E-tales: Share madness

Survey organisations do try their best to be neutral in their questioning, avoiding putting ideas into the minds of those who answer their questionnaires. So it's a bit surprising to see a couple of the questions in AC Nielsen's latest internet usage survey.

Survey organisations, the reputable ones anyway, do try their best to be neutral in their questioning, avoiding putting ideas into the minds of those who answer their questionnaires.

So it’s a bit surprising to see, in AC Nielsen’s latest internet usage survey, a restricted choice at the bottom end of its “Do you plan to trade shares on the internet?” question. The last two options are “Probably not” and “No: I think trading shares on the internet is madness.” Respondents inclining to a definite but unemotional “no” on the point will be forced into expressing a gratuitous opinion or opting, inaccurately, for “probably not”, which might skew the statistics a bit.

An option on the adjacent question, asking for reasons for hesitating to trade shares, include “I am afraid I might make a mistake.” Nielsen is not clear whether it intends us to think of a technical mistake, being slightly adrift with a click and buying 10,000 shares in the wrong company, or the kind of mistakes that everyone makes sometimes on the stockmarket, online or off. Or maybe both.

And one of the options for respondents’ “chief concern about the internet” generally is “censorship”. It doesn’t clearly indicate whether checking this box indicates that we think there is too little or too much censorship online. There are, however, buttons for “indecent or harmful material” and “illegal material” below, so presumably these are intended to catch the censorship conservatives and the first point the liberals.

We do still wonder, though, whether the answer will falsely indicate that a large number of New Zealanders are porn fans when in reality they’re members of the “moral majority”, or maybe vice-versa.

Bill-abong bounty

If you’ve ever been ripped off by Australian banks or insurance companies, you may want to check that they haven’t relented and agreed to pay back your money. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission runs a list of people owed money by institutions. An eagle-eyed staffer looking for, oddly enough, a wedding celebrant Googled up Westpac’s PDF file, on which we noticed a number of New Zealanders.

Knights fans’ dark nights

TV viewers in the city of Newcastle, New South Wales, have slammed a new television reception helpline as inadequate and unhelpful. The Broadcaster Analogue Interference Advice Line, designed to help viewers experiencing reception difficulties caused by local digital signal testing, offers a recorded message with basic advice about how to fix problems. Call centre staff in Melbourne are also available to take names and addresses of callers and send them a brochure offering advice on how to overcome their difficulties.

But according to “The Contact”, a Sydney-based newsletter for the Australian and New Zealand call-centre/contact-centre industry, quoting the Newcastle Herald, local residents have become frustrated by the service, which one caller described as being “as helpful as a wet sock”. “If they are setting up a helpline there should be someone there to give basic help,” another complained.

Time travel prof real Guy

Never mind Aussie actor Guy Pearce, US scientist Ronald Mallett says he can make a real time machine. The University of Connecticut professor says this is no HG Wells fantasy and he should have a working model within six months using a ring of light.

Einstein’s theory of relativity says anything that has mass or gravity distorts the space and passage of time around it, like a bowling ball dropped on a trampoline. Circulating laser beams in the right way, by slowing them down and shooting them from anything from fibre-optic cable to special crystals, might create a similar distortion that could theoretically transport someone through different times, Mallett believes.

His university plans to build a device to transport a sub-atomic particle, probably a neutron, through time. The energy from a rotating laser beam, Mallet hopes, would warp the space inside the ring of light so that gravity forces the neutron to rotate sideways. With even more energy, it’s possible, the Boston Globe reports, a second neutron would appear — the second particle being the first one visiting itself from the future.

Parroting dad

More than 70 classic comedy clips from Monty Python, Benny Hill and Michael Bentine have gone online. Bentine’s son Richard has created ClassicComedy.net to distribute sketches rarely seen on TV and not available in the shops because broadcasters think there is insufficient demand. Many clips will be free, supported by sponsorship, while others will cost money. The site, launched last week, will also offer an exclusive game based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail, reports Ananova.com.

Corporate carousing

Further fun can be gained from another cult site that revels in IT company anthems.

Motivational songs once derided as nonsense are now being celebrated thanks to the site created by London-based web technologist Chris Raettig. He created the site after he was sent a file on the KPMG anthem by a friend. Visitors to the site can download the songs and vote on their favourites, contributing to an IT anthem chart.

Last week, McKinsey & Co was number one with “McKC”, followed by KPMG with “Our vision of global strategy” and IBM’s “Ever Onward”. Others in the hit parade include Ericsson, PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Netscape/Sun alliance and Novell.

File bodies

Urban professionals are dumping the 80s icon, the Filofax, for PDAs and palmtops, says technology expert Tom Dunmore. The demand for handhelds, argues the editor of UK-based Stuff magazine, has rocketed and this has hit the makers of paper personal organisers, such as Filofax. Today the electronic handhelds can be almost as powerful as a typical desktop and cost little more than a decent Filofax, Dunmore says. But Filofax, which has changed hands three times in three years, plans to fight back by dumping its yuppie image.

Spy chips fish for sales

Florida company Applied Digital Solutions has won US government approval to begin sales of VeriChip. The computer chip can be implanted under the skin and contains an ID code that can be transmitted by the internet or phone to a secure data storage site.

ADS spokesman Matthew Cossolotto says it can be used to contain medical data to quicken service, or be combined with a GPS system so wearers can be traced by satellite.

Hard luck

The explosion of pornography on the internet is threatening to put “soft” porn magazines out of business, says Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione. General Media, which owns the 37-year-old London-based magazine, is $US110 million in the red and fears it cannot make $US30 million of repayments this year. Sales have slumped from a peak of five million to just 650,000 a month this year. “The future has definitely migrated to electronic media,” Guccione told the New York Times.

On a wing and a prayer

Just four months after the fall of the Taleban, Afghanistan has created its first mobile phone network. Launched last week in the capital Kabul, the network should work in all major Afghan cities by mid-year. The launch featured a bearded mullah chanting a prayer and was attended by half the interim government. Leader Hamid Karzai was the first user, calling a friend in Germany, reports BBC Online.

Read my lips

Meanwhile, Japan’s NTT DoCoMo hopes to avoid the annoyance of endless phone chatter on buses and trains. It is developing a phone handset that will convert silently mouthed words into speech or text, by detecting the tiny electronic signals sent by muscles around the mouth. The signals are converted into spoken words by a speech synthesiser, or into text for a text message or email. New Scientist reports engineers are developing the lip-reading software and the first phones should be available within five years.

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