Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/04/05/skunkworks_roundup/

Skunkworks roundup

It's a far, far beta thing

By Verity Stob

Posted in Verity Stob, 5th April 2006 13:53 GMT

Stob Natch, the Reg is your first port of call for the low-down on all the big product announcements.

But today we're taking it one step further. As a special treat, we have a preview of some hot stuff that even the CTO doesn't know about yet.

++SatNav == SatNag

SatNav has certainly come a long way since the days when we watched in admiration while Sean Connery tailed Goldfinger (or was it Blofeld?) via a Stylophone-voiced gadget hidden in the speaker grille of his Aston Martin.

But even the most up-to-date SatNav implementations still lack the human touch: the sense of warmth and joint achievement that always accompanied old-fashioned car navigation.

This shortcoming has not escaped the notice of the top boffins at Laboratoires Stob. Using extremely complex AI algorithms that are way beyond even you, they have ingeniously managed to recreate...But why explain? A simple transcript of a test SatNag car journey will make all clear.

Oooh, I told you we should have started earlier and take a left no I didn't mean this left I meant the other left and now that's interesting look I never knew there was a Tesco Metro there although I don't know why they bother because who would want one there and what a nice doggie a bit like that golden lab that Richard had before it was put down only quick-quick-quick-QUICK right back there well you would have had plenty of time yes you would have if you didn't insist on driving at 45mph everywhere and up the arse of the car in front well I can't tell now can I? we are out of range of the satellites and why don't you stop and ask someone cos you're so vain and pig-headed...

Windows Vista Service Pack 1

A new pest has emerged to haunt the bars favoured by the IT departments of our larger corporations. Follow the beery trail of empty glasses and, chances are, you'll find an IT manager boring the boots off anybody within belchshot with the following monologue:

'I tell ya, even if they geddit ow, Vishta woan be any goo. Ill be loadacrap. They've taken out all the goo shtuff, cosh they carn geddit to work. They liderally carn geddit to work.

'An shnot ready. Woanever be ready. Tha Bill Gatesh, eez lossa plot. Strue. Sall true. Reddit inna bog. Blog I mean.

'I tell you, I tell you we're jusht not gonna roll it out. Carna ford to. Jusht shtay wiv Expee an never upgray. Nod ever. Never ever ever ever, erk, ever. Thall show em, thoshe Microshofteesh.'

(Pauses for liquid refreshment and bite of sunseed-oil based snack.)

'At leasht, not ever until shervice pack one...'

The Operating Systems Division at Redmond has been working on this problem, and they believe they have now come up with the solution.

In the event of a Vista release, the taskforce has prepared a Placebo Service Pack 1, which can be put on the Windows Update website within a few days or even hours of the initial product ship.

The placebo, which the Microsoft technologists have somehow managed to cram into just 1GB, will carry out the following procedure:

  1. Complain that the Windows Genuine Bloody Advantage certificate has not been verified, and download and run a reauthorisation program. Reboot.
  2. Check for the latest version of Windows Install. If it is not found – and my intuition tells me that it won't be – then suck down a fresh copy from the update site and install it. Reboot.
  3. The install will present a progress bar that zips up to 56 per cent in no time, but then abruptly sticks. After the frustrated user has finally left to get some lunch, it abruptly moves up to 100 per cent.
  4. What do you think happens next? Go on, have a guess.

The view at Redmond is that this should satisfy even the most rigorous and technically demanding IT managers. Even the ones on double scotch chasers.

As she is spoked and writted

It all started with SETI@home, the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, which became the chic screen saver of the early years of this millennium. More recently the BBC got in on the act, and set all the family-owned PCs in the UK churning through a climate model charting global warming between 1920 and 2080.

(When they have finished, by the way, the Beeb are going to start all over again, this time factoring into the model the extra heat generated by all the family-owned PCs in the UK running a climate model charting global warming between 1920 and 2080. This will use up yet more energy, which will in turn etc. Look kids: recursion isn't just good for hippy-ish acronyms!)

But now a team of top coders is preparing a new application that will at last make worthwhile use of all the yotta-flops at the disposal of a BOINCish screen saver. They have identified an issue that is of great interest and relevance to a good proportion of the world's population.

They are going to perfect the English language.

They intend posing all the questions that have long taxed the great online thinkers, and finding and publishing the correct and definitive answers. No detail of pronunciation, spelling, grammar or style will be outside their scope.

Here are some sample issues:

Of course, it's early days at the moment, but the team thinks it has an algorithm that parallellallellallellises really well and it expects to make rapid progress.

As well as settling any number of important academic questions, there are high hopes of deriving medical benefits – a complete cure for IVS (Irritable Vowel Syndrome) is definitely on the cards – and saving many billions of lost work hours currently spent arguing over, for example, whether it's 'shedule' or 'skedule'.

I seem to hear concerns that there might be British bias in the output of this project. May I address these at once.

Although it is true that the core of the programming team (me) is as English as a nine bob note, we have striven long and hard to ensure that no parochialism can creep into the design, nor national prejudice colour the results.

And make damn sure you don't miss that 'u' in colour...