* Posts by Bc1609

119 publicly visible posts • joined 4 Jul 2012


Capita Education Services accidentally spaffs email addresses in Helpdesk snafu


I blame ServiceNow more than Crapita

We had similar issues after introducing SN at the behest of the company that bought ours. I'm sure if perfectly managed it can work well, but by default the Customer Service Module behaves in very strange ways and it's very easy for a user to accidentally mass-email people even if using the system as instructed because of the weird workflows that get invisibly applied.

Sweden 'secretly blames' hackers – not solar flares – for taking out air traffic control


Re: Why would Russia randomly be stressing out peaceful Swedes?

Your guess is as good as mine, but it wouldn't be the first time. In 2013, Russia practiced bombing raids on Sweden (Newsweek link, and an FT report on the same incident); last year Russia was caught flying military jets over the Baltic with their transponders turned off; the year before that the same trick nearly caused a collision with a civilian airliner (Reuters report).

Russia (under any name) hasn't exactly got a great record when it comes to relations with their "peaceful" neighbours.

Pothole campaigner sprays Surrey street with phallic paintings


Yeah, those aren't potholes. Try driving near the border between Kent and East Sussex - there are pretty massive chunks just missing for several feet in all dimensions and the roads are effectively single-lane. Being southern I'm sure they don't compare to your massive holes up North, which are used for housing entire families who work 72 hours a day for a florin and are grateful for the privilege, but it's pretty bad. I don't know whether it's a council-border issue (Kent and Sussex both claiming it's the other's responsibility) or what, but it's been like that for years. The cockwombler responsible for the doodles above is being rather petty.

Having said that, I've got a can of paint in the garage and it probably won't hurt to try and spur the council into action...

Tracy Emin dons funeral shroud, marries stone


Attention-seeking attention-seeker seeks attention

Glad we supplied it.

Swedish sysadmins reach for the hex key, reassemble services after weekend DDoS


Re: Adblocking

Maybe - though I would have thought that if it were being done for an ideological (as opposed to "national interest") reason, the attackers would be making a big noise about their motivations.

Iain Duncan Smith's Universal Credit: A timeline


Re: existing system and new idea

I strongly suspect that was what IDS would really have liked - I can definitely imagine an army man looking at the absurd system where you get paid six different types of benefit and then have most of them taken away in taxes again, only to receive more top-ups for the amounts taken in tax (my wife and I have been on the receiving end of this and it's a bloody awful way to live and near-impossible to track or budget for properly) and wanting to throw the whole lot out and start again with a single layer of admin instead of the fifteen or so currently in place.

Perhaps it would even have been possible in the age before centralized government IT projects - but maybe I just have a rose-tinted rear-view mirror. Plus of course the vested interests you mention - it's going to be very interesting when those DWP emails are finally released...

'Just give me any old date and I'll make it work' ... said the VB script to the coder


Re: Medieval dates

Oh, tell me about it - I did my BA in Medieval Lit., and made some editions of various manuscripts. In addition to the day/month being determined by religious festivals, very few people used AD and instead went off the regnal year - so "St. Stephen's day in the third year of the reign of X", which means you need to know the date and the year the king was crowned. Oh, and every bloody country (and sometimes just cities) in Europe having a different year system (Iberians counting from the Romans, for example) - such fun.

I have to say, though, that I never found medieval dates to be too ambiguous. Confusing as hell, yes, but there's not really a way to confuse 03/04 with 04/03 as we have now. To address your example above, "Easter Week" is the week after Easter - the week before is, as every good Catholic schoolboy knows, Holy Week.


VBA date handling has taken at least five years off my lifespan

Eventually I gave in and wrote my own date-handling function - a CDate replacement - which I've tried to make the company standard. It taught me a lot about string handling, though, and all the weird stuff associated with dates and calendars that you almost never see or hear of unless you're a programmer. For example, did you know that in Shanghai the time "1927-12-31 23:54:08" actually happened twice? And that Java will bug out in weird ways if you're using the Shanghai timezone as a result? I didn't. Another fun teaser: why does the UK tax year start on 5th April?

UK.gov says it's letting 1,000 SMEs push digital wares at civil servants


"But why would we want to use SMEs? They can't give us anything like the bribes that Capita does." - said every senior civil servant.

UK plans robo-car tests on motorways in 2017


Re: Think of "number of voters"

For a politician, this is exactly it. For a more humane approach, you might think of the individuals who will lose their jobs and the impact that will have on their lives. The comparison between tech pros and drivers is not exactly a fair one: for the massive majority of skilled tech work, most of the skill comes from being able to learn new things quickly and adapt to things you haven't seen before. "Re-skilling" is a career requirement, and my particular role becoming automated is just another in a long line of "threats" including the tech becoming obsolete, industry trends running against me and so on. This is less true of lorry drivers, and it will be much harder for them to get other jobs.

This is not to say that these jobs shouldn't be automated, of course. The gains to "society" outweigh the pains of the individuals - but that doesn't mean the individuals don't suffer, and in a compassionate society the people who are benefiting from their pain should help them. Right now, this is probably best done by increased facilities for retraining and adult education; in the future, it may be that we simply pension people off. We live in interesting times.

AdBlock replaced blocked ads with ads for Amnesty International


Gambling their business model on inertia

The success of the whitelist/gatekeeper/extortion model is dependent on having a large number of users to dangle before an advertiser, but the mere appearance of ads will drive users away. AdBlock therefore seem to be relying on a fair amount of inertia in their userbase that will prevent them from switching. This works for UK energy companies, but I'm not sure how well it will work for AdBlock. I just timed how long it took me to switch from AdBlock to uBlock Origin: 28 seconds, including filling out the AdBlock exit survey.

Steve Ballmer: Get the Facts. I 'love' SQL Server on Linux


Threat from Linux "in the rear-view mirror"

That attitude goes some way to explaining Windows 10.

I beg you, please don't back up that secret directory full of photos!


The first time this happened to me I was still at school

Upper sixth, and my all-boys' boarding school had just gone co-ed. I had a reputation as a handyman - locked yourself out of your room, borked your laptop and so on - and about a term into the year one of the new girls brought me her laptop. I can't remember exactly what was wrong with it, but it must have had something to do with recovering a lost file, because I turned on "View Hidden Files and Folders" in the hope of finding some temporary Word files. There was a hidden directory in My Documents containing a single video file; being even more stupid than I am now I double-clicked it without thinking.

The video was of a young lady who had attached a prosthetic to her teddy bear; I don't think any more description is necessary. A few seconds of this played out in front of me and the girl whose laptop it was before I recovered myself enough to close the window and carry on as though nothing had happened. It made for a fairly interesting relationship for the rest of the year.

Google-backed British startup ‘stole our code’, says US marketing firm


Re: "I can't see that they have got much to go on"

It's funny how different people can see different things in the same code - to me, it looks very much as though the code has been copied. Of course some similarities are to be expected, and of course if you compare any two sufficiently large bodies of code you'll find similar snippets (which is probably what we're seeing in the image above) - it would be hard to tell without seeing much larger segments of the code.

But, speaking as someone who has pinched more than his fair share of code from StackOverflow, that snippet looks very suspicious.

'Microsoft Office has been the bane of my life, while simultaneously keeping me employed'


The deep mysteries of VBA bugs

I spend a fair bit of time in VBA and I share that poor writer's pain. The most recently encountered bug was one that, apparently randomly, reset the options in Find and Replace in Word. It had a very low chance of occurring - maybe one in every twenty thousand uses or so - but it's there. And if you're not guarding against it, it will screw you over. There are tons of these.

Solus: A welcome ground-up break from the Linux herd


Solus stands on a few less shoulders than others


Anyway, thanks for the review. I'm currently flitting between distros so I might give it a try.

Software dev 101: 'The best time to understand how your system works is when it is dying'


"Architect for failure"?

I know there ain't no word that can't be verbed, but that's a horrible construction.

Alice, Bob and Verity, too. Yeah, everybody's got a story, pal


Even Stob can fall victim to the El Reg sub-editor

As an impoverished undergraduate, I once bought a copy of The Way of the World for a penny from Amazon using the free Prime trial. It was missing pages 69-104 and pages 121-150 were repeated where pages 170-199 should be. Neither Stob or Congreave bore the treatment particularly well.

Blah Blah blah ... I don't care! To hell with your tech marketing bull


I'm sorry for your loss. That the deceased is "only" a cat doesn't mean it's not bloody horrible.

North Dorset Council hit by ransomware, flips the bird at miscreants


Well done Dorset

I suppose they've learnt from experience that paying the Dane-geld will never get rid of the Dane. Took them a couple of invasions, granted, but they got it right in the end.

Facebook paid £4k in tax. HMRC then paid Facebook £27k – for ads


Diverted Profits Tax working then?

From the BBC article:

"My sources tell me that Facebook moved after coming under increasing global pressure on its tax affairs and as a reaction to changing tax rules."

BBC telly tax drops onto telly-free households. Cough up, iPlayer fans


Re: protection racket

Actually, that quote is pretty misleading. What he actually said was:

"Meanwhile, some of the ad-blocking companies are drawing up their own rules of acceptable advertising or offering to white list providers in return for payment. Many see such practices as akin to a modern day protection racket.".

He goes on to talk about how people tend to object to the interruption/rudeness of adverts more than their actual existence, and that if people made non-shite adverts people might use adblockers less.

Ad-blockers are a Mafia-style 'protection racket' – UK's Minister of Fun


Re: That speech in full

I'm not entirely sure you understand what is meant by "instinct". It doesn't mean "an infallible, immutable policy"; it means that it is, well, his instinctive response. He makes this clear in the very next sentence.

So, small-government principles, but making a point of not being absolutist about them, and being willing to step in if the players aren't willing to sort themselves out. Again, seems quite sensible.


That speech in full

Since it wasn't deemed necessary to link to the speech being reported..

"My natural political instinct is that self-regulation and co-operation is the key to resolving these challenges, and I know the digital sector prides itself on doing just that. But Government stands ready to help in any way we can - as long as this does not erode consumer choice".

Seems very sensible to me.

Forget data thieves, data sabotage will be your next IT nightmare



Seems as though blockchains could, if properly managed, be a rather nice way of preventing this kind of sabotage. You'd have to replace the entire chain, which would be rather difficult to do unnoticed.

We suck at backups. So let's not have a single point of failure any more


Re: Independent backups

Exactly. This is one of those problems where the solution is simple but unpalatable: regular, frequent off-site backups (no, cloud doesn't count - you have to have an airgap or some physical measure that cannot be overwritten by software). Ransomware doesn't have to be a problem: the real problem is that the solution to ransomware takes time and money.

Online crims delight in watching you squirm, says Mandiant


scheduled tasks tasks that reboot wipe and reboot boxes

Come on chaps.

'I bet Russian hackers weren't expecting their target to suck so epically hard as this'


Re: Unsigned....

What's the IT version of Poe's law? The loop will process while the condition (u<200) is true. If u is unsigned, it will loop round to its maximum value when it passes below zero. This is amusing because it takes the 'bug' in the version of the loop described in the article and turns it into a 'feature'.


UK court approves use of predictive coding for e-disclosure


Re: "until an acceptable level of accuracy is reached"

@TRT "Swamping the other legal team during disclosure is an unfortunate and ever more common strategy now."

Well, in the US, yes. It's much less common in the UK - in fact we're fairly good at cooperation during disclosure, simply because it reduces the costs so much for both sides. I don't know exactly why - it could be that without the massive penalty figures introduced into compensation the incentives are different (fewer enormous payouts means that baseline costs are proportionally higher, and so it makes more sense to reduce them), or it could be because the UK system is much less adversarial in general (no objections, for example - you're supposed to behave properly even if your opponent isn't keeping you in check).


Re: "until an acceptable level of accuracy is reached"

@Philip Clarke

1) While I'm sure it will be useful in some white-collar crime cases, this kind of mass discovery stuff is really for civil suits - for exactly the reasons you describe (if the CPS is prosecuting it almost certainly has the evidence already and so has no need for more discovery).

2) This isn't mandatory. Discovery is requested, not enforced - if the CPS has what it needs then it simply won't ask for 3m+ documents. So I'm not really sure why you're worrying about it proving a "distraction".


Re: "until an acceptable level of accuracy is reached"

You don't really do "loss" in predictive coding (bloody stupid name). To use the needle-in-the-haystack analogy, PC isn't for pulling out the needles and only the needles, but rather for discarding as much hay as possible without losing a single needle. To use the standard classification terms, it treats having 100% recall as an absolute necessity, and then tries to bring precision up as a secondary consideration. Even if you only shed 20% of the documents you're saving hundreds of billable hours on a big case.

I'm not sure how you'd go about limiting discovery by quantity - what if there's only one email out of the 3m documents that's relevant? And if all 3m are relevant, that's great - pick some representative ones and use those. If they get challenged you have plenty of back-up material. The judge and jury don't need to read every single document.

We're four years away from digitising England's courts – report


Re: er...

Nope, for digital vellum you'll want this.


Oh wouldn't it be loverly

Speaking as someone who works in the legal sector, I would absolutely love it if this came to pass. I don't know a single lawyer, court reporter or judge who doesn't think that an administrative overhaul is massively overdue. If you don't work with the system you won't realise just how much paperwork there is; and considering the scale of the operation it's incredible that more records aren't just lost - other public sector institutions (NHS, I'm looking at you) are terrible by comparison (though of course they may be working under different stresses). It's going to be really, really hard to do, though, and a big part of the problem is the kind of institutional cynicism and apathy that sinks in when looking at really big problems.

If this is going to work, the two projects - the online court and the paperless court - must be separated. They are both incredibly ambitious and the failure of one should not damn the other.

The paperless court must also start off very small. Pick a single, minor court (small claims would be a great example if you weren't going to shove the entire thing online, but maybe you can use it anyway), talk to its admins, watch it closely, and automate as much of that as possible. If it works, pick another, similar court and do that as well. Build templates and slowly, slowly move it out into other courts; remember that premature optimization is the root of all evil. Once people see how much time it saves they'll come aboard. Do not, for the love of God, try and do the whole system at once. It cannot be done. Having small cells of paperless-ness will of course be less efficient than if the entire system were paperless, but that's just the price you pay for having a working solution.

Good thing this dev quit. I'd have fired him. Out of a cannon. Into the sun


Re: Ah, VB ... "variants"

While the variant type is indeed abominable, it is sometimes preferable to the cock-ups you can get when using the proper number types. Because VB/VBA creates types for you if they're not specified properly you can end up with exceptions just by multiplying five-digit numbers together.

(Of course, a competent coder wouldn't have that issue, but the entire problem is that we're not dealing with competent coders...).

Boffins' 5D laser-based storage tech could keep terabytes forever


Seriously long-term storage

Of course, you have to make sure that the procedures and software for reading the data last just as long as the data itself.

Shopping for PCs? This is what you'll be offered in 2016


Re: Grandfather's axe

Interesting one - I'd only ever heard that expressed as the Ship of Theseus, and thought that the "grandfather's axe" thing was from The Fifth Elephant, but I've just googled it and seen that it is a commonly-used variant. Nice little thing to learn at the start of the day.

Russian ATM-popping gang used nation state cybercrook tactics


Maybe that's what they meant by 'legitimate pen testing tools' - tools that have legitimate uses other than pen testing? I agree it was a bit of an oddly-phrased sentence.

Microsoft researchers smash homomorphic encryption speed barrier


The key is not stored

The entire purpose of this operation is that no access to the key is required.

The Reg article is a little unclear on this, but if you read the paper they provide an illuminating example on the first page:

Consider a hospital that would like to use a cloud service to predict the probability of readmission of a patient within the next 30 days, in order to improve the quality of care and to reduce costs. Due to ethical and legal requirements regarding the confidentiality of patient information, the hospital might be prohibited from using such a service. In this work we present a way by which the hospital can get this valuable service without sacrificing patient privacy. In the protocol we propose, the hospital encrypts the private information and sends it in encrypted form to the prediction provider, referred to as the cloud in our discussion below. The cloud is able to compute the prediction over the encrypted data records and sends back the results that the hospital can decrypt and read. The encryption scheme uses a public key for encryption and a secret key (private key) for decryption. It is important to note that the cloud does not have access to the secret key, so it cannot decrypt the data, nor can it decrypt the prediction. The only information it obtains during the process is that it did perform a p prediction on behalf of the hospital.

Drone-busting eagles to darken Blighty's skies?


Re: but, but, but

But, but, but, if the drone is flying over an airport or a prison or some other restricted space, no-one really cares about little Joey. It doesn't matter whose it is; it shouldn't be flying there.


Re: Security Theatre

Depends on the eagle. A big, strong golden eagle can carry almost 2kg, which, granted, doesn't cover all drones but does do quite a few of them. Plus the eagle doesn't necessarily have to carry it up and away, just bring it down. Which, given that a big eagle can weigh 10kg+, would simply involve closing its wings.

Re. injury to the eagle, it's worth noting that in Kazakhstan they use eagles to hunt wolves. If you're really worried about their talons getting hurt (remember that a bird of prey's talons are pretty damn tough), there's a simple solution: give them leg/talon guards.

Of course, this is all a bit speculative, given that the Dutch plod on whom all this is based are still doing trials.

The Mad Men's monster is losing the botnet fight: Fewer humans are seeing web ads


Re: Icelandic banks

Yeah, you're missing a bit there, I think. Leaving aside the fact that over 300,000 British savers lost their money when the Icelandic banks collapsed, the Icelandic government almost bankrupted itself compensating its citizens for their losses, and they had to take a $2bn loan from the IMF and another $2bn+ from their neighbours. Consequently, Iceland had incredibly strict austerity measures - second only to Greece - with most people taking a 50% pay cut due to the deliberate devaluation of the krona. This devaluation, in combination with inflation, actually caused household debt in Iceland to increase by around £1bn (hard to get exact figures). The £750m debt relief you mentioned is an attempt to compensate for this, though there are quite a few economist who don't think it really covers the difference. Not quite as rosy as you make it sound.

Oracle now fully compliant with UK tax laws*


Re: That article linked under shenanigans!

Presumably because March 25th - Lady Day - was the start of the New Year in the UK until 1752. Until then we (England) were still on the Julian calendar, and when we made the switch to Julian we also set the new New Year to 1st January. The reason the tax year starts on 6th April is because that's the equivalent Lady Day in the old calendar (that is, when we shifted calendars 25th March became 6th April; the Annunciation is still celebrated on 25th March though some people remember "Old Lady Day").

Leak – UN says Assange detention 'unlawful'


No legal force

It's worth noting that the UN report has absolutely no legal force whatsoever. From the perspective of the UK justice system, it's about as meaningful as a public statement to the same effect issued by the celebrities currently supporting Assange. It certainly doesn't relieve the UK of its duty to fulfil the terms of the European Arrest Warrant against Assange, and neither does it absolve him of skipping bail.

Oh, and the report is quite obviously bollocks. To quote the gov. spokesbod: "We have been consistently clear that Mr Assange has never been arbitrarily detained by the UK but is, in fact, voluntarily avoiding lawful arrest by choosing to remain in the Ecuadorean embassy," he added.

New AI chip from MIT gives Skynet a tenfold speed boost


Re: Anyone else find the concept a bit frightening ?

This is almost exactly the opposite of what you're describing. Currently, the "scary" bit of Cortana/Siri/GNow (from a privacy perspective, not a RotM one) is the web-connectivity. Sadly, this connectivity is currently required for many of their functions, because their speech recognition/image recognition etc. is actually done on the massive servers of $US_TECH_FIRM using the raw data from your phone (mic recordings, etc.) as input. These chips could allow all that processing to be done on the phone instead of on the server, thus reducing the need to send all your data back to home. From the article:

"You might also want to process locally for privacy reasons. Processing it on your phone also avoids any transmission latency, so that you can react much faster for certain applications."


Re: what is deep learning?

Yes, it is sort of like a human brain - simplified in some ways and made more complex in others, obviously. The "deep" bit of "deep learning" normally refers to the fact that you have multiple layers of neurons between input and output. As you increase the number of layers you increase the potential performance of the network, but you also massively increase the difficulty of tuning the network to get that performance. In many networks you also lots of feedback loops of varying degrees of sophistication, as well as lots of different types of neuron and connections and so on.

We don't yet have a full understanding of really complex neural networks, and there's no real consensus on the "best" or "right" way of designing them. We have a lot of techniques that work fairly well, but we don't know whether they're the best way or how to prove whether they are or not. The maths and scientific understanding is quite a long way behind the empirical engineering (for now) and much of the design is trial, error, instinct and proprietary "black box" stuff (which is almost certainly 1% real progress to 99% "we did this and it worked but we don't know why so we'll keep quiet about it").

Custom hardware is therefore important for researchers because, in the absence of a really sturdy mathematical base on which to build, progress is mostly made by trial and error, and faster chips like this allow more rapid iteration. If you're really curious about this stuff there's an excellent primer over at http://neuralnetworksanddeeplearning.com/.

UK govt right to outsource everything 15 years ago – civil service boss


Manzoni and Heywood, Act II, Scene II

See, how they feed their friends with our lost cash!

O, that I were a consultant on that team,

That I might taste that trough!

Sorry slacktivists: The Man is shredding your robo responses


This is pretty standard

I used to work in editorial at LexisNexis and would read the official responses to these kinds of consultations on an almost daily basis. It's usual for >90% of the public responses to be dismissed because they were auto-sent via an organization such as 38Degrees, though there's often a further explanation along the lines of "the reply did not properly address the terms of the consultation". To be fair, that's often true - the kind of ranty, feel-good letters sent by such groups (Avaaz is another one that cropped up a lot) tend to be heavy on rhetoric and light on the specific details requested by the consultation. As a measure of public sentiment it might mean something, but that's not normally what's being asked for.

Of course, this is all rather pointless anyway because the only reason that 95% of consultations are carried out in the first place is to provide some protection against judicial review of whatever decision is ultimately made - it doesn't matter whether the consultation was effective, or the results even looked at - that it took place is what's important to the law. Sir Humphrey would be very proud, I'm sure.

Sadly, I think this is probably one of the 5% of consultations that is being carried out with (some) genuine aims. Whittingdale has been very open about the fact that he doesn't yet know what to do about the BBC, and I've not heard anything from the Civil Service that indicates that any kind of decision has been made. Intelligent opinions may well have made an impact had they not been drowned in internet-assembled slurry (of course, they would have drowned in Civil Service molasses had they been listened to anyway, but this is about consultations and not the ineptitude of our tax-funded seat-warmers).

Pay up, Lincolnshire, or your data gets it. Systems still down after ransomware hits


Shutting down

Yeah, while it's probably not the "right" or even a good thing to do, I admit that if I were in their position I would be been very tempted just to hit the main fuse box as soon as I knew what was going on, and then disconnect everything from everything else before turning it back on again. You just know that they haven't done proper backups...

Continuous Lifecycle: Bursting with DevOps and CD goodness


"Thought leader"?

Being used in what appears to be a non-ironic fashion? By El Reg?

I knew you guys were trying to be more "corporate", but I didn't realize that you'd been bought out by Steve Bong.

UK govt: No, really, we're not banning cryptography


"Such a safe space was inevitable because of cryptography, argued Kennard"

I seem to recall another section of the IPB providing legal authorization for the long-standing practice of hacking people's devices. As has been mentioned here before, you don't need to ban encryption to read encrypted messages.