* Posts by Steve Todd

2520 posts • joined 19 Sep 2007

One does not simply repurpose an entire internet constellation for sat-nav, but UK might have a go anyway

Steve Todd

These satellites have high precision atomic clocks on board?

I highly doubt it. Without these you can’t pinpoint your location (and it was the enhanced precision of Galileo clocks that was mostly responsible for cm level accuracy. Block III GPS also has improved clocks for the same reason). You can’t bring these birds back from orbit and retrofit them. Where’s the value in buying a stake in something that doesn’t do what you need?

You've accused Apple of patent infringement. You want to probe the iOS source in a closed-room environment. What to do in a pandemic?

Steve Todd

A quick scan and they look like BS to me

I’m not a patent lawyer, but things like producing a ringing sound on an incoming call/message doesn’t strike me as new or innovative.

Many of the patent are also old and either expired or due to expire shortly.

Not the US patents system’s finest moment I think.

Ryzen shine, kids: Huawei buries AMD silicon in latest laptop, hopes to lure 'young professionals'

Steve Todd

Re: 3550U

How about because the 3000 series mobile Ryzen CPUs weren’t very competitive, being beaten fairly noticeably by the Intel range at time of launch. The 4000 series are a lot faster, beating Intel’s refreshed lineup in most test, and using less power into the bargain.

The price that is being asked isn’t that of a bargain basement device, and as such you’d expect reasonable performance compared to similar devices in the price range.

No surprise: Britain ditches central database model for virus contact-tracing apps in favour of Apple-Google API

Steve Todd

Re: Use an API tailored to the task

On the basis you are talking about then the NHS is already controlled by a US tech company: Microsoft. Using the technology produced by a company doesn’t mean that it controls you. Apple and Google provide a service to the UK public. The NHS are trying to piggyback off of those services, and must therefore work within the established limits of them. This doesn’t mean that they are controlled by the companies, merely that they have boundaries that they have to work within if they want to add capabilities to their toolkit.

The public in this case has voted with their wallets over what phone they want to carry with them. Do you not think it would be more un democratic to force them to buy some other device because the government can’t do what they want with what the public has purchased?

Steve Todd

Re: Use an API tailored to the task

Really? You do understand that it is based on Bluetooth LE, which will give you a fairly accurate range between transmitter and receiver, plus allows you to dial the TX power down so that the range becomes not much more than the 2 meter limit anyway. There is then a threshold of time for a warning, and another before positive advice to isolate.

I think you don’t understand the technology and how this is expected to work.

Steve Todd

Use an API tailored to the task

Rather than trying to hack your way around the security restrictions of iOS and Android? That and use an internationally approved model with privacy baked in. HMG must be fuming that they can’t get their hands on all that juicy data. Oh well, people might actually be prepared to use it then.

Russia drags NASA: Enjoy your expensive SpaceX capsule, our Soyuz is the cheap Kalashnikov of rockets

Steve Todd

Re: Market price

The “Market Price” argument only works if there’s a competitive market. Roscosmos was the only provider, so they were charging whatever they could get the US to pay rather than a reasonable markup from cost. Here in the west we tend to regulate what monopoly suppliers can charge to prevent them from abusing their position like this.

The argument about the Soyuz being a smaller rocket, therefore cheaper only works for fuel costs, which are a tiny part of the overall launch. Yes, Boeing’s offering is always going to be more expensive than Soyuz because it works using the same strategy of throwing everything except the capsule away during a launch (and yes, buying a Russian engine for the job). SpaceX reusing their Falcon 9 changes the equation. They can launch for very much less than $55M per seat, but the development contract they had fixes this price over its life. Roscosmos now have a competitor and they are free to try to undercut them when it comes to rides up to the ISS (Russia and the US aren’t the only countries to send their nationals there).

As for being mocked by the US, IIRC the reason for this was firstly the cause of the failure (poor quality control, which had become more prevalent in Roscosmos), and secondly the fact that the US were smarting from the amount they were being charged for this poor QC.

Steve Todd

Re: The Crew Dragon has a payload capacity of 6000Kg

While I agree that being able to get supplies up there on a timely bases is more important than the launch cost, the quote I was responding to was this:

“ Rogozin, however, was adamant that a Russian launch is, in fact, cheaper. He said that the American spacecraft was more than double the weight of its Russian counterpart, meaning less freight could be delivered into orbit.”

This is patently incorrect. The Soyuz system is either more expensive to launch than Crew Dragon, or they are ripping the US off shamelessly. Either way the Dragon can deliver more to the ISS, both in terms of Crew and cargo, as it’s payload capacity is significantly higher. It being a heavier system is besides the point.

Steve Todd

Erm, no. SpaceX plans to reuse the capsule at least for cargo and, I believe, NASA have signed off on the principal of reuse for crew purposes also.

Steve Todd

The Crew Dragon has a payload capacity of 6000Kg

The Soyuz orbital components have a total launch mass of 7150Kg for everything, including cargo. So unless the empty weight (including fuel) is less than 1150Kg then he’s talking out of his arse.

The Soyuz rocket it’s self can only lift about 8000Kg to LEO, whereas the Falcon 9 can manage 22,000Kg. It’s obvious that the Soyuz can’t compete, even at the same per-seat price.

US senators propose $22bn fund for new fabs on American soil because making stuff is better than designing stuff

Steve Todd

$22bn Won’t go far?

Firstly it’s not just $22bn, you’ve forgotten the 40% tax credit on top of that.

Secondly it needs to be more than matched by manufacturers, so something like 3 or 4 factories equipped for 14nm or better production.

Thirdly you don’t need a vast number of factories to turn out more than enough chips for the whole of the USA. There are only about a dozen or so fabs in the world that are currently able to manage 14nm or better, so something like 20-30% of world capacity.

Fujitsu unveils new laptops 'optimized for remote work' – erm, isn't that what laptops have always been for?

Steve Todd

Re: "laptops that can survive for nine hours on a single battery charge"

Just watching videos these days is a hardware accelerated activity (mainly by the GPU) with little work required by the CPU. You shouldn’t have much problems getting 9 hours of viewing time. There are some hardware based encoders (Quick Sync from Intel for example), but they tend not to be as good as software so editing on batteries would likely be a no no.

Steve Todd

Re: Nope missing an obligatory element

That MAY work for character based systems (heck, when I started out we had an entire team of devs sharing a single 64K link to a remote IBM3090), but dial-up systems are FAR too slow for modern graphical environments. Even a 512K link can be painfully slow for that, and these days I’m happy enough with an 80Mbit link, but that requires VPN, multi-factor authentication etc as it’s just not practical to buy a team of devs their own dedicated lines. It’s the fact that the internet is packet switched and shared that makes this kind of peak bandwidth at all practical.

SpaceX Crew Dragon docks at International Space Station

Steve Todd

Re: this is only half the trip

You don’t think the film bore any relationship to the book do you? About the only thing they had in common was the name of the villain and a vaguely space theme (I read the Fleming original a while back).

This'll make you feel old: Uni compsci favourite Pascal hits the big five-oh this year

Steve Todd

Re: pascal was simply useless.

Don’t forget that Wirth designed Pascal with the object of it being a system language. It was able to compile it’s self on CDC 6000 series mainframes in its earliest implementation, and in Object Pascal form was the system language of Macs prior to OS X.

It was far from useless, and was designed to be fast and efficient to compile on the limited hardware available at the time.

Raspberry Pi Foundation serves up an 8GB slice of mini-computing goodness

Steve Todd


LPDDR4 isn’t a type of NAND flash memory, it’s SDRAM, a different kettle of fish and not to my knowledge implemented on a multi-layer process like NAND flash.

SD cards hop on the PCIe 4.0 bus to hit 4GB/s with version 8.0 of storage spec

Steve Todd

So not full speed on any Intel platform then

Plus there’s the question of power consumption (PCIe 4 isn’t designed with mobile power constraints in mind).

If you're appy and you know it: The Huawei P40 Pro conclusively proves that top-notch specs aren't everything

Steve Todd

People don’t buy hardware

They buy software, and something to run the software on. Any machine or platform that doesn’t run the software the public wants is bound to fail, which is why Microsoft succeeded with Windows and Apple gained second place (due to targeting an affluent niche in the form of the creative and publishing businesses).

Windows phone failed for precisely the same reason (decent enough hardware, but it was third choice for mobile devs as the demand was mostly for Android and iOS apps). It’s a virtuous circle - more machines attracts more devs who write more software which attracts more users who buy more machines.

NHS contact tracing app isn't really anonymous, is riddled with bugs, and is open to abuse. Good thing we're not in the middle of a pandemic, eh?

Steve Todd

Re: One would have throught...

Erm, no.

The Apple/Google approach is not the same, and does not use a central database (or at least not for any data of the uninfected). It uses many independent databases, one per phone. It is up to each phone to check the central database for any matches. Historical data is ONLY uploaded to the central database by someone with a confirmed infection, and the authorities have no idea how many people match against that data or when/where the proximity events occurred.

Once again, the code for this is open and audit-able.The ONLY permission the app needs is to send Bluetooth LE messages, and listen to the same. It logs to its own DB what message it sent when, and what messages it received then. There is nothing that can be inferred about the transmitter from the message, and only they can chose to reveal to the world (anonymously) that they may have exposed others by providing a list of what codes they were transmitting when.

Steve Todd

Re: One would have throught...

It isn't as black and white as "Inside Bluetooth Range". They are using Bluetooth LE, which gives them control over the transmit power level and an idea of the range.

The end really is nigh – for 32-bit Windows 10 on new PCs

Steve Todd

Win32 subsystem

You do know that 64 bit windows can run 32 bit code un modified? It’s even slightly faster running apps that don’t need 64 bit pointers and more than 3.5GB of memory in 32 bit mode.

Now there's nothing stopping the PATRIOT Act allowing the FBI to slurp web-browsing histories without a warrant

Steve Todd

Re: Really?

I don’t think you’ve understood what is meant by “trusting the other endpoint”. Yes, it is hard to impossible to decrypt the message without knowing the cypher key. Once it is decrypted however it becomes vulnerable to theft, and if the recipient has a leaky system then you’ve lost all protection.

Russia admits, yup, the Americans are right: One of our rocket's tanks just disintegrated in Earth's orbit

Steve Todd

Re: Honest question....

Actually GEO satellites are delivered to a GTO, an elliptical orbit roughly between LEO and GEO. They then expend fuel at the top of the orbit to raise and circularise this (expecting the satellite to raise from a circular LEO orbit would be too expensive in fuel). Once on station they use a small amount of fuel per year to hold position, before using their remaining fuel to boost them up to a graveyard orbit at end-of-life. If there’s an issue with the satellite during the GTO phase then all it needs to do is alter its orbit so that it grazes the atmosphere each time. It should then burn up by itself.

The problem with this case is that the launch vehicle was empty of fuel once the satellite was in GTO. You need a larger, more expensive rocket which has enough capacity to deliver the satellite payload to GTO, then dispose of its self by changing orbit to either burn up or park out of the way of anything else in a graveyard orbit.

NASA signs deals to put a rocket under Artemis flights until 2029

Steve Todd

Even during the Shuttle days the RS25 was uprated past it’s original design.

They ran at 105% of rated capacity. The new engines have been improved further, and only have to survive one launch (disposable engines at $400 million per set, who’d have thunk it).

Apple: We respect your privacy so much we've revealed a little about what we can track when you use Maps

Steve Todd

Re: If this worries you...

Only those who have chosen to share their location with you personally, and not in real time. It's also only active when someone in your permitted friends list is actively requesting it You can get an idea of where your friends are, but not a precise fix.

Still waiting for your Atari retro gaming console? You're not alone: Its architect has just sued the biz for 'non-payment'

Steve Todd

You’re making the mistake of thinking that this “Atari” has ever built anything

The name has been passed through the hands of a number of companies, and is currently in the hands of a French company, Atari SA, who have to my knowledge never built anything.

Ofcom waves DAB radio licences under local broadcasters' noses as FM switchoff debate smoulders again

Steve Todd

The government needs to commit to DAB+ first, and not cheap out on the bit rate

The newer standard fixes the weaknesses of DAB by:

1) Adding Reed-Solomon ECC code to correct reception errors

2) Moving to the AAC CODEC rather than the antiquated MP2 format used by DAB.

The newer standard was released in 2007, so most sets made in the last 10 years should support it. Using the improvements to pack even more channels into the bit stream will however undo the advantages.

Real-time tragedy: Dumb deletion leaves librarian red-faced and fails to nix teenage kicks on the school network

Steve Todd

Perhaps it was on JANET, the UK's X25 academic network. I can remember having a lot of fun on that myself.

Well, 2019 finished with Intel as king of the chip world, Broadcom doing OK, everyone else shrinking. Good thing 2020's looking up, eh?

Steve Todd

So the caption should be ...

All but two of the top ten chip designers (Intel and Broadcom) suffer shrinking revenues?

Planet Computers has really let things slide: Firm's third real-keyboard gizmo boasts 5G, Android 10, Linux support

Steve Todd

Re: CEO Dr Janko Mrsic-Flogel

He was responsible for the VEGA+ software (or at least one of his companies were). They took circa £100k for it, and it’s known to be bug-ridden and flakey also.

Steve Todd

CEO Dr Janko Mrsic-Flogel

Hmm, he was part responsible for the VEGA+ fiasco, do you really want to trust him with a pre-order?

Asterix co-creator Albert Uderzo dies aged 92

Steve Todd

Loved by folk of all ages

When I was a child I'd get an Asterix book for Christmas. I'd read it, then my father would read it, then my grandfather.

The publishers may try to continue the series, but I doubt that it will be the same.

Microsoft throws a bone to those unable to leave the past behind: .NET 5 support on the way for Visual Basic

Steve Todd

Re: v5?

They are talking about .NET 5 (aka .NET Core).

Other than that you probably should be aware of Microsoft numbering theory:

Version 1: Incomplete and broken

Version 2: Fixed version 1, but still lacking features

Version 3: What users actually wanted

Version 4: Reimplemented (and with incompatible bits to V3), fancy bits added, but broken.

Version 5: Version 4 fixed.

Versions 6 and onwards: Rinse and repeat steps 4 and 5.

Xilinx's high-end Versal FPGA is like a designer handbag. If you need to ask the price, you probably can't afford it

Steve Todd

“ That's enough to simulate your own CPU core, though that's not really the intended use case.”

You can design a CPU with as few as a couple of hundred LUTs, so it’s probably massive overkill for all but bleeding edge designs.

Uncle Sam's nuke-stockpile-simulating souped-super El Capitan set to hit TWO exa-FLOPS, take crown as world's fastest machine in 2023

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It's only a game: Lara Croft won't save enterprise tech – but Jet Set Willy could

Steve Todd

Re: MiSTer is a modest success

The 68008 wasn't ready in time. It wasn't released util the year after the IBM PC was launched, and IBM engineering needed lots of samples of the chosen CPU in order to validate it. The 8088 may have been crappy and slow, but it was available and programatically similar enough to the 8080 that the software world was used to to make it an attractive choice at the time.

Starship bloopers: Watch Elon Musk's Mars ferry prototype explode on the pad during liquid nitrogen test

Steve Todd

Re: Unsurprise.

You do realise that SpaceX is a privately held company, and thus has no need to impress potential stockholders?

Unless you are (a) an engineer, (b) have been watching the feed for the full working day, each day, and (c) have access to feeds from inside the rocket then how do you know what progress is being made and who is doing what?

Famed Apple analyst chances his Arm-based Macs that Apple kit will land next year

Steve Todd

Re: Where are the benchmarks?

Erm, try looking at Geekbench results. The current Apple A13 is slightly faster at single core work than an AMD Ryzen 3800. It loses in multi core, but then it only has 2 fast cores vs AMDs 8.

AMD takes a bite out of Intel's PC market share across Europe amid microprocessor shortages, rising Ryzen

Steve Todd

Re: Is 25% wafer growth genuine ?

Not quite as simple as is made out. Demand is for higher core counts and improved capabilities. Using the 14nm(+++) node then you get fewer chips per wafer (partly because you can fit fewer of these bigger chips on a wafer, and partly because your failure rate goes up as the chip size increases). With 10nm Intel have poor yields to start with, and they can’t match the performance of chips fabricated on the, now very mature, 14nm node.

AMD have been rather smart here, in that their CPUs are fabricated in batches of 8 cores on 7nm chiplets. These are small, so with binning of chiplets that have some but not all cores working, along with the fully operational parts, they get very high yields. They then use cheaper 14nm IO chips to stitch the chiplets together into a seamless whole, letting them scale cores for almost linear incremental cost. Intel are having to compete with 16 core and higher parts, when their fastest parts have to be made on 14nm, and are monolithic so need a huge area on a wafer to get anywhere close.

One man is standing up to Donald Trump's ban on US chip tech going to Huawei. That man... is Donald Trump

Steve Todd

Why does Trump insist ...

All evidence to the contrary, that he’s the best ever on any given topic. As best I can make out, it’s almost always the reverse.

25 years of Delphi and no Oracle in sight: Not a Visual Basic killer but hard to kill

Steve Todd

Re: Interpreted?

In design/debug mode it was fully interpreted. Compiling to pCode isn’t vastly more efficient than pre-tokenising the source, and it falls well short of native binary speed.

Steve Todd

C# is syntactically similar to C, but more closely related to Java (which in turn was derived from C), and is basically Java with the faults fixed.

Steve Todd

Re: Interpreted?

Yes, the pCode was interpreted. It may have been compiled to an intermediate code, but it was still way slower than a native binary.

Steve Todd

The problem with Delphi

Wasn’t the language or IDE, it was Borland marketing. I was a fan of Turbo Pascal, and used Delphi for my own work. The company I was working for at the time got Borland in to demo Delphi as a possible replacement for VB, but they didn’t understand the product they were competing with (one of the senior devs asked “how do you do control arrays”. These aren’t needed in Delphi as the instance of a control that is clicked passes a reference of its self to the selected event handler, which makes it simple for many controls to share the same event code. The rep didn’t understand this). The second problem was that Interbase, the SQL backend of choice, had to be paid for whenever and however a product was shipped (even a limited user demo copy of an app). Microsoft let you ship a limited version of the backend database for free, and pay licensing costs only when you needed to scale it.

The result was that it was sidelined and the rest is history.

You'll never select all and mark as read again after this tale of peril... Oh, who are we kidding? Of course you will

Steve Todd

Re: transgenic mice

Many moons ago I wrote a dating program for transgenic mice. Scientists want rodents that are prone to particular diseases (cancers in this particular case), so they could use them when developing treatments for the disease in question. I thus had to create software that tracked individual animals, their lineage and which other(s) they had been bred with.

Best buds? Apple must be fuming: Samsung's wireless earphones boast 11 hours of listening on a single charge

Steve Todd

Or for a tad less than £100

You can get a set of cambridge audio melomania wireless earbuds that provide HD Audio (APT-X and AAC, so both Apple and Android camps are catered for), which have a 9 hour battery life and are pretty much guaranteed to sound way better.

Things I learned from Y2K (pt 87): How to swap a mainframe for Microsoft Access

Steve Todd

Re: A System/38 aint no mainframe, boy!

No, it’s a mid to large sized mini. IBM mainframes were descended from the venerable 360 range (which became the 370, which became the 3090, and these days I believe is called the system Z). The S/38 was designed from scratch as a Mini back in about 1978.

The 3090 (from about the same period) was designed to handle hundreds if not thousands of users. The S/38 would top out at a couple of dozen.

Steve Todd

Re: Not really a situation in which Access worked

You have my sympathies. It took rather longer to get a replacement written than I would have liked in my case also (Access, while in some ways being a complete pain in the butt, does give you a lot of functionality out of the box).

Steve Todd

VB6 is long gone (more than 20 years now since Microsoft released a compiler that handled it, and out of support for many years), but VBA is so different to VB.NET that I suspect that they have to keep it for backwards compatibility. The problem is that Office would need to be rewritten into .NET (with the associated slowdowns) in order for a .NET based scripting language to make any sense (in general Win32 apps can only access .NET components if they have been exposed via COM, and these are in the minority)

Steve Todd

Not really a situation in which Access worked

But I was working for a large American bank who used Access to track their commercial client’s advanced requests for foreign exchange transactions (if they booked the request in advance then the FX desk could arrange better rates).

The problem was that this was one Access database replicated to multiple foreign branches (because Access databases do NOT work well across a WAN), and every time someone at one branch exited the system in other than a controlled fashion (by crashing, or by simply just turning their PC off for example) then they would break replication at their local branch copy. I had to hold this steaming pile together while a proper solution built around .NET and SQL server was built, and I’ve never forgiven it since.


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