What are Boffins? And other important questions

More from The Reg's bulging postbag

Letters Right – another round of letters from the lovely Register readership. Let’s kick off with a short one.

Dear theRegister,
What are boffins? Who are punters?
Thank you,
Mike G.

Mike, at El Reg we are always happy to help. Both ‘Boffins’ and ‘Punters’ are rare and sometimes fatally-poisonous species of mushroom. Hope that helps.

Next please…

UK teen escapes jail in nuclear lab hack case obviously hit some kind of nerve with our readership. Several different ones, in fact...

I am wondering if I was the only one envisioning a young inmate being carted off prison premises unbeknownst to the guards while crammed inside some kind of yellow suitcase-like thing with a red radiation symbol on it.

Nice image. More seriously though:

I think it is important to point out that Fermilab is NOT a "nuke plant." It is not a nuclear weapons facility. It is involved in scientific research, which is funded by the DoE. The work at Fermilab is pretty far afield from nuclear weapons research. Depicting it as such short changes the value of the work there, as many people are opposed to nuclear weapons.

Although the DoE is charged with the stewardship of America's nuclear weapons, it is inaccurate to cast in solely in that light. The DoE is the "Department of Energy," which encompasses a great deal of things, including nuclear energy.

Calling Fermilab a "nuke plant" would be a little like calling The Register a "forest destroyer," on the grounds that there is probably a great deal of printed matter in your offices, and that it came from trees, which were originally growing in a forest somewhere, which was destroyed on your behalf to furnish your reading material. It might be right on a technicality, but it's misleading and unfair.

Name and address withheld

Fair enough - we stand corrected. But who told you about our forest-destroying activities?

Next up, we asked the question Whatever happened to broadband by blimp? The following letter may provide an answer:

They never stood a cat's chance in hell. I suspect that they have finally discovered some of the fundamental problems with all wireless systems, such as:

1. There is only one erlang (full-duplex conversation) available on one pair of frequencies.

2. When two or more people share the frequency the capacity goes down proportionately faster than the number of people you add (because of the nature of radio receivers, propagation delays and resultant collisions).

3. The larger the area you serve, the greater the number of 'hidden stations' and the greater the number of collisions and the slower it gets, even faster.

4. The number of frequencies is *very* limited.

Wireless only stands a chance if you can get extensive frequency re-use and that means using *MANY* low power, preferably directional, base stations. This is why cellular works. The *ONLY* way to increase capacity is to increase the number of cells in an area. That can only be done by either having more available channels per cell or just more cells (base stations) or both.

Sticking a few balloons in the sky, each covering "2000 sq miles" was always a commercial non starter. You simply cannot service sufficient punters adequately enough to to make it work. It is not a coincidence that BT no longer offer their satellite "broadband" service.

There is just no substitute for your own piece of wire going into a 'switch'.


Dirk Koopman

The truly bizzare fight over Apple/Pepsi advertising is still going on, sparked by our own Orlowski’s take on the matter: Double Jeopardy for kids caught in Pepsi Apple promo

Unless Apple were to present me with a completely and utterly subjugated Entirety Of The Human Race, Apple would never get myself or my children, (assuming I were ever to breed,) to support them in any way. I used to be able to muster respect, in a marginal way, for Apple, and, to a certain, lesser extent, Pepsi. No longer. Anyone who throws their hat in with one of my Vowed Mortal Enemies, (The RIAA and consequently the MPAA,) can quite honestly, count out the support - monetarily or otherwise - of myself, and everyone I have a chance to convert.

I declare a Jihad against Apple, Pepsi, and any/every other company that would work together on DRM. Longhorn will NOT touch my machines.

I am converting all companies I can to Xandros, SuSE, or Slackware, so that when the Redmond Man Cometh, we need not heed his call. I will fight against the RIAA and it's DRM brethren to my dying breath. As I fight the good fight, (for whatever it may be worth,) against the Beast of Redmond, our friends at SCOŠI too will fight it against the DRM-pushing pigopolists.

I could rant further, but you have a LOT of e-mail to go through I Imagine…

You imagine correctly, Trevor Pott. But you may be surprised to learn that not everyone was so horrified by the ‘exploitation’ of youth…

For Apple, my child could eat worms on TV for [$12,000] because we need a new roof on the house ...

Apple's a corporation; a great, big, soulless corporation that happens to make a nice machine or two.

'Family values' are for families, not corporations or (especially) governments.

I thought the commercial sucked, but so many do these days.

Richard Herring


And finally, as proof that there really is a way to make a link between an issue that bugs you and absolutely anything, we had the following response to the story that Retired Pentium PCs wanted for developing world (not landfill)

It is impressive that the Register provides the wide variety of stories that it does, especially right now when stories such as the above are displayed along side stories of IT workers enraged that their jobs are being off-shored. I am all for reducing the load on land fills, and feel recycling PCs can have some merit, but at the same time I find it difficult to provide a PC to a charity group who is going to dump it in an underdeveloped country that in 3 years could take my job from me.

Irony is, I buy a PC learn to program on it, get a well paying job and buy a better PC, decide I don't need the old one, give it to a charity group who wipes it, gives it to an 8 year old in poor, low wage country X, that 8 year old spends 2 years reading online articles about how to program, asking me dumb questions about how to write language Y in language Y's free support forums and mailing lists where I provide my time (which I do question some times on the same basis), learning just enough from me on my donated PC to take over my job at 1/60th of the cost.

Now hopefully I am smart enough to realize that IT is a moving target and I need to keep my edge and so may well do so, but then why would I knowingly provide the equipment for an underdeveloped country to become just developed enough to do my job but not ask the right amount of money for it?

Of course! Global economists take note: the reason technology jobs are moving to the developing world is because we keep giving them our old PCs. Thanks for clearing that up. ®

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