* Posts by Richard Pennington 1

218 posts • joined 17 Jun 2009


Boeing's Starliner capsule corroded due to high humidity levels, NASA explains, and the spaceship won't fly this year

Richard Pennington 1

Getting hot and sticky ...

NASA has been launching out of Florida for years. The Europeans have been launching Arianes out of a tropical rain forest at Kourou for years. The weather issues have surely been known (apparently, to everyone except Boeing) for years.

Hitting underground pipes and cables costs the UK £2.4bn a year. We need a data platform for that, says government

Richard Pennington 1

We had gas moles in my town about 2 years ago ...

We had our local gas supplier dig up all the gas pipes across $TOWN a couple of years back ... they were replacing the old cast-iron pipes with new yellow plastic ones. The result was a network of molehills, tunnels and so forth right across town, for several weeks. And, by and large, the contractors were obvious cowboys.

[1] As part of the operation, they turned off my gas, took the meter out, put the new pipework in and replaced the meter. So far, so good. But when they did the leak test, it failed, and they were about to walk away (leaving me with no gas heating, in November ...) when I suggested that they might like to try tightening up the meter connection *that they had just re-installed*. Yup, that was where the leak was.

[2] A few houses up the road, they had a fault with an electrical earth. The electricity supply was earthed to the gas pipe, and the new plastic pipes do not conduct electricity. The result was that one house got a 400V+ surge which destroyed every appliance in the house, the owner was bodily thrown off the ladder he was half-way up at the time, and half of the estate lost all its electrical power (and random appliances were destroyed in several other houses). The electricity crew turned up and restored power after about 6 hours (at about midnight!), by somewhat unconventional means (some houses, including mine, were supplied via a bypass cable running *above ground* through several front gardens).

Xero, Slack suffer outages just as Let's Encrypt root cert expiry downs other websites, services

Richard Pennington 1

Finding dependencies in slow time ...

Has the original Rosetta Stone expired yet?

Years of development, millions of lines of code, and Android can't even run a toilet

Richard Pennington 1

Or even ...

... a piss-up in a brewery?

Don't touch that dial – the new guy just closed the application that no one is meant to close

Richard Pennington 1

Many years ago ...

Many years ago, there was a story about a computer running the late-night TV schedule on one particular channel. It was a Saturday evening in late March, before the era of 24-hour broadcasting.

As Saturday night rolled over into Sunday morning, the channel was showing a late-night film. As it reached 0200 hours, the system clock moved over into BST and jumped ahead an hour. At this point the logic realised that it was past closedown time and abruptly shut the channel down for the night, in mid-film.

There were no anguished calls to the TV channel. Apparently the late film's audience consisted entirely of video recorders.

Navigating without GPS is one thing – so let's jam it and see what happens to our warship

Richard Pennington 1

Many years ago, I went on a couple of Inter-Rail holidays around Europe with my brother. Essentially, we had the run of the trains all around Europe for a month. Coming to a new city, we always had the same routine: pick up the local map, visit the local tourist information centre, and see what we could find. Mostly, this worked.

But at Skopje, we hit a problem. We picked up a map at the station, went out through the station entrance, turned left ... and we were immediately lost. We were walking out of town, and that should not have been happening.

It turned out that the station was brand new (in its first week of service) and the map showed the location of the old station.

Talent shortage? Maybe it's your automated hiring system, lack of investment in training

Richard Pennington 1

To which you can add ...

... automatic (but illegal) discrimination against anyone over a threshold age (which appears to be about 40).

Report details how Airbus pilots saved the day when all three flight computers failed on landing

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Cascade

It's called COM/MON mode failure.

UK VoIP telco receives 'colossal ransom demand', reveals REvil cybercrooks suspected of 'organised' DDoS attacks on UK VoIP companies

Richard Pennington 1

If you are really an ITSP ...

... then you really are asking for some DDOSer to fill in the blanks to make your service TITSUP.

Samsung: We will remotely brick smart TVs looted from our warehouse

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Missing ONE thing

Does that turn Samsung into serial killers?

Dallas cops lost 8TB of criminal case data during bungled migration, says the DA... four months later

Richard Pennington 1

Someone mis-heard

Something about the War on Terabytes.

Please, no Moore: 'Law' that defined how chips have been made for decades has run itself into a cul-de-sac

Richard Pennington 1

There's another limiting factor

Cranking up the cycle speed introduces another limiting factor.

At 1GHz, the cycle time is 1 nanosecond; 1 light-nanosecond is about 30 centimetres.

At 10GHz, the cycle time is 100 picoseconds; 100 light-picoseconds is about 3 centimetres.

Eventually you get to the point where the light travel time across your machine is longer than your cycle time. Beyond this point, you cannot keep the cycle synchronised across your machine.

Nuisance call-blocking firm fined £170,000 for making almost 200,000 nuisance calls

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Be honest...


'This is the worst I've seen it' says Arista boss as entire network hardware sector battles component shortages, doubled lead times for semiconductors

Richard Pennington 1

On the plus side ...

I see in the news that the Ever Given has now docked at Felixstowe after its adventures in the Suez Canal.

I understand it needed an escort through the English Channel in case it got wedged between Dover and Calais :-)

Ordinary salaried Brits: Sweet! Payday! Banking giant HSBC: Oh no it isn't

Richard Pennington 1

But if they moved to amber status ...

... they would have to virus-check all the accounts, or quarantine them for 10 days.

Mine's the NBC suit.

What is your greatest weakness? The definitive list of the many kinds of interviewer you will meet in Hell

Richard Pennington 1

Not in IT, and not a new story, but ...

My late father, a school headmaster, once (1970s?) attended an interview for a position as a lecturer at a teacher training college. While looking around the place before the interview, he decided that he didn't actually want the job. This gave him a certain amount of freedom during the interview ...

A bit of background ... my father had a master's degree (MEd) in the philosophy of education. During the interview, he noted that "philosophy of education" was one of the subjects taught by the college. So he asked a sequence of increasingly searching questions on the subject. Eventually the interviewer bit: "Mr. Pennington, do you really think that our students could handle the kind of philosophy of education you are talking about". To which he replied: "If they can't, why are you awarding them degrees?".

Everyone cites that 'bugs are 100x more expensive to fix in production' research, but the study might not even exist

Richard Pennington 1

Current HMG policy ...

... is to let the bugs spread as they will, vaccinate the older users, test and trace until the pings become intrusive, and hope that not too many people die as a result.

And much the same for COVID.

Iffy voltage: The plague of PC builders and Hubble space telescope controllers alike

Richard Pennington 1

From individual-component-era electronics ...

There was a component which would regulate voltage at a particular level. It was called a Zener diode. There would be a resistor in series for the voltage to drop across.

For power applications (such as here) you would probably use an integrated-circuit voltage follower feeding off the output of the Zener diode.

For space applications, you would need to shield against cosmic ray hits (which is why satellite installations use weirdly-shaped bits of tantalum).

For myself (now in retirement), I am looking forward to a future "On-Call" column.

Should we have a dinosaur icon?

Restoring your privacy costs money, which makes it a marker of class

Richard Pennington 1
Paris Hilton

Restoring privacy ...

Someone once said that restoring privacy is like restoring virginity. Once it's gone, it's gone.

The Eigiau Dam Disaster: Deluges and deceit at the dawn of hydroelectric power

Richard Pennington 1

Getting there

B1506 should read B5106.

Congestion or a Christmas cock-up? A Register reader throws himself under the bus

Richard Pennington 1

Re: I found it best to...

Back in the 1970s, my late father was a school headmaster (hence the icon) in Leicester. At the time, there was a considerable debate about the merits or otherwise of comprehensive education. And there was a strange situation in the local education authorities.

The City of Leicester had its own council and education authority, which was Labour-controlled and was one of the last hold-outs to retain grammar schools (against the Labour party's national policy). The County of Leicestershire (Conservative controlled) was one of the first to introduce comprehensive schools (against their national policy). And then the two authorities (together with a third authority covering Rutland) were merged.

Before the merger, supplies for City schools were organised by a lady with a spiral-bound notebook. If a school phoned her, she could immediately tell them how much budget they had spent, and how much budget they had committed but not yet spent (and hence how much budget they had remaining). The County schools used the newer computer system at County Hall.

Custom and practice differed between schools in the two (former) authorities. County schools were in the habit of ordering supplies "little and often", whereas City schools tended to order a complete year's supply in one go. So the first time an order from a City school bubbled to the top of the queue, it cleaned out the supply chain. So for several weeks no school supplies were available at all.

The other issue was that the two (former) authorities used different units for supply orders. In particular, County schools ordered pencils by the number of individual pencils while City schools ordered by the number of boxes. Similarly, City schools ordered paper by the number of sheets, while County schools ordered paper by the number of reams. And so it didn't take very long for a City school to put an order in (failing to read the instructions carefully enough), and for the County Hall supplies people to fail to sanity-check the results. The school duly received a delivery of a hall-full of paper and one pencil.

Boeing fined $17m after fitting uncertified sensors to 737 Max and NG airliners for 4 years

Richard Pennington 1

Heads up guidance system sensors ...

As opposed to the nose-down-into-the-ground guidance sensors previously fitted ...

ASUS baffles customer by telling them thermal pad thickness is proprietary

Richard Pennington 1


Many years ago, I went to university and studied Natural Sciences - a sort of mix and match of subjects of which my choices included chemistry in the first year, and (totally unnecessarily, as my main subject was physics) also chemistry in the second year. In year 1 I was introduced to a demonstrator - a cheerfully insane type who seriously considered standing for Parliament as a Scottish Nationalist (in Cambridge). His job was to supervise the students during the practicals and intervene if something goes drastically or dangerously wrong. Like the young lady at the end of my row who was evaporating off petroleum ether (think: 4-star ...) over a naked Bunsen flame.

Fast forward a year. I am now in the second-year lab, and the demonstrator has a new batch of students in the first-year lab next door. And then we heard the bang. It turned out that a student had (correctly) used a steam bath to evaporate a solvent away, but had then spoiled things by dropping the product into the hot water in the steam bath, where it had promptly dissolved. Enter the demonstrator, coming to the rescue of the student and the product. His strategy was to extract the product from the water in the steam bath with an organic solvent (ether), and then evaporate the ether away. The trouble was that he had had to use rather a lot of ether - several bottles of the stuff.

Now, each bottle of ether is supposed to have a strip of magnesium in it while it is in storage. Apparently, one of the magnesium strips was missing. The reason for the magnesium strips is to prevent the formation of peroxides in storage. When the demonstrator evaporated the ether away, the peroxide concentration went up, until ... BANG. It shattered the glassware, and left the demonstrator with a cut to the chin (from flying glass fragments).

Highways England seeks vendor to replace Windows 2003-based pavement management systems

Richard Pennington 1

Or combine it with a survey of particulate pollution, and you get ...


Mine's the one with a hand up the back ...

So what if I pay peanuts for my home broadband? I demand you fix it NOW!

Richard Pennington 1

Another way of abruptly leaving a Zoom meeting ...

... is for the local substation to go on the fritz and plunge the entire estate into the pre-electric era.

In one go, it takes out the internet, desktop machines (laptops and phones survive thanks to local batteries), room lighting, mood music ...

Yes, it's happened.

China has a satellite with an arm – and America worries it could be used to snatch other spacecraft

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Laughable

Not "Dr. No". "You Only Live Twice" is much nearer the plotline.

BOFH: Bullying? Not on my watch! (It's a Rolex)

Richard Pennington 1

I'm retired now, but...

... but I did have one previous employer who sent out a set of performance objectives which had nothing to do with my job function (I was an out-and-out techie, and the objectives had no technical content). I refused to sign them, thereby touching off all sorts of fireworks at the next performance review.

The same employer, after a successful project to do with the 2011 (UK) Census, set my team leader a sales target of getting another UK Census project the following year...

Yes, there's nothing quite like braving the M4 into London on the eve of a bank holiday just to eject a non-bootable floppy

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Scammers and time wasters do blacklist people...

My late father claimed the record for the fastest demolition of a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses. His opening line was "Hi, I'm Jehovah. How are we doing?"

There wasn't a second line.

It helped that he looked the part - big, and with a beard. And he saw them coming.

Partial beer print horror as Microsoft's printer bug fix, er, doesn't

Richard Pennington 1

Thinking back ...

Wasn't it Heineken which printed the parts Microsoft couldn't reach?

OVH data centre destroyed by fire in Strasbourg – all services unavailable

Richard Pennington 1

What was the building construction?

At the risk of an inflammatory comment ...

Were they using French Grenfell-spec cladding?

Richard Pennington 1

Quis obscuraret ipsas res obscuras

(Latin:) Who is to cloud the cloudy things?

Off-site backup is good, even for off-site backup sites.

We know it's hard to get your kicks at work – just do it away from a wall switch powering anything important

Richard Pennington 1

Not always the power switch ...

... or perhaps she got her kicks

On Router 66 ...

We imagine this maths professor's lecture was fascinating – sadly he was muted for two hours

Richard Pennington 1

Using the kitty filter

He should have pressed the paws button.

Ring, Ring, why don't you give me a call? Amazon-owned doorbells aren’t answering after large-scale outage

Richard Pennington 1

Do not ask for whom the Ring rings ...

... it rings for you.

(Because no man is an island).

AI clocks first-known 'binary sextuply-eclipsing sextuple star system'. Another AI will be along shortly to tell us how to pronounce that properly

Richard Pennington 1

Another (very well known) sextuple star...

... despite being in Gemini which has something to do with twins.


Coming in at number 5, it's a blast from the past! Tenable's 2020 security flaw chart show features hits of yesteryear

Richard Pennington 1

Not just Tenable

There have been a few vintage bugs showing up in alerts recently. I have noticed several Apple bugs from 2017 in Recorded Future's "Cyber Daily" digests recently. Usually referring to Mac OSX 10.12 (Sierra), which is four versions out of date and two versions out of support.

Techies start growing an Alphabet-wide labor union: 200-plus sign up, only tens of thousands more to go

Richard Pennington 1

Alphabet Workers Union

Shouldn't that be the ABCDE?

Cats: Not a fan favourite when the critters are draped around an office packed with tech

Richard Pennington 1

Re: That's nothing (also in Cambridge, mid 80s)

Same here. A cat got into a substation in Cambridge and blacked out half the city. According to the local student rag, the cat survived. Also interesting to see which colleges had working emergency lighting!

Pure frustration: What happens when someone uses your email address to sign up for PayPal, car hire, doctors, security systems and more

Richard Pennington 1

Re: AT&T not immune to this either....

Is he, by any chance, confusing gmall (Georgia Mall) with gmail?

In 2016 Australia's online census failed. Preparations for the 2021 edition have been rated 'partly effective'

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Business as usual then

Not everyone skimps on the planning. I was on the security team for the 2011 UK Census (the first UK census to invite online participation by the public). Without going into detail here, we anticipated many different failure modes, and we even ran a simulated failover from one processing centre to another centre in another part of the country. Just in case a building got taken out.

We also put a whacking great filter / load balancer on the Internet-facing side, so as to be able to handle the anticipated (peak) traffic. Our assumption was that everyone and his/her dog would try to log on as soon as the system went live, from all over the UK (which would effectively mimic a DDOS attack). We also set it up so that if the traffic level got too high, the system would divert traffic to a simple "busy right now, try again later" page.

Apple Arm Macs ship, don't expect all open-source apps to work without emulation – here's what you need to know

Richard Pennington 1

Concurrent processes

As soon as you start looking at communication between threads, static analysis tools are insufficient (because it ain't static...).

The day I took down the data centre- I mean, the day I saved the day. Right, boss?

Richard Pennington 1

Not just any baseball game

I was in Baltimore at a computer security conference at the time; it was just after 8pm East Coast time, so I was back in my hotel room watching the World Series (two teams from California, IIRC).

It was the only time I got to watch a major earthquake on live TV.

Just cough into your phone, please... MIT lab thinks it can diagnose COVID-19 from the way you expectorate

Richard Pennington 1

The late, great Douglas Adams predicted ...

... telephone sanitisers.

I'll get my towel.

Did I or did I not ask you to double-check that the socket was on? Now I've driven 15 miles, what have we found?

Richard Pennington 1

Re: River names

Or indeed the River Thames

'20,000-plus staff' could face the chop in spin-off of IBM's IT outsourcing biz, says Wall Street analyst

Richard Pennington 1

Red Hat ...

... will be rebranded as Big Cloudy Blue Hat.

What a Hancock-up: Excel spreadsheet blunder blamed after England under-reports 16,000 COVID-19 cases

Richard Pennington 1

Data handling for dummies

Make up your file, then read back the last record. If the last record is OK, proceed.

If the last record is not OK, find out what's wrong (and you may yet stay off the front pages).

And don't ignore error messages. They're there for a reason.

I'm sure they used to teach this in ICT for 15-year-olds.

He was a skater boy. We said, 'see you later, boy' – and the VAX machine mysteriously began to work as intended

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Nylon knickers: a whole new problem for "Britain's first supercomputer"

They must have bought their knickers at Marks and Sparks...

IBM ordered to pay £22k to whistleblower and told by judges: Teach your managers what discrimination means

Richard Pennington 1

Working on a weekend...

I remember one job in about 1995 when I worked through a weekend. We were putting together a bid, to a tight schedule. I put in back-to-back 18-hour days on the Saturday and Sunday, finishing my own section and staying on to do instant technical reviews of other sections as they were completed. The team were all there; the managers were manning the high-end printer, and when we finished, the program manager (an ex rally driver) drove the bid package from Farnborough to Norwich (with another copy in another car travelling at a more sedate speed in case the program manager crashed en route).

And the differences:

(1) The whole team, including the managers, were there, working hard and covering for each other (and for jobs they wouldn't normally do);

(2) They had pizzas delivered at regular intervals;

(3) It was a one-off, to get the bid complete and delivered to a tight deadline;

(4) When we finished (about 4am on the Monday), we were instructed to take time off in lieu, and not to come in until Thursday.

The firm was taken over by IBM in 1996. I left in 2000.

Putting the d'oh! in Adobe: 'Years of photos' permanently wiped from iPhones, iPads by bad Lightroom app update

Richard Pennington 1

Re: No file exists...

Also from 40+ years ago ... no backup can be relied on until its "restore: has been successfully tested.

NASA to launch 247 petabytes of data into AWS – but forgot about eye-watering cloudy egress costs before lift-off

Richard Pennington 1

... thus achieving ...

... the ultimate Write-Only Memory.



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