E-tales: Digital dosh

What's a few million dollars between movie producers and IT vendors? Enough to cause the proverbial to hit the fan. Reports that Weta Digital's recent Linux/IntelliStation contract with IBM came in at "under $US10 million ($21 million)" went out with the all-important "under" missing.

What’s a few million dollars between movie producers and IT vendors? Enough to cause the proverbial to hit the fan. Reports that Weta Digital’s recent Linux/IntelliStation contract with IBM came in at “under $US10 million ($21 million)” went out with the all-important “under” deleted.

The story was picked up by newswires and reported around the world with the figure, although sources close to do the deal reckon it’s closer to $US2 million. New Line Cinema, which is backing the Lord of the Rings trilogy for which Weta is providing the fancy effects, was less than pleased to read about the extra $US8 million. Weta is not speaking to the press for now.

Place the face

Visitors from face-recognition technology company Imagis praised its ability to identify a face despite efforts at disguise or changes wrought by age, diet and cosmetic surgery. The ultimate testimony: Imagis Asia Pacific director Roger Henning says it picked “the little fat kid” from that 70s singing group The Jackson Five as the same person as the emaciated, bleached Michael Jackson we know today. “You can get a nose job”, he says, “but you can’t change the shape of your skull without radical surgery.”

Open source of confusion

You might imagine the community-mindedness of the open source software movement would appeal to a Labour prime minister. After all, sharing is the essence of open source, a form of software distribution sometimes likened to communism. But when Computerworld attempted to quiz Helen Clark on her attitude to open source, prefacing the question with a brief preamble about the contrast between the open source and Microsoft approaches to the world, even without the benefit of a videophone, our reporter could detect the PM’s eyes glazing over.

“You should address that question to IT minister Paul Swain,” she managed to get out, before launching into electioneering mode on the subject of all the IT-related laws a majority Labour government would be able to enact …

Thanks, buddy

Intel and Microsoft, chip and software giants respectively, are known to be close allies. Yet it seems sometimes the strategies of one can be costly for the other. That was the case when Microsoft brought out Windows 95. Thinking it was making life simple for itself, Intel had standardised its desktop PCs on Pentium 166MHz models (don’t ask what brand — the company has a policy of not disclosing whose technology it uses, according to the CIO). Come time to upgrade to Win95, however, and the seductiveness of standard desktops spelt a huge, unscheduled hardware bill as they all had to turfed out to run Microsoft’s monstrous new OS. As the Intel CIO put it, it caused a bit of a “lump” in his costs. These days he staggers upgrades, just as any clever CIO would.

Apparently we can

“I do not believe you can successfully look at the consultancy market in New Zealand without including Accenture, and welcome your feedback on this.”

A local PR outfit a few days before the announcement that the consultancy would be closing its New Zealand office.

Just as well

“I see Australia and New Zealand as one market.” John Gattorna, Accenture supply chain specialist, offers a prescient comment in an interview conducted a few days before the announcement that the consultancy would be closing its New Zealand office.

E business

News of a gay senior police officer alleged to have been alluding to drugs in chat groups — “I take it we are referring to the fifth letter of the alphabet” — set us thinking about whether such references would fool an automated lexical scanner looking out for suspicious words or solitary letters. Obviously the inventors of Ecstasy (E, or X for viewers of Sex and the City) never thought of email scanning, or they might have called it something like Abandon or Indulgence. With so many standalone “A”s and “I”s in any email message, the scanner would have been defeated (though not an alert human).

The worrying thing is that someone alleged to be a police officer apparently expects that emails passing over the public internet in New Zealand might be lexically scanned.

In the first flush of the still unpassed Crimes Amendment Bill No 6, which outlaws email interception, but permits the Police and SIS to do it under strictly controlled conditions, Computerworld asked both organisations in December whether they already intercepted email in an uncontrolled manner. Both declined comment, pleading confidentiality of operational procedures.

Sad but true

Emails sometimes simply go astray, but one of our staffers thought it remarkable when two sent within a few days arrived on his home PC only after two weeks somewhere in the wasteland of cyberspace, while a third went missing altogether and had to be resent. The common feature was that they all included a photographic attachment and all had a female first name either as the title of the message or the name of the attached file. Other messages at the time were arriving with no delay. Coincidence? Or cops scanning for porn? The one from our man’s friend in Florida might have got them interested (though no more skin was on view than you might see at a swimming pool), but they probably cursed the interception program for presenting them with the picture of his ageing mother and his sister in the UK.

And we’d love to have heard the reaction to the enticingly entitled “Theresa on beach” — the message that never arrived. The image was a picture of Telecom CEO Theresa Gattung welcoming the arrival of the Southern Cross cable at Takapuna. Fully clothed.

Look and link

We may have dismissed the graphical meta-search engine Kartoo a little too hastily last week. Entering “Hamlet”, for example, displays “Denmark”, “play”, “Shakespeare”, “film”, “reading” and other pertinent terms.

Lines connect the nodes that represent websites and are also displayed in a table, allowing the searcher to add or eliminate any term with a click, then re-search. We also find it “knows” that wet t-shirts are associated with “beach”, “Spring Break” and “Florida”.

But where does Kartoo get the extra terms? Either it fetches a selection of sites using the term entered, then figures out what other words occur on those sites most frequently, or it has a massive thesaurus of associative “real world” knowledge.

Some AI people have been trying to build such huge associative networks for decades. According to a sparse email statement by Kartoo spokesman Alexandre Dos Santos: “You are right when you say that additional terms come out of a pre-encoded thesaurus. All is calculated with a formula,” he says, before becoming rather obscure. “But I’m sorry I can’t tell you much more concerning this issue.” Thumbs-up, anyway.

Office hours

Bored office workers are turning to “cyberskiver” websites, either making their own sites, adding content or alerting others to their presence. In addition to jokes, personality tests and cartoons, recent examples of their humour include the Photoshop-morphed pictures of the Queen Mother as Yoda, or a toke-smoking Prince Harry as “Harry Pothead”. The Glasgow Herald says some of these sites receive more than 300,000 hits a day and — never mind the virus security issue — IT managers are complaining the mass of executable downloads are slowing company broadband systems.

Top sites include www.b3ta.com showing things like soccer star David Beckham with one leg supported by a wheel, www.p45.net features discussion forums on drinking prowess, www.seethru.co.uk has spoofs of friendsreunited.com and www.rathergood.com offers illustrated poems and music featuring a kitten band playing on the beach. While many bosses bemoan the time wasting caused by such sites, office surfers say they need sites such as www.theonion.com to relieve the boredom of work.

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