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Letters: We fear that some of you, our beloved readers, have misunderstood one or two of our stories this week. In particular, we refer to the news that Satan had been implicated in the latest cyber appliance attacks.

At this point, we feel obliged to remind readers that it is supposed to be funny. It is slightly worrying that anyone thought we were serious. It was filed in Bootnotes, people. Come on!

We don't actually think Satan had anything to do with it, in fact the idea is laughable. We were having beers with him at the time. It is all part of his latest demonic PR campaign to raise his profile in these increasingly godless times. Apparently he doesn't feel like he's getting nearly enough credit for "bad things that happen" any more.

Clearer? Good.

It is a hoax.

From: Randi.org

we have talked with a Telecom technician who was called right after the first damage occurred. His opinion was that burns on various electrical cables were generated from an outside source, maybe a small cigarette lighter.

-Michael Heyman


Hi Lester,

Thanks for today's update on the fearful residents of Canneto di Caronia. I wonder if anyone has alerted you to the article in the current issue of "Skeptical Inquirer" on this subject. (Skeptical Inquirer, "The Magazine of Science and Reason," vol 28 no 3, May/June 2004, "Satan in a Sicilian Fridge," p. 26; www.csicop.org). The Canneto di Caronia story was investigated by Massimo Polidoro (www.massimopolidoro.com), a debunker of paranormal claims. He reported the following among his findings:

The area of activity was not an entire town, but a few houses on a private road whose inhabitants are all related.

The only observable result of the incident was some small fires that appeared to have their source in some charred electrical wires. (No appliance misbehaviors were found.) All the wires were easily reachable; none were inside walls or beyond arm's length. The wires had been charred from the outside, not from overheating of the copper within. A telephone repairman noticed that he could provide exact duplicates by heating wires with a cigarette lighter.

When the electric utility cut off power, reports of fires continued; when the inhabitants were evacuated, the fires stopped.

An exorcist who volunteered to visit the town "was openly invited to stay home" by townspeople "fed up" with media mania.

Could it be that the story was exaggerated? Well, Polidoro did observe one reporter who insisted that his interviewee "scream and curse on camera in order to make her interview 'more effective.'" Possibly the Danish crew who were there "to film the devil" didn't help.

As your report stated, bodies as diverse as the National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology failed to offer a plausible reason for the fires. Indeed, the volcano people did not find a single volcano; however, the president of the organization was quoted as saying, "If you think about it, nothing extraordinary has happened since the area has been evacuated."

Hope you find this interesting. All the best,

Ross Carter


Fortunately, not everyone thought we meant every word.

Sir, having read your article, I should inform you that there is, at least, a fictional precedent for this. Stephen King wrote a short story "The Mangler" concerning an industrial laundry pressing and folding machine that got splattered with virgin's blood in a minor industrial accident and became demonically possessed. A film was adapted from it (IMDB link http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0113762/ ).

For an even earlier and non-demonic example, there is M R James' short story, "The Malice of Inanimate Objects."

Lukin Brewer, London


Sounds like some one tried one of Tesla's experiments

from http://www.neuronet.pitt.edu/~bogdan/tesla/

In Colorado Springs, Colo., where he stayed from May 1899 until early 1900, Tesla made what he regarded as his most important discovery-- terrestrial stationary waves. By this discovery he proved that the Earth could be used as a conductor and would be as responsive as a tuning fork to electrical vibrations of a certain frequency. He also lighted 200 lamps without wires from a distance of 25 miles (40 kilometres) and created man-made lightning, producing flashes measuring 135 feet (41 metres). At one time he was certain he had received signals from another planet in his Colorado laboratory, a claim that was met with derision in some scientific journals.

Richard Andrews

Now that is more like it.


From cyber appliances, to pornographic spyware:

Smiert to Spyware

Kelly Martin made a number of excellent points in the recent Viewpoint piece, "When Spyware Crosses the Line", 24th June (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/06/24/spyware_crosses_line/).

The key point for me was the statement: "When spyware crosses the line, it's not spyware anymore. It's a virus - and in my opinion, should be dealt with by the anti-virus companies."

F-Secure recognises and shares the same concerns - these programs are no longer benign, but destructive. In the same way that users now need personal firewalling to protect against latest-generation network worms, malicious spyware is becoming a major headache for users.

In September we will be introducing spyware and adware pop-up blocking and removal for our core anti-virus and Internet Security products. These will be updated in exactly the same way as our virus signatures, helping to nullify the threat from self-updating spyware programs.

We will continue to update our products to meet new Internet and email-borne threats of all kinds.

Matthew Piercy UK country manager, F-Secure


We also reported research claiming that failed IT departments in the UK waste £165m every year. An unexpected response:

John,

I think they're having a laugh. I work for an (un-named) insurer and I can vouch that we lost that much on our own this year.


Mobile phones will kill you. No, they'll kill your children. No, wait, its OK, they'll only prevent you from having any children. Or maybe its all just hokum.

Interesting story, just confirms what I always thought about blokes on power trips who are wedded to their mobiles.

Namely: They're a bunch of w**kers

mstubbs


This story is a bit ridiculous. Health effects of cellphone usage are 'unknown'? More like the scaremongers are hoping they end up at least a little deadly. Better to say 'there is no reason to believe cellphones are in any way injurious to your health'. That's another way of interpreting the same data.

As for this sperm study, it is so ridiculous as to not really need debunking. It is evidence of the state of science that studies like this make the news. First of all, there were no confounding factors considered. Second, the risk ratio was something like .7, which, given the size of the study, is explainable by random chance.

Numberwatch regularly deals with these things: http://www.numberwatch.co.uk/

Sincerely,

Perry W Munger IV


Brain Academy v2.0 launched this week, too. But were those questions too easy?

Hello Lucy, I just looked at the questions "designed to test the basic skills needed"... actually, this "test" consists of two three logical questions and seven questions asking about a specific date. Honestly, to me this is no more than a good laugh... what are the last questions for? To look for students' abilities with google?

I don't know if a little irony is permitted in your articles, but this would've been a good one! Sincerely, Markus Horstjann

Well, those are only the first round of questions. Entrants really only answer them to get to the real test. They could have asked people to just fill in a form but we guess they thought this was more interesting.


"Dr Peter McOwan of Queen Mary’s Department of Computer Science says that the contest will give entrants a taste of what it is like to study computer science at degree level."

Excellent, does this mean their they're giving away cheap beer? From what I remember, although I'm a bit addled due to the copious quantities of intoxicants consumed at Uni (and at lunch time), there seemed to be a very worthwhile bar which we spent 4 years making the very most of, I vaguely remember the lectures but I'm pretty sure they were of no real worth.

Lloyd

You rebel, you.

There was a cash bursary, if we remember correctly. For those unfamiliar with the UK education system, at university "cash" is really just potential beer, or beer you haven't bought yet. ®

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