* Posts by Brennan Young

135 posts • joined 12 Aug 2006


Online disinformation is an industry that needs regulation, says boffin

Brennan Young

"The researcher added that those who do not trust the media will turn to unofficial channels to seek out information and news."

...so the mainstream media must become more trustworthy, right?

The problem is that even supposed "media of record" (NYT, BBC etc.) really do mislead, they really do peddle propaganda, and people really have noticed this. The broader mainstream news is even worse. The headlines scream, the retractions whisper. (If the retractions come at all, which they often don't).

Example: The BBC admitted in 2009 that the so-called Tiananmen square massacre didn't happen at all the way it was reported in the west - the infamous tale of soldiers opening fire on unarmed demonstrators in the square appears to be pure propaganda. ("we are far less certain of killings on Tiananmen proper. There were probably few, if any." wrote BBC journalist James Miles - link below). This was later confirmed in the wikileaks diplomatic cable dump (and was covered by the Daily Telegraph).


And yet every single year, this mythical event is still commemorated by... the BBC, with none of the caveats or nuance touched upon by James Miles, or in the wikileaks cables. I can only conclude that the BBC (etc.) know exactly what they are doing: They are producing propaganda. This was an anti-china case. There are hundreds of other 'targets', left and right. Decent, innocent people are routinely demonized, doubts are cast, stereotypes thrive, and actual corruption amongst power elites (especially those on "our side") goes almost entirely without challenge, and "dead cat" misdirection is a regular feature. Is anyone genuinely surprised that people do not trust the mainstream media? Only the people who still believe it represents reality, I guess.

But whenever the topic of fake news comes up, those supposedly more "truthful" mainstream media organs are somehow let off the hook. This is very much part of the problem. I also see the "old guard" media (especially liberal columnists) wringing their hands and spreading FUD about the upstart digital alternatives. The fact is, their business is under threat, and they're kicking up a stink at those who understand better what people are looking for in news: Being able to recognise the conditions of their own existence in the narrative presented.

The Windows Phone keeps ringing but no one's home: Microsoft finally lets platform die

Brennan Young

Re: "Just in time for Microsoft's next attempt at a mobile phone"

I'm in no way a fan of MS, but I would say that their gaming products (including hardware) have ended up being relatively bungle-free.

Is it still true that MS lose money on everything except Windows desktop, Office and games?

As corporations grow into de facto monopolies, they increasingly resemble command economies such as USSR, with comparable inefficiencies.

UK rail lines blocked by unexpected Windows dialog box

Brennan Young

It's not that Windows failed, it's that it failed in public view

I always thought it was an own-goal to include the brand name (+ identifiable look 'n' feel) in error messages and alert boxes which are likely to appear in public places.

Microsoft clearly still thinks this is good PR.

Compare Apple's "grey screen of death" which mentions neither Apple, nor any of their brands. On the contrary, it has an international flavour, with various languages and alphabets, so you could be forgiven for unconsciously blaming the failure on humanity generally.

Here's why AI can't make a catchier tune than the worst pop song in the charts right now

Brennan Young

That's quite a nice front end for the job, but the chord progressions seem a bit bland. I chose "aggressive electro pop" (hoping for a bit of edge) and got a friendly little ditty. I prefer a bit more dissonance.

Brennan Young

Not pop

I can't understand the journalist going on about pop, when the training samples (and results) are obviously based on classical music.

Frankly, it sounds a lot better than Schoenberg et al., but a long way from Debussy. Not a long way from Conlon Nancarrow's pre-mechanical works. Nice.

You know what your problem is, Apple? Complacency

Brennan Young

The real quality problem is they don't know which qualities are important any more

Drink splashes, crumbs and dust are completely mundane accompaniments of human life. Products made for humans should therefore be able to resist these everyday 'hazards' for the life of the product. That's a perfectly reasonable design criterion that Apple seems eager to ignore.

If they're going to charge such eye-watering amounts, the hardware has to be impeccable and robust. Why should I have to shout at my kid when they come near my Mac with a glass of juice? This is *such* a stupid and wholly avoidable design failure.

Apple build quality used to be very good, with a few 'hilarious' exceptions. Even the obviously flawed hockey-puck mouse was solidly built. It gathered crud, like all ball mice, but you could clean out the crud yourself without going to a "Genius Bar". And there was even a time when you could put your Apple keyboard in the dishwasher for a freshen-up with no ill effects.

Now Apple's hardware is worse than average because the cost *hasn't* gone down to match the various compromises that have crept in over the years. Most of those compromises seem to have to do with some kind of insane quest of diminishing returns based on a possibly imaginary market desire for 'thin' devices with minimal bezels. This is a desire that Apple's marketing department, and legions of fans has played no small role in whipping up. And it has had an almost wholly negative impact on build quality. I don't need thin. Thin is flimsy. Thin reminds me of cheap. I need solid, I need robust. Apple failed.

Most unforgivable of all is the lack of replaceable components in stuff labelled "pro". No surprise that the pro lines are struggling to stay relevant. Someone is being utterly stupid in this market, and it's not the buyers.

So yes, Apple has a quality problem, and apparently their PR department wants us to know that they know it. Bless.

But the real quality problem is that they don't seem to know or care which qualities *really* matter in high-end hardware: I venture three to start with: Reliability, longevity, flexibility⋆. Apple used to deliver in all three areas, and this formed the foundation for Apple's brand equity. Not any more.

So Apple, instead of relying on PR to reassure us that you're not actually slacking, despite appearances, why not just, you know, actually *improve the quality* in an obvious way? Spend a percentage point of your massive margins, for goodness' sake. Spend half a point. Dammit.

That way we can tell it's good by the simple mechanism of using it as intended, for extended periods, and maybe even let our kids sit on our laps with a glass of juice as we do so.

⋆granted, Apple's "flexibility" was mostly about ameliorating compatibility issues with the then-dominant Wintel ecosystem

Five actually useful real-world things that came out at Apple's WWDC

Brennan Young

Re: 32-Way Facetime

"online wankathon" - are there cookies involved?

Bots don't spread fake news on Twitter, people do, say MIT eggheads

Brennan Young

Good article, and the study appears not too soon.

Does this mean that all those hysterical cries of "Russian Bot" and "Russian Troll Factory" will cease, now that we have pretty hard facts from a study of unprecedented scale which show that the threat of fake news bots is wildly overrated?

Might we move towards a future where journalists actually pay more than just lip service to a culture of fact-checking, and a maintain a healthy distrust of copy-ready press-releases as they fill their quota of stories before noon?

Might it finally make the DNC, the Democratic Party and their champions in the media start thinking about their own culpability in Trump's election?

Might we see the knee-jerk McCarthyite smear of "Russian Troll" slowly disappearing from online discussions whenever someone makes a comment remotely critical of Hillary, Obama, or US foreign policy?

And will Register correspondents to stop implying (or stating outright) that Internet Research Agency are a tool of the Kremlin as though this has been *proven*?

Oh, that would be nice. It would be little short of an enlightenment.

But the convenient scapegoat of "Putin's Trump-supporting bot army" will be a hard habit for so-called liberals to kick, won't it? I'm sure they'll cling on to its kindergarten-level explanatory principle pluckily, at least until they lose the next election, and no doubt be ready to put Russia in the frame for that, too.

Meanwhile, the Right will continue to embrace the fake-news-bot narrative because it gives them a pretext to censor the internet. (I can smell the drool). And the so-called liberals will cheer them on, as they did when RT was forced to declare itself a 'foreign agent' rather than a news org.

That Putin controls the Internet Research Agency is not established with *any* verifiable evidence, beyond that they are both located in (different cities in) Russia, and one of the IRA board members once did the catering at an event where Putin appeared. Even if there was any more than this to go on, we now know (thanks to this study) that the reach, impact and strategic intentions of the IRA and their ilk are far less sinister than commonly imagined.

The 'evidence supporting' the "Kremlin Troll" conceit seems to depend almost entirely on hearsay coming from professionals who have spent most of their entire careers getting paid to lie to the population about how evil Russia is, signal-boosted by journalists who neither know nor care how to check it or challenge any of the details.

Yes, it *might* be true. (Show me some hard evidence, or shut up!) But that's not the same as actually being true. The distinction is rather important for an old stickler-for-facts like me. It's the very distinction between fake news and decent journalism.

AFAICT, the Internet Research Agency is just a clickbait outfit. Which is certainly bad, but hardly the nemesis of western democracy.

Hoping for some sanity. Expectations very low. Because as the study shows, people prefer fake news.

Mueller bombshell: 13 Russian 'troll factory' staffers charged with allegedly meddling in US presidential election

Brennan Young

"The" Gambia

"The Gambia" is primarily a river.

The state that takes its name is little more than the banks of that river. You're welcome.

Boffins upload worm's brain into a computer, teach it tricks

Brennan Young

Bah humbug.

It'll have to maintain a dinner plate spinning on the pole, accompanied by the 'disco' version of the "War of the Worlds" theme (natch), before I'm at all impressed

Kremlin social media trolls aren't actually that influential, study finds

Brennan Young

This is unsurprising for anyone who hasn't swallowed the Russiagate koolaid. (Thanks for carrying this story, El Reg).

December 4, 2017, consortiumnews reported thus:

"Internet Research Agency, which supposedly bought $100,000 in ads over a two-year period, with more than half these ads coming after the 2016 U.S. election and many not related to politics.

(The $100,000 sum over two years compares to Facebook’s $27 billion in annual revenue. Plus, Facebook only says it “believes” or it’s “likely” that the ads came from that firm, whose links to the Kremlin also have yet to be proved.)"

The Register, to their eternal credit, has covered the Russiagate story far more soberly than most news outlets, but often seems to assume far too many unknowns as settled fact about evil Putin's supposed meddling with Western elections via social media, despite scant (or purely circumstantial) evidence that whatever the Russian state may have done is significantly different from the social media 'meddling' (i.e. PR) freely exercised (even sometimes boasted about) by the spooks of (say) any NATO-allied country.

There's also far too little attention given to the fact that an IP address connected to a geographical location in the Russian Federation is not particularly strong evidence that it is under the control of the Kremlin. Don't you imagine that Putin's best hackers might just be smart enough make sure their exploits would be traced to locations outside their own national borders? I mean, we keep getting told how diabolically clever they are, right?

The easy and uncritical acceptance (in the mainstream media) of what is evidently a Russia-baiting, pro-war propaganda narrative needs far more unequivocal debunking from a tech point of view. I would welcome the kind of technical analysis performed by the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, who have thereby provided the *only* hard evidence about the circumstances of how the Podesta and DNC emails were compromised, evidence which points to an internal leak to a USB thumb drive, rather than a hack over the net from a foreign location. The same organisation also (correctly) called out the Saddam WMD narrative, and others, as BS. Their ethos is impeccable.

And now, rather than addressing the logos of the above comment, I fully expect lazy and irrational sniggering accusations that I am a Russian bot, a Trump supporter or a Putin shill.

None of those accusations would be true, but do what you feel you must, if you want to disingenuously ignore the provable facts.

Look, I'm not going to claim that Putin is a nice, sweet, innocent lamb. He isn't. And I am not here to defend him, less still to defend Trump.

I am more interested in what facts can be actually proved, and what hearsay and circumstantial evidence is being spread and deployed as a pretext for military expenditure, media censorship and continuous war. (And if it excuses or distracts from HRC's disastrous campaign, then I am sure there are various establishment figures who will find comfort in that too).

The burden of proof of Russia's meddling in the 2017 US election is not on me. Frankly, the case seems to rely more on quantity of breathless 'bombshell' news articles (most of which are quickly retracted) than quality of evidence, and therefore, we must conclude that the case for Russia's 'hacking' of the election looks pretty weak.

If you respect the truth, you will either find and present some hard evidence that it happened, or take a more sceptical position about this widely-believed (and heavily promoted) conspiracy theory.

Russian search engine Yandex's Ukraine offices raided for 'treason'

Brennan Young

Re: Ukraine

I have also been there. It was rather depressing.

Everything you wrote matches what I discovered there, and have gleaned from discussions with my Ukrainian wife and her friends and family, although I would add an additional detail: NATO is also smart, ambitious and jealous, and eagerly wants to add Ukraine to its member states, by fair means or foul. They certainly (like Putin) have plenty of 'boots on the ground' in the form of psyop 'advisers' (i.e. spooks, agitators, saboteurs and propagandists). We have, in short, the two most sophisticated propaganda outfits in the world fighting an information war. Any truth about the conflict is therefore as rare as rocking-horse shit.

Rule of thumb: If a discussion of Ukraine is presented as clear-cut, with 'obvious' good guys and bad guys, it's propaganda, from one side or the other. Don't think for one minute that the Western mainstream media is telling the truth about Ukraine. Most of the people propagating these stories can't even name Ukraine's neighbouring states.

From my own research, FWIW, I have learned there are essentially two sets of gangsters. Those that pretend allegiance to Russia, and those that pretend allegiance to the EU. The various governments since the orange revolution have swapped between these two groups, via the ballot, or through other, less democratic means. Locking up, or exiling the outgoing leader is almost a requirement. Punch-ups in parliament are not unusual. Both sides are almost wholly corrupt.

I'd also like to point out that there is a sizeable minority that are not at all interested in the 'zero-sum-game' of being exclusively allied with the one or the other 'side', desperately want peaceful co-existence, and would prefer that both Slavic language groups should have equal status, equal rights etc. You never hear about these folks, of course. IMO, these people are the sane ones. Why are the liberal democracies of the West not supporting those guys instead?

Then there's the Tartars, that neither side cares much about. Arguably they, rather than either group of Slavs, have the strongest historical claim to Crimea. Every so often they're brought in as a political football, but both sides have shown close to zero interest in the genuine self-determination for the Tartar minority. There are other ethnic minorities too (as you should expect from the biggest country wholly in Europe), but you can grok that in your copious free time.

There is a huge, underemployed, well-educated workforce, plenty of underused agricultural land, and abandoned factories, stuffed with silent machine-tools. The resources to build the economy are there, but the prevailing neoliberal ideology (strongly encouraged by NATO and the EU) pretty much forbids state investment. Which leaves the private sector to rescue this failing nation, and well, if you actually manage to get a business off the ground, the gangsters will visit, looking for a cut of your profits. More recently (as the gangsters increasingly move into government) they have been doing this through swingeing taxes, but the adverse effect on the economy is much the same, only the menaces are different.

The latest government also pretends to be nationalists, some of them are actual fascists with ghastly 'final solution' fantasies, but instead of boosting the local economy, in practice, they now import almost everything from the EU, and have ramped down local production massively, impoverishing the country still further. This is untenable, of course, and will probably lead to another sudden and violent flip-flop to the pro-Russian side at some point. But the gangsters continue to make hay while the sun shines. It's expected. Learned helplessness in the face of open corruption is the norm.

Anyone who thinks a 'NATO-friendly' Ukrainian government is unambiguously better than a 'Russia-friendly' Ukrainian government has not studied the situation in much depth. It's a rotten state of affairs, that deserves more nuanced analysis than that.

Brennan Young

Re: Astroturf

It's a distinct possibly that there's more than one kind of astroturf...

Has AI gone too far? DeepTingle turns El Reg news into terrible erotica

Brennan Young

Re: A bit on the fence on this one

"Poetry is organized violence against language" - Barthes

Machine vs. machine battle has begun to de-fraud the internet of lies

Brennan Young

Re: When trust verification is automated, it WILL NOT work as expected..

@P.Lee's "You don't need to tell untruths to lie."


"[some] people are saying..." is one of those weasely little phrases that journalists and others prefix opinions or editorial lines with to create the illusion of false consensus. Some people say that the Register is the only tech news site worth reading. People are saying that Corbyn is unelectable. etc. etc.

It's a surprisingly effective way of spreading lies, because these 'framing devices' are not direct lies. The most effective lies are ones that are difficult to check, such as "an intelligence agency spokesman who declined to be named said that they are convinced that Y has happened, that Z is responsible, and alternative explanations P and Q are not even worth discussing". And we're even invited to go to war on the basis of such fragments! It's not Macedonian kids chasing click bait dollars that are pushing this stuff, it's the most hallowed names in mainstream media.

"some people are saying..." is also a variant of X said Y. The reputation and identity of X (i.e. X's "ethos") has a direct bearing on the plausibility of the news. We'd do well to remember that even those with good reputations, such as Amnesty International or Medecins Sans Frontieres, have been known to peddle falsehoods.

If we could point at the mainstream media and say "Behold! What an impressive record of truth-telling! Your puny fake news site can't begin to compete with the ethos of those guys!" But we can't. Too many lies have spewed out. Too few retractions have occurred. It's business as usual. There's close to zero fact-checking performed on press releases, and there's close to zero recognition on the part of mainstream news organs that there is even a problem with their own editorial approaches. I put the blame squarely at the door of the news editors, PR specialists and intelligence experts who have systematically corrupted the so-called liberal media for decades. (That's 'liberal' in the classical sense btw, not the US journalistic idiom).

This problem is at least as old as Aristotle, who defined rhetoric not as "the art of persuasion", but as "the art of seeing the persuasive in any situation". The difference is important because it implies that some times you just have to accept that the other guy/journalist has a better argument/story. And not necessarily because they're right.

(And perhaps change tactic as a result).

UK boffins steal smartmobe PINs with motion sensors

Brennan Young

Re: Apple already addresses that last year

why would an attacker need to use the accelerometer exploit if they've already gone to the trouble of making a fake login screen where the PIN can be captured?

Welcome to my world of The Unexplained – yes, you're welcome to it

Brennan Young


ectoplasm, a hacked webcam and one-handed browsing?

Brennan Young

If "Haerïbutøks" was a real show, it would be called "Behårede Balder". You're welcome.

Five Eyes nations must purge terrorists from the web, says Theresa May

Brennan Young
Big Brother

Perpetuating the idea that propaganda is always bad, and something that only 'the enemy' indulge in, is propaganda in and of itself.

GitHub to devs: 'We ignored you but we never stopped caring'

Brennan Young

Re: SourceForge is still a thing?

"...when I see a SourceForge-hosted project these days. Maybe we are being unfair, but the perception is definitely there."

- yep. congratulations SourceForge, you have a toxic brand. Did anyone tell you that this is invariably an irrecoverable position? Anyone in your PR department, perhaps? If not, fire the lot of them. It's kinda sorta their area. Perhaps you can still make it as a place for people to share code "ironically"? If there is such a use case.

Motorola-powered Mac from 1989 used to write smartphone apps

Brennan Young

Kensington ADB mouse

I had two Kensington ADB four-button mice. ("Thinking mouse") Really great, with drivers that p*ss over anything from logitec or any other vendor. But the build quality of the switches was not good: The buttons failed mechanically on both, eventually. Kensington's replacement USB thinking mouse was considerably less good, slightly too big in the hand (and I have big hands) with a weird 'spine' and by default the left click was in the 'wrong' place. This design has been abandoned. I haven't tried Kensington since.

AI no longer needs to fake it. Just don't try talking to your robots

Brennan Young

The singularity already happened

Macro-sized intelligent, information-processing entities already dominate the globe, against the better interests of humanity and general biodiversity. Governments and individuals are increasingly powerless to stop their atrocities. They are called multinational corporations. This is not a joke.

'Real' vampires reluctant to 'come out of the coffin' to social workers – barmy prof

Brennan Young

What a ghastly bunch of bigots you are

It's a subculture. Anthropologists and sociologists study that stuff. IT'S THEIR JOB.

Just like they study trainspotters and practitioners of dangerous sports and a million other niche communities.

Do you think we would approach a more complete understand of humanity by pretending these people don't exist or (as almost all of you here seem to think is ok) just laughing at them?

I think it's interesting research. Maybe not particularly important to most of us, but not every academic is involved in finding a cure for cancer, or finding a replacement for fossil fuels. There are plenty of sober comp.sci folks who waste their time on meaningless and unusable research, and I suppose you guys think that is somehow more worthy.

What if your favorite kid 'discovers' he is a 'vampire'. Are you going to beat it out of him until he 'gets real' or are you going to look for some academic research to try and make sense of it?

I'm disgusted by your narrow-mindedness. Register commentard community reveals itself here as a hive of out-of-the-closet fascists, and arrogant, jeering snobs.

Adam Smith was right about that invisible hand, you know

Brennan Young

There's a first

I read most of Worstall's articles, despite being irritated by his smug know-it-all manner. (Ever heard of humility, Tim? It's a virtue). I might mention some ideological differences too, but I think he's kind of trolling for those.

No, this time, he hits the spot 100%. An important corrective for a widely misused meme.

BIG FAT Lies: Porky Pies about obesity

Brennan Young

Tim's glass house

"weight is a simple function of calories ingested as against calories expended"

This is such a massive oversimplification, Tim, that I must call "bullshit".

Not all calories ingested are absorbed, and there are a large number of factors which influence exactly how many of the ingested calories turn to fat. Calories expended are but one of these factors.

You might know something about economics, but you seem to know very little about nutrition and the digestive system.

For someone that seems to make a sport out of bashing those that don't do their research properly, you might either move out of your glass house, or stop throwing stones.

Everything Apple touted at WWDC – step inside our no-hype-zone™

Brennan Young

Re: The Fall

Grammarist.com says

«Fall and autumn are both accepted and widely used terms for the season that comes between summer and winter. Some who consider British English the only true English regard fall as an American barbarism, but this attitude is not well founded. Fall is in fact an old term for the season, originating in English in the 16th century or earlier. It was originally short for fall of the year or fall of the leaf, but it commonly took the one-word form by the 17th century, long before the development of American English. So while the term is now widely used in the U.S., it is not exclusively American, nor is it American in origin.

Autumn came to English from the French automne in the 15th or 16th century, but it didn’t gain prominence until the 18th century. After that, while fall became the preferred term in the U.S., autumn became so prevalent in British English that fall as a term for the season was eventually considered archaic. This has changed, however, as fall has been gaining ground in British publications for some time.»

Dot-com intimidation forces Indiana to undo hated anti-gay law

Brennan Young


dan1980 "Except that they are discriminating. Saying you will provide your advertised services to one person but not to another because you disagree with them is discrimination. That's just a fact."

Quite so.

It's even discrimination if you do it for reasons other than that you disagree with them. You might discriminate against customers who have already received a free pizza as part of today's promotion by not letting them have another free pizza.

Discrimination is not necessarily a bad thing. Gynaecologists 'sex discriminate' against male patients for very obvious reasons. Similarly with "prejudice". It's a "bad" word, but in reality we all make pre-judgements all the time, and could not really survive without doing so.

Sometimes prejudices and discrimination are groundless. It takes a minimal level of humility to admit it. Too many people (including far too many atheists) fail to exercise this modicum of humility. Ultimately this harms the ethos of those people. (And they don't care, which says it all).

What is wrong is not prejudice or discrimination, it is the failure to be aware of those prejudices, failure to understand the position of those discriminated against, failure to admit that the prejudices exist, or to continue to discriminate in the face of evidence which shows the basis of that discrimination to be fallacious.

In this case, I would argue that you can't claim "being a Christian" as a sound basis for refusing service to homosexuals because Jesus said absolutely nothing about homosexuality, not even in the apocrypha or the 'heretical' gospels. And as every non-conservative Christian knows, is documented in the New Testament as kissing his male followers, preaching love, acceptance etc.. The Old Testament makes reference to homosexuality, sodomy and crossdressing, and calls these practices "abominations", but Christians are categorically *not* bound by any of the laws in the Torah beyond the 10 commandments. Those laws - we are told in the NT - have been 'set aside' by the sacrifice of Christ:

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups* one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations.

Ephesians 2:14-15

*i.e. Jews & gentiles.

BTW I am an atheist. And I still think the Bible is an interesting and worthwhile book.

Climate change will 'cause huge increase in murder, robbery and rape'

Brennan Young

Re: Difficult to take this serious

I go along with the main thrust of your argument, but I feel compelled to correct your misuse of a homonym (in two separate posts!)

It's 'fare better' as in 'farewell', not 'fair better' which suggests an honest gambler. (Fair has never been a verb).

Otherwise, yes, alienation (and therefore crime) amongst the lower classes is exacerbated when the conditions of existence deteriorate. (And regardless of the causes of that deterioration).

Fed up with Windows? Linux too easy? Get weird, go ALTERNATIVE

Brennan Young


Oberon System 3 anyone? (Runs on a host OS. Really wacky)

Native Oberon?

Bluebottle OS?

(These run on bare x86l)

None of these are mere copies of unixes or other commercial OS and have many interesting features.

NASA finds use for 3D printers: Launch them into SPAAACE

Brennan Young

"Orbiting national laboratory"

Isn't it the *International* Space Station?

Massively leaked iFail 5S POUNDS pundits, EXCITES chavs

Brennan Young

Re: No need for revolution

Not Apple perhaps who overdo the tiniest innovation but 'the media'. Yes certainly, the tech journalists that suck at Apple's well-lubricated PR organs. And who pays for those organs? Well Apple of course.

Apple is all about PR, slipped out, leaked, exclusively revealed, prototypes 'accidentally' left in a bar in Frisco, 'we don't comment on unreleased products' etc. etc. None of this is accidental. Apple wants you to think 'the media' are excited, but in fact it's just journalists that have to file N stories before knocking off, and no time to fact-check or be critical.

IT design: You're not data, you're a human being

Brennan Young
Thumb Up

Yes! More 'design' issues please

Really good article.

Re-read it today and will now share it with my design students. I'm realising that Mr. Potts has one of the Reg's most reputable bylines. Keep it coming.

PM Cameron calls for modern, programmable computers! (We think)

Brennan Young

Typical edu do-gooder attitude

Again, powerful people with meagre pedagogical insight feel qualified to weigh in on subtle details of curriculum planning.

I teach programming. For every 'more' requested, there is correspondingly less time for something else. there are rarely calls for less of anything. And often that something else (e.g. learning about different number bases in general) forms the foundation of whatever is wanted more of (I assume hexadecimal is still regarded as useful for 'coding' by the clown, but who can tell?)

Tim Cook: Android version fragmentation is 'terrible for developers'

Brennan Young

Fragmentation of Xcode and its documentation

...makes it hard to develop iOS apps too. Docs (especially tutorials) are rarely in sync with the latest version which invariably doesn't run on version -2 or sometimes version -1 of the current Mac OS. This is fragmentation too, and it's well within their power to prevent, and yes it hurts developers. Apple's third party developers suffer from Stockholm syndrome.

Internet pioneer Vint Cerf predicts the future, fears Word-DOCALYPSE

Brennan Young

Re: This is not new

Yes and no. Documents regarded as routine or ephemera today may turn out to be valuable, or of historical importance tomorrow. The point is we can't make the same judgements about the importance or value of documents in advance that hindsight would lead us to in future. Original letters by famous people are some of the most valuable artefacts to appear at auction. Even if its just Karl Marx's laundry bill, someone will pay big money for it.

But MS and others should take some of the blame: their document formats are clearly and simply under-Engineered for longevity. Open formats go a long way to solving this problem, but they are eschewed for many other reasons. Potential longevity is not a selling point, unfortunately

BBC boffins ponder abstruse Ikea-style way of transmitting telly

Brennan Young


I thought this was exactly the point of mpeg4 (based on the multitrack 'elemental' architecture innovations of Apple's QuickTime, which has become much less interesting since): Keep the media in different streams rather than interleaving them or multiplexing them, so those streams can be selected for different audiences, devices and bandwidths at reception. The classic case is the scrolling text news ticker visible under so many talking heads. Or even movie credits. It's plain stupidity to compress text with a video codec, and yet it's standard practice today to do exactly that. Insanity! Transmitting text along with video is a solved problem! But that's not enough when the engineering and marketing agendas outweigh that of the designers and content innovators, not to mention the content industry (more correctly called the back catalogue industry) who just want to rerelease the same old cash cows in new formats, rather than let creative people do something like (say) Peter Gabriel's Xplora1 on bluray (bluray specifies that the player has a JVM, no?)

But mpeg4's non video profiles never really took off. Largely because the content creators didn't think in terms other than the existing paradigms for what video could be. One track each of audio and video. maybe a subtitle track if you're lucky? its pretty poor for so-called 'multi'media. Others have pointed out the dearth of multi angle content. (Ideal for porn, but even those tricks fell away). Just as Marshall McLuhan observed: we first use the new media to do the work of the old. (q.v. artficial horse heads on early cars). Only later do we find out that the new media are good for something different than the old, and the old media were actually better at some things. (Books are still good).

Most people are unaware that mpeg4 specifies a profile for 3d models and textures, or for interactivity for example (these was never implemented). Adobe (or whoever else might have made an authoring tool) had other priorities. Same with the browser guys, caught in the XHTML 2.0 quagmire. So content creators and software firms need to be on board. Therefore it's significant that the BBC is pushing this. I remain skeptical, however.

Developer codes VNC-over-GIF tool

Brennan Young

Gif colour limits

It's not well known, but gifs *can* contain more than 256 colours. The restriction is that the image be divided into contiguous rectangles (pixel dimensions of your choice) and *these* should have the same (max 256 colour) palette. So the top half of the gif could be greyscale and the bottom half could be 'vivid' or whatever those funny old names for cluts were. You can have as many of these blocks as you want. Presumably you could have 1x1 pixel blocks, each with their own palette but then it would scarcely be efficient compression. Still it's a nice hack not a million miles from Amiga's ingenious HAM. Unfortunately there are very few tools which support the export of such exotic objects. Browser support is pretty good however. There's a page on the web which shows off the technique. Can't be arsed to google for it though.

Google formally recognises Palestine: Puts it on the virtual map

Brennan Young

What mole and skel said

And we could add: NOT recognising a country when the rest of the international community has done so ( beginning with ISO, UN etc.) is just as much or more 'getting involved' in the conflict.

Logitech launches MEGA-PRICEY 15-in-1 remote

Brennan Young

Logitech GUI and drivers

I've had several mice from these guys. The driver software GUI has been consistently underwhelming and stupidly restrictive. Buttons can open apps but not run scripts, for example. I don't think they 'get' How to design configurable software for power users at all. I wouldn't dream of spending that kind of money on their products.

Now, if they reached out a bit to the hacker community, provided an sdk, let the Linux guys play, hooked up to script runtime middleware etc., it would be a different story. But they won't, because of their unfathomable but precious strategy.

This device is overpriced and underpowered, and soon to be obsolete. Why bother?

Thatcher’s data protection legacy: Just fill out this 16-page form

Brennan Young


Ideology getting in the way of ethics? But surely Peggy, you wanted to give democracy the best opportunity? Surprise surprise! Neoliberalism reveals itself to be a poisonous scum floating on the ocean of the struggle for true liberty. TINA? Just another totalitarian game dressed up as liberation. Who pays the rough men which enable us to sleep soundly? And who is 'us'? There is no such thing as society?

Half of US smartphone owners have no idea which mobe to buy next

Brennan Young


I've been an apple user for years, increasingly disgruntled by their slick grin shenanigans. I used a htc desire android phone for a while until it bricked itself for no aparrent reason. That turned me off somewhat, but it was good while it lasted. Now i'm on iPhone. I never use iTunes on it, rather the 'music' app, which is a lovely piece of simple engineering and design. But of course I move music onto the device with my mac version of iTunes, which truly seems to become more stupid and irritating with every iteration. Now there's no way of seeing two playlists at a time, so comparing your collection with what's on the device is out. Stupid. But these are small issues. Apple still make solid products, for the most part, and I haven't given up yet, but I am no fanboi, when their strategy tax gets too costly there's no loyalty left to lose with me, and i will happily switch. I agree fully with the correspondent who pointed out that hating apple is just as much a fad as loving them. I like the look of the new Nokias, I just wish I had similar confidence in Microsoft.

Brit global warming skeptics now outnumber believers

Brennan Young

Re: Genuine question about evolution

Natural selection acts on *populations*, not on individuals.

Keep that in mind and everything falls into place. Please also disregard the stupidly named "Darwin Awards" when trying to understand how evolution works, because that is about individual misadventure. Genetics have very little to do with that.

Gone in a Flash: Adobe's long march to HTML5

Brennan Young

mixed feelings

I was a Director developer, who tried FutureSplash Animator in 1996 and couldn't take it very seriously. I regarded it as a toy. We had afterburner and then shockwave, which could do so much more. Director's scripting language was never highly regarded, but had powerful LISP-like features, a command-line, acceptable OOP, and it compiled to bytecode. You could do great things with it. (Most of the really great Director stuff was overlooked, or made for very small audiences). The early 'action' editors in Flash were a bad joke.

I was amazed to see the younger upstart 'toy' technology bought by Macromedia, and then steadily capture the attention of the producers of cool but gimmicky content, banner-ads, and ultimately most of the development budget of Macromedia. It was as late as Flash 5 that a proper scripting language was introduced - a javascript dialect now known as ActionScript 1. Verity Stob wrote some hilarious comments about this period of ActionScripting on the Reg. I advise the keen reader to check out the relevant article.

I was even more amazed that a handful of people started using it to make some quite decent casual games, even emulators, synthesisers and some fabulous data visualisation tools (e.g. gapminder). Slowly, steadily, it became more technically powerful, and certainly more up-to-date than its older brother.

I switched to Flash, even began teaching it, and developed a couple of solid medium-size applications with it, plus many small things. I adopted AS3 and grew to like it, but there has never been any doubt that Flash - authoring and playback - has been rotten on Apple's systems for almost 10 years. Crashes, hangs, lousy resource management (memory/cpu) and poor OS-integration have been the norm. Multimedia designers - many of whom are Mac users - have always had a love-hate relationship with Flash, and I believe that now they are ready to move on.

I confess to a certain amount of schadenfreude. I remember the snooty Flash kids, their tool of choice in the ascendant, looking down their noses at Director devs, just as we looked down our noses at the Hypercard and Authorware community. It becomes increasingly obvious: Closed multimedia authoring systems are always a dead-end, no matter how defacto 'standard' they may temporarily be. Microsoft's never-popular Silverlight - a potential competitor crippled by neurotic strategy - is another relevant example. In each previous case, there was always an obvious proprietary ship to jump to, but that is not so now, and that is why Flash SWF will linger on, way past its sell-by date.

So instead multimedia designers are expected to bank on HTML5 and javaScript. In theory, a great idea. In particular we are offered Canvas, and a fairly ropey, underdocumented audio/video playback API, with various ideological and technical encumberances. (Did you know that iOS can only play one piece of HTML5 audio at a time? Or that Firefox doesn't and will never support mp3?)

Now I see an interesting dilemma for multimedia designers and content/front-end developers, who cut their OOP teeth on Java, ActionScript or C#: A mindset migration from strict-typed classical languages, to javaScript - a language which superficially resembles Java/C#/ActionScript, but in truth is more like an exotic variant of LISP. How will the multimedia designers cope with this? How will they adopt javaScript when 99% of javaScript books and web-based tutorials promote dilettante or sub-optimal practice? How will the multimedia design courses teach it? The paradigm shift is going to be interesting to watch, and can only be ugly.

Then there is code editing. Flash's ActionScript editor is not the best editor in the world, but it has some very friendly features which really help you learn. It is, quite frankly, ideal for first-time coders with artistic leanings. Is there a similarly accessible javaScript code editor that offers syntax-checking, automatic code-indenting, friendly error feedback etc.?

Is there a browser which doesn't just give up silently when your javaScript has the tiniest error? Does the browser error console offer much help? The error feedback in Flash authoring has never been amazing, but at least it gives you a clue where to look for problems in your code.

I know that this is total non-problem for comp.sci folks, but the audience for the Flash authoring tool is quite different. They have different needs and different expectations when making interactive stuff. And yes, many of them are crap, and clueless but many really want to make good stuff and adopt best practices.

The landscape for content developers, self-taught game devs, arty-nerds, interaction designers, ux/ui designers etc. for creating javaScript-based content is fragmented and unfocused. Hardcore coders will always be happy with Ultra-edit, or VisualStudio, or Eclipse or notepad++, but those tools will never catch the hearts of the folks that come from an arts or design background.

I also see no other software which has vector drawing tools as friendly and intuitive as those found in Flash since its very first versions, and I see no animation tools that can export lightweight vector-based animations (e.g. svg) for the web. (BTW The animated gif exporter of Flash *really* sucks, and animated gifs are surely not where we want to go in the 21st century).

Also, canvas offers no sprite model, no 'movieclips', no collision detection, ultimately you just have a bitmap which does not distinguish one mouse or touch event from any other, except in pixel coordinates. If you want to keep track of individual visual objects, you have to build your own engine in javaScript, which means performance overheads. There are a few of these engines out there, some are very good, but it's a terrible shame that some of the features that multimedia designers regard as basic or fundamental ("I want something to happen when I click on this moving monster") are simply not available, straight out of the HTML-5 toolset.

SWF is undoubtedly on its deathbed, but the Flash authoring tool has no obvious heir. The market is wide open for a "Flash-killer" which offers some, or all of the features mentioned above, which generates HTML5+javaScript, preferably in some editable form, so that it can be hacked about with PHP or whatever afterwards.

Adobe Edge looks promising, but I am wary of Adobe's ability to manage multimedia authoring tool development. Their track record is abysmal. Can they just not screw up, bloat, and hobble their tools with the limitations of their broader strategy for reaching 'internet marketers'? I am sceptical.

And I am training my JS/HTML5 muscles for multimedia teaching and multimedia content production, because the quality difference between 'the men and the boys' is going to be pretty stark.

Ballmer: Uninspiring performance and a small package

Brennan Young

Quite so. Windows was almost always the OS for people who didn't care which OS they ran. No wonder the users are in no hurry to upgrade.

Anti-PowerPoint Party vows end to death by slides

Brennan Young

It's not just a tool

... it's a culture.

I really don't buy this 'just a tool' argument. It's not like a hammer with a wide range of uses, some of them harmful, it's more like a garroting chair. Yes, the latter is 'just a tool', but it rather imposes certain ways of persuading or manipulating both users and ...er... audience.

A decently designed tool subtly or overtly guides use in such a way that the results are usually good, and you have to work hard to get really bad results. (Example - an electric kettle, or even ElReg's forums, which while it's not anywhere near as good as a mediocre nntp client for actual discussion, does an acceptable job of fielding responses from readers, which was doubtless the spec).

Powerpoint (keynote, etc.) might have become more colourful and decorative since the early days, but it's essentially unchanged: It makes hot air go much further, and offers weight and density when real substance is lacking. And this is why people like it.

I fully agree with Mr Longland. Slides are usually not necessary, they usually detract from or muddle the speaker's message, and few speakers, if any, have the skill (and *discipline*) required to use them effectively.

I work as a teacher, and the tendency (and temptation) to use powerpoint is very strong. After almost 10 years of boycotting MS Office entirely. I was briefly persuaded to use ppts by the way they could be repurposed to provide notes for those who missed the lecture, until I realised that my lectures had become mechanical, inflexible and ponderous. (I could even hypothesise some folks started missing my lectures for this reason).

After one session when it appeared that all the projectors were producing a blurry image, and where we could have spent the whole time troubleshooting (turned out someone had helpfully 'wiped' the lenses with a non lint-free cloth) - I said "sod the slides, let's get on with the lecture" and I was reminded what a pleasure it is to wander amongst the students making more personal contact, picking up on body language responses and so on. The feedback from the students was terrific. I immediately decided to drop powerpoint - and return to my older teaching style which had served me so well for so long.

Now I am thinking that twitter is probably a better tool - the audience can make their own notes, and share them with each other, making the feed available to whomever afterwards. I can drop in urls if necessary, but I don't even need to use a screen. Will do some testing with this technique next semester.

AC's reminiscence of powerpoint culture in the military is sobering. I remember that story breaking, and I thought "OK, now maybe something will happen" but somehow the culture remains. Well, Microsoft PR might have spun the story, but I think the problem is more that organisations are actually *addicted* to Powerpoint. Remove it, and most of its users will be revealed to be little more than charlatans, and that in turn will make the organisations look bad. So I guess we're stuck. Maybe a few more air crashes will help.

Blade servers 101

Brennan Young
Thumb Up


I had already worked out the general details from reading the reg for nearly 10 years, but seeing as I never have to deal with exactly this area of IT (I'm in software), I really appreciate that El Reg takes the time to define and illustrate a rather common kind of occult technology. I assume it's not exhaustive, nor even entirely accurate but who cares! I am definitely better-off than "none the wiser" after reading this article. Another please!

So, how does your economy grow?

Brennan Young
Thumb Down

The problem with cherry picking 'hard economic data'

...is that all public spending is put in the column marked "outgoing" and all the taxes are in the column marked "ingoing", which leads to the wrong ideological conclusions about how to balance the budget.

The thing is, spending can also be an investment which will be good for business (e.g. railway infrastructure, education or sewers) in the long term, and refraining from spending on these areas, or allowing them to decline, can actually generate overheads in the medium term. Businesses don't run like this. They understand very well that 'you have to speculate to accumulate'. For some reason, politicians are allowed to ignore this basic fact of business economics.

Trouble is, politicians (like the author of this article) only have to worry about the few years until the next election, and all their policy is subservient to the short term aim of getting re-elected, rather than any long term aim which might be better for the constituency/nation.

NATO members warned over Anonymous threat

Brennan Young

"perpetrators persecuted"

- did they really mean 'prosecuted'

Brit expats aghast as Denmark bans Marmite

Brennan Young
IT Angle

Fortified foods

... including - yes - some breakfast cereals, but also vegemite, ovaltine, horlicks, certain cough sweets etc. are forbidden in Denmark because the authorities are worried that the food industry will fortify unhealthy products (such as sugary soft drinks or potato crisps/chips) and then sell them as health foods.

In theory it sort of makes sense, if you are a bureaucrat with one eye on the public health budget, but in practice the law hits very wide of the mark. Meanwhie Danes (like the rest of Europe and especially USA) still guzzle thousands of litres of sugary soda, which enjoys plenty of advertising exposure, even on kids' tv - despite regular reports about how harmful it is. Not to mention the unhealthy amounts of pork, and dearth of vegetables, in the typical Danish diet.

The ban applies to sales, and possibly also wholesale import of all fortified foods. Possession and importation for personal use is not covered by this particular law. The same ban was introduced in Norway some years ago, but now it is legal to sell Marmite again there as long as it is sold as a vitamin supplement, rather than a foodstuff.

I live in Denmark, I love marmite and I think this law is utterly stupid. Don't get me started on the stupid Danish restrictions on over-the-counter medications.

Microsoft, Nokia, HTC fight Apple's 'App store' trademark

Brennan Young


has since the introduction of OSX been the Mac equivalent of .exe (and I think it comes from NeXT before that). Unquestionably Jobsian territory.

I agree with many of the comments above: Especially those who say that Microsoft are in an absurd position after trademarking "Windows" and "Word" - which are single words, and complaining about a pairing of words, which was certainly not on anyone's mind before Apple started selling iPhone software this way.

Before the iPhone, handheld software was invariably called software, or programs, or categorised as utilities or games or whatever. I don't remember running into the use of the term "app" outside the Apple universe until the iPhone hit it big. It may have been used occasionally by developers, but it was certainly a rarity in marketing contexts. It should be possible to make some kind of statistical analysis using the wayback machine to prove this point.

Also fully agree with AC that this shows real lack of imagination that they can't come up with another name, like Google have. ExeStore? heheh Well, we know that MS lacks imagination, but HTC and Nokia should perform better than this.



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