If life gives you lemons

As Jack Handey puts it: “If life deals you lemons, why not go kill someone with the lemons (maybe by shoving them down his throat).”

I’m not my usual cheery self today after yet another night of insufficient sleep followed by the morning ritual of painkillers and swearing. However, Mr Sun has the answer:

Are you unhappy? Of course you are. Look at you. You’re a mess. What’s there to be happy about? So, let’s assume you are miserable. I have something that never fails to make me happy and it’ s only a mouse click away. I keep a shortcut to it on my desktop, and whenever I need to be happy, I just click it. I am giving it to you crazy cats as a gift…

His gift is here – and it works!

ISPs and the copyright cops

According to Euro Digital Rights, the MPA and IFPI – the international versions of the RIAA and MPAA – are trying to persuade ISPs to adopt a voluntary code of practice. It asks ISPs to:

* Remove references and links to sites or services that do not respect the copyrights of rights holders

* Write new T&Cs that require customers to consent “in advance to the disclosure of their identity in response to a reasonable complaint of intellectual property infringement”

* Preserve identity/usage data of customers in case the entertainment industry needs to sue ’em

* Block sites that are “substantially dedicated to illegal file sharing or download services”

and:

* “Enforce terms of service that prohibit a subscriber from operating a server, or from consuming excessive amounts of bandwidth where such consumption is a good indicator of infringing activities.”

It is, of course, a spectacularly bad idea. It does three key things: it turns ISPs into censors; it turns ISPs into spies; and it urges ISPs to block technology irrespective of whether that technology has positive uses. So for example, it would wipe out BitTorrent: while BT is indeed often used for copyright infringement, it’s also a phenomenally useful way to get legit content such as Linux distributions, software updates, items that are in the public domain or issued under a Creative Commons licence, and so on.

Advertiser love

When you have Google ads on a page you’re not supposed to comment on them, but fuck it: since my last back-related post the ads have highlighted a few alternative therapy sites. Because I’m interested in this stuff, I followed the links and – in my humble opinion – some of the ads take you to sites that are talking bollocks.

One of the ads – it seems to have disappeared for now, but I’m sure it’ll return – takes you to a site offering alternatives to surgery. I’m the first to admit that surgery is a last resort; however, some of the supposedly scientific claims made by the site are bullshit. In particular it – correctly – notes that surgery for back problems is a last resort, but it goes on to say that surgical intervention has a “very high failure rate”. As Penn & Teller might put it: bullshit!

If your pathology is appropriate for back surgery, the success rate is between 80% and 90%. That’s not a survival rate; it’s a success rate: of every 10 people who have the surgery, 8 or 9 people find that it solves their pain. The remaining one person may well find that surgery makes no difference, but when it comes to complications – a worsening of the problem, death on the operating table, alien abduction – the rate is between one-quarter and one-half of one per cent. You face similar risks crossing the road, or performing karaoke when I”m in a bad mood.

One-half to one-quarter of a per cent is not a “very high failure rate”; it’s almost insignificant. That doesn’t mean non-surgical techniques don’t work; it means that if you’ve exhausted those avenues then surgery may well help. Spinal manipulation and other non-surgical techniques have their place, but that place is in the first few months of injury. If after several months your back’s still knackered and non-surgical treatments aren’t helping, the last resort could well be the solution.

Fighting the phone frauds, again

Back in January I suggested that you should make a formal complaint about telephone scammers. Naturally I followed my own advice, and I’ve just received this email from the communications watchdog ICSTIS:

* The call that you received was made by using Automated Calling Equipment known as ACE. This is actually an offence under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003, which is an EC Directive. It was therefore considered that the use of this equipment was illegal.

* The promotional call had suggested that recipients of the call had previously taken part in the competition service, but evidence demonstrated that this was not the case. This was considered to be misleading.

* The premium rate service itself asked callers to enter their telephone number in order for the service to verify that the callers were genuine winners. Monitoring of the service demonstrated this process was entirely fictitious and that it accepted any telephone number input into the system. This was also considered to be misleading.

* Despite the promotional telephone call stating that there were a number of prizes that could be claimed, it appeared that all callers were allocated the same prize (the Spanish cruise). Again, this was considered misleading.

* The promotional call suggested that recipients were required to complete the claim and call the premium rate number as a matter of urgency. ICSTIS considered that this prevented consumers from being able to make an informed decision about taking part in the premium rate service, as they would have felt under pressure to call.

* Call costs were only provided once callers had already spent £7.50 on the premium rate service. ICSTIS considered that this would give consumers no option but to complete the premium rate call, as otherwise they would be left with significant charges without being in a position to claim the listed prize. ICSTIS considered that this took advantage of consumers.

* The promotional message did not inform potential callers of the cost of taking part of the service. This is a requirement under the Code of Practice.

* The promotional message did not inform potential callers of the identity or alternative contact details of the promoter. This is a requirement under the Code of Practice.

* The promotional call was inappropriate because it was not specifically targeted at individuals within the home and therefore could have been received by children or by people who do not have permission to use premium rate services.

* The promotion used Automated Calling Equipment (ACE) despite the entire premium rate industry being warned that it was not permitted to do so.

* The promotional failed to inform recipients of the total cost of taking part in the service, which a requirement of prize line promotions under the Code of Practice.

* The promotional failed to supply sufficient information about the prizes and any terms and conditions that may have applied to claiming any of those prizes.

World Travel, the firm behind the calls, didn’t dispute any of these findings, but argued that they didn’t realise they were being naughty. The result?

World Travel were fined £75,000 and they were barred from operating any prize line or competition service (using premium rate) for a period of 12 months.

Woo-hoo!

Waiting lists

There’s an interesting letter in today’s Herald from a consultant neurologist at Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary:

Today, the lady sitting in front of me makes a 185-mile round trip for a consultation which lasts little more than 10 minutes. Her referral letter is dated August 2004 (seven months). She leaves less than happy because I propose a diagnosis which requires technical investigation for confirmation and waiting time is estimated at one year.

If my diagnosis is confirmed, surgery will be required. There will be a third queue (six months) awaiting assessment by the surgeon, and then a fourth queue (one year) awaiting surgery. Four queues: two actual, two potential, three years plus. Politicians who take a high-profile interest in the duration of queue one are invited to take an interest in queues two to four. If queue one shortens (more patients seen), queues two to four are liable to lengthen.

Forget the funeral – bury my Powerbook

Squander Two talks about living wills, but while the prospect of being kept alive by machines is rather horrible, there’s an even more worrying issue here. If something bad happens to me, who’s going to cremate my computer?

It’s something Penn – of Penn & Teller fame – started thinking about when one of his friends died.

He had been in L.A. temporarily, and I was part of the team of sobbing friends who boxed his stuff to send back East. We puzzled over his laptop. Would there be flames that might be inappropriate for his family to read? Would he have wanted his girlfriend to go through all of his saved e-mail?

We didn’t worry too much. He was a brilliant, kind, sweet, thoughtful man, and although we didn’t look, I’m sure his computer contains no surprise pain for his loved ones.

But what about you? And if that doesn’t freak you out enough — what about me? Man, oh, man. Do you want everyone cursoring through your files when your alibi days are over? What about those last couple of gifs you downloaded? And if you don’t die as clean as my buddy, how would your “Favorites” list look on CourtTV?

Bullshit!

[Warning, contains swearing]

If you’re a news junkie like I am, you’ll spend a lot of time reading stories from around the world (and their related discussions on message boards), and you’ll read every column inch of anything printed. And if you do that, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the world is full of bullshit – and that a lot of people are taken in by that bullshit.

Sometimes, it amuses me – so the news that US “let’s not tell the kids about sex” abstinence programmes have caused an explosion of bum sex and blow jobs had me laughing like a drain, even though I know it’s a serious issue – and other times it depresses me, such as when I read about religious nutballs (of whatever creed) shouting down the grown-ups or when I see respectable magazines flogging premium rate psychic hotlines to the depressed and desperate.

A good example of the tide of bullshit is the Daily Mail newspaper, whose womens’ pages are often filled with new age nonsense and whose covers – particularly at weekends – pose provocative questions based on whichever book the paper is currently serialising. Mail readers could save themselves a great deal of time and effort by using the word “no” when they read these cover lines and then buying something else. For example:

“Does a secret bible code predict the future?”

No.

“Did a race of advanced aliens build the Pyramids?”

No.

“Are angels watching over us?”

No.

And so on. And it’s not just the Mail, either. We have TV programmes on nutrition whose “expert” got their qualifications from a mail order university. We have endless alternative health sections in papers and magazines whose advice is bollocks at best and dangerous at worst. We have endless programmes about alien abductions, strange mysteries, conspiracy theories… and then, we have Penn & Teller.

I don’t know much about Penn & Teller, other than seeing their occasional magic trick on the telly. But I was channel-hopping last night and discovered Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, which is arguably the greatest television programme ever made.

Last night’s episode (it’s currently airing on satellite channel FX289) was about getting the perfect body, and featured the usual array of ab-rollers, body building supplements and so on. Cleverly, P&T let the people hawking these products hoist themselves by their own petards: the fitness expert explained that due to genetics, very few people could reasonably expect to become magazine cover models; P&T then cut to the expert’s book, You Too Can Be A Magazine Cover Model. They filmed supplement sellers explaining that Glucosamine helps build muscle (it doesn’t, it’s for tendons and ligaments) and offering potentially lethal nutritional advice, they took the piss out of abdominal exercise machines, and they hammered the point home that while exercise and good diet are good things, the fitness industry is selling an impossible ideal – and making stacks of money from it.

What makes P&T’s programme so great is that this is all done through the medium of swearing. Penn doesn’t exactly mince his words: I lost track of the number of times he referred to people as “fucks”, “fuckers” or “motherfuckers”, along with some lesser expletives. This is apparently for legal reasons: if Penn were to say “this man is a fraudster”, he – and the TV network – could be sued into oblivion. If on the other hand he calls someone a “motherfucker” who’s spouting “bullshit”, he’s legally in the clear. I’m not a lawyer so I can’t really comment, but the sheer novelty of seeing a TV presenter on the verge of a coronary as he gets into a righteous rage is hard to beat.

Of course, it’s flawed – reviews suggest that P&T can be as blinkered as the people they criticise, and of course it’s utterly biased. But that’s missing the point: it’s entertainment, after all.

Penn & Teller: Bullshit! is apparently into its third season, and while it doesn’t seem to be on DVD over here you could always import the first two seasons from the US. In season one they go after creationists, anti-smokers, mediums, feng shui, alien abductees, penis enlargement pills, vegetarians and extreme environmentalists; in season two, their targets include PETA, people who hate swearing (heh), recycling, hypnotists and the war on drugs.

Microsoft spanks Sony, says SPOnG

There’s a fascinating conspiracy theory over at games site SPOnG. The site describes it as:

A conspiracy that sees a Microsoft masterstroke which cripples its key opponent, sees it take the moral high-ground and net around $15 million profit in the process.

The story centres on the current patent lawsuit against Sony, which came this >In doing this, Microsoft effectively made its settlement with Immersion a test case, a case that would then be used against Sony. What’s more, it put itself in a position to demand payments from Sony on all PlayStation hardware, peripherals and software sold, on an ongoing basis.

…Immersion, backed by Microsoft, will have the right to demand royalties from Sony on every single PlayStation product that makes use of DualShock, an astoundingly astute move resulting in a case that Sony simply must win.

Back, again

A quick update on the back situation: the neurosurgeon reckons a microdiscectomy is the way to solve my (worsening) back problems, so I’ll have my buttocks hanging out the back of a hospital gown in 3-4 weeks time.