There go my chances of being a taikonaut - I'm allergic to crustaceans!
176 posts • joined 7 Mar 2007
Sinclair was BC (Before Computing!)
As the article mentions, Clive Sinclair was well-known in the electronics world long before the ZX80 and ZX81. He produced a whole series of radios and audio amplifiers that were very good value for money at the time. I remember the regular adverts in Practical Electronics! Famously, he discovered that a lot of reject transistors were good enough for audio use; they were being rejected as not good enough for demanding military applications. One story goes that he dug up a whole lot from landfill, and another is that his then wife spent many hours grading the reject transistors.
We shouldn't forget that he was successful in the electronics world before he ever touched computers.
Unlike many, I never owned a Sinclair product, but I did aspire to a ZX81 at one time! But I came into computing via another route, and my experience in programming a S100 based ZX80 single-card computer makes me take my hat off to Sir Clive and his team. Never before was so much squeezed into so little!
I was bereaved earlier this year; my wife died very suddenly and unexpectedly.
I have ample material from online chats conducted while we were courting and engaged (we lived on opposite sides of the world, so all our conversations were electronic). Her Facebook profile would provide ample material to bring it up to date. In other words, I am in a position to do exactly what Joseph did, given the skills (which I don't have).
However, I am not even slightly tempted. It was my wife's intelligence and sometimes quirky response to things that made her what she was. It was doing things with her, sharing common interests, that made our life together. It was helping her cook her favourite Chinese dishes - the list goes on and on.
An AI avatar might perhaps fool me for a few minutes, but even if it got everything right, it still wouldn't fool me for long. How does an AI handle the idiosyncratic English of a person for whom it isn't their first language? What about all the private things that never came anywhere near an electronic interface?
All I'd end up with would be a sort of Barbie-doll version of my late wife. Better to accept that she is gone, move on and see what lies around the corner - as she would have wanted me to.
Hacking the computer with wirewraps and soldering irons: Just fix the issues as they come up, right?
Re: Computer O Level
I can't remember if it was two of us or three who passed (i.e. got a C grade or higher), but only my friend Rhys and I went on to do A-level Computer Science, and we found ourselves helping said teacher with his lessons during our "free" periods when we should have been studying...
I was in a similar position at A-level for Physics. Our old-school Physics teacher had retired, and in his place, a young teacher with experience in the experimentally based Nuffield Physics course had been recruited. Of course, we were already partway through the conventional, mathematically based Physics course, and couldn't switch mid-course. Myself and another guy who was the school mathematical genius frequently ended up either correcting his working or being asked to explain to the class!
Re: PL/I … "think C with even crappier aesthetics"
It was still around and occasionally used in the 1980s; I think I've got a programming manual for it on my shelf somewhere (the IBM variant). Thankfully I never actually used it - got the manual because I sometimes had to resurrect other people's programs, though I drew the line at things written in really strange languages (one was in SNOBOL, and I've seen RATFOR as well).
I wouldn't go so far as to call it an OS, but I wrote a data logging program for a Z80 based S100 bus single card computer that had no software at all; just the bare iron. I used an Osborne 1 with WordStar, link and asm as my development environment (the system had to be debuggable in the Arctic!). The program was logging data in real-time from a prototype ice-sounding radar! The basic structure was sufficiently flexible that I was able to keep using it through several iterations of ancillary hardware, and I think (with hindsight) that it could have been developed into a real-time OS without too much trouble.
Tired: What3Words. Wired: A clone location-tracking service based on FOUR words – and they are all extremely rude
Re: Not my kind of humor, but
Also something where the failure of a single company will bring the whole thing down.
Latutude and longitude are two nice, simple numbers that give one's location to whatever precision is required, are completely public domain, and can be obtained from any device that can use What3Words.
Hubble, Hubble, toil and trouble: NASA pores over moth-eaten manuals ahead of switch to backup hardware
Academics generally were very early adopters of email; if you're collaborating with people around the world, the benefits are pretty obvious!
As a result, I think I've seen every single one of the error cases that people have reported; OoO loops, emails sent to everyone in the organization; you name it, it's happened to every large academic organization! I hasten to say that the worst I've done is send a message to the "wrong" email group resulting in something reaching people it shouldn't.
Well, I've been preparing sermons electronically since about 1988, starting on a PCW, and never hit that one!
But I have hit a related problem more recently. For a while, I used a phone-based satnav system that linked with my car's electronics. All well and good! But it had a sort of character at a time handwriting recognition system for inputting addresses etc. Again, so far so good, and it was mostly pretty reliable. But I NEVER found a reliable way to distinguish 0 and O. 1 and l were ok; you just did the serif on a 1. But I tried doing the 0 in either direction - always came up with O. Tried crossing it European style (I habitually do that anyway; habits gained from preparing input sheets to be entered on punch cards) - I forget what it came up with but it wasn't 0! I never did find a way to do it.
Watchdog 'enables Tesla Autopilot' with string, some weight, a seat belt ... and no actual human at the wheel
Re: Hmm ...
There was an incident at a Radar site where a tech was working up the tower having carefully taken the 'Man aloft' key with him. Officer came along and wanted to use the system so got the spare key from the safe and turned the transmitter on.
No matter how hard you try, someone will find a way
ISTR there were several early rail disasters where mistakes in passing tokens had fatal results, e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1898_St_Johns_rail_accident
From Maidenhead to Morocco: In a change to the scheduled programming, we bring you The On Call of Dreams
A similar phenomenon happens in boating circles. It's the never-ending pause between realizing that you're going to go in the water and actually getting wet. Frequently caused by a dinghy moving away from the jetty while the person concerned has their weight neither in the dinghy nor on the jetty. Can have more complex causes involving free water effects.
A VERY long time ago, I saw a MAD Magazine cartoon which described the shortest interval known to mankind being that between the traffic light turning green and a New York Cab driver honking the horn!
No egrets: Ardent twitchers fined for breaking lockdown after bloke spots northern mockingbird in his garden
Re: Be thankful they're only visitors
So its a totally different rarity league to something like (earlier mentioned) waxwings, which visit from Scandinavia just abut every winter (though numbers vary, each year sometimes lots, often just a few) and so even though they are very attractive to see they are not a "mega" (but a drab US vagrant is)
They're progressively rarer as you travel south in the UK - I live near Cambridge, and waxwings in this area are something only seen maybe once a decade or even less frequently. They're seen much more frequently in Scotland and Northern England, but I think the year we had them (winter 1995-1996) was the latest time they've been seen in East Anglia - but I may be wrong.
IIn the winter of 1995-1996, I was fortunate enough to have a flock of waxwings congregate in a crab-apple tree in our front garden. They're rare-ish winter visitors in the UK, so we did notice a fair number of people coming along to see them. All were very polite and very careful not to violate our privacy, remaining on the road and not attempting to enter our front garden even though they would probably have got closer and a better camera angle by doing so. When I first saw them (they're a fairly distinctive bird), I was quite worried about being besieged by hordes of anorak wearing twitchers, but in fact people were actually quite polite about it.
UK dev loses ownership claim on forensic software he said he wrote in spare time and licensed to employer
In academia, if you work in a University it is usual for people to retain IPR on the work they do, and to take their work with them when they move to another university. This includes data, samples, code and whatever. Of course, a lot of it is published and freely available anyway, but there is always a corpus of work that is not yet published. I don't think this is documented anywhere in particular, but it's the usual way things happen.
Those who moved from University to a government institution sometimes got a nasty shock when they realized that their research belonged to the institute, NOT to themselves personally. When it came to Freedom of Information and Environmental Information Regulations (the latter was more important in most cases), it made a big difference - the institute could and did instruct them to release data to third parties in compliance with those regulations. Some more recalcitrant members of staff had to be threatened with disciplinary action before they could be made to take it seriously!
Limited space and facilities
Many moons ago, I was "sysadmin" for a mini-computer system - a CMC reality (this was the late 70s). In those days, system upgrades were performed by the manufacturer, so that wasn't an issue.
However, we were handling large databases (by 1978 standards - tens of thousands of records, I think) and writing software to manipulate these databases in ad-hoc ways almost every day. But what a lot of people here are forgetting is that in those days, system resources were tiny, disc (yes, we had a disc) space was extremely limited and backup was a 1600bpi reel-reel magnetic tape. Indeed disc space was so limited that you often had to save a file to tape to be able to load another one. However, several databases had to be on-line - we ran an online query system for a few clients (no internet - this was via modems and hunting groups). Remember, too, that in those days even the concept of a file or a record varied from machine to machine - the ubiquitous Unix style bit-stream model of a file wasn't by any means universal. The CMC, for example, regarded a file as a collection of records whose location was allocated according to a hashing function derived from key fields - a record was a collection of fields. So even if you had a backup, it wasn't an image of what was on the disc, it was the output of a command to convert the disc version to a sequential format.
Anyway, the point I'm working round to is that very often we had no choice but to work on a live and running database - there wasn't space or resources to do anything else. And equally, the safeguard was to ensure you were working on a very well-defined small set of records when carrying out tests so that you knew what you were going to have to fix if it went pear-shaped. But of course, it was far more error-prone than anything a modern DBA or sysadmin would allow. today! And equally, of course, we were often manipulating data input by bored keyboard operators, so incorrectly formatted data were fairly common (we did apply validation on entry, but again, it was limited by the resources available). Very often, we'd run a command to reformat a field according to new customer requirements and find that it fell over when it hit a condition that we hadn't anticipated because an operator had put in something the client had told us didn't happen!
Whatever the rights and wrongs of what we were doing, it didn't half teach you to bench-check your code VERY carefully!
Re: Right of way
COLREGS DON'T say anything about "right of way" - there's no such concept in them. As you say, every navigator has the responsibility to avoid collisions. However, there is no "right of way" - there's "Stand on" vessel, which is the vessel which should maintain its speed and course, and there "give way" vessel, which has to change its course and speed in the manner mandated by the regulations.
It also strikes me as odd that a company would think nothing of spending an awful lot of money on film and development without either their own dark room facility, or understand the savings that would have come with an (even that expensive) digital camera.
Even the relatively small outfit (~400 employees; 2 photographers!) I worked for had it's own colour processing system.
A 1970s magic trick: Take a card, any card, out of the deck and watch the IBM System/370 plunge into a death spiral
Back in the dark and distant days on the 1980s, I did have one or two programs that either would or woudln't work if a comment was in a particular location! I think that would have been in IBM's H Fortran Compiler, which was often rather too clever in its optimizations - my favourite was it movind a RAND function outside a loop because the argument didn't change within the loop!
Reports of one's death have been greatly exaggerated: French radio station splurges obituary bank over interwebs
Back in 1987, a colleague and I had been working in Greenland, with piles of prototype electronics, test equipment and who knows what. We left Greenland on US Military flights and arrived around midnight at a US military airfield in New Jersey. There, we had to enter the USA and get through customs. Unfortunately for us, the military types who were on duty to check us through were a) peeved anyway at being on duty around midnight and b) had been told to expect one flight, but two arrived. So, when a pallet load of weird-looking kit turned up with a limey (me!) and a guy who claimed to be Texan but spoke with an impeccable English accent attached to it, they decided it was time to have some fun, and asked in menacing tones, "OK, what's in these cases?" Fortunately, our institute was well practised at getting our weird kit through remote airfields, and we had prepared a careful packing list for every crate. I showed them the list; they realized they didn't even know what half the stuff was, and wouldn't recognize it if it sat up and bit them and decided to forgo their fun!
Of course, the fact that our ultimate destination in the US was Los Alamos National Laboratory might also have been a factor!
Re: Well Worded Oncall Agreement
Possibly financial. Airport parking could be more expensive than the taxi fare and the parking might be some way from where you need to be so might even take longer than a taxi dropping you off at the front entrance.
No, it was H&S based - the airport was a 2 hour drive (at least) away, and airport parking would have been much dearer. One airport we used regularly was 3-4 hours drive away - and it was the only option for the required destination (the Falklands)
A 73bn-kg, skyscraper-size chocolate creme egg spinning fast enough to eventually explode – it's asteroid Bennu
Re: Interesting thought
The disruptive effect would only happen after the asteroid reached the inner solar system. The mechanism by which they leave the Oort Cloud must be a different one - possibly even random gravitational encounters would be sufficient, though the possibility of there being a massive dark body (e.g. Planet X) can't be discounted.
Surely the fact that one of the first few asteroids that we have inspected up close is apparently close (in geological terms) to disruption has important implications.
It implies that it is common for such bodies to be close to being disrupted, and hence places limits on the expected life-span of such bodies. Therefore, it also implies that such bodies must form at a rate to replace the loss by disruption. By form, I include entry into the inner solar system by perturbation of the Oort cloud.
Techie studied ancient ways of iSeries machine, saved day when user unleashed eldritch powers, got £50 gift voucher
My late wife was a Learning Support Assistant for a child with dyspraxia, about 15 years ago; the child must now be in his early 20s! It is a strange one - the child was quite normal in many ways, but the things they find challenging are not always obvious. Physical clumsiness and inability to concentrate are the usual things that get noticed, but there's also a lack of connection between thought processes; it's difficult for the mind to make cross-links between topics. I suspect that what we call "lateral thinking" would be difficult for a person with dyspraxia.
Here's a headline we'll run this century, mark our words: Alien invaders' AI found on Mars searching for signs of life
But aren't most discoveries made by observing something that is NOT expected. If you automatically discard data that does not fit a pre-conceived idea, you run the risk of missing something truly amazing or unique!
As happened with the detection of the ozone hole, you mean? NASA could have detected the ozone hole from satellite measurements, but the relevant measurements were discarded as "out of range". It took scientists at BAS making ground-based measurements as part of a long-term survey to find the ozone hole. But if NASA hadn't made assumptions about what the data should look like, they would have beaten Farman et al to it.
Re: Nursing Home
For many years, the communal phone in our map-room had the same number as a local saw-mill - but on a different exchange. We were on the big city exchange, as were the vast majority of villages around us. But the sawmill was in a village that happened, no doubt for historical reasons, to have an independent exchange. Most people didn't remember that the village in question was on a different exchange, and just dialled it as a local number. We got innumerable phone calls asking for quotes for fence poles etc., and some people got really irate when we insisted that we weren't the sawmill! We sometimes wondered if we could make a profit by finding out the pricelist of the sawmill and taking orders with a bit added on!
Not IT, but...
I once took my daughter (now 30 with a son of her own about the age she was then) into work. My wife and I were having a drink in the work cafeteria, while various colleagues went "Oooh" and "AAh" over the cute little toddler. Anyway, she was being well-behaved (for once!) and we didn't worry when she waddled off - until she marched straight up to the Director of the Institute, and said, loud and clear, "Daddy!". Fortunately, the Director and I had known each other for a long time and had done fieldwork together so, after an initial moment of looking totally nonplussed, he took it in good heart!
This is why we need manned space travel
ISTR that there was a similar problem on Apollo when the astronauts had problems driving a flagstaff into the lunar regolith. It was solved using the classic method of "use a bigger hammer", or something equally low-tech. There are limits to automated space probes, and while they can do wonderful things that far exceed their design parameters, it's always worth remembering that they move VERY slowly and cautiously and that a geologist on the surface could produce the same output in a matter of days as Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity have in years of operation. Further, None of the automated probes could react to something like a fossil unless they happened to point their camera in the right direction at the right time - even on earth, where we expect to find fossils, it can be difficult even for a trained human to spot them. And those interpreting the images and other results back on Earth have to apply the most conservative interpretation to the results coming back because they can't pick something up and give it a close inspection. For example, I recall that one of the early images from Spirit or Opportunity showed regularly shaped cavities in a rock, which were interpreted as voids caused by dissolution of crystals. That's a perfectly reasonable interpretation, but the alternative interpretation that would be considered for something similar on Earth - that they are fossils - didn't seem to be considered; probably because of Occam's razor! But a geologist on the spot could, in a matter of minutes, carry out an examination that would settle the matter one way or another. I'm biased - my first reaction on seing the image was "That looks awfully like a cast of a brachiopod shell!", and I could never undestand why nothing I've seen published even considered that possibility, even if it was rejected.
It would never have happened in my uncle's day!
My Uncle was one of the head signalmen in the very important box at Newcastle! This would never have happened in his day - mainly because such electronic shenanigans hadn't been invented when he retired. In fact, his tenure was back in the day of signals being operated mechanically, with substantial skill and strength being required to operate a distant signal, connected to the box by potentially miles of rods. But in those days, when we were going to visit him, my Mum could calculate without a shadow of doubt when he'd be on a suitable shift - his shift pattern didn't change for years.
'Non-commercial use only'? Oopsie. You can't get much more commercial than a huge digital billboard over Piccadilly
What is non-commercial
When I worked for a government research organization, doing strictly non-commercial work (it's difficult to do anything commercial in Antarctica!) I found that software companies varied enormously in what they thought non-commercial meant. A lot would say, that yes, you are wholly funded by public money, and are therefore non-commercial. Some would look at the fact that a few of our products were sold, albeit at rates that only covered the cost of printing, not the cost of the work that went into the products, and said we had to pay a commercial rate. In some cases where the software was nice to have rather than must-have, I did try and persuade the latter category to change their mind - without a great deal of success!
I should mention that as a high-profile organization, we had to be squeaky clean in our software licensing.
It won't surprise you to hear that the latter category were mostly house-hold (well, ones that read El Reg) names that wouldn't have missed the money, and the former were usually small companies that could probably have used our money, but chose to recognize our status.
A paper clip, a spool of phone wire and a recalcitrant RS-232 line: Going MacGyver in the wonderful world of hotel IT
I worked with a lot of prototype electronics in the 1980s; data logging for ice-penetrating radar. In those days, there were only two "standard" ways to connect equipment - RS232 or Centronics. And the vast majority worked with RS232. As others have said, "standard" isn't really a good description; there were so many variants that a breakout box was an essential tool when working with them. It wasn't just the physical connection - software things like baud rate, 7 or 8 data bits, 0 or 1 parity bit, software or hardware handshaking - the list was unending, and was often controlled by the setting of obscure DIL switches or jumpers.
That said, I was working with a bare Z80 single card computer, and once you'd got the hardware sorted out, the software (written in Z80 assembler) could be remarkable simple using an interrupt based system. I think that my code for reading an RS232 line was less than 10 instructions - I forget exactly at this distance of time, but less than ten, and perhaps only 5 or 6. For various reasons, my entire software suite was entirely interrupt-driven - the main program was simply a loop that dumped data from a buffer to an output device, with incoming data using interrupts to load data into the buffer. On one recording device, the only problem was that it was a 4 track device, and when a track was full, there was a lengthy rewind (something like 15-20 seconds), and the length of buffer required would only JUST fit in the available memory - 2 or 4 kbytes of RAM!
Iran military manages to keep a straight face while waggling miracle widget that 'can detect coronavirus from 100m away'
Real-time tragedy: Dumb deletion leaves librarian red-faced and fails to nix teenage kicks on the school network
Re: in fairness
"It would not be difficult to make a computer controlled machine that would automatically mill the words of a document into stone slabs"
I have no doubt that at least some if not most grave stones are engraved that way nowadays.
WHen I had to have several grave markers made in 2007, the stone masons ceratinly had an automatic engraving machine available. I think it was a little limited in its capabilities, but it was definitely a thing!
Re: Oh so special's
Agree entirely about your comments - a train a minute late is a cause for severely raised eyebrows! However, I happened to find out how they manage it when I was staying at a hotel in Interlaken while attending a conference in Thun (the hotel in Interlaken was run by people we knew well). I was commuting daily by train from Thun to Interlaken along lake Thun, and one day we were held up for about 10-15 minutes at one point along the line - long enough that there was an announcement on the train apologizing. But we STILL made it to Interlaken West on time. It turns out that the amazing time-keeping is because there's enough slack in the timetabling to allow them to make up time for almost any conceivable delay. ISTR that some years (probably decades!) ago, the Swiss railways seriously considered taking on British Rail - but backed off when they realized that they couldn't run timetables with that sort of slack in them.