Original URL: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/04/28/letters/

Comment on this story and we'll sue you

The internet gets litigious

By Lester Haines

Posted in Bootnotes, 28th April 2006 12:50 GMT

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...

...you 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 http://www.basf.com/inorganics/

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."

The SR-71 was, however, spectacularly effective in its designed role, Mike Plunkett explains:

* Speed and altitude *are* good defences - the SR-71 operated at altitudes in excess of 80,000 feet and speeds greater than Mach 3 for over thirty years. Despite being shot at on many occasions no Blackbird was ever lost to enemy action. Of course the SR-71 did have a degree of stealth built into it, but the speed and altitude that the aircraft flew at meant that the window available for a successful engagement is very small. Even with modern SAM systems such as the SA-10, SA-12, SA-20 or S-400, a high flying, very fast aircraft has a pretty good chance of surviving.

* I believe that the generally accepted version of what brought Gary Powers' flight to an end is that the U-2 was hit by the shockwave/debris from a Soviet fighter that was hit by one of their own SAMs. A few years back I was lucky enough to meet a chap called Alan Brown, who was the chief designer for the F-117. He had been involved in low observable research at Lockheed Martin since the fifties, and described how U-2 pilots knew that the Soviet radars were detecting them, and would watch the MiGs trying to intercept them and generally failing to get within 10,000ft of the American aircraft. The boffins at Lockheed came up with a cunning device called a Salisbury Screen (which basically consists of a wire running around the straight edges of the aircraft, separated from the airframe by - if I remember correctly - 1/4 of the radar wavelength its designed to defeat). This, they assured the pilots, would make them virtually undetectable to Soviet surveillance radars, but would come at the price of removing approximately 10,000ft from the U-2's maximum altitude. The pilots turned them down, deciding they'd rather be invulnerable than invisible.

* Despite coming across as something of a curmudgeon (let's face it, we'd all like this story to be true!) Jeffery Bell does make some interesting points, particularly regarding the idea that this is disinformation. There is a precedent for this with the Stealth Fighter. For years this was assumed to be the 'F-19' and be a curvy, bell-shaped aircraft, and was even backed up by supposed eye-witness reports of just such an aircraft but of course never any photos. Assuming that Blackstar is such a disinformation campaign it begs the question - what for?

* The US has a history of successfully developing and operating advanced aircraft in complete secrecy (witness the U-2, SR-71 and F-117) until such time as they decide they wish to make them public. A few months back I watched a documentary on US 'Black' programmes in which an individual who claimed to have been a personal friend of the late Ben Rich (a director of Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works) said that just prior to his death Rich had told him, "We have things flying now fifty years beyond anything you can imagine." If (big if!) that claim is true then Blackstar could just be the tip of the iceberg. It's also worth noting that the USAF budget for black programmes is absolutely enourmous, amounting to 40% of its procurement spend and 36% of its R&D - a total of over $31 billion in the FY07 budget (see "Black Programmes: Funding the Void" by Bill Sweetman in Janes Defence Weekly, 5th April 2006).

All in all this sort of thing is absolutely fascinating and I doubt we'll ever know even a fraction of the truth. All the same, I really hope that the Aviation Week article is true! :-)

Whether Blackstar itself exists or not (I'm a bit doubtful too), the facts about Gary Powers's shootdown are rather less muddled. He was flying a route that had been used before, and so when he appeared at Ekaterinberg the Soviet's fired a large salvo of SAM's along what they correctly assumed to be his path. Immunity to SAM attack was largely dependent on the inability of the SA2 SAM to use it's aerodynamic control surfaces at 70000 ft, but this didn't apply as a limitation in this case.

Regarding the B70, recieved wisdom that is was hopelessly vunerable to SAM and Mig25 attack was proved otherwise after the US flew the SR71 against the SA5 in Syria and North Korea and got a look at Viktor Bylenko's Mig25 in Japan in 1975. The chances are that whatever it's other faults, it would have been operationally effective.


Complete change of tack now, with a couple of comments on news that text to speech is getting closer to the real thing:

Text to Speech engines may indeed be getting more emotional, but it's worth noting that in Professor Hawking's case, his emotionless 'old-fashioned' voice is kept that way by preference, not through lack of choice. He could 'upgrade' his voice but chooses not to as it's HIS voice - people are used to it, he's used to it. So I doubt we'll be hearing more emotion from him anytime soon.

Ian Ferguson

Hi there,

'In the early days of text to speech (TTS), the requirement was just that the listener could understand. One of the best known examples is Professor Stephen Hawking, the author of A Brief History of Time, who has used a speech synthesiser for many years that sounds Dalek-like. The other well known example, although many fewer people have heard it, is a screen reader, such as Jaws or IBM Home Page reader, used by many people with vision impairments.'

There is another example of text to speech software that's very commonly heard by a lot of people - I'm surprised you didn't mention Apple's text to speech software, which has been part of the MacOS since the days of System 7 - I seem to recall that it was a standard fitment with System 7.5 in 1995ish, and it's been ported to OS X. (I've got a note which tells me that Apple's TTS software works with System 6.0.7, which is a 1980s version of the OS).

The point is that since text to speech software has come with Macs for - can't find out exactly, but over a decade - lots of people are familiar with the Apple sort of TTC, and it's probably a better example to cite than full-on commercial applications for those with seeing problems, on the grounds that more people will have heard it.

On the other hand, your 'article' does read like a not-really-disguised press release on behalf of SVOX, so I don't suppose I should have expected any real insight. Do you pay El Reg to get this stuff published, or what?

btw, Hawking uses timing to get his 'sideband' points across, whatever they might be. He's a master of comic timing, amongst other things.

Rowland McDonnell

Ah, the old "how much did they pay you to plug this product?" line of attack. For the record, the facts that SVOX AG is a Swiss company and Vulture Central is currently packed to the gunwales with chocolate and cuckoo clocks are purely coincidental.

The cuckoo clock will never be, mercifully, an English icon, unlike the flag of St George which has recently been officially declared just that:

Oh how short the memory is...

That rusting eyesore off the side of the A1 (Angel of the North) has already become an icon, whilst good old Nelson's column is still only a proposal, with 16% of the votes against it when I last looked!

Somehow I can't imagine plane loads of American tourists flocking over and asking "Howdy boy, wheres that dang great Angel of the North at?" (All americans talk like the Dukes of Hazard you know).

All I can assume is as this whole thing is run by a Gov department, Nelson wouldn't go down too well with the French (does anything?).


Why the hell is the Cornish pasty being touted as an icon of Englishness? Cornwall is extraterritorial to England and its head of state is the Duke of Cornwall, not the UK monarch, as was proven under English law during a spat in the late 1850s between the Crown and Duchy over foreshore mineral rights. Cornwall is not, and has never been, legally part of England.


I had a look at your list of 'English Icons' and had a bit of a chuckle.

Cup of tea: Invented by the Chinese (actually that's appropriate given outsourcing these days ...) Punch and Judy: Puppet show based on an Italian comedy that glories in domestic violence. Portrait of Henry VIII: Painted by a German.

And so the list goes on.

And wasn't St. George a Turk?

Cor blimey luv a duck.



Gawd bless yer guvnor.

Thanks for reminding me why I hate this country! If you're interested (well even if you're not interested, actually) I've come up with some other great British inventions to add to your list:

Concentration camps (Boer Wars - 1880 - 1 and 1899 - 1902); Oswald Moseley and his Brownshirts (I'm surprised no-one's tried this out as a band name); Sinking the Belgrano when its back was turned (1982); The Poll Tax (1380 and 1990); The Sinclair C-5 (1985); The bombing of Dresden (1945);

Can ya feel your chest swell with natonalist pride yet? Can ya? Can ya?


Ahem. We're not sure we actually invented Oswald Moseley and you'd be unlikely to get a patent on sinking Argentine warships. You're right about the C-5, though. We hereby declare ourselves suitably ashamed.

"revealed to the nation on 28 April and its new iconic status will provide a boost to St George's Day celebrations on the 23rd."

Blimey, they're going to be unveiling a time machine? Even with the 'it's going to help next year' thoughts put to one side, surely it doesn't take too much thought to realise that an appropriate day to release this momentous list to the nation might be on St George's day or in the run up to it? Joined up thinking eh? (Unless of course, the idea for this marvelous scheme was only mooted on Sunday as they sat around watching the marathon in their timber framed boozer, and they've spent four frantic days putting together a list... You can almost hear the thought process "London Marathon? it's a bit of an icon innit." "Yeah, along with the Boat Race, Big Ben, Concorde and the Spitfire" "Hmm, I feel a press release coming along" "Well it's St George's day today, we could tie it all in with that..." "How about the flag as well then?")

Ummm, I'll leave you alone now.



Yes, the timing did seem a little strange. Still, it's all good clean fun.

We thought the startling revelation that two gay flamingos have taken to "adopting" (= stealing) other birds' eggs was good clean fun, too. We clearly hadn't thought about the implications:

I feel this does nothing but add further fuel to the question of legal marriage for gay couples in the US.

Basically, as proved by test subjects Carlos and Fernando, if we allow gay or lesbian couples to marry, they're going to steal our babies.

The prospect of two bull lesbians appearing at dawn to haul off our young ones should scare crap out of any rogue conservative feeling that the relatively minor transgressions of their esteemed congressmen makes it tempting to vote for Beezlebub's Whore in the next election.

Remember a vote for Hilary is a vote to allow gay Flamingos to steal your babies.

Andy Bright

Our US readers can consider themselves duly warned.

Finally this week, a few linguistic observations, kicking off with another installment of the "Reg murders English language" saga:

"Boffin" turns up on your pages as regularly as an an unwelcome bout of gastroenteritis. The word smacks of working-class snobbishness and demeans your otherwise useful content. Why not relegate this discriminatory term to the second world war history books and achieve some credibility in the process.

Dan Frey

Sorry, but no. We like a good boffin and that's the way it's going to stay.

And rather than cull the lexicon, why not expand it?

Hi Lester, I do hope that you take the phrase, 'technology grabbagagge site' as a compliment of the highest order. In fact, ye should even use it as a new motto. It's brilliant. Regards, Sean.

Agreed. We may have lost "mobe" and "lappy" but this is more than compensated for by "technology grabbagagge".

To conclude, those of you who think that El Reg is at the forefront of trashing our beloved mother tongue should read this genuine txt msg:

mum if the teacher pones ya tell her i cant stay be hindi av got aozzy appoinment tar kim

The astounding missive above popped into the Vulture Central inbox in reponse to a story about some new SMS service or other. Obviously it was sent in error so we'll never know if Kim's mum informed her daughter's teacher that she was unable to stay behind at school due to a hospital appointment. We weep for the English language. ®