E-tales: Mail fraud

We've been hearing a lot lately of declining opportunities for contractors. But with the kind of cunning programmers employ to make their apps unusable by ordinary mortals, they'll never be without a job. Why so cynical?

We’ve been hearing a lot lately of declining opportunities for contractors. But with the kind of cunning programmers employ to make their apps unusable by ordinary mortals, they’ll never be without a job. Why so cynical? Because we spent the best part of 30 minutes trying to figure out how to change the browser that our email client uses when opening a web link embedded in a message. After admitting defeat and seeking the help of tech support, the answer came back: "Bottom right of your [mail] client click on ‘Office’ then ‘Edit Current’. A form should appear with an ‘Internet Browser’ tab in the middle. Navigate the tab and take your pick." Obvious, right? What sort of a mug would have imagined you’d look under User Preferences for such a setting? A Computerworld T-shirt to the first person to identify the mail client (answers to Mark Broatch with “Doh” in the subject field).

Room with a view

Microsoft an enterprise market player? That’s what it would have you believe. But it’s not where the company that imports the Nintendo gaming console into New Zealand, Monaco, sees Microsoft playing. In a helpful question and answer sheet accompanying a statement about a recent price cut, Monaco says the move is not in response to the arrival on these shores – finally – of Microsoft’s Xbox.

“Microsoft is focused on owning the living room,” runs the answer to a question about what threat the monster from Redmond poses. Which begs the question: In which room do you play with your Nintendo Game Cube?

En franglais

We admire the Canadians for relentlessly managing two languages and two sets of acronyms, which only occasionally can be made to coincide. The home page of CAIP, the Canadian Association of Internet Providers, for example, has an "enter here" link for CAIP, and an "entrez ici pour ACFI" link (the French for "providers" is ''fournisseurs"). The site continues largely in two separate streams, with an ingenious merging for parts with little enough text to be bilingual on the one page.

CAIP/ACFI is at www.caip.ca (note the newer-style canadian address with no second-level domain). Unfortunately some spoilsport has nabbed acfi.ca, and there isn't even a webpage there. The Canadian whois server wasn't working when we tried, so we can't even tell you whois to blame.

All is (not) revealed

Last week we requested a copy of some further parliamentary questions asked by Richard Prebble about the GoProcure government e-procurement system, and the government's answers (see Mallard ponders mandating GoProcure). Our staffer was discussing with Prebble’s representative how they might be sent. They were only in hard copy, he said, “but I can email them; I’ll just type them out again.”

Motivated as much by a sense of timeliness as convenience for Prebble’s staffer, our man urged him towards fax. “We can’t really do that,” he said, on re-examining the pages. “He [Prebble] has scribbled some notes on them for forthcoming questions.”

Hearing that, our staffer thought of lying that our email system had broken down and would he please send the fax. He could take a photocopy surely, and blank out sensitive scrawls. We all know how unreliable that often is.

Many years ago, our man received a brief on software for simulating airflow in tunnels, due to be applied to a major unnamed project. Every time the document mentioned “the ……. Tunnel” the missing word had been physically cut from the (fortunately single-sided) pages with a scalpel, leaving them full of small rectangular holes. But the top of a capital C or O at the beginning, the tip of an “ascender” on the next letter and another one at the end of the word made “Channel” a virtually certain guess.

And just two weeks ago, we received a document on the New Zealand interests of a US internet company, where the felt-tipped deletions could be read simply by holding the paper to the light from a window.

But no, we decided to be honest on this occasion; we’ll have to wait for Prebble’s follow-ups.

We’ll be straight with the internet company too. We know what you’re doing, but we won’t tell (probably).

Body work

Sometimes we wonder what business we're in, and whether we should change our name to PanelBeaterWorld. Too much of all this organisations "body-shopping" consultants in and "bare-metal restores".

Reality PC

If you've ever wondered whether playing computer games could help you cope with being in the special forces, check out journalist Paul Rubens' attempt. The short answer: no.

Noises off

Our news site reported the US National Communications System's plans to develop a Global Early Warning Information System (GEWIS) to monitor the performance of the internet and provide of threats that could degrade service. It's pronounced, yes, "gee-whiz". In same story you'll see there's an organisation called the Federal Wireless User's Forum, otherwise known as FWUF. (See Feds planning early-warning system for internet.)

Flashing not allowed

Telecom New Zealand might be using erotica to sell its products, but this would not go down well in Singapore. The famous Raffles Hotel and city gyms are taking action by banning cellphones with built-in cameras. Hotel spokeswoman Judith Tan says: "If you were in a changing room in full naked glory, you would not want people to take your photograph." Quite right; people pay good money for such things. The ban extends to bathrooms and changing rooms. No peeping toms have been caught.

The old days

More nostalgia on the web: 80s computer mags. After websites were created to emulate old games like Space Invaders and Donkey Kong, a memorial site has appeared to early computing magazines. UK computer buff David Tolley has created a site featuring copies of 11 different magazines such as Sinclair User, Atari User and Zzap! 64 for those old Commodores. Tolley says such publications are history and he "hopes it will be a great nostalgia trip for anyone".

Check mate

Humans are fighting back in the world of chess. World champion Vladimir Kramniik has held computer program Deep Fritz to a 4-4 draw. This compares with IBM's Deep Blue beating Garry Kasparov in 1997. Kramnik says he found game exhausting, saying: "Against a computer, you have a feeling that if you make one mistake, it's over. Deep Fritz is a commercially available product, produced by German firm ChessBase. It is capable of analysing three million positions a second.

Give us our PCs

You may not be as valuable as you think. A UK survey of IT workers has found that IT is seen by staffers as more important than their boss. A quarter of people quizzed by Fujitsu Systems say IT is the most useful thing in the office, compared with 19% who voted for their managers. One in five would not know what to do without technology and 38% would refuse to work as hard if denied access to their computers. Fujitsu Services says the survey shows how important it is for organisations to provide reliable and robust systems or else staff will be alienated and productivity will suffer.

Lost luggage

US government agencies are just so careless with their laptops and PCs. The US Navy Pacific Command cannot account for 595 laptops and desktops, its Justice Department has also just reported 400 laptops and 775 weapons missing and the FBI also seems to have mislaid 317 computers. In August, when detailed plans for an Iraqi invasion appeared in the media, US Central Command realised that the two laptops containing the top-secret level data were missing. British security agents have also been in trouble for losing laptops containing secrets, in London bars.

Dumping disks

A US campaign to stop online giant AOL from sending out free CDs is attracting global support. Jim McKenna and John Leiberman launched NoMoreAOLCDs.com after receiving several of the disks in one night, believing it was a waste of resources. Their website has attracted 70,000 CDs from as faraway as Brazil and Africa. When the pair have a million, they plan to drive to AOL's headquarters in Virginia and dump them on the ISP's door. AOL -- with 35 million subscribers -- is not the only firm to send out free CDs but is seen as the strongest user of this tactic. AOL won't say how many disks it sends out each year, but has offered to receive any returned disks for reuse. The pair, who insist they are not anti-AOL, say they scratch the CDs and loop them on a string so they cannot be used again.

Scary mutts

With Halloween happening this week, we have the perfect gift for your pooch. Website Dogmcuk.com has brought out a range of Halloween costumes, including the pumpkin, witch and devil costumes, for your dog. Creators Gordon Wild Flynn and Tracey Davies say dogs also have a right to dress up and join the fun of Halloween. Their previous venture, Footballfangs.com, brought the world football strips for dogs.

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