E-tales: Power of the press

The power of the press amazes even us. The same day as the country's biggest daily paper reported that TelstraClear was in the midst of a loan crisis, the telco fired off a press release saying the crisis was over.

The power of the press amazes even us. The same day as the country’s biggest daily paper reported that TelstraClear was in the midst of a loan crisis, the telco fired off a press release saying the crisis was over. According to the New Zealand Herald, TelstraClear needed to find $600 million in a hurry and there was no sign Aussie parent Telstra would stump up with the money. Clearly, when Telstra boss Ziggy Switkowski picked up his copy of the Herald in Sydney that morning he was galvanised into cheque-signing action: by mid-afternoon the crisis was over, with TelstraClear’s chief Rosemary Howard saying she had secured a five-year $600 million loan facility with Telstra. Could it have been there was no crisis to start with?

Power of the press 2

Of course there was. A further miracle wrought by pen power – one with even greater national significance – has come to our attention. Three weeks after it was written -- somewhat sarcastically, we have to admit – in this column about the absence of Microsoft’s Xbox from these shores, a press release shows up inviting us to an Xbox launch event. If that’s merely circumstantial evidence in your book, confirmation of the power of ink came in a phone call from the Xbox spin machine. “Having read your interesting little Xbox story, you’ve been elevated up the list” to try one out, we were told. One of the consoles was duly dispatched to our reviewer. And that despite a further snarky reference on this page a week later to the Xbox being “just a gaming box”. How much punishment can they endure? In the interests of sociological inquiry, we’re determined to find out.

Poor PR

Do they do it just to get a mention in this column, unless the standards of public relations work is so low? Symantec New Zealand has just launched modules for its Security Manager product to cover databases and firewalls. We will spare you the details just because the impenetrable jargon-filled media release is so badly written it is unclear as to exactly what they are on about. One might expect better from this established Auckland PR agency.

Good PR

However, high marks for Renaissance, the New Zealand Apple distributor. In it is proof that Steve Jobs, famous as the father of Apple, is intimate with the details of New Zealand’s currency and sales tax. It goes: “You can now get a dual-processor G4 system with Xserve architecture and DDR memory, pre-loaded with OS X v10.2 for just NZ$4299 +GST,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. Good on you Steve; with attention like that to individual customer needs, Apple deserves to flourish, if not just survive.

TUANZ topics

A good time was had by all again at this year's annual awards of the Telecom Users Association. Computerworld missed out this time, but it was good to see others win something for a change, showing at least that if you sponsor something you might just win a category, three times in a row. But just who was the woman who showed her children in a film presentation to highlight something that we instantly forgot? And did the young reporter who collected an award on behalf of his boss find it after leaving the trophy in a trendy Ponsonby bar?

Party line

Microsoft's men and women always seem such decent sorts -- loyal, trustworthy, hardworking, maybe a little single-track at times. But one of its speakers at Tech Ed was willing to bend the mould a little. Security specialist Steve Riley may have refused to be pictured sitting on one of those motorised toilets that Vodaphone were using in a promotion in nearby Aotea Square that fine Friday. But our bottle-bleached bone necklace-wearing dude was heading off that night to the heart of Auckland's clubland -- the seedy but fashionable K Road. He was going to where "garage" has nothing to do with Hewlett-Packard start-ups; "trance" is not the state customers face on receiving their Software Assurance accounts; and where "bed" is not a place for sleeping. We hope you enjoyed your stay, Steve.

Queensbury rules

Oh the pain. The winner of last year’s Computerworld Excellence Award for customer service was photo album maker Queensberry. The award was particularly sweet because the company had hung in there after being turned down for government funding under the grants for private sector research and development (GPSRD) scheme. That rejection still leaves a bad taste, 18 months later. Imagine how Queensberry felt, then, when it discovered the GPSRD scheme was itself in the running for an award for its online grant application system. “We almost choked,” says a Queensberry spokeman. Heimlich manoeuvres might have been necessary had the GPSRD scheme not been pipped at the post in the government IT award category.

Key to the door

An important invention came of age this month, though it seems to have passed by unnoticed. Many happy returns to the 21-year-old PC, which was officially launched by IBM on August 12, 1981. Some say the first computer was the Simon of 1950, others say it was the build-it-yourself Altair of 1975, the 1976 Commodore Pet or 1977's Apple II. But the BBC credits IBM for locking the name PC in stone, as until then we had micros, minis, personal minicomputers and other names for the same box. The IBM PC had 16kb of memory and ran on DOS 1.0 software IBM licensed from a young man called Bill Gates.

Rhymes no reason

Scottish hospital workers almost crashed their computer system after sending angry replies to emailed poems meant to keep them calm. Professional stress-buster Lynn Ogilvie send the daily poems to 3000 staff at the Lothian University Hospitals Trusts and encouraged them to reply. She has since been bombarded with sarcastic poems and emails begging her to stop. But Ogilvy counters that the replies show the extent of pent-up agression among hospital staff, and if they act as a release for it, the poems are a good thing.

Mind does matter

There maybe a link between high autism rates and computer geekiness. The Mind Institute of Sacramento believes high-tech workers in Silicon Valley may be carrying the genes that contribute to the mental condition. The BBC says 150 kids in the area are apparently autistic, a proportion much higher than the rest of the US, and numbers attending treatment centres have quadrupled over the past 25 years. Similar links have been noted in Britain's equivalent "Silicon Fen" in Cambridgeshire, but the UK's National Autistic Society says clusters of cases also turn up in predominantly blue-collar areas.

Generation txt

British exam markers report the use of text message language in papers sat by 16-year-olds. One used "spk" for speak, "2cu" for "to see you" and "btw" for "by the way". Markers struggled to award grades because punctuation and grammar are non-existent. As controversy rages over how much easier exams may be nowadays, Britain's Department of Education is unimpressed: "There is no place for slang in exam papers." Meanwhile, The Daily Mirror reports that a txt version of parts of the Bible, R Father N Hvn, will be published this month to woo more youngsters to religion.

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