* Posts by Martin an gof

1800 posts • joined 27 Jan 2010

BOFH: You'll find there's a company asset tag right here, underneath the monstrously heavy arcade machine

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: Personal heaters

Nearly had that at a previous place of employment. A sub-tenant ran the "concentrator" for a major alarm company. When someone set fire to the bins in our yard, they burned through an external armoured cable and took out the main incoming fuses for the whole building.

We trundled out our Diesel generator, cranked it up (yes, manually cranked it) and conencted it to our "essential services" busbar (we were a radio station but straped for cash, so no auto-switchover here).

Major alarm company had batteries for perhaps a couple of hours but nothing after that. Running out of power would have left half the buildings in Cardiff without monitored alarms on a dark Saturday (IIRC) evening. Their proposed solution was a double-ended lead from a socket on our side to a socket on their side.

Even as a wet-behind-the-years PFY I could see the flaws in that plan.

Once we'd isolated the burned cable, eventually Western Power came along and fitted some new fuses and we (and they) were up and running again.

M.

Google experiments with user-choice-defying Android search box

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: Ban the Blob

I can't see a Moto G8 on the Lineage official download page - where did you get that information? I already run Lineage on an original Moto G, and despite one child's poor experience with a G5 (died irretrievably, caught in some kind of boot-loop after almost exactly two years), one other child has recently started using a G10 which so far seems to be a great phone package - were it not for the pop up which insists we haven't finished setting it up because we haven't paired it with a Google account.

M.

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: Ban the Blob

Not sure why you guess I won't like it. I'll admit, I had heard of this device some time ago but haven't been keeping up to date and had completely forgotten about it, The currently available version is certainly interesting. Might be a little underpowered - but then so would any Pi-based device I built. Manjaro would be new to me, but I've used KDE daily for many years.

Tempting...

M.

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: Ban the Blob

Ok, I'll bite.

Is there a "smartphone" on sale anywhere, under £200 (preferably under £150) which does not run Android? Not something five years old, second-hand and unsupported?

I speak here as someone who can't afford - even if I wanted to - to buy into the Apple ecosystem, who is quite happy to install something like LineageOS, but can't find any recent, affordable hardware on which to do so, would be over the moon to have something by Planet Computers, but definitely can't afford that, and who recently bought a KaiOS phone to see how it does in the hands of a sprog only to find out that it's so inflexible it can't deal with my homebrew email setup, and there's an inbuilt app which fails to update once every single day, and can't be uninstalled or disabled.

I am very seriously considering building something based around a Pi and a 3G module, except that I can't package it terribly well.

For most people who want, or need, a smartphone that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, Android is the only choice. Shouldn't we be looking at Google with regulatory eyes considering its monopolistic position?

M.

Relics from the early days of the Sinclair software scene rediscovered at museum during lockdown sort-out

Martin an gof Silver badge
Happy

Or indeed, STEAM, the museum of the GWR.

Must be time to re-visit Swindon. Last couple of times I've only been to to the National Self Build Centre which is interesting in its own way, but... but... computers, steam engines...

M.

BT Wholesale wants the channel to give SMBs a nudge before copper sunset in 2025

Martin an gof Silver badge

We're with the Phone Co-Op at the moment, and it was this that caused the issue with the number porting. TPC has (on our exchange) signed a deal with the devil and uses TalkTalk rather than OpenReach. Because of the way TT is unbundled, if A&A were to take over the line we would lose the number. At present I'm looking at a slightly more conventional approach - maybe Zen* - and we will definitely be keeping our Copper landline until they physically yank the line card out of the exchange.

We're sort of semi-rural here, a small hamlet fed by a single pole-mounted transformer which is itself fed by largely overhead wires from a substation on the opposite side of the valley. We get many small (under a minute, but often repeated) power cuts most years, and the occasional long one every two or three years. The last of these was last Christmas when we were without power for about six hours IIRC, and then on generator for a couple of days while they did a lot of tree-pruning and replaced quite a lot of the overhead cables and at least one pole, most of which is in the middle of sheep-infested bog :-)

Is it any wonder I have three UPSes and a good stock of torches?

M.

*we've actually been very happy with the service we get from TPC over the years, but when looking to upgrade to FTTC (there's no FTTP around here) they're not terribly competitive

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: The reality is that it's happening now

There is of course a subtle difference between the needs of a home and the needs of a business. At home, a router with a POTS socket such as the FRITZ!Box or Draytek Vigor is just fine, and you can wire up extension sockets in the normal way.

For a business which is still analogue, what they will have is several individual lines coming into a Private Branch Exchange, and maybe also some dedicated POTS lines for fire or burglar alarms. Larger businesses may have their PBXes connected to the PSTN over ISDN, though BT has been withdrawing ISDN for some years now.

Multiple POTS or ISDN lines are not easily replicated by "consumer" routers. For a start, it is a requirement that all PBXes have "fail through", where select extensions are connected directly to incoming exchange lines on a power failure, so that calls can still be made, and for another thing it would require as many independent POTS sockets on the router as the existing PBX has connections.

The two routers I mentioned - neither of which is at the "cheap" end of the market - don't do this. The Draytek has two independent POTS ports while the FRITZ!Box also has two, plus an emulated ISDN socket and a built-in DECT base station, which provides some of the features of a PBX. This is about as good as it gets with consumer routers.

In the absence of routers with multiple POTS ports and PBX functions, you'll be needing an external adapter. Such things do exist but I've struggled to find a UK-based company specialising in them.

As for power cuts (and we get quite a lot around here), the only real answer is a UPS, especially now that BT has apparently stopped supplying battery backup for their kit!

M.

Martin an gof Silver badge

Can someone tell me where I can buy a competitively-priced naked [A|V]DSL service? Preferably with a static IPV4 address.

The standard answer in this parish seems to be Andrews and Arnold, but I have never been a customer so can't comment further.

(I did once talk to them, but as moving to them for broadband would - for "reasons" - involve losing our telephone number and that would be inconvenient, we decided against it, at least for now)

M.

Martin an gof Silver badge
Facepalm

Re: The reality is that it's happening now

It does when the existing physical connection is incapable of delivering a digital service of any kind. The end of analogue voice would in this location mean the end of voice.

What a shame they've got rid of ISDN. 2x64kbps symmetrical over basically any POTS line.

M.

G7 countries outgun UK in worldwide broadband speed test

Martin an gof Silver badge
Happy

Re: I'm not surprised

even a family with 2.2 kids

Slight aside, but the "average" family in the UK has been below two children for some time. Among women who have "completed their families" (i.e. reached 45 years according to the Office for National Statistics) the rate in 2019 was 1.92 children, up slightly from a low of 1.89 the previous year.

ONS data on fertility rates.

In part this seems to be due to women delaying when they start a family, so having less time to have children before they simply can't. This effect is also apparent in less-developed countries, where women are now better educated and as a result can often have careers other than "childbearing".

As I said, bit of an aside, but I find the "2.2 children" thing trotted out time and again, and in the case of the UK and (many/all?) other developed nations it is simply not true any more.

Oh, and DVD wasn't 720p, it was 576i (PAL/SECAM countries) or 480i (backwaters).

M.

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: Gigabit Broadband?

Maybe I am missing something but for most users having something at the 50Mb to 70Mb that FTTC delivers is surely enough.

As others have said, for remote working on an asymmetrical connection, it's upload speed that is the limiting factor, but like you I survived last year quite well with what many would regard as inadequate speeds. It's not a popular thing to point out though, and I get downvotes every time I mention it on El Reg.

Our ADSL2 connects at around 7½/1 and at times last year I had three schoolchildren at home - two on Google, one on Teams - and a wife, remote-desktopping into her machine at work. Yes, I also have a 4G modem plugged into the router (did have before lockdowns), but it is set to come up only in "emergencies", and rarely did so for more than a few minutes every couple of days.

Upload speed was potentially a bottleneck, but in practice the schools did most teaching with children's cameras off so data leaving the house was mostly text chat, connections to Google Docs and whatever is required for remote desktop - hardly anything in other words. Piano lessons, ballet, church, family chats and so on worked perfectly well.

Look, it wasn't ideal, and frankly a 35/10 connection would have been easier but we didn't upgrade then, and haven't now. For a start, it wasn't even possible to book an installation until well into the pandemic - a point many of those moaning about the delays getting internet connections to schoolchildren without last year ignore* - by which time schools were finishing for the summer, and it looked as if teaching would be at least partly in-person by the autumn. For another thing, as someone else has pointed out, it doesn't come for free. Oh, and until the autumn, our phoneline terminated in a "shed" in the front garden - a temporary arrangement I had put in place myself (don't tell BT) when our house was being rebuilt. Until I had repositioned the line to look as if it had never been touched, I didn't really want a BT engineer on site :-)

I suppose what I'm saying is that many people find ADSL2 "good enough"**. So long as you get something in excess of 6Mb/1Mb it's good for an HD video stream (BBC recommends 3.2 - 5Mb/s, it often seems to be less than that in reality), and a couple of two-way video calls.

While ADSL is still available, good enough for most uses and faster options are more expensive, there will be a lot of people who don't see the need to upgrade. The UK's place in the rankings won't improve until ADSL is withdrawn and people are forced to upgrade.

Us? Well, I do have a use for faster upload speeds - and not just video calls - so now that our master socket looks as if it has never been touched by non-BT hands again, maybe it's time to upgrade.

M.

*in many cases this was solved in reality by handing out 4G modems and Chromebooks, but mobile is not a panacea - coverage, contention and reliability can all be issues

**worth noting here that more and more "normal" people (that is, not us!) - certainly up until last year, but I reckon that is a blip - were ditching, or simply not replacing, desktop and laptop computers, even tablets, and "doing internet" purely via their phones, partly driven by also ditching landlines

Banned: The 1,170 words you can't use with GitHub Copilot

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: Usage

(says me who hard-coded "*1.15" into a database 30-odd years ago. Waddaya mean VAT can change? Surely "VAT" *means* "15%")

My first "proper" encounter with a spreadsheet involved exactly this. Lady at work who had been on a three-day training course in how to work Excel caught out because she had *1.15 hard coded and couldn't work out how to change it without re-typing the whole thing. To be fair, it may actually have been what the course showed, as an example.

Me, who didn't actually have access to a spreadsheet and had only met them in books, and in passing while doing an engineering degree, tasked to help her out. No-one ever offered to send me on a training course. I was in that radio station to fix mixing desks, CD players and tape machines and I had to teach myself how to set up WfW3.11, NE2000 net cards and Novell.

So I showed her how to put the current rate into its own little cell, and reference it in a formula. I learned the $A$1 method (i.e. how to fix the reference) - just by looking around and trying the help system, she learned that you could drag-copy a formula and have it fill up your cells without destroying any data.

We've all done something like that. It's how we get out of the hole we've dug that sets us apart :-)

M.

Oh! A surprise tour of the data centre! You shouldn't have. No, you really shouldn't have

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: Response time

When I was the on-call engineer for a radio station in the days when they couldn't expect me to afford a mobile phone on the salary they paid it was quite clearly stipulated I had to be within 10 minutes of a phone at all times and 30 minutes of the studios. It made simple things like walking the dog quite an excercise in planning a route between known-working phoneboxes.

M.

Western Digital unveils 20TB OptiNAND hard drive, pledges 50TB to follow

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: 20 & 50TB

I was recently looking for a hard drive for use by just the operating system

Your average Joe isn't really looking for massive amounts of local storage these days - all their data is "in the cloud". The days when a laptop with a 4TB HDD was a necessary purchase so that you could download all those videos from your phone, which probably only had 4GB or 8GB of internal storage are long since gone.

This drive is obviously not aimed at the "home" user, unless it is that class of home user that will buy something like a MyBook in order to create a "cloud" at home.

Regarding desktop-type builds, I really can't remember the last time I fitted spinning rust as the boot disc. You are right, you definitely don't need 1TB for the OS, and if you buy a 1TB drive and partition it you have all the same performance problems, and loss of the drive means losing all the partitions, so all the restore problems too.

For perhaps 10 years now, maybe more, I've been fitting a low-capacity SSD for booting and adding higher-capacity HDDs for storage where necessary. Indeed I had some computers - using networked storage - where a 60GB SSD was the only local storage, giving plenty of room for the OS with some left over for local user data.

Byte-for-byte, small capacity SSDs are less value-for-money (perhaps £25 for 120GB NVMe against £110 for 1TB SATA) I suppose, but that's the only real argument against using them in this way.

M.

Martin an gof Silver badge

I think you are both correct. My reading is that increasing density also increases interference, which in the past has always meant an efficiency drop due to the need for more frequent refreshes, so this technique is a way of - possibly only partly - mitigating that drop with the next bump in density.

The thing that is confusing me though is that claim that previous generations needed refresh perhaps as often as every ten (or so) writes, but kept track in DRAM which presumably is lost on every power cycle. I realise that a drive used for online storage may rarely be switched off but when it is, how does that work? Does the drive need to do a massive maintenance cycle, writing every occupied sector, on every startup, "just in case"? Does a "normal" shutdown cause the data in DRAM to be written to a reserved area of the disc? Is a permanent on-disc copy of DRAM data kept to guard against unexpected power loss?

Any of the above would result in additional performance penalties which could be mitigated by using flash instead of DRAM.

Is the flash also used in the traditional "cacheing" role, which would provide additional speed-up for certain workloads, or is that not where this drive is aimed?

Whatever, my home NAS is stuck with 2TB drives and a full resilver of one of those can already take a day and impacts performance (not that performance is a huge problem at home). 20TB strikes me as the sort of capacity where the performance hit of resilvering, possibly taking a week or more, could get tedious.

M.

Arms not long enough to reach the plug socket? Room-wide wireless charging is on the way

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: If you cannot reach the power socket ...

Bugblatter Beast

Don't you mean the Haggunenon?

M.

Fix five days of server failure with this one weird trick

Martin an gof Silver badge
Thumb Up

Re: Power supply on the floor?

Now why didn't I think of that?

M.

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: Power supply on the floor?

Add-ons came as 'slices', boxes in the same form factor as the base CPU unit.

A concept resurrected by Acorn some years later in the Risc PC series (link is for a second version but has better pictures), where additional slices could be added almost ad infinitum, though I think they officially topped out at four - ISTR the extended backplane was only available up to eight slots (two per "slice") and case bolts longer than four slices weren't available either - though if used in "upright" mode, the slices actually fit together quite well without bolts.

Each slice had space for two expansion cards, one 5¼" bay and one 3½" bay and room for another power supply, for when you ran out of power for all those hard drives.

The ultimately expanded machine was a 10-slice monster created by Acorn themselves, containing a plethora of hard drives, floppy drives, removable drives, docking stations, TV tuner cards and even a pizza oven (apparently not actually functional) and a small sink (apparently functional).

The image seems to have disappeared from the above link, the Wayback machine doesn't have it and all I've turned up in a quick search is low resolution image in a Wayback capture of another now-dead page.

M.

Et tu, Samsung? Electronics giant accused of quietly switching SSD components

Martin an gof Silver badge
Happy

Re: Is it such a big problem in this case?

Unless you have a pigeon problem.

M.

Happy birthday, Linux: From a bedroom project to billions of devices in 30 years

Martin an gof Silver badge
Thumb Up

Re: I've got a suggestion...

From a user perspective case doesn't mean anything, and so introducing an artificial and illogical meaning where there shouldn't be one makes Linux less accessible for new users.

This might have made sense when all you were considering was languages based on 7-bit ASCII (i.e. English and some other Latin-derived alphabets*), but in these global days with Unicode catering for a vast variety of languages, many of which aren't "cased" in the Western sense, and where a huge proportion of users may be unfamiliar with Western convention that means two completely different glyphs "mean" the same thing ("A" looks nothing like "a", no matter which font you use) it makes far, far more sense for the operating system to understand every codepoint as a unique value and leave the semantics up to higher level systems.

If you want to make a "user friendly" GUI file manager which is case-insensitive, do so. It shouldn't be any more difficult than the clunky "long filenames" overlays which Windows (and other similar vintage systems) foisted on us.

Just check out what unicode.org says about case mappings.

There was also an interesting discussion around the Python str.lower() function which I found when I was creating a short utility which recognised file types by .extension, and had to cater for ".jpe", ".jpg", ".JPG", ".jpeg", ".JPEG" and several other variants which all mean the same thing semantically about the contents of the file, but which I really, really don't think the operating system should be trying to second-guess. What about filenames which contain spaces+? Should the OS treat 0x20 ("space") the same as 0xa0 ("non breaking space")? Under what circumstances should 0xd7 ("multiply") be treated as equivalent to 0x78 ("x"), and 0xb7 ("middle dot", or "decimal point" to my ancient mind) be treated the same as 0x2e ("full stop")? How about minus-hyphen (0x2d), soft hyphen (0xad), punctuation hyphen, non-breaking hyphen, en-dash and em-dash (various codepoints)?

Can't find that discussion now, but here is the relevant bit from python.org and here's the bit which describes how it's done. It's all a far cry from the days when an uppercase-to-lowercase conversion was as simple as adding 32 to any ASCII code in the range 65 to 90.

Oh, and consider how many of us cut our teeth in BASIC where case sensitivity made life a lot easier - if your variables were all lower-case, you didn't have to worry about clashes with keywords. Was it MS BASIC which only recognised the first three characters of a variable name so a variable named PRICE would class with the keyword PRINT? Even Sinclair worked around that problem, and I grew up with BBC BASIC so it wasn't a problem at all...

Discovering a case-sensitive file system seemed so much more logical!

M.

*ironically, of course, actual Latin as written by Romans some 2,000 years ago wasn't really cased, though I gather that there were several variants of most glyphs, typically to make it easier to handwrite

+an abomination in my eyes, cause more trouble than they are worth. The only benefit of spaces in filenames is to avoid civil war about using camelCase, underscores_or-dashes between words

Hacking the computer with wirewraps and soldering irons: Just fix the issues as they come up, right?

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: Computer O Level

So after bolting the PC together, adding extension to the OS and then writing our programs we all managed to get a C grade, which looking back was a bit harsh from the examiners.

Thing is, the task for the course was probably "write a program", and the rest of the stuff you did was not relevant and indeed couldn't have been taken into account even if the examiner had wanted. He (and it probably would have been "he") would have looked at your planning (flowcharts I imagine?) and logic, taken a cursory glance over the source code (MS BASIC?) and checked that your program produced the required output with the test inputs. Tick, tick, tick, cross - maybe you used a rectangle instead of a rhombus for a step in your flowchart, or you hadn't used a ruler for the lines.

And don't forget the written exam which included logic, maths, history and suchlike. The actual programming was a very minor part of an O-level in those days I seem to remember.

I suppose it shows up the problem with academic achievement assessed on a simple one-off metric. You'd have been better with some kind of coursework element, and a resourceful teacher might have been able to bend the guidelines to include "knowledge of hardware" and "extending the operating system" towards that element.

By the mid 1980s, when I took O-level Computer Studies, it was a popular subject. So much so that there were some 60 children in two classes doing it at my school, a grand total of twelve BBC Micros attached to cassette recorders and sharing two printers, and a teacher very much out of his depth.

I can't remember if it was two of us or three who passed (i.e. got a C grade or higher), but only my friend Rhys and I went on to do A-level Computer Science, and we found ourselves helping said teacher with his lessons during our "free" periods when we should have been studying...

M.

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: Wire-Wrap Gun?

"Sandwich" placement from university working at a company specialising in surface-mount PCBs (still quite a novelty even in the late 1980s) one of the first jobs I was given was wiring up a very complex test rig by wire-wrap - never having even heard of the stuff before this time. Some 800 or 900 connections IIRC, I had two or three colours of wire, a hand stripper and a hand wrapper. At least the thing was properly drawn up for me, and I actually found it quite relaxing.

The production manager was astounded to find no errors at all in the final result and said it was a very neat job. I had spotted two or three myself as I went along, but even I was impressed.

Same company, first week there I was "inducted" through the various departments, including a stint at reception where the two secretaries gave me some typing to do (something in DOS, WordPerfect I think (something else I'd never met before) and a daisywheel printer). I think they expected me to peck away at the keyboard for the rest of the day, rather than get the letter done in ten minutes, including working out how to fit the correct wheel to the printer and how to get WP to print.

Since then, I try never to assume that just because I know a lot about "something", the person I'm talking to doesn't.

I don't always succeed...

M.

See that last line in the access list? Yeah, that means you don't have an access list

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: One time for an audit

There is also the problem of box-ticking requiring PATs every 12 months like clockwork. If you actually read the guidance it doesn't mandate 12 months at all, it merely (well, it did last time I looked) suggests 12 months as a reasonable frequency for equipment in general use.

PATing came in while I was working at a radio station and doing the tests was usually my responsibility. Officially, all the equipment in the racks - as it had mains leads with plugs on the end - and most of the equipment in the studios was "portable", but being securely screwed and cable-tied in, wasn't really. My boss had a habit of reading the rulebook* and being responsible for that part of the station's safety and risk assessments decided that we would only test "in chain" equipment every three years or so, and obviously out of prime time. Not that doing so would put the station off-air, but bypassing such an item in order to test it would "change the sound", which usually brought complaints from the on-air talent, and the station manager knocking (the door to the cellar where we lived was on a slam-lock and needed a key to open it from the corridor outside).

Likewise the mains-powered "OB" kit, particularly extension leads and the like, was tested much more regularly, preferably after every couple of uses and with a purely visual inspection before every use, and certainly where leads had had to be run (protected of course) across walkways or supermarket car parks.

M.

*he also had a habit of dismantling absolutely everything. If a sales rep. brought us some item of equipment about to be launched by some major manufacturer for us to get an early taste of it, the lid was off before the thing was even plugged into the mains and some audio. If the sales rep. was reluctant, he was either sent out of the room on some pretext or he was given a coffee and half an hour of time and then sent on his way.

THX Onyx: A do-it-all DAC for the travelling audiophile

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: MQA

Because I hate loose ends, I meant to add:

I believe that the adapters used to record digital audio onto video tape for CD mastering often only recorded 14 bits*.

*We had such an adapter at the radio station I worked at in the 1990s. If I remember correctly (and I quite likely don't) it could either do 16 bits at 32kHz or 14 bits at 44.1kHz or 16 bits at 44.1kHz but without the error correction, meaning that dropouts would cause problems.

M.

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: MQA

early CD players and DAT recorders (for instance) had quite a noticeable difference in sound quality, based on the early designs of the RX/TX circuits

Some early CD players - notably from Philips - used 14-bit DACs and had no digital outputs. I believe that the adapters used to record digital audio onto video tape for CD mastering often only recorded 14 bits*.

CD was launched in 1982 or so, there was no such thing as a CD recorder, DAT wasn't launched until 1987 and external DACs were almost unheard of, AES3 upon which both the coaxial (SP/DIF) and optical (TOSLINK) formats were based was not standardised until 1985 so there was no need - and in fact no standard connection format - to fit digital outputs to domestic CD players until long after the format was well-established.

I'd still contend that any differences you hear are far, far more likely to be down to the DAC than to the digital part of the signal path. Of course, you could probably prove this by copying a CD to a DAT (or whatever) and then extracting the digital data from both. Any problems with the transmission would show up quite clearly in a byte-by-byte file comparison.

Your comment about RFI - I assume what you mean is that high levels of RFI could result in errors in the digital signal? If RF from an input lead finds its way to the analogue circuitry of your DAC then you have other problems to deal with!

M.

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: MQA

I happen to run quite a lot of projectors at work and I use an awful lot of "long" HDMI (and DVI) cables, so I do know that it can / can't be done, but I can quite literally count on the thumbs of one had people I know who have a projector at home. With modern TVs being (in general) cheaper, brighter, higher resolution and longer-lived than projectors while coming in a range of sizes capable of giving "cinema-like" image size in typical living spaces, most people have very little incentive to install a projector. I realise that might just be indicative of my circle of acquaintances and the part of the world I live in, but I will stick with my assertion that "very few people will need more than 3m" in a domestic environment as a general statement.

I'll take what you said about downscaling at face value, but I can honestly say that I have never seen it on a short cable (and on longer cables my experience is that they either work or they don't, and downscaling has to be manually selected - see below), and I can't remember ever paying more than £10 for a 3m cable, and often a lot less, though I wouldn't go so far as to specify a £1 cable :-)

When I said "HDMI was never meant to cover long distances" I was referring to the single-ended nature of some of the signals on the cable. I remember being slightly flummoxed when I realised that the video data itself is sent down electrically well thought-through differential pairs, but that the control signals which are vital to make the thing actually work are all single-ended and share a common ground. If the DDC signal - which is based on the I²C protocol intended to run over very short distances - fails, the display and source can't negotiate, and the result is blank. I have even had long cables which work fine with one laptop, but don't work at all with a different model to the same projector, even at exactly the same display settings. I can only assume this is down to some feature of the driving circuitry.

That said, I have also had the case where there was obviously a problem with the video signal rather than the control signal - a 15m cable refused to work at 1920x1200 (feeding a projector), was unreliable at 1920x1080 but rock solid at resolutions lower than that.

HDMI really has moved on, and I'm jealous in some ways that my eyesight ain't what it used to be, and is likely to be worse by the time I can afford an 8k 4:4:4 HDR display and the source to run it! On the other hand I still don't understand why bandwidth is being "wasted" on 8k, when 100 / 120Hz (especially when combined with HDR) would make 4k and 1080p pictures so much more "natural", remove all vestiges of flicker without having to resort to interpolation of "in between" frames on high frame-rate displays, and the "temporal resolution" would probably end up giving a visually equivalent picture.

M.

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: MQA

A higher-rated cable will be able to transfer the newer protocols because it can handle the higher data rates, but that doesn't meant that like-for-like you will see any difference at all. 1080p24 with 5 or 7.1 channel audio (typical movie BluRay) will look and sound the same on a 2m cable costing £5 as on a 2m cable costing £500, because it's digital. If the bits come out of the end in the same order they went in, that's all that is required for "perfect" reproduction. There is - as with all things digital - a very small edge area where there are data errors which might be error-corrected or might not but this will usually be obvious as "burbling" on sound, or "glitches" in the picture. Before that point, perfect. After that point, nothing. This isn't like analogue formats which degrade as resistances, capacitances, noise, crosstalk, interference increase.

Very few people will need more than 3m of HDMI between their player and their display and frankly up to about 5m in typical domestic environments the "quality" of the cable as measured by price (so long as it's not made from horsehair or something) makes (in my experience) absolutely no difference at all. Avoid £1 cables from the market which might say they are HDMI1.2 compliant (or whatever) but probably do contain horsehair.

HDMI was never meant to cover long distances - it isn't designed (from an electrical point of view) to do that. 15m seems to be about as far as a "passive" HDMI cable - of any quality - can manage at 4k30 (HDMI 1.4), and you'll need a decent quality cable for that distance, however you probably still don't need to be spending more than £30 or £40 for such a cable. "Active" HDMI cables can cover longer distances, but can cost much more, especially the fibre optic types designed for 100m or more, though perhaps not as much as you think - CPC currently lists a 100m fibre-based HDMI2.0 cable capable of 4k60 (18Gbps) for under £150 inc. VAT.

M.

Martin an gof Silver badge

MQA

Regarding MQA, this delightfully simple webpage by someone who actually does know what he's talking about might go some way to confirming it's largely hype. Jim has written several articles on the subject.

M.

Elevating bork to a new level (if the touchscreen worked)

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: "A touchscreen, by itself, is not going to enhance anything"

Never yet actually been in a lift when it broke down, but I have been responsible for more than one "rescue". One place I worked at had Italian-made lifts that keeled over every time there was a blip on the mains and required a reset procedure which meant that someone had to go down into the winch room (it was in the basement) and manually wind the affected car to the nearest floor to get the people out before a reset could be done. Colleague had to stand in the lift lobby and report when the car was in the right place, then open the doors.

Of course, it took a long time to diagnose "sensitive to mains spikes" and once done so, it was easily solved (other than the arguments over who was responsible for paying) by putting "smoothing" devices on the mains to the lifts.

M.

Dutch education IT crisis averted as Google agrees to 'major privacy improvements'

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: For heaven's sake

Intriguing - thanks!

M.

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: For heaven's sake

Thanks for the hint about Blokada - I'll look into that - but I still really don't see why the Moto, running a near identical operating system to the Nokia, is insisting on getting me (well, one of my sprogs) "logged in", while the Nokia isn't.

M.

Martin an gof Silver badge

For heaven's sake

I have been talking about this for years - as have others. I have always been shouted down with "Google keeps Education users separate and private and doesn't share details" etc., but right from the very first time my children were required to use Google Classroom for homework it was obvious that this is not true, with their Classroom identities following them at the very least to other Google offerings such as YouTube. They don't have personal Google identities* so we've taken to insisting they use Classroom in private windows when at home, which does seem to help a little.

This is such an obvious breach of EU-wide GDPR regulations and nothing has been done about it that I was beginning to wonder if perhaps I'd misunderstood something. Turns out not.

M.

*One of my children has recently received their first smartphone - a Moto g10. Now the Nokia 5.3 I bought recently was "vanilla" Android, and works just fine without a Google account, but the g10 - also claimed to be "near vanilla" Android - has a persistent popup reminding me that I haven't completed setup because I haven't logged in to my Google account. I can see no way to get rid of this. It doesn't stop the phone working at all, but it is annoying on the homescreen. Any suggestions?

Tick-tock, Facebook: Not a reference to that short vid horsepuckey but a literal open-source timekeeper

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: MAC

Wow. I didn't realise things had moved so far. £150 for a second-hand device might be a bit of an ask for a typical enterprise network, especially when NTP is generally very reliable and GNSS can be used as well, but those devices from Microchip - a company I've always admired for bringing "odd devices I never knew I needed" to the market - look fantastic. They don't appear easy to get in one-off quantities from the likes of RS or Farnell, neither of which seems to stock them...

M.

Martin an gof Silver badge

I suppose it depends how accurate you need to be. For most people, just synchronising the OS's clock to NTP every now and then will be perfectly sufficient, but there must be further use-cases. When I worked in ILR, we only needed accuracy to (say) half a second, in order to be able to synchronise between local and network content (put the fader up for IRN at the right moment), but to do so we had a receiver in the racks which synchronised to Rugby or DSF, that receiver itself had a laser-trimmed quartz crystal in case of loss of the LW signals, and it sent out pulses over a serial link to wall clocks in the studios, each of which had a standard (if fairly high-quality) quartz movement which could certainly keep them close enough to Rugby for several hours - possibly days, given how stable the studio temperatures were - just in case the serial link went down. No GPS (or at least, no civilian GPS) in those days, but even if there had been I suspect we'd have had a similar fail-safe cascade.

As for the Time Appliance, I like the casual throw-away phrase used for backup:

An oscillator (such as an atomic clock) backs things up

Yeah, I have a couple of those in a box in the attic somewhere, gimme a moment...

M.

Boffins propose Pretty Good Phone Privacy to end pretty invasive location data harvesting by telcos

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: What about 911 autolocating?

And experience has shown emergency services, in the uk at least, that what3words has some major design flaws. Researchers are suggesting redesigning the algorithm and changing the choice of words, in much the same way that the International Phonetic Alphabet was created after WWII, changing the UK "able, baker, charlie, dog..." to "alpha, bravo, charlie, delta..."

M.

Zorin OS 16 Pro arrives complete with optional 'Windows 11' desktop

Martin an gof Silver badge

Zorin

I'd be tempted to give it a tryout, but every time I read an article about Zorin OS my mind skips back to one of the worst Bond films ever made (though oddly enough with two of the best supporting actors - and an honourable mention to David Yip).

M.

Happy 60th, Sinclair Radionics: We'll remember you for your revolutionary calculators and crap watches

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: I want a C5

I do believe if it were released today with a modern motor and battery combo it would probably be successful.

We have two at the museum - one "accessioned" as it was built in Merthyr so is sat on a pedestal with "do not touch" labels - the other bought from eBay a few years ago so that people could have a go.

Mostly they enjoy it but steering is a bit odd, the brakes are really rubbish, the chain keeps falling off the idler, and in order to save on a differential just one rear wheel is driven by the pedals, with the other single wheel driven by the motor, so it's rather lopsided. Our eBay version doesn't have a battery any more, but the "go" button is "on/off" so I'd imagine it'd be quite difficult to control at first.

The other big downside is that the seating position is not adjustable, so unless your legs are within a certain range of lengths you will either find your knees in your chin or be unable to reach the pedals.

And it's always worth warning anyone wearing a skirt that it's not the most elegant of machines.

If you're looking for something safer and more practical, there are several machines along the lines of the Renault Twizy, but they're not cheap - the C5, as well as being made on a spare production line in a washing machine factory, cost about the same to buy. My calculations suggest the entry model Twizy could buy you perhaps 40 reasonable-quality washing machines.

M.

Steam-powered computers: Retro cool or old and busted?

Martin an gof Silver badge

Went there a few years ago

Great museum, particularly the bit where you get to walk right underneath Caerphilly Castle. Was a bit disappointed that the audio-visual displays at the start of the tour were very much past their best, though as it's been seven or eight years, perhaps they've been renewed since. Intrigued that one exhibit - showing massive burn-in on a CRT - seemed to be Acorn-powered :-)

Good birthday outing for a train-mad young boy though.

M.

Windows 11 comes bearing THAAS, Trojan Horse as a service

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: progress

getting it back to where we don't even think about whether the connection is going to be ok

Right at the fundamental level though, this is where the problems start.

Phone lines were circuit-switched. You quite literally had a physical connection between your set and the other person's set. Couple of batteries in line somewhere, then some amplifiers in later systems, but the whole thing was physically connected.

If there was a bad joint somewhere along the line resulting in poor audio, crackling and the like, you cleared-down, waited a few seconds and re-dialled. Chances are, one or two of the switches would make a slightly different choice of Copper this time around and you wouldn't get the bad joint again. Party-lines and spooks aside, you had an exclusive connection.

When phone lines went digital, this system was recreated digitally as virtual circuits.

Nowadays you chop up your audio and video into little packets of bits and launch them into the void with an address slapped on the front of each packet, and hope for the best. Every single one of them might take a slightly different route, arrive at a slightly different time, and some of them might end up on the leg of a carrier pigeon called Speckled Jim, boiling away in a stock pot in a WWI dugout.

Frankly it's amazing it works at all.

Bring back ATM I say :-)

M.

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: Responsibility

I've found musicians, producers, and especially the techs/engineers to be some of the most resistant to change people anywhere

If it works for you, why change it?

Just look at the typical bag of wired microphones sported by stage engineers. Guaranteed that the bulk of it will be SM 58 or one of its close relatives. The SM58 has been around since the mid 1960s with only a few minor tweaks.

Digital mixers - in theory an absolute boon - took a while to get established, not just because of cost but also because of latency in early models. These aren't such issues for studios, but in live situations, latency can be a real problem.

On the other hand, digital recording - once it became practical - took off very quickly.

I need a small mixer for home. I was looking at a small, cheap analogue desk with USB connection, of which there are dozens of really quite acceptable models. Then Behringer went and launched the Flow small digital mixer, very competitively priced, reasonable mix of features and that really mucked up my list of candidates. As far as I'm aware, no-one else offers anything similar at a similar price. The "remote control" functionality may not be much use at home, but it could be very useful at church...

M.

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: "and in a few short years we were liberated."

Most educational organisations (be it school level or university level) will already be using MS for Windows and Office. Having Teams built in will be easier to get teachers to use and support, rather than going for third party tools.

Interesting that. One of the schools attended by my children uses Teams, and uses it reasonably well, but fortunately they were also able to provide Chromebooks for those pupils who didn't have exclusive access to their own computer at home, and the web version of Teams runs acceptably on a Chromebook, though you really don't want to be doing anything else at the same time.

The other school uses Google Classroom, which runs just fine in any ol' browser. Common to both though is that it was obvious early on that having a keyboard was something many people hadn't considered - trying to collaborate online with an on-screen keyboard on a tablet or - worse - a phone - is a nightmare, so some people who initially said "we're good", suddenly realised they weren't.

My wife's work uses Teams, as does her professional body. For work, it's via a VPN which has been so painful that she has an "unofficial" iPad for video meetings. Teams's problems with who-is-logged-in means that also has to use the iPad (now with keyboard) if she needs to be working both "for work" and for the professional body as otherwise things which should never leave one domain end up being visible to people in the other :-/

There are use-cases for online, but most of them seem to be fairly simple. Try to do anything complex and the whole edifice comes crumbling down. It has been joyful being back "in the office" recently, meeting some colleagues in person for the first time in nine months in some cases, longer in others. Not so much because I'm the gregarious type who likes meeting people (absolutely I'm not) but for simple things like "oh, yes, I forgot to mention it in the handover email but...".

M.

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: "and in a few short years we were liberated."

Android all but forces you log in with a Google application...

Try finding an Android that doesn't have Google Play, Gmail and a variety of other Google apps bundled in

But at least - in theory - you have a certain degree of choice with Android. My own phone runs Lineage without any Google apps at all, and while there isn't an official Lineage for the boys' Nokias (yet?) neither of them has a Google account or runs the Play store. It's not what Google wants you to do, and it's not what they put effort in to making easy, but it works. Fennec for browsing, K9mail for email, Signal for messaging, and the misfortune of having to sideload Snapchat for friends and (believe it or not) Whatsapp for those temporary summer jobs.

M.

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: "and in a few short years we were liberated."

Have to say that I've been pleasantly surprised by Teams on Linux

Teams on Linux has been everything I've expected it to be. Great lumbering behemoth which takes up large amounts of resources and sets itself to auto-launch, slowing the whole machine down.

I wouldn't be using it at all except that video calling doesn't work in Firefox. At least with the web version (horribly slow and clunky though it is - and have you actually counted the number of domains it tries to pull resources from?) it's possible to kill it by closing a tab, though even if you log out, it's pot luck what happens next time you try to open it.

M.

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: "and in a few short years we were liberated."

Microsoft do seem to have captured a big chunk of the business market, but personally I'm not sure that will translate over to the consumer side

Absolutely. It's not really a "personal" product and as these days fewer and fewer people have an up-to-date "computer" (as in a desktop or decent laptop) at home and do the bulk of their internetting on their phones, fewer people will be using W10 or W11. If you do happen to have Teams on your phone because of work, the last thing you want to do is use it for personal communications because it's impossible to separate those two things without logging out and logging back in again.

M.

Is it broken yet? Is it? Is it? Ooh that means I can buy a sparkly, new but otherwise hard-to-justify replacement!

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: Right to repair?

Unfortunately there was a small keying slot. Not quite sure why, but it probably won't shut properly or would rattle a bit without :-)

M.

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: Right to repair?

Our 10yo freezer failed last year and was going to cost more to repair than replace

Our fridge is about the same age, and one of the pins on which the door swings failed. Perfectly usable otherwise, and quite probably someone with a lathe and access to a small amount of appropriate metal could knock something up which would work, not I though. I made a temporary repair to the old pin by drilling a small hole in each half (not easy) and inserting a snapped-off drill bit and some superglue.

A replacement pin was found, original part no less, slightly re-designed to avoid the "neck" where the original failed, very easy to fit, but twenty three quid!.

The door handle has a crack in the plastic. Fortunately it's a cosmetic problem as the handle has a metal core, but should that item fail, according to the guy who found me the door pin, not only is the handle no longer available, but when it was available it was about fifty quid.

As it happens we've recently "changed kitchens" and the space available for the fridge is slightly larger than previously, so we could benefit from an upgrade, but somehow it seems wasteful.

Mother-in-law has finally swapped out her 55 year-old Canon cooker for a new one. Had to happen; the gas taps were failing, the thing stank, and it had needed lighting with a match (or a lighter) since conversion to Natural Gas back in the 1970s, when they took out the pilot lights. I have deliberately avoided suggesting that the old cooker might also have been insulated with asbestos.

She's happy to have a clean, shiny, fully working new cooker, but it's "not as good as the old one", particularly the feeble grill!

M.

Dog eats UK government's Hydrogen Strategy homework just as summer recess arrives

Martin an gof Silver badge

You forgot, pumped storage - specifically Dinorwig - can go from zero to 1.75GW within 16 seconds or within 5 seconds if the turbines have been set spinning in compressed air first. (Interesting that Wikipedia says 75 and 16 seconds, respectively. The plant's web page just says less than 16 seconds.

There is also one big difference between the storage technologies and primary generation - stamina. Dinorwig can produce at full output - so long as the upper lake was full - for about six hours. Battery stations are typically capable of less. Gas and Nuclear (and other primary technologies) can keep going more-or-less indefinitely.

M.

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: diesel was the future....of course, 20 years on, that was a mistake

...by some measures, Diesel is cleaner than petrol, even if by others it isn't, so a higher proportion of Diesel-engined cars since the 1970s - when nearly all cars were Petrol-powered - will make a difference. Certainly in the 1990s, improvements in Diesel technology were outpacing improvements in petrol technology, but it was starting from a fairly low base.

From a UK point-of-view, don't forget the Clean Air Act which removed coal- and wood-burning fires from many cities and towns in the 1960s, the removal of pollutants such as Sulphur and Lead from fuels in the 1970s and 1980s and the closure of much heavy industry, some of which was based in or around towns and will have contributed to poor air quality in those towns. These things would have made big improvements to local air pollution, even if the engines themselves hadn't become much more efficient - which of course they have.

For example, within a three mile radius of the centre of Caerphilly - a town essentially built in a basin (a bit like a small Sheffield, with similar odd localised weather), in the mid 20th-century there were five major coal mines, two of which had coking plants, a town-gas plant, a railway maintenance shed, an aero-engine maintenance factory, a tar plant, a couple of quarries and probably half a dozen other things I've forgotten. Products for these were mainly shipped by rail, steam-powered until the 1960s, or by heavy dirty-Diesel lorries.

The air (and other) pollution from these would have peaked mid-century, and only really begun to decline in the 1970s as first the railway shed was closed (mid 1960s), the gas plant went (North Sea Gas), then the coking plants and the coal mines. The last of these mines didn't close until the mid 1980s.

The one area where many cities went backwards in the 1960s and 1970s was local public transport, removing "clean at the point of use" electric trams and trolleybusses in favour of Diesel-powered vehicles.

It all makes a difference!

M.

Former ad exec sticks Steve Jobs' 1973 job application in a scanner for physical-versus-digital NFT auction

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: Don't judge your CV by the grammatical errors

"sleek"?

That's not a CV, it's a flyer, and not a very good one at that. If that dropped on to my desk I'd take one look at it and assume it was someone who had a quota to fill and wasn't very confident at typing, or handwriting for that matter. It tells you absolutely nothing other than the applicant thinks he can do "electronics design, tech", and as we all know, it wasn't Jobs who did the (clever) electronics, it was Wozniak.

I suppose you could look at it one of two ways. Either the applicant isn't serious, or companies were so desperate for staff back in the US in 1973 that all you had to do was stick your hand up and say "uuh, yeah, I cun do dat" and you'd be hired.

How things have changed.

M.

Northern Train's ticketing system out to lunch as ransomware attack shuts down servers

Martin an gof Silver badge

Re: A quick fix

It can still be quicker and easier to buy a ticket at a window, certainly rather than at a machine. Build in a little time for queueing, but on more than one occasion I've had the bloke behind the counter (and it is usually a bloke at my local station) say, "oh, that doesn't look right, hang on, let me try some other options" when the automated system offers up its first choice - the same choice you'd get at the machine, and likely the same choice you would be offered on the website.

Then he'll remember to check if we have the family railcard (or whatever), offer to update it first if it's expired, all kinds of things like that, and (for certain routes) remind you to sit in the front two carriages as the train splits at Crewe (not done that kind of journey for some time though).

On the subject of railcards, the machine at our station (I've no idea about other ones) just takes it on trust that if you can find the little button that says "I have a railcard", you actually do. Of course, when they do check tickets on the train they expect to see a valid railcard too. Escaped this once because I went to a ticket window (not at our local station) and the lady behind the counter noticed the railcard was about three days out of date, so we bought a new one.

M.

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