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* Posts by Tom Welsh

1461 posts • joined 2 Jul 2007

Love XKCD? Love science? You'll love a book about science from Randall Munroe

Tom Welsh
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Dimbulb

"A genius that seemingly doesn't believe in free speech".

Absolutely wrong. What that strip does is to explain, to people like you, what "free speech" actually means - and what it doesn't mean.

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Britain's housing crisis: What are we going to do about it?

Tom Welsh
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@ FutureShock999

"Close the tax loopholes..."

But we can't do that! Then who would give us the money we need to con voters into thinking we'll govern in their interests?

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Tom Welsh
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Economists wear mental blinkers

Economics isn't a science; it's barely even a craft. Boiled down to essentials, it consists in looking for patterns in people's economic behaviour that can be analyzed mathematically. But already this forces economists to over-abstract from the real world. Consider the example given: the shortage of toilet paper in Venezuela was caused by the enforced low price for it. If you are an economist, you feel an irresistible urge to generalize from this single observation (really just a theory). But what happens when you consider the market for labour rather than toilet paper? If employers force the price way down, does that mean there will instantly be a shortage of labour? Only if people want to lose their houses, their families to starve, and their quality of life to plummet. There is no parallel between supplying toilet paper (you can use the same resources to do something more profitable) and supplying labour (because for most of us, it's the only asset we've got).

As for building houses, well yes: only 2-3% of the land is covered with houses right now. (Presumably that doesn't include roads, shops, government buildings, parks, etc.) How much of the land near you would you LIKE to be covered with houses? Half? Nine tenths? Thing is, economists can only think about one thing at a time, so then they can figure out how to optimize it. But to live a decent life you need scores of different things - breathable air, drinkable water, decent food, somewhere comfortable to live, clothing, a source of income which probably entails working, job satisfaction, pleasant colleagues, a good boss, security, exercise, hobbies, companionship, love, a chance to have children and bring them up to enjoy all those things, a good education system, freedom from excessive taxes, freedom from oppressive laws and authorities... and on and on and on. An economist is happy to say, "Well, you could easily have far more housing" because he doesn't care about all the other things you'd have to give up to get it.

That's why economists are not much use except to discuss other people's mistakes - in hindsight. In other words, as far as I can see, they're not much use.

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Why has the web gone to hell? Market chaos and HUMAN NATURE

Tom Welsh
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Re: Thank the Democrats

"The reason there's a market in this case is because the US Govt, in the shape of the Clinton Administration, notably V.P. Al Gore and Ira Magaziner, took explicit steps to open the Internet up as a competitive space in 1995".

As it happens, I was making a living at that time precisely by writing about the Internet, the Web, middleware and associated software technology. And this is the first I have ever heard about the US Government's role in "opening up the Internet". It was open already: no further opening was needed (or, indeed, possible).

Would you care to explain what you meant, giving details?

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Tom Welsh
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Re: Philosophical crap aside

"Yes, the Internet turned into a sewer 8 years ago and search engines have become almost useless due to the noise".

How odd that you should think so. I use Google many times every day, and I really can't remember the last time it failed to turn up what I was looking for - usually on the first page, and quite often as the very first (non-ad) suggestion.

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Tom Welsh
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Re: Human Nature

"Extremists, who by definition are extremely intolerant of others, love living in a tolerant society".

But what is an "extremist" other than someone who disagrees with you - or perhaps with those in power? A suicide bomber who kills a dozen of his people's enemies at the cost of his own life is perhaps our stereotypical example of an extremist. But an air force pilot who drops a load of 1-ton bombs from miles up in the air, and kills 100 people, would never be called an extremist. Why? Because it's his job. Because he represents a nation, and he is only doing what those elected to power told him to do. Yet the suicide bomber feels that she, too, is doing the best thing to fight for the interests of her people.

Believe it or not, 40 years ago anyone who argued for gay rights in the UK or USA was considered an extremist. Today, anyone who argues against gay rights is an extremist. Thank goodness we live in exactly the perfect time and place so that all our opinions are correct.

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Tom Welsh
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Re: Human Nature

"If web-pages could be rated by users and those users votes weighted by their historic use / abuse of the system then we might get a little nearer to an acceptable marketplace for knowledge".

Back in the 1980s, when the likelihood of a global internet was increasing, I gave these matters some thought. Apparently the big issues, regardless of technology, are security, reliability, and trust. I mean "trust" in the sense of the reader trusting the content she reads, nothing to do with security.

One way of calibrating trust would be to have a hierarchy of evaluators, working rather like S&P, Moody's, and Fitch for credit rating. Their job would be to look at the content available on the whole Web in various categories, and assess it according to some kind of star-rating or percentage system. What refines this idea is that those evaluators, in turn, would be evaluated by a set of meta-evaluators. Rather recursive, but the idea is that market forces would work on the evaluation system so that the best evaluators become more successful.

Of course, different types of reader would need different evaluators. Someone who reads "The Sun", for example, and wants similar Web content, would have to patronize an evaluator specializing in that kind of thing. Whereas those who want informed, articulate, and objective political commentary would need an entirely different service.

Market forces can work efficiently, even on the scale of the Web. But they need the right institutions through which to work.

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Tom Welsh
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Re: Human Nature

"So, the question is: should tolerant society tolerate intolerance? The answer is, I think, not if it wishes to continue".

Have you overlooked the fact that if society doesn't tolerate intolerance, it is no longer tolerant?

Incidentally, this was one of the moral foundations of Ian Fleming's James Bond books (not to be confused with the virtually unrelated movies). Fleming was uncomfortably aware that a tolerant liberal society fell into the aforementioned bind when (or, as it actually turned out, if) confronted by ruthless enemies who did not play by its rules. His answer was that a handful of people like Bond should take it upon themselves to fight secretly in support of our values. In doing so, Bond knew very well that he was deliberately sacrificing his own moral character - a sacrifice that was all the more inspiring because it was so great.

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Tom Welsh
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Nothing new here

The great thing about the Web, as TBL created it, is that it can still be used in its original plain vanilla flavour for its original purpose. No matter how much crap is piled on top of the Web to help people make money by exploiting human weakness, the original efficient steel skeleton is still in there - just as the original Internet is still underneath the Web and email and...

I yield to no one in my disdain for all the crap that has been piled on top of the Web, and the motives of those who did that. But, as Theodore Sturgeon once told a horrified audience of SF fans, "90% of science fiction is crap. <Long pause...> But that's all right. 90% of *everything* is crap".

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China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE

Tom Welsh
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White elephants or paper tigers?

"The Chinese navy have been pursuing ways to crack American carrier groups for a good few years to stop any intervention in a Taiwan crisis".

The American carriers have been expensive white elephants for at least 50 years. Relative to the Chinese, perhaps "paper tigers" would be a better phrase. In 1939, most politicians and admirals thought battleships were still the bee's knees. By 1945, the brand-new Iowa class - by far the best battleships ever built - were essentially obsolete, and the only duty that could be given them was providing AA fire for the carriers. However the carriers themselves, instrumental in winning WW2, became extremely vulnerable to missiles and torpedoes.

The only reason they are still parading proudly around the seas - for all the world like HMS Hood in the 1930s - is that no one has had a big enough war with the USA to take them out. (Also, they are handy for bullying nations that have no air defences or submarines worth speaking of).

Besides, it's smarter for the Chinese, Russians, Iranians, etc. to let the Americans go on shovelling huge sums of money into carriers, ridiculously expensive jets to fly off from them, and escort forces than to demonstrate that they are obsolete, and have the USA start building ships that would actually be useful in a modern war.

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The police are WRONG: Watching YouTube videos is NOT illegal

Tom Welsh
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Re: They've got you...

"They'd just redefine "transmit" to make sure they got you..."

This is, by the way, a perfect example of one reason (among many) why programmers have to be smarter and more careful than lawyers.

Redefining "transmit" to mean, effectively, "receive" (or, at most, "request") is absolutely typical of what lawyers do. One bunch of highly paid lawyers argue for weeks about the wording of a law, then another bunch of highly-paid lawyers argue (in front of a judge who is a yet more highly paid lawyer) about what that wording "really" means.

Whereas a programmer has to make his code state, at all times, exactly what the machine should do. Not nearly, approximately, figuratively, or somewhat. Exactly. If the code says anything in the slightest bit different, then that is what will happen - and the programmer will be blamed for it.

Whereas lawyers deal in ambiguity and uncertainty, prosper from it, live immersed in it, programmers have avoid it utterly. Which job is harder and deserves to be better-paid?

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Tom Welsh
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Re: Police would definitely use that information against them if they got the chance

@Psyx: "Key thing to remember: The police are not barristers. They have a *working* knowledge of the law, but are not experts and aren't supposed to be".

And yet it is their duty to arrest anyone whom they see (or hear about) breaking the law. How on earth can they do that if they don't know the law themselves?

Further. It is a well-known legal maxim that "ignorance of the law is no defence". In other words, if you unwittingly break the law you are just as guilty as if you had done it deliberately.

I recall being told by my accountant, a partner in a substantial firm and a specialist in company accounting law, that the relevant laws would fill an entire shelf of books and change so rapidly that even he cannot begin to keep up with them. Now consider how small a fraction of all the laws are concerned with accounting. No one - not the most dedicated, assiduous lawyer - can possibly have even a rough knowledge of them all.

Yet our legal system insists that every citizen must act as if he knew every law in detail.

Obviously, if policemen do not know the law they cannot enforce it. If they fail to enforce laws that are on the statute book, that's bad. But if they try to enforce laws that don't exist, that is catastrophic. In either case, contempt for the law will ensue.

There is one simply, glaringly obvious solution that our politicians will NOT try: drastically cutting down the number and complexity of the laws.

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Experimental hypersonic SUPERMISSILE destroyed 4 SECONDS after US launched it

Tom Welsh
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Defensive wording

"...could potentially bypass..."

Do you think there are enough qualifiers in there? I could potentially become President of the USA, if I could convince them I was born there. Ukraine could potentially become the 51st state of the USA. This whole universe could potentially be nothing more than a dream. And as many as one of the things advertised on commercial TV could potentially do what it's cracked up to.

Or not.

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Tom Welsh
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Pasteurized before you see it

"The US military has been forced to destroy a top secret hypersonic weapon just four seconds after its test flight begun".

By which time it was one-third of the way round the world...

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True fact: 1 in 4 Brits are now TERRORISTS

Tom Welsh
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"Is there any other kind?"

have you ever encountered the mainstream media? (aka "presstitutes")

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Tom Welsh
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Re: I've seen it...

"Yes, stuff like this is terrible to watch. Seeing actual people actually get killed always sucks, even if you don't like the person who died".

I couldn't agree more, and nothing would make me watch the beheading video.

Nevertheless... the actual killing is much, much, MUCH worse than the video - whether anyone watches it or not. If a million people are killed in Iraq and no one notices (quite deliberately)... did it really happen?

YES IT DID, and that is far worse than any video that could ever be made. Let's get our thinking and our priorities straight.

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Tom Welsh
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Re: Democratic process

It's hardly encouraging that you can get downvoted on The Reg for stating a fact. Oh well...

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

- William Butler Yeats

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Tom Welsh
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Re: first used by the Spaniards

"Wassat, like 460 BC or something?"

Bloody good guess, Stevie! I couldn't have done anything like as well without Wikipedia...

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Tom Welsh
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@ceayers

Tell us - do you find life easier with no brains and no ethics?

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Tom Welsh
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Re: ISIS

"I don't think we've tried taking the moral high ground for a long time, if ever".

Good. There may be hope for us yet, then.

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Tom Welsh
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Re: All Muslims terrorist?

"Whereas at their core Christianity and Buddhism *by their written precepts* (and I know opinion on their 'canon' varies) restrict themselves to the personal/spiritual and as far as they involve themselves in the secular mainly teach separation, the Qu'ran teaches engagement in the political..."

Which doesn't explain why so many people down the ages have been killed, maimed and tortured by Christians and - yes, even Buddhists. Unfortunately, many adherents to (and even leaders of) religions depart rather widely from the prescriptions of their holy books (if any).

Although Jews, Christians, and Muslims all have the Old Testament to fall back on, which gives quite explicit and detailed instructions on unprovoked aggressive war, systematic and extremely effective genocide, rape, and enslavement.

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Tom Welsh
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Re: ISIS

"how did that work out for yo uin school?"

Generally speaking, I just avoided them. On the one occasion when they cornered me, I threatened them with a pitchfork, and they seemed discouraged.

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Tom Welsh
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Re: ISIS

"Concentration camps were (IIRC) first used by the Spaniards in their colonial wars in the Caribbean".

As a history graduate with a continuing interest in the subject, I feel very reluctant to accept any claim of "the first" on such a matter.

I suspect similar institutions have existed ever since enough space was cleared for an enclosed area and material provided for a fence. Certainly around 413 BC, after the Athenian expedition to conquer Syracuse was comprehensively defeated, the Syracusans imprisoned the few Athenian soldiers who survived in their silver mines and worked them to death. Perhaps the critical date - about 4,000 BC? - was when prisoners were no longer eaten, but merely detained (and occasionally beaten or tortured for the amusement of the guards). As for "who invented the concentration camp", who didn't? I wouldn't like to guess. Who was that nasty ruler in "The Scorpion King"? Oh yes, Memnon. Might have been him.

(For extra credit, please note that it's *incorrect* to claim that "democracies never wage war on one another". Athens and Syracuse were the first two democracies on record, and they fought a vicious war to the death - as it happened, of Athens).

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Tom Welsh
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Hypocrites R Us

Does seeing this count?

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/munitions/images/napalm-DM-SD-04-00733.jpg

No, thought not.

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BAT-GOBBLING urban SPIDER QUEENS swell to ENORMOUS SIZE

Tom Welsh
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Smart little fellows (or do I mean their genes?)

"...the male is a vanishingly-small 5mm".

Brilliant survival adaptation - imitate a microscopic canape. With any luck the female won't even notice him, or if she does go for something more substantial such as a nematode.

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Video of US journalist 'beheading' pulled from social media

Tom Welsh
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Re: Western morality

Maybe those downvoters who disagree so strongly with Archbishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela would care to identify themselves, and explain what exactly it is that they disagree with?

Assuming, of course, that they even troubled to follow the link and read the Haaretz article.

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Tom Welsh
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Re: Western morality

'Here's a question: how far back do you go? 66 years? That certainly doesn't take you back to the "original inhabitants"'.

Sorry, P. Lee, that doesn't hold up. I specifically stated that I was going back 66 years - to the Jewish seizure of Palestine in 1948, which involved taking by force land on which Palestinian people had houses and farms, on which they had been living for hundreds of years. Killing many of those who resisted. Shooting and blowing up lots of British armed forces personnel, civilians, and administrators - something the British government seems to have completely forgotten.

And I beg to differ: the "original inhabitants" I meant were precisely those who were thrown violently off their farms and out of their houses, and killed if they tried to resist.

You may argue that people have been violently expropriating land and killing anyone who resisted since the beginning of time, and you would be correct. One might point to the Norman Conquest of England as a classic example. The difference in this specific case, however, is that it occurred three years AFTER the end of WW2, which is always pointed to as the start of a new (UN) era in which it is absolutely NOT acceptable to do such things. Not to put too fine a point on it, the founders of Israel did to the Palestinians exactly what the Nazis did to other peoples whose land they wanted - just three years after the final defeat of the Nazis and the enshrining of international principles that told us such behaviour is utterly unacceptable. No student of human behaviour should be too surprised that the victims of the Nazis responded by adopting very similar behaviour themselves; but it's not right and it's not just.

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Tom Welsh
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Re: Western morality

"That mad rambling is proof of what exactly?"

What "mad rambling", Arnold? On this forum it's customary to indicate whose comment you are answering, either by quoting some of the text to which your comment is a reply, or by using a header such as "@RatFink" or "@AC/time/date".

As things have shaken out, it looks as if your comment refers to the Haaretz article citing Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela in support of the Palestinians. Was that your intention? And if so, what exact aspects of the archbishop's open letter, or Mr Mandela's remarks, do you object to?

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Tom Welsh
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Re: Western morality

http://www.haaretz.com/mobile/1.610687?v=66691173328C172D77ED27A198582751

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Tom Welsh
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Re: Western morality

http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2014/08/the-inconvenient-wog-settlement-in-a-land-devoid-of-people-origin.html

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Tom Welsh
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Re: Western morality

"The alternative would be to NOT fire any more missiles, and aim to reach agreement with an unliked but powerful neighbour".

How plausible that sounds! Of course, it would involve:

1. Accepting that the state of Israel is legitimate, and is entitled to go on enjoying the land and resources it stole from the original inhabitants 66 years ago. Also that it cannot be punished for all the people it killed in doing so.

2. Giving the rest of the world, led by the UN, permission to go back to sleep and utterly forget the existence of such people as Palestinians.

3. Allowing Israel to continue undisturbed with its programme of extending settlements further and further into what half-decent land the Palestinians have so far been allowed to keep, and gradually tightening the noose around the Gaza Strip. Since 1870, Zionists have always been absolutely clear that they can never feel safe except in a country that contains Jews and only Jews. Now how do you think that is to be accomplished?

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Tom Welsh
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Re: Western morality

"Sorry, but I just ignore the miserable news on the whole. There's nothing I can do about it, I feel powerless seeing it, it's better for my mental health if I just focus on Happy Things instead".

When you were at school, were you ever asked why the great majority of German citizens did nothing to stop the Holocaust? You have just provided the answer.

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Tom Welsh
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Re: Yeah, well, like, you know.

Downvoters: sorry to cheer for the wrong side, and all that - but unfortunately I have this regrettable addiction to the truth.

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Tom Welsh
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Re: Yeah, well, like, you know.

"Where are ISIS etc getting their guns from?"

The dear old USA. In two main ways:

(1) Weapons supplied to the "opposition" in Syria, where ISIS (under other names) has been viciously fighting to overthrow the Assad government for several years - with the active help of the US and UK governments. We may not have given them weapons openly, or bragged about it, but there are ways and means - e.g. via Saudi Arabia or the Gulf States.

(2) Weapons given, in vast abundance, to the "Iraqi army" which was even trained by the Yanks. That army was sent to fight ISIS, whereupon it abandoned its weapons and ran away. The ISIS guys gratefully took over the American weapons, including tanks - some of which the Yanks have now bragged about destroying with air strikes. This is the military-industrial complex in its purest form: industry produces weapons (such as tanks) at great expense to the US taxpayer, which are given to the Iraqis, who then hand them over to ISIS. Very expensive US aircraft then use fairly expensive bombs and missiles to destroy those self-same American tanks and other weapons! Rinse and repeat. The only real loser is the US taxpayer, and the only winners are those who own the munitions companies.

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Tom Welsh
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Re: Yeah, well, like, you know.

"The point here is that the killing was an orchestrated murder, filmed and broadcast. As far as I am aware, neither the US or any other country has filmed and broadcast en execution".

I see your point, but I think it's a very weak one. Do you really mean to suggest that filming and broadcasting horrible murders is worse than committing them - whether they are broadcast or not?

Many of us would be inclined to think that someone who procures the violent deaths of thousands of innocent civilians, while taking care that there is never any visual record that the public might see, is even worse than someone who kills a person openly.

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Tom Welsh
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Re: Yeah, well, like, you know.

I was thinking along similar lines. The great and the good (led, of course, by our Dear Old Etonian Leader) have rushed to condemn such beheadings as brutal and unacceptable. Yes, it is a horrible thing. But perhaps slightly less horrible than the effect of a 1-ton bomb landing on a house in which a family is living. The difference is that we are never shown graphic pictures of the burned, decapitated, maimed, shredded victims of THAT kind of violence - because it's done by OUR brave lads from a safe height, and neither they nor we ever have to see the consequences.

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Microsoft Azure goes TITSUP (Total Inability To Support Usual Performance)

Tom Welsh
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Re: Anybody know if the SLAs for Azure include chargebacks for loss of business?

'Azure's SLA guarantees "at least 99.9% availability"'.

Or else... what? Guarantees are as cheap as breath. What does the customer get if the guarantee is not met?

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Tom Welsh
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@oldcoder

"Anybody know if the SLAs for Azure include chargebacks for loss of business?"

From what I know of M$ (more than I want to) I am guessing "not so much".

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Tom Welsh
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@Rberns

"So one needs to implement an on premise data centre to backup the cloud?"

Thank you. I believe you have said the final word on the whole matter.

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Tom Welsh
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Re: Total Inability To Support Usual Performance (TITSUP)

"Is there really this kind of redundancy in place in Azure's case?"

Of course. Microsoft has any number of tits.

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Heartbleed implicated in US hospital megahack

Tom Welsh
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Re: Probably the most expensive post-weekend-hackaton "git push" ever

"But if they are chinese, aren't they govnmt sponsored and out for warcrap and other dregs of civilization?"

Would you say that if they were American, or British, or even Russian? People are people, and I have heard that free enterprise is now flourishing in China. Along with its universal concomitant, crime. (The difference between a successful business and a criminal organization is purely a matter of degree - how willing those involved are to risk a prison sentence).

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Munich considers dumping Linux for ... GULP ... Windows!

Tom Welsh
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Re: Lack of integrated email/contacts/calendar?

"It's awesome".

I can see why you chose to post anonymously.

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Tom Welsh
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Re: Lack of integrated email/contacts/calendar?

"To the people who have down voted my comments on Zimbra, I would be interested in knowing why".

I didn't vote on your comment, either way. But I was rather surprised to read it. Zimbra is SO BAD that someone would rather go back to Outhouse???

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Microsoft: Azure isn't ready for biz-critical apps … yet

Tom Welsh
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Eh?

"Microsoft will move its own IT to the cloud to avoid $200m server bill..."

They do realize that the cloud itself is just a bunch of servers, don't they? (I hope).

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The Return of BSOD: Does ANYONE trust Microsoft patches?

Tom Welsh
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Re: QA

As at Natwest, so at M$: testers are laid off, PHBs get raises... then the software stops working. Too bad.

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Visual Studio Online goes titsup as Microsoft wrestles with database

Tom Welsh
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Re: My guess?

Maybe they should try DB2.

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Tom Welsh
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Re: And as the march to subscription (online) services goes on...

"I provide mobile lottery services to around 100K mobiles".

WHY? Do you agree with Phineas T Barnum that "there's one born every minute", and you should "never give a sucker an even break"?

I'd imagine you'd be as happy to come on here and admit to being a slave-owner as to pushing "lottery services".

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Tom Welsh
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Clever really...

...contriving to show up the unreliability of their cloud services, their database, and their company all at once.

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New voting rules leave innocent Brits at risk of SPAM TSUNAMI

Tom Welsh
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Re: Amazed...

Hmmm... "Virgin Media... weasel words..."

"Virgin Weasel" has a nice ring to it!

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Tom Welsh
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Re: Local Confusion

"I just went on the Gov website and registered to vote online, choosing the 'bugger off admen' box..."

Thank goodness central government can be trusted not to sell your details to the corporations, even though it was central government that created the "open register" at the request of the corporations.

Oh wait.

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