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Comment Re:Wow, way to fuck that up (Score 4, Interesting) 172

I remember when AltaVista first came out.. it was a revelation. The result you wanted was normally on the first few pages. Don't laugh - that was a big frigging deal at the time. These days, if the result you want isn't number one then you assume something is borked.

But it was quite easy to game the system. To begin with, if you wanted to be #1 for "SEX" you would just repeat the word "SEX" a lot of times. It was all done on in-page factors. Of course, AltaVista engineers eventually tried to counteract the spam (use a word too many times and it counts against you, for example), but the whole PageRank idea did lead to better results.

I seem to remember that AltaVista was originally a project to show how powerful DEC's Alpha processors were. Instead, it opened up the idea that the whole web (or at least millions of pages) could be searchable on a full-text basis. That was pretty revolutionary at the time.

Comment Re:Not on List (Score 1) 311

Hah, I was thinking the same thing. Although I get them for free (well, through the taxes I pay), doctors are still reluctant to prescribe them because even the cheapest are around £25 ($40) for 50 retail.

Here, the companies that make the meters give them away to the health service for free, because they know they'll get the prescriptions for the test strips. It's a bit like inkjet printers.. the printer is really cheap, the ink is really expensive.

Comment (Score 0) 381

I read that the government is going to set up it's own porn portal for "approved" smut while banning everything else. I read it on the internet so it must be true.

Two things.. one, almost all of these porn sites are not in the UK so basically won't give a shit.

Secondly, isn't it the case the those people who are most on a crusade against porn are the ones with the really sick and disturbing fetishes. Perhaps I could have 30 minutes with David Cameron's personal laptop just to check?

Comment Re:Please insert Multics subthread here. (Score 1) 484

Agreed, GCOS is horrific and it is the OS That Will Not Die.

Multics (RIP) had some cool and interesting features. Everything was a file. Security Rings. A very consistent set of commands. But at a couple of million bucks at least per installation in 1980s money, it was a fairly niche product. I do remember having arguments with Unix folks about the strengths and weaknesses of both OSes. Of course Unix and its derivatives are absolutely everywhere now.

Comment The data (Score 5, Informative) 173

The data is a apparently a subset of 60 million records that the hackers are threatening to release.

I've had a look at the data, there are very many easily identifiable people, for some of those there is date-of-birth data, ZIP code, "preferences", details of any money spent etc. There are a few people using their .gov email addresses for this, some of those can be verified by the IP address, some other email addresses belonging to other corporations. I would suspect that those are the people who are most at risk of blackmail. Remember too that an email addresses can be used to look people up on Facebook, which would make it easier for blackmailers to find potential victims.

Not revealed in the breach (so far) are credit card data, real names (although many are obvious from the email addresses) or passwords. Although I notice that some people were smart enough to sign up with a throwaway email address, if they have actually paid for anything then they would have had to supply real contact details somewhere.

The background story appears to be that a pissed-off affiliate who claims they were owed hundreds of thousands of dollars had a contact hack the database. It seems the hackers are demanding money else they will release the rest of the data.

Comment Good points, bad points (Score 4, Interesting) 287

I've driven a car with a manual speed limiter for 10+ years now. I don't understand why all cars don't have one. Entering a 30mph/50kmh zone? Set that as the maximum speed on the limiter and you can drive around normally without having to keep checking your speed. Less time checking your speed equals more time looking where you are going. This is only a good thing.

In Europe, speed limiters seem to be common in Mercedes and Smart cars, Renault, Citroen and Peugeot cars, plus some of the newer Vauxhall/Opel models and Fords. It is built into the cruise control system.

The bad points? Well, reading signs is a so-so thing when it comes to accuracy, and satellite navigation systems sometimes get the speed very badly wrong if they have incorrect data. And just because the speed limit *says* that you can drive at up to whatever-is-on-the-sign, it doesn't mean it is *safe* to do so in the road conditions you actually have.

Comment Outside Context Problem (Score 5, Interesting) 576

It's the case of the "Outside Context Problem" as described by the late, great Iain M Banks [via]


The usual example given to illustrate an Outside Context Problem was imagining you were a tribe on a largish, fertile island; you'd tamed the land, invented the wheel or writing or whatever, the neighbors were cooperative or enslaved but at any rate peaceful and you were busy raising temples to yourself with all the excess productive capacity you had, you were in a position of near-absolute power and control which your hallowed ancestors could hardly have dreamed of and the whole situation was just running along nicely like a canoe on wet grass... when suddenly this bristling lump of iron appears sailless and trailing steam in the bay and these guys carrying long funny-looking sticks come ashore and announce you've just been discovered, you're all subjects of the Emperor now, he's keen on presents called tax and these bright-eyed holy men would like a word with your priests.

Banks goes on to note that most civilisations tend to encounter an Outside Context Problem only once, at the point where that particular civilisation ends or is subsumed into the more powerful one. (Incidentally this is also the title of a series of eBooks by Christopher Nuttall which are satisfyingly geeky.)

Of course, there are plenty of fictional examples of invasion, I guess ranging from the barely-competent aliens in Niven & Pournelle's "Footfall" (who were easily detected) and the almost-Gods of Arthur C Clarke's "Childhood's End" who basically just turned up without warning. It's too varied a field to come up with an idea of how we could detect them.

Comment Re:32bit vs 64bit (Score 2) 156

Application compatibility in Windows 8.1 is pretty good (except for really ancient 16-bit apps).. but a server environment is different with products that are often much more complicated and with very difficult migration paths to a newer version. If one exists. Take for example database clusters with custom code written by people who no longer work for the organisation - migrating from those is extremely difficult.

But.. although it is a pain, but Microsoft's EOL was well-known many years in advance. People are moaning about the dropping of support, but it has been around for 12 years. For a migration path Windows 2012 R2 will be supported until 2023, Windows 2008 R2 until 2020

Comment Remember Conficker? (Score 4, Insightful) 156

The problem isn't that Windows 2003 will stop working.. the problem is that it won't get patched. Now, servers are generally lower-risk than client PCs because they just tend to do a couple of things without users surfing for porn, reading email or downloading crap. And also the products *running* on those servers may well continue to get updates anyway.

But about once a year or so, there is a vulnerability in Windows that is exploitable over the network remotely without authentication, the sort of thing that Conficker used to spread on (i.e. MS08-067). Wormable vulnerabilities are the highest risk, and the time between the flaw being announced and an exploit being created can just be a matter of days.

So, eventually those Windows 2003 boxes are going to get pwned. It might be weeks or years after 2003 goes EOL, but eventually it will happen.

Going the speed of light is bad for your age.