Original URL: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/08/22/letters_2208/

Stupid operating systems or stupid operators?

Did somebody mention dolphins?

By Lucy Sherriff

Posted in Bootnotes, 22nd August 2006 13:36 GMT

Letters Someone needs to update the rules for modern living to include guidelines on preparing one's inbox for an onslaught of letters after publishing anything about the Windows operating system, and its little quirks.

Our (almost) resident grumpy old guru let off a little steam this week after a computer meltdown zapped three hours of work into oblivion.

Much comment from the floor on this one. Broadly , it can be grouped into three camps 1) eternal sympathy; 2) buy a Mac/use firefox; 3)Are you stupid or what, that you &*(%%£@^ don't &*^% know how to %&*@* etc.

A selection follows:

Hear hear, well said sir.

I've had that damned auto-restart on servers, FFS, and it drives me up the damned wall. "Nick, has something happened to the server?" "Nooooo...oh, hang on, we just got screwed by Uncle Bill again.". And that's after clicking more "LEAVE MY DAMNED SERVERS ALONE!" radio buttons and tick boxes than I can shake a stick at.

My favourite at the moment is the "Restart later" button after you've had an auto-update. If I click that, I expect the Automatic Update service to, pardon the expression, STFD & STFU, because I want to restart when I feel like it. I don't want it to pop up again every ten damned minutes when I'm in the middle of trying to, in the face of all experience, actually do something useful with my PC, stealing focus from stuff that I actually care about. Speaking of which...

The download cancelling thing is one symptom of a behaviour which annoys the hell out of me; the crime of window focus theft. I don't give a monkey's what Redmond thinks is really REALLY important at the time; it's MY damned PC and what's important is the document that I'm working on. I LOATHE with an intensity that I wouldn't have thought possible the way that a process that I left happily running in the background (because XP is supposed to be a multitasking OS, right?) suddenly decides to jump to the front resulting in some random effect from the succession of characters that I thought I was typing into a Word document, resulting in both the focus-stealing app AND the Word document being screwed up.

I hate the "magical cached download" as well; if I tell Windows to replace a download, it's because it cocked it up the first time. Using the same version that it cocked up to overwrite itself (effectively) is not a cure. It's barking mad.

We're rapidly reaching the point where due to desperate attempts to fix Windows, and the associated auto-restarts, and other "lets ignore the user" crap that the whole point of having a PC as a labour saving device is negated.

You know, I've had a load of Dell Latitude batteries returned to me for obvious reasons recently...maybe I should send them to random MS employees until they get their heads out of their bums. A shower of exploding lithium might focus their minds a bit...


Here's a footnote to your footnote ("The word for this behaviour is "arrogant". It will come back to haunt you")

Back in the very early nineties (Windows 3.0 was pretty new) I had the opportunity to address a Microsoft meeting - about 150 folk. We came to the end of the formal bit, and I thought I would liven up the proceedings a little by asking the audience a question.

"Put yourself in the position of a Microsoft customer - distributor, dealer, end-user, doesn't matter - and give me the one word they would use to describe Microsoft."

It took all of five seconds for one of them to give the response that was endorsed by his colleagues: "arrogant".

They knew it then, they know it now. They care even less now than they did in 1991.


Please feel free to attach my invoice for Mr. Gates along with yours.

Of course if he actually paid what I feel he owes me, there wouldn't be anything left for you or anyone else and Bill would have to rely on his foundation for charity on which to live. :-)


It's funny, when I find out that one of my unix servers rebooted I immediateley get worried and start parsing logs looking for exploit attempts and the like. I then head of and begin looking for rootkits and backdoors.

When it happens to my windows boxes I just get angry at MS and get on with my life. Says a lot about Redmonds offerings in my opinion. We have accepted that the initial software offering is so poor we need to be forced to update it instantly in a futile attempt to stop whatever new rampaging malware is going about.

Not a good state of affairs, especially in a market place where OS X is going from strength to strength.

I think I'll be switching next upgrade time.


Solution: Buy a Mac, use Firefox. Never weep again. If you are running software that is not available on a Mac, still use Firefox. It's more secure, more efficient, and more versitile. The only reason Microsoft survives in the face of competition is path dependence.

cheers, Chloe

This is probably the thousandth email like this, but it's worth restating:

Get a freaking Mac.


I agree with most of what you say, except:

1) You are clearly using ancient software if closing browser windows causes you lost work. Opera happily brings back my entire browser session after a crash, complete with all open windows and settings as I left them. Ok, I know it's not made by Microsoft, but any consultant worth the money you claim should be intelligent enough to use it ;-)

2) I'm not even going to talk about leaving editor windows open without regular saving. Even a minimum wage McDonalds/local government employee should get sacked for making a mistake that basic.


Hello Guy, you are obviousy a new computer user.

I just wanted to assist and let you know that computers are not 100% reliable. I always advise my clients to save their documents frequently and to close applications applications that contain key data when they are planning to leave their PC for some time.

I hope they helps you have a more enjoyable time with your computer.

Regards Lex

Frankly, Guy, you'll get no sympathy from me. You are aware that Microsoft's producst are all flawed, and terribly engineered from a user standpoint, and yet you persist in using them.

This is doubly silly, since I am quite certain you are aware that there are alternatives to Microsoft's products which are not only superior in engineering, but free of cost.

There is quite literally nothing that a writer should ever need to do with a computer which requires Microsoft products. Open your mind!


A computer game called Bully, due to be released in time for Christmas, has attracted the ire of anti-bullying campaigners and those convinced of a link between game playing and real-world violence. A fuss about nothing or the beginning of the apocalyse?

Columbine Simulator? They've made a simulator of an average school day that involves high-powered automatic weapons? God bless America........

Haven't we come a long way from Horace Goes Skiing.

I am just saddened that there could be a human being anywhere that would suggest the idea of a game called "Bully".

Why not "Paedophile" or "Airplane Bomber" or "NecroSeXXX 2006" ? It's just fu*cking disgusting. Can we PLEASE draw the fu*cking line somewhere. Preferably somewhere just left of Daley Thompson's Decathlon. Fu*ck!


I must say, Jack Thompson is doing a fantastic job of promoting the game! I'd not even heard of this game up until two weeks ago, and now it seems to be in the news almost every day. Take Two Interactive will be laughing all the way to the bank with this one. I can't wait - the game sounds wicked!


I usually see games and movies in the same slot. I rememeber one child had to get counselling due to nightmares after playing Doom - he was 9. His parents ignored the 18 sticker on the box, and simply did the usual 'oh, computer games are for children' thing. He was NINE!

It's not limited to games. A friend of mine runs a rental store, and someone tried to hire Legend of the Demon Womb out for his children, and wouldn't take no for an answer - 'It's just for kids'. Legend of the Demon Womb features plenty of tentacles raping people. I wouldn't want any child to watch that, but simply banning it won't make it go away. Banning things only tends to make them more interesting and more exciting for people.

I worked on Burnout, a game focussed around car crashes, and BBC news referred to it as 'horrific car crashes', whereas the team saw it as 'toy cars smashing into eachother'.

I'm fully for regulating games from children - the same way that they also shouldn't be smoking, drinking, driving cars, or watching Demon Womb - and they do all of those things. Simply hang around a bus stop at 7pm and you'll see a selection of 13 year olds drinking and smoking - surely this is a far worse problem than then playing a game with pixellated blood?

> > > Adam

<quote> "The implications of the research are far-reaching," said Vaz. "Every precaution should be taken to ensure that children are not exposed to games that will diminish their sensitivity to violence." </quote>

The point that Vaz appears to be missing is that these games are not for children. I think this should have been stressed in the article. Rockstar games like GTA are certified 18. The main precaution to be taken is for parents to take responsibility for their children and not allow them to play games unsuitable for children. A second consideration is for stores that sell 18 rated games to refuse to sell them to kids. Shop staff seem happy asking for ID before selling alcohol, why not 18 rated games too?

Adults can, normally, morally differentiate between controlling an avatar in a game to perpetrate violent acts on virtual opponents and performing those same acts in the real world on real people. Those that can't see that acts of violence against others are wrong pose a danger to the public irrespective of whether they invoke the spurious "computer games made me do it" defense.

regards James

"Liz Carnell, director of Bullying Online, said there were plenty of examples of copycat violence committed by children who played violent computer games. Kids who had played a wrestling game beat up another with similar moves. Parents of children who have been murdered have seen parallels with computer games. Happy slapping, the dark art of recording beating someone , is all.up on a camera phone, caught on quickly because people copied others who posted their recordings on the net."

Sorry I can't be bothered to make this a particularly interesting flame, but have to point out that it's a rubbish bit of reporting.

To say there are plenty of examples of video game copycat violence and back it up with one slightly dodgy example of kids copying wrestling moves (um, did they watch wrestling on tv too? Anybody ever copy Judo moves after watching the Olympics) and two examples that have nothing at all to do with copying games, but might vaguely be related to something a bit computerish...well, it's just a bit rubbish, really.

Ta :P russ3ll

"Please be advised that your company is improperly, possibly illegally, pre-selling the violent Columbine simulator video game, Bully, to anyone of any age, despite the fact that it has not yet received an ESRB age rating," he told them.

The ESRB is a voluntary rating system. Just like the movie rating system. It's not illegal to sell an AO game to a 3 year old, just like it isn't illegal to allow that same child into the R rated movie without parents. And it's improper only if the person and/or community deems it to be.

Jack needs to get his facts straight. Yet again. bmw

Thompson's comments in his "petition" are factually incorrect. The ESRB ratings in the US are completely voluntary and are not federally mandated at any level.

It is not "akin to a pharmaceutical company selling a new and controversial drug without prior FDA approval" because the FDA is a federal administration and the ESRB is self-regulatory (not to mention there are several drugs advertised in the US as "Not FDA Approved" so the comparison is even further bunk).

It is also not "possibly illegal" for these retailers to accept preorders on the game so soon because, again, there are simply no laws governing ESRB ratings. Thompson is a sensationalistic "attention whore" that twists words and facts while stamping his feet like a child. Pandering to him is something I thought The Reg was above.


Mark responds:

I agree with most of what you say, dealing as you are with the facts. But you're off the mark if you think we're pandering to Mr Thompson. It's an interesting issue, one I'm enjoying exploring, and one in which Thompson, regardless of what any gamer thinks of his campaigning methods, has made in himself a key player by sheer hard work. By dint of that, he is sometimes the news.

Paypal has frozen a customer's account because his name is ""similar to or a match to" a name on the US government's anti-terror assets freezing list. It would be a bad day for many if anyone called John Smith managed to get onto the list, that's all we're saying:

Nothing new about this. MoneyGram has been playing a similar game with me for about two years. I am a Spanish resident with Romanian citizenship.

Every time I want to use their service, unlike all(?) other customers, I have to fax birth dates and birthplaces for myself and my father then wait for confirmation that the transaction is unblocked. It always gets blocked because of some erroneous name match. All climbing to more than half an hour on my end and some more on the other. All this for a service advertised as "10 minutes - end to end".

The first time this problem appeared (cause they let me "slip" for about a year before that), it took a day and a half and about a dozen phone calls (of which, two to their head offices in the US) to solve.   - Geppa

The online payments service told him his name is "similar to or a match to" a name on the US government's anti-terror assets freezing list.”

That assumes most terrorists are stupid enough to use their own name…or even stupid enough to bother using PayPal…!

Utterly ridiculous.


This is an interesting problem that all the banks have had to deal with over the last few years. KYC (Know Your Customer) has meant that even if you have a long-term existing bank account and want to open a new savings account (for example), you must prove yourself to them.

As well as the American OFAC lists, there is also the Bank Of England Sanctions lists which pretty much has the America list plus a few others.


The fact that the lists often only have a name, an approximate age and sparse address makes me wonder how the identity is ever proved to not be one of those on the list. Presumably those on the list change their identities and locations often enough to keep the authorities on their toes (In the UK, I believe that this is NCIS (National Criminal Investigation Service).

And who am I? Well, I have helped organisations implement searching systems to meet the new regulatory legislations.


It would be interesting to see how many Mohammed Hassans there are in the UK. There are 47 Mohammed Hassans in the UK who hold directorships alone. Have they all had their accounts frozen, or just this particular Mohammed Hassan? If 47 hold directorships, there must be hundreds of them in the country.

Paul Reading

Actually I think PayPal is doing EXACTLY what they should be doing under the circumstances. If this "British citizen" is who he claims he is then he has nothing to be concerned about.

You make it sound like PayPal is wrong for checking him out when his name is on the SDN list. We need MORE scrutiny of people making financial transactions not less.


Ah, the old "those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear" stance...

Speaking of nothing to fear, how's your health service? Ready for a major incident? Ours isn't. This statement was brought to you by the Ministry of Panic.

Your thoughts:

As part of my interest in late Cold War history, I wrote a short paper (pdf) on my web site that looked at NHS preparedness during the latter half of the Cold War and how it would respond to a nuclear attack:

What the BMA is saying is what they said more than 20 years ago; in in 1983; The BMA Board of Science and Education held an Inquiry into the Medical Effects of Nuclear War. It estimated that a 1 megaton airburst over St. Paul's Cathedral would result in 1.6 million blast injuries and up to 650,000 severe burns which would completely overwhelm the entire peacetime resources of the NHS.

More importantly A National Audit Office report[18], published in November 2002 found that "hospital and ambulance trusts do not have adequate plans to deal with a biological, chemical, radiological or nuclear attack[19]." -- Full references in the document above.

Best regards,


  I don't know what the state of the UK health system is, but i can tell you that the Irish 'health system ' isn't prepared for normal working conditions, never mind an emergency.

- Thom

  El Reg hacks are quacking, er quaking, in their boots as news emerges that someone has handed news writing to a bunch of computers. Only financial stuff, mind you, but still as we will see from your responses, this might not be a good thing:

The Whitehouse should purchase this application and cut out the middleman. They could elliminate the cost and inconvenience of press breifings altogether. After all, what's the practical difference between a piece of software churning out the news you want it to, and a cowed, tame and entirely uncritical domestic press owned lock-stock-and-barrel by buddies of the administration? Although, now that I think about it, the current setup is probably the more secure - the chances of the software being hacked by some unpatriotic 14-year-old seditionist is probably a good deal higher than any of the current crop of Washington-based journodrones stepping out of line.


There's a quote in Kurt Godel's biography...no time to look it up (It's Saturday, I've got to mow the lawn - it's threatening rain - so sue me), but it goes along the lines of:

Mathematicians have to get a feel for the numbers and a feel for basic mathematical operations before they can get to the more advanced operations.

If you need to rebutt an argument over a pinta, let me know, I can look it up and find it for you.

Unless the reporters do the mundane reporting/looking up/comparing of company financials and get a feel for what's normal and what numbers mean in the real (or in the financial) world, they're going to be useless to report. No matter how much you can ".. free up reporters so they have more time to think."

They'll be reading computer generated articles, without even knowing if the numbers/comparisons are reasonable.

This is a recipe for disaster.

One of the main reasons that that El Reg is one of the best sources of tech news around is that the reporters obviously (to me, at least) know what they're talking about.

The Reg staffers' knowledge about computers isn't just superficial. Computers are not just something they put up with 'cuz they have to, for work. You get the feeling that they own more that one computer at home. And that they discuss issues and controversies about technologies at length. They don't just read/parrot press releases.

This kind of nuanced appreciation of their field comes from years of digging, of combing through boring trivia, of having to read specification/user manuals, etc. It's a prerequisite for the ability "to think".



I have been thinking about these possibilities, on and off, for years - as is only natural for a freelance writer/analyst focusing on software. The obvious objection is that AI research has come nowhere near being able to pass the Turing test, with its concomitants of cogent logic, wit, and stylish writing.

But press releases, routine announcements... yes, that is eminently doable. The buzz-phrase generator started out as a joke, but I bet it will end up making some humourless entrepreneur billions. As for analyst reports, the sky's the limit: they mostly read as if they were written by computers already.


knew I should have applied for a patent! I wrote the first program to turn data into a news article in the early 1990s. The articles were posted to a bulletin board and sent by email to subscribers. They did not know the difference. Not even the European subscribers! I have been doing it ever since . . . even using a database for historical context!!


A small complaint following Thomas C Greene's piece on the plausibility of a mid-flight binary explosive mising session. Smacked wrists all round at Vulture central for this piece of apparent homophobia:

Generally an excellent read and up to the Register's usual high standard of writing, except for this rather curious sentence:

""Based on their behavior, it's reasonable to suspect that everything John Reid and Michael Chertoff know about counterterrorism, they learned watching the likes of Bruce Willis, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Vin Diesel, and The Rock (whose palpable homoerotic appeal it would be discourteous to emphasize).""

So you're inferring that Reid and Chertoff are gay, then? And gay is bad, m'kay? This is ridiculous - why is this attempted slur buried in here? It says more about the prejudice of the author than Reid and Chertoff, and consists of another little drop in the ocean of pervasive anti-gay sentiment that I'm sure is not appreciated by any gay people anywhere.

Frankly, I'm very surprised, given the Reg's usual liberal attitudes, that this line slipped through editorial control. I mean, it's not even *funny*.

A small complaint about a generally excellent piece - but just so you know: I otherwise might have linked to it so that my friends could read it but with that line present I can't, in all good conscience, do that. So you're losing out on hits (and thus advertising revenue) in this instance too.



Making processors work faster and under terrible conditions:

I may be wrong, but I thought the University of Southampton's electronics department was recently reduced to a pile of smoking rubble? http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/fire2005/ Kudos to the profs for doing this research sans a building...


A resourceful lot, certainly..

And finally, we come to the question of dolphin IQ. A researcher upset a lot of cetacean-lovers by suggesting that everyone's favourite marine mammal is in fact stupid. Obviously not a Douglas Adams fan:

I think the good doctor's observations are clearly flawed as the average human uses between 9 and 13%, and clearly many humans don't indicate that they possess intelligence either. We call those government and upper management, and give them large pay cheques to match their large egoes.

I think there is more credibility in Douglas Adams' observations on dolphins. What next, that mice don't rule the world?


If you went by the "Why don't they just jump over the net" standard to gauge intellegence, you would have to look at us humans and our wars, crime, pollution, Boy Bands, and U.S. Presidents, and conclude that we are obviously incapable of inventing the iPod and cell phone.


was reading that article about the researcher who says that dolphins are stupid, comparing them to less than rats and goldfish and I just laughed. Especially this section...

"You put an animal in a box, even a lab rat or gerbil, and the first thing it wants to do is climb out of it. If you don't put a lid on top of the bowl a goldfish it will eventually jump out to enlarge the environment it is living in," he said.

"But a dolphin will never do that. In the marine parks, the dividers to keep the dolphins apart are only a foot or two above the water between the different pools."   Clearly, this guy/gal hasn't read anything of Darwin or natural selection. If a dolphin just thoughtlessly jumped out of its natural environment to 'explore' an area that it is quite capable of exploring simply by sticking its head of the water (which it does, regularly i might add) then i'm sure there would be a lot of dead dolphins lieing around at the edges of water parks.

I mean really, goldfish can get away with doing that because they have 100's of babies per birth. But a dolphin cannot get away with such reckless behaviour because they only have 1 baby per birth.   And as for the 'Getting caught in tuna nets' here's something for you - Echo location doesn't work too well when you have a wall of wire heading towards you at 20 mph.


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