* Posts by Tony W

266 publicly visible posts • joined 14 Aug 2007


UK throws millions at scheme to heat homes with waste energy from datacenters

Tony W

Per century?

What does this amazingly precise number, 98.7 GWh, mean?

You've just spent $400 on a baby monitor. Now you need a subscription

Tony W

Re: Someone else's computer

What is wrong with the subscription model? I prefer to pay a moderate subscription for an app that's updated and from time to time improved, than to pay a one-off fee and a few months later find that the developer has vanished and the next update of the OS stops it from working.

Mozilla Developer Network adds AI Help that does the opposite

Tony W

So it "doesn't understand CSS." Hardly surprising, it doesn't understand anything. That's not how it works.

I think we usually use 'understanding' a system to mean, being able to work from general principles to use the system to achieve a desired result. CSS has no principles.

HMD offers Nokia phone with novel concept: Designed to be repaired by its owner

Tony W

Lasts 3 years

3 years before it has to be binned because it no longer gets security updates? And that's probably from the date of release, not from when you buy it. Quite a few phones do that.

I recently had a battery replaced in a phone that supposedly has a non-replaceable battery. My local corner phone shop did it in 40 minutes, the total cost was about the same as a replacement battery will be for this phone, and the replacement runs for least a long before needing a rercharge as the original one did when the phone was new. The phone is over 4 years old and I can't get enthusiastic about buying a new one that will have the same short intended life, however convenient it is to replace the hardware. There has to be a better way, and indeed there is: Apple. Only problem is, I hate their phone OS more than I do even Android.

What Mary, Queen of Scots, can teach today’s cybersec royalty

Tony W


Also relevant to modern times is that Mary was an early victim of social media: printed sheets posted around Edinburgh.

Nice smart device – how long does it get software updates?

Tony W

It could just change

There are a few manufacturers that do things differently. My next outdoor jacket will be a Berghaus because when the zip pull went on my current one (bought about 4 - 5 years ago from a charity shop) they replaced it and returned the garment within 10 days, total cost to me the one-way postage. (And if I can't find my next one in a charity shop I might even buy new!) My next toaster might well be a Dualit because, though they won't repair free for ever, they do at least make spare parts available to the public. But I fear that for such companies, the benefit of good will might well be less than the cost of reduced repeat sales. So we do need the law to get up to date on what is a reasonable length of product life to demand as a right.

Second-hand and refurbished phone market takes flight amid inflation hike

Tony W

Up to my mid teens, most of my friends didn't have a phone in their house, let alone a mobile. So what? We didn't have lots of things, but that doesn't mean it's better to do without them now. Like your phone, mine is a tool, but it's also something I can have fun with. Like most people I try to strike my own balance between privacy and convenience, which won't be the same as yours. And when I might need it I carry a good magnetic compass that doesn't run out of battery. It's worth remembering that printing was blamed for ruining our ability to memorise, and TV ruined our ability to concentrate. You can't put smartphones back in the bottle anymore than people could those, so there's not a lot of point in railing against them and patronising their users.

University students recruit AI to write essays for them. Now what?

Tony W

Re: I wonder what they do teach them at these schools?

Have you never planned an essay and written a first draft only to find that your conclusions are not as clear-cut as you had first thought? "How do I know what I think until I hear what I say" applies even more to thoughtful writing.

Server broke because it was invisibly designed to break

Tony W

Safety interlocks and fault protection

I had many call-outs to an FM transmitter that was extremely reliable apart from safety interlocks and the airflow detector for the cooling fan, one of which had a tendency to switch the whole thing off at a very unsociable hour. So now I tend to think of interlocks first in any totally-off situation.

Intruders get their hands on user data in LastPass incident

Tony W


I'm surprised no-one has mentioned this. Surely one should assume that the encrypted password file might be intercepted so that shouldn't be a worry. The problem seems to be other user information. In the case of Keepass and the associated mobile apps, the only information that might become available is that the app has been downloaded.

With no restrictions on master password, so it can include spaces, it is easy to invent a long pass-phrase that's memorable to you and impossible to guess for anyone else. So it can continue to be used for ever (or until quantum computing makes all passwords obsolete) and need not be stored except in your head. Mine is 20 characters alphanumeric. I personally am prepared to save effort on devices without a physical keyboard by authenticating with my fingerprint, but you don't have to take that risk so don't tell me I shouldn't be doing it.

tsoHost pulls plug on Gridhost service with just 45 days' notice

Tony W

Usual thing

It seems to be one of the problems of UK capitalism that anyone with the money can buy a small good company and pretty well guarantee to make a profit by sucking it dry and chucking away the remains. As an individual looking after a few small web sites and email for family, I've lost count of the number of hosts I've used over the last 25 years. All started off highly recommended and were good for a few years, but in most cases I was pretty well forced to leave when they deteriorated rapidly after they were taken over.

I'm now with Tsohost (still) and glad to be free of their gridhost cloud platform which had frequent outages and severe email delays, as well as being blacklisted for long periods so our emails often went to spam. I did get plenty of notice of the changeover, although it was was badly managed in the extreme with multiple issues.

However Tsohost is still very economic for my small requirement. On-line support chat has been reasonably OK and has always been better than phone support, plus you get a record of the conversation. And since the changeover was completed the platform has been a lot more reliable so I haven't needed it much. I am now reluctant to put a lot of work into jumping to a different and wonderful company just to wait a bit longer until it gets bought out and goes down the drain the same way.

Firefox points the way to eradicating one of the rudest words online: PDF

Tony W

Re: I don't mind PDFs

HTML instruction manuals can be written and modified by multiple authors; and they save these authors from having to put things in a logical order; all they have to do is put in loads of links. But easy writing makes hard reading. My heart sinks when I have to use an HTML manual: I usually find myself lost in a rats nest of links, often going round in circles getting no nearer my target. It can be done well but rarely is. A document with a fixed layout forces some logic, and with judicious use of links (not lazily linking to anything that might be relevant) it's no problem to navigate.

Water pipes hold flood of untapped electricity potential

Tony W

Read it?

This paper is freely available, and I wonder if all those who are very rude about it here have read enough of it to be sure that their criticisms are justified. I haven't read much but it does include the sentence: "Given the data limitations, this assessment focuses only on identifying gravitational head potential without considering the additional excess head generated during pumping."

Amazon sues 10,000 Facebook Group admins for offering fake reviews

Tony W

Dishonest trading

Amazon knows that a substantial proportion of its reviews are fake, but makes no attempt to warn unwary customers. The fact (if it is one) that they are doing what they can to catch fake reviews is no excuse for not telling people the actual situation.

Also they concatenate reviews from different products or significantly different versions of the same basic item, to inflate the number of reviews. They must know this but they keep doing it.

I don't like dealing with dishonest people or organisations and I won't buy from them except on the rare occasions when they have something I need but can't get elsewhere. The Amazon cost saving is often an illusion, it takes a few more clicks to check but they are by no means always the cheapest option.

Health trusts swapped patient data for shares in an AI firm. They may have lost millions

Tony W

What, exactly, did they do wrong?

Something, surely, but I found it hard to define. In the end I decided that the problem is, that the data should not have belonged to the trust in the first place. If our data is to be used for medical research to benefit humanity, then it should be guarded by an independent organisation with no financial interest in handing it over. Any quid pro quo should go to benefit the NHS as a whole.

Vivaldi email client released 7 years after first announcement

Tony W

Email matters

You can't write off email, it's vital for a lot of people. If you're a freelance or sole trader, it's easy to amass tens of thousands of emails, any of which might need to be retrieved years later in the event of a dispute arising. Storage and backup need careful thought, and proprietary storage systems can make it a nightmare to transfer to a new platform. I started as a sole trader on the cheap with Outlook Express. When I moved to Outlook I discovered (too late!) that in the transfer, the names of senders were retained but their email addresses had been omitted, so it was impossible to write to a former contact. One of several MS email screw-ups over the years, so I now avoid their clients.

Personally I like IMAP with folders in the cloud, so that I can access all recent emails wherever there is internet access. But I hate to be dependent on the internet and my email server working, so I use clients that synchronise the server folders with local ones. The client on my desktop also has separate local folders for archiving.

I'm moderately happy with my setup but as I'm a Vivaldi browser user I'll certainly try their client - after a decent interval. With IMAP it's easy to try a new client so long as you're confident that it won't delete emails in error or screw up your folder system.

Photonic processor can classify millions of images faster than you can blink

Tony W

Re: Yawn!

There is very often no consistent visual difference between the images of similar looking alpha-numeric characters. We manage only because the difference is quite often detectable with the aid of a lot of human-understandable context.

New York to get first right-to-repair law for electronics

Tony W

Re: 80s

Unfortunately I presume that tthis law wouldn't have helped you as a washing machine is a home appliance. For me, appliances are the most important things to allow repairs for, as they don't go out of date so fast as phones and computers, and binning them produces a lot of waste.

The first step to data privacy is admitting you have a problem, Google

Tony W


When Google wanted to update their messaging app on my phone (not "my messaging app" as lazy speech has it) they told me they would collect and analyse my messages. I assumed that was new, because why did they need my consent if they already had it?

I didn't update and didn't get some functionality toys that I haven't missed.

I'm not assuming that my data isn't being collected despite this, but in most cases I suspect we've been warned. This doesn't excuse it but makes it harder to control and might need new legislation.

The zero-password future can't come soon enough

Tony W

Re: RE: risks

Lose your password: in most cases an inconvenience rather than a disaster. Any system has some risk of locking you out. My fingerprint changes over time, apparently.

Dido Harding's appointment to English public health body ruled unlawful

Tony W

What law?

If a law has no penalty for breaking it, is it actually a law?

Sir Tim Berners-Lee and the BBC stage a very British coup to rescue our data from Facebook and friends

Tony W


This is rather off topic as the protocol can be reviewed independently of the organisation that proposes it.

But I can't resist continuing. BBC bosses know that when they lose the support of the majority of the public, they won't last much longer as an independent organisation. So attitudes apparent in BBC news and programming are likely, on average, to be a fair reflection of the British majority.

That will inevitably annoy a lot of people on both right and left. And to my mind, it's better than a fragmented system where, as on line, most people largely interact only with what they already agree with.

Google experiments with user-choice-defying Android search box

Tony W

Re: Question

On the Android One "standard" version of Android, the search bar can be disabled, but you can't stop it taking up space on every page of the home screen although it's inactive. Just to remind you who's boss.

Japan's aerospace agency hooks up with Boeing to make planes quieter when they land

Tony W


Owls have extremely quiet low speed gliding flight. Unfortunately their feathers are not waterproof so you can't simply fit owl feathers to an aircraft; however I'm sure someone is working on it.

Beige Against the Machine: The IBM PC turns 40

Tony W


I still remember the shock I got when I received an Apricot (IBM rip-off, not actually compatible) and found that, as with all PCs of the period, the only way to edit text was with Edlin. Having been used to the BBC Micro I thought, what sort of rubbish is this?

(But unlike the BBC Micro, it was portable, which was vital for my work, with an integrated LCD screen, as well as taking a full length expansion card that I needed for IEEE interface. It did the job and became an old friend, so in the end I was quite sad when the LCD screen eventually went the way they do.)

Don't believe the hype that AI-generated 'master faces' can break into face recognition systems any time soon

Tony W

Be careful what you look like

OK the research is flawed and alarmist - but the basic idea looks as if it could be feasible so long as you are content to target a limited group of the population.

This highlights the fact that biometrics must be really good if it's to be used for anything important.

Galaxy quest: Yet another sub-£500 phone comes to trouble mobile big dogs in the form of Realme GT 5G

Tony W

For how long will it receive updates?


And how difficult is it to replace the battery?

I am not prepared to spend hundreds of pounds per year on replacing phones.

Microsoft defends intrusive dialog in Visual Studio Code that asks if you really trust the code you've been working on

Tony W

Crying "Wolf"

It would be OK if they didn't raise an obviously false alarm so often. Windows requires me to click to confirm it's OK every time I copy a jpg from my local NAS to my PC (although I can use a browser to copy a jpg from the real internet without any warning.) Etc., etc. It's a bit like car and burglar alarms, everyone knows that it's highly unikely to be an actual thief and takes no notice.

UK product safety regulations are failing consumers online, in the IoT, and … with artificial intelligence?

Tony W

Local regulators, international companies

How can hard-up local trading standards officers deal effectively with huge national and multi-national companies? It's not just safety, we need a national trading standards enforcement agency.

And the myth that eBay are just putting buyers and sellers in contact with each other needs to be smashed. They do a lot more than that,and they shouldn't be allowed to profit from the sale of dangerous items.

As another vendor promises 3 years of Android updates, we ask: How long should mobile devices receive support?

Tony W

Re: "support" is a sales "feature"

Some updates to my Motorola One have reduced battery usage.

Having said that, from an environmental point of view replaceable batteries should be mandatory, althoujgh this is only one aspect of reducing the number of devices thrown away because they can't be repaired or updated.

Samsung spruiks Galaxy Buds Pro performance as comparable to hearing aids

Tony W

Re: Shop around.

I suspect that most of the cost of a hearing aid is in the measurement and adjustment by a professional. In the UK of course hearing aids are completely free to those who need them, and you even get free batteries. The hearing aids supplied by the NHS are comparable with those supplied commercially.

If you have to pay, and have only mild or moderate hearing loss, some sort of amplifying device that doesn't need adjustment by a professional could be adequate. But I have moderate hearing loss and would not be without a proper aid. If you don't want to be left out of the conversation you need all the help you can get.

Of course no hearing aid is a substitute for good natural hearing. As an acoustics professional I had spent years telling people this fact to help persuade them to protect their ears against loud sounds, so I wan't surprised to experience it myself.

Surprise: Automated driving biz finds automated driving safer than letting you get behind the wheel

Tony W

Different defects

Human driving depends on the fiction that people can continuously pay attention to the road ahead (which itself is known to be false) while at the same time taking note of traffic and direction signs, the rear view mirror, the speedometer and so on. Learning to drive pushes a lot of this impossible workload into the subconscious mind. But when our own automated natural intelligence goes wrong, it can result in accidents where people apparently haven't seen a pedestrian or cyclists that was in plain sign, and they have no idea why.

AI doesn't suffer from this problem, and neither should it deliberately disobey traffic rules as most human drivers do from time to time. but it has two other problems. Firstly current implementations seem to make more mistakes than humans in categorising what is in vision. This will presumably improve. But secondly, not actually being intelligent, it cannot grasp what is going on in a situation, in terms of the intentions and likely actions of human participants. This would be a big step beyond curent AI. I suspect that in complex situations such as inner city driving we will need to rely on human intelligence for a long time yet, and this is where the accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists occur. For these situations some automated assistance to human driving is available, but that brings the problem that humans hate making effort, and the more help you give them, the less work they do themselves. We will need some good psychology to overcome this.

Google says once third-party cookies are toast, Chrome won't help ad networks track individuals around the web

Tony W

Re: You're alright, Jack?

The solution is impractical for all but a completely insignificant number of people. Pi-hole is far from problem free, it might well require you to change the router which costs quite a lot of money for a good one and is by itself way beyond the ability of most users.

Singapore reveals open-source blockchain COVID-test result tracker, eyes uses as vaccine passport app

Tony W

"such vaccination passports" ?

What is this to do with vaccination? The story seems to be about negative PR tests.

Apple's latest macOS Big Sur update stops cheapo USB-C hubs bricking your machine

Tony W

Re: Surely this is a hardwaare issue for Apple?

Fuses are not so clever and universally protective as you think.

1Password has none, KeePass has none... So why are there seven embedded trackers in the LastPass Android app?

Tony W

Re: "Cloud" and passwords

This has been well dealt with in previous posts. My master pw is stored nowhere but in my head. It's 20 characters long, and I am not a particularly valuable target. With Keepass it is also possible to require a specific local file for decryption.

The Fat iPhone, 11 years on: The iPad's over a decade old and we're still not sure what it's for

Tony W

Everyday device

With a good stand and a bluetooth keyboard, my 10" tablet is my everyday device for most computing activity: email, browser, language learning, writing short documents and streaming videos to the TV. It starts almost instantly, and having the top of the screen at eye level makes it ergonomically much better than a laptop. I was doing many of these things on a phone but the awkward posture gave me nasty aches and pains. I still go to the desktop for spreadsheets, graphics work, and photo and audio editing.

Today's 'sophisticated cyber attack' victim is the Woodland Trust: Pre-Xmas breach under investigation

Tony W

More to this story?

Their website mostly continued working and new content was posted, including a message saying that they had IT problems. But it was seven weeks before they said that they had been attacked and told members that data might have been compromised.

Their sales of Xmas cards and gifts must have been badly affected. I don't normally use Twitter but a brief look at their Twitter feed before Christmas showed lots of unanswered questions about people's orders.

Very shortly before the incident they were strongly attacked in a video by Nigel Farage for needlessly felling lots of trees. For myself, having seen them working effectively for very many years, I have no doubt that they have been doing their best for conservation, but I've not been able to find their response to Farage so it seems that they decided to ignore him. I don't think this is a wise approach, as their silence could be seen as an admission of guilt. There seems no connection between the two attacks but it is an odd coincidence.

Unauthorised RAC staffer harvested customer details then sold them to accident claims management company

Tony W

Never free of these

My car was twice damaged while parked and unoccupied. So for the last 7 years I have received about a call a week inviting me to claim for whiplash injury. Suspect garage that did repairs but how can I prove it? Got fed up with making up clever answers, now I just end the call. Certainly not a victimless crime, fake whiplash claims cost British motorists millions in higher premiums.

Trump administration says Russia behind SolarWinds hack. Trump himself begs to differ

Tony W

Re: HOWTO: hack their voting machines

It is usual to provide some link to credible evidence when making serious allegations.

Search history can calculate better credit ratings than pay slips, says International Monetary Fund

Tony W

Won't be useful for long

It's well known: if behaviour A is well correlated with desired performance B, using A to assess B will quickly destroy that correlation. As soon as people know what you have to do to get a satisfactory credit rating, they will do it.

As UK breaks away from Europe, Facebook tells Brits: You'll all be Californians soon

Tony W

Re: It's a fait accompli situation.

That's the way we like it. In the referendum on voting systems less than 10 years ago, Labour didn't recommend change and there was a huge majority against it.

45 million medical scans from hospitals all over the world left exposed online for anyone to view – some servers were laced with malware

Tony W

Re: quelle surprise?

Doctors are not employed as IT consultants. And I see no evidence that these leaks are the fault of doctors.

Ad blocking made Google throw its toys out of the pram – and now even more control is being taken from us

Tony W

Nothing wrong with ads ...

The tracking giants like to say that we are trying to get things for free that we should be paying for, but that's not true. I think most people don't object to seeing ads as a way of paying for a service. I have quite a few apps on my phone that give me the alternative of free with ads or paid without, and quite often I accept the ads, even though the sums are usually quite small and I could afford to pay. On web sites, the fact that the ads render some sites very slow and hard to use is an annoyance, but if the site owner likes it like that, it should be up to them.

The real objection to ads on web sites and social media apps is not the ads but what goes along with them: the relentless tracking, the sale of information on our likes and habits to whoever wants to pay for it, and the risk of malware. These are the reasons I block ads on most sites by default.

Robot drills hole on Moon, employs robot arm to clean up mess to bring home

Tony W

Re: sealed so tight it includes Lunar vacuum.

Thinking about it, although semantically all vacuums ought to be equal, in practice they are not. But it's a very odd way to say what they did, which is simply to get a good enough seal to prevent comtamination.

End-to-end encryption? In Android's default messaging app? Don't worry, nobody else noticed either

Tony W

Ts & Cs

Started to update Messages on my Android phone, glanced at the Ts & Cs, and aborted installation. The old SMS app works perfectly well.

EU says Boeing 737 Max won't fly over the Continent just yet: The US can make its own choices over pilot training

Tony W


What will the UK do after Brexit? If we have a no-deal Brexit I assume that we would maintain all the current EASA positions to start with, but we would be able to make our own decisions in the future. It could make for interesting choices where the US and the EU have opposing views.

The revolution will not be televised because my television has been radicalised

Tony W


We should all revise what we expect from the BBC. Think about how you yourself would run it to keep the broad support it needs to keep going. In practice the only way to do this is to keep a broad balance between the main political parties. That is something well worth preserving as no other media outlet needs to do this. But it also has severe limitations, because the truth, even in broad terms, is never balanced.

Most people with an interest in politics think the BBC is biased one way or the other to some degree but still trust it not to tell significant lies. Once the majority stops trusting the BBC in this way, it is finished.

But the best you can expect is that the BBC does not broadcast actual falsehoods. Usually, on the basis of fact-checking organisations, I think it clears this rather low bar.

What a Hancock-up: Excel spreadsheet blunder blamed after England under-reports 16,000 COVID-19 cases

Tony W

Re: *Takes a deep breath*

Nonsense. Many tools can be dangerous, such as a JCB, chainsaw or Neolithic hand-axe. As an engineer I needed spreadsheets constantly. For some types of calculation dedicated software was available but that was even more opaque and inflexible.

Mind you, it is so easy to get a complex spreadsheet wrong that I was terrified of them. I sometimes checked with dummy data and even constructed the spreadsheet two different ways to check that they gave the same answer, and I did sometimes find errors.

UK privacy watchdog confirms probe into NHS England COVID-19 app after complaints of spammy emails, texts

Tony W

Re: Worked as intended

It is not a Serco app. They had no connection with the design of the software. If you know better please give references.