* Posts by Richard Pennington 1

355 publicly visible posts • joined 17 Jun 2009


Salesforce flipflops from 'you're fired' to 'you're hired' in six short months

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Add a bit of QC to the +AI mix ;)

Surely the correct normalisation is (<hired| + <fired|) / √2, with an orthogonal form (<hired| - <fired|) / √2.

Otherwise known as Schrödinger's staff. They don't know whether they are hired or fired until an external observer checks on them.

Watt's the worst thing you can do to a datacenter? Failing to RTFM, electrically

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Check the power supply

But the kit did.

I'll see your data loss and raise you a security policy violation

Richard Pennington 1

Heap-sorted desk

I'm retired now, but at one of my previous employments the boss operated his desk by the "deep litter" principle. The assorted paperwork on his desk gave a sort of "crown green" effect, with the paper depth approaching 50cm in the centre of the desk surface, and tapering off towards the edges.

The boss had been a chef in an earlier incarnation, and he had invited the team over to his house for a meal / celebration, and had left the office to make preparations. I habitually worked late, and thus I was the only staff member in the office when the phone call came in. It was the boss, asking me to go into his office and see if his wallet was there. The best I could manage in short time was to say "not obviously".

It turned out that when the boss went home to do the meal preparations, he discovered an intruder inside the house, and his wallet was missing. The intruder escaped. A couple of weeks later, the intruder was caught ... he had used the boss's credit card at a Chinese restaurant, and when he went back to another similar establishment, they called the police and caught him red-handed. Surprise! - the Chinese restaurant community talk to each other.

UK air traffic woes caused by 'invalid flight plan data'

Richard Pennington 1

Update on NATS data-driven outage

It is being reported that the outage was due to a genuine data problem: a submitted flight plan included transit via two identically-named waypoint markers.


So, if the reporting is correct, there are actually two problems:

[1] There should not have been two identically-named waypoint markers, and so at least one waypoint marker needs to be renamed.

[2] The NATS software responded incorrectly: it should have thrown out the offending flight plan, with a human-intelligible note stating why it was being thrown out. [Like a human would have done].

Incidentally, was the NATS software running in the cloud?

Richard Pennington 1

Backup system designed to fail in the ssme way.

Common-mode failure. Not very resilient. But reproducible.

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Resiliency – we've heard of it

Input sanitation is when you know you're feeding it crap.

IT needs more brains, so why is it being such a zombie about getting them?

Richard Pennington 1

IT needs brains

The problem is that a few years ago they pushed out all the older IT staff, and they have been whining about skills shortages ever since. I'm 64, retired and never going back.

Also, at my age, I don't have a degree in Computer Science. There weren't any. I do have a hatful of STEM degrees up to and including a PhD. But my collection of qualifications is so wildly nonstandard that HR droids would typically throw me out in the first pass, because I don't fit their pattern (or indeed any pattern). And since it was a while since I was pushed out for being "too old", I have no recent experience on my CV.

BOFH: What a beautiful tinfoil hat, Boss!

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Quirks for jerks

I once had a H&S team come round with a pile of forms to fill in about ergonomics. They were worried about some of the shorter members of staff (principally the ladies) not being able to reach the floor with their feet while sitting on their chairs, and getting their monitors arranged so that they were at the correct viewing angle. They supplied boxes to go under the tables so that the shorter staffers' feet could rest on a solid surface.

I am over six feet tall. They didn't take kindly to my suggestions of [1] balancing the monitor on a pile of books to get it up to a sensible height, and [2] digging a hole in the floor for my feet.

Germany's wild boars still too radioactive to eat largely due to Cold War nuke tests

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Hold the f'ing panic!

There was a story a few months ago about a wild boar in one of the parks around Berlin, which stole a gentleman's laptop. He was caught on film rushing after the animal, trying to retrieve it ... minus clothes, as he was au naturel at the time.

If the wild boars have taken to using laptops, then *something* is causing them to evolve more rapidly than usual.

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Typo/fact checking

Some Americans never got the hang of elementary education. So they miss vowels out of "aluminium" and "caesium". And then of course there is "tungsten", which they think is a wolf in sheep's clothing ... so they call it "wolf-ram".

Arm wrestles assembly language guru's domains away citing trademark issues

Richard Pennington 1

You missed one

Do they know their arm from their elbow?

Criminals go full Viking on CloudNordic, wipe all servers and customer data

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Where are the backups?

Another possibility is the MegaUpload vulnerability. When the Feds seized the MegaUpload server in New Zealand, they wiped out as "collateral damage" all the innocent customers whose data was on the same server.

Richard Pennington 1

Re: "their own backups as a contingency"

If they are using the cloud as primary storage, then they have another vulnerability. Any loss of connectivity (e.g. the man in the JCB digging up the road outside and slicing through their cables) means they cannot see their data.

If they have primary storage held locally, they can at least continue to operate (locally) and do the reconciliation and synchronisation later when the connectivity is restored.

Last rites for the UK's Online Safety Bill, an idea too stupid to notice it's dead

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Not holding my breath

I'm just waiting for the county councils in Essex, Kent, Surrey, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire to gang up and introduce their own road taxes (but only for vehicles registered in London). What goes around, comes around.

Resilience is overrated when it's not advertised

Richard Pennington 1

Re: I have one phrase

... a pilot who thinks the other wing is optional.

Tesla knew Autopilot weakness killed a driver – and didn't fix it, engineers claim

Richard Pennington 1

Re: A rude question

Or if I see blue flashing lights in ANY direction, or if I hear a siren, I am immediately on my guard, and I need to figure out where it is and where it's going.

I need to be prepared for:

[a] a hazard which has attracted the attention of the emergency services (and which may be too far ahead to be immediately visible),

[b] an emergency services vehicle needing to get past me at high speed, and/or

[c] other vehicles reacting to [a] and/or [b].

Bad software destroyed my doctor's memory

Richard Pennington 1

Going through the records

Just before COVID, I asked my doctor a query which required a search way back in the records. I asked whether I was eligible to give blood.

The issue was that, as a child, I had had hepatitis. Some forms of hepatitis would disqualify me as a blood donor. So I gave my GP as much detail as I could remember, and she took it as a challenge.

And sure enough, she found it: a brief entry: "Infectious hepatitis", in December 1965. It was before they defined Hepatitis A, B, C, D or E. They would probably call it Hepatitis A these days (certainly the theory at the time was that it came from a stream which ran through the grounds of my infant/junior schools; Hepatitis A is usually water-borne). And Hepatitis A is not a disqualifying factor, especially with over 50 years of time passed since the infection.

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Handwritten v typed

Could be worse. In the 2011 film "What's Your Number?", the protagonist is surprised by how her obstetrician recognises her.

Want to pwn a satellite? Turns out it's surprisingly easy

Richard Pennington 1

Hacking satellites is not new

Captain Midnight (1986):


Don't shoot! DARPA wants to capture future spy balloons in one piece

Richard Pennington 1

I refer you to my previous statement ...

Better than shooting it down ...

If I were the US military, I would be interesting in capturing the balloon intact, rather than shooting it down. The intelligence is clearer if you don't have to do the jigsaw first.

[My comment posted on 3rd February when the story first broke.]

Most distant observed star is blue – and it isn't alone

Richard Pennington 1

Not in the Shire ...

It would take a while ... more than eleventy-one years. Even with the One Ring (of accursed memory), you're not getting There and Back Again.

How to get a computer get stuck in a lift? Ask an 'illegal engineer'

Richard Pennington 1

Not strictly IT but .....

Big and heavy servers aren't the only things which can be accident-prone while being moved. This BBC News story from 2007 illustrates the point: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/devon/6541457.stm .

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Getting stuck in a lift is no fun

At the top of the food chain ... Mosquitos and midges might care to dispute that claim.

The choice: Pay BT megabucks, or do something a bit illegal. OK, that’s no choice

Richard Pennington 1


Dvorak. It's a new world ...

What does Twitter's new logo really represent?

Richard Pennington 1

Another similar logo

There is another product with a similar logo. Titanium Software produces a system administration product (useful for tweaking the system internals, and for troubleshooting) for Apple systems. The product is called OnyX and the logo is a letter X with the same thin-stroke + thick stroke scheme. With OnyX, there is a different version corresponding to the version of Apple system it administers, and the logo colour (and, to some extent, the style) is different for each new version.

Linux lover consumed a quarter of the network

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Rule one...

Back in the day (early-mid 1980s), I was doing a PhD in astronomy in a venerable university in the Fenlands. There were two systems: the University computer, connected to the nationwide academic network JANET, and a dedicated inter-University astronomy network called STARLINK.

To get data from one to the other, there were two methods available:

[1] From the University computer, hop on the JANET link to a rival university (on the Thames wearing the wrong shade of blue), hop across their link to STARLINK, and then come back to the Fenlands over the STARLINK network. Or, going the other way, reverse all the steps.

[2] At the University computer site in the centre of town, put your data onto magnetic tape, load it onto a motorbike and have it delivered to the satellite [appropriately...] site where we were working and where the STARLINK terminals were.

The two methods transferred data at about the same bit rate.

Douglas Adams was right: Telephone sanitizers are terrible human beings

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Real Sanitizers

With the alcohol-based sanitisers, operating the light-switch could cause a spark and ignite the switch. Fun times ...

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Real Sanitizers

I am now retired, which means that I am old enough that he original radio series of HHGTTG was broadcast when I was a student. And I dutifully recorded it onto cassette tape (since superseded by a legitimately-purchased box-set of CDs, and expanded with the later series).

One of my student colleagues (JM) - now a prominent astrophysicist in the USA - also recorded a set of cassette tapes, and took it along to an event where Douglas Adams (of blessed memory) was speaking at the university's SF society. Having asked Douglas Adams for his autograph, JM became the proud possessor of a set of pirate cassette tapes autographed with the legend "What about my mortgage repayments then? - Douglas Adams".

I should also point out that both JM and I are the proud possessors of a degree in maths and another in astrophysics...

The number’s up for 999. And 911. And 000. And 111

Richard Pennington 1

What is a "nay sound"

A nay sound is what you say if you want them to send the cavalry.

Quirky QWERTY killed a password in Paris

Richard Pennington 1

Re: All your QWERTY belong to us...

Collations and indexing can cause unexpected effects.

One example was a handbook for missionaries sent to faraway countries. The index included the following:

Lead - kindly light

- poisoning.

Another appeared in a humorous chess book "Soft Pawn", by Bill Hartston. The index included f1, f2, f4 (squares on a chessboard) and f5.6 (a camera stop). Also the following:

C, B. B.: See BBC.

Richard Pennington 1

Re: All your QWERTY belong to us...

I have a 12-volume set of "Duden", which is the official definition of the German language. The letter "ß" causes all sorts of confusion:

[1] Duden was written by three experts, one each from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The letter "ß" is not used at all in Switzerland.

[2] The rules for using "ß" have changed since I learned German about 50 years ago; there was a spelling reform about 15 years ago. Of the three types of occasion for using "ß" (the end of a [part of a] word; before "t"; after a long vowel or diphthong), only the last is still in use. Duden points out that there is not (or wasn't in my copy, which is about 10 years old) a capital "ß", and suggests SZ as a capitalised version where confusion may otherwise arise. Duden also points out that STRASSER (Strasser, with a short "a") and STRASZER (Straßer, with a long "a") are both common German-language surnames.

Richard Pennington 1

Re: All your QWERTY belong to us...

Many years ago, i was working on a project with particular sensitivities, so that information had to be suitably protected (in a spooky sense). This project was a European collaboration (incidentally, one of the "benefits" of Brexit was that the British were bounced out of the project - but I was long gone by then). This particular event concerned a meeting of the international partners, held in France.

The project language was English, and the discussions were held entirely in English. A member of the English team acted as scribe, and took minutes of the meeting "live" on a laptop provided by the hosts, and the minutes were projected onto a screen so that all participants could see the minutes as they were written. So far, so good. But the Englishman typing the minutes had all sorts of problems adjusting to the French AZERTY keyboard.

False negative stretched routine software installation into four days of frustration

Richard Pennington 1

The installation crashed.

Pity it was Linux, otherwise I could have blamed the Windows screen wiper.

Gen Z and Millennials don't know what their colleagues are talking about half the time

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Breaking down silos

Breaking down silos sounds uncomfortably like what the Russians are doing to Ukraine.

Richard Pennington 1

I'm retired now, but on one project my boss was the Keeper of the Acronyms. His list of project acronyms ran to 120 pages (including 11 expansions of "PM" ranging from "afternoon" to "Prime Minister"). His full, private, collection ran to over 1300 pages.

Twitter now worth just a third of what Musk paid for it

Richard Pennington 1

How to acquire a small software company

Many years ago (1980s), I was at an otherwise forgettable meeting presided over by my (then) employer's management. There was one memorable line delivered that day:

Do you know how to acquire a small software company? Buy a large one.

Nearly 40 years ago, and still true.

Digital transformation expert on mass layoffs: I would have expected more from tech

Richard Pennington 1

Customer backlash

I'm retired now (one layoff too many) but I made it a rule throughout my career that I would never be a customer of any company which had laid me off. Whether that be as a client (B2B) or as a customer (outside any former employment). So there are certain firms with which I will never do business ... in a couple of cases, for over 30 years and counting.

It's the same principle as never going back to an ex-girlfriend.

Rigorous dev courageously lied about exec's NSFW printouts – and survived long enough to quit with dignity

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Bit puzzled for a moment

And you came THAT close to inventing Braille pornography ...

That jacket needs a dry-clean ...

Chrome's HTTPS padlock heads to Google Graveyard

Richard Pennington 1
Big Brother

In view of other news ...

Perhaps there ought to be an open padlock icon to show that the encryption has been deliberately broken at a State actor's behest (whether that State be the US, UK, France, Israel, Russia, China or North Korea).

Balloon-borne telescope returns first photos in search for dark matter

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Balloon telescope?

Indeed it is not a novel idea. I am reminded of two stories I was told when on a course for new PhD students (which times the telling of the stories in the summer of 1982):

[1] An infra-red telescope was launched in a balloon just as a thunderstorm hit the area (which should have caused the launch to be aborted). There are two special features about infra-red observing: [a] the Earth's atmosphere absorbs strongly in the infra-red, which is why the balloon launch was required, and [b] the telescope has to be cooled with a liquid helium jacket (because otherwise most of the infra-red radiation observed is heat radiated from the telescope itself).

Inevitably, the balloon was struck by lightning, and the canopy deflated. This meant that the basket and the telescope were dropped from a great height. Now, if the liquid helium jacket cracks and the coolant escapes, there is then contact between the air and liquid helium with boiling point of about 4 Kelvin, which would cause the helium to boil rapidly. There is a name for a device which generates a lot of gas quickly; it is called a bomb.

The next slide showed how the basket and contents landed. The basket fell into a wooded area, and the telescope and jacket stripped out the branches of three trees, coming to rest - intact - about 3 metres from the ground.

[2] Another event was a manned launch in France: there were three men in the basket with the telescope [by the early 1980s, all three held distinguished positions at various UK universities; however this particular event happened in their younger days]. The observations were taken as planned, but there was a a substantial wind which carried the balloon far across the landscape. They had a couple of chase cars (Land Rovers or similar) whose job it was to keep up with the balloon and collect the balloon, passengers and equipment when the balloon landed. As the time for landing approached, the passengers noticed a large mansion with a large expanse of grassland - an apparently good landing site, so they decided to put down there ... only immediately to be surrounded by several gendarmes. They then had to explain why they had landed a balloon in the grounds of the official country residence of the Vice-President of France.

Thanks for fixing the computer lab. Now tell us why we shouldn’t expel you?

Richard Pennington 1

Giving out the password to a privileged account

About 30 years ago, I was working on the sort of collaborative project where there was a librarian who signed out parcels of work to the techie types (myself included), and signed in the work packages when complete. The librarian's account was privileged to the extent that it could be used to change access rights to parcels of work in various states of completion.

The operating system was VMS.

On one occasion, I was working a weekend shift with not many people around, and the librarian came across to my desk, wearing a puzzled expression. She had tried to login to the system, and instead of the expected system response, the printer had jumped into life and had produced ... a single line of text. Or, to be more precise, more than one line of text, overprinted to appear as a single line. She showed me this page, thinking that - as the sole techie present at the time - I might be able to figure out what was going on.

Disentangling the overprinted text, I realised that there were in fact two lines (as I mentioned, overprinted). And they could indeed be disentangled character by character, and I could make intelligent guesses as to which characters belonged to which line. At which point ...

[Myself:] "You do realise what you have just done?"

[Librarian:] <confused>

[Myself:] "You have just given me your password."

[Librarian:] "You know my password?"

[Myself:] "I do now".

I then showed her how the two lines of overprinted text could be separated into a plausible userid for a librarian, overprinted with other characters which could reasonably be a password. So now there were two pieces of paper with the password: the original print and the piece of scrap I had used for the demonstration.

[Myself:] "I suggest you do two things: change the password, and destroy those two pieces of paper".

I still don't know how she accidentally subverted the system so as to get it to print out her userid and password. It never happened again.

Microsoft not a Teams player as admin center, 365 service suffer partial outage

Richard Pennington 1

The usual Customer Service trope

Problems with the 365 cloud service? Have they tried switching the cloud off and on again?

I'll get my coat if I can find which server it's on.

It's time to reveal all recommendation algorithms – by law if necessary

Richard Pennington 1

Poison the database

The thing about algorithms is that they can be subverted.

As a thought experiment, what would happen if:

[1] you created an account which spoofed the identity of <politician> (not necessarily from your own country);

[2] you created a bot which used the account from [1] to watch YouTube continuously, creating clicks as it went, and deliberately chose the most disgusting and illegal content available;

[3] You timed how long it took for <politician> to get the message.

Criminal records office yanks web portal offline amid 'cyber security incident'

Richard Pennington 1

Criminal records

How long before the ACRO site features its own criminal record?

CAN do attitude: How thieves steal cars using network bus

Richard Pennington 1

Hacking a bus ...

If you can steal a Toyota by hacking a bus, can you steal a bus by hacking a Toyota?

I'm sure I left my coat on the front passenger seat ...

Errors logged as 'nut loose on the keyboard' were – ahem – not a hardware problem

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Shipping 5h17

It's merely a punctuation problem.

As in "Show Page. Break."

GitHub rolls out mandatory 2FA for loads of devs next week

Richard Pennington 1

Github security

And this is the same Github who just published their private keys in a public repository ...

OpenAI claims GPT-4 will beat 90% of you in an exam

Richard Pennington 1

Re: Templaton

I am one of the admins for the LinkedIn "Mathematical Olympiads" subgroup. One of the members fed a (relatively) simple mathematical question to ChatGPT. It started reasonably well, then made a series of mathematical and arithmetical howlers, failing several sanity checks on the way through.

ChatGPT is not good at mathematics.

Sick of smudges on your car's enormo touchscreen? GM patents potential cure

Richard Pennington 1

Re: re: How About

Touch for a hob or an oven makes sense only if you keep the touchy bits and the hot bits well separated.

Hyundai and Kia issue software upgrades to thwart killer TikTok car theft hack

Richard Pennington 1

Those were the days ...

One of my student colleagues in the early 1980s - who now holds a responsible position at a College in Cambridge - told me about some of the more disreputable members of her family. Apparently at some point there had been a challenge between them to find an implement with which it was not possible to break into a Ford Cortina. It was suggested that a banana might fit the bill. But nobody was sure.