Backbytes

17 Dec 1997 View Comments
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Fry and mighty

Tony Blair is a busy man, so he can't do everything, but we were disappointed last week when we checked the Prime Minister's office internet site for the latest thoughts of the PM. Would there be a reaction to Stephen Fry's interview of Peter Mandelson in this week's Big Issue? (Fry says Mandelson is 'staggeringly underinformed' about the Internet). But no, the site hadn't been updated since October, when it helpfully delivered to fans some information about Blair's meeting that day ? on the subject of the information society, with prospective London resident Bill Gates.

Amelio-ration
We cannot let the revelation that Gil Amelio left Apple with a $6.7 million payoff and $2 million in salary and bonuses and another $471,000 for the use of his private jet pass without asking a few questions. First, what exactly did Amelio do to earn his bonuses? Second, isn't half a million dollars for tootling around in a private jet just a teeny bit more expensive than flying business class? Third, how much would he have got if he hadn't failed to turn the company around? Amelio told The Wall Street Journal: 'To attract people like me ? you have to give them reasonable, attractive packages.' And this is what Amelio calls reasonable?

Mower better blues
Thanks to The Sunday Telegraph for alerting us to the latest piece of British innovation: the RoboMow. Manufacturer Friendly Machines says it will happily drive around your lawn cutting the grass using a computer-based tracking device developed by the Israeli military. Next up, a robot golf trolley. But if the RoboMow is really so clever, who empties the cuttings bin?

Dying art
More British innovation: following last week's Kyoto environment conference, news that the computer business is looking to do its bit for the environment. It has discovered a natural alternative to the oil-derived ink in inkjet printers. Bristol University's boffins think the answer lies in a dye that we Brits were painting ourselves with 2,000 years ago: woad. It's good to know that once again, UK plc had the idea first.

Mice feeling
We have a substantial collection of mad mouse designs at Backbytes, but this week we were pleased to hear of a mouse that achieves a step-change in barminess. The Feelit mouse from Immersion lets you feel your software. For example, stretching a line pulls the mouse, as if it were a rubber band. You feel a reaction when you pull down a menu, thanks to a little electric motor inside. And when Windows crashes, the mouse explodes, blowing your hand off! (We made the last bit up).

Drown and outs
Q: What do you call a planeload of lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?
A: A good start.

Legal aid and abet
Just-in-time decision-making has taken a new twist in the US with software from a firm called LETS Co, which taps into the District Court computer and extracts the names of possible future defendants for lawyers. The lawyers then contact the names and offer them their services by direct mail. The problem is, not all of these suspects have been arrested yet. Police in Pennsylvania went to arrest a murder suspect, only to find he had done a bunk: a lawyer had unwittingly tipped him off a full two days earlier.

Clued doh!
The Computing crossword is, of course, a test of resourcefulness and lateral thinking. Even more so in our 4 December issue, where eagle-eyed solvers would have spotted that the answers were easier than usual. That's because we printed them right after the last clue. Congratulations to Dave Mager at the CBI who spotted our intentional mistake.

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