* Posts by Stuart Castle

810 posts • joined 19 Jun 2007


Tech support discovers users who buy the 'sh*ttest PCs known to Man' struggle with basics

Stuart Castle

"We would usually be on the road three to four days a week, with the remaining time spent in the workshop building barely serviceable PCs out of third-rate components, sourced always from the supplier with the cheapest, nastiest and least reliable components on offer."

So, Bill worked for RM then?

Did you hear? There's a critical security hole that lets web pages hijack computers. Of course it's Adobe Flash's fault

Stuart Castle

In the late 90s, and early 00s, what some people could achieve using Flash genuinely amazed me. Websites with genuinely beautiful presentation, games, interactive videos etc. I was a real fan. Of course, it was annoying when I visited a heavily flash based site on a device that didn't have flash installed and just got a blank page, but I just accepted that as par for the course, because Flash could do things UI wise that couldn't be done otherwise (at the time).

Technology moves on, however. HTML 5 can do most of the things required to provide flashy user interfaces on websites, and does a good job of playing games. Hell, using something like Parallels, you can even use an HTML5 browser to access Remote Desktop.

Flash has had it's day. There is very little that can be done in Flash Player that can't be done using other, just as easy to develop for, languages and systems. I think with the number of vulnerabilities being found in it, it's the right decision for Adobe to take it out into the yard with a shotgun, and I think anyone who has a website that requires Flash should seriously look at redesigning that website.

1,700 lucky Brit kids to visit Apple Stores for 'Year of Engineering'

Stuart Castle

Could be good.

Depends how they organise it. I work in education, and have, from time to time, been to a few professional training sessions at the Apple Store in Regent street. Whatever the session was intended to show, they generally cover the subject matter well, and don't use it as an excuse to sell Apple products. Hell, I came away from one (on deploying macOS to a lab full of Macs) with a recommendation to use a freeware image distribution system for the OS rather than Apple's own Netboot/Netrestore system.

They did have a room next to the conference room where the trainees could play with a whole load of Apple products, and I daresay they got a few sales through that.

Compare and contrast that with a similar training session on educational management of Apple devices I went to that was given by BT, where it was just a bunch of people telling us we should be buying our Apple products from BT (through what was dabs), and using BT provided management systems. The most interesting thing about that particular day was having lunch in the Revolving Restaurant at the top of the BT tower. Sadly it wasn't revolving that day though. Amazing views, and quite a nice buffet lunch.

Sudden Windows 10 licence downgrades to forced Xcode upgrades: The week at Microsoft

Stuart Castle

Re: Kaizala?

It sounds like Kaizala does exactly what teams does, just with the ability to do it in groups of up to one million.

I doubt anyone will need to communicate with one million people.

I work for a company where we are required to use Skype and Yammer. Skype is handy for video conferencing, but beyond that, I don't have any company owned portable devices, so only have it on my company owned desktop. As such, for day to day use, it doesn't do anything that my desk phone can't do. We even switched to IP based switchboard a few years ago, so I doubt Skype would even save them money. If my company want me to use Skype on portable devices, they can buy those portable devices for me.

I think this system is going to be loved by Management and employees will be forced to use it, but I think for employees, it's going to go the same way that Yammer and Teams seem to have in most companies, and become yet *another* system they have to remember to check for messages on.

Memo to Microsoft: Windows 10 is broken, and the fixes can't wait

Stuart Castle

I think the problem is Google.. Before you switch off, let me explain.

Over the years, Google has released several beta products for large scale use by the general public (yes, they had a system where you had to be invited to use it, but lets face it, invites were not hard to get) They did this to generate publicity, but it also got the public used to the idea of using Beta products.

They (and Mozilla) also started a sort of version number arms race, where they'd release several new versions of their browsers each year, each with a relatively minor change. With the result that Firefox, Chrome and Opera all have version numbers in the high fifties, where if they stuck to only updating the major version number with major changes, they'd probably still be on version 12 or 13.

My concern isn't so much the nonsense version numbers, more that the race for ever higher and higher numbers is causing companies to rush development. It also seems to be causing companies to reduce things like proper beta testing (public beta testing is OK as an addition to internal professional testing, but it's not a good substitute). It's likely Microsoft are being affected by this. Adobe certainly are, as are Apple. On a related note, I know that Microsoft, back in the 90s, spent a lot of money on designing user interfaces, even to the point of using products like Macromedia director to create a models of new UIs and testing them before implementing them in products. With things like the ribbon, and start screen, it feels like they've given up that step, and are just trying new ideas on the public now.

I'd like to see all software companies take a step back. They need to slow development, They need to cut the number of releases (preferably to one a year), and they need to do their utmost to ensure that new versions are as ready as they can be before release. The current method used by all software companies (certainly by Microsoft, Apple and Adobe) seems to be release the new version as soon as it's ready, then require the customer to download patches to fix the inevitable bugs. That's fine if, like me, the user has a relatively fast and stable network connection, but a lot of people don't. They don't want to be spending several hours downloading a patch just so they can get their Word processor working.

UK.gov to press ahead with online smut checks (but expects £10m in legals in year 1)

Stuart Castle

I think the spatulas would need a little context. if the site is clearly designed to let people get their rocks off, then it might be covered. If it's just a site to sell kitchen utensils, it'd be fine. If they just banned everything that might get people a little excited, that would mean Amazon is fucked. Literally, probably.

Stuart Castle

There are already legal definitions of porn, that are used as the basis for (amongst other things) the film and video ratings system, and the obscene publications act. They'd likely use those.

What could be more embarrassing for a Russian spy: Their info splashed online – or that they drive a Lada?

Stuart Castle

Re: Security exemptions

IIRC, the original Data Protection Act (1984) specifically did not apply to situations where National Security may be involved. I'd be surprised if GDPR didn't have the same exemptions.

Rookie almost wipes customer's entire inventory – unbeknownst to sysadmin

Stuart Castle

Re: Sure they did, but the universe invented better idiots

Personally, I don't do stuff like that, and won't use any options on the command line to bypass checks unless I'm writing a script that needs to run unattended.

Stuart Castle

I have my own story where I've done something I've regretted, but one from a friend first.

Back in 2011, we needed an inventory system. Because it needed to integrate with various existing systems (some of which were custom designed), myself and a couple of colleagues built it from scratch, using SQL server, Java, PHP and other web technologies. We had V1 up and running, and I was adding equipment to it, using the site we'd set up for this purpose. All of a sudden, I started getting errors saying it couldn't find the database. I checked the server was up. It was. So, I logged on to SQL Server Management Studio, and couldn't find the database. I got our DBA to look at it, as he has access to the backups, which I don't. As far as we could determine, one of my colleagues had renamed the database to a full stop, which was apparently preventing the GUI showing it. The DBA got it back, and immediately locked down the database so no one apart from him and another colleague of mine (not the one who renamed the database) could make structural changes.

My one was when I first started. We were using Windows NT 4, and Microsoft had just released SP 2. I had been testing it for weeks on my machine, and, in my defence, it had passed all the tests with flying colours. So, I confidently started installing it on staff machines. Roughly half of them failed, and had to be re-installed.

Boffins bypass password protection with pilfering by phony programs

Stuart Castle

I'm a bit confused as to your conclusion. Are you saying that Google shouldn't even try? No security system is perfect. Take the average Front door. It might have a bolt, a lock and a yale or chubb lock on it. It's going to stop most people getting in, but there is always the odd person who is willing to try something a little different, like a crow bar or a well placed boot. Does that mean you don't bother installing locks on your door? Even those locks used in high security places such as bank vaults have vulnerabilities.

My Software Engineering Management lecturer (who even when I did my degree 20 years ago, tried to teach us to design security into our systems) always said there is an old maxim in security. It is "Security, Features, Usability: Pick two". He also used to tell us that all security is a sort of best effort thing (my words, not his). Perfect security is currently impossible, and he used to like to joke that the person who invented the perfect security system would become very wealthy very quickly.

I think Google need to monitor the app store, but while any verification process they implement will catch a lot of nasties, it's going to miss some (even Apple's system misses some), and people should not consider it a good replacement for the question "Do I *really* need to install this program?", or "Does this program really need the rights it's asking for?"

A flash of inspiration sees techie get dirty to fix hospital's woes

Stuart Castle

Techies sometimes upset Techies though..

Not sure If I mentioned this. If I have, sorry...

But, I used to work in a student computer lab. We had three technicians in the office. Me, and two other guys. We each had an area of expertise, and were in charge of supporting the software/hardware for that area.

Mine was the then trendy area of "multimedia". Everything was running fine, but students suddenly started complaining that some of the software I was supporting wasn't properly installed. I would dutifully re-install it, but over the next few weeks, I would find it happening again and again. Something was off, so I started digging round, and noticed that the software always had missing JPG or GIF files. I asked the other technicians if they knew what would cause JPG and GIF files to vanish and, TBH, thought it might be acts of vandalism by the students (this happened more often than you'd think), and they both said no.

Then, after a little more digging round, I found that one of the technicians was running a script overnight to clear out student browser caches, and delete other sundry temporary files to clear space on the machine. It also made copies, in a share on his machine, of the JPGs and GIF, in case there were any "interesting" ones (for interesting read explicit), so I looked at the share. Sure enough, there were copies of the missing JPGs and GIFS.

I pointed them out, and he did apologise. He said he would make the script a little more intelligent, and get it to exclude the program folders from the search. He did, but in his effort to try and clear off a little space on each machine, he caused me a lot of unnecessary work.

Judge: Georgia's e-vote machines are awful – but go ahead and use them

Stuart Castle

Re: Scanning?

Just put an Amazon Alexa in each booth, and have people shout at it "Alexa, vote for <insert selected name here>".

What could possibly go wrong?:D

Guess who just bought Maplin? Dragons' Den celebrity biz guy Peter Jones

Stuart Castle

I think the 200 stores were both a blessing and a curse for Maplin. Yes, they had the cost of running hundreds of small stores and god knows how many warehouses, as opposed to the few large warehouses Amazon have, but they also had the advantage that for deliveries, they probably had a store within a few miles of most of their customers (thus bringing delivery costs down), and also for the customer, it was good to be able to pop into the local Maplin and pick up an item quickly. Something which saved my own particular arse on several occasions.

For instance, a few years ago, I was asked, on a Friday, to get some documentation typed up for Monday. The notes I needed were on my PC hard drive at home. So, next morning (I was due to go out Friday night, and I think to work effectively, it's good to have some down time), I switched my PC on. Nothing. After a few minutes of trying various things, I noticed a strange smell. The PSU had blown. I was able to pop down to my local Maplin, buy a PSU, and get home. Admittedly, it was a crap PSU (I didn't have much spare cash, so had to go for the cheapest one I could), but it did work, and I was able to do the documentation I needed.

Had Maplin not been around, it could have been a very different story, Yes, I could have gone up Tottenham Court Road, but I didn't have the time, and I may not have been able to afford a PSU up there, on top of my train fare.

I actually miss the days when you could go to an actual shop and have a decent selection of PC hardware. For instance, I have some files at home I like to have available on the home network. I could need them at any hour of the day, and I tend to run backups at night. Unfortunately, the only computer I have with is suitable for the task is my main PC. I'd like to move these files (and the backup process) to another PC.

As the new PC will go in my bedroom, I'd like it to be relatively small, and certainly quiet. I've been looking at Intel Nucs. Now, before committing >£600 to something (the NUCs themselves are relatively cheap, but don't include RAM or Storage, which can add significantly to the cost), I'd like to see it in action. Can I find a shop that sells them? No.. And yes, I know that the core i3 and celeron Nucs are a lot cheaper that the i5 or i7 nucs, but I like to learn about different OSs, and rather than trash whatever machine I happen to be using, I prefer to use VMs. It would be nice if I could leave these VMs running without bothering my main machine.

Raspberry Pi supremo Eben Upton talks to The Reg about Pi PoE woes

Stuart Castle

Re: Oh dear, a fan

I've been thinking about a project where I work where POE powered PIs may be a good thing. We have a lot of rooms that are bookable. The bookings are made largely online, and the timetables are available online.

I was thinking about a 10 inch LCD, with a Pi for each room, displaying that room's timetable, so people can easily look up if a room is booked. I know that there are companies that sell LCDs specially set up to do this, but that's likely to be expensive, and possibly tie us into an expensive maintenance contract. Besides, I'm a technician at heart. I think a large part of me likes the idea of a home grown solution to a problem.

POE could be handy for that, as we don't necessarily have power sockets near where we would want the displays. That said, we don't currently have ethernet sockets near them either, and as we use the same contractor for both, it would be relatively easy to get them to fit both at the same time.

Nvidia promises to shift graphics grunt work to the cloud, for a price

Stuart Castle

Not sure who this technology is aimed at.

They say it's to level the playing field with those who have state of the art gaming machines. But, to play most games at a reasonable speed, with relatively good graphics, you don't need a state of the art graphics machine. Yes, you do need a relatively up to date machine, but you don't need a machine with a cost of thousands. Those that do need machines that cost that much probably have them, although if they are true enthusiasts, they've probably built the "rig" up bit by bit, so the cost is actually spread out over several months.

If you are playing a game where you can win or lose based on the latency and slowdowns introduced by any graphics card, you are pretty much fucked if you introduce the latency introduced by throwing most home internet connections into the mix, especially when you introduce mobile telephony to it.

This system may function brilliantly when you have a gigabit connection to your router, then a nice, clean, 5G connection to the data centre, and almost no one is using it, but how will it cope when faced with an internet connection in a heavily populated town, where the only option is ADSL, and because of the distance from the exchange, the only ISPs available can only offer speeds in single digits? That's without factoring in that you are probably several hundred miles away from the nearest data centre.

I would argue that Nvidia don't really know who they are selling to. The kinds of people who need this power are, in my experience, usually the ones who have the £2,000 gaming rigs, so don't need to move the GPU work to the cloud.

The kinds of people who would use a service like this are more likely to go for consoles as they will be cheaper in the long run, and often don't really need the power of a system like this. But, as noted above, none of the current main consoles use Nvidia chips..

A boss pinching pennies may have cost his firm many, many pounds

Stuart Castle

Not actually IT related, but in a previous career (before I saw sense, packed myself off to Uni and changed to being a technician, I was doing general admin work for a local hospital (now demolished). The staff and visitor canteen needed a refit, as it had not been refitted since the early 70s (this was the early 90s), so the hospital got a company in to do it. They produced a lovely plan, showing the canteen (which had been the hospital chapel in a previous era) with beautifully positioned concealed lights which really did an excellent job of highlighting the extremely intricate detailing on the original ceiling that the fitters in the 70s had just slapped a false ceiling on. It did look absolutely stunning. The trouble is, the manager did not want to pay the thousands the company wanted to add a proper glass entrance hall, so asked them to remove it, then got a local fitter in to install a home conservatory. As a result, the door (because the home conservatory wasn't designed to stand up to hundreds of people walking though it) was out of action for repairs more than it is worked.

Also, in my current job, we had a room fitted out as a small studio. We spent tens of thousands of pounds on proper, good quality studio lighting, then my boss had to cut the cost of the project. So, he left the lights, and asked the installers to remove the computerised control system we'd asked for. The only control we had over those lights was the on/off switch on the wall, and whatever controls the lights offered on the control panel on the back of the light (assuming there was one). He also asked them to remove the control booth that was supposed to be at the back of the room, and most of the wiring. So, any users had to borrow equipment from us, or provide their own, and the only thing they had to record on on the room was a PC or Mac we provided..

Windows 95 roars once more in the Microsoft round-up

Stuart Castle



HiveIO claims latest HCI software 'eliminates' complexity... Isn't that the whole point of HCI?

Stuart Castle

Re: HCI is?

You are looking at this from a Computer Science point of view. As did I, and wondered what the hell the article was about.

Cloud computing and Virtual devices/networking appear to be almost a science of their own, quite apart from Computer Science. They certainly have their own jargon.

Automated payment machines do NOT work the same all over the world – as I found out

Stuart Castle

UI design isn't only bad on the continent. I was out with some friends for Pizza a couple of years back, and one didn't have any cash on him, so he payed everything on his card, and everyone gave him cash.

A few minutes later, the waiter queried the tip we'd offered him. Apparently, my friend had typed his PIN when asked to enter a tip by the machine. A pin that apparently began with a 9 (so was over £90). Stupidly, he entered his PIN again when prompted for it, apparently thinking he'd entered it wrongly the first time.

Thankfully, the manager was able to cancel the transaction, and he entered the details properly this time.

Prank 'Give me a raise!' email nearly lands sysadmin with dismissal

Stuart Castle

At work, we have a special mailing list for receiving notifications like this. All the technicians are on it.

We use that address for any notifications from systems, unless for some reason, they need to go to a subset of technicians and techs outside that subset should not see it.

We also use it for testing, but to send a warning of the test to the mailing list.

ZX Spectrum Vega+ blows a FUSE: It runs open-source emulator

Stuart Castle

Oh, they were. I actually think it made the British better coders. How hard they had to work just to get the computers to do what they wanted.

I think everyone who learns coding should learn it on an 8 bit micro. The lack of hardware power certainly forces you to code efficiently.

That's not say I hated my spectrum. On the contrary, I loved it.

ZX Spectrum reboot latest: Some Vega+s arrive, Sky pulls plug, Clive drops ball

Stuart Castle

Re: As with all these cases, eveyone out for themselves, the customer comes last

Crowd funding is not all bad. I've seen some genuinely good products on various crowdfunding sites (e.g. the Pebble watches, which were bloody good). The trouble is, it's a lot easier to come up with an idea, and build a prototype than it is to manufacture something. This is the trouble Tesla are having with the Model 3, and they are experienced at manufacturing. A company may have a load of good designers and engineers, but how much manufacturing experience do they have? Even if they outsource the manufacturing (which I believe RCL have), they still need engineers who can predict the problems the factory is likely to have and come up with solutions.

Then there are the shysters who set up a crowd funding campaign looking to vanish with the money. After all, it's relatively cheap to set up a convincing looking site, and come up with an impressive video to sell your project, and you could get away with millions..

Grad sends warning to manager: Be nice to our kit and it'll be nice to you

Stuart Castle

Actually my own computer..

I was a technician, who also did a little coding if we needed a particularly utility for some purpose. One day, I was working on one such utility, and had my c++ IDE open (Borland - None of this visual studio crap). The utility was compiling correctly, but some values were not getting passed internally, which was causing it to fail when run.

After spending hours looking for the bug, and finding nothing, I leaned toward the computer. I asked it if it wanted to be thrown out the window (pointing to the window for dramatic effect). Oddly it worked after that.

I had that computer for years (actually until I needed to replace it with an iMac), and every time it went wrong, I just whispered "You know where the window is, don't you?" and it would start working.

UK.gov commits to rip-and-replacing Blighty's wheezing internet pipes

Stuart Castle

Re: Not wanting to state the obvious

"Because "broadcast" is far, far more efficient than streaming and although people are gradually watching more on-demand and less "linear", it's not something that'll disappear any time soon.


It is. A program on a linear channel takes up the same bandwidth on the transmission channel whether one person watches it, or 20 million people watch it. The likes of Netflix use unicast, so each viewer has their own bandwidth. The can reduce the bandwidth requirement on certain parts of the connection by ensuring at least the popular stuff is locally cached, but programs on any on demand service still use a *lot* more bandwidth than broadcast.

Sysadmin sank IBM mainframe by going one VM too deep

Stuart Castle

Re: del *.*

Friend of mine did something similar, except he was on his bosses Windows 3.1 machine, and did del *.* in the root. Normally, this wouldn't be an issue, except his boss had managed to installed pretty much everything to the root of drive C.

Official: The shape of the smartphone is changing forever

Stuart Castle

Re: Wouldn't it be nice ..

"My point is, there is demand for devices beyond the ever increasing slab of slippery glass, but people's preferences aren't so narrow that they'd avoid buying the latest crap regardless of questionable design choices."

I'm a bit of an Apple fanboy. Before you laugh and dismiss my post because of that, I genuinely chose Apple hardware because I like the way it works (it does work well for my needs). It looks nice, but, TBH, that really isn't my primary consideration.

That said, it does have it's faults. I'd like the option of a bigger battery, even if I have to accept a slightly thicker phone or tablet to get it. I'd like the option of adding an SD card as well, although, TBH. I rarely use the full 128Gb storage that is built in, unless I am going on a long journey and load up the phone with videos. Not too bothered about the lack of a headphone socket, as I have a decent pair of bluetooth headphones that last a week (in normal use) on one charge, and I think it's nice not to have a cable that can snag on something and pull my phone out of my pocket (I've had this happen with an iPod before).

What I don't like, however, is the lack of choice feature and design wise in the smart phone market. Most of the smart phones appear to be using variants of the same design, just with slightly rounded corners, a screen that goes to the edge, or a notch. I'd like a choice, maybe different resolutions. Screen Sizes. A proper keyboard (as per the Gemini), a keypad or touch screen. Maybe even more colours.

Maybe I'm getting old (I am), but it seems that phones today don't offer the same choice as phones previously. Look at the old Nokia range. They were all clearly Nokias, but the 7110 and 8110 had different features, and looked quite different. Todays smartphones all look like thin slabs of glass and plastic/metal.

Fresh cup of WTF with lunch? TeamViewer's big in Twitter's domination-as-a-service scene

Stuart Castle

Re: To do the same for free...

Been there, done that (although it's actually a desktop I have at work). Learned to alway use the lock feature on whatever OS I happen to be using, even before my employer (as a response to GDPR) required we all lock our computers if we leave them for any reason.

I can't go into details ('cause I can't remember much), but lets just say I had to spend a while cleaning my facebook account.

Sysadmin shut down server, it went ‘Clunk!’ but the app kept running

Stuart Castle

A few years ago, when I first started work after my degree.. We didn't have a server room as such, more a bench in my office with the PDC, one BDC, various storage servers and our web server. I was working on my own one day, so I plugged in a portable CD player with the idea of listening to it while working. There were no spare sockets around my own desk (my PC took the only socket I had), and I'd been told my bosses desk (which was just behind mine) was out of bounds.

All of a sudden, after the first CD finished, the power went, the UPS went crazy. I worked out that me plugging my CD player in had caused the circuit breaker to trip (luckily, it was in the same room), and I did manage to reset the breaker and power everything up before too much damage was done. I came clean to my boss. Luckily, while he wasn't happy about it, he admitted he'd been told that the circuit we'd plugged all the servers into was at it's limit, so it wasn't entirely my fault..

The other time I am thinking of needs some explanation. I work for a university managing computer labs. Most of them have 30 computers is, so, at the time, each lab tended to be on it's own network switch. We had one switch that had been showing an error light for a few days, and our network bods had asked us to reboot it when the lab associated with it was unused. Unfortunately, the lab was, and still is, used from 9am to 9pm nearly every day, and we finish work at 5. For security reasons, the part time staff don't have access to the patch rooms.

So, one day, I was in the patch room. I don't have remote access to the switches, so I had to go to the room and physically switch it off and on again.. I couldn't reach the power switch, so I traced the power cord to what I thought was the right socket and pulled the plug. On the wrong switch. A switch through which 30 students were trying to log in. I quickly plugged it back in again, and luckily those old 3com switches powered up a lot more quickly than the ciscos we currently use.

A volt out of the blue: Phone batteries reveal what you typed and read

Stuart Castle

Re: If someone is able to open my phone

As said earlier, they'd likely have a duplicate of the phone, with the battery hack already applied. Then, they send an operative in with the hacked phone, swap it and get out before they are noticed.

I've made it sound easier than it probably is, but as someone pointed out in the documentary I saw about Stuxnet (Zero days - an excellent documentary), the various intelligence services have people that are very experienced in swapping out hardware, even in the most secure of places.

Microsoft loves Linux so much its R Open install script rm'd /bin/sh

Stuart Castle

Re: Demonstration of Incompetence

I was talking to the one of the guys in charge of the IT department of a central London council (I forget which one, this was years ago). We were both talking about qualifications. His qualifications for his job? A little experience doing IT support and a theology degree.

Stuart Castle

Re: Remember the rule

I've always thought the idea of a good uninstaller was to return the system to as near to the state it was before the application was installed. But then, I've always thought the idea of testing was to unearth bugs like this.

Now that's old-school cool: Microsoft techies slap Azure Sphere IoT chip in an Altair 8800

Stuart Castle

This is novel, but it just goes to show a potential downside of cloud computing...

Previously, to run Microsoft Basic on an Altair 8800 (and never having done this, I could be wrong), you needed an Altair 8800 with the relevant hardware (ram, disk drive, drive controller etc), monitor, electricity.

With this system. they needed an Altair with their board in, a monitor, network hardware, an internet connection, miles of cable, all the various hardware/software used by the telco, and also a handy data centre that just happens to host Azure. In short, there is a lot more that can go wrong.

And THIS is how you do it, Apple: Huawei shames Cupertino with under-glass sensor

Stuart Castle

Re: @AC

Android is open source, and, by default, doesn't actually use Google services much (if at all). I have a Kindle at home. It runs Android but is an Amazon device, so while it is heavily tied in to Amazon's ecosystem, it does not require Google access.

The requirement for Google access come when you want to add things like the Google play store, which most phone manufacturers do. Amazon chose to use their own app store.

Three-hour outage renders Nest-equipped smart homes very dumb

Stuart Castle

Re: Unnecessary points of failure

Full disclosure before I start. I have a Nest thermostat, and two Nest protects. Why? I like the fact that they work together, doing things like disabling my gas-fired boiler if there is a carbon monoxide leak, and using the motion sensors in the Nest Protects to determine if I am in the house, to reduce the temperatures if the house is unoccupied. It is also nice to be able to control it from my phone.

That said, beyond possibly a few light switches or LED builbs, I am going to go no further than that down the connected devices route.

Why? Most of it is useless. I've even hung back on buying the switches/bulbs because while they would be nice, I have no real need for them (I did need a new Thermostat and smoke detectors at the time I bought them).

Also, I don't understand the point of Internet connected door locks. It's relatively easy to carry a key (or key ring), and just as easy to get a key out of your pocket as it is your phone (unless you permanently hold your phone), and introducing a phone, internet connection, cloud and all the hardware/software all three of those use is a little too much of a security risk, and multiple points of failure. All so I can unlock my door without moving. I'd rather go to the door and open it manually. That idea Amazon had about their couriers being able to unlock their locks and drop off your parcel(s) inside your house is just asking for theft.

I feel the same about interrnet connected doorbells. I follow a tech channel on youtube. He raised an interesting point that while you can be anywhere when you "answer" the door, any caller is soon going to work out you aren't in when there are no signs of movement several minutes after they call. If you aren't in, why answer the door?

As for internet operated kitchen appliances (i've seen internet connected cookers, fridges, washing machines and coffee makers), I don't see the point. Most of those devices require that you are present to load/unload them. The cooker and fridge don't, but the cooker (for safety) shouldn't be switched on without a person in the house. The fridge is the one device that could potentially have a use for and Internet connection as it can order stuff you run out of automatically, but even that's limited. It's not going to know you have run out of anything you wouldn't normally keep in the fridge. You wouldn't keep (for instance) cleaning stuff or tinned food in the fridge, so you'd still need to order that manually..

*Thunk* No worries, the UPS should spin up. Oh cool, it's in bypass mode

Stuart Castle

Potentially good for cooling..

"I left a few years later but the last I heard the company had spent several million pounds on a new site built directly on a flood plain with the IT hardware in the basement."

I work for a company that (before I worked for them) spent a lot of money building a server room in the leaky basement of a mid 60s office building on the banks of the Thames. Apparently the basement flooded regularly. Thankfully they'd had the sense to move the main server room to a ground floor office in another building. The company's various buidings were already networked, so this wasn't as much of a hassle as it could have been.

On the plus side, given adequate waterproofing, a flooding server room would be good from a cooling point of view.. :D

My PC is on fire! Can you back it up really, really fast?

Stuart Castle

Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

We had the IDE zip drives available on nearly every PC for students. Over 200. After a couple of years, we were starting to get reliability issues with a few of them. That, combined with earlier experiences of the click of death (although I don't believe this actually happened to the IDE zip drives, merely the externals), and the fact that our sales of the disks had really tailed of (we had actually sold less than 5 in previous year, down from about 10 a month) persuaded me to ask the Lab manager if maybe we should just remove all the drives, and keep a couple of externals just in case students needed them.

He, unfortunately for me, loved the idea. Why unfortunately for me? I was one of his staff and so got given the task of removing and disposing of 60 of the bloody things. I came with the idea, but hadn't thought the practicalities through..

Windows 10 April 2018 Update lands today... ish

Stuart Castle

Maybe history does go in cycles.. First, we had big mainframes, which were also so expensive that very few companies could afford one, so bought time on someone else's, without being aware of what else was running on it. Then, we had PCs, which meant people could run their own software on their own machine. Then the PCs were networked, and eventually those networks started growing, requiring server rooms full of PCs. Then someone came up with the bright idea of selling off all their server PCs, and hiring time on someone's else's PCs, where we have little idea of what is running apart from our own systems, and they called it Cloud Computing.

When PCs first run DOS, it could run one application, then someone discovered that making a small utility a Terminate and Stay Resident program could enable one to switch into it even while running another application, which is a very limited form of multi tasking. Then, we got Windows (and OS/2), which ultimately allowed full multitasking, and allowed the user to run multiple programs at a time, all on one screen. Now, we get "Focus Assist", a system that reduces the output from background applications, and allows us to go back to running one application, that takes the whole screen.

Stuart Castle

"The idea behind Delivery Optimization is to let you download updates to one PC, once only, then have other PCs on your network grab those updates over your LAN. Microsoft claims “This significantly reduces bandwidth (by as much as 90 percent) and that results in a much better experience for everyone on the network.”

I thought latter versions of Windows Update were supposed to do this anyway? With the increasing size of updates, I can see how this will help though.

Regarding Focus Assist, I suspect that they've *ahem* borrowed that from macOS. macOS has, for a while, offered an optional "Full Screen" mode to application developers, who are free to offer it to the users. The app window is displayed, full screen (logically enough). The dock is removed. The menu bar can be removed, and if it is, leaving the mouse pointer near the top of the screen brings it back, temporarily.

The reason I said Microsoft borrowed this function is they introduced support for it in Mac Office 2016 recently, and they called it, guess what? "Focus Assist"..

Still, while it is handy, it sounds a little like we are going backwards... One of the selling points of Windows over Dos is that you were able to run multiple applications at once, and give them each a window.

Full shift to electric vans would melt Royal Mail's London hub, MPs told

Stuart Castle

Re: Hmmm

Re: "I wonder, given Must has cracked solar roof tiles, if some variant of them would not be strong enough to sustain some light vans parked upon it, allowing the car park to become a large solar panel. Also, do the vehicles have to be charged where they operate? RM is not short of land, so could disperse some of the vehicles for charging in other nearby locations."

This is, theoretically a good idea. However, I felt the same about Solar Roadways until I actually tried to research them

There are a couple of problems.

First, they need a substantial amount of clear weather. Solar panels don't need the weather to be hot, but they do need sunny days, and work better the more sunlight they are exposed to. This is why standard panels in solar farms can move. I know that standard domestic solar panels are fixed, but the average house doesn't, relatively speaking, need a lot of electricity. It sounds like the Post Office need as much power as possible, so ideally the panels would need to move.

Second is maintenance. The cells in the panels need to be relatively clean. Easy to achieve if the panel is stuck on a roof, but a lot more difficult on a surface cars drive on, and people walk on, which is likely to end up scuffed and covered in mud, skid marks and all sorts.

Third is the cars. The idea of a car park requires it is going to have cars parked on it. If they are parked on it in daylight hours (as is likely with the post office, who tend to do most of their inter area deliveries overnight) , they are going to be blocking the light from the panels..

I know you came up with the idea of using unused car parks for these panels, but, tbh, I doubt the post office has many unused car parks in the London area, and even if they do, they are probably looking at selling the land for development, or using it to expand their offices.

Even Microsoft's lost interest in Windows Phone: Skype and Yammer apps killed

Stuart Castle

I played with Windows Phone 7 and 8 (not tried 10). They seemed (from a user point of view) to be better designed that most Android variants I've tried, and although I am a long term iPhone user, I like Android as well.

They also had Nokia, a company with excellent brand recognition that goes all the way back to the start of Mobile phones, and while it had lost it's way toward the end, it did build some excellent phones. They married that up with Windows Phone. I believe that had they marketed both Windows Phone and their own handsets effectively, they would have had the number one mobile OS. iOS or Android would have been relegated to 3rd place., If Microsoft had got Samsung fully on their side, it's likely that Android would be in 3rd place, and possibly even killed off.

Hell, when Blackberry died out, the corporates were crying out for a replacement that integrated with their existing infrastructure (which is likely to be Windows based) as well as BES. Microsoft had a ready made target audience.

Instead, they launched a half arsed attempt to market both phones and OS, and failed.

Stuart Castle

Re: win10

AMBxx, you forgot the Streetview Wifi slurp, where Google's Street View cars accidentally copied data sent over any open Wifi networks in their vicinity.. https://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/05/14/google_street_view_cars_were_collecting_payload_data_from_wifi_networks/ .

OK, you could argue that people shouldn't be using open Wifi (and you'd be right), but Google should not have recorded it.

Apple's magical quality engineering strikes again: You may want to hold off that macOS High Sierra update...

Stuart Castle

Re: No issues here

I don't think things have slowed down. I think there are two reasons here..

1) The improvements don't seem as massive. I think this is more that in the 90s, we were going up from 100MHz to 200. 200 to 400. 400 to 700. There are all doubling the speed, or nearly doubling it. Nowadays, speeds are in GHz, and are going from (say) 2Ghz to 2.5Ghz, or 2.5 Ghz to 3, 3 to 4 and so on. We aren't generally doubling the speeds or tripling the speeds.

2) We don't need that much processing power. With the exception of Games and certain specialist software (3d Modelling, hacking, Digital audio and video editing for instance), most software comes nowhere near using the full power of even a low end CPU. This wasn't the case in the 90s, where even simple word processing could bring the CPU to a halt.

Note: I'm not talking about server applications, or databases, as these can frequently use a ton of CPU time, but your average computer is now way more powerful than your average punter needs.

Amazon, LG Electronics turned my vape into an exploding bomb, says burned bloke in lawsuit

Stuart Castle

I wonder if we should bring back the old (and often terrifying) public information films. With an already high (and increasing) number of devices using rechargable batteries, I wonder if we should be teaching people that these things can be dangerous if handled incorrectly. At least something reminding people to be careful when handling and charging batteries.

It's not the same thing, but a friend of mine bought an Apple branded usb to lightning adapter. He complained to me it had caught fire, which it did. As we had been having an argument over whether unbranded cables are better than branded (a little bit of a one sided argument really, as while I tend to recommend branded cables, I don't actually care what other people use, as long as it's safe), he tried to use it as evidence that Apple branded cables and adapters are less safe than unbranded ones.

I found out later that while it was an Apple branded adaptor, he sleeps with his phone on the bed next to him. At some point during the night, he'd moved and pushed the phone under his pillow. This is likely why the adaptor caught fire.

It's also worth remembering that buying cheap batteries and chargers can increase the danger. To lower the price and still make profits, the manufacturer is likely to have cut something. What if that something is safety circuitry, or manufacturing standards?

LESTER gets ready to trundle: The Register's beer-bot has a name

Stuart Castle

I didn't. While I do appreciate a nice looking barmaid as much as the next man, and the pub I used to drink in had some very nice looking barmaids, I went in there because it had (and still has) a decent selection of beers, ales and lagers.

Regarding the beer deliver system, I feel it is a fitting tribute to Lester Haines.

Data exfiltrators send info over PCs' power supply cables

Stuart Castle

Getting a little James bond here, but could you not design the reader so it fits in a band clamped around the power cable? Most users, even assuming they noticed it, would probably assume that it's the same sort of thing as the ferrite core on display cables. In my experience, most people seem to assume that is some sort of handle to pull out the cable. Even assuming they notice it, they will probably think it needs to be there.

These clamps could be fitted by (say) the cleaner in the morning, and taken away by the same cleaner a few days later. Design it right, and the device could be installed or removed in a few seconds, and a doubt anyone would question a cleaner hanging round a computer for a few seconds.

Snubbed R Us: Microsoft eschews Vulture Consultants in Playmobil tech research

Stuart Castle

Good to see Lester mentioned again. Since he went, LOHAN and his various other ventures appear to have fallen by the wayside.

Regarding the article, it's nice to see Microsoft have found a use for some of the concepts behind the original surface (the one before Microsoft realised people weren't willing to pay $5,000 for a touch sensitive display built into a table).

Sysadmin shut down the wrong server, and with it all European operations

Stuart Castle

"I once told a soldier the portable version of a server was ready to be shut-down and packed up for deployment, he dutifully walked into the server room up to a (very) non-portable 42u rack and shutdown the servers in that"

In fairness to him, Soldiers tend to get used to carrying 30kg packs. He might have a different idea of portable to you and I.

Terix boss thrown in the cooler for TWO years for peddling pirated Oracle firmware, code patches

Stuart Castle

Oracle is a pain to deal with. As were Sun, even before they were owned by Oracle.

When I first started, we made fairly extensive use of Sparcstations for various functions. One had a CD drive fail. On first inspection, it appeared to be a standard SCSI 2 speed CDRom.

Nope.. The hardware was a standard SCSI CD Rom, which should have cost about 100 pounds (being generous). The firmware was custom written, and Sun want around 600 pounds to replace the drive.

Brit retailer Currys PC World says sorry for Know How scam

Stuart Castle

I normally support retailers if I can, but when they pull shit like this, it is difficult.

I remember a few years ago, my local curry’s was selling Monster cables (which are snake oil). They had a flash looking stand with two identical Blu Ray players playing the same film on two identical TVs. The picture on the tv with the monster cable sticker on was noticeably better, and I was impressed. Until I had a look at the back of the TVs. The one with the monster sticker on it was hooked up to the blu Ray with an unbranded HDMI cable. The other tv was hooked up to the blu Ray with an unbranded composite cable.


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