* Posts by Peter Christy

99 publicly visible posts • joined 27 Nov 2007


Capita looking at a bill of £20M over breach clean-up costs

Peter Christy

Re: Are they kidding?

That's why they are universally known as "Crapita", isn't it?

Lenovo Thinkpad X13s: The stealth Arm-powered laptop

Peter Christy


There's quite a few Linux distros out there for ARM64 (aarch64) architecture, and of course, they come with all the apps you're likely to need. I've got a version of Slackware-current running on a Pi-400, which whilst not lightning fast, is perfectly acceptable. I can even edit video on it, though rendering takes a while!

Of course, a more powerful machine would be desirable, and if it wasn't for the price, this would fit the bill nicely - IF it would run stock aarch64 distros. It probably should, if it will run Windows, but it would be nice if reviewers would try this. There are plenty of "live" distros that run from a USB key, so it doesn't even need an install to test it. The thing has USB-C ports, and USB-C to USB-3 adapters cost pennies.

So come on, lets have a more in depth review and see what this thing is really capable of!

Here's a fun idea: Try to unlock and drive away in someone else's Tesla

Peter Christy

Its not only cars!

One of my hobbies is building and flying RC model aircraft. In recent years, nearly all RC gear has switched to using 2.4 GHz spread-spectrum radio gear. Each transmitter has a unique identifying code that it transmits to identify it. The receiver needs to be "bound" to the transmitter so that it will only respond to the required transmitter.

A few years ago, one major manufacturer managed to produce a (thankfully) small batch of transmitters with all the codes set to a string of zeroes!!!

I think the safety hazard this presented speaks for itself!

Mercifully word quickly got out and the sets were recalled before a major accident occurred, but it took a while for that manufacturers reputation to recover, and a number of models ended up destroyed!

Whilst spread-spectrum radio gear has resulted in zero accidents due to frequency clashes, it seems that the old adage still holds: "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong!".

Private company set up to oversee UK's prototype fusion reactor

Peter Christy

Anyone remember Zeta?

This sounds like a re-run of project Zeta (c.1957). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZETA_(fusion_reactor)

SystemRescue 9.06 is here with the shiny new Xfce 4.18

Peter Christy

SystemRescue is an amazing little tool. It even managed to salvage my SDD containing Slackware (my main OS) and a minimal windoze install after it suffered a corrupted MBR. No idea how that happened! One day it was working, then next it just came up asking me to "insert a system disk"!

SystemRescue found my Slackware install and booted it, enabling me to re-install grub, and everything sprang back into life! Phew! and THANK YOU SystemrescueCD!

BTW Slackware-current has had Xfce-4.18 since the 17th of December...

Firefox points the way to eradicating one of the rudest words online: PDF

Peter Christy

Re: I don't mind PDFs

Me too! For a number of years, I have had to send out documentation to various hobby / club members, and never had an issue with PDFs. Even the most computer illiterate can open and read them, whether they are using a PC (Linux, Windoze, whatever), Mac, Android or virtually anything else you can dream of.

Not only that, but they prevent people from Ctl-z-ing back through your document to reveal any embarrassing edits you've made! ;) Very useful if you've made some caustic notes about someone in the minutes of a meeting...!

Also you don't have to worry about having the right fonts installed on the end viewers system, resulting in all sorts of formatting oddities.

If anyone can come up with something that is as universally readable and robust, I'll have a look. Until then, I'll stick with PDF - which is almost native on my Linux system anyway!



Senior engineer reported to management for failing to fix a stapler

Peter Christy

You would bbe surprised how much (expensive!) damage a stapler can do!

A long time ago, in a big broadcasting company, far, far away....

Back in the days when TV programs were recorded on very expensive tape, we used to record "viewing copies" simultaneously on relatively cheap, black and white, industrial video recorders. These were used so that the program directors could view their rushes cheaply, in the comfort of their own offices, and make many of the important editing decisions before appearing in the video-tape area for their expensive, broadcast quality, "on-line" edits.

One particular day, a call arrived from the office of one programme to complain that their viewing machine had died. A replacement was wheeled up to the office, and the broken one returned to the basement, where it was found that the two video heads had been totally destroyed!

Replacing them was a bit of a chore, but any damage to the tape could cause damage to the heads, which were spinning around pretty quickly to scan the tape. The damage here was far in excess of anything seen before, and the repair engineer was somewhat puzzled as to the cause.

Before the repair was complete, the office called again, complaining that the new machine had died!

On arriving upstairs to investigate, the engineer asked to see the tape they were playing. He was presented with a tape that had somehow got cut in two, and spliced back together using - STAPLES!

A few short, sharp words of advice were exchanged about the expensive consequences of this approach to splicing tapes, and a threat to charge any further damage to the programme budget rather than maintenance!



To err is human. To really screw things up requires a wayward screwdriver

Peter Christy

Ah, yes! Warning lights!

A long time ago, in a Big Broadcasting Company...

It was nearing the end of my shift as a videotape engineer, my jobs were all completed and I was awaiting the nod to depart from the shift supervisor. Suddenly, he bursts into the control room, with a 90 minute, 2" tape in his hands and a wild look in his eyes. Naturally, his eyes landed on me!

"Presentation forgot to book a machine for the trailers! They are due on the air in 5 minutes! Get this tape on VT 13, and ready for transmission as fast as you can!", thrusting the tape into my hands.

Now back in those days, all the videotape machines were 2" quadruplex behemoths that normally required around 30 minutes to prepare for transmission! No time for proper checks or alignment, just throw the tape on, put everything in "auto" and put your faith in the system!

Now VT 13 was unique in the department in that, at the time, it was the sole machine made by RCA. All the rest were Ampex machines. The RCA had a number of quirks, one of which was quite weak spooling motors. It took quite a bit longer to spool through the huge 2" tapes than the equivalent Ampex machine, and naturally the wanted trailer was at the tail end of the tape!

Another quirk was that the transport controls for the machine were at the end of this giant monstrosity, conveniently out of reach of the internal 'phone! Because of the panic, the control room was still plugging up all the cables necessary to connect VT13 to the presentation studio, so there I was trying to ring the studio on the phone, whilst trying to find the right spot on the tape, and not having arms long enough to do both simultaneously!

I managed to get the machine on cue with seconds to spare, and hit the "play" button on time. Fortunately - or maybe not - the colour monitor in the booth had been left looking at the "off-air" signal rather than the output from the machine, and it was soon obvious that something was severely wrong! All the skin tones were bright green, instead of the usual fleshy pink! That was the point at which I realised that the machine was on the wrong pulse train (used to synchronise the machines to the various studios). After some terse exchanges with the studio, I decided the only option was to change pulses live, on-air!

I hit the pulse selector to the correct one for the studio. The VT gave an almighty hiccup and lurch before stabilising again. Now all the skin tones were cyan instead of pink...!

There was nothing else to do but to let it run out the rest of the trailer - mercifully only a minute or so - and let the presentation guys apologise to viewers afterwards.

Naturally, there was an inquest immediately afterwards, and I was asked why I hadn't noticed the machine was on the wrong pulse train. Well, the indicator bulb had blown on the pulse selector, so there was nothing to draw my attention to it. Whether I would have noticed in the panic, I don't know, but at least I was not held responsible for the fiasco. However, it was deemed that this fault had to be rectified NOW, before it could catch anyone else out!

Cue the entry of a very disgruntled maintenance engineer, who, like me, had been about to depart for home. Changing the bulb required a major dismantling of a very fiddly row of selector buttons, which he achieved in record time!

Having replaced the bulb, he started punching the buttons in sequence to make sure all the others worked. At this precise moment, the doors to both transmission suites (network 1 and network 2) flew open and the senior engineers ran out shouting "Who is f*!&ing about with the pulses?!?"!

Yes, both networks were crashing about and reframing on air!

It turned out that this pulse selector in VT 13 had yet another issue, in that when switching pulse trains, it momentarily shorted two pulse trains together! Not enough to cause any electrical damage, but certainly enough to seriously disturb the transmission machines!

The tale of woe in the fault log the next day made for very interesting reading....!



Phone jammers made my model plane smash into parked lorry, fumes hobbyist

Peter Christy

49MHz is only used for short range "toy" applications, not for serious models. In the UK, 35 MHz is available almost exclusively for airborne model control (there are a couple of channels within it shared with low power telemetry signals). We also have access to 459MHz, shared with paging and other low powered telemetry systems, as well as 2.4 GHz.

As 459MHz is only used in the UK, there is virtually no commercial equipment available on this band. Anyone using it will likely have made their own equipment, or have modified 433MHz equipment.

The attraction of 2.4 GHz is that the combination of spread spectrum and frequency hopping offers a highly robust communications channel. Not only is the signal difficult (but not impossible) to jam, but the vastly greater bandwidth permits a much higher rate data transfer, as well as allowing more data to be transferred without introducing latency. This latter was an issue on the "narrow band" systems operating on VHF and UHF frequencies, where adding "fail-safe" information and the like introduced a perceptible time lag into the control response.

All type approved equipment on 2.4GHz has to be designed to minimise interference with other users of the band - even though this is inherent in spread spectrum operation.

Most model flying takes place in wide open spaces, so things like wifi or microwave ovens are not really an issue.

Moving on to the "drone" issue - there is actually no legal definition of a drone. All the legislation covering "drones" refers to "Unmanned Aerial Systems", or UAS. "Drone" is a popular term for these devices, but has no legal standing. UAS, as its name suggests, applies to any unmanned aircraft, be it an RC model, an autonomous (or semi-autonomous) multicopter or a Predator military aircraft.

Peter Christy

Basic common sense...

I've been building and flying RC models since 1965. Modern R/C equipment is extremely sophisticated, and in particular the 2.4 GHz "spread Spectrum" radios have an enviable reputation for reliability.

The fact that this aircraft continued to fly under power after a loss of signal tells me one of two things. Either 1) The pilot had neglected to set the "fail-safe" or 2) the airborne equipment suffered a total power loss.

Setting the fail-safe to at least shut the throttle in the event of a loss of signal is a no-brainer. It will bring the aircraft down very quickly before it has chance to travel a significant distance and do much damage (most flying sites tend to be pretty remote from civilisation). Any serious modeller will do this as a matter of course. If the fail-safe were NOT set, the controls would hold their last commanded position until either the signal was regained or the thing crashed. However, this would also happen if there were a total power loss of the airborne system. This latter explanation, in my humble opinion, is by far the most likely scenario.

Most large models will have a power redundancy system of some kind, but even these can cause problems on their own, and tend to only be used on the largest and most valuable aircraft.

Anyone who has spent a lot of time and effort building a complex model will take all possible steps to preserve it, but we are all at the mercy of the occasional mechanical failure at the end of the day, be it a solder joint, switch or even a cell failure in the battery pack. Fortunately these events are rare, otherwise they would not be headline news material, and even full-size aircraft can suffer from similar problems.

Zuckerberg wants to create a make-believe world in which you can hide from all the damage Facebook has done

Peter Christy

Does anyone remember...

... the great re-naming successes of the past?

British Leyland -> Rover

Windscale -> Sellafield

(and Nuclear Radiation -> Magic Moonbeams! c: Lenny Henry) ?

If these are anything to go by, we should all be rejoicing! Zuck has just signed his company's death warrant!



How Windows NTFS finally made it into Linux

Peter Christy

"NTFS-3G, which works with the Filesystem in Userspace (FUSE), is slow, really, really slow."

Seems fast enough here!

"On Linux, it also can only read from NTFS systems."

Strange, because my Linux system (Slackware64) seems unaware of this limitation, and writes quite happily to NTFS drives.

I think you are confusing the FUSE implementation with the old, native kernel NTFS driver, which was extremely limited as well as being very slow.

NTFS-3G might not be fast by industrial standards, but its fine for domestic and small office use.

Ex-DJI veep: There was no drone at Gatwick during 2018's hysterical shutdown

Peter Christy

Er, not quite!

Actually, there WAS a drone there. After the initial scare, the police sent their own up to try and catch the (non-existent) miscreant. This triggered a further wave of reports, making the situation worse than it was originally.

Since then, plod has been remarkably quiet on the subject, though it is common knowledge in "certain circles"...



Not too bright, are you? Your laptop, I mean... Not you

Peter Christy

Not only high end systems...

I must confess to a similar "lapse of memory"! Hark back to the days of the BBC Micro, which adorned a desk at my home, topped by a colour monitor!

One day, upon switching on, I was presented with a very monochrome display! The colour had simply disappeared, and I was looking at a screen of various "Shades of Grey" - to coin a phrase!

I checked the video cables, all OK. Checked the output of the BBC Micro on a "portable" colour TV. All OK! Concluding that it was a monitor fault, I dug out the circuit diagram and discovered that all the colour processing was done by a single, rather large, chip. It took a few days to locate a supplier of said chip, but I finally had one in my hands, and took the monitor in to work at the week-end to avail myself of the very well-equipped workshop.

After a lot of cursing and swearing while extracting the main board from the monitor, I finally managed to replace the thousand legged chip (well, it seemed like a thousand!), re-assembled everything and switched it on. Everything was still a glorious monochrome!

At this point, one of my colleagues strolled over, having heard my cry of anguish. He leaned forward and turned up the knob marked "colour" on the front panel! Needless to say, normal service was immediately restored!

In my defence, I can only say that I had not touched any of the front panel controls between the thing working and not working. However, I did have two small and mischievous children. I do not know for sure that it was them, but the way they giggled when I finally announced that I had found the problem made me watch them much more closely thereafter!



UK's National Museum of Computing asks tunesmiths to recreate bleeps, bloops, and parps of retro game music

Peter Christy

Wot! No mention of the Hybrid Music 5000?

Aaahh! But the BBC Micro had the awesome Music 5000 add-on, which turned it into a full-on synthesizer! I recall many happy hours spent programming "Telstar", "Nutrocker" and several other classics into it, using the supplied "Ample" programming language.

However, my crowning glory was managing to get the whole of Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor" into it, which required some deft programming shortcuts to get it all into the 32KB of RAM! Took me weeks to figure out how to do it!

Happy Days!



Linux gods at last turn their gaze to Pi 400: Computer-in-a-keyboard receives mainline kernel support with v5.14

Peter Christy

Wot, no Slackware?

Well actually there is! My Pi 400 is running very happily on Slarm64 - an unofficial port of Slackware64-current (a bit like Slamd64 in the early days of 64-bit!).

Very impressed, so far. I had to do a bit of tweaking to get the bluetooth and wifi going - mainly a question of making sure the right firmware was loaded, but easily sorted.

It is hard to tell if hardware video acceleration is working. The tests say it is, but although 1080 plays fine, it struggles with 4K. But that maybe due to it trying to resize for a 1080 monitor!

What a great little machine!



Quality control, Soviet style: Here's another fine message you've gotten me into

Peter Christy

Re: Skodas and Ladas

Back around 2011, I visited the old East Germany to support my son who was competing in a big international competition. I had (still have!) a SAAB 96, which I decided to use for the journey to a town near the Polish border.

I was amazed at the number of Trabis still in use, and ALL in absolutely immaculate condition! One was even towing an immaculate trailer, made from half of an old Trabi!

My old SAAB prompted quite a few interested looks from the locals, who I suspect had never seen one before.

One evening, returning from the airfield to our hotel, I spotted something coming towards me that, from a distance, looked like a steamroller that had been sprayed bright orange - the colour we used to call "vomit orange" back in the 60's, when it was popular!

As it approached, I realised that it was a customised Trabi, sporting the widest wheels I have ever seen on a road going car - hence the road-roller appearance!

As it passed, I was looking at it through the windscreen thinking "what the h*** is that?". I could clearly see the young driver of the Trabi staring at my SAAB and also thinking exactly the same!

On my way out, I got caught in a mega traffic jam on the Hanover ring road. It was a boiling hot day, and the Scandinavian SAAB was getting very hot! Having already got the heater going full blast to try and cool the engine, I popped the (forward hinging) bonnet to let cool air circulate.

A lot of Germans were waving at me, saying "Your bonnet (hood) is open!". I waved an acknowldgement and continues to sit in the jam. As I got near the end, I hopped out and shut the bonnet. As soon as I got up to 30MPH, the engine cooled back to normal.But for the next few miles, I passed a steady stream of new BMWs, Audis, VWs, etc, all on the hard shoulder, with steam pouring out of them!

I waved and called out "Your bonnet is open!", to each one.

Its true: the Germans have no sense of humour....


Dangerous flying car drone zoomed into UK's Gatwick Airport airspace after killswitch failed

Peter Christy

Re: If that had been...

I believe the CAA contracted it out to a member of the "chumocracy"!



Peter Christy


More information starting to trickle out: Apparently the RC gear being used was a well known commercial brand. HOWEVER, it was set up to use the Australian frequencies (same as US FCC) in the 915 MHz band. These are illegal for model control in the UK, where we use the EU 868MHz band. In addition, the max power output permitted in the UK is 25mW on this band - one reason it is rarely used. However, the FCC systems doesn't have a 25 mW setting, so they reduced it to 10mW! This is the kind of power level you would use for an indoor toy!

Also, although the commercial system incorporates a failsafe (mandatory for models over a certain weight in the UK) this had not been set!

The more you read about it, the more you realise what an incompetent bunch of idiots were operating this thing!



Peter Christy

If that had been...

... an RC model pilot, he would have had the book thrown at him - and quite rightly too! In over 50 years of flying RC models, I don't think I've ever seen such an abysmally sloppy or incompetent installation!

As an aside, I've just received my new CAA registration number for my models. It comprises: "GB-OP-" (which is fair enough) followed by a random string of 12 numbers and letters. Assuming they've done the usual 25-letter alphabet thing, that gives a total of 35 possible characters. If I've done my sums right (maths was never my strong point!), that yields 3,379,220,508,056,640,625 possible permutations.

In 2020, the total global population was estimated at 7,800,000,000 (7.8 Billion)

That means that every human alive on the face of the planet could have approximately 433 MILLION CAA registration numbers! For model aircraft!

You couldn't make it up!

I guess I'll have to tow a banner behind my model to have enough space for the registration number....



The Novell NetWare box keeps rebooting over and over again yet no one has touched it? We're going on a stakeout

Peter Christy

Fluorescent (sort of!) AND the cleaner!

Not strictly computer, but certainly related! Many decades ago, between leaving school and starting a "proper" job, I filled the summer holidays working as a van driver and salesman for a local electrical retailer. Colour TV had just started to reach a few lucky locations within our area, and one of our wealthier customers had bought a magnificent 25" Decca dual standard colour TV. These were the Rolls-Royce of colour sets in their day, so it came as something of a shock when the customer complained - less than a week later - that the TV had gone all psychedelic on him!

A service engineer was quickly despatched and spent a few hours degaussing it, then re-doing the purity and convergence. This was a BIG job on those old sets! Eventually, the set was as good as new, and he left a satisfied customer behind him.

A week later, and the customer is back! The TV has gone psychedelic again! Rinse wash and repeat!

After the 3rd occurrence, the service engineer decided to spend Thursday at the customer's house (it was always Thursday when the set went wonky!).

About 1130, the maid comes in with an enormous, pre-war, upright Hoover and proceeds to shove it under the TV before the engineer can stop her! The stray magnetic fields from the massive motor in this device played absolute havoc with the (fluorescent!) vacuum tube that was the CRT!

It only took him a couple of hours to sort it this last time, because of the practice he had now had, but the poor maid was left with strict instructions NOT to Hoover anywhere near the TV in future!

Master boot vinyl record: It just gives DOS on my IBM PC a warmer, more authentic tone

Peter Christy

That's the Hi-Tech option...

Those of us of a certain age probably remember loading the bootstrap into a PDP-8 by reading settings from a book, setting up the switches on the front panel, and then loading them into memory, 1 byte at a time. And this was just to get it to read the next stage from punched tape!

Oh to have had the luxury of such a high speed loader.....!




You only live twice: Once to start the installation, and the other time to finish it off

Peter Christy

Its the glamour!

Not specifically an IT issue, but a tale from Broadcast TV news, and lugging equipment around the world...

Cast your mind back to 1986, and the Shultz - Shevardnadze peace conference in Vienna. At the time I was a video editor for a UK news organisation, dispatched to Vienna to cover the conference for our network.

As usual, all the arrangements were left until the last minute, resulting in a panic to get the camera crew, reporter, producer, myself and all our equipment on a flight from Heathrow to Vienna. This was compounded by the fact that we would be sharing some resources with the American ABC network, so in addition to the editing equipment, I also had to lug along a standards converter (NTSC to PAL and vice versa – very big and heavy back then!) along with some extra NTSC and PAL video recorders to record local feeds and record and playback to the standards converter. This was a very big pile of equipment!

The company hired a truck with a tail-lift to get me to Heathrow. When it arrived, it looked so beat up that the camera crew refused to risk their equipment in it, and took a black cab (at vast expense!) instead. I had no choice but to go in the truck!

In addition to being beat up, it didn't have enough fuel to get from central London to Heathrow, and by the time we had re-fuelled, time was getting tight for my flight. The camera crew were great, and lent a helping hand to get everything off and into the check-in. It appeared to me that every broadcaster in the world was trying to get onto this flight, and each crew was also checking in a mountain of equipment! We all slapped our company cards down to pay the excess baggage, but I was starting to wonder nervously if the 'plane would ever get off the ground with all this equipment on board!

Next stop was customs and carnet checking time. Just my luck to get a tiny and very officious customs officer, who clearly had an inferiority complex! He picked the one item of equipment in this mountain that did not have the serial number on the outside and insisted that I couldn't leave until he had verified it! One of the camera crew started unpacking a toolkit to start dismantling the sound mixer while I continued to argue with the customs official, with the last call for our flight sounding over the tannoy.

At that moment, inspiration struck! Seeing a roll of duct tape in the toolbox, I tore a strip off, wrote the number on the tape and stuck it on the front!

"Will that do?", I asked!

"Yes!", he said, finally stamping the carnet!

We made the flight by the skin of our teeth!

But it doesn't end there!

Arriving in Vienna at nearly midnight, I went to the car rental desk to enquire about the tail lift truck that was supposed to meet me. The woman behind the desk eventually put her knitting down and deigned to recognise my presence, but denied all knowledge of the booking! I spent the next half-an-hour traipsing around the airport desperately trying to hire a vehicle - of any sort - that would carry my cargo. I ended up hiring a 40 seater bus! For cash!

The actual job itself went pretty smoothly, once the usual technical hiccups were sorted. A few days later, I found myself back at Vienna airport for the journey home. As I went from one desk to another, with a train of porters and equipment behind me, like a mother duck and her ducklings, I spotted a very harassed looking fixer from ABC crossing my path. She also had a train of porters and equipment behind her. She looked at me and said "That's what I love about this job! Its the glamour of it, the sheer glamour!" I laughed and gave her a wave!

The ones I really felt for were the ABC camera crew. They were Polish, and as we were walking across to our shiny, new British Airways 767, they were forlornly heading towards a LOT Ilyushin of some description. That plane was standing in pools of kerosene and hydraulic fluid, and didn't look fit to taxy to a scrapyard, never mind fly back to Warsaw!

Arriving back at Heathrow, I had to go through customs again to get the carnet stamped. As I approached the desk, who do I see, but the same officious little customs man! He took one look at me, and the mountain of equipment and bolted into the back room! One of his colleagues came out to deal with me, and it all went smoothly!

This time there was a tail-lift truck waiting for me! The camera crew got into their limo and departed, leaving me to load up and follow. Having got all the gear stowed, I went to the cab to climb in, only to find the driver's girl-friend sat in the passenger seat. No-one had told him he had to fetch me as well!

I spent the return trip from Heathrow sitting aside the transmission tunnel hanging on for dear life!

Its the glamour, you know! The glamour!

Linux kernel maintainers tear Paragon a new one after firm submits read-write NTFS driver in 27,000 lines of code

Peter Christy

Me too! I don't have to access NTFS filesystems very often, but I have never noticed any issues with ntfs-3G and FUSE.

Hey, Boeing. Don't celebrate your first post-grounding 737 Max test flight too hard. You just lost another big contract

Peter Christy

Re: Learn from the smaller world...

I note the above comments about the aircraft being stable without the MCAS (computer) assistance, but also that the stick forces do not comply with accepted convention in these extreme attitudes.

This latter is surely a *design* flaw - ie: mechanical - that has to be "fixed" by computer.

So I stand by my original argument: Get the design and/or setup right first, and fine tune it by computer. Do not use the computer to "fix" an inherent flaw.

As has been pointed out above, this is not a fighter that *needs* to be unstable to meet its performance requirements.

This was an attempt to fix by computer an inherent design / mechanical flaw, and was always going to end badly.

Boeing built its reputation in the days when it was led by its engineering expertise. That reputation is now being destroyed by its accounting expertise!

Peter Christy

Learn from the smaller world...

My hobby is building radio controlled models, and in particular helicopters. My son has flown at World Championship events for helicopter aerobatics, and made it into the fly-offs. Modern RC gear is heavily computerised, but this is not the same as having any form of auto-pilot system. It is intended to make the setting up and trimming of the aircraft simpler.

Some years ago, at a World Champs event, I attended a lecture by one of the top Japanese Pilots (The Japanese and Americans dominated this sport for many years). He was adamant that the computerised radio should ONLY be used for "fine tuning" the aircraft, and that it was vitally important to get everything *mechanically* right first. This was a philosophy with which I wholeheartedly agreed - as well as being one which I had indoctrinated into my son!

If only Boeing had followed this basic principle, they would not be in their current predicament!

Apple to keep Intel at Arm's length: macOS shifts from x86 to homegrown common CPU arch, will run iOS apps

Peter Christy

I wonder what they'll call the new iMac?

Archimedes, perhaps?

Watch out, everyone, here come the Coronavirus Cops, enjoying their little slice of power way too much

Peter Christy

Travellers seem to be immune, however...

(For those not native to the UK, "Travellers" is the title given to a band of roaming people who live outside the rules and laws of normal society.)

South-West England is currently enjoying warm, balmy spring weather, a time when the area would normally be flooded with holidaymakers. The economy of the area largely relies on these holidaymakers. However, the police have warned people not to travel during the present crisis, and have been stopping those on the motorways to the South-West who they believe do not have a valid reason for travelling, and sending them back whence they came.

Except for the "Travellers"! On Wednesday a convoy of "travellers" on the M5 caused a major accident, blocking the motorway for some hours. As a result, two vehicles were seized (one no tax or insurance, the other stolen), another stolen vehicle found, but no trace of the driver, one arrested for drunk driving and another arrested for driving whilst disqualified!

The police gave the rest of the convoy "strong words of advice/education around travelling in the current pandemic, advised against this and asked to return to the location from where they had travelled." - which they immediately ignored and carried on to Exeter, setting up several camps on public land. The last time they did this, the clearing up cost came to £20,000!

Despite criminal damage being caused to access the site, the police are not interested in moving them back whence they came, and the council seem powerless.

In short, the police only seem interested in policing the people who pay their salary, and the scroungers of society remain at liberty to do as they please.


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

Peter Christy

The Russians certainly gained access to a lot of Concorde's design details, but they missed some very important ones. And remember that the Brits had been working on delta winged supersonic aircraft during the 50s (The Fairey Delta 2 was the first aircraft to break 1000mph, in the mid 50s!)

IIRC (and its been a long time since I studied aerodynamics!), one of the problems of supersonic flight is slowing the air to sub-sonic speeds before it enters the engines. If you don't do this, the engines either stall, or become horrendously inefficient! Concorde had a very subtle design of its air intakes, that provided a passive method of slowing the air in supersonic flight. This mean that whilst Concorde needed afterburners (noisy and thirsty) to break the sound barrier, once it was through, the afterburners could be turned off.

The Russians missed this, and Concordski needed the afterburners running all the time it was supersonic. This had a severely detrimental effect on both its fuel consumption and its noise emissions!

The Russian 'plane was only ever used on a trans-Siberian route as a result, flying over a largely unpopulated region. Even government subsidies were unable to compensate for the horrendous fuel consumption, and it was withdrawn from service after a short period.

Peter Christy

Yes, that's absolutely correct. And that was the clever bit about Ampex' solution - they just bolted the electronics from a quad VTR to a spinning disk, and voila!

The FM signal recovered from disk was never quite as clean as it was from tape. On a tape machine, the heads were in physical contact with the tape, whereas on disk there was a gap, and this was why the quality never quite matched up! The tape machines were very sensitive to tape damage. The four heads were mounted on a 2" diameter drum, spinning at around 3000 rpm (in Europe). It was a bit like a circular saw, and the slightest damage to the edge of the tape would see it shredded! This occasionally happened when the machine was on the air, and was the cause of much frantic cleaning up and re-lacing to get it back to transmission!

Mercifully, it never happened to me, but I did witness it, and occasionally had to repair the tapes afterwards!

And around this time, I remember the research department (a load of boffins at an old country manor house) being delighted at having achieved the feat of successfully recording and playing back *half* of the test card from a digital tape deck!

How times have moved on!

As an aside, the quad videotape machines had a switch on the input marked "video" and "data". The word on the grapevine was that they were used by the CIA in their larger spyplanes (converted airliners) as they were the only things capable of handling the vast throughput of data at the time. It also explained why our cousins across the pond were paranoid about anyone behind the Iron Curtain getting their hands on one and copying it!

Of course, the Russians did eventually manage to copy them, but just as with Concordski, they missed some of the vital design details, and recordings made on Russian machines were incredibly difficult to get to playback properly, despite them using the SECAM colour system, which was much more robust in these situations!

Peter Christy

Back in the early 70s, I was working as a videotape engineer at a big broadcasting company. The VT machines in those days were monstrous beasts that cost 3 times the price of a modest house, so only those with a degree or equivalent were allowed near them! These machines were incapable of playing slow motion, due to the way the information was recorded on tape, but the very clever engineers at Ampex (the major supplier of VT machines back then) had made a wonderful hybrid system. This basically took the signal system from a quadruplex VTR and married it to a computer hard disk system - not unlike the "washing machines" mentioned above! There were two disks (hence four surfaces) spinning at around 3000 rpm. The heads were controlled by stepper motors, and each recorded one field of TV information (two fields = 1 frame, due to interlacing). The heads would move inwards in sequence creating circular tracks of video as they went, and writing even numbered "circles" in one direction, and when they reached the edge of the disk, reverse direction and write the "odd" circles.

The disks were capable of storing around 30-something seconds of analogue video, and recorded continuously, until (say) a goal was scored! The studio director would then order the recording to stop and replay the goal, which the operator could do at any speed, forwards or backwards!

Very clever, and all built using "off the shelf" components!

The picture quality wasn't brilliant (analogue, remember) due to the heads "flying" a tiny fraction of an inch of the surface of the disk, but at the time it was the best that could be achieved, and it continued in use for many years.

There was, however, a minor design flaw that occasionally led to catastrophic failures!

The spinning disks were at the very top of a cabinet of electronics around 4 feet tall. They were heavy, and spinning very fast! This led to some interesting gyroscopic effects, especially as the whole thing was sitting on a not-very-rigid computer floor, with all the cabling underneath!

If any heavy-footed individual entered the room while the disks were spinning, this was likely to lead to the whole thing wobbling slightly, and crashing the heads into the disks! This was a not completely uncommon occurrence!

The disks themselves were quite striking in appearance, and the damage was often invisible to the naked eye. This made them highly prized as trophies, when no longer fit for original purpose. Every Christmas, engineers throughout the TV networks would compete for the "Christmas Tape" trophy, a sort of Eurovision Song contest for who could create the best out-take / humorous (and often obscene) tape! The trophy was a suitably engraved disk from a slo-mo machine!

Have a look here for more information on this rather unusual use of computer disk drives: http://www.vtoldboys.com/editingmuseum/hs100.htm

What was Boeing through their heads? Emails show staff wouldn't put their families on a 737 Max over safety fears

Peter Christy

Re: I guess

To be fair, I don't think anyone anticipated the failures that brought down the early Comets. The failure that destroyed the Challenger was not only anticipated, but flagged up and ignored.

Linux in 2020: 27.8 million lines of code in the kernel, 1.3 million in systemd

Peter Christy

Re: Oh, bullshit. Greg.

Couldn't have put it better myself! I'm not a programmer, but the occasions when I've had to do battle with systemd (and pulseaudio, come to that) have driven me to distraction!

All my personal machines run Slackware, which is systemd-free. Even someone like me, whose programming knowledge is over 30 years out-of-date, can understand it, and it rarely causes me any issues. However, I also maintain computers for my wife and sister-in-law - both technophobes - so for them I install Mageia which has the dreaded systemd. I do this because Magiea has a semi-automated update system, that flags up an icon when updates are available. Click on it, agree to the update, and it all happens automagically, without having to get me involved. Most of the time.

When it doesn't work, I find myself having to do battle with systemd. Frankly, anyone who can design a system where essential log files are only readable if the system is running (ie NOT plain text!) - well, boiling in oil is too good for them!

I note that within this thread, virtually no-one has a good word for this ghastly abomination. Even those who can see some justification for it also seem to conclude that it doesn't justify the issues that surround it. When I find that my opinion of this pile of steaming excrement is shared by many who are far more proficient with operating systems than I am (or will ever be!), it makes me feel slightly better about my own inadequacies!

I'm still not that Gary, says US email mixup bloke who hasn't even seen Dartford Crossing

Peter Christy

I can sympathise....

Back when I got my first ISP to join t'internet, I was running OS/2 (yes, really! Even then, I was spectacularly unimpressed by Micro$oft products.). As part of the Warp 3 promotion, IBM offered to be your ISP for a very reasonable amount, along with an ibm.net email address. Thinking this was pretty cool - and there only being a few users back then - I ended up with christyATibm.net as my email address (long defunct, so spammers, don't bother!)

For a year or two, all was well, but then I started getting regular, large newsletters from some Republican senator, telling me what a great job he was doing for his local community and state. This was all very well, but I've lived in England all my life, and while I have travelled the world a bit, I've never been to America! He was certainly wasting his time (and my bandwidth) trying to elicit my vote!

Repeated polite requests to have my name removed from the mailing list fell on deaf ears, until eventually I snapped. I sent a rather curt and very impolite email.

I was never bothered by him again, but I do wonder if my name is now on a blacklist somewhere, and what would happen if I ever DID try to visit the USA....!

Hyphens of mass destruction: When a clumsy finger meant the end for hundreds of jobs

Peter Christy

Not quite so spectacular, but it certainly produced unseen results: Back in the early 70s I was still at college (same place now calls itself a University!), and our "hands-on" computer was a PDP-8 - with a whole 4K RAM expansion - running FOCAL. FOCAL was in some ways similar to BASIC, which itself was almost unknown back then. FOCAL enabled up to four teletypes to share the processor, with each having access to 1K of memory. Programs were stored on punch-tape.

Programs were started by running the "GO" command, and as we were all struggling with the basic concepts, frequently resulted in the program either hanging or getting stuck in a loop.

One of our lecturers introduced us to the "GO?" command, which produced a step-by-step trace of the program as it ran, accompanied by much clattering from the teletype. Note the use of the phrase "THE teletype". This was because running "GO?" caused all the other teletypes to come to a grinding halt until the trace was complete!

The first few times we ran the trace command, this led to the other users cursing and swearing, slapping the teletypes, and inspecting their own programs to try and see what they had done wrong. It wasn't long before the more intelligent users realised that ONE teletype was not only still working, but doing so at a frantic pace! This led to a full and frank exchange of views between them and the offending user, and the use of "GO?" was restricted to times when there was only one user on the system!

Happy days.....!

Not LibreOffice too? Beloved open-source suite latest to fall victim to the curse of Catalina

Peter Christy

And its not just Catalina...

I'm not a Mac person, though I have the misfortune to own one - a late 2013 model with NVidia graphics. The monitor is superb, the rest of it offers middling performance for a top dollar price.

I use it mainly for video editing, which relies heavily on NVidia's CUDA package to prop up the under-powered CPU. Unfortunately, with the introduction of 10.14.X (whatever it was called), NVidia support seems to have pretty well vanished - at least as far as CUDA is concerned.

The tech forums were awash with complaints from customers who relied on CUDA for their livelihoods, but the only solution appears to be to stick with 10.13.X, and then jump through hoops to get CUDA working again. It isn't easy!

And people accuse Linux of being "user hostile".....!

A History of (Computer) Violence: Wait. Before you whack it again, try caressing the mouse

Peter Christy

Not specifically computer,

But many years ago, I worked as an engineer for a big broadcasting company. On one of the studio floors was a large monitor, with a bulls-eye marked on the side along with a note saying: "Flashing. Hit here."!

This was a very big and bulky monitor, and no-one wanted to carry it up to the maintenance department two floors up. Since thumping it at the marked point fixed it, it never got the TLC that perhaps it deserved!

Which reminds me of the difference between a Technician and an Engineer: A Technician knows where to thump it. An Engineer knows WHY you have to thump it just there!

Sod 3G, that can go, but don't rush to turn off 2G, UK still needs it – report

Peter Christy

Meanswhile, outside the metropolis...

... we're lucky to get *ANY* kind of a signal at all! I live in a big-ish seaside town, near one of our only remaining fishing ports, and at home, the ONLY signal I can receive is EE! So much for consumer choice!

If I stand on the top of a nearby hill, I can get 4G. Anywhere else, and not a G in sight!

Welcome to the 21st century!

Criminalise British drone fliers, snarl MPs amid crackdown demands

Peter Christy

Re: What's the difference

Most (but not all) model aircraft flyers already belong to one of the model flying associations, and as a result, carry third party insurance to the tune of £25Million (yes, that's right, £25 MILLION). This is necessary as many events are held on MOD property, and even the remotest chance accident could cause very expensive damage!

Very few people who casually buy recreational drones carry 3rd party insurance, or are even aware of it.

The model flying associations already hold a members register, and issue membership numbers, so for them, the proposed legislation is a massive duplication of effort. They also encourage members to take part in achievement schemes that go some way to assuring a degree of competence. These schemes also include questions on the legal requirements for model flying.

Again, few casual drone purchasers will have received any instruction in the legal or operational requirements for flying their drone.

The achievement scheme run by the British Model Flying Association (BMFA - the largest of the 4 UK associations) is far more demanding than that proposed by the DfT.

So whilst there may no legal (or much physical) distinction between model aircraft and drones, the pilots who operate model aircraft are generally far more aware of their legal obligations and responsibilities than casual drone operators.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson moves to shut Parliament

Peter Christy

Fire the lot of them!

Personally, I'd like to see a General Election called, with every current Member of Parliament, along with anyone else who has held a seat in the last ten years, barred from standing.

They've all proven to be totally incompetent, and only a clean sweep will sort things out!

*Spits out coffee* £4m for a database of drone fliers, UK.gov? Defra did game shooters for £300k

Peter Christy

The estimate of £16.50 to register is based on the assumption that some 170,000 pilots will sign up! The British Model Flying Association - the largest of the four main model flying associations - has around 36,000 members. There is a large amount of overlap between the various associations, so I doubt there are many more than 40,000 model aircraft pilots in the UK. Presumably the remaining 130,000 registrations are expected to come from commercial operators and drone pilots who prefer to go it alone. In any event, that figure of around 170,000 seems hopelessly optimistic!

But then this is coming from the department whose minister, one Chris Grayling, managed to cock-up the probation service and the railway timetables, not to mention the Brexit Ferry fiasco! The small change from the latter would have paid for the drone registration database several times over!

How he manages to keep his job is a mystery to all! Still, with a change of PM a matter of weeks away (and maybe a general election not long after), maybe he will be booted out before all this comes to fruition.

Well, we can dream, can't we?



I am just a mapper: Solar drones take to the skies above Blighty

Peter Christy


Didn't take off from anywhere near Gatwick, did it?

Army had 'naive' approach to Capita's £1.3bn recruiting IT contract, MPs told

Peter Christy

In days of yore, you walked into an Army recruitment office and they asked you your name. If you managed to score more than 50% on that, you were in! My grand-son has been trying to join the army for nearly a year, and getting absolutely nowhere!

In any normal business, heads would roll for this.....



Oregon can't stop people from calling themselves engineers, judge rules in Traffic-Light-Math-Gate

Peter Christy

Technician Vs Engineer

A Technician is someone who knows where to slap something to make it work.

An Engineer knows WHY you have to slap it there.

In a similar vein:

To a Pessimist, the glass is half empty.

To an Optimist, the glass is half full.

To an Engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.



London's Gatwick airport suspends all flights after 'multiple' reports of drones

Peter Christy

As a responsible model aircraft flyer, I'm seriously p***ed off by all the idiots flying drones without any idea of what they are doing. As many of us pointed out at the time new legislation was being proposed, new laws are pointless unless they can be enforced. The Civil Aviation Authority are responsible for draughting the rules, but enforcement is down to the already over-stretched police.

However, as others have pointed out, there are aspects of this story that simply don't add up. First there is the length of time of the sightings. This would indicate either very many drones, or very many re-charges close to the airport. Secondly, the weather last night was foul, with heavy rain, strong winds and even stronger gusts. I doubt if any "consumer" drone could operate in such conditions, and its highly unlikely that any "commercial" grade drones could either. Has someone nicked some military drones? How reliable are eye-witness accounts under such conditions? Perhaps most importantly, were these drones spotted on radar - either air or ground - which should surely have been able to detect them?

Lots of unanswered questions here. I shall be following this with interest!

College PRIMOS prankster wreaks havoc with sysadmin manuals

Peter Christy

My first "hands on" experience with computers was at college. It was a DEC PDP-8, running FOCAL, and had the capacity of sharing <gasp!> FOUR teletypes! We only had three connected - budget restraints, even then! But we did have the optional 4K RAM expansion - a box the same size as the PDP-8 itself, full of ferrite cores!

FOCAL had a debug command. To run a program normally, you just entered GO at the "prompt", but if you entered "GO?", it would go into full debug mode, printing out everything it was doing, while it did it!

This not only resulted in reams of paper spewing out of the teletype (there goes the ole rain forest!), but also reduced the other teletypes to a 1-character per minute crawl!

Unfortunately, the reams of paper were something of a giveaway as to the identity of the culprit, so it wasn't really a very practical joke! But it did encourage you to write bug-free code - or at least, not use the debug option to, er, debug it, for fear of swift and violent retribution!

Happy days!



Bloke fined £460 after his drone screwed up police chopper search for missing woman

Peter Christy

Whilst it may be arguable whether the pilot believed the flight could be made safely or not, what is not in dispute is that he flew it beyond Line-Of-Sight - a clear breach of the Air Navigation Order.

I fly RC models - which cannot maintain stable flight beyond LOS - and unfortunately I and my fellow RC pilots have been caught up in the drone legislation through no fault of our own. This leaves me very unsympathetic to idiots who fly these things in inappropriate areas.

I live in a semi-rural area, near the coast and with a steam railway running nearby. Twice in one week, I had idiots taking off from the pavement outside my house, flying at low level over the (busy-ish) road and my neighbours' houses to get photos of the train! One at least had the decency to look sheepish and disappear when challenged. The other claimed to be a licensed professional at first, but then scarpered pretty quickly when I quoted the relevant sections of the Air Navigation Order to him.

From my perspective, this guy got off lightly.



Uncle Sam gives itself the right to shoot down any drone, anywhere, any time, any how

Peter Christy

A bigger problem is that the term "drone" encompasses legally and safely operated model aircraft - not just autonomous or semi autonomous quad-copters.

I can foresee some very angry US citizens when a cop shoots down an expensive (in terms of both money and time building it) model, just because he's taken a dislike to it!

Here in the UK, the CAA (our equivalent of the FAA) has taken a more enlightened approach, and members of the major modelling associations have been exempted from the more draconian regulations, subject to some not unreasonable conditions.

The other problem here in the UK is enforcement! The clowns that have caused the present problems by operating "drones" in unsafe ways are not going to be deterred by any new regulations, and the CAA don't have the manpower to police them. According to the documentation, that is going to be left in the hands of our already over-stretched police!

In any case, the aforesaid clowns were already in breach of any number of regulations by operating "drones" in an unsafe manner.

If the existing laws could not be enforced, what is going to change with the new ones?



Attempt to clean up tech area has shocking effect on kit

Peter Christy

It happened to colour TVs, too....

Back in the late 60s, between leaving college and starting a "proper" job, I worked as a salesman / delivery driver for a local shop that supplied TVs, washing machines, Hi-Fis, etc. One of our customers had just bought one of these new-fangled colour TVs - a dual standard 405/625 model, if memory serves correctly. These early sets were very sensitive to stray magnetic fields - even the Earth's - and had to be carefully aligned by a service engineer in situ.

Our resident alignment expert went out with it on delivery, carefully de-gaussed the screen and carried out all the usual purity and convergence adjustments, leaving the customer with a crystal clear picture.

A week later, the customer called to complain his TV had gone screwy. The service engineer went out again, and sure enough, the purity and convergence had all gone to pot. He carefully re-aligned it all, and left the customer with a perfect picture again.

Exactly a week later, the same problem ensued! By now the customer was getting a little irate (these sets were very expensive!), and the service engineer very puzzled!

Since the problem always seemed to happen on a Thursday, the service engineer convinced the boss to let him go and sit in the room on Thursday - all day if necessary - to see what was going on.

He arrived at 9 o'clock sharp, and the TV was fine. It stayed that way until around 1130, when the cleaning lady arrived and proceeded to hoover the room containing the TV, pushing the hoover with its heavy and powerful electric motor under the TV! Needless to say, the picture immediately went bananas, and required a careful de-gauss and re-alignment to restore proper operation!

The cleaning lady was very apologetic, but in truth it wasn't her fault! No-one had anticipated the effect a powerful vacuum cleaner might have on a CRT!

Later TVs had much better screening and better built in de-gaussing systems, and of course, modern displays aren't affected by stray magnetic fields. But back then, it was all one big learning curve......!



Greybeard greebos do runner from care home to attend world's largest heavy metal fest Wacken

Peter Christy

There's nothing like growing old disgracefully! ;-)