Want to buy a laptop, or maybe some onions?

The wacky world of IT

Want to buy a laptop, or maybe some onions?

When Downtime decides it is time to buy a laptop, we generally rule out shopping centre car parks as a likely source of a good deal. Others, however, are clearly less meticulous than us in their search for keenly priced technology.

To make things really explicit, Police in Northamptonshire last week issued a warning to shoppers not to buy from anyone touting top-of-the-range notebooks from the back of a car sat in a multi-storey car park, since they are likely only to end up with a bag of onions.

A police spokesperson explained that, once the deal is struck, the less-than-wiley shoppers are presented with a laptop box "that has the weight of a laptop - but when you get it home all it contains is vegetables".

Computer software - 1 Snooty music critics - 0

Downtime imagines that the world of classical music is rife with snooty experts. So we were tickled to read that it has taken computer software to point out that several recordings attributed to a little known but highly regarded English pianist, who died last year, are in fact the work of others.

It took an iTunes program that compares recordings with an online database to unearth the revelation. A critic loaded a recording supposedly by Joyce Hatto into his computer, only to have it identify the performance as the work of another pianist, László Simon.

Other Hatto recordings subjected to similar scrutiny have also turned out not to be her.

Downtime likes a bit of intrigue and will be keeping a close eye on developments.

Thrills and windmills as Holland gets Second Life

You have to feel sympathy for the Dutch. What with no skiing industry, no sun-drenched beaches and no dramatic mountain scenery, Holland may not be an easy winner in the world's most interesting country stakes. The main sources of excitement for some visitors seem to be dope-smoking and Amsterdam's Red Light district.

Still, they have got Vermeer and Van Gogh. No wonder some Dutch financiers have decided to take matters into their own hands and launch a "virtual mini-state" called "ourvirtualholland" in online society Second Life.

The aim of the Dutch banking group ING in creating said mini-state is to pitch it "as a tourist hotspot". Unfortunately after mentioning the architecture, landscape, windmills, tulips and a "deltaworks", they have run out of attractions, which is where you, dear reader, come in.

You are invited to come up with other attractive features, so log on to www.ourvirtualholland.nl and have your say.

Lip-reading software is last word in surveillance

Downtime was intrigued to read this week that the University of East Anglia is about to start a new project to develop computerised lip-reading systems.

While it is slightly disappointing that they will not be using the technology to put the world's effing and blinding footballers and cricketers behind bars, it turns out they will be using it to fight other sorts of crime. Richard Harvey, who is leading the project, said, "The Home Office Scientific Development Branch is interested in anything that helps the police gather information about criminals or gather evidence."

And as well as crime fighting there could be other potential uses for the technology, such as installing a camera in a mobile phone, or on the dashboard for in-car speech recognition systems.

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