Lahar from afar

Every day the wonderful Earth Observatory website publishes a new perspective of the Earth as seen from space. Last month our own Mt Ruapehu was featured.

Every day the wonderful Earth Observatory website publishes a new perspective of the Earth as seen from space. Last month our own Mt Ruapehu was featured together with a short scientific explanation of the lahar building at the top and the “great controversy” among New Zealanders how to deal with it.

If I sound drunk, it's my cellphone

Speaking (!) of speech recognition applications, the automated help service may understand "I've lost my mobile phone", but "my mobile phone is full of wine" might not be so easy to interpret. It happened to one of Computerworld's staffers and his phone a couple of years ago when a bottle broke in a plane luggage compartment. The liquid (with dissolved peppermints) got well into the circuitry and was visible behind the display, with a bubble in it, making the phone look rather like a spirit level. It was irreparable, needless to say, but quick action saved the SIM.

Unsolicited testimony

Apparently it’s not just journalists who fabricate quotes. In the “What users say” section of a local company’s website we were surprised to come across a glowing endorsement, credited to “someone from ...” (with the ellipsis being a named entity we won't reveal). Perhaps marketing droids talk to the same “anonymous sources” as E-tales hacks. But what’s this? The rave review on the next page is provided by “someone we entice to quote”. Time to get enticing, we think.

Killfiled

As our government is taking its lead on spam from our neighbours across the Tasman, we thought it would be interesting to see the impact Australia’s new spam act has had on businesses. So we were a bit concerned to learn that IDG Australia has altered the official corporate email disclaimer to provide instructions to “opt out” of any and all communications.

“If you would prefer not to receive further messages from this sender, please forward their email to stop_spam@idg.com.au,” says the message, which is attached to all email -– not just automated messages or subscriptions.

Does this mean that we can decide not to receive email from whoever we want? Can we send an email to Inland Revenue announcing we don’t wish to hear from them ever again? Can people inside a company decide they don’t wish to receive email from their manager? Wouldn’t it be great if this law would actually affect spammers?

Results from AAPT New Zealand

"Telecom New Zealand will announce its third quarter financial results for the nine months ended 31 March 2004 on 7 May 2004 in Sydney."

One wag wonders, does this mean they're going to sell New Zealand off to the highest bidder and move all services/management/support to AAPT? TNZ could become a subsidiary of AAPT with Xtra and the mobile division rolled into one unit, called Xtra Xtra. The local loop won't be unbundled but Telecom will decommission the entire copper infrastructure because it's old technology that's past its use-by date.

(Stranger things have happened, although we should warn that our wag might be past the use-by date also.)

IP on IP

Lawyer Michael Wigley, addressing a meeting on protection of computer-related intellectual propery, said his firm has developed a series of standard contract clauses which at least give developers and customers a start to framing appropriate terms to protect both their investments. But he declined to show the material to the meeting -- because it was his company's intellectual property. "That's IP-squared," he said.

Has Gates set a precedent for ex-CEOs?

Sanjay Kumar may have been ousted as chief executive of Computer Associates, but he can take solace in the fact that a move from the chief executive's chair to that of chief software architect, which he has made, isn't without precedent in the industry. Bill Gates became Microsoft's chief software architect when he relinquished the role of chief executive to Steve Ballmer (although Gates did remain as chairman). Indeed, the major difference between Kumar and Gates' moves may be that Gates' was apparently voluntary. However, we should point out that CA's board has stated "the changes in Sanjay's role are not based on the conclusion that he engaged in any wrongdoing, [but] the conduct in question occurred during his tenure and the board felt this action was appropriate."

No problems here, move on

Members of the NZ Network Operators Group entertained themselves on a recent Friday by watching Xtra’s support page, which happily reported no problems although other ISPs had been struggling to get mail through to Xtra for days. Shortly after this suggestion image was posted to the NOG list the support page was updated.

Coming soon in khaki

There are few things that could entice E-tales to join the US National Guard, and an iPod isn’t one of them.

Still spam

Scott Richter, the “high volume email deployer” featured recently on The Daily Show (see

last week's E-tales) is back in the news. Richter figures that since we enjoy his spam –- sorry, public service –- so much, we’ll be happy to clothe ourselves in spam merchandise also. Newsday reports that Richter is about to launch his own line of Spam King clothing, featuring timeless phrases such as “Just opt out”. For some reason Richter appears to think “the hip-hop, grunge and skateboarding crowds” will be keen to advertise — sorry, wear — his clothing. We’ll be surprised if we ever see a Spam King t-shirt, but we won’t be surprised if we receive a lot of email asking us to buy one.

A man’s world

A British study presents the startling news that Bluetooth devices with male names outnumber those with female names by over three to one. The study by

Zero Sum, which noted 177 Bluetooth devices on a London street last month, found that 60% of people had left the default manufacturer’s name as the Bluetooth name. Of the rest, 68% had a recognisably male name, and 20% had chosen a female name. The authors suggest a number of reasons for the gender discrepancy, but E-tales suspects that men are just more interested in Bluetooth which is, after all, named after Harold Bluetooth, a 10th Century king of Denmark who was fond of a scrap or two. A great mate of Richard the Fearless, Harold successfully invaded Norway and Normandy, and even took Louis IV of France prisoner for a while, but was stopped in his tracks after a hiding from the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto the Great. In time-honoured European royal tradition, he was killed in battle by soldiers loyal to his son. Harold Bluetooth: a man’s man.

Worth remembering

We received a rejection from one of the Ombudsmen of our request last year under the Official Information Act for a count of investigations of supposed online illegal porn trading that yield insufficient evidence to take further action. The mere existence of such failed investigations was

curiously omitted from a DIA report to a select committee last year, though the department admitted to Computerworld that there had been some.

But as for quantifying its failure rate, the department tells the ombudsman its databases are not set up to make such a figure readily available and it would take some 800 person-hours to go through each case collating data between different records. On those grounds, it refuses the information, as it is entitled to under Section 18(f) of the Act.

The reason it gives for not keeping such figures accessible is worth remembering. Trot it out next time someone asks you for some difficult-to-obtain data: "The Department ... does not require the collated information for either business or accountability purposes." The DIA can tell you about its prosecution successes; they are judged of sufficient interest to the media for it to keep a count. But its failures are not counted, and are not, apparently considered relevant to its accountability.

We feel sure there is a marketable IT skill there for public-sector agencies and their software suppliers; how to design databases and document management systems so as to make potentially embarrassing data so hard to extract that it's refusable under the OIA.

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