* Posts by ButlerInstitute

44 posts • joined 16 Oct 2014

This'll make you feel old: Uni compsci favourite Pascal hits the big five-oh this year


80s right through 90s

I was taught Pascal at uni (Southampton) then found myself at my first job programming in Pascal for the next 15 or so years for the Quantel Paintbox family.

It was embedded, so we made our own hardware, so cross-platform wasn't an issue. We used the Oregon Pascal-2 compiler, running on DEC Vax and outputting for 68000 family. That compiler had the best of both worlds - Pascal levels of type checking, but a selection of features useful for real systems (eg separate compilation, the ability to turn off bits of checking as required, and the ability to use pointers to fixed addresses to allow us to write to our hardware's registers).

We wrote our own real-time OS for it. We had the spec for how to get Pascal to call assembler or vice versa.

Down-sides? Lack of IDE or debugger - development done with text editor (initially Dec EDT, later VaxTPU with our own extensions), debugging done by writes to console (or with a logic analyzer if you're dealing direct with hardware). Sometime mid-90s we started being able to edit using PCs and send to the Vax to batch compile.

At the time (early 80s) when this direction was chosen I think C was too new and didn't give you the help Pascal type-checking did. Don't let anyone tell you the compiler should do whatever the programmer asks because quite often the programmer is wrong on some details so a bit of help from the compiler is very helpful. And when you found you did need to defeat some checking you could do.

We had the source for one version of the compiler, Oregon having disappeared without trace, and made the occasional mod to it. Eventually the rest of the world caught up and we moved to C++, though there were attempts at other ways forward, such as trying to compile the Oregon Pascal compiler with Vax Pascal, or gpc, or with trying to combine the concepts of cross-gcc with gpc to get a cross-gpc.

Grab a towel and pour yourself a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster because The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is 42


Post-DNA radio versions

I find the post-DNA radio versions all a bit flat in comparison. DNA managed to instil a curious type of almost-science, and relentless logic, into it that sort of made sense, as well as being funny. The newer ones seem to be more focused on inventing characters whose names are generated in a way reminiscent of the originals. There's nothing like the SEP field, or Bistromathics, in the recent ones.


Studio Audience

It's interesting the note in the article about not being able to make it with a studio audience.

At the previous anniversary - not sure whether it was 2 or 7 years ago - there was a broadcast of a version of it done before a studio audience. It was surprisingly indifferent. Not sure whether that was because of a lack of properly mixed-in effects, or just the players' need to wait for the audience laughter to subside.

Either way it emphasised how essential the lack of studio audience was to the quality of the original.

Greatest threat facing IT? Not the latest tech giant cockwomblery – it's just tired engineers


Re: Estimating Software Projects

A colleague in a former job told of a Project Manager he'd had at a previous job who would take all estimates from developers and multiply by pi. Which apparently got reasonable results.

When the developers discovered this they would do the pi multiplication themselves. Then the PM would multiply by pi again, and again got the reasonable results.

Ex-Mozilla CTO: US border cops demanded I unlock my phone, laptop at SF airport – and I'm an American citizen


Re: They don't even know how

It's called a guillotine.

Also, there are two kinds of hanging. One, without a "drop" causes death by asphyxiation, as noted above. I think it is still used in some parts of the world - often in public as a deterrent....

The other, the one with a "drop", causes death by breaking the neck. It was used in the UK until the death penalty ceased to be used in the mid-1960s. Yes it could go wrong but my understanding is that the length of the drop would be selected according to the weight of the criminal to cause a very quick death by breaking the neck without either ripping the head off or not being an abrupt enough stop and causing asphyxiation. A particular problem if the prisoner had attempted suicide by cutting his throat.

What made a super high-tech home in Victorian England? Hydroelectric witchery, for starters


The Armstrong Disappearing Gun

For anyone on the other side of the world there is another of Armstrong's products near Dunedin in New Zealand. In response to an 1886 scare about an invasion by the Russians they installed a "disappearing gun" at Taiaroa Head, at the end of the Otago Peninsula (there are a few others that are since lost). It is held just underground with a set of gas springs that will push it up in order to fire. The recoil will then push it back into its hidden position.

One for the Geek's Guide to New Zealand, maybe....

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disappearing_gun.

This is the one I've visited. I note from the wikipedia article that there are others in various locations, some in working order - the one at Taiaroa Head isn't.

Return of the audio format wars and other money-making scams


Re: Holding my breath turning blue

I used to work for Quantel, developing video editing/post-production gear. Back in the mid-90s we used video disks as our source of test video, piped around the R&D lab. It meant getting to see half a movie in a random order for several weeks and then someone getting fed up with it and turning it over so then seeing the other half for a few more weeks. Every so often someone would get even more fed up and change the disk. I have yet to see all of Back To The Future in the correct order.....

(or Outland, though that tends to be rather dark (ie in the sense of lack of lighting, rather than subject matter). Those were the two that were on most often; there were a couple of others - I've a vague recollection of Bo Derek in Tarzan).

Leeds hospital launches campaign to 'axe the fax'


4. Walk to scanner/copier.

Use your Id card to log-in to it.

Put physical documents in scanner and hit Scan button.

Take physical documents off scanner.

Go back to your desk and find that the scans have been emailed to you.

No network drives involved. Scans have come straight to you (could have been encrypted if so configured). Activity may have been recorded in a log somewhere.

London's Gatwick Airport flies back to the future as screens fail


That wouldn't really be redundancy.

"Pulling a multi-pair cable"

But then you've got two cores in a single cable, thus failing to provide any resilience when a digger goes through the cable. Ok for a fault with the cable/core itself maybe, but not for a physical break.

Your alternative core needs to come into the site via a different route, So wouldn't be cut by the same digger. See for example major BBC facilities where there are redundant power and signal cables coming in from opposite sides of the site.

Good news: It's still legal for Apple to keep its MacBook, iPhone batteries from melting


Have Patent Offices ever needed to see implementations?

I don't think patent offices have ever tried to see inventions in action, except for perpetual motion machines. Think of those inventions like the one to let trains cross on a single track?

Fixing a printer ended with a dozen fire engines in the car park


Re: Had the fire brigade called to a five star hotel, in Malta....

Sound to me like Southampton - South Stoneham.

I was at Montefiore, just across the road. Though I was there in the mid-80s.

Last time I visited, South Stoneham was cordoned off and looking very empty, so I assume it's since been demolished.

Prof Stephen Hawking's ashes will be interred alongside Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin


Re: why the honour?

You can't prove a theory, this is not maths.

Only improve the evidence, or the details of the theory.


No, science is not proven.

Mathematics can prove things, but not science.

Science is only ever theories, the process being as someone else outlined above - hypothesis, experiment etc.

But nor is it believed - same reason.

Fancy a viaduct? We have a wrought Victorian iron marvel to sell you


Re: Just up the road...

And noting that dual-use, sharing a bridge between road and rail, does exist. I saw one in New Zealand. I think the one I saw was Taramakau Road-Rail Bridge.


Oi, drag this creaking, 217-year-old UK census into the data-driven age


IL6 ?

"IL6 / Interleukin-6 Protein"

That's from searching for "IL6 storage". Nothing in the first few pages of results that looks like it might be relevant to this issue.

Crunch time: Maplin in talks to sell the business


Re: Hi Di Hi, campers.

Maplin was electronic supplies quite a while before it was a fictional fading holiday camp.

Hi-de-Hi! was a BBC television sitcom shown on BBC1 from 1 January 1980 to 30 January 1988.

Maplin Electronic Supplies was established in 1972.

(source: wikipedia).

Are you taking the peacock? United Airlines deny flight to 'emotional support' bird


Re: You don't need to fly

All you need to be in EBU/Eurovision is to be a public service broadcaster, from the European Broadcasting Area (defined by ITU) or be a member of the Council of Europe.

Associate membership is available worldwide.

£60m, five years late... Tag criminal tagging as a 'catastrophic waste' of taxpayers' cash


Re: I Object

I think I've seen the term "Lessons Unlearned" for this sort of situation.....

Remember those holy tech wars we used to have? Heh, good times


Re: Sarcasm...

A lot of people seem to think that "erstwhile" means "distinguished" (or something similar implying respect or quality) - it actually means "former", hence the correct use here.

1980s sci-fi movies: The thrill of being not quite terrified on mum's floral sofa



21st Century Doctor Who gets to use modern SFX, but doesn't have the budget to go overboard on it. Gives quite a good balance (IMHO) without giving the viewer time to dwell on them and spot the joins.


Re: Say what?

"Elstree Studios and Shepperton Studios, not Pinewood, both of which are just on the edges of London."

All three are on the edge of London. Elstree and Shepperton are inside the M25, Pinewood is just outside.

New MH370 analysis again suggests plane came down outside search area


"assuming that the flight data recorder and voice recorders are both solid state"

I thought they specifically weren't. They used to be wire recorders, so they would by indestructible (ish), even after fire or immersion.


Re: It will be found

It will be found In the last place they look

Of course.

They aren't going to carry on looking after they find it, are they?

Brits must now register virtually all new drones and undergo safety tests


Re: Chicken gun

By Roald Dahl.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamb_to_the_Slaughter

As someone else has noted, this was shown as an episode of of Tales of the Unexpected (1979). And I see from the article that there was an "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" version too.

Smart bombs, smart bullets – now guided smart artillery shells, thanks to DARPA dosh


Re: The USA way of doing things

In the middle of a clearly-written explanation of some history of which I (for one) am not familiar with, you refer to : "clue-less homicidal vicar offspring"

Please could you please avoid such a jarring break from clarity and say who you actually mean?

Hackers could turn your smart meter into a bomb and blow your family to smithereens – new claim


Re: "Smart meters are 'dangerously insecure'"

None of my houses was Victorian, and all had/have indoor meters. First flat was Edwardian. Next house was 1960s. Current house is 1930s.


Hope it goes well for them ....

My understanding is that in normal circumstances Dinorweg sinks 1.0 power stations worth of power by pumping continuously. If one power station is lost from the grid Dinorweg stops pumping, leaving the total generation capacity of the Grid the same. If a second station is lost Dinorweg starts generating while they get around to running up another.

Of course if more than two were lost simultaneously ....

Australian Information Industries Association*: you're not the future of democracy, so please shut up


UK voting is not strictly anonymous. There are serial numbers that allow the ballot paper to be linked to a voter. This isn't allowed to be done without due process, though.


Re: I refuse electronic voting on principle

What's a "late postal vote" ?

In the UK postal votes need to be in a few days before the actual polling day.

Does Australia do it differently ? Surely if votes may be received after polling day you can get a particularly weird form of tactical voting (ie due to being sent on or after polling day, able to respond to partial results or reporting or research).

Cash-strapped English and Welsh cops prepare to centralise all 43 forces' websites


Re: The heart sinks ...

Talking recently to a friend that works at the DWP, and formerly at the Treasury. He says that they all suffer from a few particular issues which are probably unsurmountable.

One is that they can't pay as much as the private sector. They can pay quite well but any really good Project Manager will always be able to get more in the private sector. Really high salaries will be queried (and possibly vetoed) by ministers.

Another is that the rules are complicated, and hence the scope is hard to fix. And always more complicated than they seem at the beginning. He was telling me some he's dealing with at the moment and they can seem very strange, though entirely necessary once they are explained. And it is *never* possible to get everything worked out at the beginning. So even at the start when a project hasn't been started it is guaranteed not to get the scope right. And that's before ministers start changing the scope for policy reasons, without consulting those who will need to do the implementation.

Belgian brewery lays 3.2km beer pipeline


Re: Have the Simpsons done that?

Likewise the Brewer on the Bridge in Sheffield, next to Whitbread's brewery.

A while ago though. The brewery is no longer there. And the pub was probably not called that for long (possibly formerly the Lady's Bridge Inn), if it's even still there.

And if anyone's thinking Whitbread don't count as proper beer, if my memory serves the beer in question was Gold Label (barley wine), at one time the strongest regularly brewed beer in the UK, at nearly 11%.

The BBC flashes £560m ICT deal at hungry tech suppliers


Management of big projects vs. Interesting R&D.

Thing is .....

The BBC can still do amazing R&D projects, but the management processes involved in R&D projects are quite different (not least in scale) from big IT and Infrastructure stuff. What works for interesting, small-team, leading edge, R&D projects doesn't work very well for big IT projects.

That's where the BBC finds things difficult.

Of course that seems to be true of most large (ie. government) IT projects as well.

IT salary not enough? Want to make £10,000 a DAY?


Re: Dilemma

"Bruce Schneier's book"

Which book ?

He's written several.

How long does it take an NHS doctor to turn on a computer?


Re: A car key fob most certainly has a battery in it.

Or not.

Mine does contain a battery (a 2032).

It's just not obvious and a bit tricky to get at it

(I have replaced it once - if I'd known it was a 2032 before I bought the replacement I'd not have gone to the VW parts dept for it ......)

The BBC's Space: A short history of 21st Century indoor relief


BBC's explanation



Were the FIRST AMERICANS really FIRST? MYSTERY of vanished 'Population Y'


Re: Well Duh!

Just because they didn't have compasses doesn't mean they didn't know where they were going, or where they were.

See "We, the Navigators: The Ancient Art of Landfinding in the Pacific" by David Lewis.

For example:

Use of "star compass".

recognizing information from clouds, currents, seabirds regarding out-of-sight land.

(Re)touching on a quarter-century of Adobe Photoshop


Quantel PrintBox

By the late 80s there were a few instances around of the Quantel PrintBox. Ie a variant of PaintBox capable of working at print resolutions.

Presumably that's what was used for this.


Re: Let's not foget the Quantel Photobox - actually I have - and Pascal

I too worked for Quantel, from the mid 80s to the early 00s.

I've never heard of PhotoBox .....

Oh, and all Quantel's kit throughout that era was programmed in Pascal (with a little bit of 68000 assembler).

Unfortunately Quantel's attempt to sue Adobe for patent infringement failed.

Opera Jon weaves a brand new browser


I meant Tab Stacking - I know tabs are there but I have so many open I need to stack them.

One of my colleagues says "how many tabs ....... ?" whenever he sees my screen.

Re: Opera 12:

This is taking so long to respond when I type I'm on the verge of giving up. (I have now given up and I'm doing this in IE)

And that's when it doesn't jump the cursor to a random place in the edit-box. Or just not respond to trying to position the cursor with the mouse. Or the cursor just drifts around the edit-box selecting stuff....


Now off to try Vivaldi ...


I meant Tab Stacking - I know tabs are there but I have so many open I need to stack them.

One of my colleagues says "how many tabs ....... ?" whenever he sees my screen.

Re: Opera 12:

This is taking so long to respond when I type I'm on the verge of givi r-box. Or just not respond to trying to position the cursor with the mouse. Or


Also still on Opera 12. Not inclined to update unless/until new one supports tabs, which it didn't last time I looked...

PS. Is is just me or is the new Register site really rubbish on Opera 12 ?

Pity the poor Windows developer: The tools for desktop development are in disarray


Assuming an application is an application .....

"developers should look at web, mobile and cross-platform "

That rather depends on what you're developing. Not everything is an office application, or a domestic one. We do multi-PC networked control systems. They can't be web (though they are networked). They don't make much sense mobile. In many ways they are more like hardware than software.

But we do include desktop applications, with GUIs. At the moment they may be Qt, or WIN32.

Firefox decade: Microsoft's IE humbled by a dogged upstart. Native next?


Re: Curious

On the desktop I'm still using Opera - version 12.17.....

(Ie the last one pre-WebKit).

Facebook, Apple: LADIES! Why not FREEZE your EGGS? It's on the company!


Don't do it !

Don't do it ....

If only freezing were guaranteed to work.

And IVF is only at about 20%. (and that doesn't mean "do it five times and it'll work")

And ladies, egg donation is *not* as straightforward an activity as sperm donation for us gentlemen - you really, really won't enjoy it....

And then in x years time - "now I'd like to conceive I find I can't, and the eggs that the company paid for me to have extracted and frozen (and have paid for the storage of) turn out not to be viable - how much can I sue for ?"


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