* Posts by MarkB

76 publicly visible posts • joined 18 Sep 2009


Oracle database deal in Azure comes with a health warning from licensing experts


I weep for a world where "Oracle licensing experts" are a real thing...

Nostalgia for XP sells out Microsoft's 2023 'Windows Ugly Sweater'


I'd rather have the Ugly T-shirt from Gibson's "Zero History"...

Time running out for crew of missing Titanic tourist submarine


Where's Elon?

Surely this is another opportunity for Elon Musk to show his water-based rescue prowess.

If your DNS queries LoOk liKE tHIs, it's not a ransom note, it's a security improvement


"Length really counts, always and everywhere "

Anyone who say "size doesn't matter" hasn't hung wallpaper.

Citizen Coder? Happiness Concierge? Here come 2023's business cards


Code Wrangler

That's in my mail signature, as I recall.

I haven't had any business cards in years.

Perhaps I could resurrect Michael Flanders' "Chief Assistant to the Assistant Chief" title...

Disentangling the Debian derivatives: Which should you use?


Re: Ice Cream flavo[u]rs

I had a look at Salt and Straw - they obviously haven't learnt the fundamental truth that while lavendar may be non-toxic, that is not the same as edible.


Ice Cream flavo[u]rs

'[Brian] brightened up. “Do you know,” he said, “my cousin said that in America there's shops that sell thirtynine different flavors of ice cream?”

This even silenced Adam, briefly.

“There aren't thirtynine flavors of ice cream,” said Pepper. “There aren't thirtynine flavors in the whole world.”

“There could be, if you mixed them up,” said Wensleydale, blinking owlishly. “You know. Strawberry and chocolate. Chocolate and vanilla.” He sought for more English flavors. “Strawberry and vanilla and chocolate,” he added, lamely.'

Keeping your head as an entire database goes pear-shaped


Re: Backups

A friend of my worked as an IT consultant and told of a company he occasionally visited, where the head of IT would pick a random day to turn off a random machine and tell his team to recover, just to prove that their processes were correct. He must have had a lot of confidence (and balls of steel).

The wild world of non-C operating systems


Re: Fortran

"As for C well Primes did not have byte addressing, Prime ASCII had the top bit set and null pointers were not 0."

Byte addressing was possible. The original architecture had 32-bit pointers which addressed down to the 16-bit "half-word", and 48-bit pointers where the additional 16-bits contained a 0 or a 1, to reference a byte within a half-word (!)

As best I remember (it's a while ago) there was a new addressing scheme introduced - specifically for the later versions of the C compiler - which allowed for byte addressing in 32-bits. I forget the fine details, but they can probably be found on one of the sites run by ex-pr1me-mates.

The null pointer thing is perfectly legitimate in C, but made porting C programs which tried to treat pointers as integers a little difficult.

Other challenges included segmented memory where addresses wrapped at segment end rather than rolling into the next segment, and lack of native byte-based I/O (again, the natural unit for any manipulation in Primos tended to be the 16-bit half-word).

Porting C to Primos was generally hard and often unsatisfactory as I recall - it was a good test of whether your C was actually clean...

PL/P and SPL I remember as being quite nice - PL/P was a little challenging as it was intended for kernel use, so had some interesting limitations (and a quirky compiler based on old technology), while SPL (more for user-space code) was almost identical to PL/1-G (and I believe used the same compiler technology) but using library calls rather than language syntax for I/O.

I never saw any of the FORTRAN code, which is probably a good thing. Later on, some system code was written in MODULA-2. I don't believe C was ever used significantly internally - it was provided for porting software (for example to make Oracle available on Prime) and for customer use.

Debugging source is even harder when you can't stop laughing at it


Many years ago, when I was a young COBOL programmer, I occasionally had to maintain code written by a guy who had moved on to become an IT journalist - presumably because coding bored him.

His code contained identifiers such as "mekon", "anastasia" and "creosote", while the variable declarations in one program spelled out this timeless message:





One of my colleagues got so fed up with this that they worked out what "mekon", "anastasia" and "creosote" were actually used for and did a bulk edit to provide more helpful names.

In the same establishment, we maintained a transaction processing system, where each transaction had a 4-character identifier.

The powers-that-be were disappointed (shall we say?) when the logs were examined, to see what the operators tended to enter into this field when they were bored. A colleague was tasked with writing a routine to check the id for rude words and display a "wash your mouth out with soap" message when they occurred, butI don't think that in the end we ever actually implemented it - he was looking forward to compiling the list, though.

The IBM System/360 Model 40 told you to WHAT now?


Re: how did that escape?

I think I've mentioned before that some of my colleagues forgot to replace "OutOfCheeseError" before the product was shipped.

Prototype app outperforms and outlasts outsourced production version


Son of Stopgap

When I started in computing - quite a few years ago - I wrote COBOL on DecSystem-10 machines using the SOS editor.


I own that $4.5bn of digi-dosh so rewrite your blockchain and give it to me, Craig Wright tells Bitcoin SV devs


Re: Higher Academe

Potemkine! wrote "Since when a diploma prove someone's intelligence?"

To which the Wizard of Oz replies:

"Why, anybody can have a brain. That's a very mediocre commodity! Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain! Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts — and with no more brains than you have. But! They have one thing you haven't got! A diploma! Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Universita Committeeatum E Pluribus Unum, I hereby confer upon you the honorary degree of Th.D."

Check your bits: What to do when Unix decides to make a hash of your bill printouts


Re: Not a Cossie, but...

Didn't the Top Gear team always claim that the fastest car you'd ever drive (or at least the one you'd drive fastest) was a hire car?

Roger Waters tells Facebook CEO to Zuck off after 'huge' song rights request

IT Angle

Re: Pedant alert.

"I much prefer it when bands drop the definite article. It would have caused a few problems for The The however."

I used to play with a band where we couldn't decide on a name, so went out as "The Band With No Name" or "BWNN" for short (I thought the short name looked kind of Welsh).

Takes from the taxpayer, gives to the old – by squishing a bug in Thatcherite benefits system


Re: Language!

More years ago than I care to recall, I worked for Prime (aka Pr1me) Computers.

Their original systems programming language (I kid you not) was Fortran, but later was supplanted by two stripped-down PL/1 variants called PL/P and SPL. I seem to recall that they were actually fairly pleasant languages.

Faxing hell: The cops say they would very much like us to stop calling them all the time


For future reference

If you need telephone numbers as placeholders, it's perhaps worth looking at this page

If Daddy doesn't want me to touch the buttons, why did they make them so colourful?

Paris Hilton

Re: Many years ago...

"... as I went through the tradesman's passage ..."?

You are Julian Clary and I claim my quintuple entendre.

Hey Mister Prime Minister ... Scott! Can you get off my lawn please, mate?


Re: I salute that man!

I'm disappointed in my Google search results for "Koala Trebuchet" - I was hoping for a GoogleWhack.

Any suggestions for who might use it as the name of their next child, then?

Surprise! That £339 world's first 'anti-5G' protection device is just a £5 USB drive with a nice sticker on it


Re: Let them

" I'd rather see ppl buy this then torch down the towers."

I rather hope you meant "than torch down the towers"...


Re: What 5G ?

My dad once produced a nutmeg from his pocket and explained to us kids that he kept it there as it warded off the elephants.

We pointed out that there were no elephants in South Wales. "Shows how good it is, doesn't it?".

Britain has no idea how close it came to ATMs flooding the streets with free money thanks to some crap code, 1970s style


Re: The past is another counttry.

My reaction to the "25p a pint" was to think they were being ripped off.

When I was at Uni, 75 - 78, a group of 5 of us used to have a regular Friday evening at the pub. Each of us paid £1 for a round - 4 of us bought rounds of beer (Hardy and Hansons Kimberley Ale) and the 5th a round of ham (or cheese and onion) baps. I think we even got 5p change each.

Absolutely everyone loves video conferencing these days. Some perhaps a bit too much


"Took quite a while to figure out he was a jazz fan talking about Kenny G."

If he was talking about Kenny G without the aid of extreme profanity, then he clearly was NOT a jazz fan.

Announcing the official Reg-approved measure of social distancing: The Osman


Anti-social distancing

"...Was thinking it'd be a lot easier to manage social* distancing if we were all issued halberds.

*Ok, possibly anti-social, but fun..."

One of my colleagues recently suggested that if social distancing didn't work, we should move to anti-social distancing - it's much the same but with weapons and swearing.


On the other hand

If you were to use the Osmond as a unit of social distancing, it would imply ideally being on a different continent.

Beware the Friday afternoon 'Could you just..?' from the muppet who wants to come between you and your beer


My version of the story

It was an open evening at my children's infant school a couple of decades ago. I was at the time teaching programming on Prime minicomputers. Didn't have a home computer and hadn't touched any thing of that type.

Teacher sidles up to me and says "you work with computers, don't you? Can you have a look at one of ours?". Much against my better judgement, I did so...

They had two BBC model B computers (I think that's what they were) side-by-side, hooked up to a pair of "portable" TVs (remember the days of cathode ray tubes?). One was working fine. The video on the other was all to pot.

Starting point was to find an expert - so I grabbed a passing child to show me how they would normally start up the systems. Rebooting didn't help :-(

OK - I know nothing, but I can see that one is working and one isn't, so how about connecting each to the other TV? Fortunately I swapped the leads at the computer end and hey-presto the first one now worked fine, the other didn't. Swap the other end of the lead, see that the lead was indeed the culprit and tell the teacher they need to get a new lead.

I think I got a cup of tea and a biscuit, but so did all the other parents.

Scare-bnb: Family finds creeper cams hidden in their weekend rental by scanning Wi-Fi


Re: 50/50

" if you accept bookings from someone who has never booked a place before, you're a mug"

So does that imply that as I've never booked an AirBnB place, I can't book an AirBnB place?

Naming your company 101: Probably best not to have the word 'Oracle' anywhere near branding


Pipped to a Coracle comment


You. Shall. Not. Pass... word: Soon, you may be logging into websites using just your phone, face, fingerprint or token

Black Helicopters

Didn't this get discussed by Grace Hopper several years ago?

I seem to remember this being gone over some time ago by Rear Admiral Hopper (originator of COBOL).

If I recall correctly (questionable), she favoured three factor authentication - there should be

* Something you had (key, dongle, nowadays a phone perhaps)

* Something you knew (password, passphrase, some other challenge/response system)

* Something you were (i.e. a physical characteristic, like fingerprint, retina scan, or similar)

Does anyone else remember this or is it a figment of my imagination?

Cut open a tauntaun, this JEDI is frozen! US court halts lawsuit over biggest military cloud deal since the Death Star


Re: Blakes 7

'But as Doctor Who would say, "Live long and prosper"'

A friend of mine (call him Fred) wound up another friend (Joe) by teaching Joe's child to say "may the force be with you" while making a Vulcan salute.

'Occult' text from Buffy The Vampire Slayer ep actually just story about new bus lane in Dublin


Re: a suitable enough clusterfuck of vowels

"Nglsh wrks qt wll wtht vwls, wth sm prctc rdng."

I seem to remember seeing or hearing a suggestion of this approach as an easy alternative to shorthand.


Re: a suitable enough clusterfuck of vowels

"If you take out most of the vowels you just end up with Polish, don't you?"

When I used to take my children to visit their grandparents in South Wales, the wittiest of them suggested the toll booths on the Severn bridge were actually checkpoints to trap vowel smugglers.


Re: In jokes on screen

I'm convinced I remember a Dr Who episode (probably late 70s) with the baddies armed with TV remotes.


Re: pro-Buffy flame war.

'"wuold have" not "would of".'

Nice to see that Muphry is still alive and kicking.


"Something something at the crack of Dawn"

Was that a fanfic (R-rated)?


Re: pro-Buffy flame war.

"as any geek would of told you"

Can we have a pedantry flame war about the correct use of "would have"?

College PRIMOS prankster wreaks havoc with sysadmin manuals


"Anyone remember Primix? Me neither."

Gave your Pr1mos system the performance of the equivalent volume of ready-mixed concrete?

And the "magnet" utility described as something to keep away from tapes at all costs?

(I worked for Pr1me in a previous existence)

Mything the point: The AI renaissance is simply expensive hardware and PR thrown at an old idea


"Changing the temperature of the device changed its behaviour (from working to not working). I'd guess that moving the design to a different device would affect it similarly."

I seem to remember reading about this. If I recall correctly, simply reproducing the design "identically" (bear in mind this was actual physical circuitry) would change its behaviour - the behaviour related to a specific assembly of a specific set of components.


Re: The Joy of AI

"I saw a documentary about AI on Swiss TV a while back. It was about a man in a van who serviced pretty cows in picturesque barns while gnarled farmers looked on."

'documentary' indeed! I'm not surprised you're posting anonymously.

Clunk, bang, rattle: Is that a ghost inside your machine?


Re: Scary ?

You are Albert Campion and I claim my share of the Barnabus legacy.


AI clinician trained to save humans from sepsis – and, er, let's just say you should stick to your human doctor


I'm not sure that word means what you think it does.

"vasopressors, a medication that reduces blood pressure, "

100% wrong - Vasopressors are a group of medicines that contract (tighten) blood vessels and raise blood pressure.

Leaked memo: No internet until you clean your bathroom, Ecuador told Julian Assange


Re: @SVV Please, someone set up a GoFundMe

"But, but, but, how do you pronounce GIF?"

Carefully and competently.

Experimental 'insult bot' gets out of hand during unsupervised weekend


" it was fair game to collect as many PPNs (can you guess which OS?) "

I remember my PPN as 1206,1206 when I worked on TOPS-10 in the late 70s and early 80s, but I have a feeling the PPN concept was used on other DEC operating systems.

Python creator Guido van Rossum sys.exit()s as language overlord


Re: reflecting opinions more than best practice

As ST comments, surely that's always been the case with Python, just as it's the case (as far as I can understand) with Perl - the language enshrines the opinions and prejudices of the single originator. That's part of my issues with both languages, as I'm not keen on some aspect of both Guido's and Larry's opinions and prejudices.

Amazon’s Snowball snowballs as Google's clone gets real and IBM's comes to Europe



What more is there to say?

Tech rookie put decimal point in wrong place, cost insurer zillions


Lira and Y2K in one place

COBOL on PDP-10 systems allowed for 10 digit numbers - you could choose where the decimal point lay. In the system that I worked on, we had S9(6)V9(4) fields for unit prices, but if the country code indicated Italy, we had to use S9(6)V99 instead.

Dates on this system were held in 4-digit YYMM format - my first task as a fresh-faced programmer (in late 1978) was to change all the code (and the data) that regarded 7912 as an indicator for (e.g) cancelled orders - we couldn't take any more room, so just used 9912 as the new indicator. The system presumably died before Y2K, I'd moved on a couple of times by that point.

Nominet throws out US corp's attempt to seize Brit domain names


Did anyone else immediately expect something about hotels?

I wasn't thinking lubricants - though perhaps you might want them when staying at a Trust House Forte establishment. To keep your bicycle functioning well, of course...

Did you test that? No, I thought you tested it. Now customers have it and it doesn't work


Soldering irons

Funnily enough this topic came up in a different forum recently. Many decades ago (about half a century) I discovered the hard way that if you drop a soldering iron, you should NOT try to catch it.

Programmers! Close the StackOverflow tabs. This AI robot will write your source code for you


Anyone remember "The Last One"


Nearly 40 years on, I'm still earning a crust writing code, so clearly it didn't do what it said on the tin.

User stepped on mouse, complained pedal wasn’t making PC go faster


Re: If somebody does not understand... Children and relativity