* Posts by AdamT

537 publicly visible posts • joined 7 Sep 2010


Massive energy storage system goes online in UK


Re: Decommissioning?

Yes, I think this was the original Tesla plan. All the batteries that go into cars should end up returned either at end of car life or if the capacity has degraded too much. Then the packs will be stripped to the individual cells which will be tested and anything above 90% (or maybe 80%?) will just go straight into a storage pack - if they are 10-20% physically bigger that is not a big deal especially if you then get the cells basically for free. Then when the storage pack has degraded you ship the cells back one more time and they are physically stripped down to component/goo level and those are reused (where possible) and recycled otherwise. Again the claim was that the reuse percentage should be quite high.

I think that last piece is still under development though. Someone senior at Tesla left a year or so ago to set up/run a company that was specifically doing this.

Time Lords decree an end to leap seconds before risky attempt to reverse time


Re: An idea....

Well, I assume these days that most people watch via streaming so that means it can be timed based on your location!

Similarly, Ed Sheeran ticket timings are based on the location of the venue.

See, it is a genius idea!

(But I'll keep adding the Joke Alert icon because, well, some people just aren't ready for these next-level concepts of time and space!)


An idea....


... why don't we do away with timezones altogether? We all (*) have a device that knows _exactly_ where we are so could easily calculate a precise local time for you. Then all we have to do is indicate exactly where the event is due to occur at its local time and then everyone knows exactly when too!

So bus/train timetables would factor in the position of the stop/station and maps route finding would know where you are starting from (and what time it is there) and compare that with the place you are going (and work out what time it is there), etc., etc. ...

There might be a few minor teething problems but I'm sure we could make this work!

It would have a couple of advantages of spreading traffic and power requirements out a bit as depending on which side of the country you are, you would be doing things at a slightly different UTC (or UT1) time compared to the other side.

This is a great idea! What could possibly go wrong?

(*) well, many of us and a rapidly increasing proportion of the human race.

No, working in IT does not mean you can fix anything with a soldering iron


Re: Other way round

Reminds me of the time when my company recruited a Japanese technical translator to help us understand various Japanese patents and technical documents. She needed the Japanese version of Win 95 and, as the unofficial team BOFH, I got volunteered to try and get it onto one of our laptops.

What I hadn't realised is that the "language versions" of windows really are "all in" on the language, even in the the setup phase.

It took me several attempts to get it done so she helpfully wrote/drew out all the correct answers to the set up questions for me!

UK politico proposes site for prototype nuclear fusion plant


Re: the distance in feet, divided by the time in minutes.

I read an article in one of the early computer mags (in the 80s, so on paper!) where they were satirically bemoaning (a precursor to El Reg perhaps?) how the software specs will always be in the most inconvenient units possible and casually threw out the example of acceleration in furlongs per square fortnight ...

(approximately 0.137 nm/s^2 in case you wondered)

DoE digs up molten salt nuclear reactor tech, taps Los Alamos to lead the way back


Re: REstart?

I am wondering no longer. Thank you!


Re: REstart?

I appreciate that it is a bit different (in pressure, temperature, toxicity, radioactivity and many other hazardous parameters) but I'd always wondered how wave solder machines heated up their tank of solder given that presumably the pump blades and everything were fully immersed and therefore embedded in the solid solder?

You need to RTFM, but feel free to use your brain too


Re: Check you can complete before you start

Ugh. I used to hate these "joke" tests that teachers (and apparently actual serious employers) would do.

It says "_read_" these instructions. Not "_follow_" these instructions.

So, great, I've read them and I now know there is an inconsistency in them that future instructions will contradict previous instructions. But that just means the instructions are bad/stupid. If you do what the "joke" suggests you should do then you followed the instructions out of order - which is wrong. If you follow them in order then you did some things the last instruction told you not to - which is wrong.

Key point then is that the person/company that set the test is wrong or thinks they are a bit clever (and is wrong about that too)

Oblig. XKCD: https://xkcd.com/169/

Rocket Lab to attempt mid-air recovery of descending booster


Re: I'll only watch....

If they make a film of this it will sound like a Huey...

BT starts commercial trial of quantum secured London network


Not really understanding why "the trick" was to have the keys and the data on the same fibre? The data is secured with standard public key encryption (it says) and, presumably, the keys for that are frequently changed and the exchange of those is done by the clever "quantum" bit. But that should mean that the data can go by any available route?

Perhaps the clever bit is that they already have the "any available route" in the form of fibres provided by OpenReach so being able to fit the quantum bit down that route too is actually quite convenient. Although as the appropriately named "A Non e-mouse" points out, this is actually hop-by-hop so presumable requires lots of physical security around each node...

South Yorkshire to test fiber broadband through water pipes


Water proofing will be important

From my days working for a submarine cable manufacturer I recall that keeping water away from the actual fibres is extremely important. The refractive index of water is close enough to glass that it kind of "wicks" the light out. So the cable is filled with some water repellent chemical etc. around the fibres (as well as the cable being waterproof, etc.) and the joints are similarly very well protected.

Obviously any land based outdoor rated or buriable fibre should be similarly protected but it does feel like there is a bit of a difference to then sticking it in a high pressure, high flow water main!

First Light says it's hit nuclear fusion breakthrough with no fancy lasers, magnets


Re: So... an idea like the engine a certain L. of Q. invented?

Yes, my first thought too! The Ultimate Internal Combustion Engine.

Nothing changes except the nature of the thing you are trying to make go bang.

Hear us out: Smartphone lidar can test blood, milk


Re: Too good to true?

Yes - not sure if the paper is peer reviewed yet but, as you say, enough detail that anyone can have a go at it.

Even if it can't be done practically/commercially with just a phone, a new testing device that only needs a drop rather than a test tube full and can be built with COTS sensors is still quite a breakthrough.

"... a pint?! Why, that's very nearly an armful!"

Volcano 'shredded' submarine cable, vastly complicating repair job


Re: I wonder if that cable has to be manufactured first too

Some of these ships can carry 1000's of miles of cable - at least of the thinnest, least armoured stuff that normally makes up the majority of the length. Length considerably reduced as the level of armouring goes up. If I recall correctly, trans-Atlantic links were often done in two main lengths and then perhaps one more short length at each end with the heavily armoured cable.

Having said that, the "Sir Eric"'s CV does suggest that it mostly worked on the shorter length projects, the shore ends and repair missions so perhaps it's not one of the bigger cable ships.

Your memory of 5km or miles is probably a little low but, to be fair, if it was triple armoured cable than actually that could be a per-tank figure. That stuff has a much higher cross sectional area and a reduced bend radius so possibly they wouldn't be able to use all the capacity of the tank either.


Re: Submarine cables

This is a nice resource too: https://www.submarinecablemap.com/


Re: I wonder if that cable has to be manufactured first too

Physically the cables are likely to be somewhat interchangeable. They may vary in the number and type of fibres, the voltage rating (for power to the repeaters) and the amount of armouring and tensile strength - but broadly I would suspect that there will be some consistency such that a similar cable could be found.

However the repeater/regenerator units are most likely completely custom to that link. Even if they are manufactured based on a standard type they are likely still customised in some way to the individual system. However, the system plans will always call for a certain number of spares to be made and stored.

Source: I used to work for STC Submarine Systems. Although this was a while ago and I guess things could have changed since then...

JPMorgan Chase readies for post-quantum security world


Re: Post Quantum Security

Isn't this just another massive scaling up of the trust problem?

i.e. the number of people who actually understand this stuff enough to have a valid opinion on it is vastly smaller than for conventional encryption and the level of trust we will need to have in those people will be higher too.

File suffixes: Who needs them? Well, this guy did


Re: Competition time!

To look more like Apple?

Yes, I get that people's opinion on whether being more like Apple is a good or bad thing may vary but, around that time, Apple's look/feel and general user experience (for the non-techy at least) was better/cleaner. Personally it's not my taste but for many (e.g. my mum) picking Apple over Windows was a no-brainer and I think MS wanted to try and get some back.

BOFH: The Geek's Countergambit – outwitted at an electronics store



Did he mean David (rather than Richard) ?

David being the naturalist/biologist one who might view this through the lens of animal behaviour.

Richard being the actor/filmmaker one who might literally view this through a lens.

NASA's InSight probe emerges from Mars dust storm


Re: Will someone explain to me why

Well, it's not _that_ irrational. It's a fairly big chunk of plutonium, it's really radioactive (*) and, if your launch vehicle should explode, it will get spread over a very large area - which is considered a bit anti-social. Also the reactors used to make it tended to be "military themed" and really expensive to operate. Generally the world's militaries/governments are a bit less into plutonium weaponry than they used to be (probably a good thing) so supplies for RTGs would get way more expensive if they were having to fund the full reactor operations rather than just taking a few trimmings off the side.

Some other details here: https://spacenews.com/plutonium-supply-for-nasa-missions-faces-long-term-challenges/

(*) - although, if I recall correctly, the alpha particles will get you way before being poisoned. Perhaps I was also thinking of the horrific chemical processing that also needs to be done?

Shazam! Two world-record lightning events recognised



They do but it seems to be hosted by IBM:


(linked from the main NASA TV site: https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/#public )

Comcast fixes broadband cables 'peppered' with holes after Oakland drive-by shooting


overhead wires - why?

I don't know if this is all of the US but are none of these cables (power or comms) ever buried? I get that initial spend on install is cheaper than digging trenches and laying conduits but the number of outages must be way higher - every car chase/crash video on youtube ends up with some utility pole being taken out!

Planning for power cuts? That's strictly for the birds



Didn't CERN get (briefly) taken out by a bird and a well placed baguette?

update: yup here we go: https://www.theregister.com/2009/11/05/lhc_bread_bomb_dump_incident/

Software guy smashes through the Somebody Else's Problem field to save the day


Pretty much the same

Yup. A company I worked for had developed a digital printing system for the foil that goes on the back of tablet/pill blister packs. It had stopped working after the pharmaceutical company it had been supplied to had moved the packaging machine it was attached to and they needed to get it working again. All the people who had worked at our end had moved departments so I - the relatively new guy - got sent to the US with a laptop, the source code and the old compiler that was needed.

Took me a while to hunt it down and, in the end, I had to resort to tracing every single wire from every single sensor and, yes, someone unknown had removed a panel which had a ribbon cable attached. Obviously the ribbon cable was too short, they'd half yanked it out of the IDC clip and then quietly put the panel back. So I carefully removed it, quietly took it to a vice, gave it a nice squeeze and then put it back. Everything now worked.

Not sure what the bill was (consulting rates, flights, hotels, car hire, etc.) but that was probably pretty expensive for just using a vice.

Or to be more accurate "for knowing which bit to squeeze in the vice"...

Massive rugby ball-shaped planet emerges from scrum of space 'scope sightings


Re: Pluto has entered the chat

Still one of my favourite book titles (by the astronomer most involved with the reclassification of Pluto):


NASA confirms International Space Station is to keep orbiting through 2030


Re: Should buy time for a new one to be planned and built

I think they mean the Bond super-villain:



I think it is more modular in the sense that IKEA stuff is modular. i.e. it arrives in pieces (out of necessity) but probably isn't very easy to take apart and could suffer some damage if you tried.

It's not quite that bad in practice as I think the Russians ditched one of their modules recently but I don't think it was a simple task.

Newly discovered millipede earns its name by being the first to walk on one thousand legs


Re: So. many. legs.

Not sure that a huge drill-bit is really a predator? But, on the other hand, I don't know what the biological or environmental term is for "huge thing that just sort of 'happens' to you" ...

e.g. the elephant didn't sit on you on purpose, it was just tired and didn't notice you were there.

Actual metal being welded in support of the UK's first orbital 'launch platform'


I am very conflicted about these plans (Orbex and Skylora)

I _love_ the idea of actual space launch tech coming back to the UK but when SpaceX is really close to plausibly being able to launch a 100 tons or more to the same orbit in a fully re-useable vehicle, what is the point in this?

Is it going to be cost effective per-kg compared to SpaceX? Or can it offer something else that a group small-sat or rideshare can't provide from SpaceX?

It just feels a bit like we are proudly announcing a new fleet of disposable one-way mopeds to carry post from London to Edinburgh at the same time as someone else is building a fully re-useable train...

How to destroy expensive test kit: What does that button do?


Re: Expensive test equipment

used to work at a place which had a deal with HP (back when they used to make test equipment, e.g. HF oscilloscopes, etc.) to get the newest/beta stuff - because we actually needed it and could also provide useful feedback.

In a wonderful proof of "high intelligence does not correlate well with common sense" a senior engineer put a magnet on the screen of the new, very expensive, colour digital oscilloscope "to see what would happen" (everything still being CRT based at the time).

Myself and another engineer spent a few hours very carefully degaussing it with a huge inductor and a variac. The expression "pathetically grateful" doesn't even begin to cover the miscreants abject thanks...

What a bunch of bricks: Crooks knock hole in toyshop wall, flee with €35k Lego haul


Re: I was never into Lego

Yes it was a thing but I don't think it was that popular. Me, my brother and cousins ended up with a fairly substantial collection because my mother and aunt were passing a toy shop when they were selling off their entire window display FT model because it wasn't selling. Absolute bargain apparently.

I preferred it to Meccano ever since I got a small kit of that and the instructions included _bending_ one of the pieces. Permanently! The horror...

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... a coding puzzle and it's a doozy


Legislation is like bad code....

I had to look into all this once (when the UK Gov decided to just change a bunch of Bank Holidays and it broke some stuff).

I think the logic is:

- Christmas Day and Good Friday are "common law" holidays. i.e. everyone knows what they are and when they are

- All other Bank Holidays are described with reference to Xmas and GF by the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971. i.e. that no one can be made to do anything on a Bank Holiday that they can't be made to do on Xmas or GF [1]

- The Bank Holidays are listed in the Appendix to that Act [2]

- The astute observer will note that this list does not include several Bank Holidays that we expect, not does it include getting a Tuesday if Xmas + Boxing are on the weekend

- However, as regular as clockwork, the Queen will proclaim the additional Bank Holidays (because some one in UK Gov asks her to) [3]

So actually it looks like we are mostly governed by really bad code. i.e. hardly anything is re-written, it is just patched and tweaked and then someone sets up a cron job to update something on certain years, etc. etc.

1 - https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1971/80/section/1

2 - https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1971/80/schedule/1

3 - https://www.thegazette.co.uk/notice/3846031

A lightbulb moment comes too late to save a mainframe engineer's blushes


Re: Surgical Safety Checklist

Ha ha - yes! I've had that too. "wiggle the thumb" and "point to the eye". (not at the same time though)


I think that is similar to the (railway) track workers rule of "never step on _any_ rail" - that way you don't ever have to think "am I about to step on the third rail?"

I got to walk through an underground tunnel once (the "Thames Tunnel" when it was being converted to the ON line) and the guides were clearly all properly trained and you could see them looking very uncomfortable as we all happily stood all over the tracks and third (and fourth) rails...

Rolls-Royce set for funding fillip to build nuclear power stations based on small modular reactor technology


Re: Some submarine!

i guess they will spread out a bit (because they can) but there will be some extra bits and pieces such as cooling systems (towers or river/sea feeds) and transformers - neither of which the sub needs(*). Also we might want a few fences and a bit of space to keep miscreants at bay - neither of which an armed, stealthy military vessel needs. Given the power output I would imagine these units will also be a fair bit bigger (as they are _based_ on subs rather than copying) but still nowhere near as big as e.g. Sizewell C

(*) well the sea-water cooling is considerably closer for the sub.

SpaceX-powered trip to ISS grounded by 'medical issue'


Re: It's probably gas...

Apparently when the cargo ships arrive all the ISS inhabitants gather round the airlock and, once the safety checks are done, pop the hatch and get a good few breaths of the clean air that has just arrived...

tz database community up in arms over proposals to merge certain time zones


Actually ....

... why don't we do away with timezones altogether? We all (*) have a device that knows _exactly_ where we are so could easily calculate a precise local time for you. Then all we have to do is indicate exactly where the event is due to occur at its local time and then everyone knows exactly when too!

So bus/train timetables would factor in the position of the stop/station and google maps route finding would know where you are starting from (and what time it is there) and compare that with the place you are going (and work out what time it is there), etc., etc. ...

There might be a few minor teething problems but I'm sure we could make this work!

It would have a couple of advantages of spreading traffic and power requirements out a bit as depending on which side of the country you are, you would be doing things at a slightly different UTC time compared to the other side.

This is a great idea! What could possibly go wrong?

(*) well, many of us and a rapidly increasing proportion of the human race.

NASA halts Mars comms for two weeks as Sun gets in way of Red Planet


Re: Comms relays?

I think that is really hard to do. Getting into solar (rather than earth) orbit takes a lot of energy even with the fact that we are already moving at 100,000 km/h in the right direction. If you want to go at that speed but "up" compared to our orbit that would take a huge amount of energy. Alternatively you might be able to do a "gravity sling" around Jupiter or Saturn - I think one of the pioneer or voyager probes managed a bit of a lift above the solar system plane this way. Whether you could really get a complete "vertical" that way, I do not know ....


Comms relays?

Presumably, at some point (i.e. if there is a permanent/semi-permanent human presence on Mars) we will need communication relays to avoid this?

I guess they could go at the Lagrange 4+5 (trojan) points of either Mars orbit or Earth orbit. Or both?

I wonder if anyone is planning this yet?

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


Re: Personal heaters

Before I started my PhD I had to attend the "electrical safety lecture". The lecturer had some kit where he could relatively safely demonstrate this sort of thing. i.e. all protected with big isolation switches and circuit breakers, RCDs, etc. However, the lecture was cut short when his demo of "coiled up extension lead under carpet tile happily drawing 20A without blowing the fuse in the plug" did eventually blow the fuse (when the cable melted) .... of the entire lecture theatre. So he had to turn it into a lesson on how rubbish fuses are. The plug fuse hadn't blown, his kit fuse/circuit breaker hadn't blown (around 50A or so, if I recall) but the lecture theatre fuse had blown at around 200A or so.

The video on "why you shouldn't put volatile chemicals in a fridge" was quite good though.

And his description of the "don't be the idiot who fitted an extension block but forgot to wire it up so made a double plug ended cable to energise the extension block" incident was pretty horrific.

Basically, when it comes to electricity, most people (including a lot of people who should know better) are pretty dumb. When RCDs were becoming a thing, I recall a PSA (or advert) where the point was made that if someone mows through their hose they would go and turn the water off before picking the hose up. But if someone mows through the cable for the mower they are much more likely just to pick the cable up straight away...

Crank up the volume on that Pixies album: Time to exercise your Raspberry Pi with an... alternative browser


Re: Pixies

Sorry, I should have said that I am familiar with the Pixies and have several of their albums (actual CDs!). I just couldn't work out if the title was a reference to a specific track or lyrics...


Re: Pixies

OK, I just can't work it out. Can someone explain the Pixies reference in the headline?

Electron-to-joule conversion formulae? Cute. Welcome to the school of hard knocks


Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

Ah, yes. I used to refer to that as "Teddy Bear debugging" ...

... until the fateful day when I turned to my colleague, explained the problem, worked out the issue and then, while he continued to remain silent and with no further context, I announced "You are my Teddy Bear".

I briefly considered exiting via the window.

I think "you are my rubber duck" would have been better, but still weird

Catch of the day... for Google, anyway: Transatlantic Cornwall cable hauled ashore


Re: How long is it?

Well the cable is broken up into sections of around 50 to 100km length because you need a repeater to boost the signal. So the cable only has to be made in lengths up to that spacing and then the repeaters will be connected in at the appropriate intervals. They do try and do all this on dry land and I think in all but the longest cables the whole lot can be loaded into _huge_ cylindrical tanks which are then loaded on to the ship. There is a lot of very clever handling equipment to deploy the cable from the tank and then, every 100km, the repeater (which will be in a rack outside the tank) without twisting or kinking the cable.

A transatlantic cable will be several thousand kilometres and I think that can usually be done in one or maybe two goes. The cable length is slightly longer than the actual path as it is laid in a slight S pattern so that there is some slack if it ever needs to be hauled up for repair.

Ships can do cable jointing and repeater attachment/replacement while at sea, but it is to be avoided if possible! If you thought domestic cable stripping was annoying then here you have to start with an angle grinder and then work your way down the set of tools until you get to the delicate, needs to be kept very clean, fibre splicer. Then work back up sealing everything in and bonding the steel core cables (which carry the tension) and any armouring layers into the "joint" or the repeater end connector. A strange mix of hi-tech and maritime-chunky ...


Yup - I worked on TAT-9 back in the '90s.

There are a couple of bits of copper in the middle of the cable (with the fibres inside) - one is just wrapped round as a C and the other is wrapped and then welded (brazed?) into an O. The high-tensile steel cables which wrap that don't contribute that much to the conductivity.

The regenerators (one per fibre) were powered from the drop across a zener diode so each repeater dropped about 60 - 80V.

The current was 1.6A and this was achieved by applying about +9kV at one end of the cable (with respect to the big earth rod) and about -9kV to the other end (with respect to its big earth rod).

Obviously most of the power is lost in the cable.

The cable forms a crude coaxial cable (with respect to either its armouring or to the sea water as ground) which means you get some "interesting" effects if the cable either breaks or shorts. e.g. 100s of amps of current spike so the zeners were rated to about 500A and the expectation was that the repeaters would survive, a cable ship could repair the break and the cable would be back online.

After failing to make it to orbit, Firefly Aerospace asserts it has 'arrived'


Re: Keep going

I think he said the same about the Falcon Heavy test flight. Something like "as long as it clears the tower so the explosion minimises the damage to the ground equipment then I'm happy"


Re: Keep going


You may get mocked by people who don't understand (especially if you start listing achievements on a mission that actually ended in a fireball) but those who do understand will appreciate that _all_ the things have to go right. Getting 9 out of 10 right may still end in a fireball but is still an improvement over last time when you only got 7 out of 10 right even if to the observer they both appeared to end in a similar fireball.

To be honest, when this is the first flight, not exploding on and destroying the launch pad should be considered a bit of a win.

In fact, for this and the other recent launch (that failed) from Alaska I think there was some suggestion that they deliberately prolonged the flight as long as they could in order to clear the range and get the debris into the sea. So the fact that they still had control over an ailing rocket (in both cases) is really quite impressive.

Boston Dynamics spends months training its Atlas robots to perform one minute of parkour almost perfectly


wait until you see them (SpaceX) attempt - and hopefully succeed - in catching an even bigger booster out of the air using a couple of robotic arms attached to a huge tower...

US watchdog opens probe into Tesla's Autopilot driver assist system after spate of crashes


Re: A solution looking for a problem

I believe a similar judgement had to be made for airbags. There are a few rare types of impact where the airbag will likely kill you or do more serious injury (compared to not having one) but in the vast majority of situations where it deploys, it will save your life or reduce the severity of your injuries.

Engineers work to open Boeing Starliner's valves as schedule pressures mount


Re: The SRBs have a time limit

This configuration of Altas 5 does have two SRBs on it:


(I think Altas 5 can have between 0 and 5 SRBs depending on mission profile)

But I don't know whether there are any "use by" limitations on those ones ...

Edit: Ah yes, here is the upsettingly-asymmetric set of options for the SRBs: https://spaceflightnow.com/atlas/av001/020814rocket/a5solids.jpg