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Guardian blushes red in tech quiz challenge

MPs make daily eat its words

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

The story began on 9 March, when Richard Sarson flung down the dataglove by writing Techno world has MPs beat, in which he put the number of technically unchallenged MPs at no more than 20 or 30 and expressed the hope that implementing the ID card bill would be the thing that made the rest of them care.

Apparently, MPs do use the technology that is newspapers, and there was some aggrievance. Enter BT offering revenge in the form of a challenge quiz: four MP-led teams and one from the Guardian, all facing off over four rounds of seven or eight questions each. The prize for winning: £1,000, to be paid to the charity of the team's choice.

The teams

  • The Bit Players, led by Andrew Miller, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston.
  • The Telstars, led by John Robertson, Labour MP for Glasgow Northwest.
  • Taylor's Technos, led by Ian Taylor, Conservative MP for Esher and Walton and minister for technology in the Department of Trade and Industry from 1994 to 1997 (and one of the Illumitechnorati quoted by Sarson in his original piece).
  • And, for the Guardian: technology editor Charles Arthur, eternal computer editor Jack Schofield, online editor Neil Mackintosh, and freelances Mike Cross and I.

The compere: Tom Dunmore, from Channel 5's Gadget Show. In a suit.

Let me just say: we got robbed.

The competition

Each table had a laptop and a publicly viewable display. The first round of questions was on technology history. What were the first words spoken over a telephone link, who was the Melissa virus named for, things like that. Easy stuff when you have Jack Schofield on your team.

The first hint of disaster was the assigned activity: take a picture with the supplied camera, and use the laptop to email it to Flickr. Five technology hacks sitting at a table; how many do you think actually use PCs? One. Me (and I was not operating the laptop). They all use Macs. Guess how many of us use Hotmail, the email interface we had to use? Right: none. Our photo arrived last, after the deadline.

The robbing happened in the next round, "Technology Benefits", in which BT permitted itself a small but real advertisement for broadband penetration. Who, they asked, was the first MP to have a blog? The correct answer is Richard Allan. They said Tom Watson. Compare the dates of the first entries, and you'll see that we were right. Plus, like Woody Allen with Marshall McLuhan, we had Richard Allan right there to back us up. No dice.

A few acronyms, website logos, and quotes to identify later (one of these was "I took the initiative in creating the internet", to which Ian Taylor commented, "I know it was Al Gore. He said it to me"), and we had to find which MP1 had the best voting record. Man, these MPs were speed demons on that one. Taylor's all-female Technos had They Work For You up halfway through the previous round. We, actually, didn't find it within the five minutes.

With the Telstars leading by one point, a decent veil must be drawn across the Singstar karaoke sing-off pitting Charles Arthur against John Robertson, singing Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds".

Winner John Robertson said: "We actually are human beings sometimes. We'll be back to defend our crown."

The winners' £1,000 went to the Macmillan Cancer Trust. ®

See the Guardian article here.

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