E-tales: A game of one half

Not only did the Xbox launch (sorry, no partners, passes essential for access to the "VIP" area) invite come in a form factor that almost nobody can open - it seems to need a particularly (peculiarly?) configured version of the Windows media player.

Not only did the Xbox launch (sorry, no partners, passes essential for access to the “VIP” area) invite come in a form factor that almost nobody can open — it seems to need a particularly (peculiarly?) configured version of the Windows media player — but it may be all too late, if The Wall St Journal is on the money.

“We are wrapped to invite you to join us at the VIP Xbox party to celebrate the launch of Xbox in New Zealand,” burbled the release, which later amended its “wrapped” to “rapt” in the course of arriving several times from different PR flacks.

Whatever. The Journal notes that Microsoft is betting on a cat that can fast-forward time to boost sagging sales of Xbox and win over more of Japan’s video game fans. At the Tokyo Game Show, Microsoft promo’d its coming online game service, Xbox Live, with a game called Blinx, featuring a green-eyed feline that deals with tricky situations by rewinding, pausing or fast-forwarding time.

Xbox shipments in Japan, a key market, second-biggest in the world and home to Nintendo, Sony and a whole bunch of game developers, remain so low that many industry executives say Microsoft’s best shot at a rebound may not arrive until 2005, when it is expected to launch the next-generation Xbox console. However, to admit even temporary defeat in this market, says the Journal, could threaten the future of the Xbox franchise worldwide.

Microsoft has to win over the US, Europe and Japan, says critics, and price cuts alone may not do it. But you can be sure plenty will buy it here this week.

Behind every man ...

It may take only one woman to do the work of 10 men but HP is taking no chances; it’s replacing Barry Hastings with two women. Jennifer Rutherford appears to have got a bump up from a senior sales role to get the job of general manager of the imaging and print group. Donna Fyfe has been appointed general manager of the personal systems group. She recently returned from management consulting roles overseas.

Bad call

“A receptionist could add a new user [with the appropriate accounts and permissions] in five minutes.” An account manager for an open source telecomms offering belittles an entire occupational class in one sentence. He compounds the injury with: “Would you let a receptionist near your NT server?”

Mutant turtles

Just in case you were wondering what Pat Pilcher was doing now he’s not an analyst at IDC ... he’s sent out a press release (“Getting out of the beige box rut”) for Dick Smith Electronics in which we learn that Pilcher and/or his ghost writer:

a: can’t spell so well

b: majored in education, sociology and social policy

c: hates programming but is a self-confessed geek

d: is in his “elements” when “tricking out” his PC

All this for a PC which a) isn’t available yet, b) you have to build yourself and c) is priced at $5000.

What’s it about? Here’s a taste: “Custom-made computers are popular in Asia and catching on fast in New Zealand, he says. This year retail chain, Dick Smith Electronics has joined forces with Pilcher, backing his project and sourcing parts from around the world for these state-of-the-art models Pilcher has affectionately nicknamed Ninjas.

“Whether people want to follow his television model computer blueprint, make an adapted version or buy a ready-made replica; Dick Smith Electronics can fill the orders at the end of each show.”

Prize of a lifetime

In what is possibly the best magazine giveaway ever, New Scientist readers have the chance to win ... life after death.

All you have to do to enter the weirdest competition in the world is collect three differently numbered coupons from New Scientist and complete the four questions to be in to win the chance to have your body frozen by the Cryonics Institute in Michigan.

They’ll wait till you die, of course. Then, assuming some future society can thaw you and revive you successfully, you’ll no doubt be stung for several decades worth of storage and electricity usage, not to mention the cost of whatever technology brings you back. You’ll be an indentured servant in a society where you know no one and are an outsider.

If that doesn’t appeal you can win a trip for two to Hawaii visiting the world’s highest observatory at Mauna Kea. Tough call.

Having a laugh

Microsoft last week claimed credit for finding the first email with an emoticon smiley symbol in it, but IBM is going one bigger by suggesting it had a hand in its invention.

The author of the first email featuring an emoticon was allegedly IBM researcher Scott Fahlman — a point mysteriously absent from early media reports of the emoticon’s 20th anniversary and highlighted in later stories, including ones emailed to us by readers.

Fahlman apparently created the smiley symbol on September 19, 1982 while working at Carnegie-Mellon University in the US. He saw the symbols as a way university researchers could communicate better on the primitive “bulletin boards”, and avoid discussions turning nasty if touchy users misinterpreted remarks meant to be taken lightly. (This hasn’t always worked, we should add.)

Today Fahlman works on artificial intelligence systems for IBM. Now the symbols are used globally, included in advertising and are expected to become acceptable parts of the English language, reports Yahoo News, which adds that he never received a cent for his invention.

“If it cost people a nickel to use it, nobody would have used it,” Fahlman said, perhaps through gritted teeth. “This is my gift to the world.”

And she didn’t know it

In a week when yet more Nigerian scam letter frauds have been spammed to Computerworld staffers comes a timely warning from the US.

A 59-year-old bookkeeper for a small Californian law firm has been charged with embezzling about $4.5 million from the firm’s accounts.

In January Ann Marie Poet received a fax from a Dr Mobuso Nelson, claiming to be an official with the Ministry of Mining in Pretoria, South Africa. He offered to pay the woman about $10 million if she would help him transfer $45 million from South Africa to a US bank account. The scam organisers kept telling Poet the money was on its way but they needed US money wired over to cover fees, commissions, taxes and other “problems”.

In the months that followed, Poet wired amounts ranging from $US9400 to $US360,000 to offshore accounts, never receiving any commissions. The affair only came to light this month when a law firm company cheque to a client bounced.

Jules Olsman, the head of the law firm, says it was “beyond description” that Poet drained the company accounts, when at the firm she is known for keenly scrutinising expenditures by other employees she deems questionable. He is also angry that the firm’s bank approved all the wire transfers even though Poet was not authorised to make any. After being indicted on 13 counts of wire fraud by a federal grand jury in Detroit, federal officials say Poet is likely to be jailed for three years.

It could be worse. The FBI reports hundreds of Americans fall for such scams every year. Often the victims are lured abroad, where they are kidnapped for ransom. The US State Department has attributed 15 kidnappings or killings to the fraud, reports the Detroit Free Press.

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