* Posts by RW

1101 posts • joined 23 Apr 2007

Kindle fails to set light to unsold e-book pile

RW
Thumb Down

Pedanticism? Or stupidity at the NYT? Take your pick.

Quoting an NYT honcho: " . . . a "small amount" of subscriptions . . . "

I'm speechless.

Yeah, yeah, I know, using "amount" instead of "number" for countable plurals is accepted these days, but it destroys a useful distinction. [I trust that the staff of El Reg is alert for such violations of good English syntax.]

The NYT: "All the news that fits, we print." A bloated, self-important newspaper in a bloated, self-important city whose time has passed.

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Council clamps down on 'man on the street'

RW
Happy

@ Greg & Chris

Greg quoting some council flunky: "what we are seeking to do is to be more sensitive and responsive to the needs of others in our society."

These are strictly imaginary needs. The thought process is closely akin to the insane health & safety regulations that forbid all interesting activities on the grounds that someone *might* get hurt, instead of accepting that, yes, people do get hurt on occasion and H&S regulations should be limited to the relatively few activities that have a proven track record for causing serious injury. A skinned knee or a wounded ego is not a serious injury. Likewise, calling someone a spokesman does not deny anyone any needed ego stroking -- except for a few insane feminists with no sense of perspective.

Chris: "The manual runs to seven pages because it has been printed in 21 different languages inlcuding braille and esperanto."

Reminds me of when I was working in a public body that annually issued property assessment notices to all property owners in British Columbia and prided itself on having had the information leaflet translated into a large number of languages, including some indigenous tongues with under a dozen speakers left. I laughed myself silly when a gentleman whose name implied he was a Sikh wrote an indignant letter about the paternalistic attitude implied in the translation. To paraphrase, he bitched "you are telling me that someone capable of buying real property is incapable of reading English."

Good point. The PR types and spin doctors were puzzled and could not formulate a coherent response.

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Reader comments bigger legal risk than forums

RW
Joke

Dear Sarah Bee

Get those teeth sharpened to points instead of grinding them.

BTW, I know a rogue dentist who can install hollow canines with poison sacs so you can bite people and poison them. A variety of venoms are available including one which causes the bones and cartilage to dissolve, but the one I like is the one that makes the bitee turn purple and swell up like a balloon.

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IT pay jumps as skills gap widens

RW
Paris Hilton

Henry Ford

Henry Ford?

He paid his workers well by the standards of the time so they would be able to buy the cars they manufactured. No fool he.

Class homework exercise: explain how this is analogous to the issues discussed in the forgoing Register article.

If this assignment is too challenging, a simpler one: farmers set aside the seed of their best plants to sow in the next season. Explain the analogy.

The odd thing is that when I was "doing IT", the best programmers and analysts had degrees in all sorts of subjects: psychology, electrical engineering, chemistry, history. It's clear to me that good IT people are born that way, and all their education does is teach them how to think, sensu latu.

Paris because she's a fabulous success in spite of having (as far as anyone knows) next to no education. She's got the genes for success at what she does.

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E-voting outfit confesses vote-dropping software bug

RW
Flame

I speak for all Register readers in saying...

<boggle>

What kind of cybernetic cowboys was Diebold using to do the programming? Was there no application of the innumerable tools that help you avoid making this kind of gross mistake? And gross it is, as it may have meant the difference between that drunken frat boy becoming president and losing.

At least they've fessed up, but it's a little late in the day, I'd say.

I swear to God Almighty that it's time we start licensing programmers and analysts who are involved in the creation of "important" software. No tickee, no programee! And I mean really stringent licensing, with tests that are very very difficult to pass, and periodic re-testing. And large, very large, fines for anyone allowing an unlicensed programmer to work on critical systems.

Yes, this is a flame. I am beside myself with rage at this report.

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Anatomy of a malware scam

RW
IT Angle

I'm puzzled

Not by anything said in this article, but when you stop and think about it, what kind of cockamamie system is it that would make this rather elaborate scam seem real, pray tell?

I can hardly begin to guess the conceptual flaws in the design of Windows that would need correction to put a stop to this kind of thing. Perhaps instead of having OS and applications on writable disks they should be on read-only media? Perhaps the computer itself should NEVER undertake any task on its own, demanding explicit user instruction to start anything at all. (And, yes, that might mean, inter alia, start network connection, start font rasterizer, etc.) Perhaps the fundamental issue is that desktop OSes and applications have been designed with an implicit assumption that the world is a nice place, instead of always asking "how can someone misuse or subvert this or that feature?" Perhaps the adoption of an architecture that allows—nay panders to—applications to hook themselves deeply into the guts is wrong. (IOW, what kind of system even allows rootkits? Why does Windows still use the old hamburger or mixmaster way down in its guts to allow deep hooking?) I really don't know.

There's something very very wrong somewhere. The entire desktop computer industry took a wrong turn somewhere, a long time ago.

PS # 1: And before the Mac & Linux fanboys start chortling, let me assert that those systems are just as prone to this kind of scam as Windows is.

PS # 2: Actually, I had one of these pop up on my bareback-except-for-hardware-firewall Win98 box a year or so ago. I almost fell for it but suddenly realized "why is a dialog box on a very plain vanilla Win98 machine displayed using XP chrome?"

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BCS to review NHS IT for Tories

RW
Boffin

Costs vs benefits

Seems to me that computerizing medical records is another example of a solution staggering around the landscape looking for a problem to fasten itself to.

Privacy, security, confidentiality should be the paramount goals of any health record system, even if this results in inconvenience. Such is life — you don't get something for nothing, everything has its price, and the price you pay for maintaining confidentiality is some inconvenience.

While the present system of supermarket carts full of paper records may appear to be insecure, I have more faith in octogenarians pushing carts around than the consultancy idiots who will devise a system that jeopardizes the integrity of *everyone's* medical records by, for example, devising an unencrypted system that is wide open to access from the internet at large.

At the same time, any decent system design must assume that leakage ~will~ occur, so another large issue is controlling and limiting the information retained in order to minimize the impact of leakage. At a guess, records relating to medical conditions now resolved should be purged from the system, only records of existing and ongoing conditions being retained.

Another requirement: the patient controls access to his own records

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UK spooks forced to hand Gitmo files to suspect's lawyers

RW
Black Helicopters

It's shameful

But the stupid, evil minions of the Bush administration have no shame.

Never mind that the civilized parts of the world long ago abandoned torture as a means of extracting information because what you get out of frightened prisoners in pain is, to paraphrase the article, anything the interrogators have set their evil little hearts on hearing

Bush et cie: stupid and evil. Objective: lining the pockets of Texas oil millionaires.

Gordo et cie: stupid but well-meaning. Objective: creation of a socialist worker's paradise.

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Lag log leaks - Home Office contractor loses entire prison population

RW
Unhappy

PA Consulting

Just why are they so favored by NuLab when, according to other comments, they've long since demonstrated their incompetence? Political connections, just perhaps? Or does our Jacqui have a thing for the MD?

And what ever happened to the concept of ministerial responsibility, one of the cornerstones of the British constitution, pray tell? Jacqui Smith should have resigned long ago given the number of complete fiascoes that have happened under her guidance. The issue isn't whether she's personally responsible; it's that she has to take responsibility for both the good and the bad that occur on her watch.The woman's clearly out of her depth; AC's remark "Government for the hysterical housewife BY the hysterical housewife" is absolutely on point.

Of course NuLab as a whole is clearly out of its depth. Its persistent discounting of intelligence, competence, education, experience, and skills in favor of political correctness and adherence to the party line means that now, after 11 years of NuLab, the Civil Service (or what's left of it) is infested with stupid political hacks from top to bottom. With the best will in the world, it will take decades to rebuild the British civil service, once the envy of the world.

Anyone have any insight into the morale of the civil service?

It would be funny if it wasn't so sad, seeing a once-great nation ground down into the current mess by a bunch of dimwitted ideologues.

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eBay changes anger smaller sellers

RW
Unhappy

Ebay is getting out of the auction business

The Ebay suits see that there's more money, less hassle, less effort required to make money from sales a la Amazon. So they're abandoning their old business model and implementing a new one. As I think I commented a week or so ago, I anticipate Ebay will totally abandon auctions in the near future; and now it looks like that will happen before the end of the year.

Downside: Online auctions are a very efficient market and barring scams, frauds, and misrepresentation of goods, the final price is generally close to the theoretical definition of value: what a willing, well-informed buyer will pay a willing well-informed seller. With Ebay out of the picture very soon, sellers will be hard pressed to get the wide exposure Ebay offered.

Craigslist is all very well for everyday stuff, but if you have a specialty item, restricting yourself to the local market won't yield the best price because there may be nobody locally who appreciates rarities and specialities.

Ebay seems determined to thrust their new model down everyone's throats and those who don't agree are to be tossed overboard. I long ago set up and bookmarked an Ebay search URL for a specific item of clothing I like, specifying brand, style, size, etc. This year, the same search string which had worked pretty well with very few false positives no longer works: the results returned include endless false positives: other brands, other styles, etc.

Sure this may give *those* sellers exposure in my eyes, but it doesn't do any good: I know what I want and no substitutes need apply. I used to check daily, but now maybe a couple of times a month.

And the ludicrous PayPal nonsense is merely the cherry on top of the sundae ("eat this or we'll make you").

Once Ebay has remodelled itself to look like Amazon, its insistence on PayPal will become a liability. Amazon doesn't do that, so why would anybody waste money and mental energy on the bloodsucking vampires at Ebay?

Some readers may remember DejaNews, the original usenet newsgroup archive, which tried to reformulate itself as an all-purpose web portal, lost touch with its original business model, and ended up dying a painful death. I predict that Ebay is headed down a similar path.

What other decent online auction sites are there that are free of all the Ebay nonsense?

Sad to see a once-vital website stick its head up its own ass and then inhale deeply.

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Fringe box office system provider goes titsup

RW
Stop

@ Bruce Rowe

"The people who make the decisions are usually composed of administrators, accountants, a lawyer, and someone who claims to be computer literate."

Once again the MBA mindset rears its ugly head and acts as though humans are fully fungible. Expertise, experience, knowledge, learning, education, insight, imagination, creativity: all these qualities are discounted in favor of status, self-proclaimed importance and nonsensical academic credentials.

Everyone knows now that accountants, lawyers, administrators, and their ilk are far, far more important to the process of making Important Technical Decisions than mere technicians.

How to recognize if an organization of any kind has its shit together: are the accountants kept in small cages in the basement and required to wear muzzles? Ditto for the lawyers? Did the administrators rise through the ranks or were they parachuted in from some failed venture they previously presided over?

If you wonder why Hollywood is creatively bankrupt, why Ebay is getting out of its original line of business, why the MPAA has such hysteria over freeloaders? Why, just look at the beancounters and legal types who've taken over; are these changes any surprise under the circumstances?

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NASA's Ares V may crush Kennedy crawlerway

RW
Happy

I can hardly wait

The NASA bureaucracy will overrule the engineers on grounds of political expediency ("don't let the facts get in the way of truth, justice, and the American way), the crawler will set out on its journey overloaded, the crawlerway will fail under the excess load as the subsoil gives way, and the entire apparatus will slowly sink into the Florida muck. And then fall over on its side.

I'd be very interested in comments by a civil engineer on the various failure modes.

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Satnav turtle locates cannabis stash

RW
Boffin

@ Stan P

Oh, cut the limeys some slack. They're always hopeless about getting the names of things Murrican right, and it's mean, cruel, and heartless to expect them to clean their act up now.

But just in case, here's a crib sheet for those limeys who wish to try to improve their diction:

Most of the American states have a university called "University of <state name>". Many have another institution called "<state name> State University." Examples: University of Oregon and Oregon State University. Exception: State University of New York.

In addition, there are endless independent universities with a variety of names: University of Rochester, Rockefeller University, etc.

Generally "university" in the US means an institution offering graduate degrees typically leading to a PhD, whereas a "college" means a four-year institution offering only undergraduate (bachelor) degrees. Some colleges offer master's degrees as well.

Among the state institutions, many have multiple campuses and the location is used as part of the name. Thus you have UCLA meaning "University of California at Los Angeles", SUNY Potsdam for "State University of New York at Potsdam", and so on.

In some cases, the undergraduate division of a university is called "college". Yale University includes Yale College, Harvard University includes Harvard College.

Any general rule is guaranteed to have exceptions. Reference to an institution's web site is the easiest way to find out what they call themselves.

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Wireless browsers shut out of the Olympics

RW
Coat

Follow the money

Interesting that no one wonders why the IOC is so anxious about this. Usually comments on El Reg cut to the heart of the matter, but in this case they're only superficial.

Here's the reason: broadcast rights to the Olympics go into the IOC's pockets, and without an ironclad guarantee of exclusivity, broadcasters won't pay the atrocious fees. Hence the anxiety, as the better-than-royalty lifestyle of the members of the IOC is at risk if there's leakage.

I'm waiting for the world to wake up to this scam and demand that all such moneys be used to defray the costs of Olympic venues instead of being siphoned off to (in effect) enrich the members of the IOC.

QED

You might say the IOC is picking the pockets of the entire world's coat.

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Microsoft's IE 8 puts giant web hole on notice

RW
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"a heuristics engine"

In everyday English, they're going to guess.

Sadly, they'll probably guess wrong, early and often; Microsoft has an unenviable track record in such matters.

Stay tuned for the chorus of complaints.

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Lords call for variable VAT to cut landfill

RW
Coat

@ A J Stiles

"If your business model relies on selling shite products that break and need to be replaced, then frankly, you deserve to go out of business."

Welcome to Walmart.

"let's use taxation to make "disposable" products more expensive than their "reusable" equivalents . . . Tissues should cost more than handkerchiefs. Paper plates should cost more than china ones. Disposable nappies should cost more than terry nappies. . . "

You forget the costs of reusing the reusables. Handkerchiefs, china plates, and terry nappies all have to be washed, and hot water is almost mandatory for this. To say nothing of the bleaches and detergents required.

Two data points to screw your head around with:

1. A Hummer has less environmental impact than a Prius over the lifetime of the vehicle. The Prius uses expensive technology, the hummer bog-standard technology (which is also cheap technology). Sure, the hummer burns more gasoline, but that's offset by lower costs of production and maintenance. (Don't forget that the batteries in the Prius, full of heavy metals, need replacing about every five years.)

2. A styrofoam coffee cup uses less non-renewable resources than a paper coffee cup. Papermaking is a dirty, energy-intensive process with lots of chemicals as input. It's not just bashing a few trees into fiber and Bob's your uncle. Fortunately, papermills no longer use mercury as they once did, but they're still real resource gluttons.(I know the guy who did the analysis leading to this conclusion and he knows his stuff; you can believe it.)

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Old timers rattle zimmers at 'Elderly Persons' sign

RW
Alert

Traffic Signage

I've come around to the p.o.v. that all traffic signage needs to be eliminated, with the sole exception of directional signage (e.g. "Walnut Creek next exit"). There is so much trivial, non-functional signage now that we may as well throw out the baby (very small) with the bathwater (lots of it).

Some examples from "around here" (Victoria, BC):

I. A sign reading "Slow: deaf person in neighborhood". So they have a deaf git who doesn't know not to walk in the traffic lanes?

II. A pictograph for "no passing" -- impossible to figure out what it is. If a pictograph isn't instantly recognizable it's a failure. Don't know who the dimbulb was that thought this one up. May be due to the Canajun tendency to favor pictographs over language as a way of dealing with the inherent bilingualism of the country, but I doubt any Francophone fails to understand "stop" and any Anglophone driving in La Belle Province fails to understand "Arret" in a red octagon.

III. Stupid plastic bag signs on wire frames on fairly major road reading "slow - children at play". When there are no children visible at all! Do the parents not teach their darling snowflakes not to play in the street?

IV. BC has gotten rid of billboards but replaced them with standardized "tourist attraction" signs. I don't know if "tourist attractions" have to pay to have one posted, but you see things like "tourist attraction - potter", "woodworker", and other nonsensical non-attractions.I suspect that these "attractions" are not really commercial enterprises, and that these signs generate little or no traffic. Moreover, the forest of such standardized signs is just as ugly as the billboards they have functionally replaced.

V. And then there are the signs saying "dial 1-800-555-1212 for current road conditions" and the ones that give a web URL for the same purpose. These can only be interpreted as trying to get drivers to use cellphones and in-car web access while at the wheel. Excuse me?

Clearly the people in charge of traffic signage in BC have forgotten, in their attempt to create a snowbound nanny state, that every extraneous sign is one more distraction for drivers, who themselves already have enough on their plates coping with traffic-choked highways. Too many extraneous signs and drivers start to ignore all signage.

Then where are we?

Footnote: the buses that say "Sorry I am . . . not in service" on their display, resulting in the key message "not in service" being displayed less than 50% of the time. I'll stop before I rant any more.

It would be amusing to erect Register-like signs warning of exclamation points and black helicopters.

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Gag order lifted for students who hacked subway card

RW
Heart

Ego, nothing but ego

Somebody at MBTA made a mistake and their precious snowflake of an ego can't stand the prospect of that mistake being publicized.

This seems to be another one of the vices of modern management: no one can ever bring themselves to say "guess we fucked up, eh?"

Oddly enough, on the intertubes the people who say "I was wrong, you were right" end up with more credibility than the "I'm always right, even when I'm wrong" crowd. This may have something to do with the baleful influence of tabloid journalism <spit> on public manners and morals.

Don'tcha just love it?

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Microsoft Silverlight: 10 reasons to love it, 10 reasons to hate it

RW
Stop

Pro #1 is actually a con

"You also get video and multimedia effects that are hard or impossible with pure HTML and JavaScript, though Adobe Systems' Flash has the same advantages."

RW's First Dictum of Halfway Decent Website Design and Construction:

If it's hard or impossible to achieve a certain effect using only pure HTML & JS, abandon efforts to achieve that effect.

Second Dictum:

You aren't allowed to use Flash (and now Silverlight) without a note from your mother.

Explication of the dicta:

Given that Flash is widely misused for gratuitous displays of "how kewl we are", another tool with the same capabilities is NOT good news for the mere mortals desperately trying to find a good price on <whatever>.

Example found on some news sites: simple slide shows of still images implemented in Flash. Ostensible reason: to provide kewl dissolve effects. Probable real reason: to prevent piracy of images (which doesn't work, btw).

Stop the madness.

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MoJ admits data breaches affecting 45,000

RW

@ Chris G

"Maybe it is time for civil servants and government contractors to be hit in the pocket every time they make a cock up that compromises the population."

One phrase: "ministerial responsibility"

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Microsoft ramps up vuln ActiveX controls cull

RW
Dead Vulture

@ Zcat

I have no idea what later & greater versions of Windows offer, but Win98 + IE 6 has a setting to disable ActiveX.

Regrettably, I can't tell you just where it's located: IE, control panel, or what. All I can remember is that to fully cut the balls off IE you have to turn off a whole bunch of things of which some are in one place, some in another.

My flabber remains ghasted that MS still insists on ActiveX at all. The technology was fingered as a major security problem when it was still a babe in arms; here we are, a good 10 years later and ActiveX continues to plague us with wet and poopy diapers. So to speak.

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Home Office reaches half-way hash in secure data handling

RW
Stop

"The UK Home Office has introduced procedures"

Sigh.

Once again, the sickness called "modern management" reveals its loathsome self. Especially when combined with the half-baked socialist ideology of the UK's present government, it's a complete disaster.

Elements:

1. A profound distrust of smart, educated people -- to utilize them effectively is elitism and We Can't Have That In Our Socialist People's Egalitarian Paradise.

2. Viewing employees as so many fungible warm bodies: anybody can do any job with equally good results. This is what I usually call the "MBA mindset" -- employees as interchangeable cogs in the mechanism.

3. Failure to differentiate between education and training. You can train a monkey, but you can't educate one. Example thinking: "Let's shut down Oxbridge; we can contract out teaching people to use Word, so we don't need the universities."

4. A touching belief in the value of "procedures." ¿What is the use of written procedures when (4a) they are written in incomprehensible bureaucratese and gobbledygook (4b) they are kept in a binder in the boss's office and no one is allowed to see them (4c) they are so long winded no one can read through them without going to sleep (4d) they get so embroiled in minutiae and detail that their overall thrust and significance is completely obscured?

5. Never following up on bright ideas to see if the solutions adopted to solve problems had the desired effect.

6. Thinking that a simple line graph is the cat's meow in data presentation. (This is the L. Ron Hubbard error.)

I could extend the list almost indefinitely, but to cut to the chase: "introducing procedures" won't solve the problem of data insecurity. By hiring stupid people, paying them badly, and treating them like peons, government has created (or at least exacerbated) a culture of I-don't-care.

Prediction: data losses will continue.

Why is there no Jacqui Smith icon? I guess "stop" will have to do, symbolizing that the UK govt has stopped *thinking* and now reacts to events in a totally stereotyped way. Somewhat like demonstrating that dissected frog leg twitches when a battery is attached.

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Microsoft running on at least 220,000 servers

RW
Jobs Horns

The Blue Screen of Death

I wonder if Ballmer's office has a wall display consisting of 220,000 blue LEDs that indicate the machines currently showing the BSOD.

Would make an interesting display.

PS: it strikes me that these figures leave out the various desktop and laptop machines. Surely each MS employee has at least one.

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US judge says University can ignore Christian course credits

RW
Boffin

@ Michael 16:15

"this [decision] equates to the state telling private christian schools what they can and can't teach."

By no means.

The University of California is a public institution and if you want to be a student there, you must have mastered certain bodies of knowledge. The cracker academies can teach whatever they want, but if it isn't the stuff UC requires for entrance, you won't get in.

Any applicant excluded for this reason is entirely free to go take a summer school or night school course in the requisite material. Most school systems offer these.

However, I wish the state *would* tell cracker academies what they can and can't teach, including mandatory subjects such as critical thinking, logic, how to recognize propaganda when you see it, how to deconstruct advertising, and so on.

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RW
Boffin

What's really going on

The prominent leaders of the fundies — the Oral Robertses, the Bob Joneses, the Jerry Falwells, the Jim Bakkers, the Billy Grahams, the Pat Robertsons, and their ilk — are clever men who figured out that there's lots of money to be made from suckers, so they have exploited long-preëxistent religious stupidity in the US to line their pockets.

Money and power, that's what it's all about.

It's necessary to forestall their followers from learning to think critically because subjected to careful examination, fundie theology turns out to be a wet paper bag. It won't hold up to the slightest scrutiny. As a result, fundie educational institutions are primarily focussed on stamping out independent thought while pumping the minds of their gullible students full of nonsensical propaganda.

How does this differ from, say, the RC church? My Catholic friends tell me that contrary to the impression il Papa would like to give, the RC church is far from being a monolith. Within it are many different schools of thought and belief circumscribed by a surprisingly limited number of fundamental dogmas. The Jesuit order is an example of this, being the brains trust of the church (though Jesuit academic work is generally somewhat second rate).

Note too this difference between the fundies and the RC hierarchy: the wealth accumulated by fundie leaders passes down in their family, whereas in the RC church (and, for that matter, most non-fundie sects) whatever wealth has been accumulated is clearly institutional, not personal.

The fundies have figured out that though they have managed to acquire an undue political influence (really intended to further their accumulation of personal wealth and power), it's helpful to pretend to be victims of oppression. With few exceptions, most readers of El Reg probably agree that, if anything, the fundies are far more often oppressors who make every effort to impose their own narrow ideologies on society as a whole.

Hence, in the case at hand, it's important to play the role of poor downtrodden Christians subjected to official discrimination.

Money and power, that's what it's all about. Keep that slogan in mind.

I have long suspected that the leaders of the fundies and their chief henchmen (including politicians such as Bush Jr. who exploit the gullible) are complete hypocrites: they don't believe a word of fundie teaching, but are smart enough not to be caught laughing about it on the way to the bank with another bag full of money.

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COBOL thwarts California's Governator

RW
Thumb Up

COBOL

Dijkstra's comments anent COBOL are an exaggeration. It's quite easy to write structured code in COBOL merely by showing a little discipline in your coding style. Indeed, the COBOL got rid of the infamous "go to depending on" construct quite a while ago, though it left the "go to" intact.

In saying this, I am not claiming that all those billions of line of COBOL code are structured: in my working days I saw some horrific tangles of COBOL spaghetti code, but that was equally true of all the older languages: Fortran, PL/1, even Algol.

It wouldn't surprise me in the least to read that the backends of some modern online systems have been written in COBOL.

AFAICT, the languages most often used today embody their own very serious defects. The interminable issue with buffer overflows is due to the absence of built-in array bounds checking, and there are intricacies to the syntax of the C family of languages that make them prone to whole new classes of programming errors that can be extremely difficult to isolate.

COBOL, by its very wordiness and its demand that everything be explicitly declared, precludes many such errors.

No, I'm not saying that we should re-write everything in COBOL. But please don't think that the current generation of programming languages is the end all and be all. I will make a possible exception in favor of Ada, but who uses Ada?

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Yelp 'pay to play' pitch makes shops scream for help

RW
Thumb Down

The PayPal Connection

Reading that the three Yelp principals are all ex-PayPal people, I immediately thought "well, Yelp's guaranteed to be a functional mess, then, and probably unethical to boot."

As, indeed, Yelp seems to be.

Important newsflash, everyone: touting your ex-PayPal credentials is not a positive career move.

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Amazon Kindle set to go massive

RW

What happens when . . .

you drop it in the bath, leave it outside and it gets rained on, or it's soaked in a flood? Or, for that matter, when you simply drop the thing from a great height?

These events damage *real* books, but don't destroy them.

If the intimations of paranoid DRM and behavioral spying by the kindle are on point, then e-books sound like a good thing to stay well away from.

The kindle *does* sound ideal for technical manuals, which tend to be long in volume, but shortlived, but for real reading, it sounds like another solution staggering drunkenly around the landscape looking for a problem to solve.

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Google tells Congress it's not Phorm

RW

What Google thinks ain't true

I used to have a couple of piss-poor blogs on blogger.com. I let them go dormant for a long while. When I went to update them, discovered they had been assimilated into Google & I had to set up a Google account to "reclaim" them.

I did so, "reclaimed", then immediately deleted the blogs, deleted the account, and made sure my browsers don't accept Google cookies.

So much for their users trusting them. At least *this* user.

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Tiffany demands reappraisal of eBay counterfeit decision

RW

Ebay's Business Model

Has reached the end of its life as far as auctions are concerned.

If Ebay wants to keep doing auctions (a questionable decision, in fact), they need to build a new model from the ground up that deals with the many wrongnesses in the current model, among them the issue of counterfeit goods. Their current model just grew, like Topsy, and we all know that kind of thing eventually digs its own grave.

Ebay and auctions: I just read the other day that auctions now account for 43% of Ebay's revenue. It may be that the online auction business has a finite size limit and they've reached it. Sales a la Amazon are now more important to them, and I can foresee the day when Ebay will junk the whole auction side of their business.

Ebay auctions have had a good run for well over a decade, but if your life depends on them, it's time to end your dependence.

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Colchester Hospital sacks manager over lost laptop

RW
Jobs Halo

There's more to this story than meets the eye

My first reaction to the headline was "at long last, somebody's been held personally liable for data loss" but reading earlier comments has made me reconsider my bloodthirsty attitude.

It's clear, in a fuzzy, foggy, vague sort of way, that there is no established protocol covering the use of what, for lack of a better word, we can call "confidential data." By this, I mean an established, universal protocol applicable to enterprises of all sorts, not just the Colchester Hospital, the NHS, or medical operations in general.

Such a protocol might include, for example:

1. Stipulation of a confidentiality level for every data item on file. Names, DOB, ID numbers, telephone numbers, addresses would be among the more highly confidential items.

2. A need-to-know policy that relates all uses of data to the confidentiality level. For example, if a statistical study is carried out, none of the highly confidential data would be available. But note, otoh, that an office receptionist must know names and telephone numbers, among other things.

[PS: points 1 & 2 are written vis a vis medical records. In the business world, proprietary data would also be of the highest confidentiality, but would also have to be available for some statistical analyses.]

3. Universal provision of server space so data is never stored on a laptop or desktop system.

4. A review of this insane idea that one is on the job 24/7/365. Let's have a one-to-one correspondence between hours in the office and hours of work, no work outside those hours at all. IOW, no work at home, while commuting, while on vacation, etc.

5. Hardware solutions like diskless systems, blocking portable storage devices, no individual burning of CDs, etc. Alternatively, if a local disk is essential (not merely something a Big Boss craves), rollout of new machines should include installation of full disk encryption

This is the merest skeleton of such a protocol; I'll leave it to the more highly tuned brains of others to flesh it out in detail and turn it into a viable standard. [And yes, I've repeated points made in earlier comments. No claim for originality.]

The barriers to estabilshing such a protocol and to its implementation are two-fold. First of all, the existing standards mechanism such as the ISO is beyond clumsy and awkward, being a committee effort. I almost have more faith in the one-man RFC than the ISO approach to the formulation of standards.

Second, management are meatheads. Management ranks in many, perhaps all, enterprises of all sorts, are filled with those who have reached, and in many instances risen above, their respective levels of incompetence. Perhaps the only solution is to stipulate that organizational heads are personally responsible, and it's up to them to ensure that the managerial ranks under them fully understand and buy into such standard protocols. IOW, if you are a CEO and not a meathead yourself, you'll have to get rid of the meatheads under you. You can always put them to work swabbing out toilets. Boards would have to be responsible, at risk of dismissal, for ensuring that their CEO isn't a meathead himself.

This second barrier is more severe than it might seem. My own experience is that once an idiot manages to weasel himself into the ranks of management, he becomes an untouchable: no matter what his failures and misdeeds and incompetencies, he will never be fired, not even demoted.

Apologies for an overly long, rambling comment. I hope it provokes further thinking by the tribe of El Reg readers.

Too bad there's no "won't shut up" icon for longwinded screeds like this one. Ballmer will have to do.

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Research firm emails 20,000 addresses in the clear

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Dead Vulture

Pegasus

Sadly, Pegasus is Windows-only these days. It's one of the barriers to me completeiy switching to Linux.

And Wine has glitches in it that make Pegasus awkward to use under Linux. Pegasus uses daughter windows extensively, and Wine replaces a lot of "close this window" menu items with "close the program" ones. Evidently Wine does not fully understand all the intricacies window usage under (ahem!) Windows.

I've asked the Pegasus folks about creating a version for Linux, but no luck there. Too bad; I've been using Pegasus since 1996 and simply refuse to change away from such a good program.

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Date bug kills VMware systems

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Coat

@ Michael Hoffmann

No, no, no, my good man. The approved witchdoctor garb is a grass skirt; no nudity. In your part of the world, however, a long penis sheath is the de rigeur accessory, worn either on its own or with the skirt

Sheesh! Geeks! Especially managerial geeks! No fashion sense at all!

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Hull falls off the internet

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Flame

Re: "We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience"

To which the proper rebuttal was "if you're so sincere, then put your money where your mouth is and pay your victims for their inconvenience."

Did anyone die because inter-hospital comms were down?

***

Along with other El Reg comment folks, I hate this kind of pseudo-politeness in business. Around here (Victoria, BC, Canada) the buses display the message "Sorry, I am ... not in service" where ... represents the display changing.

How stupid. (Yes, divine moderatrix, I'm ranting.) The bus isn't sorry, the bus driver isn't sorry, the bus company isn't sorry, and the riders don't expect them to be sorry. The bus is simply NOT IN SERVICE, period. The pea brain who thought that this pseudo courtesy was a good idea overlooked the detail that because it takes a moment to switch the display between "sorry I am" and "not in service", the key information "not in service" is displayed less than 50% of the time.

With aging eyes, even these modern LED displays are not easy to read under some conditions. When the display is switching back and forth between the two parts of this fake sentiment, it is sometimes very difficult to tell if an oncoming bus is the one you want or "not in service" until it roars past.

<grumble>

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Phorm papers reveal BT's backwards approach to wiretap law

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@ vishal vashisht

[Projected scenario:] "IT deparments around the country are dropping their ADSL services because confidential business matters could be picked up by Phorm."

Seems to me that it behooves all El Reg readers to send *written* memos regarding Phorm up the managerial ladder above them. "Are we making sure that our valuable propietary information cannot be compromised by BT & Phorm?"

Shareholders also need notification, which perhaps can be done most easily by posing a formal question on the matter at corporate annual meetings.

Paper is essential because "oh, the mail server must have deleted it as spam, I never saw it" is then no longer a viable excuse for ignorance.

Be sure to keep two paper copies, one in the expected file, and another one hidden under a drawer in case the file copy is quietly destroyed.

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Google maps Russian assault on Savannah

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Google blanks out Transcaucasia

A month or so ago, as part of a personal attempt to understand the situation in Abkhazia, I resorted to Google maps. To my surprise, there is NO map data for Georgia, Azerbaijan, or Armenia. Satellite imagery was only available at the coarsest resolutions, enough to see the snow on the peaks of the Caucasus, but not much more.

I then tried Google satellite imagery of Tbilisi out of curiosity. All well and good: nice, sharp, high-resolution images of the city suggesting the images were captured during a morning rush hour in winter, judging from the amount of traffic and angle and length of shadows.

I then followed what looked like a major highway, adjacent to a river and a railway northwest out of the city center. Suddenly the imagery simply stops.

Somebody, somewhere, doesn't want us looking closely at Georgia.

For those curious, I did find a UN map of Georgia in the form of a PDF.

From a political p.o.v., Georgia appears to be on the verge of paying a very high price for their obduracy over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Hindsight is always 20-20, but it's easy to see now that in the 15+ years since these regions asserted their independence from Georgia, at some point Georgia should have simply tossed in the towel, recognized their independence, and marched into the future with a diminished territory.

As matters stand today, we may be witnessing the death of an independent Georgia. Russia is acutely aware of the desirability of maintaining a monopoly over oil transport from the east to Europe, and the Georgian pipeline from Baku on the Caspian to Turkey is the only link not under their control. The Russians are no fools, and don't give a damn what the world thinks as they proceed to reconvert Georgia into a puppet state by the use of military force.

So long, Rose Revolution!

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Fringe organisers launch inquiry into ticketing fiasco

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@ Ian Ferguson

It's my distinct impression that __any__ online business (e.g. retail sales as well as ticket sales) is extremely foolish not to use off-the-shelf software. If you try for a homebrew or bespoke system, you'll end up with a malfunctional mess, invariably.

Perhaps the underlying issue is that a lot of IT people don't realize how complex the real world is. Or maybe it's that they don't follow the established protocol of paper prototyping system designs before writing even a single line of code. Whatever the details, it's clear there are a lot of IT people out there who are much less competent than they think they are. An ability to write good code is almost irrelevant. You can hire code monkeys for peanuts and bananas. Who you need are serious thinkers.

Moreover, putting an important IT contract out to tender and then taking the lowest bid is a sure recipe for disaster: you get exactly what you pay for.

"Whom the gods would destroy, they first drive mad" seems vaguely relevant.

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Home Office lost CDs on 3,000 workers

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Dead Vulture

Tiresome

Your Home Office is just once again doing the ol' "cover your ass" thing, denying culpability for the fuckups that happen on their watch. Seems to be a habit of NuLaughter never to admit making a mistake of any kind, be it in important matters of policy or minor things like loss of personal data through sheer stupidity.

As usual, no one is held accountable. The Home Office points at the contractor, the contractor points at the Post Office, and the Post Office just ignores the whining and complaining.

But, aha, there's a paradigm to help us determine just which donkey to pin the tail on. (I hope El Reg readers are all familiar with the childhood game "pin the tail on the donkey.") Said paradigm is "the buck stops here" aka "ministerial responsbility."

Where is "here"? It's the desk of the man (or woman) at the top; to wit, the infamously incompetent twitess Jacqui Smith. She's in charge of the Home Office, so she is ultimately responsible for Home Office blunders. Time to demand her resignation.

If the loons of NuLaughter want the benefits of being the government in power, they have to accept the brickbats that come with the benefits.

Sadly, NuLaughter seems determined not to reconsider in any respect their drive to the conversion of England into a Bolshie-Stasi-Nanny state.

As my title says, tiresome. We've seen this kind of fuckup too many times now for any intelligent person to give even a moment's attention to official protestations of no-responsibility.

And too bad your Tory party resolutely refuses to play the political card "We stand for restoration of individual liberties destroyed by Labour ideology. We stand for undoing the establishment of the nanny state. Vote for us."

It's heartbreaking to see the country that largely originated the concepts of personal liberty and parliamentary democracy changed into the nightmare it has become.

Dead vulture as a memorial for dead liberties.

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Ohio official sues e-vote vendor for sloppy counting

RW

Market penetration

Premier (formerly Diebold) is headquartered in Ohio, so it's no wonder it has such high market penetration in the voting machine business there.

Too bad that Premier (formerly Diebold) didn't exploit the proximity of Carnegie-Mellon just over the state line in Pennsylvancia and its well known computer experts to ensure that their systems are actually secure.

[For some funny reason, I have a nagging suspicion that marketing droids interfered with the development process at Premier (formerly Diebold).]

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Federal judge halts Defcon talk on subway card hacking

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Boffin

The Title of the Talk

Sheesh! What amateurs! Everyone knows that the more important and contentious a presentation, the more innocuous the title you give it.

Had they titled the talk "Recent Results in the Investigation of Place-to-Place Transit Protocols" or something even duller and more boring, no one would have noticed in time to stop the presentation.

Look at Andrew Wiles' famous proof of Fermat's Last Theorem: he gave his presentation the title "Modular Forms, Elliptic Curves, and Galois Representations." Nothing in the title about the ultimate objective, the proof of Fermat's theorem.

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American ISP flashes phantom bandwidth cap

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Coat

"the company's fast talking marketers"

Fast talking?

Since when has El Reg felt that innuendo and euphemism was an acceptable substitute for blunt language?

ITYM "lying", not "fast talking"

Yours for less euphemistic language. And if anybody's offended (oh, dear, gasps Aunt Nanny-State), just too [*] bad for them.

[*] Insert pejorative language to taste.

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Union takes IBM outsourcing case to employment tribunal

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Flame

"some sort of confidentiality protocol"

What ever happened to the concepts "freedom of information", "openness", and "transparency".

Oh.

I see.

They got in the way of underhanded deals to screw employees.

Somebody needs to remind those public bodies that they are paid out of taxes and they are public servants, so goddamned well serve the public instead of pretending to be their Overlords.

Sorry for the invective, o divine Moderatrix, but this kind of thing gets me really steamed. As you may have noted.

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Lies, damned lies and government statistics

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Alert

Statistics; and Highway Safety

Honestly, "statistician" needs to become a true profession with a very high entrance hurdle, with those not accepted forbidden to do anything more than compute an arithmetic average. As I've commented before, statistical analysis is incredibly difficult to carry out and it's very very easy (and common) to draw improper inferences from statistical data.

The science of statistics is so difficult that statistics that aren't vetted in detail by one of the top six statistical boffins in the country are probably meaningless. [Further issue: it's fairly easy to get an advanced degree in statistics, but possession of such a degree by no means ensures that its holder can distinguish between a hole in the ground and the proverbial rear orifice.]

Somewhat like quantum mechanics, statistics can yield counter-intuitive results. Politicians, being lying weasels at the best of times, stupid as pithed frogs the rest of the time, get confused simply because the material is far beyond their education and experience. Hence, they turn to statisticians who tell them what they want to hear; they can understand *that*.

Highway safety: I am intrigued by reports of the Dutch town that got rid of all traffic signs and signals and found that traffic moved more smoothly than ever before. And I have fond memories of that sign on the freeway leaving Las Vegas for LA in 1962, "resume safe speed."

As for school zones, perhaps it would be more beneficial to the species if we got rid of them and taught the kids "those cars move fast, jump out in front of them and you're toast" and then let Darwinian thinning of the sprog population take place.

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Snoop more, share less - Home Office spurns EU advice

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Coat

"arguing the same thing from two different sides"

Can't do that in a court of law. It's forbidden by the legal doctrine of estoppel.

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Hack ushers in the insatiable toll booth

RW

Government tenders

As always looking for root causes, I point in this case to tenders that do not fully specify functional requirements.

Just why a tender for these transponders was issued without specifying "cannot be hacked" with long list of example hack methods, I do not know, but a little bird suspects that it's because tenders are drawn up by purchasing departments, wherein serious knowledge of IT issues is utterly lacking.

I offer as an example the purchasing agent at my former employer who was a dimwit and a liar in the bargain.

"Call me scruffy" might do better starting a new career in writing tenders for government departments; or at least the IT security sections.

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Craigslist supervillain seeks henchmen

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Go

What I wonder

Will the Miss Bees of the gang be required to wear "approved garb"?

I'm thinking of very tight (indeed, breathtakingly tight) bustiers or corsets made of, say, sharkskin, complete with High Victorian whalebone stays and seriously severe lacing. You would have your choice of butch black or feather boa pink, however. An inner lining of Kevlar™ would add function to form, thereby honoring Gropius's famous dictum in an ass-backwards sort of way.

I can't even begin to speculate what "approved garb" might be for the male gang members. Padded Tudor codpieces, perhaps?

Go for it, Miss Bee! You are our heroine!

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Suprise at spelling snafu sanctions

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Coat

The Myth of English Spelling Irregularity

"notoriously mercurial English spelling system"

According to Jeanne Chall's "Learning to Read: the Great Debate" (McGraw-Hill, 1967), in 1954 researchers estimated that 85% of English has regular spelling. Another estimate, from 1965, asserts that English language rule-based text-to-voice software could be devised that would correctly pronounce 95% of English text.

Bernard Shaw's famous "ghoti" pronounced "fish" is in fact a counterexample of spelling irregularity. The "gh" digraph never occurs at the beginning of a word with the value "f". Likewise, "ti" never appears at the end of a word with the value "sh". And the use of "o" to represent the short "i" sound is equally restricted, though the details escape my sluggish memory.

The underlying cause of much apparent irregularity in English spelling is Caxton's early printing of books in English. Out of necessity, he had to standardize spellings to match pronunciation. As a result, English spellings reflect the pronunciation current in the late 15th century. Unfortunately, English underwent a sea change in pronunciation during the 16th & (iirc) 17th centuries, leaving the older pronunciation fossilized in the form of non-phonetic spellings.

None of this historical detail will have the least effect on the natural smoothing down of spelling rules, a process accelerated by the increase in the number of people now writing online who, in the pre-internet age, would have written nothing more than "Thank you for the Christmas gift, Aunt Fanny."

Footnote: English has an exceptionally rich vocabulary and has always welcomed the adoption of words from other languages. Many apparent irregularities in English spelling supply etymological information that distinguishes words otherwise homophones: khaki vs. cacky, for example. (That may be a bad example of the phenomenon.)

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Congestion charge means less traffic, more congestion

RW
Heart

'Tain't too many cars and 'tain't too little roadway

It's simply too many people in too small a space.

My flabber is regularly gasted by environmental/global warming yip yap that delicately turns its ladylike eyes away from the fundamental problem: overpopulation.

At least the geeks of the world keep it in their pants; out of necessity rather than choice, perhaps, but never mind the grusesome socio-sexual details and be grateful geekdom isn't spawning with the abandon shown by more carnal categories.

Joking aside, when I read about yob crime in Britain, road congestion, and all the other horrors of once green and peaceful England, I think "rats in an overcrowded cage destroying themselves."

Heart as a symbol of the new movement "more love, less lust."

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NebuAd jettisons PR firm, employees

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Heart

"many leading behavioral scientists and other advanced technology engineers"

<yawn>

It's just more spin.

I love the way they used those favorite buzzwords, "advanced", "technology", and "engineers" all in one phrase. Well done! All they left out was "stochastic" and "leading edge."

I don't just love, I positively adore spokespeople who come up with that kind of thing.

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Researcher gives Elvis and bin Laden fake e-passports

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Happy

Half baked? Quarter baked? Cookie dough not baked at all

And it's yummy.

Coming soon to a government near you, a new slogan: "Totally Unbaked Government: It's Yummy! And It Tastes Good!"

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