* Posts by Tim Butterworth

34 posts • joined 24 Feb 2007

Vista sets 2007 land-speed record for copying and deleting

Tim Butterworth

Vista RC1

If MS had designed Vista to run on a very highly controlled set of hardware specs produced by a few preferred manufacturers, then it would have been much easier to make the thing run stable right from first release. Only computers would be three times as expensive. In reality, the huge diversity in hardware and software in the marketplace means that a new MS OS will take at least a year of use in the field to fix and it will also take at least a year for all third party vendors to get drivers etc to work properly. The Vista that went on sale in January was Vista RC1. Vista SP1 is RC2, and Vista SP2 will be Vista stable release.

In this light, the huge PR disaster that has been Vista RC1 could have been largely avoided. Firstly, MS should never have had such a short overlap between XP support and Vista release. I suggest an OS life span of at least ten years (or fifteen, or even twenty), with at least a three year overlap with the old OS. Secondly, MS should never have acted as if Vista was in perfect working order – this, more than anything, is what has annoyed everyone. I suggest that MS should use incentives to encourage a small percentage of computer users to test-drive the initial release of a new OS and cut out RC2 (SP1) entirely. Perhaps a discount could be given for the first two or three years of an OS release, or RC1 could be given away for free to testers and then give a discount to the testers when the RC1 licence expires upon release of the first stable version. This way the technophiles (even the cynical ones) will all give it a go, as will the more able users who want to save money. Rather than feel that the new OS is forced upon us before it is ready, we will feel like we are getting something back for putting up with the bugs and incompatability issues. It would also mean that there is no market for illegal copies of the new OS for the first few years of its use.

Everybody wins here – geeks get rewarded to play with a new toy two years ahead of the majority of the population, whilst MS gets time to test its software properly before it goes global. The rest of the population gets an OS that actually works on official release, and thanks to the natural replacement cycle of PC hardware, consumers will have plenty of time to get a higher spec PC. Slowing the rate of OS development will also ease the pressure that forced hardware upgrading places on the environment. The only big downside to this is that MS shareholders will make less money… but considering the unjustifiable mark-up on MS products, this is a bearable change. Microsoft will still retain its market dominance and will suffer from much less bad publicity and bad-mouthing.

Basically, the current model MS follows will change at some point - can anyone seriously see us going though this palava every five years for ever? Time for MS to be pro-active!

Click here to turn your HP laptop into a brick

Tim Butterworth

OS reinstall disk

If you own a laptop with an OS licence sticker, then you own a copy of the OS (but that copy will be tied to that particular machine). I would never expect to make it through three years of computer ownership without having to reinstall the OS at least once.

Anyone who buys a computer without at least a system restore disk deserves the hours of painful negotiations needed to persuade the manufacturer to send one through the post. If you have an XP licence sticker, just borrow someone else's XP disk and activate windows over the phone, explaining what has happened.

BTW, the term bricking was coined because a bricked peice of hardware is as useless as a brick. By definition, it is impossible to unbrick a bricked laptop without making physical changes to the hardware.

Space brains resign over efforts to attract ET attention

Tim Butterworth

Honey trap

Or look at it this way... you send out a weedy 'Look how stupid we are' signal, but in the few thousands of years time it takes for the signal to get detected by the aliens and for them to get to us you tool up significantly. Humans detect aliens entering our space and Kapow! One captured alien race with a bounty of new technologies!

In the last ten thousand years we have moved from hitting each other with sticks to fusing atoms together to potentially wipe out a million people with a single strike. Once we get the hang of dark matter production we will have access to a bomb that will make current nukes look like party poppers. If we really are at risk then we should be focusing all our efforts into creating dark matter bombs to protect ourselves with!

Wikipedia COO was convicted felon

Tim Butterworth

A tale of two Wikis

Back when Wiki was just seen as the Internet geeks' DIY encyclopaedia, it didn't really matter how reliable or responsible the folk in charge of Wiki were. Most sensible people didn't really expect Wiki content to be that accurate, and so all info was taken with a pinch of salt. A couple of years ago Wiki was heaven for fans of any subject you can think of, but was only seen as a starting point for those seeking genuine knowledge.

But now Wiki has gotten big ideas. Rather than being just a user-based info store, it now wants to be seen as a proper encyclopaedia. Bearing statistics about comparative accuracy of Wiki and proper encyclopaedia’s, bods at the top of Wiki are travelling the world touting their site as being reliable enough to quote as a source for school essays.

Only Wiki isn't a real encyclopaedia, and recent events have bourn this fact out. An encyclopaedia is utterly dependent upon its public persona - it has to be seen as unbiased and reliable as well as accurate. Encyclopaedias don't just sell information, they also sell trustworthiness, and even if Wiki is more accurate than its well-established competitors it is currently a lot less trustworthy. Having a COO who is apparently a convicted fraudster and manslaughterer is extremely damaging to Wiki as it shatters any illusions people may have had regarding the professionalism of those running the organisation.

Wiki is dotcom all over again. In the normal world it takes companies many years to go from fledgling idea into global brand, and this is time for all the bad bits to be weeded out. With an internet company, huge short term success is achieved before it is possible to work out whether the concept is big enough to survive, or, perhaps just as importantly, for the undesirable staff to be found out and removed before a high media profile is gained. On the face of it Wiki looks like an efficient, well run big company - but behind the scenes it is clearly quite amateurish and poorly managed. It has expanded beyond its ability to mature and develope its staff base.

I'm not saying that Wiki won't survive this turmoil... just like IMDB, Wiki does provide a very useful service. However, I do think that the aspirations for Wiki to replace the likes of Encyclopaedia Britannica are pretty much over for the time being. Unless they start shipping Wiki on eBook with the words 'Don't Panic' written on the cover in friendly letters!

US HD hardware sales 3:1 in Blu-ray's favour by year end

Tim Butterworth

Xmas sales a better indicator

The final haul of Blu-Ray or HD-DVD players (providing that HD disks become wide-spread) will contain only a small proportion of PS3 or 360s, so the fact that the current statistics contain so many of these biases the figures and makes them rather useless.

I'd look at the comparison between disk sales over the Christmas period to give a better statistic as to which format is winning.

US Army plans robot planes operated by non-pilots

Tim Butterworth

The Last Starfighter

Anyone remember this film? Kid plays computer game unaware that the game is actually testing his fighter pilot skill - he does so well that he is called up to fight in an interstellar war.

Is there a Call of Doodie for flying robot planes yet?

Asus to launch desktop Eee PC next year

Tim Butterworth

One word...


Cheap, can boot on their own, but will boot off the server when available. Ideal system for most work environments - run from the server based XP / Vista most of the time, but can still function on Linux if the server goes down. All at a very low price and comparitively low power consumption.

Scottish poll probe: e-counting gets 'hold off until safe' verdict

Tim Butterworth

Confusing elections

The problem with the Scottish vote is that we had Scottish parlimentary elections and council elections at the same time with two different voting systems. This led to confusion and the incorrect filling in of voting forms.

The Sottish electronic count is probably the best system there is. As there are paper votes you can resort to manual counting if things go wrong. However, machines are generally better at counting than humans, so should reduce the number of miscounted votes.

I think all we ned to do is allow ourselves an extra day of counting - this would allow a sample of the electronic votes to be hand counted to check that there hasn't been a systemic error that could skew election results.

Blu-ray outsells HD DVD 2:1 in US

Tim Butterworth

Laserdiscs anyone?

My gran was a bit of a technophile and bought a laserdisc player back in the 80s. It had a resolution nearly twice that of VHS and suffered from less degredation of quality over time. It was going to be the next big thing... However, the prices were high, and you couldn't get a recordable version - the result was that VHS came to dominate even though it was a far inferior quality.

Blu-Disc / HD-DVD offer clear benefits in terms of quality, but quality is not the only factor here. Firstly, most people do not currently have a TV capable of seeing a difference. Secondly, a surprising number of non-technophiles I have talked to really don't care that much about quality . Thirdly, in a competition between quality and price, price is pretty important - especially if low price means free from P2P. Finally, is physical storage really the way to go? Imagine how how badly a new high quality audio CD format would have fared if it was released a year or two before iTunes took off.

Korean software firm sues Microsoft

Tim Butterworth

Competition or universality?

Folk are perfectly right to say how convenient it is to get everything bundled out of the box, or how Microsoft are within their rights to sell whatever product they want. However, look at the three main bundled features of Windows - IE, WMP and Messenger. All three of these passed through a prolonged period of being rubbish before undergoing major upgrades due to the pressure of competition (Firefox, WinAmp / RealPlayer & Skype / Google Talk). If Microsoft were not allowed to supply these three pre-installed, then, so the free-market argument goes, these three apps would have got much better much quicker. Also, their competitors would have more resources to improve their apps further still.

Bundling is either good for the consumer because it is convenient and cheap, or it is bad for the consumer because it slows down innovation and prolongs the life of outdated software.

XenSource preaches the joy of platform virtualization

Tim Butterworth

Let the contest begin!

So, its Microsoft, Dell and Citrix vs VMWare, HP and IBM - and now the EU has finally forced Microsoft to open up its code so that companies (ie VMWare) will be able to better intergrate Microsoft with their own software.

Place your bets now...

Hypersonic hydrogen airliner to bitchslap Concorde

Tim Butterworth

Climate change

Nice to see that the EU isn't letting its eco-friendly policies get in the way of the development of an uncecessary technology that will only benefit the wealthy.

RIAA aims lawyers at usenet newsgroup service

Tim Butterworth

RIAA to sue Dictionaries

The RIAA has just announced that it is to smack huge lawsuits on many of the world's largest dictionaries as 'word of mouth' encourages music sharing. One of the most common ways in which copyrighted music is distributed occurs through one person 'telling' another person about the music using 'words'. This 'communication' will then directly lead to one person giving a copy of a song, or 'track' as the kids call them, to another.

"Without words, there would be almost no illegal music sharing." Said an RIAA spokesperson. "We therefore feel that the world's dictionaries should be forced to change their behaviour so as to limit the use of words, or to redefine words to make their use less ambiguous. For example, the entry for 'share' will be altered to say 'to illegally copy music', the word 'pirate' will change to 'someone who wants terrorists and drugs dealers to kill your children'.

And if this doesn't stop the illegal file sharing, then an even more extreme series of law cases could begin. An RIAA insider has leaked a memo suggestions that the next target could be the Universe itself. "If the Universe didn't have the fundamental physical properties it does" says this memo "then file sharing would be physically impossible. If the Universe were to change its laws of physics, then the music industry would be protected from all forms of copyright infringement."

An RIAA spokesperson denies this claim, but tells us that. "The RIAA is looking at targeting Evolutionary Theory as the human ear provides a direct route for the sharing of music files, however, we have so far been unable to find an Amercian jury which will accept that God did not create humans 6000 years ago. And whose going to win a court case against God?"

Intel readies budget dual-core Celerons

Tim Butterworth

What about the E21XX series?

I have a pretty new budget £55 E2180 which runs at 2.0GHz on an 800MHz fsb with 1Mb cache and it runs pretty sweet. If I OC it to 2.3Ghz it runs fine on stock voltage and cooling at comparable benchmarks to a non-budget AMD / Intel processor twice its cost (PassMark rating 1279).

It looks to me like the E12XX series is just the E21XX series with the cache knocked down from 1Mb to 512Mb. The price is a little cheaper for the new chips, but not noticably so.

So what was the deal with the E21XX series? Was this Intel dipping their toe in the water to see if the market was ready for budget processors?

If anyone is looking for a budget CPU to overclock I suggest you get one of the E21XX processors before they are discontinued. I bet the new line won't be anywhere near as overclocking friendly!

Google launches YouTube video-blocking contraption

Tim Butterworth

Legit vs non-legit

It will be interesting to see how much YouTube use drops when all the copyright-infringing material is all removed. Looking at the current top twenty or so videos on Google, at least half of them are of copyrighted material (eg sports coverage). Does Google pay for this already? Or will lots of it need to be removed.

Some content also includes shown-on-TV trailers, ads and pro-mos. Presumably these use music and so the music will have to be licenced for use in all territories, not just the one the ad was made for? Will this mean that US etc only TV ads will now dissapear?

Also, this move will encourage people who make stuff at home to start watermarking their own videos. Thus, videos that are intended to be hosetd on one site but end up on YouTube will now be spotted.

I imagine this is why Google didn't introduce this system when they took over. Imagine how much Google bad-mouthing there would have been if they suddenly removed 25% of the content (much of it really popular) the day they took over. Now they can make it look like it is the big media companies forcing their hand.

Terminator will be back in 2009

Tim Butterworth


Hollywood priorities:

1) Will it make money.

2) Will the merchandising make money.

3) Will it stop people seeing other studios' movies.

4) Will it allow us to make more money out of re-issuing the old movies.

5) ...etc


197) Will it make the original fans happy.

198) Will it be any good.

P.S. The film plot will revolve around who has the intellectual property rights to the original Terminator films. John Connor will argue that humans made the films, whilst Skynet will argue that, as the sole providor of all media content, the original human makers have surrendered their rights (did no one read Skynet's small print?).

Pentagon claims missile-defence success

Tim Butterworth

Great shot kid, that was one in a million

The thing is, the missle shield has to be lucky every time - an attacking nation only has to be lucky once.

Carry out this test 1000 times in bad weather without giving the intercept systems more than a few minutes and get a 100% hit score and I'll start to feel a little safer.

p.s. Note the phrase 'indications are' - this means they haven't shown conclusively that the thing worked yet.

Tim Butterworth

Mini-me, stop humping the Laser!

Lasers don't work through clouds. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/30/world/middleeast/30laser.html

Microsoft shouts 'Long Live XP'

Tim Butterworth

Death of a sales model

2007 will be seen as a landmark year in the computer industry for several reasons. Firstly, it is the year in which the SATA hard drive and dual core processor became the standard in cheap PCs. Computer users can now recode DVDs and download iTunes and still surf the web all at the same time. No longer must the computer user abandon their PC whenever they do anything resource-intensive. Hence, unless you are a gamer, a bottom end PC will now do everything you want and a good every-day computer now costs less than a good TV, washing machine or fridge-freezer. When was the last time you asked what type of decoder chips were inside a new radio or DVD player? Soon PCs will be the same and only specialist use will require cutting edge technology. Reliability and value are already replacing speed as the main consumer decider.

Secondly, it is the first time that a major new OS is noticeably inferior to the version it is replacing. Microsoft XP does everything the average computer user needs, and does it pretty well. Forcing consumers to use Vista instead of XP on the basis that XP will no longer receive security updates looks a lot like a giant protection racket. You may not want Vista, you may not need Vista, but if you don’t buy it soon you wont be able safely use the internet anymore. Oh, and you’ll have to buy a new graphics card, wireless card, printer and you’ll need more RAM as well – in fact, you should probably just buy a whole new computer.

Thirdly, and most significantly, is the shift in the way legislators view the IT industry. Up until now, Microsoft has had the same kind of protection that the British Empire once gave companies like the Honourable East India Company. By allowing Microsoft to behave in hugely anti-competitive ways, Western nations have seen massive growth in the IT sector. Windows XP benefited everyone – Microsoft, consumers and governments alike. However, now that IT has become established, Microsoft is far less important than it was just five years ago. Western governments don’t need Microsoft anymore, and so they are starting to undermine the company. ‘Perhaps’, think tanks and legislators in Europe are now saying, ‘the computer industry would be better off without the Microsoft monopoly’.

Basically, these three landmarks mean that Microsoft simply can’t carry on the way it is. The continual re-inventing of the OS wheel is expensive, inefficient and unfair to consumers. Both the consumers and the governments of the West are fed up with the way Microsoft does things, and whilst a company can survive the disapproval of one if it has the support of the other, no organisation, no matter how big, can survive sustained attacks from both. It is now a matter of ‘how’ and not ‘if’ Microsoft will change the way it does things.

BOFH: You think you know a guy...

Tim Butterworth

When British computers roamed the Earth...

In its day, the BBC computer was the world's biggest selling PC and the UK was the global centre of PC manufacturing.

Then there was Amstrad which once had 25% of the European PC market share. If it wasn't for Alan Sugar dropping Amstrad for Spurs, you could well have been reading this on an Amstrad PC!

Ahhh, those were the days.... jumpers for goal-posts...

HP inks deal for micro-needle skin patch

Tim Butterworth

Tattoo crazy

Imagine a hand held device that any fool could program rude words into and then go around after parties tattooing the forheads of passed-out drunk people! Or what if your kid brother goes crazy on your two year old sister and prints Transformer symbols all over her!

Let's leave tattooing to the professionals!

Apple restricts ringtone rights

Tim Butterworth

Who started the myth of Apple?

It's been a long time now that Apple have had this 'we're fighting for the little guy' thing going, but it seems like a long time ago (if ever) that this was actually the case. In fact, so long ago did this myth of Apple not being a money grabbing Megacorp start I can't even remember where it came from. Is this something that Apple have sold us, or is it something that Apple Fanboy and Fangirls have spread to justify years of paying over the odds for top-end products that probably aren't worth the extra money?

Either way, I think that society needs to put the myth down for good. Apple is no different from Microsoft, Dell, Sony or any of the other companies. I'm not saying that their products aren't often cutting edge (to the general public) and occasionally genuinely inventive - but we should all stop being surprised when Appl£ (see what I did there? If you don't have '£' on your keyboard you can use a Euro symbol instead!) manipulate consumers. Appl£ exists to make money, not to save the world from Capitalism.

Intel shakes up multi-core chip branding

Tim Butterworth

Hiding true value of chips

Giving the normal computer user a Quad core with the RAM, HDDs, graphics cards and network access specs necessary to use those cores to their max potential is massive overkill. It's like giving your sister a 4 litre Jag for driving around her university campus.

The average consumer needs to buy their computer on the basis of number of cores as this is now the single biggest factor determining the type of computer you are buying.

Single core - you gran doing some emailing and booking her holiday cruise over the internet.

Dual core - normal family computers.

Quad core - hardcore online gamers, video renderers etc

Any other naming system is designed to make it harder for consumers to judge the value of what they are buying.

I suggest the following: 32bit Dual Core I 1600 (first generation 32 bit dual core with each processor having a power equivalent of 1600), 64bit Quad Core III 3200 (third generation 64 bit quad core with each processor having equivalent of 3200 processing power rating).

Warner Bros to remake Enter the Dragon

Tim Butterworth

Fletch re-lives

They ARE re-making Fletch... apparently with either Zack Braff from Scrubs or Joshua Jackson from Dawson's Creek. Sorry, it fell off the end of my list.

Tim Butterworth

Unoriginality on the cards...

Upcoming remakes... Halloween, The Evil Dead, Logan's Run, The 39 Steps, Hellraiser, The Fly, Piranha, The Driller Killer, Footloose, The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Sleuth, Bachelor Party, Porkie's, Carousel and Death Race 2000.

For the TV fans... A-Team, Knight Rider, The Smurfs, I Dream of Jeannie, Magnum PI, Thundercats, He-Man (yes, another one), 24, The Jetsons, CHiPS, The X-Files, Dallas, Upstairs Downstairs.

More sequels to... Saw, Alien vs Predator, Shrek, Spider Man, Toy Story, Batman, Hellboy, Sin City, The Italian Job, Terminator, Ghost Rider, Beverly Hills Cop, Superman, Cabin Fever, Pink Panther, Meet The Fockers, The Grudge, Harold and Khumar, Jurassic Park, Constantine, Scary Movie, The Ring (US version), The Mummy, Silent Hill, Rambo, Indiana Jones, National Treasure, Resident Evil and Ghostbusters.

Computer games to movies... Splinter Cell, Mortal Combat, Halo, Tekken, Driver, Max Payne, Hitman, Fear Effect, Prince of Persia, Spy Hunter and Broken Sword.

A few as soon to be filmed comic characters... Justice league of America, Wolverine, Astro Boy, Razor, Mandrake, Nick Fury, The Flash, Sub-mariner, The Silver Surfer, Captain America and Watchmen.

Some of these will probably not happen, but most will and I'm sure more will appear soon!

Now, whilst I expect many of these will be rubbish, I should point out that many, many truly great Hollywood movies were once books, plays, comics, short stories or are based on real events and real people's lives. The problem at the moment isn't the lack of originality - it's the lack of talent and creative integrity.

Designer breaks up trad PC design

Tim Butterworth

Hey, that's my idea!

I had this idea just after a pal of mine got a new iMac back in 1997. I nearly went to the effort of making a working model, but decided that the disadvantages of this design outweighed considerably its advantages.

For example, what will the long term future of Think be? Will I be able to buy modules of the same design in a few years? Or will an upgrade mean replacing everything so that all the bits match? Even worse, the cutting edge upgrades probably won't be available in Think module form for ages, and they'll be hideously expensive.

Over the Think's life, will I find that some of the light coloured modules get dirty more quickly because they get hotter or have a higher air throughput? If a bit needs replacing because it breaks, will the Think warrentee ensure that new bits are put in the old box to make sure the replacement doesn't look too new? Will the factories or processes used change half way through the production run, meaning that different modules bought a year apart don't quite look the same?

A week old Think sitting proudly on a large desk will probably look really cool. Three years down the line I doubt it will look anywhere near as good.

Miserable Brits declare War on Comfort

Tim Butterworth

London under water in 100 years time

According to some NASA guy, continuing at our present rate of pollution output will cause sea levels to rise by 5m in the next 100 years. The bad news is that 10% of the world's population lives within the 5m above sea level line. The good news is that this will put most of London and New York under water!

Where can I get a couple of those patio heaters?

Google: Kill all the patent trolls

Tim Butterworth

eBay pricing system

A few years back I complained to eBay because I was trying to buy RAM on the basis of how cheap it was. The problem was that lots of sellers were hiding their costs in their postage prices. This, I said, made it impossible to know an item's true cost without clicking on the list entry and opening up the full discription. An item priced at £10 could actually cost £20 because of the over-priced delivery charge - browing through 50 items was a real pain in the a**e.

A few months later eBay started listing both item cost AND delivery cost in their item listings. Problem solved!

Now, as far as I am concerned this was a no-brainer. An obvious solution to an obvious problem. However, it seems that what I should have done is start my own auction site with this system of payment display, which I could then have patented and licenced to eBay. I wouldn't have deserved any money for this idea, because someone else would have come up with it a few weeks later anyway (its not like I invented the telephone!). In fact, hundreds, or even thousands of other people had probably also spotted this and some of them would have emailed eBay as well.

Patents should only be provided for technological innovation as this rewards innovation AND investment. Allowing patents for random 'ideas' that require no effort to come up with or implement simply slows down the growth of a business sector without rewarding the genuinely creative people out there. All it does is help create monopolies, which most of us can agree are usually bad for everyone except shareholders of one particular company.

At the moment, the US patent system benefits 'vested interests' over the natural development of the free market. In fact, it is not a million miles away from Communist Russia, where innovation was restricted and controlled through a deliberately anti-competitive set of government determined rules.

Second Life will dwarf the web in ten years

Tim Butterworth


If Irn-Bru put out a claim that in ten years time 10 billion people would be drinking 10 cans of the wonderful Scottish fizzy drink a day, would you report it? No - because it would be a blatent lie made in an attempt to gain media coverage. Just 'cause this SL claim has a computer flavour doesn't mean it's 'news'.

Can't you find something better to report on? How about a story discussing how attempting to please the insatiable cravings of 24/7 news junkies is diluting the news reporting industry and making it harder for normal folk to actually get to the stories that make a difference to their lives!

The cold, cold heart of Web 2.0

Tim Butterworth

Economics vs physics vs evolutionary psychology

The main uses of the University intranet when I was a student back in the early 90s were email, message boards, porn (obviously), MUDs, sharing academic ideas and multi-user tank fighting games. With the exception of the porn, all of these uses were 'many to many' interactions - although the population was much smaller than it is now. In fact, the intranet was just a loose, simplified model of normal student life. Little has changed; Web 2.0 is largely the same as various aspects of real-world life, only the population pool is bigger and it is much easier to search through to find people like you. Web 2.0 is basically a social search engine.

So, what about the economics? Game theory has played a major part in the social sciences for a few decades now (as economists know full well!), but I suppose most readers of The Register aren't familiar with sociology. Really, Becker's motivation is not in introducing new ideas per se - he is actually fighting a turf war with the physicists and the geneticists over the quickly sciencifying (is that a real word?) field of sociology.

Read a selection of pop-sociology books and you will quickly spot three camps. The Economists are now telling us that the mathematics used to explain human interactions aren't mathematical theories, they're economic theories. TIn the second camp, the physicists will show how fluid dynamics can be used to model road traffic and how phase transitions may model social change, and will explain that if economists did proper empirical testing, then they would see that human behaviour doesn't obey current economic models anyway.

The third camp, the current new kids on the block, are the Evolutionary Psychologists> They will tell you that it is an over-simplification to treat humans as the simple 'atomic' interacting units. Both the economists and the physicists fail to grasp that the real 'rational' agents are not humans, but are in fact our genes, acting out through our predisposed behaviour patterns. Humans don't automatically behave selfishly - our genes do (and by this I mean that genes are succesfull if they aid the spread of themselves - selfish in this sense is not the same as selfish in an everyday sense. Read 'The Selfish Gene' by Richard Dawkins for a better explanation!). Altruism is no mystery once we realise that an act of altruism doesn't have to directly benefit the individual in question for there to be a beneficial outcome of owning the genes that lead to occasional acts of altruism. As long as the gene that makes us altruistic also halps make us successful in some other way, it will spread. Yes, human behaviour follows mathematically determined efficiency - but that is because evolution follows mathematical rules.

Of course, non of these disciplines allow true free will as many a layperson would like to imagine they are in possesion of. This is not a big disaster though - the importance of self-determination is a recent phenomenon, largely created by the political philosophers of the last couple of hundred years and is mostly focused on the politically and socially liberal consumer society of the present day. For thousands of years many humans believed that they were a part of a Divine plan, that their sins were the result of Satan's influence and that their lives were ultimately at the mercy of forces beyond their individual control. Even now, millions think that their futures are predestined, and so use horoscopes and Tarot cards to predict what is going to happen in the future. Others happily believe that their behaviour is profoundly influenced by 'energy fields' that obey laws similar to those found in physics.

Having complete control over one's behaviour is not a traditional human belief. Accepting that humans do not have the ability to make geniunely free concious choices (call it Divine plan or mathematical equation, the two are equivalent in this context) is an old trick - and perhaps one we would be better off re-learning. It would certainly help us understand how the big companies, politicians and religions manipulate our behaviour for their own benefit!

Euro iPhone launch will reveal 3G handset for Vodafone, T-Mobile

Tim Butterworth

Bigger picture

The iPhone does not need 3G. With many major cities around the world currently rolling out widespread Wi-Fi coverage, its only going to be a short time before before pretty much everyone who has an iPhone also has access to near-universal Wi-Fi coverage.

It is important to understand how the iPhone (and other iGadgets) have become such sort-after items. This has happened not because the technology is the best in the market (its usually pretty good, but rarely the best value for money, and is not always reliable) but because Apple know that people who spend lots of money on gadgets are generally more concerned with looks and gimmicks than the actual nuts and bolts of the technology.

Sure, the large touch screen interface is truly cutting edge, but look at the other functionality misses; you have to take the phone to the shop when the battery needs replacing, you can't upgrade the memory, you can't use the thing for data storage, the camera is reportedly comparitively poor quality, you are tied to one network and if you live in the sticks you will not have fast internet access. You also don't have GPS, which is (so I'm told) the most usefull function of the Nokia N95.

The truth is that people who care about owning an iPhone are either gadget freaks or fashion victims. The success of the iPhone will depend on one thing: how reliable the touch screen is. Apple have cleverly ticked all the fashion-label wearing, R'n'B/middle-of-the-road rock listening, PS3 playing, childless urbanite tick boxes - as long as the thing doesn't break easily it will sell by the bucket-load.

One word of warning for the iPhone - the EU won't like the idea of tying a popular brand of technology to a single network. Unlike the US, where money = good, the European Comission could well intervene if it feels that a single-network iPhone will prevent fair competition between networks. There have already been threats made by EU officials against the fact that you need an iGadget to play iTunes. The iPhone will only increase these tensions.

Acer outlook not so sunny after all

Tim Butterworth


I know several people who have a valid licence of Vista, but have not installed it yet - or have installed it, but have given up and gone back to XP. The reason? Vista is still essentially in Beta testing stage.

When SP1 comes out with its bug fixes and its driver updates more people will wan't Vista. If MS act smart they will also update Vista according to the complaints people have made about the way it works. Vista 2.0 instead of Vista 1.1.

What will also be holding back Vista is that most companies will not want to use Vista for probably another 6 months to 1 year. They will buy HP or Dell instead for now as they still come with XP if necessary (this is exactly what we have done). Acer should dig their heels in with MS and do what the others did - stop making Vista a definite and make it an option.

US seeks to criminalize 'attempted' piracy

Tim Butterworth

Would be fine in many countries, but...

What will fall foul of this new law? Is a HDD full of mp3s equivalent to a warehouse full of DVDs? Will it be up to an individual caught in possession of copied copyrighted material to prove that he or she was NOT planning on selling copies?

Really, though, this law is the thin end of the wedge for poor US citizens. It is only a matter of time before possession of copyright infringed material becomes a criminal offence in the same way drugs possession is. In the US, anything that that is considered 'unethical' by the white middle-class Protestant business class is deemed harmful to society and so should be criminalised.

I just hope that now that Blair is on his way out, some common sense will return to the British legal system and so we will be protected from nutty US style authoritarian laws.

Cheney shoots down Bush message on climate change

Tim Butterworth

The less influence we have, the more we must do

In response to Ryan Nix - the Earth is currently warming and it will have significant effects on the way we live our lives. That is a very well supported scientific fact, (no matter how much the skeptics look the other way). How much we are contributing to global warming is not certain, but that we are contributing to some extent is very, very probable. All that CO2 we make has to go somewhere!

It is worth noting that even if temperature changes in the future are smaller than they are now expected to be, global warming can still lead to significant temperature changes in some regions, eg there has been a 3 degree rise in some areas of the US in the last 100 years. A temperature rise of 1 or 2 degrees on average could easily lead to a 5 or 10 degree rise in, say, the temperature of the western seaboard of the US. This would obviously have a catastophic effect on the agriculture and the water supply of that region.

Considering we cannot presently do much to stop some of the suggested causes of natural warming (eg, volcanic eruption, solar activity), we must do absolutely everything in our power to minimise our own contribution to global warming. We must also put all our efforts into finding ways of reducing the current atmospheric levels of CO2, methane and other contributors to warming.

It is ironic, but, I'm afraid, a logical truth that if we have it in our power to avert the disaster, or at least minimise the problems coming, then a smaller than expected current human global warming contribution means we will have to work harder to have a meaningful influence on global warming.

As for the suggestion that we should be fighting maleria instead - maleria is currently spreading further and further over the globe. The reason? Global warming! A warmer Earth means more malaria and other tropical diseases, as well as more parasitic diseases, drought, flooding etc etc. If global warming is half as bad as the vast majority of the climatologists think it is going to be, fighting diseases will quickly become an lot more expensive and logistically and politically much, much harder.

As for science - it takes only one scientist to invent a hypothesis but it takes many scientists to find the necessary evidence to turn it into a proper theory. It is impossible for a single scientist to conclusively prove (in the scientific sense, as opposed to the legal sense) any scientific hypothesis. One scientist, or a small number of them, can very easily be wrong - no matter how popular they are with the political establishment. I'm afraid hostory tells us that only three types of scientist can stand alone and defy the scientific 'consensus' - the genius, the mistaken and the charlatan. Unfortunately the latter two significantly outnumber the former.


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