* Posts by Martin Usher

473 posts • joined 8 Dec 2006

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Buggy 'smart meters' open door to power-grid botnet

Martin Usher

110v power is a myth

>Well, they could always switch to 220v for local power lines ...should save quite a bit ...

Err,,, sorry, the US already uses 230v household current. Its two phase (split around ground) so for low power household circuits it appears as 115v. Higher power circuits - cookers, driers and so on -- use 230v.

What they're doing locally at the moment is offering people a rebate on their A/C if they sign up for remote control of their thermostat. The utility can regulate demand to match supply, avoiding brownouts or power cuts. We (in California) inherited a bastardized deregulation scheme similar to the way the UK's privatization was set up which has resulted in the situation where the suppliers get paid a fixed price (by the state) regardless of the power used. They've got a positive incentive to reduce power consumption -- not all bad, because we get CFLs at giveaway prices and so on -- but its still a bit of a scam (our electricity prices went through the roof after deregulation due to rampant speculation -- it got stabilized by the State but we're still paying though the nose for power).

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German hacker-tool law snares...no-one

Martin Usher

The Law is more of a problem than the criminals

The biggest danger to cybersecurity is well meaning journalists and politicians who's understanding of the subject is at the level of WOPR and "Global Thermonuclear War". They end up issuing diktats that do nothing to slow the criminals down but make is difficult for people to work against the criminals.

If they want to legislate something useful then let's see some standards that equipment can be certified against so that we can avoid things like the "ATM Runs XP, ATM gets Pwned" debacle reported elsewhere on this site.

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Microsoft, Asus launch anti-Linuxbook campaign

Martin Usher
Happy

Windows familiarity?

So I'm forced to use XP every day in a workplace. Under XP I run Eclipse and Eclipse I run a gnu development tools, all running on Cywin. The rest of the applications are the usual Office stuff (BTW -- Office 200x sucks...big time...).

So who's conning who about usability and compatibility? Most people run a Web browser and a mail program, that's all. The only time Linux has a problem is with wireless and that's getting better (the reason why wireless support sucked was that wireless chipsets were the first parts that had their datasheets sold by the vendors -- you had to stump up $50-100K to get Atheros's information, for example. Slowed down development for years and their initiative to help opensource was really a mechanism to forestall reverse engineering. All behind us now, fortunately.)

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Judges rap police over raid on paedo expert

Martin Usher
Black Helicopters

Yup, they really are out of control

>The man should have known better and should have used a secure server to hold his data encrypted for his EYES ONLY.

That's not going to work. He'll either have to hand over the keys or be guilty of a real offense.

That's how it works....

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London cab & bus trials for satnav speed-governor kit

Martin Usher
Black Helicopters

Pull the other one

Note the devices do not store any information regarding location, time or any other variable, including driver speed over the length of a journey.

Yet

I see a rise in the use of tinfoil helmets. (For the GPS antenna, of course.)

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An unthinking programmer's guide to the new C++

Martin Usher
Pirate

Please can I have my Algol68 back?

C++ started out life as an honest pre-processor for everyone's favorite systems programming language (which had accidentally slipped into role of applications language after PCs became common). Its morphed into a monster. Its still possible to write decent code in it but for the most part when I see C++ I cringe -- its invariably pretentious spaghetti.

I, too, try to push people at Python or other modern scripting languages for user programs. Clean, portable and really difficult to screw up. For systems work C will do for the most part; you've got to know what you're doing at that level so just throwing source code at the problem and hoping the compiler knows what its doing (which is invariably not the case) won't work. C++ I just put up with -- you can't ague with its fanboyz, I can't be bothered playing specmanship pissing contests with them (I just know that there's lots of them, they're always late and their output is invariably buggy).

Flame away.....

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Ofcom works out why Wi-Fi doesn't work

Martin Usher
Boffin

Sigh.....

I could have told them that -- five years ago. There's no magic to wireless but judging by the way that people talk about it you'd never guess it.

Now, having figured out that WiFi's being held back by being crammed into a tiny slice of spectrum that nobody wanted because they deemed it unusable maybe they'll free up another tiny slice or two somewhere else in the spectrum. Its public property, after all.

The bit about microwave ovens is important. The reason why the ISM (2.4GHz) band was deemed unusable was because its a frequency that's absorbed by water (that's why microwave ovens work....). Now, if you delve into the design of the MAC protocol for 802.11 you'll find that it was designed around the idea that microwave ovens pulse their radiation at half the mains frequency (I don't think they do now, BTW) -- the idea being we could get a frame in during the off cycles. As for the frequency being crystal controlled, its not; the frequency is generated by a cavity magnetron where the frequency is dictated by the size of a slot machined in a piece of metal.

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Sikh coppers request bulletproof turbans

Martin Usher
IT Angle

It wouldn't be a turban....

It would be a "turban-like headpiece" -- a real turban is made from a folded strip of cloth, something that's not going to work if its made from Kevlar (and I doubt that the result would be bulletproof). I suppose you could also stick a turban to the outside of a standard ballistic helmet but the result would resemble a Christmas cracker hat... it would look really silly.

I'm afraid the Sikhs are going to have to make some choices here. After all, they don't have to be firearms officers, its a choice (just like they don't have to do traffic duty on a motorcycle). The turban's only there to manage your hair after all -- its the hair that's important, not the headdress.

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US P2P bill aims shackles at browsers, IM

Martin Usher
Unhappy

Don't keep repeating half-truths....

...it gives them credibility. Marine One is a helecopter and as such its going to have plans circulating for it because airfans and modellers are interested in that sort of thing. There will be no "blueprints" because "blueprints" died a couple of generations ago; even if there were one of these it wouldn't be anything like as detailed as it would need to be to describe all the systems on that aircraft. (Aircraft documentation.....that's an amazing subject all in of itself.)

But the way you repeat it the impression is left among many folk that some super-secret has been leaked to the world, further justification of the need to clamp down &tc &tc. Don't humor the morons!

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Google hires goat army for lawn maintenance

Martin Usher

Its not really grass....

The stuff that the goats seem to be eating is not the manicured corporate lawns but the rough stuff on spare land, the sort of material that has to be mown by June 1st per fire regulations. Goats are really good at this because they'll eat anything -- it takes a tough mouth and stomach to manage the local vegetation but they're up for it.

Sheep are also used for this purpose.

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Microsoft and Linux trade patent words in Europe

Martin Usher
Coat

A lot of reinvention

The problem with software patents in the US is that they're not just patenting methods but they're invariably patenting something that's common knowledge -- its not about invention, just a land grab. The patents that I'm aware of from my work include such things as an invention that claims that a framing pattern can be used to align data bits in a data stream (seriously -- the idea that maybe that's why it was called a "framing pattern" in the first place eluded both the inventor, the inventor's bosses and, of course, the patent examiners). I can't comment on FAT patents but I know that support for this technology -- a technology that predates Microsoft, curiously enough -- is included for compatibility, not to undermine the core business of Microsoft and rip off their profits.

Software patents demonstrate an atrophied, stagnant, business. You can't innovate so you litigate. This is the same kind of business mindset that has brought our country to brink of ruin -- making property out of thin air, a business out of selling nothing. Its a culture in decay.

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The Quick - and the Dead in the Water

Martin Usher
IT Angle

The Quick Was Already Dead....

Just my guess. Quick was the man behind the arrest of that MP and the searching of his Commons office.....you could almost hear his personal Doomsday clock ticking.....one wrong word, one finger out of place and its the dole queue. (OK not the dole queue but a lucrative 'consultant' post with some City company or another....)

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Ready or not, IPv6 is coming

Martin Usher
Unhappy

Not that well thought out

v6 is a messy protocol that greatly increases the ratio of overhead to useful data in a transaction. The arguments for it are not that convincing which is why the takeup's been so slow. We were getting dire warnings about the imminent end of the available v4 address space a decade ago but it never really came to much because most people aren't doing peer-to-peer transactions (not directly, anyway).

I am resigned to having to move to v6 sooner rather than later.

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Software generated attendance letter about dead pupil

Martin Usher
Stop

Anyone ask the Obvious?

This software must be a relic from the old days of timeshare systems. What its doing in a UK school deserves some thought since they never used to have these systems back 30years ago when this type of software would have been developed. (And they certainly wouldn't have outsourced the work.)

Now, we're all IT types. Let's think about this a minute. A high school has maybe 2000 pupils, say 5000 to be generous (keep track of old pupils). You need to keep contact information and attendance information on this lot, information that would be difficult to put in more than a thousand bytes or so per individual. This 'database' could be run on a modern cellphone (although it would be difficult to hook the VT100s up to it!)

This is a SCAM folks. Someone has sweet talked the government into foisting legacy IT systems and work on the school system. Great for Capita, not so good for school budgets (they really need to spend the money on stuff like teachers and buildings).

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Vista to XP 'downgrade' lawsuit revised

Martin Usher
Linux

The car analogy's missing something....

Its based on the idea that the spiffy new car you've just bought actually worked. As it is you can't get the thing out of second gear (its still got a manual transmission, of course). So you want to trade it in for something that actually worked.

In California the car thing would invoke what's called the "Lemon Law". By all accounts (and personal experience) Vista is a lemon -- its de facto unusable -- so the consumer's entitled to a refund.

The Penguin actually works well, and reliably too. Vista pushed me over the edge -- I can't stand Windows any more, its too slow, clunky and -- yes -- unreliable.

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Did TomTom test Microsoft's Linux patent lock-down?

Martin Usher
Coat

What's the problem?

TomTom shouldn't be using FAT file systems - the correct one for their product is JFFS. FAT is just used on removable lightweight devices like USB sticks for compatibility with things like Microsoft.

Its a dicey licence to play with anyway. FAT predates Microsoft by a good few years but you wouldn't expect a lawyer to know that.

If Linux is a pain then you can always do what lots of networking companies do -- switch to FreeBSD based product. Its a bit more work to use but its totally open. I wouldn't switch to using CE; its never proved to be much use, its big, slow and clumsy and, of course, relatively expensive.

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DARPA orders 'Katana' monoblade nano-copter

Martin Usher
Black Helicopters

All that glitters....

A local UAV company has built a rather neat tactical tool in the form of a small electric plane (about 18" wingspan) that carries a bomb designed to take out annoying infantry positions. Its flown from a hand-held controller that's a bit like a PSP. A nice idea except for two things...

-- It might give the wrong people the wrong ideas

-- Flying a model plane using this kind of link is really difficult. They have hired a prominent local modeler to try to train people but I don't know how successful he'll be. The plane will really need some serious smarts (and guidance kit) to be controllable which might make it a bit expensive for everyday use (and the extra kit detracts from the payload).

So we'll have a fun micro-heli to play with. I'll get out my fly-swatter.

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G.hn-ing for gigabit

Martin Usher
Flame

IEEE and networking are basically incompatible

The less the IEEE have to do with networking standards the better it is for all of us -- they invariably make a pigs' ear of everything they touch. (Wireless, anyone?) This is no exception, especially as its tied the rather quaint notion that everything is bolted to the wall and plugged into something. While it is true that we're unlikely to buy cordless refrigerators any time soon the majority of our information consuming devices are portable these days and are only likely to get more so over time.

The problem with wireless and bandwidth is just technical, an iffy standard and data transmission crammed into a tiny sliver that nobody else wanted because it was deemed useless. Open the R/F window just a little more and we'll have as much bandwidth as we need, especially if we're only talking about limited range.

One of the reasons why I still use wired networking - and would have used coaxial cable if was still viable -- is that I care about standing power consumption. Unlike an office a home network isn't being used that much so leaving equipment on 24/7 is wasteful. Intelligent wireless can be made low powered. Powerline networking cannot -- its a crock, and an antisocial one at that.

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Dear Obama: Please consider open-source a waste of your time

Martin Usher
Stop

Have a think about what you're saying....

An application suite shouldn't be some huge glop of code but rather a bunch on interacting components. As a user I need well defined and stable interfaces and well defined and stable components. If you can supply me with a closed source component (and agree to maintain it at a reasonable cost) then fine. What I won't agree to do is wrie you a series of blank checks to provide a bunch of voodoo that may or may not work and which you may or may not choose to maintain. You're paid to solve problems, not create them.

I prefer FOSS solutions because life's too short to play games with software suppliers. The only reason why they're closed is they want to write for Windows using the same tools and techniques that they used for the last customer and invariably delivering the same mediocre results. I push back because I don't want yet another VCC++ project that's bulky, late, slow and unreliable. I've got work to do.

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Cocaine now cheaper than lager

Martin Usher
Black Helicopters

Funnny Economics

We're continually being bombarded with stuff about the "laws of supply and demand" but apparently cocaine doesn't follow those laws because if it did then it would be getting cheaper because there's just not enough people consuming the stuff. Too much supply and not enough demand.

But then if drug use dropped think of all the people who would find themselves redundant. Its a microcosm of the "Global War on Terror" -- you have to have these shadowy threats because there's all these people who depend on protecting us from them for their livelihood.

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Linux to spend eternity in shadow of 'little blue E'

Martin Usher
Pirate

I know how to get new users to use Linux....

....just don't tell them what it is. They just use it. Most home users spend their time in the Web browser or maybe playing media so they trundle off with Firefox without giving things a second thought. Work users typically use a very small subset of the available software and then only relatively few functions of that software. Its surprisingly easy to switch over and once you've started using L. it gets more and more difficult to switch back because your system running Windows will feel sluggish, it will hide stuff from you and it has a lot of quirks dealing with peripherals such as printers and cameras.

Anyone who's developing applications these days should be using a cross platform tool, writing for a general platform like Java or Python rather than trying to work with the native OS. This not only isolates all the BS compatibility issues to one layer -- a layer that hopefully "isn't your problem" but the resulting code will run just fine on any computer. Its an offer you can't refuse.

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US to postpone analog TV death

Martin Usher
Unhappy

I will miss analog TV

Its crap reception, worse than anyone in the UK could imagine, but its free. Digital transmission is not free....two reasons for the changeover.....

-- Spectrum released by the switchover has already been sold to companies like AT&T. They need this for next generation cell service which, if current 3G is anything to go by, looks remarkably like TV broadcasting.

-- Digital coding had DRM capability built-in although the first steps -- the so-called broadcast flag -- hasn't got off the ground yet.

So let's trade 'free' for 'corporate'....yeah.....that's progress for you.....

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Ballmer reacquaints Microsoft with its PC past

Martin Usher
Linux

Once you leave you never return

I've had a crash course (literally) with Windows and its software development over the last month or so. Its been a long time since I've done anything serious with Windows so I'd forgotten just how ridiculously arcane their world is -- everything is ridiculously long-winded, opaque, just plain weird. I was lamenting to a colleague (someone who doesn't know the alternatives) that "It might be justified is the result looked and worked any better but it doesn't -- its all pain and no gain".

Once you break the spell you wonder why you bothered. You can do so much more, so much faster and much more reliably using alternatives -- everything is just so easy.

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Beeb names new Doctor Who

Martin Usher
Unhappy

The show's gone touchy-feelie

The modern Dr. Who is not much fun. Its not an age thing on my part, its partly the touchie-feelie scrips and part the relative irrelevance of the UK as a world power (as in "Why would any alien being take over the UK government? Its hardly a stepping stone to Global Domination and anyway I'm pretty sure that nobody would notice"). The show's lost all scientific credibility -- when science fiction becomes magic then it ceases to be entertaining, its just low budget special effects.

My favorite Doctor was Patrick Troughton. That guy used mind over matter -- never use technology or force, just guile. I also liked the original Master, quite the anti-hero (being originally from Iran was quite priescent). Screwing around with the orginal theme music loses a lot of the quality as well -- there's significant history in that original recording.

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Microsoft plague threatens 30GB Zune extinction

Martin Usher
Coat

Its just DRM in action I suppose...

The obvious question is why would a MP3 player need a clock, much less a clock connected to its operating internals? As ever we seem to buy gadgets that are increasingly pre-loaded with malware.

I'm just going to stick with my old-fashioned MP3 player, the one that takes a memory stick. Simple, foolproof &tc. Even my phone's more reliable, it just plays music as well. I have no use for these devices with their built-in software junk.

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Microsoft eyes metered-PC boondoggle

Martin Usher
Stop

Prior art?

This is how the mainframe / mini people used to lease their kit in the old days. It wasn't cost effective to actually make all the different variants and sub-variants of product so features were switched on selectively depending on how much the customer was paying.

This fits nicely with modern patent practice.....fill the company with nubes who have no history before C# so they can innocently reinvent the wheel -- over and over. Lawyers, managers and patent examiners are guaranteed to be clueless so we get a rash of "innovation". Personally I with MSFT would invent a working operating system.....they've been at it long enough, they should have cracked it by now.

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Apple sued in Apple TV wireless audio patent clash

Martin Usher
Alert

What kind of patent is this?

So, let me get this straight. If I stream audio from the Internet (or other sources) over a wireless network using an old laptop then that's OK but if I put the laptop in some kind of box and just run the audio program then I'm violating a patent?

Please, someone, tell me I got it wrong...

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What if computers went back to the '70s too?

Martin Usher
Happy

PDP-11 the first 'real' computer?

I'd guess the PDP-11 was the first 'real' computer -- bus based, extensible, accessible and so on. A nice bit of kit, made the PDP-8 look really ancient. I don't see much change since then, we seem to be stuck in an eternal timewarp where today's hot patents look like the stuff the mainframe builders were developing so they could cope with physically large computers for the target clock speed (same thing these days except everything's chip scale).

You should mention ICL and maybe its MICOS(?) processor -- a good seller, a microcoded processor capable of running different instruction sets. ICL was never going to make it into the microprocessor age, though -- can't think down to that level (or see that today's inadequate silicon is going to spaw tomorrow's version which will wipe the floor with you.)

The three day week wasn't about inflation. It was about coal. Prices were rising -- helped along by joining the EU, incidentally -- but wages were being held down by government order ("to stem inflation"). Various groups of workers didn't like it, including the miners. Rather than deal with them the government put the country on a three-day week to conserve fuel. I loved it -- three days is about the right length for a workweek, IMHO.

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US intelligence predicts EU 'hobbled giant' by 2025

Martin Usher
Coat

I wouldn't take it too seriously

Its the event horizon thingy -- in companies that I've worked at its typically 6 weeks. Anything due in less than 6 weeks is needed 'right now' -- panic, please. Anything due after that doesn't need to be worred about.

2025 fits the event horizon... its far enough out that it doesn't make any difference to day to day policy but close enough to sound realistic.

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'Ruggedised, weaponised' raygun modules now on sale

Martin Usher
IT Angle

Can I have schools, health care, working infrastructure and stuff -- Please?

This sort of thing irritates me because I'm a US taxpayer. We're paying big bucks to develop and use this junk when we're hurting with budget deficits and local shortfalls of cash.

I don't want this kind of crap. Its amateurish, childish, stupid games for boys who never grew up that servers no useful purpose in our modern world.

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Watchdogs decry Kentucky's 141-site net casino land grab

Martin Usher
Alert

Just disconnect Kentucky from the 'net

If the worthy people of Kentucky want to control their Internet then why we just grant their wish and disconnect them. Purge any and every KY government facility from the DNS system, maybe disconnect them from the backbone. Then just wait and see who screams 'uncle' first.

These guys just don't understand how things like the 'net work -- they need a lesson in civilized behavior. The 'net only functions because of cooperation between its users and providers, nobody actually 'owns' it. We have to tolerate the bad to access the good. I personally don't like things like on-line gambling, porn and the like but I realize that having that stuff on the 'net is the price I pay for getting access to the things that interest me.

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Windows 7 'pre-beta' washes up on Pirate Bay and co

Martin Usher
Linux

Is it worth the bandwidth?

I'm going for Ibex myself as soon as the dust settles. I'm at Gibbon at the moment and it works fine for just about everything I need to do on a computer. (I have to work at a new company later this week and I think its a 100% Windows shop....not looking forward to this one bit, it'll be like going back in time five years or more.)

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Elon Musk to bail out Tesla Motors with own money

Martin Usher
Unhappy

Its the BOWMAN effect....

One problem Tesla has is that unless its got a patent lock on core technologies, patents that it can get license revenue from, then its likely to get swamped by established automakers as they cash in on any sizeable market opened by them. (I call this the BOWMAN effect in honor of that overpriced and semi-functional military radio system that tries to mimic the effect of established consumer technologies -- and fails.)(Because no matter how much R&D money they pour into the project it just cant compete with the entire consumer R&D, production and distribution infrastructure.) The writing's on the wall with the Chevrolet 'Volt' -- GM knows there's a market for electric cars but its not for $100K toys, no matter how nice they are.

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Asus to phase out sub-10in Eee PCs, says CEO

Martin Usher
Pirate

Just another laptop, then....

Marketing people are the pits. If I want a small laptop then I can get something starting at around $500. It won't be that good but its the same as the Asus. The eePC is something else but its probably too useful -- unilt MSFT runs out of money to spray around to get people who stray back on the program we're going to have more of this.

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Sarah Palin's words get data mined

Martin Usher
Paris Hilton

Palin's a TV newscaster

She's very good with working from a teleprompter. She was -- according to her campaign people -- woefully underprepared for this pick and it showed even after several weeks of intense preparation. Her most notable gaffes haven't been reported overseas because they probably don't mean much -- she appears to be almost completely ignorant of our Constitution, our Bill of Rights and the roles of various parts of the Federal government. Even in Alaska she didn't really get the idea, sending her husband to meetings because she was "too busy" and the like.

I'm cautiously optimistic that we can dodge this one. There are better GoP candidates out there but none were prepared to step up for this election cycle.

Paris seems to have more understanding of issues and policies and a much more effective TV presence. Maybe she should consider a career in politics?

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Is Amazon censoring anti-DRM reviews?

Martin Usher

SecurROM is not maligned -- its malignant

I don't think its the DRM as such that people are annoyed about but rather the SecurROM code. This type of software has side effects and can be the very devil to get rid of, even if you delete the program. I got burnt by this type of thing years ago with a non-game program and I've refused to buy any software with it in since (its cost that vendor alone plenty.....).

There are easier and more effective ways to manage copies of games.

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Microsoft's 'ordinary Joe' promises Windows 7 bliss

Martin Usher
Thumb Down

Needs to be more explicit....

So Vista is officially buggy and has 'mistakes'? That's a start at least. Now for the upgrade. Are we getting something that's compatible with Vista or capable of running legacy applications? Are we getting something that's modular, that's designed so that unwanted functionality can be disabled? (DRM's a good one -- I can see the business case for it even if I don't like it but since I don't use my computer as a TV I don't see why I've got to be burdened with a bunch of BS to manage my TV watching habits.)

The one overriding thing that strikes me about Vista is if I had tried to release a piece of software like that during any part of my working life I'd have been shot down by QA and seriously shouted at by the management. I've never had the luxury of being able to manipulate, much less control, my market.

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Obama spews ads onto Xbox Live

Martin Usher
Happy

Its about voter registration....

Obama's background includes so-called Community Activism which in this case is getting the vote out -- the ads target voter registration. Unlike the UK we have a lot of different elections going on at the same time -- in this case you'll have President, maybe Congress and Senate, State representative and senate, county, local, park and school districts plus a whole slew of propositions. Democracy will only work with your active participation and the key to this is getting people registered to vote, involved in the campaign and actively voting.

Its interesting to see that the Republican party's efforts in this election are almost soley directed towards seeing how many voters they can purge from the rolls (and how many registrations can be lost, denied or otherwise messed around).

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SanDisk reinvents 1980s personal stereo for the noughties

Martin Usher
Thumb Down

So explain to me why this is better than my phone and Bluetooth headphones?

Kind of a weird product, as if some senior manager in marketing's got a bee in his (her) bonnet about something.

I definitely won't be buying one. I've got an older Sandisk music player that uses a USB stick (fine except it only uses their stick) and its been mostly superceeded by my cellphone -- plays music and makes phone calls.

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Vista scrabbles for X Factor

Martin Usher
Linux

Its not the PC, dummies!

I've got no complaint with the PC as a platform, its the crap you want us to run on it.

I'm a PC, too. I just have better things to do than tinker with Vista.

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Scotland Mountain Rescue turns on Ofcom

Martin Usher
Stop

Spectrum is Community Property

...so it should be owned by the Community. It could be licensed -- rented -- to a money making corporation for a fee, the money going into the Community purse, but if the entity needing the resource is public service or non-profit then there should be no fee.

The problem is that you've got a Government that's got you used to the idea that stuff you all own -- your birthright -- isn't really yours, its all available for sale to the highest bidder. You need to change both the Government and that culture, and the quicker the better.

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Melamine, poisons and the misappliance of science

Martin Usher

Melamine is not a protein

Its what you cut stuff containing protein with in order for it to analyze as having a higher protein content than it actually has. Its not a foodstuff. So, top to bottom, its a scam. Its food adulteration on a scale that's not been seen since the early 1900s (Upton Sinclair -- "The Jungle").

The problem's the so-called Smiley Face Curve, the idea that global corporations don't need to own any means of producing goods, they make the profit through global branding, marketing and sales (at the beginning and end of the product cycle -- there's no money in actual production).

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California train smash driver sent text seconds before disaster

Martin Usher
Stop

Its probably not as straightforward as this

The distance from the station to the signal is about a mile and that signal is clearly visible from the station platform (I think there's another signal at the station platform). Its unlikely that the driver accelerated away from the station into a red signal -- he, like at least one witness on the platform (interviewed on TV) probably saw a green signal. What may have happened is that the signal 'bounced' to red when the freight train approached a section of track two signals (or about a mile and half) further on. I've seen them do this -- you don't normally notice it because the signals are only lit when there's a train around -- and its really disconcerting if you're a rail passenger. This is an odd accident since the train operator is required to report in all signals as he or she passes them. The texting issue is a red herring -- trains aren't cars, and while the driver shouldn't be sending messages back and forward like this one did the amount of distraction is minimal. (Its like a plane -- if you're that close that you can't send a message then you're screwed anyway.)

Some other things....

The switch points won't derail a train because unlike England they're sprung like catch points.

The freight this train his is a local pickup, its a short train that you see around this time every day. (You're looking out the window, bored and its the sign that the workday's almost over.....)

The Metrolink train engineer was an empoyee of Connex, a company that many of our readership will know well. I hadn't been paying attention...I thought they were Amtrak contractors but apparently Connex beat them out in some kind of competitive bidding process.

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Crashed aircraft is Fossett's, authorities confirm

Martin Usher
Black Helicopters

Not much of a mystery

The Sierras are very picturesque but also potentially dangerous to fly around because of unpredictable winds and visibility. You're also quite high up, borderline for needing oxygen. Fosset's accident wasn't unique. A glider was lost in roughly similar circumstances about a month prior to this accident -- five gliders took off for a fun flight and only four returned. The fifth slammed into a mountain at high speed despite having a very experienced pilot at the controls. The only difference between the two accidents is that Fosset was south of where everyone expected him to be (and was looking for him) so its taken a year to find him instead of just two or three days.

Its normal for hikers to pack out any trash they find, especially if they live in the area. I can understand it taking a day to figure out that there was a wallet -- after a year exposed to the elements this stuff would be degraded, manky and its really just luck that the wallet didn't just end up in a trash bin and the mystery deeper than ever.

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Secret Service camera bought on eBay

Martin Usher
Black Helicopters

Rather odd things to photograph...

The whole thing sounds odd. You'd expect this from a movie but not real life. Anyone else wondered about the elclectic contents of the camera?

Sending around the Gestapo to get heavy is OTT as well. I think if I got such a camera I'd keep very quiet about it.

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Labour minister says 14 year olds should get ID cards

Martin Usher
Black Helicopters

Don't expect the US to be any different

Someone remarked that "they'd rather move to the USA than have an ID card". Well, its not quite that simple. First of all, as an alien you will, of course, be issued with an "Aliens Registration Receipt Card" aka "Green Card" which -- surprise -- has biometric information on it. Then, for the rest of us, there's the so-called "Real ID" act which is the way we in the US force this kind of ID scheme on people. (We have to do stuff in a roundabout way because of this damn Constitution...) This mandates that States have to come up with IDs that meet certain standards in order for them to be usable as IDs for Federal Purposes. These standards will sound very familiar to you ID conscious lot. You'll also notice that if you live in places such as Washington state you can now get an 'enhanced' drivers' license which has the same kind of look and feel as your ID cards. This license substitutes as a passport for Canadian border crossing.

Anyway, you're just the guinea pigs. Get the systems worked out. We're the bigger prize. (Its a black helicopter because they're real, folks.....)

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Obama: McCain can't email, remembers Rubik's Cubes

Martin Usher
Paris Hilton

Its not the technology....

...its the idea of a person who doesn't really keep up on things. This makes him vulnerable to influence, like a puppet.

We're seeing the same thing with Palin. She's sharp but has to be intensively worked by the 'communications staff' to get her to the point where she sounds even half credible. What we end up with is someone who proposes exactly the same policies as Bush -- the same people are preparing the position papers and supplying the information so we end up with the same results.

You need to keep your eyes and ears open. By all means rely on others but always have a way of fact checking -- doing QA on what you're told.

Paris --- because underneath that fake porn star exterior is someone who really is very sharp. (Maybe Paris should be VP?)

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EU plans cross border database of rogue motorists

Martin Usher
Stop

It works in the US so it will work in Europe

Each state in the US has its own traffic laws, licensing regime and so on and its been years since you could ignore an out of state ticket. These things tend to catch up with you when you get stopped by the police or when you try to re-register your vehicle.

You are getting a Federal government whether you like it or not. You have to decide two things -- if you don't want it how to get out now and if you're cool with it how to make its at least slightly responsive to the wishes of the governed. At the moment the EU's Federal government is more like the management of corporation -- nominally democratic but (ha ha ha).

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Freelancers might be taxed as employees after High Court ruling

Martin Usher
Unhappy

Welcome to the USA

Software contractors have been singled out for this kind of special tax treatment in the US for nearly 20 years. Sad but true. Back in the good old days as a little one man business you could deduct, deduct, deduct -- life was good. Unfortuantely you are really just fiddling the tax so they eventually catch up with you.

Its a bit sad that the UK tax people have introduced this by legal action that just clobbers some individual rather than publishing their new rules. They've also been a bit slow to catch on and they're obviously not up to speed on how you deal with this situation to your (tax) advantage....all grist to the mill, I suppose.

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Yes, there was a viable liquid bomb plot

Martin Usher

Still not convinced....

The whole story rests on being able to carry around and work with concentrated hydrogen peroxide. This stuff is nasty. It might be harmless when diluted to 3% or even 15% but at the high concentration needed for ad-hoc explosive manufacture its highly reactive and somewhat unstable. (You wouldn't catch me carrying the stuff around in a soda bottle, even if I was into martyrdom.)

You can make serious explosions from common household objects but there's inevitably the catch. Those charcoal briquettes used for barbeques, for example, can be made as potent as dynamite -- provided you can saturate them in liquid oxygen. Straightforward enough, except that it isn't. So someone could demo it on TV just fine but it probably wouldn't be anything like as predictable in the kitchen.

I'm rather pleased that explosions are not that easy to make.....

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