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* Posts by Kubla Cant

1164 posts • joined 28 Jun 2010

Codd almighty! How IBM cracked System R

Kubla Cant
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Re: The fourth R

OO-programming turns your brain to mush

I'm an OO programmer myself, so I'm bound to disagree, either because you're wrong, or because my mushy brain is incapable of seeing that you're right. Mushy or not, it can identify the syntax errors in your post.

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Kubla Cant
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The fourth R

Almost all the systems I've worked on in the past 20 years have used relational databases as their back-end storage. One curious thing I've noticed is the extent to which otherwise competent, even brilliant, developers fall apart when they start to work on a database.

It's the same thing over and over. A primary key is too much trouble - let's just have a unique index. Normalisation is for anal-retentive obsessives. Why use a surrogate key when we can index several attributes? Let's just pretend that the database is a kind of flat-file storage.

This surprises me. I'm a self-taught developer with nothing more than O Level maths, but it seems obvious that getting the data design right is fairly easy and pays big dividends. My colleagues, on the other hand, who have been educated and trained to a high level in this stuff, mostly fail to get it.

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RIP Frederick Sanger: Brit bio-boffin who pioneered DNA sequencing dies

Kubla Cant
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Headmaster

Sanger was a truly great Briton. In view of this, and of the fact that the Sanger Centre is in Cambridgeshire, and spells its name correctly, why does the article say "in 1993 he would open a research center"?

I don't believe there have ever been any research centers [sic] near Cambridge. There used to be Build Center [sic] and Plumb Center [sic], but I'm glad to say they seem to have failed to prosper, and now have different names.

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LOOK UP! Comet ISON could EXPLODE in our skies – astronomers

Kubla Cant
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Re: I predict

"Heavy clouds and a lack of visibility in the British Isles"

We call this Winter

Summer is similar, but shorter.

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MANUAL STIMULATION: Whack me with some proper documentation

Kubla Cant
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Illiteracy

What is it with glyphs, icons, hieroglyphs etc? We've spent 3000 years developing a system for unambiguous written communication, and we're getting to the point where nearly everybody in the world can read it. But instruction leaflets and public signs increasingly consist of a set of glyphs and icons like some pre-school party game. I look forward to the law suit where the plaintiff says he couldn't understand the instructions for his chain saw because they were entirely in picture language, whereas grown-ups communicate in words.

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Kubla Cant
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Re: Spot on.

Do you remember the container loads of manuals that, for instance, VMS came with?

I certainly do. Six feet of shelf space. Even more remarkably, I think I read about 60% of them.

super-friendly quips and jokes

No jokes in the VMS manuals, admittedly. But I recall one of the RSTS manuals that described the excruciating process of linking executables in such a way that the system could swap overlay segments in and out of memory. The linker in question was called the task builder, and the manual contained a full-page cartoon of a workman, with the caption "Tommy the Taskbuilder".

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Kubla Cant
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Re: spaces in credit card number

Just yesterday I fell foul of a form that objected when I entered my card expiry date as "dd/mm" (the way it's written on the card) rather than "ddmm".

Grrr!

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Coroner suggests cars should block mobile phones

Kubla Cant
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Re: Yes well... Country roads

Removing all the bends in country roads would probably cause more disruption than is justified. And it's not just the bendy roads that are a problem...

I drive to work across the fens near Peterborough. One of the roads I use is dead straight for about 8 miles, but that doesn't mean it's safe. Fenland roads float on some kind of brushwood mattress, and are continually subsiding. The surfaces are so bad that a common accident is bouncing off the road into the adjacent ditch (if you're lucky - river if you aren't).

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Tales from an expert witness: Lasers, guns and singing Santas

Kubla Cant
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Unhappy

Re: Does the expert witness have to get his facts right?

A fascinating article. But am I the only reader to detect a conceited "I'm a scientist, so I'm always right" attitude? The author's belief in the infallibility of his methods is strikingly similar to the policeman's belief in the infallibility of his speed gun.

A bit more humility about the fallibility of the system he works in wouldn't be amiss. His attitude to the Sally Clark case, an appalling tragedy that resulted directly from the shortcomings of the expert witness system, seems to be "Shit happens".

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Justin BIEBER ploughs cash into NaaS: NARCISSISM-as-a-Service

Kubla Cant
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Eh?

peering at selfies was infinitely more entertaining than gaping at pictures of "coffee or salad"

Who gapes at pictures of coffee or salad? Have I (yet again) I missed out on a major social craze?

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Kubla Cant
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The only word more annoying than "selfie" is "onesie".

Needless to say, it doesn't appear to mean "a selfie taken by the Queen".

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Look at how many ways we ruin your life, Redmond boasts

Kubla Cant
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Presenteeism

It's important to distinguish between the justifications for out-of-hours work.

In many circumstances people do it because it's an emergency, or out of a sense of obligation to their team. The supermarket manager who spent Christmas day shifting frozen food was probably motivated in this way. The payback for this should be that you're more valued by your colleagues and bosses.

In other cases people accept the imposition because it comes with extra pay. I once bought a (second-hand) Porsche 911 largely out of the proceeds of out-of-hours support.

The real curse is the job where everybody works extra hours every day and takes work home, and nobody manages to use up the full holiday allowance. These companies are cultivating the vice known as "presenteeism". There's ample evidence that they don't actually get any more done than humane employers.

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Will small biz get a bite of mega UK.gov IT pie? Yes: if it can pass the bulls**t sniff test

Kubla Cant
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Re: I get the impression Govt projects *never* plan for change

Taxes go up, taxes go down, new regulations for married couples, special exemptions here and there...

In most systems things like this are expected to be variable. Taxes may go up and down, they may be charged on different things and calculated in different ways, but the basic principle of taxation doesn't change. The rules change, even if the requirement to follow rules is fixed.

That's the difference between a computer system and, say, a clock. One is adaptable, the other always does the same thing.

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Oooh! My NAUGHTY SKIRT keeps riding up! Hello, INTERNET EXPLORER

Kubla Cant
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Re: Tired of hearng the same old bull muck!

I've used IE for years and years!

I don't think IE is vilified for the user experience it offers. The earlier versions, especially IE6, were a source of numerous problems for web developers and designers because they failed to adhere to HTML standards in some quite important ways. This has nothing to do with "MS bashing", unless you think that whatever Microsoft does is the de-facto standard.

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Kubla Cant
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Linux

When I was younger...

When I was younger, I used to be a clumsy, slow and awkward girl.

However, just like the story of ugly duckling, people told me that I have really matured and changed over the years. I feel confident in my abilities now, and I'm eager to show you what I can do.

Pass the sick-bag, Alice.

I suppose this is some kind of confession, and it should read:

When I was younger I was a crap browser that didn't comply with standards and I caused the proliferation of invalid HTML pages.

However, just like the story of ugly duckling, people told me that I have really matured and changed over the years. Unfortunately, it's too late. By the time I became a swan there were lots of other swans, and many people liked penguins more, so nobody cared.

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Kubla Cant
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Headmaster

Re: If your not Asian, your opinion on this means nothing.

If you can't spell "you're", your opinion on this means nothing.

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Your kids' chances of becoming programmers? ZERO

Kubla Cant
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Re: Old Manuals

The reference implementation of the C compiler costs £0 including full Source Code.

Exactly! I doubt that there are any current languages for which you can't get a free compiler. Many of them offer a free IDE. In the Java world, it's a battle between four or five IDEs that are either entirely free or offer a free version. I think Microsoft offer some sort of .NET freebie. If you're truly perverse and you search hard enough I bet you can even get COBOL free.

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Thought you didn't need to show ID in the UK? Wrong

Kubla Cant
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Re: I think we should become more European with this

The countries on the list with the least stringent ID requirements seem to be the places where you might want to live.

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Kubla Cant
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Re: What exactly is the problem here?

the place you have to drive through when going to France

As @bigtimehustler points out, Belgium isn't a sensible route from England to France. Actually, I thought Belgium was the place the Germans always invade on their way to France. Perhaps the frequent German presence has inured its citizens to the imposition of identity papers.

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Kubla Cant
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Re: (EU standard) photo card

I've had no problems using my paper licence to hire cars in Europe and use courtesy cars in England.

I refuse to incur the inconvenience and cost involved in getting a plastic photo card. But it's getting to the stage where I need to charge for wear and tear on my paper licence every time I'm required to show it, as I don't know how much longer it will last. The licence I paid for when I passed my test was a nice little red booklet. I don't know who thought it would be a good idea to replace it with a folded sheet of A4 paper - these things are supposed to last a lifetime.

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Aussie bloke hacks way to top of music charts with MIDI-based tunes

Kubla Cant
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Re: Makes you think....

I suppose the original value of the charts was to help record shops decide what to stock. Vinyl records consumed quite a lot of space and capital (before vinyl, shellac 78s consumed even more), so retailers would want to maximise their stock turnover by concentrating on the fast-selling titles.

It's all changed now. First of all, there's the "long tail" phenomenon where big online retailers can carry massively diverse stock, and then with the change to music downloads there's no relation between sales and stock volume, and the stock occupies negligible space.

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Big Beardie's watching: Alan Sugar robots spy on Tesco petrol queue

Kubla Cant
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I've rarely used a Tesco filling station where you didn't have to queue to pay. Which member of the queue is going to determine the targeted ads? Or will it be an average? Not much point if it is.

Can we give the system a nervous breakdown by shifting around in the queue so that it has to try to target an old geezer and a teenage woman both at the same time?

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Adobe users' purloined passwords were PATHETIC

Kubla Cant
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Re: Its the combination an idiot has on his luggage

An idiot is someone who thinks a lock on his luggage provides some kind of security.

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Facebook fans fuel FAGGOT FURY firestorm

Kubla Cant
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Headmaster

Re: This is disturbing

The word "faggot" meaning "bundle of sticks" is almost certainly derived from the Latin "fascis", which was notably used to describe the bundle of rods carried by lictors, the officials who accompanied Roman consuls. The bundle represented the right of the consul to inflict corporal punishment; when it contained an axe it represented his right to execute.

The best-known term derived from the fasces is, of course Fascism. In the flat estuaries of East Anglia, the rivers are contained by fascine banks, made of bundles of sticks that trap silt.

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Need an internet antidote? Try magic mushrooms

Kubla Cant
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Re: Boletus edulis

Probably best known to foodies by their Italian name, porcini, or their French name, ceps. Readily available dried.

Now if you'd found morels...

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Bucket? Check. Toilet plunger? Check. El Reg's 50 years of Doctor Who

Kubla Cant
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Headmaster

Re: Plumbing pedantry

@frank ly: You're correct in identifying "operative" as an adjective, but mistaken in thinking the usage wrong.

"operative" in this context is an instance of an adjectival noun. The missing "man" or "person" is understood. Adjectival nouns are more common in inflected languages than in English, although there are plenty of English examples, because the inflection of the adjective supplies information about the implied noun. They aren't a recent invention, either; "cetera" is Latin for "other things", where "-a" is the neuter plural ending that implies "things".

That said, I have to agree that the "operative" usage carries overtones of officialese, perhaps because it de-humanises an operator by reducing him to one of his attributes. I think that's why I chose it.

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Kubla Cant
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Headmaster

Plumbing pedantry

May I point out that it's a sink plunger.

It clears blockages by establishing a seal around the lip of the plunger, which allows the operative to send shock waves down the blocked pipe by vigorously working the plunger while crying "Exterminate!". This would never work in a toilet because the outlet is too big for the seal to cover it.

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Fed up with Windows? Linux too easy? Get weird, go ALTERNATIVE

Kubla Cant
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Boffin

VMS

What about an operating system for grown-ups? I haven't tried it, but FreeVMS is an X86 port of OpenVMS.

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Do dishwashers really blunt knives

Kubla Cant
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Ceramic

My ex-wife puts knives in the dishwasher, and hers are always blunt. Mind you, they're crap knives to start with. The other problem is that the knife is always in the dishwasher when you need it.

I've never used a sharpener - the grinding noise as you drag the blade through it sounds too much like damage happening. For the past couple of years I've been using a ceramic "steel" , and I find it much more effective than the steel steel I used before. When I bought my insanely expensive Global knife, I couldn't persuade myself to get an £80 Global ceramic steel as well. I subsequently found a ceramic steel in Ikea, for £10 IIRC. Actually, the top-of-the-range knives I bought in Ikea are pretty good, too, and much cheaper than Global.

@Hungry Sean: "Sabatier" isn't a brand. It used to be a name used indiscriminately by manufacturers in Thiers , the French equivalent of Sheffield, but more recently it just describes any French-style cooking knife, typically with a triangular blade and a black handle.

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Toshiba unveils SSD: Claims hard-as-nails kit has the write stuff

Kubla Cant
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WTF?

Cloud?

Why is this article categorised under "Cloud"? It seems to be about a local storage device. Unless my buzzwords are woefully out-of-date, that's exactly what the Cloud isn't.

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Facebook tests sinister CURSOR-TRACKING in hunt for more ad bucks

Kubla Cant
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Re: AdBlocker Plus

A few years ago, when I couldn't find a decent ad-blocker for Chrome on Linux, I installed Privoxy, an ad-blocking proxy server. I haven't updated the block list for a good while, but it still seems to keep out most of the junk.

As it's a proxy server, rather than a browser add-on, it works transparently for all browsers. Also, it returns a dummy response for all requests, which I imagine makes it much harder for anti-ad-blocking software to detect the block.

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The Colosseum, Hagia Sophia, Tower of London... and, er, Steve Jobs' GARAGE

Kubla Cant
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Re: From little Acorns

I think the competition for historic building status is a bit stronger in Cambridge than in Los Altos.

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Digital radio may replace FM altogether - even though nobody wants it

Kubla Cant
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Mushroom

Re: They'd be better shifting to DAB+

many of the early DAB-only sets will have been replaced by newer models that are DAB+ compatible anyway

Why? My two DAB radios are in the same condition as when I bought them. Barring accidents, they should be good for about 50 years. If I'm compelled to replace perfectly sound kit that I've been encouraged to buy because of the next stupid fad I shall expect to be compensated.

Maybe your radios have a hard life and need frequent replacement.

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Kubla Cant
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@redpola DAB - requires highly-developed and non-trivial silicone

You mean you can receive DAB on breast implants? Or just that it gets on yer tits?

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Payday loan firms are the WORST. Ugh, my mobe's FILLED with filthy SPAM

Kubla Cant
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Re: TPS

I'm on Orange, previously on Vodafone with the same number. I registered with TPS quite a while ago, and the number of spam messages and unsolicited calls I get is small enough that it's not worth the trouble of making a fuss about it.

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Kubla Cant
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Unhappy

Re: Payday loan and betting, eh ?

Accrington Stanley? Who are they?

I bet there aren't many of you who can claim to have been to an Accrington Stanley match. I can. They played Hartlepool United at home. They lost.

And that was the end of my interest in football.

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Coding: 'suitable for exceptionally dull weirdos'

Kubla Cant
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Coding vs Writing - which is the dull mechanical skill?

You start off with a set of results you want to achieve. These depend on each other and on external factors. You arrange them in the correct logical sequence, reference the external factors, and connect everything together. If this doesn't produce the required output, you go through making adjustments and re-ordering until it does. Finally, you make sure that it's all syntactically valid and easy to follow.

A generalised description of coding, or possibly of journalistic writing. (If you're a great author there's probably a bit more to it, though I love the idea of Finnegan's Wake as the literary equivalent of obfuscated Perl.)

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SEX CRAZED FISH keeping hapless Southamptonites awake

Kubla Cant
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Re: @ Sir Runcible Spoon - Sir

Scraping the bottom of the esquire barrel...

"Esquire" seems to belong to a different category from "Mr", "Mrs" etc, because of its usage. Nowadays it's mostly confined to addresses. My impression is that it became common in the 18th century, but that it was never used in the same way as "Mr". One can imagine "How very ill Miss Eliza Bennet looks this morning, Mr. Darcy", but substitute "Fitzwilliam Darcy esquire", and it sounds absurd.

I have an idea that until the late 19th century "Esquire" denoted some kind of gentry status, possibly a man who was armigerous but not titled.

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Kubla Cant
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Headmaster

Re: @ Sir Runcible Spoon - Sir

I seem to recall it's recent conventional useage (which has sadly lapsed) was applied to young men before they became a 'Mr.' i.e. when they got married - a little bit like Miss and Mrs

I thought unmarried young men were styled "Master", until the usage lapsed in the face of objections from young men called Bates.

Also, I believe it should be "its recent conventional usage".

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Swedish teen's sex video fine slashed: Unwilling co-star girlfriend furious

Kubla Cant
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Re: @ James Micallef

if she made a sex tape willingly but under the assumption it would be private, then uploading it was a heinous crime

It was a pretty nasty breach of trust, but it wasn't "a heinous crime". It's not hard to think of quite a few other ways in which sexual partners can betray each other.

I doubt that you would be recommending a gaol term if he'd treated his friends to graphic descriptions, or even a private video show, though both would be a betrayal of trust. The distinction seems to lie in the scale of the exposure, which isn't really the moral issue.

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Deploying Turing to see if we have free will

Kubla Cant
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Re: Free from what, exactly?

@I ain't Spartacus: The question is whether our brains are just very complicated, but squishy, computers.

Gilbert Ryle's phrase "the ghost in the machine" exposes the problem of thinking that we have anything beyond a squishy computer to work with. If you once accept that mental processes involve something beyond the physical then anything goes. Non-physical thought processes are as intrinsically likely as gods, fairies and flying spaghetti monsters.

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Kubla Cant
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He/his, she/her, they/their

While "his" has the endorsement of grammar Nazis, "her" is espoused by the politically correct, and "their" has the overwhelming backing of popular usage, it's odd that all these groups would probably object to "it" and "its" to indicate a person of unspecified gender. In most cases it would be clear enough from the context that the referend was not inanimate.

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Snap-happy blogger babe posts catcalling blokes' mugshots online

Kubla Cant
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Re: In more civilised times

@Chairo: a single thoughtless action, put on the internet by another thoughtless person

It's a wise policy to bear in mind that things you do in public are ... public.

If the woman in the story is posting pictures of men who catcalled her in private, then she's invading their privacy. But if, as is probable, they did it in public, there's no privacy to invade.

In these days of ubiquitous camera phones, surveillance cameras and Google vans, the only way to ensure that something you do doesn't end up on the Internet is not to do it in public. Maybe this is a good thing, maybe not, but it's the way things are.

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US parents proclaim 811 'Messiahs'

Kubla Cant
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Re: so... surely there must also be the opposite ?

I think it's the chapter in Freakonomics mentioned in a previous post that tells of a man who named his sons Loser and Winner. With grim inevitability, they turned out the opposite way round, IIRC.

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Kubla Cant
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Re: Alas, all is vanity...

Etymology would suggest that it's Peter that means "The Rock".

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Kubla Cant
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Re: Not to be racist

Freakonomics, or a similar book, contains a table that plots weird children's names against the terminal educational age of parents. The lower the TEA, the more exotic the more exotic the name.

My personal bête noir is people who give their children names that are already familiar forms of other names. If you want him to be known as Jack, baptise (or register) him as John. That way he gets a choice.

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Murdoch calls for world+dog to 'expose' Google

Kubla Cant
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Headmaster

Re: Bike likers

It's not the diphthong that ASCII threatens, it's the ligature; "ae" replaces "æ". To be fair, the death of the ligature is old news; even in the days of hot metal, many fonts, and many more compositors, didn't support ligatures. Strictly, neither "ae" or "æ" is a diphthong, which consists of consecutive vowels with distinct sounds (exhaustive information here).

The "ae" combination seems to have been on the way out for some time, anyway: "mediæval" is now mostly "medieval", even among a population as reactionary as medievalists, and I don't think "pedagogue" has been "pædagogue" in living memory.

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Turkish TV presenter canned for flashing too much cleavage

Kubla Cant
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Non-PPE clothing

Was it the Politics, the Philosophy or the Economics that her clothing lacked?

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Double-click? Oh how conventional of you, darling!

Kubla Cant
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Re: The French don't NEED indicators.

it's just to indicate they are in the fast lane

There's more to it than that.

The left-hand indicator means "I am here in the fast lane driving my clapped-out Citroen at 150 km/h** and I find myself 2m from your rear bumper. I expect you to pull yourself over into the slow-moving traffic on the right so that I can accelerate myself to 155 and overtake you."

The right-hand indicator means "I hear you sound the horn because I have just swerved in front of you without warning causing you to brake yourself hard. You are a type of unkempt merino sheep!"

** He has removed the carpet so he can push the pedal down further.

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Kubla Cant
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Facepalm

Re: Standards...

Prior to standardisation there were several occasions when I responded to an outrageous example of bad driving by mouthing "You *&^%$ @:~#£!" and aggressively washing my windscreen at the offending driver.

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