Peter Rhodes on vanishing laptops, alternatives to shaking hands and the battle of science v religion

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Competing with Genesis – the Osiris-Rex probe (Photo: University of Arizona)
Competing with Genesis – the Osiris-Rex probe (Photo: University of Arizona)

Nasa has spent about a billion dollars sending its Osiris-Rex probe to scoop up some dust from an asteroid 200 million miles away. This mission, according to the boffins, is to gain a better understanding of the origins of life on earth. Well, good luck with that.

The problem is that while the United States is the most advanced scientific power the world has ever seen, it is also one of the most fundamentally religious. So while Nasa probes the origins of life in deepest space, about 40 per cent of US adults, according to a survey last year, believe that God created all life in the last 10,000 years. They get their facts not from Nasa but from Genesis.

The Government has already supplied 100,000 laptop computers to schools to be distributed to pupils described as disadvantaged. Another 100,000 are on the way but the allocation per school has been reduced. And who's keeping tabs on them? How many valuable laptops will simply vanish, to be written off like the medical gowns that didn't fit and the facemasks tainted with Covid-19? This pandemic has been a tragedy for thousands, a worry for millions – and a money-making opportunity for others.

When the laptop allocation was cut by Whitehall, one head teacher tweeted: “Make a headline and then change the decision. Happening over and over again”.

There is some truth in that. Take the Government's much-heralded energy scheme, the Green Home Grant. If you read the bumf, you may think a clean, green Government will give you up to £10,000 to improve your home's energy efficiency. But there's not a penny on offer unless you first spend a few thousand on major improvements. Even then, you must find an authorised tradesman before the work starts – and would-be customers are reporting a nationwide shortage of them. One money website warns that many people would find it cheaper to ignore the Green Home Grant and simply shop around. Wonderful headline, shame about the small print.

Great mysteries of our time. I'm not going to bang on again about BT's clapped-out, infuriating and all-round useless email service. Except for this. How can it be that when every other website is accessible on BT broadband, the only place you can't reach is BT email?

And why, when you use the feedback service to answer BT's questions about how you rate it and whether you'd recommend it to a friend (hah!), does it cut you off when you've just typed: “Absolutely bloo . . .”?

Yesterday's item on judging somebody's character by their handshake leads on to the obvious problem of body-contact in a pandemic and the possible demise of shaking hands. When viruses stalk the planet, there are sensible and respectful alternatives. I recommend the Middle East custom of placing the right hand on the left breast and bowing slightly. Your own breast, that is.

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