* Posts by Rob Fisher

69 publicly visible posts • joined 10 Oct 2008


UK signals legal changes to self-driving vehicle liabilities

Rob Fisher

By this logic 1000 software developers are driving 100 million cars simultaneously. If those cars cause 1 death, would you jail all the software developers?

Or divide the sentence by a billion?

Or give them a reward for saving so many lives compared to the bad old days when humans used to drive?

Rob Fisher

Re: only the driver – be it the vehicle or person – is accountable

Imagine if one human cat accident meant that all the human driven cars were taken off the road until the bugs in all the humans could be fixed.

VR headsets to shift 30 million units a year by 2027, vastly behind wearables

Rob Fisher

Re: Magical thinking and hype factory

There's a killer app that people pay a fortune for: flight sims and driving sims. But only weird niche hobbyists can't live without it. Still, there's a lot of headset development going on just for that market.

Rob Fisher

Re: Just no

I wanted to do SIM racing but was getting motion sickness. It turns out you can train yourself out of it: drive slowly in a car with a roof around an oval. As soon as you feel the first hint of a symptom stop. Do it again the next night - you can go for longer. After a week I was doing 20 lap races around proper circuits.

It's still a niche hobby, though, I'm not suggesting the mainstream are going to bother with all that.

Fresh GDPR ruling says even 'minor anxiety' could mean payouts for EU folks

Rob Fisher

Unseen costs

Between this and the Online Safety Bill, It bothers me that a lot of things won't get done because of fears of falling foul of regulations. Big incumbent companies can afford the lawyers. Anyone trying anything new is going to need more lawyers than engineers, and is more likely to not bother. We'll never get to see the things they might otherwise have done.

Starlink tempts users with $200 Global Roaming service

Rob Fisher

Re: I think Musk is trying subversion here

"flood countries with a product and so force a de facto acceptance of a product"

Or, to rephrase, offer people the chance to buy a product even if they are foreigners.

Anyway, if only it were so. "the company still does not have a license to operate in many areas of the world"

So don't worry, the Chinese government won't allow Starlink to force uncensored internet on people living in rural China.

Rob Fisher

Why do they need licenses?

"the company still does not have a license to operate in many areas"

What stops them from simply not stopping their satellites from working when over a given territory?

International treaties? Threat of sanctions?

The failure of the internet to open national borders is disappointing. See e.g. geographical restrictions on video streaming. Starlink has the potential to improve the world with ubiquitous uncensored global internet. So lack of service due to "licensing" is just more disappointment.

Smart ovens do really dumb stuff to check for Wi-Fi

Rob Fisher

On topic discussion

I'm not convinced pinging random servers is giving away much information. I suppose if you knew of a specific vulnerability in a specific device, and it happened to ping at a known interval, that fingerprint would enable you to find IP addresses to attack.

But you would still need to get past the NAT firewall. So it's more likely an attacker would start by scanning all IPs to find NAT firewalls with known vulnerabilities and then see what devices are behind each one.

Nice smart device – how long does it get software updates?

Rob Fisher

Tech press could be better here

I was reading an article about the new Sony Walkmans recently on some mainstream tech site. Lots of praise of all the lovely features, including Android 12. But no discussion of software support promises. This is typical.

To the extent that the tech press is meant to help consumers make purchasing decisions, lack of discussion of this is a failure. Things have improved with phones, with many manufacturers making explicit promises up front.

Well done to the Reg for writing about it. Please tell your friends:)

Stack Overflow bans ChatGPT as 'substantially harmful' for coding issues

Rob Fisher

Re: ChatGPT appears to getting glowing reviews

I've been experimenting for a few days. It's good at some things and bad at others, so what we're seeing is people learning about that. There's also a knack to getting it to do what you want. As has been mentioned before, one approach is to discuss the setup and concepts with it first rather than launch into the question.

One thing I am working with is customer support request data. It's quite good at reading comprehension so if you give it text and then ask questions about the text (what problem did this customer have?) it can tell you. There are probably cheaper ways to do this, though.

I also had it talk me through diagnosing an internet connection problem. It suggested rebooting my router when I told it I saw DNS errors in my browser (and gave an explanation of DNS).

If you give it a good explanation of how something works it does seem able to reason. See the article "Building an interpreter for my own programming language in ChatGPT".

It's just a tech demo. The natural language processing is remarkable enough. Tuned versions of this for specific purposes are going to have their uses.

Now Nvidia's monster GeForce RTX 3090 cards snaffled up by bots, scalpers – if only there had been a warning

Rob Fisher


It's amazing how many people are wedded to the idea of fixed prices for things. You can have a lottery, a queue or an auction. And lotteries and queues have a tendency to turn into auctions.

Rust code in Linux kernel looks more likely as language team lead promises support

Rob Fisher

Re: Is there a reason we need YAPL?

A good coder will not make those mistakes? I suspect there isn't a human alive who can write anything beyond a trivial C program without making some of those mistakes.

I have done C programming (including a lot of finding other people's bugs like one thread freeing memory that another thread is still using) and now I am doing Rust programming and the degree of control, precision, knowledge and certainty it gives you is liberating.

We need Rust because then a lot less human effort will go into fixing such hard to find bugs and a lot more into improving software in other ways. More efficient tools make us richer.

Rust in peace: Memory bugs in C and C++ code cause security issues so Microsoft is considering alternatives once again

Rob Fisher

Re: And when we get shit code in Rust ?

We've spent 40 years learning that there are classes of mistakes that people make over and over again not because they're shit coders but because they're people.

Rust makes you do a bit of extra work up-front so the compiler can prove mathematically that you haven't made certain classes of mistakes.

Of course there is still opportunity for shit-ness but it'll be the same kind of logic bugs or bad design you can get in any language. At least there won't be dangling pointers, buffer-overruns and memory leaks too.

Rob Fisher

Re: Hummmmm

I have been spending some time with it and its benefits are real. It's a nice language to learn, too, stretches your brain in a good way. Solves a lot of problems with C with little or no run-time cost. Well worth a look.

You were warned and you didn't do enough: UK preps Big Internet content laws

Rob Fisher

Too reasonable

This article credits the UK government with more good faith and good judgement than it deserves. They are talking about fundamentally changing the nature of the Internet.

We fought through the crowds to try Oculus's new VR goggles so you don't have to bother (and frankly, you shouldn't)

Rob Fisher

Re: Perhaps I'm being naive...

At its best it is quite astonishingly immersive. You get a sense of scale you can't get on a screen. Objects do look like they really exist in space, despite the limitations of current displays.

One of my most surprising experiences was trying a WWII fighter in DCS World for the first time. The cramped, enclosed cockpit and the sense of there being very little between you and 2000 feet of fresh air then ground (not to mention bullets) is very palpable.

I get this article, but for its niches VR is great.

Nokia 9: HMD Global hauls PureView™ out of brand limbo

Rob Fisher

A phone to last 3 years?

If you want to keep your phone for a few years, then to get something less than GBP600, reasonable SoC, three years of security patches, preferably wireless charging (because it's useful when using the phone for car navigation)... there aren't really a lot of options. This could be it. The camera gubbins is a bonus, although I want to see what it's like in real life. And the lack of OIS for videos might be a problem. But this looks promising.

Apple: You can't sue us for slowing down your iPhones because you, er, invited us into, uh, your home... we can explain

Rob Fisher

Re: Attitude

How are you making sure you are getting prompt security patches after 3 years?

Apple hardware priced so high that no one wants to buy it? It's 1983 all over again

Rob Fisher

Re: No, you don't wish you'd have bought it.

You just reminded me of the RISC PC I have in my loft. Will I play with it now I've remembered it? Or just leave it there for a few more years...

A few reasons why cops didn't immediately shoot down London Gatwick airport drone menace

Rob Fisher

Re: No gumption

It looks like there are a lot of fields around Gatwick. I'm not saying it's not a consideration, but population density is not that high everywhere, and I doubt that the risk of damaging a building, a grounded plane, or getting some debris on the runway ought to be serious considerations as the article suggests.

Indeed the police are there with firearms, so they're probably having a go. And helicopters *are* flying, even though this article suggests that would be too dangerous.

It could just be that spotting it is hard, especially when it only shows up once every few hours and disappears quickly.

Rob Fisher

No gumption

A lot of these objections amount to a lack of gumption. Nothing is without risk. You have a problem. You go out and solve it, even if it involves a little risk. And you jolly well get on with it, instead of dithering about. Shooting it from a helicopter or flying a net into it (with a helicopter or another drone) seem somewhat plausible. Yes, it might land on something, but that bill will probably be cheaper than the bill already faced.

Tesla autopilot saves driver after he fell asleep at wheel on the freeway

Rob Fisher


Is the constant snark helpful in these kinds of article? Seems to me the autopilot is quite impressive in a lot of situations. Have a look a some of the dashcam YouTube footage of it avoiding various collisions. Not perfect, but nothing is. What is the accident rate per mile driven compared to other cars?

I guess sarcasm is easier than finding stuff out.

Blockchain study finds 0.00% success rate and vendors don't call back when asked for evidence

Rob Fisher

Re: Blockchain solves real problems

It solves this problem if *anyone * can run a node and lots of people are motivated to do so. A lot of these so-called blockchains solutions miss this part and are just distributed databases with central control and a lot of bloat.

Rob Fisher

Re: Blockchain tutorials

Just Google up the origin Bitcoin white paper by Satoshi Nakamoto. You'll find it is a complete description of the system, dry and hype and jargon free.

It is easy to understand and once you do, it will be clear that the idea of "blockchain" separate from digital cash doesn't make all that much sense, because the database is only as distributed as people are motivated and able to run nodes.

UK should set its own tax on tech giants if international deal isn't reached – Chancellor

Rob Fisher

Re: What kind of conservatives want to tax everything?

"restore the necessary degree of taxes"

Ah, you youngsters! I remember when VAT was 15%!

Rob Fisher

Re: What kind of conservatives want to tax everything?

Why not? If a company does not employ your wife and does not send you free stuff, why would you want to buy groceries from them? It's division of labour: saves you having to spend all your time growing vegetables.

Rob Fisher

What kind of conservatives want to tax everything?

Seems a strange sort of conservative who wants to invent new taxes to punish successful businesses. Perhaps he thinks Corbyn supporters are suddenly going to vote for him now. I would like someone to vote for who is in favour of lower taxes and fewer regulations.

You can buy Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins' mansion for a cool $13m

Rob Fisher

"eight hours of Cisco’s quarterly profits"

Something seems wrong with this phrase...

Say what you will about self-driving cars – the security is looking 'OK'

Rob Fisher

Re: "Know where every tree, curb and stop sign is"

It doesn't all change at once, though.

Game over for Google: Fortnite snubs Play Store, keeps its 30%, sparks security fears

Rob Fisher

Re: No brainer

Prices aren't "justified", they're just what people are prepared to pay. Smaller apps are prepared to pay 30% because who would go outside Play Store for just anything? Epic know people will want their game no matter what, so they're prepared to pay much less.

Apple will throw forensics cops off the iPhone Lightning port every hour

Rob Fisher

Re: Don't worry about the DJ's...

Not everyone is serious. At one point I was looking at a controller that controlled the Djay app, because it works with Spotify. There is a whole class of such cobtrollers. Audio comes from the iPad and the controller talks to the iPad via USB. Not sure how this affects it.

Oddly enough, when a Tesla accelerates at a barrier, someone dies: Autopilot report lands

Rob Fisher

Room for improvement

There are no hard and fast rules of thumb that apply. Simply measure accidents of various severity per miles driven. Ensure that these numbers improve with each software release, and that in any case it is better than human drivers in similar environments.

If this can be done then automation is a benefit. If not then it isn't.

Debates about capabilities of hardware and software, user interface design and marketing are all secondary to that.

British egg producers saddened by Google salad emoji update

Rob Fisher

Re: Not good enough

That bowl had better not be made of wood. Or plastic. Or rock.

Rob Fisher

Emoji not scalable

Emoji is just not scalable. It's take until now to get a hippo emoji and there are still thousands of missing animals. Every new emoji takes hundreds of person-hours of proposal writing, committee meetings, graphic design and software updates. I wanted a sprout emoji the other day, when might that appear? And I haven't even got started on minerals...

It would make a lot more sense to abandon pre-set unicode-indexed graphics and agree on a way to embed small SVG pictures into text, or some other text representation of graphics so that the sender could send any emoji without the receiver having to prepare for it in advance.

Great Scott! Bitcoin to consume half a per cent of the world's electricity by end of year

Rob Fisher

Re: Great Scott

"That's a lot of power that could be put to better use"

Could it really, though? Bitcoin mining is only profitable where electricity is cheapest. I.e where there is a surplus that probably wouldn't be used for anything else.

Reg man straps on Facebook's new VR goggles, feels sullied by the experience

Rob Fisher

Re: Nice to hear an un-hypgasm-filled account

"I don't care"... "VR gives me nothing"... "same graphics quality we had twenty years ago"

It's true it's a bit over-hyped and early days. But for certain games VR is a game-changer. Having played Elite Dangerous in VR there is no turning back for me (and with a good card the graphics are dialed down one notch at most).

I hope it can stick around despite a lack of mass-market appeal for long enough to get there.

Government demands for people's personal info from Microsoft reach all-time low

Rob Fisher

Zero knowledge the only way

"it rejected just 2.4 per cent of requests made in January to June and 3.4 per cent in July to December."

Big whoop. Looks like using zero knowledge services is the only way to get any hope of privacy*. Though I wonder if it is possible to offer such services without eventually falling foul of some law.

* If your threat model includes a determined state you're probably not going to hide for long, one way or another. Would be useful to know how naughty you have to be before governments make requests about you to Microsoft.

Scotland: Get tae f**k on 10Mbps Broadband USO

Rob Fisher

Government intervention is toxic

Government should just butt out entirely. If there is a demand for faster Internet then there's a profit to be made. If you live in the sticks then the cables will have to be longer and it will cost more. You can't expect other people to pay that cost, any more than they can expect to get a share of the bigger house you can afford because it's in the sticks.

So it's bad economics and it makes people resentful to boot. As soon as government subsidises something everyone starts arguing over the fairness of the subsidy. It's unbecoming.

Too many bricks in the wall? Lego slashes inventory

Rob Fisher

Grumpy old men

They still sell 2x4 bricks and boxes of basic bricks. Expensive? They last forever at least.

I suppose Lego could have stuck to just that, but they'd have 200 employees and one factory.

We quite enjoy the tie-in sets, the TV series and the computer games (and the theme parks and even the hotel). What we have now is a lot of choice. Too diverse a product range might be a problem for Lego but it's hard to see how it's a problem for its customers.

"Too many custom parts" isn't quite true either. Having bought sets from many themes there are hardly any brick-types that aren't seen used in different ways across multiple sets. There are a lot of different pieces, though, and this does make it harder to build creatively with bits from disassembled themed sets. The solution is to buy boxes of basic bricks.

Farewell, Android Pay. We hardly tapped you

Rob Fisher

Re: What could possibly...?

Out of interest, why are paranoid people using debit cards instead of credit cards? You're losing protection granted by section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act to get your money back if your stuff doesn't turn up.

Self-employed bear the brunt of Spring Budget with additional National Insurance contributions

Rob Fisher

Re: Here's a thought

I don't particularly agree with increasing taxes for certain groups. I want a smaller state in general: less tax and less spending. I suppose that makes me something of a right winger. But there is a way both you and me can get what we want:

Flat tax. You pay income (above some minimum tax-free amount) multiplied by some percentage. No schemes, no loopholes, no vote buying, no social engineering, simpler forms, cheaper administration, less human brain capacity wasted with trying to understand the intricacies of the tax code and probably less avoidance, evasion and lower headline rates and more revenue.

I wonder if a sufficiently large group of otherwise opposed people could join forces in campaigning for that.

Vegans furious as Bank of England admits ‘trace’ of animal fat in £5 notes

Rob Fisher

"carnivores kill their prey in much more cruel manners than humans do"

Not to mention the million human deaths from mosquito borne diseases each year that need to be fed into the outrageometer calibration procedure.

Teaching kids to code is self-defence, not a vocational skill

Rob Fisher

Re: Making "coding" a priority is a big mistake...

Learning coding also teaches logic and, to a point, how to think.

Don't worry about languages falling out of favour. Thinking about how to programming is a skill that transfers between them.

Rob Fisher

Re: Unrealistic and dangerous

This sounds like a good argument against over-reliance on the state. What if we consider the article as advice to parents instead of a call to teach coding in schools? Parents: help your kids learn to code and here's why. There are lots of books and resources for self-teaching coding, and computers are cheap.

Spreading arguments like the ones in this article might also inspire people to set up local groups or even large philanthropic organisations to help people learn to code.

I think limiting this to a call for the state to teach coding in schools (which we all know they will do badly) is thinking too small.

Rob Fisher

Doesn't teaching bits of Python in small groups at least garner interest and encourage further self-study?

Sound and battery: 20 portable Bluetooth speakers

Rob Fisher


You don't necessarily want the speakers to be miles apart for stereo. You want your head and the two speakers to form an icoceles triangle. So it depends how far away you're sitting. I can imagine sitting at a desk with one of the stereo sets here would be quite worthwhile.

Linux backdoor squirts code into SSH to keep its badness buried

Rob Fisher

Re: A million eyes look at the source

It's not so much that having the source code solves all problems. It's that hiding the source code solves no problems and creates new ones.

If no-one can see the source code then it is very easy to make programs do things other than their advertised purpose. If anyone can see the source code, then you can try putting malware in your program, but you might get caught, so you are less likely to try. You might think that no-one will look at the code, but you can't be sure.

I think you're right that most code is not looked at, or not looked at in the right places by the right people. But exploits *are* found and fixed in widely used open source programs, so at least we can see something is working.

There are no certainties, only tradeoffs. A malware writer trades effort needed to make malware against expected value of information stolen. An end user trades effort spent attempting to prevent or detect malware against value of the information that needs protecting. Open source definitely increases the effort a malware writer needs to make to hide their work. Whether it reduces the effort you need to spend on prevention and detection probably depends on what you are doing.

Don't tell the D-G! BBC-funded study says Beeb is 'too right wing'

Rob Fisher

Wrong question

It's not left vs right, it's top vs bottom. Too often the only viewpoints presented are the government and the people saying the government isn't doing enough.

Hundreds of UK CSC staff face chop, told to train Indian replacements

Rob Fisher

Re: Isn't this illegal?

@keithpeter "I have no idea where we are going to get jobs that pay reasonable rates for the next few generations either"

We differentiate. There are still things that are better done locally, or that local people are better skilled at. Not every kind of job suits outsourcing.

Also consider that places exporting their surplus supply of engineering talent will quicky get rich and start demanding that talent for themselves. Ultimately the more skilled people there are the more work gets done; skilled people do not go un-used, long term, given sensible economic policies.

"cutting wages or employment protection does not strike me as a good road to go down" -- such things might be unpleasant, but fighting the laws of economics (mathematics? nature?) won't work. Silly polices (e.g. you must employ only local people) will just make things worse.