* Posts by martinusher

619 posts • joined 24 Feb 2015

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Taylor's gonna spy, spy, spy, spy, spy... fans can't shake cam off, shake cam off

martinusher Silver badge

I'm not so sure about that "doesn't work that well"

The point about facial recognition software is that it really doesn't need to work that well, just as well or better than a human. Even so, I think it works a whole lot better than people think but its effectiveness is downplayed to avoid spooking the public. My evidence for this is where I'm likely to come across it. For example, when I go through Los Angeles International Airport as a US citizen I won't normally interact with a human except to take the printed entry ticked I got from the automated entry booth. When I travel across the US near the Mexican border I go through checkpoints that don't require you to stop but will have cameras to check who's in the car (you see the same technology at the land border crossing in lanes used by regular travelers). Then there are the developments in Russia and China -- Russia, matching generic CCTV images with images on social media, China there's systems to identify wanted people that can pick them out of a crowd.

The only part of this story that doesn't add up is checking for so-called stalkers. I wonder what they're really looking for?

Forget your deepest, darkest secrets, smart speakers will soon listen for sniffles and farts too

martinusher Silver badge

Its already a realty

Amazon's smart speakers offer home security capabilities where they can be used either as standalone security devices or integrated into a security system.

Godmother of word processing Evelyn Berezin dies at 93

martinusher Silver badge

Love at first sight

All you youngsters have no idea what life was like in the days before word processors. You had to write out documentation by hand, give it to someone to type, check it, revise it and so on. It was a tedious process, a major undertaking for someone with crap handwriting that didn't type that well.

Then I met a word processor. It was definitely Love At First Sight. It was a typewriter that tolerated crap typists (although the early standalone machines were sufficiently few and far between that they had their own dedicated operators). Eventually the software became standalone and it was a powerful incentive to buy a personal computer. (The first system I owned was an Osborne 1, it ran CP./M, used Wordstar as the word processing program and I had a Brother daisy wheel printer for output. It was really expensive but for the time worth every penny.)

This lady had the smarts to recognize a product niche -- she didn't just "do computers" but understood office workflow and how it could be improved by automation. She's definitely one for the history books.

For fax sake: NHS to be banned from buying archaic copy-flingers

martinusher Silver badge

>There was a time when fax was accepted and email not, but when I moved house last year, I signed a lease agreement electronically, no problems. I pull my suppliers up on their failures via email records, no problems.

Its a bit late when you've just been scammed for a few hundred thousand. Currently email is just not reliable for transactions that involve funds transfer. You can add all the legal retention, electronic signatures and whatever else you come up with but the system is fundamentally flawed and these technological fixes are just Band-Aids. I will only use electronic transactions for low value funds transfer in a controlled environment (that is, if the transaction gets hacked the loss will be minimal to zero).

Huawei CFO poutine cuffs by Canadian cops after allegedly busting sanctions on Iran

martinusher Silver badge

Re: Should we be worried?

>Trump's been aggressively pushing for trade re-balancing between the USA and China.

He's made a lot of noise, issued various executive orders but on the whole done absolutely nothing to rebalance trade between the US and China. The reason is simple -- the imbalance stems from a couple of decades of systematic offshoring of manufacturing to China. US corporations bought into the notion of the Smiley Face Curve, the idea that all the value in a product was either in marketing and sales with the actual business of manufacturing (and increasingly, development) left to subcontractors. This helped to boost profits by eliminating a lot of jobs in the US but as you can guess was a rather short-sighted policy because it not only helped China develop its manufacturing ecology but also led to the permanent loss of the appropriate skill base in the US. The result is predictable -- a huge trade imbalance and a severe skills shortage in the US. Rectifying it with tariffs isn't going to work, it just acts like a Federal sales tax.

Tariffs are having an impact but according to a recent Federal Reserve report its overwhelmingly a negative impact. This is probably what's behind the 'truce' -- ratcheting them up will cause a lot of visible damage to the economy. There's also an issue of Constitutional authority; Trump could get away with the tariffs (agruably) because he's action on "National Security Grounds". But in real life he doesn't have the authority to unilaterally impose tariffs, its Congress's job.

Now, as to exercising extra-territorial authority over people who haven't committed a crime in the US (and even going so far to not reveal what the offenses are) this poses all sorts of Constitutional issues. Mike Pompero has gone on record recently saying that the only law that should matter in the world today is US law but many countries may disagree with him. The Iran sanctions were reimposed unilaterally after the US abrogated a treaty drawn up between them and other parties so its questionable as to whether their legal (although a lot of effort has gone into twisting arms -- and logic -- to justify these sanctions the majority of the world isn't biting). So anyone who has the time and resources could have a lot of fun with the courts over this one but I suspect they'd rather not, they've got business to attend to (unlike the US where the only growth business seems to be in sanctions enforcement -- "Your Tax Dollars At Work"). The best thing the Canadians could do is to find some grounds for releasing Ms Meng on bail.

(The US is a mess. I'd even considerabandoning it for my native England except.....)

FCC slammed for 'arbitrary and reckless' plan to change how text messages are regulated

martinusher Silver badge

..and they know how to deal with objections

The FCC received a lot of feedback about net neutrality. That part of it that wasn't from bots was overwhelmingly in favor of it. That didn't faze the FCC, they went ahead and ditched it anyway (and since then they've been fighting against state laws that mandate it). Since its difficult to defend the indefensible they came up with another line to justify their actions recently -- apparently the Russians are in favor of net neutrality and have been spreading their evil 'fluence using their nefarious hacking skills (and so Net Neutrality is, by definition, Bad).

The same will happen with text messaging. If they can't cook the books openly then they'll just claim that the Russians want such and such and have been hacking right and left to influence things.

UK spies: You know how we said bulk device hacking would be used sparingly? Well, things have 'evolved'...

martinusher Silver badge

Now we know why the Guvmint doesn't like Chinese kit

Official View: We're concerned about the Chinese spying on us so don't buy it

Reality: We can't figure out a way to screw with this kit to get us the information we want**

(** Because we've had to live with the "Chinese Spying" and "Backdoor" miasma for so long Chinese companies have had to demonstrate to all interested parties that their kit is clean in order to sell it. Its the same with Kaspersky's anti-virus -- we don't like it because we can't compromise it (and it keeps catching us out).)

Incoming! Microsoft unleashes more fixes for Windows 10 October 2018 Update

martinusher Silver badge

Maybe its time for Microsofties to study programming?

We've all been there, hopefully not personally for many years, but the general signs of a programmer in trouble is when they go into 'gopher bashing' mode where fixing one bug invariably breaks something else. They'll tell us "Its all very complicated" but that's unfortunately the job -- we have to design to reduce complexity to manageable levels so if the code is truly incomprehensible then its effectively unusable and needs a redesign.

I know how this can come about, though. I have occasionally to work on a piece of embedded code that's insanely complex, it was written by someone who embraced object oriented programming without first learning about what objects are, how they're used and how to design with them. The result is an astonishing pile of spaghetti, random interactions and variables all over the place, which has driven many a competent programmer to seek employment elsewhere. (You can't critique it because you're obviously old-fashioned and don't understand proper programming techniques so you just leave it to the genius that designed it and have as little to do with it as possible.) Now I'm not saying that this is the cause of MSFT's woes but I'd guess that there's a failure of software design methodology somewhere because they're struggling with what should be trivial bugs, they've not managed to compartment their system but at the same time they're trumpeting quite trivial changes as major improvements. This is a very large red flag for anyone who's had to manage software projects.

Former headteacher fined £700 after dumping old pupil data on server at new school

martinusher Silver badge

Re: Professional Reasons?

>"Professional Reasons"???? Like what, finding them again and stalking them?

You'd be surprised how many people out there are really not interested in children as sex toys. Some individuals are actually interested in nurturing them by helping to educate them and guide them towards adulthood. They might even make a career of it.

Teaching is increasingly a crap job that only a naive idiot would attempt. I've been married to a (thankfully now retired) teacher for my whole working life so in addition to seeing first hand how they get abused I've had to subsidize their vocation (they need to be married to a decent earner). This fellow did what many teachers do, they keep records of their charges to track how effective their teaching is over time. His mistake was to transfer 'computer' records instead of just keeping his old grade books.

Honestly, do parents feel their offspring are so unique that the world is lying in wait just to use them for their evil perversions? How weird.

OM5G... Qualcomm teases next Snapdragon chip for phones: The 855 with a fingerprint Sonic Screwdriver, er, Sensor

martinusher Silver badge

Re: 5G skeptics

>I heard that 400-700nm is the worst radiation wavelength...

Trying to explain how electromagnetic radiation interacts with people is virtually impossible because its statistical -- the probability of damage goes up with frequency from effectively zero through quite likely to certain. Unfortunately most people don't do statistics, so they will take 'effectively zero' as an attempt by the lizard people to hoodwink them.

Where I live its common to find small cell towers on top of streetlights. The irony of people protesting the dangers of radiation from those towers is impossible to explain.

Consumer group attempts to lob Safari workaround sueball at Google... again

martinusher Silver badge

Re: Who had the loss?

>So just ignore the wrong things that Google are doing...

The unfortunate fact of life is that the mere fact you're using a phone pretty much nails where you are. Its unfortunate but that's the price of 'progress'. It seems that the models for things like radios and phones that we grew up with are very persistent, many people just don't seem to understand how modern wireless communications work so their expectations of how those devices should behave are unrealistic.

In the US all phones have to track their location because it facilitates the handling of emergency calls (that's why they all have GPS in them these days). The same principles that drive GPS can be used to determine accurately where a phone is even if the software doing the questioning is prohibited from just asking the phone directly. There is only one remedy for this -- turn the thing off (and I mean "power it down", don't just blank the screen).

....and nobody's forcing you to use Google's products. There are alternatives. They might not be as good or as convenient but then we managed to live quite well in an era of phone books, pay phones and card indexes. You can as well; you just can't have it both ways.

Oz opposition folds, agrees to give Australians coal in their stockings this Christmas

martinusher Silver badge

Its diffiuclt to explain what should be obvious so why bother?

Encryption is just an algorithm and its an openly published one because as we all know secrecy will not guarantee security, in fact its likely to compromise it. So the only way to attack encryption is through key distribution. What the Aussies are demanding is effectively a scheme where they hold the keys -- or the keys are made accessible to them -- which sort of works until someone figures it out (experience with Blu-Ray's uncrackable key scheme wasn't very encouraging -- it becomes a race to see who can crack it the fastest.)

I suppose ultimately what's going to happen is that the Aussies are going to get their keys, unlock the bad guy's communications -- only to discover that's its already been encrypted by something they don't have the keys to. There's no real point trying to explain this to politicians so I'd just shrug and walk away, let them find out at their own pace.

Tesla autopilot saves driver after he fell asleep at wheel on the freeway

martinusher Silver badge

Time for a firmware update?

If you've ever had the pleasure of being pulled over by the CHP then you'll know that they make it pretty obvious that's what they want you to do -- the bright red light, the siren and so on. I'd guess that sometime soon there will be an update to Telsa software that identifies a cop car on your tail that wants you to stop and if you don't react within a short window it will bring the car to a halt.

As for it only being a few miles from where a Tesla came to grief on a gore point (that's what they call 'em around here) I'd guess that the firmware has been tweaked by now to try to unambiguously identify this situation. For those of us who are used to California freeways, especially in urban areas, its easy enough to get confused by the layout of junctions -- older ones can be incredibly confusing if you don't already know the road layout -- so I'd guess that Tesla has taken this problem in hand. (For readers who aren't used to freeways, they just drive on the M6 or something like that, then there's nothing close to the level of confusion and general intellectual mayhem that passes for US road signage in the UK -- motorway signs are clear and easy to read, the roads are comparatively well lit and people don't space junctions so you have to swerve over umpteen lanes of traffic for a ramp that's a mere half mile or less from the previous one.)

martinusher Silver badge

Re: Arrested for being drunk

The English offense used to be known as "Drunk in Charge", its what you'd get busted with if you were drunk, in the vehicle but not actually driving it. Someone has to be responsible for the vehicle regardless of the level of automation involved.

The dingo... er, Google stole my patent! Biz boss tells how Choc Factory staff tried to rip off idea from interview

martinusher Silver badge

Its Russia all over again

I've been in a situation where an invention of mine -- one that I'd developed into a product -- was successfully patented by others who had absolutely no involvement in its development. I didn't patent the original idea, though, because it wasn't just software but it was also unlikely to be original and probably obvious. The people involved in this weren't the company that benefited from this, though -- its unlikely that the company had a clue about the origins of the work. This is what happened here, I'd guess -- it wasn't "Google" that stole the idea but "Google Employees". Once the nature of the theft was made known at the appropriate level the company did the right thing (and they should have had a chat with the employees involved in this).

What's the "Russia" angle? Its currently fashionable to confuse "Russia" with "Russians" in our contemporary Cold War climate which really stops us from seeing what's really going on. In our world the primary string pullers are driven by money, pure and simple, and where that money comes from and how its distributed has more of an influence on our lives than a single state actor. Just as Google isn't a monolith, nations aren't -- there are obvious unifying policies in any organization but overall every organization is composed of individuals who are free to make their own decisions at some level or another.

Angry Googlers demand bosses pull the wings off 'Dragonfly' censored Chinese search engine

martinusher Silver badge

Its a corporation, not a cooperative

I get the feeling we've been neglecting to tell our children about the facts of life with regard to the nature of work and how it relates to society. Since this isn't the first time I've read this sort of thing maybe we should fill them in with a bit of a history lesson.

First, a primer in the economics of work. Companies make money by making profits and those profits are typically from buying something at one price and selling it at a higher price. People are used to this with stuff in shops but don't realize that their labor is also a commodity that gets bought and sold. A typical employee doesn't have a whole lot of negotiating leverage with a company; some of us are sufficiently highly skilled to have more leverage than others but on the whole regardless of the HR BS you're just a work widget, and a replaceable one at that.

As anyone who's worked for a tech company who's been through layoffs will tell you the Kumbaya "We're all part of the XXXXXX family" comes to a shattering halt when reductions in force happen. That's when you discover that you really are a work widget. Corporations are not democracies, at least not below the executive level, and you don't really get a say in corporate policy. The corporation is also very interested in getting the maximum return on investment out of their work widgets; the only question is how they'll go about it. In the bad old days down the mine it would be a 5 and a half day work week, back breaking toil, dangerous working conditions and a bit of silicosis on the side. These days it might be worked to near death while being closely monitored for signs of slacking at an Amazon fulfillment center. Or it could be a collegiate environment that's made so comfortable that you don't really want to go home. Ever. Do not misunderstand your place, though -- at the first sign of a slowdown it will be back to cheap filter coffee (if you're lucky) and cube farms.

Last, but by no means least, back in the Good Old Days the way work widgets tried to redress the balance of power between them and the company was by forming a union. Companies hate them which is why there's been such a sustained campaign against them in both the US and the UK spanning a generation or more (when they first appeared in the UK the reaction was to pass the Combination Acts which promised free relocation to Australia for anyone participating in a non-religious meeting). They have their place, though, and you never know, the company might be smart enough to co-opt a union representative or two onto the board.

China doesn't need to nick western tech when Google is giving it away

martinusher Silver badge

Re: Welcome to capitalism

> If China wasn't such a repressive and aggressive imperial power...

Oh please! That's such a time worn cliche. China isn't a single entity, its 1.3billion people indulging their version of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" aided by a government that understands the value of investments in both people and infrastructure. Their commercial success isn't anything new, they were running a huge surplus with 'the West' (in this case the British Empire) by the mid-19th century which we tried to fix using military might (the Opium Wars and various incursions by western powers into Chinese territory). We're making the same mistake now -- instead of treating this like a huge sports league where the only way to get -- and stay -- on top is to continually up your game we're still at the 'send in the gunboats' stage.

The constant barrage of propaganda in the media is getting tedious. People wonder why governments have historically low credibility with populations easy prey for populists, the answer is that governments aren't delivering for the people and they're trying to force "2 + 2 = 5" type thought onto the unwilling and skeptical. If we keep this up we will lose (but we'll probably take the world down with us in the process -- nothing like Total War for being good for business).

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

martinusher Silver badge

Re: Huh?

> During the Field Trips, students will create their own digital projects and explore how they can think like an engineer

>Read

I think we all read the blurb but tend to tune out most of it because Engineers -- and I am one ("Bow Ye Before Me, O Mortals") -- tend to tune out marketing BS. Quite frankly if they wanted to "think like an engineer" (presumably not a train driver, BTW) you'd be better off encouraging them to fix their push bike or (for the more motivated ones) figuring out how to attach a motor to it. Or something like that.

But I rather suspect that people aren't really interested in being engineers so much as they want to possess what they think are engineers' salaries. As we all know, the best way to do this -- the one that doesn't involve tedious work or even getting ones' hands dirty -- is to use some nice, clean, shiny, computer to run spreadsheets and stuff so you can tell mere engineers what to do.

Well that's just spliffing: UK Amazon merchants peddling Mary Jane

martinusher Silver badge

Re: What a waste of time

>But must leave the peodo gangs alone because of their ethnicity.

That's old school, like the 12 foot lizards and stuff. I'm sure there are pedophiles around -- active ones, that is -- but I've never gone for active rings, especially political. (Most people are or have been parents at some stage in their lives which throws a wholly different light on sexuality.)

I reckon the cops are short on resources because they're too busy watching the Ecuadorian embassy around the clock at the behest of the Americans. Its all about priorities....

martinusher Silver badge

Even where its legal its not legal

I live in the part of the universe that has legal weed. This doesn't mean "unlimited sales to anyone by anyone", though. Much as I'd like to order by one-click (or Alexa) present law doesn't allow it.

I'd guess these adverts were spoof, not spliff.

Black Friday? Yes, tech vendors might be feeling a bit glum looking at numbers for the UK

martinusher Silver badge

Re: Stop trying to make "Black Friday" happen. It's not going to happen.

My daughter spent a couple of years working in Romania and there she found 'Black Friday' deals on and off from about September.

Importing US national holidays into the UK seems to be the fault of the Chinese. They make all this holiday crap anyway and the US being a much bigger market than the UK it makes sense to try and push Halloween (US version) onto the UK rather than Guy Fawkes Night (or the proper version of Halloween). It doesn't make any sense for the British especially as holidays like Thanksgiving are essentially anti-British (it celebrates the arrival of some people fleeing religious oppression and stuff....which is actually total BS but the US isn't that good at teaching history and every nation needs its creation myths). So turn your back on this sort of thing; anyway, its pointless doing 'Christmas shopping' these days because those that can afford it either don't need it, already have it or can buy it using one-click from Amazon and everyone else can't so they're better off not spending what they don't have.

martinusher Silver badge

Re: Yet to be convinced black Friday makes sense...

>You don't do boxing day???!!!

Its a Canadian thing. (They also have their Thanksgiving in October. On a Monday.)

China examines antitrust probe thrust into Samsung, SK Hynix and Micron: Claims to see 'massive evidence'

martinusher Silver badge

War or Commerce?

Leaving aside the noise and bluster for a minute what you have is a situation where a huge commodity market is essentially split up between three players. Now there's a fourth contender, one that's likely to seriously disrupt the market (as Chinese companies tend to these days). The response is going to be political and legal as everyone jockeys for position in the new order. Complicating things is the belligerent stance by the US government, one that finds it easier to initiate wars than deal with problems (even if the wars cause more problems than they solve because ultimately "wars are good for business").

I'd love to see a US administration that realizes that the way to deal with the Chinese isn't by bluster and bombast but by spending money on education rather than overseas bases to "contain Chinese power". There's obviously got to be a balance between the states but the present administration's approach is crass, to put it mildly, and its destined for failure.

Influential Valley gadfly and Intel 8051 architect John Wharton has died

martinusher Silver badge

Re: History

CP/M -- "Control Program / Monitor" -- was a very simple piece of code that was easy to reverse engineer. Its essentially no different from the monitor you'd use to set up and run programs on your PDP minicomputer. Since everything has a common root its not surprising that it gets copied; I'm pretty sure that if QDOS wasn't available to Microsoft they'd have written their own.

As it happens the CP/M knockoff only lasted for MS-DOS 1.4. The CP/M system calls were rapidly replaced by those knocked off from UNIX for MS-DOS 2.0 and up although Microsoft kept the call mechanism (software interrupt and that A20 wraparound) for years afterwards.

Knocking off code was commonplace at that time. The early IBM-PC clone makers were helped in their efforts by IBM supplying a manual with their PC that included the source code of their BIOS. This code turned up in every clone until IBM noticed and their lawyers put a stop to it (in a rather gentlemanly way by modern standards -- they gave these companies a several month deadline to develop their own BIOS).

martinusher Silver badge

iRMX -- RiP

That little OS was years ahead of its time. Intel had a sort of CP/M it used it its MDS (development) systems but neither the system nor their emulators were up to the challenge of using the architecture of the 286 and beyond. iRMX filled the gap. Too bad that Intel did what they always seem to do with useful products -- they just dropped it.

I also had some contact with Microsoft's code in the early days thanks to their networking support in MS-DOS. The less said about MS-NET the better; my impression of Microsoft's programming capabilities was similar to that in the quote and I've not got more comfortable with their technologies in the intervening 30+ years. Still, software's like pop music -- there's no apparent correlation between ability to play and ability to make money, the key skill is 'showman' with talent being a useful, if secondary, capability.

Microsoft menaced with GDPR mega-fines in Europe for 'large scale and covert' gathering of people's info via Office

martinusher Silver badge

Isn't that what "The Cloud" is all about?

If you work with Office365 then you are effectively working with a web application that's based in the cloud. There might be local storage at a company but its effectively just cached data.

I'm quite sure that the people who designed these products never intended for customer's data to be visible to the company, they just want to provide users with a useful product while incidentally locking them into their subscription business model. The fact that the traffic to their servers, even if encrypted, could give Microsoft an insight into a customer's business isn't central to Office but it could very well become so if there was a business case (or a government warrant) to do so. I'm just surprised that the EU's GDPR wasn't written with cloud applications in mind, it seems to be stuck in the era of floppies and PCs.

Personally, I regard cloud based applications with a lot of suspicion. Its not privacy that's uppermost but rather the idea that they assume a reliable, high speed, low latency network infrastructure -- there's just too many points where the system can fail leading you in the lurch, unable to do anything.

(I also don't get this penchant for shaking down - fining -- large corporations huge sums of money. If you allow your government to get into extortion on a large scale don't complain when they realize that it can be used effectively on a smaller scale. OK. Microsoft is big and bad, I'm no fan of that company and its products, but just turning a blind eye to this because 'they deserve it' or 'they can afford it' really isn't a good idea.)

We asked the US military for its 'do not buy' list of Russian, Chinese gear. Surprise: It doesn't exist

martinusher Silver badge

There is politics and then there is reality

Like with other countries the government is something that we have to put up with rather than something that's useful or helpful. Its been clear for many years -- decades, even -- that they're pretty clueless about what constitutes threats but then with populist politicians driving the agenda, lots of money at stake and not very competitive local companies wanting a piece of the action you'd not expect anything other than confusion.

You can see how this goes down with the recent story about Chinese military hackers stealing billions of dollars worth of secrets from Micron technology. Sounds real scary but you find that what happened is that the Chinese wanted to build a DRAM fab, the company running it didn't have the knowhow so it partnered with a Taiwanese company that does. There's a need to staff up with skilled staff so out come the headhunters who go recruiting in all the obvious places like existing DRAM companies like Micron. This is all normal commercial give and take, its how business is done (and it wasn't too long ago that nobody took any notice of trade secrets and the like). However, once word gets to the Cold Warriors i DC the story starts to sound like a Le Carre novel. Its embarrassing because you know that the real reason why a company like Micron is a bit worried is the same reason we all get a bit worried when we discover that the Chinese are about to enter our line of business --- things are about to get a whole lot harder for us.

This doesn't mean that trade secrets aren't stolen and so on, but then its a naive company that doesn't have people looking at competitors' products, analyzing them, reverse engineering them even (because sure as hell, if your stuff is any good, someone will be picking it apart....)

US China-watcher warns against Middle Kingdom tech dominance

martinusher Silver badge

Re: The Chinese Century

This particular horse has long bolted the stable. The Chinese now know how to make their own stuff.

What's going on in China is not much different from what happened with Japan years ago. Japanese products were considered to be cheap, inferior, knockoffs to British products, which they were for the most part. The Japanese copied, they learned, they made mistakes but eventually they found their stride. Nobody could accuse them of building inferior products these days.

The only solution is to think in terms of sports leagues rather than geopolitics. If you've won the Cup this year then there's only two choices for next year -- redouble your efforts to stay on top or lose out to a competitor. There is no law of Nature that dictates that you stay on top 'just because' -- England found this out over the last century and the US is in the process of learning the same lesson.

BTW -- Its also not helpful to think of Chinese people as intellectually inferior to us Western super-beings. Not only is this a colonial era hangover but if you've had to work with them you'll realize that Chinese people are every bit as smart as we are -- and there are a whole lot more of them than us.

martinusher Silver badge

Re: Oh really ?

>I'm pretty sure that we had (ultrasonic?) TV remotes in the 1960s...

Maybe in the US but infra-red remotes became pretty much standard in the UK by the early 80s, you had to go to America to see TVs with bona-fide channel change dials. The change was brought about in the UK because digital tuners were cheaper to make and you needed something to operate Teletext with.

>But analog signals had poor resolution? Yes, they did.

Actually, not really. Certainly in the US and the old 405 line system in the UK but the 625 analog system had a 6.5MHz luminance bandwidth which actually comparable to a modern high definition set (its difficult to map digital to analog resolution but I reckon you'd need at least 10000 pixels line resolution to get the same kind of analog resolution you could theoretically get from a UK TV set). (Naturally the on-air transmission and color encoding/decoding would knock that back a bit, as would be the limited resolution of the cameras and contemporary recording equipment.)

Between you, me and that dodgy-looking USB: A little bit of paranoia never hurt anyone

martinusher Silver badge

USB memory sticks should be harmless.....

....but for a certain software firm deciding that you just had to automatically run applications based on a file extension "to improve the user experience". Obviously because they had this 'feature' everyone else had to copy it to remain competitive.

This could be a useful illustration of just how screwed up what passes for computing has become these days. Simple, straightforward, solutions to problems get lost, users buy into complexity and suddenly its all voodoo, smoke and mirrors because we can't collectively turn around and say "This crap just isn't working properly, it needs fixing".

Windows XP? Pfff! Parts of the Royal Navy are running Win ME

martinusher Silver badge

Re: Keeping it that way

Funnily enough I've been having an interesting conversation with a chip vendor's marketing person over the last few days about 'the wave of the future' -- the "Industrial Internet of Things". This looks like a nice prize for marketing people but as an engineer I'm a bit more skeptical about putting the equivalent of a web server on everything and anything. It is, as we say in the trade, "asking for trouble".

Anyway, I'm a bit disillusioned with whizzo technology even if I do feed at this particular trough. We've had some wildfires in the area recently which has not only caused inconvenience and (significant) damage but also took out the Internet over a wide area. Also the phone system (because we're all using VoIP....). This is more than a nuisance -- unprepared retailers had to close, unable to process payments, we had only an unreliable cellphone service ("its a mountainous area") to rely on. Rather ironically both the mail and the (print) newspaper were delivered as usual (and I daresay if I still had POTS service it would still work). Instead, nothing worked (Alexa just sat in the corner and sulked all day). That's progress for you. So don't knock the RN for not upgrading all their boxes to Windows10 and putting them all on the one backbone; they've got enough problems as it is without inviting further trouble.

Lucky, lucky, Westminster residents: Who better to look after your housing benefits than Capita?

martinusher Silver badge

Re: Not related

Lucky you. I live in the US where property tax is based on a percentage of the valuation of the property. Round here this means that Mr. Rees-Moog's place would be 1% of the assessed value plus anything extra for bonds or special assessments -- 56K in other words. There are rebates and exclusions and in California there's a restriction that prevents local authorities from arbitrarily revaluing property when they feel a bit short but on the other hand the Trump tax cuts have eliminated the ability to write off this tax against Federal income tax (this wasn't really a giveaway but rather the acknowledgment of a rather old fashioned idea that you should not levy taxes on taxes.)

UK council tax is peanuts which is probably why councils are chronically strapped for cash.

Incidentally, not living in a property doesn't excuse you from paying tax on it.

Cisco swings the axe on permanent staff – hundreds laid off worldwide this week

martinusher Silver badge

Re: Frozit

>If you don't have a house cleaning, you fill up with bottom raters.

...and if you do regular house cleaning you never get to employ good people in the first place. Word gets around and in a skill starved environment where people have choices you as an employer don't get any.

Its obviously difficult to know exactly who was let go and why. Its possible that Cisco had been trying to fill out the ranks with people who have lower skills or less training (i.e. cheaper) so the performance of those groups would be sub par. Its also possible that if they're recruiting in somewhere like India they can be very abusive with their employees (unemployment is so bad, especially among graduates, that there are well organized scams built around bogus recruiters and non-existent jobs). Bottom line is that these kinds of big companies tend to be at the bottom of the list when you're looking for a job -- you hire on if you have to, not because there's any guarantee of a career.

Roscosmos: An assembly error doomed our Soyuz, but we promise it won't happen again

martinusher Silver badge

Re: I can't get the sensor to fit

>When you see that compared to the crudity of people trying to get ring compressors to line up over a piston, you appreciate real quality engineering. The Japanese bikes were never that much better than the British ones, especially when they were both relatively new, but the attention to detail in the assembly is much more obvious with the Japanese one. (They Japanese also seemed to put 'working' as a key criteria for outsourced components such as electrical parts -- they like stuff to be cheap but they regard working as somewhat more important.)

When you compare the service manual for my old Triumph with that for a generic Japanese motorcycle then you immediately understand why the old bike leaks and has had periodic reliability problems (up to and including a broken connecting rod) while the Japanese bike(s) just run. Its not really the line workers that are to blame but the company culture, it sets the tone.

The good news with Soyuz is that the emergency escape system got a good workout and seems to be functioning. Its also impressive that they could find the problem by looking at the pile of bits of crushed and twisted metal (and the telemetry).

Great. Global internet freedoms take another dive as censorship and fake news proliferate

martinusher Silver badge

It all depends on what you call "Freedom" and "Democracy"

Living as I do in the Land Of The Free I get bombarded daily with a lot of news and views about Freedom and Democracy. The official line is that we're the standard bearers of these two great concepts and anyone who doesn't measure up (typically by toeing our line) had better watch out.

The reality is a little more nuanced. Our Democracy, while not quite a sham, is definitely something that can be bought and sold. It was said years ago that "We have the best Democracy that money can buy" and its even more true today. Discussion of political races in the media invariably turn on who's ahead in fundraising, not on candidates' ideas. Politics is dominated by large sums of money, a lot of it 'dark', which is used by interest groups -- not necessarily political parties -- to purchase the services of consulting firms that advance their agendas. Politics is really all about the dollars and as the revelations about the Brexit campaign show, the pounds (actually, I suspect its still dollars since we finance directly and indirectly political campaigns all over the world).

Now, about this "freedom" thing. Different societies have different standards for social conduct and the USA is no exception. China, for example, has a different view of what makes a society to the US. When we complain about their society its typically because we can't buy into it and change it to the way that we'd like (or rather, we'd find most profitable). The Chinese in particular endured about 100 years of Western Freedom and didn't really like it so they're trying to develop their society their own way. Chinese people who don't like it are free to leave -- there are Chinese people everywhere, both visiting and settled -- but I suspect that the majority are relatively happy where they are. We might find it more useful to spend our resources helping countries like Honduras retain their population (rather than trying to make life difficult for them in countries like Cuba and Venezuela) but then anyone who really understands history knows that 'freedom' isn't about personal freedom, its about the freedom of our financiers and industrialists to rape and pillage wherever there's resources and markets to be had.

A few days ago there was an article on CCTV surveillance in China written from the usual "Two Minutes Hate" angle. As anyone who lives in the UK will attest when it comes to 24/7 surveillance the UK has been something of a trail blazer. When it comes to public order enforcement the UK is also at the front of the pack (anyone remember the 1980s, especially now we know what really went on rather than what the government kept telling is?).

This one weird trick turns your Google Home Hub into a doorstop

martinusher Silver badge

So you can kick the device off the network...

I'm probably in a minority when I say "So What?". I'd rather that commands that went to the device without authentication were read-only and (obviously) didn't read sensitive information but provided these commands can't actually do anything they're just a curiosity. After all, the vast majority of people won't be able to hack into a secured network and of those a relatively small subset will be familiar with shell commands like awk.

All these commands do is run scripts in a setup directory. So far the researcher has discovered a couple, they look like the sort of thing that might be used when updating software. Running them would be a nuisance but not a disaster -- what would be a disaster is if you could load your own script or run an action command or two. For me, the real problem is using a web type interface as a command interface, its klunky and inefficient but everyone's doing it because its what they're used to and the alternatives would require learning new techniques.

Worldwide Web wizard Tim Berners-Lee sticks wellington boot into Worldwide Web's giants: Time to break 'em up?

martinusher Silver badge

Ahh, the apprentice Curmudgeon....

As Sir Tim might recall back in the day there was a rather useful news feed service, Usenet. It is architecturally light years ahead of a web based service such as Twitter (it was distributed and free rather than centralized and corporate). It nevertheless became a bit of a disaster area because of flame wars, excessive spamming and it being used as a tool for distributing illicit binaries.

There's no real point in railing against this, its what happens to all resources held in common -- a minority will want to grab as much as they can hold, to spoil what they can't hold and generally screw it up for everyone else (even if its just to prove they exist -- "Hey, I can spray paint my initials (badly) on that wall"). I can't offer a ready solution but in the short term filtering keeps the noise down. Meanwhile, if Sir Tim is at a loose end we desperately need a new Web, one that's more efficient in computing and communication resources and preferably lacks any facility for so-called 'push' technology (and doesn't use any of those Dynamic Web technologies that have evolved like dry rot -- I'll take my Web pages 'boring', please).

Jeez, not now, Iran... Facebook catches Mid East nation running trolly US, UK politics ads

martinusher Silver badge

Anyone heard of Dark Money and SuperPACs?

This kind of thing is silly to the point of being puerile. American politics is dominated by large amounts of money washing around SuperPACs, money that's not regulated and which our beloved Supreme Court has ruled is OK to keep its source secret.

So we can have gobs of money washing around SuperPACs, we can spend freely on influencing others' elections but Heaven Help Us is someone spends $100 on a Facebook ad.....its the End Of Democracy As We Know It.

Forgotten that Chinese spy chip story? We haven't – it's still wrong, Super Micro tells SEC

martinusher Silver badge

Its the information deficit in action

I read an interesting article this morning about how the media we read is inherently biased against progressive ideas. Its a long read -- and I haven't got the reference to hand -- but the gist runs something like the media can make a big deal of Clinton's Email server (for example) while completely ignoring the wholesale use of private mail accounts by members of the current administration. Its a current that runs through much more than politics and leads us to Supermicro. Anyone who's 'in the trade', as it were, would tell you that this story was somewhere between 'highly unlikely' and 'total bullshit'. However, because it runs counter to the populist narrative of China this and that we have to pussyfoot around, trying to be as even handed as possible, which in this day and age leads Joe Public to believe that we're either hiding something or we don't know what we're talking about. We -- experts, progressives, whatever -- just can't do conspiracy theories right.

This has been brewing up for some time, a generation or more. Look at the themes in movies over the last 30 years or so and the underlying message is always the same. It might have been harmless fun at the time but now its the foundation of the reality we have to live with.

Break out the jelly and ice cream! Microsoft's Small Basic turns 10

martinusher Silver badge

What took them so long?

Microsoft first appeared as a vendor of BASIC, it was pretty much the de-facto standard for all machines in the late 70s/early 80s. The first editions of PCs had Microsoft's GWBASIC built in, its what the BIOS booted to in the absence of a disk operating system (or, more accurately, disk drives). Years later two vendors offered versions of BASIC that supported Windows, one being purchased by Microsoft and becoming the Visual Basic that we all know.

BASIC -- "Beginners All purpose Symbolic Instruction Code" -- had its place in the early history of computing but even in the 1970s it wasn't thought to be a very good language to start beginning programmers on. (The fact that it was often used to teach programming just meant people had to unlearn everything they learned from their BASIC course.)(Although to be fair, VB does do away with most of the really nasty features of BASIC proper.) There was an attempt to build a language system purpose designed for education -- LOGO -- but I'd guess that it being too close to abstract languages and not tightly integrated with the OS du jour (Windows) meant that it wasn't going to go anywhere.

Anyway, this does explain why a lot of newly minted programmers are useless ("until retrained") and so much of modern applications script code is crap.

Bad news: Juniper to pass Trump's China tariffs onto customers. Er, good news? It'll be about 4%, says CEO

martinusher Silver badge

Re: Amazon are basically doing a cash-in-hand 'discount' via tax avoidance

You're mixing up laws and tax practices from different countries.

Amazon, like all on line suppliers, benefited from a state sales tax exemption for on-line businesses in the US. These days are long past, we now pay state and local sales taxes on Amazon's sales.**

The situation with regard to VAT in Europe should be the same -- VAT should be collected at the rate prevailing in the country where the customer resides. If the situation differs, you get to pay VAT at a different rate because the order is nominally fulfilled in a country that's got a lower tax rate, then that's a problem for the EU's governments that needs fixing.

(**Sales taxes can vary by county, not just by state. Purchases are tied to your home address. Obviously tracking this doesn't make any sense for day to day purchases but large ticket items such as cars are assessed depending on where you live -- there's no going to the next town to avoid paying your local sales tax.)

Facebook, Google sued for 'secretly' slurping people's whereabouts – while Feds lap it up

martinusher Silver badge

You have a phone, people know where you are

Its really that simple. Google and Facebook are using information that's inherent to the operation of all mobile devices. So -- if you think the Feds are getting your location from them, that's second hand data, its easier to just get it from the service provider.

You can't turn it off because unfortunately that's how the equipment works. Your equipment might like to give you the illusion of privacy because its easier to do this than try to explain to people what's going on and why.

Is this cuttlefish really all that cosmic? Ubuntu 18.10 arrives with extra spit, polish, 4.18 kernel

martinusher Silver badge

Re: Modern Interface, and other stupid comments

A fine post, Logics. I'd like to add something.....

A lot of development work runs under a customized Eclipse based platform that's supplied by chip vendors. This platform runs a combination of scripts, custom utilities and GNU tools and, being Java based, is largely agnostic of the GUI environment. The tools, being for the most part command line, aren't interested in the GUI environment as well. The real differences are when you switch between Windows and Linux. Since the tools are effectively Linux based, not native Windows applications, they're invariably run using Cygwin. Here the deficiencies of the Windows environment show up in innumerable small ways due to legacy issues with file separators and the like, a really weird user model, hit-and-miss USB implementations, rouge interactions with anti-virus programs and so on. People cope with this because Corporate invariably specifies Windows because the be-all and end-all of their work environment is Office and they're the "decision makers".

I'd suggest that the big mistake Linux distributors have made over the years is imitating Windows. They assume they're going to compete with it, to convert 'Corporate' to using this platform. It isn't going to happen, at least not in the foreseeable future. The Windows desktop is too entrenched, too familiar and functional to be easily taken down. The rest of the system is, not to put too fine a point on it, total crap. Microsoft have kind of acknowledged it by providing a Linux shell capability but with their typical flair for taking the straightforward and making a pig's ear of it the result is less than perfect. Although people swear by virtual machines the best way to marry Corporate's love of Windows with reality is through a X Server on the Windows desktop -- between that and a couple of utilities like WinSCP and Putty that's pretty much all you need. You just need a spare computer and they'll be plenty of those about since Window's greed for resources obsoletes a lot of perfectly good machines.

Someone's in hot water: Tea party super PAC group 'spilled 500,000+ voters' info' all over web

martinusher Silver badge

Probably Irrelevant

Buried in the news recently was an article about a criminal being busted for identity fraud using information from a database managed by (I think) Experian which will disgorge the necessary information on anyone in the US on request. As a private individual you need to spring for the $1500 a year subscription cost -- law enforcement and government subs are free. The company claims it does background checks on all subscriptions but since they're sold to outfits like debt collection agencies that might have less than honest employees this is probably moot.

Stroppy Google runs rings round Brussels with Android remedy

martinusher Silver badge

Re: "If people dont want android they wont buy it"

>Probably, there were more alternatives to Windows back then...

What got MSFT into the crap was setting up their code so it looked for and degraded the operation of potentially competing software. They continued to annoy people with products that only worked properly inside a Microsoft ecosystem (IE6 was the low water mark). They're not the only company that's tried this sort of thing on but they were the most visible. Google, AFAIK, has never done anything like this. Their products are deceptively simple and 'just work', something that takes a surprising amount of effort to achieve. They don't prevent competitors from entering the market, they just set the bar rather high (which IMHO isn't 'anti competitive').

Decoding the Chinese Super Micro super spy-chip super-scandal: What do we know – and who is telling the truth?

martinusher Silver badge

Let's not go overboard with this.

Unfortunately the conduit for this information appears to be not very technical, we're told vague things about the part that would be worthy of a modern day spy thriller but don't make an awful lot of sense to someone who actually understands these designs. As its been in the boards for a decade or so we have to assume that with its form factor its not going to be anything much more sophisticated than a medium sized EEROM. It could patch code on the fly but that's more theoretical than realistic because there's no guarantee that the code its patching will be stable for an extended period of time.

I'm prepared to dismiss this as disinformation put around by our own intelligence services (who would probably love a capability like this but they really have one already in the form of the Management Engine. I'm also used to seeing Bloomberg being used as a conduit for this sort of information -- we normally think of them as a financial site but for a long time now if you wanted a story about Russia or China planted in the media they seem to be one of the 'go to' publications.

What is particularly worrying about this is that the overall picture I'm getting these days of our technical capability is that we seem to be losing it. I'm seeing more marketing and less technology, stories about wonder weapons, mystery capabilities of real and imagined enemies, all dark paranoia and no real technology. This dovetails rather nicely with my perceptions of industry -- obviously the picture's not all bad but in general there seems to be a dumbing down as skilled people age out and are not replaced (or replaced by people with a very different set of skills). This may end up being the story behind the story; its already old news in the UK but the US....

AI engines, Arm brains, DSP brawn... Versal is Xilinx's Kitchen Sink Edition FPGA

martinusher Silver badge

FPGAs have been around for a very long time

For at least 25 years, and before these we had CPLD and PAL devices.

There have always been complex FPGAs out there - Xilinx used to have a part that had a couple of

PowerPC cores in it, for example -- but for many of us the search isn't for the ultimate box of logic, we look for inexpensive, capable, parts that have good software support. Those Xilinx FPGAs were about $1K each, definitely in the prototype/aerospace budget realm. In real life once the part gets into double digits everyone's looking at it critically. That's because FPGAs are used for products that have small to medium production runs. They allow you to create complex products, products that can have bug fixes and enhancements over the lifespan of the product. since the program image can be managed like any other firmware component.

Like the PowerPC its possible to add other hard subsystems into a FPGA if the demand warrants it. These subsystems can be made a lot more compact and so run a lot faster than the same logic implemented on the FPGA.

Free for every Reg reader – and everyone else, too: Arm Cortex-M CPUs for Xilinx FPGAs

martinusher Silver badge

Re: What are they used for

>Excuse my ignorance, but what can this be used for in the real world?

See my post about servo drive coprocessors. FPGAs are actually really useful for small and medium volume industrial equipment, anything that needs an intelligent subsystem that might have custom peripherals. FPGAs themselves replace most discrete logic; these parts are extremely capable; typically their main design limitation is that you run out of input / output pins.

You can actually run Linux on a FPGA based processor but you don't usually do this because its not an efficient use of logic resources, if you want an actual computer rather than an embeddable processor then you're better off using a processor subsystem SoC like the device used in a Raspberry Pi.

martinusher Silver badge

Does the word "Microblaze" ring a bell?

Xilinx have a soft processor for their FPGA lines, its been around for decades. Its a fairly generic RISC they call "Microblaze". Along with the processor they supply a lot of different peripherals so its possible to build quite a complex system on a FPGA. For example, we use them as communications coprocessors for servo drives -- you can pack a processor, UART(s), network interface (which could be the rather complex Ethercat interface), CAN peripheral, and various bits of RAM (dual port and standard) and still have room for things like encoder interfaces.

Xilinx isn't the only company offering processors. I think everyone does -- I know Altera and Lattice do -- and they offer both the more comprehensive 32 RISC and a simple 8 bit device. Some of these devices can be quite cheap; Lattice's parts in particular are too cheap to bother turning into ASICs unless you're in the toy business or something like that.

Microsoft liberates ancient MS-DOS source from the museum and sticks it in GitHub

martinusher Silver badge

Re: "a bunch of engineers in some US uni"

That's what you get for being first out the gate.

As it happens, I learned to program and worked fist as a programmer in the UK before transitioning to the US in the early 80s. I don't recall any difference in the keyboards because back then all small computers were coming from the US.

I have used source code from many different countries and you're right that English is by far the most common language used in programming. One set of modules suggested an alternative, though -- C++ with German comments........what a combination!

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