* Posts by Richard Neill

171 publicly visible posts • joined 17 Apr 2007


Lenovo spits out retro ThinkPads for iconic laptop's 25th birthday

Richard Neill

Still a shortscreen though

Nice to get the keyboard back. But I'd still pay double for a machine with a full height 16x12 screen rather than the 16x9 that this one has ... and it's not even a retina display like the X1 carbon.

Cattle that fail, not pets that purr – the future of servers

Richard Neill

It's also more expensive

For the kind of "real" workload most of us actually have, which is more like a set of small independent systems than a "netflix webscale system", the whole "cloud" approach isn't quite so relevant. And if you have a reasonably predictable workload, (rather than the "bursty, scalable" cloud model), then we priced it up, and the cost of buying tin and hosting it... is about 8x cheaper than provisioning cloud VMs.

French programmers haul Apple into court over developer rules

Richard Neill

Good luck to them

Anyone who writes websites has to deal with the misfortune of having some users who use iOS. It's a bit like having to support IE6 used to be: you waste a lot of time and some features just don't work properly. Mobile Safari is about 3 years behind the rest of the browsers (e.g. still no working WebRTC, many CSS things aren't fully supported) and this is partly because Apple don't want people to write cross-platform websites instead of Apps. So I hope this succeeds.

'To read this page, please turn off your ad blocker...'

Richard Neill

Why not just accept micropayments

I'd love to have a feature where I can block the ads, and automatically pay say 0.1p per view to the site owner instead. I really don't mind paying for good content, I just hate the advertising.

Farewell then, Mr Elop: It wasn't actually your fault

Richard Neill

N900 - so close, but not properly open-sourced

I really wanted to love the N900 - and to develop for it - among other things, it was the first phone that properly ran X11. It was so tantalisingly close. What killed it was a combination of slightly weak hardware (not enough CPU, and a resistive touchscreen), and being incompletely open-source. For example, we needed to write an app that could take and upload photos during an active voice (cellular or IP) call. But the N900 couldn't: the camera application needed a unique lock on the soundcard in order to make the shutter-click noise, and so the call had to be ended. So, easy to fix: just take the open-source distribution, and re-compile without the shutter click effect. BUT, it wasn't all there: if you built the OSS release of the code, you could use the camera, but without the autofocus library! Totally useless.

What Nokia should have done was made Maemo fully open-source, and then promised that all their current generation of phones would be software-updatable to run it. They could even have offered a choice of Windows (officially) and Android (cyanogenmod with official driver support).

'Boutique' ISPs: Snub the Big 4 AND get great service

Richard Neill

A & A fixed IPs

I've had good experience with A&A who provide a router configured for fixed IPs (you get 8 x IPv4). The router uses 3 of them, so you get 5 devices that are fully routable. Unfortunately, that's ALL the router can do... so once you have more than 5 devices trying to DHCP, it will fail, in a weird way depending on connection timings. It's a "feature" that the router supplied can't also do NAT.

Ghosts of Christmas Past: The long-ago geek gifts that made us what we are

Richard Neill

The 200-in-One kit is still made, and it's still pretty good, with an exceptional manual.

For anyone who buys a modern version of the kit, you'll need to change the LEDs (which are behind a white diffusing panel and so faint as to be almost indistinct; the fix is to scrape away some of the white coating from the inside), and the "filament bulb" which has now also become an LED of negligible brightness back to a bulb (note that it is supposed to be able to shine on the LDR, so as to make the "Electronic Candle" work).

Combined with an Arduino starter kit, it would be ideal.

MPs wave through Blighty's 'EMERGENCY' surveillance laws

Richard Neill

Metadata vs URLs

For Internet data, that includes a URL... which is effectively the same thing as storing the contents of the communication itself. (with the exception of HTTP POST requests).

Report: UK.gov wants to legislate on comms data BEFORE next election

Richard Neill

Muddled thinking

It seems to me that the opportunity to prevent "crimes/terrorism" by surveillance is itself a problem. It allows ministers to be complacent about the need to prevent these things happening. So if we could take away the illusion that we can fight crime by abandoning our privacy, I wonder whether politicians might actually address the root causes.

Why not halve the police budget, and redeploy it into education and job-creation.

Let's ditch the war on drugs, and suddenly we can de-resource customs, and remove much of the anti-money-laundering bureaucracy.

Furthermore, if we can deprive our politicians of "magic bullet" solutions to terrorism, they might at last face up to the real causes (such as bad foreign policy, lack of human-rights in the middle-east, and lack of secular education).

New MH370 search zone picked using just seven satellite 'handshakes'

Richard Neill

Re: Ughh... bad news

As I understand it, the Air France flight stalled, crashed into the ocean, and broke apart. If the MH370 made a "controlled" descent (even gliding on autopilot without engines), it is probable that the fuselage would not have broken open - and therefore it could well have sunk in one piece.

Gimme a high S5: Samsung Galaxy S5 puts substance over style

Richard Neill

Feels really cheap

As an S3 owner, I was really looking forward to this. But it just looks and feels really cheap. The rubber back looks and feels like an elastoplast, while the ridged chrome around the edges is uncomfortable to hold and it looks like the trim on a £1 toy car.

As for the irritating port cover - I don't understand why they can't just make the USB-port itself hermetically sealed, and make the electrical contacts waterproof (for example, the Pebble handles this just fine).

Now, if only the M8 would put capacitative buttons on the otherwise wasted space of the bezel, and keep the screen estate for the actual content (rather than wasting it on soft-buttons, so that the screen is effectively smaller than an S3), I'd get one of those! For now, I think it's a new battery for the S3, and I'll wait for the next generation.

Distro diaspora: Four flavours of Ubuntu unpacked

Richard Neill

Re: I don't get it

Actually, you can. Let's say you initially install the lubuntu release. Then "apt-get install kubuntu-desktop", and you have all of kubuntu installed. You also still have all of lubuntu installed, i.e. the LXDE window manager, and the collection of packages chosen to go with it. (You can then remove lubuntu-specific bits if you want). Likewise, the meta-packages xubuntu-desktop, kubuntu-desktop, and ubuntu-desktop.

Angela Merkel: Let US spies keep their internet. The EU will build its own

Richard Neill

Shouldn't we start by repealing the data-retention directive?

MPs: Ancient UK Border Force systems let gangsters into country

Richard Neill

Make throughput mandatory, then permit checking up to that level.

The only way to get some pressure on the border focrce is to change the rules of the game. At the moment, they can inconvenience travellers as much as they like, and we can't do anything. The rules should be: you are entitled to clear the border in 15 minutes (peak 20 minutes on rare occasions). The UKBF may check in any way it wants, but the rigor of checking combined with the staffilng levels may never cause delays. Then they'll learn.

The other thing I'd do: if I were the airline, I'd hand out complaints forms to every passenger, complete with the number of the UKBA management. Lets get 100 angry passengers every hour calling up the mobile number of the inept people who run it.

Build your OWN Apple iBeacon with a Raspberry Pi

Richard Neill

Not all BT 4.0 LE dongles work for this.

The "Plugable" branded ones (Broadcom chips) do work, while the Cambridge Silicon Radio (CSR) ones seem to fail.

Patent law? It's all about Apples, Newton and iPads

Richard Neill

What about protection *from* patents?

I think this article looks at only at the ownership and not the missed-opportunity side.

Intellectual Privilege denies inventors the ability to create, independently, and allows a 3rd party with a better lawyer and more resources to deprive them of their livelihood. Most inventors (myself included) would gladly opt out of the entire system. Whole fields of endeavour are often "patent-encumbered", leading in some cases to patent-thickets.

Some examples:

* IBM have a vast portfolio, and they find that it is 10x more often used for defence than offense. i.e. if the system went away completely, the benefits would outweigh the costs.

* Google bid over $4billion for a set of patents covering Android - an attempt to pay protection money for not being sued, even though almost all of them would fail the "obviousness test".

* The Open Invention Network exists in order to allow its members to effectively contract out of the patent system.

Digital radio may replace FM altogether - even though nobody wants it

Richard Neill

Why switch off FM?

Much though I like DAB, I can't see why we need to kill FM. Unlike Digital TV, there's not much alternative use for the mere 20 MHz of spectrum that could be potentially freed.

Also, from a cultural perspective, we need to keep at least something broadcasting on AM: so many engineers and physicsts get started on AM radios - and it's the only technology you can really build yourself.

Lighting bods blind designophiles with LED-powered lounge lamps

Richard Neill

Re: @Duncan Macdonald I'd be happy with ...

Unfortunately, that doesn't work, because of the reflection spectra of the items being illuminated.

For example, consider some yellow paint, with a narrow spectral peak. If this is lit by tungsten/daylight light, it will reflect in the yellow component, which then partly stimulates both the red and the green receptors (each of which has a broad response) in the human eye, and we see it as yellow. But if lit by R+G+B LEDs, the paint will reflect nothing, and will appear black.

Happy birthday MIDI 1.0: Slave to the rhythm

Richard Neill

How is 31.25 kbd fast enough?

I've never quite understood this. If a single note takes about 8 bytes (on and off, pitch, velocity, control data), then MIDI is limited to 500 notes per second. That seems reasonable, but not exactly generous, especially in a large rig,

which might have 10 instruments. However, given the beat-structure, perhaps 90% of the cycle should be silent. That only leaves a headroom of ~5. So, how does MIDI avoid a significant amount of skew between notes played by different instruments that should be on the same beat?

Sony refuses to flog off Spider-Man lab and other entertainment wings

Richard Neill

If they'd sell the entertainment tail, the hardware dog might be more appealing

The problem with Sony is that they make hardware that serves the interest of the entertainment division, rather than the customer. So Sony electronics is hamstrung. For example, MagicGate Memory sticks (incompatible with the investment in non-magic-gate ones, because they didn't support DRM). What about the lack of multi-region DVD players from Sony? Or the BlueRay players that prohibit you from skipping the commercials and the warnings at the start.

Pure boffinry: We peek inside Nokia's miracle cameraphone

Richard Neill

Android port?

So... when is the Android port coming? If Nokia could be persuaded to give enough info out for an unofficial port, I would certainly buy it and change the OS.

BBC abandons 3D TV, cites 'disappointing' results

Richard Neill

3D on a 2D surface is fundamentally broken

The problem really is that human depth-perception works on multiple cues:

[1] stereo vision (different images into each eye)

[2] binocular parallax (eyes converge at a known angle)

[3] focal distance (are we focussing near or far)

[4] one thing obscuring another

[5] experience (we know the size, so infer the distance).

Notably with 3D TV/film, the 3D effect derives from #1, but #2 and #3 conflict with it. Many people get eyestrain from this, or find the experience less than compelling. ThinkGeek even started selling "2D glasses"! Some people find that #1 is not dominant - and if we swap the glasses around in a cinema (i.e. wear them upside down), we can still see depth perception the "right" way, even though it should be backwards!

AMD joins LibreOffice, adds GPU grunt to free software suite

Richard Neill

Re: LibreOffice maybe a bit dodgy

Did you report bugs on them?

The LO team is pretty good at squishing bugs, but they're not telepathic!

Badger bloodbath brouhaha brings 'bodge' bumpkin bank burgle bluster

Richard Neill

If we can make grain into beer, why not milk?

Wheat and Grass are basically the same kind of plant. If we can use yeast in a bioreactor to make beer, then why can't we contrive a way to convert the grass directly into milk, using a catalyst that is more efficient than a cow? For most uses of milk, it needn't be perfect: just a suspension of fat in water, with the right kind of sugar, calcium carbonate, and (more complex versions would need the vitamins and proteins). For the majority of uses apart from "proper" cheese, it needn't be perfect in terms of the enzymes and proteins. Advantages include 1/10 of the CO2, and suitability for the lactose-intolerant, and vegans.

Facebook, Microsoft beg Feds: Let us tell users what YOU asked for...

Richard Neill

Encrypted by design

it's one thing for Google etc to "comply with valid legal requests", but they should have designed their service in such a way that it's mathematically impossible to comply. They could easily go for a fully-encrypted system, such that all the spooks could have (even with a court order) is gibberish. (Of course, google wouldn't be able to mine the text for ads that way).

NSA Prism: Why I'm boycotting US cloud tech - and you should too

Richard Neill

Preventing all terrorism guarantees Tyranny

I wish the "security-at-any-price" people could see that, in a world where the state has the power to prevent terrorism, tyranny is almost certain. Ultimately, our democracy relies upon the fact that, if the will of the people is not respected (eg a government loses an election and fails to dissolve), then it can be ejected by force. Such force should never be needed... but if the government had the tools to prevent it, then the tyrant can never be removed.

Equally, the concept "national security" is, in practice, inimical to the security of a nation. A country that feels so secure that it can act with impunity is one that ultimately makes many many enemies, through the folly of its politicians.

Google 'DOES DO EVIL', thunders British politician

Richard Neill

Simple fix: VAT+=CorpTax; CorpTax=0

This is really easy to solve, and would prevent all the complex tax dodging.

Increase VAT, and zero out corporation tax.

Provided this is done sensibly, prices will remain the same, and customers won't be hurt.

Review: Samsung Galaxy S4

Richard Neill


The best button arrangement by far was the HTC DesireHD which has 4 soft-buttons. The physical home button is too hard to press one handed, collects lint, and consumes too much vertical space. But we should go back to the proper Android "Home + Menu + Search + Back" quartet.

Also, OLED displays aren't as good as LCD, except one thing... they have much better battery life because there's no backlight. For this, I can forgive them for not being able to produce a properly white white (and the consequently ruined color matching).

Now... where's the laser pointer, heart-rate monitor, hand-warmer, geiger-counter, quantum-cryptography, and self-destruct function?

UK.Gov passes Instagram Act: All your pics belong to everyone now

Richard Neill

Is this really a bad thing?

It always seems to me that copyright-by-default is a bad idea - most of the time, we gain hugely by sharing and remixing culture. Also, remember that every time you forward an email, or use a google-image in your presentation, you are breaking copyright law. We simply cannot operate in a strictly copyright-maximalist manner without making 99.99% of the citizens into law-breakers. (For that matter, how many of the Reg's own icons are you sure you licensed properly?)

If I could go back in time and tweak the first HTML spec, I'd clarify that "all content placed on the web is implicitly public domain, unless explicitly marked otherwise". After all, that's how most people think the web works, and actually how it does work anyway (because individuals can almost never afford to sue).

It's not as if putting a copyright tag into a jpeg/tiff comment field is difficult.

New Google Play terms ban non-store app updates

Richard Neill

File permissions

What happened to the idea that the user that the app runs as shouldn't have write permission to the binaries anyway?

Surely only root should be able to change the apks, (with access via sudo for google play, the terminal, and cron's auto-updater).

FAA: 'No, you CAN'T hijack a plane with an Android app'

Richard Neill

This is particuarly stupid, given that, in flight mode, my phone will stay in flight mode till I unlock the screen with a code.. But in poweroff mode, I just have to bump the power button. So airplane+locked is safer.

Kissinger and tell: WikiLeaks scrapes 1.7m US diplomatic reports from the '70s

Richard Neill

Re: Money

Remember... he *couldn't* have told the donors in advance of his plans to seek Asylum, or they would have been criminally culpable if they didn't prevent it. At least some of them think he did the right thing.,

Paying a TV tax makes you happy - BBC

Richard Neill

Re: Missed opportunity

Don't forget - even if you don't watch the BBC, it keeps the competition honest. If you ever watch TV in the USA, you'll see what a race to the bottom looks like!

Richard Neill

Swap to general taxation please

As most people pay the TV license, can we please move to paying it out of general taxation rather than a dedicated license? That would save about 5% of the cost, which is purely wasted on the TVLA. It would also make it fairer on the poorest. Personally, I don't own a TV, but I do use the BBC radio, website, and sometimes iPlayer; i'd be very happy to pay for what is, even with its faults, an exceptional service.

Samsung's new Galaxy S 4: iPhone assassin or Android also-ran?

Richard Neill

Headphone drive capability?

The S3 is great, but its one weakness is that the headphone amplifier is rather feeble. It would be nice if the new one had a bit more grunt. Notably, larger headphones need more power. For example, listening to classical music on an aircraft... even the quiet bits need more gain.

The other thing is, I wish they'd get rid of the physical home button. It's Apple's worst misfeature, and it's awkward to press, needing far more foce than the 2 soft buttons either side. (for that matter, can we please have the search button back).

'Wireless charging' in Galaxy S4 will betray Samsung's best pal

Richard Neill

Re: Is distance charging really such a good idea?

In the "near-field" for RF coupling, with a resonant antenna, it's not the case that power is broadcast into the distance. You can get 80%+ efficiency. Basically the inverse square law doesn't apply until you get several antenna-lengths away from the antenna.

Android 'splits' into the Good and the lovechild of Bad and Ugly

Richard Neill

Lack of GPL'd userspace to blame

It's a shame that Android removed so much GPL'd code from userspace. It makes fragmentation inevitable.

(By comparison, look at Desktop Linux - it hasn't fragmented in anywhere near the same way. Of course people make different choices, but the GPL means that both forks and merges are possible).

Review: Livin' in the cloud with Google's new Chromebook Pixel

Richard Neill

Aspect ratio 16 x 10.6

Nice to see at least one laptop maker moving back towards full-height screens. With luck, the trend may catch on, and we can go back to 16x12 rather than the tendency towards 16x8.

Apple takes aim at accessory makers, files iPad stand patent

Richard Neill

ipad smart cover not so smart

It's very easy, when holding your iPad + smart cover, to grip it like an open book, holding just the cover in the left hand. This places a torque on the magnetic joint, and it can sometimes unexpectedly unzip, letting the iPad crash to the floor (unless your reflexes are fast enough).

Climate shocker: Carry on as we are until 2050, planet will be fine

Richard Neill

Simple maths: 10-fold improvement needed; every little doesn't help.

1. We probably need to halve our CO2 emissions by 2050.

2. In order to bring the 3rd world out of poverty, they need to increase energy consumption 5-fold.

3. 1% here and 1% there adds up to 1% on the total... unplugging your phone charger at night isn't good enough!

=> 10-fold improvement in Energy generation efficacy needed.

The only realistic solution is nuclear power, NOW.

Hey Lenovo, want to kill Apple? Look to Samsung hitman for tips

Richard Neill

Simle: make a genuinely high-end laptop and people will buy it.

Why is it so hard to find a machine these days which:

- has a decent screen (especially vertical pixel count)

- doesn't weigh too much.

- is fanless.

IBM used to sell a 15" screen at 2048x1536 pixels - how about some more of these?

Clap Google, Amazon in irons to end tax shenanigans - MPs

Richard Neill

Simple fix: VAT++; CorpTax=0

The solution is very easy. Put VAT to 35% and scrap corporation tax. All the loopholes go away. We also become more competitive as a country because our talent can go towards productive work rather than the huge overheads involved in dealing with tax (and finding or removing loopholes). Also, VAT has exemptions for certain necessities, so this is fairer on the poorest.

Firm-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's tax dodge profit shift? Totally legit

Richard Neill

Re-balance from corp. tax to VAT

Why not simply change the mechanism. Increase VAT, decrease Corporation tax. VAT is paid in the UK no matter what. And if the sliding re-balance is done rightly, it won't affect consumer prices. It would remove the competitive advantage currently granted to companies that don't "play fair".

How Nokia managed to drive its in-house Linux train off the rails

Richard Neill

N900 ... so close to exceptional, but not open source enough

The N900 was a wonderful device to develop for... it had a proper Linux environment, and could even run openoffice!

Unlike Android, it uses the desktop Linux approach, and runs X (and GTK), so all the applications just work without porting. It was a delight to develop for, and the SDK was easy to use, well documented, and helpful. Out of the box, I could SSH in and do X-forwarding, no need to "root" it first. The hardware was also ahead of its time (excepting the resistive touchscreen). Sadly, Nokia wouldn't make the whole thing open-source.

For example, I needed to be able to take photos during a phone call. This would have been easy to fix (it just needed to disable the shutter sound, so that the camera app didn't need a lock on the soundcard) - but the camera app was closed source. Yes, I could use the library to write my own app... but only if I didn't want autofocus.

Nokia didn't get that open hardware means *everything*, not most of it, excepting a few essential bits.

ICO sets cookie-law flouters deadline - to open an HTML editor

Richard Neill

Simple: session cookies OK; other cookies bad

Why is this whole thing so complicated?

1. Session cookies are the only things we really need(*), for advanced functionality such as login, shopping-carts etc - and these are already allowed via the exemption - no need to ask the user.

2. Storing preferences between visits ["remember me"] also doesn't need a notification: clicking the button to "remember me" is sufficient implied consent. [though it doesn't hurt to have a privacy policy.]

3. There's no legitimate reason to use any other form of cookie - 3rd-party analytics or tracking cookies. Sites that do use them deserve the ire of the ICO.

(*) PHP has session.use_trans_sid as a workaround - it's possible to avoid session cookies, though the result is inelegant.

LOHAN seeks failsafe for explosive climax

Richard Neill

All eggs in one basket, make it a good basket

If you expect your electronics to fail, you're already toast. Besides which, the most likely failure would be the battery (if it freezes). Wire up the electronics carefully, check it works in low temp, and package it inside a styrofoam box (these are really quite good; you can even mail ice-cream and it will arrive frozen). Otherwise, your mechanical trigger just adds weight, and the significant risk of a false positive.

BTW, the easiest way to detect balloon burst is actually to measure the G force on the truss. Have a G-sensor, which is armed by the altimeter. Once a decent height is reached, you'll be going at approximately constant velocity, and the acceleration measured by the sensor will be 1.0 G (within 10%). At burst, it will suddenly become 0G as you go into free-fall. Use this to drive a MOSFET and the ignitor.

UK websites: No one bothers with cookie law, why should we?

Richard Neill

Why the fuss?

This is really simple (and for once, the EU got it right).

* If you're using Session cookies, you don't need to change anything. Implicit consent is fine.

* If you're using Personalisation cookies which benefit the user (eg to remember site preferences, or store a long-term login), you also don't need to do anything [though perhaps you should mention it in the privacy policy]

* If you're using tracking cookies (for cross-site advertising), then the law is quite rightly targeting you. Basically that behaviour is pretty evil, and although you can persuade the user to waive their privacy rights by "accepting" the tracking, this shouldn't happen.

* 3rd party analytics (eg Google) and non-tracking advertising are the grey-areas.

Here's a simple test;: if the average geek would consider your cookie beneficial to him, then you don't need to ask for consent. If you think the average geek would prefer to reject your cookie, then you do need to ask for consent (but you shouldn't be using that type of cookie anyway).

Another way of looking at this: very few businesses work with the "free content, ad-supported" model. Some do (eg The Reg; Facebook). But, If you aren't reliant on advertising, then this rule doesn't affect you, (or you are completely incompetent.)

Greedy LOHAN draining away mankind's vital fluid ... allegedly

Richard Neill

Hydrogen has better lift and leakage

H2 being diatomic is a much larger molecule than He, therefore diffuses through the latex more slowly. You may notice that party balloons lose buoyancy within about 8 hours; this is why.

Also, there is about 8% more lift available from H2 than He.

'Don't break the internet': How an idiot's slogan stole your privacy...

Richard Neill

Privacy and Copyright are unrelated

Please don't muddle different concepts.

* It would be perfectly logically consistent to have strong privacy protections and weak copyright.

* Also,while we do need consumer protection from Facebook & Google, the real threat to privacy is our own government, and that of the US. So, for example, if we wanted to implement a "right to be forgotten", it needs to also apply to the spooks.

Dumb salesmen are hurting us – Nokia CEO

Richard Neill

...and if they'd open sourced it *properly*

I bought an N900 for development work. Resistive-touchscreen notwithstanding, it was a delight to use, and to develop for: it actually ran regular "desktop" Linux natively: Gtk, X, etc. You could even run X applications via SSH forwarding. The apps weren't all there, but it was so close: the next rev would have been awesome. It even contained neat hardware (IR and FM transmitters), and had a much better camera. Getting started with Maemo was really easy (Nokia made the environment and cross-compiler easy to set up), and it used Gtk rather than Qt (so apps ran quickly and could be written in mostly plain-C). The "Hildon" extensions to Gtk for the phone were actually rather good.

BUT, it wasn't properly open-source: as so often happens, there are just a few nasty binary blobs that mean you can't really truly build the entire environment yourself. In my case, this was a killer: we needed to be able to simultaneously multitask the camera and telephone calls. But the camera app needed full access to the sound-card for the shutter-click, so would block during the call. I could very easily re-build a separate application which worked as we wanted...but here is the ridiculous part: only if I didn't want to make use of the proprietary blob used for autofocus. Yes, really: I could use the camera, but only by not implementing the unnecessary "focussing" feature !!

So that was 200 N900s we didn't buy, and in the end we took a totally different approach. I wish companies would understand that open-source really means all-or-nothing.