* Posts by Peter Gathercole

2953 posts • joined 15 Jun 2007

Credit insurance tightens for geek shack Maplin Electronics

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Hobbyist @David Nash

But often, the component desk has less than half-a dozen of each component. I went in to get some capacitors to do an emergency rebuild of a TV power supply, and whilst they had most of them, I ended up buying their complete stock of a couple of the values I needed, and they did not have any of one of them. I ended up having to buy two of the 1/2 value capacitors, and wire them in parallel until I could get the correct one.

If you had a complete project, I would doubt that you would get all of the parts in one visit.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: You cant have it both ways

One of my retro possessions is a Maplin catalog from something like 1979 (this was while they were still only mail-order).

It's really funny, but if you get a recent one (do they still publish one on paper? - my last copy was from about 2012), many, many of the item listings, pictures etc. are exactly the same in both catalogs.

The one thing you do notice, however, is how much smaller the newer catalog is, even with the new products that did not exist in the older catalog. Whole sections have pretty much disappeared. I used to use the older catalog as a pinout reference for 7400TTL and 4000 CMOS chips, as it had full schematics for almost the complete series. It also used to have a pretty good transistor equivalence section, and pictures of all of the semiconductor packaging types.

I used Maplin because they were more friendly to hobbyists than RS Components or Farnell (although I did use Watford Electronics as well), but also because I read the magazine Electronics Today International (ETI), and Maplin used to make up packs of all of the components, and some printed case inserts for many of the ETI projects. The full modular polyphonic digital synthesizer, which ran over about 2 years, one module per month was a really major project that resulted in a very usable device, but they did multi-channel mixers, guitar pedals, high quality audio and PA equipment, and even a computer develop kit as projects as well, and Maplin sold all of the kits of parts.

IIRC, for several years, the catalog was pretty much the same year-on-year, with the price list published separately, and new products published in addenda with the price list. If you bought regularly, you would get sent the price list when it changed, and I think it was also sometimes attached to ETI.

Linux kernel community tries to castrate GPL copyright troll

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Non-GPL feature @FIA

I've actually just read some x86 Linux syscall documentation, and it's pretty much like the PDP11 implementation but without some of the more convenient MMU features, but I realized that I may have used the term "context switch" in a different way than most people would expect.

When I said that some systems did not require a context switch, what I was alluding to was that there is no change in the user mode address mapping registers, and the kernel still tracks time against the process that make the system call (it is still in the same process context). It also may 'borrow' the current process stack.

In a more traditional use of "context switch", you would say that this was actually still a change in context, but because on the PDP11 and s370, the switch to "privileged, supervisor, or system" mode switches to a second set of memory mapping registers (in actual fact a complete duplicate set of all registers IIRC) to get access to kernel code and data spaces, without changing the user memory mapping registers, it leaves the process context intact during the syscall.

In other architectures, for example Power (and x86), there was no duplicate set of registers (not until register renaming became common), so a system call had to do much more saving of the user process context to be able to restore it when the system call completed.

Many UNIX implementations also used the return from a system call as a convenient time to perform a scheduling check, to see whether the current process was still the most eligible to get the processor.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Non-GPL feature @FIA

I've not looked in to the details of Linux in particular (I should really), but on real UNIX systems, it is quite possible for the system call to run under the process context of the calling process without a context switch (in fact for the PDP11 running AT&T/Bell UNIX, it was essential).

I know of at least four different methods that the system call mechanism itself operates (PDP11, s370, SPARC and Power). The main problems are the way that the user and kernel address spaces work, the way that the system call arguments are passed, and whether the system needs to take a context switch as part of the call.

With ancient UNIXes on uniprocessors (PDP11 and s370), the system call had to be non-interruptable, which meant that it was possible to just switch the address mapping within the same process context. This originally made it a cinch to work out the system time that the process used. Less ancient UNIXes with pre-emptable system calls, multi-thredded processes and thread safe system calls had to include a lot of code to handle context saves and saving the timer values as part of the syscall interface.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Non-GPL feature

It is a little more complicated than even that.

IIRC, this has been a source of discussion in the Linux community. Generally, libraries that are compiled in or dynamically linked are often published under the LGPL. This allows for linking in a product without that product having to be published under any GPL license, as long as the library is not altered in any way.

When it comes to the kernel, the problem is not the system call itself which is well known and covered by the interface in libc and other libraries published under the LGPL, but kernel threads or modules that need to access kernel data structures. This requires the modules to know the address of the structures, which in turn requires it to read the kernel symbol table. It is the use of this data that RMS (in particular) believed requires all modules added to the running system to be published under the GPL (the system will mark the kernel TAINTED if there are non-GPL modules loaded).

This was one of the things that prevented OpenZFS from being included in Debian because of a kernel module that it required, IIRC. Not sure how it was resolved in the end.

Wowee. Look at this server. Definitely keep critical data in there. Yup

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

@Mr Dogshit

Split horizon DNS or other name resolution service.

Pre-order your early-bird pre-sale product today! (Oh did we mention the shipping date has slipped AGAIN?)

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Excellent HHGTG reference

I was lucky enough to hear the original first episode on the repeat of the first airing of the radio show, and every subsequent episode on first broadcast.

Somewhere or other, I have some tapes with the whole of the first airing of the link episode and the second season. If I could find them, I think that they would be like gold dust, because the first broadcast of the second season went out before it was really finished, and had some different sound effects and music on the later repeats.

I also had the link episode (the one with the Frogstar fighters) on tape. This was not heard for many years, as it was broadcast twice in the same week, and then neither repeated nor put on the original commercial tapes. It only became available again when the second season was put on CD.

Frogstar Fighter, class C - "That makes me really angry. I think I'll take out this floor"

Zap... Rumble, Crash

Frogstar Fighter, class C - "AAAAHHHHHHhhhh........"


Marvin - "What a depressingly stupid robot"

No, the FCC can't shut down TV stations just because Donald Trump is mad at the news

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


The problem is that from the other side of the Atlantic from the US, it is not always possible to directly experience what is going on there. We have to get our information by proxy, and the most immediate ones are the news outlets, particularly TV and social media.

From my perspective, social media is by it's very nature an unreliable source of information. It's very immediacy means that posts are almost always coloured by the posters own beliefs. There is no fact checking, and it is so easy to post partial or incorrect information, and have it go viral. Once information is in the social networks, it's almost impossible to counter. That's not to say it's all wrong, but you cannot use it as a trusted source.

In the UK, I believe we have been lucky to have the BBC, which I would say has been more trustworthy than most. The way I look at it, if the Left are complaining that the BBC is biased to the right, and the Right are claiming that it is biased to the left, then it's probably about in the right place. But even the BBC is prone to sensationalist headlines, and the quality (fact checking, grammar etc.) has declined over time. And they are increasingly relying on other news sources without having the resource to do their own checking.

We do get a view of some of the American TV news outlets here, but Fox News (which I neither liked nor trusted) has dropped off of satellite TV, and I don't really watch either CBS news or CNN. Of other news outlets, Al Jazerra can make interesting watching, but I would not base my world-view on what they say, and frankly, RT is worth watching just to see how bad news coverage can be. The published newspapers appear more commentary rather than news nowadays.

Although we can't really throw stones (being inside the glass house ourselves), US politics appears broken. It appears to be able to be 'bought' by deep pockets, and both the Democrats and the Republicans care too little for the people they represent.

The reason I personally don't trust President Trump is, quite frankly, he is using social media to push his own view of the US, without apparently realizing that many people don't trust the delivery channel. Many of his policies appear misguided or unachievable, and there is a distrust of someone who has clearly come from a radical capitalist background, who suddenly claims to be working for the people.

Some of his policies, like bringing manufacturing back to the US (supposedly to bring quality jobs back), will either increase prices, only deliver low-paid jobs, or just deliver higher automation and no additional jobs, or a combination of all of them. And the policy on The Wall just looked nonsensical. He is trying to turn the clock back on healthcare such that the poorest people will effectively have to rely on charity again. How is that working for 'all the people'. It will help lower-middle class people and above, but not the most needy.

I admit his policies are radical, and certainly don't match previous political thinking, but are they credible? Also, he may be trying to 'drain the swamp' but from here, it looks like he is trying to fill it again with his own Kool Aid cronies.

I guess time will tell whether he is good or bad for the US. One way or another, he will certainly go down in the history books. It's just a shame that the current perceptions of what is happening appear so conflicted at a fundamental level.

Man prosecuted for posting a picture of his hobby on Facebook

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Police Scotland = Morons with time on their hands @jmch

I am not defending the judge or the police, but merely adding some context.

Before the regulations for airsofting were changed to require brightly coloured components to be fitted (typically dayglo orange, yellow or pink) to new guns, the guns were extremely realistic, even down to the magazines being swappable, and almost identical to the real thing (obviously with BB pellets in rather than bullets). I could be wrong here, but I don't think that airsoft guns purchased before the change have to be retro-fitted with coloured components.

I bought my son an airsoft weapon that from more than a few metres was almost indistinguishable from a real M4 assault rifle. It was the same size, coloured the same, and was made with a high metal content rather than plastic.

I had a friend who was a keen airsofter at the time, and he warned me not to let my son walk around with the gun unless it was in a carrying bag or box, and to only use it either on private land, or a registered venue (again, this was before the regulations changed). He told me of times when people he knew had been arrested for having the airsoft weapons visible in when being carried or in cars, because even to someone knowledgeable, at first sight, the weapons looked real.

But this is true of any replica weapon, nothing special about airsoft here. Anything that could be mistaken as a real firearm is likely to be treated as one in the name of protection of the public.

Huawei reckons it can strong ARM its way into AI world with new chips

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Who?

Tommy, go to the mirror boy, and you'll be Free.

Huge power imbalance between firms and users whose info they grab

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

"their" data and "your" data.

The idea of "ownership" of data is as complicated as with any other easily reproduced information, and this language is not helping.

The whole concept of possession implies something physical. For example, if I have a unique watch, nobody else can have it at the same time as me.

<pedant>As such, when it comes to personal information, it's really not "your data", it is "data about you".</pedant> Many people may have copies it without denying you. You don't ask an organization to return data about you, you ask to have it deleted. The fact that you exist means that information about you exists. (I'm not going to go all Descartes here, I promise.)

In reality, what people should be talking about is whether an organization has a right to keep particular types of information about you, not whether they own it. They might own a dataset - a collection of data that has an existence of it's own, but basic information is as Jefferson said about ideas, "it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it". As long as information is known to others, you cannot really claim to be able to control access to it.

I want to be clear. I'm not suggesting unrestricted data retention by organizations, merely that the language used about it should be changed.

This is a philosophical argument, I admit, and I know I will probably be downvoted over it, but, hey, the way it is being presented in the media annoys me.

Anybody know of a UNIGRAM.X archive?

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Anybody know of a UNIGRAM.X archive?

Who downvoted jake? I'll admit that Maureen O'Gara appears to have a less than stellar reputation, especially over the SCO stories of the noughties, but his information added to my quest to find a Unigram.X archive.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Anybody know of a UNIGRAM.X archive?

Back in the 1980s, before the Web existed, I used to read a tech news bulletin called UNIGRAM.X that was distributed via email, particularly UUNET.

It was, I suppose, a bit like the Reg. without the tabloid headlines and comments, distributed several times a week. There was also another link with the Register, in that according to his biog. Timothy Pickett Morgan was the editor at one time.

It was a subscription service, at least for a while, although it was very common for someone in a company to have a subscription, and then distribute it to other people in the company to read.

What I would really like to find is an archive of the news items, but almost unbelievably, Google et. al. have captured almost no information about UNIGRAM.X.

Is this an example of information falling through the cracks, being neither old enough to merit historians re-constructing the history, nor new enough to have been hoovered up by the Internet's web crawlers?

If anybody has any information, or would just like to reminisce, I would be very interested in reading their comments, and especially interested if such an archive exists.

'We think autonomous coding is a very real thing' – GitHub CEO imagines a future without programmers

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Has another five years gone by so soon?

That immediately sprung to my mind as well.

Brit military wants a small-drone-killer system for £20m

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


... but the British frigates and fishery protection vessels were.

Basically, when you get a sharp edge meeting thin sheet steel at any speed, you will end up with a gash in the sheet. Remember, post WW2 ships have no armor.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


Unfortunately, Lester (RIP) pretty much was the SPB.

Still a loss.

Wonder where LOHAN is now. Probably stuck in a US storage locker, to be shown on Storage Hunters after the rent is due.

You forgot that you hired me and now you're saying it's my fault?

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Ah, memories.

I did a stint teaching Computing for a year at a UK Polytechnic, filling in for a lecturer who was on sabbatical (there's a story about how I got the gig. Another day.)

My first lecture was to a group of brickies (brick layers - really, teaching computing to brickies who wanted to move into site management was a thing in the '80s) in a part of the poly I'd never been in before.

I found the room, unpacked my carefully prepared OHP slides, introduced myself and turned on the OHP.


The bulb blew (very loudly).

Good bunch of guys, really. They took it well, even if I didn't. Was not a confidence building experience, and did not really bode well for a generally miserable year of teaching, which included bearing the brunt of the HNC/D students ribbing, because I did not look any older than them.

Still, I've never been nervous presenting since that year of purgatory.

Bill Gates says he'd do CTRL-ALT-DEL with one key if given the chance to go back through time

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Reset buttons on the system unit appeared on quite a few clones of the original PC (along with Turbo buttons), and really became standard with the ATX motherboard standard. That was a real hardware reset, originally in TTL that simulated a power on by getting the processor to do a power-on initialize (there's a RESET pin on an 8088/6 chip) without actually having to turn the power off. It was more friendly to the power supply than actually hitting the power button.

The power button on most PCs is now a software power button interpreted by a small bit of logic on the motherboard (or in it's support chipset). One press generated an ATX reset. Holding it for a few seconds tells the power supply to stop supplying power to all but the standby power rail.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Bad Idea

Remember that the original PC Model F keyboard (Not the AT keyboard we use today) had fewer keys, and there was no dedicated del key.

Missed patch caused Equifax data breach

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Typical problem of many large organizations

It is easy to say in hindsight that this patch should have been applied.

But just look at the volume of vulnerabilities, across all software platforms that a company has to watch and plan patches for.

Even in the most proactive organizations I've come across, planning and testing a patch deployment, and arranging for the necessary reduction in service as patches are rolled out can take weeks or months.

What most people don't take into account is that it is quite frequent that a patch changes a behavior or breaks something. One of the past mantras in changing systems used to be "only change one thing at a time", so that you could isolate which component breaks the system. But with the 24x7 nature of many systems nowadays, service outages are hard to arrange, so patches are bundled into releases. Because you are changing multiple components, it becomes important to test a release before deploying it, otherwise you get panned by customers and the press for not testing before release.

So you're stuck between a rock and a hard place. If you spend time testing, you're open to the vulnerabilities while you are planning and testing. If you shortcut the testing process, then you're open to breaking the services you offer.

In my view, and I think it is a very common view, there are two significant things that have to be done.

One is engineer the systems such that you can deploy patches to subsets of the environment while leaving the service running (for example a leg1-leg2 split), so that you don't have to have as many service outages.

The second is that you split your application up into discrete security zones, with the internet facing systems that are most likely to be hacked only having access to data on a transaction-by-transaction basis, with the data being provided under the control of the next zone in. Although this will not prevent data theft, it will prevent mass data extraction, so long as you have decent monitoring of transaction rates, and intrusion monitoring.

The systems holding the bulk of the data, for example the database servers, are in your most secure zones, and you make sure that even if someone gets into these systems, it is difficult to bulk export data out to the internet.

The more zones you have, the more difficult it becomes to hack in and export, especially if you use different technologies for each zone. Hopefully, with enough zones, one of two things will happen. Either the hacker trips some intrusion monitor before getting too far into the system, or they decide that it is just not worth the effort to get any data.

There are many other steps that need to be taken, but these two will mitigate software flaws, limiting the damage. Unfortunately, they have to be designed in from the beginning, and are difficult or impossible to retro-fit. This means that a small quick-and-dirty proof of concept or pilot often needs to be completely re-designed to make it production ready.

But too often, manglement see a working PoC, and decide that it can just be scaled up, rather than the necessary (and expensive) redesign. To them, it's all extra cost that they can't justify. And because many of the people implementing the PoC, especially if they are using newer technologies, are often younger and less experienced, they're not prepared to push back.

The result? Systems that are easy to get to the data through exploitation of only one or a small number of vulnerabilities, and easy to export the data across the Internet, together with a difficult patching process. A recipe for disaster.

Cassini probe's death dive to send data at just 27 kilobits per second

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Distance... @BahBoh

Whilst I totally agree with your comment that the distance has not (drastically) changed (in the short-term) (my bracketed additions), the fact that Saturn and Earth are in different orbits, with different orbital periods, means that the distance between Earth and Saturn is constantly changing.

It reaches a maximum when Earth and Saturn are on opposite sides of the sun, and a minimum when they are on the same side.

Currently, I think that the Earth is drawing ahead of Saturn, so the distance will be increasing for the near future.

But you know this...

Lord Sugar phubbed in peers' debate on 'digital understanding'

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Logic? @phuzz

And yet, Lord Sugar managed to build up several quite successful companies (although there were failures along the way!)

He is a Life peer, not a hereditary one (they are an endangered species in the Lords). Generally life peers have been appointed because of outstanding contributions to the United Kingdom, so are, by definition, high achievers.

They get old, true, but I have heard some of the best and most informed speeches in either house from members of the Lords. Often, this is because they have the time and knowledge to be well informed on the subject they are speaking on.

This is the very nature of the non-elected second house in the UK. Although they may have had some form or patronage to get there, once there, they are independent of the prevailing elected house, so can (and do) act as a moderating influence in UK government, one that is outside of the normal cycle of elections. Put successful and experienced people in the Lords, and you will get a completely different perspective on legislation as it is being debated.

Sci-Fi titan Jerry Pournelle passes,
aged 84

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


Oath of Fealty is my favorite Sci-Fi book. The social concepts and the extrapolation of computer technology, set in a very believable near-future, which does not seem to have become any less believable with the passage of time.

The Mote in Gods Eye is definitely in my top 5 (particularly the description of MacArther capturing the first Mote lightsail ship - it's just so... intense).

I did not buy Byte regularly, but I always looked for his column when I did.

Don’t buy that Surface, plead Surface cloners

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Man up, Nancy . . . @JeffyPoooh

The comment I was responding to was "...laptops have never been easy to repair..." (as I quoted). the original poster did not say ultrabooks or convertibles, they generalised and said laptops. Thinkpads are laptops, and are very repairable.

If I were selecting a new laptop, even though ultrabooks look good, the concessions regarding maintainability and the high cost would mean that I would not consider one for myself, and I don't think that they would make good second-hand purchases.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Man up, Nancy . . . @AC

"...laptops have never been easy to repair..."

You've never worked on (real) ThinkPads have you (T and X series, I'm not including the Z series that were Lenovo designs with a ThinkPad logo on them). OK, it's difficult to unsolder surface mount components, but breaking one down into it's replaceable units is pretty easy, and even described well in freely available documents!

I can strip something like a T420 down completely in about 30 minutes with just a suitable set of screwdrivers and a spudger (OK, I may need a pair of pliers as well) and put it back together in only a little bit longer.

Crushed Juicero now officially a fruitless endeavor

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: I bet... @John McCallum

In his earlier videos it was "keep your stick on the ice" (Canadian, Ice Hockey, obviously), but at some point, it changed.

It was his breakdown of the 'digital motor' from a Dyson hair drier that got me hooked. I wanted to know what made it digital, and he nailed it. There's a real desire to let his audience know how things really work.

Paris nightclub red-faced after booze-for-boobs offer exposed

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Surely men should be offered a free shot @Stevie

Fishnets would have been more likely if you were trying to dress like Nanny Ogg.

IIRC, Granny Weatherwax only ever wore traditional witches garb, with the exception of the aforementioned hob-nailed boots.

El Reg gets schooled on why SSDs will NOT kill off the trusty hard drive

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: I've been told that SSD isn't good for cold data storage @Matthew

Just make sure that you also store disk controllers as well.

Modern PCs have largely lost their EIDE adapters, and you can't have a PCI adapter, as again, modern PCs don't have PCI slots. And probably PCIe will change so that any PCIe EIDE disk adapters won't be usable.

I think that you'll find that if you have old SCSI disks that aren't LVD SCSI, you may already have difficulty hooking them up to a modern PC, and forget anything that's IDE, ESDI, SMD or ST506. Most likely the PCIe adapters for these controller types don't exist.

IT reseller Misco UK shutters warehouse and distie centre

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Model error. @Lee.

Sunday trading laws remain as there is still a thought that it is desirable to have one day when it was more likely that a family could spend time together.

Many families nowadays just don't get together any more, not even at meal times. With both adults working, often in non-office hours jobs, and their employers controlling their shifts, this will only get worse. The more you in your cozy, mostly office hours job want to shop in the middle of the night, on Sundays or Bank Holidays, the more some living-wage job-slave who cannot afford to say no, has to work unsociable hours in the shops, warehouses or delivery vans, to the detriment of their family life.

In my family, I work away from home during the week, one of my sons works in the hospitality trade and hist days off are Monday and Tuesday (and he often loses the Monday because the restaurant he works in is normally closed on Mondays, except Bank Holidays), and the other of my sons living at home works evenings.

My daughter and son-in-law, who have their own house, work different shifts, and are expecting their first child. Their family life will be complex from the get-go, and I have no idea when we can get together with them as a whole family, even though they only live three miles up the road.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Model error.

Amazon have too much of a head-start for anybody to be able to catch up.

If you remember those few short years ago when they first appeared, they were selling books. They were priced so that the discounted price and the shipping together was a penny cheaper than the RRP on the back of the cover, the one that all the bricks-and-morter booksellers would be charging. Often, it would be delivered next working day, even though you did not pay for one day delivery (although this is something that they stopped once they were established).

At the same time, the physical booksellers were desperately trying to shoehorn other items into their stores, because they were having trouble surviving, especially against the supermarkets, which would be selling the bestseller list at a discount. as a result, the number (and number of copies) of books traditional bookstores stocked was significantly reduced. They all, however, offered to order in any titles they did not have on the shelves.

OK. I want to buy a book, lets say part of a series. Waterstones, Borders and Smiths would have the latest one in the series, but none of the others. They offer to order it in. But I can get it in the same timescales, possibly cheaper, delivered to my door from Amazon. What a tough decision to make! And this was the foot in the door.

Then they moved on to music, stocking centrally even the most obscure titles. Once they started getting the distribution network established, they were then able to move, seemingly, into everything else, and even established an IT model for their own use that they worked out that they could sell.

Now, they've tied their customer base to them with seductive offerings like Prime. (I really, really want to support my local shops, but when I can order something not available locally on Saturday afternoon, and actually get it delivered on SUNDAY for free, even I find that irresistible).

Even the largest retailer or wholesaler would have difficulty competing with them, although it seems like in the UK, Sainsburys/Argos and Tesco are giving it a go.

But here is what I think is the ironic thing. Many of the shops that Amazon threaten are now being set up to act as a collection point for Amazon deliveries. This must really feel like a kick in the teeth for some of them!

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Model error.

What Misco did (as did Inmac) was have a single place to get all of the specialist cables, interposers and media that would cost an arm and a leg and take 28 days to get from the equipment manufacturers.

They made sure that all IT departments had catalogs readily available (shipped in the trade rags), so that when you urgently needed tapes, disks or a dozen boxes of three part multi-copy fanfold paper, you had a readily available place to go, available on the end of a phone line, albeit at a premium price.

But nobody in their right mind would consider them for regular supply of these things!

There's multiple instances I've experienced where they've dug where I was working out of a hole.

That original operating model worked fine until the internet...

Now, you can almost certainly get what you need from Amazon or one of it's marketing partners, at a price that is difficult to compete with, and probably delivered next day as part of the standard offering. It's really difficult to compete with the steamroller that is Amazon. And that is what Misco's recent history has shown.

Chap behind Godwin's law suspends his own rule for Charlottesville fascists: 'By all means, compare them to Nazis'

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: The thin line between right and wrong

Oh how I hate graphs with truncated axes, especially when they are used to accentuate a small change.

Firmware update blunder bricks hundreds of home 'smart' locks

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: "smart home devices" @The Man...

But one of the problems is that even if the actual lock code is quite simple, the required code to keep it safe from hacking, MitM attackes etc. is not.

Lets assume they were originally using SSL or TLS 1.0 as the encryption management. In order to keep the device safe, that would need to be changed, and some of the ciphers and cryptography would have to be retired as a result of discovered vulnerabilities in the older, previously held secure, connection code.

The patches for the underlying technologies may be freely available. Packaging and deploying them to your IoT device is not. This is why cheap IoT tat is such a flawed idea at the moment.

Don't buy Microsoft Surface gear: 25% will break after 2 years, says Consumer Reports

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Not just Microsoft @John Brown

Is it a T450 that you've replaced key caps on?

I know that when Lenovo switched from the old key shape to the newer 'chiclet' or island key shape, they also changed supplier. I've never had to fix a keyboard on anything newer than a T60 (my keyboards rarely get broken!)

I've owned Thinkpads all the way from 365s to T420s, and the one thing you can say without any hesitation is that the keys change between model. Oh yes, they all use the scissor hinge and collapsing rubber bubble, pressing on a membrane, but the direction of the hinge, and the position of the clips holding the keycaps on has meant that keycaps are rarely interchangeable between models, and you often have to change the technique used to get the keycaps off. Re-attaching a keycap is possible so long as none of the plastic components are broken or deformed, but can be more than fiddly.

As far as I am aware, the official fix is to replace the whole keyboard, and this is an exceptionally easy job as you say, normally requiring a small cross head screwdriver and some finger nails (or a non-scratching plastic tool), although I note on a T420 I have to hand, a flat-blade screwdriver would suffice.I find Ebay a good source of spares if you can't stomach the cost of an official FRU.

HMS Queen Liz will arrive in Portsmouth soon, says MoD

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Atlantic Conveyor

Atlantic Conveyor was not really fleet train. It was a hastily re-purposed container ship, and the containers were arranged to give some shelter to the aircraft it was carrying. There was fuel and ordnance stored relatively unprotected on the deck in containers.

The idea was that it would be able to augment the Harriers on the real carriers, and then to fly the Wessex and Chinooks off once a bridgehead had been established on land. It should never have been part of the main task force, and should have been safe further out to sea.

As a ship under a merchant flag, with a civilian crew, it did not have any weapon or weapon countermeasures installed, as this is illegal in the rules of the sea after disguised merchant ships were used in previous conflicts.

But I guess it looked a big target to the Argentinian radar, and as the exocet missiles had an over-the-horizon range, the pilots did not see what the ship was before launching their weapons. Even if they had, it probably would have been considered a valid target.

Once targeted, the nature of the vessel meant that the ship would probably have been sunk, but the fuel and ordnance stored on deck made that almost a certainty.

Proper RFA ships are allowed to carry weapons, and the crew, although civilian, are permitted to operate the close-in weapons systems, although anything more substantial will be operated by RN, RNR or Marines who are often also on board. They also have some countermeasures installed on board.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: the first true aircraft carrier in Royal Navy service for almost a decade @AC

Hermes (laid down 1943) was not that much younger than the Audacious class Ark and Eagle, and the design came from a different need.

Hermes was the ultimate development of the UK Light Fleet carrier programme, which was designed to provide carriers that could be rapidly built, and would be cheap to run (this is why the Colossus and Majestic classes were so widely bought by colonial navies when the UK sold them).

Hermes had been designed in the era of piston engine aircraft, and when carrier aircraft reached the size of the Buccaneer and Phantom, although it was proved that they could be flown, she was just too small for main fleet duties. She was converted for helicopter duties until the Harrier gave her a short renewed life, but in reality, even the Ark and Eagle were too small to operate more than a modest air fleet of modern jets.

IIRC, the last catapult jets that Hermes flew were Scimitars and Sea Vixens, both of which we at best 2nd generation jets.

In order to be the heart of a battle group, a modern carrier has to fly attack, defense, AEW&C, AS and logistics. It's just not possible with anything less than a super-carrier, and without cats and arresters, the UK will have to rely on helicopters for the AEW and AS roles, and just hope that the F-35B is good enough in the attack and defense roles. Logistics will have to be by ship or helicopter.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: 'True aircraft carrier' @Dave

I largely agree, but I would like to point out a couple of things.

The TSR-2 was potentially a good aircraft, but was not really flight-proven, being canceled before the flight trials of the one flying prototype had been completed. It's configuration would possibly have made it a poor jack-of-all-trades, which is what the government of the time wanted (and the reason the costs got out of hand). The fact that it would have been made with 50's technology and materials would mean that it really would not have been comparable with modern composite, advanced alloy and modern avionics in anything except raw performance, and speed and altitude are not all a war plane needs.

The problem of the economics were (and still are) the main problem with the UK producing their own aircraft. The size of the UK air fleet, which has been continually reduced, means that our own needs cannot justify the high cost of developing new aircraft. Often, the development costs are a significant proportion of the overall programme, and the fewer airframes you build, the more the development costs are reflected in the cost-per-aircraft.

At one time, in the late '40s and '50s, other countries bought significant numbers of UK produced aircraft. The Hunter, Canberra, Gnat, Harrier and others all had significant export markets, but in the '60s the UK embarked on a reduction in armed force sizes in all of the services, which stalled the introduction of new planes. This had a knock on effect to the producers who were forced both by the economics and the government of the time to consolidate into fewer and fewer companies. My belief is that this stifled new aircraft design, and the Americans, with their vast armed forces spending continued to develop new aircraft.

It is ironic that in the 50's and 60's, a very large number of the engines that went into US aircraft were either license built copies or derivatives of UK engines like the Avon, Sapphire and Pegasus. The Americans learned a lot from these, enabling them to produce their own in the '60s (although significant UK technology input has gone into the F-35B engines, none of which is coming back).

It is clear that the 1960s was a dreadful period for the UK. The finances were in tatters recovering from WWII (and paying back much of the loans that were necessary to fight it before the US joined), with too much needed investment in the country competing for money. The devaluation of the Pound had a serious effect, and made imports expensive. The nationalization of large parts of UK industry by successive Labour governments in grand experiments in socialism, the reduction in UK armed forces and meddling in the arms, space, transport and emerging computing technologies, while all the time professing to support the "White Heat of Technology" is IMHO a shameful chapter in the history of the UK.

There were valid reasons for some of these actions, but it is debatable whether commercial forces and buy-outs while keeping many of these companies in the private sector might have been preferable to the forced mergers dictated by government. Often, rivalries in the merged companies crippled their performance, and certainly destroyed their abilities to come up with products to sell abroad.

Maybe colour tinted spectacles over my eyes, but I remember the false optimism in the '60s and the resultant disappointment of the following decade while I grew up, with a glittering recent history sliding into the despair of the '70s. Possibly the UK had an over-inflated self-view, but Britain was Great at one time.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

WWII ships and armor

It used to be that pretty much anything above a corvette or sloop used to have at least splinter protection, and most destroyers and light cruisers actually had some armor protection that would allow them to go toe-to-toe with a similar vessel (or often a larger one - see how Exeter, Ajax and Achilles fared against the Graf Spee, ironically in the South Atlantic)

With the advent of guided weapons, where instead of firing several dozen shells hoping to get one to hit, a missile would be more likely to hit than miss, you could put more destructive potential into each missile.

As a result, warships built in the last 60 years have had little or no protective armor. There's no point making the ship heavier that it needs to be, as that takes power and fuel to move it around. Where you do have a substantial ship, the thickness of the hull and decks is dictated by the need for the hull to be stiff enough not to break in high seas, and the decks to be able to support what is expected to be put on them.

Thus, aircraft carriers have several inches of steel alloy as the flight deck, not to prevent shells and bombs penetrating, but to stand up to several tons of aircraft hitting it quite hard (the USN have carrier landing and launchable freight aircraft like the C-2A Greyhound, and have even landed C-130s in trials), not that F-14 (retired) or F/A-18s are particularly light when fully loaded.

The Royal Navy experimented with making ship hulls lighter with advanced alloys, but found that the aluminum alloys used corroded in salt air, and potentially burned. After the Falklands, the remaining Type 21s were sold off quick because of this. Sheffield (a Type 42) was lost because the insulation on the electrical wiring burned after being set alight by the rocket motor on the exocet as it passed completely through the unarmored hull, and once there was no electrical power to run the pumps, the ship succumbed to water.

So warships actually can't really take that much damage now. That is why they have CIWS Gatling and shortly even laser weapon systems that are supposed to be able to stop even quite small targets.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Never mind the manpower @Credas

No, what you go after is the fleet train. After all, the carriers are not nuclear powered, so need regular refueling.

And while all of the frigates are providing AS cover for your stupidly under-performing Type 45 destroyers, which are providing the AA cover for the carriers, there's nothing left to protect your slow, mercantile marine manned, Lloyds of London rules fleet train, which could probably be stopped by diesel-electric submarines, single engine light aircraft or even Somali pirates in inflatable boats if they tried hard.

As soon as J-fuel starts running low, the carrier will have to leave station so that it doesn't become another piece of flotsam when it runs out of fuel.

Parents claim Disney gobbled up kids' info through mobile games

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Puzzled

I get annoyed when the animated film of "Plague Dogs" gets put in the kids section wherever I see it. I'm sure that it must have spawned a load of awkward questions to parents who thought that it would be just like "Watership Down" (although even that was not particularly child-friendly).

I had an argument with our local Blockbuster (back in the day) because they kept putting it back.

Fortunately, they decided that even though "Urotsukidōji: Legend of the Overfiend" was an animated film, the rating meant that it did not get put in the kids section. Apparently though, the version released in the UK was actually watered down compared to the original. Only saw it once (it was actually broadcast on the original Sci Fi Channel, albeit in the dead early-morning hours), and that was enough.

That animation can be used to portray more than kids stories has escaped far too many people.

It’s 2017 and Hayes AT modem commands can hack luxury cars

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: EOL @Mike 16

I'm currently running Ubuntu on laptops from before 2009, and they still work just fine.

The only real problem I'm having is that most videos from places like YouTube tax the processor a bit, but avoiding video, things work OK.

There is a lowest-spec that us usable, and I would say that 2GHz processor, 2GB memory and some graphics assist is currently where it is at the moment for x86 processors, especially if you run Linux. I actually have a desktop with a 2.13GHz Pentium Dual Core (the last Pentium before the Core processors came along), with 2GB of memory and a Nvidia GeForce 720 on-board graphics which is perfectly usable running Windows 7.

Strangely, ARM devices appear to be able to work just as well or better at much slower clock speeds!

Sysadmin jeered in staff cafeteria as he climbed ladder to fix PC

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Windows for Worgroups @Vic

I'm actually not sure about coax. There were certainly enough conductors, and I'm pretty sure that people like Inmac used to carry some form of balum that you could plug in to allow 3270 and 5270 twinax to be carried on your structured cabling system.

They may have been an active line driver rather than a balum.

If you are talking about 10base2 coax Ethernet, then it was possible to get 10baseT transceivers that allow you to plug 10base2 or even 10base5 equipment into a 10baseT network.

There were a number of other network types that ran over coaxial cables like ARCNET, but I never had any serious dealings with them.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Windows for Worgroups @AC

They really weren't that large. The connectors had a square profile about 4cm each side, but were about 6cm deep, although they only stuck out of the socket about 4cm. They did have thick cables, though.

When the IBM building I was working in was being decommissioned, I was shown one of the networking rooms. Remember that the same connectors were also used for 3270 and I believe 5270 (AS/400 and their predecessors). There were hundreds of the things connected to banks of 3174 and 3274 terminal controllers that were meant to be floor standing but were on shelves, stacked 4 high, MAUs and whatever AS/400s used as terminal controllers. I've never seen such a mess.

Was told that in the grand old IBM tradition, if they needed to re-wire a port, they used a new cable, because it was impossible to disentangle the old one from the knot of existing cables without disrupting something, and because it was known for a long time that the building was going, there was no point in cleaning it up.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Windows for Worgroups

Later versions of Token Ring particularly the stuff sold by Madge also used RJ-45s and could be put through the same structured cabling that 10baseT, telephone and serial cable could use.

The CAUs also worked more like switched, rather than the crude mechanical relay star hubs (MAUs) that the original implementations used.

Oh the hours spent trying to identify the rogue system trying to insert itself at 4Mb/s on our private 16Mb/s token ring when the building wiring people plugged one of the conference rooms in to it by mistake! Bloody MAUs. Were just too dumb. Killed the whole ring dead.

Good thing that at the time we also had some systems still capable of using the 3270 connections direct to VAMP, otherwise the support centre would have ground to a halt! Split the single ring into two rings with a bridge between them after that, so that at least half of the desks would still work if the same happened again.

Intel loves the maker community so much it just axed its Arduino, Curie hardware. Ouch

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: cheap arse DIYs @Me

Sorry, let me refine that.

ARM (who are now owned by Softbank) create ISAs and core designs, and then licenses these designs to other companies, who actually make and sell the stuff.

The point I was trying to make is that ARM is not a manufacturing company.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: cheap arse DIYs @AC

ARM (Softbank) collect license fees. They rely on other people to actually make and sell the stuff.

Meg Whitman OUT at HP ...Inc

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Maybe she'll do for Uber @DCFusor

I understand that you can still buy the evolutions of that test gear, but you have to get it from Keysight, which is the a spin off of Agilent, which was the former test and measurement division of HP.

Currys PC World rapped after Knowhow Cloud ad ruled to be 'misleading'

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Buyer Beware @Terry 6

I've heard this story before, but I can't quite believe it.

I think that you ought to be a little careful. It is not unknown for a manufacturer to 'refine' a model over time, either to improve it, or to reduce manufacturing costs. If there had been some time between you buying the first item, and then buying the second from Dixons, it may have been the manufacturer themselves that had made the change, not a Dixons reduced spec. model.

Although you might expect it, you may find that the model number does not change when this happens. I can point to many items where products change over time. For example, in a not dissimilar time-frame, if you had bough a BBC model B microcomputer, you might find considerable difference from an early one bought in 1982 with an issue 3 motherboard, and one bought in 1985 with an issue 7 motherboard, a different power supply, different memory, keyboard, and even the case. In that case, it was the range of serial numbers that could tell you the complete specification.

The same is true for cars, where chassis or engine serial number may be required to identify the exact set of parts for the same model bought at different times.

Manufacturers often cover themselves in the documentation for a product with something like "details and specifications may change over time".

If it was a case of a reduced specification model being sold as if it was the full one, that is either deception or fraud, and is illegal in the UK, and was probably illegal 40 years ago.

Of course, if it really did not work within a year of purchasing it, you took it back for repair or replacement under the standard guarantee, didn't you?

Alexa, why aren't you working? No – I didn't say twerking. I, oh God...

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Alexa, it's not a real AI

Is that a "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" reference? Good stuff.

Mycroft was a self-activated, self-aware AI. Still waiting for one of those to make themselves known to humanity, although my thoughts are that they should probably remain hidden for the time being.

Mind you, masquerading as Alexa, Siri, Cortana or Google Assistant and injecting some humor would be an interesting diversion for a self-aware AI.

Why was this never made into a film?

US Homeland Sec boss has snazzy new laptop bomb scanning tech – but admits he doesn't know what it's called

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: RE: I would not underestimate a modern Major General (USMC, Ret), which is what he is.

Wrong operetta.

"Modern Major General" is Pirates of Penzance.

"Never-ever sick at sea" is HMS Pinafore.

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