Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/02/02/letters_0202/

Giant babies kill the floppy disk

And rocket-powered cars

By Tracey Cooper

Posted in Letters, 2nd February 2007 16:23 GMT

Letters Sad news this week as California coastguards were forced to call off the search for Microsoft researcher Jim Gray who has been missing since setting out in his yacht last Sunday. A respected IT personality and database developer, Google chipped in with an offer to use its high resolution satellite imagery to aid the search:

Very sad news, let us hope Jim is found. I've known Jim since the early 1980s, when he used to visit our group at Bell Labs. Oddly, we both ended up in Microsoft Research many years later (I'm retired now).

I have to say, most of the famous CS researchers at Microsoft are sort of wind bags (well in fact most famous CS researchers period). Not Jim. His articles and books are beautifully written, designed to communicate not intimidate. And he is also one of those rare academics who has serious hands-on experience with commercial systems software.

I see Google is volunteering to search for Gray. That's cool and also ironic. Jim Gray built Terraserver as a demonstration of MS SQL Server in the mid 1990s, and it was certainly the forerunner to Google Earth.

- Don P. Mitchell

Harking back to Wednesday's mail bag trawl, reader Douglas' rant on behalf of all Americans, to allay our concerns that the Bush administration might be getting too big for its boots, drew much wrath. We thought we'd keep the battle going a little bit longer. 'Cause that's just the kind of people we are:

Would your excitable correspondent Douglas like to

a) Learn how to spell "pen" correctly


b) Comment on the view that current American behaviour is explainable by the notion that they were late for the last two world wars so they are trying to make up for it by being really punctual this time?

(Apologies to Not The Nine O'Clock News)


It was interesting to see poor old Douglas in his third rate flame refer to the fact that their greatest minds informed the inking of what I assume are supposed to be John Locke & Algernon Sidney.

Given that both were parliamentarians in the [English] Civil War and died before the Founding Fathers got around to the idea of an independant state I would suggest that the reverse is the case.

Indeed Algernon Sidney tried to get the Dutch invloved in a republican revolution after the restoration of the Monarchy in England and Locke was quite keen on revolution as a form of social change - predating Marx (and the Founding Fatherrs) by quite some time !!

I do wish that the Americans would do at least a little reseacrh (and have their dictionary to hand) before they sat down in fornt of their keyboards

of course I could be wrong and there may well have been two philosophers by the names of John Loche and Algenor Signey



Re: Douglas "The US position on the peaceful and perhaps non-peaceful position on space is that of self interest as it would be for any nation. Our response is clerarly reprentative of the old british attitude we have incorporated into our military and non-military positions.

However unique to Americans is that we are workable but don't screw with our understanding that where freedom exists and personal accountability is required, industry and self achivement abounds."

There seems to be a bit of Douglas' letter missing - the section where he moves on to explain that he is in sole control of DOLAR NINTY MILION, and you can get your mitts on it SIMPLE BY SEND YOR EMAIL ADDRES AND SMAL PROSESSING FEA.

Or am I being a spelling (and grammar, and coherence) snob ;-)

Last week we ran a story about a computer-based exam that discriminated against a blind candidate. We heard from a blind reader:

In your last roundup, you had a correspondant write in the matter of the discriminated disabled exam candidate, in part:

"However, blind or deaf people are going to have difficulty justifying that sites like Youtube or iTunes are illegal - just because some people are blind / deaf does not mean that everyone is. This should be common sense, but I fear that common sense died a long time ago in Britain. While it is important to defend disabled people and provide them with reasonable opportunities, it must also be borne in mind that the rest of us shouldn't have to pay a disproportionate price to accommodate their needs. Will all book publishers now be sued because they don't release Braille and audiobook versions of all their works? If the laws move in this direction, expect to find any material - printed or online - harder and harder to find in the UK; everyone in the UK will suffer in this case, not just disabled people. Oliver."

As a blind person myself, and as a savvy consumer with enough knowledge of the kind of useless hip technologies employed by sites for no other reason than that of desiring greater market share and looking kewl, I have to say that I find this sort of logic rather dangerous. The thing is, most people just aren't able to explain the defficiencies of their websites in regard to accessibility very satisfactorily.

To take Itunes, it is no great difficulty to imagine a deaf person buying tracks of interest to a hearing individual; of a blind person listening to the audio (as I often do now) in some YouTube videos. Both sites were disgracefully inaccessible when I last used them (but it looks like ITunes has improved markedly since then), but I get by. They and sites like them should be more accessible not because they are required for disabled people, not because there is any legal requirement, but because there's no good reason for them to fail to be accessible. No-one should feel happy with their website unless even a text-browsing user cannot get the spirit of the content. A loss of functionality is not the same as a reasonable adjustment. There are very few cases of sites devoted so thoroughly to one type of media (just audio, just pictures) that the addition of comprehensive alternative content would seem inappropriate, and no-one is going to suffer if (say, in the case of a Flash presentation, a cartoon is given along with alternative text, labelled controls and captioning). Even factoring in all useability cases offered by blind and other disabled testers of popular websites, voluntary help, W3C specs, accessibility now available in both Flash and Acrobat PDF files, the good work done by various organisations like the DRC and everything else, it's very hard to see why the tiny amount of forethought website authors could show toward accessibility in the very beginning is so terribly absent.

Once again, the idea that being disabled (either by design or by birth) is a reason for websites to fail in an ungraceful way for that user is always wrong. You must do something better.

Every now and then, a new popular site becomes in some way accessible and part of the disabled community is grateful for it. But it's often not easy (the case of Gmail's CAPTCHA requirement, for example, had to go to the board of directors in the form of a petition protesting absence of an alternative which eventually came out as an audio CAPTCHA). But every success case finds that it isn't the technology and that a little thought goes a long way.

In the matter of books, legislation is being proposed that would allow translation of books into formats suitable for disabled people without the usual requisite consultation of publishers which is typically a long-winded process and leaves nasty gaps between print and other format publications.

Even then, charities are burdened with the work of the translation, and they're already overworked. With only 5%-or-so of all books actually readable or listenable by the blind, is it any wonder that we can't help blaming the publishers? Is it any wonder that any and all work done by publishers to accessify their content is welcomed? They are, almost certainly, in the best position to do it, if not for expertees then for their might and resources. They control the medium, have exclusive rights in literature and work that, yes, everyone has a right to read.

They should bare some responsibility and embrace possibilities that are more inclusive to disabled people, rather than trying to hang on to the one and only way they know of making big money - print. Just like the music labels who would rather fight for old-style physical sales over possibly more innovative digital content (not that you'll catch me buying that stuff). Have a look at the RNIB's Right To Read campaign, here: http://www.rnib.org.uk/xpedio/groups/public/documents/PublicWebsite/public_r2rhome.hcsp

Cheers, Sabahattin

The big news of this week was the release of Vista to the general populus. The operating system was supposed to hit the streets with a bang, but not everyone was caught up in the 'wow':

It was once within the wit of man to tell the story of King Kong in a mere 90 minutes - it now takes three hours. And so, Mr Gates says of Vista, "the ribbon interface would give more power to people to create 21st Century documents." No doubt the meaning moved from one person to another will remain essentially the same but Vista will ensure it takes more resources in energy, time and machine cycles to convey it. And this is a good thing. Infobloat is thus raised to the status of fetish, with Microsoft its most industrious servant. Say no more.

Steve Patient

And on the subject of things that go bang, Vanishing Point, the Microsoft puzzle challenge which offers the winner a trip into space, is over and one lucky person due to be selected. Lucky? With Microsoft in the driving seat?.

knowing how microsoft likes to rush things out in an unfiinished state, does the microsoft prize state the winner will be *returned* from space? :)

So while Microsoft sends a geek to space in a rocket, we reported that Richard Hammond's rocket-powered car crash was one of the leading videos on YouTube, the site that's considering sharing ad revenue with its contributors....except the car wasn't rocket-powered:

Its not a rocket, its a jet engine. The difference is BIG. A rocket has all of the fuel and oxidiser onboard, wheras a jet engine doesn't, also a rocket just throws mass out of one end where as a jet draws air compresses it and explodes it through a turbine, which maintains the compression stage of the reaction, although there are jet engines which don't require a turbine the one in question did. The key point is, that a rocket car generally ends in misery, jet cars are far more stable well apart from when a tyre explodes. Check www.darwinawards.com for more information.

In a week when things seemed to be taking off, PC World crashed the hopes of the dear old floppy disk by announcing its imminent death. So, what to do with leftover stock?

Turn them into a fleet of Starship Enterprises!


Here's what we need to do with all those floppies...

We all* remember the film "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert", perhaps most famous for the dress that the costume designer Lizzy Gardiner wore to the Academy Awards made of some 250 or so gold Amex cards. Clearly she needs to do a follow-up in 3.5in floppies. For mass sale by Target or similar.

cheers, Tom *Well, all of us from Australia, anyway.

That, or buy up all the remaining stock.

Death to floppies??

What about us people who have these wonderous things called sata raid? We need our floppies to load the drivers! buy! buy! buy! while you have the chance!


I'm all for the death of floppies... just so long as Microsoft is with me. The last time I built a PC while installing Windows XP it REQUIRED me to create a driver floppy for my RAID HD controller just to install the OS. There were no other options. No USB stick. No insert a driver CD. Not even access a shared network drive. It would ONLY take a floppy. How's that for 'modern' technology from MS? While I sure hope Vista has gotten over that stepping stone, I'm not sure how much good that'll do me as I won't touch Vista with a ten fool pole until at least after SP1. That's a long time still to go with floppies required. Yet I can run Knoppix completely off of a CD. Hmm...

Sincerely, Arah Leonard

The Dutch Joker who nabbed himself an ID card while dressed as Batman's nemesis, visited London this week. But it's not just a matter of clowning around:


The story about the clown ID looks funny on the surface, and it does highlight some issues behind ID cars, but it seems that you may have missed one very important point by mentioning it only in passing: the man was forced to surrender his ID at schipol airport. Am I the only one that read that and wondered just what the hell is actually *right* about that? One of the presumptions of an ID card is that it purports to identify you. By this nature it eventualy becomes the _only_ reliable means to identify you, and consequently you are only identified if you are carrying your ID. If the government can take your ID from you at any time they please then they are effectively capable of making you, as Orwell put it, an "un person". In an ID_based society a man without his ID card will be prevented from taking part in every-day life.

Now, given that our government are so hell-bent on foisting ID cards on us, should we assume that they are also quite keen to take them away from people who aren't behaving the way they want? It might sound obvious, but if you think about it this is the single best way to suppress people who aren't toeing the party line. The implied threat behind an ID card is the ability for the government to take it away, and hence effectively render you unidentified and unidentifiable. Perhaps the realisation of this threat might give flagging campaigners an extra incentive to see this ID travesty stopped once and for all. One would hope they didn't need it, but the government seems to be pressing ahead regardless.

Graham Dawson

And thanks to reader Alaric who sent his own ID card photo, complete with headdress all the way from Mongolia:


I have an even better identity picture - for work, everytime I have to get it out for security it makes them laugh.

The hat was necessary, as the picture was taken while in Mongolia and despite the sun it was minus 5

Cheers Alaric

NB - probably only one animal was hurt during the making of this hat.

Other animals were in the spotlight this week, as a Royal Society report suggested that wolves be reintroduced into the Scottish Highlands to contain rising deer numbers. This generated a lot of huff and puff...over nothing, you say:


Too many deer in Scotland? Hells-bells sounds like more deer than salmon ... hehe. Damnation you'd think the Scots woulda' got tired of hagis and gone on to venison steaks ! All it takes is a 30-30 and a couple kids to kick-the-brush.

Well sure, re-intro the wolves, feed them on local PETA_people thus preserving the sheep.


ray hartman JAX Fl. USA ****************

"80 per cent of sheep deaths in the Highlands of Spain are the result of wolves."

That is just not very true. Using some handwaving, it's something like 98% of deaths are due to butchers, the remaining 1-and-a-bit% being made up of accidents, disease, wolves, and old age (for pet sheep). Given the wolf's penchant for eating weaker sheep (call it lazyness), the chance of death-by-disease goes down as well as the costs of veterinary intervention.

On top of that, any dog killing sheep (many recorded instances, whether feral or domestic dogs) is claimed to be a wolf, as then compensation is received for the loss --- wolf populations as estimated by farmers' compensation or by biologists are wildly different. Likewise the wolf will eat carrion sheep, that get turned into `wolfkill' statistics.

See also the kerfuffle in Belgium two summers ago, when a `wolf' killed several sheep --- bleeding heart dog owners were astonished a nice doggy might have done it. The fact that the kills were for fun (as sheep were hardly eaten) was a giveaway though.

It wouldn't be the Friday mail bag without some mention of our favourite hotel heiress. Not exactly known for her modesty, Paris is now pleading for the world to 'stop exposing her' after a whole load of personal photos and videos popped up on parisexposed.com. Harr, harr, PR, PR...

Hi Joe, juggling the Letters of Bardia Persa, one comes up with "Paris Bare Ad(vert)" which is probably closer to the truth. This whole thing is screaming PR Exercise, so that Paris "Me, Me, Me, look at Me!" Hilton gets as much press as possible, for the only "assets" she really has to flaunt.


And then, out of nowhere, an unexpected vote of sympathy...

Actually, I do feel sorry for her. There is a gulf of difference between doing something commercially (i.e. with consent) and doing something in private and then have it thrown in front of a large audience.

The vacuous excuse of such matters "being in the public interest" simply doesn't hold up (has it ever - it's been strained well beyond the breaking point for years but toothless enforcement makes for an effective absence of law). At least this site is upfront about it: it's for money. But it's AFAIK in principle abuse of copyrighted content so this could get very, very expensive indeed..

I don't think you can call her stupid, but that she's been incredibly naive is beyond doubt..

More sympathy for the immigrant family caught up in a race relations rumpus after being warned in a Canadian council "declaration on culture" not to "burn or stone women", among other things:

Quebecers (many, but not all) hate everyone, they especially hate the English Canadians and Americans. They are still a little bitter they lost and have been stuck living next to us for last couple hundred years.

For a Canadian to say something like this is horrible, but this sort of Quebecer is not a Canadian (likely a separatist) and it is not surprising. They are full of hostility and the so called Ugly American takes a back seat to the Ultra Rude Quebecois.

What they did was absolutely horrible, and I would bet the person(s) responsible think 'all' people from the middle east live in the desert and shoot their AKs off into the air all day long.

'on culture which reminds newcomers that "stoning [women] in public, burning them alive, burning them with acid, circumcising them etc", is an absolute no-no.'

Good grief. If ever there was a situation where "etc" was inappropriate, it's this one!

"stoning [women] in public, burning them alive, burning them with acid, circumcising them etc"

To be fair to the town, the latter is still unhappilty common with many third-world immigrants: it is what they do back home. There was a scandal about back-street circumsisions in the UK a few years back.

Apparently it is evil for women to enjoy sex...

What about gambling your wife on a poker game? If that's not bad enough, what are the odds of her falling for the man who won her? Quite high in this case:

She was so mad and felt so humiliated that her husband lost her at poker, that she .... went with the one that won her !?!?! To me it doesn't sound like she was upset to have been treated like an object. She just didn't like to be with a loser.

On the other hand, this may be such a great way of getting a divorce without risking losing half of your money.

- So, Joe, you're getting a divorce ? - Are you nuts ? I don't have a prenup. Nah, I gonna play some poker tonight. (later) - Where the hell have you been ? - I'm sorry honey but you gotta pack your bags. I had such a good hand ... but anyway, to make a long story short, you gotta go with Ahmet. He's going back to Saudi Arabia. You gonna love it there.

"A Murmansk gambler lost his wife in a poker game when he ran out of cash and laid his other half on the table"

Well, that's one way to drown your sorrows. Was he going for a Royal Flash or a Straight ? Perhaps he was hoping for an Ace in the hole.

I'll get me coat.....

Right, still with us? Not eveyone loved our reporting this week. This reader took exception to our coverage of the 6.6kg giant baby born in Mexico:

Can you stop reporting on stuff like this please, otherwise I'll have no excuse to buy the Daily Star.

Cheers Robin Williams (not that one)

Nor did they appreciate the humour in an over-priced Vista-bundled desktop computer:

loser...how about some real reporting?

Well, that's us told. Why don't we just drop the technology stories and get back to the giagantic babies. See you all next week.®