* Posts by Kubla Cant

1869 posts • joined 28 Jun 2010

Aye, AI: Cambridge's Dr Sean Holden talks to El Reg about our robot overlords

Kubla Cant
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The procedure for creating human intelligences is well-established. It's rather time-consuming and the results are of variable quality, but it's worked well enough to produce 7 billion instances. The only reason to replicate human intelligence in a machine would therefore be to see if it's possible. The expense and difficulty tend to rule out this kind of idle curiosity.

The main aim of AI (at present) seems to be replication of human cognitive capabilities. The payoff is that the machine can then be made to exercise these capabilities faster or more reliably or in situations where meatware has problems.

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If NatWest texts you about online banking fraud, don't click the link

Kubla Cant
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OT: NatWest again

Yesterday I heard a story about NatWest on BBC news.

It seems that they send out password-reset SMS messages for online banking. But it's perfectly possible to persuade the mobile network to redirect messages to another phone. The BBC reporter did this with a colleague's mobile number, whereupon she was able to log in to the account, change the security credentials, and transfer money to her own account. Apparently it's happened to a number of NatWest customers in real life.

When they devised the password-reset scheme, didn't anyone think to ask whether sending to a mobile phone really guarantees the identity of the recipient? Let's hope NatWest don't start running piss-ups in breweries/

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Essex cop abused police IT systems to snoop on his in-laws

Kubla Cant
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Naive

It's surprising that he thought he'd get away with it. I thought it was fairly common knowledge that searches on police databases are logged and audited. I've read about similar cases in the past.

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Everything bad in the world can be traced to crap Wi-Fi

Kubla Cant
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My BT Homehub provides a free WiFi service called BT Fon. As a BT broadband subscriber I get free access to all BT hotspots, including other people's BT Fon. This is a useful facility, especially when connecting from a phone.

Unfortunately, for the past few weeks my phone has decided that it likes the BT Fon connection better than my private home WiFi, so it always connects to it. Worse, it's so thrilled to be snuggling up to its new best friend that it forgets my BT login credentials, so I'm presented with a page that tells me how much I need to pay for using my own WiFi.

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Ad-blockers are a Mafia-style 'protection racket' – UK's Minister of Fun

Kubla Cant
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Unhappy

A look into the future

The present situation is highly unstable. It can't be long before the majority of users are blocking ads. The advertisers, and the sites that depend on advertising revenue, aren't simply going to say "It was good while it lasted" and walk away.

The first change is likely to be a switch to serving ads from the same domain as the main content. It's a lot more fiddly than simply pulling ads from content networks direct to the client, but with computers, once a fiddly thing is solved, it stays solved. This will make ad blocking a lot less deterministic, especially if sites avoid always serving ads from distinctive paths.

If blocking still succeeds, the next step is likely to be the development of ways to embed ads as binary content in HTML pages. I'm not sure how feasible this is at the moment, though it's already possible to embed base-64 encoded images and fonts. If this happens it will be nearly impossible to selectively block content.

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Oracle's JET flies into open source skies

Kubla Cant
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Useful (maybe)

On the basis of a very cursory examination it looks like it could be useful.

The trouble is that the JavaScript world produces a new, exciting, paradigm-shifting framework every six weeks. It's impossible to judge which ones will achieve extensive uptake and which ones will just die in a corner. With Oracle behind it, JET* may be lucky, but there's no guarantee.

This volatility is obviously bad news for someone who makes a living writing software, but it's actually worse from the perspective of people making architectural choices. Get it wrong, and in a few years you'll have a system that's unsupportable because nobody's prepared to learn the technology it uses.

* Odd choice of name, especially from a database company. If it's as good as the late, unlamented JET database engine, it's doomed.

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Dead Steve Jobs owed $174 by San Francisco parking ticket wardens

Kubla Cant
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Re: How did they give Steve Jobs tickets?

Jobs also infamously parked his cars in disabled parking spaces, so in my book he deserved every penny he was fined. No refunds for Dead Steve!

To be fair, being dead is about as disabled as it gets.

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My devil-possessed smartphone tried to emasculate me

Kubla Cant
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WTF?

WiFi calling

Mobile reception inside my house is non-existent, so when I saw the reference to WiFi calling I passed the term over to Google. The top result was from EE, my current mobile network, which looked promising. Then I read:

WiFi Calling is supported on iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s and later models. Android and Windows devices bought directly from EE in one of our stores, online at ee.co.uk or through our telesales team are also compatible. Android and Windows devices bought from other retailers won't be able to support WiFi Calling.

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German mayor's browser tabs catch him with trousers down

Kubla Cant
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Re: language

Seems odd that all the tabs in in English yet he's a German.

Boring answer: "GRATIS" suggests that the xHamster tab isn't in English, else it would probably say "FREE". The other tabs were probably launched from xHamster and show the titles of the videos. I don't think porn video suppliers are big on localisation.

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Loved one just died? Pah, that's nothing

Kubla Cant
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Did they also measure the same response for the death of a spouse/child/parent? No?

I don't think you'd find many volunteers for a study that involved killing a subject's spouse/child/parent just to measure how much stress it causes.

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The paperless office? Don’t talk sheet

Kubla Cant
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Contracts etc

Once upon a time you could start a new contract with a minimum of paperwork and fuss. These days, I'm emailed about 50 pages of contracts, NDAs, declarations and affirmations by the client, the agency, and often some Stasi-like company that does background checks. All these have to be printed, signed (usually on one page out of the 10 I've printed), scanned and emailed back. So I'm left with a thick wad of paper that may be important in some way, and therefore can't be thrown away.

Sometimes I'm tempted to short-cut the process by editing a scanned signature into a document then exporting it direct to PDF, but I'm haunted by the possibility that I'll be accused of "not really signing".

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Brits unveil 'revolutionary' hydrogen-powered car

Kubla Cant
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Re: I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but...

Why does every mad concept car have to have gull-wing doors?

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Good thing this dev quit. I'd have fired him. Out of a cannon. Into the sun

Kubla Cant
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Flame

Re: Ah, VB ... "variants"

Another VB horror I had to sort out.

A developer writes a critical routine that takes a datetime parameter. This routine eventually gets called from hundreds of locations all over the system. Often it's actually passed a datetime value, but sometimes it gets a variant and sometimes it just gets a string. VB says "that's cool, just pass any old thing and I'll make it work".

Years pass, and it starts to become clear that there are some bad dates in the system. It turns out that VB's way of turning strings into dates is to ignore the system locale and try to guess what the format might be. Pass in "25/12/2015" and it correctly assumes DMY and returns 25 December, but when it sees "10/12/2015" it returns 12 October! Finding the bad calls is more or less impossible, given the lack of VB code analysis tools.

The cause of this problem is a thing called cdate() that lives deep inside the run-time infrastructure. It turns out that the only way to fix it is to add code that patches the run-time after it's loaded into memory, not something you really want to do on a mission-critical server.

Thank you, Microsoft.

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Kubla Cant
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Always use braces

The confusion introduced by brace-less code with misleading indentation is a staple of the Java Certification tests, and of the IKM Assessments that an increasing number of employers expect you to take. Whenever you see indented statements with no braces, it's safe to assume it's a trap.

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Kubla Cant
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Re: Ah, VB ... "variants"

iCount, dblPrice, strName etc.

Aaargh! The abominable Hungarian notation!

It's just about excusable in a language with few data types, where it provides some sort of validation, if anybody bothers to read it. The trouble is, nobody does.

Then the type gets changed, but the Hungarian remains the same, because development environments where Hungarian notation is used rarely support refactoring. At which point it's actively misleading.

Then developers who don't know how it's supposed to work start devising their own Hungarian prefixes, often to indicate the usage of the variable, eg domNumber because it holds the day of the month.

(Apologies to any actual Hungarians reading this.)

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'Hobbit' heads aren't human says bone boffin

Kubla Cant
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Re: Sigh. Dwarves, not hobbits.

That's Princess S White to you.

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UK to stop children looking at online porn. How?

Kubla Cant
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Re: Pornography Legal Definition?

If you're not sure whether it's porn or not, you should try another site.

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Ordnance Survey unfolds handy Mars map

Kubla Cant
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Re: Those damn Martians....

OS hasn't been taxpayer funded for years.

Does that mean that in the event of invasion the Ordnance will have to go down to W H Smith and buy some maps? Or do they aim their guns using Google these days?

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Facebook tells Viz to f**k right off

Kubla Cant
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Re: If only that was effective against homeopaths and the chemtrail loons

I'd take the piss out of your last sentence too if it made sense!

Makes sense to me. Have you been taking homeopathic brain medicine?

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Shopping for PCs? This is what you'll be offered in 2016

Kubla Cant
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At the risk of starting a small war, how's third party driver support in Linux these days?

Not great, in my experience, and I speak as a Linux enthusiast who uses it at work and at home.

I recently upgraded my "grandfather's axe" home workstation. I decided to use a processor with Intel integrated graphics because all the reviews said it's now perfectly adequate for anything except gaming. Big mistake.

The latest version of Mint displays a horrible fuzzy screen along with a warning that it's using software emulation for graphics. Intel only provide drivers for Fedora and Ubuntu, but it seems Mint is based on an older (LTS) version of Ubuntu, for which Intel appear to have stopped distributing drivers.

I like Mint, but the hand-knitted screen look isn't acceptable, so I back everything up and install the latest Kubuntu. The screen almost looks good enough to justify the grief of switching to a new UI. Then I try playing video files, and I find it's impossible to re-size the playback, something that was always possible with my previous, now obsolete, Nvidia graphics.

What on earth are Intel up to? I'd guess that about 80% of Intel-based computers sold today use integrated graphics, but their driver support is limited to two distros and even then the drivers don't work properly.

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Depressed? Desperate for a ciggie? Blame the Neanderthals

Kubla Cant
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Windows

Re: Echoes from the past

I might take up the "naked but for a tiger skin" look

Perhaps you can suggest why the Neanderthal in the picture is wearing granny's fox-fur tippet. It's obviously not for warmth or modesty. Come to think of it, I'm surprised that the museum where this was presumably taken displays a life-size model of a big-nose bloke flashing his todger.

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When asked 'What's a .CNT file?' there's a polite way to answer

Kubla Cant
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Headmaster

Re: cd trays

she had pushed the cd's through the gap between the 5.25 drive trays

Good story. But my recollection is that 5.25 in floppy drives were history long before CD drives were introduced.

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Send tortuous stand-up ‘nine-thirty’ meetings back to the dark ages

Kubla Cant
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Globalised standups

You haven't truly suffered until you've been part of a "co-located" Scrum team. It's happened to me in several jobs. The worst was when the offshore team was in the Philippines, so the morning stand-up took place at 8 am. On other occasions I've participated in telephone stand-ups with people whose accents are so thick that you press the handset harder and harder to your ear in a futile attempt to understand, and spend the rest of the day with a sore ear.

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This is why copy'n'paste should be banned from developers' IDEs

Kubla Cant
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Horrible, but maybe unavoidable

The sample code that laboriously build a where clause is truly horrible. But it's quite possible that it isn't that way because of the developer's addiction to copy-n-paste.

It looks like it's using the stored procedure language from a database. In their early incarnations these languages frequently didn't support any kind of array or collection, and they were often syntactically feeble, making it hard to do the kind of abstraction that is usual in proper programming languages.

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That's cute, Germany – China shows the world how fusion is done

Kubla Cant
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Unhappy

Re: Compost

My experiments with heaps of the plentiful beech leaves in my garden suggest that a sun-size heap of these things would produce no heat and last for ever.

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Kubla Cant
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Re: Dyson Sphere

Is that an updated version of the Hoover Constellation?

I think it's a personal obsession of James Dyson. In the 1970s I worked in the department of Times Newspapers that handled special offers. There was a bloke who kept trying to sell us on a wheelbarrow with a ball instead of a wheel, but the gardening correspondents all said it was useless. 40 years on, James Dyson (for it was he) produces a vacuum cleaner with a ball at the front.

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Who wants a quad-core 4.2GHz, 64GB, 5TB SSD RAID 10 … laptop?

Kubla Cant
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Re: Weight.

I'm not qualified to comment on most of these weights, but 2kg of webbing seems remarkable.

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Kubla Cant
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Re: Luggable

The second computer I ever bought was an Osborne. The ads used to show an attractive young woman walking down the street swinging her Osborne. In real life she must have been about 8 feet tall with the muscles of a stevedore.

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Google to deep six dodgy download buttons

Kubla Cant
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Re: What does to deep mean?

The expression to "deep six" has a long, if not honourable history. In All the President's Men Woodward and Bernstein learn that one of Nixon's henchmen has suggested somebody should deep six a briefcase (IIRC). They're horrified that members of the US government talk like gangsters. Nowadays it might be less surprising.

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Go phish your own staff: Dev builds open-source fool-testing tool

Kubla Cant
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Trollface

Phone phishing for phun

I recently spent a few weeks at home. During this time I received at least three phone calls from India, telling me "Your computer is logging a lot of errors on the server". Their objective was to try to get me to install some kind of remote-access software.

The first time, I carelessly revealed my lack of ignorance, and the caller quickly ended the call. Thereafter, I decided that I'd see how long I could get them to spend talking to me, on the basis that during that time they can't be scamming somebody else. I kept them waiting while "the computer is starting up", then I couldn't find the Start button. When asked to type a URL into the browser I'd deliberately misspell it, then read it back with painstaking phonetics: "H for Henry - sorry, I think that should be hotel - t for tango, t for tango, p for papa, then two little dots and two diagonal lines...".

My record was 35 minutes, but a shorter call was more fun because the crook on the other end got really angry and started shouting insults down the phone.

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Did you know ... Stephen Fry has founded a tech startup?

Kubla Cant
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Re: Cruel and viscious.

Well, yes, El Reg is cruel and vicious. That's what's good about it.

And so was Fry's portrayal of the various incarnations of Melchett. That's what's good about him.

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Facebook tells Belgian government its use of English invalidates privacy case

Kubla Cant
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Re: Dutch computer words

As far as I know "cookie" is an anglicised spelling of a Dutch word.

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BT blames 'faulty router' for mega outage. Did they try turning it off and on again?

Kubla Cant
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Unhappy

BT email seems to have died

It's 17:30 on Wednesday, and the last incoming email in my BT account was received at 09:06. Perhaps nobody loves me any more. But a test mail sent from work has failed to arrive, so it looks like all is still not well with Brutish Telecom.

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Struggling to understand Docker? Let's start with a Minecraft demo

Kubla Cant
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Re: How about a /working/ demo?

C:\Users\Peter>docker pull gaetan/dockercraft

To execute docker pull you need to have installed Docker and to issue commands in the Bash shell that's installed with it.

Docker doesn't seem to live very comfortably on Windows. Not only do you have to use the shell (which annoyingly seems to have replaced the Bash shell that comes with git) but it seems to work with a very memory-hungry VirtualBox VM.

The Minecraft thing looks like a gimmick. Anyone doing the kind of job that requires Docker should be able to understand it without recourse to a game that really has nothing to do with it.

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TalkTalk offers customer £30.20 'final settlement' after crims nick £3,500

Kubla Cant
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Re: Tokenised?

@Tony S: Thanks for the link - I didn't know about tokenisation. If the token is generated by the card company and is specific to the merchant, then it's obviously of limited value if stolen.

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Kubla Cant
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Tokenised?

Credit and debit card details were tokenised, which is a standard higher than encryption

Can anyone explain what this means? As far as I know, there are two ways of hiding sensitive information.

It can be stored as a hash of the plaintext, which can then only be recovered by finding a value that results in the same hash (rainbow tables). This process may be made more difficult by obfuscating the plaintext (salting). I can't see any reason why TalkTalk would store hashed card numbers, since the process is one-way, and the only point of storing the card number is to use it to apply a charge. Alternatively it can be encrypted, in which case the plaintext is recoverable, either by decryption or by breaking the cipher.

If the TalkTalk process "is a standard higher than encryption", what type of encryption is it better than? Caesar substitution? Is it a one-way process, in which case it's basically a hash, or two-way, in which case it's a cipher? Either way, they need to identify the algorithm: it's well known that knit-your-own security solutions are always feeble.

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The spy in your pocket: Researchers name data-slurping mobe apps

Kubla Cant
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absolute nitwits that allow LinkedIn access to their email to forage for contacts

I fear I was that nitwit. I've accessed LinkedIn via the browser for years, and never allowed it to access any address book. Then I unwisely allowed myself to be persuaded to install the phone app. Suddenly my phone contacts list is gobbled into LinkedIn and it's asking me if I want to connect with people from it. I guess they sneaked in permission to access the contacts list when the app installed.

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Sennheiser announces €50,000 headphones (we checked, no typos)

Kubla Cant
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Re: From the kind of shop that'll sell you....

Superb! A $10,000 directional Ethernet cable. You've made my day.

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Now VW air-pollution cheatware 'found in Audis and Porsches'

Kubla Cant
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a sintered racing clutch[3] with all of 2mm travel between "out" and "fully engaged"

I think you're wrong about the clutch. I drove a 911 SC for six years. It was a 1981 model, so well inside the "lethal Porsche" era. The clutch had plenty of travel and was reasonably light. It used to be commonly said at the time that anyone of either sex could easily drive a 911 in traffic.

In other respects, I mostly agree with your comments.

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Kubla Cant
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Re: Parvenu.

People who worry about resale value shouldn't be buying luxury items in the first place.

Why not? Who is to decide whether a person is allowed some luxury?

Some expensive cars (mostly sports cars) are bought because the depreciation is less than that on mass-market cars.

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Here's how TalkTalk ducked and dived over THAT gigantic hack

Kubla Cant
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cyber criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated and attacks against companies that do business online are becoming increasingly frequent

It was SQL injection, a 10-year-old attack vector, FFS! Any system that isn't written and supported by buffoons should repel it as easily as Dildo shrugging off blame.

It's as if a car manufacturer sold a new car that can go at 100 mph, which turns out to use the brake technology from a 1908 Model T. They would be liable for the subsequent deaths and injuries.

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Windows 10 growth stalls during October

Kubla Cant
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Re: A pedant writes...

The aeroplane doesn't "stall"; its engine does.

Wrong.

"A stall is a condition in aerodynamics and aviation wherein the angle of attack increases beyond a certain point such that the lift begins to decrease." [Wikipedia, I'm afraid]

Stalling of an engine is a different phenomenon entirely.

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Why was the modem down? Let us count the ways. And phone lines

Kubla Cant
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Re: Ahh the screeching chirrup

... followed by "GBoing-GBoing". I'm sure there was a technical reason why the faster modems made this cartoon-ish sound.

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We suck? No, James Dyson. It is you who suck – Bosch and Siemens

Kubla Cant
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Re: A Lot of People..

The Dyson Airblade is an interesting hand drier.

It's a typical Dyson pseudo-invention. All other hand dryers, from the feeble things you find in the toilets of Oriental restaurants, to the high-powered ones that you can hear in the next room, work faster when the user rubs his/her hands together during the drying. The Dyson proposition seems to be that he can "scrape" the water off with a "blade" of hot air. The result is a drier design that prevents hand-rubbing.

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Kubla Cant
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Re: @x 7

@Jan 0: Interesting to hear of the irksome maintenance cycle you feel is necessary to keep your Dyson running.

I used to have a Dyson. The women in the household hated it because it was so heavy. I disliked the stupid arrangement with the wand stowed in the handle, and I didn't find the performance very impressive. It had to be repaired about every two years.

When it died for the last time I bought a Miele. It's light, easy to use, and intelligently designed. It may use bags instead of James Dyson Magic Cyclones, but even with the bag full it sucks far better than the multi-coloured plastic wonder ever did.

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Kubla Cant
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Re: Why should anyone care if a vacuum cleaner is AAAA rated

It's to do with scale. One vacuum it makes fuck all difference, but there's 25 million households in the uk, most of them have a vacuum.

So it's far better if they spend twice as long using a vacuum cleaner with half the power,

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Cops use terror powers to lift BBC man's laptop after ISIS interview

Kubla Cant
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Re: So What?

Interviewing known terrorists like ISIS in order to manufacture a contrarian viewpoint shouldn't warrant any protection for these so called "journalists". Even giving a voice to these criminals makes me suspect the news outlets intentions.

I'm confused. If a reporter for Newsnight is a 'so called "journalist"', who qualifies as a real journalist? To judge from this post, nobody but the fête correspondent of the Church Times.

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Yamaha unleashes motorcycling robot

Kubla Cant
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The bike in the picture seems to be equipped with stabilisers. Not very cool.

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Joining the illuminati? Just how bright can a smart bulb really be?

Kubla Cant
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Re: cart before horse

Rather than put the 'cleverness' into the bulb, why not put it into the wall switch?

Exactly. I can't be the only person who thinks a room looks better if it's only lit by table lamps. But it's a pain to walk round the room turning them on individually.

I have two rooms where the wall switch is wired to 5 amp wall sockets. It should be simple to create similar functionality with a wall switch that communicates via wireless or powerline with smart plugs in standard 13 amp outlets, so anything can be activated from the wall switch by the door.

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Ex-Microsoft craft ale buffs rattle tankard for desktop brewery

Kubla Cant
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The fond childhood memories of sneaking into the garage and nicking a swig... then instantly spitting it back into the jug.

I can't be the only one who has student memories* along the lines of "if we keep fermenting this as long as possible, we get free alcohol". The result was a sinister, almost still beverage with a strong taste and good deal of sediment. The effects were generally everything we expected.

* I can remember brewing the stuff, but as with concussion, there's a blank patch after we started drinking it.

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