* Posts by Jarrad Harries

10 posts • joined 20 Oct 2006

HMRC coughs to more data losses

Jarrad Harries
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I think this is brilliant

It's the first step toward a more secure society. Remember: "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear." The Government is systematically ensuring that none of us have anything left to hide, ergo we will have nothing to fear, ergo there will be no reason for us to object to having to produce ID cards every five minutes or having half a dozen biometrics logged at the corner shop in order to buy stamps. Great!


Chuck Norris to do battle in El Reg Arena of Death

Jarrad Harries

@Chuck vs. BOFH

You clearly haven't met that particular BOFH. I have, and a tenner says Chuck will be choking on his own beard by the end of Round Three ;)


Japan convicts P2P author

Jarrad Harries

Where were those humour tags again?

It's about time you had another look at those <a href="http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/07/13/the_return_of_the_irony_tag/">humour tags</a> Andrew: a number of your readers seem as impervious to hyperbole as they are to sarcasm, irony and other such (ahem) advanced manifestations of the written word.

Although, that said, you'd have to give that one a new tag all of its own as there was no category I could see that specifically covered "exaggeration for humourous effect" and you wouldn't want people misled into laughing at the wrong type of joke, would you?


Firefox 3 alpha unleashed

Jarrad Harries

Yes, "Orientated"

For the first poster's benefit, who presumably is from the US (as evinced by a profligate use of letter "z") the UK usage is more commonly "orientated", although either form is used. The etymology of "orientated" is exactly as you might think; it originally meant "to align oneself with or face the East".

For some reason, "occidented" or "occidentated" have never caught on ;-)


Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS graphics card

Jarrad Harries

Diagram colours!

Please, please, please could you stop to consider just how many red-green colour-blind people there are out there? Mine isn't severe, but there's just no way I can compare the silly little blobs of colour that are the "key" to the diagram with the chart above. I mean, what the hell is wrong with red, yellow, black and blue for crying out loud?!

A significant proportion (roughly 7%) of the male population and about 0.5% of the female population are colour-blind. Have a heart, please...

And go look at www.vischeck.com to see how your charts look to someone with red-green colour-blindness!


Is it true that fewer boy babies are born in hard times?

Jarrad Harries

Deary, deary me...

Quoth the good doctor: "The theory behind this is that natural selection favours female births when times are hard because, on average, females have a better chance of mating successfully than males. This principle seems to be followed in animals."

Er... what on earth are you talking about? You don't think that, just maybe, it's because it's the females that give birth and thus bolster the population? One male human can impregnate a very large number of females whereas if a large number of males mate with a single female in one breeding cycle there's no advantage whatsoever in terms of additional offspring. Therefore, if a population suffers a sudden drop the ideal scenario is lots of females and only just enough males to impregnate them all.

It's absolutely not about "females having a better chance of mating successfully". A successful mating - i.e. one in which young are conceived and born live - is successful for both the male and the female in the partnership. If a male mates "unsuccessfully" with a female, logically the female must also have mated unsuccessfully! Whether or not a particular gender is more likely to have the *opportunity* to mate very much depends on the gender ratio, so the answer quoted above is either tautological or just plain daft depending on the situation that appertained before the drop in relative supply of males.

In many species, all males are good for is hanging around consuming resources until their gametes are needed for reproduction... This is particularly true of certain primates, where a limited number of males are required for protection and reproduction and the females operate a "creche" system and do most of the hard work. There are far more males in most mammal populations than would seem, on the face of it, to be required. This is almost certainly due to the advantages of maintaining genetic diversity.

I await the inevitable parallels being drawn... ;-)

Yes, the culled cohort theory explains the drop in male births - up to a point - but doesn't necessarily explain the increase in female births, which don't just increase as a proportion of total live births, but also numerically in relation to the number of females births *before* the "shock event" according to several sources.


Why do I have an extreme fear of needles?

Jarrad Harries

Causes of phobias

Belonephobia is a "simple" or "specific" phobia, as opposed to the more complex social phobias (agoraphobia is usually clinically considered to be in a category by itself).

It's not always easy to pinpoint the cause of a simple phobia, but most are learned reactions from those close to us, and the chances are that if you suffer from belonephobia then someone else in your family does too. Depending on which sources you credit, somewhere between 10 and 20 per cent of the population* suffer from belonephobia, and up to 80 per cent of those report that they have a parent or sibling with the same condition.** Of course different people suffer from differing degrees of fear, ranging from "avoid needles wherever possible" to "full-on panic attack and possibly passing out at the mere sight of them".

Those most at risk of developing the condition are individuals who previously had a traumatic experience with needles (for instance, a child remembering an unpleasant vaccination or visit to the dentist) and those who have extreme sensitivity to pain.

Like almost any other specific phobia, your fear of needles may stem from a combination of factors. Many people who have a strong aversion to pain come to associate it specifically with a particular event, and most of us come into contact with needles - which, lets face it, look like they're going to hurt - at several times in our lives. This could be particularly true if, as a child, whoever took you to see the doctor or dentist themselves exhibited symptoms of anxiety about the needle: simply being made too much of a fuss of could be the basis for the problem!

An uncomfortable filling or tooth extraction starts with a needle and so it's an obvious focus for fear. Needles figure as a strong motif in horror books and films, which only serves to reinforce the message that Needles Are Scary.

In terms of dealing with the condition when you need to confront a needle for some reason, any combination of counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, hypnosis, distraction and relaxation techniques can be employed. If the fear is severe and disabling, it is possible that benzodiazepines - mild sedatives - could be prescribed for short-term use in their capacity as anti-anxiety medications. These are however contraindicated for long-term use as susceptible patients can develop both psychological and physiological dependencies.

Was that any use, Nicole?

*To be fair, the only source I found for the higher figure quoted is Dr. James G. Hamilton, who is himself a belonephobia sufferer. Make of that what you will, but most sources quote around 10 per cent.

**I'm aware that this is purely anecdotal, but it's in a in similar vein. When I was a young child I used to regularly catch spiders in my hands and play with them. One day my Mum came across me in the garden having a conversation with a big fat spider in the palm of my hand, sending her into near-hysterical panic when I proudly introduced her to my leggy friend. Nowadays I go absolutely nuts if I see a spider scuttling across the room and won't willingly get close to one. I'm fascinated by spider biology but have been known to close a book in horror at an unexpected full-page closeup of a spider... Go figure. There's no particularly clinical distinction between arachnophobia and belonephobia; the fear is just as irrational and just as specific, it's just the object that's different!


Does drinking alcohol really keep you warm?

Jarrad Harries

Sorry Dr. Juan, but...

This column is starting to sound like Steve Wright's "factoids", but even more confused. You're in danger descending to Wikipedia levels of accuracy. I don't suppose there's any chance that you could actually get someone with qualifications in a genuine science to answer the science-related questions, is there? If you're stuck, I'll do it myself...

"Does drinking alcohol really keep you warm?


Well, this much is correct.

"Alcohol only gives a false sense of warmth,"

Under normal circumstances, when the body's core temperature drops by more than a degree or so, the blood vessels near the surface of the skin constrict, keeping the blood closer to vital organs and thus retaining heat. Alcohol, being - as mentioned - a vasodilator, prevents this mechanism from functioning effectively.

So, it's a real sense of warmth; your skin genuinely does get warmer and the warmth you are feeling is your core body heat being radiated from your skin. This is not a good thing if you're buried in the snow or going for a swim, as you will rapidly lose heat to your surroundings.

"In fact, while you get the feeling of warmth from alcohol, it is really unsuitable because it allows the cold to enter the body."

Oh, come ON! Cold doesn't "enter" the body, heat leaves it.

"Does drinking alcohol thin the blood?

No! Alcohol is a vasodilator."

Well, this is true as far as it goes. However, in the context of drinking alcohol when cold, there's another factor to mention. Most deaths involving cold in milder climates such as the UK's aren't from hypothermia, they're from the secondary effect of one's blood thickening. When you're cold for a protracted period, the reduced circulatory path (due to vasoconstriction in the extremities) means that internal organs get more heavily flooded with blood.

In order to reduce the load, the body excretes salt and water. This makes the blood thicker and more likely to clot, leading in an increased incident of heart attacks and strokes in vulnerable persons.

So, although alcohol doesn't thin the blood, it could prevent it thickening during a prolonged period of exposure to cold because it will prevent the usual restriction of circulation.

That's still not to say that consuming alcohol to keep warm is a good idea though...

"Why does drinking alcohol make you feel thirsty?

Alcohol ingestion forces the body to metabolise it in order to remain chemically balanced for proper body functioning.

Well, yes, like almost everything else you might ingest. "Chemically balanced for proper body functioning" sounds like a line from a pseudo-scientific commercial for the latest overpriced bottled water...

"In doing so, the body actually draws water from body tissues. This can cause a thirsty feeling."

This is an absolute load of cobblers. There is more than enough water content - by several orders of magnitude - in any alcoholic beverage to replace the water required for the metabolism of alcohol.

Nor is the other popular explanation - that alcohol is a diuretic - actually the real one. Although alcohol is a mild diuretic, it doesn't usually cause water loss in that manner beyond what is contained in the drink in the first place.

The actual reason that alcohol makes you feel thirsty is very simple: alcohol is an astringent. It does indeed abstract water from body tissues, but this has nothing to do with alcohol metabolism. It dries out your mouth and throat, causing you to feel "dehydrated", even though the chances are that you're no such thing! That's why you feel thirsty.

What on earth are they teaching PhD's in school these days, eh?


Why do you sometimes lose bowel function when scared?

Jarrad Harries

Because, because, because...

"Side-effect of other things" is certainly one answer. The "fight or flight" response starts with a big shot of adrenaline, which puts the sympathetic nervous system into overdrive. This causes bandwidth problems for the central nervous system - no, seriously - and the signalling rate from the internal anal sphincter to the central nervous system drops suddenly, which in turn causes the sphincter to relax.

This mechanism would seem to be a straightforward side-effect.

There's another part to this though; adrenaline has an effect on the external anal sphincter, causing it also to relax and one's bowels to involuntarily evacuate through peristaltic contraction. This latter effect makes me wonder if there could be survival advantages to the response.

Conjecture 1) The sudden evacuation of faeces and the accompanying odour act as a signalling mechanism to nearby members of one's own species that a threat is at hand...

The problem with this idea is that the overwhelming response in mammals to the smell of faeces (particularly of one's own species) is disgust. Soiling yourself when the tiger leaps out of the bushes is more likely to send people downwind of you scurrying off in the opposite direction, not running to help.

Conjecture 2) If you reek of poo, you don't smell like a good potential meal...

Possibly, although mammals - and in particular, carnivores - show a decreased level of disgust response to faeces produced by species other than their own.

Conjecture 3) It makes you lighter and you can therefore run away faster...

This is too silly for words.

I'm going with:

Conjecture 4) Sometimes, sh*t just happens!


What happens when you are executed by electrocution?

Jarrad Harries


"The first practical electric chair was invented by Harold P Brown who worked for Thomas Edison."

Hmph. Well, possibly, for a given value of "practical". The electric chair was touted by Edison who wanted to demonstrate how dangerous Westinghouse's AC system (the competitor to Edison's low-voltage DC proposition) was by comparison. Edison tried very hard to get "electrocution" into the public consciousness as the verb "to westinghouse" but it didn't stick.

By all accounts, it wasn't terribly practical at all. William Kemmler, the convicted murderer who entered history as the first man to be deliberately executed in this way, was zapped for a good 17 seconds on the first attempt which noticeably failed to kill him. They left him strapped to the chair, uttering presumably quite vociferous complaints as to his mistreatment, for some considerable time until they could charge the generator up sufficiently to give him another blast... They cranked up the voltage and this time gave him a full minute, which did the trick but in a spectacularly gruesome fashion.

Westinghouse later commented that the execution would have been better performed with an axe. Even allowing for a certain disgruntlement on his part at the tackiest PR episode in history being aimed at his AC current system, that doesn't really sound like a "practical" electric chair to me!