* Posts by Peter Gathercole

2953 posts • joined 15 Jun 2007

Virgin Media battles privacy campaigners on P2P monitoring

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

So... what.

That's not what DPI is for. Any fool can identify bittorrent traffic by looking at the port numbers and the first few bytes of each packet, but DPI should be able to catagorise what is being carried in the bittorrent stream. This should mean that they can work out that Ubuntu 9.10 is OK, but Avatar is not.

But I'm not sure you need to use DPI for this (at least with torrents), as all you need to do is join the leechers, and grab the first few blocks to work out what is in the torrent. Of course, if this was known to be being done, you build an image that is a mix of copyrighted material sandwiched between something that is not, but that just makes it an arms race between the community and the ISP's. And before anybody starts talking encrypted torrents, remember that to be usable, the leecher has to be able to decrypt what they have downloaded, or else it is not worth doing.

But I am worried by "40 per cent of Virgin Media customers will be monitored for illegal music sharing, but those involved won't be told". I would suggest that there is a "yet" to be added at the end.

Teletext toddles off as licence taken

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
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BEEB and Teletext

It went much further. Acorn made the Teletext adapter for the BEEB that allowed you to open teletext pages as files on a file system from BBC Basic. One would open a page by specifying the page number as the filename, exactly as you would a file on disk, and then read a record that corresponded to the entire screen, and decode the information inside your program. I am sure that the adapter also cached some of the pages so you could get fast access.

Was fun to play with, but I could not really see a real application for it. I guess it was really an early example of a "Screen Scraper".

I could not get the hang of the locking graphics modes for Mode 7 which allowed you to specify disconnected and joined up graphics modes and colours. The person who thought this up (for Prestel and Ceefax, before the BEEB came along) must have had a seriously deranged way of looking at things. But it was a hardware mode, implemented by the display hardware (an SAA 5050), and allowed much clearer text than the all-points-addressable modes (the cell size was something like 15x10 compared to 8x8 in the graphics modes) meaning that the text was very clear even on cheap televisions, the screen only used 1K of memory, and allowed all 8 colours, plus flashing colours to be used.

Was a clever way of maximising the usable memory in a machine that looked under-provisioned for memory even when it was launched. Ah, the memories.

IBM countersues Neon over zPrime accelerator

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


Lamborghinis maybe, but you could probably trademark Lamgorhinis yourself.

The monopoly on 360/370 family mainframes is, as Henry Wertz points out, not enforced by IBM. The plug compatible manufacturers simply left the market. It was as though everybody but Ford stopped making cars.

I've heard it expressed that the 370 was the first open computer platform. IBM published the 370 Principals of Operations (POO), which documented the complete workings of the CPU, channel structure and I/O processors that enabled the whole PCM market, exploited by Amdahl, Fujitsu and Hitachi, to name just a few.

Acer says no to iPad-alike tablet

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Acer's core business?

Problem is Acer is not in the OS business. What would they put on it? Android? Chrome OS, Windows Mobile? Or maybe whatever Microsoft is touting as a tablet OS at the moment?

The Windows solutions won't give it the same WOW as the iPad (at least to fanbois), and Android or Chrome OS will probably need some some development by Acer to make it attractive to customers.

I would actually like to see a device like the iPad running WebOS, but I doubt that Palm have the spare cash to develop such a thing. Tablet, pen/touch integration, Multi-tasking, a long history of developer-friendly application environments. I believe that it would be more usable than what we have been told the iPad will deliver. Still, we can dream.

Firefox-based attack wreaks havoc on IRC users

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
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Not so! I used it only last month, but it was for a nostalgia trip!

But the real question here is when is an obsoleted protocol/service no longer required. I'm sure a lot of people would like to see ftp deprecated, but it's not going to happen for a while yet.

Steve Jobs uncloaks the 'iPad'

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


You've not been reading the Reg. properly. HTML5 is far from done-and-dusted, as it relies on the underlying codecs being in the browser, and there being arguments about H.264 and Ogg Vorbis.

BTW. H.264 is not open source. Even though it's freely available It is patented. This is something quite different.

Windows 7 upgrades Vista laptops to lower battery life

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

3 hours.

It's relative. If you have a road-warrior desktop replacement which is over three years old, three hours would be excellent! If you have a current netbook with all of the power saving features enabled, it's not. Remember that the eeePC 701 (the original 4GB SSD one) was only quoted as having about 3.5 hours of battery life with the high capacity battery, and that was only three and a bit years ago!

My trusty thinkpad T30, which is about 6 years old, gets about 1hr 20min. When it was new, the handbook said that it should have been 3-3.5 hours. If I still got 3 hours I would regard it as excellent, but as I only use it on batteries infrequently (part of the problem), it's no issue (and being a Thinkpad, I could always get a Chinese replacement battery for about 30 quid if it was).

Only nukes can stop planetsmash asteroids, say US boffins

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Rocks chucked at a planet...

...by things called "Mass Drivers", have featured in Sci-Fi like "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress", Babylon 5, and even the Anime series Gundam (the original, not the numerious follow-up's).

Nothing's new.

China denies role in cyber attacks on Google

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


That's just his way.

Be grateful that this post is moderately comprehensible.

Google ices Android launches in China

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

19 years ago, eh?

My last history lesson was 34 years ago, and I am not in a history related profession!

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

ROC (Taiwan) and PRC (mainland China)...

...are not the same.

PRC is the Peoples Republic of China, and is mainland China.

ROC is the Republic of China, which is the remnants of pre-communist China, which is pretty much just Taiwan.

Definitely different, although PRC would love to take charge in Taiwan, as it's been a thorn in their side for 50 years.

Gawd. What do they teach in History now!

Tor software updated after hackers crack into systems

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
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Could be more open...

... like telling us which (embarrassing) vector was used to gain access to the servers in the first place! You would think that they would be extra careful with these systems.

Avon & Somerset cop computers titsup?

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Local jobs!!

I thought I would be able to get some work close to home as part of Somerset One, but IBM just put all the servers in Warwick. So much for local commitment.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Liddle Granger's been campaigning on this for ages

He's just got to the point where he has brought it up in Parliament. 'Bout time.

Shame he's not so committed to keeping real work rather than just tourism in Somerset.

US makes travellers go online, before getting onboard

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
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Sort of makes you wonder...

...if you can only travel if you are able to get online. I wonder if Travel Agents will ask at booking time whether you are able to fill in the form on the Internet, or whether there will be little old ladies refused at check-in because they do not have a computer. (I'm assuming that if you can buy your ticket online then, well, you can fill in an online form).

Yanks floored by nail guns, computers and baseballs

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
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There was a computer desk involved! Obvious, really.

Record labels seek DMCA-style UK takedowns

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

representational politics...

...will never provide what everybody wants. You vote for an MP, and when they are elected, there is no way that you can actually make them vote in the House the way that you want, and you have no way of making them do so until the next general election, or you try to get them de-selected. This is not a quick process, and will not work for specific piece of legislation.

Once elected, the whipping system in the House will make your MP vote with their party, or face censure (at least on important votes). If you feel like it, try talking to your MP at one of their surgeries, and then see whether you can affect how they vote on the issue you talked about.

The only way to get what you want is to force a referendum on every topic that is made law, but then how would you get the whole population educated to make sensible decisions on, say, tax policy or defense, or some other area where you may have to have necessary but unpopular policies. To gauge whether you want this, try watching the debates in both houses on the Parliament channel to find out whether you really want to be involved in every policy decision.

I suspect that if there were whole-country votes for everything, the turnout in each referendum would soon become a fraction of one percent of the voting population. People are just not THAT interested in politics. This would then lead to legislation being passed by any group able to motivate enough people to overwhelm the normally apathetic opposition.

In addition, those people who do not understand democracy, but voted, will still feel aggrieved when they are in the minority.

What we do need, however, is a strong and independent second house to provide the checks and balances to prevent bad legislation. This government, not liking the old model House of Lords (because it kept giving them bloody noses every time they tried to pass bad laws) tried to reform the Lords, but botched it by not completing the job. This has left the balance of power with the House of Commons, a very undesirable state of affairs. The result? A raft of poorly thought out and often impossible to enforce laws, which could soon be joined by the Digital Britain bill.

So the answer is not just VOTE. It is a much more complex problem that I do not believe anybody has the answer to.

Still, I understand the sentiment. What we are enduring at the moment just SUCKS!!! I am beginning to smell the faint whiff of revolution in the air.

BTW. Did anybody else spot that this is an Andrew Orlowsky article that allows comments?

Italians take the 'p' to fight back against Big Brother

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


I was looking forward to a story about a telescope that did not use glass lenses until I read the bootnote!

Google Nexus One caught on camera

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
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Pick which part of Acorn!

Acorn split into lots of different businesses, many of which were associated with the ARM (remember when it was called the Acorn RISC machine). I think that you should say that Steve Furber and Sophie (nee Roger) Wilson should be proud of their achievements, and that Herman Hauser should be congratulated for his foresight in backing the project, even though it did not save Acorn Computers Ltd.

Lawyers scared of computers

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Data Protection Act (not sure which one)

The last time I looked in detail in the act, it talked about computer readable information, which, if you take it literally, should mean paper records as scanners and OCR have existed for ages.

BOFH: Key performance undertakers

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

How do PFY's progress...

...when their youthfulness is waning? After all, even with his diet, he should be over that acne by now?

Dead man's shoes maybe?

It's harder to kill BOFHs than this! After all, he's survived an attempt before.

Scientist proposes quantum über-battery

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
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Hazard warning

Sounds very interesting, but I would be worried about the rate of discharge. Capacitors tend to be able to dump charge rapidly, which would make these devices potentially dangerous if handled incorrectly.

These would be very difficult to secure in a car after a road accident. I'd be worried of high current arcs vaporizing any metal that shorted the battery. But any stored high energy source is potentially dangerous, I guess.

Angels can't fly: Official

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
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But who said that that was a disguise? The encounter suite was the disguise.

Google: Do no evil, pay no tax

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Dangerous pecidents here

International tax is a minefield.

I think that if HMRC taxed profits where they are earned, not at point of declaration, and other countries followed suit, the UK would probably be a net looser. This is because we are largely a country of service industries, earning most of our overseas revenue from other countries in this manner, and internationally, double taxation is frowned upon.

You woulda thought that the politicians who are proposing this would study it enough to realize the implications.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

VAT is probably offset

They are certainly over the threshold where VAT registration is compulsory, so any VAT they pay will be offset against what they charge. No tax loss/gain there, it's mostly neutral.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Tax? I think this is Corporation Tax

Learn about the tax system in the UK before ranting, please.

I'm sure that they are doing the right thing for NI and PAYE income tax for their employees in the UK (HMRC would see to that), it's just the Corporation Tax, and they probably do the same as any number of companies that are not Incorporated in the UK (Dell, eBay etc.)

We don't have a hypothicated (don't know whether this is too obscure for Firefox's spelling checker, or whether I have just got it wrong) tax system here, so it is not possible to work out whether the tax credits are paid from Corporation Tax or PAYE and NI income, but I would suggest that you should expect it to be the latter.

If the average income is 90K, I suspect that few if any of the Google employees would be able to claim any tax credits, anyway, and if anybody is sacked from Google, then the Jobseekers allowance should definitely be from NI.

Thai firm flies in early-80s style keyboard PC

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


I know that HDMI appears to be becoming the accepted standard for HD TV, but when I first got my EeePC 701, I plugged it into my Acer AL2671W TV via the VGA port that that TV has (it really is more like a widescreen monitor with a TV tuner). I configured the correct native resolution for the TV in the EeePC, and it worked fine at native resolution. The TV appeard to lock on to the dot clock perfectly, and the timing on the EeePC was stable enough to prevent dot-creep or the moire patterns that plague mistimed TV signals. Was perfectly clear.

My kids are now using that TV with the Xbox360 using a component cable, and that looks pretty good too. And the TV actually offers DVI as well (it's a well spec'd TV, with only HDMI missing, which is one reason I replaced it for Sky HD). So I wonder whether HDMI is really necessary for a PC if any of these other ports are available. I wonder how much of the HDMI requirement is actually hype and/or media companies wanting to adopt it because of the DRM features that it provides. Off course, I know it also provides audio.

But for the target market, I wonder whether a small PC like the Eee Box, and a wireless keyboard and mouse is actually a better solution, as that does not require a cable from your armchair to the TV. It's a good price, though.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Flash on Linux

I've a real problem here. If I download the .flv file using Download Helper, my poor, underpowered EeePC 701 can play the result with mplayer just fine. It's only when I am using a browser based Flash pluging (both Adobe Flashplayer 10, and also Gnash/Klash) that I have problems.

Also, the Adobe plugin for Flash 9 worked very well, but the installer for this appears to have disappeared into the ether, just leaving the crap version 10 both on Adobe's website, but also in the repositories for the major distro's. So, I don't think it is a Linux problem, more an Adobe one.

EDS mainframe goes titsup, crashes RBS cheque system

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

But being an IBM system

you can guarantee that the process is well documented. More likely the person receiving the bulletins about the critical firmware updates was amongst the people who was let go. Also, HP were probably doing the hardware maintenance, and you can guess how good they would be at that!

Hackers declare war on international forensics tool

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Why bother...

... to keep below the download limits your ISP impose?

Or do you like your feed being blocked, or being hit with punitive over-limit fees? The cache tends to hold large static data that would be expensive to download again and again.

Asus said to be making gadget inspired by gadget Apple is said to be making

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
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Come on. Someone should have gimp'd (I'm a Linux user, and can't use Photoshop) an eee-pad mockup onto the eee-babe-on-the-beach for this article.

Thomas the Tank Engine drives 'conservative political ideology'

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Always was.

I'm sure he was known as "Sir Toppham Hat" from about book 13 (Branch Line Engines, 1961), in the story "Thomas comes to Breakfast". I think his butler answers the phone with "Sir Toppham Hat's residence"

All of the main characters were first written about in the 50's and early 60's, when the world was mainly male centric. Of course the primary characters were male, because that's how the world was then. It would be a mockery if the characters were changed when the TV series was first made, and this must be about 25 years ago, because that is the age of my oldest Son.

Is there going to be some backlash about the "Thin Clergyman" for being anorexic, even though this character was based on the Author himself?

BTW. I would be interested to find out whether the Chris Payne who appears on the credits for the early TV episodes was the same Chris Payne who I was at University with in Durham in the late 70's. They both appear to have been interested in model railways. Anybody know?

Navy's £1bn+ destroyers set to remain unarmed for years

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Eggs and baskets anybody?

I thought that the Navy had learned not to put reliance on a single weapon system a long time ago (the Counties suffered from this with Seaslug in the 50's and 60's). Still, if the carriers are not built, these destroyers will be of limited use anyway, even if armed.

It's funny, There is actually a direct analog between the County class Guided Missile destroyers of the cold war era, who's job was to defend a carrier task force from low-flying aircraft, and the Type 45s that are supposed to do the same against low flying missiles. Both are largely single purpose, single weapon platforms, hugely expensive to build and run, and mainly ineffective at their role.

I wonder if these missiles were ever known as Floggle Grummit missiles? I'm sure HMS Troutbridge had trouble with these in the Navy Lark.

Left hand down a bit!

IBM shows off Power7 HPC monster

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Lead time and who-wants-to-buy-Power6

The lead time for installing this type of system runs into many months, because of the associated infrastructure required to put this type of system on the floor. This means that most of the customers who might want one on launch date will have to start planning their power, water cooling and reinforced suspended floor now in order to get one installed close to GA date. All of the big Power6 build capability IBM has is probably already committed, so a customer probably can't by a Power6 HPC now even if they wanted one.

Power6 575's are already water cooled. The IBM regional hardware CE's have to do a water cooling training course before they are allowed to touch the systems. The smaller systems are air cooled, and the smaller Power7 systems will also probably be air cooled as well.

And you have to remember that there are only a hand-full of customers in the UK who have pockets deep enough and problems large enough to warrant purchasing this model of Power7 systems (see the top500 to see who they may be).

As far as I am aware, although i (aka i/OS or OS/400) will run on these systems, it is unlikely that the applications that will run will be able to take advantage of the capabilities of one of these systems. It is unlikely that anybody will bother to LPAR them, even though it may be possible (it is certainly possible to LPAR a p6-575). Looking at p6-575's, they are every bit CHRP POWER systems, with similar entitlements and capabilities, and even the same basic AIX installs. From a system management perspective, they are just very large AIX systems.

The current zSeries systems run significantly different silicon. Although the fundamental processors are similar in design and structure, the actual instruction set, even allowing for micro-coding, is too different between Power and zSeries to allow one to run the other's programs.

Recent zSeries systems have also been air rather than water cooled. Mainframes excel in huge I/O performance rather than just basic grunt.

Of course, Linux is always an option.

Virgin Media to trial filesharing monitoring system

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Either stupid or very clever

I, too, would be interested in hearing how VM intend to identify what song is being transferred.

Surely, if they are calculating some form of hash from well-known mp3 files, then re-sampling, or adding 1/4 second of silence at the beginning of the track or even changing the id3 tags could prevent them from correctly identifying a track. And if they are just sampling the bit-steam, and trying to match sequences of bytes, then this would be even more fragile.

I suspect that in their naivety they may try to use something like CDDB, and we all know how good that is!

Unless they have some sophisticated music analysis program that will identify beat, melody and harmony elements of music, but I would guess that if this technology was reliable, then it would be announced as a major advance in music analysis.

O/S bloat: What's the cure?

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


AIX LPARs are very much like VMWare ESX, but with a hypervisor (which is actually a specialist Linux based OS) separating the virtual systems. Each virtual system has its own OS image, with no page sharing between instances.

WPARs are like Sun Zones/Containers, where you have a single OS image running applications in what are effectively chrooted environments with some CPU and memory enforcement (provided by WLM) and some network virtualisation provided loopback virtual Ethernet devices.

BTW. Whoever said that C does not use sharable CSECTS obviously has not looked at the way that shared-text UNIX processes have worked for nearly 40 years!

ISPA slams Mandy's copyright land grab

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

@Bob Wheeler

I think you've missed the point here.

Why else might they want to use a Statutory Instrument?

Could it be to avoid scrutiny......

Google Chrome OS - do we want another monoculture?

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


@Julia Smith: Xserver and Mainframes? Tradditional IBM mainframes (running MVS, IMS, CMS, TSO etc) either never understood X, or were slow to adopt it (OpenMVS, which became z/OS, has/had a POSIX compatibility layer that added X Clients) but it is clearly nonsensical to have an X Server running on a Mainframe. IBM mainframe graphics either used channel attached workstations (often running AIX and proprietary channel-based communications) for high performance work, or 3278 graphics terminals for business type graphics.

Can't really talk about other vendors mainframe offerings, because I never had any real exposure to them.

@Mage : Understand what you are saying, but being a bit picky, I would like to point out that vt100's were not graphics capable terminals (unless you include the box-characters in the advanced video option). In the vt1XX line, you would be using a vt131 or vt132 for graphics, and the followups were the vt240 and vt241, (this last being a colour terminal!) The standard they used was a propriety ANSI-extension that was called ReGiS (capitalization may be wrong) that was proposed as a standard, but fell by the way-side.

Still, I would have thought that using a browser based rendering engine will never be really efficient unless it grows into a full blown fully functional 3D rendering device (like OpenGL or possibly DirectX (spit)). In which case, you would have re-invented the thin client again, without it being all that thin.

The difference in cost of a fully functional computer (with disk-like storage and all) and a thin client will never be high enough to justify their deployment. Desktop computers, Netbooks, and Phones will probably merge together, all with SSD based filesystems, input, and display devices, and a real, fully functional OS under the covers. Something like Chrome will end up being effectively a presentation or compatibility layer sitting on top of the OS, but the OS will be there, and will probably be Linux based for everybody other than Microsoft (and Apple if you draw a distinction between GNU/Mach and GNU/Linux).

BBC publishes Freeview HD timetable

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

@Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

FreesatHD and FreeviewHD are different things. You need a satellite dish and a suitable decoder in either a set-top-box or your telly for FreesatHD.

FreeviewHD will use a normal TV aerial, together with a suitable dec....... you know what I mean.

I'm pretty pissed of actually. I tried to be ahead of the game by making sure that all of the TV's I have in the house have freeview boxes, only to now find out that they will be obsolete almost before I needed to install them.

And why do we need both FreesatHD and FreeviewHD. Surely one or the other could be made to cover the whole country. And why not just legislate (or even just pay) to make Sky carry the free-to-air channels, rather than inventing another incompatible satellite system.

I'm sick of the perpetual bandwagon of money-grabbing new technologies that we have to buy in to in order to maintain what we have already. PC's, DVD's, game consoles, phones, TV's, media players etc.

My view is that this is capitalism gone mad. I'm not normally of this persuasion, but I'm beginning to think that governments should legislate for a minimum life for technologies, otherwise we will just be cycling raw materials between the manufacturers and the recyclers, with a brief use as devices in between.

First ever supersonic stealth jumpjet starts hover tests at last

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

@sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD

The F4K Phantoms that the Royal Navy operated when we had real carriers were transferred to the RAF when the Audacious class Ark Royal (not the current one) was scrapped.

The last I heard was that they were doing service as long-range interceptors in Scotland (replacing the English Electric/BAe Lightenings), but this was some time ago (the Ark was scrapped about 1978, so if they were still flying, the Phantoms would be pushing 40).

The RAF also took the remaining Buccaneers.

As I understand it, the new carriers (if they are ever built) have provision in the design for arresters and catapults, but it is unlikely that the non-nuclear powerplant would be able to provide either electrical power for an electro-magnetic catapult, or steam for a steam catapult.

The simple answer would be to put a couple of Astute sub. powerplants in to replace the gas turbines, and re-use the space freed up by not having to carry gas-turbine fuel and fresh water for additional weapons and provisions, providing power or steam, and increasing the range and usefulness of the carriers in general.

Or maybe they will be regarded as too expensive, marking an end of the era of British sea power. There's sod all else left!

Morgan Computers: Your memories

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

So upset...

... that I let the grammar slip!

MS patent looks just like Unix command, critics howl

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

@Ian Michael Gumby

Sorry to be picky, but UNIX pre-dates VAX by close to a decade (at least from GA), and probably RSTS as well (DEC never really embraced RSTS. I often felt that they only reluctantly accepted it due to customer pressure). I must admit, I don't remember any form of user ID switching in RSX/11, but it is over 22 years since I last used that OS.

I'm sure you could look at MULTICS to find some form of privilege escalation that is older than the lot of them.

By the way, like the knotted hanky. Weren't you a brain surgeon some time ago?

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

UNIX vs. Linux

There is a verification suite owned by The Open Group which allows you to test your UNIX-like OS, and if it passes, actually call it UNIX(tm). This used to be based around the SVID (System V Interface Definition) and was called the SVVS (System V Verification Suite). The standard has developed through POSIX 1003, Spec 1170, XPG, and UNIX 93, 95, 98 and 03, and there has been a verification process for each of them.

It has been passed around a bit, but I believe that The Open Group has maintained UNIX branding (since the demise of USL, UNIX System Laboritories), separate from all of the UNIX IP and source ownership arguments.

I thought that the Linux Standard Base consortium were attempting to get UNIX 95 or 98 branding some time back, but I could be mistaken.

I personally prefer to think of a UNIX(tm) OS as being a derivative of the original Bell Labs code (a so-called Genetic UNIX), but I know that I am out of date. I know that Open/MVS and z/OS on mainframes (definitly NOT genetic UNIX) have achieved branding, but as far as I am aware, this is the only non-genetic OS that has achieved any UNIX branding.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

US patents dangerous anyway

If I remember correctly, the US patent office does not allow a third party to provide prior art during the investigation phase of a patent being granted. What has to happen is that if a third party has information about prior art, they must wait for the patent to be granted, and then challenge it in court.

This means that someone like the EFF cannot just slap a dossier of well-known information onto the desk of the patent examiner when a dodgy patent is applied for.

This strikes me as being a stupid way of doing things, as a small inventor with a patent, who is already being stung to maintain the patent, cannot prevent an infringing patent being granted when it would be cheap, but must wait and take out a costly lawsuit after the fact. This means that the US patent system unfairly favours large companies or other people with deep pockets.

This works another way as well. If a large company wants to steal a patent owned by a smaller organisation or individual, they can make their application sufficiently vague so that the patent gets granted, and then they challenge the validity of the earlier patent. These get argued out in court, so the owner of the original patent has to either stump up the cash to defend their legally granted, prior patent, come to terms with the large company (which normally involves them getting less than it is worth) or completely abandoning the original patent.

This make US paten law the proverbial ass. But then again, the original law was probably drafted or influenced by US large industry anyway, so why would they not build a patent system that was to their advantage!

Dirty, dirty PCs: The X-rated picture guide

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

@Adrian Jones

Just hope that Lord Crud and Hastur are not hiding anywhere!

Three more quit over Nutt sacking

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Sacked or resigned?

I know that I am being pedantic, but I'm sure that the original Radio 4 coverage said that Professor Nutt was "asked to resign". Now I know that there is not much difference, but I wonder what would have happened if he had refused to resign, and actually had to be removed by invocation of some contractual or legislative clause.

How I rebuilt Europe after the Berlin Wall collapsed

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


This is a great article, and there really are some pearls of wisdom there.

We once had this level of entrepreneurship back in the early days of ZX81's, BBC Micros and Spectrums. Kids used to spend long hours getting every erg of performance from their systems by learning how they worked, and teachers would produce innovative ways of using computers to make non-computing subjects easier to teach. Small hardware shops like Viglen, and Quicksilver set up to produce reasonably priced hardware add-ons to provide graphics add-ons, sound systems, and storage systems.

This almost completely died out with the advent of the IBM compatible PC and, especially, Windows. There was no easy and cheap way to get into doing clever things out of such systems. Compilers, assemblers and debugging tools were not shipped with the OS, and had to be bought, Graphics were crude and difficult to get working. The interfaces were proprietary (including the original 8-bit expansion card for the IBM PC), and needed quite extensive electronics to even get working.

The fun was not there, and the whole infrastructure for home-brew hardware and software from talented individuals disappeared.

But not, apparently, in the previous eastern block countries. From your article, it would appear that the economic constraints and difficulties in getting equipment persisted.

I wonder how the youth of Russia are doing now. I suspect that they are tapping into the Open Source movement, and writing their code on Linux. In fact, I believe that there is a prevalence of non-European names in much of the code that I look at. Be interesting to see some research there.

Morgan Computers shuts its doors, sells website

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Another piece of my life gone.

I've bought lots from Morgan, from camera's (my first digital), through laptops, PC's, memory, hard-disk and DVD recorders and GPS devices.

I'm seriously upset by the demise of one of the first places I would go to to get a good price for slightly out-of-date but perfectly usable kit. I guess that the PC manufacturers are moving to build-to-order, so there are not the remainder stock that Morgan could shift so well.

I can't believe that whatever happens, the website will remain the emporium of gadgetry that it was.

The Beatles go digital, sort of

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


Quite honestly, bearing in mind that the originals were recorded in mono, two track and (shock horror) 4 track analogue magnetic tape with overdubs and all, putting it into lossless flac is not likely to improve the quality over MP3. Some of my first Beatles albums were on Compact Cassette, and you could hear the hiss from the master tapes over the Compact Cassette hiss (and this was before DolbyB)

Of course, when they say re-mastered, they could mean compressed, dehissed, pitch corrected, psuedo stereo-ised and other cleanup methods, but if they do, then I'm not interested.

If it's not black and 7 or 12" rotating at 45 or 33rpm, then it's not really a Beatles record. I'll listen to the un-mutilated CD's where there is noise (in the car, or on a portable media player), but vinyl is the real McCoy.

"Love" was very good, but listening to it again, even though the Martins said they had to do very little to the tracks to munge them together, you can still tell where they did mess around.

Too many of today's recording artists are produced and engineered to death. They may sound good live (that is if they are any good), but the records that come out are lifeless and flat, without any personality, and even worse if they have used pitch-correction. That is one of the few good things about X-Factor (and even more, Fame Academy) was that you actually get to hear the contestants 'warts and all' (I mean, just listen to John and Edward at the moment - they're some warts!). As soon as the top three produce their albums, the music is just dead.

If they re-work the Fab Four using modern day production techniques, then there is no doubt that newcomers to their work will just say "so-what."

Bug in latest Linux gives untrusted users root access

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
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Not sure which camp you're in, if you're a windows user, I guess that the Windows Registry is clear and understandable to you.

The number of MS Technotes that start with something like "Open the registry editor, find key HKEY_CURRENT_USER\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\policies\Explorer\NoDriveTypeAutoRun

and set to 0xFF or whatever bitmap disables autorun on the device in question according to the following table..." followed by the table with hex numbers in it for each of the devices windows can use.

This is a REAL example, and would be only be slightly less meaningful if it were written in Russian to someone like my wife. And have you tried to work out how some services and background tasks get started on Windows!

The crux of the matter is that complex operating systems require complex configuration. It's just that most people never see the Windows stuff, because it is hidden. When you need it, it is equally cryptic, regardless of the OS.

I'm sure that OSX and BSD have equally arcane incantations, but then so did RiscOS, OS/2 and probably NeXT and BeOS.

Of course, we could have all he configurations stored in XML (shudder), in which case it would be almost impossible to change any system configuration settings without the correct tool.

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