E-tales: Brand new

While the IT industry is infamous for randomly and ungrammatically inserting capitals and lower-case letters into company names, the trend now seems to be spreading to local government.

While the IT industry is infamous for randomly and ungrammatically inserting capitals and lower-case letters into company names, the trend now seems to be spreading to local government. The last issue of Computerworld mistakenly labelled the renamed Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council as MW Horizons. Of course it should be horizons.mw. A rebranding triumph.


Who needs TVNZ’s Cameron Bennett or the BBC’s John Simpson when you have the Afghan Reporter? Developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this robo-hack is designed to travel to war zones to provide images and interviews from environments off-limits to human reporters.

Modelled on the NASA Mars Explorer, the solar-powered Afghan Reporter has four wheels and navigates using a GPS unit. Its brain is a laptop that connects remotely by mobile phone to the internet to let journalists operate the device. A satellite phone allows lives interviews. A video console mounted on a neck and two ear-like web cameras give it a technohuman face.

Creator Chris Csikszentmihalyi says since the early 1990s the US has kept its reporters from war zones and something was needed to give a truer picture. He plans to tests his robot possibly in Afghanistan, which has had no battlefield footage. “They can imprison it, shoot it. I don’t care. It is just a robot, its feelings can’t get hurt,” Csikszentmihalyi told BBC Online.

Intel insider

The California Supreme Court is reviewing an appeals court decision that likened sending mass emails to trespassing. Sacked Intel engineer Kourosh Kenneth Hamidi made headlines in 1999 when he drove a horse and cart to the chip makers to drop off 40,000 anti-Intel messages. He also sent emails complaining of unfair work practices to as many as 30,000 Intel staff.

Intel sued and won an injunction barring Hamidi from sending more messages, claiming he was trespassing on private property by sending the mass emails — something a few of us would like to do.

However, Hamidi says because the Intel network is connected to the internet, his rights of free speech override this. The tussle can be seen here and on the Former and Current Employees of Intel site.

Dying for a game

More court action is threatened over the allegedly addictive nature of online computer games. Miami lawyer Jack Thompson plans to file a lawsuit against Sony Online Entertainment, following the death of 21-year-old Shawn Woolley of Wisconsin. Woolley quit his job, ignored his family and stayed online for hours on end, finally shooting himself on Thanksgiving Day last November, just minutes after playing EverQuest — a 3D never-ending fantasy where more than 400,000 people interact worldwide (the motto of its Station website is “Pause life, play games”).

His mother Elizabeth blames the game for the suicide and wants Sony Online to put warnings labels on its games, despite admitting her son suffered mental health problems, including epileptic fits, brought on by playing the game for up to 12 hours. Sony Online cites its privacy policy in refusing to unlock the secrets held in her son’s account. If you want to get hooked, visit Everquest.

Egging on fans

The Easter holidays might be over but in the hi-tech world Easter eggs are still out there and available for consumption. Easter eggs are of course also titbits that creators of software, movies, DVDs, music, books and the arts leave in their works.

David Wolf of discussion website eeggs.com says there are thousands of them out there, including, at last count, 2529 in computers and 1567 in movies, which in general are not meant to be found.

His favourites include the “Spy Hunter”-like game in Microsoft Excel 2000 and the “Wacky Search Menu” in Internet Explorer 5. Today the 4.7GB capacity of DVDs gives developers and filmmakers more capacity to throw in goodies; and studios increasingly use eggs as a marketing tool. In the DVD edition of the movie Mallrats director Kevin Smith (no, not our late Kevin) can be found admonishing viewers for searching for Easter eggs.

A recent report on abcnews.com gave instructions on how to find eggs in DVD presentations of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, The Matrix and Moulin Rouge. However, Robert Engstrom of dvdeastereggs.com warns such added fare could become standard fare in DVDs as the process becomes more “corporatised”. Indeed, New Line Cinema’s announcement of the August 6 DVD release of The Lord of the Rings seems to highlight the trend. The two-disc set promises three “behind-the-scenes featurettes”, 15 “featurettes” created for the lordoftherings.net website, an “exclusive” 10-minute preview of second installment The Two Towers, Enya’s “May It Be” video and plenty of other stuff.

Finally, a four-disc Special Extended Edition, releasing on November 12, also promises an extra 30 minutes added to the cinema-version, which with extra commentary from director Peter Jackson means more than six hours of additional content. Plenty for fans to feast on.

Quiet please

UK magazine What PC? Is challenging computer makers to produce quieter machines. It has introduced noise-testing following complaints from readers. Some machines, they say, produce over 50 decibels, due to the three or four fans they need to keep red-hot chips cool. Editor Chris Cain says only the new iMacs are really quiet by comparison.

Cyborg rights

Air Canada is being sued by a self-styled cyborg over claims of harsh treatment.

Professor Steve Mann from the University of Toronto has worn a computer system for 20 years, which includes computerised glasses for endless web surfing and a computerised heart monitor (scroll halfway down Wearcam to see the evolution of Mann’s style).

Days before a flight to Newfoundland, Mann sent documents warning Air Canada of his unusual tastes in fashion. But at the airport he was strip-searched, which damaged his glasses and monitor, and delayed for three days.

Now the airline is being sued for damage and negligence to Mann’s equipment, with him saying cyborgs should have the same rights as disabled people with special equipment such as wheelchairs. But some lawyers say the case depends on an airline’s terms and conditions as there is no constitutional right to fly.

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