E-tales: Lav online

The AAP press agency reported that world's first portable lavatory with internet access is due to be unveiled in Britain any month now. Interested? Bad luck. The story was a hoax perpetrated by Microsoft's UK office. Those wacky Brits.

The AAP press agency reported that world's first portable lavatory with internet access is due to be unveiled in Britain any month now (just waiting for the summer). The iLoo is reportedly being built by Microsoft's MSN internet arm, which will open the door on its creation at Britain's summer music festivals.

The dunny in question will feature a wireless keyboard, plasma screen and fast internet link -- hopefully not too fast. Interested? Bad luck. The story was a hoax perpetrated by Microsoft's UK office. Those wacky Brits.

Luck of the drawer

Clearswift, "the world's leading provider of software for managing and securing electronic communication", was offering everyone who attended last week's AusCERT security conference in the Gold Coast and saw a demo of its ClearSecure email product a chance to go "in the drawer to win a bottle of Penfold's 98 Grange". Nice. (Clearswift is also offering a demo to those who aren't attending.) But when the entries come out of the drawer?

That's dotDOTdot

The brand name .Net is eccentric enough, particularly when rendered in Microsoft's preferred all-capital letters, but the New Zealand .Net Users' Group has saddled itself with an even more indigestible elaboration. Its website is at www.dot.net.nz. A spokesman acknowledges it doesn't exactly trip off the tongue. The more economical www.net.nz has, predictably, already been snapped up, by the ambitiously named Advanced Global Technology of Auckland, administrative contact Jason Webb (we're sure it's his real name; is he related to Douglas?). The site consists solely of an advertisement for the sale of the domain name.

When deciding on its new brand back in 2001, the Internet Society of NZ, now InternetNZ, actually considered Dot-nz and related domain name. It was voted down resoundingly, on grounds including oral clumsiness, at a general meeting.

More than it can chew?

Continuing what threatens to become a series on IT-industry vehicle registration plates (only joking), Lower Hutt's Megabyte Computer Consultants is not content with the rather squashed MGABYT; it has also snapped up 1024KB. We wondered if the first should really have gone to a company specialising in data compression tools.

Acronyms are easy

On that note, a reader says a contributor at Woody's Lounge uses as his signature "PCMCIA -- People Cannot Memorise Computer Industry Acronyms".

He quite right, of course -- they can't -- and wrong, because that one's easy actually to remember.

On yer bike!

Computerworld could have been influential in IT and transport minister Paul Swain's public championing of the Wellington Regional Counci's Close2:Kapiti teleworking trial (don't ask us the significance of the colon).

A while ago, when Swain issued a media release on National Bike to Work Day, we phoned his office and asked "What about national Stay Home and Work Online day?" Approving noises were made at the other end of the line at the idea of such a public championing -- though the minister's spokesman pointed out that telecommuting already rates a mention in the National Transport Strategy.

So now teleworking has overt ministerial backing. Rather unfortunate that it should have come at a time when New Zealand is comparatively flush with petrol but a bit strained in the electricity stakes.

But anyone concerned at telecommuters’ profligate use of home power in these water-straitened times should refer to the several discussion threads going on in local Usenet newsgroups. It's been noted that the typical consumption of a basic home computer is only about 300 watts. Extra power consumed in the surge switching the machine off and on has been lengthily discussed and judged not enough to wipe out a night's savings. But even when left on unattended, geeks plead, the PC heats the room and so is not as wasteful as might be imagined.

Meanwhile, the IT industry's busy publicists are doing their bit for power saving. PC manufacturer Silicon Systems, at a recent presentation, handed out branded ballpoint pens that emit light from the tip in an ethereal gas-jet blue at the press of a button. The Computerworld staffer presented with one verifies that it makes it possible to write in the dark -- or would if the ink hadn't run dry after three days' use.

Best wishes

“Let us pray, that New Zealand’s economy will grow at even a fraction of the rate that Cisco has in the past decade,” intoned the prime minister. “Amen,” said departing Cisco New Zealand boss Tim Hemingway, in the background.

Helen Clark’s researchers know their numbers, supplying the PM with a torrent of Cisco revenue figures to regurgitate at the company’s 10th anniversary bash in Auckland 10 days ago. Sounding like a southern baptist preacher, Cisco boss John Chambers chimed in in a prerecorded video message with wistful remarks about beautiful New Zealand.

The man who set up Cisco’s New Zealand office, Andrew Murray – now head of the company’s Asian telco sales effort – jetted in to tell the crowd how he came to be known as the Big Razzoo. We can’t remember the details. However, Murray also let slip that the party’s timing worked in rather nicely with his annual fishing trip in the Bay of Islands.

It was left to Hemingway to get the show rocking, promising to cement his reputation as a party animal and offering all-comers a dance. Not to miss an opportunity for an undiplomatic dig, Clark remarked that she couldn’t understand why Hemingway would be departing Auckland for Canberra, home of bosom buddy John Howard.

The price of fame

Happy to be a reference site but terrified of the hordes descending to poke and prod your best intentions, or the "burnout" that film stars face answering the same questions? Aberdeen Group, an IT market analysis "and positioning services" firm, has launched a service for IT suppliers that manages customer references for sales prospects.

In its Online Reference Service, Aberdeen analysts capture one-time interviews which are managed on a controlled-access website hosted by Aberdeen. Interviews can be navigated by question or topic, and prospect access can be limited to one or more interviews within a larger library. "Aberdeen's Online Reference Service 'protects' your references from burnout, ensures consistent messages and lets sales managers move forward the use of references in the selling process," the company says.

Don't hack back

Even been tempted to give someone who attacks your IT systems a dose of their own medicine? US commentator ME Kabay explains (expurgated) why it's not such a good idea, no matter how annoyed you are.

"People have speculated about counter-flooding, using buffer-overflow attacks, sending 'explosive' HTML code that could cause system freezes, and so on. Much of this talk is really just good-natured fun -- more along the lines of 'wouldn't it be nice if' than actually serious proposals for corporate responses."

BUT:

"As far as I know there is absolutely no waiver in US law which would exculpate anyone who gains unauthorised access to other people's computer systems ... investigation of such crimes could involve seizure of equipment as evidence.

" ... because IPv4 provides inadequate authentication of packets, it is difficult or impossible to prove the exact origin of denial-of-service attack packets or even of packet streams used in attack sessions.

"... attacking [poorly secured intermediary systems] would damage other victims but cause no direct harm to the real attackers.

"... unauthorised penetration of anyone's computer systems and networks can lead to civil lawsuits for damage."

No, the geek equivalent of Steven Seagal/Jean-Claude Van Damme is a thoroughly bad idea.

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

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