* Posts by Peter Gathercole

2953 posts • joined 15 Jun 2007

Why Microsoft's Windows game plan makes us WannaCry

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Hang on another minute...

I do not believe March to May is an adequate time. What if you've got 200 items of software to regression test. Ignoring the time to actually patch the extensive estate, that's over 2 software packages to regression test every day (if you can use the whole three months), including weekends and public holidays. And all on a heterogeneous hardware estate with attached specialist equipment!

What if it was 2000 software items? How many of the IT support people know the applications they support well enough to be able to perform the regression test? Or do the users have time to actually test the full functionality of their packages (Hint, a day testing a package is a day that the user can't be doing their normal job)

For a large organization, a proper regression test of their software portfolio will take months.

It would not be so bad if the patches were just that - patches that do not change any other function. But Microsoft do like to include functional changes in their patch bundles.

Regression testing Windows 10 in a business environment is going to be an absolute nightmare, and I'm glad I'm not in that game.

DeX Station: Samsung's Windows-killer is ready for prime time

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


I'm sorry!

The Osboure 1 did not have batteries as standard. It needed mains power to operate. And quite a lot of that.

Any battery pack was a 3rd party add-on.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

That's one hell of a pocket!

Do you also have car batteries and a mains inverter in there as well?

MP3 'died' and nobody noticed: Key patents expire on golden oldie tech

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

I don't understand how it 'died'

If the patent is not renewed, then the technology moves into the public domain, which could mean that we could see more use of it, not less.

Whether we do or not is another matter, but I would guess that there are still a lot of optical players and media devices which are happier with MP3 files than some of the later (patent encumbered) audio formats.

It's been two and a half years of decline – tablets aren't coming back

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

I found an innovative use

I found an excellent use for my 10" Android tablet.

When I last sang with a choir, I used it as a musical rehearsal device for learning the music. If you can get the music MIDI form, then there are applications that will convert it back into sheet music, and provided it is broken into appropriate tracks, play the individual parts as per your selection, and display the sheet music at the same time.

Couple it with a pair of headphones, and you can then follow the music and hear the parts all on one easily carried device. Mind you, bursting into song in the middle of a train or plane does not go down too well with the other passengers.

You can also have a audio or video recording of a performance as well, and if you want to go that far, record your own rehearsals with the rest of the choir/orchestra to allow you to review the session.

I have seen musicians use them in place of paper music on their music stands, with the music auto-scrolling so they don't have to turn pages.

I also use it while I'm out for reading comics and books, and watching shows I rip to SD card. It's so old that I can't remember when I got it (it got Android 4.04 soon after I got it), and had an 8000mA battery that puts smartphones to shame. I still get 4-6 hours of continuous use from one charge, although it can get really slow until the firmware is re-flashed (no Trim support for the flash filesystems)

Huawei picks SUSE for assault on UNIX big iron

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: hot swapping - old news

Tandem is old-news.

Unfortunately, the RAS features that used to be around in Tandem and Stratus (bloody hell, Stratus still exists!) are apparently feature that vendors do not consider useful any more.

In the same time, customers have been encouraged, for power and supposedly manageability reasons to consolidate all their systems onto ever-larger single systems divided up by visualisation.

And what happens when features fail and need swapping? Well, I/O cards can be swapped, as can drives, power supply components and fans. But once you get to core features like CPU and Memory, the only way is to take part or all of a system out of service.

Even in the modular IBM Power Systems (770, 780, 870 and 880) systems, where supposedly you can power down individual drawers, I've never come across a situation where a CPU or memory repair action has suggested just powering down the affected processor drawer, but wants the whole system powered down.

The solution to this? Well, on-the-fly workload migration is normally the current suggestion, but that means that you have to keep the same capacity as your largest system spare, and there will be performance and time constraints while migrations are carried out. Otherwise, you de-construct your workloads, and place them onto smaller systems that you can afford to have down for service actions without affecting the service.

Of course, hardware will continue to run in a degraded state now (if a CPU core or memory DIMM fails, the rest of the system may well continue to run), meaning that you can plan your outages rather better that you used to be able to do, but to restore full performance, some outage will probably be required.

If Huawai can produce servers at a reasonable cost where CPUs and memory can be replaced without shutting a system down, I can see current buyers of Power and SPARC systems looking at them vary carefully, but it will need some OS modifications to allow hardware to be disabled and not considered for work. It's possible, but will need work in the scheduler, and the memory allocation code. Power, IBM I and AIX can do some of this already, but I'm not sure that Linux on Power can, and I think on Intel, it's still in it's infancy.

But with the integration of memory and PCIe controllers in modern processor dies, system builders will have to know a whole lot more about the internal architecture of the systems to provide resilient configurations that will allow processor cores with all their associated on-die controllers to be removed without affecting the service.

I personally still favour a larger number of smaller systems, rather than relying on increased complexity in the design, and I think that, whether knowingly or not, customers embracing cloud are making the same decisions.

iPhone lawyers literally compare Apples with Pears in trademark war

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Apple Records predates Apple Computers

There were three separate lawsuits, with Apple Corp. taking Apple Computer Inc. to task over the use of 'Apple' and an Apple logo in conjunction with music.

Apple Corp. won the first two, and received modest damages and a more explicit license deal, but the third one in 2003-2006 centered around the use of Apple and the Apple logo on the iTunes store, which was clearly about music.

In this case, the judge ruled in favor of Apple Computer, taking a very (IMHO) lose interpretation of the maybe poorly worded section on content delivery and physical media (to me, it looks like the judge did not think that the electronic delivery of digital music conflicted with the previous agreement, which he interpreted as the delivery of music on physical media - clearly the case that digital music delivery was a disruptive techology).

Although Apple Corp. said they would appeal, it was likely they didn't have the financial resources, and eventually Apple Computer. offered a settlement, and part of the settlement transferred the ownership of the Apple logo to Apple Computer, with a perpetual license to allow Apple Corp. to continue using their logo. I think it also included an agreement to allow Beatles music to be delivered through the iTunes store, something that Apple Corp. had explicitly blocked previously, presumably because of the ongoing disagreement.

So there is now nothing Apple Corp. can do to anybody w.r.t the logo, as Apple Computer Inc. own it outright.

It's amazing how much can be achieved by the application of money.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Does anyone remember ...

I was going to bring up Peach, but then I remembered that it was an Apple ][ clone, so any infringement case would have been interesting, to say the least!

IT error at Great Western Railway charging £10k for 63-mile journey ticket

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: small city @Spudley

Yes. I do know. Typo.

I had two kids go to Bridgwater College and one of them then went to SCAT. One of the first things I learned was that the 'e' was missing, but when quickly typing a post, it's easy to forget. If you look back at my posts, it's hard to find one that does not have a spelling, typographic, punctuation or capitalization error, no matter how hard I try to get them right.

I think the real reason for the tone of my comment is that the conversion of first Polytechnics, and now Further Education colleges to 'University' status has, in my opinion, devalued degrees, and damaged the vocational education system in the UK. The current system still churns out graduates in 'soft' disciplines, who then struggle to work in their chosen field, and end up not using their education in the jobs that they end up in. And the flip side is that 'real' universities are starved of resources and funds for the required 'hard' disciplines, leading to shortages of STEM graduates in industry and education, and very valuable intermediate level qualifications in these subjects (BTEC HNC and HND for example) have pretty much disappeared.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: small city

Yes, it has neither a Cathedral nor a University, although the Somerset College of Art and Technology (SCAT - what a bad acronym to use), rebranded itself first as Somerset College, and recently merged with Bridgewater College to form University Centre Somerset.

According to the list at https://www.gov.uk/check-a-university-is-officially-recognised/recognised-bodies, it cannot award degrees itself, and it's tag line is "In partnership with Plymouth University, Oxford Brookes University, UWE Bristol & The Open University", so I suspect that it relies on Plymouth, Oxford Brookes, UWE and the Open University for the award of the degree.

This does not make it a University, in my opinion, so Taunton does not qualify as a city.

systemd-free Devuan Linux hits version 1.0.0

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Honest inquiry @myself


I've just looked at TUHS, and if you're interested in UNIX source code, there's lots of interesting stuff has appeared there recently.

Not just source for Edition 8, but Editions 9 and 10 as well.

The biggest revelation I had was when I found the source for something called pdp11v, which is also called PDP-11 3+2.

Have a look, and work out what it is yourself! Remember, even large PDP-11s were really rather small (maximum 4MB memory, small 16KB memory segments, maximum of 128KB text and data size for single processes without some fancy overlaying), so someone having got this running was a real feat.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Honest inquiry

Back on my own machine. V7x86 partition fired up.

/etc/init is a binary that is run from inside main.c, and it is crafted as process 1 (the source refers to process 0 as being the scheduler, and is just a loop that sleeps on a timer interrupt, and presumably inspects the process table to schedule the other processes).

The source for the Edition 7 init is very simple. It handles single and multi-user modes, and runs /etc/rc, and also handles respawning the getty processes (controlled by the entries in /etc/ttys) as they are used by users logging on and off. It's written as an infinite loop with a wait in it. The wait will return every time a process terminates. It then puts a record in utmp, and if the process was a getty or whatever getty exec'd, it respawns the getty.

Other than that, it does very little. The processes that run at boot are actually started by the /etc/rc script, and that is a simple top-to- bottom script that mounts the other filesystems, starts cron and the update process that periodically.

So much more simple that the SysVinit that implements inittab. I don't have access to any Bell Labs or AT&T source later than Edition 7, although I guess I could look at BSD, but that may not give any insight to when the full-blown SysVinit appeared.

I believe that the Edition 8 source may now be at TUHS (at www.tuhs.org). I must check it out, although this is only related to SysV through the common ancestor of Edition 7.

BTW, Correction to my previous post. Lions is spelt Lions, not Lyons.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Honest inquiry

Um. Monitoring processes is exactly what SysVinit does, but it requires you to actually have processes directly created by init that stick around.

Look at the entries in /etc/inittab. See field 3 in each line, the one that says wait, once or respawn. Respawn allows you to have a service that will be re-stared if the process dies.

What you are referring to as SysVinit is actually the /etc/rc script that is called from init on runlevel change, that runs the scripts from /etc/rc.d (although different SysV UNIX ports actually implement it slightly differently). While this is part of the init suite, it is not init itself.

The concept of init in UNIX goes back to before SysV. I have a copy of the Lyons Edition 6 commentary, and that references an init process, although I think that the /etc/inittab file did not exist at that time. I will fire up my Nordier Intel port of Edition 7 VM at some point to refresh my memory about how Edition 7 started the initial processes.

The rc.d directory heirarchy of scripts appeared at some point between SVR2 and SVR3 IIRC. The first UNIX I remember seeing it in was R&D UNIX 5.2.6 (which was an internal AT&T release).

Farewell Unity, you challenged desktop Linux. Oh well, here's Ubuntu 17.04

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Won't install properly @Peter R. 1

I hope your comment was not aimed at me!

If it was, I think you've missed out the gist of what I was saying. If you install or buy some bleeding edge or niche hardware for Windows, something that is not in the normal Windows driver repository, the vendor provides this thing, normally a shiny silver disk or a link to a web site, that adds the support for that device to Windows.

Without it, you would have as much trouble running that hardware on Windows as many people experience on Linux. As an exercise, try installing Windows on one of these problem systems just from Microsoft media, and see how much stuff doesn't work without the mobo and other driver disks from people other than Microsoft. It's an education.

The problem hardware vendors do not provide their own drivers for Linux, and this is the biggest problem for niche hardware. You cannot expect anybody else in the Linux community to reverse-engineer hardware drivers for this type of device. If it's important, do it yourself, and contribute it back into the community!

Do not expect someone like RedHat or Canonical to provide drivers for Linux when Microsoft do not do it for Windows (remember, even drivers in the Windows repository are often provided by the vendor, not Microsoft themselves). It really is the vendors responsibility to ensure that their hardware is supported, not the OS community.

It is a wonder that as much works as it does with just the base Linux install media. A testament to all the hard work that has been done, often by volunteers or philanthropic companies.

What I find more cynical is those vendors who provide Mac OS drivers which would differ comparatively little from the Linux ones, but don't actually bother with that last step of packaging and testing for Linux.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: My thoughts on this ... @Julian

Before the turn of the century, I liked the version of twm that added a virtual desktop. The version I used was called vtwm.

I actually found the source for it a bit back, and compiled it up. It still does the main part of the job I need a window manager to do quite well (and in an absolutely tiny footprint), but the lack of integration with things like the network manager for wireless keys, no applets and a number of other niggles prevented me from going back to it full time.

I suppose I could have spent more time investigating getting it working better, but I just lost interest. We get too used to the extra luxuries of modern desktops, unfortunately.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Good riddance, but..

GNOME flashback (or failback, whatever they want to call it) works for me. GNOME 2 look and feel delivered on top of GNOME 3. It's not identical (plugins have to be re-written, for example), but it's close enough.

I chose that on Ubuntu rather than switching to Mint.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Won't install properly

Unless the nVidia drivers in the repository are back-level compared to other distributions, blame nVidia themselves for the poor quality.

As I understand it, both nVidia and AMD (ATI) provide a binary blob that is wrapped to allow it to be plugged into X.org, Mir or Wayland for each distro. As long as that blob is wrapped correctly, any instability will be caused by the blob. Also, are you sure it crashes the system, and not just the GUI? X11 or Mir drivers should be running in user mode, so should be incapable of taking the whole system out. Have you tried Ctrl-Alt-F1 to get to a console so that you can kill the X server?

If the repository is out-of-date, then pick up the new blob from the nVidia or AMD website, and compile it into the wrapper yourself.

Personally, I find the open-source drivers sufficient for my needs, and much less prone to have the code to drive my older graphic cards removed with no notice (which has happened more than once). But then, I'm not a hard-core gamer.

I suspect that the code that Realtek provide for their WiFi dongles (presumably you mean USB devices) hasn't been updated by Realtek recently, and may not compile because the Kernel version and library stack has moved on from when their code was written. Try engaging Realtek to ask them to provide a copy that will compile on what is, after all, a mainstream Linux distro.

But the basic point is, get the chipset vendors to support their hardware better on Linux rather than griping at the distro maintainers. Or buy hardware that is more Linux friendly.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: My thoughts on this ... @badger31

I never liked Unity on the desktop, but having used it on a 'phone for some time, it works surprisingly well.

My view is that it works well for people and devices that only really do one thing at a time, thus it works on 'phones quite well (who tries to multitask several applications on a phome screen?). Scopes are really interesting, and switching between different concurrently opened programs by swiping from the left does work. I would have loved to use a WebOS device to see whether the Cards feature from that and the task switcher in Ubuntu Touch worked in the same way.

On a desktop or laptop, people who fill the whole screen with what they are doing probably like Unity (and probably the Mac interface and Metro as well). But the original behavior, where applications opened full screen by default and the launcher bringing to the front an already open window rather than opening a new instance alienated me and a whole lot of other users.

Will the MOAB (Mother Of all AdBlockers) finally kill advertising?

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: I havent got the bandwidth yet @Kiwi

There are some. I have a PCI card based on a Broadcom chipset, inherited when I got given a Shuttle compact PC, where I could not find any support, either pre-compiled or in source, that would work to get the card to function in Linux (specifically Ubuntu 12.04 - it was a few years ago).

But then again, the card was so obscure that it took an absolute age to find some drivers that worked in Windows XP, as well.

I also had some problems with the Atheros wireless chip in the original EEE PC 701 with Ubuntu, because it took some time for the particular chipset to be supported in the repository.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: I havent got the bandwidth yet @Charles

<pedant>If you're wanting any graphics drivers in the kernel beyond the console mode drivers, you're going to be disappointed</pedant>.

What is in the Linux kernel is a series of stub syscalls that allow the user mode graphic drivers to access the hardware, and many of these stubs are actually wrapped in to KMS. The drivers (which I admit may lag the availability of new hardware) are not in the kernel.

This is the X.org way of doing things. I do not know for certain that Wayland does things the same way, but I think that it does.

I've pointed out many times that the reason why the type of examples you've quoted are difficult to find is because the hardware manufacturers can't be arsed, or deliberately refuse to provide Linux support for their hardware (although the GPL does raise some barriers if they want to keep their code secret).

It's unfair to blame the Linux community for the lack of support for these hardware devices. The open-source graphics modules are getting better, but they effectively rely on some clever bods, sometimes working on their own time, to reverse-engineer the support code for new hardware, and this does not happen instantly.

It's often only niche or bleeding-edge hardware which is difficult (even the mainstream Atheros chipsets are quite well supported now). I've not really had problems with WiFi on laptops from the mainstream suppliers for some time now.

Aim your scorn at the hardware manufacturers.

Canonical sharpens post-Unity axe for 80-plus Ubuntu spinners

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Reboot

The example I used was for commercial UNIXes, where the on-disk image of the kernel is actually overwritten with a kernel update. This is mainly because the initial boot loader is designed to load something like /unix.

For quite some time, Linux has had the ability to have multiple kernels installed on a system. In this respect, you are correct in saying that not rebooting will not cause symbol table mis-matches of the type I described, although I would not like to say there would be no issues (especially if there were any kernel API changes, not unheard of in the Linux kernel).

But I'm pretty certain that the early Linux systems, using Lilo rather than Grub, still relied on there being a link of some kind to a fixed named file in the top level root directory.

My first experience of Linux was with Red Hat 4.1 (original numbering system, not RHEL) around 20 years ago, and I'm sure that is how it worked in those earlier releases. I'm pretty certain that in-place online kernel updates were almost unheard of back then, and nobody would even think of not rebooting after updating the system from a CD. In fact, if I remember correctly, to update a systems back then normally required you to boot a system from the CD containing the updates, so rebooting was mandatory.

My Unix experience at source level goes back to 1978 (goodness, 40 year anniversary of first logging on to a Unix system next year!), so I'm pretty certain of the behaviour of traditional UNIX systems

Prior to the /proc pseudo-filesystem, the normal way for a process like ps, for example, to read the process table was for the process to be set-uid to root, and then open /dev/kmem and seek to the process table using the symbol table obtained from the /unix file. This behaviour was copied from traditional Unix systems in early Linux command sets, and you would be surprised about how many processes actually needed access to kernel data structures.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Reboot

Reboots are suggested every time you update the kernel. If you don't reboot after updating the kernel, some things, particularly anything that looks at the symbol table for the running system by looking at the image on disk could cause problems.

This should be less of an issue than on traditional UNIX systems, because they used to change the default kernel image on disk that contained the addresses of most kernel data structures, so the symbol table in /unix (or whatever it may have been called) did not match the actual addresses in /dev/kmem.

Since /proc. /sys et.al. are now used to access most kernel data structures in Linux without having to look in /dev/kmem, there should be fewer problems, as the kernel symbol table should not be used as much.

If kernel updates really bug you, then black-list one or more of the kernel packages, and allow all of the package updates that do not affect the kernel to be updated. At your convenience, remove the black-list entry, and allow the kernel to update, and then reboot the system.

LTS does not mean fewer updates. It just means that you are guaranteed support for a longer period of time. Just because it is an LTS release does not mean that there are fewer bugs that need patching, or that the rate of patch delivery is any slower.

'Tech troll' sues EFF to silence 'Stupid Patent of the Month' blog. Now the EFF sues back

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Personal opinion

While I agree in your qualification, licensing the patent for someone else to use, provided it results in a real product, would be perfectly acceptable demonstration of the practicality of implementation of a patent. The time scale of 6 months may be a bit short for full a full product to be produced, but should be enough for a demonstration.

As we all know, the problem with what is happening is that there is no attempt to turn patents into a product, but the patent is used to extort money from other people, especially for patents that are so obvious they should not have been granted in the first place.

Although later ARM designs may look like designs on paper licensed to other people, the background of ARM is based on solid product development. Acorn produced both ARM-1 and ARM-2 processors, although they out-sourced the fabrication, they were branded as Acorn products.

Mark Shuttleworth says some free software folk are 'deeply anti-social' and 'love to hate'

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: True to some extent but in this case?

The Edge phone looked like it was going to be an interesting thing, but you could get much of the experience for much less than £200.

I picked up a second user Nexus 4 (one of the reference platforms for the Ubuntu phone distro) for £50, and spent about an hour putting Ubuntu Touch on it.

It's my backup phone, and I actually quite like it. I don't like Unity on a laptop, but it really works on a single-task-at-a-time touch screen device. My one gripe is that there is no real apps for it, although I did nothing myself to add anything to the ecosystem, so I guess that I can't really complain. If it had gained enough momentum, I reckon it it could have been a contender, but the chances of that were always slim.

I guess that I'll have to look for another quirky backup phone at some point (my previous backup was a Palm Treo, which I kept running long past it useful life because I liked it so much). Anybody any suggestions?

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Weird

It's not really X-Window vs. Mir. X-Windows, although it will live on for a long time as a compatibility layer, is on the way out.

The war was really Wayland vs.Mir, with a rearguard action trying to defend X-Windows. Several campaigns have still to be fought, but it's less complicated with Mir out of the way.

Although it has a long and illustrious-but-tarnished history, X-Windows is not suitable for all graphics devices. Even with the extensions to direct rendering, it can be slow compared to less abstracted systems, and there have always been security concerns with it, which is a bit strange considering that it's major strength was that clients could exist on different systems than the server, as long as there was a network path between them.

It is about time that X was retired, but it will be difficult to get something to the level of ubiquity that X-Windows achieved in the Open Systems era (remember, it was embraced by some of the non-UNIX workstation vendors like Digital), and all mainstream Linux and BSD distributions (but not Android) come with it built in. With Mir disappearing, Wayland will hopefully achieve this, but it is not certain.

Put down your coffee and admire the sheer amount of data Windows 10 Creators Update will slurp from your PC

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: I thought @Adair

Whilst it is quite true that there is representative software that runs on Open Source operating systems, it is not one-for-one compatible.

Don't get me wrong, I'm an Open Source advocate, and have been for a long time, but Open Source application software is often only as good as the time and effort it's writers put into it, and this is often not enough to make it completely functionally equivalent to commercial software, This leads to interoperabillity problems.

Now, for ordinary individuals or SMBs, that is probably OK, but just wait until you engage with another organization that is still wedded to commercial software. and you can suddenly find that for some application types, the fact that a document does not render quite right, or the macros that are used either error, don't work at all, or produce the wrong result, and it becomes a serious issue, possibly risking the viability of the business. This is why most organizations toe the line, and use the dominant offerings.

Big businesses like the control that is available via things like Active Directory, and often Open Source alternatives do not have anything like group policies that make marshaling large estates of desktop PCs easier, and that's ignoring cloud-based modern applications.

And then you have the bespoke applications that are specific to certain technologies. If they are only available on Windows, you have no choice (and please don't talk about emulation - its unlikely to be supported by the vendor and it's fraught with problems, and VMs are a sop that still encourages locked-in application/OS links).

What we actually need, and I've said this over and over again, is for application writers to realize that an Open Source OS does not necessarily mean Open Source applications. Commercial software can be delivered on Linux without having to open up the application source (as long as you abide by the LGPL). But we need either a standardized or dominant Linux environment, so that the Linux support requirements are affordable to software companies. That's just not happening, and the landscape is getting poorer (see the Canonical news about reducing ambitions over the last few days).

The Linux community is, unfortunately, letting the very opportunity offered by unpalatable licensing conditions in other application platforms slip through their fingers. The best we can hope for at this time is something like the Chromebook model to provide an alternative, but in a toss up between the New Microsoft and Google, With these choices, I'll take the third option, almost without regard to what it is.

Ubuntu UNITY is GNOME-MORE: 'One Linux' dream of phone, slab, desktop UI axed

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: When prototypes go too far

I could do that with my old Sony Xperia SP with a MHL adapter.

MHL adapter plugged into the phone USB port, powered USB hub plugged into USB socket on MHL adapter, HDMI cable to a TV plugged into HDMI socket on MHL adapter, keyboard and mouse plugged into USB hub. You could leave it all on a desk, and just plug a single cable into the phone (I believe that Sony actually made a cradle to allow you to drop it into the cradle). And the phone charged at the same time!

Single app nature of Android was a bit of a problem, but with ConnectBot, I could use it to access remote systems as a terminal, and move files between other systems and the phone, and use local apps to process files on the phone.

Manchester pulls £750 public crucifixion offer

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: I see an opportunity

That's in poor taste, (maybe even blasphemous!)

The SPB pretty much was Lester, and he is (unfortunately) no longer with us!

Still a great loss.

Mac Pro update: Apple promises another pricey thing it will no doubt abandon after a year

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Not lost...

Well, after the type of language used in this article, I'm not surprised it was never sent!

It's 30 years ago: IBM's final battle with reality

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

When the IBM AIX Systems Support Centre in the UK was set up in in 1989/1990, the standard system that was on the desks of the support specialists was a PS/2 Model 80 running AIX 1.2. (I don't recall if they were ever upgraded to 1.2.1, and 1.3 was never marketed in the UK).

386DX at 25MHz with 4MB of memory as standard, upgraded to 8MB of memory and an MCA 8514 1024x768 XGA graphics adapter and Token Ring card. IIRC, the cost of each unit excluding the monitor ran to over £4500.

Mine was called Foghorn (the specialists were asked to name them, using cartoon character names).

These systems were pretty robust, and most were still working when they were replaced with IBM Xstation 130s (named after Native American tribes), and later RS/6000 43Ps (named after job professions - I named mine Magician, but I was in charge of them by then so could bend the rules).

I nursed a small fleet of these PS/2 re-installed with OS/2 Warp (and memory canalized from the others to give them 16MB) for the Call-AIX handlers while they were in Havant. I guess they were scrapped after that. One user who had a particular need for processing power had an IBM Blue Lightning 486 processor (made by AMD) bought and fitted.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: succesful standard

Though to be truthful, the key action in the Model M keyboards had appeared in the earlier Model F keyboards, and the very first Model M Enhance PC keyboard appeared with an IBM PC 5 pin DIN connector on the 5170 PC/AT.

We had some 6MHz original model PC/ATs where I worked in 1984, and even then I liked the feel of the keyboard. Unfortunately, the Computer Unit decided to let the departmental secretaries compare keyboards before the volume orders went in, and they said they liked the short-travel 'soft-touch' Cherry keyboards over all the others (including Model Ms).

As this was an educational establishment, the keyboards got absolutely hammered, and these soft-touch keyboards ended up with a lifetime measured in months, whereas the small number of Model Ms never went wrong unless someone spilled something sticky into them.

I wish I had known at the time that they were robust enough to be able to withstand total immersion in clean water, as long as they were dried properly.

Wi-Fi sex toy with built-in camera fails penetration test

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

USB connected endoscope is much cheeper...

...for checking drains. Not sure about the other things a Siime can do.

BOFH: The Boss, the floppy and the work 'experience'

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Being on a placement myself...

Well, I didn't feel like a coding god, because the first thing that happened in my first job was that I was sat down with a audio training course (on cassette) to learn RPG-II that they did not have the books that went along with it.

Up to that point, I'd been schooled in PL/1, APL and I'd taught myself C and BASIC and some FORTRAN (this was 1981!), and was reasonably familiar with UNIX already.

BTW. RPG is/was a business language. It stands for Report Program Generator, and was about as usable as an intermediate level macro-assembler with some automatic I/O formatting (a bit like COBOL) code added. I believe it's still available in some form.

Stop us if you've heard this one before: IBM sheds more workers – this time, tech sales

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Incredible Boneheaded Move @stephanh

I'm sorry. What systems with Xeons inside would they be then?

IBM offloaded all of the Intel business to Lenovo.

There is no cost advantage of selling Lenovo systems unless they can sell significant amounts of services as well.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: This is still fairly trivial...

It's a repeating problem, because IBM continually buys other companies, inheriting the workforce from those companies.

They then have to shed an equivalent number of people, because as a result of employee transfer of rights, they have to keep the transferred people for a fixed amount of time, whether they want them or not.

Some of the people they take on they will actually want to keep, so to keep the numbers basically fixed, they have to shed an equivalent number of people from somewhere else in the business. And, of course, there may be a cost-saving favoring them getting rid of more experiences, and expensive, people.

As of today, iThings are even harder for police to probe

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Is bit-rot a real phenomena?

Bit-rot is generally a concern for large disk estates, and fundamentally happens all the time. Generally you don't notice it, because the checksum process in the device controller corrects it before sending the data on to the OS. Each block or sector stored on a disk has a significant amount of error-correction added to it, because magnetic media is far perfect.

Unfortunately, the checksum process is not fool-proof, and multi-bit corruptions that pass the checksum calculations are possible. The more bit-flips and disk read operations that happen, the more likely an undetected read failure is to make it past the controller and up to the OS.

As the number of read operations goes up, both because the speed and size of storage estates is increasing, so does the chance of undetected corrupt reads, until eventually it becomes a statistical certainty. We are easily past that point with the largest storage systems around (think how big S3 must be).

Because magnetic devices (particularly) can have magnetic domains (bits) that become marginal and actually flip state both while the device is used, but also when it is idle, due to environmental issues, it is normal for many of the more sophisticated disk controllers to reduce this chance by periodically reading and writing back all data on the disk so that any bits that have been flipped will be written back correctly with new checksum information. This will provide higher confidence that the data read is correct by keeping the number of flipped bits down.

Bit rot in Flash devices is countered by similar processes, but its more common that once flash cells are damaged, the whole block will probably have to be replaced from the spare list, and this can make flash storage devices apparently completely fail suddenly when sufficient failures have happened.

Why are creepy SS7 cellphone spying flaws still unfixed after years, ask Congresscritters

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Why do we still have the traditional cell infrastructure anyway?

I do not profess to have your level of experience, but I did receive some training on SS7 when I worked for a telco technology company in the '80s.

I believe that in data transmission on physical lines, most SS7 hardening is 'armadillo', i.e. boundary protection with not so much once you get into an operators internal network. SS7 controls call routing through a network, so if you have access to the internal network and can inject false routing information using SS7, it would be possible to re-route calls through routing nodes that you control, and thus potentially eavesdrop on the conversation. It would not surprise me if the TLAs in the US use this mechanism in US telephone operators networks.

Of course, back when it was created, the concept of miscreants getting access to the internal network of an operator was considered unlikely, so there was not reason to think about security for SS7.

The future of storage is ATOMIC: IBM boffins stash 1 bit on 1 atom

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Not quite ready to replace the flash in your phone

Yes, they do like their research with intricate types of microscope, after spelling out IBM in atoms in 1990.

Big bullies,picking on something so much smaller than themselves!

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: What we need...

Shame Tim Worstall doesn't post here any more. I'm sure, as someone who deals with the metals market, he would have an interesting insight on this.

Windows Server ported to Qualcomm's ARM server chip. Repeat, Windows Server ported to ARM server chip

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


I'm sure Microsoft will use this to try to drive down the price that they buy Intel processors for Azure. After all, it wold be a shame if they lost one of the larger Cloud platforms to another processor.

Whether it will make Intel processors any cheaper for the rest of the world, well, we'll have to see.

I think the Ryzan announcements may do more to Intel's pricing than Windows on ARM, however.

Watt the f... Dim smart meters caught simply making up readings

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: Well there is a simple answer to all of this @itzman

Well, electricity from nuclear fusion may be too cheap to meter in the future, but we're still stuck with fission, unfortunately.

Quantum takes on GPFS and Lustre in commercial HPC market

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

@Wild Westener

Good point (which I did know), although I was commenting on the fact that the Quantum filesystem is being touted as a media filesystem, something that GPFS had been intended for 20 years ago.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

I wonder how many people remember...

... that before it was called IBM Spectrum Scale storage, IBM Elastic storage, or General Parallel (I think) File System, GPFS was actually called the Multi-Media File System?

The evidence is quite clear, because as per normal, even though the name of the product changes, the names of the commands within the product haven't.

A huge number of the commands you run to configure and control GPFS start mm-, things like mmlsfs, mmlsconfig etc.

The original product was developed to provide a many server striped scaleable and reliable filesystem for IBM SP/2 Scaleable Parallel (sometimes called Supercomputers), often known as lan-in-a-can clusters, when IBM tried to sell them as media storage and delivery systems for what was then an almost non-existent on-demand video market. This was in the mid-1990s, before the likes of Netflix even thought of an over-the-net video delivery service, and when Amazon was just shifting books.

I was authorized to trash my employer's network, sysadmin tells court

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: @Peter ... rm -fr @IMG

Normally that site I was talking about has a shred policy, but they gave an exemption because we were able to prove to the satisfaction of the security team that once the disks in the RAID sets were scrubbed, juggled, per-disk scrubbed and the RAID configuration and disk layout mapping completely destroyed, that there was effectively no way of re-constructing the Reed-Solomon encoding (no data on any of these RAID disks was actually stored plain, it's all hashed).

And actually, the grading of the data was no higher than Restricted even by aggregation, and the vast majority was much lower or unclassified (intermediate computational results that would mean nothing to anybody outside the field, and not much to those in it), so sign off was granted.

Also, the cost of shredding 4000 or so disks was considered exorbitant, and would probably have taken more time than the rest of the decommissioning.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

rm -fr @IMG

I used to run HPC clusters where doing this on the compute nodes would not have been quite as catastrophic as on a normal system. They would probably have rebooted OK.

The reason for this is that / was always copied into a RAMfs on boot from a read-only copy, /usr was a read-only mount and most of what would normally be other filesystems were just directories in / and /usr. It's true that /var would have been trashed, and any of the data filesystems if they were mounted would also have gone, but the system would have rebooted!

On a related note, when the clusters were decommissioned, I was the primary person responsible at all stages of the systematic, documented and verified destruction of the HPC clusters. It ranged from the filesystems, through to the deconstruction of the RAID devices and scrubbing of all of the disks (about 4000 of them), the destruction of the network configuration and routing information, deleting all of the read-only copies of the diskless root and usr filesystems, even as far as the scrub of the HMCs disks (it's interesting, they run Linux, and it was possible to run scrub against the OS disk of the last HMC [it was jailbroken], while the HMC was still running!)

The complete deconstruction, from working HPC systems to them being driven away from the loading bay took 6 (very long) working days, and finished with a day's contingency remaining in the timetable.

So I am one of a relatively small number of people who can claim that they've deliberately, and with complete authorization, destroyed two of the top 200 HPC systems of their time!

I had real mixed feelings. It was empowering to be able to do such a thing, and upsetting, because keeping them running was almost my complete working life for four years or so.

Amazon goes to court to stop US murder cops turning Echoes into Big Brother house spies

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: This makes no sense

I want to know why this information is being sent even if the device is not triggered.

I don't understand why the alert phrase is not identified locally to switch on the recording. I mean, recognizing one of three words to activate the device is not particularly difficult, and providing it worked as advertised, would prevent Amazon recording things other than what's intended.

In fact, I would prefer that a majority of the voice recognition was done locally, so there would be a chance that they could do something useful even when not connected to cloud services. Make them use my NASor music server to find media, use a local calender, and only go out to the 'net when it could not satisfy a request locally.

But I suspect that one of the primary reasons these things exist is to get people used to an always connected house.

AWS's S3 outage was so bad Amazon couldn't get into its own dashboard to warn the world

Peter Gathercole Silver badge


Chances are the clock in a mechanical timer is an electric one. When the power goes out, the clock stops. When it comes back on, unless you are exceedingly lucky and have had a multiple of 12 hour (or 24 hour if you have a 24 hour clock) outage, the clock will be wrong and you will need to set it.

But it's usually a matter of turning it until it's correct again.

Apple to Europe: It's our job to design Ireland's tax system, not yours

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: mostly Cupertino

I think that this assumes that the majority of the value add for Apple products is due to the design work (IP) that is done during product development.

It totally ignores the value add associated in the taking of raw materials, and manufacture them into the finished devices.

It also ignores the value add of the marketing and distribution network, although you could say that it did include the premium that people pay just to buy an Apple device.

The IP argument is really a diversionary one, because it assigns a value to a largely intangible asset. This allows them to claim that the majority of the cost is an arbitrary value that they can essentially say comes from the lowest tax jurisdiction they can find.

IIRC, Starbucks did something similar by using one of their hierarchy of companies in a low tax jurisdiction to buy coffee on the open market, and then sell it to their operations in other countries at a stupid markup, along with licensing charges for branding. This allowed them to move profits to the low tax jurisdiction and claim that in most countries, their profit levels were so low that they did not need to pay much corporation tax. This became even more offensive when you think that the coffee never went near the country that supposedly added to it's value.

What did the Cayman islands actually add to an iPhone beside being the arbitrary 'owner' of some IP?

SpaceX blasts back into the rocket trucking business

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: It's like the 1950s all over again @Mike Richards

I like all the references, but you're wrong about Thunderbird 1 (and Thunderbird 3).

They both land tail first back at Tracy Island, and what's even cleverer, they managed to suck in the smoke!

But that's easy when you run the film backwards, a trick AP Films did more often than I would have wished. I guess that it's easier to pull a model than let gravity have it's way when trying to lower it.

I could probably dig out the names of the episodes when both were seen, but then I am a bit of a Gerry Anderson geek!

I was really surprised when I saw the original Falcon take off, hover and landing tests about how much it looked like a AP films sequence!

The Thunderbirds effect/sequence I was most terrified and then later impressed with was in the episode "Terror in New York City", where Thunderbird 2 had to make an emergency landing after being attacked by USN Sentinel (bloody Yanks!) That was some serious special effects and model making, even by today's standards. I remember being horror-struck when I saw it as a very impressionable young child in the 1960's.

I wonder whether the model makers had any qualms about dirtying up on of their frequently used models in order to film the sequence. If any of them read here, I would love to know.

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