E-tales: Names in vain

It was only Monday, and already we had a strong contender for the daily-press groan headline of the week award. The Dominion recorded the appointment of a man with a very common Islamic first name to a senior Malaysian official post, and headlined it "You've got Ismail".

It was only Monday, and already we had a strong contender for the daily-press groan headline of the week award. Wellington daily The Dominion (soon to be The Dominion Post — how about a new name for a change instead of these titular trainwrecks?) recorded the appointment of a man with a very common Islamic first name to a senior Malaysian official post, and headlined it “You’ve got Ismail”. When we’d finished making the appropriate noises, it struck us that in this spam-and-marketing-release-infected world, “ismail” could be a useful coinage for the small proportion of email in your in-box that contains factual and rele-vant information. The stuff you immediately consign to your trash folder could be called “wasmail”. We should, by the way, caution the Dom against punning on powerful people’s names, particularly in the territory of Islam and Judaism (not to mention Maori culture), which impart a certain sacredness to the personal moniker. Even in the Pakeha NZ IT industry, one of our staffers recalls, long, long ago, making what he thought was a harmless pun on the surname of a then industry luminary. He received a blistering phone call demanding a printed apology, and relations with the gentleman in question were distinctly frosty for at least the following few months.

Deadly toys

Along with laptops, cellphones and electronic games like the Gameboy, Qantas bans Furbies from its flights. While laptops are allowed to be turned back on after takeoff/landing, Furbies are not allowed to be switched on at all during the flight. They are specifically mentioned and outlawed. What do they put in those things?

On the other hand

Talk about pre-empting criticism. A colleague received the following email: “Hi, I apologise in advance if (a) you do not use Exchange/Outlook-based email, because the following message will have no interest for you, (b) you see this as junkmail, or spam, because it is not intended that way. The email address and the other address information herein is real and undisguised and you can blast me if I’ve annoyed you, and tell me to never send you mail like this again. I’m taking the risk because I believe sincerely this is an important message.” And it almost worked.

E-hobos ...

You just know that with every progression of technology comes a gap for its subversion. Now that war driving — wandering around CBDs armed with a notebook and a wireless card to visit wireless corporate networks — is old hat, the idea of leaving some kind of marker for fellow e-hobos to find a network to check their mail and have a bit of a surf is taking form. The idea is called war chalking by some, as the plan involves chalking a wall to mark perimeters and frequencies. Links to the 802.11 Hobo Runes are here.

... and their spots

Speaking of which, British Telecom has launched a trial of its public wireless broadband network, ahead of its commercial launch on August 1. Like Walker Wireless and Wellington’s CityLink, BT plans to build with Cisco Systems and Motorola a network of access points — “hotspots” — at hotels, airports, bars and coffee shops. Users within 100m of hotspots with a mobile device, network card and software will be able to access the internet or get secure access to their corporate networks at speeds of up to 500kbit/s.

About 70 hotspots are set to be in place by December, 400 by next June and 4000 by June 2005. By that time it hopes to be gene-rating revenues of at least £30m a year. BT plans to offer access through subscription or pay-as-you-go, suggesting customers will pay less than £95 a month for continuous use. Early subscribers could have a discount of up to 50%. Occasional users will have to wait and see what BT intends to whack them with.

Taking a stand

Cyberactivism rules. Before the Greens even thought of a feature on their website that would let people send a letter to the editor of every newspaper in the country at the click of a button, British “internet lobbyists” Stand were already well into the act with www.faxyourmp.com.

As mentioned in last week’s E-tales, the British government was trying to extend the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act, which let police, Customs and the secret services snoop on internet and mobile use, to include lots of other government agencies. Decidedly dodgy, since the powers allowed under RIP could be approved by a senior police officer.

Even more dodgy was the fact that the Home Office wanted to change the rules by using a parliamentary procedure called a “statutory instrument” — which meant no debate would be required in the House of Commons. With the help of Faxyourmp.com, where users can enter their UK postcode to find out who their MP is and send a fax, the RIP extension was canned. More than 30,000 faxes have been sent through the site. You wonder if any MPs accidentally forgot to refill their fax paper tray.


A CW staffer was at a social gathering when a sequence of beeps dropped into a quiet moment, sounding almost like a distress signal. Only one dash short: an adjacent guest was being notified of an SMS message on his cellphone. Dit-dit-dit. Dah-dah. Dit-dit-dit. Ironic that such a reasonably recently developed communication channel, reeking of the fast-paced e-lifestyle, should be the last refuge of Morse code. Check out Morse-to-text here.

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