* Posts by tfb

268 posts • joined 11 Jan 2010

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Kentucky gov: Violent video games, not guns, to blame for Florida school massacre

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Black Helicopters

Re: I know what trump will do

What Trump isn't doing is thinking.

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NASA budget shock: Climate studies? GTFO. We're making the Moon great again, says Trump

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Re: Blue Balls vs Red Balls

I am not sure you appreciate the magnitude of the problem. If this balloon is initially stationary relative to Earth, and it just falls downwards, then it hits the top of the atmosphere at about 11km/s.

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Re: Why US?

We are trying to deal with it globally: perhaps you've heard of the IPCC? Unfortunately the current US administration has, shall we say, an unhelpful attitude to the whole international cooperation thing.

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Boffin

Re: Fools never learn

And of course, ants, or at least termites, are a big deal in the climate: termites are one of the leading mechanisms by which wood gets decomposed in many areas, and are thus completely central to the carbon cycle.

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Boffin

Re: Fools never learn

I really hope that someone is going to be able to dig out a paper that shows that, in fact, ants have a big effect on the climate. It's trivially the case that single-celled organisms do, for one thing!

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Boffin

Re: We don't need no education

One can work out the average amount of heat generated by (or on behalf of) each human on the planet, and as our population increases unless the power/heat generated goes down, the overall effect is to add heat to the planet, affecting our climate and weather. then there's the effect of gaseous pollutants, changes in albedo due to land use, etc.

It's important to understand that this is not the mechanism for global warming as it's currently meant. It is not the case that the system is warming mostly because we are generating a lot of power (but see below). Rather, the warming we are worried about is because we're doing things (mostly dumping a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere) which alter the way the power the Sun pours onto the Earth (over 1kW/m^2 at the top of the atmosphere) gets absorbed and reradiated by altering the opacity of the atmosphere at different frequencies. This has the effect of altering the average temperature of the surface somewhat. This is actually a fairly easy mechanism to understand in a naive-physicist way, although to understand it (and all the related mechanisms) well enough to get good numerical answers out becomes extremely complicated. So global warming is not to do with human power output heating the system: it's to do with human pollution generation (that pollution, of course, being a result of one kind of power generation) fucking with the system.

This complexity in the details is the reason we need Earth-observation satellites, of course: they tell us what is actually happening and we can compare that with what we predict should be happening. Anyone who actually had doubts about the mechanisms and the predictions would, of course, support such satellites since their data would help prove the doubts correct. People who want to stop flying the satellites are doing so for some other reason: I won't speculate on what that reason is here, but there are a number of options, none of them good.

As an aside: there is a long-term problem with human power generation as well. This has gone up by over 2.3%/year since the 17th century: it is increasing approximately exponentially in other words. If this is extrapolated then we do run into problems: in about 400 years we would be using the entire amount of the Sun's power that hits the Earth for instance. In about 450 years (assuming we find some other source of power: nuclear fusion perhaps) we would boil the oceans. This is a different kind of global warming, and it's not a short-term problem, but it does show that there are fairly hard limits to this increase in human power generation, however we generate that power which we will hit in due course.

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Boffin

Re: We don't need no education

The fun thing about high school level physics is that you can do it yourself. You can't do that with "climate science".

Actually it's not that hard to construct trivialised mathematical models of the atmosphere and, you know, do the maths to understand what happens as the opacity of the atmosphere changes at different wavelengths. You need to be mathematically literate in the way any competent physicist is (ie comfortable with differential equations, black-body spectra &c).

These models are, of course, far too simple to give you numerically-decent results, but they let you see what the mechanism is, to first order anyway.

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When *did* the US last win a war? WWII?

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Re: "...by 2030, we'll have flying cars, too"

Very rich people have them now: they're called 'helicopters'.

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Re: Outer Space Treaty?

Right, and these balloons would just float down from space into the atmosphere the way, say returning spacecraft do. None of this inconvenient 'falling down the gravity well' rubbish.

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Boffin

I like your trick of sneakily moving from a paragraph on CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere (all standard troll bullshit of course) to one on CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere of a space station, as if those two things had *anything* to do with each other. Admirable, in a way, if you weren't such an evil shit.

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You can resurrect any deleted GitHub account name. And this is why we have trust issues

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Meh

Re: What am I missing here?

Yes, I am quite aware of that, thanks. The problem is that a lot of people, and the infrastructures they build, aren't: rather than cloning (even cloning into GH) and relying on that clone to be a stable source tree *which they control*, they rely on cloning from the upstream GH repo *for each build or installation*, which is a catastrophe, even if GH did not allow account names to be reused.

None of this makes GH allowing account name reuse excusable: it's terrible design because it directly supports the construction of compromised versions of tools (wait for the original person to delete their account, create a new account with the same name, clone your secreted copy of the repo (so all the commit hashes are fine), complete with new commits adding badness, into that account and wait).

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Re: What am I missing here?

Especially since git is designed to support exactly that model: you just clone the repo locally and use that copy.

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LISA Pathfinder sniffed out gravitational signals down to micro-Hertz

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Boffin

Re: Michelson-Morley

I think that 113 years of relativity (and 102 of GR) with a number of exquisitely precise tests, all of which its passed, is probably why people don't really feel motivated to look for something which is undetectable even in principle if relativity is correct.

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MY GOD, IT'S FULL OF CARS: SpaceX parks a Tesla in orbit (just don't mention the barge)

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Re: Great Headline, Register

Wasn't the book written essentially *after* the film? I forget the timeline now, but I remember there was a short story first, and then perhaps the film and then the book? Somewhere (or, more likely, long lost) I have a book which has a description by Clarke of how it all happened.

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Lloyds Bank bans Bitcoin purchases by credit card customers

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Re: The folly of individuals notwithstanding...

In fact banks are wary of large cash transactions because such transactions are likely (not certainly, but likely) to be associated with crime. And they work under legislation such that if they are suspicious that this is happening then *they are legally liable* for it. So they tend to be very paranoid about such things. So they tend to require all sorts of evidence that they money is not being used for anything bad (where 'bad' includes 'tax evasion by buying things for cash', for instance: it's not just drugs &c) so they can demonstrate to the government that they did the due diligence.

You might prefer they did not do this, but I am quite pleased they do.

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Re: Accessorize...

Yes, that is the sort of thing they worry a lot about: if they knowingly allow you to (for instance) launder money with their cards they are liable for that.

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'A reasonable chance' is not 'a certainty'.

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Because there's a reasonable chance of you winning those bets.

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NASA's zombie IMAGE satellite is powered up and working quite nicely

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Re: "Why wouldn't they build some sort of deadman switch"

If the software running on the spacecraft's main system suffers from halting problems then you've already lost: you don't write programs to run on spacecraft which try to solve problems which only may have answers. So a watchdog reset is perfectly straightforward: 'if watchdog reset is enabled, and if the main CPU has not reset its timer in n seconds or nothing has been heard from the ground in m seconds, power cycle the system'. I'm sure spacecraft have such things.

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Exoplanets from another galaxy spotted – take that, Kepler fatigue!

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Re: "Unbound planet"

I assume trillions: there's no reason to think our galaxy or the galaxy we see these in is weird.

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Boffin

The spatial resolution of a telescope with a diameter D and using light of wavelength l (should be lambda) for an object at distance d is given approximately by ld/D. Equivalently, if you want to resolve something of size R then you need a telescope of diameter ld/R. So, for instance if you wanted to resolve a metre on the moon (distance ~ 4E8m) in green light (wavelength ~ 5E-7m) then you need a telescope with diameter of about 200m (this is why we can't see the Apollo landing sites from Earth).

If you wanted to resolve a thousand km (10^6m) object at Proxima Centuri (about 4.28ly or 4E16m), again in green light, you'd need a telescope with a diameter of about 20,000m (this seems too small to me: I'm worried that I've made a mistake).

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Boffin

Trillions of planets, not stars

I think the article has a mistake: there are ~2000 planets for each star (not orbiting, obviously, unbound planets), and this implies trillions (~10^12) of planets, not stars, assuming the galaxy contains billions (~10^9) of stars. The Milky Way is usually assumed to contain between 100 & 400 billion stars.

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Forget cyber crims, it's time to start worrying about GPS jammers – UK.gov report

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Big Brother

Re: Wow

Aren't spark transmitters reall rather effective jammers? Not that I have ever made one, no, of course not.

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Re: Big Brother is Watching You

The 'phones still transmitting when they're off' thing is junk: you can know this is not true by looking at battery drain: turn your phone off with a newish, fully-charged, leave it a month and check the battery state: if it's still charged then it hasn't been talking to basetations.

The interference thing is real: I believe it is caused because the RF transmitter in the phone takes quite significant current, and takes it in short, frequent (but kHz not GHz) pulses. So the PCB traces / wires which take power to the transmitter act as antennae and this leaks into audio systems. This used to be really common but I suspect design has got better (or phone transmitter power has gone down a lot, or both) and it no longer seems to be such a problem.

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Alien

Re: Big Brother is Watching You

Right. And phones have magic batteries which somehow allow them to talk to their basestations when they are off without running the battery down. But there's a giant conspiracy to keep the existence of these batteries from us, so they pretend to run down in a day when the phone is on. This is because the batteries use nucular technology harvested from alien corpses from the Rosslyn incident also they are irradiating our brains most phone users have cancer in their ears from this of course we never went to the moon hitler lives there the its flat i tell you flat there is no conspiracy they're coming for you they're coming i tell you coming soon the light

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It's 2018 and… wow, you're still using Firefox? All right then, patch these horrid bugs

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Re: Dear Mozilla, there's more to life than security

I think that, since, 57 came out, I've had to restart Firefox twice, both times because there were updates it thought I should have.

So, not unstable for some people.

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Don't panic... but our fragile world is drifting away from the Sun

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Boffin

Re: The long view

While it's true that the Sun's radiated power is increasing over time, this is such a slow process that we can simply ignore it: we need to worry about still being here (or about an advanced civilisation still being here) in a hundred years, not still being here in half a billion years.

(not that the whole thing is not interesting: it's just not the global-warming problem we need to be worrying about right now)

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Boffin

Re: The sun is losing mass?

Yes, the article is really confused. The Sun loses about 4 million tonnes a second from fusion (ie it turns about 4 million tonnes of hydrogen a second into light), and about 1.5 million tonnes per second due to the solar wind. So fusion is the dominant process here, although they're of the same order.

Further, what the paper is actually interested in is constraining the gravitational constant, because it's very interesting to know if it's changing obviously. They get a result which has a bound on (dG/dt)/G of the order of 10^-14, which is pretty small.

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Boffin

Global warming

Surely you and your masters will be able to construct some argument showing that, as the Earth is moving away from the Sun, temperatures will actually decrease slowly thus showing that global warming is just a giant hoax to keep us liberal-elite-science-believers in jobs?

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Why did top Home Office civil servant lobby Ofcom for obscure kit ban?

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Black Helicopters

Re: Please mind the gap

Alternatively the mobile companies don't like them and someone (obviously I will not speculate on who that might be) is getting a backhander. I'm sure that's not the case however.

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Mozilla offers sysadmins a Policy Engine for roll-your-own Firefox installs

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Big Brother

Tab warming sounds potentially nasty

It sounds like it means that if I hover over a tab without ever opening it, Firefox will do (some of?) what is needed to paint it. But at least some of what is needed to paint it includes making network requests and running random bits of JS and so on. That stuff can't be unwound in general. I don't think I want a browser which does that when I have not even opened a tab. Perhaps it will be clever enough to do only those things it is sure it can do without talking to the network or running JS?

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Facebook has open-sourced encrypted group chat

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Boffin

Re: Bollocks

Anything is useless if one of the people you are talking to turns out to be the enemy (whether they started out as the enemy or became the enemy after application of RH). That does not mean that you should just give up: it's still possible to reduce the problems, even if they can't be made to vanish completely.

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Astroboffins say our Solar System could have – wait, stop, what... the US govt found UFOs?

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1.44E20cm (not 144E20cm: they're using standard scientific notation for numbers) is about 150ly.

I have no idea why they're using cm however: do astronomers tend to work in cgs units rather than mks when they don't work in some more suitable ones?

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Boffin

Re: Alien UFO's are Real - True / False...

You are confused about what 'believing in the big bang' entails. What it entails is believing two things: firstly the universe was, long ago, much hotter and denser than it is now, and secondly that the density & temperature increased very rapidly & without apparent bound as we go further back towards some limiting time. Both of these beliefs are strongly justified both by experimental evidence and by our theoretical model of the evolution of the universe. There is nothing inconsistent about these beliefs.

What we definitely don't understand is the 'without bound' bit: as the density and temperature increase we know that we do not have theories which work any more. So we can predict things backwards only to the point where the theories we have fail: beyond that point we must wait for a theory which works.

In particular any talk about 'quantum fluctuations' giving rise to the universe is just speculation: we don't have a theory that works at that point and so there is not very much we can usefully say.

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ALPHABET TOTALLY LOSES ITS SCHMIDT: Exec chairman Eric quits

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What they meant was not that, but something equally nasty, I suspect.

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Sigh. It's not quite Star Trek's Data, but it'll do: AI helps boffins clock second Solar System

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Re: Naming Convention

The star is Kepler-90a.

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IBM reminds staff not to break customers in pre-Xmas fix-this-now rush

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This is one of the reasons outsourcing can be dangerous

If you are a bank then a failed change can potentially kill you (see for instance the 2012 RBS troubles which didn't kill RBS but could have. So you tend to have a culture built around making sure that those things don't happen. If you're an outsourced supplier then a failed change can lose you the contract and possibly result in you needing to pay a big chunk of money to your client, but generally it can't kill you. And of course you need to be seen to be more efficient than the client's own staff were, so there is pressure on you to cut corners, even if it sometimes kills the client.

(Disclaimer: this is not always true, but it is true often enough that I'd worry about using a bank which had outsourced its core IT.)

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New battery boffinry could 'triple range' of electric vehicles

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Boffin

Re: How many battery "breakthroughs" is that this year?

Well, the car I drive now uses a power source with an energy density of nearly 50 MJ/kg, and I don't lose sleep over it any more than the other ~ billion people who drive one. I can deal with a power source with a tenth of the energy density,

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Trump to NASA: Fly me (or some other guys) to the Moon

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Re: Caveat

This is exactly right. Worse things have happened, and life on earth is in no danger at all from what's happening now (including from a full-scale nuclear war). Almost certainly humans as a species are not really in danger either (perhaps from a full-scale nuclear war). There will be a few tens of millions of us, grovelling around in the mud: it will all be fine.

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Re: Caveat

Actually more monitoring of Earth is pretty useful. We have known for a long time that CO2 is correlated with warming, we have really limited ideas about what actually will happen, and it would be kind of useful to know (well, obviously, not useful if you are 75, very rich and don't give a fuck about anyone else.)

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Elon Musk finally admits Tesla is building its own custom AI chips

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Boffin

When was the first time

that someone said that general AI was less than ten years away? I'm guessing the late 1950s but I might be a bit early. It was likely to be Herb Simon who said it I think.

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Disk drive fired 'Frisbees of death' across data centre after storage admin crossed his wires

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Scavenge

We had drives like this (I think the ones we had were known as 'tridents' although that may have just been what Xerox rebadged them as).

My wife once had to physically eject a service engineer from the site for *smoking* over one of them with the pack out of it.

And the saga of the scavenge: the Xerox fsck process was called 'scavenging' and it was something you did occasionally, and certainly after a power failure or crash. So, there was one or both of those and the system duly started running a scavenge on a drive (I presume not the drive that had the system on). Hours later it was still running it, and Xerox were rung up: they said it was normal for scavenges to sometimes take a very long time. More hours (in my memory, a day) passed and someone finally had the wit to go down to the machine room. It was immediately apparent that the drive was very unhappy from the noise: it turned out that it had had a head crash, and the scavenge was now blindly scraping the remains of the head assembly over the platters, presumably repeatedly trying to find out where the heads were which I think was done by seeking to some special magic track at the edge/centre of the platter. The drive was full of crud which was once either platter surface or bits of the heads. I was told that they never found some of the heads, as they'd been abraded entirely away.

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Re: Nice story, bro.

I've used drives like this (although they were obsolescent by the time I had much to do with them: Fuji Eagles were the common thing by then, which were much more modern, and two people could carry one). You could feel and see the cabinet move when the heads loaded, and when doing any kind of intensive activity like checking the disks. I'm not sure about the ejecting-the-platters thing though: I imagine the mechanism for that might be the (remains of the) head assembly getting wedged between the edge of the platters and the casing of the drive.

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No, BMW, petrol-engined cars don't 'give back to the environment'

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Re: It does give back to the environment

Without some level of ionising radiation there would *also* be no life on Earth.

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Apple sprays down bug-ridden iOS 11 with more fixes

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Jumping the shark?

I wonder if this is the point at which Apple start to lose it, as far as software goes. Leaving aside all the fanboyism and expensive-hardware-ism, they've historically been reasonably good at shipping software that mostly works. Both iOS 11 and OSX 10.13 (or whatever we are meant to call it, not OSX I know) seem to have really pretty serious quality-control problems though, which indicates, perhaps, something rotting in Apple. (Or, more likely, I have just conveniently forgotten the older releases.)

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Brit MP Dorries: I gave my staff the, um, green light to use my login

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Re: According to the Times [usual disclaimers apply]...

If there is spyware on a senior member of the government's computer we have pretty big problems.

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Re: I don't understand this

That's right. So there should be a proper enquiry to establish how the data got there.

If it got there because he shared his password then he is clearly a national-scale security risk, since he holds a senior role in government and is presumably therefore party to state secrets, including extremely sensitive ones. We probably do not want people who share their passwords having that kind of position.

If it got there because he was looking at porn at work, then, well, I'm not sure what the right punishment is. Personally I would not want someone that stupid & distracted at work in my government.

If it can not be established how it got there then the IT infrastructure that MPs use has catastrophic security problems. This is in most respects the worst outcome, because it means that we should assume a breach.

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However do you really think that any prime minister or chief whip will think - "oh won't touch her, she shares her password". I wish they would, but not a hope.

In a world where there are competent people (so, OK, not our world), this would fix itself. If she was to achieve any kind of high office she would need to be security vetted, and she would fail that.

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Mushroom

I don't understand this

In most places I've worked in recent history sharing your password would be an escort-you-out-of-the-building offence (OK, I was often a contractor: it might have been only a written-warning offence for employees). These weren't big official-secret type places. (Looking at porn on work computers or networks would have a similar punishment -- there's a reason for the 'NSFW' tag people put on things which are, well, NSFW: quite independently of whether looking at porn is wrong, it is clearly wrong at work.)

But this is OK if you are an MP, because MPs don't do anything which might be at all sensitive, right? It would not matter at all if some intern sent mail, or posted to Twitter or whatever, from an MP's account. Indeed, it's convenient that they can: 'all those racist comments from my account, those weren't me they were some intern'.

And these are the people who want to legislate as to whether we can use strong encryption. What the fuck is going on in their minds?

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