E-tales: To be 2.0 or not to be 2.0

Look more closely next time you buy a USB device. The USB Implementors Forum, reports the Bangkok Post, has decided that USB 1.1 should henceforth be known as USB 2.0, never mind that the protocol will be otherwise unchanged and that the latter is up to 40 times faster than the former.

Look more closely next time you buy a USB device. The USB Implementors Forum, reports the Bangkok Post, has decided that USB 1.1 should henceforth be known as USB 2.0, never mind that the protocol will be otherwise unchanged and that the latter is up to 40 times faster than the former. Apparently consumers were reluctant to buy the slower devices, so the industry has decided to aid their purchasing decision by calling everything USB 2.0. The devices will now be branded "full-speed" and "high-speed" USB. All clear then? -- full speed is the old 1.1, and high speed is 2.0. It's a kind of magic.

Marginal Manawatu

A Computerworld reporter seeking a photo from a contact recently received the following voicemail: "I'm really keen to get you a photo. I'm in Palmerston North and where I happen to be staying is a marginal area for my mobile data network connection using CDMA1x and I haven't been able to connect yet."

One would hope his lodgings are a small island of inaccessibility and that most of Palmy, a city with world-class research and educational institutions, is covered by Telecom's 027 network.

Surgeon with a smile

A surgeon, speaking at an electronic health records conference in Auckland last week, lightened his presentation with the following joke. What's the difference between God and a surgeon? Answer: God knows he's not a surgeon. Not coincidentally, a theme of the conference was that, these days, the rights of patients and obligations of medical personnel and institutions to keep them informed are accorded higher priority than in the past.

Upwardly mobile

If you've ever found yourself standing in front of the snack machine with empty pockets, wondering about that promised land in which you can tap a few numbers into your mobile and get a Snickers in return, wonder no more -- it's just about here (we swear). Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone in Europe have teamed up with Spanish firm Telefonica Moviles to create a system called Simpay, which will let you buy anything from a can of soft drink to a parking ticket with your mobile phone.

Because large European mobile operators are involved this attempt stands a chance; an earlier system called Paybox fell by the wayside because they were not involved, and because consumers weren't interested.

Predictions for so-called m-commerce reach the stratosphere a few years ago, though they have become much more modest in recent times. Having said that, IDC reportedly predicts that 27 million people will be using their mobile phone to buy Snickers and other goods by 2007.

Freedom from compression

What do you mean June 20 didn't mean anything to you? Some of those who care about technological freedom on the internet dubbed it Gif Liberation Day. The patent for the Lempel-Ziv-Welch, or LZW, compression algorithm was due to expire in the US on the 20th (it expires in a lot of other countries next June). LZW underlies the Gif format, which is you might know is a fairly popular method of storing images on the internet. In 1994 Unisys claimed ownership of the LZW patent and demanded fees from commercial users. Coincidentally, the patent-free status of Gifs (you didn't know it was patented either?) could kill the free but less popular PNG format that has just beta'd in version 2.0 by the W3C (see Weaving the Web book review, June 23).

Smalls mind

UK energy company Powergen sensibly denies it has any connection to the www.powergenitalia.com website. Powergen (www.pgen.com) is, in fact, now owned by a German company, but was rumoured to have an Italian subsidiary with this unfortunate URL. Powergen Italia is an Italian battery firm, which until now had no idea its website would cause thousands of unseemly sniggers.

PC PCs

One doing the email rounds suggests that as Microsoft moves to make more culturally sensitive localised versions of its operating systems, haiku error messages could be in order for Japanese machines. Here's a few.

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A file that big?

It might be very useful.

But now it is gone.

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ABORTED effort:

Close all that you have worked on.

You ask way too much.

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Windows 98 crashed.

I am the Blue Screen of Death.

No one hears your screams.

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Three things are certain:

Death, taxes and lost data.

Guess which has occurred.

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You step in the stream,

But the water has moved on.

This page is not here.

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Out of memory.

We wish to hold the whole sky,

But we never will.

------------------------

Software scam

You can make them wear the uniform, be it "smart casual" or suits of the finest charcoal, you can inculcate best practice and get them checking the stock price every hour, but you can't firewall against greed or stupidity.

A former Microsoft employee was arrested last week for allegedly ordering more than $US17 million of software via an internal purchasing system and selling it to keep the proceeds. Richard Gregg, 43, faces 62 counts of mail and computer fraud. Gregg, a Windows project co-ordinator who was fired from Microsoft in December 2002, pleaded not guilty. The arrest followed that of Daniel Feussner, a former Microsoft manager, who allegedly did something similar. Feussner, who did not kill anyone, died in hospital after ingesting antifreeze.

The Observer, meanwhile, reports that IBM paid the UK Inland Revenue about £700 million to settle claims of tax evasion in 2001, at least according to a disaffected former employee of the company. IBM wouldn't confirm or deny the claim, calling it "rumour and speculation".

This story, which first broke in 1999, says that Gerard Churchhouse, a former IBM marketing manager who was dismissed from the company in 1995, claimed to the House of Commons public accounts committee that IBM UK had transferred artificially high royalties to its loss-making parent in the early 1990s (it makes a profit these days), in an attempt to reduce the group's global tax bill. He said this alleged "transfer pricing" allowed the company to evade hundreds of millions of pounds in UK taxes.

Broatch is Computerworld's deputy editor. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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