* Posts by Keith Oborn

180 posts • joined 9 Mar 2007


Beware, drone fliers, of Scotland's black-headed gulls. For they will tear your craft from Mother Nature's skies

Keith Oborn

Bigger birds have bigger targets

Hear tell recently of a pilot in a single seat glider who had a large eagle crash through the canopy. He was left with no canopy and 3 kilos of extremely pissed off eagle in his lap. This took him a little while to resolve. Bird and human both survived, somewhat chastised.

UK ISP TalkTalk confirms it will MullMull go-private takeover offer valuing it at £1.1bn

Keith Oborn

A pity

I did some work there around the time that Dido went. I got the distinct impression of a bunch of good people who were very worried about any other security issues, and really wanted to do a good job. They were worthy of encouragement.

I bet this deal will go the usual way, private finance extracts their pound of flesh and the company is hung out to dry.

It may depend on Dunstone's attitude: he's not the nicest person, but I got the impression that he actually gives a damn about this baby.

UK privacy watchdog confirms probe into NHS England COVID-19 app after complaints of spammy emails, texts

Keith Oborn

Re: I got one...

I have. I get text alerts from them. I did NOT get any about the NHS app--.

Singapore Airlines turns A380 into a restaurant, delivers plane food to homes

Keith Oborn


Lots of potential here. For a tiny sum, a gobby Irish git will meet you somewhere godforsaken and 20 miles away from home. He may be up to three hours late. He will not, however, start shouting until you pay the "verbal abuse" fee. Having taken a lesson from Monty Python the duration of the abuse depends on how much you pay. There is also the option to take the additional "targeted abuse" option that allows choice of subject and targets in your immediate family. Capacity for the latter is limited, and prices will change every nanosecond to reflect this. Once complete, the aforementioned Irishman will bundle you into a cramped, dark, van, drive you around for an hour or two and dump you in a muddy field with no signposts.

Now Easyjet on the other hand--. You do LIKE being painted orange, don't you?

Not content with distorting actual reality, Facebook now wants to build a digital layer for the world

Keith Oborn

David Eggers "The Circle"

"Sharing is Caring".

One step nearer the precipice here.

Competitive techies almost bring distributed disaster upon themselves – and they didn't even find any aliens

Keith Oborn

Major Telcos and SETI

Company I worked for in 2000-2003 sold, amongst other things, CDN systems. Got a big order from a Dutch telco whose name began with K. They bought 100 fully-loaded Sun E450s.

But their management couldn't agree on the details of what they wanted to do. We had two consultants cooling their heels on site for 6 months at the customer's expense.

One day they emailed the office: "We got bored. Uncrated all the Suns, hooked them up and got them online. We're in the top 1% of SETI@home" :-)

Search for 'things of value' in a bank: Iowa cops allege this bloke broke into one and decided on ... hand sanitiser

Keith Oborn



First alligators, then dogs, now Basil Fawlty is trying to standardise social distancing measures

Keith Oborn

1.1764705 Smoots

'nuf said, although I suppose the Smoot is a Colonial unit, with excessively close association to certain tea-rejecting locales, so should be ignored in the UK.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin. Hang on, the PDP 11/70 has dropped offline

Keith Oborn

Re: Workmen

Well Known National Daily Newspaper (OK, the Mirror): I worked for the supplier of the shiny new first-into-production computer controlled pre-press system. There were two CDC 60Mb washing machines.

Colleague and I walked up to the machine room door, looked in and saw two chippies. One of them was using a drive as a saw bench to shorten a 4x2. The other was using the second drive as a bench to hammer some old nails out of another bit of 4x2.

We looked at each other and slunk off.

The drives survived - and also survived betting rained in when the roof leaked. They made good kit, did CDC ;-)

Chips for Huawei are fried: TSMC stops shipping parts to Middle Kingdom mega-maker this September

Keith Oborn

Politics aside-

One thing recent events have shown up is the folly of relying on making all of a product in one place. PPE? We have to buy from China. Car parts? and so on and so forth. Outsourcing production to such a huge extent, and allying this with "just in time" processes, means that the whole supply chain may be cheaper *while everything is working normally* but it is also utterly fragile. Remember the Japanese semiconductor encapsulation resin plant that got knocked out by an earthquake? Then everyone realised that it was the only one--.

Also: quite happy for semiconductors and network kit to be made in China and offered on the free market, as long as there are viable alternatives and even-handed tariff and anti-dumping rules. The Japanese electronics industry managed to get past that hump quite well. In the 70s and 80s there was a huge "grey imports" scandal where Japanese kit (cameras notably) appeared on Western markets via third parties, and the manufacturers refused to honour warranties. Chap from Fujitsu told me why: they had to make a sales projection for 12 months, and that was what got shipped to them. So they always over-ordered, then shipped the surplus out of the back door. This was resolved by simple application of legal levers around product liability.

Chinese huffing about the Huawei ban is nonsense. They banned foreign suppliers from their networks ages ago. Some backroom "diplomatic conversations" needed methinks.

Mirror mirror on the wall, why will my mouse not work at all?

Keith Oborn

Foot switch

Reminds me of an old one "The foot switch doesn't work".


Elderly lady who was a dab hand (and foot) with a sewing machine--.

Swedish data centre offers rack-scale dielectric immersion cooling

Keith Oborn

Re: You

Cray 2. I always had a hankering to chuck some fake goldfish in--

Baby, I swear it's déjà vu: TalkTalk customers unable to opt out of ISP's ad-jacking DNS – just like six years ago

Keith Oborn

J**** F*** W****

I designed and implemented a system to do this for <well known cableco> in 2006.

Optout is a doddle to do, and doesn't need to require users reboot anything at all.

Worked with TT in 2015-17 - on DNS related stuff.

If only they had asked. The optout method was pretty much public domain by then.

Data surge as more Brits work from home? Not as hard on the network as their nightly Netflix binges, claims BT

Keith Oborn

Re: What was that ?

Backbone networks are usually scaled based on "user profile" - this is the "average peak bandwidth per user" - IE total bandwidth at peak divided by number of users. Note that this means the total "sold" users, not the number actually connected at the time, although nowadays most accounts are "connected" all the time.

The peak usually occurs around 8-9PM, and the daytime figure is around 1/2 to 2/3 of that. The increase in online video sources in recent years may have increased that ratio.

The real problem would be a combination of working from home *and* kids off school watching YouTube etc in the daytime. Some selective throttling might be needed.

Control is only an illusion, no matter what you shove on the Netware share

Keith Oborn

A smaller one--

Many years ago, I was running a set of SCO boxes (remember them?). SCO had only one file in /, the rest of it was the usual directories. /unix

So in a moment of absent mindedness about where I currently was in the directory structure I did "rm *".

Short pause. Oh shit. Actually, everything kept humming along, except a few things like "ps" stopped working.

Luckily, it was not a custom kernel, so I was able to grab one from the adjacent machine, while muttering imprecations on the lines of "please don't crash. please don't lose power"

House of Lords push internet legend on greater openness and transparency from Google. Nope, says Vint Cerf

Keith Oborn

Feet of clay

I was lucky enough to attend the Romanes Lecture at Oxford last yer - a prestigious event that has been graced by many great speakers in the past. Vint was speaking on "The Pacification of the Internet".

I went in excited to see a hero. I left utterly disillusioned. In 30-odd minutes he spent 25 looking at

early net history, and only the last 5 on the future. He had nothing useful or interesting to say about it.

Ah, night shift in the 1970s. Ciggies, hipflasks, ADVENT... and fault-prone disk drives the size of washing machines

Keith Oborn

How to treat removable pack drives

Back in the 70s I was working at a national daily paper, whose name included a synonym for "reflective surface"

Our pre-press system had two 60Mb washing machines. Quite apart from dust these are sensitive to vibration.

Colleague and I looked into the machine room through the window in the door.

Two carpenters. One using a drive as a saw bench to cut a 4x2 down. The other using the second drive as a rest to knock old nails out of another piece of wood.

We looked at each other and silently went elsewhere.

The drives survived.

They later survived rain getting in the electronics.

CDC made damn good hardware!

Who says HMRC hasn't got a sense of humour? Er, 65 million Brits

Keith Oborn

They do have a sense of humour sometimes

Year before last I found a bug in the property section of the online form. Called up. "Let me try it" she said. Pause. Oh dear, you're right."Good" I said "is there a bug report bounty?" Cue helpless giggling from tax lady.

On a more serious note, I have by my desk the case files for a friend, recently deceased, who was the only private person ever to win the right to take HMRC to the European Court of Human Rights.You *can* beat the man.

Whirlybird-driving infosec boss fined after ranty Blackpool Airport air traffic control antics

Keith Oborn

Re: What kind of climate vandal..

Administratively it may be. Physically it is not. It is on the southern edge of the town of Blackpool, the northern edge of St. Annes. I grew up in the latter.

Mind you, I agree about the bus: I bet the no 11 would have got him there quicker. And for less than 550 an hour.

We won't CU later: New Ofcom broadband proposals mull killing off old copper network

Keith Oborn

Re: reliability

Yes, in general perhaps.

However, where the local loop is on poles (as it is in our country lane) there may be a problem. Energis found out many years ago that slinging fibre between tall poles (national grid) was a tad unreliable, as the fibre didn't like swaying in the breeze. It is more fragile than copper.

This may have been resolved by now--.

If you're going to exploit work's infrastructure to torrent, you better damn well know how to hide it

Keith Oborn

Re: i don't know...

Colleague at $UK_Cable_Co (not hard to guess!). One night he got a new patch for the CMTS (cable headend routers) from Cisco. For some reason his standard "It's Cisco: be VERY careful" alarm didn't ring.

So he deployed it nationwide. Some hours later a nice new little bug emerged and caused ALL of the routers to reboot at once. 4.5m customers knocked offline. After the reboot the DHCPs (also Cisco software, but rather good) were being hammered. Another colleague said "it was impressive. 200-odd boxes all pegged to 100% CPU for 30 minutes, but they all kept working and I didn't have to do a thing".

The culprit put his hand up and said "oops, sorry", and found that the company mantra "everyone is allowed one mistake" was actually true. Of course, if he'd tried to hide it. the result would have been different.

Keith Oborn


Around 2002 my company had sold a load of software to are certain European Telco with headquarters in Den Haag. Said telco proceeded to order about 100 Sun E450s, fully loaded, for the project. Then their big pile of time-serving contractors did all they could to stall the project. We had two guys on site for six months twiddling their thumbs for $2k per day each.

One day we got an email from one of them. "We got bored, uncrated all the Suns, hooked them up to a switch and connected them to the world. We're in the top 1% of SETI@home".

Don't look too closely at what is seeping out of the big Dutch pipe

Keith Oborn

Been there

Was idly looking at Usenet reader logs and found an interesting one.

Sent the perpetrator a little email:

Subject: alt.sex.hamster.duct-tape

Message body: Anything interesting?

He stopped.

Samsung on fridge cert error: Someone tried to view 'unsavoury content' in middle of John Lewis

Keith Oborn

Glad to see John Lewis has tightened up-

Some few years ago a colleague did the following to demonstrate that the (BT provided) WIFi at JLP Oxford St. was a tad wide open and allowed access to *anything* bu *anybody*:

Stand in street outside. Connect to store network (no security, nothing, open access). Browse to porn site. Take screenshot. Email to Bt and JLP with supporting evidence. Await small explosion. It worked as a sales tactic, we got the business to sort this sort of thing out ;-)

When the satellite network has literally gone glacial, it's vital you snow your enemy

Keith Oborn

Early days of UK commercial internet-

A certain very early commercial ISP in the UK had a single backbone link that happened to include a microwave hop. Same problem: snow. Their first ever trouble ticket read "All connectivity lost. Cause: wrong sort of snow on the Internet".

So we're going back to the Moon: NASA triggers countdown by firing up spacecraft production

Keith Oborn

Re: At Last!

Bob Heinlein got there before you all on the politics: "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress".

Electric cars can't cut UK carbon emissions while only the wealthy can afford to own one

Keith Oborn

A bit out of date?

A parliamentary report form last year - so probably using information from some while before.

I'm on my second EV (Nissan Leaf) and it is already price-competitive with an equivalent IC car if you look at overall cost of ownership. Same goes for other models. The only difference is range, and from personal experience that is a red herring for almost all usage patterns.

The E-Golf is a bad example: an expensive lashed-up conversion of an existing model. Look at future VW models for a better comparison.

There is a good secondhand market already: look at Auto Trader. OK, the absolute number of cars is low, but then that reflects the number sold in past years.

Charging points are a problem. The main issue is the stupid multiple payment systems, although at least HM Gov are working on that, all new ones must take bank cards from next year. Given that the largest "network" is now owned by BP, I suspect that this issue will get fixed for existing units quite soon.

A lot of public charge points are in odd locations. Ecotricity did a good job on this, putting them at motorway service stations. BP will no doubt know some good places!

BUT: EV owners only rarely need to use a public charge point. Most charging is at home.

Perhaps El Reg might like to write, copy or link to an article that shows the real situation - warts and all, for there are warts, but they are small and shrinking.

Simons says don't push us: FTC boss warns regulator could totally break up big tech companies if it wanted

Keith Oborn

Forced breakups have unintended consquences

Not that I'm in favour of any of the current set of near-monopolies, (Google, Facebook, etc) but consider what happened when AT&T were broken up.

Roll forward a couple of decades and the resultant surge in competition in the US Telco market resulted in - AT&T again. And a few others (Comcast for instance). No improvement.

An AT&T exec some years ago said that being the "victim" of an anti-trust breakup was "the best thing that had happened to the company in years".

An IBM exec said "and NOT being broken up was the worst thing that happened to IBM".

Meet ELIoT – the EU project that wants to commercialize Internet-over-lightbulb

Keith Oborn

Re: IrDA

From my memory of IrDA the problem was desperately short range - you had to put the two little black panels within an inch or two of each other. So presumably very limited power. However, it's evident that this *can* be done: almost all consumer electronic remotes are IR. OK, data rate is trivial. However, they are still quite directional, but that may be by design.

Basically sounds like a bright idea. But if we all have to buy new LiFi light fittings (ant bets?) not so good.

I can see advantages in shared spaces: hospitals, shopping centres, etc, where there is usually fixed lighting from multiple sources and often quite a bit of electrical noise. WiFi range can also be a problem.

HMM: we all forget these technologies have to be bi-directional. Does than mean my laptop (phone!) has to have a light bright enough to be seen by a detector 100m away? What happens when the phone's in my pocket?

When you play the game of Big Spendy Thrones, nobody wins – your crap chair just goes missing

Keith Oborn

Re: "disk drives the size of top-loading washing machines"

At a certain well-known newspaper in the late 70s, two of us approached the machine room door and looked in. Two carpenters were inside. One had a length of 2x4 across one disk drive, and was sawing it in half. The other had a similar length propped against another drive and was banging old nails out of it.

We looked at each other. Not a word was said, but we suddenly remembered an urgent appointment elsewhere.

Both drives survived: All hail those CDC engineers!

Openreach needs to snap that BT umbilical cord, warns Ofcom

Keith Oborn

Pedant alert

<pedant> s/chord/cord/ </pedant>

Unless the intention is for Openreach to mess with BT's organ playing? Must admit I have no idea that an "umbilical chord" sounds like ;-)

Ahhhhh! What year is it?! Users left without direction or clue after Google Calendar 404s

Keith Oborn

Sort of working here in UK

Web version page refreshes, but won't add new events.

Mobile app is fine, adds new events - but I think that one uses a local copy and syncs back to the mothership.

Could you just pop into the network room and check- hello? The Away Team. They're... gone

Keith Oborn

A real explosion-

Some years ago I worked at a well known daily newspaper that had offices on City Road in London. The computer room was on the ground floor with big floor to ceiling windows looking out on a cemetery. On the other side of the cemetery was an Army barracks.

Some time before I joined, my predecessor was on the phone to his boss, who was somewhere outside London. Boss heard a loud bang, followed by total silence which went on for a long time.

The IRA had gone for the barracks, and blown in the windows in the computer room. Luckily there were heavy vertical blinds that were closed, so containing most of the flying glass.

Quite *why* they put the entire production system for the paper in such a vulnerable place (having previously had threats from the IRA themselves) is not known.

China trade tariffs? Fuhgeddaboudit, say Cisco execs. We, er, shifted some production

Keith Oborn

Re: They MAKE products??

Old (and somewhat apposite) joke: "What's the difference between Cisco and Huawei? They both design routers, but Huawei actually make them as well"

LzLabs kills Swisscom’s mainframes – but it's not the work of a vicious BOFH: All the apps are now living on cloud nine

Keith Oborn

Yes but--

Seems to me that the fundamental problem is still all that legacy COBOL and this just kicks that can down the road, or do I misread?

If you're ever lost on the Moon, Ordnance Survey now has you covered for Apollo 11 anniversary

Keith Oborn

Don't worry, Haynes has you covered, just take an adjustable spanner as well:


(I have the original, I still use it to inspire future science/engineering students. The last word in Bog Boys Toys)

Take your pick: 0/1/* ... but beware – your click could tank an entire edition of a century-old newspaper

Keith Oborn

Newspapers and security

Given that a newspaper MUST publish in order to retain its registration (The Times produced a single copy every day during the very long strike years back) I am amazed at their lack of security.

I worked, some years back, at <national daily> (<ND>). The place had been threatened by the IRA, and had ultra-sophisticated physical security (they used to be able to detect pigeons landing on the roof).

I was in the team that ran the Sun-based pre-press systems. This was a laid back group to say the least: there was NO root password. None. And a modem on one workstation that ran a UUCP connection for private email, but could also be used for dialin.

When I left, they kept my account open and said I was welcome to dial in now and then to check email.

So, sitting at my desk at <new employer>, I'm logged in to <ND>. My new boss leans over, looks at the hostname prompt and says

"<host>? That's not one of ours".

"Nope", I said, it's my account at <ND>.

"Watch". Quick SU and I'm root. "Do you want to kill a national daily newspaper?"

As long as there's fibre somewhere along the line, High Court judge reckons it's fine to flog it as 'fibre' broadband

Keith Oborn

Hmm: in the UK (I guess you are not) the cable provider - for whom I worked for many years - has used the term "fibre" for a long time.

Amusingly, when ADSL was young, they advertised that their product was better than the competition's "copper". BT complained. They lost because <cable provider> pointed out that the coax cable was steel sheathed, so not "copper".

As evidenced recently by Boeing, when marketing enters engineering, truth and performance leave immediately.

This is not, repeat, not an April Fools' Day joke: 5 UK broadband vendors agree to pay YOU daily rate for fscked internet

Keith Oborn

Re: Responsibility

Indeed. I've been with Eclipse since 2002, and when I've had a fault they tell me the OR ticket number and engineer ETA. OR field guys are usually super-helpful. Notice that this cuts out the bad bit: major ISP/telco consumer call centres.

Naming your company 101: Probably best not to have the word 'Oracle' anywhere near branding

Keith Oborn

Re: Lack of detail?

Just possibly the fact that Oracle HQ in Redwood Shores is just off the 101 freeway might have made them sit up and take notice.

Of course, there is a counter-precedent in the UK. Oracle UK is on a business park on the eastern side of Reading, but they didn't seem to mind when the "new" (as it was then) shopping centre opened in town. Called "The Oracle".

I guess a one man band truck company is an easier target that a major local council.

HP crashed Autonomy because US tech titan's top brass 'lost their nerve', says lawyer for ex-CEO Mike Lynch

Keith Oborn

Pot and Kettle

I have no axe to grind in favour of Lynch et al: when I was at a competitor to Autonomy we observed that their products were designed to guarantee a regular flow of professional services revenue. ie, flaky, badly documented and needing constant tweaking.

But HP should have done due diligence on more than just the financials. Anyone in the sector would have advised a very long barge pole.

The Large Hadron Collider is small beer. Give us billions more for bigger kit, say boffins

Keith Oborn

"What benefits do we actually get from projects like CERN?"

I give you a famous quote:

"Of what use is a new born baby?"

Keith Oborn

Re: This sounds snarky, but it's not meant to.

Another spinoff/convergence: much of the technology that goes into particle accelerator rings is close to what is needed for Tokamak fusion reactors.

Nissan EV app password reset prompts user panic

Keith Oborn

App and website been out for a week

App says "Use ID / Password invalid"

Website says "please enter user ID and password"

Forgotten password link never sends reset email

Attempt to register an account says "server error"

Been like that for a week now.

Cyber-insurance shock: Zurich refuses to foot NotPetya ransomware clean-up bill – and claims it's 'an act of war'

Keith Oborn

Re: Eh, it’s Mondelez.

Look at https://www.hotelchocolat.com/uk/shop/collections/chocolate/milk/

Vastly better: it's actually chocolate. I'd never call Cadbury's that (even before Mondelez made it worse)

Millennium Buggery: When things that shouldn't be shut down, shut down

Keith Oborn

Yep, I was thinking that too. My Very First Home Internet Connection (apart from dialup to the office) - except when the aerial fell off the chimney (not T2's fault: the bricks were rotten). But I only got 128k--. Very dependent on where you lived, as it needed line of sight to the base station, which was on a tower block in the centre of Reading.

Heard the one where the boss calls in an Oracle consultant who couldn't fix the database?

Keith Oborn

Re: When things could be worse

Years ago, in the early days of Thinkpads, IBM had a wonderful network of local service centres. I used them a couple of times, and their fix times tended to be quicker than the 30 minutes it took to get back to the office.

One day, a sales guy called me: "I'm in Glasgow, got to do a presentation in a couple of hours, and the laptop power supply has died".

So I call IBM, who said "There's a service centre about 20 minutes from him. Give us his details and get him to drop in".

I call him back. He'd switched his phone off ;-(

20 minutes later, IBM rang: "We've spoken to your colleague" (ME: "wow, how did you manage that?"). "

"We can swap his power supply, but he has to bring the dead one in."

ME: "??"

"He says he left it in the office" (that was in Byfleet, Surrey)

ME: "Thank you so much for such superb service. I will KILL the idiot next time I see him".

IBM: "<giggle>"

(the power supply was, needless to say, on his desk and fully functional).

Keith Oborn

Re: Vindicated

Throughout my working life (I recently retired) I harboured a secret Unix hostname convention. I never dated use it:

1: Name your hosts after common Unix commands

2: Write complicated and undocumented shell scripts to do mysterious things between them

3: Resign

An upset tummy and a sphincter-loosening blackout: Lunar spaceflight is all glamour

Keith Oborn

That Genesis reading

Sad that a bunch of narrow minded idiots could tarnish that. The term "infamous" is just plain wrong. And "famous" barely does it justice.

I'm an atheist. a physicist and engineer.

I think the combination of those majestic words and the majestic setting was a high point in human history, no matter what you believe.

Oxford startup magics up metamaterials for next-gen charging

Keith Oborn


Using the wonders of "t'web" I see 23 Park End St, down by the station. Definitely unassuming.



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