* Posts by Jim Howes

22 posts • joined 13 Apr 2007

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

Jim Howes

Re: Ah, that takes me back..

Never had the fun of punched cards with the VAXen, although I note that the SimH installation I have on my laptop emulates a CR11 as a text file. That's one feature I've never bothered to explore.

When I was growing up, the kitchen drawers were full of boxes of 80 and 90 column cards which my mum mostly used for shopping lists. Some of them probably survive as separators for different batches of slides somewhere in my dads loft. We never ran out of drawing paper as kids, any amount of punched cards, boxes of greenbar printer paper discarded after someone send a binary file to the lineprinter, etc. were in plentiful supply.

Jim Howes

Ah, that takes me back..

I had a room full of 80Mb five-platter CDC drives attached to a variety of PDP-11's, and another room with a somewhat more up to date VAX 11-750 and a bunch of MicroVAXs, with fixed disks. I spent most of my day feeding various paper stocks into various large printers, and responding to user requests to load pack X into drive Y, eventually awaiting the signal at 5pm that the day upstairs was done, and I could start the daily disk pack suffle that was the backup process.

Users felt they were in control, but I'd get the occasional stupid request. There was one system with two drives, and one head developer who used it remotely at 300 baud. Load pack Y4 into drive 2. Yeah sure, but no drive 2, only drives 0 & 1. So I dismounted and spun down drive 1, loaded Y4 in place of Y1 in it, spun it up, mounted it, andtold this prima-donna that it's available. Same request. So I reply 'in 1, no 2'. As he's using his phone line to remotely work, phone calls and the simple text messaging set up can't work at the same time. The phone rings, demanding to know why I have used drive 1 instead of the non-existent drive 2. Demanding also that I reload Y1 back into drive 1 immediately. So I do that. Next phone call, wheres Y4? I still need it. Look mate, make your mind up!. So he demands I put it in drive 0. Did Y4 have an operating system on it? Suffice it to say I didn't get any more requests of that system for the rest of the day while the system wondered where it's system disk went,and the user concerned learnt to count from 0, not 1.

It didn't end there, the next day, we then got an order to move a drive from the production system onto 'his' development system. Not a simple job because the system concerned only had controllers and/or cabling for two drives, and power supply was another issue. We sent the job back with those details, and waited for the go-ahead from the boss, which never came. Apparently the guy thrrew a hissy fit and said something unfortunate to the boss, who back in those days knew all the technical ins and outs of the system. Various things were said, and no further requests came from that user, ever again.

Never had this problem with the VAXen in the other room. The users, of which there were far more, generally only wanted the occasional tape mounted, and the users knew how to request volumes properly, and even made sure no two tapes had the same label. (Such levels of clue are unusual!) Requests came through OPCOM, and the system would assign devices to users and all I'd have to do is physically load the volume and bring the tape device concerned online, and the system would take care of the rest, with only the occasional need to resort to REPLY/PENDING=requestno "Where the heck is that tape?". There was clever stuff built in too, such as when you'd failed to find the tape the user wanted in MSA0 because it was already loaded into MSB0, you could REPLY/TO=requestno "SUBSITITUTE MSB0" and the user's request would complete, and if they'd followed the rules and specified a logical name when mount the volume, unless they were paying close attention, they'd be none the wiser. Somehow a different class of user. Different class of OS too, as we'd occasionally get requests to mount a TK50 cartridge in a large magtape drive, and we'd just use the same method to switch the system's attention to MUA0: instead of MSxx:, usually follwed by by a REPLY/USER=DIMWIT "Remember, your new system's data is on TK50's, please use MUA0 next time", and sometimes they did. Just shows that regardless of how clued your users seem to be, give them a choice, and they will make the wrong one.

The in and outs of Microsoft's new Windows Terminal

Jim Howes

Re: The horrors and blessings of the console

I haven't been overly bothered by fork() as yet, but a working select() would be nice. MS's function cannot wait across a set of fd's of different types (such as a serial port and a network socket). In the end I gave up and used the cygwin platform, which has a working select(), which was enough to do the job of talking to a telehone exchange via RS232 and fielding network requests at the same time. The unix philosophy that at the end of the day, everything is a file, pays huge dividends. Using cygwin also gave me a nice simple tcgetattr()/tcsetattr() which allowed serial port setup in a tiny amount of code, compared to the sheer lovecraftian horror that is the windows API for such things.

Jim Howes

Indeed. I have a full set of schematics, technical manuals, and other related stuff here. On microfische, naturally. A few VT100's even, although most are slowly dying as the HT circuits give out.

What if tech moguls brewed real ale?

Jim Howes

Guru Meditation

A 16% black brew with flashes of red. Will give you a kickstart to get to your workbench.

Fond memories of doing various computer shows at olympia. As for GBBF, I'm there all week as one of your friendly stewards.

Soz telcos you're 'low priority' post-Brexit, says leaked gov doc

Jim Howes

So, Pharmaceuticals top of the list, Medical not a priority.

Presumably the govermnent is talking about recreational pharmaceuticals. This might explain quite a lot of recent policy.

Small ISPs 'probably' won't receive data retention order following IP Bill

Jim Howes

Re: Next steps

"* Require that all ISPs maintain a white-list of permitted addresses that users may access, access to addresses other than those on the approved list will be recorded - purely for performance monitoring purposes of course."

That's fine with me. I only require access to four IP address ranges:




Google DeepMind 'learns' the London Underground map to find best route

Jim Howes

Did this for coursework in 1987

Had to write some coursework, in Prolog, for exactly this in 1987.

My solution came up with some sensible, but also some stupid routes, but then it was Prolog. I rewrote it in C, using Lee's algorythm to find the shortest route, with additional costs for changing lines at various stations, and got somewhere closer in 1988. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_algorithm )

Today I routinely travel from Portsmouth to Wembley each time there is a match up there, and as yet nothing other than my own experience has suggested jumping trains at Finchley Road from Jubillee to Metropolitan to save a few minutes (not to mention that the met trains are air-conditioned, which is a major bonus on most days)

I still hate Prolog, but not as much as I hate Lisp, but neither come to close to how much I loathe the underground.

Boffins decipher manual for 2,000-year-old Ancient Greek computer

Jim Howes

Perhaps now they can start work on a translation for the 'manual' of the hard disc enclosure I bought some years ago, which said

"Insert both bed plates with thrusting into the reserve holes"

Makes about as much sense as the local chinese restaurant's "Vegetarian sweet and sour pork"

Cabling horrors unplugged: Reg readers reveal worst nightmares

Jim Howes

No cabling disaster compares to the wiring disaster that is inner-city Dublin

Seriously, we here in the UK are used to seeing BT Openreach created cables spanning spaces between pole and cable, and these things are generally (unless kelly, or some of the other contractors have had anything to do with them) reasonably tidy affairs.

Then I went on a trip to Dublin.

I have no idea who manages irish telephone cables, but some of the example birds-nest cabinets shown in this article look absurdly OCD-neat compared to ordinary building telephone wiring in Ireland's capital. From windows that can't be opened because they are in the way of the most direct path for a cable, to ten cables taking the same overall route (but ten different intermediate routes) across a wall, I couldn't find words to describe the impending disaster that is dublin telecoms wiring.

I've never worked for BT, (despite somehow ending up on the committee of the local BT staff social club) and have only ever been responsible for cat5 cabling, but seriously, what the hell is going on in Dublin? (Apart from the Guiness and whiskey, which are quite accepatable distractions, when I'm there on holiday, but probably not if I had to do a wiring job there)

Email apparently from Home Office warns of emails apparently from Home Office

Jim Howes

Re: emails they deem suspicious

> I cannot understand the revenue's hatred of email.

Or anything electronic for that matter. I recently convinced them to give me a refund in respect of job expenses, and my choices were

A) A cheque posted to my address or

B) Pay into bank sort code XX-XX-XX Account XXXXXXXXX

So I chose B, it's the twenty first century, and I can send money to another account in an hour without having to wait for banks to clear cheques, a process which which takes an annoying week (five working days, and you can't expect banks to work on weekends, despite the fact that I have for over twenty years now)

So, refund letter arrives, I check my bank. Nothing yet.

The following day, I check my bank. CHEQUE PAID IN A BOOTLE PAYMENT OPS

They paid in the cheque for me, but it still a *&(#$*ing cheque, and finally cleared today, a week after the letter they sent me.

while( !unconcious ) bang(head, wall);

Round Two in Sky vs Skype trademark scrap goes to Murdoch's men

Jim Howes

A few more entries for Sky's litigator's hit-list..

A search on companies house returns 5,215 current or recently dissolved limited companies which start with 'Sky' from Sky PLC, Sky & Co Ltd., through to Skyzurich UK Ltd. including such curious companies as Skyline (Dungeons & Dragons) limited, any number of Skynet this or that, and worryingly Sky Nuclear Services Ltd (Presumably for the stage after litigation finishes)..

Why Comrade Cameron went all Russell Brand on the UK’s mobile networks

Jim Howes

UK roaming already happening

Ok, so it may seem like it goes via a slightly strange route, but in-UK roaming is already possible.

Andrews & Arnold, via Sip2Sim have been doing this for a little while now. See http://www.sip2sim.uk for full details.

SIM's are normal O2 virtual service provider SIMs (same principle as Tesco use on O2 and Asda use with Voda), but on being unable to receive an O2 signal, or on being poked at via the SIM service menus, will switch to a Dutch Vodaphone ID, thus allowing them to roam on UK EE and Vodaphone networks.

The service requires a VoIP contract (with any provider you might choose) and effectively makes your handset an extension of you VoIP system, but once configured, as far as the end user is concerned, it's a phone.

The gotcha, if you consider it as such, is that incoming calls are also chargable, as you are paying for airtime; outgoing calls are charged at a flat rate regardless of where they are going, because again, it's only airtime. The actual dialled-number based call cost is dependent on what VoIP provider your call is handed off to (so if you run your own office VoIP server, if it costs you 2p/min to call Outbackistan, then that is what it will cost from the mobile (plus the airtime charge))

Peer 1 Hosting puts up for Reg space mission

Jim Howes

Ground breaking programme?

I do hope the project doesn't take that term literally.

BT bumps up broadband speeds

Jim Howes

Up to what now?

ADSL2+ in theory provides 'up to' 24Mbps downstream. Not 'up to 20', of course in the real world the speed you get is dependent on many factors.

Portsmouth North exchange, to which I'm wired, has had active 21CN WBC for a while now, and the experience has not been good. The dynamic line management BT have put in place thinks that 1.25Mbps is a good speed for a line that previously sat at 6Mbps for three years on the older platform, so 21CN is not yet the surfers paradise it promises to be. Following a little persuasion by Glenn & the team at Andrews & Arnold ISP, the exchange equipment is now syncing at 13Mbps, providing something like 11Mbit throughput.

"Unlike other providers, BT is upgrading customers to 20Mb/s for free," - Charge for my non BT Internet retail upgrade, nothing. In fact, the 21CN platform will, in the long term, be cheaper for ISP's, and as such, I've seen a reduction in my monthly bill from AAISP. Not a lot, but it all adds up.

No doubt the major providers will see the higher speeds at lower unit cost as an excuse to bump up prices for their cash cows of customers.

Microsoft takes hard line on Win 7 hardware

Jim Howes
Gates Horns

Ancient and modern here

I have a microsoft mouse, intellimouse optical, USB, works very well. On the whole Microsoft make good mice, shame their software competes with Dyson for suckage.

I also have a Kensington Expert Mouse Pro, which is also very nice (and very expensive) for work that requires real detail.

However, my keyboard is an IBM Model M. I have three Model M keyboards now, and I'll only stop using them when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.

They tried, by abolishing PS/2 ports, but we have USB keyboard adapters. They tried adding new 'must have' keys (like the too easy to mis-hit and lose focus 'Windows' key, assorted shortcut keys for mail, volume, etc.), but I have applications that behave themselves.

Is this a move towards input devices that trigger DMCA violations? Are we to see an assistant that pops up and says 'It looks like you're quoting a novel, would you like me to Charge your credit card for your royalty fees, Delete the document, or Sue your backside?'

Windows 7 test build 'turns off' Internet Explorer 8

Jim Howes

Reboot twice?

So, we need to reboot twice now, just to delete an executable. This is indeed progress.

Hungarians unleash dog bark translator

Jim Howes

Bowlingual demonstration

We were party to a bow-lingual demonstration at the Ig Nobel event (www.improbable.com) in London, part of national science week, a few years ago. A suitable canine participant was brought in and persuaded to take part in the demonstration. The device reported 'I want to help' as the translated bark.

Among other things discussed at the event were farting fish, necrophilia in mallard ducks, and the effect of country music on suicide rates. (Plug: free tickets for the 2008 events are available shortly)

New Zealander's Nokia explodes

Jim Howes

Nokia battery recall

FYI - The nokia replacement site is at


You will need the 26-character battery serial number.

If your battery is affected, they will send you a new one by DHL, and you send the old one back by prepaid mail to the Netherlands for proper disposal. Later on, they will then send you a new one by DHL (again) for no apparently good reason. They will then ignore your attempts to contact them over this duplicate order. Result: Two new batteries. Way to go Nokia.

Microsoft too busy to name Linux patents

Jim Howes

Microsoft MUST defend patent rights

Like a trademark, the holder of the patent must defend their intellectual property, because if they do not, and they can be shown to have abandoned it, then the patent is effectively void.

Of course, if Microsoft know they have no case, that is another matter, but choosing not to launch into a defence at this time is effectively abandoning their claim, nyet?

Vendor turns DRM against Microsoft, Apple, Adobe and Real

Jim Howes

Plug the analogue hole

James Cleveland above says 'they should sue the artists because they make content'

The real problem is the 'analogue hole'. The analogue path between the artists mouth and the microphone is a weakness in the DRM technology system. It needs to be plugged. Placing a sock in it would help.

Having watched some of last night's Eurovision Song Contest, that method would certainly improve the output of many recording artists.

Net does its part to bring down American Idol

Jim Howes

Vote for the worst? Which one?

Do the americans not know that in Europe, we have a tradition of voting for terrible songs. We do it every year. This year, it's on the 12th of May, coming at you live from Helsinki, Finland. Details at http://www.eurovision.tv/content/view/140/126/


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