E-tales: Fat pipes

TV transmission systems give a whole new meaning to the "fat pipes" term bandied about by writers on the subject of broadband networks.

TV transmission systems give a whole new meaning to the “fat pipes” term bandied about by writers on the subject of broadband networks. When it comes to pumping out TV signals to the million or so viewers in the Auckland region, TVNZ transmission arm BCL literally relies on fat — about 120mm diameter — aluminium-sheathed copper pipes to do the job. As the signal courses through them, the pipes warm up. One of the tests technicians in the BCL transmitter room at Waiatarua perform is feeling the pipes to make sure they’re not overheating. If that happens, they might blow a gasket, causing signals to spill out and flood the room. (Just kidding about the gasket etc, but the rest is true — honest.)


Susan Needham of BNZ wins a Computerworld T-shirt for correctly guessing The PC Company’s Colin Brown was the man on the left in our lookalike competition (E-tales: Getting the message). One reader guessed Auckland novelist and essayist CK Stead as Brown’s doppleganger. Sorry, but it was children’s author Jack Lasenby, correctly picked by John Lewis of Petone, who gets two T-shirts. Jan Bieringa of (e)-vision in Wellington also correctly identified Brown, for her T-shirt.

A total dag

Our research into why modified PCI cards turned into network monitoring devices by Waikato research bods were called DAG cards led us to a site which explained everything. In the mid-1990s Waikato University computing and mathematical sciences dean Professor Ian Graham reprogrammed a network interface card as a low-cost way of capturing real-world data on network traffic. Endace Measurement Systems chief executive Selwyn Pellett said the cards were DAGs because they hang off the network, though overseas the term officially stands for data acquisition and generation. Waikato Uni has devoted a site to the term and the seeming antipodean obsession with the occurrence, given the “dozen or more terms for flakes of dung that hang from the rear of sheep”.

IT rich, time poor

Is having someone else record your voicemail message the new sign of prosperity? Forget being a dot-com millionaire, what better way is there to show the world how busy you are than having someone else (preferably of the opposite sex, so there are no mix-ups) record your message saying “Sebastian is away from his desk at the moment, please leave him a message ...”? Of course it might just be that you haven’t worked out how to program your own phone yet, and have to get help in to do that. But we couldn’t possibly comment.

Watch your language

We recorded in this column, coincidentally a year ago, the ingenious but inconsistent behaviour of the Eudora email client’s “Moodwatch” function. This keeps an eye out for obscene or angry language in an email, and rates the message accordingly, with zero to three chilli marks in the margin, like an Indian restaurant menu. Cautionary messages (eg “this is likely to offend the average reader”) pop up when the “send” button is clicked on a sensitive message, and if the sender insists on forwarding chilli-rated material unedited, a Eudora-using recipient gets the chillies in the margin of the message headers as they arrive in the in-box.

One of our staffers was puzzled earlier this month to receive two chillies on his latest emailed issue of the contact centre industry newsletter The Contact (a journal of and for an unfailingly polite, if sometimes irritating, section of the workforce). He scanned the bulletin carefully and couldn’t see any violent, aggressive or sexual references. Eudora doesn’t mark the specific offending words in an incoming mail, but it does underline them in bright green in a mail about to be sent. So our man copied the message to his out-box as though he were about to forward it. Up popped the green underline, on the word “execute”, as in “execute your strategic vision”. Cutting edge?

Cellular growth

American cellphone users are talking less often in public places, according to a study conducted for online retailer LetsTalk. The study, which tracked users’ phone etiquette from April 2000 to August 2002, says people are less ready to use their phone on buses, in restaurants and while shopping. Far fewer are keen to use them while driving, and 94% say it’s not okay to use them in cinemas. Who are the 6% who think it’s fine to natter while the film’s on? The survey notes that some European countries apparently support jamming signals within certain locations, a solution we have some sympathy with.

Fat hack, no spook

Sorry, but the Coke and Dunkin Donuts are out. According to an article on Wired you have to pass physical requirements in order to work with FBI in computer security. You have to also be morally irreproachable, free of a serious criminal record, under 37 and have a degree. That rules a few people out. Though you may get a non-agent role in computer forensics. Speaking of G-Men, www.g-man-weaponry.com will tell you all you need to know about owning “professional” short-barrelled shotguns and suppressors, and answers burning questions such as “Can I own a machinegun?”

Bank on it

Now that most of the banks offer online services, we hope to find out whether people are happy with their cyberexperiences from The University of Auckland Business School‘s fifth annual bank customer survey. A press release summarising results will be released on September 23. We know this because a press release was issued last week advising us, sent out by Herald-journo-turned-PR Daniel Riordan. Customer satisfaction and loyalty will be measured. But there’s no need to wait another week; we can exclusively reveal the contents of this release to you now: people aren’t happy with their banks.

Irish i’s not smiling

Campaigners in that textbook example of knowledge revolution prosperity, Ireland, have launched a website criticising the country’s lack of affordable and fast internet access. Ginger site EircomTribunal.com slams the Irish government, incumbent telco Eircom and regulator ODTR as “the saboteurs of internet development in Ireland”, according to UK IT news website The Register. Coordinator Peter Weigl says the site “will approach the incompetence and gullibility on the side of the state, and lack of vision and the greediness of the de facto monopoly, Eircom, with serious argument and with satire”. Anyone keen to set up such a website here?

Coining it online

If the dot-com crash is hitting your pay packet, you could always turn to computer games. BBC Online reports that games have become so competitive that professional gaming leagues have sprung up around the globe, with prize money of $100,000 a night sometimes being available. Next month 49 countries will take part in the World Cyber Games in Korea, playing games such as Counter-Strike, Age of Empires and football’s Fifa 2001. The Koreans have created a $7 million village to stage the event and are offering $650,000 in prize money. Meanwhile, Microsoft recently staged a golf tournament offering a $2.5 million prize and a Counter-Strike competition promised $400,000 in prize money.

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