The penguin was here first

A WEEK OF IT

The penguin was here first

The rise of open source has been slow and inexorable over the past few years. But just how many years the Linux penguin has been in the ascendancy wasn't clear until a Hamilton school group literally tripped over the bones of an ancient giant penguin last week.

Standing 1.5m tall in its stocking feet, the penguin roamed our shores nearly 40 million years ago. Whether there were any GNU around then is yet to be determined.

Woz you not there, then?

A correspondent of ours, who wishes to remain nameless, told us of an embarrassing faux pas that took place last week at a gala dinner held in honour of Apple man Steve Wozniak in Takapuna, Auckland.

Formalities commenced with a story from David Cunliffe, Minister of Communications, about arriving early and, having some time to kill, filling the spare minutes by listening to the familiar little music player clutched in his hand. Cunliffe then went on to publicly thank the co-founder of Apple Computer for bringing us the iPod.

Needless to say, the Minister's accolade did not prompt a round of applause from the better informed Apple fraternity or Wozites in the audience. Wozniak, of course, left Apple over 15 years ago – well before the iPod was launched in 2001.

Ouch!

Maybe the Minister was confused and thought it was the other Steve who was guest of honour.

I count, therefore I am Now, we know it’s traditional for scientists to sneer at the study of the arts, but a thought-provoking debate on the subject is presently being conducted through that old-style blog — the letters page. In this case that of the UK’s Guardian newspaper. Here at E-tales we particularly liked the comment of one letter writer — Igor Aleksander of the prestigious Imperial College, London — who that pointed out that great British mathematician Alfred North Whitehead thought scientists needed philosophy so they could question “primitive propositions”. What’s causing the stir is Britain’s Royal Academy of Engineering wanting to teach its nascent engineers philosophy, so they can question the present order of things and so invent better futures. We reckon the real issue is that science students will have to write essays and many of them are about a comfortable doing so as arts students are adding up a column of figures.

Not so cloudy view

Maybe it’s a particularly English thing, but I remember as a child lying in the grass dreamily staring up at the clouds chasing across the changeable English sky. Gavin Pretor-Pinney remembers, too. Now all grown-up, the Englishman is still a fan of clouds. So much so that last year he set up the cloud appreciation society website.

He's not the only one who thinks clouds are a lot more wonderful than so-called blue-sky thinking – which he says he deplores. His year-old website was recently voted the most weird and wonderful find on the internet for 2005 by Yahoo. According to a UK Times newspaper article, Yahoo’s on cloud nine – it gave it the thumbs after finding that at one point last year it was receiving seven million visits a month.

Check it out at: www.cloudappreciationsociety.org/

Texts from the Tardis

When it comes to TV shows with geek appeal, it’s hard to beat that old British stalwart Dr Who. Now, one of the good Doctor’s incarnations, Tom Baker, has moved into the world of texting.

British news site vnunet reports that the much-liked Baker, who played the Doctor from 1974 to 1981, was approached by BT Text after a poll showed his to be the fourth most recognisable voice in Britain – after the Queen, Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher. He is now the voice behind British Telecom’s new text-to-speed system.

Baker spent 11 days recording the 11,593 sounds and phrases BT’s system uses to reassemble text messages into voice greetings.

E-tales reckons spending 11 days mouthing thousands of English sounds and sayings might be worse than being tortured by Daleks. But Baker told vnunet: “What appeals to me most is the thought that I will be bringing good news to people.”

Fanning the fatwah

Jumping on the “let’s insult Mohammed” bandwagon is conservative US web site and T-shirt seller Metrospy, with its Mohammed-with-a-bomb-in-his-turban T-shirt — a must for the not-so discerning right-winger.

We thought the site might have something to contribute to the current debate on free speech and Danish cartoonists’ right to lampoon prophets, but a quick squint at the site left us disappointed. Words such as: “Our tees are guaranteed to quell the whiney hum of any liberal co-worker, democrat relative or left-wing, Iran-loving crazy person” did not inspire us. Even less so tees which opine, “Peace through superior firepower” and, “If Bush lied about Iraq’s WMD…”

The grossly intolerant also fly the free speech flag. As Samuel Johnson observed: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

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