October 20, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley

2009 historical mystery; first in Bradley's series about Flavia de Luce, young amateur sleuth in 1950s Britain. Flavia, one of three daughters of the widowed and impoverished Colonel de Luce, lives in Buckshaw, makes chemical experiments… and finds a body in the cucumber patch. Naturally, she investigates.

October 20, 2016 08:01 AM

October 19, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Vintage Murder, Ngaio Marsh

1937 classic English detective fiction; fifth of Marsh's novels of Inspector Roderick Alleyn. This time he's on holiday in New Zealand, sharing an overnight train with a touring theatrical troupe also from England, when the manager says that someone's tried to murder him. The next day, someone will succeed.

October 19, 2016 08:02 AM

October 18, 2016

Liam Proven

Computing: FEATURE - Server integration - Windows onto Unix

I stumbled across an old article of mine earlier, and tweeted it. Sadly, the server seems to have noticed and slapped a paywall onto it. So, on the basis that I wrote the bally thing anyway, here's a copy of the text for posterity, grabbed from Google's cache. Typos left from the original.

FEATURE - Server integration - Window onto Unix

If you want to access a Unix box from a Windows PCs you might feel that the world is against you. Although Windows wasn't designed with Unix integration in mind there is still a range of third-party products that can help. Liam Proven takes you through a selection of the better-known offerings.

10 March 1998

Although Intel PCs running some variant of Microsoft Windows dominateat the world is against you. Although Windows wasn't designed with Unix integration in mind there is still a range of third-party products that can help. Liam Proven takes you through a selection of the better-known offerings. the desktop today, Unix remains strong as a platform for servers and some high-end graphics workstations. While there's something to be said in favour of desktop Unix in cost-of-ownership terms, it's generally far cheaper to equip users with commodity Windows PCs than either Unix workstations or individual licences for the commercial Unix offering, such as Sun's Solaris or SCO's products, that run on Intel PCs.

The problem is that Windows was not designed with Unix integration as a primary concern. Granted, the latest 32-bit versions are provided with integrated Internet access in the form of TCP/IP stacks and a web browser, but for many businesses, a browser isn't enough.

These power users need more serious forms of connectivity: access to Unix server file systems, text-based applications and graphical Unix programs.

These needs are best met by additional third-party products. Most Unix vendors offer a range of solutions, too many to list here, so what follows is a selection of the better-known offerings.

Open access

In the 'Open Systems' world, there is a single, established standard for sharing files and disks across Lans: Network File System (NFS). This has superseded the cumbersome File Transfer Protocol (FTP) method, which today is mainly limited to remote use, for instance in Internet file transfers.

Although, as with many things Unix, it originated with Sun, NFS is now the de facto standard, used by all Unix vendors. In contrast to FTP, NFS allows a client to mount part of a remote server's filesystem as if it were a local volume, giving transparent access to any program.

It should come as no surprise that no version of Windows has built-in NFS support, either as a client or a server. Indeed, Microsoft promotes its own system as an alternative to NFS under the name of CIFS. Still, Microsoft does include FTP clients with its TCP/IP stacks, and NT Server even includes an FTP server. Additionally, both Windows 95 and NT can print to Unix print queues managed by the standard LPD service.

It is reasonably simple to add NFS client support to a small group of Windows PCs. Probably the best-regarded package is Hummingbird's Maestro (formerly from Beame & Whiteside), a suite of TCP/IP tools for Windows NT and 95. In addition to an NFS client, it also offers a variety of terminal emulations, including IBM 3270 and 5250, Telnet and an assortment of Internet tools. A number of versions are available including ones to run alongside or independently of Microsoft's TCP/IP stack. DOS and Windows 3 are also provided for.

There is also a separate NFS server to allow Unix machines to connect to Windows servers.

If there are a very large number of client machines, though, purchasing multiple licences for an NFS package might prove expensive, and it's more cost-effective to make the server capable of serving files using Windows standards. Effectively, this means the Server Message Block (SMB) protocol, the native 'language' of Microsoft's Lan Manager, as used in everything from Windows for Workgroups to NT Server.

Lan Manager - or, more euphemistically, LanMan - has been ported to run on a range of non-MS operating systems, too. All Microsoft networking is based on LanMan, so as far as any Windows PCs are concerned, any machine running LanMan is a file server: a SCO Unix machine running VisionFS, or a Digital Unix or OpenVMS machine running PathWorks. For Solaris systems, SunLink PC offers similar functionality.

It's completely transparent: without any additional client software, all network-aware versions of Windows (from Windows 3.1 for Workgroups onwards) can connect to the disks and printers on the server. For DOS and Windows 3.1 clients, there's even a free LanMan (Dos-based) client available from Microsoft. This can be downloaded from com or found on the NT Server CD.

Samba in the server

So far, so good - as long as your Unix vendor offers a version of LanMan for its platform. If not, there is an alternative: Samba. This is a public domain SMB network client and server, available for virtually all Unix flavours. It's tried and tested, but traditionally-minded IT managers may still be biased against public domain software. Even so, Samba is worth a look; it's small and simple and works well. It only runs over TCP/IP, but this comes as standard with 32-bit Windows and is a free add-on for Windows 3. A Unix server with Samba installed appears in "Network Neighborhood" under Windows as another server, so use is completely transparent.

File and print access is fine if all you need to do is gain access to Unix data from Windows applications, but if you need to run Unix programs on Windows, it's not enough. Remote execution of applications is a built-in feature of the Unix operating system, and works in three basic ways.

The simplest is via the Unix commands rexec and rsh, which allow programs to be started on another machine across the network. However, for interactive use, the usual tools are Telnet, for text-terminal programs, and the X Window System (or X) for GUI applications.

Telnet is essentially a terminal emulator that works across a TCP/IP network, allowing text-based programs to be used from anywhere on the network. A basic Telnet program is supplied free with all Windows TCP/IP stacks, but only offers basic PC ANSI emulation. Traditional text-based Unix applications tend to be designed for common text terminals such as the Digital VT220 or Wyse 60, and use screen controls and keyboard layouts specific to these devices, which the Microsoft Telnet program does not support.

A host of vendors supply more flexible terminal emulators with their TCP/IP stacks, including Hummingbird, FTP Software, NetManage and many others. Two specialists in this area are Pericom Software and J River.

Pericom's Teem range of terminal emulators is probably the most comprehensive, covering all major platforms and all major emulations. J River's ICE range is more specific, aiming to connect Windows PCs to Unix servers via TCP/IP or serial lines, providing terminal emulation, printing to Unix printers and easy file transfer.

Unix moved on from its text-only roots many years ago and modern Unix systems have graphical user interfaces much like those of Windows or the MacOS. The essential difference between these and the Unix GUI, though, is that X is split into two parts, client and server. Confusingly, these terms refer to the opposite ends of the network than in normal usage: the X server is the program that runs on the user's computer, displaying the user interface and accepting input, while the X client is the actual program code running on a Unix host computer.

The X factor

This means that all you need to allow PCs to run X applications is an X server for MS Windows - and these are plentiful. While Digital, Sun and other companies offer their own X servers, one of the best-regarded third-party offerings, Exceed, again comes from Hummingbird. With an MS Windows X server, users can log-in to Unix hosts and run any X-based application as if they were using a Unix workstation - including the standard X terminal emulator xterm, making X ideal for mixed graphical and character-based work.

The only drawback of using terminal emulators or MS Windows X servers for Unix host access is the same as that for using NFS: the need for multiple client licences. However, a radical new product from SCO changes all that.

The mating game

Tarantella is an "application broker": it shifts the burden of client emulation from the desktop to the server. In short, Tarantella uses Java to present a remote desktop or "webtop" to any client computer with a Java-capable web browser. From the webtop, the user can start any host-based application to which they have rights, and Tarantella downloads Java code to the client browser to provide the relevant interface - either a terminal emulator for character-based software or a Java X emulator for graphical software.

The host software can be running on the Tarantella server or any other host machine on the network, meaning that it supports most host platforms - including Citrix WinFrame and its variants, which means that Tarantella can supply Windows applications to all clients, too.

Tarantella is remarkably flexible, but it's early days yet - the first version only appeared four months ago. Currently, Tarantella is confined to running on SCO's own UnixWare, but versions are promised for all major Unix variants and Windows NT.

There are plenty of ways to integrate Windows and Unix environments, and it's a safe bet that whoever your Unix supplier is they will have an offering - but no single product will be perfect for everyone, and those described here deserve consideration. Tarantella attempts to be all things to all system administrators, but for now, only if they are running SCO. It's highly likely, though, that it is a pointer to the way things will go in the future.


There are a host of solutions available for accessing Unix servers from Windows PCs. Rather fewer go the other way, allowing Unix users to use Windows applications or data stored on Windows servers.

For file-sharing, it's easiest to point out that the various solutions outlined in the main article for accessing Unix file systems from Windows will happily work both ways. Once a Windows machine has access to a Unix disk volume, it can place information on to that volume as easily as it can take it off.

For regular transfers, or those under control of the Unix system, NFS or Samba again provide the answer. Samba is both a client and a server, and Windows for Workgroups, Windows 95 and Windows NT all offer server functionality.

Although a Unix machine can't access the hard disk of a Windows box which is only running an NFS client, most NFS vendors also offer separate NFS servers for Windows. It would be unwise, at the very least, to use Windows 3 or Windows 95 as a file server, so this can reasonably be considered to apply mainly to PCs running Windows NT.

Here, the licensing restrictions on NT come into play. NT Workstation is only licensed for 10 simultaneous incoming client connections, so even if the NFS server is not so restricted, allowing more than this violates Microsoft's licence agreement. Different versions of NT Server allow different numbers of clients, and additional licences are readily available from Microsoft, although versions 3.x and 4 of NT Server do not actually limit connections to the licensed number.

There are two routes to running Windows applications on Unix workstations: emulating Windows itself on the workstation, or adding a multi-user version of Windows NT to the Unix network.

Because there are so many applications for DOS and Windows compared to those for all other operating system platforms put together, several companies have developed ways to run Windows, or Windows programs, under Unix. The simplest and most compatible method is to write a Unix program which emulates a complete Intel PC, and then run an actual copy of Windows on the emulator.

This has been done by UK company Insignia, whose SoftWindows was developed with assistance from Microsoft itself. SoftWindows runs on several Unix architectures including Solaris, IRIX, AIX and HP-UX (as well as the Apple Macintosh), and when running on a powerful workstation is very usable.

A different approach was tried by Sun with Wabi. Wabi once stood for "Windows Application Binary Interface", but for legal reasons, this was changed, and now the name doesn't stand for anything. Wabi translates Windows API calls into their Unix equivalents, and emulates an Intel 386 processor for use on RISC systems. This enables certain 16-bit Windows applications, including the major office suites, to run under Unix, without requiring an actual copy of Microsoft Windows. However, it isn't guaranteed to run any Windows application, and partly due to legal pressure from Microsoft, development was halted after the 16-bit edition was released.

It's still on sale, and versions exist for Sun Solaris, SCO Unix and Caldera OpenLinux.

Both these approaches are best suited to a small number of users who don't require high Windows performance. For many users and high-performance, Insignia's NTrigue or Tektronix' WinDD may be better answers. Both are based on Citrix WinFrame, which is a version of Windows NT Server 3.51 licensed from Microsoft and adapted to allow true multi-user access. While WinFrame itself uses the proprietary ICA protocol to communicate with clients, NTrigue and WinDD support standard X Windows, allowing Unix users to log-in to a PC server and remotely run 32-bit Windows software natively on Intel hardware.

October 18, 2016 07:41 PM

Roger Bell-West

Marlow Tabletop and Board Games 3 October 2016

Having been evicted from the Two Brewers for not drinking enough, we gathered at the Marlow Donkey for the fourth meeting of this Meetup-based boardgames group.

October 18, 2016 08:02 AM

October 17, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Greenmantle, John Buchan

1916 thriller; second of Buchan's books about Richard Hannay. Richard Hannay and Sandy Arbuthnot are convalescing from wounds received at the Battle of Loos when word comes from Sir Walter Bullivant of the Foreign Office: the Germans have some kind of trump-card with which they're planning to set the Moslem world on fire.

October 17, 2016 08:00 AM

October 16, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Garmin Drive favourites and Linux

Getting "favourites" (stored locations) on and off the Garmin Drive navi is slightly more fiddly than it needs to be, but doesn't require Windows even slightly. Here's what worked for me.

October 16, 2016 08:03 AM

October 15, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Ask the Cards a Question, Marcia Muller

1982 mystery; second in Muller's series about Sharon McCone, private investigator in San Francisco. One of Sharon's neighbours in her apartment building is strangled, and it looks worryingly as if Sharon's house-guest, who's prone to alcoholic amnesia, might have done it.

October 15, 2016 08:00 AM

October 14, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Boardgames at the Derehams

As part of a sparsely-attended meet, I got some boardgaming done in my local.

October 14, 2016 08:04 AM

October 13, 2016

Zoe O'Connell (Complicity)

NSPCC cancel trans kids event

The NSPCC have now announced the cancellation of the debate into the care of trans kids. At first, this seems like good news, given one of the speakers was to have been Sarah Ditum – known for her support of those practising conversion therapy.

However, I am quite annoyed by the tone of their response which is at best disingenuous. Here is what they said: (I received the same text via email in response to my letter)

However, the trans community have raised concerns and told us that they don’t support the NSPCC hosting this discussion. We have listened, and following the withdrawal of a keynote speaker, we are no longer hosting this event.

To be fair, getting a press release like this right in a way that doesn’t cause repercussions is hard. However, I would expect a withdrawal from an organisation with a competent press department to use phrases like “Having considered the background of the speakers, we can understand why this would upset members of the trans communities“. Some people might regard these as “weasel words”, but they’re there to indicate that they don’t blame those who protested, that they can see both sides of the argument and they really just don’t want a fight. Instead, we’re treated to a spin on the facts stating that trans people don’t want the NSPCC to discuss this issue. We do, because we think this is an important issue and I said as much in my letter to them. We just don’t think it’s appropriate for the debate to involve someone supporting those engaged in child abuse.

I expect we’ll see a concern-trolling New Statesman rant by Sarah Ditum about how her right to freeze peach has been violated soon. As always, it hasn’t.

by Zoe O'Connell at October 13, 2016 12:02 PM

Roger Bell-West

Winter Study, Nevada Barr

2008 mystery, fourteenth in Barr's Anna Pigeon series, murder mysteries in US National Parks. Anna returns to Isle Royale, this time in winter, to join the wolf/moose wildlife study; it's disrupted by an observer from Homeland Security, who clearly has a brief to shut it down and instead open the park in winter to "beef up security". Then traces of an unexpected large predator show up. Then people start to die.

October 13, 2016 08:03 AM

Zoe O'Connell (Complicity)

A letter to the NSPCC on conversion therapy

Following the news that the NSPCC had invited Sarah Ditum to a debate on trans kids, I sent them the note below regarding Ditum’s support for those advocating conversion therapy against kids. Since I wrote this yesterday evening, Kellie Maloney (also an odd choice for this debate) has pulled out which means it may not go ahead, although Kellie’s withdrawal appears to be because of concerns about personal attacks from Ditum rather than due to her controversial views on trans people.


I would like to thank the NSPCC for giving time to discuss the issue of treatment of trans children. As I am sure you are aware, this is an important but often overlooked topic in an area in which many involved in setting policy, including teachers, social workers, clinicians and politicians, are unaware of the facts and of the desperate need for more resources.

However, the as someone who had until now held the NSPCC in high regard, I was appalled to learn that you had selected speakers who will harm rather than help this issue. Sarah Ditum’s position on trans issues in general is controversial and well-documented, but I would particularly like to highlight to you two specific incidents regarding Ditum’s support for those practising conversion therapy.

Firstly, in 2014, Sarah Ditum wrote an article for the New Statesman, best characterised as “concern trolling”, regarding the suicide of Leelah Alcorn. (“If you believe trans lives matter, don’t share Leelah Alcorn’s suicide note on social media“) Leelah was a trans teenager who had been cut off from her peers and subjected to conversion therapy by her parents. After 5 months of this, Leelah posted a public suicide note on the social media site Tumblr in which she was highly critical of her parents, before stepping into traffic on Interstate 71. Despite this, Ditum wrote an article for the New Stateman in which she was highly critical of the media coverage highlighting the dangers of conversion therapy, downplayed the significance of the abuse and expressed support for Leelah’s parents. (She has not written similar articles concerning other events that do not feature trans people)

More recently, in May 2016 another article appeared in the New Statesman by Ditum (“What is gender, anyway?“) in which she supported clinicians practising conversion therapy on children, including Susan Bradley and Kenneth Zucker. Conversion therapy (sometimes also known as reparative therapy) is now widely abhorred by the medical community as not just ineffective but dangerous and cruel. It is banned in some Canadian provinces and US states and, in the UK, LGB conversion therapy has been condemned by all major counselling and psychotherapy bodies as well as the NHS. Zucker’s clinic in Canada was shut down after Ontario banned the practice of conversion therapy – Susan Bradley also campaigned against the ban. The centre hosting the clinic later issued a public apology for the practice as a result of an external audit, but Ditum dismisses this in her article as being “attacked for not conforming to the current trans political line” and Zucker being “ultimately forced from his job”.

It should not be the case that, in 2016, a children’s charity proposes to host a “debate” in which one of the panellists supports treatment that is now banned in many parts of the world as child abuse. Your supporters would be horrified if you hosted a debate with those advocating other forms of child abuse – please do not let trans kids be the exception.

I urge the NSPCC to reconsider the ethical implications of allowing this debate to proceed.

Kind Regards,

Councillor Zoe O’Connell
Cambridge City Council

by Zoe O'Connell at October 13, 2016 07:30 AM

October 12, 2016

Steve Kennedy

Adonit Pixel - it's no pencil (but close)

Adonit have been making styluses for iPads for a while. The latest incarnation is the Pixel (which is slightly longer and thinner than the previous Script so it feels more like a pen). It still uses a 1.9mm pressure sensitive point at the end, but it's been improved so it feel more like a pen on paper.

It has rechargeable battery which is charged via a small USB adapter which plugs into a USB port and then the Pixel can "sit" on that.

It can work with any iPad or iPhone as a dumb stylus, but the magic happens when you power it up and then use it with applications that know about stylus' (there's usually an option is the settings area of the application to enable it).

As it uses Bluetooth it only works with iPhone 5, 5c, 5s, SE, 6, 6 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus, iPad Mini, iPad Mini 2, iPad Mini 3, iPad Mini 4, iPad 4, iPad Air, iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro 12.9 (don't quite know why it won't work with the smaller iPad Pro). Packages that support it are Photshop Sketch, Concepts, Procreate, Illustrator Draw, Autodesk Sketchbook, Astropad, Picture Photo Studio, Goodnotes, Penultimate, Notes Plus, Noteledge Cloud, Noteshelf, Myscrypt Smart Note plus many more (and more being added all the time as Adonis have an open SDK that people can use to integrate the Adonit features into their apps).

In terms of features, the Pixel's nib is pressure sensitive so things like line widths or increased/decreased shading will correspond to the pressure being applied, there are also two short-cut buttons that can be defined within the application (say to change brushes or undo/redo). Supports apps also support palm rejection (you tell it your pen holding style) and that can make a big difference as putting your palm on the screen will normally confuse the app and may apply paint (or whatever's being drawn) where your palm is. This can allow a much more comfortable drawing position without worrying about where your palm is resting.

The only gripe is that if you have a screen protector on your Apple device, it can make it feel a bit squidgy (the screen protector in use has a soft texture, a glass screen protector would fair better).

If you're into drawing or note taking on an Apple device, this could be a useful addition for you.

Amazon stock the Pixel for £79 but it can be had online for £59 if you look (it's also cheaper than the Apple Pencil which is only supported on iPad Pros).

by Steve Karmeinsky ( at October 12, 2016 12:31 PM

Roger Bell-West

Pyramid 93: Spaceships III

Pyramid, edited by Steven Marsh, is the monthly GURPS supplement containing short articles with a loose linking theme. This time it's a third issue on the general theme of Spaceships (the GURPS subsystem as well as the overall concept).

October 12, 2016 08:03 AM

October 11, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Fifth Season, N K Jemisin

2015 science-fantasy. The world known as the Stillness is wracked by tectonic activity; only the earth-shapers, the orogenes, can hold things together. So naturally they are slaves.

October 11, 2016 08:03 AM

October 10, 2016

Liam Proven

Some ramblings on the importance of culture in tech, especially around choice of programming tools

[A friend asked why, if Lisp was so great, it never got a look-in when Ada was designed.]

My impression is that it’s above all else cultural.

There have long been multiple warring factions depending on deeply-felt beliefs about how computing should be done. EBDCIC versus ASCII, RISC vs CISC, C vs Pascal, etc. Now it’s mostly sorted inasmuch as we all use Unix-like OSes — the only important exception, Windows, is becoming more Unix-like — and other languages etc. are layered on top.

But it goes deeper than, e.g., C vs Pascal, or BASIC or Fortran or whatever. There is the imperative vs functional camp. Another is algebraic expressions versus non-algebraic: i.e. prefix or postfix (stack-oriented RPN), or something Other such as APL/I/J/A+; manual memory management versus automatic with GC; strongly versus weakly typed (and arguably sub-battles such as manifest versus inferred/duck typing, static vs dynamic, etc.)

Mostly, the wars settled on: imperative; algebraic (infix) notation; manual memory management for system-level code and for externally-distributed code (commercial or FOSS), and GC Pascal-style languages for a lot of internal corporate s/w development (Delphi, VB, etc.).

FP, non-algebraic notation and things like were thus sidelined for decades, but are now coming back layered on top of complex OSes written in C-like languages. This is an era of proliferation in dynamic, interpreted or JITTed languages used for specific niche tasks, running on top of umpteen layers of GP OS. Examples range across Javascript, Perl 6, Python, Julia, Clojure, Ruby and tons more.

Meanwhile, new safer members of the broader C family of compiled languages, such as Rust and Go, and stretching a point Swift, are getting attention for more performance-critical app programming.

All the camps have strong arguments. There are no single right or wrong answers. However, cultural pressure and uniformity mean that outside of certain niches, we have several large camps or groups. (Of course, individual people can belong to more than one, depending on job, hobby, whatever.)

C and its kin are one, associated with Unix and later Windows.

Pascal and its kin, notably Object Pascal, Delphi/FPC, another. Basic now means VB and that means .NET family languages, another family. Both have historically mainly been part of the MS camp but now reaching out, against some resistance, into Unix land.

Java forms a camp of its own, but there are sub-camps of non-Java-like languages running on the JVM — Clojure, Scala, etc.

Apple’s flavour of Unix forms another camp, comprising ObjC and Swift, having abandoned outreach efforts.

People working on the development of Unix itself tend to strongly favour C above all else, and like relatively simple, old-fashioned tools — ancient text editors, standalone compilers. This has influenced the FOSS Unix GUIs and their apps.

The commercial desktop app developers are more into IDEs and automation; these days this covers .NET and JVM camps, and spans all OSes, but the Pascal/VM camp are still somewhat linked to Windows.

The people doing niche stuff, for their own needs or their organisations, which might be distributed as source — which covers sysadmins, devops and so on — are more into scripting languages, where there’s terrific diversity.

Increasingly the in-house app devs are just using Java, be they desktop or server apps. Indeed “desktop” apps of this type might now often mean Java server apps generating a remote UI via web protocols and technologies.

Multiple camps and affiliations. Many of them disdain the others.

A summary of how I’m actually addressing your question:

But these ones are the dominant ones, AFAICS. So when a new “safe” “secure” language was being built, “weird” niche things like Lisp, Forth, or APL never had a chance of a look-in. So it came out looking a bit Pascal- and BASIC-like, as those are the ones on the safe, heavily-type-checked side of the fence.

A more general summary:

I am coming to think that there are cultural forces stronger than technical forces involved in language choice.

Some examples I suspect that have been powerful:

Lisp (and FP) are inherently complex to learn and to use and require exceptionally high intelligence in certain focussed forms. Some people perfectly able to be serviceable, productive coders in simple imperative languages find themselves unable to fathom these styles or methods of programming. Their response is resentment, and to blame the languages, not themselves. (Dunning Kruger is not a problem confined to those of low intelligence.)

This has resulted in the marginalisation of these technologies as the computing world became vastly more commoditised and widespread. Some people can’t handle them, and some of them end up in positions of influence, so teaching switched away from them and now students are taught in simpler, imperative languages. Result, there is a general perception that some of these niche tools are exotic, not generally applicable or important, just toys for academics. This isn’t actually true but it’s such a widespread belief that it is self-perpetuating.

This also applies to things like Haskell, ML/OCaml, APL, etc.

On the flip side: programming and IT are male-dominated industries, for no very good reason. This results in masculine patterns of behaviour having profound effects and influences.

So, for instance, languages in the Pascal family have safety as a priority and try to protect programmers from errors, possibly by not allowing them to write unsafe code. A typically masculine response to this is to resent the exertion of oppressive control.

Contrastingly, languages in the BCPL/C/C++ family give the programmer extensive control and require considerable discipline and care to write safe code. They allow programmers to make mistakes which safer languages would catch and prevent.

This has a flip side, though: the greater control potentially permits or offers theoretically higher performance.

This aligns with “manly” virtues of using powerful tools — the appeal of chainsaws, fast cars and motorcycles, big powerful engines, even arguably explicitly dangerous things like knives and guns. Cf. Perl, “the Swiss Army chainsaw”.

Thus, the masculine culture around IT has resulted in people favouring these languages. They’re dangerous in unskilled hands. So, get skilled, then you can access the power.

Of course, again, as Dunning Kruger teach us, people cannot assess their own skill, and languages which permit bugs that others would trap have been used very widely for 3 decades or more, often on the argument of performance but actually because of toxic culture. All OSes are written in them; now as a result it is a truism that only these languages are suitable for writing OSes.

(Ignoring the rich history of OSes in safer languages — Algol, Lisp, Oberon, perhaps even Mesa, or Pascal in the early Macs.)

If you want fast code, you need a fast language! And Real Men use C, and you want to be a Real Man, don’t you?

Cf. the story of Mel The Real Programmer.

Do it in something low-level, manage your own memory. Programming is a game for the smart, and you must be smart because you’re a programmer, so you can handle it and you won’t drop a pointer or overflow an array.

Result, decades of complex apps tackling arbitrary complex data — e.g. Web browsers, modern office suites — written in C, and decades of software patching and updating trying to catch the legions of bugs. This is now simply perceived as how software works, as normal.

Additionally, in many cases, any possible performance benefits have long been lost due to large amounts of protective code, of error-checking, in libraries and tools, made necessary by the problems and inherent fragility of the languages.

The rebellion against it is only in the form of niche line-of-business app developers doing narrow, specific stuff, who are moving to modern interpreted languages running on top of tens of million of lines of C written by coders who are only just able to operate at this level of competence and make lots of mistakes.

For people not facing the pressures of commercial releases, there was an era of using safer, more protective compiled languages for in-company apps — Turbo Pascal, Delphi, VB. But that’s fading away now in favour of Java and .NET, “managed” languages running under a VM, with concomitant loss of performance but slight improvement in safety and reliability.

And because this has been widespread for some 2-3 decades, it’s now just _how things are done_. So if someone presents evidence and accounts of vastly better programmer productivity in other tools, decades ago, in things like Lisp or Smalltalk, then these are discounted as irrelevant. Those are not manly languages for manly programmers and so should not be considered. They’re toys.

People in small enough niches continue to use them but have given up evangelising about them. Like Mac users, their comments are dismissed as fanboyism.

So relatively small cultural effects have created immensely strong cultures, dogmas, about what is or isn’t a good choice for certain categories of problem. People outside those categories continue to use some of these languages and tools, while others languish.

This is immensely sad.

For instance, there have been successful hybrid approaches.

OSes written in Pascal derivatives, or in Lisp, or in Smalltalk, now lost to history. As a result, processor design itself has shifted and companies make processors that run C and C-like languages efficiently, and processors that understood richer primitives — lists, or objects — are now historical footnotess.

And languages which attempted to straddle different worlds — such as infix-notation Lisp derivatives, readable and easily learnable by programmers who only know infix-based, imperative languages — e.g. Dylan, PLOT, or CGOL — are again forgotten.

Or languages which developed down different avenues, such as the families of languages based on or derived from Oberon, or APL, or ML. All very niche.

And huge amounts of precious programmer time and effort expended fighting against limited and limiting tools, not well suited to large complex projects, because they simply do not know that there are or were alternatives. These have been crudely airbrushed out, like disappearing Soviet commissars.

“And so successful was this venture that very soon Magrathea itself became the richest planet of all time, and the rest of the galaxy was reduced to abject poverty. And so the system broke down, the empire collapsed, and a long, sullen silence settled over the galaxy, disturbed only by the pen-scratchings of scholars as they laboured into the night over smug little treatises on the value of a planned political economy. In these enlightened days, of course, no one believes a word of it.”

(Douglas Adams)

October 10, 2016 05:09 PM

Roger Bell-West

Edwin of the Iron Shoes, Marcia Muller

1977 mystery; first in Muller's series about Sharon McCone, private investigator in San Francisco. Sharon's been looking into arson and vandalism on a street of junk and antique shops that's in the crosshairs of gentrification. But now one of the shop owners has been fatally stabbed.

October 10, 2016 08:03 AM

October 09, 2016

Liam Proven

Switching OSes regularly is good for your brain.

Recycled blog comment, in reply to this post and this tweet, itself a comment on Bill Bennet's blog post.

I couldn't really disagree more, I'm afraid.

I regularly switch between Mac OS X, Linux & Windows. Compared to genuinely different OSes -- RISC OS, Plan 9, Bluebottle -- they're almost identical. There's no such thing as "intuitive" computing (yet) -- it's just what you're most familiar with.

IMHO the problem is that Windows has been so dominant for 25Y+ that its ways are the only ones for which most people have "muscle memory".

There is nothing intuitive about hierarchical filing systems. It's not how real life works. People don't have folders full of folders full of folders. They have 1 level, maybe 2. E.g. a drawer or set of drawers containing folders with documents in. No more levels that that

The deep hierarchies of 1970s to 1990s computers were a techie thing. They're conceptually abstract for normal folk. Tablets and Android phones show that: people have 1 level of folders and that's enough. The success of MS Office 2007 et seq (which I cordially loathe) shows that hunting through 1 level of tabs on a ribbon is easier for non-techies than layers of menus. Me, I like the menus

You get used to Windows-isms and if they're taken away or altered, suddenly, it's all weird. But it's not harder, it's just different. The Mac way, even today, is somewhat simpler, and once you learn the new grammar, it's less hassle. Windows has the edge in some things, but surprisingly few, and with the accumulation of cruft like ribbons everywhere, it's losing that, too

You say Apple's spent 27y hiding stuff. No. That's obviously silly. OS X is only 16y old, for a start. But it's spent 27y doing things differently and you didn't keep up, so when you switched, aaaargh, it's all weird!

OS X is Unix! Trademarked, POSIX certified, the lot. You know Unix? Pop open a terminal, all the usual stuff is there. But it's too much for non-techies, so it's simplified for them. Result, a trillion-dollar company and what PC types call "Mac fanbois". There's a reason – because it really is easier for them. No window management: full-screen apps. No need to remember the meaning of multiple mouse buttons. They're there if you need them, but you can do it with gestures instead^d^dI learned Macs in 1988 and have used them alongside Windows and Linux for as long as all 3 existed. I use a 29Y old Apple keyboard and a 5-button Dell mouse on my Mac. I use it in a legacy way, with deep folder trees, a few symlinks to find things, and no Apple apps at all. When I borrowed the Mac of a student, set up with everything full-screen on multiple desktops switched between with gestures, all synched with his iPad and iPhone, I was totally lost. He uses it in a totally different way to the way I use mine -- with the same FOSS apps as on my Linux laptops and my dusty unused Windows partitions

But that flexibility is good. And the fact that they have sold hundreds of millions   of iOS devices and Macs indicates that it really is good for people, and they love it. It's not slavish fashion-following: to account for a company surviving and thriving for 40 years based on that is arrant foolishness

Perhaps you're a car driver. Most of them think that car controls are intuitive. They aren't. They're entirely arbitrary. I mostly switched from motorcycles to cars in 2005 at nearly 40 years old. Motorbike controls -- a hand throttle, because it needs great precision, but a foot gearchange because that doesn't -- still feel far more natural to me, a decade later

But billions drive cars and find car controls natural and easy

It's just what you're used to

It's not Apple's fault, I'm afraid. It's yours. Sorry

I urge you to exercise your brain and learn new muscle memories. It's worth it. The additional flexibility feels great.

October 09, 2016 02:13 PM

Roger Bell-West

The Case of the Late Pig, Margery Allingham

1937 classic English detective fiction; ninth of Allingham's novels of Albert Campion. Campion is called to the village of Kepesake as the recent rich incomer has clearly been murdered… but when Campion sees the body, he realises he went to the same man's funeral five months earlier.

October 09, 2016 08:03 AM

October 08, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Killing of Worlds, Scott Westerfeld

2003 military SF, second book of Succession. Captain Laurent Zai tries to win a space battle; Senator Nara Oxham tries to survive imperial politics.

October 08, 2016 08:02 AM

October 07, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Thirsty Meeples September 2016

Back to the boardgame café again, on a sweaty evening when we didn't feel like anything terribly complicated. With images; cc-by-sa on everything.

October 07, 2016 08:01 AM

October 06, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Blood and Circuses, Kerry Greenwood

1994 historical detection, sixth in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series (1920s flapper detective in Australia). Phryne goes undercover in a circus to try to find out who's sabotaging it; and a performer who's moved on from it is accused of murder.

October 06, 2016 08:03 AM

October 05, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Unsolved London Murders, The 1920s and 1930s, Jonathan Oates

2009 non-fiction. Oates recounts the twenty cases in London during these two decades which were treated as murder, but never solved.

October 05, 2016 08:02 AM

October 04, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Risen Empire, Scott Westerfeld

2003 military SF, first book of Succession. Captain Laurent Zai of the Imperial frigate Lynx is attempting to rescue the Child Empress from invading cyborgs. Only that makes it sound dire, and it's actually rather good.

October 04, 2016 08:00 AM

October 03, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Green Mill Murder, Kerry Greenwood

1993 historical detection, fifth in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series (1920s flapper detective in Australia). During a dance competition at the Green Mill, a figure slumps to the ground. Was he the target of his attacker – or was it Phryne? And why has her partner for the evening bolted?

October 03, 2016 08:01 AM

October 02, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Dancers in Mourning, Margery Allingham

1937 classic English detective fiction; eighth of Allingham's novels of Albert Campion. Someone's playing silly pranks on Jimmy Sutane, star of a successful musical; he invites Campion to look into it. But then one of Sutane's house-guests dies: accident, suicide, murder? Later US vt Who Killed Chloe?.

October 02, 2016 08:02 AM

October 01, 2016

Roger Bell-West

September 2016 Trailers

Some trailers I've seen recently, and my thoughts on them. (Links are to youtube. Opinions are thoroughly personal.)

October 01, 2016 08:02 AM

September 30, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Death at Victoria Dock, Kerry Greenwood

1992 historical detection, fourth in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series (1920s flapper detective in Australia). As Phryne is driving home one night, someone shoots out her windscreen. As the gunfight moves on, she gets out of the car to find an injured young man, who dies in her arms.

September 30, 2016 08:04 AM

September 29, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Spider Light, Sarah Rayne

2006 psychological thriller. After a highly public series of tragic incidents, Antonia Weston goes to Cheshire to stay in a cottage near a small market town, hoping for anonymity and peace. But she soon experiences a series of events which seem to be echoing the past she's trying to forget.

September 29, 2016 08:00 AM

September 28, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Murder on the Ballarat Train, Kerry Greenwood

1991 historical detection, third in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series (1920s flapper detective in Australia). Everyone in one of the carriages on the overnight train to Ballarat is chloroformed; Phryne retains just enough consciousness to shoot out the window and let in some air. When everyone recovers, it's found that an elderly passenger has vanished. But why?

September 28, 2016 08:00 AM

September 27, 2016

Roger Bell-West

How To Use a Garmin Drive navi with Linux

I have recently purchased a Garmin DriveSmart navigation unit. It is quite possible to get this up and running, legally, without buying a copy of Windows or Mac OS. Here's how. I believe this will also work with DriveAware and DriveLuxe models.

September 27, 2016 08:00 AM

September 26, 2016

Liam Proven

In a response to a comment on:

It’s time to ban ‘stupid’ IoT devices. They’re as dangerous as post-Soviet era nuclear weapons.

One of the elements of security is currentness. It is more or less axiomatic that all software contains errors. Over time, these are discovered, and then they can be exploited to gain remote control over the thing running the software.

This is why people talk about "software rot" or "rust". It get old, goes off, and is not desirable, or safe, to use any more.

Today, embedded devices are becoming so powerful & capable that it's possible to run ordinary desktop/server operating systems on them. This is much, much easier than purpose-writing tiny, very simple, embedded code. The smaller the software, the less there is to go wrong, so the less there is to debug.

Current embedded systems are getting pretty big. The £5 Raspberry pi zero can run a full Linux OS, GUI and all. This makes it easy and cheap to use.

For instance, the possibly forthcoming ZX Spectrum Next and Ben Versteeg's ZX HD Spectrum HDMI adaptor both work by just sticking a RasPi Zero in there and having it run software that converts the video signal. Even if the device is 1000x more powerful and capable than the computer it's interfaced to, it doesn't matter if it only costs a fiver.

The problem is that once such a device is out there in lots of Internet-connected hardware, it never gets updated. So even in the vanishingly-unlikely even that it was entirely free of known bugs, issues and vulnerabilities when it was shipped, it won't stay that way. They *will* be discovered and then they *will* be exploited and the device *will* become vulnerable to exploitation.

And this is true of everything from smartphone-controlled light switches to doorbells to Internet-aware fridges. To a first approximation, all of them.

You can't have them automatically update themselves, because general-purpose OSes more or less inevitably grow over time. At some point they won't fit and your device bricks itself.

Or you give it lots of storage, increasing its price, but then the OS gets a new major version, which can't be automatically upgraded.

Or the volunteers updating the software stop updating that release, edition, family, or whatever, or it stops supporting the now-elderly chip your device uses...

Whichever way, you're toast. You are inevitably going to end up screwed.

What is making IoT possible is that computer power is cheap enough to embed general-purpose computers running general-purpose OSes into cheap devices, making them "smart". But that makes them inherently vulnerable.

This is a more general case of the argument that I tried (& judging by the comments, failed) to make in one of my relatively recent The Register pieces.

Cheap general-purpose hardware is a great thing and enables non-experts to do amazing and very cool things. However, so long as it's running open, general-purpose software designed for radically different types of computer, we have a big problem, and one that is going to get a whole lot worse.

September 26, 2016 08:27 PM

Roger Bell-West

The Empress of Mars, Kage Baker

2009 SF, loosely connected with the Company series. The British Arean Corporation sponsored the colonisation of Mars… then it turned out that short-term profits weren't possible, and they lost interest. Mary Griffith runs the only place to buy a beer on the Tharsis Bulge.

September 26, 2016 08:00 AM

September 25, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Death in Ecstasy, Ngaio Marsh

1936 classic English detective fiction; fourth of Marsh's novels of Inspector Roderick Alleyn. At a meeting of the House of the Sacred Flame, a small cult, the Chosen Vessel drinks from the Flaming Cup, gabbles nonsensically, and dies of a dose of sodium cyanide.

September 25, 2016 08:00 AM

September 24, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Expanse season 1

2015-2016 science fiction, 10 episodes. When the ice-hauler Canterbury gets destroyed, the Belters blame Mars, Mars blames Earth, and Earth blames the Belters.

September 24, 2016 08:03 AM

September 23, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Flying Too High, Kerry Greenwood

1990 historical detection, second in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series (1920s flapper detective in Australia). Phryne takes on the case of a son whose mother is worried he'll murder his father, and then the father is indeed murdered; and she tracks down a kidnapped child.

September 23, 2016 08:00 AM

September 22, 2016

Roger Bell-West

GURPS Adaptations, William H. Stoddard

This supplement is not about a specific world, or an area of GURPS rules: it's about how to convert a fictional setting for use in a role-playing campaign.

September 22, 2016 08:04 AM

September 21, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Moon-Spinners, Mary Stewart

1962; mystery/thriller or romantic suspense. Nicola Ferris, on holiday from her job at the British Embassy in Athens, has been looking forward to getting away from it all in an obscure corner of Crete. But a day of random wandering brings her into contact with two men, one of them badly injured.

September 21, 2016 08:04 AM

September 20, 2016

Jess Rowbottom

The Albumen

It is done, sent off, completed. The studio is once again quiet and tidy – I’ve even managed to hoover the rug. Even so, it’s littered with soldered makeshift instruments and lyrics scribbled, printed and sellotaped to random surfaces: they adorn the shelves, the mic stands, even the back of my chair. But my first solo album is finished and out of the door – it’s a wrap!

Ten months ago in a Brighton hospital bed I aurally hallucinated, wrecked out of my face on morphine and grinning like an idiot. With the rhythm of the hospital machinery in my head I wrote “Sailing Alone”, the first song for what would become the debut album of The Bleeding Obvious.

After such a major operation I planned to take a few months off work: teach myself to play guitar properly, read the instructions on the musical kit I’ve collected over the years, learn to circuit-bend noise-making devices. Over those weeks of freedom I saved various vignettes with no plans to use them, yet gradually music gained lyrics – even just phrases – and the seeds were sown.

With a complementary idea to rework songs written with a previous band I went back to the original master discs to play with the concept: the effort turned into “The Obvious Pseudonym”, a largely instrumental song which took musical motifs woven into an orchestral overture. A group of degree students in Leeds formed a small makeshift orchestra to develop it as an idea. Unfortunately, using old songs turned out to be a bit of an emotional dead-end but did lead to new hooks. “Hang on,” thought I. “Maybe this new material could work as an album?”

Ideas came and went. By February there were 13 tracks some of which would change very little over the coming months and it was a slow burn. Much to the amusement of my partner I’d jump naked into the studio in the middle of the night to record a part, adding unusual instruments to the mix simply because I could. I taught myself to play rudimentary saxophone and flute and strange signal paths were wired up involving miniature pianos or circuit-bent childrens’ toys. I felt relieved my poor neighbour Doreen is hard of hearing.

The first three musical friends on-board were vocalists: Anthony Jackson-Stubbs of LGBT disco pop band Paleday, Ruby Macintosh (who I’d worked with previously on the Eurovision wannabe track “Mirrorball”), and my old blues crooner friend Scott Wainwright. Wordsmith Helen Rhodes took a concept for I, Human and blasted it into some really quite terrifying lyrics, Ralph Dartford of A Firm Of Poets agreed to speak them for me. My close friend Marie helped me with lyrics and came back with comments.

Feathered TeardropOn the subject of artwork, the blood-drop was one of those things which seemed to be there from the first day but became a consistent motif throughout the whole project. It stands for tears of sadness and joy, the rain, the sweat, the blood. Or, more simply (as my partner Helen put it), blood sweat and tears – here through sheer graft. The visual element further coalesced when my friend Cathie Heart agreed to do a photoshoot around Kirkstall Abbey and down by the canal at Granary Wharf in Leeds, where I was bitten by a midge and leant against a piece of scrap metal looking like I was touting for business from the local sailors.

Every song has its own piece of artwork around the teardrop, everything tells a story.

I enlisted instrumentalist friends: a peppering of drums, a pedal-steel guitar, violin, viola, punk wailing, the orchestra of course, and flute from a childhood friend I sang with at Wakefield Cathedral. Although by early August most of the Leeds students had gone their separate ways I had almost enough orchestral stems to complete the work, and those folks I still spoke to with were gracious enough to record more. My former band-mate friend Simon Rowe (now of Berlyn Trilogy) produced Wallflower with me and gave pointers for other tracks; my son Ben assisted on production and the overall story arc (the vocoder on “Splendid!” is his doing for instance). Other vocalists stepped up to the mark: the extraordinary voices of Jacqui Wicks (aka Ossett Observer), Irene Purcell, Colleen Taylor and my daughter Ellie Rowbottom all grace tracks, bringing their own feel to the music, influencing songs and completely changing their character as the weeks passed.

Finally, accompanied by cheese, home-made biscotti and Prosecco, a group of us sat in my lounge in Wrenthorpe last Saturday and listened to it start to finish with nothing more to be done, music complete. Splendid!

On 17th November 2016 exactly one year since that first song was written, it will be unleashed on the world. You’ll be able to get it on red vinyl LP with gatefold sleeve, digital (Amazon, iTunes, Google Music and all that),  and of course on CD. Before that, from mid-October it will be available for preorder online, or you can coax your local independent record store into getting it for you – it’s on the Hotfox label, catalogue HFOX001. There’s also a launch gig at Unity Works (Wakefield) on 19th November which is selling fast, so you probably want to get your ticket soon.

A former acquaintance was fond of saying “one day this will all be an anecdote”, the phrase which opens the prologue spoken by my daughter Ellie. It’s an angry album, a pissed-off album – but at the same time a body of work with optimism for the future and an appreciation of those who have stuck around; a collection of songs telling a very personal story. I hope you enjoy it.

Meantime, here’s a preview in the form of track 7, “Put Your Arms Around Me”, featuring my wonderful friend Ruby Macintosh on vocals:

by Jess at September 20, 2016 01:11 PM

Roger Bell-West

Marlow Tabletop and Board Games 5 September 2016

Back to the Two Brewers on a muggy night, for the third meeting of this Meetup-based boardgames group.

September 20, 2016 08:00 AM

September 19, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Cocaine Blues, Kerry Greenwood

1989 historical detection, first in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series (1920s flapper detective in Australia). Intelligent, beautiful, rich, and bored, the Hon. Phryne Fisher travels to Australia in order to find out whether John Andrews is poisoning his wife, her clients' daughter.

September 19, 2016 08:03 AM

September 18, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Where Brands Meet People

I'm not fond of ClearChannel; I'm already inclined to regard it as a fairly vile mob because (a) it's an advertising firm and (b) it systematically destroyed non-top-40 music radio in the USA so as to maximise advertising revenue. But it's reached a new low.

September 18, 2016 08:02 AM

September 17, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Strong Poison, Dorothy Sayers

1930 classic English detective fiction; fifth of Sayers's novels of Lord Peter Wimsey. Philip Boyes, writer on atheism, anarchy and free love, died of quite a lot of arsenic; Harriet Vane, who had lived with him without benefit of clergy for nearly a year until they had quarrelled three months earlier, is accused of having poisoned him. Wimsey, seeing the trial, is convinced of her innocence, not to say smitten by her; when the jury cannot agree on a verdict, he makes it his business to save her from the gallows in the month before the new trial.

September 17, 2016 08:03 AM

September 16, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Eye of the Storm, Marcia Muller

1988 mystery; eighth in Muller's series about Sharon McCone, private investigator in San Francisco. Sharon's sister Patsy has a new boyfriend, and a renovation project in the Sacramento Delta. But someone's playing tricks, sabotaging the project and scaring off the workers; Sharon takes a long weekend away from her job to help Patsy out.

September 16, 2016 08:01 AM

September 15, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Mansions of Madness Second Edition

Some friends of mine have got the new edition of Mansions of Madness, and I went along to try it out. Spoilers for the "Escape from Innsmouth" scenario.

September 15, 2016 08:01 AM

September 14, 2016

Liam Proven

YouTube just "recommended" to me one of the worst videos I've ever seen.

So, very rarely for me, a YouTube comment.

I know, I know, "never read the comments". But sheesh...

This is the single most inaccurate, error-ridden piece of computer reporting I have ever seen. Almost every single claim is wrong.

#9 Corel LinuxOS

This wasn't "designed by Debian". It was designed by, as the name says, Corel, but based on Debian, as is Ubuntu, Mint, Elementary & many other distros. For its time it was pretty good. I ran it.

"Struggled to detect drives" is nonsense.

It begat Xandros which continued for some years. Why was it killed? Because Corel did a licensing deal with Microsoft to add Visual Basic for Applications and MS Office toolbars to WordPerfect Office. One of the terms of the deal that MS insisted on was the cancellation of WordPerfect Office for Linux, Corel LinuxOS, and Corel's ARM-based NetWinder line of hardware.

#7 ITS

"Offered absolutely no security". Correct -- by design. Because it came out of what later became the GNU Project, and was meant to encourage sharing.

#6 GNU Hurd

Still isn't complete because it was vastly over-optimistic, but it has inspired L4, Minix 3 and many others. Most of its userland became the basis of Linux, arguably the most successful OS in the history of the world.

#5 Windows ME

There is a service pack, but it's unofficial.

It runs well on less memory than Windows 2000 did, and it was the first (and last) member of the Windows 9x family to properly support FireWire -- important if you had an iPod, for instance.

#4 MS-DOS 4.0

Wasn't written by Microsoft; it was a rebadged version of IBM's PC-DOS 4.0.

The phrase "badly-coded memory addresses" is literally meaningless, it is empty techno-babble.

It ran fine and introduced many valuable additions, such as support for hard disk partitions over 32MB, disk caching as standard, and the graphical DOSShell with its handy program-switching facility.

No, it wasn't a classic release, but it was the beginning of Microsoft being forced into making DOS competitive, alongside PC-DOS 4.0 and DR-DOS 5. It wasn't a result of creeping featuritis -- it was the beginning of it, and not from MS.

#3 Symbian

Symbian was a triumph, powering the very successfully Psion Series 5, 5mx, Revo and NetBook as well as multiple mobile phones.

Meanwhile, there was no such device as "the Nokia S60" -- S60 was a user interface, a piece of software, not a phone. It was one of Symbian's UIs, alongside S80, S90 and UIQ in Europe and others elsewhere.

Symbian was the only mobile OS with good enough realtime support to run the GSM stack on the same CPU as the main OS -- all other smartphones used a separate CPU running a separate OS.

Its browser was fine for the time.

Nokia only moved to Windows Phone OS when it hired a former Microsoft manager to run the company. Before then it also had its own Linux, Maemo, and also made Android devices.

#2 Lindows

"The open source distribution of Linux" is more technobabble. A distribution is a variety of Linux -- Lindows was one.

Its UI was Windows-like, like many other Linuxes even today, but Lindows' selling point was that it could run Windows apps via WINE. This wasn't a good idea - the compatibility wasn't there yet although it's quite good today -- but it's not even mentioned.

Like Corel LinuxOS, it was based on Debian, but Debian is a piece of software, not a company. Debian didn't "expect" anything.

Almost every single statement here is wrong.

#1 Vista / Windows 8

Almost every new version of Windows ever has required high-end specs for the time. This wasn't a new failing of Vista.

Windows 8 is not more "multi-functional" than any previous version. Totally wrong.

It didn't "do away with the desktop" -- also totally wrong. It's still there and is the primary UI.

JavaOS and Windows 1.0 are by comparison almost fair and apt, but this is shameful travesty of a piece. Everyone involves should be ashamed.

September 14, 2016 03:58 PM

Roger Bell-West

Blood at the Bookies, Simon Brett

2008 mystery; ninth in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). Jude drops into the local betting shop to take shelter from a sudden hailstorm; another customer staggers out, and turns up stabbed in an alley nearby.

September 14, 2016 08:02 AM

September 13, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Moonbeam City

2015 science fiction comedy, 10 episodes. In a corrupt neon future, the Moonbeam City Police Department tries to keep the peace. More or less.

September 13, 2016 08:02 AM

September 12, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Galapagos Incident, Felix R. Savage

2014 SF, first of the Solarian War Saga. Elfrida Goto works for the Space Corps, persuading asteroid-dwellers to accept resettlement before their asteroids are dropped into Venus as part of the terraforming project. But her telepresence robot is acting up, and then the space station she's living on comes under attack.

September 12, 2016 08:02 AM

September 11, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Pyramid 93: Cops and Lawyers

Pyramid, edited by Steven Marsh, is the monthly GURPS supplement containing short articles with a loose linking theme. This time it's police and legal systems.

September 11, 2016 08:02 AM

September 10, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Death Under the Dryer, Simon Brett

2007 mystery; eighth in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). Carole always has her hair cut at Connie's Clip Joint, "same shape, but shorter". This time, Kyra, one of the juniors, hasn't turned up, and she turns out to have been left dead in the back room, strangled with the cord of a hair-dryer.

September 10, 2016 08:04 AM

September 09, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Thirsty Meeples August 2016

Back to the boardgame café again. With images; cc-by-sa on everything.

September 09, 2016 08:02 AM

September 08, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Flowers for the Judge, Margery Allingham

1936 classic English detective fiction; seventh of Allingham's novels of Albert Campion. The Barnabas family publishing house is used to strangeness; the founder's nephew disappeared in broad daylight while walking between his house and the main road. Now Paul Brande, one of the cousins who run the firm, is found dead inside a locked room. US vt Legacy in Blood.

September 08, 2016 08:03 AM

September 07, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Flash Point token upgrades

The various markers in Flash Point Fire Rescue work pretty well, but they're a bit dull and cardboard. Well, they can't help it, poor things. Here's a replacement.

September 07, 2016 08:01 AM

September 06, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Stabbing in the Stables, Simon Brett

2006 mystery; seventh in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). Jude's been asked to extend her healing practice to a horse; but she doesn't expect to find the co-owner of the stables stabbed to death. Obviously it was the local "Horse Ripper", caught in the act. Or was it a jealous husband?

September 06, 2016 08:00 AM

September 05, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Marlow Tabletop and Board Games 1 August 2016

This Meetup group was trying out a new venue, the upstairs room of the Two Brewers in Marlow – which was blessedly free of fashionable lighting.

September 05, 2016 08:03 AM

September 04, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Resolute, Mike Shepherd

2006 military SF, fourth of the Kris Longknife books. Kris finally gets an independent command: a single-world "naval district" on the far end of anywhere.

September 04, 2016 08:02 AM

September 03, 2016

Roger Bell-West

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 18: Power Items, Sean Punch

This Dungeon Fantasy supplement deals with magical items that store spellcasting energy.

September 03, 2016 08:04 AM

September 02, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Witness at the Wedding, Simon Brett

2005 mystery; sixth in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). Carole's son is getting married, but the bride's parents are oddly reluctant to have any announcements made… and then the father is strangled.

September 02, 2016 08:03 AM

September 01, 2016

Roger Bell-West

August 2016 Trailers

Some trailers I've seen recently, and my thoughts on them. (Links are to youtube. Opinions are thoroughly personal.)

September 01, 2016 08:03 AM

August 31, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Autumn Barbecue 2016

On a very bright and warm day, there was a select gathering of fans of pig and goat.

August 31, 2016 08:03 AM