Stupid operating systems or stupid operators?

Did somebody mention dolphins?

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Paypal has frozen a customer's account because his name is ""similar to or a match to" a name on the US government's anti-terror assets freezing list. It would be a bad day for many if anyone called John Smith managed to get onto the list, that's all we're saying:

Nothing new about this. MoneyGram has been playing a similar game with me for about two years. I am a Spanish resident with Romanian citizenship.

Every time I want to use their service, unlike all(?) other customers, I have to fax birth dates and birthplaces for myself and my father then wait for confirmation that the transaction is unblocked. It always gets blocked because of some erroneous name match. All climbing to more than half an hour on my end and some more on the other. All this for a service advertised as "10 minutes - end to end".

The first time this problem appeared (cause they let me "slip" for about a year before that), it took a day and a half and about a dozen phone calls (of which, two to their head offices in the US) to solve.   - Geppa

The online payments service told him his name is "similar to or a match to" a name on the US government's anti-terror assets freezing list.”

That assumes most terrorists are stupid enough to use their own name…or even stupid enough to bother using PayPal…!

Utterly ridiculous.


This is an interesting problem that all the banks have had to deal with over the last few years. KYC (Know Your Customer) has meant that even if you have a long-term existing bank account and want to open a new savings account (for example), you must prove yourself to them.

As well as the American OFAC lists, there is also the Bank Of England Sanctions lists which pretty much has the America list plus a few others.

The fact that the lists often only have a name, an approximate age and sparse address makes me wonder how the identity is ever proved to not be one of those on the list. Presumably those on the list change their identities and locations often enough to keep the authorities on their toes (In the UK, I believe that this is NCIS (National Criminal Investigation Service).

And who am I? Well, I have helped organisations implement searching systems to meet the new regulatory legislations.


It would be interesting to see how many Mohammed Hassans there are in the UK. There are 47 Mohammed Hassans in the UK who hold directorships alone. Have they all had their accounts frozen, or just this particular Mohammed Hassan? If 47 hold directorships, there must be hundreds of them in the country.

Paul Reading

Actually I think PayPal is doing EXACTLY what they should be doing under the circumstances. If this "British citizen" is who he claims he is then he has nothing to be concerned about.

You make it sound like PayPal is wrong for checking him out when his name is on the SDN list. We need MORE scrutiny of people making financial transactions not less.


Ah, the old "those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear" stance...

Speaking of nothing to fear, how's your health service? Ready for a major incident? Ours isn't. This statement was brought to you by the Ministry of Panic.

Your thoughts:

As part of my interest in late Cold War history, I wrote a short paper (pdf) on my web site that looked at NHS preparedness during the latter half of the Cold War and how it would respond to a nuclear attack:

What the BMA is saying is what they said more than 20 years ago; in in 1983; The BMA Board of Science and Education held an Inquiry into the Medical Effects of Nuclear War. It estimated that a 1 megaton airburst over St. Paul's Cathedral would result in 1.6 million blast injuries and up to 650,000 severe burns which would completely overwhelm the entire peacetime resources of the NHS.

More importantly A National Audit Office report[18], published in November 2002 found that "hospital and ambulance trusts do not have adequate plans to deal with a biological, chemical, radiological or nuclear attack[19]." -- Full references in the document above.

Best regards,


  I don't know what the state of the UK health system is, but i can tell you that the Irish 'health system ' isn't prepared for normal working conditions, never mind an emergency.

- Thom

  El Reg hacks are quacking, er quaking, in their boots as news emerges that someone has handed news writing to a bunch of computers. Only financial stuff, mind you, but still as we will see from your responses, this might not be a good thing:

The Whitehouse should purchase this application and cut out the middleman. They could elliminate the cost and inconvenience of press breifings altogether. After all, what's the practical difference between a piece of software churning out the news you want it to, and a cowed, tame and entirely uncritical domestic press owned lock-stock-and-barrel by buddies of the administration? Although, now that I think about it, the current setup is probably the more secure - the chances of the software being hacked by some unpatriotic 14-year-old seditionist is probably a good deal higher than any of the current crop of Washington-based journodrones stepping out of line.


There's a quote in Kurt Godel's time to look it up (It's Saturday, I've got to mow the lawn - it's threatening rain - so sue me), but it goes along the lines of:

Mathematicians have to get a feel for the numbers and a feel for basic mathematical operations before they can get to the more advanced operations.

If you need to rebutt an argument over a pinta, let me know, I can look it up and find it for you.

Unless the reporters do the mundane reporting/looking up/comparing of company financials and get a feel for what's normal and what numbers mean in the real (or in the financial) world, they're going to be useless to report. No matter how much you can ".. free up reporters so they have more time to think."

They'll be reading computer generated articles, without even knowing if the numbers/comparisons are reasonable.

This is a recipe for disaster.

One of the main reasons that that El Reg is one of the best sources of tech news around is that the reporters obviously (to me, at least) know what they're talking about.

The Reg staffers' knowledge about computers isn't just superficial. Computers are not just something they put up with 'cuz they have to, for work. You get the feeling that they own more that one computer at home. And that they discuss issues and controversies about technologies at length. They don't just read/parrot press releases.

This kind of nuanced appreciation of their field comes from years of digging, of combing through boring trivia, of having to read specification/user manuals, etc. It's a prerequisite for the ability "to think".



I have been thinking about these possibilities, on and off, for years - as is only natural for a freelance writer/analyst focusing on software. The obvious objection is that AI research has come nowhere near being able to pass the Turing test, with its concomitants of cogent logic, wit, and stylish writing.

But press releases, routine announcements... yes, that is eminently doable. The buzz-phrase generator started out as a joke, but I bet it will end up making some humourless entrepreneur billions. As for analyst reports, the sky's the limit: they mostly read as if they were written by computers already.


knew I should have applied for a patent! I wrote the first program to turn data into a news article in the early 1990s. The articles were posted to a bulletin board and sent by email to subscribers. They did not know the difference. Not even the European subscribers! I have been doing it ever since . . . even using a database for historical context!!


A small complaint following Thomas C Greene's piece on the plausibility of a mid-flight binary explosive mising session. Smacked wrists all round at Vulture central for this piece of apparent homophobia:

Generally an excellent read and up to the Register's usual high standard of writing, except for this rather curious sentence:

""Based on their behavior, it's reasonable to suspect that everything John Reid and Michael Chertoff know about counterterrorism, they learned watching the likes of Bruce Willis, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Vin Diesel, and The Rock (whose palpable homoerotic appeal it would be discourteous to emphasize).""

So you're inferring that Reid and Chertoff are gay, then? And gay is bad, m'kay? This is ridiculous - why is this attempted slur buried in here? It says more about the prejudice of the author than Reid and Chertoff, and consists of another little drop in the ocean of pervasive anti-gay sentiment that I'm sure is not appreciated by any gay people anywhere.

Frankly, I'm very surprised, given the Reg's usual liberal attitudes, that this line slipped through editorial control. I mean, it's not even *funny*.

A small complaint about a generally excellent piece - but just so you know: I otherwise might have linked to it so that my friends could read it but with that line present I can't, in all good conscience, do that. So you're losing out on hits (and thus advertising revenue) in this instance too.



Making processors work faster and under terrible conditions:

I may be wrong, but I thought the University of Southampton's electronics department was recently reduced to a pile of smoking rubble? Kudos to the profs for doing this research sans a building...


A resourceful lot, certainly..

And finally, we come to the question of dolphin IQ. A researcher upset a lot of cetacean-lovers by suggesting that everyone's favourite marine mammal is in fact stupid. Obviously not a Douglas Adams fan:

I think the good doctor's observations are clearly flawed as the average human uses between 9 and 13%, and clearly many humans don't indicate that they possess intelligence either. We call those government and upper management, and give them large pay cheques to match their large egoes.

I think there is more credibility in Douglas Adams' observations on dolphins. What next, that mice don't rule the world?


If you went by the "Why don't they just jump over the net" standard to gauge intellegence, you would have to look at us humans and our wars, crime, pollution, Boy Bands, and U.S. Presidents, and conclude that we are obviously incapable of inventing the iPod and cell phone.


was reading that article about the researcher who says that dolphins are stupid, comparing them to less than rats and goldfish and I just laughed. Especially this section...

"You put an animal in a box, even a lab rat or gerbil, and the first thing it wants to do is climb out of it. If you don't put a lid on top of the bowl a goldfish it will eventually jump out to enlarge the environment it is living in," he said.

"But a dolphin will never do that. In the marine parks, the dividers to keep the dolphins apart are only a foot or two above the water between the different pools."   Clearly, this guy/gal hasn't read anything of Darwin or natural selection. If a dolphin just thoughtlessly jumped out of its natural environment to 'explore' an area that it is quite capable of exploring simply by sticking its head of the water (which it does, regularly i might add) then i'm sure there would be a lot of dead dolphins lieing around at the edges of water parks.

I mean really, goldfish can get away with doing that because they have 100's of babies per birth. But a dolphin cannot get away with such reckless behaviour because they only have 1 baby per birth.   And as for the 'Getting caught in tuna nets' here's something for you - Echo location doesn't work too well when you have a wall of wire heading towards you at 20 mph.


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