* Posts by Andy A

250 posts • joined 26 Mar 2008


Windows 11: What we like and don't like about Microsoft's operating system so far

Andy A

Ctrl-Shift-Esc has worked ever since Dave Plummer got his code into the build. It took me 6 months before I found any other method of launching it. It's a one-handed operation for most people too.

It works every time unless you have a windowed VM or remote desktop, when the chances of it being intercepted by the local OS seem to be about 50-50.

Andy A

<And for what? The W10 UI is the laggiest and glitchiest thing I've ever used.>

A few months back, my Humax PVR received an unasked-for over-the-air update to its UI.

Besides hiding the only thing I use it for - time-shifted recordings - it introduced a horrible lack of responsiveness.

While the actions while playing a recording are just as before, button presses in its menu system (including power-on!) now take a MINIMUM of ten seconds before there is any response indicated on screen.

Andy A

What pass for User Interface Designers these days all seem to have ADHD.

Something that people recognise? BAD! Change it! Change it AGAIN!!

Need to tailor some settings? We can't have it neatly placed on a menu, because DAS MENU IST VERBOTEN! Have a little picture of a cogwheel? TOO SIMPLE! Hide it behind three very small horizontal bars! NO! Better still, have the horizontal bars exactly one pixel long!

Take the humble vertical scrollbar. It started out with sensible meaning. The contrasting bit showed roughly where in the document you were currently looking. Then they made that indicator change size to show what proportion of the whole was in view - fine unless you had a thousand-page document, where the indicator could be less than a pixel tall.

Then came the "make them less intrusive" brigade. Remove the contrast! Make them auto-hide!

The Win11 start menu has hit a new low. The "scroll bar" consists of two little circles, almost the same colour as their background, one slightly smaller than the other.

Andy A

The last few Windows 10 Insider builds had anything vaguely "technical", such as Control Panel, Admin Tools, Command Prompt etc., stuffed inside a new container called Tools.

Of course, opening Control Panel from there showed you, bizarrely, Tools, which contains Control Panel....

<stack overflow error>

Andy A
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Re: Bells and broken whistle

Virtually all the useful bits have been trialled in the Insider builds over the last year.

Then the marketing droids crippled it with the horribly crippled start menu replacement.

Try placing a pot plant directly above your CRT monitor – it really ties the desk together

Andy A

Sometimes the karma gets them

One place I worked had managers who tried to avoid the charges our outsourcing company had for PC moves. The charges were to cover re-patching etc, and we did the actual shifting of equipment, so if it broke, it was our problem.

When out in the production area on a fault fix, we noticed that several PCs had been relocated without informing us. They had put the PCs along one wall of an internal office, then used a small ethernet hub to connect them to a working socket.

We informed management that those PCs were no longer supported, and told them why.

That night, it rained.

The Victorian building had the roof arranged as several ridges and furrows. The guttering in the furrows was supposed to discharge rainwater down the hollow cast iron pillars supporting the place. More than one of those outlets was blocked.

The PCs were exactly underneath the resulting torrent.

Andy A

Re: Adding China to my monitor

Nasty stuff, cement.

Was once shown a tower-style PC which had been in use at a cement works which had suffered a flood.

The liquid had been up to the circuit board of the only hard drive. The motherboard showed a tide mark. Below that the components had been eaten off and made a neat pile in the bottom of the case.

Yes, they had backups. The tapes were stored close by the PC, on the floor.

Go to L: A man of the cloth faces keyboard conundrum

Andy A

But it isn't the REAL moon, but a special, hypothetical, moon reserved just for the calculation of Easter.

I'm not kidding. This was stated in Parliament during the passing of the Easter Act 1928.

Windows 11: Meet the new OS, same as the old OS (or close enough)

Andy A

Of course they HAVE to change things..

... because everybody else does.

Website redesign happens far too frequently, and is done without cause. It used to be enough to change the odd css file to give a fresh look, but now it seems essential to animate every pixel. "if it still works over a 10Mbps connection, you are NOT trying! Add more video files!"

When BT shoved out a complete redesign of their webmail interface for the second time in a year, I decided that my then 92-year old aunt deserved NOT to undergo retraining (and me to have to provide it) every time the marketing droids declared "We want it more MODERN! Get rid of that old-fashioned text thingy and replace it with pictures of irrelevant things! And while you are at it we need at least two thirds of the screen to push ads in!"

So she received one batch of training for an offline reader, and still copes with emailing her friends on the other side of the world.

Websites, though...

Andy A

Re: Don't just blame Ubuntu. Aim at Redhat!

When the answer to "Which distro does the software you rely on run under?" is "None of them", your choice is quite limited.

Andy A
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Re: Bloatware

"Oh and I wouldn't even mind the telemetry so much if they'd just be honest about exactly what the hell they're collecting but it's the way it's so opaque that bugs me."

It's a lot simpler with Google. They collect EVERYTHING.

We once checked someone's Android phone (with their full permission, and in their presence). We worked out which pub they had lunch in on the Saturday at the beginning of the month, the route they used to get there from their hotel, how long they spent there and the names of Bluetooth devices around them at the time. In the process we found the address of the relatives they visited - before deciding that the stuff was getting far too intrusive for us to even look at. We had skipped over a lot of stuff which was not directly obvious.

Google already knew this of course. They could also work out things such as income, based on the choice of hotel and the menu at the pub. Join in the same info from those other Bluetooth devices and you can get quite a picture.

Andy A


It's not just games that stop people shifting away from Windows. The software I use every day only has a Windows version, and was last updated in 2014, after which the developer retired through ill-health.

Just run it under WINE, people say. WineHQ explains that its test status is "garbage".

There's absolutely no point in running it in a VM inside another OS. That just multiplies the effort required.

Andy A

Re: Was going to be Windows 10 forever?

The recent insider builds have consolidated Windows Accessories, Windows Admin Tools, Windows Powershell and Windows System into one fresh heading, labelled Windows Tools. It's not another level of menu, but a window full of icons, much as most people used Control Panel.

So now Windows Tools holds Control Panel, which by some insanity holds Windows Tools.

Thankfully, they shifted Notepad out of this twisty little maze of passages onto its own heading. That's why it became a Store App.

Andy A

Exactly - and this stupidity has been going on for some time.

Who decided that the icon for "safely remove a device" ought to be a child's drawing of a cat?

Andy A

Re: Going back in time

MS officially announced that the upgrade path from Win98 would be to Win2000. Everyone would move over to a model where applications did not run with kernel rights.

Then the marketing department got in the way, and the heap labelled Windows ME arrived.

If only W2K had had enough clout to flatten the bump in the road....

What job title would YOU want carved on your gravestone? 'Beloved father, Slayer of Dragons, Register of Domains'

Andy A

Spike's stone was anything but standard

As a genealogist, graveyards are a common destination. It's true that occupations rarely get mentioned on gravestones, but mostly for cost reasons. When you are paying by the letter, even shortening the month from "JULY" to "JUL" might make the stone more affordable.

How many remote controls do you really need? Answer: about a bowl-ful

Andy A

Re: At one stage I was up to 8

My Humax PVR has been pretty much bricked by a firmware update, delivered over-the-air without my consent.

They have reorganised the main screen so as to hide the feature most people use (in favour of space to Sell Things). I can cope with that, but my 94-year old aunt had great trouble, and needed more than one visit to provide training.

The real problem is that the thing is written in Bad Java, so now ANY button press needs a minimum of 15 seconds to be reflected in any change to the display.

Andy A

We could have had a solution years ago.

In Ye Olden Days, laptops came with an infrared port, which unfortunately was restricted to slow file transfers between similarly equipped devices.

If someone had produced a bit of software which emulated these multiple remotes, virtually all of us would have been happy to use our laptops to control all this stuff, and would have complained bitterly when the IR stuff disappeared from the newer models.

It could have been done. At one time I was issued with a company handheld (Windows Mobile!) with such software included. On entering the pub I could turn the TV sound down and crank the air filter up to max.

Unfortunately the implementation of the call logging software was dire. Four passwords needed before you could access a ticket - Unlock device, Connect over GPRS, Connect VPN, Login to call logging system (the screen saver chopped your connection whenever it kicked in).

The GPRS modem gave my personal laptop mobile connectivity for some months before someone noticed how much it was costing.

Andy A

"Every TV manufacturer knows that you switch the TV on by pressing channel button up or down. Or volume up or down."

This used to work on my previous TV, which boasted a heavy CRT to ensure it was theft-proof.

Unfortunately that part of the spec was garbled when it was downloaded by the Chinese producer of its replacement.

Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz? Detroit waits for my order, you'd better make amends

Andy A

Re: Sometimes though....

I was once sorting out a list of PC problems at a railway depot when the building went eerily quiet.

I made enquiries and was told that someone had put an excavator shovel through the Big Cable.

I went and shut down the server before the UPS gave up (cheapskates, so no monitoring software) and wandered over to the main shed to tell the middle management that I was heading off site.

I commiserated with them that they couldn't even make a cup of tea. "No problem. This buffet car gets its power from the overheads!"

Andy A

Re: Don't ask "is it plugged in"

I used to ask them to check the connections round the back - "maybe the cleaners have dislodged something" - even when I knew the rathole of an office had last seen a cleaner in 1937.

Given the chance to blame someone else, they would happily put back the power lead they had kicked out half an hour before.

Protip: If Joe Public reports that your kit is broken, maybe check that it is actually broken

Andy A
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Re: Local council wasting money by not spending it

Back in the Olden Days I was part of a small computer retailer. We made a lot of our turnover supplying to national and local government departments. The manufacturer made us their preferred installer, and we were the biggest delivery when the van came to town.

In the first quarter of the year the orders rolled in, A Health Authority even had an Official Stamp on the form - "ORDER DEPENDANT UPON DELIVERY BY 31ST MARCH".

Being snowed under with orders, we rang our contact there. "Oh, no problem. We haven't anywhere to store them anyway. As long as we've had the invoice by then."

Microsoft emits more fixes for Exchange Server plus patches for remote-code exec holes in HTTP stack, Visual Studio

Andy A

Not exactly Tuesday

"Patch Tuesday" became "Patch Wednesday" for MS this month. WSUS only collected the batch well after 00:00 UTC. I forced a manual sync to check at 01:10 BST, found nothing, and went to bed.

Some patches were downloadable at breakfast time, but another manual sync at 10:00 found another batch, including the Cumulative ones for Win10 & Server 2019.

I suppose it WAS still Tuesday in Redmond when they started replicating the stuff. I'm not an Exchange user; maybe those 55 patches were so big they blocked the pipe.

Gone in 60 electrons: Digital art swaggers down the cul-de-sac of obsolescence

Andy A

Re: Music industry all over again

The unit in my car plays several formats, but only plays them in two sequences - "shuffled" and "sorted by title". It ignores any folders. It spends 20 seconds reading every folder on my stick before playing the track I've named as "0001...".

BOFH: Postman BOFH's Special Delivery Service

Andy A

Re: Peace and quiet

A company I worked for in the mid-80s had one office building (not mine) where hot-desking was the norm. If the people were not in early enough in the morning, they had to go out and sell something.

Something went wrong but we won't tell you what it is. Now, would you like to take out a premium subscription?

Andy A

Re: Parking apps/websites

As someone who has just suffered at the hands of a "Parking Provider" at a hospital, I can confirm that they are among the worst offenders.

I have to rush out to collect my mum from A&E. I turn up, knowing that there is a 30-minute "free" period. I find a space and head in, noting the time.

Having jumped through the hoops needed to enter the building, I collect my mum, take her to the car, return the wheelchair and head to their pharmacy to get her prescription filled.

Medication in hand, I head to the "parking machine" in the car park. It decides that I have been ON SITE (not parked) for 31 minutes, and must pay £2.50. There is an ANPR camera at the entrance. In my pocket I have a fiver and a few coins - no plastic. The machine only takes plastic.

I find another machine, which claims to take cash. The notes slot appears to be sealed with epoxy resin.

I head inside the main entrance. First machine - plastic only. Second machine has a green light next to its notes slot, but refuses to activate it. Third machine has a flashing green arrow next to its slot, but spews my pristine, never-folded fiver straight back out, no matter which way it is presented.

The staff on reception were most apologetic, but could only hand me a leaflet offering me a season ticket.

I found a phone number on one of the rain shelters. "If you are having trouble...". I rang it. "Press 1 to pay for your parking". No option 2.

I gave up and head home.

Having calmed down a little, I tried their website. There are exactly 2 options. "Pay for parking" and "Appeal a charge". Both options demand, besides our vehicle registration, a 13-digit "parking reference number", which is not displayed on the parking machine's screen, but might appear on a receipt, or on the Final Demand when they have looked up your number at the DVLA.

So I write them a letter, explaining that because they have refused my payment on several occasions, I owe them nothing, and how to inform me once the transaction has been voided.

I don't post it to the address 150 miles away where the website asks, because their Head Orifice is only 5 miles from my house. I drive there to deliver it. Nobody in sight of course. I try to follow the instructions on a note in their window - "Use buzzer by door to the right". There is, of course, no buzzer.

I just wish I had one of those portable air horns to wake some of them up. Unfortunately most of them are brain-dead.

Andy A

Re: And you are surprised?

There are also the outright lies. I used to install HP scanners for one customer. One of the tick boxes in the software install was:

"Install enhanced features"

The result of leaving this ticked was to submit your email addy to HP's spam generator, and install a program to persistently pop up ads,

How not to apply for a new job: Apply for it on a job site

Andy A

Re: How not to find anything on the web : look for it with a search engine

eBay did exactly the same as Amazon. Hence you could search for something naughty and get as top of the pile "Buy Child P**n Now! Lowest prices guaranteed!"

A bit later they managed to put a filter in place, but you still get results claiming "Lowest prices guaranteed" for things which can not, or should not, be sold.

To have one floppy failure is unlucky. To have 20 implies evil magic or a very silly user

Andy A

There's always something you never considered

We had a report that a user of an Apricot PC (one of the first with 3.5" drives) was unable to insert a floppy into a drive. Our hearts sank, thinking we would lose one of our rare spare drives. The user had been carefully making backup copies of his data disks and labelling them - better than average practise.

Unfortunately he had failed to remove the older labels, and the disk was now too fat to fit through the slot.

Andy A

In the days of the ACT Sirius 1 (the Victor 9000 with a fresh badge), we had terrible trouble with HDDs.

It turns out they had been low-level formatted in California - in the summer.

We had to re-do them to cope with UK temperatures.

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

Andy A

Re: Need a password in a hurry?

-- Your car chassis number?

Not even the DVLA get that right. I had a lengthy postal conversation trying to convince them that the number as recorded at the MOT station was correct. In the days when humans looked at paper (or electronic) records, the spacing didn't matter.

Andy A

Re: stupid password rules

My mum changed energy suppliers and I was dismayed to find that the fresh one - only recently set up - demanded passwords 8-12 characters long consisting ONLY of letters and digits.

And it announced that letters were NOT case sensitive.

Mind you, not many black hats will want to pay her gas bill.

Yep, you're totally unique: That one very special user and their very special problem

Andy A

Re: Car controls

You should try driving a car built before controls became "standardised". Mine has accelerator as the middle pedal and brake on the right. Gear lever on the right (a £10 extra) rather than cluttering up the middle of the car. Lights are switched on by turning the ignition switch further (the starter button is foot-operated), Indicators have a lever on the dash, and wiper is up above the screen.

Surprisingly, you adapt to weird arrangements very quickly, and back to modern vehicles without problem

Worst switching arrangement I've come across was a hire car in LA in the 80s. The dash had a mixture of rocker switches, knobs to pull, knobs to rotate, buttons with push-to-latch, knobs to slide left and right, knobs to slide up and down - and all without proper labelling. I forget what the stalks on the steering column did.

Yes, there's nothing quite like braving the M4 into London on the eve of a bank holiday just to eject a non-bootable floppy

Andy A

Re: Uptime Measured In Weeks

To be fair, Fast Boot does work OK for a typical home user, with a recent box for which there are fully supported drivers.

With older boxes, problems abound. Typical is finding that the wireless won't connect, or the video is screwed. "Sleep" has similar problems, though "Hibernate" is usually OK. It appears that drivers now have to support a special "low power" mode to survive,

So I still own an HP laptop from 2005 which runs fine on the current build of Win10 (32-bit).

The "Enterprise" version of Windows ought to come with Fast Boot defaulting to OFF. It shouldn't be saving possibly confidential information to disc in any case.

Andy A

Re: Too Many...

While I was incapacitated with a knee problem and so unable to visit the servers I was employed to fix, I spent a while on the "vetting desk".

Many's the time a "computer won't turn on" fault was resolved without an engineer visit by getting the user to check the power cables. "Maybe the cleaner has dislodged something" enables them to save face, although you know that the last time their hole in the ground was visited by a cleaner was in 1937.

Diary of a report writer and his big break into bad business

Andy A

At one place I visited the whole office did their word processing in Excel.

Well, they were all beancounters.

Andy A

:Four times less" is just meaningless. An example:

Start with 100.

20 is less than 100. That is one time less.

To get FOUR times less, we need to go four times as far from 100 as we did to reach 20. So that means -220.

Of course, for those with so little logical ability, negative numbers will cause their brains to explode.

Don't be a fool, cover your tool: How IBM's mighty XT keyboard was felled by toxic atmosphere of the '80s

Andy A
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Re: Smoking

One place I worked (railway engineering, so not the cleanest of places) introduced official smoking areas - and enforced them.

The areas were red-painted squares 4 metres on a side, with an ashtray on a 2-foot pole. No seating. In the middle of the yard, with no shelter. Very popular in the winter!

Just when you thought it was safe to enjoy a beer: Beware the downloaded patch applied in haste

Andy A

Re: I haven't seen a good game of Reply-to-All Tennis in years

At the first place I worked the computer "suite" was above a paint warehouse. If the alarm went, you didn't think about fire drills, you got OUT. Once, knowing what batch jobs were running, we even tested the Big Red Button.

There was hell to pay when we once found that one of the official Fire Exits had been locked.

We knew whenever the paint company hired a new forklift driver. The condensers for the computer room aircon were used to heat part of the warehouse, and a handy place for neatly stacking a wall of pallets full of paint. Someone would have to rush downstairs and demand removal. Highest temp recorded was 55C (131F). Eventually the bearings in the units gave in.

I haven't bought new pants for years, why do I have to keep buying new PCs?

Andy A


Had one HDD fail on me in a laptop. I'm one of those people that we tech support folks hate. I just pick up the laptop and go. Unplug the cables as I'm leaving the chair. No "sleep", no "hibernate".

This drive was one with 512KB of semiconductor cache. Because it reported itself as an SSD, the "head park" routine built into the laptop did diddly squat. Result - several lost files. Luckily my backups were only 3 days old.

Back in ye olden days, I lost head zero on the 20MB MFM drive I was using for software development. I wrote code to read in chunks of data from the remaining 5 heads, then ploughed through the results looking for chunks of source code. I located enough of it to compile, then compared the EXE file with the latest from a floppy disk. Find the difference, edit relevant module, rinse, repeat. Took two whole days. Going back to my latest backup would have taken 2 days, and I'd made changes inbetween.

You only become paranoid about backups when you have actually lost something.

Andy A


I've NEVER bought a new laptop (though work has delivered them on occasion), The laptop I'm using was new in about 2011 and bought from an eBay seller about 5 years ago. Doubled the RAM and moved my SSD from the box I'd worn out. The result is a box which is still better than most of the consumer stuff in the big retailers.

I've just upgraded my home server. I picked up an HP DL380 G7 for 70 quid and a batch of 20 working SAS drives for another 30 quid. Threw in some extra RAM I had lying around and I have a box I can easily run up VMs for anything I like, such as the one for wasting the time of those scammers who ring up, pretend to be to Amazon or BT and try to get people's bank details.

That VM has never been used for surfing the web but contains tempting things for them to copy to their own machines, such as "Log on to Bank Automatically.cmd" (brings up web page of a real bank, and if not on that machine, launches all sorts of destructive tasks in the background). Great fun!

Half a million stolen French medical records, drowned in feeble excuses

Andy A

My granny took the opposite view. For example the woman who had been her bridesmaid was always "Doris Woods", ignoring the 50+ years she had spent married to Joe Holmes.

A word to the Wyse: Smoking cigars in the office is very bad for you... and your monitor

Andy A

It's not just smokers

It's not just smokers that cause disasters on the insides of machines. In the late 80s I used to visit offices on both sides of Whitehall, and London air pollution was dire.

The financial services company on one side was run by a died-in-the-wool non-smoker, but London conspired against him. If I needed to open up a machine the procedure was:

1. Undo case screws.

2. Take case onto balcony.

3. Stand UPWIND.

4. Open case.

5. Use a brush to loosen the black debris, bit by bit, letting one brushful drift away to foul the tourists below before risking another brushful.

On the other side, a Civil Service department needed an upgrade on a PC. I took the side panel off the tower case, then asked for directions to the Gents. I used several paper towels and quite a bit of detergent returning the panel to an acceptable colour. Once the required parts had been fitted, I powered the PC up to test it. More damp paper towels later, I turned the screen brightness down from "full" to about 25%. "Do you never clean your PCs?" "We're waiting for the stationery department to get the cleaning kits."

The wastepaper basket is on the other side of the office – that must be why they put all these slots in the computer

Andy A

Re: oh crumbs!

Once had to upgrade a batch of XP tablets used by tobacco company reps.

First thing we did on being allocated workspace on their site was to fix a large No Smoking sign to the door. Much more important than the screwdrivers and disks needed to do the actual task.

Some devices needed cleaning with industrial strength detergent before we processed them.

We know it's hard to get your kicks at work – just do it away from a wall switch powering anything important

Andy A
Black Helicopters

Re: Back in the days when cars had cassette players....

Stories are told of vehicles in that vicinity having engines stop completely. Usually, fancy German-built vehicles were involved.

A recovery company using a vehicle with less reliance on electronics would tow them clear, and claim the appropriate fee.

Dept of If I'd Known 20 Years Ago: Call centres, roosting chickens, and Bitcoin

Andy A

I seem to remember that Wordperfect once employed a "hold jockey". Didn't know other companies were involved. Maybe it was the same chap?

I once rang HP to organise a warranty job on one of their printers. The hold music was varied, but then came a Bob Marley track.

"We're jamming....."

Andy A

Re: Call Waiting...

Hereford? I remember the Gateway packaging as being black & white. Herefords are a mid-brown with white faces.

Perhaps in the US pumping them full of hormones changes the colour.

Takes from the taxpayer, gives to the old – by squishing a bug in Thatcherite benefits system

Andy A

Re: Filetab

One of my earliest commercial "languages". It was actually a very flexible environment. It was designed around the concept of producing printed reports based on an input file. Secondary files could be a bit harder to deal with though. If you wanted to, say, read this year's file and produce totals, then read last year's file and produce totals, and THEN print the two side by side, you had some hoops to jump through, and the code was more difficult to maintain.

I actually learned its full-language successor first - FTL6. It was a very good method of producing code, and could produce proper binaries, rather than just being interpreted like TABN (FileTab 5). It also made a decent job of running TABN code, and you could save binaries from them, too.

I once spent 5 minutes at a hand punch and produced a deck to summarise a customer's data. When he saw the printout, only 15 minutes after he had entered the building with his problem, he asked for that report to be run every month. Another dead tree, but as a bureau, we were happy too.

The simplest FileTab program:


Andy A

Re: 2^16

The first mainframe I worked on was an ICL1901T. It physically had 32 Kwords of memory, but only 24 Kwords were available because it was cheaper that way. Rumour had it that paying extra got the jumper moved across to get a higher clock speed.

I suggested a coin-in -the-slot arrangement so that operators who wanted an early finish could temporarily enhance the iron.

ALGOL 60 at 60: The greatest computer language you've never used and grandaddy of the programming family tree

Andy A

The official in-all-the-training-manuals method of converting an integer from binary to decimal for printing started by dividing the integer by 1-followed-by-as-many-zeros-as-you-wanted-digits in the result. So if you wanted to print a 4-digit number you would divide by decimal 10,000.

That gave you a "binary fraction" as a result.

You then went through the CBD (convert binary to decimal) instruction the relevant number of times - 4 in the example.

However, the biggest integer in one word was +8,388,607. If you wanted to print that you needed to do double-length division.

Now some clever sod worked out that if you multiplied an integer by 7,036,875, you ended up with the same answer as if you had divided by 10 million. What's more, ordinary multiplications were faster than ordinary divisions, so if you wanted a 4-digit output, it was actually faster to multiply by the "AMAGIC" constant and then throw away the first 3 digits.



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