* Posts by Ciaran McHale

24 posts • joined 25 Jul 2007

Sarong it's right: Coining it in Thailand without a visa

Ciaran McHale

Re: Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

I'm guessing that one way such a company might work would be similar to the contractor umbrella companies in the UK that help VAT-registered self-employed contractors avoid IR35 transgressions. Those umbrella companies take a small-ish fee (my hazy recollection is about £30 per month) for doing the paperwork. They also take the 20% VAT that the contractor adds to invoices, pay about three-quarters of that (I forget the exact figure) to HMRC and keep the other quarter of the VAT for administration overheads. This (perfectly legal) skimming of the VAT gives the umbrella company significantly more income than the £30/month fee charged to the contractor.

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Xerox copier flaw changes numbers in scanned docs

Ciaran McHale

Same problem at higher resolutions?

Printers can occasionally produce imperfect pages due to, for example, a drum that is nearing the end of its useful life, or a bit of spilled toner inside the machine (perhaps due to a paper jam that occurred earlier). Such imperfections in a printed page, combined with an unsafe optimisation in the photocopier make me skeptical that this problem will be limited to low-resolution copies.

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W3C squeezes XML into portability

Ciaran McHale

Re: Why XML is good

Peter X wrote: 'But don't misinterpret "human readable" as meaning it is intended to be consumed by end-users.'

Section 1.1 of the XML specification lists the original design goals for XML.

http://www.w3.org/TR/xml/#sec-origin-goals

Number 6 in the list is: "XML documents should be human-legible and reasonably clear." There is nothing in the wording to suggest that "human-legible" is inapplicable to, say, end users, so I disagree with you on that point. Even leaving end users aside, XML fails the human-legible test for the significant portion of techies who find it difficult to understand languages (such as XML, LISP, PostScript and Forth) that try to unify many concepts into a minimal amount of syntax.

Peter X went on to write, "Is XML efficient? Nope. But that wasn't the intent. But it is useful as a data exchange format that's easy to work with -- easy as in lower barrier to entry."

I agree with you on this point, but I find it very frustrating that much of the IT industry has been willing to settle on something as mediocre as XML simply because it's slightly less bad than its predecessors.

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Ciaran McHale
Boffin

Readibility of XML

"XML is good at being human readable". Actually, no.

Some programming languages, such as C++ and Java, employ a wide variety of syntax. Some other programming languages, such as LISP, PostScript and Forth, make use of a unifying concept that dramatically reduces the amount of syntax in the language. For example, LISP treats almost everything as a list: data, function calls, function definitions, mathematical expressions, if-then-else statements and so on. PostScript and Forth both treat almost everything as operations on a stack.

XML is another language that tries to unify many dissimilar concepts into a small amount of syntax. In XML's case, the unifying concept is that everything can be represented by an element and/or attribute.

A significant subset of humans find such highly unified languages to be elegant. But another significant subset of humans find such highly unified languages to be frustratingly confusing.

So the claim that, "XML is good at being human readable" is wrong for a significant subset of people.

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Man jailed after cops uncover 'crack in bum'

Ciaran McHale

Name of the teenager

I was disappointed to read that the teenager's name was David. If it had been Dawn, then the headline might have been, "Police were up at the crack of Dawn".

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Ofcom okays Derren Brown psychic-baiting

Ciaran McHale
Joke

Prediction

So, "Ofcom has not upheld Mr Power’s complaint of unfair treatment in the programme as broadcast."

It is surprising that Mr Power was not able to predict that outcome.

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Top secret payload fired into orbit aboard private rocket

Ciaran McHale
Paris Hilton

Missed opportunity

He missed an opportunity to put a paper plane into the payload as a form of one-upmanship on The Register.

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Telco sets honey pot for nuisance marketers

Ciaran McHale

Telecrapper 2K

Several years ago, somebody in America developed a PC-based hardware and software combination that he called the Telecrapper 2000. Basically, he recorded a sequence of short sound files (things like "Hello", "I'm sorry, it's a bad line; please speak louder", "That sounds interesting; does it come with a guarantee?" and so on). The computer had a configuration file that specified the order in which the sound files would be played. His computer detected a telemarketing call via a some sort of back list or white list, and when it received such a call, the computer played the first sound file, Then a microphone waited until the telemarketer said something and then paused. At the pause, the computer played the next sound file, and this went on and on until the telemarketer hung up. The computer recorded these conversations, and some hilarious ones that involved surreal and very silly sound files were uploaded to various websites.

You can find a few of the recordings on YouTube. Start here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ko99DBKlCNk&feature=related

Somebody did a cartoon animation of one of those recordings, and you can find it here.

http://www.guzer.com/animations/telecrapper.php

Regards,

Ciaran.

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Samsung NB30 touchscreen durable netbook

Ciaran McHale

Re: I really wish

If the size and weight are okay for you, then I suggest you look at some of the 11.6 inch machines, such as the Acer Timeline 1810TZ. I have one. Its CULV processor is about 2 or 3 times faster than an Atom processor (according to benchmarks I read somewhere) and it has a 1366x768 resolution display. It costs about £450. The only thing I dislike about it is the keyboard. All the keys have completely flat tops, with very little space between adjacent keys. I prefer contoured keys with a bit of a gap between the keys; that way, my fingers don't accidentally mistype so often.

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UK.gov hoovers up data on five-year-olds

Ciaran McHale
Big Brother

Worse things are being proposed

There are even worse things being proposed. Currently, it is legal to educate your child at home. But now the government is considering changing the law so that if you do so then a local authority official will have the right to: (1) invade your home several times per year as a matter of routine (no search warrant or suspicion of wrongdoing required), and (2) interview your child privately, that is, without a parent being present.

The power to do (1) and (2) is something that not even the police have. If it were proposed that such powers were granted over the entire population then there would be a massive backlash from the public. However, the government is seeking to bring in such powers to cover just

home-ed families, which represent only about 1% of the population. If the government is successful in bringing in these laws against home-ed families then I suspect that the scope of the laws will be increased gradually in succeeding years to cover more and more of the population.

If you want more details then check out the links I have in the "Home education" section on

the main page of my website (www.CiaranMcHale.com).

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ATM pays out credit for unwanted gadgets

Ciaran McHale
Thumb Down

Fencing stolen goods

1. Steal a mobile phone.

2. Deposit stolen phone in ATM and receive payment.

3. Repeat often, until ATM providers are taken to court for receiving stolen goods.

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SA pigeon outpaces broadband

Ciaran McHale

Broadband speed

According to my calculations, the broadband speed was 166Kb per second.

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Brother P-Touch 2100 label printer

Ciaran McHale

Reducing wastage of label tape

If you know that you need to print several labels then the you can reduce the amount of tape wastage by printing one (long) label that contains all the text you want, separated by a few space characters, and then use a scissors to cut out the individual labels. For example, when labelling plugs, print one label that says "TV radio kettle toaster hi-fi DVD".

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Ciaran McHale
Thumb Up

Label printers are great

I have a different (cheaper) model of Brother P-touch label printer; mine has the keyboard input but no USB socket for connection to a PC. I bougth mine for about 30 pounds when it was on sale in a shop a few years ago. There are many practical uses for the labels from such printers, especially if you use a narrower label tape (I think I normally use a 9mm tape). Here are my most common uses.

Print labels saying "TV", "radio", "lamp", "computer", "speakers", and so on, and stick these on all the plugs in your house. You will then never accidentally unplug the wrong piece of equipment.

If you frequently print and bind documents with a plastic-comb binding machine then print the name of the document on a label and stick this on the spine of the plastic comb. It makes it much easier to find a specific document on a shelf-full of bound documents.

Print your email address and mobile phone number on a few labels; some label printers can print two lines of (small) text on label tape, so such labels can be quite compact. Stick these labels on pieces of luggage that have a hard-case, on your laptop computer, on gadgets and so on. If any of these items get lost then the finder will have your contact details to report it.

Print in large letters on a (wide tape) label a message like "No free newspapers, leaflets or catalogues" and stick that on your letterbox. It will eliminate a lot of the junk that you would otherwise receive.

I agree with the manufacturer's claim that the labels are very durable. The label attached to my letterbox has been there for several years without peeling off or showing signs of weather damage. Likewise, the contact-details labels on my luggage are still intact (unlike the countless luggage tags that I had used previously).

Here are some other tips. If you buy a machine without a power adapter then don't bother buying a power adapter separately. Just run it off batteries. The first set of batteries in my machine lasted for several years of occasional use. The machine turns off automatically after being idle for several minutes, which helps prolong the batter life. The recommended retail price of the label tape is a bit expensive; typically about 10 pounds or more for one tape. Whenever I am running low on labels, I hunt for bargins on eBay.

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IBM cuts internet comp for work-at-homers

Ciaran McHale

Shortsighted

I read somewhere that rent on office spaces works out to be several hundred pounds per month per employee. Having some employees be home-based workers saves a company a small fortune, because the typical expenses incurred by a home-based worker (broadband, business calls from their home telephones, an occasional bit of stationary and so on) is probably less than 10% of the office-space rent per employee. Trying to pass those home-office expenses to the home-based employees is a move that will cause resentment.

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Linux-Lego man trumpets OSH revolution

Ciaran McHale

Some buzzwords are constantly redefined

Some buzzwords are constantly redefined to mean "stuff that we can't do today but we hope to be able to do in the future". One example is the goal of "software reuse". This term is usually used (at least in academia) to refer to not-yet-feasible ways of reusing software. Any software reuse mechanisms that actually work and have been widely used for years or decades are ignored. For example, a procedure call is a form of software reuse (because you can call, that is, reuse, the code of a procedure several times within one program). A class hierarchy provides another form of software reuse. So is a library (of procedures or classes). But whenever you hear somebody talk about software reuse, they dismiss those things are being uninteresting because they actually work and have worked well for ages, and instead they use the term "software reuse" to refer to stuff that doesn't yet work.

Another example that springs to mind is "distributed systems". That springs to mind because I did my PhD in a distrubuted systems research group. Here are examples of distributed systems/applications that work well (and have done so for years): email, ftp, telnet, the world wide web. But if you ask distributed systems researchers what they are doing they will say they are "trying to build distrubuted systems" as if this concept was something new and untested.

I'm not knocking the work of researchers into distributed systems or software reuse; I'm just making that point that no matter how much progress is made in a particular field, people will keep redefining the term so that it doesn't refer to the past successes. This article is similar. It refers to "open-source hardware" and "LEGO-style building blocks" as future goals as if they are thing that have never been done before. In doing so, it neglects to acknowledge the existance of past successes in these areas. One other reader mentioned OpenSparc as an open-source CPU design. Open-source hardware isn't a speciality of mine so other examples don't come to mind. However, there are tons of example of LEGO-style building blocks. Power supplies come to mind. So do RAM chips. So PCI-, SCSI- or USB-based devices.

The real issue is that the person quoted in the article isn't excited about the already existing LEGO-style building blocks because they don't cater for his particular field of interest, and so he wants to see LEGO-style building blocks more relevent to his needs being built. There's nothing wrong with that, but the way it is expressed is extremely sloppy because it gives the completely false impression that are no LEGO-style building blocks in existance today. This sloppyness can be blamed on two people: (1) the person quoted in the article, and (2) the journalist (for not detecting and correcting the sloppyness).

Regards,

Ciaran.

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Homosexuality does for UK blue duck population

Ciaran McHale

Re: Which just goes to show

Andy says "Which just goes to show... that homosexuality isn't very clever, from a Darwinian perspective. Though it's really quite rare for animals to be exclusively homosexual – usually it just seems to be a case of mistaken identity due to raging hormones – so maybe Cherry just isn't their type?"

Homosexuality has been observed in over 1500 species (including humans:-) as you can see in this article: http://www.news-medical.net/?id=20718

Why do you think "homosexuality isn't very clever, from a Darwinian perspective"? Is this just an uninformed opinion? Or do you base it on some grounded beliefs? I can't provide any references but I do know that some researchers believe there is a benefit to having a certain percentage of homosexual individuals within a species. The benefit is that a "gay uncle" (or "lesbian aunt") won't be distracted by child rearing responsibilities and so can act as an extra food gatherer, thus increasing the chances of survival for nephews and nieces. If a species has "too many" homosexual individuals then there won't be sufficient breeding and the population may die out. Conversely, if there are "too few" homosexual individuals then the population may die out due to heterosexual parents not being able to acquire sufficient food to feed all their offspring.

As for your claim that "it's really quite rare for animals to be exclusively homosexual", again I am curious if this is just an uninformed opinion or do you have some basis for it. By the way, according to the Kinsey reports in 1948 and 1953, exclusive heterosexuality is much less common than most people imagine.

Regards,

Ciaran.

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Ten of the Best... laptop stands

Ciaran McHale

Prop-forward laptop stand

I'm surprised and disappointed that the article doesn't mention the excellent Prop-forward laptop stand: www.prop-forward.com

Regards,

Ciaran.

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Text messaging helps kids fight the flab - study

Ciaran McHale
Thumb Down

Nothing new here

Read "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" by Robert Cialdini. It's an excellent and very easy to read book about non-obvious issues in psychology. I don't have my copy to hand, but one of the chapters discusses how writing down or publicly stating an opinion can make you more committed to it.

One example of this discussed in the book was during (I think) the Korean war, American prisoners were offered small rewards (such as an extra portion of rice) for writing anti-American essays. Prisoners were happy to write what they considered to be anti-American lies to get the rewards because they figured that everybody would realize the lies were written under duress. However, the act of writing the lies actually started to subtly change the viewpoints of the prisoners and many of them did form anti-American viewpoints over time.

Another example concerns the competitions run by many companies: complete the following sentence in 10 words or less "I love <name-of-product> because...". The goal of these competitions is to target lots of people who think "I don't like this product but I'll write something positive about it to have a chance of winning". Just the act of writing something positive about the product will cause some of those people to start liking the product.

By the way, the change in attitude brought about by writing a message can be brought about in other ways too, such as standing up in a roomful of people and voicing a message that you don't actually believe. The important thing is that you carry out an act (such as writing or speaking) that apparently shows commitment to the message *even* *if* you don't actually believe in the message that you are communicating. Such acts can change your viewpoint.

So, back to this report on the texting and obesity study. By texting a message of your progress, the person is carrying out an act of commitment. This makes the person more committed to achieve the weight-loss goal. The "Influence" book discusses how Weight Watchers uses a similar tactic to reinforce commitment of its members. So this scientific study appears to have been carried out by people who were unaware of prior work in this area. The researchers haven't found anything new; they have just confirmed something that was already known.

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Openmoko to reveal Linux phone's inner workings

Ciaran McHale

Creative Commons is not necessariarly open-source

Creative Commons offer several licenses, and the majority of them are *not* open-source (http://www.opensource.org/docs/osd) because they forbid modifications and/or commercial use.

So, when "Openmoko has said it plans to make the schematics for this - and the Neo 1973 - publicly available under a Creative Commons (CC) license", you need to ask *which* CC license. Without knowing which CC license is going to be used, it is irresponsible of the article's author to claim that "Enterprising engineers will soon get the chance [...] to modify [Openmoko's Linux-powered phones]."

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Lesbos climax as lesbians lick Lesbians

Ciaran McHale

Great article title

The author of the title is truly a cunning linguist.

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British Columbia stray foot tally hits six

Ciaran McHale
Joke

Binge drinking

I blame it all on binge drinking. It results in people getting legless.

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IBM clubs nano noise with graphene sandwich

Ciaran McHale

Re: Thanks for specifying the order size!

Eugene Goodrich claimed that "an order of magnitude" is ambiguous: does it mean 2, 10 or 1024? Or some other number. According to www.dictionary.com, it means "An estimate of size or magnitude expressed as a power of ten".

Regards,

Ciaran.

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Skype violates open source licence

Ciaran McHale

GPL2 does NOT require source code to be supplied with product; just made available

The following statement in the article is incorrect: "The phone uses the Linux kernel, but Skype failed to also supply the source code, a prerequisite of GPLv2."

The GPL 2 does not require that source code be supplied with an application. Rather, it requires that the source code be made available. One easy way to comply with this is to supply the source code with an application. However, another way is to provide a written statement with the compiled software along the lines of "If you want a copy of the source code then write to use at <address>, enclosing <reasonable amount of money> and we will post the source code to you on <CD, tape or whatever>."

The GPL 2 was written long before ubiquitous Internet connections (never mind, broadband), which is why the GPL 2 did not consider it sufficient to provide a URL for the software to be downloaded. I *think* the GPL 3 has relaxed that restriction.

Regards,

Ciaran.

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