* Posts by Nick Gibbins

32 publicly visible posts • joined 16 Mar 2010

The eulogising of The Mother Of All Demos at 50 is Silicon Valley going goo-goo for gurus again

Nick Gibbins

"one-way hyperlinks are what make the web possible (this is the concept of "worse is better")"

I disagree; what makes the Web possible is links that are allowed to break, an orthogonal issue to bidirectionality (or indeed to the first class/embedded link dichotomy).

There have been systems which have had first class links (stored and manipulated separately from the documents they link) which have tried to enforce link integrity. Nelson claimed to be able to do it in Xanadu, but was never able to explain exactly how[1]. Hyper-G - the Great White Also-Ran of the hypertext world - tried to enforce link integrity using something that with modern eyes looks rather like a distributed hash table. Interesting, but fundamentally not as scalable as Not Giving A Damn like the Web does. No doubt, if it were reinvented now, it would use something blockchain-shaped.

On the other hand, there have been systems with first class (and bidirectional) links that didn't care about link integrity - Microcosm being one such.

TimBL's decision to have the Web use embedded unidirectional links that would be allowed to break was, in retrospect, a sensible decision - but it's the breaking bit that mattered, not the embedded/unidirectional bit.

[1] source: I directly asked him about this twenty years ago when I was doing my PhD on matters related to distributed hypermedia systems

Nick Gibbins

Orlowski seems never to have found a party that he didn't want to spoil. He's really rather tiresome.

Nick Gibbins

Re: Double hyperlinks

The benefit of first class links (the term of art for hypertext links that are stored and manipulated separately from the documents they link) is that you don't need to control the document that exists at *either* end of the link. This means that you can create links that only you can see (a set of private annotations on documents) or choose to publish them (which of course doesn't mean that everyone needs to choose to see them).

Bidirectional links (and more complex links, like n-ary links with more than one source or destination) follow fairly easily once you have first class links.

2001: A Space Odyssey has haunted pop culture with anxiety about rogue AIs for half a century

Nick Gibbins

Re: For more details....

And the unused perspex block ended up being used as the raw material for a sculpture commemorating the Silver Jubilee in 1977 that was installed by St Katharine's Dock.


Don't touch that mail! London uni fears '0-day' used to cram network with ransomware

Nick Gibbins

Re: Wouldn't have happened in my day

Pfft. Youngster. When I was a Warwick student (94 graduate), there was a single room of Windows PCs in the basement of CSV. Unless you had access to the small number of Sun workstations, you read your email the same way as almost everyone else: on a VT220 (or on an ADM3e if you were in DCS).

The revolution will not be televised: How Lucas modernised audio in film

Nick Gibbins

"Then the Star Wars logo appears as an almost illegible glow as the projectionist continues to fiddle with the focus ring"

Focus *ring*? There speaks someone with only the vaguest of ideas about how a projector works. Besides, every projectionist worth their salt would already have focused on the certificate.

Also: when I saw Star Wars on first release in January 1978 (it having been released in the UK just after Christmas 1977), you couldn't hear "the hum of the cinema air conditioning, the rumble of a bus driving past and the laughter of a latecomer ordering popcorn in the lobby" over the wolf whistles and cheers at the opening credits.

It's happening! It's happening! W3C erects DRM as web standard

Nick Gibbins

Re: Inclusion in free software

That's fine for *users* of free software/open source software, but not much of an option for developers of same.

(this is why I raised a formal objection at an earlier stage of the process - given the provisions regarding reverse engineering in the DMCA, EME presents a risk to open source developers and security researchers)

Nick Gibbins

Re: Oh, please.

"the W3C is also irrelevant. It hasn't been a forum for engineers and leading industry professionals for a long time,"

W3C is a standards body, not a "forum for engineers and leading industry professionals"

"that's why its initiatives have become bloated, unimplimented, and standards have become ad hoc or de facto instead of guided by a deliberate design process"

Nice generalisation - care to name specific initiatives or standards? In my experience, W3C standards have been remarkably coherent, largely thanks to the work of the Technical Architecture Group.

If you're talking about standards bloat, look no further than the HTML5 spec - that's effectively been under the control of WHATWG rather than W3C for over a decade.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I've participated in a number of W3C working groups over the last decade and a half, and I'm currently my organisation's representative on W3C's Advisory Committee. In that role, I have already raised formal objections to W3C's involvement with DRM (in the form of EME).

Google Maps adds all UK public transport timetables

Nick Gibbins

I believe that the Traveline bus stop data (on which presumably Google Maps have based their data) comes from NaPTAN (the National Public Transport Access Node dataset - http://www.dft.gov.uk/naptan/ ), so that should be kosher. Can you give some concrete examples of these fictitious stops? I'm not saying that they don't exist (or, uh, don't not exist), but I'd be curious to see where they are (or rather, aren't).

Is the World Wide Web for luvvies and VCs – or for all of us?

Nick Gibbins

Possibly - the closest contender that I've seen was Hyper-G (later commercialised as Hyperwave). It was a distributed open hypermedia system* with protocol-level support for link integrity. Would it have scaled as fast or as far as the Web? Probably not.

* Open hypermedia means that links are stored separately from documents, rather than being embedded in document markup

** No 404 errors! Ever!

Nick Gibbins

Heavens - an Orlowski article that I mostly agree with. However, for the sake of consistency I should raise a few token disagreements and comments:

- Yes, SGML was all-singing and all-dancing, and full of rich semantics. I have a copy of the SGML Handbook on my office shelf, and have consulted it within the last three months. Parsing SGML, however, was a royal pain; TimBL's decision to design a simple angle-brackety markup language (I hesitate to call it an SGML application, because it didn't get a DTD until HTML 2.0) was a pragmatic one, and the simplicity (or perhaps paucity) of early HTML has in retrospect been a positive thing; easy to author, and fairly easy to write a bare-bones parser for.

- Your reference to XHL is interesting - you have a better memory than I do. However, XHL owed much to HyTime (which, as an aside, made SGML look almost straightforward by comparison), and much of the XHL work ended up being recycled in XLink. Of course, both XLink 1.0 and 1.1 have raised barely a ripple. Blame the browser manufacturers for being unwilling to support them.

- It's interesting that you don't also criticise the design of HTTP and URIs. Like HTML, their initial versions made some naive assumptions that later versions would correct.

If you're going to criticise the early Web for what it didn't do, you'd do well to consider why it succeeded when other contemporary hypertext systems (Hyper-G, for example) didn't.

The browser's resized future in a fragmented www world

Nick Gibbins

"hypertext, an idea dating from the 1950s and Ted Nelson"?

Not quite - Nelson coined the term 'hypertext' in 1963, and didn't really start work on it until the late 1960s (with Xanadu, and also with Andries van Dam's HES/FRESS system from Brown University). Contemporary with this work was Engelbart's NLS, which brought us videoconferencing and the mouse as well as a fully-realised hypertext system.

If you want to find the origins of hypertext, you first need to start two decades earlier with Vannevar Bush's Memex, and then arguably go further back to systems like Ostwald's Die Brücke or Otlet's Mundaneum.

But hypertext in the 1950s? Not so much.

Story gone

Nick Gibbins

No mention of General Magic?

As I recall it, the term 'cloud' used to refer to network-based SaaS was around before the 1997 Chellappa paper; the long-dead company General Magic (a spin-out from Apple, founded by Bill Atkinson and Andy Hertzfeld) pioneered the notion of mobile code that could migrate across what they called the "Telescript Cloud" (Telescript being their mobile language) in the min-90s.

BOFH: Don't be afraid - we won't hurt your delicate, flimsy inkjet printer

Nick Gibbins

Re: Dot Matrix Printers

Obligatory link to Symphony for Dot Matrix Printers:


The bunker at the end of the world - in Essex

Nick Gibbins

Re: yes

Threads was set in Sheffield. The War Game was set in Kent.

Regarding civil defence, there *was* some preparation in the early 1950s, but the initial enthusiasm had declined by the end of the decade; the last month of my father's National Service were spent on a CD training course that (from his recollection) was mostly about rescuing people from buildings that had collapsed post-attack. The CD Corps itself was wound up by the Wilson government in 1968.

Inside Adastral: BT's Belgium-sized broadband boffinry base

Nick Gibbins
IT Angle

"[the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at RAF Martlesham Heath] witnessed the first flights of the Spitfire and the Hurricane."

Not quite. The first flight of the Spitfire prototype (K5054) took place at Eastleigh Aerodrome, now better known as Southampton International Airport. The first flight of the Hurricane prototype (K5083) took place at Brooklands Aerodrome.

The RAF trials for both aircraft took place at RAF Martlesham Heath, but they were far from being first flights.

Tito's Mars mission to use HUMAN WASTE as radiation shield

Nick Gibbins

Nothing new about this

The idea of using both food and excreta as radiation shielding for long duration space flights is nothing new; the Boeing Integrated Manned Interplantery Spacecraft proposal from 1968 made exactly the same recommendation.


Fans rap Apple's 'crap' Map app

Nick Gibbins

I could live with the poor quality aerial photography, the woeful POI data (I've found businesses shown in Southampton that are actually based in Nottingham), the wacky road colouring (motorways should be blue, ffs!), the lack of motorway junction numbers, the missing features (streams, footpaths) and the lack of Street View, just about.

However, when you're selling the new Maps app on its turn-by-turn navigation, it really shouldn't be sending you the wrong way down one-way streets, or directing you to impassable junctions (it will happily tell you to turn right from York Street in Bath onto Stall Street - good luck with the bollards, the pedestrians and the oncoming cars).

Open Data Institute pours golden £10m shower on upstarts

Nick Gibbins

Re: modern day "jobs for the boys"

ODI is a continuation of work that began under the Labour government; at Southampton, we've been working with the Cabinet Office on open public sector information since 2006, if not earlier. Much of the work planned for ODI had previously been planned for the ill-fated Web Science Institute. WSI had been promised funding to the tune of £30M by the Labour government ( http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/03/22/semantic_web_tbl/ ), but that was withdrawn by the incoming coalition ( http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/05/25/farewell_institute_of_web_science/ ).

Does that count as "friendship and support to the regime"?

Nick Gibbins

OP misses the point

"There’s also talk of W3C participation, something the taxpayer already got for free thanks to the fact TBL is actually the standards group’s director."

I believe that you've misunderstood both the nature of the W3C and the role of W3C Director. TimBL's involvement with ODI doesn't give it a free ride with respect to participation in W3C activities; as Director, he assesses consensus within the Consortium, but it's the members (ie. member organisations) of W3C that have the vote.

Nick Gibbins

Re: Distraction tactics

I've been working with Nigel Shadbolt for a little over a decade - he's a pragmatist.

How politicians could end droughts forever But they don't want to

Nick Gibbins

Re: Absurd

Damned straight. We've just had the first quarter's readings for the water meter that was installed before Christmas. The result: our family of four uses around 150 litres per day *in total*, and that's with a newborn in cloth nappies.

OMG! Berners-Lee has an iPhone

Nick Gibbins

As far as I recall (from the last time I was in a meeting with him), he also has a MacBook Pro, albeit one suitably plastered with stickers.

This is pretty much the definition of a non-story. Can't the Reg do any better than this?

Apple predicted AI assistant for tablets in 1987

Nick Gibbins

It's legit - I first saw this video a decade ago. It's very well-known in HCI circles.

Google's epic graph cruncher mimicked with open source

Nick Gibbins

You misunderstand academic publishing

It's an ACM paper (or rather, SIGMOD is an ACM conference). The ACM doesn't publish academic papers for the love of it, but as a source of revenue to support the organisation. At my institution, we subscribe to the ACM Digital Library (£££, but still less than subscribing to something like Elsevier's Science Direct).

Like it or not, the majority of the peer-reviewed academic literature is not free to access. Yes, open access journals and author/institutional self-archiving are making some inroads, but it's still completely acceptable for an article on the Reg to be linking to the *canonical* version of an academic paper.

Microsoft warns on support scams

Nick Gibbins

There's a lot of it about

I had occasion to work from home recently (lots of exam papers to mark, fewer students disturbing me than if I marked them in my office) and received three such calls in a four day period. Now, my wife kept her surname when we married, and the phone line is in her name, so being addressed as "Mr <her_name>" is normally a good indication that I'm about to be scammed.

I doff my hat to those people who say theyve managed to keep the scammers on the line for as long as twenty minutes or half an hour; my best time was eleven minutes (strategy: calm, concerned and clueless) before I gave in and pointed out that a) I have a PhD in computer science, b) there's no way I'm going to install a random piece of software, and c) I know when someone is trying to scam me. They got quite abusive last time, but the effect of being called a 'fucking motherfucker' in a thick Indian accent is more comical than alarming.

Perhaps I could get a better score if I gave them free rein of a suitably sandboxed honeypot computer?

Biodegradable products are often worse for the planet

Nick Gibbins

Touching cloth

Some of us use nappies that are both reusable *and* biodegradable on our children. We even buy nappies second-hand.

Cloth nappies were good enough for me when I was a kid, and they're good enough for my kids.

UK.gov 'HyperHighway' aims to 'speed up the internet by 100x'

Nick Gibbins

Don't mistake the politician's blurb for the research that's being funded

The principal investigator on the grant (David Payne) has a world-leading track record in photonics, having been behind the development of the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optical_amplifier">erbium-doped fibre amplifier</a> (look at the references at the bottom of that Wikipedia article). Without optical amplifiers, undersea cables would be more expensive and less reliable, so his contribution to the basic technology that underpins the global telecommunications network (including the Internet) is substantial.

Call this a squandering of taxpayers' money if you want, but this is the sort of investment in basic R&D that's essential to the future economic wellbeing of the UK.

(declaration: I'm a lecturer in the same department as Payne, but not one of his direct colleagues)

New spaceplane proposed for NASA station crew contract

Nick Gibbins

Familiar shape

This doesn't just resemble the X-20 Dynasoar - see also the European Hermes spaceplane and the Russian Kliper:



Coalition promises to kill three-quarters of its websites

Nick Gibbins

It must be convenient...

...to be able to throw all these inconvenient reminders of life before the coalition into the memory hole.

Elon Musk plans new Mars rockets bigger than Saturn Vs

Nick Gibbins

Not quite

The first stage of the Soyuz-U (and most other rockets derived from the R-7) consists of four strap-on boosters (each with a single RD-107 engine) around the second stage core (with a single RD-108 engine). The RD-107 and RD-108 engines have four fixed combustion chambers apiece, but are considered to be single engines because they each have a single pair of turbopumps feeding RP-1 and liquid oxygen to the combustion chambers. In addition, the RD-107 has two gimballed verniers, while the RD-108 has four.

So, depending on how you count it, a Soyuz-U either has five engines firing at launch, or thirty-two thrust chambers.

LibDems drop net blocking, blame activists

Nick Gibbins


"A hysterical academic, Lilian Edwards"

Nice bit of belittling there - I wonder if you would have said the same of a male academic?

Does the Reg's editorial policy condone this sort of overt sexist posturing?