E-tales: Hype or hypo?

When sending emails it's very easy to make a mistake in the subject line, which usually gets written more hastily than the body of the email...

When sending emails it's very easy to make a mistake in the subject line, which usually gets written more hastily than the body of the email. We received an email from wireless development house The Hyperfactory which carried the subject line "The Hypefactory newsletter -- hot off the press!" We can think of a few organisations which should be renamed The Hypefactory, but that's company's not one of them.

Highs and lows

Australian online publisher IDM recently wrote up a Meta Group report on the state of morale among IT workers and summarised that "recent research by the Meta Group has found that there is a high level of low employee morale among IT workers". Wouldn't it have been simpler just to say the study had shown low morale among IT workers? Then again, maybe IDM was wanting to emphasise there was a high level of low morale, rather than a low level of high morale or a low level of low morale, or no morale at all.

Liquid lunch

You know things must be cranking up in the industry when lunch invitations clash. For the first time in quite a while this publication was invited to two lunch events on the same day, one with Symantec, the other with SAP. It hasn't yet reached the point a few years back when one public relations firm had two different events on at the same time (on behalf of different clients) and the two staffers from the firm who organised the respective events were fighting each other for attendees.

Talking phoney

Revitalised US magazine The Atlantic runs a section at the back each month about language. The July/August issue (yes we know it's still June) has readers' attempts to create a word that "describes the momentary confusion experienced by everyone in the vicinity when a cellphone rings and no one is sure if it is his or hers". Someone in Texas suggested conphonesion; someone in Rhode Island, phonundrum; California gave up ringchronicity; New York offered ringmarole. Someone from Indianapolis suggested ringxiety, while another from across the border in British Columbia suggested fauxcellarm. The Atlantic decided that the winner, because he suggested it first, was a fellow from Maine for pandephonium. Can we do better?

Bright sparks

Intriguing also was an item in the New Yorker. The piece talked about dorkbot, a group that holds meetings in 17 cities, including Manhattan, Melbourne and Madrid. The idea is “People doing strange things with electricity.” At a dorkbot meeting in San Francisco, says the magazine, two 12-storey towers and a generator called a Tesla coil were set to produce lightning bolts as long as 100m. At another meeting, a talk titled “Fire-Spewing Vacuum Cleaners” described a project involving vacuum cleaners fuelled with propane. The speaker called his next endeavour “Things That Might Fly If You Put Enough Rockets on Them.” Dorkbot presentations typically feature novel ways of using electrical devices, especially uses that don’t require much money. “The idea of dorkbot was to reach people who had nowhere to talk about these projects,” says founder Douglas Repetto, who teaches computer music. “Some might appear in a gallery, perhaps, but many are too odd, or they’re unfinished, or it’s not even clear what they are.”

Literary pursuits

Two years ago BookCrossing.com had 3400 registered members and a driving force, Ron Hornbaker, saw the site as a pleasant diversion that might become an effective calling card for his software development business. Today the online community boasts 257,000 members, 10 million page views per month and 1.1 million registered books. It has also become Hornbaker's full-time livelihood. Who knew? . . . Not Hornbaker. "We're getting 400 new members a day, and that's on an increasing pace, so it looks as though we'll have a million members within a couple of years," he says.

Not bad for a diversion.

BookCrossing.com is for book lovers who would rather give their favourite titles to total strangers than toss them on a shelf or in the rubbish. Members "release" their books "into the wild" -- they simply leave them in a public place -- after registering the titles on the site and affixing stickers that explain what's going on. The stickers include a unique identification number that lets the books be tracked. The person who finds the book is supposed to note the sticker, become curious, visit the site, report the ID number and log a journal entry about the find. The site also provides forums for members to swap tales.

While T-shirts, promotions and partnerships with book publishers have generated some income, BookCrossing's best source of revenue has proven to be "release kits" that provide members with the eye-catching labels they need to attract a passerby's attention to their books. Membership is free, as are more rudimentary labels, but these kits that start at $30 apiece have proven to be a hit.

Of course, the site's rapid growth has brought with it other predictable IT and management issues. "Right now our main concerns are keeping up with the growth and adding new features," Hornbaker says. "As the site gets slow we add more servers. We have a cluster system going that's working out really well."

As well, more released books are being reported back to the site. Two years ago, only 10% of released books were ever heard from again, whereas the rate is perhaps 25%.

Play pen

And here's one from the sci-fi-meets-fact files. Just after the invisible cloak made the news, the BBC reports that Sony boffins have come up with a pen that can move files between computers. So the owner of a computer can pick up a file from their device, using a special pen, and drop it on to the screen of another computer, simply by placing the pen on its screen. Dr Jun Rekimoto and his team at the Sony Interaction Laboratory extended the drag and drop technique used in most PC software to create a "pick and drop" technique, says the Beeb. "The 'pick and drop' system was developed using the Mitsubishi Amity handheld pen computer and a Wacom PL300 pen-sensitive desktop screen. Pens are given a unique ID, which is readable by the computer when the pen is close to its screen. When a person taps on an icon with the pen, the computer contacts a 'pen manager' server, via a fixed or wireless connection, and the object is attached to the pen, although the pen itself has no storage capacity. When the pen tip comes close to the screen of another device, a shadow of the attached object appears on its screen. Tapping the pen tip instructs the 'pen manager' server to copy the file to that location."

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