* Posts by Neil Charles

139 publicly visible posts • joined 7 Nov 2007


Hospitals to use startup's AI tech to predict A&E traffic

Neil Charles

A tenner says...

A tenner says their model breaks in a post-covid UK (provided we get to one).

We've got an AI model that's AMAZING at predicting hospital A&E admissions 2-3 weeks out, trained on data from the past couple of years!

2-3 weeks eh? Isn't that about the average period between a positive covid test and A&E admission?

I wonder what the strongest explanatory variable in their model is? Another tenner says it's positive covid tests.

Microsoft: A new Windows 10 build arrives while another remains in hiding

Neil Charles

That Excel OCR...

Excel OCR feels like everything Microsoft put out at the moment; a decent idea that's not finished. I tried it with some tables in a printed pdf doc and it brought in most of the numbers, but offset from each other and looking nothing like the original table, as if I'd imported a text file with the wrong delimiter. Fixing the formatting would have taken longer than just manually typing out the table.

Microsoft's Azure Portal: A boat load of updates, but is it too ambitious?

Neil Charles

Does it still...

...append login ssh keys on Ubuntu instances instead of replacing them? That one was a surprise when the Azure UI 'reset password' facility did it a while back and up until recently it was still doing it.

I did tell Microsoft support. Support said it was supposed to work that way, then when I pointed out saying 'reset password' when you mean 'add a new password' is misleading and dangerous, said they'd fix it.

Facebook's new always-listening home appliance kit Portal doesn't do Facebook

Neil Charles

"Facebook doesn't listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls,"


Microsoft: You don't want to use Edge? Are you sure? Really sure?

Neil Charles

Is this new?

I swear I got that popup when I put Firefox on my Windows 10 work laptop, which would have been over a year ago.

Great Scott! Bitcoin to consume half a per cent of the world's electricity by end of year

Neil Charles


Somebody's mining operation needed a cooling system?


Google slaps mute button on stupid ads that nag you to buy stuff you just looked at

Neil Charles

Few will use it

People who want to block ads will block ads, people who don't know about blocking won't discover Google's new feature either.

My guess is that's exactly what Google would like to happen and this is part of their response to GDPR. "They can easily opt out if they want to yer honour".

It's holistic, dude: How to dodge the EU's £17m data regulation sting

Neil Charles


"Marketing and sales are going to hate GDPR a lot more than IT."

Marketing and sales are going to scream blue murder once they pay attention and/or stop pretending that GDPR isn't going to happen.

Two-thirds of TV Licensing prosecutions at one London court targeted women

Neil Charles

Re: the Campaign to end the BBC Licence Fee

Fewer ads on on British telly has got nothing to do with the licence fee. Ofcom enforces a limit of 7 minutes of adverts per hour on average across a day and a maximum of 12 minutes in any one hour.

Up close with the 'New Psion' Gemini: Specs, pics, and genesis of this QWERTY pocketbook

Neil Charles

Corporate market

I could see this being a big hit if they can get distribution for it as an alternative to business mobile phones. I've got a Galaxy S7 as a work phone but would much rather have something that's pocket sized with a real keyboard for editing docs, taking notes and emergency fixes when away from my laptop. Video conferencing too - very business friendly.

The £500 price ticket becomes less of an issue when your boss is paying. I can't see huge numbers of people buying one for themselves at that price, because you'd also need a phone. If your company buys you the Gemini and you run your own cheaper 'droid personal phone, you'd have a great little setup.

Automated, insight cannot be: Jedi master of statistics was good – but beware the daft side

Neil Charles

Re: "... clear and unequivocal fashion..."

I was about to quote that exact same paragraph.

Visual exploration of a dataset is an incredibly powerful tool and as manager of an analytics team, it's where I'd encourage any analyst to start. Whether using commercial software like Tableau*, or free tools like exploratory.io.

For a quick example of why visual data exploration is so powerful, have a look at Anscombe's quartet.


You can hide an awful lot of issues in summary statistics.

* Actually, not 'like' Tableau. Tableau. It's brilliant for this job.

You have the right to be informed: Write to UK.gov, save El Reg

Neil Charles

Re: re. Quadsys

"They just need to file a lawsuit."

No they don't, they file a complaint, which goes to the regulator.

It only goes to court if either The Register isn't a member of a regulator, or if the complainants or The Register want to take it to court.

The important part (at least as reported on R4 Today) is that *whoever chooses to go to court pays all costs*. The costs don't automatically get applied to the newspaper, they get applied to whichever party rejected independent regulation and insisted on going to court.

A lot of the reporting on this is wilfully misleading IMO. Not liking the Max Mosely funded regulator is fair enough, but costs are not automatically applied to the publication. Proper independent regulation that would allow the average person meaningful redress against the likes of The Daily Mail is badly needed.

Adblock Plus blocks Facebook's ad-blocker buster: It's a block party!

Neil Charles

There's no way publishers win this war

If publishers and the advertising tech companies go to war with adblockers, then they're going to lose. It's analogous to conventional large armies vs. guerrilla warfare. The adblockers are much faster to adapt, more flexible and there are lots of them operating independently. They don't have to force the surrender of a company like Facebook, just keep harassing them until Facebook gives up.

How many resources did Facebook have to pour into developing, testing and deploying their new anti-adblocker strategy? Adblock Plus defeated it for free in 24 hours.

The advertising tech industry has become large, unwieldy and very complicated. Could all of its different players coordinate a coherent response to adblocking? No chance. I mean look at this mess.


Eventually, adblocking will force a retreat by the advertising industry. Blocking's not going away and in an arms race, the industry loses. A major problem now for publishers is whether they can put the genie back in the bottle by removing the slow loading, tracking and targeting features, which users really don't like. Going too far has driven adblock adoption upwards, but now that easy ways to block ads exist, I can't see everyone stopping using them.

'Microsoft Office has been the bane of my life, while simultaneously keeping me employed'

Neil Charles

Re: Difficult to describe this one

I've stopped using VBA in favour of R and Python, but do remember seeing a lot of this. In correcting one common mistake, you've made another one.

"Select" and "Active" in macros are bad, but so is copy and paste. What happens if the user manually copies something while your macro is running?

Sheets(otherSheet).Range(range).formula = Sheets(name).Range(Range).value

Neil Charles

I spent today...

... Teaching a bunch of analysts how to use R.

I'm an analyst and I used to use VBA a lot. No more, it's awful and it needs to die. The sooner the better.

WIN a 6TB Western Digital Black hard drive with El Reg

Neil Charles

Jesus, have you tried taking it off? Everything's in 3D.

Internet Explorer LIVES ON, cackle sneaky Microsoft engineers

Neil Charles

Re: Windows, your reign is over ....

Give it six months to a year and then see how you feel.

I still think Mint is great, but I wrote a few very enthusiastic pieces like yours soon after first installing it and it's not long enough to work out where the frustrations are hiding.

First experiences are that it boots fast, everything works like it should, you can browse and email and all the usual stuff absolutely no problem. For free! Amazing.

Then at some point you'll want to do something that Wine can't handle, or you'll install software through the Mint Software Manager that doesn't work and end up in a cycle of Googling and typing in command line instructions that you don't understand in an effort to fix things.

For me, a couple of those were Picasa (which flatly refused to upload pictures) and MySQL (which is all one straightforward package on Windows and on Linux, not).

Partly it's lack of familiarity with the environment - which isn't Mint's fault - and partly it's that things aren't as simple as on Windows. Whatever slightly more niche thing you want your PC to do - interface with a GPS, run a database, do video editing, whatever... Windows will cope easily and on Linux, you can probably do it but it's harder and your preferred choice of software might never work.

It actually makes you appreciate how much Windows does well underneath those bloody irritating bits that MS insist on putting on top (Charms Bar anyone?)

Anyway, all this has got nothing to do with Spartan. I'd like to hope it's a fresh start, but they've put Cortana in it, which doesn't sound very Spartan to me. I'm betting probably better than IE, but not as good as a good browser.

Buy Your Own Device: No more shiny-shiny work mobe for you

Neil Charles

Not so sure about this one

Work phones are partly for making calls but more importantly for sending and receiving email. At my office, when you connect your mobile phone to exchange (or Office 365 or whatever the service is called now), it demands remote admin rights over your phone for the owner of the exchange server. They can remotely factory reset it if they like.

That's fine for a work device and you can choose to do it on your own tablet or phone too if you want. But your employer demanding admin rights over your personal phone as the only option for work calls? Not for me.

CEO Tim Cook sweeps Apple's inconvenient truths under a solar panel

Neil Charles

The only reason to run an ad like this...

... is that you've run out of new products to talk about.

The meetings that end with these sorts of ads being made, start with wondering what the hell the marketing team is going to spend multi-millions of dollars on, when the company has nothing new to say. These are the sorts of people that Steve Jobs asked to kindly leave his meetings.

"I don’t think we need you in this meeting, Lorrie. Thanks"

It's a "brand" advert and it's not even a particularly good one. You run brand ads when your product isn't differentiated on quality and you're trying to persuade people that it is.

Defamation expert: New '1 year after publication' rule means EASY LIFE for UK libel judges

Neil Charles

Re: "corrections and clarifications"

I've always thought it would be a good idea not to force the paper to apologise using its own choice of language, in its own choice of location, but to give the equivalent space to whoever was defamed as a 'right to reply'.

Tabloids would think much harder about what they wrote if the consequences of a front page defamation were losing a front page to whoever you wronged, where they could write whatever they like.

Moto sets out plans for crafty snap-together PODULAR PHONES

Neil Charles

Spot on

My first thought was that this could extend well beyond phones. Or bring phones into new areas, whichever way you want to look at it.

As an example, the free flying community (Hang gliders etc.) use free software called XCSoar on Android for maps and airspace avoidance. Swap in proper altimeter and variometer modules and you're properly in business with a real flight instrument. It would be too big to be a regular phone then but who cares? That's not the point. There must be hundreds of specialist fields where a smartphone almost but not quite does the job you want.

This could be more versatile than a Raspberry Pi and without all the wires hanging out and Heath Robinson cases. Really hope they can get it to market.

LOHAN slowly strips lens caps off hi-def imaging arsenal

Neil Charles


Feedback from the paragliding community says that the Gopro Hero 3 battery life leaves something to be desired compared to earlier versions. If it's the cold and we're noticing it at only a few thousand metres up, then LOHAN might cause some issues!

Awesome bit of kit though. I still want one.

Facebook strips away a bit more of your privacy – but won't say why

Neil Charles

Hang on...

I'm not a lawyer but this can't hold up, surely?

"If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to the terms of this section (and the use of your name, profile picture, content, and information) on your behalf."

So you, personally, can't legally accept these terms because you're too young, but you are able to confirm that somebody who can legally accept them has done so.

That's got "Facebook's next appointment in court" written all over it.

Punter strikes back at cold callers - by charging THEM to call HIM

Neil Charles
Thumb Up

Re: Be a yes man instead.

Like it!

The cold calls are annoying if you're busy but if you're not, it can be a fun diversion to see how long they'll stay on the phone.

I had one PPI chap for the best part of half an hour. Answered initial questions and then very inconveniently developed a bad line when it came to giving my address.

Sure, it's 3... ley... ro... cf... Are you still there? Hang on...

Put the phone down and made dinner, talking more rubbish at 5 minute intervals. Took him ages to give up.

ISPs scramble to explain mouse-sniffing tool

Neil Charles

Re: Lies, damned lies and metrics

You can't explain Microsoft away that easily.

Only MS could take research showing that people don't use the command bar in explorer and conclude that means they should put more stuff on it and make it bigger.


Nothing wrong with the data. The management interpretation on the other hand...

'But we like 1 Direction!' Rock gods The Who fend off teen Twitter hate mob

Neil Charles

Re: Not just The Who

That's not fair, Tenacious D's wasn't the Best Song Ever.

It was just a tribute.

Patch Tuesday: And EVERY version of IE needs fixing AGAIN

Neil Charles

Surely the important question is...

After it's been patched, will it still have the lowest power consumption?

And how many otters/polar bears/giant redwoods will be burned in the patching process?

Chrome and Firefox are planet-wreckers, IE cuddles dolphins

Neil Charles

Re: I'm not surprised

Yep, a set time period seems like a thoroughly unfair test to me.

“We then measured the average power draw over one-second intervals for a six-minute period with each of the individual browsers open"

If I open IE on my work machine (which is the only time I open it), it huffs and puffs for a good while before it finally sorts itself out and loads the local intranet homepage.

A fairer test might be the total power draw over the time it takes to open the browser, load gmail, open and read a message, load YouTube, play one video and close again.

Never mind the power stats, I reckon IE on anything but a box fresh laptop would lose by about three minutes.

What kind of pirate are you: Justified, transgressor or just honest?

Neil Charles


"It is possible somebody at Kantar Media, which conducted the study for Ofcom, or at the watchdog itself, aspires to higher things: perhaps a gig at a large advertising agency"

Kantar is owned by WPP (world's largest advertising group). They're already bang in the middle of gigs with large advertising agencies.


Your Flying Car? Delayed again, but you WILL get it, says Terrafugia

Neil Charles

Re: Trouble is ...

The great unwashed already have access to 'your' airspace. I was flying about in it last week on my paraglider* and climbed a big hill carrying a 20kg pack to do it. Definitely needed a shower after that.

* No qualification legally required, but training is highly recommended!

Google's Schmidt calls for 'DELETE from INTERWEBS' button

Neil Charles

A delete button would only be practicable

If there were a very small number of companies indexing, caching and even hosting content. Preferably just one, otherwise who would the delete button notify?

I'm sure that never crossed his mind.

Clap Google, Amazon in irons to end tax shenanigans - MPs

Neil Charles

Re: But what about muh socialism?

Can I try that excuse?

"I didn't pay any income tax, but I contribute to the economy by paying VAT your honour."

OEMs and sellers must pay refunds on software faults - OFT

Neil Charles

30 days is ok, but...

What about on-going updates? I'd like to see a clearer definition of who is responsible when a service is withdrawn, or an update bricks your gadget.

Two very recent examples:

Logitech have retired Squeezebox and although they're saying they'll play nicely and continue to support the mysqueezebox.com site that it needs to work, as far as I know they don't have to?

Sony's fancy new PS3 store has screwed up my console's ability to download and install... well, anything. It seems like I'm not the only one. It used to work, then the update and now it doesn't - you get an error during install every time. Sony don't seem interested in helping.

So if I buy something that relies on a remote service for some of its functionality, how long is the company obliged to keep that service running? Or fix it if they break it?

Optical Express 'ruined my life' gripe site lives on

Neil Charles

Optical Express needed four goes to get my address right

And their biggest selling point for laser eye surgery is that it's cheap.

No thanks.

If I trusted them, I'd pay a lot more than they're charging, but I don't.

Rampant fake Facebook ad clicks riddle hits dead end

Neil Charles

Re: ""browsers that didn't have JavaScript enabled - something unheard of in this day and age"

I did some (very) back of a fag packet guesstimates a while ago and got to adblock penetration of only around 5%


What happens when Facebook follows MySpace?

Neil Charles

Re: I keep my photos on my own drive...

Yup, that's the way to do it. Facebook's lack of permanence is only a problem if you try to use it as a permanent solution. I store full res copies at home and back them up, then chuck whatever needs sharing at Picasa in default quality.

If you've got the images stored at home then who cares if your social network of choice disappears overnight? You can upload them somewhere else in the morning.

The long-term storage discussion is interesting and does raise an issue though. Techies will transfer their pics as they go along, but a lot of people take photos via their phone and over 4-5 upgrades many of those will get lost. Everybody's granny has a box stashed somewhere, full of old pics but I'm not sure our generation will have the equivalent. We'll have a pile of old phones we can't charge or access and forgotten image libraries scattered across a variety of yesterday's social networks.

New lightest-ever material: Ideal power for electric car

Neil Charles

Re: Maybe...but...

Impractical yes, but so is petrol.

My point was not so much that we should do it right now, as that it "could" be done. You'd definitely need a battery standard. I like 15' long AAs myself.

Seriously, as batteries get lighter and smaller it could happen. They don't need 30 second recharge times, if they're small and light enough to be swapped.

Neil Charles

Re: Maybe...but...

Why is it always assumed that you have to recharge car batteries? Why not drive onto a garage forecourt and your flat battery can be swapped for a fresh one? The garage charges up the old one at their leisure and somebody else inherits it.

Yes it would be difficult, but is it really so much harder than extracting black goop from deep underground, piping it for miles, refining it, transporting the refined goop to petrol stations and then pumping it into cars? Batteries are big and heavy so you'd need machinery to swap them, but seriously, why not?

If petrol had never existed and we'd only just invented electric powered cars, there'd be some serious work going on to create that infrastructure, guaranteed.

Behold: First look at Office 2013, with screenshots

Neil Charles

There really is nobody at Microsoft...

...Who thinks about ease of use for the UI, is there?

Or maybe there's one guy - in a basement room - with a prototype copy of Office where the ribbon never happened and using keyboard shortcuts to draw a pivot table doesn't pop up the old 2003 menu, while clicking the ribbon buttons shows a different one.

If that guy does exist he must be very, very depressed.

In the grand scheme of things, capitalising the menu bar is a small change, but road sign designers have known since the 50s that mixed case text is easiest to read quickly. James May covered it on Top Gear. Wikipedia knows too en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FHWA_Series_fonts

Microsoft desperately need to stop guessing, employ somebody aggressive who has studied how people process information and then give him authority over the people who design the Office UI.

Google Nexus 7 Android tablet

Neil Charles


"That said, it doesn't compete with the iPad, but it's not meant to. Instead Google has come up with a tablet that's ideal for the morning commute, most flights or as a second screen device for the home."

I'd say that puts it bang into the iPad's territory. Just because the iPad is capable of much more, doesn't mean most of them ever actually do that much more. Anecdotal evidence says most are sofa surfing, email and photo gallery machines. The Nexus should do those things fine.

There hasn't been an alternative to the iPad yet that is a safe bet to buy for a non-techy family member. There are alternative tablets that will do a perfectly good job, but it takes some research to find out which ones (otherwise you might end up with a Playbook.) My partner's mother got an iPad for her 60th birthday. Guarantee she'd have got one of these instead if it had been this year. And maybe a weekend away somewhere nice with the price difference.

Android Firefox: Screaming, awesome, you'll go blind etc

Neil Charles

Re: Dolphin's great

Yes, I know exactly how it's financed.

The way I look at it is that the only way I've ever clicked a mobile ad is by accident, so adblock stops Google billing advertisers for clicks that are worthless.

The other way I look at it is Android is what there is (unless I buy an iPhone, which I won't). I'd pay to remove ads, but i can't do that so I'll block them until there's an alternative.

The other way I look at it is I don't give a sh*t how it's financed and am completely happy with free-riding off people who haven't worked out how to use adblock yet. Call it a stupidity tax.

Neil Charles

Dolphin's great

And I use it on my phone, but my Android tablet's had Firefox on it for a while. Only one reason: it's got adblock. Early Android Firefox was rubbish, but the latest versions have been pretty good and adblock tipped the balance.

Have to see what this new one's like, but fingers crossed. I do hate them ads.

No one watches TV, Nielsen, and you know it

Neil Charles

Linear TV watching is dropping

Because you say it is? As opposed to Nielsen, whose job it is to, you know, measure it.

No, the TV viewing figures aren't perfect but they're a damn sight better than 'social' alternatives. Say you build a multimillion dollar project to measure TV through Facebook. Facebook growth is slowing down (for sure) and may turn into decline (we can only hope). What then? Brand new audience methodology every five years based on the latest social fad?

What about programmes that don't register on Facebook? There are lots that Nielsen can't register properly, even by actually logging what's shown on TVs. Is there a multi-thousand person discussion going on about those shows on Facebook? I doubt it.

In conclusion, anyone involved in social media shouldn't be let anywhere near TV viewing figures. Sort your own field out and leave TV alone. It's fine.

Microsoft set to 'do a Nexus' with its Surface tablet

Neil Charles

Re: I'm no Apple fanboi but

Fair enough and Windows 7's not bad. My work laptop is still prone to the odd wobble though and it had a clean install a couple of months ago.

In general, I mean that MS need to fight their own history as well as whatever the competition puts out. As a quick example, I tried to share my laptop net connection via wifi recently. Windows 7 can do that apparently, which is brilliant. But you turn on the sharing via the dos prompt. And then it didn't work.

Neil Charles

Re: Who's excited?

Speaking from limited experience, the Microsoft employee culture is a serious problem. Their employees are evangelical fans of MS kit to the point of not seeing where other companies' products are better.

It's great to have belief in your own product, but not to the extent where you don't fix it because you can't see that it's got serious issues. Microsoft could do worse than to flood their buildings with Apple, HTC and Samsung tablets and phones, get the staff to play with them and then ask they think. Anyone who can't see any advantages at all over what they build themselves, gets fired.

Neil Charles

I'm no Apple fanboi but

Could you imagine that happening to Steve Jobs as he demo'd an iThing?

Biggest problem Windows 8 has got in winning tablet customers? Windows 1-7. A lot of customers will see a choice between a slick tablet, or one that locks up occasionally, like their desktop does.

I'd love a tablet with a stylus that can run Windows programs, but I saw that video and thought, 'yep, pretty much as expected. IE is still shit.'

Top bosses admit: Tweets, Facebook Likes influence decisions

Neil Charles

Anybody who takes a bit of survey data

And uses it to create the monstrosity of an infographic that's linked at the top of the article, can't be trusted with Big Data. Or Medium Sized Data. Or Any Data At All.

If you want useful analytics, or advice on how to get useful analytics, steer well clear of anybody who says "big data". Those are marketing people. Go and find somebody who's been doing big data for ages and just calls it "analysis".

Asus-made Google pad set for June debut

Neil Charles

Re: 7" tablets are brilliant

Smart phones are growing but it's a trend I can see going the other way in the near future for a fair number of users. I've got an HTC Desire HD but having picked up the Flyer tablet, next time around it's getting swapped for something phone sized.

Pocket sized phone that can share its connection + 7" tablet and you've got a nice travel bundle. I'm not sure huge phones are the best of both worlds.

No problem with any size of gadget though, I was just disputing the idea that 7" tablets aren't a really useful size.

Neil Charles

7" tablets are brilliant

10" for the sofa, fine, but for travelling and office use my 7" HTC Flyer is perfect. Big enough for websites to be useable, to take notes and for emails to be readable, but not so big that it's awkward to carry around.

Hopefully this tablet will have a similar effect to the Nexus phone. It's not about Google selling millions of the things, it's about setting a benchmark, which other manufacturers of Android tablets will have to match or exceed. Google will be saying to Samsung, Dell, HTC and others, "oh, ffs, do it like this..." and then standing back to watch the iPad's market share take a battering.

Virgin Media site goes titsup in Pirate Bay payback attack

Neil Charles

"TalkTalk hadn't immediately returned our request for comment at time of writing."

Ah, so it's not just their customer service number then.