* Posts by Dr_Barnowl

29 publicly visible posts • joined 11 Jul 2010

Want a Cybertruck? You're stuck with it for a year, says Tesla


Re: J. Jonah Jameson laugh.gif

Electrics are far more likely to work in the apocalypse - they're mechanically simpler, but more importantly, don't depend on liquid fuels that deteriorate in storage. The trope of zombie apocalypse survivors finding a running car for months or even years after the event is complete fiction.

Sure, the original diesel engines were designed to run on nut oils, but what's easier to run - a solid state solar panel, or uncle Jimmy's peanut farm and fuel refinery?

Open source body quits GitHub, urges you to do the same


Re: Hold on a second

Not to mention copyleft licensing.

If the Copilot corpus is a derivative work of dozens or hundreds of GPL projects, that puts it's outputs on a very sticky wicket indeed.

So lemme get this straight. UK.gov ministries are getting better value from AWS... by spending more on AWS?


Better than the old way...

Seriously - before going "Cloud", DWP hosting was from the stone age.

You want a server? That's an actual server, real iron. You're paying through the nose for it, and probably waiting weeks for it to be approved and racked.

I remember the week my line manager showed me our hosting costs spreadsheet for sign-off, being a "traditional" civil servant and not the most technical of things, bless him.

I had it all turned off and moved to our cloud estate in less than a month. And saved more than 90% on our ongoing hosting costs right there, and more savings followed in the next month or so.

For much of government, AWS means, for example, the difference between paying hundreds of pounds for having a dedicated Jenkins box sitting around doing bugger all most of the time, or paying a cent a minute for CodeBuild. Or saving hundreds for a pair of redundant web servers serving up a website you could reasonably host on a Raspberry Pi in the broom cupboard, if it wasn't for the fact that it had to be fault tolerant, etc. ; vs just shoving it in a CloudFront distribution, again, for pennies.

Have the journalists and commenters ever considered that the reason that the government are going long on Cloud is because .. there are actually savings to be made?

GitHub rolls out hosted Visual Studio Code in Codespaces


The extra stuff comes in a container, hosted at GitHub, you just attach vscode to it as a frontend. You can set this up locally on Docker - it's powered by the Remote Containers extension - or in infrastructure that you control.

Looking at this (self hosted) at the moment to power Linux workstations for some quite Windows centric DevOps guys ; they can have All The Tools, set up and configured properly out of the box, without reading a massive guide on how to configure it themselves.

It's Hipp to be square: What happened when SQLite creator met GitHub


Re: rebase is important and useful

The best use of rebase is to tell a story in your commit history.

"These changes do this, these changes follow in from that"

We all know that doesn't always happen organically. If you want these stories in your commit history you either A) have to be a galaxy brain genius B) avoid committing until you're "done" which sucks and leads to unrecoverable code fubars C) use rebase

Ubuntu 'weaponised' to cure NHS of its addiction to Microsoft Windows


Re: Cost is the smaller concern

> someone else's hacked and undocumented spaghetti code

Don't forget that with closed-source software, this is also often exactly what you're getting - only you can't do anything about it, and you might not even be aware of just how hacked and spaghettified it really is.

> will they charge you less than a commercial supplier would?

That marvellous thing, the invisible hand of the market, comes into play at this point. A closed-source product creates a monopoly on service for its copyright holder. Open-source software can by maintained by anyone - you are free to select a supplier and discriminate on price, quality, confidence in their ability, etc. Competition can actually apply to this market, where with a closed product your options are limited to a) what the supplier wants to charge b) an expensive change to a competitor's product.

Linux lads lambast sorry state of Skype service


Try a WebRTC session

Now that basically every major mainstream browser supports it, try a WebRTC session



Or Firefox Hello, etc.

Don't touch this! Seven types of open source to dance away from


Avoiding projects without copyright assignment... well, a mixed blessing.

Copyright assignment discourages contributions from all but those with the most serious need to scratch their itches, because it erects a barrier - at the minimum it's extra paperwork, at the other end, you may need to get executive approval from your boss to release the copyright on "your work".

It also creates paranoia. If you assign the copyright for your work to a company, nothing stops them re-licensing that code however they like. They can take the code private and profit from your efforts. No-one likes to be taken for a mug.

The converse, projects composed of mixed copyright code find it harder to change license - which means they are more likely to remain as open as they were before.

When LibreOffice forked from OpenOffice, it took most of the core contributors with it - and ditched copyright assignment. It's by far the more vibrant project.

BBC gives naked computers to kids (hmm, code for something?)


Re: 30 years on - Same stench as the Acorn BBC Computer

The thing the BBC really produced was a common platform effect - nearly everyone had access to one, which magnified the effect of any software or other educational material produced for one immeasurably.

Sir Clive was really just lamenting that without the big fat government educational subsidy what was left over was the gaming niche - which the ZX Spectrum had to share with the Beeb, the Electron, and the C64.

The Archimedes didn't do nearly as well in terms of available educational software packages, because it wasn't nearly so available, and a more fragmented platform, and was competing with the PC at the time.

What we already have, as you identify, these days, is a common platform - the browser. And kids today are far more likely to have access to a laptop than a Pi and a spare monitor / keyboard / mouse.

Throwing hardware at the problem isn't the solution. Back then, hardware was scarce. We have a surfeit of it these days. What we need is better software, that can actually compete with the endless stream of video and "free" games for the spare time of our youth.


Hi, I'm not Dominic

But I can can relate to this, having a daughter.

When statistically boys outnumber girls 12:1 in computer studies, something is wrong. My daughter is 10, bright, top in maths in her class... and obsessed with hair and nail polish videos and now regards her dad's enthusiastic explanations of maths and science as something tedious, when she used to have an endless stream of questions.

They're right - it's hard. The explanation I've seen is that girls seem to be praised for their innate qualities (like being pretty, and having pleasant personalities) and boys seem to be praised for trying harder. This rings true - in my daughter's school reports the most effusive praise is always for her social interactions with her classmates and the fact that teachers find her a pleasure to teach, not the fact that she's top in maths (I can attest to her ability - she was able to grasp using matrix maths for coordinate transforms years before it actually comes up on the curriculum - when she was still interested in letting dad help with her homework and teach her things outside the planned curriculum).

And persistence is the key to success in complex subjects. The girls gain a self-motivation habit that immediately gives up when instant success is not available, and end up focussing on things that do offer quick results.

It's almost like because we expect boys to be shiftless ill-behaved failures they get the breathing room to develop some expertise in something without crushing expectations of performance, whereas because by now we all know that girls do better academically they suffer when the praise slackens off for even a short while, so they chose subjects without depth that offer this.

I don't dispute your experience and your circle of similar acquaintances - but I wouldn't imagine it was representative of the typical picture. You can't deny that you are the epitome of a self-selected sample. I'd really like to see this imbalance addressed. Viewing the future of my daughter, I'm scared that she's going to be frightfully bored (or possibly just impoverished) in later life if she abandons the possibility of a STEM career for one in art.


Re: teach some fun little Vb projects

> VB : it wouldn't surprise me if some teachers still think it's current.

Some do. In a very real sense, it's still current, because the scripting environment built into Office is still VB ( or VBA - Visual Basic for Applications) which is the close sibling of VB6 rather than VB.NET (which is almost, but not entirely, unlike VB6).

VBA is probably the most commonly installed programming IDE in the world because it's built into MS Office.


Re: Great idea and all that...

The difference is chiefly the availability of easy passive entertainment

Back then :

* 1 hour of kids TV on a weekday

* Typically only 1 TV in a house (so it was often monopolized by the adults)

* Computers were expensive (the BBC was £1,400 in inflation adjusted money, and that's before you sprang for an extra TV or heaven forbid, an actual monitor).

* There was a 5 minute wait for a game to load, if it worked (who remembers developing the gamers equivalent of a piano tuner's ear for tape azimuth?)

It was inevitable that given all this, you'd eventually reach the point where you were bored enough to try programming.

Today :

* There is no time at which you cannot get "free" passive video entertainment because of YouTube

* It takes less than 5 minutes to find, install, and start a new "free" game on your mobile

* You can buy a powerful graphical computer, complete with screen, for the price of < 50 beers, rather than 555 beers (price of Worthington Best Bitter, in a pub, in 1986, £0.72, price today ~ £3.00)

The computers of the day were

* Set up to be programmable, most booting into a BASIC interpreter out of the box

* Selling the computer to you was the point

Computers today are

* Mostly designed to sell you something

(phone service, freemium app purchases, showing ads, games, commercial software packages)

The difficulty of gaining traction with the kids is less about the platform, and more about the space it competes in.

In order to fight this, the software is going to have to get a lot better. You need to "gamify" the whole learning experience, make something akin to the "Young Ladie's Illustrated Primer" from Neal Stephenson's "The Diamond Age".

Why hacking and platforms are the future of NHS IT


Re: Do it in house

A hybrid approach would seem apposite, where single central platforms are developed by distributed teams.

Take the example of the Linux kernel - initially developed by a single individual, with basic requirements. Very much a single-platform project.

These days, large commercial parties cheerfully contribute to it's development - to support their hardware, to support their business needs. And small independents cheerfully contribute to it's development - in my case, to selfishly serve my own needs and fix driver bugs for my hardware, but *everyone* got to benefit from my changes.

Even relatively long-lived forks for selfish reasons - the Android versions of the kernel, for example - have a tendency to drift back towards the middle.

And if you really can't live with the direction of it any more, you can always fork it as happened with XOrg, OpenOffice / LibreOffice amongst others.

The NHS has certain common, core, needs. PAS should be a total no-brainer.

So ; yes to local dev teams as the best way to work out what local needs are. You pool together enough local needs, and you end up with common needs - which is where the central project maintainers have a role.

Stick a big Git server in the middle and have at it!

Who wants a smart meter to track'n'tax your car? Hello, Israel


UK wanted this too

The Dept for Transport had plans for this published on their website for a while

"Road Pricing" was the name for it.

They ballparked that a GPS logger with cellular modem would cost on the order of £100 a pop for each vehicle. They also noted that their system should be compatible with a Europe-wide system, which is rather creepy.

They're still thinking about it, you can be sure.


Why do you think that Europe sponsored it's own GPS system? With better accuracy for high-density urban areas?

The thing is a total nightmare, both from a practicality and privacy standpoint.

Occam's Razor will now be applied.

- The stated aim of these systems are to "reduce congestion on key roads at peak times".

So you only need a system capable of charging to travel on these key roads, not one that can track every vehicle wherever it goes.

This kind of system already exists - it's called a toll road. We already have toll road systems that don't need a GPS tracker fitted in your car - the London Congestion Charge is such an example. ANPR works just fine.

Even if it didn't, you could make an RFID tag in the number plate a mandatory item to pass your MOT test. RFID tags cost less than a tenner, not more than £100, and only track when you drive on roads with a pickup loop. Pickup loops are cheaper than expanding cellular networks to cope with the log uploads of the 30M vehicles on British roads.

But they wouldn't even achieve the stated aim. Why? Because a traffic jam is already enough incentive not to drive on a certain road at a certain time. Traffic jams form because of inflexibility in working schedules and people living too far from their place of work (for whatever reason).

And why the hell do the government care about traffic jams anyway? Traffic jams cause less damage to roads than equivalent amounts of fast traffic. They don't care about the extra fuel burned because it makes them and their energy company cronies more money. They don't care about the lost productivity because they get their cut of your wages whether you are actually earning them or not.

So ; we have a system proposed to solve a problem, that won't actually solve it, and it's not a problem that they care about. Ergo, the system is designed to do something else, which is provide the ability to track the movements of every vehicle in the country, or to make a lot of money for some consultancy implementing it. Or both.

Micron mass-produces Phase Change Memory


Re: Is this a problem?

Since it doesn't have to erase a whole cell at a time, I'd say it's longevity is enormously greater than standard flash ; those 100,000 cycles will take a lot longer to accumulate.

Number 10 shuts wallet on closed-source IT projects


Re: Great,but

The problem with government IT is that they start large. They try and define what it is they want, up front, and spend years doing it. Then they wonder why their Chinese-whispered definition of a giant ball-of-mud process that they've cobbled together from treasury tags and paper mache moistened with the tears of their employees, doesn't produce good software.

Sit the developer with the users. Get them to explain what it is they are actually trying to achieve, rather than trying to define the voodoo ritual they currently use to achieve it. Implement something small. Repeat.

Story withdrawn


Re: I fix PCs for a living.

Not just the most useless, also the hungriest in terms of system resources.

We used to use Symantec at my employer. It ate about 10-15% CPU time in IO intensive operations. McAfee eats more like 40%. It makes processes that used to take 2 minutes take 8.

But they got it for a good price because it was bundled in with a load of other resource-sucking corporate managementware. *facepalm*

Ubuntu 12.04 LTS: Like it or not, this Linux grows on you


Re: I'll give it a go

It shouldn't affect application portability - there's just some hooks into the standard menu toolkit libraries that allow them to sit at the top of the screen instead of the window, and allows the HUD to access the menu.

Alas, the converse isn't true - not every application works properly with the HUD and global menu, as noted in the article (although for LibreOffice, just install the lo-menubar package), but that can improve without forcing people to patch their applications.


Re: @DryBones yes, yes, that's all very well

Canonical used to sell codec packs in their online shop for those people that felt they needed indemnity, but they no longer seem to stock them. I guess a lawyer may have felt that they represented some kind of admission of guilt for distributing codecs freely as well.

The Free set of ubuntu-restricted-extras is now the top item if you search in the software centre for "codec", and a bit further down if you search for "mp3". I couldn't find a for-pay codec pack in the software centre.


LibreOffice HUD support

FYI, there's an extension for LibreOffice that integrates it with the global menu, and thus into the HUD.

sudo apt-get install lo-menubar

It's not marked as "supported by the distribution".. heaven knows why, you'd think the combination of their flagship new feature and the default applications they shortcut in the launcher would be a total no-brainer.

Virgin Media's latest throttling rules



For the vast majority of customers, this is probably an improvement.

Why? The previous throttling rate, as someone points out above, was 25% of bandwidth. Yes, they have halved the ceilings before you hit this, and for the first time, have imposed throttling on their top-band customers. BUT

VM are

i) Currently rolling out a charge-free doubling of bandwidth to all their customers

ii) Have double their "throttled" rates from 25% to 50%

So essentially, all their long-term customers will now get the speed they originally signed up for, only all the time, with a bonus burst of double speed when they are off peak times. And now, when you don't exercise care about when to do a large download, it's about half the problem when you hit the ceiling.

So the news is, their product is now much more attractive to the vast majority of users, leaving a small vocal minority of whiners who seem to think it's their right to monopolize an optical fibre so they can torrent media as fast as possible.

Record-breaking laser pulse boosts fusion power hopes


NIF is a weapons research project

NIF is funded largely by the military. It's primary purpose is to be able to examine the physics of fusion reactions without letting off H-bombs. The whole "fusion energy" angle is merely great PR.

To make this into a commercial fusion generator, you have to scale things up somewhat.

Currently NIF fires a few shots per day. To make a commercial reactor, you'd have to fire about 10 shots per second.

So instead of carefully positioning the fuel target in the centre of the laser array with micrometre precision, you'd essentially need a machine gun. A cryogenically cooled machine gun that never misfires and shoots with micrometre precision.

Oh, and the ammunition. The fact that each round is composed of a fuel pellet contained in a beryllium sphere surrounded by a cylinder of gold-plated uranium is not what makes the fuel expensive. What makes the fuel expensive is that it contains tritium, one of the rarest substances on Earth. The USA has only ever made 225kg of this element, and only 65kg of it is left - most of that loss just from natural decay. Even though each pellet only has a few mg of fuel, at 10 shots a second, you'd burn through that tritium reserve in less than a year, for just one reactor.

And how to extract energy? Well, you have to take the heat and generate electricity... so you have to put a large heat exchanger in the reactor. And somehow not obstruct the laser array that shoots the pellets when you do so.

Oh, and the laser array... currently about 1% efficient. So you'd have to either improve that greatly, or generate more than 200 times the energy you put in (accounting for efficiency of steam turbines). And ramping things up to make the laser fire 10 times a second seems difficult given they currently only fire a few shots a day.

Laser-initiated inertial confinement fusion does not seem practical.

iPlayer repeat fees threaten BBC earthquake


I find the BBC totally worth it - just the fact that it's present forces all the commercial broadcasters in this country to raise their game. Without the BBC we would be facing the same miserable morass of commercial programming and an average of 18 minutes of advertisements per hour, as there is in the USA.

Turn it on it's head ; what if the USA had something like the BBC? Content costs the same no matter how many people are watching it ; therefore the more people watch it, the better cost / benefit ratio it has. Imagine what the BBC could do with the license fees of a population of 300 million people, versus their current 60 million.

That said, I think they should focus less on following the trends of the commercial broadcasters and get back to what they do best ; producing world class programming through experimentation.

As for paying for iPlayer ; I would imagine that both the commercial broadcasters and the ISPs would be ecstatic - the commercial broadcasters will cease to have online competition, and the ISPs will see their networks much less utilised. I'd be happy enough to see them permitting paid iPlayer access abroad, but as a license payer, I paid for that content already. I guess I'll just keep using my excellent MythTV PVR (with three Freeview tuners, I only need online players when I miss the first few episodes of a promising series).

Tony Blair closes RSA 2012, denounces WikiLeaks


Re: Was he born evil, or did the absolute power corrupt him absolutely?

They're all just bleeding into one another ; I don't perceive any major differences between them now.

Watching the Conservatives lambast Labour for continuing with the PFI schemes that the Conservatives themselves introduced, particularly when you know that they too will continue with them, is the soul of irony.

At least with the fire and brimstone socialists you knew what they stood for. All the current lot will kiss your baby and shake your hand while promising eminently reasonable dreams to the public, while either quaking in their Gucci shoes or salivating internally at the thought of their corporate masters.

And the corporates fear and hate the internet (at the same time as they love it), because it gives the commoners the means to organise and communicate. Hence we have the BBC publishing "opinion pieces" that we should tear it all down and start again with something that can be controlled. They propose legislation that mandates tracking all email, phone, and social media communications. We have computer systems (predominantly phones, for now) designed to ignore the commands of their users and do the bidding of their corporate masters.

What to do, what to do....

Google drive cloud to rain on Apple, Dropbox parade


I'd prefer the Google approach (subtle side-bar ads relevant to the context), to the Microsoft approach....

* Clippy appears *

"It seems you are about to have a w**k. Would you like some help with that? How about :-

* Call Customer Support over VoIP, now with a "Personal satisfaction" script

* View the latest webcam footage from Steve Ballmer's Palace of Love

* Buy some Micro-soft tissues



There's the flipside to this - it was a feature, for a long while. If a file was already in the Dropbox cloud, you could upload it in a fraction of a second, because your client would just say "I have a file that matches the hash for fedora-linux-16-x86.iso", and the server would say "Already have that one, thanks".

Alas, the content sharing community managed to hack this with a client that just told the server you had a file with the hash for "Latest Hollywood Blockbuster.mp4", which meant that suddenly Dropbox became a file-sharing server ; one person would upload it, and everyone else could copy the hash into their Dropbox folder and download the file. Dropbox, not wanting to be treated like MegaUpload, rapidly nixed this "emergent feature".

UK.gov: We really are going to start buying open-source from SMEs


Open Source *requires* copyright to function. Copyright is what gives the original author of the code the right to state what license it is distributed under.

What are you really selling when you sell software? An ephemeral pattern of bits on disk, which is cheap? Or the expertise and work you put into writing it? The sale of software as a commercial product is one way to solve the problem that the cost of the labour to produce it is often more expensive than a single customer is willing to bear ; Open Source is another approach which addresses this issue.

It does, indeed, seem to be perceived as old-fashioned to believe that you can rest on your laurels and live off the fruits of your past labour ; this is a common argument against copyright extension for the music industry. I don't think anyone would begrudge me the literal fruits of my labour if I built a really good automated tomato production system, but conversely, I don't believe I would be upset if someone copied my design, improved it, and built their own system. Reproducing copies of software requires very little in the way of materials and labour though. I suspect the real issue is the retail model of software development - it just doesn't seem to be sustainable in an era where people are willing to legally share their software openly.

To address the problem that some software is just too expensive for a single buyer to pay for development, perhaps the solution is to use the distributed patronage systems like Kickstarter - which just managed to raise over $800,000 in 24 hours for a well-respected game studio to develop a point and click adventure game.

NHS Trusts in the dark over CfH licence transfer


LibreOffice / NhsOffice

For a fraction of that £80m you could fund a few C++ programmers, some support staff, and a team to assist migration to LibreOffice.

Perhaps that's the motivation behind ditching the Enterprise Wide Agreement - once you collect all those licenses into one bill, it becomes more obvious what they cost, and what that kind of money could buy you.

The NHS needs to realize that software is not like other purchases, especially commodity software like Office. You can build it once, and copy it as many times as you like.

Mother faked ID to 'disappear' child from school waiting list



Britain needs a Public Key Infrastructure to enable email to be useful for trusted communications.

If Estonia can do it, why can't we?