E-tales: Flying low

The lies computers allow large companies to tell. When the year's worst-kept secret -- Qantas cosying up to Air New Zealand -- was confirmed last week, a letter arrived signed by none other than big boss Ralph Norris.

The lies computers allow large companies to tell. When the year’s worst-kept secret -- Qantas cosying up to Air New Zealand -- was confirmed last week, a letter arrived signed by none other than big boss Ralph Norris.

"Dear [Computerworld journalist]," Ralph wrote, "I am writing to you first about one of the most significant developments in our company’s history."

Our journalist was feeling honoured at being the first Airpoints member in the land to get the letter, until discovering everyone else in the newsroom who’d ever flown Air New Zealand was being written to first as well. Really, Ralph -- you, a former IT boss, putting your name to such nonsense.

Falling fast

Meeting with the Vignette regional bosses recently, our staffer wondered what had happened to the previous Australasian head of the content management firm hired only in February 2001, Lee Loncasty. We remembered her chiefly because her CV boasted a PhD in robotics from Oxford University, not a common achievement. She disappeared without trace, or so we thought. Turns out she's a parachuting freak, and we don't use that term lightly. According to her notes on a Women in Sports site, she's jumped 2600-odd times and holds several records. She is also a pilot and owns several planes. Refreshingly, she gives her occupations as: "Various, sometimes managing director of a company, sometimes unemployed (like now!)." Sometimes is right. She appears to have recently become MD of Axway Australia.

Fancy that

We've heard of solutions advocates and product evangelists, but on a recent trip to Sydney Computerworld came across an employee of SAN fabric switch maker Brocade who had the extraordinary title of SAN solutioneer. Brocade, which recently inked an alliance with HP in the storage management arena, may now have a few less solutioneers, as it recently announced a 12% cut in employee numbers.

Going troppo

We recently received an invitation to a presentation about GPS technology. The second paragraph of the invitation email reads "The preso will include ..." To the sender of the invitation, one of New Zealand's larger PR firms: please, please, don't adopt that dreadful Australian habit of abbreviating every word in the English language and then sticking an "o" on the end.

So what's an anastrophe then?

And in the days (late 70s) when "systems analyst" was a standard title, meaning in many cases a programmer who'd been doing it for so long we had to promote him/her, there was one industry figure who obstinately called himself a "systems catalyst".

There's a nice intuitive implication there of a more constructive line of work; acting as an agent to bring things together, rather than just prodding at their structure (nowadays it's snuck back as "systems integrator".) Unfortunately, etymology doesn't bear out the original coiner's optimism. Taken back to the Greek, there is no difference. An analyst breaks things up; a catalyst breaks them down. You wonder why they ever needed two words.

An anastrophe is, of course, a successful disaster recovery exercise.

Bad memories

A computer bought at auction in Townsville, Queensland, for a paltry $A10 got the buyer, Queenslander Graham Boardman, a bargain, but he got more than he bargained for when he discovered Australian army information on it and got an immediate visit. The army had failed to delete all the data from the hard drive of the ex-service PC. According to the army, the information was merely administrative and not sensitive, but the incident does make one wonder about security in our closest neighbour's armed forces. The army has launched a full-scale investigation.

Cowboy Bill

After detailing the official reasons for Bill Gates' recent visit to India, US sister publication Network World chimed in with an unofficial version: Gates is keen to develop paying Indian markets for his products. The free software community has had to struggle a bit to get a foothold there because people already don't pay for the software they use -- the country's computer infrastructure essentially runs on pirated Windows software. Newly created Hindi language computer interfaces may help counter the taken-for-granted idea of freely shared digital resources.

Flesh for fantasy

Library director James Oda kept wondering why he couldn't access his library's new website at He was keen to show-off three month's hard work. The library, in Piqua, Ohio, is called the Flesh Public Library, named 70 years ago after businessman Leo Flesh.

"It was only then he realised "we [had] banned ourselves," reports the Dayton Daily News. The library's Net Nanny system did not like "flesh" going with "public" so it denied access. A change of address - - has allowed the library to access its own site.

Hot down under

Be careful where you place your laptop. A letter in the respected UK medical journal The Lancet reports how a 50-year-old scientist placed his laptop on his erm, lap, to do some work. After an hour he felt a burning sensation lower down. The father of two noticed redness and irritation where one doesn't like to see it. Only on seeing a doctor did he realise the extent of the damage -- burn wounds that took over a week to heal.

Panda-ing to certain needs

Chinese scientists have developed computer software to boost the birth rate of pandas in zoos. The program analyses the health and bloodlines of pandas in captitivity to find the best match. The Beijing Star Daily says zoos are having great trouble mating pandas because of their low sex drive, and have taken to using everything from panda "porn" -- one's mind boggles -- to traditional herbs and even viagra.

Microsoft mishaps

UK news site The Register reports more trouble for the Redmond giant. First, a group called Security Office has published on its website an internal white paper by MS Windows 2000 Server product group member David Brooks which lavishly praises the rival Unix system, in preference to Microsoft's own offering, claiming Unix is more secure, stable, cheaper and easier to run. Then The Register reports how Microsoft faces a critical hole in its web software.

"Without a hint of irony, the company recommends moving Microsoft from IE's Trusted Publisher list (accessible via IE's Internet Options menu), in order to prompt a warning whenever a Microsoft-aligned ActiveX control attempts to install itself."

Gagging for IT

Growing up in rural Britain, a staffer recalls a certain organisation with the slogan "Young farmers do it in wellies". "It", of course, stood for agriculture in those naive pre-computer days. At the recent Kiwi jobs expo in London, Auckland boutique recruiter IT Maniacs' stall ran banners stating that "IT Maniacs love IT down under." Now, they are planning bumper stickers along the lines of "IT Maniacs love IT" ... on a hard drive, ... on a desk top, ... hands free, ... in the right port, etc, etc, a full list of which will go on the outfit's website this week. They are not alone in their dedication to innuendo. The New Zealand Software Association stages a debate tomorrow entitled: "Doing IT is better than watching IT."

Apple of his eye reports that Mark Allen, a gay New Yorker, began a cyber-relationship with a Texan called Bryan. They had virtual meetings, with the Mac and webcam at the side of their beds so Allen could watch Bryan sleeping. A year later they met and the relationship fizzled. It was then Allen realised it was not Bryan he fancied but rather his Mac.

"Bryan, my cyberboyfriend, was, in a lot of ways, my PowerMac G3, webcam and telephone," Mark wrote on his website. "He literally lived inside of this machine ... that I myself could control like a light switch. The perfect boyfriend."

Allen diagnosed himself has having "objectum-sexuality" -- a fetishistic attraction to inanimate objects, in this case his Mac. reports a range of such fetishisms such as attraction to cars, toy trains, buildings, and even recalls a German woman "marrying" the Berlin Wall in 1979.

US psychologist Al Cooper comments this is the first Mac fetishism he has come across, but says it is hardly surprising considering: "Part of [Apple's] campaign is to make them sexy. They are sleek and colourful ... It makes it more likely people will fetishise it."