* Posts by William Towle

378 posts • joined 8 Jun 2007


Food security group, Linux Foundation working on crop data standard

William Towle

Re: Maybe it's just me..

> .. but I have to fight with my mild dyslexia not to read that as CIGAR.

So did I, but it turns out that sometimes a CGIAR is just a CGIAR.

Amazon to buy Roomba maker iRobot for $1.7b

William Towle

Re: They need to make a window cleaning robot

> If they could invent something that could scrape Artex off ceilings... Please...

As a young boy I had something like these launchable helicopter wing toys.

They're not very directable but inside a house they're exceptionally good at smoothing off any artex bumps they do happen to make contact with...

NAND flash prices expected to plummet 8-13% in Q3

William Towle

Re: reliability

> Can I buy some more MLC drives anywhere? Or do I have to buy a large pool of QLC turkeys and run 2* ZFS-Z3 to get reliable data storage?

If this is anything like the situation with MLC NAND that I've worked with [NB: IANAE, and this was not recently], setting the device to SLC mode alleviates some problems at the expense of storage capacity (and is now supported in kernel 5.8 according to https://www.phoronix.com/news/Linux-5.8-NAND-MLC-SLC-Emulate).

...Some time ago, I worked on board bringup for a system with such a device and the manufacturer was using a kernel that predated the patch that refused to work with it. Some of my older colleagues later noted the board had the codename "Procrustes", and winks would sometimes be exchanged if everyone was out of the line of sight of management :(

On a later assignment for a different employer, our client was stuck on a legacy OEM kernel where the board had the same device and same kernel* - I would have seriously considered running away screaming had I been forewarned! Patches to enable SLC mode emulation for this board were available by then though, and ultimately what we suggested got deployed [...and whether this is still recommended is no longer something I need to know].

(* plus, I learned, a PROM requiring a FAT filesystem which was conventionally mounted read-only by the kernel if at all. To this day I'm not sure if the "random" read disturb [yep - a hardware-level "fix" where adjacent cells were unaffected but the problem didn't go away] meant a regular filesystem check on it would risk more damage than leaving it unmounted ... in the first case we didn't know enough to consider testing things to destruction; the second time round I had to answer every request to try with "do we have a second spare board yet?")

Running DOS on 64-bit Windows and Linux: Just because you can

William Towle

Re: Lenovo T60

I've also been running FreeDOS on modern hardware, courtesy of its CSM and GrUB's i386-pc boot loader (successfully now, and recently blogged about), albeit less widely exercised. I see the next post mentions HHGTTG, so clearly I'm not the only one using it as a test case [...yes, I have also discovered frotz].

I'm a little surprised not to have found a DOS-friendly x86 usermode for QEmu, although to be fair CP/M didn't get done for the Z80 fork either (it was on the upstream wishlist when I mentioned dabbling before however)

Know the difference between a bin and /bin unless you want a new doorstop

William Towle

...I've "bin" here all day

In the 90s a (younger) friend with an Amiga got a magazine coverdisk with an icon editor on it.

After sprucing up a few music files we'd made with alternative vinyl record style images, we pointed said editor at the disk's Trash Can, gave it smooth sides and a flip top lid, then duly renamed it Pedal Bin.

It was then copied to a number of other Workbench disks to be discovered as an amusing surprise and prompt for a "do you remember..." conversation on more than one subsequent occasion :)

Heineken says there’s no free beer, warns of phishing scam

William Towle

Re: Free stuff.

> Can us older PC users at least get a free cup holder ?

My older PC has already got one...

Alibaba sued for selling a 3D printer that overheated, caught fire, and killed a man

William Towle

Off-brand printer

> All I can suggest is that if my last thoughts were “oh no I’ve been killed by a shonky off-brand 3D printer” I’d find that pretty humiliating.

Shenzhen Tronxy may forever be abbreviated that way as a result of this...

// not entirely sure if serious -->

ZX Spectrum: Q&A with some of the folks who worked on legendary PC

William Towle

Re: Screen memory layout

The Speccy screen layout doesn't so much divide into three blocks, as into 2K regions split into 8 by 32 "cells" [of eight 8x1 pixel groups each] within which useful relationships between addresses of screen-adjacent bytes as well as the corresponding sections of the attribute map are present.

Intuitively, within any row the eight pixel group to the immediate left or right of any character cell has an address one byte along in RAM but as a consequence of the row ordering within the 2K blocks the eight-pixel group below is also 256 bytes away. According to direction, each sideways step is thus achievable with an increment/decrement of the most or least significant byte of the address, and is consequently a single byte instruction in the corresponding machine code.

A technical explanation of how this arrangement correlates to ULA design is at http://www.breakintoprogram.co.uk/computers/zx-spectrum/screen-memory-layout

AI drug algorithms can be flipped to invent bioweapons

William Towle

Re: Why is anyone surprised by this?

> People love a good Skynet story.


It's not like data-driven backdoors that can interfere with the processing pipeline exist.

"...Aw c**p"

How CAPTCHAs can cloak phishing URLs in emails

William Towle

Re: An automated scanner gets stopped at the puzzle.

> We use a 3rd party categorisation system at work, web sites are categorised by the 3rd party, and put into categories (Social media, news, vendors, dodgy (pirates etc), pr0n and so on).

Ah yes, I've encountered two instances of those (probably more than that but these were badly configured):

At one place freshmeat.net was okay except whenever its front page had release announcements for a particular project which due to complicated mathematics being involved used the word "hardcore" in its description

At another developers couldn't get to useful information on blogs run by kernel maintainers because they fell under "hacking"


Reg reader rages over Virgin Media's email password policy

William Towle

> Does this policy also apply to the custoemr account area? If so this is piss poor.

Nod, I had a second user account for my place set up for me recently so that I could (I hoped) get at the service status page and associated controls while WFH during the pandemic without needing to call the helpline or to have the bill payer's master password. I had thought the initial password had been a lazily-made choice until I tried to set my own and realised the rules were awful.

I was also hoping better warnings of planned outages might become available (earlier grumbling applies) but no such luck!

Saving a loved one from a document disaster

William Towle

...ah, that sort of "folder" on the "desktop"

> I've seen something like this multiple times, but it's usually about a physical folder resting on the space bar.

Been there, done that -as the offending party- but worked out the cause by myself.

A document holder was bought in due course so that I could have reference material open at eye level while using the keyboard as usual.

In $PREVIOUS_JOB admin was told to buy document holders for the software engineers, and we ended up with cereal box shaped baskets. This wasn't what I expected.

Apple seeks patent for 'innovation' resembling the ZX Spectrum, C64 and rPi 400

William Towle
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Re: Size of a real keyboard?

> Ah, the Spectrum+ 48K? Had one myself. Got it for Christmas '84, and ­­it cost £179.99, unless my increasingly elderly braincells mislead me.

Not necessarily. I pictured the DK'tronics keyboard we had (https://spectrumcomputing.co.uk/entry/1000123/Hardware/DKTronics_Keyboard or something not unlike it), which you placed the Speccy motherboard inside and connected via the original's internal ribbon connector socket.

With ours, the original PCB occupied perhaps a quarter of the internal footprint, and the ports were exposed to the outside world via appropriately-spaced holes. The relatively thick plastic (and occasionally the height, for things with an open-square bracket profile like the Kempston joystick adapter) of the new case made some peripherals hard to connect depending on their shape, which I suspect is what they're getting at with the "DK Microdrive compatible" claim.

A tale of two dishwashers: Buy one, buy it again, and again

William Towle

Maplin ... a while ago?

> For months you could be happily using Amazon to search for and obtain various tech components to avoid having to go down to your local Maplin (yes, this is a while ago) and suffer the indignity of taking advice from an acne-riddled 16-year-old shop assistant.

That *was* a while ago! I used to think a trip to town was wasted without a walk round Maplin -good for the exercise if nothing else- but liked it more once they'd decided two staff in the shop was one too many to be paying wages to...

FreeDOS puts out first new version in six years

William Towle
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Somewhere amongst my legacy bits and pieces I have a USB stick with an old version of FreeDOS that I kept around for playing BlockOut and InfoCom's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy [and possibly run BIOS updates].

Way back when, I typically set up virtual machines with a first partition containing FreeDOS so that loadlin with a minimal slackware install alongside (courtesy of umsdos) could be introduced as a fallback should the main linux install need repair. IIRC loadlin broke under later FreeDOS kernels, and ultimately umsdos got dropped from linux kernels as well of course.

Sadly my recent acquisition of a UEFI laptop means I need a newer GrUB on the USB stick at minimum but while I've got rEFInd -> linux working, going CSM -> GrUB -> FreeDOS without something hanging hasn't been as straightforward as I expected (...I suspect a bug related to the laptop's graphics card at some point in the process; neither of my netbooks got upset at the change...) :/

20 years of .NET: Reflecting on Microsoft's not-Java

William Towle

> Hell, I'd take PERL over Python.

I'd have argued that myself based on initial experiences alone, but lately I've changed my mind.

My early exposure to Perl was during the v4-to-v5 transition and the ability to `use strict` and `use warnings` meant a lot of the legacy code I ended up maintaining got a lot cleaner and a lot less buggy very quickly.

Latterly with Python, I didn't find the whitespace rules any more annoying than in Makefiles, and found it does away with trivial arguments about cuddling braces and whether to use them at all around single lines of code nicely (modern compilers' warning about misleading indentation anyone?).

Although with Python I had to Google error messages to make sense of them for a bit, I liked the feeling the interpreter was doing a thorough job of analysing code on your behalf (C#'s compiler likewise, incidentally); conversely, going back to Perl was tough going: either a case of getting errors to the effect of how anything "experimental" from early v5 is deprecated now, or of watching the parser fall over completely with no useful guidance how to reformat something so close to line noise ... and to make matters worse, then having to wonder what Google runes might possibly get me to a page explaining how to convert what I was trying into the working modern Perl equivalent. Ugh.

New York Times outlays seven-figure sum for 1,900 lines of JavaScript – yes, we mean Wordle

William Towle
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Re: Also see also: adversarial version

> Absurdle is interesting, but has one major snag - if you use the same words, you get the same answer. So it's up to you to randomise it. I normally start a new game with the word that came out of the previous one.

I wouldn't call that a snag per se. You can work toward an ideal word list (lists, even) if you want, and there's the "random guess" button to kick off with if you'd rather not. Incidentally the "give up" button doesn't have a predictable answer, so it's picking a random word at some point but I haven't looked at the code to see exactly when.

I did notice fairly swiftly that it was consistent *then* read the worked example to find out why. It becomes obvious that your word list *and* the order you use it matters, hence the "less prone..." observation above.

William Towle

Also see also: adversarial version

In addition to Hello Wordl there is also Absurdle, which allows itself to change its word every guess as long as your previous guesses don't rule out its new choice and thus makes for an interesting challenge.

Within five games I had a consistent strategy for pinning it down in six to eight guesses, and in the longer games found two words /usr/share/dict/words lacks [hence icon -->]

How and whether to vary the strategy in response to the evaluation of your guess is less clear than with Wordle, and signs are good (in my own quickly formed opinion) that this version may be less prone to the overindulgence burnout mentioned earlier.

William Towle

Re: hangman

> When I were nipper doing this with pen and paper was called hangman........

My mother recently passed me a newspaper that described it was a cross between Mastermind and Hangman after it took off online. Clearly they hadn't seen the "Word Mastermind" that others had here (nor I; Mum only knew of the other Mastermind).

I first encountered the coloured-pegs Mastermind game in a visit to the Birmingham Science Museum while still at school, where an interactive exhibit challenged you to guess a four digit number within around fifteen turns. I went home and made a Spectrum* BASIC version without much problem, later ported to PC and written so that the game rules were configurable in order to add variety (albeit still with digits/colours).

Lately I've taken to watching Lingo, which also seems to be reasonable at the rate of one per day. I shall nod to Hello Wordl, which can be configured to offer longer words -interesting for comparing how the strategy needs to be varied- but also lacks the daily limit. Overindulgence has taken the shine off both, unfortunately.

"Quick, sell it" was a smart move here.


[*] still worth dragging an emulator out for Scrabble every so often, the level 4 adversary is extremely good at placing the relatively few words [compared to an adult] it does know

BOFH: On Wednesdays, we wear gloves

William Towle

Briefly, there was capitalisation in my head

"[Lunar bubble houses with] electronic newspapers [...] delivered from Earth in Daily Mail spaceships"

I blame reading the Brexit article (and attached commentary) immediately beforehand...

Going round in circles with Windows in Singapore

William Towle

Re: Out of memory in error handler


My favourite Windows anecdote (for some time now, and may well remain so) involves an error dialog informing me of "Insufficent resources to", followed by another one stating it was "Out of".

DIY Sinclair clones: Left it too late to back the Next? Build your own instead

William Towle

Re: ZX80, ZX81 -- some of us used real computers!

IIRC Fuzix (https://www.fuzix.org/) requires the +3 and is basically a Unix clone. I've run Mapux [for Amiga] and Uzix [for MSX, under emulation] in the past.

Some time ago, Alan Cox made a plea for help with it but while I've played with qemu-z80 (https://wiki.qemu.org/Features/Z80) its 128K spectrum emulation only covers mapping the extra memory as required. With a little bodging related to the interrupt handling it runs the Nascom 2's Microsoft BASIC [see RC2014 downloads elsewhere] happily enough though :)

Microsoft gives Notepad a minimalist makeover to match Windows 11 style

William Towle

Re: Dark?

> ZX Specturm was black-text-on-white-background

It was, but none of the Speccy's unbrightened colours was particularly strong. I suspect I wouldn't have liked it to have had the sort of black-on-white of this web page.

That said, I'm not sure I'd want a consistently-enforced dark/light mode these days - I switch my terminals to light-on-dark if required (and configure vim accordingly), and leave everything else alone. For me, this results in a meaningful sense of context switching when going to and from editor/compilation windows and web searches for documentation/other tasks.

A smarter alternative to password recognition could be right in front of us: Unique, invisible, maybe even deadly

William Towle

"vaguely sarcastic honorific of bland flattery"?

"They called me sir", my Dad used to say, "but I think they were spelling it c-u-r"

Teams has a mute button all of its own in taskbar of latest Windows 11 preview build

William Towle

Re: Great....

> From the sound of it, this isn't another mute button that could mess things up, but instead just another control which activates the old Teams control. If that's true, it probably reduces the annoyance because they don't have to bring the Teams window back into focus to mute or unmute themselves.


As a newcomer to Teams I was recently in a meeting where my computer was being controlled by someone else via the desktop sharing feature. Having muted myself earlier in order to sneeze but not taken note of the unmute shortcut, I ended up screaming "I need control back to fix this" to nobody in particular when the keyboard's unmute key threatened to start closing application windows.

Intel hopes to burn newly open-sourced AI debug tech into chips

William Towle

Re: What exactly does "code" mean?

> Maybe Intel want to implement HAL in every silicon CPU......you know "I'm sorry Dave, I can't run that!"

A new answer to "does it run linux": "no, it refused to"?

// fortunately -->

Research finds consumer-grade IoT devices showing up... on corporate networks

William Towle

Re: The elephant in the room

> But then require you to have your own, presumably consumer grade, Android/iPhone to run the Microsoft 2FA app to get onto the corporate network

We've got a "virtual 2FA smart card" solution that doesn't feel like 2FA because it boils down to having yet another password (AIUI the something-you-have is "provided" by a file on the computer/LAN).

Not that the expectation of owning a personal on-contract smartphone already went away - signing the employment contract document was a case of "simply install and run this Android/iPhone touchscreen input app and transfer our PDF to/from it" (not a hard requirement, but I had to ask to find out *sigh*), and we have "lunch and learn" video meetings where participation is easier with a phone app than a browser. In the latter case I've had to commandeer the dinner table for the laptop and monitor, so if I've moved the keyboard to eat I'm not also free to join in...

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

William Towle

> Remember when a games developer could be one guy with a ZX Spectrum?

Yes! While I didn't get as far as having something published, I learnt to program by typing in from listings (in the very early days when we only had one TV, my Dad read them out for something to do) and modifying the results. I did also write to the publishers of Skool Daze with enthusiastic congratulations and game ideas, and was particularly delighted to get a response.

Some of my games got reimplemented on the Amiga I owned next, including a port of CDS's Othello, a BASIC game written in some very spaghetti manner to make computer-player and human-help logic fit 16K. Once ported, I found it very easy to beat a) because I didn't have to wait ages for it to move, and could think undistractedly, and b) having untangled said spaghetti I understood exactly why the moves that came out of the help weren't necessarily the optimum ones :)

Technology doesn’t widen the education divide. People do that

William Towle

Re: "what we do with it is our fault"

> When I was in secondary school (UK late 80s), we touched on electronics in my physics class.

Nod, I remember (spoiler alert) literally doing that.

In the task following a demonstration where a large capacitor could be made to briefly flash a mains bulb from a small battery, we ran out of switches.

"Don't worry", said my lab partner, "this morse code tapping key I've spotted will suffice".

Shaking off a large jolt from accidentally touching it mid-experiment I shook myself and warned "be careful, it tickles a bit".

"Wimp!", said the other boy ... and promptly jumped six feet in the air when he ended up doing the same!

// The teacher's name? Newton. Thanks to also having a Mr Poulton he was occasionally known as Neutron (and Proton, respectively - as physics and chemistry teachers, the "nucleus of the science department" *groan*) but mostly we called him Isaac :)

Why tell the doctor where it hurts, when you could use emoji instead?

William Towle

Re: History repeats itself


I recently had the interesting experience of setting up a brand new monitor where the instructions were entirely pictorial.

Naturally en route to getting at the instructions, I took everything out of the box only for the first frame to convey the idea -eventually, I realised- that you connected the head of the stand with the screen in the box, still wrapped and face down, in order to protect it.

Then you connected the base by pushing and turning, followed by the tightening of screws, and *only then* would it tilt, raise/lower, or turn as expected. It needed to say so - I sat with the base half on and rotated at 45 degrees wondering what I'd done wrong for some minutes!...

More than half of companies rethinking back-to-office plans amid variant uncertainty and vaccine mandates – survey

William Towle

Re: Office half full or office half empty?

> The so-called flexi fares on National Rail that were announced are an absolute joke - you only save a few pounds over buying singles. It should be radically different.

Under the old commute-daily regime you didn't save that much with short-duration season tickets anyway?

Previously over the course of a month there was flexibility to have some holiday or a day of illness/emergency-at-home (and it was better still over a year, of course) without losing money. As a useful bonus, I also got rides to/from the pub in the rain for effectively-free out of the ticket arrangement I had.

AFAICT under a "two journeys per week" season ticket, I can save some money if my employer wants two office visits per week but I only really get the earlier flexibility back if I go through the refund process (where applicable) from time to time or if my employer wants more at-desk time from me than that.

(...Not that I want to be dragging the "laptop" I've been given to and fro at all, but that's another argument)

In Search of Lost Time: GNU Grep 3.7 released with fix for 'extreme performance degradation'

William Towle

Re: grep, sed & awk

> Cat, although being one of the first commands most people use (at least if you follow the traditional "learn" route - remember learn?), actually becomes a little redundant once you get to know redirection of I/O streams.

On natively-POSIX hosts this is true, but it's worth knowing otherwise that where you're stuck on Windows with "git bash" (MSYS) or cygwin for comfort, there are corner cases where cat (strictly speaking, "useless use of cat") is what Just Works.

In one particular example when I found I couldn't get a manually-edited diff back into a git repository directly with 'patch' recently (known problem with files suddenly having DOS newlines), in tandem with my file being in /var (evidently special in some way my google fu did not help in finding) I ended up doing `cat /var/tmp/foo | git apply -` to get what I wanted!

UK's National Museum of Computing asks tunesmiths to recreate bleeps, bloops, and parps of retro game music

William Towle

Re: Wot! No mention of the Hybrid Music 5000?

> I had Toccata, Golden Brown, and Sweet Dreams as BASIC programs using the internal sound system on the Beeb.

In the 90s I found a friend with an Amiga had access to a Beeb with some of these and we had a go at getting the files readable by an emulator. When our naive efforts failed, I studied the BASIC programs and hand-created versions in OctaMED for him to enjoy.

Move forward to this weekend, and all this came up in a pub conversation. This week I've found some of these as YouTube videos, and been throwing some disk images at jsbeeb. For the former, I was impressed by results the search term "beeb tracker" produces.

In particular I also recall a Liberty Bell/Monty Python theme, an Axel F version that called itself the "B B & C Mix" (IIRC; other versions drop more readily out of google) and a Blue Monday version where you could mix and match what was playing in each channel. Sadly, I've not tracked those down.

This page has been deliberately left blank

William Towle


*googles for evidence of earlier cockups*

Now everyone can take in the sights and smells of a London tram station shut for 70 years

William Towle
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Re: Also in the Goon Show

> Kingsway Tram Subway also appeared in an episode of the Goon Show, although it was in the dark (and on the radio).

Radio 4 Extra broadcast version (and others) here. Although described as surreal I felt there was a reverential undertone to this one.

I looked forward to their take on this event and enjoyed it thoroughly :)

Ubuntu Pro arrives in premium form on Google's Cloud

William Towle

Re: Do the corpotate types trustt debian?

> Most corporate types still use rpm and don't believe in yum, so I wonder if anything that uses dpkg and apt will be taken seriously?

Yes. IME when you want some sort of toolchain for linux-based development work then at minimum there's a host OS option of RHEL or Ubuntu. If you're free to have chosen host OS or to reinstall/create VMs etc then the list of suitable SDKs broadens, but if you're not (I've been in both camps) then you get either an rpm- or deb- package-managed system to work with based on who any existing support contracts were with.

Debian's Cinnamon desktop maintainer quits because he thinks KDE is better now

William Towle

Re: Now I know that Debian also packages Cinnamon

> Then, you go for lunch (or something) and your monitor goes into power-save. When you come back, you've got to set the monitor back up.

I don't remember XFCE being quite that temperamental, but I do recall returning to my desk from team meetings at $PREVIOUS_EMPLOYER and reconnecting the monitor having that result (normally I took paper notes but once or twice having the laptop was Required). I'd have had XFCE in my personal laptops' initial installs if it wasn't for that :(

What Microsoft's Windows 11 will probably look like

William Towle

Re: muppets

> Like the Telletubbies inspired default WindowsXP desktop?

One of my managers (who was more of a fellow engineer at heart) liked saying this, so I switched my desktop background to see if any comment was passed.

Despite my screen facing him as he left our cluster (meaning the team saw, but few others would notice) he was the one that stuck out as saying nothing.

Say helloSystem: Mac-like FreeBSD project emits 0.5 release

William Towle

Re: Proof, if it were needed,...

>> "Where did that (obviously inaccurate) concept even COME from?"

> The Apple marketing department? Apple are very good at polishing things up and then implying they invented it. And the fanbois lap it up and spread the message.

There's a similar effect among Windows users about Microsoft inventing things, presumably seen through the lens of Windows' ubiquity ("it was on Windows first, because that's where I saw it first") and possibly also that of Bill's bank balance ("you don't come out of plagiarism lawsuits rich" [I suppose]).

Show these people "this is a Unix system, I know this" [1993] and point out that it is and it's clear which one - and they won't believe you, because "Unix systems are a throwback to the days of the command line" and apparently hadn't already moved on all that much.

Seven-year-old make-me-root bug in Linux service polkit patched

William Towle

Pictures something not unlike xkcd...

"Make me a sandwich"


"Seven-year-old make me a sandwich"

"...Okay <holds bread out> you're a sandwich"

With apologies to Randall

Snakes on a Plane meets The Simpsons as airline creates ‘whacker’ to scare reptiles away from parked A380s

William Towle


> Free with every Airbus A380 - a whacker that doubles as a broom!

...17 new labels and 14 new handles later, is it the same broom?

Surviving eclipse season and resurrecting 25-year-old software with Windows for Workgroups 3.11: One year with Mars Express

William Towle

> MAXTOR drives? Good luck with that.

All of my Maxtors went from "my current largest" to "current viable smallest, check backups and make it the boot disk" without incident, whereas my switch to a Seagate drive saw it croak the week it went out of warranty.

YMMV applies (obviously). AFAICT my more-enlightened friends have both scare and success stories with all the manufacturers between them and what I took away from that is to try and get a balanced opinion by never asking just one of them what they thought.

Contract killer: Certified PDFs can be secretly tampered with during the signing process, boffins find

William Towle

"secure document exchange format"

> PDF was never meant to be that, and nobody who’d spent more than half-a-day or so examining the spec[1] would ever think it was appropriate to use it for that purpose…

Unfortunately, people wanting not to send paper documents -perhaps encouraged by the pandemic- want to use it for that.

I recently had "just use X on your phone to sign [this PDF]" where X wasn't part of the stock android image and I didn't have space to install it, and while I could otherwise sign with libreoffice (after creating certificates and persuading it they existed) I found post-conversion artifacts before I could start ... with the argument "this *needs* to be done on paper" carrying little weight until I decided to stop sending attachments that were meant to be proof (and not finished submissions) :/

How much would you pay me to develop a COVID tracking app that actually works? Ah, thought so: nothing

William Towle
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Re: Lockdown

Definite nod.

When I had a commute I passed the time reading the newspaper from cover to cover, and enjoyed feeling enlightened when something that had only got a few column inches came up in the pub's quiz.

With that gone I've been able to enjoy music, comedy, and documentaries as before but with (nearly) no overhead transferring between formats/devices intermittently. This has enhanced the enjoyment greatly.

I may not have achieved anything "productive" with my time either (compared to some people writing blog articles about what they've managed) but I've staved off cabin fever by and large, and I'm calling that a win whatever anyone else thinks.

Here's how we got persistent shell access on a Boeing 747 – Pen Test Partners

William Towle

...downvotes already?

Looks like I picked the wrong week to start quoting Airplane!...

William Towle

Re: How long...

> Well, we are all going to die…

Hundreds of capitalists soon to perish? They shouldn't have gone in the first place

// see you at the wedding -->

NHS Digital booking website had unexpected side effect: It leaked people's jab status

William Towle

All well and good? If only

> In order to book you either need your NHS number or Name (as registered at the GP), DOB and Post Code.

Everything ties in AFAICT.

Although ... after my first NHSvaccine text message I didn't yet have the number and used personal details to query which centres would be available once I had the number.

On a second site visit -after receiving notice of NHS ID- it was suggested I'd made bookings and not turned up, rather than merely having let a session expire(!!) ... and later still -prompted by the NHS reminder that I had yet to see suitable location options- tried again and made the booking.

Meanwhile, in both NHSvaccine messages it was suggested my GP would also be in touch, which hasn't happened despite their surgery having been made available for the jabs. Not that they haven't been in touch, just that what I was sent was yet another survey URL that didn't go to my email address (despite recording a preference to that effect) rather than anything critical. Several times over. After being rudely woken at 6am on four consecutive days by the latest batch I replied with "STOP" and was pleasantly surprised to find that worked.

On top of the travel fiasco *this* is not happy news having already concluded "at least there's something working"... :(

More than 1,000 humans fail to beat AI contender in top crossword battle

William Towle
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Re: How does a computer solve crosswords?

> deciphering crossword clues always struck me as being a very human thing that just would not be at all easy for a machine. It's effectively reverse-engineering extreme poetry.

At University I decided the opposite - for a human, the first obstacle is ignoring what looks like straightforward plain English and then what remains involves interpreting the alternative grammar of what's there (I once told a dyslexic friend with a newspaper over lunch that "it's not English. The majority of clues are like equations, with two halves producing matching answers; some words are operators, and others are operands - some used verbatim and some like variables", and after a little further elaboration it clicked for him and we polished off the whole thing together). That latter interpretation stage struck me as very much what a classic expert system does.

I agree that the possibility of soundalike words and so on adds complexity to the parsing side problem, but that's just peanuts to processor grunt ... if you can seed the dictionary and grammar engine in the first place - and I suppose that's where the modern AI/ML/big data side of it comes in. 20 plus years ago I wouldn't have liked to train a system by hand - there's a reason my final year project was something else!

George Clooney of IT: Dribbling disaster and damp disk warnings scare the life out of innocent user

William Towle

Re: Am I Old?

> DRAIN was amusing in the office for a few minutes but, call me a spoilsport if you wish, should never have been unleashed on the insects* users.

...don't forget BOO!onster.coBOO!

William Towle
Paris Hilton

> Are you sure it wasn't the Bonzi Buddy?

OP seems to be describing neko, also available as oneko and xneko. Depending on implementation or command line options, this is a cat that can either follow the mouse pointer (alternative "mouse" pointer graphic included) or wander around the window you were focusing on. You could run several of these and have (for example) a cat chasing your mouse, a dog chasing the cat, and a girl chasing the dog.

I liked the idea of making the cat a bit more playful by extending the state machine but never got around to writing that much of it (I kept the skeleton code to build X11 apps on top of, though).

I also vaguely remember one with a red headed girl on a space hopper that started to look NSFW if the space hopper was off screen (--> may have been the point).



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