* Posts by Nick Kew

1974 posts • joined 16 Jan 2007

FYI: Processor bugs are everywhere – just ask Intel and AMD

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: @Nick Kew - satellite telemetry, tracking and control system

@DougS - sorry, that reference goes right over my head. Googling "hathaway pacific" doesn't enlighten me, and I'm not going to spend time on trying to tweak search terms.

OK, I guess from the joke icon it's some kind of cultural reference to something I haven't read/seen/heard, rather than an actual project meeting my description. Though not a particularly famous one, 'cos I'm sure googling, say, Sirius Cybernetics would've turned up something :D

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: Even the 6502

Wanna bet? Formal verification does not mean a design is bug free. Just that it matches the specified design intent.

My experience with formal verification[1] is that it leads to *more* bugs.

The reason: the verification process is itself complex and therefore error-prone, and the longwinded processes involved provoke humans into taking their eyes off the ball and possibly even cutting corners.

I recollect a very brief (between-client-projects) involvement with a former employer's formally verified satellite telemetry, tracking and control system. I made myself unpopular when I found an error which I tracked down to an off-by-one in the implementation of the formal tests. Whoever had produced the code in question had naturally concentrated on the hardest part of the job - getting it through the tests - and was evidently too distracted to apply the commonsense to see that the outputs were wrong.

[1] admittedly from sometime last century.

Sysadmin crashed computer recording data from active space probe

Nick Kew Silver badge

Hmmm ...

Not convinced this column is going to work.

My reading of this story is that Fred is innocent: he had no reason to know that removing a printer would hurt anything, and noone would have thanked him for bugging them about every individual box he moved!

If this is the best facepalm you can come up with so early in the column, how are you going to persuade others to contribute more cringeworthy stories? Are you going to put people under hypnosis to try and dig up traumatic memories people have buried deeply for self-preservation?

Google slaps mute button on stupid ads that nag you to buy stuff you just looked at

Nick Kew Silver badge

OK, I'm curious.

I block many but not all ads. Basically if an ad doesn't do anything annoying - like animate, or obscure page contents, or form part of an excessive lineup of clickbait - I'll accept it. Not click it, but not rush to block its source either.

Yet I don't recollect ever seeing the kind of ad described in the article. The worst I get from google are "shopping" results in some searches.

Who really gets these things? Are they going to be people capable of using a browser feature, unless perhaps with the help of their (grand)kids?

Here we go again... UK Prime Minister urges nerds to come up with magic crypto backdoors

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: Scam Of The Century

Tailors by imperial appointment?

Nick Kew Silver badge

The technology exists, but time and time again, we hear that real-life terrorists used unencrypted communication. They weren't caught because nobody was looking. Criminals and terrorists are not law-abiding, but more to the point, most of them are not awfully bright.

If I were advising the security services, I'd be looking to put out messages calculated to encourage villains into using particular means of communication, where anything they might leak would be less needle-inna-haystack than the sum of all 'net traffic. One way to encourage that might be to have politicians and officials call for particular apps to be banned, thereby sending out the message that diabolical plots can be safely shared using precisely those apps. If any such app happened to have a backdoor, the calls to ban it (or force it to introduce a backdoor) would be loud and clear.

Brit escorts: Without the internet to keep us safe, we'd be totally screwed

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: Not so bad

"Over a third of those questioned got online threats in the last year, primary from people threatening to expose them to their community."

That kind of threat is usually called blackmail, and it's not necessarily a threat at all ("publish and be damned"). Not in the same league as Jack the Ripper.

Any idea how many prostitutes suffer from blackmail, compared to the numbers who make money from blackmailing their own clients? I guess that's not the kind of statistics anyone has readily to hand!

RIP Ursula K Le Guin: The wizard of Earthsea

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: A good read?!

Never quite understood the "feminist" claims. Unlike (say) the BBC, she doesn't belittle us men, apply gross and offensive generalisations to us, treat us as the Enemy. Her actual writings? The hermaphrodite people of Winter's King: well, wouldn't that be fantastic? The female great leader (prophet?) whose ideas (like a Christ or Marx figure) were the basis for society in The Dispossessed? Surely that only becomes feminist if you start from a position of denying that there could be such a female figure? The desolation of the Shing, too alien to breed??

Someone enlighten me?

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: probably best known for the thoughtful 1972 "anarcho-utopian" tale The Dispossessed

Earthsea is IMO rather a lesser work. Decent stories, but not going to stimulate the mind like other more thought-provoking works mentioned here. I read it as inspired by the Tolkien fantasy-world, but without the depth of history and culture of middle-earth.

The major works, headed probably by The Dispossessed, are very much worth reading (not to mention citing here on El Reg as recently as two weeks ago). But I'd like to put in a word for the Wind's Twelve Quarters, a pair of collections of (early) short stories. Her thought experiments suit the short story form very nicely, and some of them grew to become novels - like Winter's King becoming the Left Hand of Darkness. Many ideas in there seem prescient of things that have happened since.

p.s. "Anarcho-utopian"? Yes, she explores some of what seems like her own political/societal dreams, and blows holes in them. It it's utopian, it's a utopia gone wrong, as it inevitably must when faced with human nature. But perhaps it's the word Utopia that's misused: More's original Utopia was a totalitarian society.

UK Army chief: Russia could totally pwn us with cable-cutting and hax0rs

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: Senior service

having enough warships & submarines to track Russian vessels

If you want to track Russian (or any other) ships, you just use the very ample capacity provided by satellites.

Warships serve a different purpose. Unless you have a regular export market, anything bigger than police/coastguard is basically ceremonial.

President Trump turns out the lights on solar panel imports into US

Nick Kew Silver badge

WTO Rules?

China may be a convenient scapegoat, but this affects manufacturers around the world who might seek to sell to the USA[1]. Including ours here in Blighty - and yes, we have at least one pure-play manufacturer of polysilicon wafers for the solar industry big enough to be FTSE-listed.

Is this what international trade under WTO rules looks like?

[1] Unless the article is misreporting.

Former Cisco CEO John Chambers says insects are the new lobsters

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: Lobsters...

Love prawns. And would eat insects.

I'm one of those "weird veggies". Actually I'm not a veggie, it's just a convenient label that avoids people expecting me to eat the flesh (or indeed eggs) of animals that have spent their entire short lives in conditions that would make Auschwitz look like the Ritz. Hence, no problem with food taken from the open seas, or crustacea.

National Audit Office report blasts UK.gov's 'muddled' STEM strategy

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: Too many cooks spoil the broth

That's true amongst a lot of the commentariat. And I expect also in great swathes of the polyversities.

I wouldn't say it was true of my maths education, nor of my later spell in a comp sci department. The only focus on jobs in the latter concerned what I myself (and one or two peers) might do after the end of a fixed-term contract. And the way most of us in research jobs would spend the first year getting up to speed with a project, the last year looking for the next job, with not much time between those for genuinely productive work.

Frenchman comes eye to eye with horror toilet python

Nick Kew Silver badge

Yeah, but he wasn't. He made a hasty retreat from his intended widdle.

Rather the opposite to this poor sod.

UK.gov denies data processing framework is 'sinister' – but admits ICO has concerns

Nick Kew Silver badge

Up to a point, Lord Copper.

But wasn't it a Minister speaking? His civil servants (whose job it really is) may have explained it ambiguously, or even misleadingly, to him.

Think Sir Humphrey. He misleads Hacker into giving unwittingly wrong answers in parliament a few times. And in the matter of Big Brother surveillance (series 1, episode 4), it's Humphrey pushing the state's power-grab while the minister fights to protect the rights of his citizens.

Microsoft wants to patent mind control

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: Didn't Atari do this during the 80s?

It featured in SF a whole lot earlier than that.

MS's patent will be for something more specific than described in the article. And of course unreadable to anyone who isn't a patent lawyer, like for example the patent's author.

From within MS, Eric Brechner once wrote:

When using existing libraries, services, tools, and methods from outside Microsoft, we must be respectful of licenses, copyrights, and patents. Generally, you want to carefully research licenses and copyrights (your contact in Legal and Corporate Affairs can help), and never search, view, or speculate about patents. I was confused by this guidance till I wrote and reviewed one of my own patents. The legal claims section—the only section that counts—was indecipherable by anyone but a patent attorney. Ignorance is bliss and strongly recommended when it comes to patents.

UK taxman has domain typo-squatter stripped of HMRC web addresses

Nick Kew Silver badge

You forgot to tell us

What were the typosquatters actually doing with the domains?

Low-grade ads and link farming would be basically harmless: would Nominet necessarily rule for HMRC? Obviously certain other plausible scenarios could be a lot more problematic, and a no-brainer for Nominet.

Brit transport pundit Christian Wolmar on why the driverless car is on a 'road to nowhere'

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: Why can't you program a bit of aggressiveness?

Humans manage to drive through busy areas with a lot of foot traffic by just easing forward bit by bit and essentially create their own gap by blocking pedestrians.

With a bit of luck, the rise of cameras (such as dashcams) will start to see sh*ts who use cars as weapons to bully pedestrians getting a message from Plod, and maybe even getting their collars felt in persistent cases.

Unless you're just referring to normal human give-and-take?

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: Driverless trucks though....

Thing is, what if each of the trailers has to go to a different destination.

That's a long-solved problem.

I first learned the solution something over 40 years ago, when (from memory) the subject of roll-on-roll-off ferries came up in a school geography class.

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: At 0Laf, re: liability.

Exactly. I'm totally blind. I can not legally operate a vehicle at all.

So you're a prime market for true self-driving vehicles. None of those "but ..." objections from existing drivers who see all the pros of existing tech and the cons of any proposed alternative.

Along with other people having disabilities that disqualify them from driving (but many of whom nevertheless drive).

Nick Kew Silver badge

The idea of 20mph limits in towns has already been shown to *increase* the accident rate presumably because pedestrians become less wary.

Citation needed.

Because that looks like seeing what you want to see in some study that might have involved special circumstances and other things being unequal.

The link posted a little later is to a source known to have many axes to grind and to spin shamelessly, and refers to one particular instance where a measure may (or may not) have been ill-considered in real life.

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: It's too Black and White

I've owned two cars in my lifetime (and will never have a third). Also two motorbikes (and ditto).

Never once changed brake pads. Like John Brown, I regarded it as normal to anticipate, and to make very, very little use of brakes. So they don't wear out.

Also very good for the fuel consumption.

(Cycling is different. Particularly when it's commuting in city traffic).

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: Zebra crossings

Human drivers are hopeless at that.

We have a bus station where I occasionally wait for a bus. Sometimes - typically if needing to get upwind of a smoker, though perhaps also to watch for the bus - I'll wander out to the pavement in front. As soon as I do that, I'm near a zebra. I can be leaning on the railings and obviously going nowhere, but still most of the cars slow right down as if to let me cross. I find myself walking away from my preferred spot simply to get away from the crossing and stop them doing that!

I rather suspect an AI driver might do rather better than the average human at detecting a human who is not interested in crossing the road.

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: My stuff

Terry, if you're suggesting that makes driverless cars useless, I recommend a quick refresher in ancient Greek logic. The fact (or supposition) that it wouldn't suit you (in your current lifestyle) doesn't detract from its usefulness to other people, and plenty enough to make a market. Like those of us who never intend to own a car again, but might have a use for one on occasion.

Though I'd never dream of taking a car anywhere near Holborn. I wasn't that dumb when I owned a car, nor when I lived in London.

PC lab in remote leper colony had wrong cables, no licences, and not much hope

Nick Kew Silver badge

Sounds perfectly normal

Where would we be if we didn't have dysfunctional management doing half-baked things and leaving the underlings to deal with the mess? Would we ever have had Dilbert, for instance?

Many years ago I was developing custom systems for Big Science. The Client had procured a shiny SGI 'puter, whose keyboard and screen were sheer luxury. But no compiler of any kind! I couldn't even bootstrap gcc to get hacking, and this wasn't an era when one could just download a binary package of anything. And the sysop job was outsourced to the lowest bidder (a well-known UK bigco).

Me: Can we please install a C compiler so I can get hacking?

Sysop: The C compiler is installed as standard!

Me: OK, so where do I find it?

Sysop: Oh, the usual place.

Me: Like the /usr/bin/cc that displays a release note advising me to install the compiler?

Resolving it took months, before finally getting the Client to sit down with both of us, see the problem for herself, and order that the compiler be installed! Meanwhile I had learned more esoteric shell scripting (now mercifully long-forgotten) than you'd wish on your worst enemy.

Europe to spend €1bn on supercomputers and big data infrastructure

Nick Kew Silver badge


If you spend serious money on a 'puter, you do so for a reason. The reasons stated here seem a bit nebulous, and better suited to the private sector (and up to a point, public-sector consumers like Big Science institutes) than to governments. It might make some sense if it takes the form of a budget for Big Computing projects from the likes of CERN and ESA, but as described in your piece it smells a bit of MeToo-ism.

And boffins go offshore because they land an opportunity somewhere else. That's two-way traffic, of course. As for the location of actual computer resources? Dammit, I worked on a distant computer in my first job after graduating. If I could do that back in 1983 (with a teletype terminal with no screen, just a paper feed and printing that was fast but also full of line noise), how much more so in an era when we take the 'net for granted?

Cryptocurrencies to end in tears, says investor wizard Warren Buffett

Nick Kew Silver badge

I expect it *is* for many a speculative investment. The reward being "get the girl", or later to pacify her when she's making your life hell.

Not one I'd ever try myself. I find flowers rather depressing when detached from the living plant.

Nick Kew Silver badge

Alternative Hypothesis

The debasement of the (traditional) coin - whether it be adulteration in a declining Roman empire or today's abuse of fiat - calls for an alternative. Bitcoin is an interesting candidate alternative. It has no inherent value, but then neither do those coins, notes and plastic cards we carry around.

The problem there is the proliferation of competing cryptocurrencies, with nothing inherently to choose between them. And of course the implied hard restart: the people who own real wealth (like land, or Buffett's pile) can just sit it out.

Audio tweaked just 0.1% to fool speech recognition engines

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: Just like human senses

Following up to myself (sorry).

Just heard Rutherford & Fry ont'wireless discussing human vs machine perception. Specifically, facial recognition.

They made a crucial distinction. Humans (and sheep) are very good at recognising faces we know, but very bad at recognising strangers. The latter has led to criminal convictions on eye-witness evidence that have subsequently been proven entirely wrong. Machines can of course be fooled too, as studies like this article demonstrate.

I reckon that means the real human/machine distinctions come from secondary influences. Like suggestibility and prejudices in humans, or tampering in machines.

Nick Kew Silver badge

Just like human senses

Remind me: was that dress blue and black, or gold and white, or ... ? I'm sure someone can remember the story of the dress that hit the headlines when it fooled the human eye.

And when I worked in speech recognition research, we could easily confuse a speech recogniser for a digger, because the latter could wreck a nice beach (say it a couple of times if you don't get it).

Cisco can now sniff out malware inside encrypted traffic

Nick Kew Silver badge

From reading the article (which confirms prior expectations), this is applying similar principles to spam filtering. It looks for characteristics commonly associated with malware, and aggregates them in a score.

I'd expect it to have less usable information to work with than spamassassin, but I'm open to having that prejudice challenged.

That'll make it better than nothing in some situations, but not really much more than that.

'Repeal hate crime laws for free speech' petition passes 14k signatures

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: My view

Just exercising my freedom of speech in the manner that you seem to support.

Quite right. And perfectly appropriate, because it's clear you're doing it in support of your argument.

If you said such unpleasant things in a different context with no such excuse (as in this story), that makes you an arse, and someone who deserves to be ignored and end up alone and friendless[1].

But it absolutely doesn't mean an overbearing state should clog up the courts or the prisons with your idiocy: that's totalitarianism.

[1] At least until you apologise in an appropriate manner. This is the kind of situation where one might reasonably invoke the religious language of repentance and redemption.

Facebook has open-sourced encrypted group chat

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: No Thanks

Shellshock and Heartbleed (not to mention meltdown) are bugs. And they're historic, from an era when security simply wasn't a concern the way it is today (we all know Unix shells are full of bizarre idiosyncracies). That's fundamentally different to a deliberate backdoor which some commentards here seem to see.

Bottom line: no-one was looking for shellshock. Contrast, lots of people will be looking hard for backdoors in an app promoting itself as offering cryptographic security.

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: No Thanks

Then why publish it open-source on Github? Any backdoor Facebook would want to include would have to be included in that code, wouldn't it, meaning they could be found out and pretty easily, too?

Needle, haystack.

You're right of course, except that "pretty easily" might be the rose-tinted specs speaking (how long could a needle lurk undetected)? I'd put more faith in Facebook's motivations: namely the kudos of giving the world something useful vs the very obvious likelihood of reputational damage from even the hardest-to-find needle in there.

FBI says it can't unlock 8,000 encrypted devices, demands backdoors for America's 'public safety'

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: Netscape Days

That was nothing to do with browsers, it was encryption in general, and the idiocy went right back to the origins of modern encryption in the 1980s. Netscape only hit the tail end of that era, in which most cryptographic advances avoided the US for obvious reasons.

That is, most, but not all. And it seems the #1 hero of the resistance back then has fled his country more recently (damn, where was El Reg when that story broke)?

I think the US still has one thing going for it: people who really care about privacy and are prepared to get off their backsides and do something about it, and a court process that gets so bogged down that all sides reach a settlement. Like DJB last time around.

Perhaps this story is an echo for our times of Zimmermann's original release of PGP?

Nick Kew Silver badge

Move along, nothing to see

If this were anything more than the usual ineffectual nonsense, then one might be very glad that Trump hates the FBI.

Taiwanese cops give malware-laden USB sticks as prizes for security quiz

Nick Kew Silver badge


What were the drives supposed to contain that would be of interest as a prize for anyone?

Or was this malware at such a low level as to survive making a new filesystem on a supposedly-empty USB?

Memo man Damore is back – with lawyers: Now Google sued for 'punishing' white men

Nick Kew Silver badge


The important thing people keep dropping from Damore's works is "on average" and "in general". At no point does he comment on or exclude individuals based on their sex. That is critical.

Exactly. If only that were the whole story.

I tend to be more cautious than to say "on average" or "in general" in such matters, because I know that just leads to futile arguments. Yet I too periodically find myself on the wrong side of SJW fury. You don't have to express an actual contrary view, you just have to suggest it's possible there might be an explanation other than discrimination for not having a 50:50 male/female split to be labelled a dinosaur.

It becomes discrimination when you say "you are this sex therefore you the individual must do such."

And it becomes repression when you get attacked for an innocent transgression.

p.s. Next time someone dogmatically insists that a count of bums-on-seats proves an injustice, ask them how they plan to equalise the male and female prison populations. It's the same bogus argument.

Nick Kew Silver badge

@ Kristian Walsh

OK, you disagree with him. And you express that disagreement by putting your own arguments. That is of course exactly what Google should have done (ideally also without the element of personal attack) when they disagreed with him. That is, if they didn't just ignore him.

Firing him just demonstrates absolute intolerance of dissent.

Nick Kew Silver badge

Since that's openly satirical, you can have an upvote for it.

I don't know enough about Toby Young to make a judgement one way or t'other on his particular case. But then, most of life is a grey area.

Nick Kew Silver badge

Do you realise that you have just effectively said that all judges who identify with a minority are biased?

To be pedantic, I think you mean "likely to be biased".

I wonder if the reverse might be the case? That is to say, a judge from an "identifiable minority" might feel less personally pressured to conform than an equally-fair[1] white male? Just an idle thought, and of course it shouldn't matter either way.

And - final pedantic quibble - women as a minority?

[1] Hypothesizing a fair judge, with no comment on how realistic that might be.

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: Oh the misleading...

Thank you AC for the link El Reg damn well should have included to the actual text. The opening paragraph of the article could hardly be more wrong about it, although (from memory) some previous Reg coverage of the story has been much better.

I think the crucial question here is, how central was the memo itself to his firing? That is to say, it is presumably one element in an unhappy relationship that Google terminated (note that the same is likely to apply in many cases near-automatically ruled as discrimination by our courts, such as firing a pregnant employee). If it's really all about the memo then he certainly deserves to win. But for all we know, he might have been on the point of being fired anyway for something unrelated.

What I find disturbing is that it's even remotely *plausible* that he got dismissed for writing the memo. It's plausible because the forces of Political Correctness - being also a dominant Establishment in many areas - show extreme intolerance to dissenting views. That's nothing new: Tom Sharpe mused on "the intolerance of tolerance" back in the 1970s (Wilt), while in a more serious work from the same era, Ursula LeGuin's thought experiment in The Dispossessed explores the repression inherent in "progressive" norms.

Right now, the US is suffering the beginnings of a backlash against Political Correctness. The fact that Trump is such an a** will set back that backlash, but a next wave in 10 or 20 years could be a whole lot nastier if the SJW stranglehold isn't loosened.

Here come the lawyers! Intel slapped with three Meltdown bug lawsuits

Nick Kew Silver badge

My... not that this was unexpected but the lawyers seem to be approaching lightspeed these days.

Well, of course.

No matter how evil a bigco, the lawyers are worse. Even when it's Dilbert's crowd deliberately releasing a product so harmful it hospitalised its test subjects.

UK.gov admits porn age checks could harm small ISPs and encourage risky online behaviour

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: In related news...

Hedgerows are an oasis in the ecological desert of our farmland.

Somewhere for the birds and the bees to do educationalnaughty things.

Nick Kew Silver badge

Ban the Reg?

The Reg takes adverts. Who knows where some of them might one day lead?

And the reg has a bunch of commentards who sometimes post links. Like, maybe, one to my blog entry featuring seriously nasty porn (posted for an argument similar to this one).

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: Let's continue wondering down this slippery slope

... all because Andrews&Arnold continue to opt out of the Great Firewall that once blocked wikipedia.

UK security chief: How 'bout a tax for tech firms that are 'uncooperative' on terror content?

Nick Kew Silver badge


The UK is the fifth largest economy in the world.

Is that still true (even with the sleight-of-hand of calling the Eurozone a single economy)?

We know EU, US, China and Japan have long been bigger than us, and last I heard India drew level with us in 2017 and is growing faster.

There's plenty of ways that the government could improve its tax take from tax dodging multi-nationals,

They need to kill off corporation tax as we know it today (that's the one that the multinationals have demonstrated to be unfit for purpose), and find alternatives. They have indeed been moving in that direction, but it's politically hard. Crackpot ideas like this blame-tax don't help!

Nick Kew Silver badge

To be fair, while there's much to blame British governments for, much of it is historic. You can't blame the botched establishment of what is now Israel on today's politicians. Nor the overthrow of a popular elected government in 1950s Iran and the imposition of a despotic Shah, leading to the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Nick Kew Silver badge

Re: Extra tax on pubs...

You may jest, but this reflects the controversy over the dangerous and subversive drug coffee in the European Enlightenment. Coffee houses were notorious fora for believers in dangerous ideas - like free speech - to get together and, um, radicalise.

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