E-tales: Depleted energy

'Luckily Enron wasn't our customer -- maybe that's why they did what they did.' Meta Group energy IT analyst Zarko Sumic, who says the failed energy giant has contributed to a fall in demand for energy trading and risk management functionality.

"Luckily Enron wasn't our customer -- maybe that's why they did what they did." Meta Group energy IT analyst Zarko Sumic, who says the failed energy giant has contributed to a fall in demand for energy trading and risk management functionality. The Seattle-based Sumic felt right at home in Auckland's wet weather last week, though he was off to sample Queenstown for a day and had business in sunny Sydney to look forward to.

Borrowed from a newsgroup

Standard Bonehead Reply Form (version 9001.5)

Dear:

[ ] Clueless Newbie

[ ] Retard

[ ] Troller

[ ] "Me too"-er

[ ] Spammer

[ ] Racist

[ ] Expert on everything (EOE)

[ ] Flamethrower

You Are Being Flamed Because:

[ ] You obviously don't know anything about the topic at hand

[ ] You are trying to make money on a non-commercial forum

[ ] You started a long, stupid thread

[ ] You continued spreading a long stupid thread

[ ] You started a thread that has been discussed here continuously for years

[ ] You started a thread that an instruction manual covers perfectly

[ ] Your post is absurdly off topic for where you posted it

[ ] You posted a "YOU ALL ****" message

[ ] You posted low-IQ flamebait

[ ] You posted a blatantly obvious troll

[ ] You said "X rules, Y ****s" and gave no support for your lame statement

[ ] You make no sense

[ ] You posted the same text multiple times

[ ] You made a post yet failed to say anything

[ ] You posted a porn ad

[ ] Your spelling (or lack of) make your post unreadable

[ ] You posted SCREAMING in CAPS for NO APPARENT REASON

Linux tries to free Xbox

The New Zealand launch of Microsoft's Xbox games console is just weeks away (see Xbox.com), though the $499 device may not prove the moneyspinner Monsieur Gates wants due to fierce competition from Sony and Nintendo.

Meanwhile, the Xbox Linux Project claims to have fully booted GNU/Linux on the Xbox gaming system, calling the move "a landmark in the struggle for control of the Xbox".

The project was launched a year ago by development team "H Zero Seven", headed by Michael Steil, Milosch Meriac and Manuel Vetterli. The trio, who are appealing for developers to work with them on the project, aim to create a version of Linux that lets Xbox be used as an ordinary computer, web server or node in a Linux cluster.

"Microsoft has been counting on the purchasers of the Xbox remaining passive consumers of paid-for content," says Steil, "and they additionally plan to market a paid-for walled community ISP service for the boxes later this year, known as Xbox Live.

However, with the first release of Xbox Linux, consumers will soon have a choice to connect to the normal internet, using normal browsers, and run any Linux programs for free. They will also be able to play any audio (eg MP3) and video content they choose without restriction."

Illiteracy

A paragraph of a statement last week from SSC Minister Trevor Mallard on GoProcure says: "The pilot, costing $250,000, has been run by the State Services Commission with vendor Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, using Oracle software".

Microsoft Word, as users will know, has an abhorrence of the passive voice, and presumed to give Mallard (also Minister of Education) a stern green underlining indicating undesirable grammar. Word's "corrected" version of the above sentence: "State Services Commission has run Ernst & Young, using Oracle software the pilot, costing $250,000, with vendor CAP-Gemini".

Natural language comprehension clearly has a long way to go at Microsoft.

The best democracy

While the Department of Internal Affairs works on software to help local bodies cope with the single transferable vote (STV) system (see Software developed for complex voting system), debate rumbles on in “Letters to the Editor”, bars, internet newsgroups and other havens of democracy about the merit of FPP (first past the post) versus MMP (surely you know by now) and STV, in a parliamentary context.

We thought we should remind readers that the question of Best Voting System of All was actually settled in the mid-1970s by a group of IBM researchers and their collaborators, reporting in the IBM Systems Journal. The experimenters got medical students to vote in various ways for the relative significance of a set of symptoms in diagnosing a particular disorder. Here was a field where the “right” answer, or at least a prevailing expert opinion, was known in advance – but assumed to be comparatively fuzzy in students’ minds.

The voting system that gives the most accurate answers, it turned out, is the one where voters are presented with every possible pair of candidates and asked in each case to indicate a preference for one over the other. With three candidates you get three votes, four candidates six votes, five candidates ten votes and so on. If fringe parties inflate the ballot to 10 choices, you have to plough through 45 ticks. All the votes are plugged into a mathematical formula and out pops a ranking. The formula incorporates a fool-and-fumble filter. If you’re silly enough, or confused enough, to express a preference for A over B, B over C, but C over A, your vote is mathematically reduced to zero significance. We’re all set to chuck the system's hat into the ring; all we need is a snappy three-letter abbreviation.

Second-rate second-guessing

And one of our staffers issues dire warnings about STV, which he interprets as “Second-raters Triumph Vicariously”. He once helped organise a “Battle of the Bands” at his local “yoof club”. A simple STV system was adopted, where if the band that most of the audience voted as number one did not achieve a threshold majority, then the lowest contender was eliminated and its fans’ second-preference votes apportioned among the survivors.

Typically, there were two or three standout bands, each with its own following, who would never dream of putting their prime opponents in number two position. So they picked the lousiest band for that distinction, the one they thought no one else would vote for. But even the worst band has its own small dedicated following, and came the day when their votes, with the addition of a pile of number-twos, took the lousiest band to winning position.

It was a Jean-Marie LePen moment. Everyone looked at his or her neighbour and said: “Don’t tell me you did the same silly thing as I did. That wasn’t supposed to happen. What to do? Well, rioting looks like a good idea.”

Maybe someone will write and tell us why it doesn’t work that way in local government or parliamentary elections. If they don't, maybe it's time to start gathering material for barricades.

Nor-folk pine for old ways

If you are sick of always being on call, take a leaf from the book of those canny Norfolk Islanders. They have just voted not to have a mobile phone service. In a referendum to gauge opinion, 607 voted against a service, 356 voted for, while 161 abstained, reports the Australian Broadcasting Corp. The island, lying midway between New Zealand and Australia, also reportedly lacks other modern delights such as traffic congestion, gambling, prostitution, fast-food outlets and income tax.

What do we owe sci-fi?

Science fiction is not just about amusement but is a useful indicator of the issues facing the world today and a predictor of possible futures. These were among many arguments raised at the 60th World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose last weekend.

Thousands of devotees flocked to Silicon Valley to also hear if the 21st century turned out as expected. Louise Kleba, who works at the Kennedy space centre, told BBC Online that sci-fi author Isaac Asimov is a guru because of his predictions that the computer could both isolate and unite the world. The internet was "the direct outcome of the type of thing he was projecting in The Naked Sun, she says.

Sci-fi author Terry Pratchett joined an analysis of the writings of Stanley Kubrick, suggesting that his vision of a world populated with artificial intelligence is only just around the corner and will creep up upon us before we know it. Worldcon organisers also highlighted how devices seen in sci-fi books led to products available today such as mobile phones, by helping to inspire designers and engineers. "

The reason why science fiction is so popular is because it gives us as a society a mechanism to explore the 'what ifs'," says convention spokesman Bert Kempler. There's a downside: some sci-fi writers say it is hard for them to keep up with latest technologies, especially in fast-moving computing and cybernetic communications, and whatever happened to flying cars and those cities on the moon?

Kids get dictionary of filth

A CD-Rom listing the 100 most offensive swear words in the English language is being given away to children outside British schools. Publishers of the Rude Text Book, The Eighth Day, hopes the move will generate interest in the dictionary, which was launched on August 30. Spokesman Justin Hopkin says there is nothing wrong in promoting the use of bad language amongst youngsters and he was presenting words "already used every day ... in a humorous way".

But Dr Adrian Rogers of the Exeter-based parenting group Family Focus told the Gloucester Citizen that the CD was "degenerative, corruptive and sad" and would "do nothing to further young people's education and ambition."

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