The week defined in gossip and tall tales


Four years ago an entrepreneurial South Korea journalist, Oh Yeon Ho, established a website called OhmyNews that became one of his country's most influential publications because, Ho claims, it makes every citizen a reporter. It was set up, he says, to make money and also encourage what he calls "citizen participatory journalism." It quickly became hugely popular. "We have over 33,000 citizen reporters," Ho is quoted as saying in the Guardian. About 17,000 have written at least one article, he claims. Besides writing stories the citizen reporters add to articles already published and give them either the thumbs up or the thumbs down. It has been hailed as the "future of journalism" by some. It's very different to blogging, says Ho. He has unveiled an international English language version of OhmyNews.

Do as the Israelis do

"NZ — the next Israel?" read the subject line of an email E-tales recently received from an expat Kiwi now working in the US as a consultant. He had some good advice about how New Zealand could benefit from following Israel's lead in attracting venture capital and having IT companies' R&D based at home but sales and marketing done from the US. However, he didn't suggest we follow Israel to the extent of sending SIS agents to Israel and have them get caught trying to fraudulently obtain Israeli passports — but we can read between the lines.

On the cards

"The only game I've ever played on a PC is patience" — that's Microsoft senior exec Terry Allen, admitting a distinct lack of concern over game-players' complaints about the Windows firewall obstructing their need for high-speed pings through obscure ports.

From the terminal

Black humour may be inappropriate in an IT publication, and we hesitate to tread on sensitive toes; but it does seem worthy of remark that the paper confirmation from the first online registration of a death in New Zealand was headed "EDI Export Summary". We couldn't help wondering whether births count towards our trade balance with the Hereafter. A little tailoring of the standard text is needed, we fancy.

BORA hole

Looking up a legal point only tangentially related to computing (by way of freedom of information) last week, one of our staffers was surprised to discover that the Bill of Rights Act seemed to have disappeared from the legislation.govt.nz website. The site lists the title (between "Bills of Exchange" and "Biosecurity", which in itself displays an odd sense of alphabetical order) but the entry lacks the “plus” sign to be clicked for expansion of the hypertext, and on clicking on the title itself, only a worrying blank appears.

A few minutes later, of course, our man realised he should have been looking for “New Zealand Bill of Rights Act”. Panic off; despite the little spat between Chief Justice Sian Elias and Deputy PM Michael Cullen, we do still have a Bill of Rights.

Parliamentary Counsel Office please note — if you’re going to list the Act on the website under B, it might be nice to include a pointer (clickable or merely informative) to the real entry, under N.

Ornithological excursion

It’s mortifying for a journalist to write something on a technical subject from the basis of a layperson’s knowledge then after deadline explore the topic among authoritative sources and discover one is guilty of spreading a calumny.

We confess therefore shamefacedly (and before the flood of correspondence starts) that we were wrong in stating in our E-tale on PXT images last week that “the cormorant has another name” with a potential double entendre. We were misled by, among other sources, the well-known verse, attributed to Christopher Isherwood: The common cormorant or shag/lays eggs inside a paper bag…

As articles such as Wikipedia's entry on cormorants make clear, Phalacracorax carbo (the Great Cormorant) and Phalacracorax aristotelis (the Common Shag) are, in fact different, though related, species, the latter being distinguished by a crest.

We’re still not sure that Vodafone or its advertising agents appreciate the difference, and can’t think of any other reason why cormorant images should be promoted as appropriate for one PXT user to send another.

We confess also to continuing uncertainty about the significance of some of the other PXT images shown in the advertising campaign. The more puzzling include a coat hook (Hang on? I’m hooked on you? I’m pegging out?) and a plastic sauce container in the shape of a tomato (possibly "We must ketch up some time").

Good and bad news for teachers

E-rater software, which measures the analytical component of the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) used by many MBA schools, is really taking off in the US educational arena. More than two million essays have been scored by E-rater since it was adopted for the GMAT about five years ago. Before then teams of people graded each GMAT essay. And the software is now being considered for use in the Graduate Record Examination for graduate school admission, according to the Washington Post.

Although it only rates text based on grammar and syntax, not logic, E-rater is also being considered for use in the Test of English as a Foreign Language. It is designed to assess the proficiency of immigrants entering US schools. Testing experts in the US predict that machines eventually will help grade the SAT (scholastic aptitude test) and ACT, the American college test. The reason is technology costs less and works faster than humans. "It is sort of inevitable," says Jeff Rubenstein, vice president for technology of Princeton Review, a test preparation company. "But it is also sort of regrettable.” He knows brilliant writers have been given terrible scores by the software.

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