Virtual overdoses of chocolate Wi-Fi

As well as trains, drunks and exoskeletons

Letters Let us begin by addressing one of the subjects that caught your attention this week: killer Wi-Fi. Is being bathed in a sea of wireless data whizzing around from computer to computer going to kill us, or is it all dark mutterings that have no scientific back up? Either way, we argued, we should find out for sure rather than making statements with hazy, if any, foundation. You had some thoughts:

Guy Kewney has a point in complaining about people implying that wi-fi networks and mobile phones are hazardous. However he takes it too far.

My dictionary defines a hazard as ‘an exposure to injury’. To the very best of our knowledge wi-fi and mobile phone networks represent no hazard. Not only is there no hazard, but people have looked extensively for such a hazard and failed to find it. Furthermore, the amounts of energy involved are so small that the absence of any measurable harm from exposure to wi-fi and mobile phone networks is pretty much what one would expect.

However, there is a >potential< hazard. Exposure to the RF fields will affect humans at some level and there may be some harm associated with this. It may also be that it will take many years before the nature of such a hazard becomes clear. Public policy on this matter has to weigh this >potential< hazard against the many benefits of this technology.

I find it interesting to compare this potential hazard with the known hazard from another widespread and ‘beneficial’ technology: motor cars. Cars kill 3500 people each year in the UK and hundreds of thousands die each year worldwide, not to mention the millions seriously injured. And yet there is no public widespread campaign to ‘ban cars’ or to sue motor manufacturers for these deaths.

In contrast, if even a single death or serious injury could be attributed to the use wireless technology, I would expect manufacturers would be sued and calls for bans would be widespread. I can't explain this difference.


I couldn't agree more. OK, I hate those masts as much as the next guy, but not because of radiation. And how about that? I'm bombarded with radiation the whole day: a small amount of radio waves, infrared radiation from my space heater, visible radiation from my LCD TV, my living room lights and also the sun, ultraviolet radiation, mostly from the sun.

All this radiation can be easily detected. Oh, and some radioactivity, like alpha particles from radon gas coming from the concrete of the office building I work in. Probably very unhealthy. As is the real (not electro) smog I have to cycle through every day to get to said office building.

But I have to do my darndest to detect microwaves, either from the microwave in my kitchen or the WiFi in my room. I have to build a special detector with microwave Schottky diodes and connect it to a very sensitive voltmeter. Only then, if I move the antenna very close to my souped-up access point I see the needle move. So how's my brain going to be influenced by that minute amount of power exactly?

Same thing with GSM/UMTS masts. I read a story some time ago about people complaining about all kinds of medical things when new antennas were erected. Snag was that the accompanying equipment wasn't even installed yet! It's all utter bollocks. I'm glad you pointed this out in your excellent article. Thank you!


I have been teaching an MSc level course on wi-fi for about 5 years now and I have a slide on safety, which predicts exactly the sort of scare stories that seem to be starting up now. I am sorry to be vindicated in this way!

I am pretty sure that quite a few Schools will now close down their wifi networks as Governors and teachers become nervous about legal action. Depressing really. It all comes down to the desperate ignorance of the majority of journalists on technical matters.


Of course, WiFi can be dangerous in other ways. Or rather, it won't make you any safer. Or immune from prosecution for possession of child pornography:

'Open' or not, if I were a juror I don't think I would convict evidence of traffic over a wireless network, or the Internet for that matter.

Burden of proof needs to rest on the prosecution to prove that the security is infallible. Leaving aside the network security issues, the data may be sent/received from someones from the PC in question, but how do you prove the PC wasn't under remote control via trojan.

How do you prove who was sat a the PC? In the case of 'images found on a computer' how do you prove the download was intentional (by its very nature, you can only find out the contents of a download once it has been downloaded).

Would a court accept video that could have been tampered with without trace and which many people had access too (as can be the case with data transmitted over the Internet).

Whilst I don't believe the above should be evidence enough for a conviction, I do believe it should be enough for warrant as it gives grounds for suspicion. The evidence level required for a warrant surely must be lower than that a conviction (how low, I'm not sure).

The thing which really does concern me is that only Perez's room was search - I can only assume that he must have been the name on the Broadband bill. His housemate(s) almost certainly would have had access to the network, possibly his PC and maybe even his room.

They might have found evidence that his housemate had framed him, they might have found evidence that the two were working together, they might even have found evidence which left them unclear who was truly to blame. I believe the FBI should have a duty to search all rooms, computers, data storage devices within the house (and maybe even all those within 200 feet).

The big problem with digital data is that it can be very difficult to prove the authenticity of it. IMHO, digital evidence should only ever be used to convict in the rare cases where authenticity can be proved beyond reasonable doubt. Unfortunately, this is very rare, however that doesn't mean the burden of proof should be lowered. Anyway, rant over.


Next, the second (or possibly third, we did cover trains, after all) most replied to story: the possible oiling down of chocolate. Yes, the FDA is mulling proposals that could see less cocoa butter and more vegetable oil allowed into the US's version of this lovely snack. The replies proved that there are two kinds of people: those who really care about chocolate, and those who really don't:

There are those of us here who sniff at anything less that 70%. I have some 98% and have just come across some 100%. Must be eaten in careful moderation.

Vegetable oil? Call it "chocolate" if you want, I'll know the difference.


Just a small point: cocoa butter doesn't add much to flavour of chocolate, only to the texture. If you'd like to try what it's like when you substitute veg. oil, try Cadbury's!

Mind you, if Americans can call Hershey's "chocolate", labelling sawdust with the same name wouldn't do much more damage. Ghirardelli's, on the other hand...


Not this old chestnut.

Pure chocolate is so bitter few people like it. Your American Hershey bars contain many other ingredients beyond cocoa solids (even the Special Dark version is only 45% cocoa solids) like sugar, milk solids (for milk chocolate) etc.

Why letting Hershey and co. add a few % of vegitable fat into the mix is going to cause the world to collapse is beyond me.

Make sure that the FDA sets a sensible lower limit for cocoa solids (say 30-35%) and ensures that the bars are clearly labelled with contents and percentages, then let the consumer decide if they want to buy the cheaper stuff.


Thanks for alerting us to the heinous deeds afoot across the pond.


Not a problem.

A US court has ruled that music downloads don't constitute performances of copyrighted works, and are merely mechanical reproductions of the copyrighted material, thus denying ASCAP any entitlement to collect royalties for downloads.

A significant result. But what do you lot write to us about? Poor English. Gah.

"uninterested drunks", please. "disinterested drunks" might refer to the extremely small number of people who, despite their inebriation, have enough objective wits about them to claim an lack of bias against the hapless bar singer. The "uninterested drunks" refer to the rest of us who, while knocking back third rate lager, staggering out to the jax and vomiting in the corner, couldn't tell if it was Pavarotti or Jade Goodie on the podium for all the attention we were paying to them.


Note to self: Never, ever, ever write anything about trains, ever, ever again. Meanwhile, thanks to the millions, if not gazillions, of you, who wrote in to correct the sprinkling of errors that peppered the story about Japan's plans for Maglev trains:

I've just come back from three weeks in Japan with a rail pass. The bullet train does *not* travel at 300mph. It mostly does not even travel at 300kph, which is c.186mph and is the top speed of the TGV and Eurostar etc. However, its average speed in service is the fastest in the world, at a pretty respectable 160+ mph sustained over long distances, and it has been run in tests at 277mph.

This should not detract from the bigger point you approach, that building a maglev train is barking mad because of the high cost of construction, the energy use both in magnet construction and operation, the tight engineering envelope and - the killer in my mind - the complete incompatibility with the existing capital stock of railway infrastructure and rolling stock.

It is however consistent with the Japanese approach to high speed trains, which is the opposite to the French who aimed to speed up *train* journey times across the network. The Japanese took a passenger/self-loading-freight view of the problem, and sped up personal journey times by building a completely new, separate and incompatible train system when they built the bullet train (whose name, shinkansen, means new rail network).

They made sure it had excellent passenger transfers to the existing railway stations, however. Building a simple line rather than a network reduces delays, network effects, scheduling problems etc. in operation and is the reason for the high punctuality and availability of the bullet train. Oh, that we had either in the UK! Or even the driver's uniforms, including white gloves, and their training to *salute* every signal!

best wishes,


Fancy upgrading your SkyPlus to the SkyAnytime service? Read this first.

I'm fast coming to the conclusion that Sky+ (HD) is a complete & utter bag of shite and that Sky are completely clueless and a bunch of lying bastards!

Ahh... That feels better.

I'm sick & tired of having my bloody Sky HD box power itself off and stay powered off, when recording and then tell me the damn thing failed (If it doesn't just delete the show it was recording).


It'd of been nice if you'd mentioned how one would know if their Sky+ box had upgraded itself to support anytime i.e. a software revision.

Other than that thanks for the heads up.


More than 7,000 angry users have signed an online petition protesting against Adobe Systems' price hikes for European customers. We mention whip-ass. You vent your spleens:

Precisely the reason why I do not feel guilty for running a pirate copy on every machine at home and not purchasing a single license. Pretty much the same with all Adobe products I have ripped off. Stick that up your pdf adobe, you bloodsucking parasites.

Love Grahame xxx

a minor note.

i believe the proper term is "whup-ass". kind regards and keep up the good work.


I grew up in Texas, but was saved by grad school at Berkeley, but I digress. In Texas we say "whoop ass". In Texas, If you were to say "whip ass" with a British accent, mayhem would ensue.


Almost worth the flight to try that one out...

If you are getting old and frail, take heart, because Japan's boffins are hard at work building you an exoskeleton. Waaay cool.

> beating off nurse-bots with old-school walking sticks and insisting on milky tea made by human hands I rather think that the Japanese don't take milk in their tea. Although oldsters might well balk at robots performing the ancient tea ceremony. Also, unless hundreds of kung-fu movies have lied to me, ageing Japanese are more likely to favour a flying kick than walking stick attack. </pedantic>


And regular correspondant (irregularly published) Oli has some charming advice for those Secondlifers who feel the need to open the virtual doors of perception:

Throw all of the sick and twisted deranged social misfits in a dungeon and leave them there to rot.


Take that notion with you as you waft your way into a happy weekend. Back next week. ®

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