* Posts by ButlerInstitute

81 publicly visible posts • joined 16 Oct 2014


RIP: Software design pioneer and Pascal creator Niklaus Wirth


Re: Pascal wasn't just for purists, despite the implementations

A very large amount of the work I did in the job I had from 85 to 2001 was written in Pascal. This was Oregon Pascal 2 which had a number of useful extensions to standard Pascal to allow the bit twiddling and turning off bits of checking, and getting addresses of arbitrary variables, and separate compilation, and default ( I think called "otherwise" ) in case statements.

The provided linker was a bit rubbish so we'd written our own (that was before my time so I never used the old one).

Human knocks down woman in hit-and-run. Then driverless Cruise car parks on top of her


Re: Interesting that the police

My understanding is something like that in the case of crush injuries there are "poisons" produced within the body. These may be kept approximately in place by the crushing object. Of the object is moved the "poisons" may move around the body, greatly increasing the chance of kidney or liver failure as they are exposed to the poisons.

At one time there was a time limit recommended for this. If you could do so within a certain time it would be OK to remove the object, but after a time the risk became too great. I think the recomendation now is just not to remove the object at any time.

This is based on someone explaining this to me quite a few years ago, so I'm not sure if I'm remembering right. Nor do I know a better word for the "poisons" I mention.

Techie wasn't being paid, until he taught HR a lesson


Re: Unique keys

I think on at least one occasion they didn't.

That's from one of those Top of the Pope - Story of <year> programmes.

They had to be silent for that work as the producers thought it was rude, but couldn't be quite sure.

PC tech turns doctor to diagnose PC's constant crashes as a case of arthritis


Re: South don't work in the North

In the 80s and 90s I used to work at Quantel, who made videographics gear. For devices for the printing industry we had much higher resolution monitors (Sony HDVS series). Although nowadays everyone's home TVs and computers can do that kind of resolution, back then it needed to be massive, very heavy, CRT devices. One of the controls on the device's calibration panel was a 16 way rotary switch labelled with the 16 primary compass points. The device was sufficiently sensitive to the earth's magnetic field that it needed to be told in which direction it was aligned.

This can’t be a real bomb threat: You've called a modem, not a phone


Re: Work bomb scare

For a few years I worked at BBC TV Centre in London, a location that had had a bomb go off outside (4th March 2001).

The process for bomb threats/scares was different from fires. For fires you'd go outside to the appropriate meeting location. For bombs the building had areas designated as Internal Shelter Areas. These were areas inside the building, away from windows. Exactly to avoid the issue of people going out and into a location of greater danger should there be a blast. The only time I remember needing to use this for real was due to an unexploded WW2 bomb unearthed during the Westfield development across the road. (though on that occasion a colleague was on his way out and heard what was just about to happen, so phoned through suggesting we all got packed up quickly and went home to save being stuck outside the office just when we would have wanted to go home)

Rest in peace, Queen Elizabeth II – Britain's first high-tech monarch


Re: Faster than light communication

I think Sir PTerry's take on the subject was to communicate by torturing a small king.

That should get you more than one bit of information transferred.....

Though maybe not if it is only the actual death that has the effect.

Developer creates ‘Quite OK Image Format’ – but it performs better than just OK


Re: 8-bit

What we at Quantel found most difficult to compress was neither all-real nor all-CGI images but images that combined the two. Since we were mainly working uncompressed we could show off the different artefacts from different levels of compression and compare with uncompressed. Competitors tended to be all compressed but allowing different levels of compression.


Re: 8-bit

> think of a blue sky shading to the horizon

I notice it most often in images of a very dark sky (black rather than blue). This especially happens when there is a fade-in from black, where any sky starts off black.

At Quantel we had something called Dynamic Rounding, which added some random jitter to make this sort of effect much less noticeable.

One of the features in Paintbox Graphics was generating graduated rectangles, either horizontal or vertical graduation. By selecting a pair of colours that were fairly similar it was very easy to generate images that showed this artefact.

Foreign Office IT chaos: Shocking testimony reveals poor tech support hindered Afghan evac attempts


Re: "fewer than 5 per cent of these people have received any assistance"

> quicker than expected by anyone

At a recent talk I attended, given my some of the military who were on the ground doing this job, they said that everyone on the ground had known that they would fall quickly. It was only away from the area (ie in London) that it wasn't "known".

Leaked footage shows British F-35B falling off HMS Queen Elizabeth and pilot's death-defying ejection


Re: Spokesbeing

I don't think it's original. I think it's from Douglas Adams.

Maker of ATM bombing tutorials blew himself up – Euro cops


Re: Dereck Lowe on FOOF:

A friend who works in the industry (university lecturer - industrial chemist) recommended

Ignition! An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants, by John D. Clark

Don't touch that dial – the new guy just closed the application that no one is meant to close


Re: Critcal system

This story is about broadcasting not IT. Please bear in mind that a lot of the kit is quite specialized, hence not common, and often quite old. It may not present a remote log-in service so a KVM is the only option.


Re: As a young broadcast engineer, unschooled in IT at the time

Not just controlling shutdowns; I've been asked to take away a "restart everything on the network" button even though it did have "are you sure?" "are you really sure?" buttons (*).

A tired broadcast engineer in the middle of the night can very easily hit "restart all" "yes" "yes" without thinking and when he really just meant "restart this" "yes" "yes".


It took about 20 minutes to restart all during which time you had no control of anything on the network (**).


Unless you were a properly trained broadcast engineer and knew that actually you could connect individually to each of the separate bit of kit, using the manufacturers own diagnostics (a web page (all different) or a particular manufacturer's own control application) and take complete manual control of everything one at a time. Networked control systems exist to avoid needing to go in at that level.


Re: As a young broadcast engineer, unschooled in IT at the time

I work on an alarm system for broadcasters and all the kit nowadays has black/freeze/silence detection, and when one of those happens for long enough it will trigger an alarm which will make a noise in the control room.

(it doesn't need AI)

Small broadcasters often don't have an alarm system, even now.

Some broadcasters (public service) will get fined for broadcasting black.

Commercial broadcasters won't get paid for advertising if the advert doesn't go out as agreed.

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


Re: At least two ways of dealing with problems

A friend used to say the definition of "interference fit" was that you interfere with it until it fits.....

Which doesn't quite fit this usage.

Ex-DJI veep: There was no drone at Gatwick during 2018's hysterical shutdown


Re: Stealth cloak, anybody?

See "I can't find my camouflage net" - by Les Barker.

Western Approaches Museum: WRENs, wargames, and victory in the Atlantic


Re: Seems a security risk

> The British were fortunate that there weren't any German spies

Not so much luck but that the British had all the German spies under their control.

Either there was a mole high up in German Intelligence, or Bletchley Park etc tipped them off to trap them when they landed, or find them if they were native, either way then taking control of them.

Ouch! When the IT equipment is sound, but the setup is hole-y inappropriate


Re: She was trying to open the hinges.

I heard it was Steve Jobs.

Ie someone within Apple showed him that it might be done like that and he said go for it, and so it seems to have been ever since.


Re: She was trying to open the hinges.

Used to be some desktops that had the logo rotatable so you could have the main box upright on the floor (or desk) or on its side on the desk (maybe under the monitor) and either way could have the badge set to be the right way up.

Monitoring is simple enough – green means everything's fine. But getting to that point can be a whole other ball game


Rocket science is easy - it's the rocket engineering that's the difficult bit.....


Re: Green means everything's fine

Like I said, they are in a stylesheet so they can be changed. So it's ultimately the users' choice.

It may be black text on red for alarms, so I would presume there you could tell the difference between black and white text.

And the users are in a position where they can avoid having anyone without normal colour perception in positions where it is relevant.


Other states in alarms and monitoring

As well as "it's ok right now" and "it's reporting a fault right now" we have :

"it reported a fault recently but it's OK right now - you need to acknowledge that"

"the device's reporting is noisy so we don't treat it as a real fault unless it reports for more than a certain time" (and other time processing)

"Yes it's a real fault, but we've booked an engineer for tomorrow morning so we want to ignore it until after that time"

This is for broadcasting, so some faults are "it's gone black live on air, so do something NOW"


Most broadcasters don't have "C-level" people in control rooms.

Anyone seeing an alarm should understand its implications. Or there will be someone else on duty to refer to,


We have a masking system where the output of one alarm can mask another to appear off.

That's used for this case where the data points to the left will mask those to the right so they don't generate alarms,


Re: Green means everything's fine

Our alarms and monitoring system (for broadcasters) sets the colours of indicators based on a stylesheet. (Alarms are shown on screen, written to database, optionally sounders in control rooms - always as defined by local admins)

Usually Alarm is red with white text, Ok is green / white.We also have Acknowledged(orange / black), Latched(khaki / white), Ignored(grey / black), Forced On(yellow / red), Forced Off(yellow / green).

But as a stylesheet they can be changed. Also, there's usually text "alarm" or "ok".

I think broadcasting is (or was until quite recently) an industry where operators could be required not to be "colour-blind". It's hard to have someone in a control room who can't look at outputs and be sure they are correct (correct image and colour).

There are different noises depending on assigned severity. Some things need action immediately (the output's gone black, or silent, or the video has frozen) so have noises giving appropriate sense of urgency.

IBM pulls up the ladder behind some supercomputer customers


Louisville Ladders link seems broken. Lots of "Object not found" messages.

Fancy trying to explain Microsoft Teams to your parents? They may ask about the new Personal version


Skype is Teams? (if I remember rightly)

My understanding, and I can't remember where I read it, is that Skype and Teams use the same underlying libraries.

Which is why you can't have both installed at the same time.

That might be specifically SfB, rather than domestic Skype.

When software depends on a project thanklessly maintained by a random guy in Nebraska, is open source sustainable?



We, a small software dev group (a tiny part of a big company) write software that is vital to at least one much larger company's operations.

On at least one occasion we have been requited for a project to put our source code in escrow. So that if we disappear the big customer will at least get the source so they can continue to (try to) maintain it for their own needs.

So closed source does have ways where a customer, if large, can take steps to ensure its continuity.

The Wight stuff: Marconi and the island, when working remotely on wireless comms meant something very different



Fastest, and probably least comfortable, route to the IoW is the hovercraft from Southsea to Ryde.

Takes about ten minutes. Then ride the ex-London Underground train from Ryde pierhead to the mainland (ie the island).

Foot passenger only, so you'll need the bus to get much further.

Ministry of Defence tells contractors not to answer certain UK census questions over security fears


Re: Important census-related questions for the commentariat

I did most of it on Saturday. No problems or delays. Submitted it on Sunday with again no problems.

I have in the last year or so also done Inheritance Tax and Probate online - both of which were quite straightforward - as much as I thought they could be for potentially complex issues. (There was one problem where an invisible value might have been persisted after another value was changed)

Given how bad some web-sites can be I was pleasantly surprised how straightforward these gov.uk sites were. Presumably gov.uk have decent budgets for this sort of work.....

I'm not sure what people have been looking at to find the "usual crowd" badly implemented but these all seemed quite reasonable.

Splunk junks 'hanging' processes, suggests you don't 'hit' a key: More peaceful words now preferred in docs


Re: Master and slave

Those are probably the best options I've seen in the entire discussion!

I have some software I wrote that sometimes used the terms Master and Slave, and sometimes used Stimulus and Monitor (it's for testing). Unfortunate side-effect was that M and S have opposite meanings in those two pairs so I could never abbreviate anything.

You want me to do WHAT in that prepaid envelope?


Re: Happy with a mouse..

I'm surprised even a mouse works for you for drawing.

I'd always use tablet and pen for that. I discovered those years ago when I worked at Quantel, and found that a mouse is rubbish for the kind of absolute positioning we needed, and tablet (aka bitpad) was great, just like drawing on paper etc.

Forgot Valentine's Day? Never mind, today marks 75 years of the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer


Re: 100k parts from the 1940s

I think he had another trick which was to run things at lower power than the normal spec.

ie heater at lower temperature, possibly some of the very high voltages lower than normal.

UK dev loses ownership claim on forensic software he said he wrote in spare time and licensed to employer


Gardens/Plant Collecting - Journal article

Not just in software, or obvious creation of IP like photography.

My wife worked for a while at - well I suppose I shouldn't name it but it's obvious where I mean - a world-renowned garden in West London. One of the staff there had, prior to working there, been on a plant collecting trip to China (probably, that seems to be where most plants of interest come from [*]) and written an article, and submitted it to a learned journal for publication (all before this current employment). However, because it was actually published while he was working at *** Gardens, they had to get the rights to the article. That's the way the contract was. He was quite junior; it may well be that someone more senior might have had more ability to keep the rights.

I have heard that in academia - undergrads keep their own rights, and they are not taught about IPR, and post-graduates have to sign the rights to the institution and they *are* taught about IPR.

[*] The other place would be Madagascar.

Dept of If I'd Known 20 Years Ago: Call centres, roosting chickens, and Bitcoin


"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers" - T J Watson (attributed) was right!

I think the ultimate historical statement that's been poo-pooed for many years, but turns out to be about right, is T J Watson's alleged comment that "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers".

In the long run this has turned out to be right (approximately). They are:

Google Cloud


Microsoft Azure

and probably very few others (eg IBM, Alibaba, DigitalOcean)

The number may be slightly out, within a couple of orders of magnitude maybe, but the principle is that there are very small number doing most of the world's computing)

You can't spell 'electronics' without 'elect': The time for online democracy has come


Re: The problem isn't the ID requirement per se

"church where your birth was registered"

Do you mean the USA doesn't have national (or state) registration? (ie that you have to rely on a church/hospital/town council keeping records)

The UK has had that since 1836 (actually that's England & Wales, Scotland and Ireland were a couple of decades later). A "birth certificate" in the UK is a certified copy of an entry in the register. There is nothing special, I don't think, about the original one from the time, ie the one with the actual ink from the registrar/priest/doctor. I know people like to have that one, but I don't think it is special.

Excel Hell: It's not just blame for pandemic pandemonium being spread between the sheets


Re: Disappointing

While we're at it, we can blame austerity on another Excel failure....

(Probably in the article already mentioned. I heard it from Hannah Fry on Lauren Laverne's R6 programme on Tuesday).

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.