* Posts by Norman Nescio

978 publicly visible posts • joined 7 May 2008


Excel Hell II: If the sickness can't be fixed, it must be contained

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Once is a chance. Twice is enemy action.

The actual quotation is from the novel Goldfinger by Ian Fleming, later made into a film. It has the character Auric Goldfinger saying to James Bond:

Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action."

Then again, the novel was published in 1959, so slightly aged. The film (movie) was released in 1964.

Perhaps our American readership can confirm if such a saying was current in Chicago in the 1950s? Quote Investigator doesn't appear to have it.


Chinese citizens feel their government is doing such a fine job with surveillance

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Randomized Response Surveys

Nobody sensible will reply in anything other than effusively positive terms, because you never know if the data could be de-anonymized in future. There's no benefit in saying something that could come back to bite you.

There are protocols (Randomized Response Surveys) that allow you to draw conclusions from real data mixed in with random data, but unless they have used them, the survey is junk propaganda. RRS's give participants deniable answers.

The problem with this is that the survey power is diluted (so you need more participants); and in addition, simply being identified as a participant (especially if by de-anonymization) is probably enough to get you marked for further watching by the authorities, more so if the results of the survey are controversial, even if they can't pin particular answers on you.

Brit competition regulator will make or break Vodafone and Three union

Norman Nescio Silver badge

I don't think you addressed it directly: there is also the issue of regulatory capture, which can be what has happened when people complain about supine regulators.

Whilst I believe in the power of regulated markets, it only works when the regulator is independent* and has sufficient (possibly statutory) power to influence market participants' behaviour. The mere existence of a so-called regulator is not sufficient.

*Actually, where consumers are involved, the regulator should be biased in favour of consumers. In most cases, individual consumers have considerably fewer resources to take up cudgels against badly-behaved suppliers than suppliers have resources to deny, delay, litigate and generally cause problems. To paraphrase a well known saying: in a fight between the individual and the system, back the system. A good regulator redresses the balance somewhat.

Excel recruitment time bomb makes top trainee doctors 'unappointable'

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: This is in fact an IT failing

Excel has ONE dependable use : Data Input. And output is sketchy.

Excuse me while I laugh hollowly.

All the geneticists that have had to, as a field of scientific study, had to rename certain genes because they are interpreted as Excel (by default) as month names.

All the people who copy and paste text data into cells, only for it to be interpreted non-reversibly, as a date.

All the people who use spreadsheets in more than one locale, where the decimal separators are different (commas or full stops)

You can call the above 'people not using the tool correctly', because if you are aware of the issues you can avoid them and work round them. On the other hand, Excel defaults trip people up, time after time. People don't learn all the features before using it - that applies to word processors as well , where people still format by using spaces and line-feeds, as though Word were solely a software typewriter.

Excel and Word are very powerful tools, but for most people, it's like trusting a toddler with a circular saw. The results are not pretty.

Google says that YouTube vid can wait if it saves on energy

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: 80 minutes?

I wrote a reply to this, and I must have pressed Preview twice, rather than Preview-Submit, and it has vanished into the ether. Which is irritating.

The short answer is, I wondered that too, but unfortunately after the tour. To be fair, the guys giving the courtesy tour didn't say it was a single tank - they just said the storage was under the car park (which was large), so it could conceivably have been multiple tanks with some means of transferring diesel between them allowing you periodically to empty one and clean it before moving on to the next. There were multiple large generators in the machine hall with a schedule of being started and run for a period of time to make sure they worked when needed. It struck me as a rather professional operation, and I'm sure they had some way of keeping the fuel 'sweet'. Of course, I can't verify they had the reserves they claimed: I didn't have my audit hat on at the time, but they didn't have any particular reason to lie or exaggerate.

As well as the claimed fuel reserves, they had independent connections to more than one area of that country's equivalent of the National Grid.

Sorry to be so vague. I'd be interested in the mechanics/process too, but it's not something I could find out now - it was a while (rather too many years than I like to remember) ago. I expect nuclear power stations have similar issues. Fukushima had fossil-fuelled backup generators that were swamped by the tsunami, but I'd expect them to have had enough fuel to keep them going through shutdown and provide adequate cooling for a reasonable period afterwards. Since you don't tend to use it day to day, they must have some method of fossil-fuel management to prevent things like sludging. It's not my area of expertise, and it'd be great if someone commented here from actual knowledge. I know fuel tank biocides are available commercially (ask a boat owner) - looking at an MSDS sheet for one shows it contains 3,3'-methylenebis[5-methyloxazolidine] which German Wikipedia has details for (I used Mozilla Firefox's built in translation). I'm sure there are plenty of other effective chemicals that could be used.


Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: 80 minutes?

As long as you have a supply of dead dinosaurs, yes.

It turns out you actually need an agreement with a fuel supplier for emergency deliveries. Arranging one at the point when you need the delivery is a bit like buying medical insurance after an accident. Of course, everybody knows this.

Relevant war story I have related before: The Alfasud, the emergency generator, and the diesel barrel.

There's a site I know of that is part of 'Critical National Infrastructure'. I'm not going to say which country. The diesel tank is under the car park. All of the car park. There's enough fuel there for a month or so of operation.

Elon Musk's ambitions for Starship soar high while reality waits on launchpad

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: What has Mars ever done to us?

...very rapid landing.

The term of art in the industry is, I believe, lithobraking.

Police ignored the laws of datacenter climate control

Norman Nescio Silver badge

I knew someone with a flat like that in London in a large residential block. Flat roof. Years of investigations and patching trying to work out where the water was coming from - it tends to seep long distances. The person's bedroom had a funnel under the point in the ceiling where the water came in, with a drainpipe out of the window. He was a builder, so that bit worked. He and his wife were remarkably sanguine about it.

It was only when the residential block's roof was completely replaced as part of a major refurbishment project did the problem go away. Flat roofs are the work of the Devil.

It's time to celebrate the abysmal efforts to go paperless in the NHS

Norman Nescio Silver badge


Oddly enough the Veterans Health Information Systems Technology and Architecture (VISTA) was developed pretty much along the lines you described. It also happens to be public domain software.

This out-of-date Politico article goes into the background of its development Politico: A 40-year 'conspiracy' at the VA . Since that article was written, the programme to replace VistA with a newer ERP system from Oracle Cerner has been 'paused'. That said, the plan is to restart the roll-out of the replacement system in 'Summer 2024'.

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: meh

When I was in my mid-twenties, the NHS lost my paper records.

This was a long time ago, when the NHS was mostly paper-based, and presumably had current working expertise in managing paper records.

The GP I was registered with in my mid-twenties later claimed I was never one of their patients, so my later new GP simply started with a blank sheet. There was no other option.

It strikes me that it would be useful if both the patient and the healthcare provider had a copy of the records, with some kind of reconciliation/update mechanism to keep them synchronised, because in my experience, both patients and healthcare providers are very good at losing records irretrievably (I had a relative who could lose a sheet of A4 they had been given within a couple of minutes of having been given it.)

Teardown reveals iPhone 15 to be series of questionable design decisions

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Re: They want how much for one?

Is a monority a minority of one?

Singapore may split liability for phishing losses between banks and victims

Norman Nescio Silver badge


Giving the banks any opportunity to get off the hook for their own failings is a bad idea.

I fully appreciate that scammers are very good at persuading people to commit to apparently authorised transactions, and the banks claim that they are powerless to detect the difference between legitimate transactions authorised by the mechanism recommended (nay, enforced) by the bank and illegitimate transactions authorised by the mechanism recommended (nay, enforced) by the bank.

Notice that people are forced to use the authorisation mechanism provided by the bank?

Which plays in the banks favour?

You can't do things like put in your own rules like "Query transactions over a certain amount to accounts you have not transferred to before" or "Query transactions over a certain amount performed outside normal business hours" or "Get transaction checked and countersigned by a different responsible adult than the account holder" - which might be sensible if the account holder were a vulnerable person.

Ross Anderson has acted as an expert witness in many cases where banks claim that people 'must have' shared PINs and try to blind ombudsmen, judges, regulators, independent arbitrators, and juries with statements saying their technology is secure and there can't be any problems with the banks' systems. I thoroughly recommend reading the site "Light Blue Touchpaper" (“Light Blue Touchpaper” is a weblog written by researchers in the Security Group at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory. ) , especially on the category "Banking security" to see the shenanigans banks get up to attempting to lay blame at the foot of customers and disclaim liability.

The most recent entry "The Pre-play Attack in Real Life" contains the phrase:

The banks have learned nothing, except perhaps that they can often get away with lying about the security of their systems. And the ombudsman continues to claim that it’s independent.

If you are like me, you will get rather angry at the banks' attitude towards customers who have been defrauded whilst using systems the banks claim to be secure. It's an ongoing scandal.


Probe reveals previously secret Israeli spyware that infects targets via ads

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: Insanet...

I guess they want it to be pronounced Insa-net.

But others will call it Insan-E.T. (In as in 'in', san as in 'sanatorium', E.T. as in 'call home') - or 'Insanity'.

Techie labelled 'disgusting filth merchant' by disgusting hypocrite

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: Ear-vermicide

I've had the pre-chorus and chorus from David Bowie's Life on Mars playing on repeat in my head for a week now. Playing Queen hasn't shifted it. Luckily, I (still) think it's a good song.

My brain has a wide selection of ear-worms it keeps on going back to, and not just pop music. The transition between the third and fourth movement of Beethoven's fifth symphony is one, as is the main theme of Smetana's Vltava (The Moldau)

Portable Large Language Models – not the iPhone 15 – are the future of the smartphone

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: re: Yes they are.

Well, I've put them behind me.

...Mainly by use of Firefox, uBlock Origin, and uMatrix.

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: Sure, it's possible, but why would you want it?

I can see one use case of a LLLM (Local Large Language Model) for creating your children a bedtime story which your local automated assistant can then read to them. If the LLLM has only nice things/ mild peril to reference from, then it can’t devise a story that has mass murders in it etc. Other than that ……….

I'd be careful that the Grimm brothers' tales didn't get into the training set, then. Hans Christian Andersen's tales are not exactly a laugh a minute, either.

It appears that many, but not all, children are entertained by the gory bits in the full expectation that good will triumph over evil and everything will be fine. Which is a fine feeling to go to sleep by. Some kids get too disturbed by the gory bits (I was one of those); and some feel short-changed by anodyne stories (I was one of those, too. Never said I was easy to please.).

As for having a home assistant read the story: I think part of the point is to have a trusted adult do it, which, if everything is working as it should, gives a safe and comfortable environment to go to sleep in. Some adults edit the story on the fly, depending on the child's mood. It's not just reading a story.

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: Sure, it's possible, but why would you want it?

Just about every single "AI in the machine" story ever written has been a cautionary tale. From the Cirrius Cybernetics Corporation onwards. No one (besides, perhaps, Ian Banks, perhaps Asimov) has posited an AI sidekick actually doing something useful and productive, let alone not turning on the user. I have no use-case for such a thing. What would you do with it?

How about ORAC from Blake's Seven?

Or 'Box' from Star Cops, which the idea of an AI in a smartphone reminds me very much of.

Possibly the ship's computer in Star Trek.

But yes, I agree, most Sci-Fi AI's don't appear to have humanity's best interests at heart. AM in Harlan Ellison's I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is particularly noteworthy. A lot of people find that story rather disturbing. There are also Fred Saberhagen's Beserkers, which don't specifically dislike humanity, but organic life in general. (Sidenote: Fred Saberhagen was a Motorola electronics technician.)


Apple's iPhone 12 woes spread as Belgium, Germany, Netherlands weigh in

Norman Nescio Silver badge

"To be clear, however, the iPhone 12 was approved by the FCC before sale"

The relevant regulations are different in the USA and the EU. It is perfectly possible for the same device to meet regulatory standards in one jurisdiction and fail in another. Other examples are chlorine-washed chicken, and cheese made from unpasteurised milk.

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Testing is easy?

This could, conceivably, not be down to Apple at all.

The measuring equipment and testing chambers needed to determine if a device meets radio regulations are not cheap, and testing is a relatively specialised process, which means that it makes sense for a company to specialise in offering testing services. The company that does this gets rare expertise (which is marketable), and gets to use the test infrastructure all the time, rather than only when a new product is being developed. Only the largest companies will have their own facilities, and Apple might be one. Standards testing organisations are people like the TUV's, Element, Eurofins, DEKRA...(there are many).

There is an assumption lurking here, that if two testing organisations test the same pre-production model of device that they will get the same answer. Also, if there is a natural variability in the devices, I expect you would have procedures in place to prevent someone privately pre-testing a set of devices and only sending on the devices for formal testing that passed the selection testing.

You also have to make sure that the testing organisation knows its stuff - that's what you pay for, but...Radio Testing: An Insider’s Guide From an Outsider’s View

There's a lot going on here: two tests on the same device by different organisations could be giving different results for many reasons, and the variability could be higher if they are testing two different samples from (possibly) different production lines. The testing organisations could have methodological differences. Production devices could be subtly different from the pre-production ones used during product development. Somebody somewhere, might have been trying to game the system.

Meanwhile, the SAR levels for the general public are set deliberately low (as in, around 10% of levels shown to cause an effect*), so there's a pretty small chance this will have had any detectable health effect.

SAR thresholds for electromagnetic exposure using functional thermal dose limits

Conditional safety margins for less conservative peak local SAR assessment: A probabilistic approach

A quick overview of what SAR testing involves: Varkotan: Specific absorption rate (SAR) Testing – 5 things for companies to consider


*The effect is heating of body tissue. At the frequencies used by mobile phones, the emitted electromagnetic radiation is non-ionising, so the working assumption is that the principal effect is tissue heating. This is controversial in some circles, where people claim biological effects other than heating, but the regulations are concerned with heating effects. Epidemiological studies of mobile phone usage have been pretty good at confirming the null hypothesis, green jelly beans aside. The reasons why the SAR limits are set at the levels they are are outlined in this document from the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP): ICNIRP webpage on: RF EMFs 100 kHz - 300 GHz; [pdf] Actual ICNIRP document: ICNIRP GUIDELINES - FOR LIMITING EXPOSURE TO ELECTROMAGNETIC FIELDS (100 KHZ TO 300 GHZ) but the tl;dr grossly oversimplified summary is that for exposure to the head, the commission took a conservative lower value of the temperature rise required that has known adverse biological effects, determined the power level of radiation required to generate that rise, and set the exposure limit to be one tenth of that level.

Scientists trace tiny moonquakes to Apollo 17 lander – left over from 1972

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Freight train

More importantly, is it an African or European freight train?

Norman Nescio Silver badge

El Reg comparators for temperature?

What are the El Reg comparators for temperature?

The upper temperature is pretty much Gas Mark ½ (a very low oven), but I don't have a good everyday comparator for the lower temperature: roughly the melting point of butane (lighter fuel) isn't sufficiently familiar (or funny).

Watt's the worst thing you can do to a datacenter? Failing to RTFM, electrically

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: Check the power supply

The worst smell I've come across is burnt boiled eggs, where somebody (fellow student) wandered off and forgot about them, and the water boiled away completely. I'm not a fan of burnt popcorn either, when somebody (teenager) chucks a bag in the microwave at full power and wanders off in forgetful mode.

The same teenager wandered off from a frying pan left on a hob at full whack. Luckily oil had not been put in the (clean) pan, so it was just the smell of hot metal and whatever tiny residue was left after it was last scoured (it wasn't Teflon), otherwise I suspect the fire-blanket would have had some use. I should have used the opportunity to demonstrate the Leidenfrost effect, but I wasn't in quite the right frame of mind.

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: Check the power supply

Fuses and circuit breakers have a maximum current that they are designed to break. Interesting things happen when that current is exceeded - circuit-breaker relays can be welded together, and the wire in a fuse can be vaporised into a conductive plasma. It's why fuses are often filled with sand, to suppress the plasma. High voltage relays use techniques to either suppress plasma formation (like being in an envelope filled with a gas that doesn't ionise easily, often sulfur hexafluoride), or to make the distance between the terminals in air rapidly become too great for a spark to jump, or literally have fans to blow the plasma away from the terminals.

Lightning jumps open terminals because it forms conductive plasmas.

Given a high-enough voltage, everything becomes conductive, including what remains of the fuses and circuit breakers protecting the consoles in the USS Enterprise. You don't need to suspend disbelief for that effect. The transporters, on the other hand...

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: But surely

El Reg Tesla good story here about Nikolai, but I'm wondering why the Regomizer didn't name him Henry due to the lack of induction when reading the electromagnetic field given off by the display?

Now, I'm not an electrical engineer, but wouldn't the current setting on the power supply have been a current limit, and if the emulator was designed to work with a current of 2.5 A, then it shouldn't have drawn more than that if the current limiter had a higher value - a bit like replacing a 5A fuse in a plug with a 13A fuse doesn't suddenly make the properly working attached equipment draw 13 Amps. Which means the emulator was broken before our hero increased the current limit to 5A. The evidence is that the 5V rail was only at 2.5V - which would usually meant that the (normally) voltage stabilised power-supply was being forced to deliver more current than expected - the symptom being the voltage drop, which shows the current limiter was doing its job clamping the current to a maximum of 2.5 Amps.

StackExchange: Electrical Engineering: Voltage Drops When Current Reaches Limit On Supply

StackExchange: Electrical Engineering: Why are there current and voltage limits in a DC bench power supply?

As I say,., I'm not an Electrical Engineer, so if I've missed something obvious, please be gentle.


Hope for nerds! ChatGPT's still a below-average math student

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: Below average is a bit generous...

So it's been bugging me.

396 - 200 is 196

Square root of 196 is 14

Square root of 16 is 4

519 + 14 + 4 is 537

396 + 4 is 400

Square root of 400 is 20

200 / 20 is 10

537 - 400 is 137

137 + 10 is 147.

Or in one expression 147 = 519 + SQRT( 396 - 200) + SQRT(16) - (396 + SQRT(16)) + (200 / ( SQRT ( 396+SQRT(16) ) ) )

This can be simplified further to: 147 = 519 +SQRT(396 -200) - 396 + (200 / ( SQRT ( 396+SQRT(16) ) ) )

Which probably breaks the rules, as it uses square roots and the number 396 three times.

I have no doubt there is a more elegant solution, but that's the best I could come up with.

BMW deems drivers worthy of warmth, ends heated car seat subscription

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: connected services as a strategic imperative and a driver of future revenue

There are two separate systems in an electric car. One is full power (say 240v) The other runs all your auxiliaries which, partly for safety reasons run on 12v. These include things like headlights, radio, dashboard, heated seats and ac, door locks etc. and usually have a separate battery. This also means that you can use much smaller wiring

No. No. No. No. No. 12 V wiring is much chunkier for heating. To get the same power at the lower voltage you need much greater diameter wiring. Power dissipation is (current)2 multiplied by resistance. Car manufacturers are moving (slowly) to using 48V electrics instead of 12V electrics because it saves a lot of copper, and allows more power to do 'interesting stuff'

Autocar: Under the skin: Why modern cars need 48V electrical systems

If your heater is delivering 240 Watts with 240 Volts at 1 Amp, then to do the same at 12 Volts requires 20 Amps. A cable capable of carrying 20 Amps without melting is considerably chunkier than a cable capable of carrying 1 Amp.

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: Privacy

That's because the profiles are not stored in the car, but in 'the cloud'.

This has several effects:

1) By knowing which profile has been chosen, they know who is driving the car. This is great for targetted advertising, because they can link the profile to driving style, entertainment channels chosen, and the contact list uploaded via the Bluetooth connection from the smartphone, as well as the smartphone details, plus the location data.

2) If there is no Internet connectivity, the profile cannot be read from the cloud, so the car doesn't set up seats and mirrors etc. for you.

3) If the cloud servers are running slowly or timing out [sarcasrm] something that never happens [/sarcasm], then setting up the profile doesn't work either, even if your Internet connection is fantabulous.

It's a truly great 'solution' for the data collectors. Not so much for the 'owner' of the car.


Norman Nescio Silver badge

Old, really, old...

And don't forget the hand warmer on the back window!

But it's no longer possible to double the value by filling the fuel tank.

PEBCAK problem transformed young techie into grizzled cynical sysadmin

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: Enter Password

Better than the calls I got occasionally... "I had an error message, yesterday." "What was it?" "I don't know, and it's all working fine since."

That's about the same as getting a call to the helpdesk saying that their application doesn't work.

- Did you get an error message?

- Yes

- What was it?

- No idea, I just clicked to make it go away. It had a long number in it, does that help?

-- [Helpdesk person rips apart the third stress-relief toy that week]

There was a company that tried a relatively inspired way of dealing with that. Instead of error numbers, they used a list of adjectives and nouns, so the error message would come up with:

- Please report a Fluffy Green Parrot error to the helpdesk.

This had a marginally higher success rate than a hexadecimal string, but the advantages have obviously not been enough for it to become an industry standard.

UK rejoins the EU's €100B Horizon sci-tech funding program

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Umm, are you actively hoping that tourism from EU residents stops?

Logically, what is in their pockets is what remains after they have paid tax, otherwise they would not be called taxpayers. Tourism is one way of getting hold of (some of) that remaining money, as is cross-border trade, selling UK originated goods and services to EU residents.

Perhaps you meant to say, "I hope not a cent will go from EU taxpayers' taxes to the UK."?


Norman Nescio Silver badge

( Also if your last sentence is talking about how badly Britain has done economically since Brexit, you are a couple of weeks out of date. The ONS has substantially revised its estimates and Britain has performed far, far better than previously claimed. Perhaps try staying current. ).

You are correct, the ONS has revised recent statistics. Which is good. The performance, as described by The Economist has gone from "abysmal" to "poor", compared to other countries - which have not yet revised their statistics in the same manner.

The Economist (2023-09-04): Britain’s statisticians fix a blunder and find a bigger economy - The figures used to look abysmal. Now they’re only poor

If you like to play along with the illusion of privacy, smart devices are a dumb idea

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: "Bose products are shuffling info off to the Meta social media"

Wouldn't that be an undeinstallable app, which is pants.

UK air traffic woes caused by 'invalid flight plan data'

Norman Nescio Silver badge


It sounds like:

(a) Waypoint names are not globally unique (and this will not change quickly, if at all).

(b) A certain feature of the UK software operated using waypoint names with an implicit assumption that they were sufficiently unique for its purposes. That implicit assumption turned out to be incorrect,

It strikes me that a quick workaround is to reject flight plans with duplicate waypoint names, requiring them to be manually processed*.

A longer workaround would be to apply a local remapping of non-unique waypoint names to unused strings in the same namespace to make them unique for further processing**. Unfortunately, it would require a post-processing of a route to convert the transformed waypoint identifiers back into the non-unique versions so the subsequent people using the generated route don't have to alter all their systems and processes.

* It is perfectly possible to have valid flight plans with the same waypoint more than once. A simple way is to fly in a circle as part of your route.

** If you have run out of space in the variable (i.e used all possible names that fit in the allocated storage), the problem gets trickier. Converting the waypoint identifier into a structure that, for example, holds the latitude and longitude of the waypoint as well as its identifier is a non starter, as that requires an extensive code rewrite. The geographic information might even be available to the system, but if it is not written to use it to make the waypoints unique for processing, the rewriting would be a huge job.

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Functional spec

The functional specification for the American (FAA) system that converts Flight Plans into Routes is here:


The UK system is based upon it, but has diverged.

I posted it previously, but I think the conversation has moved on to the new article.

Acknowledgement to CBSITCB of PPRuNe for pointing out the original information.

Note that the system validates the input to check that it is properly formed, but in this case it looks like it failed to calculate a route from properly formed input: in other words, the form was likely filled in correctly, but the content of the form likely caused the processing to fail, possibly via an unhandled exception.

I hope any report goes into sufficient technical detail, in a similar fashion to AAIB reports.

US AGs: We need law to purge the web of AI-drawn child sex abuse material

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Psychological studies

There's a worthy goal here of wishing to decrease the number of abused minors, so even if we don't like the methods, the goal seems entirely reasonable.

Arguing by analogy is fraught with difficulties, as sometimes the analogy can be invalid for subtle or unknown reasons, but even so, I'll point out some results in a related field.

People can have strong feelings about legal pornography, with some regarding much of it as inherently misogynistic and reinforcing unequal gender stereotypes. This is not that argument.

What has been investigated is a link between the incidence of male-on-female rape and and availability of pornography. The topic is controversial.

Psychology Today: 2016-01-14: Evidence Mounts: More Porn, Less Sexual Assault - Those who claim that porn incites rape are mistaken.

A criticism of the above article was made, citing research that supported the opposite conclusion, and the response was: Psychology Today: 2017-07-02: More Porn, Less Rape? The Controversy Revisited - Does porn cause rape? It depends on the study. But one type is more credible.

There are other studies:

Science Daily: 2010-11-30: Legalizing pornography: Lower sex crime rates? Study carried out in Czech Republic shows results similar to those in Japan and Denmark

International Journal of Law and Psychiatry: 1991: Pornography and rape: Theory and practice?: Evidence from crime data in four countries where pornography is easily available

So there is a reasonably plausible hypothesis that availability of realistic fictional depictions of abuse of minors is likely to reduce the incidence of actual abuse of minors. If the goal is harm reduction, and a lower incidence of abuse of minors, then such a policy could be evaluated against other methods for efficacy. Some people find such an approach to be morally repugnant - as somehow condoning abuse of minors, or possibly encouraging people to move from fiction to reality. In the latter case, a lot of work has been done looking at the effect of violent video games on people's propensity to commit violent acts. I believe the evidence is equivocal, at best.

I'm not a psychologist, and by no means an expert. I think evidence-based policies for reducing abuse of minors would be a good thing. Research in this area is difficult. If another poster can cite good evidence that my belief/opinions are wrong, I'll happily be corrected.

Abuse of minors is wrong. Evidence-based methods of reducing it ought to be evaluated. The politician's syllogism of "Something should be done. This is something, so it should be done." is an unreliable tool.

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Simple solution

Presumably, all one needs to do is have a government mandated prompt to tell the generative AIs not to generate illegal things? [fx: Disingenuous smile]

Possession of a non-government approved AI could become a felony (just like non-government approved encryption). Someone's next novel could be about AI bootleggers.

It is a tragedy that the Venn diagram of rational adults and politicians does not intersect.

IT needs more brains, so why is it being such a zombie about getting them?

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: Plenty of specialists, massive shortist of generalists

Clive? Is that you?

If not, there's more than one of you.

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: qualities HR doesn't like

Sounds like that might be biased against light people.

While it might be effective (selecting for Teela Brown), I suspect a useful proxy is throwing half the job applications into the bin, not the applicants.

I'll see your data loss and raise you a security policy violation

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: Wrong base?

No, for me all disk sizes are measured in powers of 2. It's the thieving disk manufacturers that decided to round down to powers of 10.

The last disk I used that was measured in an integer power of 2 was the 8" floppy on an RML380Z.

Arm wrestles assembly language guru's domains away citing trademark issues

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Re: Another baseless, stupid lawsuit

That could have serious implications for the ursine population of the USA if everybody took up that right. Buy shares in ursine prosthetics, maybe?

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: The Processor formerly known as the Acorn RISC Machine

It looks like they have gone in the opposite direction to Ford Prefect's journey, and their revised view of Maria Markstedter's websites has gone from 'Mostly Harmless' to 'armless'.

UK flights disrupted by 'technical issue' with air traffic computer system

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: PPRuNe thread here

The contributions by CBSITCB in that thread are worth reading. This is a link that should work to the most interesting one: PPRuNe: U.K. NATS Systems Failure, post at 29th Aug 2023, 11:13 by CBSITC

- Each National ATC centre runs their own system: they are not identical. So you can expect the flight-plan-to-actual-route conversion programs to differ.

- The current UK airspace model is based up the US system, but has diverged.

- The functional specification of the US system for converting the filed Flight Plan into a route expressed in the national airspace model. are here: [pdf] FAA: NATIONAL AIRSPACE SYSTEM: En Route: CONFIGURATION MANAGEMENT DOCUMENT: COMPUTER PROGRAM FUNCTIONAL SPECIFICATIONS: ROUTE CONVERSION AND POSTING

I'm not copying and pasting CBSITCB's posting here, but it is well worth reading to get some technical background, and some plausible speculation as to what might have happened. Essentially, the speculation is that the conversion of the Flight Plan into the UK national route generated an untrapped error that caused a system crash. It apparently happened before.


I understand at least one major UK NAS outage in the past was caused by errors in this process. Someone had managed to input an FPL route that passed NAS route validation (described in NAS-MD-311 Message Entry and Checking) but “did not compute” when route conversion was attempted.

FPL = Flight Plan

NAS = National Airspace

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: The "Old" System

.. used to have a flaw such that there was an apparently logical command line that a controller could input that crashed the whole system every time. This was in the early eighties and some generations of software back..

Several decades ago, when I was still a schoolboy, the school computer club had a (single) teletype connected via audio-coupler and modem to the county-council mainframe. A boy a year or so older than me was taken up with trying things out on the system's command line, and one of the arcane functions was SYS(x,y) where x and y were integers. I can't remember what it was meant to do, but that's not relevant - the boy tried setting one of the arguments to be negative. SYS(0,-1) or something.

The connection stopped responding. This was usual, as the line would drop out occasionally, but the modem was still 'up', but we tried re-dialling, and still getting no response. After a short wait 15 minutes to half-an-hour, we got a connection again, and so, of course, he carried on experimenting (xkcd 242 applies). SYS(0,-1). The connection stopped responding. Wait a while, re-dial, system back...and he tried a third time. You might see a pattern. Shortly after a teacher appeared with a message from the council computer centre, kindly, but firmly requesting us to stop crashing the computer.

Surprisingly, we (and the school) didn't lose access. But we were told not to experiment with things we didn't understand. So we played Lunar Lander and Star Trek instead, using up rather a lot of fanfold paper.

Oh...and the point is, in those gentler times, the assumption was that people would try not to break the system, and use it as intended, following the rules, so there was a lot less input validation. Things have changed.


Norman Nescio Silver badge

PPRuNe thread here

PPRuNe: U.K. NATS Systems Failure

Please don't contribute to the thread unless you are a professional pilot with a meaningful information to add. PPRuNe is strongly moderated after publication, and fools are not suffered gladly. The 'Rumour' thread has a little more latitude than some of the other forums ('Jet Blast' even more so). I'm not a professional pilot, and I have witnessed many 'contributions' by wanna-bes, Dunning-Krugerites, and narcissists removed. I just find it interesting and informative to read.

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Bet is was a rouge acute accent or grave accent, once we left the EU, we won't take foreign characters anymore, next upgrade for NATS is to go back to miles and feet!

Hmm. Yes, if the input used ANSI escape sequences to generate coloured characters, that might have left the programmers rosy-cheeked with embarrassment at mishandling the input. Of course, it may have been forced upon them by lack of space for any more input sanitisation.

Some people really liked Tiswas as a Saturday morning kids TV programme. It comes out subconsciously in their writing. You can always tell.

Oddly enough, most of the world (exceptions are North Korea, Mongolia, and the People's Republic of China) does altitudes (and Flight levels) in feet. Russia is in the process of swapping over from metres to feet.

OpsGroup: 2011-11-17: Special Report: Russia transition to ICAO RVSM

OpsGroup: 2017-02-22: Big change: Russia finally moving to QNH

But all is not sweetness and light regarding standardisation of units in aviation:

AeroSavvy: 2014-09-05: Aviation’s Crazy, Mixed Up Units of Measure


Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: Blame the French

Apparently the cause is being put down to a bad flight plan filed by a French airline. Seriously, what?

If true, that implies input validation of flight plans was either non-existent or insufficient, both of which are possibilities. Little 'Bobby' Tables might have struck again.

This incident should add another test-case; and probably increase the scope of fuzz-testing of the inputs; with the possibility of the scope increase being from a low base, conceivably zero (hopefully unlikely).


FreeBSD can now boot in 25 milliseconds

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Re: Pretty impressive

Bubblesort? That is never appropriate in production systems.

Never is quite a long time. It is an interesting student exercise to devise a set of plausible system constraints that would end up with bubble sort being a reasonable choice. Sorting is complex enough for Donald Knuth to have devoted a large part on one of the volumes of his magnum opus (Volume 3. of The Art of Computer Programming) to it.

Sorting is fundamental in the development of computers. It was entirely possible to have tape-based systems (no hard drives) where a major function was to sort the records on a tape. If you have a single tape drive, and less memory in the computer than the space taken by records on the tape, ending up with a sorted data set in the most time efficient way is an interesting challenge. Things improve if you can use two, or even three tapes ( or even 10), or have a limited amount of random access storage, like a small drum or hard disk. There's a pretty illustration from Knuth's work in this Stack Exchange Retrocomputing question and answer: StackExchange:Retrocomputing:What "spectacular to watch" algorithms were used for sorting tapes?

Bubblesort can be appropriate if you know that the dataset to be sorted is (a) small and (b) almost completely sorted already. Some other efficient general purpose sorting algorithms don't perform as well in this specific instance. If you are working in extremely memory constrained environments (think microcontrollers) and need, for example, an in-place sort, then bubble sort can be a good candidate for small-enough datasets. Examples of in-place sorting algorithms with other constraints can be found here: https://github.com/ceorron/stable-inplace-sorting-algorithms

But the point is not to say that bubblesort was appropriate in this instance. (BSD booting). It obviously wasn't. The constraints on your sorting environment can determine the best option. Does it need to be stable? Need it be in-place? Is the dataset to be sorted larger than the working memory available. Is the dataset semi-sorted already? What are the most efficient opcodes for the hardware architecture you are using? Can the sort be parallelized? All can be relevant.

Oh: and this is a fun site to look at some side-by-side sorting algorithm animations: Toptal: Sorting Algorithms Animations


Boffins reckon Mars colony could survive with fewer than two dozen people

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Typo, braino, or Google-o?

A quick google suggest that radiation on the surface of Mars is around 0.7mSv/day and that the US exposure limit for the general population is 1mSv/day. How good are diving suits at keeping radiation out?

[Gentle cough] Possibly your Google skills are lacking, or Google, Heaven forfend!, is doling out untruths, but I think that the US exposure limit for the general population is 1mSv per year, not day.




Windows screensaver left broadcast techie all at sea

Norman Nescio Silver badge

Or, for those of a certain age, Brentford Nylons...




...and there's a name from the past - Lonrho, which brings forth that 'interesting' character, 'Tiny' Rowland.

I think Robert Rankin improved the reputation of Brentford.

Wordpress sells 100-year domain, hosting plan for $38K

Norman Nescio Silver badge


Print out the interesting stuff using archive-quality ink on acid-free paper and store in a humidity controlled environment.

Archive-quality microfilm should last up to about 500 years, if handled and stored correctly, too. https://www.ukarchiving.co.uk/our-services/microfilm/

Etched-nickel disks should last a bit longer perhaps 2000 years. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosetta_Project; https://longnow.org/ideas/what-13500-pages-micro-etched-into-nickel-looks-like/