E-tales: Ken Corba strikes

The perils of personalised plates were brought home to a Borland New Zealand staffer recently. His middle-aged, reliable but unspectacular car, bearing the plate CORBA (common object request broker architecture, for the uninitiated), was in a carpark in wannabe-trendy Auckland suburb Onehunga.

The perils of personalised plates were brought home to a Borland New Zealand staffer recently. His middle-aged, reliable but unspectacular car, bearing the plate CORBA (common object request broker architecture, for the uninitiated), was in a carpark in wannabe-trendy Auckland suburb Onehunga. Moments after leaving it someone informed him it had been spray-painted, the tagger leaving the one-word message “Ken” on the bonnet. The much flasher vehicles parked alongside were unmarked. The staffer couldn’t figure out what would inspire that particular message on his unprepossessing car.

Not until talking to an attendant at the nearest service station, that is, who told him it was probably the work of local gang the King Cobras. A dyslexic gang member, apparently, who read COBRA for CORBA and wrote Ken for King. The Borland man preferred his name not to be printed because there are just four listings for it in the phone book and he wasn’t keen on further attentions from the Cobras. One suspects that with their spelling skills he has little to fear.

Just looking

Compaq and HP relayed a few -- very few -- details about the company's future to journalists last week, just a few hours after officially notifying several hundred staff from both companies that they were now workmates. Nothing was said about the New HP's infrastructure, staffing, even which building they would be located in. The announcement was made at Auckland's splendid Heritage hotel, just across the courtyard from IBM's edifice. No one saw any binoculars, but at least one new HP manager noticed a bunch of Big Bluers looking up from the courtyard. What were they looking for? Jubilation? Tears? Recruits?

Council gets the blues

Don’t cancel your IT maintenance contract is the moral of this story. The city council in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania last year dropped its $850-a-month maintenance contract on its 20-year-old IBM AS/400 mainframe because it believed using PCs would be cheaper. Then, on April 15, the system crashed, making tax data inaccessible. Five council staff have been busy typing more than 25,000 names, addresses and tax information on to two PCs -- a job that could take six months.

Since publishing the story, the Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader newspaper has received letters from computer specialists saying maintenance agreements are vital for old mainframes. They liken the council’s policy to staging a desert crossing without a spare tyre, saying heads should roll.

Blame Canada

With echoes of the John Davy story still rattling around the country's watercoolers, talk in our office -- well, email, actually -- turned to what else had come out of Canada that the rest of the world would want to hand back if it could (it was a slow Friday afternoon). Suggestions included Alannah Myles (Black Velvet -- lyrics available here -- was being hummed around the building), Alanis Morissette (random song generator here), Jim Carrey and Shania Twain. Neil Young was defended by the resident Canadian. No one mentioned Michael J Fox.

Endless summer

How’s this for the perfect summer job? Forget fruitpicking or stacking supermarket shelves. Nintendo of America plans to pay people $220 a day to play computer games all (northern) summer long. Members of the “Nintendo Street Team” will be touring US concerts, malls and fairs over July and August showcasing the Nintendo GameCube and handheld Gameboy systems. Candidates, who have to be over 18, must fill out an online application at Nintendo Street Team before June 14. They have to also create a two-minute video explaining why they should get the work. Nintendo executive vice-president Peter MacDougall says this is “sure to be the best summer job ever”. Shame on those who think there some among Computerworld's readership already getting paid more for doing much the same thing.

Collateral damage

Controversy has erupted over the online game “Kaboom” in which the protagonist is a suicide bomber who blows up men, women and children as well has himself, as he tours from Israel across European countries. US Congress officials are calling for web host Tom Fulp to remove the game from his website and the Jewish Defense League wants it banned. However, Fulp, 24, calls the game a “commentary” on current events. Its creator, described on the website as a non-Jewish, non-Arabic 21-year-old Detroit man, says the game does not aim to glamourise suicide bombers but to portray them “as murderers and make the act look as despicable as possible”.

Segway harms

The heralded Segway scooter has claimed one of its first victims -- a police officer in Atlanta, Georgia. The city’s police force is one of the first to used the device invented by Dean Kamen. Last week, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the officer fell from his scooter while going up a driveway on to a pavement and injured his knee.

Net life

Scotsman John Duncanson, 36, is quitting his job and moving to Gran Canaria, Spain, after being told to do so in a Big Brother-style online game. MSN staged its Live Your Life competition over 15 days, generating more than 300,000 votes. Five volunteers had to submit their lives to the scrutiny of the online public, who made important life decisions on their behalf. Duncanson came top with 31% of the vote after agreeing to the move, winning the $33,000 first prize. Other contestants pledge to dye their hair pink, go back to college or sell a beloved car. The engineer now plans to sail to the Canary Islands, off the African west coast, in a boat but has no plans what to do when he gets there. Duncanson says the way people “seemed to care cared about the decisions they made for me restored my faith in human nature”.

Birthday boy Beckham

In case you forgot, it was UK soccer star David Beckham’s 27th birthday this month. He received a record 4461 email messages and e-cards for his big day on May 2 through UK internet site Virgin.net. The previous record through the site of 2600 emails was -- surprise, surprise -- held by wife and former Spice Girl Victoria, sent to her when she turned 26 in April 2000. Virgin.net delivered the virtual cards to the Manchester United player as he rested his broken foot.

Good e-boy

Robotic pets that respond to voice commands have been unveiled in Japan. Micro Pets from Tomy also “sing” national anthems using electronic sounds, and flash their eyes and walk, miaow and bark. The cats, dogs and bears will be released in July costing around $20.

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