Surveys are tosh, and so's your reporting


Letters We like to open a letters page with a thought provoking communique, if possible. (And goodness knows it isn't always...) We thought you might like the following response to the article about the launch of VisaWave in the Asia Pacific region:

A friend of mine recently went to Japan and commented on the fact that no one (according to him) signs their credit cards. This seemed odd at first until you remember that no one there actually has what we would call "handwriting".

You write in Japanese and it looks exactly the same as everyone else's writing. Hence you don't really have a signature as we know it. It would just be your name in written form and if anyone else wrote it, it would look the same.

Hence no signatures.

And this may well explain why in Asia the idea of just swiping a card near a card reader and not having any more authentication is not such a huge step. Although I'm not sure why they don't use the card + pin model we'll be seeing here in Europe, which is surely more secure than just a card alone.

We like that. Any other thoughts on this one?

From the sublime to the ridiculous, and how often that happens in these letters pages...

Subject: Tinfoil hats for virus protection

I've noticed that in your virus reports (most recently, the one about Cherry Bagel), The Register is no longer recommending the use of tinfoil hats for virus protection.

Is this because consumer confidence has dropped in this once highly-regarded defense mechanism, or are there reports doubting its effectiveness.? Either way, I think the public needs to know...

Sincerely, via Linux,

-- Paul "LeoNerd" Evans

To clarify, we still throroughly recommend the use of tinfoil hats as protection against computer viruses. Bound to work, really, when you think about it in this wireless age. However, it has come to our attention that some less-than-scrupulous vendors have been marketing greasepaper hats for the same purpose. We have conducted extensive tests, and cannot support the notion. Stick to tin foil, that's our advice.

A cautionary tale for those conducting research: sometimes your lab rats bite back, as below, regarding news of a change in behaviour of US file sharers:

Just a quick note on the research cited in this article. I was one of those 1,371 interviewed for the research report. Unfortunately, in my humble opinion, the study was severely flawed for two reasons.

First, their questions were all in the wrong order. They started by asking about Internet availability. Then they asked a few questions about copyright and the RIAA. THEN they asked about peer-to-peer networks, and had I used them in the past, and was I using them now, and so on. Well, only a complete idiot is going admit to a total stranger, who might or might not be recording the phone call for the RIAA, that he is currently in the middle of downloading gigabytes of possibly copyrighted material from the rest of the world. (Which, for the record, I most certainly am NOT doing, because I don't wish to deprive poor Michael Jackson of his royalty checks, because, God knows, he really, really needs the money right about now. Oh, and it is wrong.)

Second, they are comparing apples and oranges. The survey was asking about who was _getting_ files from peer-to-peer networks, but, it is my understanding, the RIAA is (are?) suing people who _provide_ files on the networks. So, it seems to me, if the RIAA (or anyone else) wants to see if the RIAA is (are?) having any success, they should commission a survey about who is putting files on the net. But, again, good luck getting accurate numbers.

Best Regards,

Cody J. Reeder

While we are on the subject of research, we've had a tsunami of chocolate-related letters, following the news that people will trade their passwords for an Easter egg. There are waaaay too many to print, so here are the highlights:

Dear John,

You reckon that the 70% survey result, compared to 90% a year before, suggests something might be changing in the world.

On the contrary, I would have thought that it must be particularly galling for M&S to find that even with the instant-gratification appeal of a chocolate egg, pitted against that well-known source of disappointment at important moments, the cheap pen, they still managed to lose out. If I were them, I'd probably appeal to statistical margin of error.

Perhaps the only thing the survey proves is that at any given time, approx 15% of adults either hate chocolate or are temporarily forswearing it for some reason or other, and another 5% or so have fallen victim to the last year's fad of being snobbish as about chocolate as about wines. Meanwhile, common to both surveys, there is a further 10% who didn't give their password away. How many of them wouldn't because they thought they shouldn't, and how many because they'd have to look at the post-it note to know what it was anyway, a different survey will have to reveal.

Do you remember that wonderful scene in Entrapment when they get the security clearance to some bank by getting the Mr Big hospitalised for a minor eye injury and photographing his retina while he's in there? I'm visualising running the same scene using the "market research" stunt instead to get his security details. In the hands of a good director, could it be done with a straight face?

with best wishes

James Minney PS - was the survey done after Easter, or before? The article doesn't clarify.

We don't have those answers...perhaps if you offer us chocolate, we might remember...

Do the Choccy-wielding and pen-dispensing box tickers actually realise that they have been royally conned? Let's see know, I'm offered a free choccy bar (or easter egg, or pen) for my password, do I:

1) make up a random one on the spot 2) give them my real one and then immediately change it when I get to my computer.

Hey I win! I mean are they really going to verify my password ?? force me to log on at pen-point? I don't think so.

Don't you condemn the 71 / 90 % in the survey, rather congratulate them for taking candy from the intellectual 'babies' with the clipboards.


You make a good point, Ray. We'd like to believe it, but suspect that there are some people who would just hand over the info for the chocolate.

Our roving contributor, Mr Kieren McCarthy, inspired the wrath of one of our Finnish readers with his almost correct brief history of the previously low profile Aland Islands.

Now, we haven't had an honest to goodness proper rant from a reader for a long time, and this one is nearly a flame. Note the occasional use of caps, and edited swearing.

Dear Mr. McCarthy,

I just finished reading your April 18th article 'All hail the new' over at The Register. I'm not quite sure how to put this, but...Jesus Bleepin Christ, man! Did you just make things up as you went along? The article is so full of factual errors I seriously get the feeling that you didn't even try to get anything right.

First of all, the Aland Islands are NOT, and have NEVER BEEN independent. They are an autonomous province of Finland, with their own "parliament" etc, as you, amazingly, managed to get right.

To call Finland and Sweden "old rivals" is like calling Canada and the USA old rivals. The only major conflict there has ever been between these two countries was the Aland Islands issue back in 1917-1921, which, after having been settled by the League of Nations, was relatively quickly accepted by all parties involved.

There are small factions within the Alandian populace that really would like the Islands to be transferred back to Sweden, as there also are some who would like Aland to be completely independent. These are, however, a tiny minority, and most Alanders are more than content with the current situation, which involves the Aland Islands enjoying a handful of rather exceptional benefits, including demilitarization of the Islands and extensive autonomy. The fact that most Alanders cheer for the Finnish team in hockey games between Finland and Sweden should tell us quite a lot.

Furthermore, the Aland Islands has NOT "jumped beween Swedish and Finnish ownership over the centuries". Finland itself was annexed to Sweden until the early 19th century, when Finland, including the Aland Islands, became a semi-autonomous part of Russia. When Finland finally gained its independence in 1917, there was some disagreement over whether the territory should be returned to Sweden or remain part of Finland. The issue was settled by the League of Nations in 1921.

Hence, the Islands have changed "owners" twice: from Sweden to Russia in 1800-something, and from Russia to Finland in 1917.

While I'm at it, I might also point out that the Aland Islands flag is the of the traditional "Nordic Cross" type, like the flags of all other Nordic countries (Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and Denmark). There's nothing strangely "English-looking" about it if you compare it to Iceland and Norway for instance. (The colors are a combination of the colors of the coat of arms of Finland and Aland.) Also, the Finnish will have the province known both as "Ahvenanmaa" (in Finnish) and "Aland" in Swedish, since both are official languages in Finland, and all Finnish provinces have names in both languages.

Now, since all most of this information can be found in a matter of seconds through Google, or at (where they have an excellent page on the Aland Islands), I can only assume that, instead of doing even the most basic research on the matter, you chose to use the age-old "pull the facts out of your ass"-method, pardon my language. The only other explanation I can think of is that you actually found all this groundbrakingly inaccurate information in some other article, such as a fairly tale, or a fortune cookie.

I suppose none of this would really bother me that much if it wasn't for the fact that I actually used to consider The Register as a fairly reliable source of information. Obviously, I now have to reconsider that. Frankly, I think your article is a disgrace to The Register, and to online journalism in general. Please, in the future, try to refrain from writing about things you know absolutely nothing about. Also, if just copying the "facts" directly from another article, you could at least give the original author some credit, however dubious that credit might turn out to be.

Yours sincerely, Rolf Smeds
Åbo Akademi University
Turku, Finland

We consider ourselves more informed that before. So that there are no further gaps in our reporting, you might also like to know that the "1800-something" skirmish to which you refer was the 1808-1809 war.

But you have inspired us: come on people, let's keep the flames coming. Don't forget to read the guide. ®

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