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The sky is falling

As you are by now aware, the Russian Space Agency has announced that it will be bringing the troubled Mir space station back to Earth. In fact, it intends to crash Mir into the Pacific Ocean, just to the east of Australia. This announcement sent our minds back to 1979, when NASA announced that its Skylab station would crash into the Indian Ocean, just to the west of Australia - thanks to a slight miscalculation, it landed not far from Fremantle. This prompts us to ask: why us? And also, to offer our five alternative suggestions for the disposal of Mir:

1. Place it into geocentric orbit above Sydney and equip it with powerful lasers to enhance the New Years Eve fireworks.

2. Use it to store all the unsold Syd, Ollie and Millie toys - they might be worth something someday.

3. Convert it into Peter Reith's private telecommunications satellite - probably cheaper than his current phone bill.

4. Sell it to Bill Gates, unless he already has one.

5. Point it at someone else - New Zealand, maybe?

Democracy in action

More than one media agency painted its face with omelette in the frenzy that was the US presidential election last November. The embarrassments of the past, such as when newspapers declared Dewey the victor over Truman in 1948 (Truman won), were not only repeated, but revelled in by TV networks and Web sites alike, running new stories about who won every few minutes.

As-Safir, a Lebanese newspaper, pre-maturely ran headlines proclaiming that Al Gore had won the election, then tried to retract the story when the result was thrown into doubt. Thanks to the dynamic medium of print publishing, however, retraction proved impossible and the story hit the streets.

Editor Talal Salman was quoted as saying, "We are used to a deep-rooted Arab tradition of democracy where results are first declared, then elections are conducted and votes brought in to affirm it." That certainly would have hurried the American result a tad.

When all else fails, bash the Mac

We normally wouldn't do this, but it provided us with a chuckle and we thought we'd share. One of our Bytesback staffers recently read an online review of an Epson printer, in which the reviewer spent the first half of the article complaining not about the printer itself, but about the difficulty he had in upgrading his two-year-old iMac to operate correctly with the device.

It was a fair point. It was, however, a bit one-sided, and it occupied an awfully large chunk of the review. In the interests of balance, we contacted the writer of the article. Not that Mac-bashing isn't fair sport - it just isn't particularly good journalism.

Our fellow journalist (who will remain nameless) replied with this gem: "On a PC, when you upgrade the OS, it doesn't render previously compatible hardware incompatible." Next time you want to get some Mac users riled up, try that one on them.

Who's watching Big Brother?

Reasonably big organisations often monitor, to some extent, the Internet activities of their employees. Most of us realise that, and we're at least a little bit careful about this stuff. So it was surprising to hear that some 160 workers at a large American government organisation - namely, the CIA - have been sprung misusing their Internet access. If anyone's going to be watching, it's the CIA, right?

The employees, including some "very senior" agents, had apparently created a covert chat room within the CIA network and were using this to exchange "inappropriate" materials - although no further details were released. An unnamed official said the "serious thing" was that the employees had "tried to hide what they were doing".

You heard it here first: CIA agents busted for being covert.

When all you have is time and Lego . . .

OK, imagine for a moment that, when you were a kid, you liked Lego. And your friends all liked Lego, too. And then they grew up, and got rid of their Lego. And you didn't. And you got all their Lego. This is but one of the scenarios being tossed around the Bytesback offices to explain what we've discovered at www.tanukikoji.or.jp/yes/lsw/On this site, which we highly recommend, is a reasonably complete (some scenes missing) storyboard for the entire Star Wars trilogy rendered in Lego. What's more, the lunatic - sorry, dedicated fan - who constructed the site did so with almost no recourse to Lego's own Star Wars model kits, but rather used standard Lego parts.

We are inclined, though, to wonder whether this obviously fanatical individual has ever actually seen Star Wars. We don't remember the line "leave out the sandpeople".

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