Bytesback

Pump up the volume

While we're on the subject of phone companies, we understand Telstra is engaged in a trial, with Coca-Cola, of dial-up vending machines. The idea, apparently, is that Telstra Mobilenet subscribers can dial a number on certain vending machines and order a can of sweet, bubbly Coke, with the cost charged to their mobile phone bills. They call it "m-Commerce," a term we won't repeat here.

Now, we've got a bit of experience with mobile phones ourselves here at the Bytesback offices, and we know that these wonder gadgets occasionally dial a number purely of their own volition. A button gets pressed accidentally at the bottom of a bag, a stray noise activates voice dialling, random weather conditions - whatever. We're picturing vending machines across the country splurting out cans of Coke at random intervals, to the wonderment of passers-by.

On a lateral note, the traffic police in New York City (which is not in Australia) recently trialled parking meters that could be inspected using remote infrared devices. Meters with credit remaining, but no cars parked, could be quickly reset by infrared and, if a cop were in a kind-hearted mood, a bit of credit could be added for parkers short of a quarter.

Problem: some enterprising New Yorkers discovered that credit could also be added to the meters using the volume switch on TV remote controls. The sound of the trial ending could be heard from here.

The corporate mind

Barry Diller is the head of USA Networks, one of the big American media conglomerates. He was a keynote speaker at a conference last month, and took the opportunity to discuss his philosophy of online business. He offered this key insight into the production of one of his company's major successes: "We had this idea for a film called 'Traffic', all about an Internet portal with a Gen-X demographic. Then we realised cocaine was a more sustainable business model. We kept the title and threw everything else away."

Like father, like son

OK, you probably don't care terribly much about what the President of the US thinks or doesn't think (and mostly he doesn't). He is, after all, over there and we are, after all, over here. However, we felt this was worth noting.

Mr Bush the lesser has declared that he will not be carrying out regular correspondence using e-mail. His predecessor in the White House, notably, made his e-mail address publicly known so that "real Americans" could get in touch with one of his many secretaries and receive an automated response.

No such high-falutin' tech for Dubbya, though. While he claims to have been a regular user of e-mail before attaining the Presidency, he now feels that he would not like to have his personal correspondence subject to Freedom of Information requests. Therefore, he eschews the technological idiom. (Or perhaps that should read "therefore he's a tobacco-chewing idiot".)

This may all seem irrelevant to you. But remember what this man's father did to the broccoli industry. n

Did you order a bomb?

San Jose, California is the unofficial capital of Silicon Valley. Most of the really smart technology companies in the US are based in and around its verdant plateau, and a large proportion of its population is involved, in some way, with technology.

This is why we are mystified by a recent event in SJ. It seems a device with no markings but a small flashing red light was discovered attached to the underside of a pay telephone, near a medical centre (or center, as they say over there). While the patients at the medical centre, many of them with spinal injuries, were evacuated, the police attempted to identify the device.

A call to Pacific Bell (not affiliated with Taco Bell) was unhelpful, as the phone company rep was unable to identify the device from the police's description. In came the bomb squad, and several blocks around the payphone were blocked off. A robot worth $US140,000, equipped with television cameras, was sent in for a closer look.

Again Pac Bell was called, but this time a slightly smarter rep was found. He identified the device as a telephone-teletypewriter (TTY) that had been installed to allow deaf people to communicate using the payphone. Apparently the company, one of the world's biggest providers of communication technology, had failed to tell anyone.

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