* Posts by Man inna barrel

275 posts • joined 10 Jun 2019

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Appeals court already under fire for upholding Texas no-content-moderation law

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Re: Christian values? By what measure?

Clearly not as there was no place named Britain 2000-odd years ago

I think Brittania existed as far as the Romans were concerned at about that time, along with Gallia (France), and Germania.

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Re: Christian values? By what measure?

That is just the start. As I understand it, the beliefs of many people who claim to be Christian bear very little relation to what Jesus actually said, as recorded in the Bible. I think what people need to understand is that doing what your church says, and living according to the philosophy of Jesus, are two entirely different things. This has been said many times before over the centuries.

By the way, I am not a Christian. Much too difficult. But it is philosophy worthy of study.

Don't say Pentium or Celeron anymore, it's just Processor now, says Intel

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Re: Intel?

I am designing a system with an embedded Intel single board computer, that replaces an external PC, I needed some detailed power consumption specs, so I went to Intel for that. I would need to sign an NDA just to get the specs. We decided just to build the thing and measure the current draw.

US warns cryptominers must cut power use to avoid busting US carbon goals

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Re: Comparing wax apples with silk poppies

People can't be trusted to consistently vote in their best interests.

I call this the "thick voter" problem. Unsophisticated people can be persuaded to support views against their own interests, by clever demagogues. In the 19th century, John Stuart Mill proposed education as the solution, but maybe went too far by suggesting that potential voters would have to pass some sort of competency exam before they were allowed to vote. Bear in mind that when Mill was writing, only male property owners could vote, which was of course a totally unfair criterion, leading to severe lack of representation of large sections of the population

Using the datacenter as a dining room destroyed the platters that matter

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I once developed a pottery kiln controller. We had a small portable kiln in the lab to test the controller. These kilns are designed to run at up to 1500 C. They are not cooking ovens. I was rather proud of the fact the control algorithm was so good that I could do baked potatoes in it. A nice stable 200 C, which is probably better than most domestic ovens will do, if you put a thermocouple in to measure the real temperature.

Chemical plant taken offline by the best one of all: C8H10N4O2

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Re: Better yet...

I think a hairdryer capable of melting plastic might not be good for your hair.

Scientists pull hydrogen from thin air in promising clean energy move

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Re: Storage ? Transport ?

One problem with hydrogen in enclosed spaces is that it forms and explosive mixture with air over an unusually wide range of concentrations. It is far worse than petrol vapour in this respect. I did some work on equipment for use in a potentially explosive gas atmosphere. There is standard for this. It is applicable to petrol station forecourts and stuff near LPG tanks. Precautions against ignition are a good deal tighter for hydrogen than for other gases.

Amazon drivers unionize after AI sends them on 'impossible' routes

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Delivery driver could the address on the delivery note

A few years ago, I worked in a workshop/factory on the outskirts of Birmingham. I used to pop outside for a smoke. One day, a delivery driver stopped and asked for directions. I asked to see the delivery paperwork.

I said "You're not even in the right town. I think that address is about ten miles from here."

The driver was quite adamant that he was on the right road. I think what had happened is that some computer system had looked up the customer address, and actually got the registered address, which frequently different from the trading address. I knew that a firm of accountants next door to us acted as the registered address for quite a large number of small companies. I think it is at least 50. Even when I told the driver this, he still insisted that he was on the right road, even though his paperwork said something completely different. I got fed up, finished my smoke, and went back to the office.

Doctor gave patients the wrong test results due to 'printer problems'

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Accountants and modern technology

I used a small accountancy firm for doing my business accounts and tax returns. They were not very up to date with modern technology. They did not scratch numbers into ledgers with quill pens, but the serious number crunching was still being done on hand cranked mechanical adding machines. The thing is, it worked. It kept the taxman happy.

The head accountant pointed out that modern technology had done nothing to make life easier. In fact, he seemed to have more work to do than ever, just to keep up with the ever more complex regulations. He took early retirement in disgust.

Many years later, I read some stuff by John Maynard Keynes, which is relevant to the labour saving value of technology. In the 1930s, Keynes predicted that due to advances in technology, we would not need to work so hard any more, and that by the next century (where we are now), we would only need to work fifteen hours a week. So what happened then? I think Covid and working from home may bring about the Keynsian vision, because nobody notices that I am working fifteen hours a week, as long as I get the work done.

More economic theory. There is Grinding Toil, and there is Doing Useful Things. What a lot of technology appears to have done is simply exchange one form of grinding toil for another.

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How to make an ISP disappear

I recall some time ago when there was a fire at a datacentre in London, that caused Plusnet to go offline. The big problem was that the helpline was operated via the same datacentre. So when you tried to find out what was going on, instead of getting an informative message in a Sheffield accent, there was nothing. Being of a sensitive and imaginative nature, I thought it was World War 3. So much for the internet routing around damage.

Leave that sentient AI alone a mo and fix those racist chatbots first

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Re: Do androids dream of electric sheep again?

"Robots/AI are so much cheaper than humans: Not only you don't pay them, but they don't mind working 24/7 all year round"

You missed the important point that robots are not in the least bit upset by being horrible to customers, if that is what the job requires. There is a shortage of sociopaths to fill these roles.

Not a GNOME fan, and like the look of Windows? Try KDE Plasma or Cinnamon

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Re: Similarly, if you have a touchscreen

There might be something wrong with my fingers, but I find touchscreens extremely unreliable. I hit the right spot maybe slightly better than 50% of the time. When typing text on a mobile's fake keyboard, this success rate implies a slow convergence toward the intended output, with many deletes and retries. Though I have not proved this, I think a success rate of less than 50% would imply that convergence is impossible. Bear in mind that "delete" is a "key" like any other. I do not have hefty fingers.

Even worse are LCDs that have a touch screen capability, but you have no idea how it works. For example, I am showing a waveform on an oscilloscope to a colleague, and inadvertently touch the screen. I Did Something. I have no idea what, but it messed up the display. So I reset the instrument, and navigate back to where I was, using "proper" buttons.

As an engineer, I realise that touchscreens solve a major problem with complex man-machine interfaces. It is quite a major problem to provide enough physical buttons to select all the required functions. An early solution to this for complex electronic instruments was general purpose buttons around the edge of the LCD screen. The LCD displays the function for each of the keys. Large menus would extend over several screens. I rather like this type of interface. At least you know what button you are hitting, and regular tasks can rely on a bit of muscle memory. That certainly is not the case with a touch screen (with my fingers) where you have to check what you just did on every press.

Tough news for Apple as EU makes USB-C common charging port for most electronic devices

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Re: Apple's next move?

Having designed a wireless charging system years ago, I imagine all such systems are resonant. It just seemed the obvious thing to do. I don't know how efficient my design was. The battery was just some small NiCd cells on trickle charge, so power usage was negligible.

Fusion won't avert need for climate change 'sacrifice', says nuclear energy expert

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Sustainable growth?

Having a virtually unlimited "clean" source of energy from nuclear fusion does not solve the fundamental problem of industrial economies: that they require ever increasing inputs in order to sustain growth. This occurs in developed societies, where population growth has more or less levelled off, so it is not just a case of a Malthusian disaster of exponential population growth. We consume too much stuff, and the economic system demands that we keep on doing that more and more.

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Re: Fusion quite possibly will never work but there are alternatives

Aluminium is used for overhead cables. You need a greater cross sectional area than with copper, but the much lower density of aluminium means less mass to support. I believe aluminium is used for household wiring in the USA. I am not sure of the reason for that. Possibly it is just cost. The cost of aluminium is mainly the energy input needed for electrolysis. Aluminium ore is plentiful and dirt cheap, as far as I know.

California Right-to-Repair bill quietly killed in committee

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Re: Instead of 'right to repair', manufacturers should have a 'requirement to warranty'.

>The Right to Repair is also a way to limit continual production of new devices making the old ones garbage.

That is an interesting point with respect to environmental concerns. In the period of austerity following WW2, there was a general idea of "make do and mend". Very little was wasted. Now it has got to the stage with cheap fast fashion that some item of clothing might be worn only a few time before being dumped, and the industry encourages this, because it keeps the revenue churning.

Though there are obviously fairly rapid advances in electronic technology that make older technology difficult to support, there must be an element of mere fashion in many of the changes that encourage new purchases. That is, some people like to show off their prosperity by displaying possession of the latest doodah, not because it is better, but just because it is new.

As an old fuddy-duddy, I look back to the days when a mobile phone did its job of providing a phone connection anywhere, and had proper buttons for dialling, answering a call, and hanging up. Simples. I don't get on with touch screens, where you wonder what weird function you might activate by a slip of the finger.

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Re: Not just tech

>If the tractor is down when it's time to plow, plant or harvest, that can mean missing the season and a farmer not having much of a crop.

The basic problem there is poor service, because the original manufacturer has a monopoly on servicing their kit. As has been known for centuries, a monopoly supplier can put their prices up much higher than would be the case under free market competition. In the case of lackadaisical servicing, a monopoly supplier can also get away with poor service, because there are no competitors who could do a better job.

To my way of thinking, Right to Repair might possibly come into the same category as anti-trust laws. I don't particularly want to get my soldering iron and hot air gun out to hack my electronic kit, but I would like a decent quality of service from qualified professionals, and at a fair price.

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Evolution of electronic circuit construction technology

I think it worth pointing out that my personal experience of how electronic circuits are constructed shows a steady movement away from putting chips in sockets, and towards soldering them directly to the PCB. As far as I know, much of the electronic service industry works on the basis of swapping out complete boards, rather than repairing at component level.

In the 1980s, my designs were all through-hole, with no surface mount. CPU chips and ROM would be in sockets. Other ICs might also be in sockets. In those days, for embedded computing, you put the machine code in EEPROMs using an external programmer, and then plugged them in. We used Z80 systems quite a lot.

Later, there were CPU chips with internal programme ROM. The ROM tended to come in two varieties: EEPROM that could be reprogrammed after UV erasing, and one time programmed (OTP). The EEPROM devices were quite expensive, and only used in development. The OTP devices were cheaper, and used in production. Obviously, if you wanted to upgrade firmware in an OTP device, you would have to replace the chip, which tended to mean that it was inserted in a socket.

The movement towards surface mount technology meant most chips were not in sockets, but soldered straight to the board. The problem of firmware upgrades was fixed by having chips that are in circuit programmable. This means you can solder the CPU to the PCB, then erase and programme it multiple times via a header on the PCB. The PIC micros I use these days use a five pin header, and a fairly simple programmer, driven from USB. Some chips can have firmware directly loaded via USB. This is about where my designs are today. All IC sockets are gone.

Though soldering chips to the PCB makes component level repairs more difficult than when you have chips in sockets, the kit to desolder chips can still be affordable. It is basically a hot air blower. A certain amount of that goes on in our production line. However, you have to consider whether it is worth taking the time to repair a board that might only be worth a few quid. Boards that fail production test are usually put on one side, then a skilled technician will do some kind of triage to select which boards look worth repairing, and glean a bit more out of the scrap. The production line is generally run on a right-first-time basis, to avoid adding to the scrap pile in the first place.

Where things start to get difficult for component level repairs is with modern surface mount technology such as ball grid arrays (BGAs). As far as I know, a hand-held hot air blower will not really cope with desoldering such devices. You need special kit, which is expensive. I worked on a board with a BGA processor, and densely packed tiny components. It was not my design. The wrong type of RAM had been fitted, but replacing that ruined the BGA joints nearby, and the board was bricked. This was done via a contract manufacturer I have some respect for. They have the specialised kit, and even they could not do the job. Ever since then, I have avoided anything like a BGA in new designs. My colleague who does production engineering and quality control is in agreement on this. We could deal with BGAs if we had the X-ray inspection kit and so on, but as we don't have that now, no BGAs please.

It could be that for some electronic kit, what people want is the right to swap out circuit boards, and not try to do component level repair. Manufacturers will tend to do servicing by swapping out whole boards, so consumers want to be able to buy spares and do that themselves. In that case, all this discussion of desoldering chips is not so relevant. However, this level of repair does mean that you are almost certainly tied to the original manufacturer when it comes to getting spares, because these boards are not generic components that you can buy anywhere. At present, I don't think manufacturers are legally obliged to sell spares to consumers, and maybe that is what Right to Repair is about.

Salesforce staff back an end to its relationship with NRA

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Re: How do we protect our 2nd amendment & our kids at the same time?

"Then, pass laws that EXEMPT EVERYONE FROM PROSECUTION if deadly force is used to protect yourself or others from harm SUCH AS from a terrorist or a criminal."

Self defence has always been a possible reason to avoid prosecution for murder, manslaughter, assault, etc. But you have to prove it in court. If you were automatically exempt from prosecution if you shoot a criminal or a terrorist, then you are inviting armed mobs to go out and shoot anybody they THINK is a criminal or a terrorist, which would make the wild west look like a vicar's tea party.

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Re: How do we protect our 2nd amendment & our kids at the same time?

I think the point is for people who own firearms to show that they are competent to do so. I am going to be generous and suggest that most gun owners in the USA are not homicidal nutters or violent criminals. That means you are not going to turn the majority of citizens into criminals. You may assume here that I don't think an outright ban on firearms is practical, but there ought to be far more tests you have to pass before you can own firearms, or keep the firearms you already have under the old (almost non-existent) rules.

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Re: "How do we protect our 2nd amendment & our kids at the same time? "

"Guns are, in fact, inanimate objects. They are no more a problem than a pointy stick, or a fist-sized lump of rock."

That is a silly argument. Guns are designed to kill, at a distance. How many attacks on schools do you know of where the perp was armed with a pointy stick and some rocks?

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Re: "How do we protect our 2nd amendment & our kids at the same time? "

"The majority of gun owners in the US do not go around shooting people. Some do so why?"

Some people just go bonkers, sometimes dangerously so. Even if mental health care were adequately funded, I don't think you are going to prevent a small number of people becoming dangerous due to mental illness. I think it would be a good idea to have properly funded mental health services, and various ways of picking up people who are having problems. However, that cannot be the whole answer, because it would entail a massive intrusion into innocent people's lives, just in case they do something loony.

Without statistics to support this, I would suggest that most countries have a similar incidence of mental illness leading to violence, but the effects of that are vastly worse if it is easy to get hold of lethal weapons, especially weapons such as assault rifles, with rapid fire capability and large magazines.

When management went nuclear on an innocent software engineer

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Re: Next time

We think sheep are stupid when they are merely, usually, placid and content.

I think sheep have got humans very well trained. The humans find them nice grass to eat, sort out difficult lambing and other medical needs, and the sheep get a regular haircut. I guess it must hurt a bit to give up your children to be eaten, though.

Some ago, I observed some sheep that escaped their fate a a small abattoir in Birmingham, when a there was a cock-up with a delivery. It was quite comical watching guys in green overalls, and others in Range Rovers, chasing the sheep around the side streets. The sheep lost in the end, I presume, but not without taking the piss out of their so-called masters.

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Re: Next time

A friend of mine studied polymer chemistry, and one of his industrial jobs was investigating various kinds of synthetic foam rubber. The catalyst was methyl di-isocyanate, if I recall. This is used to catalyse superglue, among other things. It is extremely nasty if it gets into your eyes or lungs. The labs where my friend worked had active fume extraction, and detectors in case there was a leak of isocyanate into the general work area. One day, my pal set a small tray of isocyanate to melt over a bunsen burner in the fume cupboard, but before he could add it to the next chemical, he got called away on a phone call. The isocyanate evaporated, and there was a leak, so the alarm went off. The safety officer was called. He concluded it was a false alarm, as that had happened before. So he reset the alarm.

Shortly after that, several workers down the lab corridor keeled over, with severe breathing problems, and were sent dee-dah dee-dah to hospital.

This incident rather put my friend off the idea of a career in industrial chemistry, and by the time I knew him, he was working as a film editor.

The problem was of course that my pal had not learned the fundamental rule of practical chemistry. Don't do it yourself. Get some other poor bugger to risk their lives, preferably a long way away, like in another country, where they won't ask too many questions when the reaction goes pop and the surrounding area is poisoned for decades.

Version 251 of systemd coming soon to a Linux distro near you

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Systemd is opaque. Standard Unix tools don't work.

Every time I interact with systemd, or one of its tentacles, I have to use special systemd-provided tools. The logs are a particular pain. I was used to using tools such as less and grep to search for error messages, but I can't do that any more. I have to use journalctl, which seems to have fewer useful features than less, if that is possible. Maybe the features are there, but a have to learn a whole load more stuff to access them.

When it comes to reboot speed, I am inclined to think that whatever benefits systemd might have are far outweighed by the awkwardness of using it. In my particular case, there is evidently a bug in the setup, so shutdown is delayed by 90 seconds while systemd waits for something. I have no idea what. So in fact systemd can be slower than the old init scripts.

Beijing needs the ability to 'destroy' Starlink, say Chinese researchers

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Re: On a more serious note....

More people have had at least some democratic control of their governments

Actually, quite a few formerly sound democracies are being undermined by autocrats, nationalists, populists, call them what you will. Is the good old US of A still a democracy, when a fraud like Trump gets elected, then proceeds to undermine the democracy that put him in power?

Florida's content-moderation law kept on ice, likely unconstitutional, court says

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Re: Oh, now sites are responsible for what's posted on them?

"Kenneth Arrow famously proved mathematically that a completely fair voting system is impossible."

That does not mean you should just give up. Improvements are possible, that make voting more fair. That is good enough for me, if we ever get around to it.

Seriously, you do not want to make that cable your earth

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Breathing lessons for electricians

I used to drink with a couple of electricians who worked at a printing company, that had some hefty electrical wiring. The print works dated from the middle of the 19th century, if I recall. The wiring had kind of evolved since that time. One day, a steel wire armoured cable had to be disconnected. Three phase, of course. The breakers were opened, and the senior electrician proceeded to open the connector. He was crammed in a wiring cabinet at the time, with his assistant waiting outside. Said assistant noted strange noises coming from the wiring cabinet, along the lines of "Gkk! Gkk! Gkk!". The pair were inclined to lark about, so this might have been one of those occasions. Just in case, though, he pushed open the wiring cabinet door a bit. There was his colleague, looking very odd indeed, holding the two halves of the cable. There may have been smoke, but not as bad as the botched execution in The Green Mile. Anyway, the assistant found a broom, and pushed the cable away. The fried sparky was taken to hospital, and recovered, but with severe burns to his hands.

It was subsequently found that the earthed outer of the armoured cable had been carrying several amps of neutral current, and when the connector was separated, the two halves ended up across phases. You might presume that this should have blown a trip. That assumes that anybody actually knows what the wiring is, with various drawings going back over more than a century.

I was told later that the electricians had taken part in some health and safety training not long before. One module was "How To Keep Breathing When You Are Electrocuted", or something along those lines. It seems that was very timely.

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Beware plumbers and earth connections

It is bad enough that electricians might not understand what a network cable is. Plumbers are definitely worse. Common practice was to bond electrical earth to the nearest cold water pipe. My friend's workshop did not have a water pipe, so the earth wire went through the wall, and was clamped to a pipe in the bathroom. Everything was nice and sanitary, until a new sink and toilet were fitted in the bathroom. The plumber used plastic pipe. This disconnected the earth, so working on anything connected to the mains got a bit exciting.

The mains wiring in my friend's house was a bit unconventional. It is a Victorian house, that was once used as a doctor's surgery, which involved a lot of extra wiring. A typical extension for the mains consisted of a ball of insulating tape, with wires going in all directions. Stuff was connected to multiple fuses. An electrician came in and sorted it out as best he could. I don't think he suffered any permanent psychological harm as a result. Nobody died, which is always a good indication of a job well done.

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Re: Bee-sting ?

I have never used such a connection, but it sounds like it works for multi-drop connections over coax. Instead of cutting cable to length, and terminating with BNC or whatever connectors, you a apply a bee-sting, without cutting the cable. The bee-sting pierces the outer insulation, and makes contact to the inner conductor. There has also got to be some insulation on the stabbing bit, and another bit of conductor, to make connection to the outer braid, without shorting the cable out.

Having described how I think a bee-sting works, I am glad I never used such a beast, and stuck to proper connectors, tee-adaptors, and so on.

FreeBSD 13.1 is out for everything from PowerPC to x86-64

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Re: About the word 'distro'

Strictly speaking, we should say GNU/Linux. Linux is the kernel and hardware drivers; GNU is the userspace.

When I ran FreeBSD for a while, I found the basic userspace documentation much better than GNU. The boot scripts were cleaner and more easy to configure. Bear in mind that I was trying FreeBSD as an experiment, having run a few GNU/Linux distros prior to that.

Pictured: Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way

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Re: The great flash

"If you assume light shares that characteristic with all other waves, if you assume light dissipates its energy as it travels..."

"I've been round in circles trying to put a credible spin on what you're arguing here."

The observation is that the energy density of waves gets weaker as they spread out. Maybe "dissipate" is not the right word for this, as it implies energy being lost. There is energy loss due to friction in acoustic waves, but that is not the main reason why a sound gets quieter the further you are from the source. Electromagnetic waves can also dissipate as heat when photons interact with matter, but in many cases, this is not the main reason why distant light sources are dimmer.

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Re: Pronounciation

I think the proper typographical term is a "splat".

We can bend the laws of physics for your super-yacht, but we can't break them

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How to get the right answer from an engineer

In the perception of sales and marketing bods, engineers are often viewed as pessimists. So when an expert declares that some bright idea is science fiction, the sales bod will ask the same question in a different way, in the hope that all it takes is a bit of persistence, in order to achieve a miracle. In fairness to the salesman clan, they are not all total idiots, and a layman's explanation of the the technicalities can be worthwhile. I put a great deal of effort into describing a product I helped develop, its strengths, its weaknesses, and so on, for a managing director who did not have a clue what he was selling. The document took some literary skills on my part. I think the MD appreciated my efforts, because he preferred not to be found out talking complete bollocks, when doing a big deal.

Not all sales bods have this practical attitude. There are courses where you learn how to talk complete bollocks. It generally helps if the people you are dealing with are also talking complete bollocks. Entire businesses can be built on talking total bollocks. The trick is to take the money and run, before anybody notices.

I have found that a good strategy as an engineer is to cultivate a reputation for arcane knowledge, beyond the ken of mere mortals. However, you do have to deliver results. What I have learned with my current employer is that sales people can be highly effective, if you develop a product that people want to buy, at a good price. This reduces the temptation for talking total bollocks. When I joined my present employer, the top sales guy was managing several million pounds worth of accounts, and he was still not twenty years old. Unlike the idiot type of salesman, this chap had a talent for selling technical products, and would ask pertinent questions from engineers, to make sure he cope with any questions customers might raise.

A discounting disaster averted at the expense of one's own employment

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Saving the customer money => fired

This reminds of a colleague, now sadly deceased, who did electronic design for BT, and previous to that, the Post Office. There was a piece of test kit used to check the proper working of telephone lines, and report faults before there were any customer complaints. This was purely an internal development. The "brain" of this kit was based on a Z80 CPU, plus various cards for RAM, I/O, etc. My enterprising pal squeezed the whole lot onto a single card, potentially saving millions when the kit was built and deployed all round the country. The customer (another BT department) phoned my pal one day, to see how work was going. He said "I have redesigned the computer control, and just based on parts cost, it will save you millions".

This caused major ructions, and my pal was called before higher management, to explain his reckless actions. The trouble is of course, that no one could really complain about saving the overall company money. I guess what was really at stake was corporate nest building and budget slurping, and you would have to be some kind of spin doctor genius to show that in a good light.

Don't hate on cryptomining, hate the power stations, say Bitcoin super-fans

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Opportunity cost

Energy is a scarce resource. If significant energy is wasted on cryptocurrency mining, that energy can't be used for something useful. If more capacity is added to meet the increased demand, then presumably all energy consumers end up paying more to cover the costs of building the extra capacity. I don't see why I should subsidise the activities of greedy speculators, who provide no benefit whatsoever to society. And if their increased energy usage actually results in an overall energy shortage, and power cuts, then it is about time to shut them down.

I have yet to see any solid arguments saying why this inefficient method of processing financial transactions has any advantage over conventional banking. If we think banks are over-charging for international transactions, then that might require regulation, in the same way that most banking activities are heavily regulated.

Your software doesn't work when my PC is in 'O' mode

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Re: How friggin' tough could it be to just print the words?

I find it mildly amusing that a common "universal symbol" for saving your work is an image of a floppy disk. I have not seen one of those for many years.

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Re: "just as dumb as the rest of the staff"

They are dumber because they think they are better than everybody else, whereas the merely dumb at least know they are dumb, which is useful knowledge in itself.

Apple geniuses in Atlanta beat New York to the punch, file petition to unionize

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Re: It is interesting to see the moves to unionise

"If a company is run well & its employees are treated with respect, there is little or no need for the employees to form a union."

This is my view. My former boss, who is now sort-of retired, is very anti-union, I think based on what happened in the 70's. His view is that unions are not really relevant any more, because we don't have hordes of industrial workers in factories, as was the case in the early 20th century. Nowadays, you are much more likely to have high skilled workers doing specialist jobs, rather than a mass of anonymous labourers. In the high skilled environment, workers have something to sell as individuals, which evens up the employee-employer relationship.

Though I tend toward liberal politics, there are quite a few things about unions that I don't think serve the interests of their members, or workers in general. One is the notion of class war, where workers and bosses are locked in eternal conflict. I presume this derives from Marxism. In practice, this war simply does not exist in most workplaces. There is a mutually beneficial arrangement. Businesses need workers. Workers need wages.

Robots are creepy. Why trust AIs that are even creepier?

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Re: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The devious trick is not that robots will take over, but that humans will become robots. This is already noticeable with the kind of bureaucratic interaction where the human operators must do what the computer says, because the computer is infallible. Human operators then become the self-replicating organic appendages of the machine, some of whom are dedicated to physical maintenance of the machine. This overcomes the lack of self-healing, I think.

I am led to believe that this type of dysfunctional relationship with computers has already occurred, with the case of the sub-postmasters falsely accused of fraud, based on faulty accounting software. This went on far longer than seemed sane. Surely the possibility of software malfunction should have been considered more plausible than that thousands of previously trustworthy people suddenly decided to fiddle the books.

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Customer service as an instrument of torture

I recently had a rather frustrating interaction with Cora the bank robot, regarding some kit the bank had supplied me for authentication purposes, which appeared to have gone faulty. Somebody had evidently gone to a lot of trouble to make Cora the bank robot interact via text, like a human operator. I type in a question, and Cora the bank robot answers, typically with a list of options. The entire interaction consisted of variations on the theme of "the customer did something stupid". The option that the wee electronic authentication box might have failed was not within the repertoire of Cora the bank robot. There was some apparent ability to parse English sentences. However, profanity had no effect. Swearing at a computer is of course a sign of insanity. One word that did get parsed correctly was "goodbye". Cora the bank robot replied with "goodbye", and that was it for the day.

Being without this authentication kit would be quite a shortcoming for my online banking, so I decided to do battle with Cora the bank robot the next day. Maybe there is some part of the algorithm that detects dogged persistence, but I was eventually given the option to chat to an actual human. Yes! Anyway, there were a few questions asked, and based on a history of the authentication kit being unreliable in the past, the human operator deduced that the kit was probably faulty, and a new box is on its way. This took only a few minutes, whereas my unproductive interaction with Cora the bank robot appeared to take hours.

There is an interesting point regarding the Turing test here. If Cora the bank robot were psychologically profiled, she would demonstrate a most unusual set of characteristics, combining pig-headed ignorance, an inordinate fondness for rules, and topped off with devious cruelty. Possibly a Nazi? Anyway, when I finally got through to a human, by the name of Puneet, it took just a few interactions to realise I was chatting with a human. One Turing test point was that Puneet could correlate various facts to deduce a conclusion. I am not sure that any algorithm can do that in a general sense.

After all that faffing about, it occurs to me that corporations go to inordinate lengths to avoid actually providing customer service, should a customer have a problem. I am pretty sure that banks are not short of a few bob, so cheapskating on the online help does seem pretty mean. This mistreatment of customers seeking help with problems now seems pretty universal. You can guarantee that if you phone a help line then "All our operators are currently busy. Your call is in a queue. Please hold until we can connect you." Heaven forbid that an operator should pick up right away.

Scraping public data from the web still OK: US court

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Who loses from scraping?

Does scraping publicly available data from a website actually cost the website any money? It is not as if you are stealing something, i.e. depriving the rightful owner of use of their property. Putting it that way, presumably the data on LinkedIn does not belong to them anyway, it belongs to the users who posted it. Well, at least it bloody well should do.

The dodgy bit is to attempt to monetise data posted by users for public display. What scrapers might be doing is bypassing potential income streams for sites like LinkedIn. That is of course quite different to actually stealing stuff.

I should point out that I don't really approve of bypassing paywalls to get at news content produced by genuine news media who publish online. There, you are dealing with content produced by the news media, by actual journalists and writers, who need to be paid. One way of doing that is by subscriptions to get access to online content. I don't mind paying a few quid a month to the Guardian, the Washington Post, etc. My friend gave me a year's subscription to the Daily Telegraph, which makes for interesting reading. The point is, people should not expect everything on the internet to be free.

Gillian Tett, who writes on economic subjects in the Financial Times, has some interesting views on the barter economy in personal data. She is an anthropologist by training, and tends to view economic phenomena from the point of view of human social interactions, rather than treating the economy as some kind of mechanism. A major point is that our personal data is being traded, but we don't get paid a penny for contributing it. You could say that we get "free" online services, with personal data being the payment. It is not clear that this trade is fair.

An early crack at network management with an unfortunate logfile

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Tim's mode firmware

I worked on a nice embedded project, where the product did moderately clever things over a regular telephone line. There was an installation procedure, to establish communication with a server back at base, that involved a few stages before the kit was ready for action. My colleague and I worked out a procedure, using a single LED to communicate to the installer, to show progress, and make sure the kit was working before the installer left the site. The marketing guy, Tim, would have none of this. It was not our job to make life easier for installers. They do what they are told, and do not make any decisions on site, because they are all knuckle dragging morons. They have to phone up the support line back at base, to check that the installation was completed successfully. Other than that, morons or not, they could do no more than hope for the best.

Suffice to say, my colleague and I considered this blind installation procedure to be less effective than our own system, with on site diagnostics. So we kept all our own procedure, and plumbed in the blind installation mode, using some #defines, so we could quickly switch back to some form of sanity, should political wisdom prevail. The new code was called "Tim's mode". That went in the comments. There were no profanities. Not even "Tim is an ignorant plonker, which is the reason for this code". Luckily, I don't think Tim had any idea how to read C code.

I experienced what Tim's mode was like when my colleague and I went to a site where the installation would not work, which turned out to be due to a local exchange blocking external calls. It took hours running through the procedure Tim had devised, which involved multiple phone calls back to base. Trouble is, back at base meant Aidan, whose main job was IT, and getting through was difficult at times.

One take home from this is that if you treat your site engineers as knuckle dragging morons, then that is how they will behave. People are generally eager to please.

You can buy a company. You can buy a product. Common sense? Trickier

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Re: Solder? What's that?

There are couple of technologies where conductive ink is used instead of copper tracks. I think this is used to make circuits on an alumina substrate. You can solder to it. At work, we had some membrane panels made, that incorporated push buttons and LEDs. The ink has to be cured before it is good enough to act as conductive tracks. With the membrane panels, you could incorporate printing and windows for LCDs, all in one component that you stick to the enclosure. It connects to the main PCB with a flexible tail, which is also printed. This can easily be made waterproof.

Why the Linux desktop is the best desktop

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Linux is easy to use if it's what you used to

When I ran small businesses with a friend years ago, we started on Linux when distros were maybe not that good. However, Windows 98 was truly awful, so it did not take much to move everything onto Linux as soon as that became practical. The first distro I used commercially was Mandrake. This went on for a few years, but eventually we had to close the business.

When I got my new job, I was pleased to find that most people in engineering and software were running Linux. However, I did have to do battle with Windows 7, building systems for customers. An installation was surprisingly arduous. There was the basic Windows installation, followed by installing our custom software, plus a few bits and bobs of off the shelf stuff. There was often a need to install some drivers. The number of applications and drivers installed was pretty low, compared to what you would get with a basic Linux install, with a graphic desktop. On Windows it took ages. One thing I started out doing was Windows updates, which I judged was advisable for security reasons. The updates also took far longer than would be the case with Linux, to the extent that I really could not spare the time from my other duties. My boss told me not to bother with updates, as the system would be firewalled off on site. Bear in mind that what was being updated was the equivalent of the kernel, some basic drivers, and a graphical desktop.

One of the software developers told me that Windows uses a system of hardware patches, rather than replacing components in total as Linux distros tend to do, and the patch system is very compute intensive. There was also the problem that pretty much any windows driver you download comes with a load of irrelevant crapware, some of which might not be advisable on a machine that has a security function. This tended to mean I had to stand over the machine to click buttons, to avoid the crapware being installed, which is of course the default.

Nowadays, we custom ship systems based on Linux. There was not any great advantage to the user being able to run a Windows desktop anyway, as the primary functions ran in an application using a Qt GUI. I think what we ended up with is the GUI running directly on top of X11, with no desktop as such. This provides a good foundation for security, because there is then little chance of crapware getting on the machine because of something the user was playing with.

As far as the users getting used to Linux, it frankly made no difference to them as far as I know, because they are just running an app that loads at boot time.

I do come across issues with Windows from time to time. I think some of the engineers I work with switched from Linux to Windows when they started working from home. This creates some issues with keeping PCB CAD systems in sync. The CAD software itself is KiCad, which is open source, and portable. However, there is some config stuff and component libraries that need updating from time to time, and that is evidently done differently on the Windows version. I presume the reason for switching to Windows when working from home is again a case of familiarity. Since work is a bit slow at present, I will ask my colleagues about this.

Semiconductor average lead time breaks half-year barrier

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Jelly bean components for immediate delivery, clever stuff you wait forever

What I am finding is that relative old tech, that has almost commodity status, is not too difficult to source, so this could be rated short lead time. However, the bigger chips, that do specialist jobs, and are only produced by one manufacturer, tend to be the ones with the really long lead times. There may be some well-established and popular single source products that are available to a fairly long (months) lead time, but that can be worked around. Then you have the stuff that probably won't be available for production until after I have retired, if current lead times are to be believed.

The point is, you can construct a statistical distribution with the bulk of components being readily available but rather old tech, a central family of medium tech on longish but manageable lead times, and a tail of unicorn kit. The mean of this distribution might be six months, but that conceals the fact that in practice, you can't build a product unless you can purchase the entire kit of parts, and if the design uses a few parts on two year lead time, that means your whole production is on two year lead time, even if you can buy the jelly bean components ex-stock.

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6 months? More like two years

Nowadays, a lot of my work as an electronic designer is helping out the purchasing department with sourcing alternative components, where the part I originally specified is on a stupid lead time. When designing new products under these circumstances, the whole process is bent of of shape, because there is no point designing a product if you can't build a prototype for a year or two. This gums up the development and production engineering process. As a result of this, I am more or less forced into an extremely conservative design strategy: no new chip types, because you might not be able to buy them. It would be an understatement to say that I find all of this very frustrating, because in the past, I have designed in new chip types, found they work nicely in testing, and then they become standard parts in our inventory, that I can rely on for future designs. This keeps our products fairly up-to-date with developments in semiconductors, resulting in improvements in performance and profitability.

I think what the article is missing is how many small and medium scale electronic manufacturers purchase their semiconductors, which is primarily through distribution, not directly from manufacturers. This is where I get my two year lead time from. I think that what has happened is that larger buyers have bought the stock in advance, so most of the output from manufacturers is spoken for, and the distributors are left with what is left, which is not enough. One of our suppliers, who is both a manufacture and a distributor, encouraged this advance scheduling of orders. I dare say it suits them to be able to plan their business for years ahead. I have seen it before. The supplier offers a discount, and some guarantee of availability, in return for a customer committing to advance orders. But two years lead time? Come on, someone is taking the piss.

Elon Musk's latest launch: An unsolicited Twitter takeover

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Re: Musk is the leader

And knowing this government's methods, the solution will be to put a new fuel tax on electricity.

My proposal is a road wear charge, based on axle weight and mileage. This would be a tax that increases based on what you use. If you can't afford to have run a car, you don't pay a penny extra to heat your home and cook the dinner.

However, my policy would run counter to the fundamental principles of Tory economic policy, which is that you get rich people to make even more money by cutting taxes, and you make poor people work harder by taking away what little they have.

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I thought it was just a playground for the hate filled and spiteful these days?

For some reason, I tend to attract tweets from well-meaning lefties. That is probably because I am a well-meaning leftie, though I prefer the term "progressive".

The problem I have with Twitter in particular is its shallowness, and tendency to create echo chambers. I presume both of these are considered features. I like to stir it up a bit, by getting people to question what everybody implicitly agrees with.

When the expert speaker at an NFT tech panel goes rogue

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Re: So it's not just me.

"I'm beginning to think this joint stock company stuff is all a big scam."

Not really. Shares tend to pay dividends. These days, interest rates are so low that your savings are losing money due to inflation. There is a good chance you could beat inflation by putting some of your savings into stocks.

Investing directly in new ventures can be seriously risky, but the rewards are high when you pick a star. This is the venture capital model. You invest in a diversity of ventures, without really knowing whether they will succeed. Most of them will probably flop, and you lose your investment. If you pick a star performer, then the profits from that pay off the losses, and leave a good deal to spare.

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