* Posts by John Browne

31 publicly visible posts • joined 25 Apr 2007

UK kids presenter gets online support

John Browne

From my own experience.

When I joined ny junior school, aged 7, one of the teachers had a similar arm to Cerrie's. We were interested, sure, but upset, no. He was a nice guy and a good teacher, and we liked him. We soon ignored his 'disability', except when it caused him inconvenience; we then watched how he worked around it, or we helped him. We learned to accept another's disability.

This had another benefit; when a new boy with a similar arm joined the school, he had no more problems than any other 'New Kid on the Block'. In other schools he could have been bullied, but not in our school.

This was an ordinary primary school in Birmingham (UK) 1955-56. Nothing special.

Bottom line is that we should let children know about disabilities as soon as they can understand the concept. Any of us could acquire a disability; after all, how good a driver are you? Not just your car, your body.

Keep going, Cerrie, and ignore the tabloids.

Brit, French nuke subs collide - fail to 'see' each other

John Browne
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In defence of the BBC

This morning I heard a News 24 presenter say words to the effect of "At least their cloaking devices were working".

Years ago, the Beeb had regular coverage of this sort of thing. A brief extract goes: "Left hand down a bit, Mr. Pertwee....Ooh, clang"

Love it, so long as nobody was hurt and no nuke stuff got loose. Valuable lessons may be learned.

Yes! It's the cardboard PC!

John Browne
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But what about the environmental cost...

Of the fire extinguisher that would have to be kept handy. PC hardware occasionally makes smoke, but in a standard steel case it hardly ever makes fire. Maybe this thing could be fitted with an automatic extinguishing system, as used in aircraft and racing cars, but the cost (financial and envronmental) would be higher than than the old tin box. Also, the thing can't be robust enough to stand much in the way of cleaning, maintenance or upgrading. I wouldnt want to open it up too often or wipe it down with a damp cloth.

Chances are it would be scrapped earlier than a standard PC, just because it was starting to look a bit ratty. Not green.

If you want to be green, stick new kit in your old box 8-)

Don't shout at your disk drives, warns Sun engineer

John Browne
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That might explain it.

A couple of years ago, contractors were installing attachments for a false ceiling on the floor below mine, using hammer drills. I could feel the vibration through my feet, my chair and my desk.

I got the distinct feeling my PC was running slowly, but thought at the time that it was just the racket making me impatient and affecting my thinking. It was driving me up the wall.

My system box was on the (vibrating) floor, so this research could provide the real answer, and I was not going crazy.

Phew! Thanks for that.

MoD kit chief: Blighty unsure of supersonic stealth jumpjet

John Browne

Go for the catapult, please!

The F35B may prove to be a bit of a dog, and is unlikely to equal the Harrier in weapons capacity or manoeuvrability. The F35C, or naval versions of several other types, would probably be much more useful, and a lot cheaper.

As for the catapult, it need not require steam plant. Others have suggested the electromagnetic rail gun approach. Nice idea, but not proven in service.

Why not compressed air? A conventional "steam" catapult would run on that with little modification. The primary air supply could be taken from the first stage compressors of the gas turbines, and boosted by ordinary commercial air compressors run by electrical or shaft power from the turbines. It would need extra engine room space for compressors and air reservoirs, but much less than for a boiler plant, and much, much less than hangar space for spare aircraft.

It could be cheaper, safer and more fuel-efficient than the alternatives.

Mines the one with the air cylinder in the pocket.

Channel 4 in Heathrow Playmobil reconstruction shocker

John Browne
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It is possible...

that unleashing Optimus Prime at C4 (or T5 for that matter) might be cheaper, and ultimately better for humanity, than a long-winded copyright lawsuit?

Just a thought.

BTW, is Optimus P going to join a reality show anytime soon? I might just watch that one 8-)

UK etailer punts bovine coitus thumb drive

John Browne
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@AC re: ILL-Conceived, then?

Gotta be yer genetic engineering, innit? Them genetic engineers can breed pink and blue bears from a cow any day of the week, if they feel like it. The Koreans can even do one that glows in the dark. Not sure a freebie USB gadget could do it right now; my guess is Q3 2011.


John Browne

Has anybody noticed...

The acronym for USB Fornication Optimiser would be UFO.

Mines the one with the appliance in the pocket.

Lab tech supplier redefines corporate song paradigm

John Browne
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Did you really think I would play the video?

No way; reading the lyrics was bad enough.

This goes on my list of things I *absolutely must not do*, alongside murder, suicide, arson etc.

Anyway, if you really need to see a robot operating a pipette, most episodes of CSI show one, plus you get a decent script.

Enough said.

Dog collared with Cat-5 cable

John Browne

This takes me back

About 15 years ago, I and my colleagues were invited to the opening of a new club, at short notice. Free drinks etc. Trouble was, their dress code required us to wear ties, and we geeks had none. We broke out a reel of 40 way ribbon cable, as used for IDE drives, peeled it down to 25 ways and made ties out of that. And why not? Free drinks, after all. Problem solved.

Pantone cranks up the whalesong

John Browne

Not even the same colour as an iris.

As shown on their own page, even. Who are they trying to kid? Certainly not graphic design professionals, nor most of the rest of us.

A rather dull, depressing dark blue is all. You could do better yourself with even a cheapo paint program.

Better find me coat.

BBC redesigns and 'widgetizes' homepage

John Browne

Something funny about the clock?

The dateline says the article was published at 14:56, but the clock in the screenshot shows 15:14. When I looked at the page at 15:50, the clock was right.

Was the screenshot updated after the article was published? I think we should be told.

Generally, I rather like it.

Microsoft wireless keyboards crypto cracked

John Browne
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This is one for the bleedin obvious department, innit?

I never thought 27MHz was secure. Used to have a wireless keyboard, but binned it when I started shopping online. I still use a cordless mouse, but the security risk there is small unless they can see your screen. If they can see that, they can see the pointer, so securing the mouse makes little difference.

A little obfuscation can confuse keyloggers; never use tab to move between fields, use the mouse, and use the mouse instead of enter to submit the logon.

If you are really paranoid, open a text window before you start, and use the mouse for all cursor movement. Instead of straight $username, <tab>, $password, <enter>, type a bit of $username, then move to the text window and type some random rubbish, then back to a bit more username and so on. Use the mouse to move to the password and repeat the process. Close the text window without saving it, then use the mouse to log on.

Sounds tedious and a little crazy, but it ought to work.

Figured that out after 2 litres of lager, so you be the judge 8-)

Carnegie Mellon wins the robotic Urban Challenge

John Browne

@Keith and Curtis

Fair comment from Curtis, but Keith does have something of a point.

Fact is, the first generation of just about everything is rubbish.

Consider the first conventional cars, or steam locomotives before Stephenson got most (not all) of the bugs out. Or the Baird television system. Or even the humble plough; pulled by people, it meant a couple of millenia of backbreaking work until a decent ox, then horse, harness was added.

We seem to improve things rather more quickly these days, and viable autonomous vehicles will probably be with us quite soon, at least for the military.

If that bothers you, just remember what Arnie did to the robot cabbie in 'Total Recall' 8-)

iRobot offers crawling Wi-Fi spy-n-chat housebot

John Browne

Nice book reference...

"The Door Into Summer" is one of Heinlein's best. Having a cat named Pete as a leading character is a nice part of it.

As for the robot stuff, no, we do not have anything remotely resembling Hired Girl, but Heinlein was a visionary and had it right with Drafting Dan from the same story; the precursor of today's CAD/CAM software. Not bad for 1956.

Not the only tech prediction he made that came to fruition: in "The Man Who Sold the Moon" he suggested PIR-controlled lighting, as a sideline, not part of the main story. Now it's everywhere. In "Waldo" he proposed a remote manipulator, called the Synchronous Replicating Pantograph, although it's possible they already existed. Also, in "Waldo", or possibly in "Magic, Incorporated" he refers to routing problems with a mobile phone, not far from today's issues with roaming charges.

Man sues God

John Browne

Nice one...

And long overdue :-)

Yahoo! Agrees! To! Acquire! Talking! Heads! Song!

John Browne


When I saw the headline I assumed it would be "Road to Nowhere".

Boffins bend space and time to measure neutron star

John Browne

So, how much would a sheep weigh...

If it were made of collapsed matter?

From your earlier article, (brilliant, by the way) I propose two further units of mass; the cf (cupful) for collapsed matter and the MtEv (Mount Everest) for ordinary matter. For convenience, the volume of a cf could equal 1 gf (grapefruit), as defined earlier, assuming a generous coffee mug rather than a dainty teacup.

Oh, and how much would Wales weigh?

Somebody else can do the maths, my brain is a bit off today.

Dell laptops not in the pink after all

John Browne

Probably a good thing they can only do it in black

After all, it is the best colour for dissipating excess heat 8-)

US boffins demo steampunk artificial arm

John Browne

Why use an oxidiser, when we're surrounded by oxygen?

Bizarre choice of propellant, and not safe. Some kind of fuel, combined with atmospheric oxygen, would make more sense. Of course, it would need a catalytic converter in the exhaust.

If I had to use a prosthetic arm, I'd rather have it powered by you-know-who's laptop batteries than by Goldfarb's system.

I would get me coat, but the left sleeve has been blown to shreds.

NASA comp fails to produce flying cars

John Browne

No real progress,then

Since 1909, when Alberto Santos-Dumont designed the Demoiselle, a lightweight (250 pound) high-wing monoplane.

It worked a treat, and quite a lot were built by others, as Santos-Dumont had given away the drawings for free, in an early form of open-source. The drawings were published in Popular Mechanics, June 1910.

Sure, engines, airframe materials and instrumentation have improved considerably since then, but are we any closer to a personal skycar?

I doubt it.

Pipex invites customer to get 'c**ted'

John Browne

Not very secure, either.

Six or seven characters are not enough; also their suggestions all put the only capital at the beginning and the only numeral at the end.

If that is a consistent pattern, it should be fairly sraightforward to modify a cracking algorithm to deal with it.

I roll my own passwords, and the ones for serious business have letters capitalised randomly, and numerals interspersed, also randomly. Not always easy to remember, but I get by.

Teachers vote to ban internet

John Browne

Wi-Fi is the wrong target.

If they want a culprit, they should consider the cheapo CRT monitor.

Those things chuck out a lot more RF energy than a WAP, plus some ozone and a small amount of X-rays. Filthy things.

Sure, TV sets have done the same since the 1950s, but the TV is usually on the other side of the room, while the monitor is 18 inches from your nose.

I found life easier after my CRTs were retired and replaced with LCDs.

El Reg issues Satan word alert

John Browne

Re: Dub Dub Dub

If I have to verbalise www, I just say Dubyas. Kind of appropriate.

Jonathan King in Harold Shipman song rumpus

John Browne


Never before have I felt that El Reg should kill a story, but this may be the exception.

There really is no need to feed the arrogant King ego.

YouTube should kill the video as well.

We ought to ignore King and get on with our lives.

Paris and Lara share a cell with rude speeder

John Browne

And a note of sanity...

What do we want El Reg to be, a news journal or a discussion board?

At present, most content is written by journalists and expert contributors, and I would like it to stay that way.

If nested comments were allowed, the Reg editorial staff could find themselves spending too much time moderating flame wars, rather than researching and writing real news.

Flame wars are hardly ever interesting to anybody apart from the protagonists; real news is bound to get much more interest.

Decades ago, broadsheet newspapers had to address this issue in their letters columns. Eventually the editor would add the comment "This discussion is closed" after the last published letter.

Discussion boards are ten a penny; real news journals are relatively rare.

Consumers more excited by GPS than mobile TV

John Browne

Another solution looking for a problem?

Where would one use mobile TV anyway?

At home? Nope, anybody with the price of one of those will have at least one regular TV already installed.

While visiting? Nope; if an important show is on, you can ask your host for the use of their TV; otherwise you can act like the antisocial type who, in the old days, would sit in a corner and read a book.

In a car? Illegal for the driver to do it in most countries. For passengers, or when parked, in-car TVs are already available.

In a pub, club or restaurant? Many of those places make their own arrangements, and have big screens and big sound systems to prove it. Other, quieter venues may well chuck you out for bothering the customers and putting their license at risk.

In a park or on the beach? Why go there in the first place? Stay home and watch TV, if that's what you want.

On the street? Gotta be kidding. A sure-fire way of getting mugged, at least while the thing is fashionable.

For bling purposes? Maybe, but it won't last, and it won't make a sustainable market.

My old mobile died some time ago; the next one will only have to do voice and text, and will be as cheap and reliable as possible.

No fancy stuff required, although GPS (or Galileo??) would be neat.

Scottish coppers ask bosses to drop trousers

John Browne

Two possible reasons for this.

One, it might be a half-assed (geddit) attempt to help the police integrate with yoof culture by wearing trousers with the crutch at knee level.

Two, it might be sabotage by a foreign power, as exposed by the Goon Show on the last day of the 1950s.

That particular attack involved shirts; details at http://www.thegoonshow.net/scripts_show.asp?title=s10e02_tales_of_mens_shirts

Inerestingly, the shirts were also made in Leicestershire.

Danes 'prove' sudden iBook death syndrome

John Browne

From the viewpoint of an engineer...

Sounds like a fatigue failure of a solder joint. Soft solder, used in PCB assembly, has low fatigue resistance, and the newly introduced use of environmentally friendly lead-free solder may make it worse.

Fatigue can be caused by temperature cycling (hot laptops, remember?) or by mechanical flexing of the board in a case that is not sufficiently rigid. Both are more extreme in a laptop than in other PC housings. Advice: keep it cool and treat it gently.

It can be mitigated by placing large components away from hot areas of the board, providing support and stiffening, and sometimes by changing the orientation of components.

Trouble is, with speed and compactness as marketing priorities, thermal and mechanical considerations take a back seat and mistakes are made.

Apple should admit to this one.

By the way, my old TV set recently suffered the same problem, but then it has seen 15 years of service and cost a lot less than an iBook.

Hot-air powered railway to harvest energy from cars

John Browne

That's no way to run a railroad.

They can't even spell the name of the turbine right; it's Darreius, after George J Darreius who invented it in the 1930s.

There's so much wrong with this, I hardly know where to begin.

First, the Darreius turbine is not self-starting, so is the worst type to use when the wind is intermittent, as in traffic. The Savonius type would be the cheapest usable alternative. Those annoying rotating signs work roughly that way.

Second, the way it's shown in the magazine, it would replace the crash barriers and could turn a fender bender into a pileup. Even without a pileup, the repeated damage to turbines would make the system prohibitively expensive, unreliable and difficult to maintain.

Third, even a modest 2 car light train needs at least 150 kilowatts for a quick getaway from a station, and there's no way those turbines could do that. A backup energy store or a connection to the power grid would be essential. Better designed and located located wind turbines can assist the grid.

That's it. The article already demolished the other foolishness.

Dark mutterings on killer Wi-Fi in schools help no one

John Browne

They could try a 6 month shutdown of school WiFi...

But please give me fair warning so I can get down to the bookies and lay down fifty quid on it making eff all difference.

I keep the WiFi disabled on my router when not needed, but that is for security reasons, not health.