E-tales: Vixie gets the bird

We remarked in this column last week on Radio NZ and TVNZ's disappointing treatment of visiting internet pioneer Paul Vixie. When Radio NZ did broadcast the Vixie interview, a neat juxtaposition of the next item might have had Linux followers pricking up their ears.

We remarked last week on Radio NZ and TVNZ's disappointing treatment of visiting internet pioneer Paul Vixie (see also Paul Vixie: Open source the only way forward). When Radio NZ did get round to broadcasting the Vixie interview, chiefly on the subject of spam, a neat juxtaposition of the next item might have had Linux followers pricking up their ears.

"That was Paul Vixie, here for the Uniforum conference," said the Radio NZ interviewer/announcer, "and now we hear from the penguin." But no item on Linux followed. Rather a NatRad institution which perennially puzzles and amuses overseas visitors, the bird call preceding the news. On this occasion the yellow-eyed penguin or hoiho obliged.

An attack of the honesties

Sometimes advertisements might reveal more than the people placing them intended. A Xerox ad which appeared on the back page of Computerworld's July 8 issue might be one such example. A subscriber who took the time to read the fine print alerted us to the extraordinarily high running cost of the printer being promoted. The ad’s offer was for a free two-week trial of a colour laser printer, enticingly valued at $2500 (revealed at the bottom of the page to be the estimated cost of consumables, installation and support for a fortnight). Sounds good … until you consider that once you’re the proud owner of that printer, you’ll be paying that sum over and over and over …

Staying a step ahead

Computerworld can’t show you what Drazen Babich, gen-i's new security consultant, looks like because the company has a policy against having such people photographed in the media. The rationale behind the policy is that if staff at an organisation that called in gen-i to investigate security breaches were to put a face to the consultant’s name they’d wise up to what was going on, giving the offender an early warning.

A computer created it

She’s fondly known as Granny Herald but when is she going to grow up? Does the paper seriously believe that an illustration showing Auckland’s Sky Tower spearing a slab of cheesecake could be taken as anything other than a computer-generated image, as it was so helpfully labelled?

E for ever

Not for the first time we ask ourselves who chooses the “hold” music for commercial phone lines, and do customers vet the playlist assiduously enough for potentially embarrassing lyrics?

“I believe in yesterday,” for example, which we’ve heard more than once on IT industry switchboards, is not a good line for any technology company.

Hanging on to Telecom’s maintenance line last week, we were treated to the chorus of the Hebrew slaves from Verdi’s opera “Nabucco”. It was hard to dismiss the picture of all those 126- and 123-line operators rocking back and forth at their workstations and singing in harmony, as they tried to keep their minds off the lash of the oppressor.

Then we got on to “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” – yes, it was a fairly long wait. We couldn’t recall any contracts Telecom had even bid for in that part of the world, so we began to think that one’s maybe harmless. Then we picked up a possible allusion to failed new technology and joint business ventures: “… running around, trying everything new. But nothing impressed me at all … They are illusions. They're not the solutions they promised to be …”

Why did our errant typing fingers put a small e in front of “solutions” there? Don’t worry; we corrected it.

One in every three

Thirty percent of all Telecom connections are not a paying proposition for the supplier, said TelstraClear's Grant Forsyth, kicking off the second day of the Telecommunications Commissioner's TSO conference earlier this month.

"So look to the right of you, look to the left, and look at yourself. One of you is commercially non-viable."

"And one of us is probably Chinese too," muttered someone in the audience to his neighbours.

Over the top

The obvious source for voice-over description of films on TV for blind viewers (see Sky TVNZ deal makes digital TV for blind possible) is the screenplay on which the film is based, written with detailed stage directions. But this may require substantial copyright fees.

Our staffer at the presentation of the technique suggested an alternative, perhaps cheaper solution: why not use retired news and sports commentators, used to describing scenes in "real time"? That went down like the proverbial lead balloon, with a NZ On Air representative launching into an impression of Keith Quinn describing the bathroom fight scene we had just seen from "Fatal Attraction". "It's a knife ... yes, she's got a knife! ..." Our man was then put in mind of an even more outlandish possiblity; the classic British "ruggerby league" (that's the way he said it) commentator Eddie Waring, two of whose oft-repeated catchphrases were "up-and-under" and "gone for an early bath" (when a player was sent off). Both would have fitted well into that scene.

Drop goal

There's hope ahead for butter-fingers mobile phone users. Researchers from the National University in Singapore are investigating materials to make face displays, covers and battery connections stronger after they were found to be the most likely casualties in a fall. They are using a guillotine-like tester (left) to simulate devices being dropped on the floor. The university has set up new company,

Robust Dynamics, to market the end results. After smashing more than 100 phones from Nokia, Motorola and Sony-Ericsson, Professor Lim Chwee Teck is already eyeing handheld computers and digital cameras. He allegedly told the local Straits Times: "There are so many gadgets out there we can smash and destroy."

OK computer

Professor Stephen Hawking, or rather his voice computer, has announced that he will lead a £2 million computing network that will help scientists put together an accurate history of the universe. A shared-memory SGI Origin 3800 supercomputer in Cambridge running Platform Grid software will be linked to SGI systems at six university sites, to analyse the background radiation left behind by the Big Bang.

The web works

Kiwi couples have joined those from Australia, the US, Russia, Germany, and England in getting married in the Scottish seaside town of Dunoon after it appeared on a website. The west coast town on the Firth of Clyde, a "doon the watter" getaway for Glasgow cityslickers, has seen a 150% jump in couples wanting to marry after Argyll and Bute Council put a picture on the web. The former library in Castle House (pictured) has even been made into marriage suites. Charles Reppke, of Argyll and Bute Council, allegedly said: "We believe islands like Coll and Tyree are a match for the Seychelles or the Caribbean."

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