Darwin revisited

A week of IT

Darwin revisited

It is hardly surprising that we love trying out clever new products here at E-tales. But, you know, such things don’t always originate where one might think. That's why we're so keen on the forthcoming World Usability Day — despite its clunky name — that New Zealand will be the first to celebrate on November 3. The aim of the day is to show how technology can improve products by making them easier to use.

We reckon a kind of reverse Darwinism works best here. First, think about the present design of much of the built world. Most of it is designed with fit, young adults in mind. One doesn’t have to be old or frail to forcibly realise this. The first time one takes a buggy out, complete with very young, but not very fit passenger, one learns how good design that takes the less-able into account benefits all.

Not so long ago we graduated from the strolling pram to the three-wheel, mum-as-jogger buggy – making for a more usable pram. And even in the non-baby office world, headset phones, curvy keyboards and chunky ergonomic mice are taking the pain — literally, in some cases — out of much office work.

He’s toast

A certain Computerworld reporter is not as au fait with technology as he thought. Told by a compatriot that an easy was to make cheese toast was to turn the toaster on its side, he decided to give it a go. The result: melted cheese throughout the toaster, which blew up the next time it was used, taking out the power points as well. His PC will remain firmly in the upright position for the foreseeable future.

Guilty games

What’s your most secret guilty pleasure? Soft-centred chocolates? Softly curved ladies or gentlemen? Or are your pleasures of the more intoxicating variety?

Well, in the UK, it is apparently none of these. For many adults, it’s computer games. But, as with all shameful secrets not fit for dinner party conversation, players feel they have to hide their PlayStation pleasure — well, at least once they hit the big three-O. Yet, a recent survey by the The Guardiannewspaper found that 56% of all gamers are aged between 24 and 44.

It used to be that games were a boy thing, but even that is changing. The Sim City games helped a lot here, as well as games such as what The Guardian calls the “heartbreakingly beautiful” Ico are a world away from the unremittingly grim games of yore.

Virtually transparent

It maybe virtually free, but it’s something the Japanese in particular would know exactly how to value, as it’s the modern equivalent of the ritual gift. It’s the quirky email or cute link.

The virtual gift was the subject of a recent study by US researchers who say that if an email is spot-on it tells the person receiving it that the sender has thought about them and about what they might like.

Conversely, New Scientist magazine reports, a badly thought-out email or link does nothing for the sender’s reputation. We reckon it’s the equivalent of the ‘I’ve bought you socks because I don’t really care’ Christmas gift and will probably send the sender straight to the bottom of the email equivalent of the Christmas list. PR practitioners take note.

An E-tales staffer once worked for a Japanese company and there encountered the exquisite Japanese art of the gift exchange. Gifts obviously get more expensive the higher up the corporate food chain one goes, but even the least expensive gift is never cheap, is tailored to the recipient, and always comes beautifully wrapped.

Txt a tea

According to online news site The Register, those too lazy to get up and turn on the kettle now only need reach for their mobile phones to put on a brew. Telecomms carrier Orange and British tea institution PG Tips have, allegedly, created ReadyWhenUR, a kettle that can be switched on by text message.

The kettle comes equipped with a radio receiver that can be programmed with the user’s mobile number, an electronic circuit and a tiny set of mechanical levers.

The gadget, said to be inspired by a similar device in the Wallace and Gromit movies, should go on sale in January. However, E-tales was unable to find a reference to it on either PG Tips’ or Orange’s websites, so we can’t vouch for the authenticity of the story, but The Register claims a PG Tips spokeswoman told it the kettle “could revolutionise tea-time.”

Bigger bums on the way

Just what we needed — a new way to make our bums fat. According to the London Times newspaper, now we have become screen slaves – because we email even our next-cubicle colleagues — we don’t even undertake the customary office ramble. The result: bums are getting even bigger.

E-tales is edited by Jo Bennett. Send your tales of wit and woe to etales@computerworld.co.nz

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