Downtime: BT opts for a cracker of a deal

The wacky world of IT

BT opts for a cracker of a deal - sounds fishy?

Exciting news from BT that it has bought the services of a code-breaker who is mentioned in the same sentence as Leonardo Da Vinci in Dan Brown's best-selling thriller The Da Vinci Code.

Bruce Schneier has sold his anti-hacking firm Counterpane Internet Security to BT for an undisclosed sum. But analysts reckon one of the main assets being bought is Schneier himself, who will stay on to run the business under BT.

Schneier's clever codes include the Blowfish, Twofish and MacGuffin block ciphers, which all sound like they belong in the kind of espionage world that exists in the movies - and, Downtime sincerely hopes, in real life too.


Boffin gives garbage a whiff of distinction

Computer scientist Richard Jones, a reader in computing at the University of Kent, talks garbage.

He is so good at talking garbage, and writing it too, that the Association for Computing Machinery, the professional body for academic computer scientists, has made him a distinguished scientist. This follows the University of Glasgow's decision to grant Jones an honorary fellowship.

According to the University of Kent, Jones has "a global reputation for his work on garbage collection".

The type of garbage Jones writes, however, is to do with memory management in PCs rather than emptying wheelie bins.

Downtime cannot help feeling that fewer people would take the micky out of computer scientists if they came up with better descriptions of what they do.


Watch out! This war is not all fun and games

Computer games have moved on since Downtime last played Galaxians on Lowestoft pier in 1979.

Last week's story, where we expressed surprise that the Federation of American Scientists has decided that computer games are poised to become serious learning tools, prompted several readers to set the record straight.

Dan Godfrey told us that he, plus thousands of others, plays a MMORPG (that's a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, don't you know) called World of Warcraft, which makes complex teamworking demands.

"To progress in the game you need to work in 40-person groups and at the very highest levels those individuals must be able to respond and do their own set jobs exactly as the encounter requires it, otherwise they could cause the group as a whole to fail," he explains.

"On top of this the game encompasses the ability to make macros, which can help to develop basic programming skills, and communication is also key."

And there was Downtime thinking that computer games still involved shooting as many baddies as possible. Sorry everyone.


Ello, ello, ello! What's all this beige plastic then?

Acronyms are nothing if not trouble, and IT is probably the chief offender when it comes to plaguing the world with them.

So Downtime wasn't entirely surprised to hear from reader Tina McGarvey, who told us about her university's attempt to organise a PC-reliant training session for 12 trainee police constables.

You can probably see where this particular accident-waiting-to-happen is headed. Instead of the training area being set up with the required two computers, what the boys in blue got was a room humming with the sound of 12 shiny new machines after the message about 12 PCs had been through the Chinese-whispers wringer.

Downtime is only glad the session didn't involve cramming 500 coppers into a lecture theatre. That could have led to some serious wasted effort in IT.

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