* Posts by I ain't Spartacus

7360 posts • joined 18 Jun 2009

Ever feel like all your prayers go unheard? The Catholic Church has an app for that

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Development question

What user interface has been written for The Almighty to log into the system to receive all these prayers? And does he use Android or iPhone? And what happens if someone hacks his password?

I await the story about the hacker struck by lightning with interest.

We know God used to have a Nokia, since Eve got into trouble for playing Snake.

Holy crappuccino. There's a latte trouble brewing... Bio-boffins reckon 60%+ of coffee species may be doomed

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Re: Temperature?

Solar powered irrigation pumps. If it's raining or dark, irrigation is less needed. Plus storage to cope with times when the pumps don't run. Or solar + batteries.

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Re: Temperature?

That's what market economies are for though. If the irrigation (or any other) cost of coffee rises, then so will the price. This will bring in more money - which will pay for the required irrigation. That's assuming coffee drinkers will pay more for coffee - and if Starbucks et al have proved anything, it's that coffee drinkers will pay more for coffee.

Also remember that small changes in coffee price can effect producers disproportionately. Most of the cost of coffee is transport, middle men, warehousing, packaging, roasting plus shops or cafes costs plus profit margin. So adding 1p to a cup of Starbucks is only 0.3% of the price, but probably 50% of the growers' price. That leaves plenty of available money to irrigate the things, with relatively little effect on demand.

Are you sure your disc drive has stopped rotating, or are you just ignoring the messages?

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Re: I can believe it!

On the form for giving blood, you have to answer various health questions. Are you currently ill Y/N, have you ever had a blood transfusion Y/N etc. The correct answer to all of them was no - which is obviously too tempting to just tick all the NOs on the list in a nice easy line and so avoid any complex reading.

So they bunged a new question in the middle of the list, where the answer that didn't send you to be interviewed in private by the doctor was YES. I'm not sure if this was an accident, or someone being clever.

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Actually this gives me an idea. I've just solved Brexit!

We have the so-called "people's vote". Ugh! As if calling things the "people's anything" isn't automatically either nauseating or suspiciously dictatorial. See People's Princess, Democratic People's Republic of anywhere.

So we have the vote and the question is simply:

Are you sure?



For extra fun we don't tell people what either of these two options mean, and the Queen then just tosses a coin and either enacts a law cancelling Article 50 or allows no-deal Brexit to happen as is the current default.

This is transparent, democratic and simple. Everyone's a winner!

Friday fun fact: If Stegosauruses had space telescopes, they wouldn't have seen any rings around Saturn

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Re: Oops

I was more curious at how it would hold them to it's head.

Is this the right time to make the d'youthinkhesaurus "joke"?

No? Oh well sorry about that. I'll get my coat.

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Re: Distant Origin

I thought it was Enterprise that didn't happen? Which presumably lives in the same media Twighlight Zone as the 2 Matrix sequels the Star Wars prequels and Highlander 2. Oh and that re-make of Edge of Darkness with Mel Gibson and Ray Winstone.

Happy Thursday! 770 MEEELLLION email addresses and passwords found in yuge data breach

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Re: explanation

The ones I've seen are about having activated your webcam and videoed you watching porn. The ones I got at work weren't even using my work email address, so I don't know if that was a mistake in their email software - as they sent it to the right email, just used a different one in the body.

But I got a panicked call from a friend about it - I suspect her email address went in the Experian hack. Then had to navigate a rather embarrassing ten minutes to reassure her that changing a few passwords would be a good idea if she'd been re-using them - but she was fine. The question I definitely wasn't asking being about online porn - because she's incredibly uncomfortable about sex, and I'm pretty sure she was more worried about that than her online email being hacked. Nasty little email, and I hope that particular hacker's server racks fall on his head.

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But where am I supposed to get a lavatory (let alone a disused one)...?!?

Well, once you've put a "beware of the leopard" sign on the door - your frequently used lavatory will soon become disused. Especially after the first few maulings.

A yellow warning Wet Floor sign in a conspicuous pool of blood helps, if you're a bit short of leopards...

Iran satellite fails: ICBM test drive or microsat test? Opinion is divided...

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We don't know, because Israel didn't sign the nNTP. You're then left with a question of what to do when they go nuclear. Complain a bit, which they'll ignore, or put them under sanctions, which they'll also ignore. They developed those weapons for a reason. Unless the sanctions are strong enough to actually knacker their economy/military - at which point they may have given up their nukes, or been destroyed by their neighbours. Remember this happened in the 70s.

Also, having fought repeated wars with the neighbours (mostly being the attackee not the attacker), Israel signed peace deals when offered. Iran, on the other hand are much more destabilising. They incited and armed one half of the post Saddam civil war, they've funded and armed proxy wars against Israel through Hamas and Hezbollah, they're trying to build a permanent position in Syria, presumably also to attack Israel, they helped turn a local dispute in Yemen into a regional war. Remember the Saudis only intervened militarily on the side of the governmentafter the Iranian backed Houthis had been firing missiles into Saudi Arabia for a few months (recognise that tactic from anywhere?). Not that the Saudis might not have got involved anyway, they're almost as much of a force for instability as Iran.

But Iran with nukes is much more of a worry, and to a lot more countries, than Israel with nukes.

Also note that there weren't sanctions against India for going nuclear. Other than refusing to cooperat with their civilian nuclear industry, as required by the nNPT. Because India didn't sign.

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Re: different structurally from missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads

It's hard to know what Iran want really. If they are thought to have viable nuclear weapons, then they're going to start a local arms race. Obviously one major worry for them must be Israel. Having nukes means they're able to retaliate against Israel's superior conventional forces - but also means they are more able to threaten Israel directly, in a way that wouldn't be safe if Isreal were the only one with nukes. At the moment they attack Isreal indirectly - by providing thousands of missiles (of varying sizes) to Hezbollah and Hamas. The downside of going nuclear is the window when Israel may feel forced to attack them before they get the nukes.

The other problem is the Saudis are rich, and a major political and religious enemy. Not only are the Saudis rich, they're also a good deal less predictable than Israel. And seeing as they bankroll the Pakistani government - could presumably easily access Pakistani nuclear know-how. Turkey are also thought to consider a nuclear Iran worth gunning up for, but I don't think Turkey and Iran's relations are bad in the same way. They've historically been wary of each other, rather than outright enemies.

I guess we can pretty much ignore Iraq and Syria, they're too busy to be a worry for Iran.

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Re: Red Herring

I think the citizens of New York, Washington or LA might be rather upset if someone nuked their city. Well the suriving ones anyway. Of course the rest of the USA might be able to continue more-or-less normal life around the smoking ruins of one of their great cities - but the fact that their country is able to utterly destroy Iran with their larger nuclear force would be little comfort to all the relatives of the hundreds of thousands to millions of the dead.

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Israel's aren't illegal. They didn't sign the nNPT (nuclear non-proliferation treaty). The idea of which is that the 5 nuclear powers are supposed to work towards total disarmament and trade civilian nuclear tech with signatories - but signatories aren't allowed to develop nuclear weapons tech. Everyone is subject to inspection and signatories aren't allowed to trade civilian tech with non-signatories.

Iran and North Korea did sign, then illegally developed secret nuclear weapons tech while signatories. North Korea then pulled out.

This of course raises trust issues. If you promise not to develop nukes, then get caught doing it in secret, people tend not to trust you when you say you don't intend to use them. Obviously it would be better if Israel didn't have the things either (it would be best if nobody did) - but they didn't lie to anybody about it - or break any treaty commitments they'd signed up to.

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Also, the "nice" thing about nukes is not having to worry too much about careful aiming.

World's first robot hotel massacres half of its robot staff

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Re: Next week on "Some things are bleeding obvious"

Well kazoo bands are easier to get sleep to than bagpipe bands...

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Re: Maybe they should have

I wonder how good their happy vertical people transporters lifts are?

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Re: The room doll was removed

I love the fact that the doll had the "Furby problem". Waking up at 3am because the children have made a small noise in their sleep and then scream the house down.

The Large Hadron Collider is small beer. Give us billions more for bigger kit, say boffins

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Re: Size vs position?

Why can't they build it round Milton Keynes? It's in keeping with the whole MK roundabout schtick.

And when everything within the ring is inevitably sucked through a portal into another dimension, then nobody'll miss it.

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Re: Dark matter/energy question

They do - given that they're the basis for Hawking Radiation (one of the virtual particles goes down the black hole, the other thus becomes real to compensate and reduces the mass of the hole as a result)

Is there a band doing science based blues songs? If not, why not?

I went down to the black hole

Also, you could sing the Redshift Blues. Or the blueshift reds...

A billion-dollar question: What was really behind Qualcomm's surprise ten-digit gift to Apple?

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Re: Missing figure?

Rebates can get really silly. When I worked for [insert multi-national retailer name here] we had all sorts of complex rebate deals going. Buy $1m of kit, get 1% rebate at the end of the year, make it $1.5m and get 2%, sort of thing. Plus regular payments of $5-10k to cover joint advertising - i.e. come to [insert retailer] to buy the latest HP laptop at super low prices.

So the buyers have an incentive scheme - based on profitablility and sales of the stuff they pick plus rebates.

We're doing a deal with HP. We buy a very large amount of kit at x price with an average 20% margin. But her boss is unhappy. We don't have enough rebate or advertising! Oh noes!

So the deal ends up with us making 18% margin, but now we get $50k a year for joint advertising spend. Woohoo! Win for us? HP - who are now getting us to pay for advertising their stuff with our profits. Oh and win for the buyer, who's kept the bosses happy and got a bigger bonus.

Lose for me too, my rebate database just got another 1% more complex.

Computing boffins strip the fun out of satirical headlines

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Re: Was this phrase supposed to be satirical?

But humour is a matter of taste, experience and culture. So very tricky to make something that pleases everyone.

For example, in my early 20s I found Dilbert to be mildly amusing. I'd had various jobs and been a student. Then in my mid 20s I went to work for a US multi-national - and I found Dilbert to be amazingly funny.

I never particularly liked The Office, The Mighty Boosh or Little Britain. But that doesn't mean they're not funny, just that I don't like them. Plenty of other people did.

So Radio 4 caters to a wide audience and produced two of the above 3 before telly took them over. As well as giving us the amazing John Finnemore and his Souvenir Program and Cabin Pressure.

"Yellow car."

Although they do also give a go to young writers, and sometimes I listen to the output and wonder why. However we've recently had plenty of good stuff too. Tez Ilyas (Tez Talks), It's a Fair Cop, Clue continues to work well (shame about Just a Minute).

It's the weekend. We're out of puns for now. Just have a gander at China's Moon lander and robo-sidekick snaps, videos

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Re: 21st century employment prospects in space? - human redundancy

The ISS is a requirement, if we ever want to do more in space with humans. Also if we want to do any space construction or maintenance work. Just the very existence of the thing is an experiment in itself. How to operate in space in the long-term - which is still something we can't do.

It seems to me that the obvious prize is human repair/re-stocking of satellites in orbit. Though that's a difficult financial balance to make. As launch costs drop, it gets easier to build a lower cost satellite and accept a shorter lifespan and just launch more / more often.

If we want to do something like mine an asteroid though, we're going to need people. And a ship that will need assembly in orbit - short of using Project Orion to launch it. Both of which are things we are learning about on the ISS.

Plus, the ISS has given NASA a reason to fund private industry to do launch. Which has got us 2 new manned spacecraft (to be tested this year).

Oh and the ISS has mostly fulfilled its other purpose of keeping Russian rocket scientists off the job market - which has made dealing with Iran and North Korea a tad less fraught over the last couple of decades.

xHamster reports spike in UK users getting their five-knuckle shuffle on before pr0n age checks

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Re: Solo Hobbyists?

I thought most online porn viewers could be described as solo hobbyists?

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Re: They won't apply to sites on which porn makes up a third or less of the content

Why fake it (if you'll pardon the expression)? Surely there's a market for a combined porn/gardening site? Or porn+cars for blokes - porn+decorating for the slightly older demographic.

Maybe register www.register.xxx, for the truly perverted who want a specialist porn'n'servers service...

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Re: I don't think that's how it goes, though

I rather suspect this is just one of those standard PR stories. PR releases some stat and there variously dodgy interpretations thereof to journos + few potted quotes. Bob's your uncle! Hard pressed journos with deadlines to meet have free story, company have got their message across to readers. Everyone's a winner!

Chinese traffic fell spectacularly because they've got the secret police checking up on peoples' web use, and they've banned loads of the sites. And have a national firewall.

We'll have age checks. Which will be a general knowledge test on the product range of B&Q? No young-un could pass that - including most of B&Q's staff... I presume it'll be credit card checks? Do we have a proper method for proving age online? Do the government have a clue? OK don't answer that last one.

What's the fate of our Solar System? Boffins peer into giant crystal ball – ah, no, wait, that's our Sun in 10bn years

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So we're basically sayin' da universe is full o' bling. It's all big explosions and massive crystals.

God must be a chav.

And drives a souped-up superNova - with massive speakers and blue LEDs underneath. While drinking Stella.

The D in SystemD stands for Dammmit... Security holes found in much-adored Linux toolkit

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Re: I guess it's a good time

then it's a good suggestion, anything is better than using systemD from that poettering pillock, even "windows ME" would be better...

Now you have gone too far! It's pistols at dawn! I demand satisfaction - and you Sir, will be eating grass by lunchtime.

Oh God! The flashbacks! THE HORROR! The horror! The horror! ...

Smartphones gateway drug to the Antichrist, says leader of Russian Orthodox Church

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Re: The so-called "beast" of Revelation was an STD ...

Perhaps I should just take the view that any god who does not reveal themselves to me in my own language clearly isn't worthy of my support.

I used to share a student house with a guy who got religion in his 20s. Very serious religion, in a very fundamentalist way. With lots of hellfire and prophecy.

And I learnt two important things from this.

1) The second coming can't happen until the bible is translated into all languages.j Supposedly this is from Revelation, which I did once read but can't remember any of 30 years later.

2) The EU is evil! This is nothing to do with Brexit. We're back to Revelation again. It's the second Roman empire, which is one of the harbingers of the end times.

Odd really. Because he was in favour of the Bible translation thing. Hooray apocalypse! But against the EU - which is surely also a requirement of the apocalypse? Very confusing.

Amazon exec tells UK peers: No, we don't want to be dominant. Also, we don't fancy being taxed on revenues

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Re: HIgh streets


If companies don't pay dividends - then their share price has to rise - or the shareholders aren't making any money and so shouldn't get taxed. When you realise a profit on selling shares, you already pay capital gains tax. So this tax is already captured by the current system.

You're going to get some changes to where taxes are collected, but then the whole point of this is that companies like Apple, MS and Google are already avoiding corporation tax everywhere. So now at least the taxes will be getting paid somewhere.

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Re: HIgh streets

One idea is to do away with Corporation tax completely. It's one of the easiest taxes to fiddle anyway - and even if they aren't deliberately trying to cheat it's close to impossible for a global mega corp to assign all the costs and profits correctly. Accounting is more of an art than a science at that level, there are so many judgement calls you have to make.

So we'd have to put up income taxes and tax on dividends, of course, to make up for the lost taxes. But then that's who pays corporation tax anyway - shareholders and customers.

Sometimes (probably always) a simpler tax system is a better tax system.

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Re: Tax allowance for costs is a grace

Graham Triggs,

VAT is not a tax on turnover. Large companies don't pay VAT. They put it on their sales invoices as an extra line, and then pass that extra money they've collected to the government - less the amount of VAT they've paid on their purchase invoices. The people who pay VAT are the consumers at the end of the sales supply-chain who can't claim it back. So long as your sales are larger than your purchases, VAT just increases your cashflow and paperwork.

VAT is a tax on consumers - and any business small enough to be indistinguishable from a consumer - like a decorator.

The only difference between a VAT and a sales tax is that the VAT involves a lot more paperwork. The upside of that being the government don't care (as they're not doing it) but they do get better economic data and it's harder to defraud the system.

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Re: Tax allowance for costs is a grace

Matt Ryan,

I thought corporation tax was generally considered to be incident on shareholders and customers? In a proportion that would be determined by how much control Amazon has of pricing. The less they have the power to raise prices, and still make money, the more of the burden of corporation tax will fall on their shareholders, and the less on customers.

Otherwise I agree with you.

Amazon haven't made any kind of serious profits until the last couple of years - as they've re-invested all their profits in growing the business. So they haven't needed to do anything clever to avoid tax - other than schemes to shop around the EU Single Market to charge the lowest rate of VAT they could get away with to out-compete companies in higher VAT jurisdictions. See the CD warehouse on Jersey for an example (until the loophole was closed).

Now they're making money, as the shareholders insisted on some return on their equity, we'll see how they do on paying tax.

Y'know how you might look at someone and can't help but wonder if they have a genetic disorder? We've taught AI to do the same

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Re: Is this the

No. The improved version of phrenology is when you have the "correct" bumps engineered into your head by a guy with a hammer so that you get the personality traits you want.

[With thanks to the great Terry Pratchett. And where's our TP icon?]

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James 51,

Blood tests take time and money.

When a child first presents with symptoms, parents will got to their GP. Who's not an expert in all these esoteric conditions.

As my Mum's GP said to her when I was a few weeks old - "your son can't have [insert genetic condition], it's extremely rare, and I've never seen a case of it".

And at least in the UK you have to get a GP referral to see the actual specialist who can diagnose that yes I do have that rare condition. And the reason my GP had never seen it before was because it was, of course, rare.

So in this case a simple but not very reliable tool to help narrow down possibilities might be useful. As long as it's not giving out so many false positives that the specialists can't get any work done.

The other downside of having a rare genetic condition is that there aren't many qualified doctors you can see. So the last thing I want is all my possible appointments used up by some AI causing GPs to send half their patients in for checking. To be fair, with pointers in the right direction GPs can usually look up what tests they need to do, their problem is just that they're generalists who don't see enough of the odd cases to be able to recognise them without a hint.

For example I ended up in A&E having an X-Ray on a wrist injury a few years ago. And had to wait an extra ten minutes before finding out if it was broken so the doc could use me as a quick exam question for his students. So there's 5 doctors who should be slightly better equipped to do that diagnosis in future.

Not that I'm convinced this AI thing will work, but it could be capable of doing just enough to help GPs a bit for very little cost - so I can see it being quite successful as an approach. Maybe. If they can get it working reasonably well and still persuade users that it's only an indication not absolute truth. The second maybe being a harder job than the first?

Chinese rover pootles about... on the far side of the friggin' MOON

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Re: I can just imagine the timeline

Just out of interest, where does Moonbase Alpha fit into this?

Also, are the SHADO interceptors based on the far side of the Moon?

Or to really confuse your TV scifi tropes - what happens to this Chinese rover when the lunar egg hatches?

Attention all British .eu owners: Buy dotcom domains and prepare to sue, says UK govt

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Re: industry practice?


Standard industry practise on running t'internet has tended to be to leave things as they are in as much as that's possible when something is later changed.

And if that isn't possible or desireable, then to have long transition periods - and try to minimise disruption.

Clearly nobody had any expectation of a country leaving the EU, so there aren't any policies in place to deal with it in almost any area. But that left the .eu domain with a few choices. They could:

a) Just let exisiting domain holders keep their domains - but not allow new ones to register.

b) Turn a blind eye to the whole issue. Did they really do any checks in the past? Certiainly when my company have been offered .eu domains by registrars there haven't been any extra checks mentioned over-and-above "can you pay".

c) Have a year or so of transition period - or force complying with the rules when the domain expires.

d) Put in place some kind of hybrid a and c - given that they're potentially losing 10% of their registered domains in one go.

d) Allow existing domain owners to pay a one-off fee to block future use of that domain - but to lose control of it themselves. As the dot.xxx registrar lets you do.

e) Take the extreme approach and nuke all domains from day 1 of Brexit.

That last is pretty unusual. It's not as if the .eu domain is like the proposed .bank one - where they were going to make proper checks that domain owners were real, regulated banks. I doubt any effort has been put into making sure nasty foreigners wreren't registering .eu domains before all this kerfuffle.

Which makes this look like a deliberate political choice in order to cause as much disruption as possible. The fact that it's in such a minor area - and there are unlikely to be many companies who do anything other than re-direct their dot.eu to their main site - just makes it look more petty and pathetic. But seemingly that's the policy path the Commission has tried to pursue, when possible. They're not sticking to internet governance norms, but it's not in an important area and the Commision have been delegated the authority to control this domain by ICANN - so they can't really complain about them using it as they see fit.

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Re: Well... F.Uk!

Surely you mean F.EU?

Border guards probe 'suspicious bulge' in man's trousers to find he's packing fluffies

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This is clearly an appalling infringement of this man's religious liberties!

As he's obviously a cataholic.

My coat? Why thank you. The large one over there, with the purring noises coming from the pockets.

The IT angle is because in his trousers he had a mobile phone and a spare cattery...

OK. Sorry. Really going this time...

SpaceX's Crew Dragon shows up at pad 39A, nearly 8 years after the last Shuttle left

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Ideally, I want something like the early failure images/video from NASA in the 50s. A lot of which mirrors the original German video from testing at Peenemunde. My ideal test would be a rocket that launches to a few hundred feet - then suffers a (in this case deliberate) control failure and so cartwheels and then flies back into the ground - creating a very large explosion.

Sadly replicating this might have rather severe consequences for the various facilites at KSC - but it wouldn't half be pretty.

I suppose taxpayers might legitimately complain about the cost as well.


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Re: Its upright and breathing

I'm sure there's a joke in here somewhere about massive erections. But I am, of course, far too mature to make it...

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I hope that NASA don't disappoint me!

If we're going to have a test of whether the escape system can work on rocket failure - I'm going to be very sad if they just simulate that failure. I would much prefer to see a launch where NASA have strategically sabotaged the rocket, so that it will explode at an unpredictable time - thus fully testing the systems in question - and entertaining us with large fireworks.

Happy new year, readers. Yes, we have threaded comments, an image-lite mode, and more...

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That's what they want you to think...

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Re: Pulled the plug...

I thought Redtop was an RAF air-to-air missile from the 1960s? Sadly we never had Goldtop - kaboom with extra cream...

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Re: security ?

Ford? Why would he want to know where his towel is?

Everyone should know where their towel is.

Um, I'm not that Gary, American man tells Ryanair after being sent other Gary's flight itinerary

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Re: Cancelling Flights

Interfering with a tortoise?

I did that, and got put on a government register.

Also had to shell out a load of money in fines.

It was a turtle nightmare.

Nobody in China wants Apple's eye-wateringly priced iPhones, sighs CEO Tim Cook

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Re: Surprising people still buy iPhones at all

Interestingly I've just learned that my brother shifted to Android. This being the one who went Mac over 10 years ago when he got into software development and then went fully Mac + iPad + iPhone + Apple TV. Has been ever since - and I suspect will stay with Macs and iPads but the other two not so much. New iPhone prices are just ludicrous, when you consider how good something like the Huawei P20 Lite is at £200.

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Re: Overpriced kit


China is slowing economically. Or at least was at the end of last year - we await figures to see whether government stimulus is now working or not.

Obviously, for China a slowing economy has tended to mean growth dropping by a few percentage points to merely outstanding - rather than stratospheric - but that's because China has been urbanising and catching up from a very low econonomic base at a very rapid rate. At some point there'll be an actual recession - probbably just not for a few more years. There's been massive mis-allocation of capital limiting Chinese growth for decades now - mainly into the state-owned sector (and Party leaders' pockets). But the Chinese government still have a lot of firepower with $3 trillion of foreign assets.

The Great British Curry: Put down the takeaway, you're cooking tonight

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Re: Excellent Article

You can get plenty of heat in a steel wok on an ordinary gas cooker. Even without a special wok ring. You just need to have the heat on full all the time, and add very small amounts of stuff to cook - so you never lower the temperature too much. It's no use for cooking for several people at once though. Then again, if you're organised and have prepped stuff well, cooking time is so short that it becomes worthwhile to cook for 2 people at once, serve them and then cook for the next two.

Sadly I have a ceramic hob. It's mostly great, and almost as controllable as gas. But it's got heat sensors, so turns the ring off before over-heating. Which means you can put a decent amount of heat into a heavy cast iron pan, but you can't run a wok at really high heat - so I've mostly given up on cooking chinese. I'm not getting a separate gas burner to use inside - that way madness lies.

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Your freezer is your friend. I don't cook when drunk, the results are too variable and I can't get the balance of spices right. The first glass of wine doesn't go into the chef until I've got everything chopped, flavoured and all that's left is juggling saucepans and serving up.

But if you're going to cook anything, then it takes pretty much no extra effort to add a few portions and leave them in the saucepan til cold. Then into plastic containers and into the freezer. These can then be taken out in advance of your pub visit - ready to hit the microwave on your return. Or even be microwave defrosted upon return and then heated up.

Personally though my post pub nosh of choice is fish finger or bacon sandwiches. My Mum gave me her old deep fat fryer - so if I'm feeling adventurous I can also have chips. I've used it so often I can do it safely - though they'll have to be frozen ones, I'm not peeling and chopping spuds at post-pub o'clock.

Alternatively, at this Christmas time, I should mention the holy of holy post-drinking snack. Slice various cheeses. Place on top of cheese biscuits. Add slices of extra apple that you used to flavour the mulled wine and have kept in the fridge, maybe chutney or grapes if handy. Pour very large glass of port. Enjoy!

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Re: You call that a cheat ?

Surely that rice thing is too much effort? And takes just as long as doing it on the hob with more to do.

1. Measure 1 cup of basmati rice per person (half a tea mug) and put in decent sized sieve. Wash under cold tap for a minute to get rid of some starch. You can skip this step if you don't care about the rice sticking together (which I mostly don't - especially when drunk). Different batches of rice are differently starchy. My current bag is really sticky and needs it - the last one didn't really.

2. Bung this rice in non stick saucepan with tight-fitting lid. It doesn't need to be non-stick, it's just zero effort to wash up afterwards.

3. Add a bit of salt to taste.

4. Add 2 cups (1 full tea mug) of cold water per person (i.e. double the volume of the rice you added).

5. Time saver - boil most of the water in the kettle first.

6. Bring to the boil on a decently high heat. Once it's starting to boil, bung on the lid, turn down the heat to a low simmer and set a timer for 15 minutes. It's pretty much unfailingly perfect at 15 - but batches of rice do vary by a minute - some need a tiny bit longer. All the water will have gone into the rice and you'll have dry, fluffy perfection ready to dish up.

If you've pre-boiled the water this is basically 1 minute of measuring and filling your saucepan, two minutes of waiting for it to boil and then 5 seconds to set the oven-timer for 15 minutes and turn down the gas to its lowest simmer.

You can do rice in less than half the time if you keep it topped up with boiling water and run it on really high heat - but you have to do a lot of stirring and watch it like a hawk so you don't burn it to the bottom of the pan.

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