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February '06 Topics

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Welcome to the Actrix February '06 customer newsletter!

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Firefox and RSS

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Legal music downloads (3)

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Readers' forum

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Interesting sites

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Cyberspace news snippets

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Hacking Through the Jargon Jungle

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Bringing it all back home


Past Articles

Individual articles from Past Actrix Newsletters are archived in alphabetical order.
Click here to access the index in a new window.


Past Newsletters

January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
February 2002
January 2002
December 2001
November 2001
October 2001
September 2001
August 2001
July 2001
June 2001
May 2001
April 2001
March 2001
February 2001
January 2001
December 2000
November 2000
October 2000
September 2000
August 2000
July 2000
June 2000
May 2000
April 2000
March 2000
February 2000
January 2000
December 1999
November 1999
October 1999



February '06 Topics

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Welcome to the Actrix February '06 customer newsletter!

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Firefox and RSS

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Legal music downloads (3)

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Readers' forum

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Interesting sites

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Cyberspace news snippets

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Hacking Through the Jargon Jungle

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Bringing it all back home


Recommend Actrix and win credit!


Save a bundle with Actrix Tolls!


Thinking about a domain name?


Actrix Web Hosting



February '06 Topics

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Welcome to the Actrix February '06 customer newsletter!

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Firefox and RSS

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Legal music downloads (3)

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Readers' forum

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Interesting sites

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Cyberspace news snippets

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Hacking Through the Jargon Jungle

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Bringing it all back home


Actrix Contact Info

Actrix Help Desk


Help Desk Hours
8 am - Midnight
Seven Days


Actrix Accounts


Accounts Hours
8:30 am - 5 pm
Monday - Friday


Those parts of the system that you can hit with a hammer are called hardware; those program instructions that you can only curse at are called software.
- Anonymous


Top 10 Viruses
December 2005

Sober.U - 53,083
Bagle.BN - 11,776
Lovgate.X - 9,763
SomeFool.P - 7,978
Sober.U-3 - 6,985
SomeFool.Gen-1 5,498
SomeFool.P - 4,800
Sober.I - 2,028
Zafi.B - 1,994

Total Viruses caught (including but not limited to the above): 234,194

In addition, 3,120,682 spam e-mails were caught by Actrix filters during November 2005.
Percentage of e-mail containing spam: 58.9



February '06 Topics

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Welcome to the Actrix February '06 customer newsletter!

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Firefox and RSS

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Legal music downloads (3)

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Readers' forum

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Interesting sites

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Cyberspace news snippets

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Hacking Through the Jargon Jungle

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Bringing it all back home



If James Bond was an Amish spy, he would drink buttermilk. Shaken not churned.


Essential Sites

Virus Myths

Get Virus Help

E-mail Hoaxes


Windows Update

How Stuff Works

Internet Movie



World Time Zones

Actrix Tolls

Actrix CyberJet


Urban Legends

Rules of Rugby

Web Design

Child Safety Online

NZ Info

NZ Legal Advice


Free Online
Security Check

Anything For You

Wise's NZ Maps

NZ Domain Names

NZ White Pages

NZ Yellow Pages

NZ Internet History

Calling the
Actrix Help Desk



February '06 Topics

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Welcome to the Actrix February '06 customer newsletter!

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Firefox and RSS

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Legal music downloads (3)

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Readers' forum

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Interesting sites

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Cyberspace news snippets

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Hacking Through the Jargon Jungle

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Bringing it all back home



Life is an endless struggle full of frustrations and challenges, but eventually you find a hairstyle you like.































































February '06 Topics

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Welcome to the Actrix February '06 customer newsletter!

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Firefox and RSS

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Legal music downloads (3)

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Readers' forum

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Interesting sites

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Cyberspace news snippets

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Hacking Through the Jargon Jungle

littlebluearrow.gif (882 bytes) Bringing it all back home

 Actrix Newsletter February 2006

This newsletter has been produced to help you get the most out of the Internet,
and to keep you, as an Actrix customer, informed of developments and services within the company.

Questions and comments about the newsletter can be e-mailed to
Other inquiries should be e-mailed to

Welcome to the February 2006 Actrix customer newsletter

sonic-3.gif (12501 bytes)Welcome to another Actrix customer newsletter. Most people have had their leave now, and all the familiar faces are back in the office, so it well and truly feels like nose to the grindstone time again (in a good way). I hope 2006 is shaping up to be a good year for you.

Of course ISPs have been watching very closely what has been happening between TelstraClear and Telecom with regards to Broadband availability and the draft determination from the Commerce Commission. Our hope was that a more level playing field would be established which would allow us to be more competitive in what we could offer in terms of broadband prices and speeds. The expectation has been that whatever TelstraClear achieves will also be extended to other ISPs.

After a bit of negotiation, an agreement has been reached between the two. Unfortunately, it wasn't everything that we had hoped it would be, but some significant gains have been made and there should be some positive benefits for domestic customers. But business customers should notice the greatest difference. You can bet that Actrix is very busy examining the small print and doing cost projections to see what we can offer. We've already got the most unique set of plans around with our daily cap that allows a whole lot more in the way of downloads than other ISPs do, but we're seeing what else we can do, and there is some room for us to move and innovate further in both markets (domestic and business).

Keep an eye on our web site over the next couple of weeks for announcements regarding impending new high-speed plan releases. We reckon we can save you money and give you more of what you really want.

Rob Zorn

Firefox and RSS (Live Bookmarks) 

Last month we looked at what RSS (Really Simple Syndication) was, and how to set it up on a computer quickly and easily. An RSS reader can deliver updates and new articles from news pages and blogs straight to you, avoiding the need to visit all those pages individually.  Click here if you'd like to access that article.

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This month, as promised, we're having a quick look at how Firefox handles RSS, avoiding the need to download and install your own RSS reader.

Firefox is an alternative browser to Internet Explorer (IE). It's produced by Mozilla, and is rapidly gaining a following of people who prefer it to IE because they believe it to be quicker, better designed, more secure, and they like the fact that it is produced by the open source community for free. Some use it just because they like to be different. Estimates vary, but it could be as high as 11% of Internet users who now prefer Firefox, and that number appears to be growing.

Personally, I really like it (its built in RSS feature is just one of the reasons why) and that is really the focus of this month's article. But if you want to try Firefox, it's a 5Mb download from *

If a news or blog site is RSS capable (syndicated), Firefox will let you know by putting a little orange symbol in the browser address window (see top picture above). In the pictured example, if I wanted to add the BBC News site to my automatic live feed feature of Firefox, all I would have to do is click that orange symbol. An Add Live Bookmark box pops up and all I then have to do is click Okay. The box will allow me to choose various options as to where I might want to save the live bookmark, but the Bookmarks feature, which is selected by default, will do fine.

The third picture to the right shows how I can automatically read the news stories from the BBC page as they are syndicated to me. First I click on Bookmarks on the menu at the top of the Firefox browser, then on BBC News in the drop down menu. Once I do that, all the latest news headlines magically appear in a new menu that pops up to the right.  

Every couple of days, old links will disappear whether I've read them or not and this stops the list of new pop-up links getting too large and unmanageable.

Some Good Syndicated Sites

NZ Herald -
The Register -
The BBC News Page -
Computerworld -

* Mike Cooper wrote a newsletter article about Firefox back in December 2004. If you're interested, you can access that article here.

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Legal music downloads (3) - Digirama 

digirama.gif (5005 bytes)After Coketunes (covered last month) Digirama ( is the next largest source for online legal music in New Zealand. Digirama is 100% New Zealand owned which might make it a little more palatable if you're a big supporter of Buy New Zealand Made or if you're not a big fan of softdrink. A 73,000 song catalogue still offers plenty of choice, and the company is said to be on the verge of signing deals with two major labels that should boost its total to about 300,000 songs.

As with Coketunes, you’re restricted to using Internet Explorer 6 on a Windows machine at Digirama (no Macs or boutique browsers) because their download technology is also dependent upon IE’s Active X software. The songs come down as WMA files which is Microsoft’s compression format. It’s similar to mp3, but carries internal digital rights management coding. WMA files can be played on many music players, most notably standard Windows Media Player, but you won’t be able to play them on your iPod. This is the biggest drawback to the service and results because Apple, not surprisingly, refuses to allow its software to read files with Microsoft DRM. Plenty of other players will happily play both WMA and Mp3, though.

With Digirama things are a little simpler to use than with Coketunes. You don’t need to install any special software, though the site definitely works best if you access it via the built in browser in Windows Media Player. Excellent help material at the site can assist you with getting this going in no time. Downloaded songs will turn up in your Windows Media Player library once downloaded.

Songs cost $1.69 each, and whole albums can be downloaded for just $15.99. Ring tones are also available and will be sent straight to your phone once paid for. You can listen to free short samples of songs before you download them, and there are also free movie trailers to watch at the site. You can pay for your purchases via credit card or via Internet banking.

Legal vs Illegal downloads

Why pay for legal downloads when you can download them for free using peer-to-peer software such as Kazaa? Well, for one, you won’t feel so guilty, nor will you risk the wrath of the record companies who have sued illegal downloaders in the US for copyright violations.

The legal services also tend to be better laid out, with higher quality tracks. An illegal download might cut out half way into a song, and there’s no foolproof way to check before you download.

In legal sites the artist are reimbursed and consumers get the advantages of choice, money-back guarantees and virus-free downloads, which is not the case with peer-to-peer alternatives.

It’s not illegal to use peer-to-peer software, only to download copyrighted material.

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Readers' forum

If you'd like to ask a question or request some help on any Actrix or Internet-related matter. Simply send me an e-mail with the word "Forum" in the subject line. I'll try and get an answer to you by return e-mail, and will also post the answer here for the benefit of others who may have a similar question or problem. By the same token, if you read something here and think you may have something to suggest, please feel more than free. Please also note that questions and answers may also turn up under the Helpful Tips section on the Actrix home page (

Jan writes: I thought you might like to publish this in your next newsletter - I really have to thank the support people on the Help Desk at Actrix. They are marvellously patient and there has been no problem that they haven't been able to help me with. I began using computers some 15 years or so ago, mostly word-processing then, and taught myself the rest to the point of using computers at home and where I worked. I can do most things now - eventually - and as I am 65 I am quite proud of my knowledge. Not the technical jargon - just tell me something once in reasonably simple language and I can remember it. So to have a staff who put up with my queries, guide me and manage not to make me feel a fool is great. We go overseas each winter and all I do is get hooked up to my cell-phone over there with the help of your staff and I can keep control of our small business here in N.Z. There have been many helpers - Nick, Peter, Phil, Josh, Andrew etc. - and I cannot praise their knowledge and support enough. Keep on looking after us oldies!   - Jan Fletcher"

Hi Jan, thanks for taking the time to send this in. There's nothing worse than calling a help desk and being made to feel silly or like you're an inconvenience. We really try hard to have a support crew that are truly interested in people, and who remember that not everyone has the knowledge or confidence with computers that they do (else why would they be calling a help desk?). It's good to have customers acknowledge that. I'm quite proud of our boys (there aren't currently any girls on the help desk itself), and we went to a lot of trouble to select the right ones. They can be called on 0800-228749 any time between 8 am and midnight, seven days per week. 

Dear Rob, I have an old computer with Windows 98 on it, I started it up with no keyboard (the keyboard is connected to a laptop) and the screen said, NO KEYBOARD FOUND, PRESS ANY KEY TO CONTINUE. Thought this is an interesting wee snippet, maybe almost funny, well it made me laff anyway. - David.

Excellent, David. Heh heh heh.

David writes: Rob, I am thinking of buying a lap top, but cannot understand how I would use the thing away from base. What do I do when I get to my hotel room? Plug it into the phone socket - and do what? Can I connect with Actrix? If so, how? What if I were using it abroad? What number would I have to use if calling from say, Europe? Help, please! Regards, David.

Hi David, Using your laptop as you travel around New Zealand shouldn't generally be a problem at all. Just as with a desk-top computer, your laptop should be set-up to automatically dial the Actrix connection number which is 086722874. Wherever you go in New Zealand, that number should work when you plug the modem line into a phone jack and connect as normal. Your user name and password are also stored in your computer's modem settings, so again, your laptop will know exactly what to do. One problem that you may find occasionally is toll-bars on hotel/motel phone lines that won't let you dial any number starting with 0. This is becoming less of a problem as hoteliers recognise that people need to connect whilst on the move, but you may want to check on dial in capability before you book.

Dialling in from overseas is a lot more problematic. One way would be to set your modem to connect to Actrix via an international toll call but this really isn't recommended. Dial-up modems usually struggle to cope with this, and it is expensive. Better options are to use a cybercafe or get a temporary account in the country you're in with a local provider there, and then use that to log into Actrix Web Mail at, so that you can use your e-mail. Then there's global roaming (Actrix CyberRoam) which allows you to connect directly to Actrix via AT&T's global network in over 50 countries around the world. This will cost you an additional $6.75 per hour. You can read more about CyberRoam at, and our help desk can help you with the set-up (0800-228749). 

Craig writes: When my partner moved in with me a few months ago, she brought her own PC along…. she is on a different ISP to Actrix. If I purchased CyberJet, how will her PC work on the same phone-line as mine? If she switched to Actrix herself (and our PC’s are in separate rooms in the house), do we need two lots of hardware?

Hi Craig, As long as one of you is on dialup, there should be no problem if the other has DSL (CyberJet) broadband. DSL broadband effectively splits your phone line in two. The top frequency half becomes a permanent broadband connection between your PC and the Internet. The bottom frequency half stays like a phone line so you could be connected to Actrix using CyberJet and your partner's computer could be dialling up to any ISP she liked at the same time as you were online (or vice-versa).

You could not each have broadband with different ISPs on the same line, however. To have two different broadband connections at the same house would require two separate phone lines (one for each), and each computer would also have to have its own dedicated router. However, each could use their own phone line to connect to a different ISP than the other. The last option might be to have the two computers networked so they both utilise the same broadband connection. This would save money whilst still achieving each user's independence.

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Interesting sites (Click the picture links to access the sites)

Please note: Actrix supplies links to these sites for your interest and possible use. We cannot endorse or take any responsibility for their contents.

Got a site you think would be neat to share with other readers? Click here to e-mail and let me know and receive a free Norrie the Nerd chocolate bar courtesy of Actrix!

Merriam-Webster's Open Dictionary - With Merriam-Webster's Open Dictionary now accepting submissions, amateur wordsmiths the world over can disclose brand-spanking-new words that have never seen the light of publication. Refresh to see the latest words posted, but don't neglect the links to the left. I especially liked the word of the day link that takes a word and explains its meaning and origin in a clear and interesting way.
The 10 most puzzling ancient artifacts - "The Bible tells us that God created Adam and Eve just a few thousand years ago, by some fundamentalist interpretations. Science informs us that this is mere fiction and that man is a few million years old, and that civilization just tens of thousands of years old. Could it be, however, that conventional science is just as mistaken as the Bible stories? There is a great deal of archeological evidence that the history of life on earth might be far different than what current geological and anthropological texts tell us."
How to tear phone books - If you ask around, the chances are pretty good that someone has seen a phone book 'being ripped in half or knows of someone who does it, although it remains a feat of strength that almost seems superhuman. The purpose of this article is to de-mystify the tearing of a phone book and show you just how easy it can be.
The Song Tapper - This site lets you search for a song, by tapping the rhythm of its words (lyrics). Let's say you have a song stuck in your head, and you don't know the name of it. Never fear! Try tapping the rhythm of the song on your space bar while humming the tune. Tap the space bar for each syllable that you sing. It's that simple! It''s an interesting site because it often gets it right, and is quite amusing in its suggestions when it gets it wrong.
E-mail Etiquette - I'm glad someone's finally done this. Here's a list of 32 things you should or shouldn't do when it comes to writing and responding to e-mails. DON'T SHOUT, don't forward chain e-mails, don't request read-receipts, do be concise and to the point, and much, much more. Great stuff!
Intelligence Test - How clever are you? "...this type of test can be a good estimate of intelligence (if you excuse the cultural bias). People who did well on this type of test are likely those who are gifted with verbal ability and linguistic pattern recognition. This sort of assessment would discriminate against those with non-linguistic pattern recognition (like solving jigsaw puzzles) and spatial intelligence (like the ability to use a map or see hidden figures in a drawing). "
Gone, but Not Forgotten - It's not that we want to dwell on the morbid, but occasionally we may want to know when a famous person died, or perhaps we want to check whether or not someone is still alive. This site provides lists of celebrity death days over the last few years. There's also a link to stage names/real names of celebrities living and dead. I didn't know Alan Alda's real name was Alphonso.
Book-a-Minute - "Don't have time to read it all? We at Book-A-Minute understand that your time is valuable. You want to experience the wonder and excitement of the fine art of literature, but reading actual books requires a significant time investment. We've got the solution for you. Our ultra-condensed books are just the ticket."
Find a Grave - This site lets you search for graves by name or location and usually provides a picture for your interest. A Lot of famous people people have been cremated, though, and if so the site will tell you where their ashes were scattered. A few other interesting links and functions are included.
The Phobia List - If you're frightened by really, really big lists, I wouldn't go to a page like this one. There are so many phobias that they even have one called polyphobia. Some people are even scared of heaven!

Cyberspace news snippets

New Zealand

Kiwis second on internet list: Internet users have lost out as a deal between TelstraClear and Telecom has put a stop to a Government-mandated ruling demanding faster and cheaper access. Click here for more.

Phone firms slap brakes on cheaper, faster internet: New Zealand is second in the world behind Malta for internet penetration, a website monitor reports. Click here for more.

Hackers invade department website: The Labour Department sent nearly 3000 virus-infected e-mails to unsuspecting members of the public after its website was breached by a hacker. Click here for more.

Clicks, not bricks, for new e-tailers: We could be entering the age when any sensible entrepreneur goes straight online, says John McCrone. Click here for more.


'Internet-illiterate parent' fights downloading lawsuit: It was Easter Sunday, and Patricia Santangelo was in church with her kids when she says the music recording industry peeked into her computer and decided to take her to court. Click here for more.

Businessman wins e-mail spam case: A businessman has won what is believed to be the first victory of its kind by claiming damages from a company which sent him e-mail spam. Click here for more.

Website makes student million in months: If you have an envious streak, you probably should not read this. Click here for more.

What men, women want on the Web: Internet users share many common interests, but men are heavier consumers of news, stocks, sports and pornography, while more women look for health and religious guidance, a broad survey of U.S. Web usage has found. Click here for more.

Bogus bird-flu drugs flooding the Internet: In a trend federal authorities call scary, the Internet suddenly is awash with bogus drugs to counter a possible bird-flu pandemic, including counterfeit Tamiflu... Click here for more.

Internet addicts likely to be white males: Most South African Internet addicts are male (91%), white (84%) and between the ages of 24 and 29 (39%), a study has found. Click here for more.

Never on the Sabbath: For some online retailers, it works: And on the seventh day, online retailers rested. At least some of them. Click here for more.

IT stresses 'driving UK to drink': The modern annoyances of automated call centres, mobile phones and crashing computers are driving people to alcohol and cigarettes, a survey suggests. Click here for more.

Detroit spammer faces slammer: Two years plus for penis pill merchant. Click here for more.

Firms 'fail to capitalise online': Despite a bumper year for internet retailers, more than three-quarters of the UK's small businesses are still failing to take advantage of a widening online customer base, new research shows. Click here for more.

Internet users judge website in less than a blink: In just a brief one-twentieth of a second - less than half the time it takes to blink - people make aesthetic judgments that influence the rest of their experience with an internet site. Click here for more.

Blackmailers target $1m website: Mr Tew's encounter with the net criminals began on 7 January when he received an e-mail threatening to bombard the site with data unless he paid a ransom of $5,000 (2,800). Click here for more.

File-sharing 'not cut by courts': Global court action against music file-sharers has not reduced illegal downloading, an industry report says. Click here for more.

Internet serves as 'social glue': But the report, entitled The Strength of Internet Ties, found that e-mail supplements rather than replaces offline communications. Click here for more.

UK court to unmask 'file-sharers': Ten internet service providers have been ordered to hand over the details of 150 UK customers accused of illegally sharing software. Click here for more.

Latest "dirty dozen" spam sending countries revealed: Zombie networks responsible for over 60% of spam in the world, says antispam vendor Click here for more.


'Botnet' hacker pleads guilty: 20-year-old used zombie network to make $61,000. Click here for more.

New worm relies on old trick: "There are a lot of people who are going to be very unhappy on the third of February," said Professor Merrick Furst from the Georgia Tech College of Computing. That's when the Kama Sutra computer worm will begin destroying critical files on infected computers. . Click here for more.

Security and Safety

Scams 'dupe millions in Britain': As many as five million people may have been lured into responding to con artists, according to new research. Click here for more.

Microsoft Patches Two Critical Flaws: Microsoft has released patches for two critical security flaws in its software products. The patches fix a problem in the Windows operating system, as well as a bug in the Outlook and Exchange messaging software... Click here for more.

Instant-messaging attacks rose in 2005: Security attacks over instant-messaging networks became more prevalent in 2005, according to a new study. Click here for more.

Online Shopping Boosted By Security Confidence: With all the chatter about viruses, phishing attacks and all the other mischievous maliciousness online today, you'd think that consumers would be afraid to shop online. Click here for more.

Mainly Microsoft

Windows users pushed Microsoft to release patch: Windows users worried about malicious attacks helped prod Microsoft to release a patch for a vulnerability five days earlier than expected. Click here for more.

Mac News

Snooping fears plague new iTunes: Apple has been criticised over a new version of its iTunes program that can keep track of a user's listening habits. Click here for more.

Mac security concerns answered: Technology commentator Bill Thompson responds to the feedback he received over his column suggesting that Mac users are too smug about computer security. Click here for more.

Unix, Linux and Open Source

Mozilla's Thunderbird 1.5 takes flight: Thunderbird 1.5, which can be downloaded for free, has been retooled to offer improvements in four main areas: updates, security, RSS and podcasting. Click here for more.

NZ slow to buy into free code: New Zealand businesses are shunning open source software and missing out on the potential benefits it offers, according to IT consultancy Forrester. Click here for more.

The Weird, Weird Web

Man sues over chatroom humiliation: An Ohio man who claims that he was humiliated by two other participants in an AOL chatroom has sued the two men for causing emotional distress and the ISP for failing to stop the alleged abuse, according to a report from Click here for more.

Playing dead on Web: A path to immortality?: The site features photos of Lamb playing dead in various scenes around his house. Crushed by his garage door. Electrocuted in the bathtub. Click here for more.

Terry Schiavo's hospital gown appears on eBay: Terry Schiavo's hospital gown is no longer available on eBay. That took about 15 minutes. Click here for more.


A little levity

Hacking Through the Jargon Jungle

by Bob Bringhurst

When I went to college in the 1980's, I heard a lot of words like "data input" and "beta version." They confused me. I wanted desperately to know what people were talking about, what Big Secret resided in the computer industry.

Now that I've worked in a computer company for the last few years, I've gained an insider's perspective. I decided to share my knowledge with the uninitiated by creating the following brief, handy glossary:

Alpha: Software undergoes alpha testing as a first step in getting user feedback. Alpha is Latin for "doesn't work."

Beta: Software undergoes beta testing shortly before it's released. Beta is Latin for "still doesn't work."

Computer: Instrument of torture. The first computer was invented by Roger "Duffy" Billingsly, a British scientist. In a plot to overthrow Adolf Hitler, Duffy disguised himself as a German ally and offered his invention as a gift to the surly dictator. The plot worked. On April 8, 1945, Adolf became so enraged at the "Incompatible File Format" error message that he shot himself. The war ended soon after Hitler's death, and Duffy began working for IBM.

CPU: Central propulsion unit. The CPU is the computer's engine. It consists of a hard drive, an interface card and a tiny spinning wheel that's powered by a running rodent - a gerbil if the machine is a 286, a ferret if it's a 386 and a ferret on speed if it's a 486.

Default Directory: Black hole. Default directory is where all files that you need disappear to.

Error message: Terse, baffling remark used by programmers to place blame on users for the program's shortcomings.

File: A document that has been saved with an unidentifiable name. It helps to think of a file as something stored in a file cabinet - except when you try to remove the file, the cabinet gives you an electric shock and tells you the file format is unknown.

Hardware: Collective term for any computer-related object that can be kicked or battered.

Help: The feature that assists in generating more questions. When the help feature is used correctly, users are able to navigate through a series of Help screens and end up where they started from without learning anything.

Input/Output: Information is input from the keyboard as intelligible data and output to the printer as unrecognizable junk.

Interim Release: A programmer's feeble attempt at repentance.

Memory: Of computer components, the most generous in terms of variety, and the skimpiest in terms of quantity.

Printer: A joke in poor taste. A printer consists of three main parts: the case, the jammed paper tray and the blinking red light.

Programmers: Computer avengers. Once members of that group of high school nerds who wore tape on their glasses, played Dungeons and Dragons, and memorized Star Trek episodes; now millionaires who create "user-friendly" software to get revenge on whoever gave them noogies.

Reference Manual: Object that raises the monitor to eye level. Also used to compensate for that short table leg.

Scheduled Release Date: A carefully calculated date determined by estimating the actual shipping date and subtracting six months from it.

User-Friendly: Of or pertaining to any feature, device or concept that makes perfect sense to a programmer.

Users: Collective term for those who stare vacantly at a monitor. Users are divided into three types: novice, intermediate and expert.

  • Novice Users. People who are afraid that simply pressing a key might break their computer.
  • Intermediate Users. People who don't know how to fix their computer after they've just pressed a key that broke it.
  • Expert Users. People who break other people's computers.

Bringing it all back home

Thanks again for reading the Actrix newsletter. Feedback can be sent to me via the e-mail address listed below. Please limit this to comments/suggestions regarding the newsletter. Non-forum requests for support should go to the Actrix Help Desk ( or to the Accounts Department (

Take care through February!

Rob Zorn