* Posts by Keith Oborn

217 publicly visible posts • joined 9 Mar 2007


The IBM System/360 Model 40 told you to WHAT now?

Keith Oborn

Been there-

Many years ago I worked at a newly launched National Newspaper whose name began with "I"

The prepress systems all ran on Sun kit.

Guy in Ops was writing a bit of text flow code - basically picking stuff up from wire services and formatting it a bit.

This was done in C, and he put in copious printfs so it talked to him while he debugged it.

Came the time that it was all working, so he removed the last printf. It stopped working. Put it back, working again.

We all gathered round and there was muttering about "mysterious compiler timing glitches" and other guff.

So he tried to find out the minimum number of characters it had to spout in order to work. The answer was 8.

It went into production, happily picking up and munging stuff that was presented to it.

The ops people were disconcerted that a stream of messages appeared on the console saying "Fuck it"

8 characters: F U C K <space> I T <return>

We have redundancy, we have batteries, what could possibly go wrong?

Keith Oborn

Re: Suspect generators aren't much use.

Working in Cairo many years ago, the UPS proved to be about 100x less reliable than local mains - MTBF about 30 minutes.

There was a genny, four floors down in a basement. Trouble was, it had no frequency control, and we had bid disk drives with synchronous motors. The UPS did at least have a frequency meter, Cue lots of shouting down a crackly phone to the guy on the throttle "a bit faster. more. no, slower----". Meanwhile the disk drives were moaning like out of work air raid sirens--.

Keith Oborn

I had almost the exact situation--

At a Virgin Media data centre -err- "near Reading".

Gas people severed the two geographically-diverse power feeds to the business park. As is always the case "geographically diverse" tends to fade as you look closers. In this case there was a single road into the site, going over a river bridge. And of course, one cable duct.

Major Service Outage reports began, updating every 15 minutes:

"UPS has assumed load. All equipment, including coffee machines but not aircon, is running" - if you think about it, this makes sense. The UPS would only do 15 minutes, so lack of aircon was not a big deal. Lack of coffee for stressed staff, however--.

"Generator has started. All loads being supported"

"We don't know how full the tank is"

"We checked, it's full" (the key piece of test gear was a long stick and a rag).

UK internet pioneer Cliff Stanford has died

Keith Oborn

And that led to Freeserve, where the business plan (apocryphally written on a napkin on a train from Sheffield to London) was based on call termination revenues paid by BT to Energis.

Keith Oborn


I was involved, in 1990, with a group called the UK Internet Consortium which was vaguely trying to establish a community-owned ISP. Peter Dawe of Unipalm was a member. We essentially managed to delay him launching PIPEX by about 9 months - he waited while we messed about - until in the end we said "OK Peter, please just do it, we give up".

Prior to that I worked for the company that supplied machines to the University of Kent to run UKnet on. They launched a leased line service in 1990 as I recall. I joined another company that was the first customer, and noted that PIPEX were doing the same service for 1/3 of the price. So I called UKC to cancel. It was sad: I knew the guys well, and this call essentially killed their new venture. Mind you, having a University computing dept actually running a commercial venture is not overly wise. Quote "Our directors tend to be emeritus professors. Decisions are hard to come by" ;-)

UK.gov threatens to make adults give credit card details for access to Facebook or TikTok

Keith Oborn

Re: There is lack of balance on both sides

"You do know there are "free" and "made free" VPN software solutions available to under 18s don't you"

- Yes of course. But this is irrelevant. The VPN is a transport mechanism, the problem is end-point verification. If I cannot set up an account on FB without providing some simple ID, it matters not a jot if I access it via VPN, carrier pigeon or tarot cards.

BTW, no need to be rude. That's for Facebook and Twitter.

And as for another comment: yes, of course you can get relatively anonymous top-up cards. But as always, the category error is to say "because there are ways around this, you should not even try. MOST people will use normal cards, so you've protected most people.

We used this point to great effect when selling our parental controls system, and even included "ways to circumvent" in the sales literature. Customers realised that 99% of theri users would not be able to


Daily Mail: yes, an awful newspaper, but that doesn't mean everything they say is automatically wrong.

In the wider sense, if all those "free" services we use on the Net were tkaing small payments all sorts of societal and economic problems might be alleviated.

Keith Oborn

There is lack of balance on both sides

I spent some years in the ISP industry working on parental controls and anti-malware systems. These were not perfect, but they did help the ordinary user protect themselves and their children.

However, the internet's "chattering classes" presented a constant stream of objections based on the idea that the net should be completely free and unfettered and "no-one has the right to change that freedom". This is rubbish, and no-one was denying an individual the right to *have* that unfettered access, just *asserting* the right to use facilities to protect your children.

On the subject of age verification, if Facebook etc (and indeed the porn sites) were *required* to take, say, a credit card number as part of the signup, that would in itself prevent *most* kids from accessing Bad Stuff. You don't trust FB to keep your card details secure? Call the ICO. You don't trust government not to snoop on who is doing what? Write the law to *require* a court order before your details are released. Standard stuff. This alone would mean that not only would most underage porn access be blocked, but also hate speech, libel, and all the other crap that the social media platforms facilitate, would wither way as people realised that they lost their perfect anonymity. If you got slandered on FB, you have the right to ask the court to reveal the identity of the author, and the court can require FB to reveal it *only to you and the court*.

There should be an option where the social media platforms can offer limited access *without* taking ID - but this should be specifically limited so that such "junior" users do not have access to a wide range of topics, and cannot use a wide range of language. Don't let them kid you that they cannot do this.

This article then descends into the usual "throw the kitchen sink at the opposition" type of argument that the "chattering classes" uses: let's try and use any spurious argument we can think of to defend our god given right to say what we want whenever we want.

" Age verification is easily circumvented by any tech-savvy teen with a VPN" Really? if that teen didn't provide valid credit card (and hence address) details when he signed up, how will a VPN make it any easier for him to access the site and content?

Yes, there are risks of data breach. As there are with all places you enter PII - so any bit of online shopping, banking and so on. I trust Facebook less than almost anyone, but they are a legitimate company operating under well-proven laws in this respect. Giving them your home address, with suitable legal restrictions on what can be done with the information, does not increase your risk materially.

Encryption is another red herring: you can mediate the exchange between user and facebook any way you like - carrier pigeons - and the basic fact remains that if you have verified who you are the means of communication has no bearing on your rights and limits on what you can use it for.

An so on. The problem is that this "kitchen sink" approach makes government (who Don't Understand this stuff) go into more and more elaborate detail and spread a wider and wider net, and so ends up doing exactly what you don't want - trying to control everything, all the time, when that is not the actual requirement.

Just make sure users are identifiable, that the law controls who can access that identity, the SHUT THE F*** UP.

But from experience, comments like this are a total waste of time: the "chattering classes' are blinkered by their worship of an imaginary "net neutrality" and are incapable of listening or thinking rationally. So you will, by your actions, get exactly what you so earnestly want to avoid. Well done.

Finally: THIS is a form of social media. If someone thinks the above is personally objectionable or has other legal implications please ask El Reg to identify me to you, and we will discuss it in court. They can't of course: they don't know my name or address.

You should read Section 8 of the Unix User's Manual

Keith Oborn

Re: % in email addresses?

Even worse was the JANET to Internet mail translation: JANET domain names were the other way round.

An old friend and colleague wrote the definitive Sendmail config so that (in SMTP terms) usr@dept.university.ac.uk could be munged into usr@uk.ac.university.dept. And then added in rules to correctly handle UUCP delivery (which was where the !-path and % came in)

One problem arose with Computer Science depts. Before the iron curtain came down, the country code for Czechoslovakia was CS. So (for instance) cs.bath.ac.uk got swapped to uk.ac.bath.cs. It turned out that the Sendmail rules struggled with this. Stuff got sent to Prague. The solution was a filter/reflector over there that sent if back again.

And of course, the most famous UUCP !-path hostnames: Kremvax and Kgbvax.


Mike Lynch loses US extradition delay bid: Flight across the Atlantic looks closer than ever

Keith Oborn

Re: Let the chuckles ring out!

In the M$/Nokia case I think the fault lies with the buyer. Not checking carefully *what* you are buying is a tad foolish. They knew Nokia had given up on actually making and selling phones, after being creamed by Apple. There are other examples: BMW and VW vied to buy Rolls Royce/Bentley. In the end BMW got Rolls and VW got the rest. Then BMW found that what they had bought was the *brand*, not the designs, copyrights and, most crucially, the fully-staffed operational factory in Crewe. Which is why Rolls now has a new factory near Goodwood, costing BMW a significant sum. No use owning a brand if you thought you bought a car factory.

Keith Oborn

Re: Let the chuckles ring out!

In 2000-2002 I worked for a company (Inktomi) that had bought a competitor to Autonomy's then flagship product. We observed that the Autonomy product was tailor made to maximise implementation consultancy fees and delay the customer from actually trying to *use* the product for as long as possible, presumably in the hope that they'd give up and walk away after having enriched Autonomy to the maximum extent possible. Mind you there are other examples that used this strategy, but none so blatant as far as I know. Can someone find us a nice friendly snake oil salesman? He would be far more honest.

Joint European Torus celebrates 100,000 pulses: Neither Brexit nor middle age has stopped '80s era experiment

Keith Oborn

Re: 40 years in the making

On the "10 year" thing, I met someone who worked on the plasma [physics at JET - as it happened rather less than ten years ago. She said "the thing that's changed is we now have the computing power to simulate most of the plasma behaviour, instead of doing a try it and see approach. This has hugely increased the rate of progress."

Pop quiz: The network team didn't make your change. The server is in a locked room. What do you do?

Keith Oborn

Facebook and an angle grinder--

Nuff said.

Keith Oborn

Re: Under the floor

Richard Feynman, Los Alamos, safes

Look it up if you don't know the story--.

Secure boot for UK electric car chargers isn't mandatory until 2023 – but why the delay?

Keith Oborn

Re: Secure boot is going where?

Good. I am between EVs at the moment, but still have a stack of proprietary cards and apps, some of which actually worked.

The best one was (I think) Pod Point in Oxford. Redbridge park and ride - the GIS thought the unit was in someone's front garden a kilometre away. So I plugged in and started the app. "You must be within half a mile of the charger to start a session". "But I'm LEANING ON IT!!". Reported this. Twice. Two years later there was no change. Of all the other ones they had in Oxford, only one was both in existence, accessible, and working - and that was sited to make it highly likely that access was blocked.

Five years back I was discussing with an ex-colleague who went to work for the biggest charger network in the US. The whole reason for the plethora of closed payment systems was that the companies were captured by Marketing types who were determined to gather as much usage information as possible. And had not considered that making things harder to use would dissuade people from using them. And of course, being marketers were not in the least bit interested in the product actually working reliably. B-Ark candidates, the lot of them,

Now that the UK govt has mandated that new ones all use bank cards, and the likes of BP and Shell (let's face it, they are fossil fuel companies, but they DO know how to run fuel stations!) are involved. I think things will improve a lot. When the new car arrives I will find out!

Nobody cares about DAB radio – so let's force it onto smart speakers, suggests UK govt review

Keith Oborn

Re: Sounds like they're trying to protect the livelihoods of the buggy-whip makers

"Plus, the Internet is much more capable of reliably delivering a 100kbps data stream without bit-errors than a broadcast antenna to most if not all places, (even cars) "

Nope. I can find oodles of places where DAB works, FM is flaky, and there is no mobile signal to speak of. I live in one. In the outer darkness of North Hampshire.

Driving around the UK I find DAB rarely drops out. FM does so often, and getting a good enough mobile data connection to stream audio is often problematical. Additionally many people are not on unlimited mobile data plans, so there is a cost implication.

Having worked in the ISP business for many years, I think that using the more-complex technology - which, of course, is intended to generate, and requires, two-way traffic to and from each end point - is a case of "because I have a hammer all problems are nails". One way broadcast radio is way simpler and more efficient. You can argue DAB vs FM, but the latter needs a whole lot more transmitter power and is subject to far more sources of disruption.

Look at TV: DTV transmitters run at far lower power than analogue, and deliver quality and reliability that analogue could never match, and that streaming services still struggle with.

Patients must know how their health records are used – and approve any sharing for research

Keith Oborn

From the "inside"

This whole thing is an utter mess. There are two programmes:

1: To allow GP patient data to be shared with the rest of the NHS.

2: To allow NHS "aggregated, anonymised" data to be shared with third parties.

1: is a no-brainer - I have personally suffered because my local hospital didn't know what the GP was prescribing.

2: is harder. Given the Cambdridge/Deep Mind problem a few years ago one might say "no way". But supposing the data in question was about vaccine responses and the third party was Astra-Zeneca?

The PROBLEM is that the two are munged into one by the Health Department, and the opt-outs are simply labelled "type 1" and type 2" with no indication of what that means.

I have heard a comment: "they tried this a few years back and got bounced, so now they are trying again when everyone is distracetd by the pandemic".

Not wishing to be political, what we see here looks like an attempt to foist a questionable idea (2) on the public by hiding behind a really good idea (1), and so make lots of money for the Department of Health which will spend it on - err - the NHS??

I would drive 100 miles and I would drive 100 more just to be the man that drove 200 miles to... hit the enter key

Keith Oborn

I can beat that for distance

<unnamed> were building a global CDN for <other unnamned>. We assembled and tested racks of compaqs, then had them crated and shipped from the UK to site. Each one had a simple diagram of the "which plug goes where" type.

Rack arrives in New York. Customer's local hands email "it's plumbed in and running". Cue a ping. Nothing. We tried everything.

Customer (at the next desk) said "must be your hardware, you'd better fix it".

The response was "OK, we'll send someone. But if it's your fault you pay".

Newest recruit (six weeks in) got a ticket to New York. He landed, got a cab to the site, found the rack. Looked at the back, moved an RJ45 one hole sideways, called us. "Yep, it's all working now!"

Cab back to the airport, flight back home. He was on the ground about 3 hours.

Customer received an invoice--.

Vaccine dreams: A trip to Oxford to see a biscuit tin, some bed pans and ChAdOx1 nCov-19

Keith Oborn

Re Sloppy Thinking

Err- 300,000,000 Americans!

As for pricing the cost to the patient is not the point, it's the cost to the provider.

Oxford/Jenner were determined to deliver a vaccine "at cost and at scale" and AZ was the only company prepared to do it. The others are done at commercial prices, so a dose of AZ going into an Indian or British arm cost the health provider about 4$. A dose of Pfizer or Moderna going into that arm would cost about $40. This really matters for most of the world.

Not wanting to denigrate the others, but Oxford and AZ have done the world a huge favour.

Tired: What3Words. Wired: A clone location-tracking service based on FOUR words – and they are all extremely rude

Keith Oborn

Re: Not my kind of humor, but

Seriously, the huge advantage of W3W is ease and clarity. If I am stuck in a difficult situation, I may be unable to accurately read out any of the other options - none of which trip off the tongue, and so are much harder to read accurately and *much* harder to remember if you don't have the ability to write them down as they are read out.

The downsides are that it does have some ambiguities, although as has been pointed out most synonym words will point you to an obviously ridiculous answer. "Hello, I've just got to Little Snodbury, can't find your house". "grumble.toad,pizza". "But that's in Siberia". "Sorry, grumble.toads.pizza".

And of course it's not great for non-English speakers, but making a multi-language version should not be as great an effort. Just do a literal translation of all words, and where there isn't one, substitute.

I have used it exactly once to find a spot where one of our gliders had landed out. It took me to the nose of the aircraft, which was impressive.

Undebug my heart: Using Cisco's IOS to take down capitalism – accidentally

Keith Oborn


At a certain large UK ISP, the <Cisco rep of the day> walked up to my desk and said "You don't like Cisco do you?" "No, it's not that. I just don't like things that don't work". The sales reps used to be replaced very regularly.

And a joke from back then: What's the difference between Cisco and Huawei? Well, they both design routers, but Huawei actually make them as well.

D'oh! Misplaced chair shuts down nuclear plant in Taiwan

Keith Oborn

Three MIle Island-

The controls were so identical that the operators customised them with beer pump handles etc to tell them apart.

UK's National Cyber Security Centre recommends password generation idea suggested by El Reg commenter

Keith Oborn

Most valuable property--


I knew Stockport property values had gone up a lot in recent years, but for a small block of flats there to be "the most valuable" is quite surprising.

Imagine your data center backup generator kicks in during power outage ... and catches fire. Well, it happened

Keith Oborn

Re: This would never have happened at a certain broadcaster I used to work for.

A Well Known UK ISP, whose name begins with "Vi" had (still has I think) a dc near Reading. It has resilient power and fibre. But there is only one main road into the business park, which runs over a small river bridge. Guess where all those diverse paths went. Gasman came along with a digger.

I got the 15-minutely Major Service Outage reports:

First report

1: All mains power lost. UPS taking the load

2: UPS fine, but we realised it doesn't run the aircon

3: But it DOES run the coffee machines

4: And it doesn't matter coz it'll only hold for 15 minutes and nothing will melt that quickly

( 15 minutes later)

Generator running and taking load. It DOES run the aircon

(15 minutes)

We don't know how much fuel is in the tank

(15 minutes)

Checked and tank is full.

I am sure a long stick was critical at this stage.

From Maidenhead to Morocco: In a change to the scheduled programming, we bring you The On Call of Dreams

Keith Oborn

Tales from working in Cairo--

-in the early 80s.

Our project was funded by USAid. We had a lot of trouble getting stuff in and out of the country. There was a large, defunct PSU that needed to be sent back for RMA. It was time for UK leave. Packed the unit in old socks in a small suitcase. Egyptian colleague drove us to the airport for the 6AM departure, and I asked him to stick around "just in case". BA checking guy has an assistant to put your bags on the scales for you. Two large cases, no problem. Then the small one. He struggled (it was very heavy). Checkin guy says "Could we have a look inside that please?" ( I'm making frantic "might need help here" behind my back to my Egyptian colleague). Open the case, and there is the PSU. With big transformers, fat capacitors and lots of thick multi-coloured wires. Looking, well, a tad explosive. Checkin guy starts asking questiona. "What do you do?" "Computer engineer". He looks at my passport, which for some odd reason agrees. Several other questions, then the killer "Who does it belong to?" "United States State Department. Would you like to call the embassy and check?" "OH NO Sir, that's OK".

Another time we borrowed a fixit to help get our personal stuff out of customs, where is had been stuck for six months. "We'll start at the top, deputy director of customs". Into his office. Within two minutes we realised that A: we had just found the only known incorruptible Egyptian official and B: He was deputy director of customs. Ulp. We made our excuses, left, and went back when he wasn't around.

I learnt, in carrying kit through customs without paperwork, to just say "Keep it, I don't care" No customs officer in the world can understand the concept of a smuggler who doesn't want to keep the stuff he's smuggling.

Boffins revisit the Antikythera Mechanism and assert it’s no longer Greek to them

Keith Oborn

Must look at this

I went to a talk organised by the Computer Conservation Society a few years back, and got a copy of "Decoding The Heavens". There was an excellent exploded view reconstruction by Michael Wright done as well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MqhuAnySPZ0

What is interesting in the book also is the saga of multiple attempts to work out the structure over the decades, fallings out, refusing to hand materials over, and so on.

I think Arthur Clarke observed: "This is at least as complex as a 16th century clock. If the Romans hadn't shut down the great Rhodes school and the rest of Greek theoretical science, the Greeks could have reached the moon by about 300AD"

Gummy bears as a unit of measure? The Reg Standards Soviet will not stand for this sort of silliness

Keith Oborn

Even El Reg is guilty of ignoring prior art.

As a physicist, I am well versed in the FFF (Furlong, Firkin, Fortnight) system

A good unit if pressure is megapascals per barn (the unit of atomic cross-section). This is excellent as an example of a units system where the answer to any question is "not many". This makes for vastly simplified calculations.

And where, pray, is the Smoot? After all, this is not only a universal standard, but also has a fully-maintained reference in Boston.

First Australia, maybe Europe, now America mulls effort to potentially make Google, Facebook pay for news

Keith Oborn

Re: Copying snippets of news articles ...

Exactly. And in addition freely publishing "snippets" of someone else's work is misrepresentation and can be - and is widely - used to tarnish the original author or publisher's reputation and spread falsehoods.

Sorry FB et al: you claim to be unable to control the content on your platforms as you are not "publishers", but you specifically allow "moderation" of chosen "closed groups", which is a contradiction - you are ceding editorial control of some content to third parties, while denying that you have any editorial control over anything.

I am no fan of most of the "traditional" media, but they are at least controlled to some extent by legal and regulatory limits.

What is also needed is a row-back on the attacks on "journalistic neutrality and balance". The US removed these controls over 30 years ago, and the rise of Fox, Breitbart et al are the direct result. The current UK government is proposing something similar. This is not about government control of what gets printed: it is about ensuring that what gets printed is not significantly biased in any direction.

These controls are relatively light (in the UK) but still have teeth. Ask the Sun, Elton John, the BBC, Cliff Richard and of course the entire tabloid industry and the Sussexes. This is not about who is right or wrong, but all about what is true and reasonable to report.

A Code War has replaced The Cold War. And right now we’re losing it

Keith Oborn

Re: Unfortunately...

And here is the nub. I was "inside" TalkTalk just after that event, and have also been "inside" their major competitors. It was pure chance that they got hit and the others didn't, as all have similar skeletons in the cupboard. The same will apply to any company that has acquired a smaller one. Security audits on acquisitions are slow and expensive, and the combination of accountants and shareholders won't wear them.

Then we have the overall problem of software (and hardware/firmware) quality. Not only is this expensive - which means doing it puts you at a huge disadvantage in a competitive market - but also getting your development (*why* is it not called *engineering* I wonder ;-) to care is very hard. IN may last company the CEO gathered the entire team after a major release. "RIght: there are some bugs in that one. You will fixe them before we start on the next one" unanimous response "OH, we just want to work on the new stuff". Guess what happened? And those were *obvious customer facing* bugs.

Until there is solid regulation of this industry - similar to aviation - we won't see any improvement. The likes of BCS with their "standards" are flies buzzing round a dinosaur. And yes, this sort of regulation will seriously slow things down. That is a *good* thing. The most execrable mantra in the industry is "move fast and break things". What if the thing that is moving fast is, say, a 737MAX?

NASA to have another go at firing Space Launch System engines because just over a minute of data won't cut it

Keith Oborn

How are the mighty fallen

In the 60s Boeing built the Saturn V first stage and pretty much simultaneously got the 747 done whilst also working on the (politically-important) SST.

Fast forward 50 years and they **** up the 737 Max and the Artemis core stage is looking pretty dubious.

Bean counters--.

Elon, meanwhile------.

Smartphones are becoming like white goods, says analyst, with users only upgrading when their handsets break

Keith Oborn

Broken business model-

For phones, and most of the "smart/IoT" gadgets on the market.

If you sell a device that relies on external resources (cloud/web services for IoTs to operate, OS/security updates for all devices) you should either:

A: Include a sensible sum in the purchase price that is then escrowed to fund X years of support for those resources (where X is at least 5, preferably 10)


B: Only sell a subscription-based model where regular payments are made for the use of the device (mobile operators in the UK please note: you are basically doing this but washing your hands of the "ongoing support" bit).

You will sell fewer devices. But you will keep the customers you have, and have a recurring revenue stream from them.

As for who does it best in the current free-for-all, I'd vote for Apple. As a household we have three Macs, ranging in age from 7 to 13 years, a 9 year old iPad and a 5 year old iPhone. Out of that lot, only the older two Macs (10 and 13 years) are not able to run the current OS, but even those still have decent security and are entirely usable for most day to day tasks. And out of all that lot, we've had one replacement HDD and one replacement battery.

Of course, Apples current crop may fall down on the "hardware fixability" front, but I don't think they are alone.

I have a Samsung S8. Prior to that had two HTCs, neither lasted more than 2 years (the hardware - and I am gentle with it). The Samsung is now 3-1/2. The battery is down to about 85%, but that can be replaced. It does everything I want and will only be replaced when it ceases to do so.

In my local government work I've recently been issued with an M$ Surface. It doesn't even work properly out of the box! And my experience of Windows laptops is that they never survive more than 2-3 years. Hardware is ropey (I'm talking HP, Dell here, not no-names) and software is often unusable. One honourable exception from way back: Thinkpads pre-Lenovo. Designed to be repairable, and brilliantly supported. But that was when IBM still made computers--.

It's been noted that "smart" domestic appliances are a trojan horse, in that your lovely new fridge may suddenly stop working after a couple of years when the manufacturer pulls support. I will be very interested to see what happens to long term support for (EG) Tesla vehicles, although I think they are doing OK so far, they've been around ten years now and the old ones still seem to work!

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey says Trump ban means the service has failed

Keith Oborn


The problem here is not Trump specifically, it is the correct understanding of what "free speech" means in respect of systems like Twitter and FB.

ANY user who incites violence or other criminal acts should be immediately banned by all. There needs to be an independent regulatory body to enforce this, just as there are such bodies that apply (at least in reasonably civilised societies) to "traditional" media.

Free speech is the freedom for the individual to say what he likes. It does not mean he has the right to have others disseminate what he says.

There are laws of libel and slander to control defamation.

To ensure that this is enforceable, the regulators must require that all such systems take a (possibly nominal) payment via credit card. This ensures legal traceability and age checks.

The social media mob will kick up a storm, but they are the ones who sowed the wind. They should reap the whirlwind.

Boeing confirms last 747 to roll off production line in 2022

Keith Oborn


Worth a look at this documentary on the development of the 747, which was a skunkworks job while Boeing's board was entranced by the SST project.

Best bit for me is the way they bounced Pratt and Whitney's CEO into Doing Something about the slight problem of exploding engines.

Titanium carbide nanotech approach hints at hydrogen storage breakthrough

Keith Oborn

Re: It's not just the storage

Yes, about 1/3 the efficiency overall ( 30% vs 90%). BUT: there are applications where batteries are not adequate - rail, shipping, and of course aviation. Horses for courses.

Same applies to domestic heating. It is way more energy efficient to use renewable electricity to run heat pumps, but the cost and complexity of retrofitting all existing buildings with heat pumps is pretty daunting (we have one, but we were doing a barn conversion, so starting almost from scratch). In comparison, hydrogen production from offshore wind can re-use the entire offshore oil/gas industry: rig construction, gas pipelines, etc. Domestic boilers have been required to accept up to 20% hydrogen since 1992, and there are now 100% hydrogen models available. The biggest problem is finding all the iron pipes in the network as hydrogen degrades them. So while less efficient, it is a far easier job to deliver.

For these reasons both approaches have merit and should be pursued.

Suckers for punishment, we added a crawler transporter to our Saturn V

Keith Oborn

Meccano vs Lego for large tasks

I have an old friend and colleague who has unfeasibly large amounts of Meccano. Some years ago he produced this:


Since then he has also made a Hartree differential analyser and is using Meccano to prototype sections of the Analytical Engine from the Science Museum's project on Babbage's documentation.

There is a LOT. I know, I've helped lift some of the results. The Difference Engine is described as "not quite as reliable as the original" (there are two "originals", one in London one in California. They do tend to fail quite often).

There HAVE been Lego-based Difference Engines. The difference (ahem) is that they are very simplistic and extremely fragile.


UK firm NOW: Pensions tells some customers a 'service partner' leaked their data all over 'public software forum'

Keith Oborn

I was offered Experian -

By British Airways.

These companies who have a breach need to look at who's free service they are offering, and what the record of the operator of that service for data breaches is.

I declined. OK, BA, you had an accident and owned up. Don't offer me a free service from someone who had a much bigger one and tried to hide it. That does not make me feel more secure!

Did I or did I not ask you to double-check that the socket was on? Now I've driven 15 miles, what have we found?

Keith Oborn

24 miles: trivial!

At <former company> we were working to deploy a global CDN for <customer>. We were building and configuring racks and shipping them out to sites with instructions for local hands. The instructions were very clear "this plug goes here--" with diagrams.

Rack arrives at data centre in New York. Customer comes round to our desks and says "New York should be live". A quick ping. NADA.

Customer says "must be your fault, you'd better get someone over there" (this is in the UK).

"OK, but if it's not our fault you pay".

Newest recruit (been with us six weeks) gets return ticket to JFK. Arrives, takes cab to site, walks up to the rack. Opens back door. Moves an RJ45 one socket to the left. Calls us. Ping. "Yep, it's working".

Cab back to JFK, flies home.

We did NOT pay the cost--.

Keith Oborn

Re: Poor On-Call this week

"Outwith" is not called outwith outwith Scotland--.

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.