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An irreverent and offbeat look at the lighter side of technology in blog format

Last Build Date: Tue, 02 Nov 2010 11:29:06 +0000

Copyright: Copyright 2011

Phwoar, look at the grey cells on them!

Tue, 02 Nov 2010 11:29:06 +0000

Our latest suggestion for a Christmas present is the exciting geek calendar, described as "a porn calendar for brainy people" by professor Richard Wiseman, and a fundraiser for the campaign for libel reform.

Those of you who are particularly brainy will have worked out that the porn is metaphorical, as you can see. Still, makes a change from firemen or kittens.



Brummies: cleverer than you

Tue, 02 Nov 2010 11:25:48 +0000

We start with excellent news: "Birmingham has today (21 October 2010) officially been recognised as one of the world's 21 top 'intelligent communities' by a respected global think-tank," says a press release. "Birmingham is the only UK city to be included." Can Birmingham unseat Suwon, South Korea, as "Intelligent Community of the year"?

As you pick yourselves up from the floor, it turns out that this is an award for using technology intelligently, not for being clever, or having city centre architecture that looks like a giant datacentre.

We do our bit to support the Brummies by remembering the one who went to Switzerland to commit suicide. "Did you come here to die?" the nurse asked. "No, I came here yesterday," the Brummie said.


What are the chances?

Tue, 02 Nov 2010 11:25:06 +0000

We were examining million-to-one file size coincidences, but we discover they're not nearly as rare as we thought.

"As every reader of [Terry] Pratchett will know, million-to-one chances happen nine times out of 10 - so long as it's exactly a million to one," says Keith Worden at Concourse Systems.


Grasping inflation

Tue, 02 Nov 2010 11:24:10 +0000

How do you make a gripping hand out of a balloon and a packet of ground coffee? Well, scientists at Cornell University and the University of Chicago can tell you. It's published in the Oct 25 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

You put some coffee inside a partially blown-up balloon. You squish the balloon over the thing you want to pick up. You suck the air out of the balloon, and it grips! The coffee becomes solid, as it does in vacuum packs. If any of you have a go to see if this works, please let us know. Or send us pictures of the mess on the floor.


Open source of revenue

Tue, 02 Nov 2010 11:23:16 +0000

In these straitened times, you might consider applying for the Linux credit card - so long as you're in the US. Having saved a fortune on software licences, you can make use of your disposable income while making others aware of your operating system preference.

It's a Visa card that has just been launched by the Linux Foundation and UMB Bank, and of course it has a picture of that penguin on it. And when you use it, "Funds raised... will go directly toward providing community technical events and travel grants for open source community members in order to accelerate Linux innovation." And you get a bonus point reward system.

Sadly, the pooling of resources doesn't extend to you getting the opportunity to use everyone else's credit limit.


Addressing sexism in IT

Tue, 02 Nov 2010 11:19:45 +0000

"On opening my copy of Computing this week, out fell an advertising leaflet. Not that I object to that - what I object to is that it was for men's shoes - and only men's shoes!" says Lynne James at the School of Psychology at the University Of Plymouth. "No wonder we can't get more women into IT when even the ad leaflets are solely aimed at male IT workers."

To redress the balance, we bring you this image of a female person who is quite literally into IT, and the opportunity to order this fashion statement here.



Bigtrak trundles back

Tue, 19 Oct 2010 12:43:07 +0000

More exciting news for Christmas present buyers of a certain age: half-computer, half-truck Bigtrak is back.

"The 21st century Bigtrak is suited and booted with all the exciting, original features - right down to the 80s sound effects, blue photon beam and original artwork," says the press release.

For those of you who missed it first time by not being born, it had a keypad in the top which you use to program a series of movements and actions. The ugly little truck would perform them in sequence, bleeping and whirring while your parents tried to watch Miami Vice.

What's not commonly known is that HMRC still uses a fleet of Bigtraks on a mat printed with random numbers to calculate our tax liabilities.



Diamond-encrusted idiocy

Tue, 19 Oct 2010 12:42:16 +0000

Anyone of the opinion that only forced incarceration will dissuade rich idiots from sickening wastes of money have had their case strengthened by the arrival of the iPhone 4 Diamond Rose, produced by jewellery designer Stuart Hughes.

Advertised as "The worlds [sic] most expensive Phone", which just goes to show that money can't buy grammatical accuracy, it's an iPhone with diamonds on it which costs £5m. So it's not so much "designed" as "decorated", but that's unlikely to be important to people who buy this stuff; at least until the revolution.


Warp debate speeds on

Tue, 19 Oct 2010 12:40:20 +0000

Large numbers, part two: more on the alteration in Warp speed between Star Treks.

"The change probably happened because someone gave the calculation to a storage manufacturer. It's Warp 1.66 if you divide out by 1,0242, but 1.75 if you divide by 1,0002. By the 24th century they realised they were being short-changed," suggests Ian Thompson at Tanfield School.

"Your correspondent is a factor of 3,600 out. The speed of light is Warp factor 1, which­ever century you're in... If the advert had said 'one million miles every second', that's about 5.38 times the speed of light or about Warp factor 1.75, the cube root of 5.38. As you can see, I'm a traditionalist as well as a nerd," says Stuart McCubbin at Aztec Retail Solutions. "I can't believe I'm doing this."

But we can, Stuart, and thank you.


Backup to the future

Tue, 19 Oct 2010 11:53:24 +0000

Large numbers, part one:

"I monitor Symantec Backup Exec jobs, including checking byte counts. On 1 October, the day of the rerelease of Marty McFly's 88mph debut, I had a one-in-a-million backup job of exactly 88,000,000 bytes," says Zap Coffey-Brittain at Straight.

"Do I win a DeLorean?"

Sorry, no. However, we're sure our readers can provide screenshot evidence of plenty of freaky file-size coincidences.


Riding towards the grave

Tue, 19 Oct 2010 11:49:35 +0000

East Riding in Yorkshire is a practical place where people like to have stuff settled ahead of time, which might explain the process of applying for certificates using the webforms at

As Charles Etchells at ProjectMandate points out, when you use the form to apply for a copy of a death certificate, "it asks 'Are you applying for your own certificate Yes/No'."

If you're not dead yet, it would be useful to find out what date it gives you.


Their finest hour

Thu, 07 Oct 2010 10:42:08 +0000

Julian Osborne at Alliance & Leicester received communication from the Direct Marketing Association last week, which seems to be spoiling for a fight.

It was addressed: "Dear Rommel".


Good clean fun

Thu, 07 Oct 2010 10:33:07 +0000

Following last week's Tetris sofa, another Christmas present for the perfect geek home.

We bring you the work of custom shower curtain designer Stickwalls. Not as easy to buy as a boyfriend pillow, but visually arresting nonetheless. More geek Christmas gifts, please.



Reporting bugs on Twitter

Thu, 07 Oct 2010 10:28:52 +0000

We're still trying to think of useful things to do with Twitter, so kudos to Aron Culotta, assistant professor of computer science at Southeastern Louisiana University, for using it to track the spread of diseases. By analysing 500 million messages between August 2009 and May 2010 for keywords, he tracked the spread of flu in the US by counting the number of tweets that say "sneeze" or "cough" (we made that bit up).

"This approach is much cheaper and faster than having thousands of hospitals and healthcare providers fill out forms each week," he said. It would, however, predict that flu was rampant and life-threatening among males.


IT's a jungle out there

Thu, 07 Oct 2010 10:26:17 +0000

Above and beyond, part two: after mentioning the sysadmin who stood in muddy water, holding his server aloft, we reminded Rich Roberts at IBM Hursley of his time at London Zoo 25 years ago.

"We had miles of cable around the site connected to eight-bit micros installed in each animal house. We had to do it with bits of wire, bespoke optical isolators and handcrafted protocol stacks - and naturally when we plugged it together, it didn't work. So we had to install a temporary cable though a 5ft-high tunnel which ran under the elephant and rhino enclosure."

The tunnel had partially filled with the waste products of the elephants and rhinos. It stank. Attempts to attach the cable to a radio-controlled car failed, so "we bribed a YTS lad with beer, and let him run the tunnel. I hope whoever gave him a lift back to the office that night had a little pine tree air freshener in the car." Any more heroic tales?