Beware the fuffle

A week of IT

Reviewing and summarising reports and other published documents for Computerworld has become markedly easier since so many of them became available on the web. Cutting and pasting replaces much ponderous typing of quoted passages, and no-one can accuse us of getting the wording wrong.

But the Privacy Commissioner tripped us up with her annual report. It's one of the very few web documents we have encountered with ligatures in it. The sequences ff, fi, fl, ffl and ffi are 'set' as one character, and don't come across as printable in our word-processing package.The word "official", for example pastes as "o cial" with a nasty gap in the middle.

It's nice to see someone preserving such cultured typographical devices, though. Incidentally, newer typefaces are starting to revive the elegant Victorian-era curved ligatures linking, for example, the sequences "ct" and "st", as well as all the fuffis and fuffles. We really hope that one doesn't make a comeback in web documents, or we'd risk making a poor fist of transcription.

Top 'insult' rating this week

... goes to an internet product recently trialled by one of our staffers which gives audible progress and error messages to accompany the transmission of data. We like the calm female voice that announces "data transfer complete", just as every TV science fiction producer imagines computers ought to sound. But if the connection breaks before completion, or gets congested for too long, a double-tracked male voice yells "Disappointment!" in a very mocking tone.

We can't imagine the developer intellect that devised that one. The e-government unit would no doubt give it a high "insult rate".

Acronymic Deception in Infrastructure Tendering

Research for our story on the failure of the UK government's broadband demand aggregation project had us wondering about the term for the regional aggregation bodies: "Adits". It had to be an acronym, surely. Even if it's a dictionary word, we thought, someone has to have created a phrase for the letters to stand for. Apparently not, however — "adit" is simply a rather passe word for an entrance or accessway, and that's all.

We're sure critics will snarkily suggest some post-mortem interpretations — Abysmal Disaster in IT, perhaps. And of course there's already been at least one "Looks like they've 'ad it" headline in the British online media.

One of our staffers had a "now I remember" moment; some neighbours, he said, called the gap between the outer London "end-of-terrace" house where he grew up and the next-door property "the adit". It would hardly have made him think of anything involving the word "broad", he says. "The only thing I could fit down there was my scooter."

Put them all together and that spells ...

As a possible alternative to the Adit approach there's the Mush network as practised in Canada. Now that's an acronym, albeit rather contrived — Municipal Universities, Schools and Hostels. As for the word, if you're up near the Arctic Circle, we suppose it makes you think of tightly co-ordinated dog teams pulling sleds rapidly across the snow. But mush to a New Zealander is stuff of a gooey texture, akin to the custard that projects proverbially turn into when they fail. Network clouds are amorphous enough for most of us. No, we'll have to think of another acronym; community utility network ... no, that's heading in a dangerous direction. Bottom-up community-owned networks (Bucons) ... no, doesn't really grab us. Maybe we could have a holiday-season contest for something with meaning and a Kiwi flavour.

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