E-tales: Landlubber

Pity Symantec top dog and keen yachtie John Schwarz. In Auckland for just two days, the Canadian found time to look at the Viaduct basin, saying he would like to return to New Zealand and buy a boat as we have plenty of good shipwrights.

Pity Symantec top dog and keen yachtie John Schwarz.

In Auckland for just two days, the Canadian found time to look at the Viaduct basin, saying he would like to return to New Zealand and buy a boat as we have plenty of good shipwrights.

Schwarz used to own a 47-foot sailing boat in Long Island Sound, Connecticut, but it proved too costly to transport overland after he joined California-based Symantec. Sealing the decision, west coast marinas and sailing clubs have a 10-year waiting list for berths.

Boats may be rich man's playthings, but as Oracle's Larry Ellison might also point out, a marine industry is important. "It gives you a lift in the high-tech world," Schwarz says.

Flagging interest

Campaigners for a new New Zealand flag may face a harder task than they imagine, if the experience of other former British colonials is any guide.

"What's this leaf or branch?" Schwarz asked of the silver fern. Clearly he wouldn't be keen on any new flag based on it, as the Canadian is no fan of Canada's maple leaf flag, which was designed by a student in a competition.

"I really liked the old [Canadian] flag. It had a Union Jack and a red crest."

Scam a scamster

Ever wondered if those Nigerian scamsters are even from Africa? The creator of this scam-producing website, swears it's not him that's been sending out all those requests for money, in the promise of getting elephant-sized returns that just happen to be tied up in bureacracy or whatnot. Could always send one back.

Time to play the music

Interesting interplay between Microsoft and Opera (the browser people), which involves the Swedish chef from The Muppet Show. Pick up the story on PC World.

More outdated methods

They call it "The Death of Free" -- the increasingly pervasive requirement to pay for useful content or function on the internet.

It recently hit one of our staffers, who wanted to read a series of articles on the effect of the internet on society and its governance, in The Economist of January 25.

He was prepared to pay the $9 cover price of a single issue, but had unfortunately learned of the articles on January 31, a week late. A trawl around several newsagents proved fruitless. All had the February 1 issue on their shelves already. The website warned: "The article you requested is [red type] premium content. To read it, please log in, or pick a payment or subscription option."

Minimum subscription, a month’s worth of access to the site at $US19.95; or a month's worth of printed weekly Economists at $US19.95 with bonus free access to the website for a month. (Don’t ask us about the logic behind that.)

Struck by a mood of economy, our man trudged off to the central library at lunchtime, negotiated the inscrutable shelving system of the magazine reference section and figured the workings of the library’s inscrutable Japanese-captioned photocopier.

Total cost of 10 good pages and one false start -- $2.20. Plus time spent trawling newsagents, time spent searching library, time spent comprehending and operating photocopier. Maybe the unfree web is still the better option.

Essential technology

The security-conscious IT industry shares its taste for discreet concealment with some odder bedfellows.

Our Wellington reporter has been wondering for some weeks about the emerging next incarnation of what was once the city's most vulnerable computer site.

The building, just along from IDG’s offices, on the corner of Willis and Dixon Streets, is sheathed in shop-style plate glass, and for a time in the 1980s was the insecure temporary home of an "IBM-compatible" mainframe belonging to a computer service provider serving some large Wellington companies. A single thrown brick could have had devastating effect, never mind anything more incendiary.

The windows were whitewashed and later curtained, in a style that spoke concealment loudly enough to be called a Dead Giveaway, and our man and doubtless many other Wellingtonians were sworn to secrecy about the site’s function.

After many years in a variety of sales and office roles more compatible with its transparency, the erstwhile computer room has returned to discretion. The glass is now professionally frosted against peekers and bears the logo of upmarket sex shop D.vice.

Former Wellington mayor Mark Blumsky, it may be remembered, courted scandal by opening the shop’s original smaller premises, off Cuba Street.

Ironically, Blumsky's clichéd aspiration for Wellington was that it should be a "vibrant" capital. If you hear a gentle humming behind the new site's veil in the near future the machine being demonstrated is unlikely to be a computer.

Ingenious vocal retribution

We haven't had a good moan about IVR for some time. Many years of research and development and an ocean of public advice to vendors and business implementers on what we don't like seem to have made little difference to the intricately branched and sometimes circular paths through these systems.

One of our staffers, recently trying to contact the members of a committee over the time and place of a meeting, got the "if you know the party's extension number dial it now; if not, key 1 and spell the first three letters of their name" treatment. Oddly (and we had about three tries) the name of the desired contact didn't seem to be recorded in the database. "Press 1 to start again, or 2 to go back," the IVR demon instructed. Pressing 1 started us again from "if you know the party's extension ..." Pressing 2, like one of those infuriating web pages with a mis-programmed back-button, simply got a repeat of "press 1 to start again or 2 to go back".

A redial and a keyed zero got a live operator, who passed him through to ... you guessed it, the target individual's voice mail.

Trying another member of the committee, we got: "[Name] has gone for the day, until 9 am tomorrow." It was 9:50 am and, presumably, today was the tomorrow referred to.

Can't blame that one on the IVR; that's the bug known as FUBCAK -- faulty unit between chair and keyboard. Or possibly somewhere in a delayed car or bus. On the other hand, you can tweak these messages from a cellphone these days.

Trick photography

Speaking of war (well, who isn't?), one Sunday paper showed an alleged British peace demonstrator whose black T-shirt appears to sport the URL www.stopwar.org. That address actually leads to a marketing portal unconnected with any such standpoint, which attempts to install the spyware-infected forms handler Gator on the user's machine. The site www.stopwar.org.uk, on the other hand, does promote an anti-Bush-war view.

It could just be an unfortunate fold in the man's shirt, but it's still a poor reflection on the crowd who snatched the international domain name. Now who might be interested in tracking the surfing habits of peaceniks?

No cyberwar: Uncle Sam

Warming to the theme of war, we note that the US government is warning that hacking attacks against real or preceived foes might backfire. An alert by the National Infrastructure Protection Centre says illegal cyberactivity is likely to increase, but the US government does not condone so-called patriot hacking on its behalf. The report warns that such hacking also places "patriots" at greater risk from virus infection from enemy sources.

Hard cheese over Iraq

The growing tensions have even hit French online cheese vendor Marc Refabert of fromages.com. Reuters reports that his inbox is full of emails from disgruntled Americans saying while they love his Camembert, they hate the French government's anti-war stance.

"Pam and I have enjoyed ordering from you in the past," says one email, "[But] because of the current position your government is taking ... we are not going to support France in any way ... we are sorry."

Americans buys four-fifths of his cheese but Refabert is unfazed, saying the emails are a good way for them to show their patriotism, but their boycott will soon melt as his cheese tastes so good. If you support France's stand, email marc@cheese-online.com.

Ken's cameras

London's new $15 traffic charge has led to lots of debates about technology and security, reports UK technology news site The Register. First, there were complaints that the London Congestion Charging website temporarily couldn't accept online payments, had navigational problems and features text too small for some to read.

Then, mayor Ken Livingston admits that data from the cameras policing the charging zone could be used to catch terrorists. Livingston told Capital Radio that the new cameras have remote control, variable angles and zoom ability, and may even be used to recognise faces.

The Register doubts the cameras' ability to do that now, and says Livingston is anticipating next generation technology. Perhaps five years from now, the mayor speculated, cars will also be fitted with transponders and linked to GPS satellites, with transport charging based on actual car use, rather than from fuel and registration taxes, just like in Singapore.

Too tempting

And finally, if only we had it here. A US telemarketer company has been fined $60,000 and told to pay $100 apiece compensation to 67 consumers who complained that the firm was violating Pennsylvania's new "Do not call" law. The state allows residents to place themselves on a list exempting them from telemarketing calls. Some 2.6 million have already done so. The list is sold by a non-profit group to telemarketers, so they know who not to ring.

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