Which are you?

It's one of those perennial and peripheral questions of ICT: which abbreviations do you treat as acronyms in the strict sense, trying to pronounce them as a word, and which do you spell out?

It’s one of those perennial and peripheral questions of ICT: which abbreviations do you treat as acronyms in the strict sense, trying to pronounce them as a word, and which do you spell out?

In our stories about the World Summit on the Information Society, we have considered WSIS to fall definitely in the latter camp. One email we received even rendered it laboriously (and jokingly) as “doubleyou ess eye ess”.

But speaking last week to Associate IT Minister David Cunliffe, we realised it has already been “acronymised”. Cunliffe achieves it by introducing between the W and S the colourless brief vowel that linguists call a “schwa” (helpful dictionary example, the middle e in "element”).

Having said that, it veered in various directions in Cunliffe's conversation, sounding sometimes like “whizzes” and sometimes inclining more towards “wusses”.

We’ve no doubt there were plenty of both at the conference.

Swear blind

Nice to know you can curse like an angry sailor in Maori, let alone Basque or Swahili. If you're easily offended, don't go to the Swearsaurus.

Collect the set

RealThreat offers an alternative view of the US Homeland Security Advisory System’s famous “threat level”, offering up a graphical depiction of the “threat level posed by the Bush Administration”. Evaluate the threat at .

Becoming a bit credulous

Is this our first glimpse of a post-Hutton BBC? A Beeb report on the downtime visited upon The SCO Group’s website by the MyDoom virus notes that SCO “owns the Unix operating system”. We’re sure the company's lawyers will be pleased to hear that.

Meanwhile, journalist Dan Gillmor points out on his weblog that SCO managed to include the MyDoom carnage in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission — even though the filing was made on January 27, five days before the virus was scheduled to strike. We suspect SCO enjoys these attacks: they provide another reason to complain about those pinko Linux terrorists, and it’s not as if the website was making a lot of software sales …

But all is forgiven

E-tales is happy to forgive the BBC though, after learning from the marvellous Boing Boing website that Real Networks created a special, almost annoyance-free version of its media player specially for the broadcaster. If you’ve avoiding the freebie RealPlayer because of its gratuitous use of advertisements, marketing tie-ins and endless "helpful" messages check out these links.

Warez 4he S0phtw4r3?

A new entrant in the P2P market will find it pretty hard to claim they didn’t know their program would be used for pinching software. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you Warez 1.5.

Stupid is as stupid does

Tech companies feature prominently in Business 2.0’s list of the 101 dumpest business decisions of last year. Microsoft takes home the "Dumbest Moment, Product Development" award for the iLoo, the internet-savvy portable toilet that the company first claimed was a hoax, then confirmed, then finally, uh, canned.

Verisign takes the Mergers & Acquisitions gong, for its sale of its dot-com registration business for a tinpot $US100 million, only three-and-a-half years after buying registrar Network Solutions for $US21 billion.

Our favourite winner? British utility Yorkshire Water set off an anthrax panic after mass-mailing unmarked packets of silica sand to customers. The sand was supposed to be used in the Yorkshire Water’s “Save-A-Flush” campaign.

Check out 98 more business decisions of monumental stupidity.

That’s the knowledge economy

Lubna Baloch claims she hasn't been paid the 3 cents a line promised by Tom Spires, a Texas man who got the assignment from Sonya Newburn, a Florida woman who got the job from Transcription Stat, a firm in Sausalito, California, that contracted to transcribe UCSF's records for 18 cents a line.

Business 2.0’s stupidity awards uncover the chain of subcontractors who promised to transcribe medical records for the US university. By the time Lubna Baloch got the work in Pakistan, the work was worth only one-sixth the original value and she appears not to have received that anyway.


Do you have irrational fears? B3TA polled people and uncovered some odd'uns. Claymation AND chickens? Guess which movie they took her to? Another's flatmate doesn't like knees. "He thinks they're wrong. He worries that the femur will slip off the lower leg bones." Stickers, buttons, bridges, you name it, they're terrified of it. Very weird.

Search and destroy

Microsoft was late to the internet, but made up for it. It’s well late for search too, but it may yet do the same in this market.

At the World Economic Forum in Switzerland late last month, Microsoft and Google (let's not forget completely about Yahoo) swapped praise and barbs.

Bill Gates admired the "high level of IQ" of Google's designers, according to The New York Times. "We took an approach that I now realise was wrong,'' he said of his company's earlier decision to ignore the search market. But "we will catch them".

Microsoft, which is currently relying on Overture for its paid search listings, is reportedly poring over Google's portfolio of patents, hunting for vulnerabilities. And because Google is running its business using Linux it thinks Microsoft is concerned that it may be at a competitive disadvantage.

It's been parry and thrust for some time. The New York Times reports that shortly after a MS executive gave a demo of the experimental Microsoft Research search engine, Mike Burrows, one of the pioneers of internet search at DEC who later helped design Microsoft's experimental search engine, quietly defected to Google. Google (estimated $US1 billion revenue) says Microsoft recruiters have been calling its employees at home, suggesting their stock options will lose value once Microsoft gets serious on search.

Apart from running perhaps 100,000 computers to cope with its average 200 million searches a day , Google has introduced Orkut, a social networking service intended to compete with Friendster, LinkedIn and others. It plans an email service, has begun an experiment with book publishers to index parts of books and reviews and apparently plans to digitise -- for exclusive use -- the entire collection of the vast Stanford Library published before (copyrighted) 1923. See, competition is good.

Patent watch

GM champion Monsanto is in trouble again for gaining patents on the wheat used for making chapati -- flat Indian bread to those who don't like curry. According to The Guardian, the patents give the US seed giant exclusive ownership over Nap Hal, a strain of wheat whose gene sequence makes it particularly suited to producing crisp breads. Another patent, filed in Europe, gives Monsanto rights over the use of Nap Hal wheat to make chapatis, which consist of flour, water and salt. Environmentalists say Nap Hal's qualities are the result of generations of farmers in India who spent years crossbreeding crops. Monsanto got the patent after buying the cereals division of Unilever in 1998, which got it from a publicly funded British plant gene bank.

Greenpeace says under European law patents cannot be issued on plants that are normally cultivated, but there are loopholes in the legislation. Monsanto says it is exiting the cereal business in the UK and Europe. The Indian government is unlikely to help, having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting a US decision to grant a Texan company a patent on basmati rice in 1997.

Always on

And we think we've got it bad. Democratic presidential wannabe Howard Dean was reportedly taking questions from a crowd in New Hampshire voters when he was asked: "Governor Dean, can I pray for you?" Dean responded that he could use all the prayers he could get. The young man immediately started to pray. "Oh, I didn't know you meant right now!" Dr Dean said, before telling him to go ahead.

A CNN producer thought it vaguely interesting and typed a short email message into his BlackBerry wireless device. He titled it "Pray For Me" and concluded: "The prayer includes a plea to God asking him to cure Dean's cold." It ended: "Amen. Live NBC Feed. 12:47:22."

The time code meant CNN could find the comment, which was being filmed by a pooled crew from NBC. The producer sent it because he could, and because someone else might.

"Four years ago, I wouldn't have called that in until the event was over," he said. "But there's more competition now, 24 hours a day."

Everybody's like the newswire services now, with deadlines every minute for print and web. Forget cellphones, BlackBerries and handhelds, that means more gadgets like cameras, wireless laptops and digital tape recorders. Batteries can now be charged on airplanes or using the cigarette lighter of a car. Flash sticks have replaced floppy discs and CDs. But is there any time to think?

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