* Posts by CABVolunteer

110 publicly visible posts • joined 29 May 2008


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


"Who remembers Backus-Naur ?"

I do! Back in the early-1980s, working at the in-house consultancy arm of a multinational, I was on-site doing some tedious task when I was joined by a colleague from our Dutch office. He had even less patience than me, so less than 30 minutes in, he resorted to giving me a formal lecture on Backus-Naur notation for the rest of the morning (and returned to Rotterdam in the afternoon). (When the main Board closed us down the following year, he returned to the University of Leiden. Thank you, Joss - I'll never forget BNF.)


Re: It started my career move...

"Before we had magnetic tape installed the paper tape reader was something to behold. The output from the reader had to be caught in a basket as the speed was so high."

My boss may have designed that paper tape reader!

When I joined the internal management consultancy division of a large multinational, my boss retired in 1981 and I had to weed his many filing cabinets. Many papers went to the organisation's international archives since they documented the implementation of computing in the subsidiary companies worldwide, but I also found some of his personal memorabilia amongst which were the engineering drawings for paper-tape readers and punches - it transpired that he'd been the chief design engineer for peripherals for Ferranti. From my recollection of the project documentation, once the switch from mechanical to optical sensing on paper tape readers had been made, the primary problem was the dynamics of paper tape as it was fed from the reel through the sensor head and out to a collection device (bin or take-up spool).

In that department, I also had other senior colleagues retiring in the early 1980s. One had been in the core team which conceived and implemented the first commercial use of computers in the UK at Lyons Corner Houses. Another had been a Post Office engineer who described to me how he had built a computer from telephone switching relays - you can join the dots about where he worked when you realise he was in his twenties in the 1940s.....

So many of the senior IT management back in the eighties were hardware engineers - nowadays, it seems to be all software.

Rampaging fox terrorises rural sports club, victim sustains ‘tweaked groin’


Re: Is this "sports club"

"Once we started farming, dogs needed to either be domesticated or dead."

No, dogs have *always* been domesticated. The definition of a dog is a domesticated wolf.

Otherwise you're right - the attitude of farmers has always been: if it isn't domesticated, then exterminate it.

If I get hit by a bus, Linux will go on just fine says Linus Torvalds


What flamewar?

"Nor is he mellowing in his political attitudes: “I find people who think open-source is anti-capitalism to be kind of naive and slightly stupid,” he's reported to have said. Which should get another flamewar with Richard “it's GNU/Linux” Stallman going nicely."

Why would Richard Stallman take umbrage at that statement?

Half a billion for BLOODY BIG telescope in Chile


Re: European Extremely Large Telescope...

It's not just the altitude - locating the devices in Chile is to benefit from the extraordinarily dry Atacama climate. Not only are there few clouds to interrupt viewing, but the absence of water molecules in what little atmosphere is above them allows better performance especially in the infra-red.

PS: There ain't no scientists out there - they're all crouched over their internet-connected terminals back here in Europe when they're not arguing their latest theory at some fancy conference. It's only the poor bloody engineers assembling them and positioning them out there (and, yes, they do need supplementary oxygen).

PPS: These monsters may seem somewhat poor-value-for-money when we have so many homeless, but in comparison with what governments like to spend on things that go bang.........

Apple v BBC: Fruity firm hits back over Panorama drama


Re: Get it right!

Not in my Concise Oxford Dictionary it doesn't!

But then being a "traditionalist" myself, I have a fifty-year-old edition........

Ofcom mulls selling UK govt's IPv4 cache amid IPv6 rollout flak


Does anyone trust Ofcom to handling any IP addressing?

Sadly, the author seems unaware of Ofcom's trackrecord of repeated failures in renumbering the telephone system - how many times did some users (eg in London) have to change their phone number over a period of just a few years? I'd rather make sure everyone knew exactly what's required before forcing a system for IPv6 by letting other nations do the pioneering; in any case, I fear Ofcom will botch it anyway......

Jacking up firearms fees will cost SMEs £3.5 MILLION. Thanks, Plod


Re: Why do they think gun licencing should be done on the cheap?

Please don't get upset by the point I'm about to make - think objectively, not subjectively.

A substantial proportion of the population has no interest in firearms and has concerns about people who seem to get pleasure from handling lethal weapons. Would you be surprised that many are suspicious of the psychology of such people, especially those who seem to enjoy killing things "for sport"? Many of us wish to be protected from such people and would expect that the cost of licencing for such a hobby be fully borne by its participants, if not taxed penally.

I'd ask you also to consider the historical trend. Handguns have been banned for a decade or so. Is there much public support for a repeal of the ban? I'd suggest you brace yourself for a complete ban on the private possession of all firearms within a generation or two.

When we were coming down from the trees, having an element of the population which was eager to go out and slaughter the lions was a profitable evolutionary trait. With mass ubanisation and industrialised food production, the individuals with that motivation just aren't valued anymore.....


Why do they think gun licencing should be done on the cheap?

It costs me more than £200pa to licence my car, the car has to undergo annual inspection at my expense, it has to be insured against risks to third-parties and I or anyone else who drives the car has to be individually licenced following an examination of competence. Surely anyone who wants to own or use a device which is fundamentally a dangerous weapon must expect rigorous control, regular monitoring and to pay for the privilege.

UK smart meters arrive in 2020. Hackers have ALREADY found a flaw


Change the government's mind?

For those who don't want to have "smart meters" introduced via legislation, it strikes me that there's an obvious way to get this government to change its mind - simply get your MEP to make the EU mandate the introduction. Then this government will immediately object to yet another wasteful imposition from Brussels costing the hard-working families of Britain billions (only, this time they'll be right).

One million people have bonked on London public transport


There'll be little demand for your app.....

"..... buses are free but the Underground isn't."

That's true only for holders of the "bus pass" who live outside London. Residents of London over the age of 60 can apply for a pass (Oyster60+ or the FreedomPass if over the StatePension eligibility threshold) which gives free travel on London buses, London Underground, and most overground trains within the London region (though there are some restrictions on trains eg not before 09:30 Mon-Fri). Merseyside has a similar scheme for its older residents.

Bracelet could protect user herds from lurking PREDATORS



I use a trackball rather than a mouse - my hand and wrist remain completely stationary even though the pointer is zooming around the screen.

Still, it's an interesting technology, though I fail to see how it's better than a token+sensor that activates the system only when the token is less than a metre from the sensor.

Ferraris, Zondas and ... er, a bike with a 500hp V10 under the saddle


Re: Homer's car

With your eyes closed, run your hands over the car, feels great doesn't it?

There's a much more prosaic reason for his design transgressions - according to legend, he was blind.....


Re: Sunbeam S7 & S8

The old (1946-'50s) Sunbeams, with a parallel twin engine, suffered badly from the inherent engine vibration. After the prototypes fell apart, mounting the engine on flexible rubber bushes in the frame was the only solution which made riding the thing tenable. If the engine is suddenly revved, then the engine would be expected to rock on its mountings. Such was the design brilliance of the British motorcycle industry in the post-war years, that Sunbeam retained the rigid mounting for the silencer...... Guess what? Rather than design the dratted thing properly, they introduced a length of flexible pipe between the exhaust pipe and the silencer. And that's ignoring the use of a worm-gear at the rear wheel which couldn't handle anything more than the modest torque of the original engine. Was it pride or stubborness that blinded them to all the benefits of the transverse-mounted flat-twin as demonstrated by Douglas, BMW, etc? At least Velocette a few years later showed how to do the job properly with the little LE; unfortunately, the market for which is was specifically designed disappeared with the availability of low-cost secondhand cars and the production the BMC Mini.


And when the inevitable happens?

How does one get a half-ton bike vertical again when one leg of the prop-stand lands on a bit of ground that can't support a quarter of a ton?

PS: If the author thinks a £75 ticket is pricey for a motoring event, then he obviously hasn't seen the admission prices for the British GP at Silverstone.

Adam Afriyie MP: Smart meters are NOT so smart

Thumb Down

".... and the energy company EDF has said that a smartphone app would be quicker to roll-out and cheaper for consumers."

How would the 'smartphone app' work without changing the meter? My guess is that the energy companies have zero interest in consumer monitoring of energy demand but a keen interest in monitoring each consumer's usage AND the ability to remotely disconnect or 'reduce to the statutory minimum energy flow to preserve life' without having to send out a crew to cut the cable.

Sorry London, Europe's top tech city is Munich


Re: Would their govt's migration to Linux

I think it shows a mindset in Munich that's willing to try to do better.

How Brit computer maker beat IBM's S/360 - and Soviet spies


Re: Blue sleeves?

"EDS shaving"

- superb!

[For those who weren't exposed to the early days of the EDS invasion of Europe in the 1980s, Ross Perot had an apparent distrust of men with beards: no facial hair on any EDS employee.]


Blue sleeves?

"The stuffed shirts at IBM were more reluctant to dirty their starched blue sleeves with such deals."

Did anyone ever meet an IBM salesman in the 60s or 70s who didn't wear a *white* shirt? I never did in twenty years dealing with them...

I thought IBM's dress code of blue suit and white shirt was part of IT mythology.

IBM PCjr STRIPPED BARE: We tear down the machine Big Blue would rather you forgot


Ah, nostalgia.....

Are IBM sales folks still a source of self-deprecating jokes? As recounted by our IBM account manager:

How do you describe Lassie, Rin-Tin-Tin and the IBM PCjr?

Two movie stars and a dog.

Parliament network prang: 'Supplier done it', no Office 365 yet


Don't they keep a log of changes?

"As the estate is used by several thousand people, 'these IT connections and security systems are very complex', and required a 'significant amount of investigative work' to identify the problem."

If the estate is complex, surely they have a change log procedure in place? Why did it need much investigation? All they had to do was to look at the log for changes made just before the problem started to appear.

But then the Director of Parliamentary ICT probably has no more trust in what the politicians say than we do.....

Millions of unloved iPhone 5Cs gather dust in warehouses – report


Re: @Don Jefe: Concrete railroad cross ties

I'm curious why you think that concrete railroad cross ties (or railway 'sleepers' as they're known in the UK) have been a failure? On Britain's railways, steel-reinforced concrete sleepers have been used as replacements for wooden sleepers for decades.

Battle of Bletchley Park: TNMOC chief calls for review of museums' Mexican standoff


BPT's single ticketing proposal

As I understand Bletchley Park Trust's proposal for "single ticketing", BPT would pocket £15 and the Museum would get £2. But the standard admission charge for the Museum is £5 (£2 just for the Gallery which is all that BPT's single ticketing seems to offer). Would it be a surprise that the Museum would fear a substantial fall in revenue?

Methinks they'll now be spending some of that £8M Lottery funding on a better PR agency......


And Bletchley Park Trust sees itself as the daddy of the family!

MEP: Google's SECRET deal will cause crisis of trust for Europe


UK vs EU

And in what respect do you believe that the British government is any better?

CERN outlines plan for new 100km circumference supercollider


Re: How much?

Yeah, what has CERN ever done for us!

Nothing to sniff at: Dell Ultrabooks REEK OF CAT PEE, scream users


Reliable benchmarks?

"We don't test for smell: there's no reliable benchmark for it."

Since when did the lack of a reliable benchmark stop the IT press from passing judgement?

Sysadmins fail to fix NHS IT snafu, HUNDREDS of appointments cancelled


Doesn't sound like a major problem or they've got a decent fallback system in place

"NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (GGC) had to cancel 288 outpatient appointments yesterday along with four planned inpatient procedures, 23 day cases and 40 chemotherapy treatments when IT systems crashed."

With such a huge scale of operations across Glasgow, the quoted loss of activity is tiny. I'll bet the usual daily DNAs plus cancellations due to staff/theatre non-availability is ten times greater.....

Reports: NSA has compromised most internet encryption


Re: JFK @Eddy Ito

"Hell, even JFK would qualify as one in five by that measure."

And look what happened to him......

Hunt's 'paperless', data-pimping NHS plan gets another £240m


UK postcodes not good enough

Local authorities are supposed to use Super Output Areas(SOAs and LSOAs) for statistical analysis simply because postcodes are too small to allow anonymity. Clearly, one department of the government doesn't pay attention to what other departments have done, but then El Reg readers would be more surprised if it happened......

Snowden journo's boyfriend 'had crypto key for thumb-drive files written down' - cops


Re: Remarkable.

I have to fundamentally disagree with you.

Whilst I might find the actions of a despotic regime in a foreign country obnoxious, I have no standing. However, when the actions of the government of the country of which I am a citizen go beyond the limits of civilized behaviour, I have the right, indeed the duty, to protest.


Look more closely at what the government's submission said

To expand on what this government representative actually claimed in his submission, quoted in the BBC news item:

"[a] piece of paper containing basic instructions for accessing some data, together with a piece of paper that included the password for decrypting one of the encrypted files on the external hard drive".

ONE of the files?

Could it be that the file which Miranda had instructions on how to open contained contact information for a lawyer to assist if detained or even Rusbridger's phone number?

The government stooge also said that "many of the files were encrypted". So what was so damaging in the unencrypted files that their contents haven't been leaked by the government? His shopping list perhaps?

Snowden journalist's partner gave Brit spooks passwords to seized files


Re: Journalism is dead, long live the NSA

And the chilling effects go on....

Pamela Jones, a voice of relative sanity on US legal issues in IT, shut down the Groklaw blog this morning.

Google: Cloud users have 'no legitimate expectation of privacy'


Re: Not everyone has a choice

And didn't Virgin Media switch its email service over to Google a year or so ago?

South Korea: We're 'concerned' that Obama saved Apple from ban


Big Pharma spitting feathers!

Now that the US Administration has blocked the ITC from implementing a ban which the ITC quasi-judicial process has arrived at, on the grounds of US "public interest", just how much notice should other nations take of representations from US companies when local "public interest" overrides foreign-owned patents? US pharmaceutical companies must be worried today.....


Re: Typical American behaviour @LPF

You (and Florian Mueller) are entitled to your opinion, but surely isn't the key issue that the US ITC holds a different view and banned the Apple products? The US Administration blocked the importation ban on the grounds of "public interest", not the rights and wrongs of any licence negotiations.

Irish deputy PM: You want more tax from Apple? Your problem, not ours


EU minimum tax rates

I understand that there's a minimum rate for VAT across the EU, with exceptions having to be negotiated on a case-by-case basis (eg only 5% VAT on domestic fuel in the UK). Why can't there be a minimum rate for corporate tax rates?

Or will we then see generous tax refunds in the form of "incentives for investment" from governments determined to 'beggar-my-neighbour'?

Impoverished net user slams 'disgusting' quid-a-day hack


Re: Just ignore Eadon

Definitely a troll!

I tried to read one of Eadon's posts earlier this week and it's weird phraseology reminded me of the posts of the original Amanfrommars. Now, I wonder who would bother posting such inflammatory material just to generate reaction from readers?

Smart metering will disrupt weather forecasts, warns Met Office


Switching off the washing machine?

How would switching off a washing machine save electricity? If I switch off my washing machine at the wall socket, when power is restored I have to start the washing cycle from scratch - that *wastes* electricity!

Anyway, what sort of smartmeter can suspend a washing machine's operation without cutting off everything? Surely this can only work if we all have smart devices which can communicate with the smart meter. What's the capital investment required to replace all the high-consumption, but interruptible, devices?


Re: Alternative

My mother-in-law had a water meter fitted last year. That allows remote reading by the meter-man using Bluetooth. The plumber who installed it said the meter charges the Bluetooth device from the flow of water through the turbine inside the meter. I'd have thought the same principle would work for a gas or electricity meter.

Microsoft LOVES YOU: Free Wi-Fi on the British railways for a month


Huh? Just how desperate are they?

Does Steve Ballmer think that anyone waiting for a train is going to bother with Office365 when the brass monkeys at the end of the platform are singing soprano? No, we're just hoping someone's laptop battery will burst into flames and we might just make it out alive.....

Paying a TV tax makes you happy - BBC


I'm happy too!

You can count me amongst those happy to pay an annual fee to avoid having programmes interrupted every 10-12 minutes by advertizing.

Cruel Microsoft will drive us into arms of iOS, Android, warn resellers


Re: Humbug

"We sell stuff because we think - depending on situation and customer - that it is the best solution for the situation."

But "best" for whom? From Microsoft's perspective, getting the customer to buy Premium Enterprise and Business Intelligence editions rather than Standard is much "better", so they intend to promote this by changing the incentives for the sales force. What are the odds that solutions offered to the customer will suddenly no longer include the Standard (non-rebated) versions?

Bundestag holds 'unusual' hearing on German Copyright Act


Re: robots.txt is bollocks

I think John Lilburne is right that the robots.txt has to cover all possible URL combinations. In further testing to check the dates of the web-pages on my site indexed on Google, the cached option shows that Google last crawled my web-site on 13-Feb! So my robots.txt is either broken or Google doesn't respect it. I'll modify the robots file and then monitor Google for a few years........


Re: robots.txt is bollocks

I too naively hoped that Google and the other search engines would respect robots.txt. So, before posting a reply here to say "Of course robots.txt will do the job", I went to check Google for anything from my little web-site that is supposed to disallow all search engines.

Sorry, guys, but it's there on Google! Either my robots.txt* is broken or Google is displaying the original pages from the few weeks between the website going live and robots.txt being enabled, in 2005!

[And no, I'm not going to post the URL - it's supposed to be kept non-public, which does make demonstrating the issue somewhat problematic.]

* # go away

User-agent: *

Disallow: /

Google begs for secrecy as it files Glass design with FCC


Re: Battery near ear

And as their years advance, maybe they'll become familiar with that battery-powered device that fits between the skull and earlobe: a hearing aid.

Brit 2.5-tonne nuke calculator is World's Oldest Working Computer



I find it surprising that nearly 1,000 thermionic valves and a load of lamps, plus all the energy required to power the relays, not to mention the losses in the power supply equipment, would require only 1.5kW. Sure it's not MW?

Apple is granted a patent on the rectangle. No, really


Re: Should be interesting (@jai)

"..... the powers that be are going to notice, and then take some action to fix the system"

Yeah, but what confidence do you have in the powers-that-be that they will apply a fix that will *improve* the patent system?

El Reg seeks hoardiest reader for crap-stashtic honour


Re: Too late...

V2000? Ah, you're using the modern technology - I've only got a (working) Philips N1700 video recorder from 1979 with a stack of VCR150 tapes carrying such programmes as Michael Woods' original "In Search of ..'"series on the Anglo-Saxons (you know, the one about Eric Bloodaxe).

And, no, I'm not submitting any photos of my collection - someone might recognise and break in to steal one of the "valuable IT antiques" such as the original dBaseII (autographed by Mr Ashton himself), Multimate-II, Crosstalk or Displaywrite4 boxed sets. Oops, I shouldn't I have said that, should I!

The hoarder's dilemma, or 'Why can't I throw anything away?'


It may be scrap, but it's got memories associated with it!

I can't claim anything really old, but a few examples from my hoard:

An Anderson-Jacobson AJ832 30cps daisy-wheel terminal (printer and keyboard) complete with pedestal on castors, bought by my wife in the late '70s for data-entry, retired in the late '80s and acquired in 1989 when they moved offices. Ideal for printing on fan-fold paper. Used since 1989? Never.

A K&N acoustic coupler - the sort that you put the telephone handset inside and closed the wooden lid. Maximum speed: 300bps.

Umpteen IBM token-ring ISA & MCA adaptors, a couple of hubs and a sackful of cables, all made redundant when I (reluctantly) switched to 100base-T Ethernet.

The 10" platter and heads from a DEC exchangeable disk pack of unknown age (it was scrap in 1980).

Half-a-dozen IBM PS/2 keyboards, over twenty years old but still our favourite keyboard - I'm typing on one now.

And an old favourite from the '70s and beyond: my paper-tape hand punch with integral guillotine - essential for splicing paper-tape for input to the 1904S. Ah, happy days......