* Posts by Martin Gregorie

1086 posts • joined 10 Apr 2007

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Future airliners will run on hydrogen, vows Airbus as it teases world-plus-dog with concept designs

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Bring it back

Doesn't work: horses are monumentally inefficient in converting fuel (hay and oats) into work (pulling vehicles), though I'd love to see a horse-powered airliner with its herd of horses galloping on a treadmill to drive the propellers and its pilot riding the lead stallion.

The United Kingdom probably cannot feed its current population without importing food, so horse-drawn transport is impossible here without a return to 19th century population and city sizes.

The USA does not have the farmland to feed the horses needed to replace fossil fuelled land transport and has not had this capability since the late 1960s. Thats even assuming that farms are not needed to feed people. This calculation was done in the early '70s during the first Oil Crisis and published in Scientific American.

Safety driver at the wheel of self-driving Uber car that killed a pedestrian is charged with negligent homicide

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: You had one job...

..,but the robot logs where it would have done it differently

Neat one: maybe a better approach to training an autonomous system too, because a dual log should be invaluable as training material.

I'm based at Gransden Lodge and have flown once at Dunstable, on a day with strong wind and 9 knot thermals. FYI my definition of 'strong wind' is when an ASK-21, flown two up, gets off the ground in its own length on the winch and finals is flown at 70kts - a good rule of thumb is 50kts+half wind speed.

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Easy issue to resolve

Eliminating manual controls is a good idea in theory, but less so in practise: there are too many situations where manual controls are needed.

These include positioning the car on a lift for servicing, hooking up a trailer or caravan or backing that into a parking spot, parking the car in a field at an air show or festival, driving in deep snow or, indeed, any other situation where there are no road markings.

And all this ignores the problems of moving a vehicle with a failed autopilot and no manual controls.

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: You had one job...

I'm not one of your down-voters: I agree with your general approach to driving and in-car automation, but speaking as both a driver and a glider pilot, I prefer to be in full control of both aircraft and car: at least I have FLARM in my glider to make sure I know about head-on approaches and faster gliders behind me: both can be very hard to see given the small cross-section and high closing speed of modern gliders. Powered aircraft approaching from behind and slightly below can be heard quite easily, but if they're close enough to hear but positioned where they can't be seen thats very scary indeed.

I think your divided control system would be very difficult indeed to implement and may well end up being treated as 'autonomous' by the average driver. I personally wouldn't want that fitted, for the same reason that I don't use cruise control.

To any GA pilot reading this: please DON'T approach gliders from behind: pass 2-300m to one side where we can see you about the same time as we first hear you. The noise level in most glider cockpits is minimal, so a powered plane sneaking up behind can be heard well before it becomes visible as it moves out to pass.

Is today's AI yesterday's software routines with better PR? We argued over it, you voted on it. And the winner is...

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

I still haven't heard any good refutation of my preferred definition of Artificial Intelligence:

"If you can ask the system how it came to its conclusion about a problem and get a clear explanation of why it arrived at the solution its just provided, then it may be an AI."

If it can't explain its solution, then its definitely not an Artificial Intelligence and it should not be trusted in any situation where its solution has has irreversible consequences. Exactly the same applies to systems providing real-time control services: if the system claimed to be an AI is controlling a vehicle but can't answer questions like "Why did you hit that truck?" or "Why did you abort that landing and go round again?" then its not an AI.

Southern Water customers could view others' personal data by tweaking URL parameters

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

And if the company must activate its lawyers, they should be pointed at the person who wrote that crap in the first place, not the one who discovered the flaw.

Better to pick on the project managers and designers rather than the coders. Its the project managers and designers job to , firstly, design a robust and secure system and, secondly, to make sure its adequately tested, bugfree and secure before it goes live.

If the project manager's bosses prevented adequate testing because deadlines or some similar external reason, then they deserve the blame if testing was incomplete and/or the application was insecure when it went live.

Be very afraid! British Army might scrap battle tanks for keyboard warriors – report

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Think of the complexity

This reminds me of Fred Pohl's short story "The Wizards of Pungs Corners".

In this a crack US Army unit was defeated by a bunch of farmers and good ole boys armed with shotguns because their newly issued superweapons were hugely complex to operate and came with such appallingly written manuals for the wrong version of their kit, that, when the farmers appeared the troops were still trying to work out how to load their weapons..

With the way things are going, maybe Gordon R Dickson's Dorsai stories may be a good model to follow as armies get smaller and armour just gets bigger, more expensive and more specialised.

Tired: Cheap space launch outfits. Wired: Software-and-data-as-a-service for cheap space launch outfits

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

I can't help thinking that once / if it's up and running every glass of water to drink will have passed through a few thousand people and several electrolosys plants and probably a few fuel cells.

...so not a lot different to the situation back here on Earth if you leave out the electrolysis plants and fuel cells. I'd be surprised if there's any water on earth that hasn't been through at least one creature's guts.

Single-line software bug causes fledgling YAM cryptocurrency to implode just two days after launch

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Who didn't bother to test their code?

Because, you know, that's BORING, and besides, I'm too cool to make mistakes.

Ink tanks park themselves all over the lawns of Western Europe as orders flood in

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Refillable cartridges too..

IMO you're better off with a Laser printer - no jets to clog and no unreplaceable loops of head cleaning fabric to stop working when well covered with dried ink.

Sure, a laser and its cartridges cost more to purchase, but the simple fact that you never find the thing clogged up if you haven't used it for a month, combined with duplex printing sharply reduces the TCO.

I've had my current laser for almost three years and still haven't used up the half-capacity cartridge it came with, so that looks like a running cost of about a tenner a year for toner (3p/page vs 4p/page for an Epson inkjet) - and that's without allowing for wastage as inkjet cartridges clog or dry up.

Plus the cost of my monochrome laser and an Epson Stylus are pretty much in the same ballpark.

Deep-root database: Kew Garden's 8 million specimen collection to find new life through data management

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Boris and chums may hear and flog it off for a few pieces of silver

Thats a trick Boris and his predecessors learnt from Maggie: remember her "who needs industry - we're a SERVICE economy now" pronouncements? She forgot that a service economy needs punters to sell said services to, hence the current similarity of the UK economy and government to the B-Arc and its captain.

It seems to me that we'd be in a far better place if we had a bit more industry around and fewer financial leeches in their service industry. Apart from anything else people actually making and exporting stuff would be generating income to spend on services such as pubs, restaurants and entertainment rather than the current pyramid of service industry workers relying on being supported by other service industry workers.

Does nobody else see the odd resemblance of this to the medieval vision of crowds of angels dancing on the head of an unsupported pin?.

911, I wanna report a robbery. Hundreds of thousands of stars stolen from a cluster. I think it was the Milky Way

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

It would be somewhat hot on that planet, though. Living in a tent in the middle of a close-packed ring of blast furnaces would be but a pale imitation. I wonder if the locals would have evolved shiny silver skins. Either that or they are intelligent plasmoids who'd be right at home, if a bit chilly, living in the photosphere of our Sun.

USA seeks Moon and Mars nuke power plant designs ready to fly in 2027

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: What are they going to do with the heat?

Current is an issue too: if they're going to run 10 Kw - thats 83 amps at 120v DC - through 1km of cable, the cable will weigh about as much as the shielded nuke. If it doesn't, then they may put 10Kw in but they aren't going to get anything like that out of the other end.

120v AC would make much more sense because the cable could be a lot thinner and the weight savings would almost certainly be much more than the weight of a DC->AC converter at the nuke and rectifiers at the far end.

Suspected armed robber’s privacy was not infringed by cops’ specific cellphone tower data slurp, US judge rules

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Thanks for a very clear explanation.

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Non-USAian here: there's one thing that's always puzzled me: the kerfuffle when Trump refused to hand over his tax records after inauguration.

Was he merely choosing not to follow a time-honoured convention or did he break a law by refusing?

If the latter, why wasn't he arrested? After all, nobody should be above the law in a democracy.

Nominet shakes up system for expiring .uk domains, just happens to choose one that will make it £millions. Again

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: One way to spend the money

Surely it has little to no value or they'd never be dropping it, would have kept it or transferred it for a wad of dosh.

I can think of a couple of good enough reasons why a domain name, especially one used by a small business, might have expired, especially if it reads more like a personal, rather than a business name:

  • The owner has died and their property, including the domain name, is still in probate.
  • The owner decided to retire and no employees, friends or relatives want to take over the business

Don't strain yourself, Zuck, only democracy at stake... Facebook makes half-hearted effort to flag election lies by President Trump

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Flagging falsehoods

I shall probably get massively downvoted for this, BUT:

The way to clear out most of falsehoods, hate-speech and vilification from social media would be reject all posts that are NOT signed with the poster's verified real name. This is how democratically protected free speech should handled on all media.

And please note that whistle-blowing is quite different: its the one place where a genuine complaint should not have its author publicly identified. A truly democratic society would have suitably safeguarded channels for use by whistle-blowers.

Until the above happens I, for one, will not not use so-called social media.

Linux kernel coders propose inclusive terminology coding guidelines, note: 'Arguments about why people should not be offended do not scale'

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

No problem with most of it, but...

The circles I've moved in have usually talked about software client-server relationships for years, so no problem there, but the one word that nobody seems to be talking about is the term 'master', used to identify an item that exists purely to create exact replicas, such as the 'master' copy for producing commercial quantities of vinyl records and CDs.

LibreOffice slips out another 7.0 beta: Spreadsheets close gap with Excel while macOS users treated to new icons

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Any news of a Libre_mail client

Evolution does everything I need for communicating with people and managing future tasks: e-mail, contact management, calendar plus a task list and memos.

After 84 years, Japan's Olympus shutters its camera biz, flogs it to private equity – smartphones are just too good

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

I'm with you here: after working up to decent slide cameras (Leica IIIb,then a Pentax Spotmatic F) I bought a Pentax K100D because it uses my Spotmatic's lens collection. Its an excellent camera apart from bulk and its ability to destroy NiMH rechargeables in about 2 charge cycles. After that I got a Pentax WG1 Optio for convenience - this was an object lesson in lens quality vs MPixels: with 14MB its resolution is around 3 times worse than the K100D with its half-size 6MP sensor.

Most recent purchase is a Panasonic TZ70, bought for a visit to India: I knew the Optio's rear screen would be unusable in Rajasthani sunlight and it has an electronic viewfinder. It has become my main camera due to small size, electronic viewfinder and surprisingly good low light performance - Taj Mahal by moonlight, anybody?

Machine-learning models trained on pre-COVID data are now completely out of whack, says Gartner

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: But...

If your fancy, data-driven predictive algorithm gets it spectacularly wrong just because the unexpected happened (pandemic, bank crash, military coup, whatever) then, ITS NOT A BLOODY AI, just a pattern matcher with insufficient predictive ability to deal with real world events. If the people who sold it to you claimed it was an AI and/or failed to specify its limitations and failure scenarios, then sue their arses off.

Ex-director cops community service after 5,000-file deletion spree on company Dropbox

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Scummy company practices cause data loss

She resigned as director from Company A, so had nothing to do with Company A anymore.

Where did you get that from?

The story says rather clearly that company A collapsed, and that following the collapse one of the owners of company A promptly started company B and grabbed all the assets of company A.

Nowhere does it say that she resigned from Company A, only that the partners fell out with each other, which had some bearing on the collapse.

He should have waited until the winding up of A was complete before touching any of its assets and was, in any case, unlikely to be entitled to all the assets. This looks remarkably like sharp dealing at best and quite possibly, theft if the assets had any residual value after creditors, including HMCE, were paid..

Not so nice, we investigated them twice: EU opens double whammy of inquiries into Apple's biz practices

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Business ethics and history

Evidently Apple, Google et al are merely following a very old way of doing business in Ermerika. Old because was alive and being criticised in 1952.

Read "The Space Merchants" by Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth to see how much of the way Apple does business is new and original.

Legal complaint lodged with UK data watchdog over claims coronavirus Test and Trace programme flouts GDPR

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Bluetooth? Really?

Are TPTB really unable to think through some basic GCSE level science?

Of course. They're barely numerate and critical thinking is quite beyond them.

What do you expect from a bunch who studied politics and little else at uni before working as a researcher for a member of the party of their choice until they'd earned enough brownie points to be given a crack at a safe seat?

I have no beef with studying languages and humanities, but the idea that somebody can become an MP with essentially no practical work experience outside of politics really sticks in my craw.

Lets face it: the proportion of members of the House of Lords with experience outside the political sphere vastly exceeds the proportion of MPs with useful non-political experience. It wasn't always like this in Parliament. Unfortunately.

All-electric plane makes first flight – while lugging 2 tons of batteries aloft

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: The video

You mean like this?

http://sustainableskies.org/a-chance-to-unwind/

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Could someone check the numbers?

A very high proportion of the noise made by anything with a propeller on it comes from the prop, specifically from the outer part of the blades and the tips, so using an electric motor to spin the prop may not make much difference to the noise level.

Thats why most glider tugs in the UK use smaller diameter four blade props: reducing the prop diameter gives a fairly large noise reduction because the tip speeds are a lot lower at the same RPM. There's a disadvantage too - the four blader is less efficient, partly because the aircraft cowling drag is relatively larger than it would be on a larger diameter two blade prop and partly because the more blades there are on a prop, the more interblade interference there is, but we put up with that for the sake of our neighbours.

If you really want to find out about silent flight, though, go here to find your nearest gliding club in the UK

https://www.gliding.co.uk/club-finder/

Other countries have similar sites. Visit your nearest club, see what its all about and, if you like what you see, take a trial flight. But, you'll have to wait until COVID-19 abates rather more and we can operate two-seat gliders again: 2m social separation in a glider cockpit - you'd have to be kidding!

Watch an oblivious Tesla Model 3 smash into an overturned truck on a highway 'while under Autopilot'

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Didn't notice a person either

Yes, I saw the man on the road too, standing still until the Tesla passed him and then walking into the central hedge. I agree that this is probably the truck driver, quite possibly having walked back to see what debris on the road caused his crash. Something like this would explain why he was standing, or moving very slowly and somewhat dazed, on a busy highway, rather than trying the flag down on-coming traffic or get off the road. Something drastic must have happened to the truck since its on straight road and doesn't seem to have hit the central barrier.

I also notice that the Tesla driver hit the brakes about the time he passed the person, so there is a good possibility that seeing the driver distracted him enough to stop him spotting the dead truck. His thought processes may well have been something like:

- Spots driver and thinks "Geez, there's somebody on the road! Better brake", all the while with eyes on the truck driver.

- Then, as he flashes past, still looking at the driver "Phew, missed him, I can stop braking".

- Followed in short order with "Bloody hell! Shit..shit..shit" BANG.

80-characters-per-line limits should be terminal, says Linux kernel chief Linus Torvalds

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Fixing the wrong problem

Thats an invalid argument for grep - its had the -Cn option for showing hits in context for decades now.

This fixes the split-line issue just as well as piping grep output into less fixes the long line issue.

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: The real reason for fairly small line lengths

Isn't that the exact crux of Linus's argument?

Seems to be, BUT I've yet to see an editor that can auto-wrap a 100-200 char line of CODE and still leave it readable in the context of the rest of the screenful.

Like Linus, I'm a microemacs fan. Microemacs 4.00 does an excellent job of wrapping plain text and has a reasonable go at wrapping code: at least the wrapped part of the line keeps the same indent level, but I still find that I often need to manually edit the wrapped line to keep the code neat, so this is not (yet) a solved problem.

I normally program with two 80x24 console windows for convenience (one for source editing , the other for compiling & testing, manpage lookups etc. Currently I'm using a Lenovo T440 with a 1600x900 screen, so the pair of consoles can have an easily readable character size and still sit side by side with no overlap. So, by itself this physical setup is a good argument for using 80x24 edit windows, at least in my usual programming environment.

Paying Arizona: Google sued by state for location data revenues after tracking state's citizens via mobiles

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

When you see their lips move, you know they're...

"We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data. We look forward to setting the record straight."

Yeah, right.

If the above was true, Google wouldn't be selling phone user's location data or personal details to anybody. Period.

Hooray! It's IT Day! Let's hear it for the lukewarm mugs of dirty water that everyone seems to like so much

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Boiling the water dealt with this problem,

Upvoted. I came here to say that.

Tea probably was a health drink in 1690, simply because it was the only common drink to be boiled immediately before consumption, and hence largely microbe-free.

NASA's Human Spaceflight boss hits eject a week before SpaceX crew launch

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Going while the going's good

What is this crazy percentage of GDP of which you speak?

NASA consumed 2.2% of the Federal budget 1959-1972, of which the Mercury,Gemini and Apollo projects took 50%, so about 1.1% of the Federal budget, or $28 billion. When you consider that the F-22 Raptor project cost half as much as the full Apollo project, that makes the cost of running NASA look pretty reasonable and better value than you assumed.

The total cost of building the US interstate highway system was $105.28 billion, or 376% as much as the full Apollo project. Was that an even crazier crazy percentage of GDP? - but of course you must think thats an even bigger waste of money because the US managed to win WW2 without it. So, I can safely assume that you've never, ever driven on an interstate highway. Because doing that would make you a hypocrite and maybe even an ignorant one.

Source for the quoted costs: Apollo Program Cost: An Investment in Space Worth Retrying?

https://christopherrcooper.com/blog/apollo-program-cost-return-investment/

Micros~1? ClippyZilla? BSOD Bob? There can be only one winner. Or maybe two

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: In keeping

The obvious, to me anyway, omission from the list, was Clipzilla. Clippyzilla is just a bit too friendly to MicroSlurp to float my boat.

Openreach tells El Reg it'll kill off copper sales in 118 UK locations next year

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Educated cable thieves? Shirley knot.

Replacing copper with fiber will only save telcos money if the cable thieves are high class criminals: those with enough know how to tell a fiber cable from a copper one before they dig it up. Those who can't are going to rip the cable out of the ground anyway, and only then realize that what they just pulled is worthless, and probably trash the fiber termination cabinet out of sheer frustration.

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Spacecraft with graphene sails powered by starlight and lasers

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Calling Isaac Newton...

See "The Flight Of The Dragonfly" by Robert L Forward for a way to use lasers in the solar system to brake the interstellar craft as it arrives at the target star.

Basically the spacecraft is attached to a flat, circular lightsail thats surrounded by a much larger, slightly concave, annular sail. The combined sail is used for launch. On arrival the spacecraft and its light sail separate from the annular sail and the lasers are turned on again. The large sail focuses the light it receives on the far side of the small sail, which slows the spacecraft down while the big sail continues to accelerate past the target stellar system. This is strictly a one-way trip.

The book describes the system in some detail and gives the dimensions, masses and laser power requirements as part of the story. Worth a read if you want to understand how this type of system might work.

See also "The Mote in God's Eye" by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle", this time using the light sail and light from the destination's star as the brake.

Latvian drone wrests control from human overlords and shuts down entire nation's skies

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

@martinusher

The first autonomous model-sized sailplane, aka the ALOFT Project first flew in 2007. It was an off-the-shelf 5m span carbon airframe but fitted with a very interesting autopilot that could navigate round a preset task while finding and using the thermals it needed to finish the task. It was a successful PhD project for its developer/builder/pilot and was allowed to fly in one of the Californian RC cross country competitions. These are multi-day events with each day's task being anything up the 100km round 2 - 4 turnpoints with the pilots flying from the backseat of a convertible or an armchair on the back of a truck as they follow the glider round the task. ALOFT won one day and placed well in the overall comp. It was hand flown for launch and landing and fully autonomous for something like 95-96% of each flight.

A good internet search will find quite a lot about it including autopilot details.

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: "Latvian airspace could be closed for most of this week"

Where did you get the idea that this was intended to be a short flight from? Not in El Reg's story.

Its quite possible, even likely, that this was expected to be a 90 hour flight: sometime while testing a new aircraft its builders need to show that it can be launched and climb away at MTOW just as you also need to demonstrate that it can fly for the full 90 hours without running out of fuel or having the control system fail.

Just running the engine on the ground for 90 hours proves nothing: you need a successful maximum duration air test to prove that the aircraft can meet requirements which likely include flying reliably for 90 hours without anything breaking or running out of fuel and, presumably, while covering more than 6000km to prove that it can average 70km/h over a long flight.

In any case, this is clearly a failed test flight, so just as well it happened before the thing was declared operational and carrying nasty stuff rather than the ballast to be expected on a test flight of this type.

As Brit cyber-spies drop 'whitelist' and 'blacklist', tech boss says: If you’re thinking about getting in touch saying this is political correctness gone mad, don’t bother

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Red v Blue

I've always assumed that the war gaming Red and Blue team terminology owed more to the American post-war world view than anything else, with the implied assumption being that Red always attacks Blue and that of course Blue will never attack Red.

Bezos to the Moon: Blue Origin joins SpaceX and Dynetics in a three-horse lunar lander race

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Coming down a rope should be OK, but going up again may be another story.

Climbing a rope in a space suit is almost certainly very hard work because it would mean just using your hands, which are in pressurised gloves that are trying to keep your fingers straight rather than helping to keep them gripped round a rope. IOW, a ladder should be OK, but I wouldn't want to be the poor SOB trying to climb a rope all the way back up that monster, let alone doing it with a sackful of moon rocks over his shoulder. Having your feet in hard moon boots won't help either.

However, I suspect its highly unlikely that a Space-X lander sitting on the moon will look anything like that picture: something like that would have fallen over about 10 seconds after 'engine off'. Any lander will need a much larger and more widely spread set of landing legs than the Falcon 9 uses because its going to land on an unimproved mixture of rocks and dust, not a nice hard, level landing pad or the equally solid deck of a robot landing ship.

UK snubs Apple-Google coronavirus app API, insists on British control of data, promises to protect privacy

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Oh, Grandma what big eyes you have.

Apart from anything else, why should we ever trust sensitive data to the people who authorized the Care-Data clusterf*ck?

This centralized approach smells very much like another attempt at the same thing. Once they have tracking data, what are the chances that they WON'T come up with some lame excuse to link in our medical records and then let some third party process the data "because our systems are overloaded with all this tracking" and monetize it "because that pays for a better NHS" or similar lame excuse.

Intelsat orbital comms satellite is back online after first robo-recovery mounting and tug job gets it back into position

Martin Gregorie Silver badge
Pint

Re: Satelite designers missed a trick

....while a friend and I, mistrusting British weather, went to Hungary and got a lovely view of the whole shebang - crescent-shaped sunspots under trees, blackout, solar prominences, Bailey's Beads, birds roosting, orange 'sunset' round the full 360 and interference bands scudding across the nearby tarmac.

Plus an excellent lunch washed down with some decent beer afterwards, hence icon.

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: @ Caustic Soda

"Five by Five" is the usual final response to an aviation radio signal check.

Getting a pizza the action, AS/400 style

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: ONU

Actually, once I got past OS/400's major stupid design feature (9 character names and no extensions), it turned out to be a decent OS. What's not to like about the powerful command language and the full-screen prompting (a nicely formatted screen with boxes for entering command arguments, all boxes labelled with name, type of argument, and defaults that works for user-written stuff as well as standard utilities) and predictable command names once you've got your head round the abbreviation scheme that 9 character names requires, e.g. once you know that CRTRPGPGM (short for "create RPG program") runs the RPG compiler its easy to guess that CRTPLIPGM is the PL/1 compiler and CRTCBLPGM is the COBOL compiler. Don't know its parameters? Just type CRTCBLPGM and hit the 'screen prompt' key and there are all the arguments, named and summarised ready to fill in before hitting the 'Do it' key.

ICL's VME/B did the same thing, only better because it used nice meaningful names for commands, with a naming scheme that let you guess names with a good chance of being right, an additional short-form that was equally easy to understand and with an online command lookup system. For instance, to delete a file you used the 'deletefile' command or 'xf' for short. 'x' was always the abbreviation for 'delete', 'f' was always short for 'file' and 'n' for 'new', so you didn't have to be a genius to work out that "newfile(workspace)" would create a new file called workspace and that nf(workspace) would do the same thing. It also provided full-screen prompts for command parameters and these features worked for user-written code as well as for system commands.

Naming consistency is the only thing lacking in UNIX/Linux systems, but at least these have help prompts for most commands as well as manpages and the very useful 'apropos' command for looking up command names.

Bog help those condemned to use other OSen that lack these useful productivity aids.

NASA makes May 27 its US independence day from Russian rockets: America's back in the astronaut business after nearly nine years

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Retro Progress

I think you're wrong: the Shuttle was the worst. It killed more astronauts than the rest of the global space program, didn't really meet its mission goal of cheap., fast turnround between missions and seems to have left very little technical legacy apart from the RS-25 engines, with the last of those being thrown away on a one-time mission while people are still scratching their heads working out how to get production restarted.

At times it seems that the US program has got lost while too many of various responsible management groups are only interested in lashings of pork than in hitting targets and making stuff work. Space-X is where it is and making progress because Musk is more interested in space than he is in getting richer than he already is.

Oh Hell. Remember the glory days of Demon Internet? Well, now would be a good time to pick a new email address

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: The first "real", low-cost ISP for the UK

Same here.

I started with Demon in the early '90s, but left them in the early noughties when they refused to support any services other than under my original assigned name. No good, because I wanted to run two independent websites, and this would have required them to host a second domain name for me.

So, I moved to UKFSN with my domain names and associated redirection services hosted by my domain registrar. The two websites and mail handling were run by UKFSN until it went titsup a few years ago.

I'm now with Zen - they handle my mail service and host my websites, with the domain names and redirection service remaining where they were.

So how do the coronavirus smartphone tracking apps actually work and should you download one to help?

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Good for data-less phone plans

Likewise. I have a Sammy B2100, which does everything I want as well as being small, rugged and waterproof, but most of my friends have smartphones.

Apollo 13 set off into space 50 years ago today. An ignored change order ensured it did not make it to the Moon...

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Lucky 13

Errr, no. The O-ring that caused the Challenger crash was nothing to do with any fuel system. Instead it was an essential structural part of one of the two Solid Rocket Boosters. Its job was to seal the joint between two of the stacked steel cylinders that formed the SRB's structure.

The whole assembly was cold-soaked overnight and then launched with the air temperature still below the minimum permitted launch temperature. As a result the O-ring was rigid, rather than resilient, and so was unable to do its job of keeping high pressures inside the rocket casing. This let extremely hot gasses escape, eventually in a strong enough jet to cut through the struts holding the SRB in position.

At that point the SRB pivoted on its remaining attachment, punching a big hole in the external fuel tank and sealing the fate of the crew: there was no emergency crew exit on Challenger.

The launch decision was a classic management error, not helped at all by the perceived pressure of "its live on TV - we can't mess up their schedule or disappoint the viewing public" and compounded by "we've launched below minimum temp before, so nothing can possibly go wrong this time".

There';s a very good, and readable, account of the subsequent investigation and accident analysis in Richard Feynman's book "What do YOU care what other people think?".

RAND report finds that, like fusion power and Half Life 3, quantum computing is still 15 years away

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: Quantum vs COBOL

Quantum and COBOL is the obvious approach.

Follow the path pioneered by CHAPS - all the complex message handling and protocol management was initially done on relatively slow Tandem NonStop fault-tolerant computers, which front-ended the member bank's mainframes. These undoubtedly did, and still do, run COBOL programs that handle all the bank's internal accounts and transactions. The Tandem machines used a very secure encription engine* which handled all outbound message encryption and inbound message decryption. The combination provides a secure, reliable gateway to the CHAPS financial network.

This is a good way of handling security while maintaining network uptime and throughput. At the same time it keeps the internal systems well isolated from network nasties. Of course such a setup isn't cheap, but if manglement thinks its sensitive data doesn't justify the expense, then they deserve to carry the can if/when proved wrong.

[*] This encrypt/decrypt engine could be quantum-based when, if ever, that technology achieves 99,99% uptime, something that Tandem NonStop systems and encryption engines achieved in the early '80s.

COBOL-coding volunteers sought as slammed mainframes slow New Jersey's coronavirus response

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

How systems were all too often documented in the 60s and 70s

Upvoted, but you missed something: the system design documentation is equally important (1), particularly if, as was common, the program code was uncommented and/or the 'system designer' decreed that some utterly incomprehensible and uninformative scheme for naming variables, paragraphs and sections must be used (2).

The end result was that often the only surviving system documentation was the program source code and puzzling out what the system actually did from the code could be very difficult indeed.

(1) System design documentation was typically hand written, held in ring binders and NEVER updated. Since any documentation of bug fixes or system enhancements was generally discarded when the job was done, or had never existed, what documentation still existed was soon utterly out of date and, consequently, was frequently binned whenever the design office shelves got full. The most extreme case of this I ever saw was at Smiths Industries in Cricklewood, where the System Analysts were kept as isolated as possible from the programing teams and had a policy of immediately scrapping all documentation once the system or patch had successfully gone live. This sort of shambles persisted until PCs and word processing became common in the late '80s. The first purpose-designed system documentation system I met was ICL's Advanced Data Dictionary, which was around on VME/B systems in the late '80s.

(2) The worst example I ever saw was in an accounting package the ICL bureau I was working in mistakenly bought around 1970. It had a coding standard, but it was this:

- data names were all of the form XX99 regardless of their level or usage, so you saw things like this

FD CR01.

01 CR02.

05 CR03 PIC X(15).

05 CR04 PIC S9(6).99 DISPLAY.

..... as a continuous sequence right through all the various card images the program could handle. Then you got to the records on mag tape, which started from MT01 and continued through all records in the various different tape files, started again from LP01 for printed output and - you guessed it - started again from WS01 for all working storage.

- in PROCEDURE DIVISION, use of SECTIONS was forbidden and all labels had to be 5 digit numbers. They weren't even in numeric sequence and, guess what - there were no comments in the entire set of programs. IOW, just what causes this MOVE to be executed, what is it trying to achieve and what will the program do next:

IF CR08 > WS11 MOVE CR15 TO WS23 GO TO 23500.

The bureau wasted a heap of money buying that junk because it was utterly unmaintainable. I never heard whether they got their money back: all I know is that I designed and wrote a replacement using structured and meaningful names and that it was still in use and well regarded when I visited 4 years later - not bad, seeing that in the 70s that sort of system was designed for a life of around 3+ years.

In summary, thanks to this sort of nonsense, why should there be any surprise that the old COBOL systems are still in use?

They can't be replaced simply because nobody knows exactly what they do or how they do it and the cost of going through badly written, uncommented and undocumented code is prohibitive.

As a more current comment, one of the really good things about Java is the javadocs utility. This generates nicely formatted HTML pages from the class and method level comments in source files. So, in principle, the system designers could deliver low-level design as a set of Java pages containing class and method level comments together with method skeletons and the documentation would be up to date because developers would update the comments as they modify the code. Sadly, however, judging by the standard of documentation I see in 3rd party Java packages, yer average developer today still can't be arsed to adequately document what he writes.

Astroboffin gets magnets stuck up his schnozz trying and failing to invent anti-face-touching coronavirus gizmo

Martin Gregorie Silver badge

Re: A fool and his magnets are seldom parted

I've some neodymium magnets at home and they are powerful things.

Agreed. Neodymium magnets are small (mine are 8mm diameter, 1mm thick), with nicely polished surfaces. So, If you're doing anything with more than one of these magnets at a time they are surprisingly difficult to put precisely where you want them. This is a problem when working on a table-top or workbench, let alone anywhere near your nose and, presumably, while looking in a mirror to see what you're doing.

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