Original URL: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/10/17/letters_1710/

Comets, free range info and Reuters' Second Life

Stuff that matters to you

By Lucy Sherriff

Posted in Bootnotes, 17th October 2006 16:14 GMT

Letters We have LOTS of silly letters this week, but a few sensible ones too. Let's get straight to the important stuff, so we can finish off with the daftness for dessert.

Firstly, this week the government patted itself on the back for the success of the Freedom of Information Act. But while it was hailing as heros those who provided the public access to the information we all own anyway, it was also plotting to cripple the very legislation that make access to that information possible:

So, the government wants to refuse any FoI request that cost over £600 to process? Working from the figures in your article public sector FoI requests cost an average of £127.59 while requests to central government cost an average of £717.65.

Leaving aside the question of why requests to the government cost 564% more than those addressed to the public sector it begs the question of whether the £600 figure was reached before or after doing the maths that suggest the majority of requests to central government could be refused should the legeslation pass with the cut-off at that level.

Perhaps we could get hold of the answer to that question via an FoI request to central govern.. ah - forget it.

Cheers, Stuart.

This is actually one of the few instances where the Government setting targets could help: make it a target that 90% (say) of FoI requests are not declined on cost grounds. (not one of those "very challenging" targets like carbon emissions reduction that they can then use as an excuse as to why they weren't met)

FoI reqest recipients would then have to make a trade-off between information retrieval efficiency and "reading time, consideration time and consultation time" rather than what one suspects is going to happen: consideration time charged at around £3600/hr


Next, if you want a reliable machine to store your newly freed information on, who should you buy from? A survey said IBM would be best. Apple comes second, and HP/Compaq came a rather shabby third:

This reminds me of my last job, which involved testing hardware and setting standards. Every six months to a year all the laptop manufacturers would come in and try to flog their latest wares to us. The first question that we'd ask is "Can I drop it?", everyone except IBM said "No, are you insane?", IBM said, "sure, we'll stand on it as well if you want..." Guess which laptops we standardised on?


Just a little note: the methodology in that study was badly skewed, if you portrayed it accurately. Macs are used for on average nearly twice as long as PCs, and of course the longer any computer is used the less reliable it generally is. The fact that Apple came out near the top despite this handicap says a lot about the quality of their equipment.

(Incidentally, I can attest to the quality of both Lenovo and Apple products: the company whose IT department I manage has cut the number of incidents of computer problems by better than 50% when we moved from Dell laptops to a combination of Lenovo and Apple.)


Veering towards the sillier stuff now, we noted that we were not going to mention Reuters' decision to send a reporter to Second Life:

How very sad. To my mind Second Life has always been something of a posterchild for the wooly headed Web 2.0 (Second Web?) mob, with its focus on 'user created content'.

No doubt there are those who are convinced that if enough people sign up it will somehow reach some mystical critical mass and become a self-aware hive mind. The thing that has always puzzled me is that Second Life is marketed as a game, yet I can think of few things less entertaining to do with my PC than spend my time interacting with a bunch of deluded web utopians.

That Reuters see the need to have some sort of representation in this sad little world is a graphic demonstration of just how much the mainstream media are in the thrall of the Web 2.0 lot, and how desperate they are to appear 'with it' (although I'll wager that the vast majority have no idea what they're talking about).


We have a rapid fire section next. See if you can keep up.

First, Orange's broadband network, after months of stuttering along like an old wooden car, finally gave up the ghost. Not only this, but it seems its status page was a little behind the times:

Can I point out re: Orange broadband is down and out, that not only has the Orange status page displayed full availability throughout, but a date appears on the page..... the date is August 2006. Whilst Freeserve/Wanadoo certainly had their share of detractors, and their problems, at least the status page could generally be relied upon during their ownership.


First, let me say I really don't want to be nominated as pedantic of the year, nor the month :-)

However, as a French reader, I've found rather weird to read you, refering to "L'orange" in this article. Even thought it was something else, so thought to raise the comment.

In fact, in French, we never refer to "L'orange" for the France Telecom affiliate company, which would imply a name coming from the fruit, but rather to "Orange" only, since it comes from the orange color, which doesn't have any article (BTW, *never* has any article in French, is unproper, despite what you might have read, here and there).

As often in French, colours are associated with the most mind boggling spelling exceptions: "My shoes are orange" are written in good french, "Mes chaussures sont orange" because the plural never propagates to adjectives representing fruit-like colors.

Of dear, maybe I desserve the pedantic award, now :-)

Bye and keep it up ! Herve

Yes, yes you do.

God has a blog. Or he hates them. Or both. This is giving us a headache...

I enjoyed your roundup of the letters and especially the peice on Andrew Orlowski's long-running anti-blog campaign getting God's backing. A reader quotes Proverbs 17:27-28. Being of an inquisitive nature, I googled the proverbs quote to be taken straight to God's blog at: http://thelordalmighty.blogspot.com/2006/05/proverbs-1727-28.html No irony intended apparently. God's blog features a nice picture and links to various other items.

He seems like a nice fellow, - I wonder if he also has a Youtube profile...


In last Friday's letters we included a note from Sebastien, who was unsure of the planet destroying capabilities of comets.

He wrote: "Aren't comets made mostly made out of ice water and carbon dioxyde ice? Interspersed with rocks yeah, but a threat to our beloved dirtball? I kind of remember them being quite small sized, maybe hundred metres, but not-quite-kilometre sized? Also: the darned things DISINTEGRATES against strong solar WIND, so what about atmosphere entry?"

We solicited your educational responses:

I appreciate that your columns are not a good forum for protracted debate, but I couldn't let Sebastien's sniping at my "comet" letter go unanswered. He doesn't seem to know much about the subject, so my short reply to him is:


If you haven't heard of it, go Google. The biggest fragment was 2 kilometers, and it hit Jupiter so hard we could see the flashes from here. For anyone who can't be bothered to Google, try http://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/sl9/


It doesn't matter what the comet's made of, nor if it disintegrates in the atmosphere. The reason for that is that a massive object travelling at a high relative speed carries a lot of kinetic energy, and it's the release of that energy (regardless of the form of matter which carries it) which is the problem. Kinetic energy is proportional to mv^2 (i.e., double the mass, double the energy; but double the speed, quadruple the energy, if you want a handwaving explanation).

Some comets have a rather big nucleus - up to 50km, apparently.

Basically, a comet hitting the atmosphere and disintegrating it in would be something like a nuclear bomb going off in the air. With the higher speed and the the greater the mass, the greater the size of the `bomb'. With the speeds and masses involved in some potential collisions, the resulting explosion would make the bomb that demolished Hiroshima look very small and silly, although we wouldn't suffer from radioactive fallout.


Having concluded that valuable lesson, we move on to the much more complex question of whether or not it is possible to pimp plastic:

What a positively revolting idea! Apart from the obvious issues with hygeine there is the morally repugnant decision to sell the charms of one's cherished dirty wife* for a mere 26 USD. I might expect this of the north's cash-strapped "Dear Leader" but never any of those in the southern region.

I may consider rounding up some financial partners to buy up all the air-powered fauxy femmes in my country to prevent any such mis-behaviour here.

*Never heard the term in that context in my part of the West either.

High-mindedly yours, Tony

A reader points out an astonishing oversight in the whole argument about what should or should not be registerable in Ireland's cyberspace patch:

The only thing that surprises me about the debate over .ie domain names is that no-one has registered the 'nook' subdomain yet.


A very good point. Form an orderly queue, now...

The perils of leaving your laptop at home when you go away on holiday:

You see this is what happens when you go away on holiday and have to do without internet access for a couple of weeks: I come back and find references to 'Bulgarian Airbags' scattered left, right and centre over the pages of El Reg. Whilst it was fairly easy to work out what the euphamism referred to (I have that sort of mind), it is nice to finally find the source!


A reader complains:

I was bored and decided to type in the word PEN*S into your new improved search engine. Funnily enough it came up with around 130 hits. Who is peddling this vile horrible filth?

I\'m Absolutely Disgusted....

I\'m trying some other words now....


And finally, we're not quite sure what this one is about. But it came in reply to this article:

Dear Sir, i am searching about process of sweetner tablets containt of sucralose.and need any consulting about this subject. please send me your article ( IBM plans executive sweetener).

best regards Mitra Afkari

On that slightly puzzling note, we'll sign off for today. More later in the week, so tell us what you think about our stories, our site, or life in general. Or about sweeteners. Whatever floats your boat. ®