtering to allow you to show close to the whole range of colours. In addition, plasma TV's don't use polarizing filters, but could easily have a set added. You would also probably need an overall refresh rate of at least 100Hz to avoid perceivable flickering, and very fast acting plasma or LCD screens. On LCD screens, there may also be some left-right bleedthrough of the other image as well.

The second method is to double either the horizontal or vertical resolution (if you want to maintain the same resolution), and have alternate columns or rows behind fixed polarizing filters of different direction. You then feed the left image into the even columns or rows, and the right image into the odd columns or rows. This would work for both LCD and Plasma, and if done cleverly with LCD panels at little extra cost for the screen. You do not need to increase the refresh rate.

In both cases OLED screens would work like plasma screens.

If I were deciding on which system to use, I believe that I would opt for the second design, because I think it would be less complex to build (especially if you accept halved resolution as you could just modify the build process for existing panels), and probably cheaper.

'Phantom Eye' hydrogen strato-spy drone starts building

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

You're forgetting...

... the nitrogen dioxide that will also be a product if the atmosphere is used as the source of the oxygen. Of course, this is produced in petrol engines as well, but most people forget it when considering hydrogen as fuel in a conventional piston engine.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


Cost, adaptability to hydrogen (it's just a modified LPG injection unit), commodity training for the engineers, durability, ease of parts supply, fuel economy, advanced engineering leading to high power-to-weight (financed by the Motor trade not Boeing), no special secrets to be gleaned when they are shot down, ability to be maintained in your average motor garage with readily available tools when operating close to the front line.

I could probably go on...

China warns Google over uncensored search threat

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Black Helicopters

Collaborative Distributed Proxy

I have long thought that an Open Source, Collaborative Distributed Proxy (my term, and I don't think it has been used elsewhere), whereby any packet can be sent via any member of the collective, in a pseudo-random scatter basis, with encryption, is needed to defeat the country filters imposed by a number of countries.

I've not worked out all of the details, but the basis is that you run a client that acts as a html proxy on your on system, which joins the collective, and does not route any two packets the same way, using UDP stateless connections on randomized ports via other members of the collective. You would need to be able to re-assemble the packet stream, and enforce packet re-transmission (like TCP), and you would need a fixed endpoint for each TCP session.

I know that TOR does something similar, but is mainly for anonymity, I believe that my solution differs because the set of system participating would be constantly shifting, making it difficult to block at the country level.

There are problems with local firewalls on each of the member machines which I have not yet worked out (I suspect that at some point, you would need a broker), and initially joining the collective would be a potential point of weakness which could be trapped, but I think that these are all addressable.

BOFH: The PFY Chronicles part 2

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Kiwi Foo

This years camp finished four weeks ago. Does it take that long for the post to get a card from NZ?

My thoughts are that Simon could not get the leave, or get the Boss to allow him the time to attend, so he faked his own death.

My guess is that when they get round to interviewing for his replacement, there will strangely be only one applicant, who will turn out to be Simon's 'long lost twin brother', separated at birth and sent to Australia (or possibly New Zealand).

Alternatively, Sleep No More may be referring to a Greg Iles story dealing with Transmigration of the soul. Maybe Simon is coming back in another body! Or possibly has had plastic surgery, and he will just appear to be someone else.

I can't wait!

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

But you're talking 30 year old kit!

VT52s are ANCIENT. DEC switched to selling VT100s back in the late 70's, so any VT52s would be 30+ years old. The video components alone would probably be dangerous to power up. I'm sure that all of the capacitors would have leaked by now.

Mind you, they were easy to code for compared to the other things that were out there then. I actually wrote a full VT52 emulator in BBC basic that could keep up with 9600 baud. I then recoded it in 6502 assembler in a day. Could not be arsed to write the VT100 emulator that I really needed.

Bearing in mind the dodgy photo's that Wikipedia has, if the PFY had one in good nick, he could probably find a buyer, if only to take some good pictures to immortalize this important terminal.

Virgin signals start of telegraph pole broadband test

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Broadband over power cables?

There have been trials of data-over-power grid (please note this is *NOT* the same as Homeplug). Scottish Power actually had a commercial service at one time, I believe.

It's not RF interference that killed the trials of this, it was the cost of bridging the signal from high to medium to low tension safely, the problem of combining upstream signals, and the problem of suppressing power switching noise which would cause damage of the datastream ( I was told that even medium tension switching uses sealed oil-quenched switches that arc through the oil, causing it to boil and be very dangerous - exploding substations anybody?). Not conducive to data.

My local electricity distribution company has fibre carried on its HT pylons, providing long-haul data services for trunks across the Atlantic, and has been selling bandwidth on this for over 10 years. But this is not suitable for broadband to the home, unfortunately.

Mutated genetic supertrout developed in lab

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Bigger, more powerful...

Hope they've not invented the samlon (from 'The Legacy of Heorot'). Don't want any Grendels escaping the fish farm!

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