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Comment Re:VAT? (Score 4, Interesting) 81

To be honest VAT has always been a disaster waiting to happen, and inside the European Union it is an unmitigated nuisance to enforce.

VAT, you see, isn't a sales tax. When one company sells stuff to another one, it charges VAT on the deal which the other company can then claim back. In a chain of businesses, this carries on until the end user gets stung with the final VAT charge. This therefore lends its self to a criminal activity called Carousel Fraud, whereby VAT-liable goods are moved around, with VAT being fraudulently claimed back repeatedly. Carbon credits are the current favourite target here, since they are intangible and thus shipping costs are minimal.

Carousel fraud costs the EU thousands of millions of Euros per annum in lost revenue, and probably the same again in administration costs. As taxes go, it is a fraudster's wet-dream and a tax enforcer's nightmare and yet, as with much of the EU, it is a bad idea that is effectively here to stay.

Simply ignoring VAT, as is going on here, is another downside to it; it is simply near-impossible to catch all the fraudsters doing this, since almost no customers will trouble to report people for giving them a good cheap deal.

Comment Re:Good and bad... (Score 1) 123

what sort of monster uses Bittorrent on shared Wifi?!

What sort of network admin isn't familiar with QoS and rate limiting?

The Network Unit where i currently work, a UK University, used to have a rather nifty network appliance which sat on the network segments that student halls of residence occupied and listened for Bittorrent connections. When it detected one, it sent a hang-up to each end neatly closing the connection. We never publicly announced what was going on here, but instead let the students run into the blockage by themselves. It worked better that way, fewer complaints.

These days network security appliances do the same job, more or less. It saves time and money and hassle receiving copyright take-down notices and then tracking down the culprits, and giving them an appropriate telling off. This is especially irritating with students because IT Services isn't technically part of the academic structure, and bollocking naughty students is an academic job, so the relevant academics have to be in the communications loop. Network-level blocks are such very much easier all round...

Comment Re:The Fermi "paradox" is bullshit (Score 2, Interesting) 559

For four billion years, life on Earth was microscopic blobs of goo.

Then 600 million years ago - BAM - complex life emerged pretty much in the blink of an eye.

We have no idea how likely that transition to complex life 600 million years ago was - we have a sample size of ONE.

Now go back an read my first sentence: For four billion years, life on Earth was microscopic blobs of goo.

That four billion years was about half the expected lifetime of the Earth. The probability that complex life evolves may very well be infinitesimally small. WE DON'T KNOW.

Believing the universe must be teeming with intelligence is based on nothing more than faith.

Actually, the odds are worse than that. Mass extinctions have happened with monotonous regularity in the history of the world, and only comparatively recently have life forms evolved with internal skeletons that enabled them to get to be quite big. Insects and arthropods probably don't get big enough to carry large enough brains to become intelligent, but arthropods seem to evolve a lot more easily than do vertebrates.

Even when you look at vertebrates, a tendency to evolve big brains seems to be exclusively a mammal thing. Dinosaurs seem to have been ancestrally warm-blooded, ditto crocodilians and so on, but dinosaurs plot right on the expected brain to body size ratio that reptiles have. Throughout the entire age of dinosaurs there never seems to have been any sort of intelligence arms-race developed. Early in the post-dinosaur age, just such an arms race developed with mammals, forcing quite a lot to become smarter over quite a short period of time.

There's two reasons to doubt the inevitability of intelligence developing on alien worlds. There may well be plenty of life, but life more advanced than bacteria will be rare, and intelligent life vanishingly so.

Comment Re:Its... (Score 5, Informative) 559

One thing to bear in mind is that life here existed in the form of anaerobic bacteria for a staggeringly long time. Photosynthesis began as a way to split hydrogen sulphide into useful hydrogen ions and a useless waste product of elemental sulphur, which was also usefully inert. Early photosynthesis therefore didn't require much in the way of biochemical sophistication to operate; the waste sulphur is where some large sulphur deposits originated.

That changed with a mutation which let the photosynthesis split not hydrogen sulphide, but water into useful hydrogen and (to anaerobic bacteria) highly toxic and dangerous oxygen. That initially wasn't all that big a problem to early water-splitters; the oceans they were in were rich in iron-II salts which readily absorbed oxygen to become insoluble iron-III salts (this is where the banded iron rock formations come from).

Everything changed when most of the iron-II in solution in the early earth's oceans was used up. Oxygen levels slowly rose, and virtually all bacterial species either adapted or went extinct. Oxygen is toxic to most bacteria.

I would hypothesise that most alien worlds either never make the switch from anaerobic atmosphere to aerobic one, or fail to establish a homeostatic oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere quickly enough and effectively enough to become self-regulating.

Comment Re:US Legal system (Score 5, Interesting) 571

In Britain, this sort of thing would probably be dealt with in a Small Claims Court, and would cost next to nothing for the defendant to represent himself. The outrageous damages would be viewed by a judge as outright silliness and dismissed; even were the defendant to lose, the most that would happen would be the cost of his printer plus the other part's costs (which he could apply to the court to "tax" if he felt them unreasonable).

This sort of thing would also likely get the serial litigant declared to be a Vexatious Litigant. the Uk Government keeps a public list of these people, who must seek a court's permission before embarking on any litigation whatsoever, because they have shown themselves to be time-wasters in the past.

Comment Re-stating the obvious (Score 1) 1080

Most young people tend to work on emotions instead of reason; wisdom does come with age through brain development. Then there is the fact that most young people do not have very much money, and a system wherein they gain at the expense of people who are far, far richer than they are does tend to appeal somewhat.

As soon as these people have started earning money, and started paying taxes then the prospect of becoming rich off one's own efforts starts to appeal, and the notion of having one's own money confiscated for the use of those who did not earn it starts to hurt quite a bit.

I would therefore be interested to see how the views of these people changes over time.

Comment Re:4/5 in favor (Score 1) 755

Assume that the income provided by the State is tax-free, but income earned above this level is taxed. If this is the case, working for cash in hand is a very effective way of making sure the State never sees the extra income and thus never gets the benefit of this work.

It is also a very, very good idea to issue identity documents to citizens eligible for this benefit, and to tie these in to a biometric of some sort, to prevent multiple identities and thus multiple claims being made.

Comment Re:Why would the festival cooperate? (Score 1) 134

ANPR in the UK works on a very heavily regulated target: UK vehicle licence plates. The size, font and spacing of the letters on these plates is legislated for, and non-standard plates are hunted down by the police.

By contrast, a human face is a very much more difficult target to recognise. Generally speaking, most systems up to now (notable examples being purported terrorist-spotting systems at airports) have suffered from such huge false positive rates that they were useless. I would strongly suspect that the system that the police here are employing would suffer from similar levels of false positives.

Repeatedly arresting a person on the basis of unproven technology would, if done frequently enough, count as harassment and it is for a court of law to decide (based on previous precedent) what frequency of false arrest would constitute such harassment. UK courts have not looked particularly kindly on police conducting trawls like this in the past, so I therefore suspect an ulterior motive for this surveillance.

I think this is not intended to catch criminals, but rather to frighten them out of the area.

UK criminals are typically rather stupid individuals in the main, and are also already used to pervasive CCTV and how to evade it (the standard chav uniform of baseball cap and hooded top is intended to conceal the face from overhead CCTV), and are well versed in what powers police have as well. As a result, I rather think that most criminals here would just go to the festival anyway, and trust police incompetence and the inherent uselessness of the technology to keep them unmolested.

Comment Re:The main challenges... (Score 1) 142

No, if you go and chase down the original article the electrolyte is NOT unknown, but an anhydrous aluminium chloride/organic chemical. The cells the researchers are producing are putting out around 1.9 to 2 volts, and the cells are resilient over at least 7500 charge/discharge cycles. The cathode is graphite foam built on a nickel foam substrate, the anode is aluminium foil.

To be honest, the only real kicker about the entire battery is the fact that water in the electrolyte severely reduces the performance, but this could at least be mitigated in production by adding in a water absorbing chemical of some sort to the system. Apart from that it all seems very promising indeed, and as aluminium and carbon are both extremely common (as opposed to lithium, where the resources are limited) then commercialising this battery would seem to be an eminently sensible thing to do.

The basic problem with power we have at the moment is not that we don't have enough, but that all the easy sources are diffuse and low density, or are bursty in nature. Solar cells, for instance, produce no power at night. Tidal generators also produce power only at set though predictable times. We already have good storage batteries, but the problem with them is that they are expensive.

These cells have the potential (*ahem*) to be cheap. Cheap power storage solves a very great many problems, since we can then concentrate on developing cheap, efficient and durable solar cells knowing that there will be a market for the power and that this power can then be stored efficiently; if you lack power storage, then the effective momentary market price of solar electricity drops to almost nothing when the sun shines, and rises astronomically as the sun sets.

Comment Re:Having security meet him at his desk (Score 4, Insightful) 279

I worked for a company like that for a while; complete and utter bastards to work for. What that sort of behaviour towards their employees got them was a complete lack of any loyalty whatsoever. Since they were also a bunch of idiots who never planned anything, and always bodged things to run until the next last minute bodge, then however motivated a saboteur might have been, it would have been rather difficult to think up any action which would show up against the background level of incompetence, malevolence and managerial stupidity.

Most people simply got out of the door quickly, and took care never to work for them ever again, figuring that the company would come to an eventual bad end. It did, as things turned out, and the UK law would still like to have a long, comfortable chat with the company directors in the unlikely event of them ever setting foot in the EU again.

My take on easter eggs and sabotage like this is simple: DON'T DO IT! You never know when you might need a reference or a job involving some of the people in that last job, and it helps to have maintained a professional aspect and outlook throughout whatever shenanigans led to your departure. People tend to appreciate that sort of thing, and it also gives you the moral (and legal) high ground subsequently. It also means that you're not forever after worrying about whether the law are after you for unspecified crimes, and if you're the worrying sort like myself, it helps not to give yourself anything much to worry about in future.

Comment Pointing out the stark, bleeding obvious... (Score 4, Funny) 247

A couple of hours of no power input from solar power is not, and never has been a problem for the European power grid. This sort of thing happens extremely regularly, every night. We're used to it, and can cope. Thanks for worrying about us, though; it really was extremely kind of you.

Comment Re:Backpedalled? (Score 3, Insightful) 740

I would contend that a person's freedom to be an idiot starts and ends with themselves, and does not extend to endangering the life of their child, or indeed the lives of other children damaged in an epidemic of a preventable disease.

This is one of those cases where science and state really do know better than a Bronze Age religion. One of the many, many cases.

Comment Hello insurance fraud (Score 5, Interesting) 199

The most obvious reason for an attack here is to commit insurance fraud. At present, an insurance company is forced to base an insurance premium on all the meta-data they can possibly gather about the prospective client, excepting their sex if they are in the EU (although this may well lead to a quite astonishing number of men called "Sue", if insurance companies attempt to bypass this and link first names to insurance risk).

A data-gathering dongle would seem to offer a much better deal, allowing the company to charge more if the user indulges in risky behaviour of some description.

A possible reason for hacking into the module would therefore be to falsify the data sent back to the company; a boy racer who regularly breaks speed limits, corners absurdly fast and brakes late if at all would gain substantially from a fraudulent data recording which portrayed him as someone with the driving habits of an octogenarian grandmother; such a person might also think that the gamble of sending such phoney data was well worth the savings when set against the fairly low risk of getting caught.

It therefore worries me that companies are this lazy when building such equipment. It really doesn't take all that much to keep out the majority of crackers right from the start, and as the skilled ones are in the minority, taking a little care initially would pay dividends down the line.

Comment You'd almost think there was an election due... (Score 1) 77

Actually, there is an election due in the UK. All of this feckless noise is electioneering, to try to sway the opinions of the Great Unclued out there.

The nitty-gritty detail is the usual sordidly mucky mess of politics everywhere. You may wish to skip this part and move on to calling me silly names if politics bores you.

Britain is a member of the European Union, but is not a member of the EU currency union (the Euro). The EU is institutionally corrupt, to the extent that its own tame poodle of an auditor will not approve its accounts, and has not for the last seventeen years. The EU may be thought of as an empire-by-stealth, one of the few to actually start out decadent. As a result of this, the Euro currency is failing, and the EU is responding by asking for more money from its member states, and by churning out ever more regulations.

Most UK politicians like the EU, but few are able to articulate why this is the case, nor why the EU is such a great entity. Notable exceptions are the UK Independance Party (UKIP) which despite attracting a broad spectrum of loons, does have widespread appeal in Britain.

David Cameron is the leader of the Conservative Party (or Tories). This party is currently in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Opposing them is the Labour Party, led by Ed Milliband. The Tories and Labour are currently about level pegging in electoral stakes; UKIP may alter this a little, but not all that much.

Cameron is trying presently to become more popular. He is unfortunately being advised very poorly, and is also being influenced by the Home Office, the government department in charge of domestic security, policing and the like. The Home Office has the reputation of being the department where useless civil servants get parked to serve out their time without annoying anyone important; it also has the reputation of slowly driving and Home Secretary insane, to the point of totalitarian leanings.

So, what you're seeing is electioneering plus silly politicians plus nutcase advisors plus at least one nutcase political party, arguing against another load of nutcases in the country next door.

This entire post probably makes very little sense to anyone in the USA. Don't worry, though; it makes almost as little sense if you live in the UK.

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