* Posts by Dr Dan Holdsworth

176 posts • joined 16 May 2008

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Legal eagles accuse Labour of data law breach over party purge

Dr Dan Holdsworth

I do wonder...

I wonder how many of the people who supposedly asked to join the Labour Party actually exist? Were I running the vote, I would at least try to make sure that the names of the supporters correlated with those of people on the electoral roll.

This would prevent entirely fictitious characters like A. Nonymous and Firstname Lastname from being able to vote without having a look at the local edited electoral roll and choosing suitable extant people to impersonate.

It isn't much of a security check, but it is better than no security check at all, or a google search on each name.

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Ashley Madison spam starts, as leak linked to first suicide

Dr Dan Holdsworth
WTF?

Engage brain here, folks

A load of data was stolen from the Ashley Madison databases.

A load of data that some criminals claim was stolen from these databases has now appeared online.

If you look closely, there's a gap between the data being nicked, and the data turning up online. Remember, we're dealing with criminals here, so who is to say that the data has not been tampered with between being stolen and being released?

Ashley Madison were also known for not doing very much, if any, checking on emails they were given. Thus I dare say root@127.0.0.1 will have been trying to cop a free shag according to the records; certainly email@example.com was.

Just because an email address was in the data dump doesn't mean that the person whose email it purportedly was had ever joined that site, or been involved with it in any way, shape or form.

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Visitors no longer welcomed to Scotland's 'Penis Island'

Dr Dan Holdsworth
Joke

Q: How many Gaelic Language academics does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: 202. One to hold the ladder, one to change the bulb, 200 to think up a Gaelic equivalent of "Lightbulb".

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High-heeled hacker builds pen-test kit into her skyscraper shoes

Dr Dan Holdsworth
Black Helicopters

Yes, it is entirely possible to get much, much smaller, more compact lock picking tools that will do the same as the stuff she was waving around there. However if the owners of a datacentre are serious, they will not be using the frankly laughable rubbish that the likes of Masterlock are selling, but will (like my employer) be using Abloy locks.

Abloy make locks which are not susceptible to shimming, nor to simple pin-lifting tricks. They can be opened, of course, but the quick way tends to be rather SOE and very noisy.

It is also worth noting that any data centre worthy of being called secure will not permit anything with an unknown MAC address to send any packets at all, and very likely simply will not have any internal wifi network, simply to remove this attack vector. On a similar line, this pen tester wouldn't be allowed in simply because her footwear doesn't meet the international safety standards.

Still, nice trick to smuggle in tools, and some rather nice silicone on view, too (I'm only human...).

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Rock reboot and the Welsh windy wonder: Centre for Alternative Technology

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Lessons in ecology optional...

If you visit this place, do remember to ask how many species of water plants are currently growing in the pond they have at the top of the hill. The muttered answer will be three or four.

Then ask how many they planted originally: 12 if memory serves.

What happened is that a centre that prides its self on knowledge of ecology and biology just tried to buck one of the few ecological theories which has actually been thoroughly experimentally tested: island biogeography.

Basically, you need a set amount of habitat for each species in an ecosystem. Make the ecosystem too small, and some of the excess species will go extinct. Doesn't need to be the same species each time if you re-run the experiment, but you always hit about the same number of species per unit area of habitat.

Nice of them to test that one out for us again, eh?

Oh and try not to mention otters to the staff, either. They don't like otters very much, not after one made a habit of climbing out of the river below the site every evening, scampering up 200 feet of hill, diving into the pond and scoffing expensive koi carp until dawn, then waddling back down again.

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The Ashley Madison files – are people really this stupid?

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Re: Lets look at this

Several other websites will *claim* to have accurate dumps of the data, and will *claim* to check the email address you type in to see whether this is in the stolen data.

Note that I said *claim*?

What the websites will actually do is record all the emails input into them, and occasionally, randomly, return one as being in the stolen data. The list of new, mostly known-working email addresses will then be sold on to spammers selling new dating web sites (seeing as these people have helpfully self-selected as being a) stupid, b) interested in dating websites, c) stupid enough to give out working email addresses to untrusted websites, d) really, incredibly stupid and of course d) stupid.

There's nothing like working with a known-stupid, known-horny crowd when you want to sell something. Stick a pair of tits on it, and these geezers will buy it, regardless of what it might be.

This business model is after all what Ashley Madison were all about: flash tits at thick, sexually frustrated male audience, wave huge computer-generated list of female members (*ahem*) at said audience, and rake in a membership fee every month. Oh, and hope that the few prostitutes who get past your rigorous checking system (yeah, right) are up to taking on a lot of work.

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Dr Dan Holdsworth

Re: "The Ashley Madison files – are people really this stupid?"

The notoriously long reach of UK libel law does not extend to the USA, except in special cases. The US congress signed into law an act called the Speech Act in 2010, which makes libel rulings foreign to the US unenforcible in the US if the rulings are deemed to run counter to the US constitution rules on free speech.

Practically speaking, this means that most UK libel judgements would need to be re-run in the US courts before being considered enforcible over there, which rather takes away the point of libel tourism.

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Hey, folks. Meet the economics 'genius' behind Jeremy Corbyn

Dr Dan Holdsworth
FAIL

Re: interesting on Murphy's education

Economics and programming have a few things in common; both are complex sciences with plenty of blind alleys and gotchas into which the unwary and untutored can easily blunder. Self-taught programmers are relatively easy to spot; they tend to be either one-trick ponies, or to turn out pedestrian, uninspired and frequently quite buggy code.

The same is true of self-taught economists.

Murphy seems intent on ignoring everyone else's mistakes so that he can make them anew all by himself. There is a rude but highly descriptive word for one who takes this approach: idiot.

True genius gets to where it is by standing on the shoulders of giants, that is to say by learning from earlier genius in the field and not making the same old mistakes. Murphy is alas no genius and as the original author points out, it is indeed worrying to see him having such an influence on a potential PM.

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Dr Dan Holdsworth

No, gold is mobile.

If you're investing in gold, invest in bullion jewellery and take it with you when you do a flit. Gold is highly portable, and means you aren't destitute when you get to a safe country and settle down again.

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Dr Dan Holdsworth

As a general rule, whenever Socialists are expected to get into power, invest in property. DO NOT invest in land per se, but in land that has something built upon it, because Socialism is the creed of the worshippers of pettifogging rules.

Whenever Socialists get into power, they always cause a property price boom through regulative ineptitude and over-exuberance. When this occurs, take your ill-gotten gains and invest in something other than the local currency, for Socialist economists know not their arse from their elbow.

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Ashley Madison invites red-faced cheats to bolt stable door for free

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Re: but will they

I have no idea about US law, but under UK law the website operators would be legally obliged to hang onto the financial data of each member for six years or so, regardless of whether the user had asked for their records to be deleted. However, the financial transaction data would be fairly limited, and would only detail that User A paid the website $this_much on such and such a date, for website-based services.

There isn't actually any detail of how much data was leaked, or how much data the attacker(s) stole. I would honestly doubt that very much data could be lifted from such a company without alarms being raised; the business transactions databases and credit card databases would seem to be the prime target in such a raid, with the users' sexual preferences and so on being a much more secondary target.

The reasoning here is that whilst known-good credit card details have a ready market and a known going rate, blackmail material does not. Blackmailing people is difficult, intensive work and requires a near-psychopathic bastard to run it for best profit, with a high chance of the blackmailers getting caught either by law enforcement or by enraged adulterers. Furthermore, with photo-manipulation techniques being so prevalent these days, a supposed nude photo of some bloke doesn't have nearly the blackmail potential that it once had; all one needs to say is "That? Photoshopped, I'm much more handsome than that!" and bluff it out.

No, the reason so little data from the hack is getting published is that little data was actually taken.

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FEMALE BLOOD-SUCKERS zero in on human prey by smelling our BREATH

Dr Dan Holdsworth
Boffin

Re: ding-dong!

Actually, this won't work.

Only female midges bite people, and they only do so in order to lay a second or third batch of eggs; they can breed successfully without needing to feed as adults, though a good blood meal hugely increases their breeding success.

Repellents work because there are a couple of systems working in a midge's nervous system; attractant nerves and an antagonistic repellent system. If the former predominates they keep coming; if the latter then they stop and often just start circling. This can be seen with flies on moorland; out mountain biking on moorland, a sweaty biker will always attract a following of flies, which can only catch up to you when you stop, otherwise the airspeed needed is too high.

Sticking some paper tissue in between the bike wheel spokes and soaking it with DEET means you leave a scent plume of CO2 and of DEET, which confuses the hell out of flies and turns quite a few away.

On the other hand, if you're going to be sitting in one place, you need stronger medicine. Try one of the US-made midge repellers, which put out a vapour of insecticide. This doesn't kill the insects, just slightly clobbers their nervous systems so they can't fly straight or coordinate well enough to bite you.

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Let me PLUG that up there, love. It’s perfectly standaAAARGH!

Dr Dan Holdsworth
Coat

At a university somewhere near you

At a university situated in Wales somewhere between Gymru and Cymru there was (and still is) a very traditional biology department. It has all the things one would normally associate with uni biology departments: lab assistants that make Pratchett's Igors look sane, equally deranged staff and a curiously lackadaisical take on health and safety.

This attitude came back to bite them one day, when it was decided that as a particular project was over, the bulk of the particularly vile and smelly thiol compound they'd been using really ought to be gotten rid of rather than merely leave it to fester on a shelf somewhere (this gem of wisdom being dictated by someone finding the best part of a three-pound jar of picric acid on a shelf in a store room; dry picric acid at that meaning a good kilo of sensitive high explosive needed getting rid of).

So, it was decided to find the nearest sluice to the main sewer and flush it down there, rather than pay for proper disposal. Unfortunately this particular thiol was rather oily, hydrophobic and had a high vapour pressure, and smelled very like rotting fish multiplied several thousand times. It flushed away easily enough, and was followed by a bucket or two of hot Decon-90 detergent, and that was that, or so they thought (wrongly).

The stuff apparently stuck to the inside of the sewer and over the following months evaporated off and crept back up into the lab drains, which had no water lock system. Everybody knew which genius had decided to dispose of things that way, and he spent those months as the Least Popular Man Ever.

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Biologists gasp at lemur's improbably colossal bollocks

Dr Dan Holdsworth
Boffin

Sperm competition...

What is probably going on here is sperm competition of some description. The basic idea for any male is to be the man who fathers the most kids, and animals tend to solve this in only a few basic ways. Gorillas do it by mate guarding; there is one male that mates in any one group, and that is all; gorillas are terribly under-endowed even by primate standards with a 1.5" penis, and testes the size of peas.

Chimps go to the other extreme, like this lemur. Enormous testes and a mating system whereby most males in the group that the female permits to have a go, do have a go. The easiest way for males to compete is to maximise the amount of sperm cells they put out, absent of any other mechanism.

Humans, as always, have to be different in mating methods. Human have the largest penis, size for size, of any primate, it is structured differently to most primate penises, and seems to be designed to displace semen from the female genital tract; humans don't produce as much sperm as do chimps, but we produce a great deal more ejaculate with better quality sperm, plus human semen also contains a lot of hormones like Follicle Stimulating Hormone (which stimulates ovulation), so there may be some biochemical warfare going on in humans as well.

What is obvious with mating systems is that old ideas such as birds being very monogamous is complete bollocks. Species like alpine dunnocks also have (in the breeding season) enormous testes, mostly because every male dunnock in any area is mating with any available female in the area, at the same time as trying to stay out of the way of the alpha males in that area. Male dunnocks are thus extremely busy chaps in the egg-laying season, and also very busy afterwards making sure to take food to all the nests where they may have fathered offspring.

I shall leave it to some other intrepid biologist to describe what ducks get up to.

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BOFH: Don't go changing on Friday evenings, I don't wanna work that hard

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Re: Its a small change!

No, the ONLY time you make a small change on a Friday afternoon is when that Friday is the last day you will ever work for that company. Any other Friday, the mess you make on a Friday is the mess you'll get to clean up the following Monday, only it'll have had two whole days to fester and ferment and get nicely vile and ever so much more difficult to clean up.

No System Changes On A Friday.

Ever.

Without exceptions.

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The insidious danger of the lone wolf control freak sysadmin

Dr Dan Holdsworth
FAIL

Re: Management Fail

Yes, I've seen this as well. My experience of this was in a hell-hole of a now happily-defunct ISP that was an offshoot of a now also happily-defunct PC box-shifter. The management in this ISP was dire, bullying and utterly incompetent. Planning was a dirty word.

I was appointed in the second wave of techies recruited, the first wave including a number of genuine wizards, and some extremely bright but only half smart ones. One of the latter we shall call "Johnny Random", a soubriquet earned by his habit of randomly altering system-critical stuff last thing on a Friday afternoon.

Johnny Random was a brilliant Perl coder, self-taught with a background in Assembler coding. He had to be brilliant to be able to work with the god-awful Perl bodges he created by way of scripts; hideous layout, no code indenting, no usable commenting, and every variable being world-viewable and very frequently re-used throughout the code for different things.

I got given the task of sorting out one of his hideous botch jobs, and it took me days to separate out the worthwhile bits from the dross, apply a decent code style and re-write it to take account of the many optimisations built into Perl for memory management and so on. My end product ran faster, worked more cleanly and was infinitely more maintainable than the original dross. It didn't get me a raise, however; it wasn't that sort of company. I left soon afterwards, vowing never again to work for such utter arseholes.

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Noshing moth menaces misled into male-on-male mating

Dr Dan Holdsworth
Boffin

Re: Bit of an odd one this

UV insect traps are mostly useless. Most of what they catch are confused but harmless insects; they don't cut the numbers of clothes moths very much, and they are useless for killing mosquitoes and midges.

Where insecticides are concerned, the bad news is that most insecticides on the market aren't going to be much use as they are too volatile to remain on anything for very long. The good news is that for insects like clothes moths, woodworm and the like, you do not actually need to use neurotoxic poisons at all. What works much better is a borax dissolved in a mixture of water and propylene glycol.

This works selectively on just the larvae of the moths, and then usually only when they have just hatched. A hatching lepidopteran caterpillar starts by eating the shell of the egg it just crawled out of, then it eats the substrate the egg was laid on. It has to, as it hasn't got much energy to roam around and look for anything tastier. If the substrate is saturated with a stomach poison like borax, adsorbed into it along with a solvent, then that first meal is going to be the larva's last one.

That works very well on woodworm and on clothes moths. Dusting with silica dusts like Kieselguhr is also effective on insects, as it scratches the waxy coating on their bodies and causes them to dehydrate. For a clothes moth, a normal house is a desert without water, and if their water-conservation physiological tricks are compromised, they die.

Neither of these tricks will work with museum specimens, and the other old standby for keeping preserved collections of insects safe, which is strategic containers of napthalene, is discouraged these days not least because napthalene is a suspect carcinogen. It also doesn't work on stuffed specimens, as they have to be out in the open so cannot be surrounded by a vapour-phase insecticide.

Permeating the area with sex pheromone will work, and is a standby for organic pest control, but insect sex pheromones are volatile long-chain alcohols and the like, and need to be present in very specific ratios to be perceived as a sex pheromone (I have a PhD in sex pheromones). This does not of course apply for mammal sex pheromones, or for water/soil living animals for obvious reasons.

Pheromone traps containing encapsulated sex pheromone in powder form is, however, a very, very neat trick indeed. The only thing vaguely similar I have seen is to use pheromone traps containing entomopathogenic fungal spores to control carrot flies.

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Cops turn Download Festival into an ORWELLIAN SPY PARADISE

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Re: So Download Festival are trying to go bankrupt?

When considering a new system that involves money, think not how it would work, but how it could go wrong.

This system is an absolute dream come true for the small-time fraudster and grifter. All they need is a small RFID sniffer, an RFID programmer and a supply of RFID tags that look a bit like the ones the organisers have.

Once in the festival, the grifter gets his RFID sniffer going then goes looking for people who look a bit richer than normal festival goers; designer clothing and so on, and walks past them. His RFID sniffer grabs the codes, which in the privacy of his tent he puts onto some more RFID tags, which he sells to willing stooges to try out. When he finds one that is loaded with cash and is an access-most-areas tag, he duplicates lots of them and sells 'em for lots of cash (cash will of course still be present, so people can buy drugs).

Pretty soon the guy who had his tag sniffed finds he ain't rich any more and the festival organisers want to have a quiet word with him, along with all of his clones...

This is how this system will break, mark my words.

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Cinnamon 2.6 – a Linux desktop for Windows XP refugees

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Re: I'll stick with my MATE

Gnome Metacity Flashback is a decent alternative to XFCE, I find. It runs with a much, much smaller memory footprint than does Compiz, and as it is only a 2D system, uses a lot less memory.

I find that I do not miss 3D desktop effects one little bit; most of what I do involves what is in each window, be it Firefox, a terminal or whatever and I use the window manager to, well, manage these windows and manage the virtual desktops. Gnome Metacity Flashback does this perfectly. It works, works well and does so consuming minimal resources.

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Your servers are underwater? Chill OUT, baby – liquid's cool

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Heat pipes may offer a better solution

If you connect all the components that generate heat to a simple aluminium heat exchanger at the back of the server unit, and run water through that block, then you get almost the same level of cooling without all the messiness of soaking everything in oils, or the vulnerability and fiddliness of running liquid cooling pipes to each component.

You would need a second loop to dissipate the heat as the water mix circulating in the pipes would need to be purified water with antibacterial additives, but this isn't really a problem. The second loop could be a simple cooling pond external to the datacentre, or even set up as a moat around the data centre complex. Such a set-up gives the site a nice rustic sort of look, whilst limiting the options of local scallies looking to raid the place.

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Couple sues estate agent who sold them her mum's snake-infested house

Dr Dan Holdsworth

If there are so many snakes, what are they eating?

Black snakes are predators and eat vermin, mice and rats mostly. If the house was infested then there must have been a more than adequate food supply; this means that the area had to have had a sizeable rodent population.

Eliminating the snakes would still leave you with a rodent problem, and a bigger one than you had before. A most sensible buyer would look at this, and see if the rodent problem couldn't be sorted out somehow. Remove what the snakes are eating, and they'll go elsewhere or starve.

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Dr Dan Holdsworth

Re: Inspections dont work in the UK

That is very much my experience as well. The inspection I paid for burbled incoherently about damp on one wall which subsequently turned out to be a false alarm. The inspector obviously didn't do simple checks like look in the airing cupboard, or else the previous owner's feckless bungled soldering (leaving large burns on the woodwork) would have revealed a badly damaged central heating system.

Similarly a look at the exterior doors would have revealed the hand of the bungling DIY muppet at work (it it doesn't fit, remove parts of the locking mechanism and bodge it!).

A final look at the legal ownership would have revealed that whilst the house was leasehold under one owner, the garden was also leasehold but under a different lease. Both paid off so no rent to pay, but technically I cannot prove ownership of my garden.

All in all, money wasted.

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The 'echo chamber' effect misleading people on climate change

Dr Dan Holdsworth

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck...

To date, most of the reports on climate change seem to be of the form:

Alarmist headline

Unfounded series of assertions.

Complicated waffle involving computers, and appeals to authority

Solution which involves me giving someone else lots of money.

Almost unheard of is the concept of simply improving technology to the point at which we are using low-carbon technologies and emitting less fossil carbon than is locked up by natural processes. Also seldom heard is the point that much of the trouble stems from there being so many humans on the planet, and that the solution is to raise everyone's living standards so breeding like rabbits no longer looks like such a good idea.

No, mostly what we hear is doom-saying, together with rent-seeking and assorted magical thinking. Oh, and attempted raids on one's wallet.

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BONKERS apocalyptic WAR WAGONS circle Vulture South

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Re: Enquiringminds want to know

This is a weird post-apocalyptic Australia which seems to have had several bulk freighters-worth of American big-block V8 cars imported, and all the myriads of Toyota landcruisers and Hilux pickups mysteriously disposed of. It also uses liquid hydrocarbons exclusively, which seeing as Australia doesn't have oil reserves worth speaking of is pretty bloody weird as well.

Much more realistic would be a horde of Toyota pickups, with producer gas units strapped onto the back of them burning wood to make a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide gas. This burns remarkably well in internal combustion engines, and lets you use them without relying on crude oil.

Granted, a sort of Max meets Steampunk look would be rather weird and you wouldn't expect the flashier vehicles to use this system, only the crummier workhorses of the fleet, but it would at least look a bit more realistic.

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Attack of the possibly-Nazi clone parakeet invaders

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Time for biocontrol

If these birds are all very similar, genetically speaking, then any parasite which is perfectly adapted to them will do very well indeed, as it will be perfectly adapted to every single parakeet it gets to.

What needs to be done is to research these birds in their native habitat, and try to find out what parasites and diseases attack them there. Then simply import these biocontrols and release them into the near-clonal populations here, and let the parasite do the population control for us.

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Be your own Big Brother: Monitoring your manor, the easy way

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Re: Outages

Power the broadband via a simple time switch, which turns off for fifteen minutes every day. That will reboot the router for you, and if you do what I do and save only the motion videos output from your security system into a Dropbox folder on a low-power NAS box, then this will solve the problem completely, as the router will be regularly rebooted and everything will auto-sync when the networking comes back after an outage.

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Top Spanish minister shows citizens are thick as tortillas de ballenas

Dr Dan Holdsworth
Boffin

Re: Pedanting...

No, as far as can now be told, homeothermy looks to have been an ancestral trait for dinosaurs, with heterothermy evolving later. Feather-like structures have been found in all dinosaur groups except for sauropods (the adults of which were likely too big to need them). Dinosaurs look to have been physiologically and behaviourally different from reptiles, even if they were superficially similar in their skeletons.

Theropods merely took the pre-existing dinosaurian traits and amplified them a bit; as predominantly fairly small dinosaurs, theropods would have tended more to the homeothermic end of the scale anyway and birds merely take this to an extreme.

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SEX: Naughty female stegosauruses offered it on a PLATE

Dr Dan Holdsworth
Paris Hilton

Some questions still remain

Dinosaurs had more or less the same sort of genital arrangement as do birds, namely a common orifice for urine, faeces and genital systems; this set-up is common to birds, reptiles and marsupials. Only eutherian mammals (the group we're in) evolved away from this arrangement.

In reptiles, this makes mating a fairly delicate operation; the male has to get it just right although having not one but a pair of penises probably assists somewhat here. In birds, a couple of different techniques are used; the majority use a penis-less sperm transfer, and ducks, geese and ratites use various penis-like structures of varying but occasionally rather improbable dimensions (two feet for Argentinian Lake ducks).

Dinosaurs presumably used penis-like structures and some seem to have slightly more robust pelvic bones that presumably acted as support. However even this arrangement still looks improbable for animals like Stegosaurus; the dorsal plates would seem to preclude the male getting very close to the female. Stegosaurs also had particularly small brains, even for herbivorous dinosaurs, so whatever they did must not have required much thinking to achieve.

The only problem is that behaviour and soft tissue structures don't fossilise. So, any suggestions as to what went on?

4
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Lib Dem manifesto: Spook slapdown, ban on teen-repelling Mosquitos

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Why bother with actual torture when psychological tricks work better?

Frank Sinartra's greatest hits, plus some light folk and maybe a spot of Enya to be going on with together with nice, comfortable seats and a fairly high ambient light level and maybe even a coffee shop. That will make that particular shopping mall a hit with the older generation, and a place where pensioners love to gather, read the paper, have a chat and so on is a place like one of the circles of hell to a teenager.

Do that and the teenagers will turn up, shop and scarper as fast as their legs can carry them, whilst the oldsters (who are mostly unthreatening and non-criminal) will linger and spend money.

3
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Struggling through the Crystal Maze in our hunt for a spare CAT5

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Waiting for the quiet war?

This is more or less part of the world-building scenario of the sci-fi author Neal Asher; once AIs were built, then they slowly took over. At some point, they realised that they were much better at this running things malarkey than were humans, and simply obsoleted out the human politicians entirely.

The human politicians revolted, but rapidly found that the human populations they had been counting on to rise up against AI oppression did not do so, because the AIs were not oppressive, merely a hell of a lot better at running a fair and equitable society. This became known as the Quiet War, mostly because it consisted largely of politicians being told to put a sock in it and go get a proper job.

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Bone-tastic boffins' breakthrough BRINGS BACK BRONTOSAURUS

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Biological accuracy

Of all the pictures you could have dredged up to illustrate that story, did you have to find an aquatic brontosaurus one? Sauropods were most emphatically NOT aquatic in any sense of the word; they would have done their best to avoid water, since they were strongly adapted towards walking on land.

4
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UK.gov: We want Britannia's mobe-enabled cars to rule the roads

Dr Dan Holdsworth

A better idiot?

The more nannying, and idiot-proofing you try to add to anything, the more the idiots of this world try to break these features.

Look on the front forks of modern mountain bikes; the drop-outs have little lugs on them. This was added when some utter moron put his bike wheel back on and forgot to tighten the quick release, then rode off and pulled a wheelie. The front wheel dropped off, and said moron crashed and hurt himself quite badly. He then sued the bike manufacturer for not having included a feature on the bike to protect idiots like himself from being, well, idiots.

As long as a product isn't actively dangerous or unpredictably dangerous, then it is OK. Cars do not need automated handbrakes; bog standard manual handbrakes will do the job perfectly reasonably and in my experience, they do not go wrong, whereas an automated servo system takes control away from the driver and tends to cause abnormal levels of clutch wear.

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Here we are now, entertain us: Caltech team designs micro, high-res 3D imager

Dr Dan Holdsworth

This is a neat archaeological tool

One thing that people have done for many centuries is make marks on rocks, usually straight incised markings. Quite often, these aren't visible until a LIDAR system images them and enhances them. LIDAR has always been expensive; an inexpensive system would let you pull tricks such as imaging drystone walls looking for Roman incised stone fragments, say.

Mooching about looking in drystone walls is actually a valuable archaeological technique; people really hate carrying stone about, so a drystone wall is always a good representative sample of what was lying about on the ground surface in the immediate vicinity. Drystone wallers are no respecters of culture; a lump of Roman altar is just a nicely-fitting rock to them and into the wall it goes; ditto a five thousand year old Neolithic quern. Being able to easily spot these would be useful.

2
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Bloodborne: An immersively thick cut above its gaming rivals

Dr Dan Holdsworth

A small point of order here...

Hyenas are not canines. They're not even remotely related to canids, but are slightly closer to cats and mustelids than they are to dogs.

6
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Boffins baffled by the glowing 'plumes' of MARS

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Let's see now...

So, our initial Mars landers were all solar powered, and nothing happened. Now we've sent a plutonium thermal power source over to that planet, and things are happening now.

Cherenkov glow detectors setting off an ancient weapons system?

Let's just hope the system was inactive and didn't see where the lander originated from, eh?

5
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Great Firewall of China blasts DDoS attacks at random IP addresses

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Oh look, a glibc bug that can be exploited through gethostbyname()

This may be a silly thing to say, but I am struck by the coincidence between a sudden onset of DNS-based problems in the Great Firewall of China, and the emergence of a buffer overflow that can best be exploited via gethostbyname().

Might this problem not actually be anything to do with the GFoC admins or (in)competence thereof, but might it be related to some person or group inside China trying to break the firewall in some way, and succeeding in merely crippling its functionality in strange and annoying ways?

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Buggy? Angry? LET IT ALL OUT says Linus Torvalds

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Re: So he admits it

Actually, he is simply being brutally honest about himself, and is giving fair notice about who he is and what his personality type is. I also sympathise with his stance, because I would think he has tried the quiet, solftly-softly approach in the past, and found that it doesn't work.

If you have a product out in the world, then it can be examined, decompiled, analysed and scrutinised. Thousands of people are doing just this. If the product has a security hole, then this hole will be found, eventually. The OpenSSL flaw was likely known about for a very long time; any protocol where the code is a horrible mess is automatically suspect as messy code is much harder to debug than is simple, efficient, neatly-written code; messy code is often buggier than neat code.

The OpenSSL flaws were nasty, and disclosing them when discovered was the correct thing to do, and in a broader sense rapid disclosure is also the right thing to do as it forces a rapid fix. If you don't disclose flaws, they don't get fixed and while the swarms of brain-dead script kiddies don't get to hear of these flaws and thus there isn't a huge rush of witless knuckle-draggers trying to exploit them, this does not mean that they are not being quietly exploited for other, much more nefarious things.

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'Turn to nuclear power to save planetary ecology from renewable BLIGHT'

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Re: Centralisation?

Nuclear reactors are heat engines. If you're using small, local reactor units, then the cold end of the heat engine need not be a cooling system, but instead can be district heating of some sort.

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Dr Dan Holdsworth

Re: All electric?

Actually, you don't need to fret nearly so much about vehicle fuels. Whilst hydrogen is pretty useless as a vehicle fuel (poor energy density, hard to store etc) ammonia is much easier to store, and can be catalytically decomposed into hydrogen and nitrogen quite easily.

Ammonia is relatively easy to store, doesn't need cryogenic temperatures, and is easily synthesised using the Haber Process. It contains no carbon, and if generated using nuclear power, is as near to carbon neutral as anything is likely to get. Finally, all this can be done with existing technology, no near-future magic required.

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Dr Dan Holdsworth

Re: Dunno about warming

The basic problem with a lot of historical temperature records is not the recording instrument accuracy, but the renormalisation of the records. As an example, take the weather thermometer at what is now Heathrow Airport.

The records there began in 1930 or thereabouts, when it was a grass strip in open countryside. It is now situated in the middle of a huge expanse of concrete, in the Greater London heat island. To get an accurate record of temperatures, you clearly need a fiddle-factor to take the temperatures of each time and transpose them back to what they would be if the site was a grassy field in the middle of nowhere.

It is therefore dead easy to slip in a little nudge so the renormalised figures go the "right" way by playing with the renormalisation formula.

This is the fault with almost all long-term man-made temperature records, and quite a few supposedly accurate natural ones.

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Review mass-snoop laws regularly, says RIPA daddy Blunkett

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Time for a spot of code review

The basic problem here is that it is obscenely easy for the government to enact new laws, and rather difficult to obsolete out old, or unused ones. As an earlier comment wisely pointed out, after a couple of thousand years of civilisation in Britain, you'd think we would have the legal structure we need pretty well sussed.

Actually, we do have a fairly well sussed corpus of laws. Most of the law is Common Law (as in what judges have decided in the past) and Contract Law, as in what is and is not fair to agree to, and which rights cannot be signed away. Most of how to handle criminals is also fairly well sussed, which is why laws like RIPA are so damaging; they throw a spanner in the known-working legal structures that already exist and also serve to highlight the fact that our politicians do not understand cryptography, and do not understand what "This is effectively impossible" means.

Thus, we are effectively letting deranged monkeys with sledgehammers loose in a watch factory if we let politicians prat about with fundamental legal principles like this.

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Brit smut slingers shafted by UK censors' stiff new stance

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Re: hardly difficult to get around

This happened in Australia with internet gambling. The government there made it illegal, so the gaming sites simply migrated offshore to south-east Asia (in the case of the smart ones, using virtual hosting, this took mere millisecnds of downtime).

When the sites went, the tax money went as well, but aussies carried on gambling on the same sites just like before. Apparently nobody had told that government what was about to happen, so it all came as rather a shock to them.

Since not very much UK porn is actually hosted in the UK, and most of the rest is now hosted on https sites, I dare say the Government won't actually make much difference to anyone with this legalistic masturbation. Not that enacting unenforcible and frankly idiotic law seems to bother governments any more; it is now illegal, for instance, to detonate nuclear weapons in the UK.

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SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Sometimes the filming is entirely justified, honest!

Many, many years ago I was doing a PhD on the sex pheromones of some plant parasitic nematodes. The easiest way to tell if a male nematode thinks is chemical is sexy is to make a very thin layer of plain agar gel on a petri dish, put some of the chemical in the middle, wait a bit for a chemical gradient to form and then see if the male nematode moves towards it.

Now, there are several problems here. You have to know how long to wait for the pheromone chemical to form a gradient, and you also want to know how long it takes for the gradient to completely smooth out so that all it does is makes the nematode move about a bit faster, but completely aimlessly. The way to resolve this is by filming the responses of these nematodes.

This isn't easy. You're talking about a one millimeter long animal, which is almost transparent, moving in the film of water on a thin layer of gel, which you also do not want to dry out at all during filming. So, you build a box and put the petri dish on a small platform (with a dark background) and surround it with water, put a thin glass sheet over this (waterproofed with anti-mist spray or it'll mist up) and illuminate from the side with a cooled light source.

I did all this, and am proud to say that I solved the problem of how to set up a working sex pheromone test system. I also filmed the world's most boring sex-related videos in the history of the world which didn't actually feature any sex at all, but which had to be watched on fast-forward to see any movement at all.

You will be glad to know that these are now lost to posterity.

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My HOUSE used to be a PUB: How to save the UK high street

Dr Dan Holdsworth

A few minor changes in law are in order here

As things stand, parking fines and soon some other minor traffic fines will go straight to local councils when someone is fined. I would argue that this is putting temptation in the way of organisations which have already demonstrated that they will exploit such situations. So, remit all fines directly to central government, and let us see how local councils manage then.

In theory, as the parking restrictions were revenue-neutral this ought to have no effect.

In practice, this will force councils to cease relying on fines as revenue, and to find new ways to extract money from people. Motorists would still make a fine target; simply build a number of very big multi-storey car parks in and around city centres, and hey presto the cash cow can still be milked fairly easily, and at the same time people have an opportunity to go shopping back in city centres.

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OnePlus One cut-price Android phone on sale to all... for 1 HOUR

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Re: Too late

Yes, I agree. Then there's the fact that the Nexus 6 is coming out, and though it costs a lot more, you do get a much better product for the money. Waterproofing, for a start, and then there's the fact that Google will not permit anything to sully their good name.

OnePlus One, on the other hand, have kept on with the invite nonsense entirely too long. A little chase to try get an invite, yes, OK. Pratting me about for weeks with seemingly no chance of getting a phone; sod the lot of 'em!

Then there's the fact that they are using the known-vulnerable CyanogenMod image on the phone. We know there is one vulnerability on there, oh and this is a Chinese-made phone with a Chinese-modified OS on it as well. Feeling scared yet? The thing almost certainly has some sort of spyware on it, even if this is not activated by default or even at all. To add to the risk, the units are too cheap.

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Trips to Mars may be OFF: The SUN has changed in a way we've NEVER SEEN

Dr Dan Holdsworth

What a timid bunch you lot are!

If you want to use nuclear propulsion of a spacecraft, all you do is re-activate the Orion Project. That used the most mass-efficient nuclear propulsion system yet developed: fusion bombs. The vehicle consisted of little but a huge and very well damped blash shield, a store of nuclear bombs, and (as far away from the blasts as possible) a shielded crew compartment.

Journey time from Earth to Mars with such a vehicle is weeks or months, depending on distance and acceleration.

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Computer misuse: Brits could face LIFE IN PRISON for serious hacking offences

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Re: Corruptissima re publica plurimae leges

To be honest we really do need a damn good clear-out of most of this cruft. An automatic sunset clause would probably do the trick nicely. So, if a law has languished unused for more than one calendar year, then it automatically gets repealed, unless a free majority vote of Parliament rescues it for another year.

That would either make Parliament run round like a headless chicken continually voting to rescue unused and unloved laws (which would preclude their enacting any more), or it would rapidly reduce the number of laws on the statute books to a workable minimum.

Added to this, there needs to be a stringent limit on the amount of secondary legislation permitted. This is things such as those regulations permitted by such acts as the European Communities Act, an enabler which permits laws to be brought into force without going through Parliament. As this is bypassing the regulatory chambers we have, it is introducing an awful lot of complete gibberish onto the statute books unseen and unread by Parliament.

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Want a more fuel efficient car? Then redesign it – here's how

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Re: Much as I loved the article

Same here.

On a regular commute of about 40 miles motorway, 20 miles of city driving per day in a 2 litre Avensis diesel, I get about 48 mpg. My normal motorway driving technique is to get the vehicle to 70 and stick on the cruise control at 70, then endeavour to maintain this speed. I do NOT hang about, and yet still get quite passable fuel milage. Of course, slipstreaming a big truck all the way to work will return an mpg of around 60 mpg (which I have done in real life; I am not making this up) but it is boring and time-consuming.

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Dr Dan Holdsworth

Re: Mr ChriZ Advanced Motoring

The numbers of drivers with poor vision are, in my experience, dwarfed by the numbers of drivers who are just plain stupid. A dearth of police patrol cars (especially unmarked ones) to remove such morons from the roads is also a contributary factor here; in times past bad driving habits such as aggressive tailgating at speed would have been spotted and punished; these days the idiots simply get away with it.

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Trolls have DARK TETRAD of personality defects, say trickcyclists

Dr Dan Holdsworth

Re: Trolling for suckers

That reminds me of a not-very-subtle but still quite funny troll I once saw on the Usenet group rec.pyrotecnics. To understand this, you must realise that pyrotecnicians make pretty lights by burning chemicals, and think that just making something go bang is prostituting their art.

Thus a fellow who styled himself "Stumpy", asking if someone would be good enough to send him a bomb recipe in Braille, and preferably a not-very-dangerous one that wouldn't go off prematurely like his last effort had, caused ructions. It would appear that Americans are also a little more literal-minded than are Brits, hence there was a distinct Atlantic split to the responses to this chap. Truly a noble trolling effort, done by catering to the prejudices of the group and not insulting anyone along the way; that's how you troll correctly.

Usenet used to be quite good for that sort of thing. It occasionally descended into farce, too, when a group's resident flamer messed up his comment threading and gave a hearty roasting to a previous poster which turned out to be himself, then got all embarrassed when said mistake was pointed out.

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