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Here’s another fine message you’ve gotten me into • The Register

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Who, Me? We return to the Cold War in today’s Who, Me? Start your week with suspected sabotage, computer sleuthery, and a satisfying slug of Grand Marnier deep in the heart of 1970s Москва.

It was 1978 and our reader was working for a firm that had just sold a computer to the company that manufactured the Moskvitch.

Sadly now defunct, the Moskvitch was the must-have car of the time for citizens of the Soviet Union (officially, at least). Despite being the butt of a thousand jokes, demand for the vehicle outstripped supply and people found themselves with a substantial wait before they could get their hands on the rear-wheel-drive engineering marvel.

Our reader, who was initially Regomised as “Boris”, but whom we’ve opted to call “Ivan Ivanovich” was sent to the site to investigate multiple mysterious system crashes.

A bit of background: a bespoke application known as “the ‘Quality Control’ system” ran on this computer. “It was actually a messaging system,” Ivan explained, “whereby inspectors at the end of the line could send messages to assembly stations, such as ‘rear door installed upside down.’ I know it seems laughable now, but at that time, this was big business.”

However, there were problems. The system crashed at least once per shift, causing delays in production. “An enterprising salesman took advantage of the problem to sell them more memory, and the fault reduced to once a day (they worked two shifts a day),” said Ivan.

A bit better, but still not right. The company’s top communications experts looked into the problem, but came up empty. And so it was that Ivan who, by his own admission, “knew nothing about comms” was sent to Moscow on a year’s contract as Project Manager and given a simple brief: “Just stop the bloody dumps!”

At the plant, Ivan shared an office with 13 other programmers and a VDU, which had been negotiated as part of the contract. His job title also scored him his own car and a diplomatic apartment. Not really knowing where to start, he fired up the newfangled screen and watched the internals of the computer doing its stuff.

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“I had imagined a dynamic environment,” he said, “with messages flying hither and yon as the treasured vehicles issued forth from the track…”

He did not see that. What he actually saw was a queue of messages sent to one assembly station. A queue that got bigger and bigger until the memory filled up and the computer crashed.

“A little delving,” he told us, “showed that the fancy Italian teletype terminals (3-case: upper, lower, Cyrillic) were put into ‘send’ mode when any key was pressed, and could only return to ‘receive’ mode when ‘send’ was pressed.

“Someone on the track had learned how to silence the poxy terminal – just press a key!”

The bespoke software had no way of knowing what had befallen the terminal and so just kept on sending messages until the computer fell over.

The fix was trivial. Ivan told us it was a mere 13-line patch that added a 255-second timeout on the input. What was not trivial was how to test his work.

“After much negotiation, a meeting was scheduled at the control centre of the production line for midnight-thirty, after the second shift had closed.

“The production manager, the computing manager, the translator, the chief programmer, the protocol (KGB) lady and I – we all assembled in the silent factory.

“I loaded the fixed comms software, started a program which sent regular messages to an adjacent teletype, looked at my watch… and pressed a key. We waited. My watch showed 250 seconds, 255… 256… 257… OMG! And then the tty burst forth, pouring out messages until there were no more.

“The system clock was a little slow.”

He headed back to his apartment through the dark and silent city, a large and suitably adult beverage on his mind.

As for the remainder of this contract – all 45 weeks of it – Ivan didn’t have much to do so amused himself by writing an interactive debugger. Doubtless handy for tracking down issues not related to someone on the production line getting creative with the keyboard. Although the sabotage that had caused the problem in the first place was never mentioned again.

On his last day he brought in six bottles of spirits and he and the programmers made many toasts to the quality of the Moskvitch. It was, he admitted, “a very enjoyable day’s work” and, lubricated by Cointreau and Grand Marnier, the team spoke more than they had for the whole of the preceding year: “They were human after all!”

“I never drove a Moskvitch, though – I had a Lada.”

Ever applied a patch under the suspicious eyes of the intelligence services? Or bought a car with a door fitted upside down? Let us know, with an email to Who, Me?. ®

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I can’t charge my electric car cheaply because I’m too close to an RAF base | Money

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A few months ago I decided to switch energy supplier and moved to Octopus Energy’s Go tariff, principally because it offers cheap electric car charging overnight at a rate of 5p/kWh.

I applied to have the required smart meter installed. But after being given a date, I was later declined on the basis that smart meters cannot work at my address because they interfere with the missile early warning system at RAF Fylingdales.

Initially, I thought this was a joke. I have been involved with the construction of hundreds of new homes in Teesside, all of which have had smart meters installed.

Smart Energy GB, the body responsible for the rollout, has confirmed that this is very real, and smart meters installed in the area will not have had their smart capacity turned on.

I was told that a new meter is being worked upon and will eventually replace those already installed.

Meanwhile, I am having to charge my car at a premium rate of 16.76p/kWh which is costing me about £26 more a week than it would be on the Go tariff.

AM, Guisborough

Given that your house is more than 20 miles from the RAF base in question, I, too, was amazed that this could be an issue, but it is – and also in other areas close to bases.

Smart Meter GB has confirmed this is the case and says it is working on a solution – a communications hub that will enable people living near sensitive RAF sites to use smart meters.

It says these will be offered to customers “in the coming months”.

It adds those in the affected area, who had already had smart meters installed should be able to have the hubs retrofitted.

Meanwhile, Octopus has come up with a solution for your problem. It has offered to add you to the trial of these new meters, which, in turn, will allow you to go on the Go tariff.

It says it hopes to install your new meter before Christmas. It has also said that if you get the log from your charging firm, showing how much electricity you have used for the car since the switch took place, it will retroactively apply the savings that you would have gained had the smart meter worked from the start – a generous offer.

We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email consumer.champions@theguardian.com or write to Guardian, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Include a phone number. Letters are subject to our terms: gu.com/letters-terms

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China’s Yutu rover spots ‘mysterious hut’ on far side of the Moon

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Cube-shaped object is probably just a rock. Yutu will check it out anyway

China’s Moon rover, Yutu 2, has sent images of a strangely geometric object.…

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Strikepay struck gold at National Startup Awards 2021

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Strikepay, founded by fintech entrepreneurs Oli Cavanagh and Charles Dowd, scooped the top award for its fast-growing cash-free tipping tech.

Irish fintech company Strikepay has scooped the top prize at this year’s National Startup Awards.

The start-up, previously called Strike, was founded in 2020 to enable cash-free tipping without the need for a payment terminal or a new app on a customer’s phone.

Its founders, fintech entrepreneurs Oli Cavanagh and Charles Dowd, raised €625,000 in seed funding earlier this year and said they intended to seek a further €6.5m in investment by the end of 2021.

Strikepay has already begun acquiring and collaborating with other companies to bolster its product offering. In June, it acquired UK payments rival Gratsi and in April it appointed former Just Eat exec Edel Kinane as its chief growth officer.

Earlier in the year, it teamed up with Camile Thai Kitchen to enable contactless tipping for food delivery drivers and partnered with mobility company Bolt to bring its cashless tipping technology to taxis in Dublin.

Strikepay was one of several winners at the awards ceremony, which was livestreamed last night (2 December).

Other winners included health-tech start-up Stimul.ai, customer analysis tech business Glimpse, and sheep monitoring start-up Cotter Agritech, which has been participating in a new accelerator programme at University College Dublin.

As well as taking the top award, Strikepay also won Best Fintech Startup.

This year marked the 10th year of the National Startup Awards. The event was sponsored by Enterprise Ireland, Microfinance Ireland, Sage, Cronin Accountants and McCann Fitzgerald.

Last year’s top award was given to drone delivery service Manna. The start-up had been working with companies such as Tesco, Just Eat and Camile Thai to test its drones, and has seen further growth since then.

The full list of winners at the 2021 awards, in order of gold, silver and bronze, are:

Startup of the Year 2021

Strikepay

Early Stage Startup

Imvizar, CyberPie, The Fifth Dimension

Emerge Tech Startup

Xunison, Helgen Technologies, LiveCosts.com

Fintech Startup

Strikepay, ID-Pal, Itus Secure Technologies

Food and Drink Startup

Fiid, SiSú, Thanks Plants

Social or Sustainable Startup

Altra, Peer, Fifty Shades Greener

Product and Manufacturing Startup

Cotter Agritech, Orca Board, Filter

E-commerce and Retail Startup

FinalBend, The Book Resort, Nufields

Tech Startup

Glimpse, LegitFit, Examfly

Medtech Startup

Stumul.ai, SymPhysis Medical, Bonafi

Covid Pivot or Response Startup

Zoom Party/Find A Venue, KSH Group, Streat School

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