Ever attuned to its readers' tastes, this newspaper recently offered a prize of a Barbie CD. On one of his mercifully rare visits to the PC Week editorial office, Mole dipped into the competition postbag to assess the level of Barbie appeal among the nation's IT professionals. Sad to say, the 11in dolly of unfeasible proportions appears to be highly popular, though most of those seeking the compact version at least have the sense to blame their perverse obsession on children, real or imagined. "It's for my daughter," wrote an apologetic Kevin Edge of MDIS. Another entry came from someone who signed off as "Kirsty Gibbs, aged nine". Nice try, Mr Gibbs. Does Kirsty know you've entered? What would she think of you if she did?
Employees of Cable & Wireless Communications, the company formerly known as Mercury may have felt a little insecure last week when they learned, in an official communique that "currently there is no target headcount for CWC". At least one member of staff has been delivered from uncertainty.
Mercury HR director Robert Johnston has let it be known that he will not be acting in the same capacity for CWC, a fact that may or may not be related to the new management's aggressive "efficiency" drive. (PS So highly does the management regard the business of communications, CWC staff first read about the forthcoming redundancy programme in the newspapers.) For anyone interested in commiserating with departing staff, leaving drinks have been scheduled on the 28th.
The following parable comes to Mole from a reader who wonders whether Oracle would like a dose of its own medicine: "It's 8.30 am on a wet, miserable Monday. On my way to work I drive past one of the Oracle buildings in Bracknell only to see a fire engine and a cluster of shivering staff in the car park. Presumably a false alarm, but it got me wondering whether Larry would be very understanding if, as the building burns down, the chief fire officer explains that the attending appliance is the new 'NC' version, and they are waiting for the water to be downloaded from HQ ..."
Mole suspects that many readers do not take advantage of the Email address at the top of this column because they are in awe of His Moleness and fear that he will heap contumely on their humble electronic utterances.
Not at all. Mole will happily enter into correspondence with anyone, from whatever walk of life, and, if he is sometimes less than prompt his replies are always courteous. Take the case of Phil, who wrote in praise of the return to Apple of the Two Steves. If the company were to reintroduce the Apple II with a couple of minor modifications, Phil contends, "world domination would follow in a few short weeks". A kindly Mole replies: "Dear Phil,
The return of the Steves has turned your head. I think you should go and lie down in a darkened room and stay there until Apple is back in profit.
Kind regards, Mole."
A story in last week's issue described "isolated" instances of computer failure among Compaq and HP machines in corporate America, which were correctly ascribed to a Western Digital disk drive. The HP spokesperson, who claimed to know nothing about similar problems in Europe was either very ill-informed or suffering a corrupted memory because, as Mole's investigations have revealed, a faulty WD 1.6Gb drive is just as likely to fail here as on the other side of the Atlantic - as HP well knows: it's already replaced quite a few of them. On anecdotal evidence, about one in every 10 drives is failing from new.
Microsoft, which coined the term "edutainment" to describe its own peculiar brand of educational software, is busy re-educating the Greeks on the subject of geography. In a list of worldwide customer training centres on its web site, Microsoft lists Athens under the heading "Africa-India-Middle East" and omits Greece from its list of European countries.
Mole's friend Kevin, who can always be replied upon for a ready stock of more or less useless computing stories, has come up with two examples to show that, on balance, the world of software is growing more dishonest than ever. The redeeming - and perhaps unique - feature of the first story is that it centres on an honest PR man, a representative of one of the software piracy watchdogs who confessed to the St Petersburg Times that the BSA and SPA have been overstating the piracy figures for years: "We've been hyping the numbers that might or might not be true ... Look, all we can do is guess how many people who use computers in China or Bulgaria might actually be willing to pay for Microsoft Office or Doom. But larger numbers get more attention, so we go with the biggest estimate we can get away with."
Meanwhile, the software industry, which routinely goes for the biggest estimate it can get away with, is attempting to close the moral gap with the pirates. In a story about how developers of "artificial intelligence" are attempting to create software with truly human characteristics, Washington University computer scientist Thomas Sandholm says: "The way to think about this is to consider software agents that are capable of lying, cheating and stealing."
Some parts of Atacama have not received rainfall for 500 years - but a sudden deluge of water upset the Desert's delicate biological balance
Spitzer Space Telescope could not spot Oumuamua, suggesting that it is actually pretty small
Greenland crater one of the 25 largest impact craters on Earth
This long-sought progenitor star was identified in an image captured by Hubble in 2007