* Posts by Milton

724 posts • joined 14 Jun 2016

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Core blimey... When is an AMD CPU core not a CPU core? It's now up to a jury of 12 to decide

Milton Silver badge

It's the performance, stupid

Several BTL posters have already made the point: there is no watertight definition of what constitutes a separate CPU core, and certainly not one that wouldn't have had to be changed every 10 years or so in the last 40 years. Those of us who bought AMD CPUs some years ago (a FX-9590 is outputting these words right now) were, by virtue of their choice, somewhat tech-savvy and entirely capable of asking themselves about how and why AMD's architecture was the correct fit for their needs. For one thing, you'd have had to factor in water cooling, which tends to focus the mind wonderfully. (In my case, I was working on molecular modelling for a then-client and needed a zippy CPU with specific qualities for orchestrating a bunch of GPU routines; done a crypto project since then, for which it has also been useful: but others, I daresay, will have been looking at gaming and wotnot. Either way, my workstation still blasts along at 5GHz—and hasn't, fingers crossed, sprung a leak.)

So of course it comes down to performance. Did the 4/8 core CPU justify whatever benchmarks and marketing were advertised for it? Can we say that the putative bottlenecks genuinely, generally and significantly reduced the system's performance below what should have been expected from a more independent 8-core implementation?

My own experience makes me sceptical, as I have found the CPU rock solid and even today, eyewateringly fast for my needs, which still sometimes include heavy lifting. But I am not a gamer, and certainly there may be use cases I am unfamilar with where the differences being argued about will have a measurable effect. I don't think, though, that I'd want to be the plaintiff relying on an incremental performance angle in the absence of a universally agreed definition of what constitutes a core ... it's not like saying "This engine was marketed as V8 but I only got a straight four".

You heard the latest Chinese CRISPRs? They are real: Renegade bio-boffin did genetically modify baby twins

Milton Silver badge

It's not the biggest worry

Leaving out the ethics for a moment, it's not the tailoring of individual human (particularly children's) genes that most worries me. (If you carry a gene for a horrible hereditary condition, is it more, or less, ethical to have it removed from your children ...?) I suggest that the genetically-tinkered-child genie is already out of the lamp, and while practitioners and their inevitably wealthy customers may remain out of sight—it's gonna happen. (Within 30—50 years we will begin to talk about the suspicious perfection and notably slow ageing of a few billionaires' children.)

No, what troubles me more is how easy it is becoming for people to perform gene-level bioengineering. Every technology humanity creates can be used for good and for evil. The only thing preventing us from nuclear terrorism is the excruciating difficulty of getting hold of fissile material. Give an engineering / physics undergrad a couple of kilos of weapons-grade plutonium and s/he could design and build a crude, dirty and dreadful Bomb. Our species is extremely lucky that making weapons-grade fissiles is so very, very difficult and expensive that even nation-states struggle with it.

The same is rapidly becoming untrue, though, where biotech is concerned. It seems plausible that within five or ten years, anyone who passed A-level chemistry or has, say, a fair understanding of biochemistry and some brains, will be able to tinker with viral and bacterial pathogens. Bear in mind a tailored organism isn't limited by the way evolution works. Evolution, by its very nature, tends not to reward pathogens which damage hosts too much or too quickly. The fact that viruses must propagate acts as a self-limiter, of sorts, on their worst characteristics.

A tailored bug, though, is a different beast. It could be designed for (1) selectively attacking victims bearing specific genes, (2) a lengthy incubation and prodrome period, becoming infectious, with harmless-seeming cold-like allowing symptoms facilitating liberal aerosol and tactile contagion, (3) abrupt transition to lethal symptoms, (4) strong resistance to antibiotics and anitviral agents, and (5) very slow mutation rate. A Frankenstein superbug bearing the genes and abilities of many others, living only a few million generations while it rampages.

The rise of ignorant populism has fostered a huge increase in racial hatreds, bigotry, intolerance and all manner of general-purpose stupidity. How do we know that some bitter redneck with a chemistry degree working out of a shack in Bumfuck, Alabama, isn't educating himself about genetic tailoring of bugs, one day to travel the world, Twelve Monkeys-style, releasing a super-virus intended to infect only those with genes for dark skin? Who can imagine what might happen when the imbecilic hatreds of racism meet 'easy' technologies enabling genetic modification of pathogens?

We fret about control of fissile materials; we worry about 3D printing of gun components; and we're twitchy about editing of human babies' genes; what are we doing about the real, horrifyingly dangerous opportunities opening up ahead?

PS Why did the post about GM IP abuse get a downvote, I wonder? Does anyone seriously doubt that the main motivation to push GM comes from corporate greed? Do you seriously think that Monsanto wouldn't, if it were able to, create an "improved" oxygen isotope they could patent, then buy some politicians to ensure its replacement in Earth's atmosphere, ultimately to charge everyone for breathing? The story of GM is about supplanting publicly available seeds farmers can get free and by cultivation, with something else that can be used to make money. The long-term risks to the environment of large scale GM monocultures are terrifying. And it's all in the name of greed.

Why do you think such shockingly useless, manifestly unintelligent politicians as Owen Paterson try to hide the sources of cash for their propaganda junkets?

DNAaaahahaha: Twins' 23andMe, Ancestry, etc genetic tests vary wildly, surprising no one

Milton Silver badge

Contamination?

I don't understand the confected debate over whether the sisters are identical (genetically so). The article explicitly states that they are, and—

"Boffins at Yale university, having studied the women's raw DNA data, said all the numbers should have been dead on."

—should leave no room for doubt. We may assume that the scientists were looking at properly collected DNA samples in a professional lab environment. Against that, some Reg readers' assertions about what they think they see in a photo displayed on a screen don't count for anything. The statement about height is particularly daft: nutrition, childhood illness and predilection for exercise cause significant changes to body form, and anyway ... maybe one of them was wearing heels for the photo?

As for why the results differ so much, one wonders about contamination. If the collection method is really as coarse as "spit in a bottle", why are we surprised there is DNA contamination in the samples? Sister A had a bacon sandwich; B had just washed her mouth with Listerine. (Or whatever. I won't be explicitly indelicate, but there are ways in which a mouth could become very confusing as a source for casual genetic sampling.)

I assume a much less "contaminable" process would mean taking a blood sample, or perhaps a speck of subdermal tissue, where other DNA cannot be? Your mouth is teeming with all sorts of junk ....

US midterms barely over when Russians came knocking on our servers (again), Democrats claim

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Microsoft partner portal 'exposes 'every' support request filed worldwide' today

Milton Silver badge

Before anyone asks—

Before anyone asks—

—the 2.7818x10⁶ submission titles including the terms "f***ed", "again", "Dynamics 365", "dreadful", "inconsistent" and "b****y hopeless" do in fact belong to me.

Plus, if any of the actual tickets' content becomes exposed, I accept responsibility for several thousand which include phrases along the lines of "What were you THINKING?", "Incredible design stupidity", and one particularly anguished cri de coeur alleging "Coding outsourced to Crotobaltislavonian retards with chronic bilateral frostbite"

The few remaining complaints about shoddy code and avoidable screwups obviously belong to other happy Microsoft victi customers.

⁢⁡

⁢⁢ A paltry ~4x10⁷⁰

Oh snap: AWS has only gone and brought out its own Backup

Milton Silver badge

"It frees the staff to genuinely innovate ..."

Someone BTL wrote about the vritue of having Hadoop (in this case) on the "cloud" to free up folks from administrative chores because

"It frees the staff to genuinely innovate ..."

—which is true in principle, but the word "innovation" is actually almost universally misused.

Speaking to developers, engineers and designers from aerospace to software, let me ask you to give me an honest answer: how many times have you truly innovated something—something imaginative, fresh and new, not resembling or based on prior work and art, something which might even be genuinely deserving of a proper patent?

The answer for almost all of us is: Never. In my entire life (second career, where I moved from uniformed life to electronics and then computing 1992-onwards) I have occasionally solved problems others hadn't (hadn't: not couldn't) maybe four or five times and only one of those might conceivably have been patentable (a seemingly novel use of a phased locked loop, if you're interested, which because it ultimately seemed deducible to me, I couldn't be arsed to try to secure as IP). I've designed and written software from 6502 ASM through Ada and C++ to PHP and Python, for things ranging from stuff that arrives with a bang, boring machines, websites, heavy high-volumec integration to databases and you name it—a trajectory not so very special or different from many others here, I'm sure—and even 95% of the most intractable problems were solved by looking for examples elsewhere. We all learned an age ago that the wheel has been invented and refined and that if you poke around, your "uniquely difficult problem" has, in fact, already been solved by someone else.

The truth is, we do not innovate. We incrementalise. Just like aerospace, where people yap on endlessly about "innovation"—and yet when you actually look at its history since the B707 of the 1950s, you realise progress has actually been a very slow and cautious incremental adoption of newer technologies, materials, fabrication techniques, design methods and engineering processes. The nearest thing to true innovation was Concord: the rest has all been slow and painstaking tiny improvements (understandably, given the costs and risks involved). Even SpaceX (a great "innovator"?) is merely doing things first suggested over half a century ago, enabled now by miniaturised computing power and a giant pile of cash. The last really innovative idea in space was Orion/Daedalus in the early 60s, a system that could have put huge self-sustaining colonies on Mars and opened the entire solar system in a decade, which we turned away from even now, because fallout might cause one or two extra thyroid cancers a year in the worlwide population.

The point of this? Let's stop pretending tech is full of innovative geniuses inventing radical new ideas and gadgets. It isn't. We aren't. We are, as ever, crawling towards doing things slightly better this year than last, while frequently backsliding into expensive, swampy backwaters like "cloud" because we are lazy and beancounters have a maximum planning horizon of 12 months.

As an exercise for the reader, I leave this provocative conjecture on the page: "The arrival of universal very high bandwidth anywhere-to-anywhere communication (the 56kB+> internet) has actually been a cultural, political, educational and innovation-hostile disaster for humanity. Discuss."

.

"proper patent", i.e. outwith of USPTO practice and current unfit-for-purpose US patent law

Facebook's pay-for-more-eyeballs shtick looks too good to be true: Page views, Likes from 'fake' profiles

Milton Silver badge

The open secret

The open secret is surely that internet advertising is a vast waste of money, and that advertisers have very little idea, in the ocean of dross and uncertainty, what works and what doesn't.

1. Most of us know that "targeting" and "personalisation" are garbage. The closest I ever get to it is seeing a ton of ads for something I already bought months ago. usually the stuff thrown at me is irrelevant twaddle. And if I've already decided not to buy something, a cheap shitty ad is not going to change my mind: more likely just cause irritation.

2. The level of fraud is staggering, and consumes huge wads of cash. FB and Google and the rest have no incentive to prevent this: so they just make empty gestures while doing as little as possible.

3. The ads themselevs are simply terrible. When's the last time you saw a quality, interesting, engaging, even funny advert on the net? The net may be the only advertising medium where the quality is even worse than that infinite slurry pit of all cretinism known as radio. Usually one laughs at an ad only because it is even more risibly pathetic and amateurish than the others.

4. Marketurds, who are fundamentally paid liars, are not in their job because they are committed to honesty (or even particualrly bright: it's a third-rater's job if there was one). They are, in short, the very last people to either recognise dishonesty elsewhere, or to know what to do about it if they did. People whose very purpose is to deceive are themselves the easiest to deceive.

It's a cesspit of superficial, vacuous shyte, dishonesty and greedy cynicism—and the perfect exemplar of our times.

Germany has a problem with the entire point of Amazon's daft Dash buttons – and bans them

Milton Silver badge

Total rot

Amazon's response is total rot, and as daft as the button. If people really want to indulge in quick ordering, they can use any device with a screen to do so, and that procoess can (a) display availability (so you can be sure you'll get what you asked for), (b) display the correct price (so you'll know what you're gonna pay), and (c) display a Confirm Order or similar button, to get positive assent to the purchase once (a) and (b) have been made clear.

Given that Amazon is just one of several organisations encouraging customers to install surveillance devices in their homes, some of which are already sporting small cheap touchscreens, there can be no argument in favour of the "button". Most users—if they are really so pathetically lazy and gullible as to want this facility—will be using multiple "buttons" and would find it more convenient, to use a single device anyway.

Indeed, it's perfectly possible to make purchases with positive confirmation using just a mic-&-speaker device.

The "button" is there to exploit fools, and the German courts are dead right.

Huawei and Intel hype up AI hardware, TensorFlow tidbits, and more

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If you've been dying to run some math on a dinky toy quantum computer, IBM may have something for you

Milton Silver badge

It's not a 900lb gorilla ...

It's not a 900lb gorilla ... but I think it may be a Schrödinger feline. And it deniably exists at Ft Meade. NSA has always had beyond-cutting-edge stuff in its basement, both in terms of knowledge (still routinely hoovering up some of the smartest math talent on Earth) and hardware. Extremely motivated and gushingly funded, NSA can buy and, more importantly, build whatever it likes. It can buy, or by nature of its activities, steal whatever IP it wants. Furthermore, as a kind of icing on the cake, it can keep its best toys secret, on pain of dark, deep federal sanctions.

My point being that if you really want to know the most advanced status and capability of quantum computing right now, you'd have to ask NSA. And they sure as shinola will not tell you.

It is frustrating, I guess, to speculate about advances in stuff like QC, or even computing, comms and crypto generally, and know that out here we are probably at least five, more likely 10 years behind the best that has been achieved. But this has been true with respect to NSA since at least the 1960s and I don't expect it to change any time soon.

Does anyone who knows the field care to make an educated guess about What Lies Beneath ...?

Ministry of Justice abandons key plank of £280m IT project

Milton Silver badge

IT, fostering delusions since 1977

If you wanted a large new two-storey extension on your house, would you (a) produce a sketch of its roof on a napkin today, with some notes on how the windows will look, in the expectation that bricklayers could start being 'agile' tomorrow; or (b) be dumbstruck with horror that the builder turned up without a detailed plan, analysis of underlying soil, architectural diagrams, quantity surveys, TL&M costings, planning permission, safety protocols and a detailed project plan with dates, tasks, resources and critical path assessments?

For some reason people have this extraordinary delusion that because software isn't material, it is in some way ineffably mutable and magical, and that you can, for computers, build fiendishly complex, important, integrated, interdependent and expensive systems without knowing exactly what you want, and without having foundations, architecture, design, costings, resource planning, project planning and contingency. We're all aware of the senior management idiot who thinks, because he once copied&pasted an Excel macro, he knows everything that matters about software development (one of those "How difficult can it be?" idiots, usually a fool who thinks it is a sign of cleverness to admit he doesn't understand detail) but this attitude goes far beyond lazy executives and bean-counters: it seems almost endemic.

Here's a thought for anyone, government or otherwise, contemplating a non-trivial software project: if you do not devote at least as much attention to analysis, planning, costing and resourcing to the project as you would to the purchase and erection of a home extension, forget it: it's going to fail. Expensively.

Anyone (read: software consultancy saleslizard) who tells you it's all going to be easy, that the business can decide what it really wants as things go along, that you can take it easy while magic transforms poorly considered requirements, often wrong in critical detail, into useful software ... they're a paid liar, and you're a fool to believe a syllable of his shtick.

Do you think anyone but a born imbecile would entrust, say, a commercial airliner's operating sytems, to 'agile' development?

There's a reason we use 'agile' only very carefully, within tightly bound limits, employing the best people on small projects of well-defined scope. To hear it mentioned in the context of major public investments on critically important systems—no wonder it's another disaster.

If you have a major software development costing as much as a 300-foot railway bridge, maybe—just maybe—you should consider learning some lessons from how good bridges get made? And stay up?

Agile: applying faddish, laziness-inspired 'methodology' in deferring the hard work of analysis and understanding of details, and delaying the realisation of disastrous malfunction and wastage—until it's too late.

AT&T (sucks) upgrades folks to 5G (Evolution) that isn't actually 5G

Milton Silver badge

I rest my case

I know it seems unkind to refer to an entire class of employees in a disparaging way, but I'll defend my habit on the grounds that calling people out for destructive and dishonest behaviour is a damn sight more justifiable than doing so because of some cosmetic irrelevance like skin colour.

Thus I will continue to refer to Marketing ProfessionalsPaid Liars as Marketurds. It has become a despicable activity, often second only to politics for its incubation of the worst of human character: squalid, shabby, dishonest mediocrity.

Too, I wonder if AT&T have an HR practice of checking the accuracy of prospective employees' CVs? Will they ask Joe-Management-Candidate what his degree from Oxford means—the line that says: Physics B.ScE?

I guess they won't mind if he replies that 'E' means 'ended prematurely*'. 'Cos it wouldn't be considered an outright lie, intended to mislead for gain, would it?

*Went backpacking after three weeks of the first semester.

Terms and Conditions Apply / All the above was a lie.

I'm just not sure the computer works here – the energy is all wrong

Milton Silver badge

"rear-engined planes"

I always preferred travelling in the rear-engined planes, 1-11s rather than Tridents. They were so much quieter.

Nitpicky, but the Trident was a rear-engined plane, only with three engines rather than the two of the BAC111.

I remember Trident well from my youth: could have been a world-beater, but as usual it was screwed up by imbecile British politicians, with a helping hand from BEA/BOAC (who together also managed to bugger up the chances of the even better VC-10, which was a fab plane to fly in). Post-childhood, I got periodically shuttled around facing backwards in VC-10s, and its hot'n'high performance made for some exciting takeoffs if the crabair crew were in the mood. Does the VC-10 still hold the record for fastest subsonic airliner transit across the Atlantic?

Anyway, I agree rear engines were a boon, but those were the days of noisy engines: Conways were loud and a bit smoky ISTR.

(All time favourite: Lockheed L1011. Did a few transatlantic flights in the 80s and I fell in love with the Tristar.)

Dark matter's such a pushover: Baby stars can shove weird stuff around dwarf galaxies

Milton Silver badge

One undisputable property of "dark matter" ...

One undisputable property of "dark matter" ... is that it is slippery. Yes, tongue is in cheek, a bit, but you can't deny that ever since galactic rotation curves set a red flag waving, giving rise to the dark matter conjecture, it has been a very slippery customer. I'd submit that it's still not much better than a conjecture, given the complete lack of direct observation and the consequent speculation as to what, if anything, might constitute dark matter. Axions? Another flavour of neutrino? An additional generation of particles still missing from the Standard Model? While variations on MOND are successively succumbing to observation, none of those failures goes an inch further in explaining what dark matter actually is.

Dark matter is the least bad explanation out there, but only because we think we know that gravity obeys strict laws (and the best evidence so far says it does); that the presence of mass is what gives rise to gravity (again, so far so good), and therefore that where we see otherwise unexplained gravitational effects there must be mass we cannot see. So of course it's dark mass, or matter. But it's worth remembering that mass is a property many particles don't even have; that we don't know the fundamental reasons underpinning how and why bosons interact (we can only say that they appear to follow mathematical rules requiring multiple extra dimensions to be calculable); that the vacuum catastrophe is just one among several phenomena telling us that we still don't understand some very fundamental things (along with various constants; the absence, so far, of proton decay, etc etc); that, in short, we're a long way from being able to say "This is the only possible explanation".

While I agree that this provides fertile ground for the god-of-the-gaps cranks and luminiferous ignoramuses (some of whom appear have manifested themselves here today) the real lesson is surely that we should be very cautious when venturing into cosmological alleys lest they become (a) accepted wisdom, and then (b) blind.

FWIW I suspect we won't have real understanding of fundamental physics until we can properly explain black holes. For me they are the 4MꙨ gorilla in the room: enigmatic, dangerous, brutally difficult to comprehend ... yet holding all the answers.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon shows up at pad 39A, nearly 8 years after the last Shuttle left

Milton Silver badge

Branding B0110x

The naming for some of the tech is worth a chuckle, I agree, but surely the award for Most Egregiously Inflated Testiculation¹ goes to Virgin Galactic—it has the most yoogest bigly name ("galactic") yet it is the least serious and useful of any of the current "space" endeavours, being unable even to get into orbit. It just flies up, makes some rich halfwits sick—just as Nasa's "Vomit Comet" has been doing for half a century—and then (we hope) at least occasionally brings them back alive to get a I Are Big Astronut badge fresh from Dickie's cereal box. What a pity the money is being wasted on such a pointless stunt when it could be invested in real spaceflight.

(And yes, you have to hope the DoD sups with an even longer spoon where Boeing is concerned ... the revolving door has never yet resulted in a better plane or a better deal for the taxpayer. That said, it's hard to imagine to glee in Moscow and Beijing as they watch America's air power steadily commit Suicide By F-35: Lockheed are even worse than Boeing.)

¹ I saw "testiculation" defined as "Waving one's hands while talking bollocks": sums up the Beardie-inspired Virgin management culture to a tee.

Boffins manage to keep graphene qubits 'quantum coherent' for all of 55... nanoseconds

Milton Silver badge

Re: It's only resonance

Re: It's only resonance "Well someone had to bring this thread down into the gutter"

The conciseness of your response to such sophomoric drivel is probably very wise. Once again I'm reminded of a saying that's become popular in this world of anonymous idiots:

"Don't wrestle with a pig. You get filthy, but the pig enoys it."

The Great British Curry: Put down the takeaway, you're cooking tonight

Milton Silver badge

Not so fast, there

This puts me in mind of Jamie's 30-Minute Meals Jamie's 60-Minute Meals Jamie's Two-Hour Meals, where you just double every timing estimate given in the recipe to achieve the actual, real-world preparation and cooking time. Yeah, I grant you that Jamie has an army of off-camera assistants, and that in this case you've prepped some stuff ahead of time and are trying to cater for inebriation, but these things always run up against the brick wall of reality: you need a pan hotter than most Brits ever cook with (they just don't get the idea of a full-on pre-emptive thermonuclear spice fry) and anyway, who's going to get that right when they are pissed?

It's a great plan for the dedicated, experienced and relatively sober: but it will not execute well when attempted by hasty, drunken laymen.

Plus, I really do think that once you've exhausted the entertainingly chatty style (aka El Reg Traditionally Labored Humour™), the article should include the typical simple, concise recipe: ingredients, prep and cook instrux in proper order.

Curmudgeonly Yours, &c. ;-)

London Gatwick Airport reopens but drone chaos perps still not found

Milton Silver badge

How many drones does it take ...?

One the one hand a DCS says that because the police have only eye-witness accounts (nothing photographic) it is conceivable there were no drones at all. Whereas I hear DoT claim there is at least one bit of video footage. A dead drone is found near the airport, but dead drones lost in out-of-the-way spots are common now anyway. We were told these were "large commercial-type" drones early on, later to hear that actually no one really had a clue what kind they might be. It's all very uncertain, isn't it? In fact, it began to smell like a dodgy kipper at least four days ago.

It occurs to me that one drone seen by 40 different people can easily become many drones. That near a very busy airport with big jets (even A380s fly from LGW) the "multiple sightings near a runway" (very hard to judge range, so "near" could mean "hovering over the threshold" or "500 yards beyond") causes justifiable concern, followed by the old abundance-of-caution reaction. That the possibility of a twinjet at MTOW losing an engine to FOD on climbout turns "abundance" into "excessive" for perfectly understandable reasons. That pretty soon, in crappy winter weather and short days, everything from a seagull to a floater in your eyeball becomes a drone. That confirmation bias kicks in, plus folks excitedly telling each other that they just saw another one ... a single sighting turns into a fleet of X-Wings en route to the Death Star.

Pretty soon an early Xmas present unwisely but innocently used once by a clueless teenager becomes a national disaster.

A few reasons why cops haven't immediately shot down London Gatwick airport drone menace

Milton Silver badge

Web-a-goo

I am still dumbfounded that the idea of an anti-drone dropping a web-of-goo hasn't been fast-tracked. One big problem with bringing drones down is the risk of debris or an entire drone falling on a person or expensive kit. A way to get them down relatively slowly is ideal.

The answer is an anti-drone which flies above the offender, and dispenses a broad fan of quick-setting, expanding goo—like an insulating foam spray, but with more of a tendency to form threads. Enough of this gets sucked straight into the offender's props. On exposure to air it immediately begins setting. It goes from sprayed gloop to nasty, sticky, elasticky consistency in a few seconds and becomes really stiff after about 30 seconds. At first it is like entangling the props in spider's web, before getting increasingly thick and encumbering

You can picture the process. The enemy drone progressively loses prop motion and is forced down, but it is not simply deadweight: the landing, from a few hundred feet or so, is relatively soft.

(It would probably be possible to fire these things from the ground, as proximity-detonated splatter cartridges. But a drone dispenser would seem a practical first step.)

Milton Silver badge

Get your ballistics right

Bullets are not magic. They are slowed down by air resistance. using a small, high-velocity round like a Nato 5.56mm or a slower, civilian .22LR, at the kind of steep angle required to shoot at drones (above about 35°) means the round will have shed all its muzzle energy before its reaches the ground again, about four miles away: it will be travelling at its terminal velocity—about as fast as if you'd dropped this tiny piece of jacketed lead from a plane. It might crack a window. It would sting like hell if it hit flesh. The chances of serious damage to thing or person is remote indeed. People in Crawley would be at far greater risk of being run over. (We're not talking about bigger bullets like 7.62mm or even .50-cal: they're just not necessary.)

As for the crippled drone, (a) every airport conducts routine runway sweeps for debris, and clearing up very obvious drone wreckage is hardly a chore compared with an airport shut for 24 hours, and (b) there are actually very few people exposed to the open air around the airport: the drones aren't flying over Horley or Crawley, they're flying—so we're told—over vast swathes of unoccupied runway and threshold.

The props of a drone are extremly vulnerable, and they are fragile. A few rounds through its blades will drop it like a sack of shit. Possibly the worst case is that the drone slews on the way down and hits a grounded plane. But these are not exactly parked wing to wing across the entire airport, they're mostly stuck at the jetways and on the ramps. That calls for some judgment about where to engage the drone; given the huge amount of open field space around Gatwick, this isn't a hard call to make, surely?

The arguments against using small-calibre rifles to shoot them down just do not stack up.

London's Gatwick airport suspends all flights after 'multiple' reports of drones

Milton Silver badge

What's wrong with .22LR?

Sorry, don't have time to read all comments so I imagine lots of others have the same thought. It's true that firing heavy-calibre rifle rounds at shallow angles can be lethal to people far away (ask folks near Bisley before the butts were increased in height) but you don't need a .50 cal or even 7.62 mm to clobber a flimsy drone. I'd have thought that 5.65mm, or even slower .22LR, fired at any angle above about 35°, would come back to earth at terminal velocity, with all muzzle velocity eaten by air resistance. It might crack a window but you'd have to be extremely unlucky to sustain a wound. I'd guess (and it is a guess) that the chances of a high-angle small-calibre round missing its target and hurting someone are extremely small: people are not crammed cheek to cheek around Gatwick. A cracked window in Horley is about as bad as you'll get. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if a stats analysis would show more risk from a falling drone than from the few rounds needed to cripple it ...

(And what happened to a focussed EMP weapon when you need it? There was an idiot idea floating a few years back to equip police pursuit vehicles with them, to stop fleeing cars. Now at last there is a slightly less stupid use-case ...?)

Is Google purposefully breaking Microsoft, Apple browsers on its websites? Some insiders are confident it is

Milton Silver badge

Means, Motive, Suspicion

I have no idea whether the allegation is true, but it's a bit like the recent story about purported Chinese micro-espionage chips secrely squatting inside motherboards: it checks the Motive and Means boxes and leaves you thinking that if the Evildoer in question isn't guilty, it's probably an oversight on their part

The Chinese government is evil and has both the Motive and the Means to sneak incredibly tiny spychips into kit produced by its tame companies, so it would be reamrkable if it had not been done. It certainly will be, if the rewards are tempting enough. (Hell, you could hide a powerful chip inside an electroclytic capacitor these days; and it won't be long before you can incorporate a useful spy into a component's leads.)

Likewise Google is evil, as large corporates tend to become ("He who loves money can love nothing else", one of humanity's tragic weaknesses along with "Those who crave power are the least fit to wield it") and certainly has both Motive and Means to unfairly, amorally and even criminally disrupt and exploit rivals and customers. So it will, whenever it thinks it can get away with it. Perhaps especially so as pressure grows on it and other privacy-raping entities like Facebook, whose unbridled gree— shareholder value depends so much on exploiting users.

If you think div-bombing web pages is a bit too obvious, look for something that might be done by a Google lickspittle whose cunning and greed exceeds his ethics ... and you'll surely be rewarded.

A minority, I hope, but they exist everywhere: Befehl ist Befehl. I applaud the Googletrogs who have protested about the Chinese gambit, but the fundamental problem is that Google will have no shortage of developers who will take the cash and think it's ok to help a murderous authoritarian regime oppress its citizens. Perhaps the people working on such a heinous venture should be named and shamed?

The Palm Palm: The Derringer of smartphones

Milton Silver badge

Fuss, why ...?

I'm still slightly puzzled by the attention this little gadget is attracting. It must be at least four years ago I acquired a phone-cum-Bluetooth-headset which is genuinely tiny. It was a bit of a gimmick; build quality wasn't great (Chinese) and it died when the battery expanded and pushed the back off—but it worked.

The dormant device is in front of me now. It's 7cm long, about 2.2cm wide and about 12mm thick. It has a full dialler keypad, μUSB and a midi-SIM slot. It looks very much like any old dumbphone but vastly shrunken. You could use it as a phone in its own right or it would act as a Bluetooth headset for a separate phone; it is so small that with a little plastic loop it hangs directly on the ear.

Like I said, a gimmick, not as useful as I'd thought it might be, but an interesting one at that: and I believe I've seen very similar-looking items in the neon-tat-crap shops on our high street just recently.

So what exactly is the hype about, here? Another device that's a bit too much of a compromise to be useful? Or am I missing something?

Brexit-dodging SCISYS Brits find Galileo joy in Dublin

Milton Silver badge

Re: != Brexit dodging

"Can you imagine the army allowing Huawei to build all its IT infrastructure so long as they got a PO box in Bogner?"

No, but then until it happened I couldn't imagine a right-wing Tory Chancellor actively seeking involvement in a new British nuclear power station (as nationally vital and strategic a high-tech asset as it is possible to imagine) by a demonstrably theft- and espionage-prone, murderously authoritarian, hostile communist China on the one hand and a nationalised foreign energy company on the other (France's EDF). Nor that said practitioner of cruel, appallingly damaging austerity would condone said power station charging eyewateringly high prices for its electricity (that may not ultimately even be needed).

Gidiot Osborne's Hinkley C fiasco is hard to categorise neatly. Monumental hypocrisy? Greed? Political stupidity? Palpably ridiculous naivety?

Or does such a deal exceed even those common descriptors of a Tory Gidiot effort and fall into "If anyone else did this, it would count as treason"?

Contrast the shocking foolishness of Hinkley against the raging fuss about Huawei ... it's hard not to conclude that many politicians are utter, hopeless imbeciles.

Boffins don't give a sh!t, slap Trump's face on a turd in science journal

Milton Silver badge

Missed opportunity

Would have been more fun to take advantage of Trump's comprehensive and wide-ranging ignorance: the 'man' has to be one of the least knowledgeable and dumbest in history to have achieved federal elected office, and in the USA, whose politicians are even more clueless than here in the UK, that is scraping the bottom of a startlingly deep barrel.

I'd have gone for a serious article discussing shit in such a way and using such terminology that a semiliterate layman wouldn't immediately realise that the central topic was, indeed, shit. Then find an excuse to put a flattering picture of Trump on the cover (there has to be one, somewhere ... perhaps captured in soft light on one of the rare occasions when the anus-cum-mouth is not vomiting spite and lies), justified by a vaguely supportive, anodyne caption like "Importance of science in the Trump era" or somesuch.

Now Trump is so egotistically needy that he has concocted fake Time magazine covers of his face to be displayed at his buildings—I mean, how much more pathetic can you get?—so he'll surely want these latest important publications, apparently featuring his imprimatur, prominently framed at his premises.

An enlarged copy of the cover of American Faecal Research Papers IV (headline article: The Effects of Excess Bilirubin Levels on Human Skin Tone), in the lobby of Trump Tower, with the Orange Cretin's face gurning out from it? C'mon, science: there's still time for a Christmas present to the world ....

... nil constipandum.

Apple iPhone X screen falls short of promises, lawsuit says

Milton Silver badge

"Who cares?"

You should care. Apple care enough to make and even emphasise these statements, which are, as the litigation, says, technically untrue. Whether they are untrue enough, in and of themselves, to sway prospective buyers is another matter, and IMHO goes to the heart of the matter. If you buy a technically inferior product because it was marketed as superior, then you have been lied to: you are entitled to compensation and the offending company should be punished.

Consider that on these very pages we were recently discussing the issue of "fibre" offered to ISP customers, and the difference between what the ISPs want you to believe (fibre performance along the whole connection) and the truth (fibre most of the way, but not to the front door, thereby constituting a bottleneck where it matters most and, in many cases, rendering the rest of the fibre somewhat irrelevant anyway).

The regulator, which seems to be very relaxed about marketurds' lies ("unlimited" broadband, anyone?*), justified its inaction over this lying by also suggesting that consumers "didn't care"

If the consumer didn't care, one must wonder why the ISPs make such a meal out of lying about the subject: obviously they think consumers do care, or they wouldn't be lying; and emphasising the lies.

In any event, whether consumers care (translated as, "truly understand the technical differences and the real effect on their experience of the product") should be irrelevant. Regulators exist to protect consumers, especially from their own ignorance. We cannot all be experts in food safety, pixel density, bandwidth or airbags. Companies have strong incentives to lie (greed) and have to be forced to remain honest. Think about VW's lies and deceit: a lot of innocent citizens will die from pollution related illness: Because. Greed.

Claims intended to swing a purchase are absolutely core to this, which is why organisations spend billions on lia— marketing departments. The size of those budgets alone justifies stringent regulation. (Why do you suppose that Big Pharma spends more on marketing than research?)

So yes, Apple should have its feet held to the fire, as should Samsung and the rest: tell the truth, especially when pitching technical stats that are designed to influence a sale. Or else.

* As they breathlessly gabble in imbecile radio adverts—

"Terms-and-conditions-apply-

All-the-above-was-a-lie"

Happy Christmas! Bloodhound SSC refuelled by Yorkshire business chap

Milton Silver badge

The pilot will indeed be courageous and it would be churlish not to feel good for the team who are, after all, trying to do an extremely difficult thing (just one question must be: how the hell do you manage the trans-sonic shockwave while you're still on the ground?!) but I can't see this as being much different from another current venture of basically pointless marketing-oriented stuntery—Branson's Virgin Galactic circus.

Yes, there will be some clever engineering, and some spectacle, and yes some bowels will be loosened (if the folks concerned survive at all) but in truth, much cleverer engineering still is being deployed on other ventures which have a genuinely useful purpose, extending far beyond "Make some headlines".

Virgin Galac— Can't-Even-Get-To-Orbit is a dangerous stunt designed to get ignorant rich idiots to pay a lot of money for shiny little astronaut badges. I'm not going to qualify as a submarine commander by sinking my canoe for 30 seconds, am I?

Not for the first time, it's a bit saddening that so much cash and publicity goes on these fundamentally useless stunts while most people haven't even heard of serious engineering like Reaction Engines, whom I've mentioned before. The leading candidate for single-stage-to-orbit spaceplane operations, right here in Britain, and not a single self-promoting gurning beardie in sight.

Hot on heels of 2.0, Vivaldi 2.2 adds tab session management among other goodies

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It's actually rather good

I'm on the darker end of the Sceptical Curmudgeon Disorder Scale, but I have been impressed by Vivaldi. I came to it by being utterly sick of Don't Be Evil¹, fed up with Firefox, and was hooked by (of all things) the fact that Vivaldi treats zoom scales on a per-page, not per-domain basis: in other words, I can zoom a specific page of (say) a Dynamics instance without every other page belonging to my domain also scaling to the same degree. A small thing, and an absolute blessing.

As I am fond of telling imbeciles¹: the devil is right there, in the detail, every single time.

¹ Cowboy IT "professionals"; senior management; cretin politicians; take your pick ...

Virgin Galactic test flight reaches space for the first time, lugging NASA cargo in place of tourists

Milton Silver badge

Superficial Marketing Tosh = Virgin on the Ridiculous

What a pity all the money Branson is wasting on his "Look how high I can pee" stunt isn't going instead to an outfit like Reaction Engines, who have actual research and serious technology progressing towards a Single Stage To Orbit spaceplane and a hypersonic airliner (both using variants of the amazing SABRE engines).

Instead Branson—absolutely typically for him—is going to exploit a few rich idiots who want "Astronaut" badges to stick on their shirts, many of whom probably don't realise that their free-fall is merely a ballistic-lob artefact, that they're not going into orbit ... not going anywhere, in fact—except "quite high" and then back to the desert.

Sums up the current era, doesn't it? A business like RE, employing serious, dedicated, highly expert engineers to build something truly advanced, revolutionary, useful and necessary has to struggle for funds and publicity; while a self-glorifying huckster shills an entirely useless and expensive stunt to enthral the morons. Also, it's likely to be exceptionally dangerous: the chances of airliner-type safety stats are vanishingly small. Branson's engineers must have told him this: how long does he expect his Buy-A-Really-Expensive-Badge business to work after the first tragedy?

Perhaps to make it poetically modern, Branson, if he survives the first flight, can Twatt from 'space' "Ooh lookie I got my astronut badge—oops" and finish up with a vommicon.

Sounds mean, I know: but look at the technology and the engineering. Things that might be acceptable for volunteer professionals are very much not ok for civilians, no matter how deep their wallets nor how many hundred pages of disclaimers and waivers they foolishly signed. This is not airline-level safety; not even close. (TBH, I'm astonished the authorities are letting this happen. Don't they have experts ...?)

Home users due for a battering with Microsoft 365 subscription stick

Milton Silver badge

Is MS actually trying to drive away savvy users who care about privacy and value for money? Perhaps if your consumer strategy is pretty much based on selling spyware shit to ignorant lemmings, it even makes a kind of sense?

Supernovae may explain mass extinctions of marine animals 2.6 million years ago

Milton Silver badge

Where is everybody?

As more than one scientist has enquired over the years: "Where is everybody?"

Although the supposed equation that purports to tell you the odds of intelligent life in the universe is horseshit*¹, it remains true that even our own little galaxy is enormous, with hundreds of billions of stars that have been around for billions of years: you do have to wonder why we haven't picked up the slightest sign of EM from distant civilisations. Some would surely have been around during the last few millions of years, and at least a few stray seconds of "Tentacles of Doom", a primetime favourite among the Bogglegrophh Slimers of ε-Eridani-IV/2, should have been picked up?

The more we've learned about mass extinctions and their causes, the more a plausible explanation heaves into view: the truth is, the universe at large is incredibly hostile to life and it is astoundingly unlikely that we have survived this long.

Events like the Siberian Trappes outpouring probably killed a large majority of all life on Earth (Permian extinction). Similar things have happened several times. Impactors like the Chicxulub impactor 65Mya, possibly associated with more eruptions, years ago wiped out all big land animals on earth (K-T boundary). A big fast comet sweeping from the direction of the sun could give us only weeks to prepare for civilisation to end. We may be committing species suicide with pollution and warming anyway. A local nova or more distant supernova could sterilise the planet. A wandering black hole or neutron start could wreak havoc. A very distant gamma-ray burster could by chance point right at us. A big CME from our own sun, aimed at us, could cause such upheavals as to bring the world to nuclear armageddon. Even if you exclude all the ways we could kill oursleves, the universe and even our own galaxy is full of dangers. We don't know all of them yet, nor their frequency and likely proximity.

It seems increasingly possible that life almost always gets snuffed out or knocked back, that the evolution of sentience is incredibly rare, and that species achieving it become abe to indulge their greed so well that they kill themselves off soon afterwards, before they can venture far from home.

Perhaps we should look for sentient civilisations not in crowded galactic space, but in very sparesely populated volumes ...?

*¹ You know the kind of thing: "If one in a thousand stars has planets in the Goldilocks Zone; and one in a thousand planets develops life; and one in a thousand evolves sentient tool users ..."—then supposedly there are X,000 intelligent species out there. It's crap because the single critical assumption has no answer. We have absolutely no idea, using our sample of one (Earth) whether, even on a Goldilocks planet, the probability of life is 1:10 or 1:10^40. We know it's possible; but no one knows how likely it is. So the entire "equation" breaks down.( And yes, you may say, "But surely over, say, 100m years, the chances get better?" True, but it makes no difference at long odds. First, 100m years is no time at all for a 1:1^40 chance not to happen. Second, that's 100m years in which a local nova can clean the slate, again.

New Zealand health boards write down losses on Oracle implementation

Milton Silver badge

Re: a troubled Oracle implementation.

"tautology at its redundant best"

Didn't you mean an "unnecessarily, redundantly superfluous tautology"?

That's probably how it would be described in an Oracle manual. I consulted for a while in the mid/late 90s for an company that had recently become an Oracle victim customer, and we used to laugh at the way a single CD would arrive in a box the size of a desktop PC. The whole impression-vs-actuality image was quite telling.

Anyway, hands up anyone who is surprised, even the tinest bit, that public sector procurement and management combined with Oracle competence and efficiency has resulted in anything other than disastrous delivery and ruinous waste.

In 2018, Facebook is the villain and Microsoft the shining light, according to techies

Milton Silver badge

Legislate, regulate

Legislate and regulate—

1. No company to be allowed to store more than operationally required user data. No marketing-oriented analysis or profiling is to be permitted based on any data, ever. User data in any form may not be shared or sold, ever. If you're caught doing it, you will face existentially heavy fines. (Cautious exceptions for clinical, law enforcement reasons etc)

2. Advertising may be targeted by publication but not by user. So, it must conform to the print model: you may advertise horsey things to readers of myhorse.web, but under no circumstances create or publish ads on a per-user basis. Fines, etc.

3. Use of cookies and any other user-recognition systems to be strictly confined to operational purposes (e.g. returning customer). Such data may never stray outside the site placing the cookie. Fines, etc.

4. All software, whether locally or cloud-based, may collect only minimal operational data with minimal essential context, never to include any users' data. All data capture must be by explicit opt-in with prominent ability to cease at any time and permanently.

5. Any company allowing user data to be compromised will be fined according to a scale of data importance and proportion of users affected. Lose 20% of users' data which includes cellphone numbers and email, fine is 10% of turnover. Some redistribution to affected users. Lose 40% of data including credit card details, you're out of business, assets seized, redistributed in proportion to affected users.

6. The web will be rejigged to ensure that all email and any other messaging costs (say) 0.1p/¢, to send. You use email/ Wossapp/Signal/&c., you pay a lump sum per 1,000 messages. The revenue is used to (a) finance the project; and thereafter, (b) fund a globally-based, scientifically-founded, independent, objective, professional fact-checking service which grades websites and apps for news, politics, marketing, blogging, reviewing etc etc, so that any visitor/user can see immediately how factually accurate its information is. A five-star rating will be highly prized. Less than three stars or no rating at all: you're liars and everyone can see it. All methodology, research, stats, analyses to be transparent at all times. (There will of course be £$billions available for this heroic effort.)

7. Anonymity is prohibited. A site wishing to host anon users must apply for a licence and give a very good reason (AA; drugs rehab; repressed minority movements, perhaps). You write an opinionated letter to your newspaper, you've always had to include verifiable name and addess. Why on earth should the net be any different? If you're too cowardly to stand behind what you say, perhaps you shouldn't be saying it.

Good Things That Flow From This Draconian Policy:

✩ No company relying on exploiting your data and selling you in exchange for a "free" service will be able to function. Google, Facebook, Twitter will have to charge an above-board sub. (Google may adopt the email model: pay £10 per 10,000 searches or similar.)

✩ The likes of MS will be confined to collecting only the narrowest of essential data, never, ever user-identifying.

✩ Data loss and consequential loss to users will effectively cease within months.

✩ Spam dies immediately.

✩ Social media uptake falls off a cliff, as does its use and traffic. If it'll cost you an extra £5/month to upload crass, bad photographs of your salad, you'll think again. Who knows, people might even confine themelves to using FB for what they say they like (staying in occasional touch with distant family) instead of what they actually use it for (boasting, bullying, lying, etc).

✩ Noxious websites promoting hate, various *-isms, bigotry etc will virtually disappear. When hate-tard Jimmy English starts peddling lies and nastiness about his brown neighbours, he can no longer hide behind anonymity. Propaganda is pushed back off the mainstream to the dark, dirty corners of the world where it belongs. Haters, bigots, racists, and the rest can crawl back into the muck instead of being gifted a free soapbox. (Even on sites like this we'll have to think twice about what we say ... but grown-up responsibility is not a bad thing.)

Drastic? Yes: for sure.

Reintroducing a long overdue dose of grown-up responsibility into this ever-crazier world? I think so. Humanity needs to return to adult civilised thinking and behaviour: else we're screwed.

'Say hello to my little vacuum cleaner!' US drug squad puts spycams in cleaner's kit

Milton Silver badge

The War on Drugs (by idiots, for idiots) was lost long ago, if you believe its purpose is to combat the illegal drugs trade and reduce social harm. It's rather obviously done the exact opposite. But if its real benefits are the maintenace of a large law-enforcement and security apparatus with huge manpower and budgets (also known as 'means of controlling the population') then it's been a huge success. Behind every self-righteous hypocrite bleating in Congress or Parliament about the scourge of drugs, while fondling those distillers' share certificates in his pocket, lies a government bureaucracy and a hundred little Napoleons just loving their budgets and headcount. It's a form of institutional insanity.

As for the shop-vac, I would guess there was a specific operational environment where (a) significant drug criminality was suspected, and (b) the presence of one or more cleaning devices would have been unremarkable. A large office space, warehouse, institution? This doesn't strike me as a routine procurement of standard issue kit: more like a mission-specific bespoke buy. Look for similar procurements using the same basic idea for different environments. Say ... radio-mics concealed in takeaway food packaging; GPS flares hidden in vapekits; cameras peeking out of innocent-looking wall switches, thermostats, even installed in ceiling lights: your recce team identifies common, harmless looking objects in the operational zone, Q branch ponders awhile, a suit signs off and a procurement request goes out.

PS Why use an existing orifice? The machine pictured looks like its carapace is a black heavy-duty plastic cylinder. So fit a matt-darkened window into a cut-out occupying maybe 30° of the circumference. Disguise it with an innocuous '2,000 Super Sucker Power' sticker (lower, clear half over the window) and you've not only got an unremarkable exterior feature, you have a decent field of pan. Hell, fit out a small production run with the dressing but no cameras, and even the users won't be surprised to see some new go-faster stripes on the rectnyl-delivered Mk17B... the lovely new filter assembly inside, which apparently needs never be opened, explains itself to the curious ... show people a commonplace in keeping with their expectations, they'll never ask a question. (And an industrial vac is heavy enough for no one to notice the extra 8oz of long-endurance battery concealed in the bottom.)

Bloodhound SSC reaches the end of the road for want of £25m

Milton Silver badge

Sorry, but—good riddance

I'm not without a jot of sympathy for those who invested heart, soul and some cash in this, but really ... it was flippin stupid idea, wasn't it? Others here have already made the point that you could strap any arbitrarily-huge rocket motor to something with wheels, find a long enough, flat enough bit of planet—at which point the "engineering challenges" are about doing some really pointless stuff: (a) keeping the vehicle glued to the ground with its otherwise useless wheels, and (b) preserving the life of someone who didn't need to be in the thing in the first place. Yeah, if it was traction-motivated there might be some justification for seeking a record, but what is the point—what, even, are you proving—with the "fastest wheeled rocket artifically and very dangerously held down by aerodynamic forces"?

A Land Speed Record makes sense if confined to vehicles pushing off against ground, i.e. traction through wheels. Otherwise it's all just daft contrivance.

And if they'd succeeded, and the stunt attracted enough interest and cash for others to compete? Aerodynamic forces dominate. You need lots of downforce to ensure wheels remain in contact with ground. The next rival, then, uses AoA and proximity sensors to calculate pitch and separation of chassis from ground. It feeds its computer 10,000 times a second with commands to the downforce aerofoils. The system's purpose is to keep the wheels just barely touching the ground at all times, sufficient for rotational contact but otherwise causing the least possible friction. It is now an aircraft fighting its own ground effect and sheer speed to push down just enough undercarriage to qualify as a "wheeled land vehicle". Silly, isn't it? Why wouldn't all future attempts on the record work this way, making a mockery of the whole concept? As another poster implies, we may be lucky to have been spared the spectacle of Rocketdyne F-1s bolted on to god-knows-what ....

Despite temptation and hilarious example, I never did install a RR Derwent in my old Chrysler Voyager (...)

Boffins build blazing battery bonfire

Milton Silver badge

More

Interesting start but the article is shallow as a puddle and left me wondering "Why silicon?". I did a search and found a decent brief for the layman here: New Atlas 'MIT Sun-in-a-Box' (no, I'd never heard of the site before either).

Seems like silicon is good because it's cheap, abundant, has a high and stable melting point and has the self-sealing attribute mentioned in the article, forming a carbide and preventing further corrosion. Salt, of course, becomes bastardly corrosive at anywhere near these temperatures, ISTR Soviets (?) had issues in early attempts to use molten salt in reactors (was it for subs?). The NA article also says a bit about extracting energy using the light radiated from molten silicon to energise photovoltaics instead of what you'd expect (a steam turbine). That's intriguing, as is the possibility that this system may have very few moving parts: the attraction isn't just in presumed (storage:recovery) efficiency ratios—it may be also be in low maintenance costs, long life time and reliability. It sounds like something you could mass-produce remarkably cheaply and, if located sensibly, would be safe even if if it failed in Spectacular Mode.

We're used to a 'spiffing wheeze' every week in this game, but this one does tick a lot of boxes ....

It's official. Microsoft pushes Google over the Edge, shifts browser to Chromium engine

Milton Silver badge

"What's next? Windows 11 will be based on 7 UI?"

That is about the only thing I can think of which would get me to remain as a Windows user after W7 support dies. Along, of course, with the ability to permanently, completely, verifiably switch off all telemetry, spyware, nagware, updates bugger-ups &c. Doesn't seem very likely, somehow; but I'll be damned if go anywhere that unreliable pile of clumsy UI and spyware called W10.

As for browsers, although I'm a grizzled old-school coder among other things, I've never much bothered to interest myself in browser rendering engines. It's always seemed slightly pointless to have significant differences between browsers at such a low level. We have, or ought to have, a very clear and precise worldwide standard for HTML, agreed by all, and equally precise and unambiguous rules for how it is rendered so that the only remaining question is whether the code that does the job is high performance, high quality and above all secure. I guess I assumed that by 2018 convergent evolution would have produced a winner, almost certainly open-source, and that differences among browsers would have been based on stuff like footprint (heavy, feature-rich, ok for desktop; or light, slimmed down, great for mobile) and UI customisability (from very basic, not much you can change, to almost infinite choices right down to preferences of, say, automuting some sites and not others). My analogy might be old TV sets: from small cheap monochrome with three controls to a big colour console that even lets you adjust the saturation, the core of how they work is always identical (heck, they even made the colour 625-line PAL signal backwardly compatible with black&white!) withbthe same processes being used to extract the same basic image from a complex signal, and the real differences are built on top in terms of bells, whistles and expense.

Google is rotten to its core by this point, but if the core rendering engine is open-source I'm not sure we'd have much to worry about. Much as I like Mozilla for being not-Google, the truth for me at least is that Vivaldi offers by far the best browsing experience (Blink engine, and many critically useful tiny touches, like the ability to zoom a single page and not an entire site). (And of course, Firefox is unusably awful on Android, where Brave [Blink engine again] does a fantastic job.)

Yeah, I'm looking at you, CNN.

European fibre lobby calls for end to fake fibre broadband ads

Milton Silver badge

Hardly the first time

Hardly the first time that the regulators have been left looking at best pointlessly ridiculous, and at worst complicit in marketurds' lies.

If it was somehow—by Wonderland reasoning, and the mutilation of meaning that one normally expects from lying politicians—okay for providers to claim "unlimited" speeds when they did, in fact, practise restriction and throttling, it's surely no surprise that they are now allowed to state that they provide fibre connections when, in fact, they simply do not. A connection's maximum speed is that of its slowest component—something even the dozy pillocks of regulators should be capable of understanding—and any rational rule of marketing based on purported speed should enforce that the slowest component is duly emphasised.

"We cleanse, disinfect, filter and test your drinkable water supply (until the last three yards, when it runs through an open sewer to your taps)" wouldn't be allowed, would it?

For some fool to say it's ok to lie because the punters don't care is positively imbecilic: the reason the providers are claiming that they offer full fibre is because customers do care about speed: if they didn't, this emphasis wouldn't exist. The very fact that the suppliers are being so dishonest is proof in itself that the punter does care. Certainly, the suppliers and their professional liars marketing departments think so.

It would be refreshing to be at least slightly surprised by this crap, but if we weren't living in the Age of Stupid we'd certainly be in the Age of the F**king Liar.

Pardon the tautology

GCHQ pushes for 'virtual crocodile clips' on chat apps – the ability to silently slip into private encrypted comms

Milton Silver badge

Self-serving loss of perspective

If avoiding the arrival of a Maverick missile depends on your crypto, you're most likely not relying upon any of the standard P2P encrypted apps, because you know (a) every effort will have been made, using nation-state resources, to compromise them, and (b) you die if you trust third parties.

So my question to seemingly backward-looking spooks—who are so full of their self-righteousness and -importance that they apparently cannot even understand why a free democracy must have strong civil liberties if it is even to deserve to exist: and are, therefore, perhaps nowhere near as clever as they think they are—are fairly simple ones.

1. Have you, comfortable suited eavesdroppers, acquired an algorithm which can with more than 50% reliability identify large, dirty, noisy images which have very low-order, low-density steganography within them? How many of the 2,000,000,000 images shared every day are you managing to identify as having secret content? To the nearest ten?

2. Have you access to any reliable method of breaking a modern encryption standard such as AES256, or Blowfish or similar? What would be your success rate against messages, even allowing a crib phrase, of say 2kB in size? (Quite enough for decent Atrocity-Time-and-Date instructions.)

3. Alternatively, have you managed to compromise the world's open-source codebase of crypto algos so that no one, not even the designers, will notice? So that none of the world's several million competent coders could write a homebuild, effective crypto app?

4. Have you found a method of ensuring that Black Hats cannot access two computing devices with encrypted drives (whether tiny phone or workstation), one of which is never, ever connected to the net?

5. Have you found a way of ensuring that the BHs can't run whatever software they like on these devices?

Given that the answers are most certainly No, No (<1:1x10^6), Not a Chance, No and No, isn't it true that actually, sigint is pretty much uesless against a well-disciplined, intelligent, well-equipped enemy (i.e. the very kind you should be most worried about)?

Isn't it true, in fact, that against your most serious adversaries, you need to infiltrate, blackmail, cajole, observe, corrupt, befriend, compromise—what we, back in the day, used to call humint: a version of tired old plodding shoe leather and nasty, grubby risks? Have you considered how many Arabic speakers you could recruit for the cost of Latest Billion Dollar SuperSexy MegaHarvesting Computer? (You know, the one that pointlessly stores petabytes of innocent civilians' data obsessively logging shopping habits, personal interests, porn preferences and extramarital dalliances)?

Isn't it true that your gasping appetite for code-breaking is actually peripheral grandstanding, with a big dose of laziness? That the appeal of sitting cosily in your pyjamas, sipping cocoa and reading Ahmed's email, is rather selfishly idle? That while you are begging for ever more budget, power and self-importance to spend on ever bigger aerials and computers, your neglect of the difficult, gritty, risky business of humint is most likely killing people?

You can sip cocoa at the keyboard, and yes, we need a few of those; but if you weren't so deep into deluded self-serving groupthink about crypto, you'd understand that if you were doing your jobs properly, you'd be risking your lives drinking gritty tea in a dusty back street somewhere far away. Not quite so appealing, eh?

One wonders whether GCHQ and NSA and their Five Eyes ilk have really been so dim and unself-aware as to fall into one of the oldest of psychological traps: for them, owning a hammer, every problem becomes a nail. It certainly sounds that way.

Huawei MateBook Pro X: PC makers look out, the phone guys are here

Milton Silver badge

Aspect ratio common sense

Thank goodness for some aspect ratio common sense! Although the tech industry likes to blather on about how "innovative" it is, the truth is it spends almost all its time following like sheep. The pursuit of what is fashionable is epidemic. Sometimes it is possible to believe that "What's fashionable?" is equivalent to "What are the stupid people all doing now?"

A hi-res 3:2 screen sounds excellent for serious work and let's face it, if you're looking for a latop with a lot of TV/movies/YouTube in mind, you wouldn't buy this anyway. One of the bigger widescreen tablets capable of doing all the entertainment stuff would give you about the same overall width (not diagonal) anyway, and cost a fraction of the laptop's price (unless you're paying the Idiot Tax).

As well as signs that actual thinking is occurring in laptop world, we have encouraging murmurs from the East that the obsessive, lemming-like adherence to of the Apple phone form factor is finally being broken, as flip-phones return*¹. Plus, thank the heavens, not everyone has decided to copy the inane Hideous Notch of Cretinism. There may be hope ...

*¹ Where is my Westworld laptabphoneputer?!*²

*² And does it come with a free Sarafyan ...?

Boeing 737 pilots battled confused safety system that plunged aircraft to their deaths – black box

Milton Silver badge

Computer knows best?

Yes, this reignites the old debate about who should have the final say when it comes down to human-vs-computer (or, if you like, in broader terms, human perceptions-vs-instruments), but in truth it needs to be informed by people who are experts in the subject matter, not—forgiving the few exceptions on these pages today—BTL commenters who have never worked in aviation.

The problem is, there is no perfect, dogmatic answer. Those are only open to ill-informed amateurs. The software is generally superb but not foolproof but, far more significantly, it has to rely upon information fed to it by sensors. If the sensors, be they pitot tubes, AoA, radioaltimeter etc—all of which have been implicated in fatal crashes even within the last 25 years—provide bad data, then GIGO applies. It is why Airbus systems, for example, have multiple degradation modes depending on what information is missing or suspect—'Alternate Laws' handing progressively more control back to the flight crew. It is why Boeing, ironically as it turns out, have been known for the philosophy of ultimately un-restricting the pilot's ability to operate the controls, even outside safe limits, in extreme circumstances. (This isn't a Boeing v Airbus contest: both build superb planes. I personally don't like the concept of the zero-tactile-feedback sidestick, but that's just me.)

I suspect any analysis of the last 30 years' major airline incidents will show very few which were the sole result of sensor/instrument/computer failure. Even disasters whose precipitating events are such a failure tend to have been survivable, if only the pilots had done the right thing. AF447 would have survived if the pilots had followed a standard procedure for mutliple conflicitng airpseed warnings. The Lion Air plane would have stayed airborne if this flight crew had known (or remembered?) how to disable the stall prevention system. (Aeroflot 593 would have lived if the pilots had ... just ... let ... go. (Though that wasn't precipitated by instruments).)

It is particularly saddening to think that Boeing's engineers may well have had incidents like AF447 in mind when setting up the stall avoidance system. One could argue that they should have allowed sufficient sustained back pressure on the control column to disable that system, similarly to how other aircraft autopilot channels can be disabled after positive sustained pilot input. The counter-argument—emphasised in the case of AF447—is that a panicked pilot may just keep pulling back, even as the plane plummets. Like I said: no perfect answers.

One last point. This tragedy puts me in mind of Scandinavian 751. In that crash, a safety system of which the crew were unaware was triggered and caused an otherwise avoidable crash.*¹ Sound familiar? I'll allow the interested to read the Wiki article, but the parallels are a little eerie.

*¹ During climbout he plane had suffered surging from both rear-mounted engines, caused by transparent ice breaking from the wings. Crew followed correct procedure, retarding the throttles to keep damaged engines alive long enough to allow an emergency landing, but an (unknown to them) safety system advanced the throttles again, thereby causing the engines to shake themselves to bits. (The good news is, the plane pancaked in a snowy meadow after losing a lot of speed clipping the hair of a conifer forest, and although it broke into pieces on impact, there was no fire and everyone survived. A real feel-good story. Pity it all happened too fast for a movie.)

3ve Offline: Countless Windows PCs using 1.7m IP addresses hacked to 'view' up to 12 billion adverts a day

Milton Silver badge

Aha

Now I know why the people buying internet advertising have this fond (rather charming) little delusion: that their deluge of crap actually works.

There is a certain poetry in the idea that a billion shittily-produced, cheap, nasty adverts, so bad that they might as well be generated by Artificial Idiots, are being "viewed" by a billion bots programmed by shitty, nasty, Artificial Humans.

I guess it's all of a piece with the zenith of human technological and civilised progress: half the species concentrating on lying to the other half so they'll buy crap they don't need with money they don't have.

Well done, us.

Openreach names 81 lucky locations to be plugged into its super-zippy Gfast pipe

Milton Silver badge

Local regs + trees

Fifteen years ago I ran a small personal office for consulting work in a business centre about 300m from my house. My previous career having accustomed me to heights I climbed (sans 'chute) onto the roof of the house to confirm my suspicion: there was indeed a line of sight from the apex to a window of my lovely new office. You can guess what came next. Two Yagi antennae; some time drilling holes in the house, and further ladder expeditions: and I was using my own internet connection from the office. Not super-quick, but serviceable. And with no incremental fees to the landlord.

But.

But, I'd done my work during the autumn, when the trees weren't very leafy. Come spring and the sightline began to fill with leaves. I'm here to confirm that microwaves and leafy trees do not play well together, no matter how much you crank up the power.

(The Yagis found a second life at a local school, linking bits of campus, so it wasn't all wasted ...)

Great Scott! Is nothing sacred? US movie-goers vote Back To The Future as most-wanted reboot

Milton Silver badge

It's the Age of Stupid, stupid

It's just more evidence that air pollution or radiation or social media or {enter your favourite hypothesised cause here} is causing a steady diminution of IQ worldwide.

BttF is one of the few 80s film productions that my kids (born around the millennium) really enjoyed, and watched more than once. (Along with The Princess Bride, oddly enough.) It stands as the ideal film-school example of perfect casting, pacing and script: not a single wasted word, every line has a purpose, and even in BttF2 it pulls off the phenomenal trick of keeping you abreast of what is, when you think about, a dizzyingly complicated plot and timeline. That anyone would consider a remake is proof, should you need it, that Joe Public is as dumb as a stump.

Considering Brexit and Trump and the general state of the world, from the citizens in the street to the rantings of a man-child in the White House, British ministers demonstrating towering ignorance on a daily basis, or the adolescent, ill-considered bletherings of Musk ... I dunno, maybe it's due to alien rays broadcast from orbit to stupefy the entire planet's population in preparation for a bloodless invasion.

But yeah: we are now deeply, darkly into the Age of Stupid.

What the #!/%* is that rogue Raspberry Pi doing plugged into my company's server room, sysadmin despairs

Milton Silver badge

Infosec staff quality

I'm slightly off topic, or at least the point is tangential ... but I suspect I'm not the only one who's noticed that people in corporate infosec jobs seem to vary wildly in their abilities. IT remains generally infested with cowboys and all-purpose oxygen thieves, but sometimes I wonder whether infosec is the secondary magnet (after management roles, of course) for those who talk a good game while knowing basically nothing.

I have some tragic familiarity with a major British airline whose infosec team seems to have no clue about risk, prioritisation, mitigation etc and therefore resorts to absolutist dogma whenever challenged, usually because after some probing it turns out they don't really understand the technology or the ramifications of their "policy". It may, for example, seem like a good idea to look tough and competent by blocking all admin-level access to all machines, but have you thought how that might affect agile*¹ development teams? Do you know how many man-months of work are wasted because you didn't think to enquire before implementing such a draconian policy?

And are you really insisting on 2FA via SMS for 'extra security' ...? Cue, howls of laughter.

*¹ That's 'agile' with the silent 'FR'.

Oi, Elon: You Musk sort out your Autopilot! Tesla loyalists tell of code crashes, near-misses

Milton Silver badge

Marketurds vs Reality

Yeah I do seem to be giving the 'turds a bit of a bashing lately but I can't be the only person massively sick of BS, lies, exaggerations and outright propaganda, whether from politicians or corporates. It is becoming quite sickening.

A few observations:

* Thanks for some really well-written posts here today

* I am horrified that anyone thinks Agile is acceptable for safety-critical systems. Agile is only ever acceptable when you have a tip-top team and where errors and failures are a tolerable event in the development process. You wouldn't use (fr)Agile to develop airliner software, would you?!

* No one seems to point out that if "AI" were anywhere near as intelligent and capable as corporates and their marketing liars insisted, it would be in cars like Teslas now, and this kind of debate would be redundant. We'd be talking about sensor failures/weaknesses, not about software capability.

For years, when challenged about the supposed intolerant arrogance of my view that 50% of the population are imbeciles, I have always had the irrefutable reply: "Go drive on different roads for the next hour or so, observing, thinking and remembering, then come back and tell me I'm wrong." No takers.

Well, now I can up my snark level. The next time some fathead starts extolling "AI" I can tell him to take an "autopiloted" car and let it drive him through the centre of a big city, circle it on a freeway and come back. Then he can dwell upon the difference between actual intelligence and the "artificial" kind ... if he ever returns, that is.

Scam or stunt? It's looking like the latter... Xiaomi so sorry for £1 smartphone 'promo'

Milton Silver badge

There is reason, you know ...

... why I tend to refer to a specific form of parastic life as "marketurds".

As others have pointed out, if it seems too good to be true ... well, then, it is not true.

Also, remind ourselves that if there is any kind of condition attached to an offer, it is not free.

"Buy One Get One Free" is not free. It's a half price offer. It would only be free if it were "Just come and collect it, leave without paying". And even then, if it were "Just come and collect it, leave without paying after supplying your email address", it wouldn't be free: you had to surrender something of value; a condition had to be met.

Not only was Mr Heinlein correct (TANSTAAFL), the world's most widespread technological phenomenon is founded upon a lie: neither Google nor Facebook nor Twitter are free, because you surrender something of value to prying, lying manipulators.

It is really quite astonishing how utterly stupid so many people can be. But that's what pays the marketurds' bills, and keeps them from rummaging in wastebins (assuming, on the evidence, that they have no beneficial skills).

Brit boffins build 'quantum compass'... say goodbye to those old GPS gizmos, possibly

Milton Silver badge

Physics and engineering are not the author's speciality, are they?

It isn't a compass. It's a new method for implementing the venerable concept of an inertial guidance system, which is itself simply a technological form of dead reckoning practised since the first manned boat got lost in poor visibility 11,174 years ago.

Inertial navigation systems are still very important to submarines (such as boomers, spending long periods under water and unable to receive GPS) and I might guess that they would be the first operational priority for this new tech, given that its early-version mass and size won't be prohibitve in a sub, compared with a missile or an aircraft.

It will be extremely interesting to see how the noise problem will be managed. With mechanical weaknesses such as friction removed (it is a core problem of current INS tech), the sensitivity of the new system is both advantage and disadvantage. There will need to be some clever design in dealing with local mascons, determining honest-vs-deceitful frames of reference, multi-axis rotation and relativistic effects—the latter cease to be ignorable when you're finely analysing the performance of kit which may accelerate at 100g, moving in three spatial dimensions, potentially rotating around one or all of those as well, and reaching speeds in the miles per second range¹.

It'll be even more interesting to see what kinds of countermeasures might work against such a system. I'm guessing local EMP would banjax it thoroughly, as would an x-ray laser, not to mention finely tuned peppering by minute chunks of high-velocity debris (strikes by waves of microgram particles timed to arrive in a sequence to ensure destructive interference). That said, if you can shoot close enough to achieve that, you're probably close enough for a kinetic kill anyway ...

¹ Consider that even the 1960s Sprint ABM had incredible performance at this level, and furthermore that a rapidly spinning missile is one obvious countermeasure against laser strikes.)

Bruce Schneier: You want real IoT security? Have Uncle Sam start putting boots to asses

Milton Silver badge

More seriously

More seriously, one should listen to Schneier not simply because he is one of the world's foremost security experts but because, notwithstanding his command of the jargon, he usually talks unvarnished, refreshing common sense.

Watching him debate or act as an expert witness before politicians, as he has done a few times, is an eye-opener. It's like observing a patient teacher dealing with six-year-olds. Stupefying ignorance isn't enough: the politicians' floundering lack of fact-based rationality and logic always ends up painfully exposed to view. "I want π to be 3! I want it, I want it, I want it!" cuts absolutely no ice, no matter which faeces-hurling congresscritter is hooting.

We can dare to hope that Mr Schneier and the evidence-based community will eventually get through to these cretins (or vote for less cretinous cretins), but as others have observed, US politics is now so corrupt that it's not gonna happen soon. Indeed, you could argue that US politics is basically doomed to unrepresentative, dysfunctional chaos unless and until there is a root and branch reform of campaign finance. "Lobbyist" is as dirty a word as "politician" these days.

Milton Silver badge

Re: IOT is only going to grow as an issue long term

But is that "mist" in the German sense? A variation on the idea that transparently abusive corporations like Google and Facebook are a "gift" to us, even?

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