E-tales: Better late than never

Auckland Regional Council is reportedly happy with its 3666 Rideline service, which provides bus and ferry timetable information to mobile phones using text messaging. However, a major snag came to light recently when a rush-hour storm led to the city being gridlocked.

Auckland Regional Council is reportedly happy with its 3666 Rideline service, which provides bus and ferry timetable information to mobile phones using text messaging.

However, a major snag came to light recently when a rush-hour storm led to the city being gridlocked. It meant a bus home was 75 minutes later than scheduled. So how can you tell when your bus is really due if they're not running on time?

ARC says it's thinking about a system that will tell commuters when a bus is approaching using satellite locating technology, though it plans this year to implement a GPS-based system that should cut delays at least a little by switching red traffic lights to green as buses approach.

Bristol fashion

E-government is obviously taken seriously in Britain, judging by an example given to us by Dietmar Pfaehler of SAP New Zealand. Bristol City Council allows its citizens to not only pay council taxes online but report abandoned cars and broken street lamps without picking up the phone. You log on online, choose your street name, report the problem and give them your name. However, the whole sequence for a street-lamp report is some 10 pages long, which might make you wonder if ringing might be quicker. Then again, your call might not be answered.

Who needs Holmes?

The BBC is using a cut-price creation that could warm the heart of any TVNZ accountant, assuming they have them. Maddy is a digitally generated virtual TV presenter that is joining the line-up of top UK science show Tomorrow’s World.

Created by Glasgow-based Digital Animations Group, who helped produce virtual newsreader Ananova, the character will introduce features and chat with other presenters on the show. Maddy features an artificial chat engine program that lets her learn about science and respond to questions. She is driven by a real-time animation program that gives her human mannerisms and movement.

Laurie McCulloch from DAG says he plans to unveil new animation technologies during the series to make Maddy’s facial animation smoother to reflect the natural subtleties of skin and muscle.

Mk min a lge 1

British students would rather call a friend at the bar to place a drinks order rather than queue themselves. Three quarters of 100 students surveyed said they would make a quick call on their mobile if it helped get a quick beer. The Orange survey also says almost half would resort to calling their flatmates on their mobiles if too hungover to get out of bed; and 91% had made calls to people in the same house to avoid effort, with over a quarter doing it daily. Two-fifths confess to picking up their mobile because they are lazy, while a fifth feel calling or texting is a cheap and easy way to avoid unnecessary effort.

I-spy

First, China Daily reports mini cameras are “selling like hot cakes” as spouses snap up models to keep tabs on their partners. The rage started when a camera was used in Taiwan to film a politician having sex with her married lover. Taipei city councilwoman Chu Mei-feng was forced from office, after the film, taken without her knowledge, was widely circulated, becoming a best-selling video across Asia. She has since become a pop singer.

Second, Hamburg police have ordered the Kleidermarkt second hand shop to switch off its web cameras after customers complained they were being broadcast live on the internet when they used the changing room. The store says people were warned about this, through a sign. But police reply the sign was only written in German, and store staff people didn’t point it out to customers.

Cat's eyes

Pet-owners whose little darlings bring in wonderful "presents" will be dead keen on new technology from Quantum Pictures. The US-based company is developing image recognition software to stop cats entering their homes with mice and other victims. The software uses an image-recognition algorithm that compares the captured image of a cat entering a cat flap with stored images. If there are few similarities, say caused by puss carrying a mouse, the door remains closed. Hopefully it would also stop a cat bringing the neighbour's Y-fronts through the flap, as happened to one Computerworld staffer.

Robo-karaoke

Sony has created a human-shaped robot that disco-dances, sings and remembers people’s faces. The 58cm SDR-4X robot has sensors on its feet so it can walk on uneven surfaces. If it falls it can get up on its own and has two cameras to help it see. SDR-4X can recognise 60,000 words, voices and faces. It can also register colour and be programmed to sing by inputting music and lyrics. Sony plans to sell the silver robots later this year, though gadget-lovers be warned: it says they will cost as much as a luxury car.

Suds-u-like

Perhaps better conversation might be had from a new washing machine from Electrolux. The company says its new Walky Talky machine, due for launch in India, has a vocabulary of 90 English and Hindi phrases, such as “drop the detergent", "close the lid" and "relax", accompanied by a tinkling of piano keys or a trumpet fanfare. Electrolux says the idea follows feedback from customers not knowing exactly how new washing machines work and they wanted something to reassure them that they were pressing the right buttons.

Spring cleaning

Did you clean your website last week? Last week, at least in the northern hemisphere, was Spring Clean The Internet Week. "Throw out the old junk, get rid of those files you haven't updated, store them on a disk instead of on the web!" urges a group called Information Activism.

The group was founded by a former chief researcher for the book Harley Hahn's Internet and Web Yellow Pages, Wendy Russ. It aims to ensure information on websites is up to date, actively maintained and accurate. Russ's group also opposes the publication of hoaxes.

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