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The internet gets litigious

Letters The word on the street this week is: be careful what you say, especially on the internet. It all kicked off with a Hamburg court ruling that forum moderators were legally responsible for posts. Cue general outrage:

Great, thanks to lawyers another thing that we cannot be held responsible for and quite possibly the end of most forums.

I supposed now Bus Drivers can be sued for anything wrong i say to fellow passengers on the number 73b?

Its a world gone bloody mad!!


And no sooner had the Germans moved to clamp down on forum free-for-alls, than we ran this piece showing how ugly things can get:

I recently was a victim of one of these suits. The person who filed it has made many wild accusations against a hobby group I run called the [xxxx]. We had blacklisted this person for sending spam advertisements to his "pay-per-slander" web site. He then took us to court in Texas (I have never been to Texas) claiming 3.5 million dollars in damages, and was thrown out three weeks and $10,000 in legal costs later for lack of Personal Jurisdiction and Venue. I have posted all filings in the case online, and personally I think it makes for an interesting and frightening review of how someone can spend next to nothing to cost you tens of thousands of dollars.

Name supplied

And of course you're about to get a million replies "flaming" you after once more reading the first two lines of your article, assuming the rest of it and posting rubbish to whatever usenets and forums they have access to.

A problem.

But actually this problem is enormous.

Recently CNET posted an article about how kids and teenagers stupid comments about each other, schools or teachers came back to bite them when applying for grants, jobs or whatever.

The reason of course is Google.

So at first I'm reading your article thinking so what, just a bunch of forums, everyone knows they're full of crap and that eventually some troll will start posting defaming comments about other users on just about every forum you participate in.

Except ofcourse not everybody knows this, in fact the majority who don't participate in online social gatherings don't know at all.

Anyway going back to the job, scholarship, university application issue - the people running the HR departments, admissions departments, or whatever have never attempted to use a forum to find out, say why a particular telescope lens is blurry, and printer smudges ink with a particular cartridge or a particular brand of DVD player doesn't like DVD+R disks, and thus have never been on the end of the kind of abuse that only an idiot and a keyboard can dish out.

So with a quick Google of their applicants they find they're paedophiles, thieves, that as kids they've one-upped their online chat friends with non-existant acts of misbehaviour to the detriment of their own futures - and another rejection letter with no clue as to the real reason behind it will end up on millions of door mats all over the world.

The only answer is for this "common knowledge" to indeed be put out into the mainstream press, so that everyday people that don't live on the 'net understand the results of a Google search are to be taken with an extremely large pinch of salt.

Andy Bright

That enough reason, let's wrap this with a small anger moment:

Things you need to know to survive in this corrupt, wasteland, cesspool world:

1. ALL lawyers are SCUM with a capital "S"

2. These Paid Liars will sue ANYONE with money

3. These SCUMBAGS will sue anyone, including innocent, decent people, as long as they are being paid by some SCUMBAG with lots of money.

4. The only good lawyer is a DEAD lawyer

5. See items 1-4 and memorize.


Gotcha. Duly memorised.

Right. That's forums well and truly contained. Now let's deal with smut, says US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who has proposed that "every page on a commercial website that contains sexually explicit material will be required to include a warning label to protect web users inadvertently finding it".

This seems a bit less crazy than some of the stories floating around, but what's a "commercial" site? Some aspects, like the bit about deceptive tagging, even sound useful.

But this all looks rather vague, and past US history, not even limited to the current administration, is full of ill-judged attempts to control the Internet, in ways which can be exploited by the intolerant.

And, if they want to cordon off the porn with clear markers, why all the problems there have been with the .xxx TLD? It makes me wonder if the motive for this is quite what is claimed.

Dave Bell

Obviously, having once again canned the .xxx domain to please the puritans, the US now has to expell copious amounts of hot air in order to appear to be doing something to protect children against that oh-so-present threat of seeing some skin (elsewhere than on TV all day long, that is). How ironic that, in order to help kids from seeing all this stuff in the first place, a firewall block on anything ending in ".xxx", with a law making all smut sites register there, would have been quite easier to implement and to control. By why make it simple ? Lawyers need to be fed too.


Well, the .xxx domain is now effectively dead in the water, so how are we to protect our kids from net filth? In the case of TV, it's just a matter of turning the offending programme off. On the other hand... could just deploy a Telewest TVDrive recorder. According to some readers, it serves the same purpose:

"maybe affecting a small number of TVDrive customers" HAH!

I have several friends in the local area, ALL of whom got TVDrive installed and ALL of them are having the exact same problems as me; random missed recordings, frequent crashes, etc.

However none of us have bothered to phone Telewest to report it as the call centre staff are clueless and about as useful as their PVR ;)

Hopefully the update will fix it, but I'm not holding my breath.


I had a TV Drive installed about three weeks ago and it works fine apart from one major problem. It periodically "forgets" all of the scheduled recordings so all of a sudden nothing records. If you go into the planned recordings set-up and look through your planned series and one off recordings they are all there and they are also marked in the TV guide but they just don't record. If you add new things they record fine untill it decides to "forget" them all again. All you can really do when it "forgets" is delete all your planned recordings and enter them again. Needless to say this makes the thing practically unusable.


I am a telewest subscriber and have the tvdrive, the update that was issued did fix some problems however the main issue for this box is not been able to have the ability to alter the screen size.

When you connect the tvdrive either by component ot HDMI some channels that are in 14:9 or widescreen appear in 4:3 which looks bad on a big 42" tv, the US model of this box can change the screen sizes by the remote however on this it cannot, a lot like myself have complained and they should have been in this update however it wasnt, they say it would be included in the next update in may however a lot of customers want this issue resolved before the world cup starts.

The report i have read on your website does not give the tvdrive anything good to say about it, i personally like the tvdrive, yes everything has bugs etc however i have only ever had 2 failed recordings and 2 failed series reocrdings when i made them aware they fixed it and sent an updare to the box this was before national launch.

If they can address the screen problem and add the feature of streching the screen and making the menu system bigger like in Standard digital then it will solve a lot of moaning customer from ringing up about it.

Also a PIP feature would be good if they took notice where you could actuall watch live tv and pause rewind like you can now but also have apicture in picture where you could watch a recording or view a reocrding that is been archived to vhs or dvd, but i dont think they will take my idea up on that.


Barry, my name isnt really barry i dont want to be known!

Quite right too, Bazza.

Mercifully, some readers have stepped forward to defend the TVDrive, doubtless much to the relief of poor old Telewest:

I've got a Telewest TVDrive, and while it's not perfect, "effectively unusable" is rubbish. They've got some problems which probably should have been sorted out in testing, but it's a good product, and I love mine...


I've been so overwhelmingly impressed with the Telewest TVDrive that I thought I had to defend them. The box is just fab, it's completely reliable for anything I've done so far (recording episodes, recording series, recording two programmes whilst watching a third live or recorded programme), the user-interface is so clear every software developer should be forced to study it and it basically just works. It's so good I go around randomly evangelising to anyone who shows even the slightest sign of being interested.

Not only that, but when I had problems getting the High Definition to work (nothing to do with their box, it was a dodgy cable) the support team were great, someone came out very quickly and he even phoned around for another box to confirm it wasn't their hardware.

Sorry to hear about some folk having problems, but for me at least it's fantastic.

cheers, Alastair

If Telewest has a few problems with its TVDrive, that's as nothing compared to the black-helicopter-scrambling Blackstar - a two-stage-to-orbit supersecret US project as revealed in Aviation Week & Space Technology. It all makes for a good conspiracy theory, but there are doubts as to whether it could ever get off the ground:

AWST might want to explain why a rocketplane designed to be launched from 100,000 feet would need an altitude-compensating rocket engine. Launching from sea-level, there is a large change in exit pressure as the vehicle ascends, making a linear aerospike useful. However, by the time you reach 100,000 feet, the atmospheric pressure has already dropped to about 1% of sea-level. Any change in exit pressure during an ascent to space from this altitude would be too small to justify the cost, complexity and vehicle design constraints imposed by an aerospike. It's hard to escape the conclusion that they claim the Blackstar uses it just because it sounds cool.

I was also under the impression that this so-called black project had the far more pedestrian codename “Senior Citizen”. “Blackstar” is not the kind of name a Pentagon committee would choose for a project that wanted to go unnoticed.


We believe use of the word "black" is pretty well obligatory in any spook project - unless you've got a really sensational moniker like "Aurora". Of course, if we told you about Aurora, we'd have to pass your details on to the CIA. We are, however, completely at liberty to discuss the SR-71...

In your article on Blackstar, you seemed to neglect entirely mention of the SR-71 Blackbird, designed and built by Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works in the early 60's. They actually looked into the idea of using a blackbird as a launching platform for a stealthy drone used for unmanned overflight of nuclear test sites, but it was scrapped after a failure with the detaching that cost the program one of the two pilots and a Blackbird. It was originally spec'd to be launched at the Blackbird's top speed, and they had several successful test launches, but the failure caused Kelly Johnson, then head of Skunk Works, to scrap the idea of using a Blackbird and switched to using a sub-sonic B-52 for the launching platform. The program was finally scrapped in its entirety because of several different failures, and the large cost of the launch and retrieval system that was required to pick up the drone when it returned with the "take".

For more information on this, Ben Rich, former head of Skunk Works during the development of the F117, has published a book entitled "Skunk Works : A Personal Memoir of My Years of Lockheed" in which he devotes a chapter to this project.

Sincerely, Tim Robson

The Blackstar's fuel is/was, AWST reckons, a boron-laced "zip fuel", providing another link to the SR-71:

This Blackstar article was a fun read, so let me put my thoughts in as to where some of this technology comes from: 1)the borane spiked fuel may in fact relate to the tri-ethyl borane starter used on SR-71 motors (I think these are P&W J-58s) as the JP-7 won't light off easily. 2) the very loud motors on the lifter might well be a newer version of the SR-71 motors. Remerber that there were several experiments with the SR-71 (unsuccessful) where the Blackbird launched a hypersonic, ramjet-driven drone. Oh, and these motors are really loud now in that they are after-burning turbojets, not turbofans. Just compare an F-15 takeoff to an F-4 take off. 3) The Lockheed Venturestar (X-33) was killed off when they couldn't build a lightweight Hydrogen fuel tank (carbon fiber) and had to use aluminum. This made the vehicle too heavy. From what I remember reading the linear aerospike engines worked just fine.

Jerry H. Appel

Re the "Blackstar" project article I believe you may have repeated an error in describing the fuel used by the Valkyrie XB-70. Around ten years ago I worked for a UK company which were the UK agents of Callery, the company who made the Boron "zip" fuels for the XB-70 project. On several occassions I broached the question of the Valkyrie, and even in the 1990's it was obvious from their reaction that the subject was one they could not talk about. There was obviously still some kind of secrecy over the subject. I never laboured the point, but one thing did become clear - the Valkyrie fuel was Boron Hydride, NOT Ethylborane (or any other organoboron compound). Callery were part of the American Group MSA, but seem to have been sold to BASF - the website is here

The Russians also had at least one plant making Boron fuels - I was given a product list in the late 1980's as the east bloc started to crumble. I can't remember the name of the plant, but I think it was in the city of Gorkii. There may have been a second in Plvov (Ukraine??)

Feel free to use this information, but please DONT publish my name - my wife and I are still involved in the chemical industry and dont need the publicity. Also I dont want any more black helicopters around my door.... I've had enough problems with chemicals and security services in the past.

Name withheld

Fuel considerations aside, would the Blackstar actually work, asks Andy:

I also agree Jeffrey Bell with regards to the technical unfeasibility of such a solution. One exercise I had to undertake at uni as a group final year project was the design of a reusable launch vehicle.

We looked into all sorts of different options and alternatives - and we pretty much found out the best way to put things into space is as we do now.

A low earth orbit is approx 150-180km, even from 100,000ft at Mach 3 the vehicle must accelerate to many times the release speed an altitude to achieve terminal velocity. The amount of fuel this would require (even with an aerospike) would probably exceed the lifting capability of the relatively small SR-3 vehicle you describe.

Not only that, bit the SR-3 would be required to accelerate to Mach 3 and climb to 100,000ft with its own weight and that of the space payload. I would imagine it to be much larger than you describe to hold enough fuel - and the aerodynamics of reaching Mach 3 with another spaceship attached must interesting (very high drag).

Furthermore, separation would be relatively tricky between the two bodies at that speed, as aero-forces could result in smashing the 2 bodies together without enough detailed knowledge of their aerodynamic behaviour.

The separation would indeed prove tricky, as Tim Robson notes above. The fatal incident he describes occurred on 30 July 1966 during a test flight using an SR-71 as a platform for launching a D-21 reconnaissance drone. According to this account, "the drone pitched down and struck the M-21 [SR-71], breaking it in half. Pilot Bill Park and Launch Control Officer (LCO) Ray Torrick stayed with the plane a short time before ejecting over the Pacific Ocean. Both made safe ejections, but Ray Torrick opened his helmet visor by mistake and his suit filled up with water which caused him to drown. This terrible personal and professional loss resulted in 'Kelly' Johnson's decision to cancel the program."

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