* Posts by Martin Howe

66 publicly visible posts • joined 30 Apr 2010


Hey, GitHub, can you create an array compare function without breaking the GPL?

Martin Howe

How dare GitHub make a function to provide code for blindly copying into a program - that's Stack Overflow's job

No, I will not pay the bill. Why? Because we pay you to fix things, not break them

Martin Howe

Years ago in the late 90s my broadband internet kept failing. BT came out, engineer said he couldn't find a problem but if it persisted, maybe they would 'reset the line card at the exchange'. He did not find any fault in my computer or modem (this bit is important).

BT later sent me a bill claiming it was my fault as they couldn't find a fault of their own; note this was a typical corporate fudge; they did not prove my equipment was at fault, only that they couldn't find a fault with theirs.

Meanwhile the fault had persisted and somewhat later, I phoned them again and suggested they do what the engineer had said; they did it ... lo and behold, my broadband was back!

So I wrote to them and stated what had happened and demanded my money back (which I got), pointing out to them that if they'd done this by default, the whole issue would have gone away.

Logitech, that canary in PC coal mine, just fell off its perch

Martin Howe

Logitech have already fallen off their perch. I bought a new wireless keyboard and mouse recently; nothing wrong with it functionally, but the name as printed on the devices is now 'logi' with the lower part of the 'g' styled to look like a smile; in short, they have started getting 'cute' instead of emphasising their technological prowess via their original name: 'logical technology'.

Boffins grow human brain cells to play Pong

Martin Howe

But can it play Doom?

Rookie programmer's code goes up in flames ... kind of

Martin Howe

Re: Vital detail missing

Might be Budgens in Holt (Norfolk) a couple years ago - electrical fire in the roof burned the place to the ground (no flare gun required :P) .

Block this: Using satellites to plaster ads over our skies could work, say boffins

Martin Howe

Re: What do you mean, "It's been done?"

Opening scene from 'Judge Dredd: Loonies Moon' in 2000AD Prog 192:


Martin Howe

What do you mean, "It's been done?"

In early issues of 2000AD, in Judge Dredd, there were companies competing to project ads onto the Moon. How long before the technology to do this is available?

How to get Linux onto a non-approved laptop

Martin Howe

There's a very good reason to wipe out Windows and isolate it in a VM; I tried dual booting once and for a time it worked, but when Windows screwed up as it inevitable does, it took out the bootloader and partition table with it. That was it. From then on, Linux is the only OS and a copy of Windows 10 is confined to a VM where it can be a flaky as always without taking down the real PC. There is only one network share on the host that the Windows VM can write to, which has several backups, and is not critical for the system's operation.

Windows booting on real hardware on my computers? Dream on MICROS~1 :P

Get over it: Microsoft is a Linux and open source company these days

Martin Howe

Stop judging Microsoft on what it did a decade ago and judge it by what it's doing today.

Sure: 2D flatso GUI, telemetry, "Are you sure you want to switch, please try Edge?", "Hey I'll just change your file associations 'cos I feel like it", "That's rather old, even though it works fine and has no need to change, sorry no drivers for it now!", "If you want a local account you have to lie to us that there's no internet, we're funny that way", "Yes we know you dismissed the W11 panel in Update, but we'll still keep nagging you to run the checker without giving you a way to tell us there's no way in Hell this thing will run W11, so stop asking", "Sure, we can stop annoying pop-ups - like the one when you're playing a game - but you have to tell us", "The verbose switch in CHKDSK at boot? What does 'verbose' mean, IDK?", "BSOD? Don't worry we won't tell you why without your having to dig through log files and settings!"

An OS should sit quietly in the background waiting for its Holy Sacred God (me) to give it commandments, and otherwise keep the Hell out of my face. When I tell it I want hard info, I expect text not fancy graphics, and text that tells me in detail what the heck is going on."

Should have kept Windows 7 and Aero, made the under the hood improvements, added a 2D GUI for tablets, and left it at that. And people wonder why I don't use Windows any more!

EU lawmakers vote to ban sales of combustion engine cars from 2035

Martin Howe

I hardly need to drive; but when I need to, I need it *bad*. If it wasn't for astronomy club, nature reserves and a couple of other things, I would ditch the car entirely; however, these are too far to cycle or walk, and most cannot be reached by public transport *at all*. Period. Full stop. End of story.

The few that can are prohibitively expensive to reach, or do not run at the times needed to leave and get back home, or have long waits for connections. Even the few that can be cycled to from a train involve expensive equipment than can't fit on a bike or is too fragile to risk taking by bike. Until the government mandates buses to places like this, ditching the car is nonsense.

EVs at £1000 or so for reasonable second-hand price? Like my petrol car? That needs to become common. Even then, I am one of millions with no off-street parking. The government needs to *flood* the country with charging points before even thinking of banning petrol and/or sales of second hand petrol cars.

-Werror pain persists as Linus Torvalds issues Linux 5.15rc2

Martin Howe

Intel tried to kill it and it still won't die

"Who knew I'd still worry about some odd EISA driver on alpha, after all these years?"

Thanks for doing so, Mr Torvalds, I do like to play Doom on my 1997 AlphaServer now and then - just for old time's sake :) Gets a bit hard if it can't see the SCSI controllers :)

Microsoft emits last preview of .NET 6 and C# 10, but is C# becoming as complex as C++?

Martin Howe

"... failed attempt at EEE on Java."

What is EEE, please? Google throws up nothing but pages of irrelevant results :(

Happy with your existing Windows 10 setup? Good, because Windows 11 could turn its nose up at your CPU

Martin Howe

This. For day to day, I'm using a 2008 Dell 490: no TPM, no UEFI. With 16GB RAM and an SSD for the system drive, I can open 16 tabs in Chrome at once without it complaining. A lowly Ti550 is fine for the older video games I play. If I were still using Windows, this wouldn't run 11 at all. From what the article said about 21H1, I'm not even sure it'd run later versions of 10. But it works. Fine. Fast.

It's such a shame for those people with perfectly serviceable PCs who aren't tech savvy enough to move away from Windows and are thus forced to spend money on something they don't need in order to get something they do (or will, in 2025).

Sucks to be you, any aliens living anywhere near Proxima Centauri's record-smashing solar flare

Martin Howe

I wonder anyone sought a place of safety in the sky, and if so, did their fathers know? :)

Nvidia cripples Ethereum mining on GeForce RTX 3060 to deter crypto bods from nabbing all the kit at launch

Martin Howe

Lisa Su says: "Thanks guys, check is in the mail"

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

Martin Howe

Thrillenium Bug?

But what is Tharg going to call 2000AD in the year 3000?

Cisco intros desktop switches, one with USB-C to power your laptop

Martin Howe

"Web technologies bloating even further to the point where a "Hello World" website is a couple of terabytes or so.."

Dunno about the web, but on desktop, I'm sure MICROS~1 can arrange that for you :p

UK network Three hikes pay-as-you-go rates by 400% to push punters to buy 'bundles'

Martin Howe

Re: Maybe not

Plusnet use EE's network.

Suckers for punishment, we added a crawler transporter to our Saturn V

Martin Howe

They beat Gerry Anderson to the punch

I love these machines; they look like they could have come right out of Thunderbirds or Captain Scarlet. Born the same year they were, I didn't have Lego kits of them as a child; however, for my 7th birthday, Mum made me a birthday cake in the shape of one, complete with mini swiss rolls for wheels, strips of marzipan for tracks and blue icing (don't think there was much choice in fancy food colouring at the local Tesco in 1972). That was almost as cool as the real thing :)

Explained: The thinking behind the 32GB Windows Format limit on FAT32

Martin Howe

Re: Future proofing size constraints

Don't forget Stephen Morse with '1MB is a lot for 1976'; indeed it was, but not having 32-bit segment registers (even with lower 4 bits forced zero to begin with) as a priority? Maybe making SI and DI 32 bits, like having a couple of 16-bit index registers in 8 bit CPUs? That decision alone has cost us a hell of a lot of progress :(

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

Martin Howe

I don't remember, as both cats I mentioned passed away ages ago; however, given Siri was an Asian Self (Lilac) and thus essentially a Burmese, it could explain her weird addiction :) Another one, Felix was part Burmese and part RB and he was a devil for eating anything odd; at my Dad's wake, we had to have the flowers at Mum's house in the conservatory, visible through glass, as Mr 'bloody' Felix would try to eat the petals :)

Martin Howe

Fond (well, kinda) memories of the six-monthly disassembly of my Gateway laptop to remove the customary 10mm wedge of cat fur from the fan vent. Freddie loved sitting next to the computer, just where all that lovely heat was coming out. And it wasn't even a gaming laptop :) Still it was a good design, MX8716B; made 2007 and still going in 2016!

Then there was the time I received a frantic phone call from mother 120 miles away; the monitor on her computer was dead. Power light showing, caps lock on computer goes on/off when toggled, etc. Checked VGA cable - cat teeth marks all over it. Siri (short for Syringa Superba, her pedigree name - this was long before iPhones became popular) loved it so much, Mum had to fit hot water pipe cladding around all the exposed mains cables in the house, and the network cable too.

Dodgy procedures doomed Arianespace's Vega before it even left the launchpad

Martin Howe

Re: plug it in right or you're going to get a melted component

Yep, just googled that: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PXR5 . Never seen it before. Given that PAT is part of my job these days, I would surely notice it :)

Link to image in question (don't do it at home folks!):


Mysterious Utah monolith mysteriously disappears without trace

Martin Howe

Wile E Coyote. That's all I'm sayin'

Digital pregnancy testing sticks turn out to have very analogue internals when it comes to getting results

Martin Howe

Re: Doomed

Foone has done this and tweeted about it: https://twitter.com/Foone/status/1302820468819288066

Geneticists throw hands in the air, change gene naming rules to finally stop Microsoft Excel eating their data

Martin Howe

Re: Happens in Google sheets as well.

As for 00:00, I find it useful to think of "Midnight AM" and "Midnight PM", as the context (end of one day or beginning of next) is often important but not obvious from the original sentence.

Dutch Gateway store was kept udder wraps for centuries until refit dug up computing history

Martin Howe

At the charity shop we are very occasionally given Gateway machines from the early 90s or late 80s, with processors like 120MHz P1 or P3. They all worked immediately on powering up. Must be a lesson there :)

Boffins baffled as supergiant star just vanishes – either it partially blew itself apart or quietly turned into a black hole

Martin Howe

The x-ray energy comes from interaction between the rebounding inner shell and the outer shell; in a sufficiently massive star, the gravity swallows up the entire star (or most of it) before that can happen.

More info here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamma-ray_burst

Who's going to pay for Britain's Aunty Beeb to carry on? Broadband users, broadcaster suggests to government

Martin Howe

I must say how depressed I am at the "you can't opt out of taxation for schools, the NHS, etc" argument. The TV licence has *degenerated* into a tax, whereas when the BBC had a monopoly, it was simply a fee.

Schools and the NHS are *essential* things that any government should be doing. TV is not. It is entertainment. The best way to do it would be to split the BBC into the 'TV for Consumers' arm, and make them have ads like the other channels (hence no need for the licence to raise money), who IMO, they have degenerated into being no better than.

The other issue is the cost, a one-size-fits-all when nowadays, much of the BBC's output literally isn't worth watching; at a massive £3-4 a week (for a minimum wage earner that *is* massive), one is forced to continually pay for rubbish just to get the few gems; since the BBC is no longer special, it's time it was disestablished and made to pay for itself; in which case, it should realise that no commercial entity would be allowed to get away with that.

For the rest, such as the World Service ... well when I can stop laughing at the idea that the UK is still a Power of World Importance (tm), maybe HMG should pay *that* from the FO's budget :)

I guess the bottom line is that the BBC is no longer the paragon that it was and shouldn't therefore be allowed to keep the privileged position that it was only permitted due to being one.

Time has caught up with you, BBC; now here's your coat - there's the door!

Thought you'd go online to buy better laptop for home working? Too bad, UK. So did everyone. Laptops, monitors and WLANs fly off shelves

Martin Howe

Re: For furniture...

And for computers and such - I work for a charity shop that sells a lot of second hand electrical stuff on eBay (yes we can and do PAT everything) and the eBay side has been a lifeline for us as we're a small charity and may have to close the brick-and-mortar side of the business or scale back opening times.

Long story short, we've been prepping Latitudes and Optiplexes like there's no tomorrow for the last couple of weeks and already sold £200 worth of monitors and nearly £1K of laptops. Of course our stuff isn't suitable for the legalistically bound big corporates, but we seem to be acceptable to small businesses. (Ironic, since most of the recent stuff was donated by a big local corporation, sans HDDs of course).

Reliable system was so reliable, no one noticed its licence had expired... until it was too late

Martin Howe

Re: Soon never seems soon enough

Indeed. One of my many jobs at work is in the charity shop arm of the business, selling stuff on eBay; we acquired an old machine that sorely needed to go to the recycler, but the c. 20 year old (!) Foxconn motherboard, complete with a 120MHz Pentium 1, was still ticking away fine. Was even Y2K compliant and accepted a date of 24 Jan 2019 without issues. We sold it for nearly £100 on eBay!

Sure, you can keep Grandpa Windows 7 snug in the old code home – for a price

Martin Howe

Re: It's a lose-lose situation

"Windows X Titanic" ? Now that's a thought. Imagine Windows 10 running on IA64 ... about as close to the agony of Hell as is possible without actually going there :)

In Windows 10 Update land, nobody can hear you scream

Martin Howe

Windows 7 "outdated"?

Windows 7 seems to have evolved into the sweet spot for Windows OS. A bit like how all automobiles, bar a few special cases, have four wheels, a steering wheel, a shift stick or drive setting handle, and brakes.

Why change what works so well until something truly a huge step up, something that makes the pain of learning something new justifiable, becomes available?

Change for changes' sake makes no sense. The only thing obviously lacking in Windows 7 is a good touch UI for non-desktop use, but that could added on as an installable component for those who want it.

So by what objective metric is Windows 7 supposed to be outdated?

Meltdown, Spectre: The password theft bugs at the heart of Intel CPUs

Martin Howe
Thumb Up

Re: How does knowing where imply knowing what?

Thanks - that took me a couple of re-reads but it helps a lot.

To save anyone else the re-reads, the key is the number 256, the number of values a byte can hold plus the memory accessed in the second step need not be protected memory.

1) Access kernel memory to put value in register.

2) Speculative execution subsystem tries to execute as if (1) was OK. It will then speculatively execute "memory access at address **in non privileged memory areas that we have legitimate access to** of which the register forms part of the resolved address (as an index/scale/whatever to a base address) that causes **one of 256** pages to be pulled into cache. It doesn't matter what data values are in these pages, nor which pages, as long as the pages are accessible to us and there are *exactly* 256 possible pages that could be accessed. It is the fact that the data values are now in cache that matters. They could be the number of fleas on your cat, number of bugs in the Pentium FPU, doesn't matter.

3) (1) faults due to privilege level. (2) Is "thrown away" as fault prevents the CPU getting to it "in the real world", **but the cache lines involved are not flushed**".

4) By using timing analysis to find out *which* page was cached, that's also the number in the register and that number was loaded from kernel memory and used in an index register of sorts **before (2) was thrown away**. Thus, you now know which number is in the address in kernel memory.

At least, that's how I read it in simple terms. Ouch!!

Martin Howe

How does knowing where imply knowing what?

Please can anyone give me a simple explanation of how knowing where data is in memory and/or whether it is currently cached or not, allows an attacker to actually access its contents if they don't have the privilege level for the memory addresses in question? Does the underlying caching mechanism *not* check bounds, privilege, etc? Does speculative execution not also do so? Bit rusty with architecture so would appreciate a simplified explanation of the one on the website - thanks.

You can help fix patent laws … now!

Martin Howe

I hereby patent making sarcastic article titles

In today's interconnected and industrialised age, patents make as much sense as medical doctors treating sick people for evil spirits.

Problem 1 - Novelty, or rather, the lack of it. Too many ideas are easily imagined by reasonably clever people who are bombarded with information daily on the internet; the days when only a "competent practitioner of the art" could come up with something novel are for the most part gone for good. True novelty is rare.

Problem 2 - Discovery vs. Invention. Many things such as software, business processes and computer architecture are essentially mathematical abstractions and are as such discovery rather than invention. These should not be patentable in the first place.

Problem 3 - Abuse of patents. Company A buys IP for B, not to use B but to prevent it competing with product C, even if B might have been better.

Problem 4 - Prevention of composition. Patents prevent ideas being used as components. For example A=B+C. A is novel in itself, so is B but C is already patented. A never exists or gets compromised. Consider some of the early steam engines that had exactly this problem.

Problem 5 - Absolutist interpretation of IP ownership. A patent owner can charge as much as they want for a licence or even simply refuse to do so. There's no concept of knowledge being used to wider benefit to the world as a whole, at a reasonable cost.

Problem 6 - FUD. So many legal battles are about patents because it's not always clear whether a patent is valid, if it applies to a particular product, and so forth. Worse, we expect non-scientists (i.e., Judges and Juries) to decide such things!

Basically, patents are only sensible now for things that are novel AND require huge investment to make or market or distribute. E.g, drugs. Even there, there is a case that medical technology patents should be regulated, as people shouldn't die just so that others can make profit.

What I would like to see is this:

*Patents abolished for anything that does not need significant investment.

*Patents abolished for anything that is ultimately a mathematical abstraction.

*A legal right to use any idea as a component of another (cost to be arbitrated).

*No right to hold a patent unless the holder actually uses it.

*Specialist patent tribunals to arbitrate disputes over the above.

Probably not comprehensive or perfect, but it would be a starting point.

PS: Also, the concept of Prior Art to be explained to every lawyer in the world. With a 2x4 to the head. Especially those working for the USPTO :P

Leaping hedgehog probes planned for Martian moon Phobos

Martin Howe

Martian's weight loss programme

Anybody reminded of the Ruum?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ruum :)

Anonymous hacks Westboro Baptists over Sandy Hook protests

Martin Howe

Hacking is wrong; but since Westboro Baptist Church are racist, sexist, homophobic bigots, who may picket children's funerals, its very hard to feel sorry for them.

There is life after the death of Microsoft’s Windows 8 Start button

Martin Howe
Thumb Up

Re: Plan

"Fixing what wasn't broken and finding solutions for problems that didn't exist is a waste of two resources already in short supply, time and money."


Psst, kid... Wanna learn how to hack?

Martin Howe

Back to the future

Blimey, it's the ZX80 all over again! Actually it's more SC/MP + a subscription to Elektor :) Oh happy days...

What should a sci-fi spaceship REALLY look like?

Martin Howe

Spherical space ships

The Death Star. Just THE DEATH STAR. (OK it was an oblate spheroid, but close enough)

The Borg cube is very efficient in terms of volume usage, but if the DS were that shape, the audience would likely not accept it as a spaceship. (Though given how weird most stuff in SW is, who knows?)

Beeb to fund ad-mungous Local TV for local people

Martin Howe

If only it will be like local free ad papers

Free ad papers are usually local to a district or a small chunk of a county. Local TV tends to focus on a whole county or even several counties. Local TV that is as local as the free ad papers would be great; however, I can imaging it being almost impossible to fund, so it likely won't happen.

Chicago lawyer deploys distractionary dumplings

Martin Howe

Non story

In picture as given, she looks like any other lawyer, or banker or stockbroker or whatever. Dressed smartly; although she quite clearly would look beautiful under the business suit and glasses, she's not making anything of that in this image.

If dressed improperly in court, that's a matter for the judge. Move along please, nothing to see here.

Ten... fantasy gadgets you wish you owned

Martin Howe

The Tomorrow People also had Matter Transporters...

... for use by us normal folks who can't jaunt. ISTR these were belt-worn devices also.

GNOME 3: Shocking changes for Linux lovers

Martin Howe

"Mobile devices, Phones, Tablets and The Cloud are in. Desktops are out."

Not for me they're not - their screens are too small for the things I do and I'd trust the cloud to keep my data safe the same amount I would trust al-Qaeda. Oh and I'm a mostly NON-mobile power user, not a kid hooked on blingy games or a stockbroker updating their share options on the train :P

April Fools Day's Finest

Martin Howe

Wikipedia did it right...

...they played clever by using true articles but with deliberately misleading front-page links to them. Fanny scratching was about a ghost, for example.

Wi-Fi security befuddles clueless home users

Martin Howe
Black Helicopters

And this on the very day...

...that a Chocolate Factory Car of Omniscience (tm) drove up and down our cul-de-sac, c/w Google logo. I wonder if it's an omen... :)

Half a million Germans rally in support of 'Baron von Googleberg'

Martin Howe

So this guy has been caught red handed, cheating big time...

and the people want him BACK? Sounds very "Assange". After all Assange hasn't been tried yet, but there seem many people who believe him guilty but still support him as they don't want to admit how serious the alleged offences are. The public love a bad boy :(

Britain takes delivery of first Nissan e-cars

Martin Howe

Why the sniping and canards?

Ever since I first read it in Elektor as a teenager, ye olde canarde about gas/coal/oil power stations rears its tired old head again. Oil, Gas and Coal will run out. A switch to renewable will be required in the future.

A generation of electric cars needs to be bedded in by that time. Having them run (ultimately) off fossil fuels in the meantime does not make pollution any worse but does facilitate it getting better in the long-term.

This is no different to refactoring a large software system under the hood so that when "The Great Event" occurs, the internal infrastructure is already in place.