E-tales: Upgrade, immediately

In an email to a Computerworld reporter last week came proof that two segments of the software industry need to do some refinement of their products.

In an email to a Computerworld reporter last week came proof that two segments of the software industry need to do some refinement of their products. This message came in response to a query about a magazine subscription:

“I apologise that no subscription regular reminder that was issued however I am aware that you to a software eclipse in the UK 8 number of regular subscribers were not invited to a new.”

“Pardon?” replied our reporter.

“Sorry I did not check the interpretation of my voice recognition software.

That should have read, ‘I apologise that no subscription renewal reminder was issued however I am aware that due to software glitch in the UK that some regular subscribers were not invited to renew.’”

We’d suggest that both the VR and subscription software be tossed. A bit of basic grammar revision might be in order as well.

The Balrog lives

Former chief technical officer at Weta Digital, John Labrie, demonstrated Weta’s successes and its false starts, with plenty of special effects footage to hand, at the recent conference marking a year of the government’s E-Commerce Action team.

Seeking to produce realistic fire for a Balrog, a flaming demonic creature figuring in the first book of The Lord of the Rings, Weta set about simulating faithfully the movement and behaviour of particles in a real mass of flame.

“We worked on digital fire for two years,” Labrie said. “And we finished up with something so realistic that every time the Balrog moved too fast, he blew himself out.”

Weta had to resort in the end to a more primitive technique, and when the results of this were shown to oblivious director Peter Jackson, he pronounced it a great improvement on the previous work. But will the effort be of any future use, given that the Balrog has done its big scene and doesn’t reappear in the trilogy?

“There is a Balrog in the second film,” Labrie said. “But I guess I wasn’t supposed to tell you that.”

Past it

Are you a young, thrusting up-and-comer or an ageing hypocrite? If you’d rather party the night away than eat a pizza in front of Attachments, you may still be in the first category.

“Now look at you. Sitting at a computer in an office. Job. Steady relationship,” mocks online magazine Seethru.

“All those lines you drew in the sand — crossed. All those things you swore you’d never do — done.”

To find out if your best days are still ahead of you, take the test here.

Stick insect

Warren Harding, a telecomms engineer who looks after antennas on the Sky Tower, says man-made antennas are just that — antennas — and that the plural antennae only applies to insects’ bits. Our dictionaries tell us he’s right. Apologies to the insect world.

Pension scheme

Normally we never even open such emails, and we only did this time out of sheer curiosity about whether pyramid schemes ever change. The answer, of course, is no, because how else would they keep pulling in the suckers. Love the testimonials: ‘’This program has been around for a long time but I never believed in it. But one day when I received this again in the mail I decided to gamble my $25 on it. I followed the simple instructions and walaa ..... three weeks later the money started to come in. First month I only made $240.00 but the next two months after that I made a total of $290,000.00.” It works like this: you order five reports and for each send $US5 cash and your email address to the person whose name appears on the list next to the report. Put your return address and wait for the money to roll in when people buy the reports off you. As they say in the movies, you had us at walaa. (Well, no, actually.)

Sticks and stones ...

Watch what you say online — it could be costly. In the UK a former teacher has won a $4000 payout over insults written about him on Britain’s Friends Reunited website. In the case before Lincoln Country Court, Jim Murray, 68, sued former pupil Jonathan Spencer for libel. Spencer, another teacher, put on the website that Murray had been sacked after “making rude remarks about girls” and “strangling” a pupil. Friends Reunited removed the comments the next day after Murray told them he had retired and the claims were false.

But this is nothing compared to a $70 million lawsuit filed in a Los Angeles federal court following a dispute between North Carolina carpenter Robert Smith and Californian attorney Ellen Batzel. After the pair argued over a bill, Smith told Ton Cremers of Amsterdam’s famous Rijksmuseum that he had heard Batzel say she was the granddaughter of Nazi commander Henrich Himmler and had inherited hundreds of looted paintings from Jews. Cremers cut and pasted Smith’s email with Batzel’s address on to his subscriber newsletter. Soon Batzel kept receiving funny looks and getting calls in the small town of Ashville, North Carolina where she lived. Now, reports the Los Angeles New Times, Batzel has moved back to LA and filed a lawsuit demanding $US30 million in damages from Smith, Cremers and two sponsors of his website for libel, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Beats texting, anyway

Retro fever is set to hit cellphones. Motorola and iFone have struck a deal to distribute classic Atari games on handsets. Games to be made available worldwide include favourites Pong, Centipede, Breakout and Asteroids. Motorola executive Juan Montes says the games are well suited for new Java-enabled handsets. The rebirth of these 70s and 80s favourites highlights growing nostalgia for times when there were no mice or discs and products such as the Sinclair Spectrum, Commodore, Amiga or Vic-20 took forever to load games from cassette tapes. Collectors and fans have created emulators that copy the style and format of these prehistoric PCs at sites such as the World of Spectrum, the Jasper ZX Spectrum Emulator, Retro-Games and The Sinclair Lair.

Monroe or Elvis?

Advances in digital technology means it is now possible for Hollywood to bring movie stars back to life. Star Wars director George Lucas says a computer can scan thousands of images of a particular film star with different expressions and angles and make a composite of their face. But Lucas says he doubts film audiences will want to see a virtual reality version of dead stars.

Go play outside

British parents spend twice as long dealing with email as they do playing with their children. Britain’s Department of Trade and Industry says UK employees spend 49 minutes a day managing their inbox compared with just 25 minutes playing with their children. It says that Britain’s workforce has a poor work-life balance, noting that stress-related sickness and injuries cost industry $1.1 billion a year.

Police oppose crims online

Canadian police are backing civil liberties groups in opposing plans by the Alberta state government to feature photographs and details of offenders on a new website. The Alberta government says the website will serve the public and won’t violate privacy laws when it is launched in June. But police fear the site will ruin their rapport with offenders and trigger extra work and expenses.

World wildlife web

Fancy a bit of polar bear tracking? The World Wildlife Fund and the Norwegian Polar Institute has launched a website detailing its studies into polar bears. The WWF Polar Bear Tracker features two bears, one named Gro — after former Norwegian PM Gro Harlem Brundtland. The Gro website warns polar bears face growing difficulties as global warming melts the sea ice. This year warm seas in the Barents Sea may mean Gro is stranded on land rather than being out on the pack ice where seal kills are greater.

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