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Abuses of the English language, ID cards...

And all is not well in Philly...

Letters Barely a day has gone by this week without our beloved Home Secretary appearing in the news for one thing or another. Unsurprising, then, that letters this week should have such a flavour of ID card about it.

But before we get to that, our Chicago correspondent informs us that all is heinous in the City of Brotherly Love, according to you, our dear readers. Not only did Philadelphia sell out other Pennsylvania cities by doing a behind the scenes networking deal with Verizon but it also sold out itself. The Register flock reckons Philly has plenty of more pressing concerns than providing free wireless access to the latte set. Namely, it's broke. Go ahead, have a read:

Ms. Vance:

I noted with interest "Philly Sells Pennsylvania to Verizon".

Might I share with you a number of essential concerns that didn't make it into your dispatch?

First, a disclosure. I represented the public interest in utility regulation, as counsel to the Michigan Public Service Commission and as Delaware's first Public Advocate, for two decades. I've never taken a dime from a utility company.

As a professional observer, I'm familiar with large and small investor-owned utilities and large and small publicly-owned utilities. I've examined public and private utilities in both large cities and sparsely populated rural areas. I can tell you, without fear of contradiction, that it's very difficult to make a logical argument in 2004 for the creation of municipally-owned broadband systems. There are exceptions---but those exceptions will be found in rural areas where established local telecoms providers are reluctant to extend service.

It's the height of absurdity--illogical and cynical--to suggest that Philadelphia should go into the wireless telecoms facilities business, regardless of what entity ultimately operates the service.

You may be unfamiliar with some of the critical underlying facts.

1. Rather than promoting competitive telecoms providers, Mayor John Street and the present city council made it impossible for an established suburban competitor to offer combined cable/broadband/telecoms services in Philadelphia. Though they provide service adjacent to the city, RCN couldn't get a hearing on their request to provide service within the city.

2. Philadelphia operates the largest municipal gas company in North America, the Philadelphia Gas Works. PGW can barely service more than $1 billion in debt and has engaged in extraordinary financing to obtain natural gas supplies this winter. They're now shutting off tens of thousands of customers, many of whom are more than a year behind.

Does this suggest that Philadelphia should take on another municipal utility?

3. What would make anyone think that the barrier to universal broadband access in Philadelphia---wired or wireless---is the nature of the provider? There are obvious economic limitations for many low income Philadelphians that prevent computer ownership as well as subscription to any conceivable self-supporting broadband access.

4. If there was a justification for attempting to provide wireless broadband access across Philadelphia, why would WiFi technology be the choice in 2004, most especially since other technologies are now being adopted that are much more suitable to the task?

Rather than being flush with public funding, Philadelphia is laying off public employees for the first time since 1981. There is no sound reason for a public WiFi initiative in Philadelphia at this time---though there are plenty of reasons for the administration to wish to divert public attention from the city's escalating difficulties.

All the best,

Evan Wilner

I have been following the story on The-Register and feel you need the whole story for people who don't know the facts about the city.

Philadelphia is flat broke due to rampant corruption. The city school district also went broke and had to be taken over by the state of Pennsylvania so now everybody in the state pays 2 school taxes one for their local district and one to keep the Philadelphia schools going.

Philadelphia went to the state and said they needed a convention center to spur tourism and help the economy, the state provided funding and the grand opening was the Republican National Convention during our presidential campaign. When the city of Pittsburgh and it's two major league teams wanted a new stadium the team owners and the city are the ones who fronted the money. When Pittsburgh got their new stadium of course Philadelphia suddenly needed one but part way through the project they ran out of money again and the state again stepped in to provide the difference.

There is a bill that is on hold in our state capital until they come back from their winter break for a 1/4 percent gas tax increase to help bail out the Philadelphia public transit system. I live in northeast Pennsylvania but I have a lot of friends & relatives who live in the Philadelphia area so between our cable and our newspapers and what I hear from friends and relatives, the city with all these infrastructural problems, money problems, people in the administration under investigation by the FBI and they are going to spend millions of dollars that they don't have for anything else on this huge WI-FI system which I'm sure the state is going to wind up financing before it is finished. It is not that the people of Philadelphia do not have access to broad band, that area is the home of Comcast, one of the largest cable companies in this country, they also have Verizon DSL and there are companies offering bi-directional WI-FI connections to people in that area.

So when I see your articles about poor Philadelphia and it's battles to try to provide WI-FI, I think "yeah right", the city should take the money they plan on spending for this unnecessary addition and invest it in their infrastructure first and I guarantee that if it does go through they will get things started and then go to the state crying broke again and the state will have to finish the job, which will happen because our governor is the former mayor of Philadelphia and he is up for re-election next year and needs Philadelphia to keep his office.


From political corruption and government scandal, straight back to the whole question of the national ID card. This week it emerged just how slanted research questions are helping the government prop up its case for identity documents.

Firstly, we'd like to thank one David Blunkett who mailed to tell us to lay off. (No, we don't think it was the actual David Blunkett...such are the joys of our anonymising email system). The rest of the mail went more like this:

Of course Mr. Blunkett is honest and has our best interests at heart. After all, he's only an adulterer, subverting another person's solemn public declaration of fidelity.



I was one of the people mailed, but threw it in the bin without reading. I wish now I had!

However, point of this note is to comment on the similarity of this situation to a classic 'Yes, Minister' episode about the re-introduction of conscription - it had two questionnaires which were guaranteed to give the results wanted. Can't remember the exact paraphrasing, but it was an identical 'we know the answer we want, now justify it' approach to the problem of voter interaction.


Okay, perhaps it's time to send out another question;

"Should government ministers be allowed to circumvent systems intended to weed out criminals, terrorists and illegal immigrants because their girlfriend asks nicely?"

Perhaps a register poll, concentrating on recent signs of corruption?

Lucy, Could The Reg have a survey of readers? How about some questions like:

Do you think it worth £40 to allow the Government, banks and local authorities to share your personal data?

Given that ID cards will not be needed for visitors to the UK, do you think a terrorist will notice this as a loophole?

Given that a genuine asylum seeker may have no means of identification on them, will the fact that we ask them to promise not to lie work?

As the biometric passport is required to carry facial recognition, is it worth the UK going it alone and having fingerprints on it's cards at a cost of tens of billions of pounds?

Those sort of "balanced" questions and see if we get "the majority in favour of the ID card proposal"


We'll have a think about that one. You never know when the need for a web poll may arise...

Clearly the answer to the question "Do you welcome plans to tackle organised crime, illegal immigration, benefit fraud and national security through the introduction of ID cards?" is don't know, inasmuch as the introduction of ID cards isn't known to tackle anything. What is known is that it will expand organized crime to the arena of fake ID cards.


More on ID cards, prompted by nothing more than a desire to share information, this time:

Today Nick Palmer MP wrote a letter to the Times criticising one of their columnists Mary-Ann Sieghart. She had said that the ID card scheme was going to create a super database spying on us all. He wrote to reassure her basically saying 'ah bless, there's no database and it's all quite safe.'

So I wrote to him basically saying "what about the audit trail then?" He replied with this:

"Thank you for the thoughtful letter. I agree that these are the kind of things we need to be careful about. I've not seen the draft Bill yet, and will bear your points in mind as I read it. I agree that the question of whether an audit trail is needed is reasonable."

So why does an MP write to the Times telling us all "don't worry" when he HASN'T EVEN READ THE BLOODY DRAFT BILL!

Perhaps it would be best to skip the Commons and start on lobbying the Lords.


The mind truly boggles.

Now, a nifty bit of subject melding. This week, the UK police fingerprint system collapsed. We liked this mail in particular:

It is not difficult to imagine this story re-written in about 10 years time, something along the lines of:

"It has been revealed today that a computer glitch in the system which verifies ID card data has prevented the NHS from checking the identities of patients as they checked in for surgery.

"The glitch, which was first detected about a week ago, has caused severe problems with operation scheduling, with many hospitals having to ask the patients what they are there for. This information would normally be presented to the receptionist on a computer screen after the patient has presented his or her ID card and had their iris scanned.

"Although no operations have been performed on the wrong person, here at Vulture Central we can't help hoping that Prime Minister Blunkett requires a minor op and tries to check in just after someone needing a colonoscopy."


Since we're talking finger prints, why not sample some of your thoughts about the chap who insists his bank use his thumbprint to identify him if he applies for credit:

Not that I'm in favour of Guantanamo Dave (Blunkett)'s ID card in any way, but Jamie Jameson's self-indemnification idea is nothing short of gobsmackingly brilliant.

However, I do take issue with the phrase "Jameson has been using the idea successfully for over a year" - how is this success measured? Is it purely in terms of lack of evidence to the contrary? I haven't been scammed in the last year, despite not using such a scheme. If I were more cynical, I would put it down to the fraud-warding pet rock I carry at all times lol...


If I offer a chip and pin credit card with the correct pin, what is the probability that I am who I say I am? And that is surely improved on if the card is not on the "dodgy" lists(s). So, why do we not put chip and pin terminals in all police stations?



Protection against ID theft, maybe, but surely, this is no defense against Thumb theft?


A little more on the subject of subverting identity. An online careers database with less than watertight security had clearly been a diverting piece of fun for some naughty netizens:

For "research" purposes for your readers, you may want to check out the profiles of some notable figures, some of which are quite amusing. Linus Torvalds is apparently a Missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day saints (past, so I guess he quit that while moving to OSDL.) and also the founder of Mac OSX. RMS is the CEO of SuSE, which is news to me.

And the entry for Darl McBride shows nothing interesting in particular, but I guess that his profile may be a non-protected one, so anyone, including enterprising elReg readers could *hint* *hint* modify that to include more interesting job descriptions.


Cool! It works. I've just registered myself several times and ammended the details of some of my colleagues. I'll be ransoming their new passwords for a pint or two at lunchtime :-)

It's slightly more secure than you say though... if you try to ammend the details of someone mentioned more than 30 times, you have to provide a valid credit card and pay $1.

Otherwise what a joke. I wonder how many people will anonymously alter their details and then sue Eliyon? It's an interesting idea.

I haven't had so much fun in ages!


I've had a look at the Eliyon site and tried searching for Cherie Blair using their free past-employees service. Top result? "Cherie Booth Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom".


Nice and accurate then.


Like all stuff compiled from web sources some of this is very funny.

Try a search on Hugh Janus for example!

I'm sure there are many more.

OK- back to work!


The prize for the "Most unlikely sounding headline" this week went to the story emblazoned: "Europeans ditch TV for PC":

Did the authors of this report attempt to establish any correlation between the migration to the internet and the decline of quality in TV programmes? I live in one of the countries with "greatest negative impact on TV consumption" and I'm not surprised, the TV is absolute crap. I've seen enough of it to know what to expect and I wouldn't choose to watch any of it even if I was brain dead. There appears to be three main categories that take up most of the schedule, big brother clones, jerry springer clones and celebrities being grilled by a number of other celebrities. The requirements for being a celebrity are to be related to an established celebrity or to have slept with one, sometimes even both. Achievement or ability, unless it's on the football pitch, count for sod all.

The English language is rich beyond belief but it sadly fails when it comes to describing the drivel that is masquerading as entertainment. I am only glad to see that people are turning to other sources as it at least shows that the locals aren't as stupid as the programme schedulers think they are, and I once thought they must be.

Kind regards,


Speaking of the rich variety an' suchlike of the English language, we presented a proper English guide for our American cousins.

Considering the vagaries of language you might find the following history amusing. In Northern California there is a reservoir called Butt Lake. This is enough by it self to give an American the giggles occasionally. However, it gets better. Butt Lake Dam was built on the site of Buttville, a small settlement founded by one Horace Butt. When the dam was being built the citizens of Buttville moved out. Most resettled in Prattville. The family still living in Buttville and helping to erect the dam were the Goons of Buttville. All true. No, really, it is.


We would like that to be true, but somehow, we can't believe it until we see a map...

Excellent article and rightfully top of the pops at the moment. For a slightly more insightful guide into the British psyche, Americans may want to refer to Viz's Profanisaurus, peculiarly hosted on Maxim's website:

In anticipation of apocryphal stories being emailed to you about the origin of the "balls off a brass monkey" I refer you to

Interestingly, whilst Maxim's website meets my work's guidelines on Internet use, the site is apparently "Pornography".



In regards to your article offering readers resources to help them understand slang terms sometimes found in The Register's articles, I would also like to recommend as a resource. I have found it most helpful.

It also doesn't hurt to make a good friend or two from England. Someone you know well enough that you can ask them about any word or phrase, even if it turns out to be reference to anatomy or a bodily function. (BTW, you almost got me with the phrase "lovely jubbly." I looked up the meaning of "jubblies" at first, and was lead somewhat astray.)

Keep up the good work, and please continue to include as much slang as possible. Otherwise, reading technical articles can be dreadfully boring.

Thanks, elton -- Elton Billings Master of the Blantantly Obvious

Dear Mr Haines,

Thank-you for highlighting the problems related to having two major countries seperated by a common language. It works both ways though; I can't work out what the Americans are banging on about half the time either.

I get especially confused by their strange definitions of such words as 'freedom', 'democracy', 'security' and 'justice' but at least in these cases UK English is quickly evolving to match the US meanings. Sorry, I digress. Enough of the biting social satire and back to the task of understanding our unintelligible cousins across the pond. (Pond? It's a damn great ocean!)

Thankfully, there is respite available at

Which is an open Wiki of global (ie. UK and USA) slang.

Being an open Wiki (look it up, I had to) it's a mixed bag and should be approached with caution by those of a sensitive disposition but in general it's very useful.

If nothing else it serves as a magnet for the sort of people who can write a four-page rant on why the latest definition of 'chav' is completely wrong and stupid - which helps keep these people off the streets and makes the world a better place.

Despite this the signal to noise ratio is not that bad and I think it could be of great assistance to the scores of bemused Limeys and Yanks in your esteemed readership confused by the esoteric differences in rude words and insults that exists between our nations. whatsoever other than contributing the occasional four page rant on why the latest definition of 'goth' is completely wrong and stupid.

Love the Reg.

Regards, Stuart (The Bastard Operator From Hadez).

Worth noting that the challenged vocabularies of the USA have nothing to do with being either New World or colonial.

Canadians, Australians and Kiwis have no such troubles.


True. And can we take a moment to thank all our readers who sent in English slang dictionaries? Hours of fun. Much appreciated round the ol' nest.

Finally, and on a slightly related note, the intricacies of chipney clear had you enthralled:

"wrister" - titter, chortle and titter some more. A new one on me (as it were). long live childishness - snurk!


And that, dear readers, is all for this week. ®

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