E-tales: Hitting the spot

A note we got from Microsoft's games PR company kills two birds with one missive. Gets journos on side and saves on the news clipping fees.

This note we got from Microsoft's games PR company kills two birds with one missive. Gets journos on side and saves on the news clipping fees.

"Want to go to [interactive trade expo] E3 in 2003? Just let us know when you have written, reviewed or broadcast anything about Xbox – good, bad or indifferent. Email us at xbox@peadpr.co.nz with a pointer to or copy of the published article. Each time you publish something and send us notification you get an entry in the draw for one of two trips to E3 in LA next May (2003). The more entries, the more chance you’ve got of winning a trip to gamer utopia. Close-off date is February 28, 2003."

Money for jam

Computerworld’s been honoured by correspondence with relations of some of Africa’s most famous leaders of late. First there was the message from Sandra Savimbi, a daughter of the late Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi. Now one’s arrived from the widow of Mobutu Sese Seko, the former Zaire’s leader for decades. The Savimbi one sought help in accessing $US25 million salted away in Amsterdam (surely the American donors wanted it all spent on guns?). Mobutu’s misappropriated stash reportedly ran to billions of dollars, but his wife just wants assistance in laying her hands on $US30 million at present. These scams are variations on one that first arose in Nigeria.

The Economist magazine reported a more elaborate African internet-based ruse last month. The perpetrators created a website mimicking that of the South African Reserve Bank, then sent out emails inviting the recipients to siphon out funds to their heart’s content. Of course, before doing so, they merely had to part with a small “facilitation payment, which they could deposit in this bank account here. Oh, and don’t tell anyone about the deal …

Death not exaggerated

Sad as we are about the demise of competitor InfoTech (you’ll know it – it’s what’s been littering the floor of the Johnsonville train each Monday morning for the past decade), we have been studying the spin applied by publisher Wellington Newspapers with interest. To briefly bring you up to speed, from October InfoTech will “cease to be a standalone publication” (sorry, but we always thought of it as a section of the Dominion) and will become part of the Dominion Post’s (that’s what the Dominion turned into with the closure of the Evening Post) BusinessDay pages. Editorial and advertising sales jobs will be lost as a result, according to a story that appeared in InfoTech a fortnight ago. All of this comes to pass about three months after a Computerworld tipster told us about it.

Now for the spin. InfoTech’s “changes” will broaden its readership and “enhance” the value of advertising investments. Despite the job losses, collaboration between (remaining) InfoTech writers and the team of 10 BusinessDay reporters will “strengthen” its editorial content. Further, the commitment remains to delivering “quality editorial and opportunities to market services and products” … At Computerworld, we try to avoid using “editorial” and “marketing” in the same breath. We’ll be watching to see whether it proves a winning combination at the new InfoTech (although it didn’t seem to work too well at the old one).

Us neither

"I don't know what dynamic efficiency is". Telecom chief operating officer Simon Moutter, avoiding the thickets of economic theory at last week's Commerce Commission interconnection hearings.

Fitting the bill

The tale of IBM's attempts to put a sign on Wellington's Majestic Centre reminds us of the hiatus that suddenly struck the final stages of the building's construction in the heady property days of the 1980s when backer the Development Finance Corporation ran into fatal financial problems.

The Majestic-to-be was surrounded by the traditional builders' wooden hoardings bearing the traditional stickers instructing "Post No Bills". A graffitist had added "The DFC can't pay them."

More rattling

Following the E-tale on "dag cards" last week (officially data acquisition and generation cards, but hanging off a network connection much like those pebbles off a sheep's rear end), one of our staffers cites another interpretation. A DAG in the data structure sense is a "directed acyclic graph".

The most primitive form of database is a hierarchy (for example, A owns B, C and D; B owns E and F; C owns G; D owns H, I and J. It helps if you draw it as a "tree"). In the more general case, B and C might both have E as part of the data that belongs to them. So you have to decide whether to duplicate E and keep a nice clean hierarchy, or to have edges of the graph from B and C leading to the same E node.

"It's rather as though two of the fanning-out locks of wool had become glued together lower down," our man says, "and this was what I first thought data-structure wallahs were referring to when they used the term 'dag' for such a structure. Maybe something that New Zealand (and Australian and British) farming (it's known in all three countries) had given the computational world."

But no, DAG has a proper meaning. Directed means all the links have a direction (A owns B, but B does not own A). Acyclic means rings (A owns B, B owns C, C owns A) are discounted.

LOL comes of age

A six-month search has uncovered what might be the first use of so-called emoticons, such has the famous smiley symbol :-).

Microsoft researcher Mike Jones from the firm's Systems and Networking Research Group says he unearthed the original emoticon by trawling logs from the bulletin boards at the Carnegie Mellon University. A posting from September 19, 1982 reads: "I propose that the following character sequence for markers :-)."

If this is the first use of an emoticon, then the symbols thought up by computer users to show their feelings or emotions through typing, passed their 20th anniversary only last week. Since then their use has spread to include Japanese characters. A huge list of emoticons can be found here.

Access, as in beer

Searching for further information on Coors Brewery, a claimed client of EDS NZ, we discovered the first website we can recall outside the porn spectrum to request evidence of age before allowing the visitor in.

Coors asks the intending froth-surfer to enter his/her date of birth on the introductory page. If this indicates an age under 21, a warning icon to this effect flashes up, followed by display of a page that, after gently admonishing the youthful visitor, slips into marketing mode with the pay-off line “We’ll wait for your business.”

Our own DB and Lion Nathan breweries' sites and those of the Auckland SkyCity, Dunedin and Queenstown casinos show no such hesitancy; bowl right on in kids, and learn about the joys of beer and roulette.

The Coors birthdate form may momentarily confuse New Zealanders. As a US-based Y2K-compliant company Coors naturally wants the info in the form mm/dd/yyyy (as in 9/11; though the New York Times the other week was thoughtful enough to acknowledge that the bulk of the world does it the other way round), but omits to tell you that.

The content of the site, for those of age, is comprehensive and absorbing; albeit that you have to scroll halfway down the FAQ page to find what we wanted to know -- the location of the company's head office. The opening question of the FAQ is: "How do I know my Coors beer is fresh?" A clear sense of priorities there. They probably ran a focus group to find out how to order the list.

The right trousers

Jeans manufacturer Levi Strauss has denied it is playing on consumer fears by launching a line of trousers fitted with "anti-radiation" pockets for mobile phones. The Icon S-Fit range, to be sold under Levi's Dockers brand, feature "antiradiation" material and technology which repels all liquids. Levi Strauss says it is just responding to consumer demand. The mobile phone industry rejects a need for such materials, saying cellphones are safe, though studies have returned mixed results. The pants, due in stores early next year, are likely to cost at least $300.

Feedback

A couple of gems from the Photoscientia site, attempting to instruct the great unwashed with their brand new PC-bundled document scanners in the arcane art of manipulating digital photo images with special purpose (and naturally unbundled) software.

Under the heading "Known issues with [a particular software product in this line]", the author muses: "How did defects in computer software and hardware come to be called 'issues' anyway? It's such an innocent sounding word. Other goods would simply be called faulty or shoddy, and you'd be demanding your money back.  Maybe half the fun is outwitting the programmers (not difficult) by finding workarounds for their crappy handiwork."

The instruction page is headed with the heartfelt cry of lazy users everywhere: "This thing cost me three 'undred quid! You mean I've gotta learn how to use it as well?"

Greek games

A court has thrown out a case against three people accused of violating a new Greek law banning all electronic games in Greece. The Thessaloniki court ruled the law -- introduced to curb gambling, but effectively outlawing all computer games in cybercafes, arcades and hotels -- violated the nation's constitution. The defendents -- two internet cafe owners and an employee -- were found playing cyber chess and Counter-Strike.

They had faced up to three months jail and fines of at least $10,000 each. Outside the hearing, 300 supporters chanted: "No to censorship on the internet."

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