E-tales: Good chance

Biometrics Institute head Dr Ted Dunstone says he personally believes the US Congress has "Buckley's chance" of getting countries with automatic visa waivers to incorporate digital biometrics in their citizens' passports by 2004.

Biometrics Institute head Dr Ted Dunstone says he personally believes the US Congress has “Buckley’s chance” of getting countries with automatic visa waivers to incorporate digital biometrics in their citizens’ passports by 2004.

The head of the Sydney-based biometrics organisation nevertheless says the US authorities are “quite hardline” about the issue, no doubt fired with righteous certitude after September 11.

While they will probably get their way, it got us frivolously thinking about how the Aussies love their little expressions. A definition for Buckley’s chance at www.koalanet.com.au gives its meaning as something having no chance. But they might have to revisit their example: “New Zealand stands Buckley’s of beating Australia at football.”

Fax facts

On July 18 our Wellington office received a press release by fax. The fax machine was pleased: email is much the favoured route these days. It can sometimes sit idle and bored for a whole day — apart from spam.

This contribution, however, was followed less than 15 minutes later by a stern warning: “The release you have previously been sent ... is NOT for publication before Monday 22nd July 2002. Please DISCARD this release, and you will be sent another one on Monday 22nd July”.

Oops, we thought, someone said something wrong or inadvisable, or forgot to let the right person approve it. When we receive the authorised release, it will be interesting to see what’s been left out or altered. But no, the repeat release received on Monday the 22nd was word-for-word identical to the first one. It must have been just the early “leak” they were worried about.

We must tell them about the established journalistic practice of embargo, whereby we can be sent something and ASKED not to publish it until the following week. Well, that’s our stroke this week towards saving trees. Our invoice to the new government for Kyoto credits is on the fax right now.

Too quick

Quicken NZ couldn’t help itself when announcing the release of its latest offering, QuickBooks 2002. The financial management software vendor crowed: “Attended by over 300 Quicken and MYOB accountants, the [“MYOB seminars”] resulted in a number of MYOB users becoming supporters and distributors of the new QuickBooks 2002.”

But it was getting ahead of itself: “Auckland, NZ (July 2002) - QuickBooks 2002, the latest development from financial management software giant, Quicken, has been released to the local market next week.”

A great helmsman

Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan’s largest telco, is a keen reseller of TrendMicro’s GateLock product, which provides antivirus and anti-hacker defences for residential and small business ADSL customers. When TrendMicro visited Computerworld last week to extol the virtues of the product and talk to telcos here about it, they kindly left us a brochure about Chunghwa Telecom’s endorsement of GateLock. Pictured on it is the head of Chunghwa Telecom, Mao Chi-kuo. Mao’s title is not chief executive or managing director, but, you guessed it, chairman.

The brochure is sprinkled with quotes from the great man. “Chairman Mao is pleased that customer reaction has been very positive,” and “Chairman Mao says security is an important part of service quality.” Now we know Mao is a fairly common family name in Taiwan and China, but an English-language brochure to be distributed in the West perhaps should be aware of the irony.

Just say no

Speed-assembler Dell Computers is enforcing an old US Department of Commerce rule on the export of PCs ... if you ring up to buy one you’ll be asked four questions:

1: Are you the end user?

2: Will the PC be used for business purposes?

3: Will you re-export the PC?

4: Will the PC be used in a biological, chemical or nuclear warfare capacity?

While the fourth question makes everyone roll their eyes, the third question often catches companies out that plan to export the PC to a country on the US restricted list.

Yeah, sure

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The e-Raven

Following the “naked horse” spoof on Bill Manhire’s work, we thought we’d continue the literary tone by assaulting Edgar Allan Poe (always a tempting target).

“Once upon a midnight dreary,

While I web-surfed weak and weary,

Knocking on e-government’s door.

I went hither, I went thither,

Seeking crucial information,

And at last did them implore:

‘I have entered through your portal,

I have gone down many pathways.

Show me what I’m looking for!’

Quoth the server ‘404’.”

Okay, that doesn’t quite describe our experience; in an initial trial of a beta version of the e-government portal in the exhibition area of the Govis conference, we did hit one link that just paused and left us hanging; we didn’t even get the classic:

HTTP 404 - File not found

After a minute, we gave up.

But the page was on a government agency website, not part of the portal itself.

Gates open

It’s official: Bill Gates is a Wi-Fi war-walker. Listen to Steve Ballmer: “I was in a hotel in Sun Valley [Utah] this week that was not wired. So I turned on my PC, and XP tells me there is a wireless network available. So I connect to something called Mountaineer. Well, I don’t know what that is. But I have a VPN into Microsoft; it worked. I don’t know whose broadband I used. I didn’t see it in Bill’s room. I called him up and said, ‘Hey, come over to my room.’ So soon everyone is there and connecting to the internet through my room.” The cheek of it.

Making one’s mark

Speaking of which, the idea of war-chalking — telling people through the use of chalk marks on the pavement where they can log on to wireless networks for free — is catching on (see http://warchalking.org). The BBC reports that it has spread beyond London to Maryland, Atlanta and San Jose in the US and to France and Denmark. UK telcos BT and Megabeam will try to tap into to the interest by setting up wireless networks that people can use — as long as they pay.

The London School of Economics has set up a wireless network that students can use to get on the web while near its buildings and some of the internet kiosks on London’s Oxford Street apparently offer wireless nodes that anyone can use. Public wireless networks in this country are few and further between than the necessary 100m or so Wi-Fi technology offers (see Stats Watch: Wi-Fi shows its charms). But war-driving — racing around trying to find open corporate wireless networks with the help of a kitted-up notebook — by this and other publications opens the possibility that the bold may already be taking advantage.

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