* Posts by Paul Kinsler

709 posts • joined 9 Aug 2007


Geneticists throw hands in the air, change gene naming rules to finally stop Microsoft Excel eating crucial data

Paul Kinsler

complete failure

It doesn't have to be /complete/ failure. Just one person in the handling chain has to forget once, and the mangling is done.

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe – because we used astrometry: A Saturn-like world hugging its star

Paul Kinsler

Re: ...

One of the things that surprised me most was how suprised I was on seeing the New Horizon pictures of Pluto. Somehow, I seem to have subconciously expected to never see any proper pictures, despite following the lead-up news from the mission with interest. I think it was supposed to stay as it was, with the best view only ever being the Hubble's blurry dot image. :-)

'We stopped ransomware' boasts Blackbaud CEO. And by 'stopped' he means 'got insurance to pay off crooks'

Paul Kinsler

Re: No consent for data sharing in the first place

If you want the University to be able to confirm you actually attended there, and what the result was, they are going to need to store some basic data which identifies you and distinguishes you from other David M's who might also have been there. The problem here is that that data wasn't secured properly, not that they stored it.

It would -- I assume -- be more than a little annoying to find that your alma mater said "Nope, got no record of that dude whatsoever" when an employer was doing a few basic CV checks [1], just because the university had over-enthusiastically tried to minimise its store of personal info.

[1] Or, for that matter, refused to replace your gone-missing/eaten-by-dog degree certificate for the same reason :-)

Voyager 1 cracks yet another barrier: Now 150 Astronomical Units from Sol

Paul Kinsler

Re: Relics of the Space Age

On the subject of which:

Lessons learned from (and since) the Voyager 2 flybys of Uranus and Neptune

Heidi B. Hammel

More than 30 years have passed since the Voyager 2 fly-bys of Uranus and Neptune. I discuss a range of lessons learned from Voyager, broadly grouped into process, planning, and people. In terms of process, we must be open to new concepts: reliance on existing instrument technologies, propulsion systems, and operational modes is inherently limiting. I cite examples during recent decades that could open new vistas in exploration of the deep outer Solar System. Planning is crucial: mission gaps that last over three decades leave much scope for evolution both in mission development and ...


Sci Fi recomendations?

Paul Kinsler

Find a good anthology

I usually buy one of the annual "Year's Best SF" anthologies; ion the past mostly (invariably) the Dozois one but sadly that's no longer an option. You get a good mix of authors (albeit not necessarily always to one's taste) and this can give you a good idea as to what else you might want to search out.

Class move, Java. Coding language slips to third place behind Python in latest popularity contest

Paul Kinsler

Re: But a programming language?

I.e. ... ... is CSS Turing complete?

With intelligent life in scant supply on Earth, boffins search for technosignatures of civilizations in the galaxy

Paul Kinsler

Re: meanwhile, in the present

Unlikely anyone's still reading this thread now, but this has a nice recent summary --

"Monte Carlo estimation of the probability of causal contacts between communicating civilisations"

Marcelo Lares, José Funes, Luciana Gramajo

In this work we address the problem of estimating the probabilities of causal contacts between civilisations in the Galaxy. We make no assumptions regarding the origin and evolution of intelligent life. We simply assume a network of causally connected nodes. These nodes ...


Paul Kinsler

Re: Edge case

IMO the Drake equation, whilst a useful list of things to consider, was never really an equation in any useful sense. And in the absence of known values for parameters, you have to take a different approach; e.g.

" The Great Silence - the Controversy Concerning Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life",

G. D. Brin,

Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 24, 283-309 (1983)

(you should be able to find a pdf online if you search)

We've paused Sigfox roof aerial payments, says WND-UK, but we'll make you whole after COVID

Paul Kinsler

Re: There are no yagis directly involved.

.. as in (presumably) "we attach our Sigfox antenna to the pole holding up the house's existing Yagi one"

If the Solar System's 'Planet Nine' is actually a small black hole, here's how we could detect it... wait, what?

Paul Kinsler

Re: The thing about a black hole...

Everything that goes into a black hole (ie through its event horizon) never gets out; indeed even if the something has "only just" passed through and the black hole then suddenly and implausibly evaporates almost infinitely fast[2]. The event horizon is not just a surface in the future, it's a surface in the infinitely far future for anybody with the good sense to avoid falling in[1], isn't at all reflective, and is only a "surface" in a mathematical sense.

[1] But then, if you happen to be falling into the black hole, it -- neither the event horizon nor the singularity are infinitely far in your future at all, they're a finite time away. Have fun!

[2] This sentence is at best probably only "sort of true", and would very likely enrage any passing general relativists.

Paul Kinsler

Re: [black hole] chooses to go "Boom!" around 17:30 on a Friday afternoon.

And, just to make things worse, being only a temporary black hole, it might also have broken global electric charge conservation whilst doing it:


Fortunately there is no reason to believe this would also break credit-card charge conservation, so you will avoid getting a nasty shock shortly before being blasted into oblivion. However, you may wish to make sure by paying for the drinks in cash. :-)

Cereal Killer Cafe enters hipster heaven, heads online: Coronavirus blamed for shutters being pulled down

Paul Kinsler

Re: somebody named Dexter was involved?

There was very likely dextrose in some of their cereals, if that helps at all.

Captain, the computer has identified 250 alien stars that infiltrated our galaxy – actual science, not science-fiction

Paul Kinsler

Re: Upvote for E.E. 'Doc' Smith

There's always http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/author/9515

Remember that black hole just 1,000 light years from Earth? Scientists queue up to say it may not exist after all

Paul Kinsler

Re: Who is stealing the stars?

It's an update on the old "tree falls in a forest" conundrum:

If a black hole disappears in a distant solar system, does it make a soun... um, no, I mean emit any photo... er... ah... will astrophysicists ever agree on what happened?

Here's a headline we'll run this century, mark our words: Alien invaders' AI found on Mars searching for signs of life

Paul Kinsler

Re: a greater chance of finding intelligent Martian life on present day Earth?

I'll be sure to ask Quatermass when he next gets out of that Pit...

Facebook's $500k deepfake-detector AI contest drama: Winning team disqualified on buried consent technicality

Paul Kinsler

Re: Take away the training data and there isn't much left.

The *architecture* of the network is left - e.g. if an artificial neural network, the number of layers, the number of nodes in those layers and the sequencing of them, how the training converges, how the nodes are linked, the thresholding function, and so on. I will leave it up to the reader to decide whether it is this or the training data that gives the basis for good results; perhaps you might imagine a simple truth table with good/bad training data on one axis, and good/bad architecture on the other, and imagine what the results would be.

Machine learning helps geoboffins spot huge beds of hot rocks 1,000km across deep below Earth's surface

Paul Kinsler

"thanks to an unsupervised learning algorithm"

Or "graduate student", as they are more usually known. :-)

Overload: A one-way ticket to a madman's situation

Paul Kinsler

Re: and was chowing RAM and swap space like the cookie monster on speed.

I used to run simulations like that during my PhD. I had to diagonalize a 43x43x43x43 density matrix on a machine with not enough RAM. Mind you, if there had been more RAM, I'd just have upped the sizing :-)

I couldn't do this all the time, however - it tended to annoy the other users. Gave the hard drive a good workout, though. CPU usage percentages were down below 10% (I think I recall even 3% at some point).

We spent billions building atom smashers – and now boffins think nature's doing the same thing for free?

Paul Kinsler

Re: The universe is weird, we want a refund

It's unlikely to be any consolation, but knowing something of how general relativity works can only make things even weirder; e.g.



(I particularly recommend Fig. 3.1 in the latter :-))

Paul Kinsler

Re: whether it might even be possible

The phrase "speed of light" is often used in a way that is context dependent. Here, it means an intrinsic property of the spacetime, which cannot be exceeded, since that would make no sense whatsoever. Since light in vacuum travels at this maximum speed, the two are often conflated. Generally, unless you are doing optics, "speed of light" always means this maximum.

In other contexts, it might mean that speed that electromagnetic signals (light) happen to be travelling in a particular medium (in glass, e.g., light travels more slowly than the spacetime-maximum "speed of light"). If you slow the propagation of light down enough, by coupling it strongly to something (e.g. a cleverly prepared gas of atoms matched closely to the frequency of your light), then you could possibly make the speed of those light signals in your medium slower than the speed of sound in that medium. Pedants may then annoy you by noting that with the (strong) light-matter coupling required for this, your signals are no longer just electromagnetic, and as such are not longer really just "light".

A real loch mess: Navy larks sunk by a truculent torpedo

Paul Kinsler

Re: There was once a single tree.

Perhaps there used to be more trees once, but the drivers gradually got them all. Once upon a time, whilst in a car full of graduate students heading to Adelaide, but most certainly not one being so careless as to travel faster than the speed limit, a moment's distraction followed by a slight steering error nearly led to a clump of trees on a gradual bend getting countably smaller. Fortunately the corrective swerve only led to a 360+ degree spin in a large cloud of dust, and a knackered suspension; followed by a very much slooooower drive the rest of the way.

ObShout: Hi Steve! Do you by chance read the Register? And would you like an apple? :-)

Paul Kinsler

Re: Pure 'Carry on ' gold.

Well either that, or "The Navy Lark", as per sub heading and picture;




No, I'm not really that old. I just happened to catch it by accident while trying to record re-run episodes of "I'm Sorry I'll Read that Again" at 3am on NZ radio in the 80's. This was an instructive process, because some times I also got to listen to the NZ shipping forecast.

Russia admits, yup, the Americans are right: One of our rocket's tanks just disintegrated in Earth's orbit

Paul Kinsler

Re: Telescopes should be in space and not below 100km of atmosphere.

Telescope should be put where the cost/performance tradeoffs work out best - and space is an incredibly expensive and difficult place to put things. It's instructive to compare the history of the James Webb with the current slew of ground based adaptive optics giant telescopes (see e.g. https://physicstoday.scitation.org/doi/full/10.1063/PT.3.2875). As with many things, there is no simple answer to space-vs-ground telescopes.

'A' is for ad money oddly gone missing: Probe finds middlemen siphon off half of online advertising spend

Paul Kinsler

Re: Have you thought through the consequences?

I recall (to a degree) a ye olde times SF story involving a government agent travelling around the US to ensure that businesses spent money on advertising and shiny product add-ons, ostensibly to ensure that the many extra jobs created kept the economy on track. The twist was that they were in fact a Soviet agent, since the USSR knew they had no hope of keeping up if the USA *actually* started becoming more efficient.

What do you call megabucks Microsoft? No really, it's not a joke. El Reg needs you

Paul Kinsler


They are pushing this thing called "Edge", so maybe Edge Lords --> Edge Borgs?

Started from the bottom, now we're near: 16 years on, open-source vector graphics editor Inkscape draws close to v1.0

Paul Kinsler

Re: Xfig, for all its clunkiness, gets this right.

I still use Xfig quite a lot, largely because I'm very used to it. The results invariably are somewhat brutalist, but at least you can get things done quite easily. Sometime I even convert postscript graphs from e.g. scilab/python/R into fig format and re-do the labels in xfig; despite the many advantages they have over xfig, it is too much of a pain to get the axis furniture (ticks, labels, numbering) in a publishable state, and it's easier to edit or replace it. Also you can fix line widths and the like after the export.

Mind you, imo the best graphs are done using pgplot, so I may not be the most up-to-date judge :-)

I'm doing this to stop humans ripping off brilliant ideas by computers and aliens, says guy unsuccessfully filing patents 'invented' by his AI

Paul Kinsler

Re: Plus ca change

Perhaps Thaler should enter into an agreement with DABUS, where he agrees to file in place of DABUS, and to hand over the rights and earnings (less expenses) when the legal system finally catches up :-)

I presume that currently such an agreement would gain little legal recognition, but I'm sure that Thaler would do the right thing and abide by its intent anyway (or else why try to file on DABUS's behalf?)

Geoboffins reckon extreme rainfall might help some volcanoes pop off

Paul Kinsler

Re: is there an approved Reg unit for pressure?

The "Queen", i.e. the pressure exerted by our very own ER-II standing on top of a "greatest hits" CD? :-)

How's your night sky looking? The Reg chats to astroboffin Mark McCaughrean about Starlink and leaving a mark

Paul Kinsler

Re: But Venus in the western sky

The nice thing about Venus, is that even with a really crap telescope [1], and even from London, you can see its phases (about now is a good time, btw [2]).

[1] E.g a ~ £15 department store xmas prezzie quality.

[2] No, not *now* now, it's midday, and that would be silly. Try in the evening :-)

Star's rosette orbit around our supermassive black hole proves Einstein's Theory of General Relativity correct

Paul Kinsler

Re: hunting for a footnote

For myself, I just wonder why it's the complex conjugate of Sagittarius A.

And no doubt there are theorists working on quantum black holes who attempt to describe Sagittarius A^{\dagger}.

Oh Hell. Remember the glory days of Demon Internet? Well, now would be a good time to pick a new email address

Paul Kinsler

Re: but I haven't the time to manually update

I find that slpkg solves most of that; but I do have a couple of laptops with (also) a debian partition for convenience (notably, because of weird wifi issues with some providers means a slackware install won't connect).

Paul Kinsler

I was using Slackware linux.

But only in the past tense? Shocking! :-)

NASA dons red and blue cardboard 3D glasses to drive Curiosity rover because its GPUs are stuck in the office

Paul Kinsler


...and also this solution is cheap to implement, and even makes good PR (would any one have reported "NASA buys some hi-spec graphics cards to help with virtual rover-driving"?). Win-win, it seems to me.

Taiwan to develop military exoskeleton because it's not like these things are open-sourced or one-size-fits-all

Paul Kinsler

Re: The exoskeleton just adjusts your size to fit it.

I think there may have been an ancient Greek prototype that implemented that particular feature ...

Cloudflare family-friendly DNS service flubs first filtering foray: Vital LGBTQ, sex-ed sites blocked 'by mistake'

Paul Kinsler

99.999% of humans are XX or XY.

Wikipedia states that rates of Klinefelter syndrome (i.e. XXY) are at about 2/1000 male births, which is 1/1000 of all humans; therefore even *if* that were the only chromosomal exoticism, I suppose your statement should be ammended to read "99.9%" of humans.

Do you want to be an astronaut when you grow up? Yeah, you and 12,000 others: NASA flooded with folks hoping to visit Moon, Mars

Paul Kinsler

Re: Merit & Selection

Well, there's always this sort of thing:

Entrofy Your Cohort: A Data Science Approach to Candidate Selection

Daniela Huppenkothen; Brian McFee; Laura Noren


Want to see through walls? Electroboffins build tiny chip in the lab that vibrates at just the right frequency to do it

Paul Kinsler

Re: "productization"

Indeed, "productization" is an inexcusably hideous construction. But I think it is intended to mean "implemented and put to use in a product" or "turned from this into a saleable product", or this like, so not quite the same as a bare "production", which does not necessarily have the same implications.

Still, several words to cover the intended meaning would have been better than the single jargonoid one used here.

Remember that blurry first-ever photo of a black hole? Turns out snaps like that can tell us a lot about these matter-gobbling voids

Paul Kinsler

Re: gravity has a relatively short range

Note that gravity is 1/r^2 in the Newtonian limit ... so not short range in the sense a physicist would use (i.e. not a faster fall off such as e.g. a decaying exponential). It is *weak*, though.

Paul Kinsler

Re: Nothing propagates across the event horizon.

The statement "Nothing propagates across the event horizon" is not true; although it is true that for a distant observer nothing is seen to cross the event horizon, ... things just approach ever closer and become more and more red-shifted. But from the perspective of an in-falling object (photon, rock, whatever), crossing the event horizon is easy enough.

Perhaps it is more-or-less implicit from your description that you mean "propagate *outwards* across the event horizon", but I think it worth the clarification.

Paul Kinsler

Re: how fast does gravity propagate

Gravity propagates at what we call "the speed of light", which is really the fastest possible speed allowed by the spacetime metric (i.e. 1, in dimensionless units)

All such questions can of course be referred to the authoritative text "Gravitation", by Misner, Thorne, and Wheeler; but it's a bit of a tricky read for the layperson. Still, if you happen for some reason to be stuck at home with too much time on your hands ... :-) [1]

[1] Or should I say "stuck at home with too much spacetime on your hands"? [2]

[2] In practice, I suspect it will be "too much time, not enough space".

If you're looking for a textbook example of an IT hype cycle, let spin be your guide

Paul Kinsler

Re: Optical metamaterials are just rescaled RF antenna theory

Superficially you may have a point; but no-one in RF antenna theory ever bothered to use such ideas to implement specific concepts and applications as the metamaterials research community has.

Dolin, in 1961, proposed a scheme to implement a radial invisibility cloak; but somehow all the RF antenna theorists in the world never proposed a scheme to implement it. Veselago, in 1968, noted some weird properties for materials with simultaneous negative permittivity and permeability, but somehow the RF antenna community failed to explore the implications. And looking at the scale of the early split-ring resonator metamaterial elements from the 2000's, it is more than plausible that they could have, had they wanted to.

Instead, it took John Pendry and co-workers' rediscovery to get the ball rolling and actually start trying to get interesting things done, and devices (from the exotic to the less so) implemented using what we now call "metamaterial" ideas.

You might also, for example, note that all the "entanglement" language that quantum theory guys use is just a new badge pasted over the old "superposition" label. But the change of name came along with a mindset change where the effect was now considered an exploitable resource, rather than a passive property. That change in mindset, which is on the face of it even more ephemeral than the case for RF-to-metamaterials, is an absolutely key feature of modern thought in quantum mechanics.

Sometimes it's not the building on past work that counts, it's the complete reimagining of the potential for use that does. And sometimes it is the reimagining that counts, not the past work that is (now) easily replicated.

Quantum compute boffins called up to get national UK centre organised for some NISQy business

Paul Kinsler

Re: "The UK has long been a world leader in quantum computing science"

It's not so much some single great achievement, but an accumulated expertise and significant level and quality of research output.

Google product boss cuffed on suspicion of murder after his Microsoft manager wife goes missing, woman's body found, during Hawaii trip

Paul Kinsler

Verbal signals?

BBC4/ Word of Mouth/ "Real Talk"


Microsoft to bravely defend US democracy for a slack handful of voters in Fulton, Wisconsin

Paul Kinsler

Re: tracing back to YOU

Once the card is in a giant pile of largely unsorted pile of other cards, the tracing is hard. You know what Joe's number is, but finding his card is slow and time consuming. On the other hand, you can easily pull a card out of the pile, but then matching it up with a name is likewise hard.

It's not impossible. But then if someone is prepared to spend that much time and effort on you, which way you might (or might not) have voted is likely merely a fig-leaf for one of the many problems they will shortly be - or already are - visiting on you.

Billionaire pulls out of reality telly show that was supposed to find him a date to take aboard Musk's space loveboat

Paul Kinsler

there can be no Buck and Becky Rogers.

Well, of course not - it should rather be Buck Rogers and Wilma Deering

Boris celebrates taking back control of Brexit Britain's immigration – with unlimited immigration program

Paul Kinsler

Re: [experts] ... other places that they would rather be.

Broadly, experts will probably want to go where they can get employment/funding and/or support to pursue their interests. Making it easy to get into the UK is a minor issue in comparison.

World-record-breaking boffins reveal the fastest spinning thing on Earth – and it's not George Orwell in his grave

Paul Kinsler

Re: "fastest spinning thing on Earth"

Just as the comparison of this nanoparticle against a pulsar is a dubious one, given the different scales of the two objects; so is your comparison of the comparison against a Cl_2 molecule, albeit in the opposite direction (although admittedly not quite so extreme a difference). Further, a diatomic chlorine molecule, as reported on in your second link, is not something that would normally be considered a "made object" in the same sense as the dumbbell nanoparticle is.

It might also be worth noting that the title is "Ultrasensitive torque detection with an optically levitated nanorotor", rather than "New nanoparticle rotation speed record!", and that their interest seems mostly in being able to use it as a sensor.

More generally, if you have a problem with "scientific hyperbole", then it is only sensible to pay rather less attention to the press release, and news articles based on them. Unfortunately, since it usually seems that science *not* dressed up in hyperbole rarely makes it into the media, interesting results are routinely hyperbolised rather more than is perhaps desirable.

If you have any interest in the science, you need to read the scientific article. Since the published article is behind a paywall, it looks like there is a preprint version here:


I await with interest your informed commentary.

H0LiCOW: Cosmoboffins still have no idea why universe seems to be expanding more rapidly than expected

Paul Kinsler

The important thing the cosmologists have overlooked ...

I very much doubt it; they think about that sort of thing for a living.


Mind you, their misconceptions of how DevOps works are hilarious :-)

Smart speaker maker Sonos takes heat for deliberately bricking older kit with 'Trade Up' plan

Paul Kinsler

Re: nuanced

This gives an interesting survey:

"Climate change impacts: The growth of understanding"

In this peculiar history, the main actors are committees and no seminal papers or scientific giants emerge. Seat-of-the-pants guesses made in the 1960s proved to be roughly correct, and the details are still being fleshed out today.

Spencer Weart


And now for this evening's space weather report. We've got a hotspot of satellite-wrecking 'killer electrons' in the outer Van Allen belt...

Paul Kinsler

Re: the energy you put in begins increasing the target object's mass more than it's speed.

Just to be clear, this is one of those heavily simplified statements that is very much only "sort of true". It might be better to say that you keep increasing the momentum of the object, but that at relativistic velocities you don't get to increase the velocity by a comparable amount: p=mv only holds at v<<c.

The full E=mc^2 formula is, where m is the rest-mass,

E^2 = m^2 c^4 + p^2 c^2



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