* Posts by SeanEllis

78 publicly visible posts • joined 8 Jul 2011


ATLAS flubbed: Comet heading our way takes one look at Earth, self-destructs into house-sized chunks


Why is it getting dimmer? I would have thought that more chunks = more surface area = more outgassing = more tail = more brightness.

What is WebAssembly? And can you really compile C/C++ to it? And it'll run in browsers? Allow us to explain in this gentle introduction


Seems familiar

- Compiled offline

- Delivered binary

- Stack-based VM

- Sandbox execution environment

- Standardised runtime

It's Java again! Hooray!

Ancient Ore Crusher or KillBot 2000? NASA gets ready to pick a name for its Mars 2020 Rover


Too, too obvious.

How can the 2020 rover possibly be called anything other than "Vision".

Official: Microsoft will take an axe to Skype for Business Online. Teams is your new normal


Re: "Fall Creators Update"

The "format date using user's locale" functionality is a single function call in the Windows API.

But I forgot. Their apps are all web frameworks and Javascript these days. That's probably why it so compli... no, wait. That's a single function call too.


Bow down and accept the One True UI

What have the following products in common? Skype, Skype for Business, Teams? Answer - they all know what you want better than you do.

There is One True UI. Microsoft knows what the minimum window resolution you need is. It's the same whether you're running on a 4K monitor or an old 1280x1024. Microsofts know what notifications you need. It's the same whether it's from the "Lunchtime chat and LOLz" group or the "EMERGENCY COMMS READ THIS OR YOU'RE FIRED" group. Microsoft knows which alert sounds you need. They're the same whether you're working in a near-silent office full of easily-startled C programmers, or in a warehouse with fork lifts thundering past. And Microsoft knows the way you work. No need for advanced and confusing options like setting different colors on different groups to aid visual memory, or moving that conversation which went off-topic into a different group. Or choosing a font which is easier to read because you have dyslexia.

It reminds me of the episode of The Simpsons where new uncomfortable "posture-iffic" chairs are delivered to the school. The kids complain, but the teacher explains that eventually their spines will change shape.

Skype 6 had a nice compact chat UI, where you could pop out a chat and see a decent amount of text in a small window. Skype 7 bloated the UI and decreased the information density. People who use Skype for serious work complained - loudly. So Microsoft took heed of their concerns and made Skype 8 even bigger, removed multi-window mode, dumped your chat history, and removed almost all of the useful configuration options. Every downgrade is hailed as an upgrade. Never mind the further reductions in core functionality - enjoy the new pink unicorn emojis!

Skype for Business chat has a bunch of similar problems. Teams has them in spades. Want a compact UI? No chance.

UI designers: No options is not an option.

The other thing they have in common is the abysmal customer service. "We want your feedback!" they say. They tempt you to contribute to the UserVoice forums. Visit, and take a look at what happens. Simple UI options with thousands of votes and zero feedback. Users prototyping workarounds in hours for features that have been left unimplemented for literally years. No feedback, or worse, feedback that goes backwards: "We're working on it" becomes "We're rolling out tests!" to "We're scoping the feature" to "What was it you wanted again?" over the course of 2 years. The answer to the latter is usually "What we already had in the previous version."

On the gripping hand, the answer to all of the above problems is to find another product to use.

For pity's sake, groans Mimecast, teach your workforce not to open obviously dodgy emails


People can't be trained to deal with this threat. If they could, it wouldn't be a threat by now.

More concerningly, why is Javascript even allowed in work email? Or in PDFs? Or even on web pages?

At work, turn everything "smart" off, and lobby for essential websites to stop loading scripts from 30 domains just to show me a press release or a page of documentation.

NoScript, AdBlock, Cookies off.

Let's make laptops from radium. How's that for planned obsolescence?


The Roentgen Standard

The oldest version of the "radioactive money" idea I have come across is an essay by SF writer Larry Niven, called "The Roentgen Standard".

It explains a lot of the knock-on effects, including why rich people will still want gold.

You can read it online here: http://www.larryniven.net/stories/roentgen.shtml

Customer: We fancy changing a 25-year-old installation. C'mon, it's just one extra valve... Only wafer thin...


Re: The dirtiest four-letter word...

Running Linux at home is a great "get out of jail free" card for this. Just take a look, say "Oh, it's Windows. I haven't touched one of those for years, sorry," and enjoy your biscuits.

Dratted hipster UX designers stole my corporate app


Two words

Skype eight.

Why does that website take forever to load? Clues: Three syllables, starts with a J, rhymes with crock of sh...


Count the domains

Since installing ScriptSafe, it's easy to see how many different domains scripts are loaded from. Most places have between 6 and 10.

The Independent is a particular bad actor here, with over 30. The highest I have seen is over 50. What's the largest number you've seen?

Slack to fend off the collaboration competition with... a new logo


99% Invisible

... (the podcast) did an excellent episode about logo design - https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/negative-space-logo-design-michael-bierut/

Lots of good stuff in there, including the inviolable rule that you should never, under any circumstances, design a logo that at any distance looks even a little bit like a swastika.

Slack are a sponsor of 99% Invisible.

My 2019 resolution? Not to buy any of THIS rubbish


Any computer game after 1994...

... with the honourable exception of West of Loathing. It's well written, funny, bonkers, and only $11.

Whatchu got for us this week, Microsoft? Skype, Powerpoint tweaks and – oh – another foldable


Re: Skype 7 is still working

It's officially no longer supported since 1 November, and they are shutting people down in "waves" and forcing them to "upgrade" to Skype 8. So Skype 7 will continue to work for a while, but how long a while is depends on the whims of Microsoft and which wave they assign you to. It could be switched off in 5 minutes, 5 days or 5 months - we have no idea.


This is how bad the development cycle has become for Skype: it is now newsworthy that MS is merely restoring functionality to Skype 8 that already existed in Skype 7 (and in many cases Skype 6, 5, ... and so on).

The features and options in Skype 7 didn't just blow in on the wind as spores and start growing on the code. No, each one was the result of a user requirement that survived triage, design, development, testing, and deployment.

To casually toss them aside in the "upgrade" to Skype 8 is to disregard the users being served by those requirements. For months people ignored the state of Skype 8 because they could continue using Skype 7, and they probably assumed that Skype 7 would be kept around until Skype 8 met parity.

We wrongly presumed that this was the minimum possible level of functionality.

Now Skype 7 is being retired in waves, people are being forced to use Skype 8 and they don't like what they see. And although MS is making an effort, it's not at the priority it should be.

Many users are locked in to Skype by network effects. But if sufficient users abandon the platform, those same network effects can work against you very quickly indeed. Just ask MySpace.

Have you ever, ever felt like this? Have strange things happened? Is high-speed data going round the twist?


Is it just me, or is anyone else vaguely annoyed by the wrong order of the colours in the diagram? OK, I know it's just illustrative, but everyone knows ROYGBIV, right?

Pull request accepted: You want to buy GitHub, Microsoft? Go for it – EU


"Microsoft would have no incentive to undermine the open nature of GitHub's platform”

Microsoft had no incentive to undermine the user experience in Skype, either, but they went ahead and did it anyway, despite repeated warnings from the serious user base.

Fingers crossed that the Microsoft GitHub team are sensible enough not to succumb to the curse of the mobile phone UI paradigm.

Love Microsoft Teams? Love Linux? Then you won't love this


Re: Teams is wonderful if you only talk to one team

"Multi-window for chats and more" is one of the top requests on the Teams UserVoice forum (https://microsoftteams.uservoice.com/forums/555103-public/suggestions/16926739-multi-window-for-chats-and-more). It's been in "working on it" state since August 1 (this year) but there is no sign of an ETA.



Good news to hear that the backlash put it back on the backlog.

But 6 of of the top 10 requests where MS are already actively "working on it" have seen no progress in 600+ days, Linux users should adjust their expectations accordingly.

What is even more bizarre about this lack of movement from MS is that Teams is an Electron app, essentially a web page in a box. And the very first text on the Electron web page is "Build cross platform". The whole point on Electron is to allow you to deploy the same web page in a Linux-shaped box.

Although Linux users are a small minority, the probability of at least one Linux user being in a team approaches 100% as the number of people using teams gets bigger. And since the whole point of Teams is to be the One True Place for All Communication, having to maintain a separate system to talk to the Penguinistas is not attractive. In fact, if you have that system anyway, why bother with Teams?

It's over 9,000! Boffin-baffling microquasar has power that makes the LHC look like a kid's toy


Another thing...

The LHC is exquisitely tuned for the one purpose of accelerating protons. This is a natural formation that happens to accelerate particles to higher energies than that, just as a side-effect of what it's doing.

The fact that this happens at all should be amazing, regardless of the relative output energies.

Microsoft gets ready to kill Skype Classic once again: 'This time we mean it'


Re: Similarly...

It's being replaced by Microsoft Teams according to various sources, including:


The SfB-to-Teams transition has had similar criticism to the Skype7-to-8 transition, with complaints about unreliable notifications, lack of configuration options, and some really bizarre UI choices (search field in the window title bar, anyone??) - https://microsoftteams.uservoice.com/forums/555103-public


Not listening, for years.

Way back in the great and glorious days of Skype 6, Microsoft release version 6.22 trialled the UI that they wanted to push into Skype 7, and asked for feedback.

It was universally panned as cartoonish, huge, and annoying. We complained, loudly. Their response was to close the feedback forum, dump all the feedback in the sea, and press ahead full steam. (I pulled all my feedback into one blog post at https://moteprime.org/article.php?id=59 which has therefore survived.) Many users stayed with 6.21 until it was finally retired and they were forced to downgrade. At least 7 had most of the options and functions available in Skype 6.

Skype 8 is this nonsense again, on steroids. When it first came out, I took a look, and immediately switched back and forgot about it. So did many others. Only when we were threatened with a compulsory "upgrade" was there real push-back.

The current version is still huge, has no meaningful configuration options, does not support multi-window (although it's coming real soon now, honest, according to Chief Designer @peterskillman on Twitter) and still has massive gaps in essential features.

But it has all new emojis! They're 4x the size of the old ones! And you can't turn off the animations! Hooray! For anyone who wants to use Skype for something serious, it's a UI disaster.

Network effects tie us into it, but that can't last forever. Network effects can lock you in, but only up to a point. After that, they lock you out really fast. Look at how quickly MySpace fell out of favor once a critical mass of people started migrating elsewhere.

Never mind Brexit. UK must fling more £billions at nuke subs, say MPs


Simplistic solution to two problems

Scrapping Trident leaves a serious employment problem in Faslane and the surrounding area.

But the skills already there are in precision engineering, specifically small nuclear systems in portable pressure vessels. So don't shut down the yards; we need low-carbon energy. Retool to create a production line for small modular nuclear reactors.

Saves jobs. Keeps skills. Gives us things and expertise to export. Reduces our carbon emissions and our reliance on imported energy.

Doubtless this is overly simplistic. Any submarine engineers out there to point out why?

30-up: You know what? Those really weren't the days

Thumb Up

The Meaning of Stob

One column that made it onto the wall of my cubicle "back in the day" was your additional Meaning of Liff definitions. Even now, I refer to myself "climbing a Dollis Hill", and complain if people's programming style is "too pimlico".

Happy Anniversary, Ms Stob.

Microsoft takes a pruning axe to Skype's forest of features


Skype appear to have been listening to serious user concerns on their user forums for years... and then moving in precisely the opposite direction. Personally, I will not "upgrade" to version 8 until it reaches feature parity with v7, and has a compact mode with screen-real-estate parity with v6.21, which was the last version without the wasteful speech bubbles.

Skype Classic headed for the chopping block on September 1


In a widely-publicised response, Microsoft said in early August that they would allow Skype 7 to work for "some time" after the September 1 cutoff they had imposed. Skype 7 users breathed a sigh of relief.

It seems that this might not be the case. In a conversation with Skype support (@skypesupport) on Twitter, they said to me:

"Hi. Good day. You are right, Skype Classic (version 7.x) will be retired on 1st of September 2018. Is there anything that you would like to bring up or share?"

I really don't think they want me to share my innermost thoughts at this point.


For ages, people like me have been complaining that the information-poor UI and lack of meaningful configuration options in Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams make them inferior chat clients to classic Skype. MS has decided to address this, and in one simple move, as now made Teams and SfB as good as Skype. Genius.


I was only moved to Skype 7 by force

They want me to "have the best possible Skype experience" - well how about not taking away essential features (multi-window) and calling it an "upgrade"?

Microsoft still longs to be a 'lifestyle' brand, but the cupboard looks bare


Oh no, Sean's going to bang on about the Teams UI again...

Oh, yes I am.

This explains a lot.

The idea that Teams is a professional product used in diverse environments and thus requires extensive customization options is a B2B requirement.

The idea that Teams is a fun product which must be as easy to use as possible, and thus requires zero customization options is a Lifestyle requirement.

Hence the conflict.

Both of these are legitimate in their own contexts. The problem is that the Lifestyle stuff is completely swamping the B2B stuff, at least for the non-core products. SfB, Teams, and Skype 8 are big, bloated, "point-and-grunt" UIs suitable for phones, and unsuitable for desktop.

No single UI will work for both sets of requirements - we need a choice. At the very least, an "advanced options" pane with a prominent "reset all advanced options to defaults" button would help an awful lot.

How much do you think Cisco's paying erstwhile Brit PM David Cameron?


Whatever his fee is...

... he's savvy enough to have it paid in Euros.

Boss helped sysadmin take down horrible client with swift kick to the nether regions

Thumb Up

Good luck with the new job, Simon. And good luck with the new job, Rebecca!

You wanna be an alpha... tester of The Register's redesign? Step this way


Seems OK

Nothing awful happening. Layout of non-filled lines is a little scrappy, but it works.

And best of all it works nicely with scripts disabled, too. Thanks for thinking of those of us who are in "default deny" stance.

Git365. Git for Teams. Quatermass and the Git Pit. GitHub simply won't do now Microsoft has it



Looking forward to a new UI where we can only see 8 lines of code at a time, each in a separate speech bubble, with the top 25% of the window dedicated to showing us our own username, and the left 25% of the window dedicated to showing us icons for 3 features, in a font and color scheme you can't customize, a minimum window size that's too big, a maximum window size that just expands the whitespace, and a search control that takes 95% of the window title bar so you can't move the window without pinpoint precision.


My PC makes ‘negative energy waves’, said user, then demanded fix


Laundry field ops

Explain that it's not EMF, but possibly incursions from the Platonic Realms underlying the multiverse. Just take a silver permanent marker and draw a field-expedient containment grid (Dho-Nha geometry should do the trick) on their desktop, and ask them for a single drop of blood to power it. It may work, or they may get taken over by brain-eating feeders in the night, but either way it is unlikely that they will ask you for help again.

Facebook invents new unit of time to measure modern attention spans: 1/705,600,000 of a sec


Re: I wonder how that is supposed to work in the US

I've seen 29.97, 30.00 and 30.03 fps for US video. If we assume that these are actually 30000/1001, 30000/1000 and 30000/999 rounded to two digits, these all result in integer number of flicks per frame.

Asteroid Florence buzzes Earth, brings two moons along for the ride


Re: i hope the moons are dougal and zebedee

It is possible to lobby the International Astronomical Union for this - they are @IAU_org on Twitter.

Microsoft boasted it had rebuilt Skype 'from the ground up'. Instead, it should have buried it


Following the trend

The most-requested features on the Skype forum for the last 2 years or more have been an option to choose the color scheme (essential for sight-impaired people and good for the rest of us), and the option to turn off the speech bubbles that eat screen real-estate like there's no tomorrow.

Neither of these are forthcoming, and for serious users every change to Skype seems to be a backward step.

The whole desktop Skype UI is a mess, and violates the most basic UI rules. I took all my feedback and stuck it into a blog post. Some of it is now a little out of date, but if you're interested, it's here.

Resistence is futile: HPE must face Oracle over Solaris IP


Spelling is futile too...

"Resistance", surely?

Adblock overlord to Zuckerberg: Lay down your weapons and surrender


I dislike ads mostly because they are attention-leeches. I do, however, understand that they are a source of income for sites. I think that Adblock is now ubiquiitous enough to become a micropayment broker to both block ads and pay for page accesses instead. Imagine I pay $5 a month to Adblock. I visit 1000 pages that are registered with Adblock payments. Each page I visit gets 1/1000 of my $5. This is standard micropayment tracking. How does this compare with ad impression rates?

Pump-priming the new ampere: NIST works to count electrons in silicon


Unit confusion


Linus Torvalds in sweary rant about punctuation in kernel comments


Linus hates sloane squares

The great Verity Stob, late of this parish, anticipated the problems of comment layout in her own appendix to The Meaning of Liff.

In it, she defined the sloane square (n.) A program comment contained entirely in a box of ******s. A leicester square, incidentally, is a bastard sloane square where all the verticals are out of alignment as a result, for example, of the printer having the wrong tab value.

Linus, it appears, really hates both varieties of square.

Did Spotify hire Alan Partridge to run its Netflix-style video push?


Jean-Michel's Jars

Join France's premier electronic musician for a series of cookery programmes in which he demonstrates how to create the finest jams, preserves, pickles and chutneys while accompanying himself on the Laser Harp.

Contains flashing images.

'Impossible' EmDrive flying saucer thruster may herald new theory of inertia



Any explanation of an effect should not precede reliable replication of the experiment that shows that there is an effect in the first place.

Initial estimates of the thrust of this device have been reduced and reduced in line with the error bars on the increasingly accurate methods used to measure it. This is a classic sign of something with no real effect.

Of course, as always, I am very willing to be proven wrong. But at the moment it's just red flags all the way.

Hey -- what is that oddball box on the left?


Very quick and dirty Tampermonkey script:


// ==UserScript==

// @name The Register clutter elimination

// @namespace http://moteprime.org/

// @version 0.1

// @description Eliminate duplicate story areas

// @author Sean Ellis

// @match http://www.theregister.co.uk/

// @grant none

// ==/UserScript==

/* jshint -W097 */

function addCss(cssString) {

var head = document.getElementsByTagName('head') [0];

var newCss = document.createElement('style');

newCss.type = 'text/css';

newCss.innerHTML = cssString;




'#top_tease { display: none ! important; } ' +

'#news_bytes { display: none ! important; } ' +

'#right-col { display: none ! important; } ' +

'.dont_miss { display: none ! important; } ' +

'.story_grid_img { display: none ! important; } ' +

'.headline_row.hidden { display: inline ! important; } '




Move it right

I always skip the "top stories" - they're duplicates - and can easily ignore the right hand column of old stories as they look like ads and I'm pretty much banner blind these days.

Please move the "news bytes" out of the useful reading area - I suggest moving it into the right hand column where it's out of the way.

Microsoft introduces yet another Skype for Windows 10


Re: Single version?

Absolutely. Some time ago I got into a discussion on the Skype community forums, bemoaning the enormous new chat UI, and the lack of options to rein in its voracious appetite for screen real estate, or even to change the color to something more functional. This was just the start,and the more I looked at the Skype UI, the more appalled I was, and it ended up as a massive blog post.

In case anyone's interested, it's here: http://www.moteprime.org/article.php?id=59

NASA boffin wants FRIKKIN LASERS to propel lightsails



The 30% of the speed of light in 10 minutes figure is for a spacecraft of mass 10g, assuming 100% conversion of input energy to kinetic energy (which does not happen). This is not the 100kg craft he then goes on to talk about, which would take a lot longer and have a smaller, but still usefully high, final velocity.

Robert L. Forward popularised lightsails for interstellar exploration in the 1980s, and came up with several concepts. The "Starwisp" is an ultra-low-mass probe pushed by microwaves. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starwisp for more details.

Bigger than Higgs? Boffins see hints of bulbous new Boson


You can also infer other properties of the particle from its decay products. For example, the conservation of charge means that if you add up all the charges from the debris, and it comes out as +2, then the original particle must have had +2 charge. Measuring spin is more complex, but apparently it can be done.

There are also predictions of what the decay modes actually are. A Higgs may decay into a whole load of different particles, but various conservation rules cause it to prefer some decay modes to others. (The most common is a bottom/anti-bottom quark pair, with a pair of W bosons second.)

So if a particle has the same predicted mass, spin, charge and decay as the predicted Higgs, I'd call it a Higgs.


Re: Aha!

Sorry, TeeCee, but it's not a graviton. A 500GeV boson would have very short range. The graviton has a predicted rest mass of zero, and a spin of 2, but it couples very weakly which is why gravity is such a weak force.

A good way to demonstrate how weak gravity is is to jump out of a building. An entire planet's worth of graviton-emitting particles will speed you up in a few seconds, but the electromagnetic forces in a tiny bit of pavement will stop you like *that* [clicks fingers].


Very small signal

If I'm reading the PDF correctly, this looks like a bump in the graph which is 2 sigma above background. This is way below the threshold for a discovery - usually 5 sigma, I believe - but it's worth a further look. A >500GeV particle would be big news.

No, seriously, NASA will fly a probe through Saturn's moon plumes


Re: Anyone...

"spotted any Black Monoliths in the vicinity?"

Monolith is on Iapetus, as any fule kno. (At least, any fule who has read the novelisation of "2001".)