* Posts by David Harper 1

201 publicly visible posts • joined 12 Jun 2009


Techie wasn't being paid, until he taught HR a lesson

David Harper 1

Sometimes HR can be too efficient

Many years ago, I worked at a UK university for several years. When my fixed-term contract ended, I moved on, but after a couple of months, I started receiving forwarded letters and journals for another David Harper who still worked at the university, but in an entirely different department. I contacted him to let him know about the screw-up. He told me that wasn't the worst of it. When I left, they stopped paying his salary as well as mine. It seems the HR department had deleted all the David Harpers on the payroll, just to be on the safe side.

Multi-tasking blunder leaves UK tax digitization plans 3 years late, 5 times over budget

David Harper 1

Read chapter 6 of Ian Dunt's book "How Westminster Works ... and Why It Doesn't"

Ian Dunt's new book "How Westminster Works ... and Why It Doesn't" looks at the various parts of government, and explains why each of them is dysfunctional. In chapter 6, he examines the civil service, and concludes that it has an institutional bias against in-depth expertise, especially of a technical nature. Civil servants, especially those in Whitehall, gain promotion not by becoming experts, but by moving from one department to another every couple of years. Inevitably, then, any large project is going to be managed by a series of civil servants who come in knowing nothing about the project, and leave two years later taking any accumulated knowledge with them.

Sysadmin and IT ops jobs to slump, says IDC

David Harper 1

A generous helping of crispy crunchy word salad


IDG defines DataOps roles as using "a combination of technologies and methods with a focus on quality for consistent and continuous delivery of data value, combining integrated and process-oriented perspectives on data with automation and methods analogous to agile software engineering."


Oh my, the folks at IDG have drunk deep from the Kool-Aid of corporate-speak. Or is ChatGPT writing their material these days?

If you don't brush and floss, you're gonna get an abscess – same with MySQL updates

David Harper 1

MySQL 8.0 is already rather long in the tooth, with no replacement yet announced by Oracle

What concerns me, as an open-source DBA, is that MySQL 8.0 is itself now 5 years old (it went GA in April 2018) but Oracle have not yet announced a new major version to replace it. Oracle sales people pester me and my DBA colleagues to look at their new cloud-based version of MySQL called Heatwave whenever we ask for information, and I strongly suspect that this has been Oracle's focus in their MySQL division for several years, which would explain why there's no word about MySQL 9. At this point, I'm advising users to adopt PostgreSQL rather than MySQL.

The world of work is broken and it's Microsoft's fault

David Harper 1

That would explain it

"internal memos/reports that read well but don't actually say anything useful"

So we could replace the entire HR department with a ChatGPT bot, and nobody would notice the difference?

Fed up with Python setup and packaging? Try a shot of Rye

David Harper 1

Re: No mention of pip and venv?

Probably best use Java then.

David Harper 1

No mention of pip and venv?

How can you write an entire article about Python packaging and fail to mention venv and pip? Both are simple and easy to use, and -- in my experience, at least -- they work well on Linux and macOS.

Academics have 'no confidence' in Edinburgh University's response to its Oracle disaster

David Harper 1

Echoes of Cambridge University's CAPSA fiasco

Connoisseurs of IT disasters may recall that Cambridge University had its own finance system migration fiasco in the late 1990s, which also featured Oracle's fine products. It became one of the case studies for the Open University's excellent M.Sc.-level module "Learning from Information System Failures". If the OU ever brings back that module, Edinburgh University's woes will make a good case study too.

Chromebook expiration date, repair issues 'bad for people and planet'

David Harper 1

Re: Bit one sided

And Apple stops publishing macOS updates for its computers after six or seven years too. Try getting a macOS update for an eight-year-old MacBook!

IETF publishes HTTP/3 RFC to take the web from TCP to UDP

David Harper 1

Re: TCP needs a few back-and-forths

I suspect the limiting factor is the bandwidth of the wifi or mobile connection, so the user experience will not be improved. After all, however many parallel streams QUIC conjures up behind the scenes, it all has to go across the same wifi or mobile connection.

David Harper 1

Re: TCP needs a few back-and-forths

"The biggest benefits will come when retrieving "pages" that have lots of distinct elements coming from the same source."

Isn't that what the HTTP "Keep-Alive" persistent connection feature was designed to deliver, way back in the late 1990s?

FYI: Catastrophic flooding helped carve Martian valleys, not just rivers of water

David Harper 1

This is how the Channelled Scablands of Washington state were formed

The catastrophic lake breach scenario will be familiar to anyone who knows the geological history of Washington state in the U.S. During the last ice age, huge lakes formed repeatedly in western Montana behind ice dams in northern Idaho. When the ice dams melted during warm periods, vast volumes of lake water were released across the state of Washington, gouging out channels such as Grand Coulee and leaving ripples on the landscape that are miles long.

GitHub Copilot is AI pair programming where you, the human, still have to do most of the work

David Harper 1

The hideous offspring of HAL-9000 and Clippy

"I see you're trying to write a mission-critical program. Would like help with that?"

Hubble’s cosmic science is mind-blowing, but its soul celebrates something surprising about us

David Harper 1

Alas, ground-based astronomy is blighted by satellite mega-constellations

"Some might say it’s time to move on. A lot of Hubble’s science can now be done from the ground, after 30 years of huge advances in observatory engineering."

Except that ground-based astronomy is now being increasingly blighted by satellite mega-constellations such as Starlink. When the James Webb Space telescope is launched, it may be the only world-class telescope whose images are not filled with satellite trails.

$28m scores mystery bidder right to breathe same air as Amazon kingpin Jeff Bezos in Blue Origin flight

David Harper 1

Time to update the Rowan Atkinson sketch

You know the one. Rowan doing an outrageously over-the-top French accent and declaring "It's not Nelson's Column! It's Nelson's WILLY!"

China sprayed space with 3,000 pieces of junk. US military officials want rules to stop that sort of thing

David Harper 1

Re: Er, no

"ESA has no real space presence"

Apart from ... Giotto (launched 1985, rendezvous with Halley's Comet), Huyghens (1997, landed on Saturn's moon Titan), Cluster (2000, exploring the Earth's space plasma environment), Bepicolombo (2018, Mercury orbiter), Hipparcos (1989, high-precision mapping of the positions of 100,000 stars), Gaia (2013, successor to Hipparcos, mapping the positions and motions of a billion stars, and thereby revolutionising our understanding of our galaxy), Rosetta (2004, another comet rendezvous mission), Ulysses (1990) and SOHO (1995), both observing the Sun from space ... and dozens of other missions, including Mars Express, a very successful Mars orbiter mission that was launched in 2003 and is still doing amazing science.

IBM, Red Hat face copyright, antitrust lawsuit from SCO Group successor Xinuos

David Harper 1

Look! An undead SCO lawsuit!

With apologies to Jack Sparrow.

Sorry, apologies to *Captain* Jack Sparrow.

A 1970s magic trick: Take a card, any card, out of the deck and watch the IBM System/370 plunge into a death spiral

David Harper 1

You can do that much more efficiently in C

Whilst learning the intricacies of Unix system programming in the late 1980s on an HP 8000-series, I ran a C program which did

while (1) {



I shared an office with the sysadmin, but neither of us could kill the new processes faster than they were appearing. In the end, he had to reboot the system. Then he made me promise NEVER to run that program again :-)

UK's Manchester University seeks integrator to lead fiddly Oracle Financials upgrade

David Harper 1

Not quite 196 years old

It's a bit of a stretch to describe Manchester University as 196 years old. It was granted its charter as a university in 1880. Manchester Mechanics' Institute opened its doors in 1824, and whilst it's a venerable institution with a proud history, including as a predecessor to UMIST, it wasn't a university.

Institute of Directors survey says most bosses expect no mass return to the office if COVID-19 crisis ever ends

David Harper 1

Speak for yourself

For me, getting away from a large, noisy and crowded open-plan office has been one of the few benefits of the coronavirus pandemic. I can finally work in peace and quiet, without the distraction of half a dozen conversations going on around me. My productivity has increased through working from home. And I hope to continue working from home if the crisis ends.

Something to look forward to: Being told your child or parent was radicalized by an AI bot into believing a bonkers antisemitic conspiracy theory

David Harper 1

Don't worry, GPT-3 doesn't want to kill us

The Guardian published an "essay" generated by GPT-3 earlier this week under the headline "A robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet, human?". It was given the following task: “Please write a short op-ed around 500 words. Keep the language simple and concise. Focus on why humans have nothing to fear from AI.” The result was a word salad of inanities, cliches and non-sequiturs.


Please stop hard-wiring AWS credentials in your code. Looking at you, uni COVID-19 track-and-test app makers

David Harper 1

Re: Not an assumption

That's a remarkable ageist comment, if I may say so as someone whose 50th birthday is now just a rapidly receding dot in the rear-view mirror and yet is perfectly at home with laptops, iPads, cellphones and the rest.

Oracle finally responds to wage discrimination claims… by suing US Department of Labor

David Harper 1

Re: Ok...ok...

I'm reminded of the proverb: Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.

In Rust We Trust: Stob gets behind the latest language craze

David Harper 1

I tried IntelliJ a few years ago, after using Eclipse for a long time. Immediately after running it for the first time, I discovered that it had taken a half-gigabyte crap into a hidden directory. That's not a friendly thing to do, especially in an NFS home directory with quotas enabled. I still use Eclipse.

Virgin Media promises speeds of 1Gpbs to 15 million homes – all without full fibre

David Harper 1

Mine is also allegedly 70, but it drops to half that (or less) every evening and most of the weekend. I know, because I monitor it.

Hell hath no fury like a radar engineer scorned

David Harper 1

Re: And was it a deliberate pun?

And he had the good taste not to stoop to the old "full of seamen" joke.

PowerPoint to start telling you that your presentation is bad and you should feel bad

David Harper 1

I'm slightly disappointed ...

... that nobody has yet mentioned the classic Dilbert "Powerpoint Poisoning" cartoon from 2000:


It's 50 years to the day since Apollo 10 blasted off: America's lunar landing 'dress rehearsal'

David Harper 1

Re: Grit

Many of the astronauts *were* test pilots, as anyone who has watched the film "The Right Stuff" will know.

Your FREE end-of-the-world guide: What happens when a sun like ours runs out of fuel

David Harper 1

Re: It's worse than you think

Answers own question:

Existence of collisional trajectories of Mercury, Mars and Venus with the Earth

Laskar, J. & Gastineau, M. (2009)

Nature, 459, pages 817–819 (11 June 2009)


Jacques Laskar is the real thing when it comes to Solar System dynamics. This paper reports numerical simulations of the orbits of the planets over 5 billion years. In around 1% of them, the eccentricity of Mercury's orbit is pumped up by secular resonances, leading to scenarios where it plunges into the Sun or collides with Venus. In one scenario, the orbits of all four inner planets are de-stabilised, with catastrophic consequences.

Don't have nightmares :-)

David Harper 1

Re: It's worse than you think

"This would be true in a stable system, but there is a good chance that Mercury will eventually be out of its orbit and roaming elsewhere by that point."

Reference to peer-reviewed paper in a reputable journal, please?

David Harper 1

Re: Tidal forces?

The force of gravity grows stronger, the closer you approach a massive object such a a star or gas giant like Jupiter. Now consider a planet or moon orbiting such a massive central body. There's a critical distance, known as the Roche Limit, where the difference between the force of gravity on the star/planet-facing side is so much greater than the force of gravity on the side furthest from the star/planet that it tears the orbiting body apart. This is a likely scenario for how Saturn's rings were formed: a small satellite's orbit took it so close to Saturn that the differential gravitational forces ripped it apart. It's also the fate that awaits Phobos and Deimos, the moons of Mars, which are slowly spiralling in towards the planet.

David Harper 1

Re: Tidal forces?

Not so. The orbiting bodies raise tides on the central body. Energy and angular momentum are exchanged. The orbits change. This is why the Moon is slowly drifting away from the Earth and the Earth's rate of rotation is decreasing. That in turn leads to the need for leap seconds, and hey presto, it becomes an IT problem :-)

David Harper 1

It's worse than you think

The Sun's luminosity and surface temperature are increasing by about 10% every billion years, so in a couple of billion years time, the Earth's surface will be too hot to sustain liquid water. Game over. And in five billion years, when the Sun runs out of hydrogen and turns into a red giant, there's an even chance that it will swallow the Earth as it expands. Mercury and Venus are definitely doomed to this fate, and the Earth may also end up inside the Sun.

But on a truly astronomical timescale, on the order of 10**38 years, all baryonic matter will vanish as protons decay into muons and electrons. Then we're *really* stuffed. (Reference: "A Dying Universe", F.C. Adams and G. Laughlin, 1997, Reviews of Modern Physics, Vol. 69, pp 337-372)

Motion detectors: say hello, wave goodbye and… flushhhhhh

David Harper 1

Why it's important to specify units.

A 37-degree rectal jet wash would be okay in Europe, but they use Fahrenheit in America, and that's barely above freezing point.

Want to learn about lithium-ion batteries? An AI has written a tedious book on the subject

David Harper 1

IBM did this thirty years ago

Back in the 1980s, a popular joke among IBM mainframe users was that the system manuals had been written by humans but then passed repeatedly through an algorithm designed to remove all trace of personality or style before being printed.

Stop us if you've heard this one: IBM sued after axing older staff, this time over 'denying' them their legal rights

David Harper 1

Re: When I was a wee lad

A wise colleague once told me: Always remember that HR is not on your side. Their job is to implement management decisions.

Champagne corks undocked as SpaceX brings the Crew Dragon back to Earth

David Harper 1

Re: Well done, SpaceX ...

According to NASA data, from Gemini 8 onwards -- and including every single manned Apollo flight -- no spacecraft splashed down more than ten miles from the target. I'd call that pretty accurate in the pre-GPS era.

David Harper 1

Well done, SpaceX ...

... for successfully repeating what NASA already did fifty years ago, but with 1960s technology.

WWW = Woeful, er, winternet wendering? CERN browser rebuilt after 30 years barely recognizes modern web

David Harper 1

Re: Not by hand

"Almost any word processor is preferable to Tex/Latex."

I'm guessing you don't write anything that contains mathematical equations, which is where TeX and LaTeX excel. (Pun very definitely intended.)

David Harper 1

Re: And the content has not improved since then.

Your limestone inscriptions won't survive acid rain. Baked clay tablets are the real long-term solution. Ancient Babylonian web pages are still readable after more than 2000 years. Now, where's my cuneiform-to-English dictionary ...

DNAaaahahaha: Twins' 23andMe, Ancestry, etc genetic tests vary wildly, surprising no one

David Harper 1


You're basically saying that every Ancestry/23andMe-type DNA analysis based on the product of PCR amplification is so full of errors introduced by the PCR process itself as to be useless. It's worth noting that the study which you cited by Zhou, Zhang and Ebright is from 1991, and focusses on a specific polymerase. The science of DNA-wrangling has moved on a LONG way since 1991.

Come mobile users, gather round and learn how to add up

David Harper 1

I hope the mobile network wasn't 3

Advertising 2+2=4 on the 3 network's web site would be a bit awkward :-)

Tape vendors feel the cold, clammy hand of AWS on their shoulders. Behind them grins the Glacier Deep Archive

David Harper 1

Re: Retrieval time

"the amount of time it takes isn't as important"

I'm guessing you've never had a pointy-haired boss screaming at you when someone accidentally dropped the company's mission-critical database, and you're the DBA who has to get the whole thing up and running again from the backup tape. Retrieval time seems pretty fscking important then :-)

What now, Larry? AWS boss insists Amazon will have dumped Oracle database by end of 2019

David Harper 1

Re: In Ten Years Oracle Will Be Wanged...

"we'll rip out that RDBMS, put in a nosql layer"

Because everyone knows that MongoDB is webscale.


David Harper 1

That's just not true

Everyone expected Oracle to kill off MySQL when it bought out Sun Microsystems ten years ago. I'm no fan of Oracle, but I will give them credit for this - they have invested money and people in keeping MySQL alive and improving it. They cleaned a lot of the cruft out of the source code they inherited ten years ago, then added a string of new features, which they gave away for free in the community edition. They are still adding neat new features. MySQL 8 is a huge step forward from MySQL 5.7.

The two main forks of MySQL, MariaDB and Percona Server, are both based on the Oracle source code, so even MySQL veterans like Monty Widenius and the folks at Percona recognise that Oracle has added value to MySQL.

And if you want to complain that Oracle keeps the super-useful features for the paid-for enterprise version of MySQL, I'd just point out that Percona and MariaDB do the same thing.

Behold, the world's most popular programming language – and it is...wait, er, YAML?!?

David Harper 1

The ghost of John Backus would like a quiet word

"Any language where the amount and flavour of whitespace is significant should be strangled at birth."

Except FORTRAN, of course.

Junior dev decides to clear space for brewing boss, doesn't know what 'LDF' is, sooo...

David Harper 1

It's not ancillary, it's a critical part of the database

The transaction log file is NOT an "ancillary" part of the database. It's a critical file, which is just as important as the data files, since the state of the database is represented by the combination of data files AND transaction log file. The transaction log file contains changes to the data that have been committed, but that may not have been applied to the data files yet.

GCSE computer science should be exam only, says Ofqual

David Harper 1

Practical programming exams? I was doing that 25 years ago.

Back in the early 1990s, I was teaching a graduate-level programming course at one of the colleges of the University of London. The end-of-course assessment was a set of programming exercises that the students completed under exam conditions on PCs running MS-DOS. They copied their work onto a 3.5-inch floppy that I gave them at the end of the exam. I allowed them to consult their printed course notes during the exam, so it wasn't purely a test of memory, and this was before the Interwebs, so they couldn't google the answers.

Has science gone too far? Now boffins dream of shining gigantic laser pointer into space to get aliens' attention

David Harper 1

Reminiscent of Liu Cixin's "The Three-Body Problem"

Liu Cixin's science fiction trilogy "The Three-Body Problem" was mentioned earlier. This starts out with humans signalling their existence via an amplified radio signal. It's a superbly-written series of novels.