* Posts by Tony W

178 posts • joined 14 Aug 2007


LibreOffice 6.2 is here: Running up a Tab at the NotebookBar? You can turn it all off if you want

Tony W

Re: And without learning regex

The attitude that all users need to learn regex is one of the major problems with open source software. I can do all I need in MS Office quite easily without knowing that regex exists.

Tony W

Re: "Everyone loves a bit of REGEX torture"

And without learning regex, search and replace of paragraph markers or newlines is impossible. Vital procedures for reformatting other people's work. Sorry, this is great for geeks, completely useless for ordinary people.

Pewdiepie fanboi printer, Chromecast haxxx0r retreats, says they're 'afraid of being caught'

Tony W


As an ordinary user I am completely mystified by this. If I look in forums I find vociferous arguments about whether it's safe for me to leave UPnP enabled on my home network. There is no apparent consensus, just a lot of people shouting "Just turn it off" and others saying it is useful and low risk.

I am also told that disabling it may break my Chromecast and Chromecast Audio, and possibly Skype which is vital to my family (for work.)

The router supplied by BTInternet has it enabled by default in the advanced menu. The only comment is "We recommend you keep 'Extended UPnP Security' turned on to make sure your home network is secure." It's on, so that's all OK is it?

How can I make sense of all this? Please don't say turn it off and see what happens. I already have more than enough things to check if I get an obscure network problem.

Amazon's creepy facial recog doorbell, Facebook open sources machine learning code and much more

Tony W

More solutions looking for problems

There is more music out there by good composers than any normal person has time to listen to. There is music by lesser composers inspired by the great composers if you want that. Machine generated music, done in this way, isn't even interesting scientifically as if won't help us learn how music actually works. So why?

Home users due for a battering with Microsoft 365 subscription stick

Tony W

Downvotes invited

I have zero respect for MS. I don't need to go over how the behaviour of their systems has hurt me in the past, any reader here will have had the same experiences. But when it comes to office suites you should face facts.

Libre Office works adequately for many purposes and as it's free you can hardly complain if it isn't perfect. Now that I've retired I can afford to use it, and on my next new PC I won't be installing MS Office. But Libre Office is an inferior product.

For example, to replace things such as newlines and new para markers (a basic tool for tidying up other people's documents) you have to use regex: a real pita for the average user.

And it's not compatible with MS. Going backwards and forwards between the two (which I do quite a lot) can muck up the layout of documents. With spreadsheets it completely alters my carefully set up chart formatting. I would never trust an important presentation generated in Libre Office to show properly on Powerpoint - I've been badly bitten. It's unfair that compatibility is a klller, but it's a fact.

Most non-professionals don't need office software at all or can manage with a free web-based system. But for many professionals, there is only practical office suite. So it's a monopoly: they can screw us and they know it. I'd be astonished if there aren't MS teams generating incompatibilities, so we can't expect that Libre Office will ever catch up.

US Homeland Security installs AI cameras at the White House, Google tries to make translation less sexist

Tony W

Guessing is not good enough

The problem is far more basic: Google should admit when it is guessing. Then it would stop making my Japanese friend keep referring to "your" "his" or "her" mother, son, daughter etc., when she means her own mother etc. I can mentally strip out these wrong pronouns but why cannot Google mark words that it is interpolating or guessing the gender? And the same goes for Microsoft of course.

It is not about what is "reality." The relative number of male and female surgeons in various countries is quite irrelevant. If the original left the gender ambiguous then so should the translation, otherwise it has a good chance of being incorrect.

Analogue radio is the tech that just won't die

Tony W

Re: not much better than AM

Radio broadcasting as a means of providing high sound quality is probably an anachronism. If you want hi-fi you can get it on line - if someone is prepared to provide it. BBC R3 on line has quite respectable sound quality - better than FM or DAB. And as for AM - don't make me laugh.

When DAB was invented, radio broadcasting engineers were excited about the possibility of overcoming the bad aspects of FM, particularly for car radios. What they didn't realise is that most people have no interest in high sound quality, and digital systems would allow the top management to decide on the balance between sound quality and the number of channels. The re sult was inevitable.

And for those extolling low distortion AM sound quality - when did you last listen to it? Restricting the frequency range to a theoretical best of about 4 kHz (from the 9 kHz channel spacing) is a serious form of distortion. And that's just the transmitters. When I measured a range of AM receivers in the 1980s the -3 dB bandwidth was typically about 2.5 kHz. Broadcasters use heavy multi-band audio compression, trying desperately to push more high frequencies through the system, to be louder than the competition, and to combat after-dark co-channel and adjacent channel interference. So the frequency response is continuously jumping about. That seriously alters any music and In my book that's distortion. I could go on. Yes, speech on BBC World Service DAB sounds nasty - but still better than AM. If you add typical AM background noise or restrict the frequency range to AM limits, it more than hides the DAB artefacts.

Your RSS is grass: Mozilla euthanizes feed reader, Atom code in Firefox browser, claims it's old and unloved

Tony W

Please tell me how to do this!

RSS is like cleaning materials that are cheap basic chemicals. People don't know about them because it wouldn't pay to advertise, and in the end the cheap product becomes hard to find because there's 'no demand.'

I used to use RSS and really liked it. For me it was the only way to keep up with a very large number of sites without wasting lots of time. Then several readers stopped working for one reason or another ("upgrades") and every time I had to change reader it was to a worse one and I lost all my bookmarks. In the end I gave up, but I still miss it.

Of course sites have also been removing their RSS feeds, or making them hard to find. There is no large-scale future because If it did become popular, advertisers would surely make it a condition that feeds were removed.

Microsoft yanks the document-destroying Windows 10 October 2018 Update

Tony W

Re: Not Cloudy Here

Off-site backup?

Super Micro China super spy chip super scandal: US Homeland Security, UK spies back Amazon, Apple denials

Tony W

Strong denials

The standard for adequate denials has been raised. If future denials are in less strong terms conclusions will be drawn.

Which is not to say that even the strongest denials should necessarily be believed. History is full of strong denials that were complete lies so I am very cynical about all organisations, public and prvate. Any organisation will lie through its collective teeth for its own advantage if they believe that they won't be found out.

But if several apparently independent organisations tell the same story, it seems more likely to be true. So in this case I would bet on Bloomburg's story being wrong, but not a lot of money.

The pressure is on Bloomburg, as their reputation will have a long shadow cast on it unless they can show that they behaved reasonably. If that Bloomburg story is in doubt, why not all their others?

Russia: The hole in the ISS Soyuz lifeboat – was it the crew wot dunnit?

Tony W

Re: ...suction clamped to the surface...

Erm ...there is still air, it hasn't all escaped yet.

Boffins bash Google Translate for sexism

Tony W

What do you want from a translation?

Personally, when I ask for a translation, I want to know what the original says. I don't much want to know what statistically an ambiguous pronoun is more likely to mean, I can work that out for myself. Maybe I am unusual in that. Do other people want a translation that reads easily even if there is a good chance it could be wrong?

That might mean an awkward construction. So what, if the meaning is clear? Machine translation should not be for unedited presentation to the public.

This is part of a bigger problem. Google comes up with a single translation even if there are many possibilities, and almost never confesses to failure. Just as Google Maps will always come up with a definite destination even if the input is ambiguous. They hate to make it appear that they might be wrong.

The Google apps are so useful that we've learnt to accept this as a foible, but it would be a lot better if they could admit to their lack of perfection - which is actually very obvious to all frequent users.

Space station springs a leak while astronauts are asleep (but don't panic)

Tony W

How did they find it?

My experience with bicycles is, finding that you have a slow leak is one thing, finding the leak is another. Immersion in a bucket of water doesn't seem to be an option so I winder how they did it.

And if Kapton tape is not a sufficiently long-term solution, do they have another puncture repair outfit ofr some sort?

If it doesn't need to be connected, don't: Nurse prescribes meds for sickly hospital infosec

Tony W

More than NICE to have

NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) has guidance and standards on infection prevention and control. I believe most hospitals have a person responsible for ithat.

But I couldn't find guidance for infosec (looking under several relevant terms) on the NICE website. If it's there, it's not obvious. Does it need a disaster first?

What happens to your online accounts when you die?

Tony W

Re: Get a Power of Attorney

Sometimes people have accounts in more than one name, for example they might use a shortened version of their name, or at some point they decided they disliked their given first name and started going under their middle name or another. BEFORE you get the death certificate, check all accounts you can to see if this happened and get all names and spellings they used put on the certfificate.

EU wants one phone plug to rule them all. But we've got a better idea.

Tony W

Re: Plug cable entry angle

Wht are we in the UK so self-congratulatory about our power connector? Anyone who services domestic equipment knows how often an item that should have a 3 A fuse is fitted with a 13 A. (Often it's a light fitting where the lamp has failed and taken the fuse with it.)

You could say, this isn't seriously unsafe because a likely realistic fault current would be high enough to blow the fuse before the connecting cable insulation melts. But if it's safe, why not have the 13 A fuse in the socket, and save all those bulky and expensive plugs? And if it isn't safe, the basic design that allows such easy substitution is flawed. Either way we should stop congratulating ourselves.

Lo and behold, Earth's special chemical cocktail for life seems to be pretty common

Tony W

Building blocks of life is not life

With all of humanity's resources and knowledge, we still have no theory that has convinced the scientific community of how life originated from natural processes. So we don't know the conditions required for life to form. That being so, I can't get very excited about the prospect of life existing elsewhere just because the building blocks are available.

Also on Earth it took a long time after the formation of simple life for complex life (cells with nuclei etc) to emerge, so that might not be a common occurrence even where there is some form of life. It's difficult to imagine intelligence without life more complex than bacteria.

It would be truly astonishing if Earth had the only form of complex life in the universe. But at the moment it seems very premature to think that we will find other life, and especially complex life capable of intelligence, near enough for us to detect.

Google shaves half a gig off Android Poundland Edition

Tony W

Re: Old Linux ?

Going down. Sharp PC1211 with less than 2K bytes. It ran a tokenised BASIC. This was not a toy for me, I had a few very useful programs for on-site calculation.

I'm sure there will be further bids in this Dutch memory auction ...

IBM Watson dishes out 'dodgy cancer advice', Google Translate isn't better than humans yet, and other AI tidbits

Tony W

At least you know it's rubbish

Google often "translates" my Japanese friend's Facebook posts as a word soup of unintelligible non-English non-sentences from which it is impossible to extract any meaning whatever. So at least I don't waste time trying to understand it.

When it does make something like English sentences, the fact that it doesn't take account of context is painfully obvious. For example it frequently translates what should be "My husband" as "Your husband." That also shows its ignorance of a basic point about the language it's supposed to be translating: in Japanese the default pronoun (when omitted and not obvious from context) is the first person.

Google Chrome: HTTPS or bust. Insecure HTTP D-Day is tomorrow, folks

Tony W

After all that fuss ...

All you see is a little "i" in a circle. I noticed it only because I was looking for it.

It's still nonsense, as when I clicked on the symbol I was told not to enter a password in my BT router. How can I control it without a password? I supose all such equipment will have to have secure connections in future, with extra cost for certificate renewal and dreadful warnings when they get it wrong.

But phishing sites will get the green padlock of approval (with a nice free cert from Letsencrypt). Anyone who notices will get a false sense of security.

Leatherbound analogue password manager: For the hipster who doesn't mind losing everything

Tony W

Forgetting password is very rarely a disaster

If you are really you, there is usually a way to get it back, so long as the organisation has a working email address for you on record.

But someone else getting your password can be very nasty.

Therefore it is more important to keep your password from others than it is to make sure you can always find it yourself.

The real problem comes when your descendants try to deal with your account. But people who think logically don't worry about that.

(As I have recently found, for sensitive sites your registered address should match your "From" address. One that you use only for receiving can cause people to be suspicious when you reply from a different one.)

Potato, potato. Toma6to, I'm going to kill you... How a typo can turn an AI translator against us

Tony W

Re: Hmmm

This is standard Google machismo: they will never admit to not knowing. If Google Maps doesn't recognise an address it will take you somewhere else with a vaguely similar name. If Google Translate isn't sure of how a word fits into the sentence it will silently leave it out of the translation, which is much worse as it isn't always obvious.

'Moore's Revenge' is upon us and will make the world weird

Tony W

Getting more and more off topic ...

Where do you drive? I don't find that I can rely on vehicles entering motorways giving way.

Honor bound: Can Huawei's self-cannibalisation save the phone biz?

Tony W

Obvious way to differentiate?

Not long ago, nearly all cars more than a few years old were rusting away. Manufacturers thought that the buyers of new cars disposed of them after at most two years, so their customers wouldn't worry about obsolescence. Then Japanese makers introduced long non-rust guarantees and ran away with the market, until the rest followed.

Now almost all phones more than a few years old are a significant security risk. Who will be first to sell phones with guaranteed updates for five years, at a competitive price?

Hacking train Wi-Fi may expose passenger data and control systems

Tony W

I'm no expert on trains but my eyebrows went up at the idea of radio at 60 odd kHz, I think it would need rather large aerials. It seems to be done by magnetic induction from loops on the track.

Is this an interesting way to force a train to stop without connecting to any infrastructure?

Samsung-backed gizmo may soon juice up your smartphone over the air

Tony W

Can anyone explain this please

in terms understandable by an ordinary engineer reasonably conversant with electronics?

Self-driving cars still do not exist even if we think they do

Tony W

Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

As opposed to some local commuters who take blind corners in a such a way that for many years it hasn't been safe for a group of walkers to use twisty minor roads.

HTC U11 Life: Google tries to tame the midmarket

Tony W

Re: Two years?

If customers were a bit more savvy about security, the period for updates would be an important factor in what people buy now, not so much for repeat custom.

I'm sure people who don't upgrade for the sake of it are a very significant market. These folks just want a phone that works and does basic functions, not the latest technology with changes that mean that they are going to have to re-learn things. I bet even many of the tech-savvy readers of this item are using phones more than 2 years old. For these longevity is a selling point.

Remember when all cars used to rust badly after a few years? Then a few manufacturers introduced non-rusting guarantees. Now cars almost never rust (and not just because a lot of the bodywork is plastic, there's still a lot of steel.) It needs a big manufacturer with imagination.

Uber: Hackers stole 57m passengers, drivers' info. We also bribed the thieves $100k to STFU

Tony W

Learn from our mistakes, you bet.

They always say this and I always laugh.

The cover-up was no mistake, it was clearly intentional. Being found out was a mistake that I'm sure they'll try to learn from.

The whole episode confirms that white collar crime pays, and part of the reason is that companies will pay criminals to avoid big embarrassment. It's not a new lesson but I suppose there will always be some new people learning it.

Apart from that, surely it's a bit naive to suppose that criminals will destroy the data just because you've given them some money.

US govt to use software to finger immigrants as potential crims? That's really dumb – boffins

Tony W


The lecture series "Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data" (available on YouTube) Is very good on why this is going to go wrong.

Vodafone, EE and Three overcharging customers after contracts expire

Tony W

Re: % APR?

Charging for something not provided - I think you could probably take them to the small claims court. They're relying on individuals (like me) thinking it's too much hassle and being uncertain of their rights.

That was the case with me and Vodafone. But I did phone and explain why I was leaving them immediately and would never ever use them again.

Yes I am over 65. but I would prefer to think that's just coincidence.

RIP Stanislav Petrov: Russian colonel who saved world from all-out nuclear war

Tony W


Non-rational is maybe not the best description. You have to be perceived as being ultra-belligerent and very easily provoked. Whether that counts as non-rational in the circumstances is a matter on which opinions will differ.

Mad scientist zaps himself to determine the power of electric eel shocks

Tony W

Why don't they shock themseleves?

An article in Popular Science based on this question gave the answer that basically we don't know. It certainly isn't explained by the equivalent circuit diagram given here. Any ideas?

James Webb Telescope will be infatuated with Europa and Enceladus

Tony W

Microbial life?

Microbial life is life. Although it's a big step from that to complex life.

London Mayor hires former PR man as Chief Digi Officer

Tony W

Re: We at least they're only wasting £107K

Can you cite how he was involved in the Camden pay-off? It was reported as being to do with a "public realm, maintenance and improvement works” contract, which includes tasks such as resurfacing roads and street lights inspections. Not obviously digital.

Adware API sends smartmobe data home to Chinese company

Tony W

Malicious software removal

If Google Play Store can nag me every week to update Twitter yet again, it should be able to warn me when an app I have installed has been removed from for breaking their T & C.

Want a medal? Microsoft 7.2% less bad at speech recognition than IBM

Tony W


Humans learn to adjust for accents which mostly make consistent changes in vowels, so I expect AI will eventually do the same. Dialect is another matter, it took me a year to understand broad Potteries.

But I wish some of this expertise could be applied to systems used on the phone by organisations like BT and British Gas, Both these systems (made by the same company I'm sure) consistently fail to recognise when I say "yes" even on repeated attempts, and my accent is pretty ordinary London. Maybe I should say "Yep", "Yup" or "Yeah".

Defra recruiting 1,400 policy wonks to pick up the pieces after Brexit

Tony W

Re: Brexit

Usual stuff, I have seen so much of it in comments. We don't care how much crap we (and our children) get just so long as we stop EU migration and can ignore the ECJ.

Point out the obvious as much as you like (on both sides.) There will be no meeting of minds on this one.

Vodafone reports sliding revenues but customers don't hate them as much

Tony W

Maybe having a big price hike wasn't such a good idea

when their prices are already at the top end of the market.

The internet may well be the root cause of today's problems… but not in the way you think

Tony W


The Internet does allow very fragmented groups of people to get together and reinforce each other's views. But demagogues and dictators got elected before the internet. What they did have was the backing of forces with money and power, which will use the Internet just as they do other media. You don't need to invoke the Internet even to explain the Brexit vote, when there were years of misleading propaganda from several popular mainstream newspapers.

But advocating killing people because they belong to a particular group is not just part of ordinary discussion and debate, and I would be happy to see that stopped. Can that be done without losing the freedom of discussion that is essential If society is to develop? That debate is part of a long continuing conflict between freedom and stability that has gone on at least since the arrival of the printing press.

BA's 'global IT system failure' was due to 'power surge'

Tony W

Re: Operational Failover is incredibly complex

You've pointed out what might be the problem. I once worked for a (public) organisation in which no-one dared take responsibility for pulling the big switch in case the backup system didn't take over properly. With the almost inevitable result that when a real failure occured, the backup system didn't take over properly. At least in a planned test they could have had relevant people warned and a team standing by to get it working with the minium disruption.

Bloke charged under UK terror law for refusing to cough up passwords

Tony W

So you can't bring any confidential info into UK

... so it appears, whether commercial, legal or personal. At least, you can't bring it through the border post. Luckily there seem to be ways to get the info into the country without actually taking it through immigration, otherwise a lot of business would stop. Why even bring a laptop, you can buy one when in the UK, wipe it and install OS of your choice. Or if you're really paranoid (or if they are really out to get you), build a PC from parts.

WannaCrypt ransomware snatches NSA exploit, fscks over Telefónica, other orgs in Spain

Tony W


I assume most or all of the infected PCs were running some form of anti-malware, at least MS Security Essentials. Do these things do anything useful?

Android O-mg. Google won't kill screen hijack nasties on Android 6, 7 until the summer

Tony W

Permission system is not much use as anti-malware

If the user has installed an apparently useful app, then they will probably also give it permissions. So having to click to give a permission is probably no safeguard at all to the average user.

The fundamental problem is installing the malware, not giving it the permissions. Many legitimate apps need permissions that would be very dangerous if the app were malware (starting with virtually all of Google's own apps.) This permission would seem reasonable for any app that gives "important" notifications, so most people would just grant it.

Having said that, of course Google was still wrong to deliberately bypass their own permissions system, specifically in order to allow an app to behave very intrusively. And more wrong to withhold the remedy from most existing users.

Homes raided in North West over data thefts from car body repair shops

Tony W

Re: You boys and girls actually answer your phone?


"Withheld" was very recently my sister calling from a hospital staff phone because she couldn't get her mobile working and needed to be picked up. "International" could be my friend who lives in Damascus and whom, for obvious reasons, I tend to worry about. Etc. It doesn't take long to dispose of a cold call, it's usually obvious within 10 s. I prefer to answer than to risk getting it wrong.

I did get a huge spate of nuisance calls after my car had been in a body repair shop (damage done when no-one was in the car.) Insurance company told me the database only has registration number so would need an "official" body to get from there to my phone number. The most likely source of the leak was obvious but how can you prove anything? "I'm calling about your compensation..." "click...". Secret is not to get annoyed. There are worse things in life.

Boffins break Samsung Galaxies with one SMS carrying WAP crap

Tony W

Re: Samsung S4 (March 2013) and S5 (April 2014)

I suppose it depends on whether the phone was customised (being polite) by a network and if so which one. My secondhand S5 doesn't seem to have any network specific stuff on it and it is still receiving updates (currently 6.01) and patches (currently Dec 2016.)

Makes me consider rooting the phone though.

Fax machines' custom Linux allows dial-up hack

Tony W

Someone you know still uses them

I have read that the NHS is a huge user of fax machines.

Despite IANA storm, ICANN shows just why it shouldn't be allowed to take over internet's critical functions

Tony W

Self-serving organisation

Pretty much tautology.

FBI Clinton email dossier

Tony W

Rules are for other people

I see this belief in action on the roads every day, and I've no doubt it's common at the top of all organisations including governments. Those at the top probably got there by ignoring some rules anyway. Clinton will rightly never be allowed to forget this, but any further penalty is probably disproportionate.

Classic Shell, Audacity downloads infected with retro MBR nuke nasty

Tony W

Would this be detected on check?

As others have pointed out, quite a lot of legitimate sw produces unknown publisher warning. I scan all exe and zip downloads before running though. I also use Scotty that detects changes to startup programs. Am I just getting a false sense of security by doing this?


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