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Letters Welcome to letters, the surest sign that it is Friday and that the pain of your week is almost certainly coming to an end, very soon.

This week's haul is particularly wide ranging, and the following contains your deepest and most interesting thoughts on any number of subjects. From PDFs to sci-fi parodies, with a good bit of discussion about the British weather on the way. Oh, and we've also got mobiles for Muslims, creationism vs. Darwinism (again) and a suggestion for how to deal with online crime.

Let's kick off, though, with the not terribly exciting news that Microsoft is planning pdf support in its next version of Office, because it was the firm's second most popular support query.

Our thanks to everyone who wrote in informing us that Mac users have been able to save to pdf for ages, as have users of Open Office. Worth mentioning, for sure, but not nearly as pressing (it seems) as just what that most popular tech support request might have been:

"Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president of the Microsoft Office product development group noted that pdf support within Office is the second most common support request."

And the most common request is probably, "How do I get rid of this sodding paper clip?"

Both of them are closely followed by "Which git decided that my pull-down menus should automatically hide things from me?"

Morely


"pdf support within Office is the second most common support request"

So what's the first? A Clippy -strangling tool..?

James


Re: "... pdf support within Office is the second most common support request."

The most common request being the total and irrevocable annihilation of the Office Assistant?

E.


Let's hope that some major F/OSS office suite will offer something similar PDQ, eh?! ;-)

Steve


Nice to see MS playing catchup. I've just changed jobs; I've used Linux and Solaris for my desktop since 1999, and now I have to use WinXP (SP1, at that!) - and Internet Explorer!- it's like stepping back 5 years, at least. Feels more like the RedHat 5.1 days of fvwm. Good lord, do people really get anything done without tabbed browser windows? Can I really expect a PPT/DOC link to open in its own application, or in IE? It seems to be random. As for opening a URL from within a Word document, sometimes it appears within Word, and I have to hit CTRL-LeftArrow to get back to the word doc, sometimes it's a new IE window (which I would expect). More often than not, CTRL-Click on a DOC URL just results in nothingness (beyond a message in the Word status bar saying that it's preparing to open the document).

Please tell me people don't actually use this environment to get stuff done?!

Steve

Not the same Steve.


Australia's High Court has ruled that modifying PlayStations to bypass Sony's regional coding mechanism is just fine and dandy as far as Australian Law is concerned:

How refreshing to hear that! Leggit games bought abroad can be played after all? Good. I think that region coding is an abomination that companies ought to be ashamed of. How on earth can they have the cheek, as multinational companies operating in a global economy, to demand that their customers not to do the same? Same goes for DVDs. If there were some suitable World Court (perhaps the WTO ought to take a look at this?), I expect they would have been sued to bits by now.

Now then: how does this fit in with UK law? If I go to Australia (a fine place) and buy a mod chip, there's nothing to stop me bring that back legally to the UK, surely?

My own interest lies in region coding on DVDs. If I travel to the US, theoretically I can't play any DVDs I purchase there on my laptop unless I buy a new DVD drive every 2.5 trips. What's the point of that restriction? Don't they want my money? Such restrictions I'm sure encourage people to develop their own work arounds, leading on directly to opportunities for piracy.

Cheers,

Matthew


At last, common sense from a Judge... There's a turn up for the book.

Regional coding was originally justified so that film/game releases could be staggered across the globe as it takes extra time to translate your game/film from it's original language, and in the case of films, this delayed the cinema release, so the DVD's needed holding back a bit too. Which as we all know is complete tosh. I have yet to see an American film localised for the UK/Australia, or even Windows for that matter ("Network Neighborhood" or "Colors" anyone? - Hint to any American readers, we don't spell them like that here in blighty).

As far as I'm concerned if I have purchased a "insert region controlled device here" and I want to open it up, stick a pick axe through it, and then wire it's CPU across the mains electricity supply and then use it to brew up my legally purchased cup of tea, why can't I open it up and fiddle about with it to make it access/do something else to another legally purchased item?

Steve


The BBC says it plans to make the weather easier to understand. Good news for the terminally dim, if no one else:

An old Cornish friend once told me that the weather man always gets it right but the weather lets them down a lot.

John


Dear Lucy,

Please tell your editor to stop editing your columns. He's got a crap sense of humour:

"[how do you de-spin tornadoes and hurricanes - Ed]"

For f***s sake.

Alex


The underlying problem with the BBC weather forecasts is that they are treating them like a soap, concentrating on "the main story". Thats fine for people who are channel flicking or have no significant interest with the weather forecast.

For people who are really watching for the forecast, they are watching it as a factual documentary, and are planing to make a decision based on the information.

The question might be "should I take the kids to blackpool this weekend?" or "should I take my coat today?", or for people who have hobbies or work thats weather dependent, they may be more complicated questions to answer.

Either way, all the changes to the weather forecasting seem to be going in the wrong direction. Does "today is going to be mainly warm and sunny" warn you that you have a 70% chance that despite the day being warm and sunny, you are going to face a 5 minute april shower that will drop 1/2" of rain on you, and you should take your coat with you....

Mic


>> Apparently, showery outbreaks will never darken our doorways again, >> though we might still be inconvenienced by patchy rain <<

Hang on - about a year ago on the Today programme, the Met Office person said that 'showers' came from cumulus clouds, whereas 'rain' came from stratus (or something like that) when it was overcast anyway.

So "showery outbreaks" and "patchy rain" aren't interchangeable since different cloud types are involved.

Or what ?

Regards, Mike


Our very own Ashlee Vance tried to buy a Dell PC with Linux pre-installed. Although buying this particular kit from Dell proved difficult, the resulting conversation with sales staff kept you all amused:

Seems like you were beginning to have quite a thing for Dell's M there! The transcript was beginning to get a little hot, maybe a little steamy, even. I could tell. Who cared anything more about Linux or FreeDOS? This transcript was going great guns on its own without worrying about buying E510s, with or without an 'n'. I reckon there's a place for more transcripts like that. Why not find out whether you can buy a Dell with OS/2 preinstalled? That should keep her keen for at least ten minutes. I'll pop back in a few days to see how you two are getting along...

Mike


Good lord, that, er, transcript of the chat with the Dell sales person was hilarious... I have to ask, was that for real? I mean, it must have been, right?... oh, man, that's funny stuff.

Well, cheers and thank you!

Jason in Milwaukee


I just wanted to point out how easy it actually is to get to the "Open source PC" page on Dell's website. There are four easy steps to get there:

1. Go to www.dell.com. 2. Click on the "Home and Home Office" or "Gaming" 3. When that page loads, hover your mouse over the "Desktops" section of the navigation bar across the top of the page. 4. About the eighth option down you will see "Open Source Desktops." Click on that to take you to the page.

There you have it! No searching required!

Scott


Haven't you heard that the Linux OS is more costly to own than MS Windows? I thought this was MS's very conclusion after they employed someone to analyse cost of ownership of Linux quite some time ago now!! Mr. Dell wouldn't want to be seen spreading falsehoods, would he now?

Terry


regarding your transcript of the conversation with the dell support rep:

1) You're a bitch!

2) You're a damn funny bitch! :))

(And I mean that in the sweetest way possible! Honest! :) )

Vince


I decided to put your tribulations to the test on the UK Dell website... Imagine my disappoint in finding that it was actually easy to buy a Dell machine with Linux. Simply, go to www.dell.co.uk, click on the small business link, then desktops, then desktop advisor. It should land you on this page: http://catalog.euro.dell.com/advisor/advise.aspx?dm=true&adv=DTPBSDUK&c=uk&s=bsd&l=en&cs=ukbsdt1 select the Linux checkbox, and there you go: a choice of 3.

Click on, say the Precision 380, then the Select button, scroll down to the Operating System section and simply click on the button for Red H..... ah, I take your point. There is no button for Red Hat.

Still, not quite as deeply buried as in the US... Mark


Great article. It's funny, because I'm running Linux on a bunch of Dells, here and at home. At home: general use PC (trying to wean myself off Win2K) Optiplex GX1/900, MythTV Optiplex GX1/800 and ham radio IRLP node Optiplex GX1/400. At work it's a Dimension XPS/T450 that they upgraded me off and let me keep for Linux use. So, it would seem that, though you have to work hard to actually buy a *new* Linux PC from Dell, the perfect use for an *old* Dell, is as a Linux PC! In other words, when the version of Windows that came with your Dell is declared "obsolete", there's always an upgrade path to Linux :-) The chat session was a riot! Peter


A school in Arizona decided to blow its entire book budget on laptops. Good idea or bad idea? On balance, you didn't seem impressed:

I have been waiting for this transition for ten years. While I would certainly agree with your comment about the value of paper & pencil, providing the laptop as a substitute for textbooks is a total winner. If properly used and properly trained teachers are employed, a huge weight will be taken off the back and shoulders of our students. I've worked at a large urban high school and I can't tell you how much angst and school district funds are spent on replacing or finding lost books. Yeah, the iBooks will get lost, but instead of trying to find and keep track of 20,000 books, merely keeping tabs on 2,000 iBooks will be much easier. Furthermore, Airport cards have an ID number which could allow for remote tracking

My children would now be able to walk around without regular chiropractic visits because they'd be lugging around a ten pound backpack instead of 40 pound backpack. Schools will even be able to eliminate lockers which would save on maintenance and space.

From an academic perspective, textbooks (on line ones) could be easily updated as new knowledge becomes available which is really a good deal for science and social studies.

Jerry


How much will the inevitable iSwirly(tm) replacement costs will be?

Jeff


"relying very heavily on simply free material that is available on the internet"

So let me get this straight. This crazy school is teaching it's pupils that they can believe everything they read on the Internet? I wonder where they read that...

Tom


Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn said this week that it is actually fine for science and religion to co-exist. Phew. We'd been up nights:

'But as much as he has paid tribute to Darwinian theories, Schoenborn has not totally distanced himself from the Intelligent Design camp: "It is fully reasonable to assume some sense or design even if the scientific method demands restrictions that shut out this question," he said.'

Apparently the proponents of "Intelligent Design" have missed a rather important point: An intelligently-designed system can be left to run (and evolve) by itself, without further supervision, if only the designer is intelligent enough. Thus, if the parameters of the design were chosen intelligently, it should be possible to start with a simple virus-like self-replicating protein and, *without further direct intervention,* finish with Man, whales, and dandelions.

Of course, they also have failed to answer the root question: What sort of Intelligence would design a man with both a brain and a penis, but only enough blood to operate one at a time?

Which is why I claim that God is an iron (with credit for that thought to Spider Robinson).

Morely


Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn seems to have made a right monkey of himself.

Nick


You wrote: > Since science has never made any such claim on evolution's behalf*, it looks like it's still OK by the Vatican.

But that is exactly what Richard Dawkins does claim. When I was reading Biochemistry at Oxford (Exeter Coll), Dawkins used to go on walks around New College gardens after dinner arguing with the then chaplain (Chris Dent?) about this sort of thing. The issue is that some evolution teaching does teach a religion, namely atheism, quite militantly, and that is unconstitutional in schools in the USA.

I regard evolution as a proven fact, we can observe it. But there is a lot of intellectual dishonesty about making what we know account for the origin of life. That remains a hypothesis at best because of the fundamental problems in information theory that remain to be solved.

Roger

Atheism, almost by definition, surely, cannot be called a religion...or is that just us?


Some clever bods have come up with a mobile phone that will give its (presumably) Muslim owner five daily prayer-time reminders, and point the faithful in the direction of Mecca:

Wow, you're going to hell 6 times over for that one. :) Good laugh though. You did forget to mention, though, for the Catholics: Each handset comes pre-programmed with the phone number of at least 3 major churches in the area so sinners can phone in their confessions. Maybe even include a penance calculator...

And, don't forget the Jehovah's Witness model, which includes a GPS tracking system complete with markable maps to dictate which households spray solicitors down with water for interrupting their dinner. The Jehova's Witness model could even include a Wi-Fi app for automatically mapping to any unsecured shared network printers for printing out copies of prayer tracts.

(ok, ok, so I'm going to hell too.. but I already knew that)

Aeryck


I found your comments most hilarious, except I would have made one change with the atheists: have your phone covered in gold and diamonds because you know that unlike your life, they're the only things of worth and that last forever.

Excellent piece otherwise.

William


Catholics with Macs and iCal can already get reminders of Saints/Feat days on their phones using iSync and subscribing to free calendars. I like the idea of sales of indulgences making a comeback, though! I'm contemplating cybersitting "iPurge" and "iAbsolve" ready for internet confessions.

David


I think that Ikone offers nothing new, it's just a marketing hype!

I have another approach which I use on my PDA2k...it's more complicated, but you get better results than just sms and it works worldwide! you also get the benefit of auto mute while in prayer time if you want!

Here's what you have to do:

1.Any PocketPC phone with Windows Mobile 2003 OS.

2. An Outlook 2003 Plugin from Microsoft that's called Prayer Times 2003 which you can get form here: http://www.microsoft.com/middleeast/arabicdev/Misc/Downloads.asp this gets your local information and generates prayer times as meeting in Outlook, you would have then to Sync them with your PocketPC Phone.

3. Optional: A PocketPC application that is called MeetingMute (costs $ 8.95) and you can get it from here: http://www.pocketconcepts.com/mm_download.html

When installed, it can be configured to automatically mute for any meeting - in this case prayer - that is in Pocket Outlook.

I was about to purchase this phone when it got out here in Saudi Arabia last year but i thought I could do everything that this phone does and more with any windows mobile phone and I was right.

That Ilkone phone also has the Holy Quran in full text and gives you Qibla Directions. In my PDA2k I have both and also the full audio recitation of the Holy Quran!

Neat, eh?

It's fair to note that on the Symbian platform there's another program called Khashee which you can find here: http://mobily.khashee.com/default.asp

It too can notify and mute for prayer time!

Regards,

Muhammad


The FTC notices spyware. It doesn't like it. Neither do you:

Hang these criminals by their BALLS !

Cheers,

R.H.


And lastly, a sin of omission on our part. We mentioned that the Star Trek parody Star Wreck has served more than 450,000 downloads. most impressive. But we should have mentioned that it is a parody of Babylon 5 too. Shame on us:

Great - and mention of Babylon 5 of which the film is also a spoof is mentioned where in your article? Just be glad us Babylon 5ers are a more intelligent, forgiving lot than those horrible Trekkies...

Aaron

We are truly sorry. There, we said it. Now off you all go and enjoy your weekends. ®

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