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Patrick LockerbyRSS Feed of this column.

Retired engineer, 71 years young. Computer builder and programmer. Linguist specialising in language acquisition and computational linguistics. Interested in every human endeavour except the scrooge... Read More »

Filtering Information In The Information Age

The Fortean Times appears never to have been mentioned on scientific, much less cited as a reference source.  Now, when you have quite finished falling about laughing, I would like, in all seriousness, to draw your attention to a recent Fortean Times article:

The New Information Order
How the Internet is freeing conspiracy theories from the control imposed by traditional media.
By Robin Ramsay, Fortean Times, December 2009.
Mailspam, Webspam, and Freedom of Speech.

"given that the e-mail system has gone largely unchanged since 1965,
perhaps we should be grateful that it works at all. " -  David A. Karp

Spam is the biggest single threat to the continued operation of the entire internet.  I'll explain shortly why I think it's such a big threat, but first, I'll explain what I mean by the term 'spam'.

What Is Spam?

To my way of thinking, spam is just another variant of malware.  Even though most spam emails don't fire up software, they fit the simplest definition of malware.
If you are unsure what a buzzword is, please first read:
The Buzzword Blog #2 : What is a Buzzword?

The Buzzword Blog #6 : Customer

The word 'customer' comes via old French from the Latin consuetudinem, meaning 'habit' or 'useage'.  A customer is a person who habitually, as a matter of personal choice, exchanges his or her money for goods or services from a preferred supplier.

Where there is no possibility of personal choice, no real exercise of preference, the term 'customer' is entirely wrong.
Global Cooling: A Good Story, If Only It Were True.

According to Daily Mail reports of 10th and 11th January 2010, we are now entering a phase of global cooling.  However, there is an old saying about newspaper reports: "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story."

I am not here to 'knock' the Daily Mail.  My earliest recollections of reading news stories are recollections of the Daily Mail.  I still read the Daily Mail on line and enjoy the generally high standard of reporting, so it came as something of a shock to discover that Daily Mail reporters have got their facts entirely wrong about global warming.
Concern Who It May

When should one use 'who', and when 'whom'?  A simple enough question on the face of it, but in practice a path through a quagmire.

Generally, making a choice between 'who' and 'whom' in constructs does not lead to a significant change in meaning.  But it may.  Consider the stock phrase "to whom it may concern."  Here, the term 'concern' means 'be of interest'.   By way of contrast, in the phrase "concern who it may", 'concern' may mean 'trouble', 'worry', or 'annoy'.  Annoy who it may!
Defrosting The Freezer

There are many ways to defrost a freezer.  You can just switch off the power and wait for room temperature to permeate the ice.  You can use a heat source such as a hair-dryer or hot air gun.  Or you could chip away the ice and dump it where it will melt naturally due to local atmospheric temperature.

As I write this, Britain is shivering in its worst winter for 30 years.  A temperature has been measured in Scotland insignificantly different from the current temperature at the South Pole. Supplies of grit, salt and gas are being rationed.

A large number of comments have been posted on newspaper websites claiming that our current U.K. weather disproves the theory of global warming.