back to article Apple pulled 2,204lbs of gold out of old tech gear

Apple says its recycling efforts have recovered thousands of pounds of rare metals from discarded electronics. The Cupertino slinger of iStuff said in its annual Environmental Responsibility Report [PDF] that it pays about 160 recyclers worldwide to recover and reuse huge stocks of gold, silver and other metals from trashed …

Love 'em or hate 'em...

"...the design and assembly of Apple hardware contributes to the waste problem by making the devices difficult to repair and forcing customers to toss out their old phones and tablets when they break or are replaced."

Which is how consumer commerce works, and (for better or worse) Apple are really good at it. You don't make piles of cash by selling stuff that lasts or is easy & cheap to fix.

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Re: Love 'em or hate 'em...

The 6 and 6S have had pretty good repairability scores - scoring a 7 out of 10, which is the same as the Nexus 5X & 6, OnePlus 2, and even the first generation Fairphone - which is supposedly designed for easy part swapping. They did much better than the Galaxy S6's 4 and the S7's 3. Unlikely Samsung who started high (with past models scoring as well as 8) and got worse, Apple has been improving over time - they had several models that scored a 6, and the original iPhone scored only 2.

The only models listed in iFixit's site released in the past couple years that beat a 7 were the LG G4 scoring 8, and the Fairphone 2, which scored a 10.

https://www.ifixit.com/smartphone-repairability

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Re: Love 'em or hate 'em...

"You don't make piles of cash by selling stuff that lasts or is easy & cheap to fix."

It's a fine line to tread.

Mercedes Benz once decided that they weren't selling enough cars because the ones they'd already sold were never breaking or wearing out. So they wound back on the quality, over did it and ended up with a bad reputation all of a sudden and not selling enough cars.

What's different about Apple is that iPhones "working" doesn't seem to have been necessary to make them sell in large numbers (Antennagate, etc, though they seem to have been doing a better job of it in recent years). Though it does make one wonder just how disfunctional an iPhone could be before people stop buying them!

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Re: Love 'em or hate 'em...

>You don't make piles of cash by selling stuff that lasts or is easy & cheap to fix.

Really? Can you support your claim in any way?

http://www.laptopmag.com/articles/laptop-brand-ratings

http://www.zdnet.com/article/consumer-reports-notebook-reliability-survey/

http://www.digitaltrends.com/buying-guides/which-laptops-are-the-most-reliable/

If Apple's business model is to sell gear at a high margin, and find ways of enticing repeat custom through making newer, lighter faster etc models, then it is of no advantage to them to make flaky kit. I'm a bit confused of why you think it might be.

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Re: Love 'em or hate 'em...

It's difficult to be sure if iFixit's benchmarks have stayed the same over the years. What was once a 2 might now be a 5.

The repairability of devices is going down, for example changing the battery requires you to open the thing up and deal with glue whereas before you just clipped them on the back or had an accessible battery compartment. RAM and storage upgrades might be impossible on some laptops.

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Re: Love 'em or hate 'em...

If you sell aspirational stuff that lasts, then your customers are delighted that they can sell their iPhone 4S on for a hundred pounds when they buy a 6S+, and the person who gets an iPhone 4S and otherwise would have had some lowest-end Android monstrosity is also delighted. If you're lucky then the second-hand customer will get richer and start buying new.

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Re: Love 'em or hate 'em...

Some people have this image of Apple fanatics who will buy whatever Apple sells, so Apple could double its sales by making products that last half as long. That's nonsense. People buy Apple products because they think they get good value for money. "Flaky" kit would quite quickly destroy the brand. If I buy an expensive iPhone today, I know I will be able to use it for a very long time, or sell it at a good price after two years, or hand it down to the next family member.

As far as the repairing goes: iPhones and iPads (and everything else) are hard to repair by amateurs, including iFixit which constantly complains. In reality, if they break you can get screens replaced or batteries replaced at an Apple Store for a lot less than the price of a new phone, and worst case you get an identical refurbished replacement for about half the price of an equivalent new device. And somehow I don't think Apple throws these phones away as long as there are bits of value inside. Many hard to repair phones can be repaired at reasonable cost and reused as "refurbished" if you send them to China.

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Re: Love 'em or hate 'em...

every iPhone i've had has been considerably more durable than the androids I've owned. Same for laptops even better, phone or computer, apple continues to provide support and updates for years after the purchase. compared to android phone vendors especially, apple is miles and miles ahead...

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Re: Love 'em or hate 'em...

Which is what stupid consumers say to justify what stupid products they have bought...

Which is what stupid consumers say since it is their stupidity that allowed such wasteful practices in modern commerce to exist in the first place...

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Re: Love 'em or hate 'em...

"working" or not... "Antennagate" or not... it is the stupid consumers who make it all possible, that's why!

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Meh

Re: Love 'em or hate 'em...

"You don't make piles of cash by selling stuff that lasts or is easy & cheap to fix".

As in the film The Man in the White Suit, this notion is unconvincing. When products become more durable, they cost less per year of use, so we end up buying more of them.

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Re: Love 'em or hate 'em...

I recently repaired an iPhone 5 for my neighbor by soaking it acid.*

I did not bother with an iPhone 4 for a friend (just needs a new case, front and back both cracked) only because it's locked to a carrier we don't like, and would need to spend money on an account for 6 months to get a free unlock. Third party unlock costs $90, before anybody suggests it.

I own two working iPhone 3GS units and one broken. All are Frankenphones. Broken one has bad battery, cracked glass, non-working backlight. Not worth fixing, though some parts may be useful (buttons) and the logic board works and in fact is unlocked from AT&T.

...Of course, I'm a geek and a nerd. But phones can be fixed for pay. Only question is value, like my friend's iPhone 4. My point is that "forced" may be a strong word here. There are choices, if unpalatable.

* Actually, I disassembled it and soaked the logic board in white vinegar overnight, rinsed in water, rinsed in alcohol, blew off with compressed air, let dry a few hours, then reassembled and tested. Seeing it boot was a GLORIOUS thing. Months later the neighbor reports it still working flawlessly. Came from a drawer in my boss's desk; after water exposure he deemed it preferable to replace. Obviously it WAS a choice.

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@Dan 55 - glued in batteries

Apple stopped gluing down the batteries with the iPhone 5 back in 2012, there is now an adhesive strip with a pull tab but it is easily removed, and replacement strips can be bought for a buck or two (they can't be re-used) Samsung seems to have picked up Apple's former glue habit in recent models, which is probably one of the big reasons their score has dropped in the last couple revs.

As for whether the benchmarks have stayed the same or not, who knows. Perhaps they have changed since the original iPhone was rated in 2007, but it is reasonable to expect the criteria for phones reviewed within a year or two of each other should be close enough that they are directly comparable.

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Re: Love 'em or hate 'em...

You don't make piles of cash by selling stuff that lasts or is easy & cheap to fix.

Sure you can. Bosch is a good example - all of their white goods kit is repairable, spare parts are available for everything. They do, however hold and enforce patents and registered designs on everything and this is how they ensure that they make money on repairs too. The same model works fairly well for quite a few other consumer goods manufacturers.

In fact, if I look at what comes nowdays in the shopping basket, it is significantly more repairable than 10 years ago. Manufacturers have learned that there is a significant fraction of paying customer which will repair on environmental grounds instead of chucking stuff into the landfill and have adjusted accordingly. The only non-repairable stuff are supermarket toy/electronics ranges and for these - caveat emptor.

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Trollface

Re: @Dan 55 - glued in batteries

> an adhesive strip with a pull tab but it is easily removed, and replacement strips can be bought for a buck or two

Sounds like special stuff so it's either double-sided or plan sponge tape, so for the double-sided I can make a profit of £70.00 per £2.99 roll by selling it in short strips, or if it's the posh sponge stuff that profit drops to a paltry £65 per roll. I'm in the wrong business here. Maybe I should call Milord Suralan?

Like the old blackmail joke "they definitely saw you coming".

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Happy

@PSPS: Re: Love 'em or hate 'em...

PSPS,

A question for you, was I ripped off when I bought a 13 inch MBP a few weeks ago??

I look forward to your response....

Regards,

Jay

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Love 'em or hate 'em...

Just replacing a battery should be simple. But that's next to impossible on most phones now.

It's all about making simple repairs beyond the expertise of most people.

My electric toothbrush was supposed to be thrown away when the battery stopped holding charge. But I desoldered the old one and replaced it. So it's now in its 8th year instead of being buried in the ground about 3 years ago.

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@Doctor Wibble

And your point is? Anything you need one of that costs almost nothing is going to sell at a high margin, so if you want to buy the strips in bulk (they are available on eBay already in bulk, so you will have someone to buy from) and sell them individually and reap big profits, be my guest. I think most of us have something better to do than individually shipping $2 items, and the demand for them probably isn't that high as all the "replace your battery" kits you can buy include everything you will need including the replacement strip.

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Re: Love 'em or hate 'em...

Just replacing a battery should be simple. But that's next to impossible on most phones now.

Or a 5 minute job like it is on an iPhone.

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Re: Love 'em or hate 'em...

I've just had a massive run-in with Bosch. Their "proffesional" range of tools DONT have spares available. I have just had to write of a Bosch "professional" tool at 2 months old because of that fact.

Bosch, never again.

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Re: Love 'em or hate 'em...

"You don't make piles of cash by selling stuff that lasts or is easy & cheap to fix".

Have seen some of the crap on sale on ebay?

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Re: Love 'em or hate 'em...

> You don't make piles of cash by selling stuff that lasts or is easy & cheap to fix.

>> then it is of no advantage to them to make flaky kit

i don't think that's quite the same point, close but different enough to matter.

Kit (of whatever flavour) that works very well for it's defined lifetime doesn't have to be easy and cheap to fix. On the other hand kit that's temperamental has to be cheap and easy to fix or the manufacturer will be dead in the water.

The trick is, it seems to me that at that defined and point your customers have to feel they've had fair value. If they do, repeat business awaits, if not, then the sale goes elsewhere. I suppose that's why the likes of Apple spend so much time polishing the metaphoric bell - they have to justify so much more (in cash terms) depreciation over the product lifespan, so have to "con"/"add" (delete to personal taste) enough value to cover that.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @PSPS: Love 'em or hate 'em...

My 2010 11" MBA is still going strong!

This device has been carried in my backpack more or less every day and has flown around the world 3 or 4 times. The MacBook kit is top drawer!

* I expanded the SSD storage to 1TB recently which has made life a little easier.

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Re: Love 'em or hate 'em...

"I have just had to write of a Bosch "professional" tool at 2 months old because of that fact."

Why were you attempting to repair something still inside the warranty period? Even in the Land of the Free you get at least 90 days warranty. Or are you somewhere which has no consumer protection at all?

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Re: Love 'em or hate 'em...

Typical responses of the stupid consumer:

1."think they get good value"...

"The 16GB models are $40.56/GB for the 6s and $46.81/GB for the 6s Plus. The 64GB models drop to $11.70 and $13.27, respectively, with the 128GB models at $6.63 and $7.41"

- http://www.zdnet.com/article/dont-buy-a-16gb-apple-iphone-6s-4k-video-live-photos-bigger-apps-and-ludicrous-price-per-gb-make-it/

The fools don't even realise that micro-SD cards are approaching the $0.50 per GB mark. They don't even realise they are paying between 10 to 90 times the cost of flash memory on as compared to Android users buying a micro-SD card with lifetime warranty, waterproofing and transferability to other devices like DSLRs and digicams. Your fruit company's cheapo eMMC 64GB and 128GB storage costs about at least 10 times (on a per GB basis) what it costs me to get a Samsung EVO 850 3D NAND SATA SSD for my PC rig, which costs me only about $0.60-0.70 per GB.

2. If its easy to fix, 3rd party repairers (who are typically much nearer to a consumer) would have been able to do it at low cost. The damn fruit company uses glue and glue and solder for everything G.E.D.D.I.T?

3. IFixit are amateurs? Then you must be Superman. They have become the pros at their job. They were the pioneers and they now supply parts for DIY enthusiasts and repair shops the world over!

4. Fruit company charges half the price to repair an out of warranty phone! Half the price to get the same obsolete thing after 1-2 years? A re-furbished set of the same thing? That is value? For the replacement of a $5 component part called a "battery" or "button" fails?

5. If it is durable, why do you even have to raise the subject of needing to bring it to a service centre? Cos the battery dies after 1 year? Or it loses so much of its capacity it dies at 50% level? Google to find out how many repair issues there are.

6. If it is repairable, why do you have to send it halfway across the world for repair in China? The rest of use take 5 seconds to change a battery, add a micro-SD card or remove the screws and connectors!

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Re: Love 'em or hate 'em...

The solution to this is to buy computers and phones that can be repaired. Never mind, I forgot this article is aimed at Apple Lovers.

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Re: Love 'em or hate 'em...

They would have to be very dysfunctional. Apple Lovers bond to their Apple product is very strong.

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Question:

22m pounds of steel is a lot.

That's an AWFUL lot of iPhones.

So, in the global scheme of things, does this really make ANY difference, especially given the energy used to extract, refine and reuse this stuff, compared to the initial production costs of just buying more steel?

I'm pretty sure I throw away an awful lot of metal. But anything worth anything is taken by those nice blokes in the vans who'll take anything metallic and weighty if they see it. The difference is that saving a pittance at great expense isn't worth the legwork.

Quite how much energy etc. was used to collect, transport, dismantle, refine, heat up, re-mold and get these tiny slithers of metals back to a point where you could try and use them again?

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The goal is to keep potentially harmful materials out of landfills, especially stuff like lead and rare earths. Gold, silver and steel are harmless in a landfill, but you have to break everything down to remove the bad stuff, so you also end up with piles of harmless materials.

So long as it is separated, you might as well recycle it - though it would be interesting to see what would happen if Apple said it had dumped 2,204 pounds of gold in the Cupertino landfill :)

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They probably just put the gold straight back into the tanks used to plate new iPhone parts. Why sell it if you're only going to buy more on the market anyway? And if the phone is designed to be easy to recycle then doing so is more cost effective.

I remember reading about a manufacturing technology that helped recycling. Casings were made out a material with a heat triggered shape-memory; bake it a bit and the case changes shape and the whole thing simply falls to bits.

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Cost is dropping as automation kicks in

Apple has every incentive to improve costs on this type of recycling. If they can recycle their product better than anyone else because they have invested the time, money and effort into doing this, then everyone saves. So often in tech people only look at ego boosting improvements, when it is the incremental improvements that really make a difference in the long run. Building a junk yard that breaks down products that you are already getting back through good warranty practices gives companies a chance to build up a new cash flow chain. Many junk yards have piles of metal that it was not economical for them to sort, but which are now mined for materials when prices get higher on the spot market. Modern Junkyards have a huge conveyor belt systems which uses lasers to find a particular metal and blasts of air to push off the scrap that has been identified into the proper bin. The only manual labor is the effort to shovel or scoop the piles of old mixed metals into the system and to watch for jams or other problems with the system.

The article above describes a robot that is going to improve the speed and cost of breaking down old iPhones. The energy used will drop over time as improvements are made to the process.

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>Why sell it if you're only going to buy more on the market anyway?

That would make sense if their recycling plant was next door to the factory for new devices. However, if you have recovered the gold in the US, there isn't much point in shipping to China yourself.

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Re: Cost is dropping as automation kicks in

> Apple has every incentive to improve costs on this type of recycling

It's one of the reasons manufactures use glue instead of screws. It's easier to heat a batch of devices in an oven than it is to unscrew them all.

Apple's limited product range also aids them in recycling, as does the use of aluminium (rather than carbon- or glass-reinforced resins) in their laptops.

Its been the intention of many territories to make end-of-product-life the responsibility of the manufacturer for around twenty years now. None of this should be surprising.

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Re: Cost is dropping as automation kicks in

Modern Junkyards have a huge conveyor belt systems which uses lasers to find a particular metal and blasts of air to push off the scrap that has been identified into the proper bin.

Yes, I can see that happening in whatever developing country your device has been shipped to be recycled. That's if it hasn't ended up in landfill.

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Headmaster

Spelling!

"...and get these tiny slithers of metals..."

Slivers, you mean slivers not slithers, that what snakes and other crawling things do.

For a site that attracts devs. and other IT people I'm amazed at the poor grammar, punctuation and spelling evident here.

If you were as careless and slipshod in writing code then how would you ever get anything done?

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"22m pounds of steel is a lot.

That's an AWFUL lot of iPhones."

It would be if the article was about JUST phones however its not.

Those weights include iPads and computers as well as phones.

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Re: Spelling!

Picking on spelling, grammar and punctuation on the Internet is like shouting at clouds.

Also, maybe it was an autocorrect that he missed. On a phone here, and I had to re-correct two just in that first sentence. Sorry, three; Internet wasn't capitalized. And I forgot to include "capitalization" in the rant list. Oh hey, I just started a sentence with a conjunction. VERY bad form.

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Re: Spelling!

Possibly because, unlike English, programming languages have small sets of documented rules and syntax. English has few real rules but a vast body of usage and preference which varies with time and place. And - re your grammar, punctuation and spelling pedantry, slithers for slivers is not among those classes of errors (yes, there is a noun form of slither).

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Alert

>>"22m pounds of steel is a lot.

>Those weights include iPads and computers as well as phones.

Includes a couple of G5's then. That'll do it.

Icon: Heavy

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Steel foundries use scrap steel to get started. So there is a huge market for scrap. Cars are the most recycled product ever. Your new car today, may have some atoms from the original Model T in it for we know and likewise your new Android phone may some atoms from the original iPhone.

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Flame

"For a site that attracts devs ..."

It USED to be the case that engineer's spelling left something to be desired, and that their grammar was somewhat stilted, largely because they knew what they wanted to say and wanted to make sure that no one misunderstood.

I had a departmental typist who used to "correct" my grammar. She used to get most upset when I tried to explain politely that her "correction" had changed the meaning in a subtle (sometimes not so subtle) way and that I was insisting that she better change it back and retype it.

Now we have technical "writers" who can't spell, can't write and would not know grammar if they fell over it.

But they're cheap. Probably outsourced. May never have seen the product, let alone used it.

Until the carp they produce comes back to bite us.

A dev's spelling and grammar may not be perfect, and the documentation may not be in his native language, but at least he's near the coalface.

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Energy is not (very) relevant here

A phone in a landfill (or any piece of modern consumer electronics) in contact with water and acids from all the organic matter which is rotting along it will start leaking a coctail of toxic stuff.

1. Lead - this is actually the most harmless part. It is also not leached at a high rate because it is mostly in the display glass - it will take decades for it to leak from there.

2. Rare earths

3. Tantalum from the capacitors

4. Organometalics from the display

5. ...

It has to be processed and scrapped correctly for environmental reasons. Getting anything back is an added bonus.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Spelling!

Let's be real here, misspelled English has little to do with coding accuracy.

For those that took science rather than humanities subjects, the requirements for correct spelling are pretty much limited to the subject's esoteria/jargon being as these carry the required information much more than the framing words around them.

I would say that the misuse of "slithers" rather than "slivers" on this forum only indicates that the word was spelt as heard rather than read. Given how close some dialects make them to homonyms and that neither "slivers" nor "slithers" are required jargon in coding you might be seen as being as pedantic as I am about "pacifically".

On my scale of misuse, "slithers" is nowhere near as bad as "pacifically" used instead of "specifically" which I have heard on BBC news programs where correct English used to be a requirement for employment, unlike coding.

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"I remember reading about a manufacturing technology that helped recycling. Casings were made out a material with a heat triggered shape-memory; bake it a bit and the case changes shape and the whole thing simply falls to bits."

MFI (for those of you old enough to remember them) perfected this techique decades ago, with the added bonus, that you didn't need to bake them first.

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Vic

Re: Spelling!

English has few real rules

That's not true. Try studying something like the TEFL course to see how English has defined rules of grammar.

The trouble is, learning a formal grammar is considered old-fashioned these days, and so languages are often taught in a "conversational" style. This gets you speaking the rudiments of a language much more quickly, but means every new bit of learning is as much work as the last; everything becomes rote-learning rather than method-using.

I've seen English taught overseas using a formal grammar. The students ended up with better language skills than a large number of natives over here...

Vic.

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This post has been deleted by its author

Really?

It is your opinion that shipping a container to China is the same cost as a ton of gold? I bet I could do it for less than half that much...a LOT less.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Spelling!

My experience is that multilingual people with highly developed verbal and written language skills in multiple languages, write, by far the best code. This seemed to be true whether it was Java, C, COBOL, PASCAL, JS or whatever. Now, this relationship may be casual rather than influential, but my casual empiricism suggests that language skills are highly correlated with programming skills.

So, for all you mono-linguists out there, suck it up and

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Re: Spelling!

I am of the opinion that many people that read the Register are not particularly technically adept. They read the comments for the humorous remarks. Therefor they are not concerned about being grammatically correct. Thanks for the laugh.

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Re: "For a site that attracts devs ..."

I saw what you did (carp).

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