* Posts by Keith Oborn

202 posts • joined 9 Mar 2007


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.

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".



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