News at 6

Plucked from the headlines, online and in print

One giant leap for space travel

The whole space tourism scenario has taken another step forward with the privately sponsored SpaceShipOne scudded off into space for the second time in a week to easily beat the previous flight-altitude record for an air-launched craft and grab a $US10 million prize to boot.

Designer Burt Rutan built SpaceShipOne and now plans to built a whole fleet for Virgin boss and adrenalin junkie Richard Branson. Mr Branson has recently formed Virgin Galactic and wants to offer space flights by 2007.

If you have a spare $US190,000 you might want to pop over to Aussie because it will be home to one of the five planned rockets. I’m not sure what sort of stamp you’ll get on your passport, or whether you’ll need a visa, and I’m pretty sure sending postcards won’t be an option.

For $US190,000 I’d at least expect a couple of good restaurants and a suntan.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen funded the building of SpaceShipOne with donations of about $US20 million. Perhaps he could throw in a little more cash to develop a rocket with onboard nightclub.


Clean Bill of health


Mr Microsoft himself, Bill Gates, has stunned the computer world by announcing that he’s never had a computer virus. That makes two of us, Bill.

The comment was made during a speech at the Computer History Museum in California, when Mr Gates announced that Microsoft planned to tackle the growing spyware problem.

Microsoft bashers like to tell anyone who will listen that all Windows programs are full of security holes but it stands to reason that the most widely used system will be the favourite target of the assorted hackers and script kiddies. If I were going to design something to damage cars I wouldn’t aim it at Skodas (no offense to any Skoda drivers out there).

Interestingly, Mozilla’s Firefox, the browser du jour for anyone wanting to escape Internet Explorer, has a bug of its own that could let a hacker delete files from your computer. There’s a patch available at Mozilla’s website.


Broadband update

Everyone seems to be trying to woo high-speed net-users at the moment.

Telecom has announced a new range of packages available from next month, including a 2Mbps plan  and Ihug launching its bliink system.


Mouse on a mission and other droppings

Sticking to the subject of weird, American and South Korean scientists have created a genetically engineered mouse that can run faster and longer than the average mouse — a marathon mouse.

With all the doping scandals at the Athens Olympics, this could be the next step. Imagine the uproar when the International Olympics Committee announces Russian weightlifter Mikhail Mousikov is found to be part human-part rodent.

Doping is a worry in all sports, even chess, as reported last year on the Pass Your Drug Test website. Strangely, I’d never realised chess was a sport.

Again, sticking with the weird theme, if you like your news weird (and don’t we all), check out

Patently Absurd has details of some of the strange inventions creative Britons have come up with, while Delphion’s Gallery of Obscure Patents offers an insight into the mind of the American inventor.

Hey, you never know when your chicken might have a pressing need for an eye protector.


Olympics on the internet

I suppose now would be a good time to feature Olympic Games sites, since we’re in the midst of Olympic fever. Well, maybe it’s more of a tepid spell than a fever.

  • For all the latest news from the official Games site, try Athens2004. Interestingly, on the site it says that with such a high selling rate the tickets of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games are already hard to find. I can’t help wondering if all the spectators are camera shy because every time I’ve watched any of the events on TV hordes of empty seats seem to outnumber fans 10-to-1.
  • One sport that doesn’t seem to lack spectators is beach volleyball. I suspect its popularity has a lot to do with well-built, scantily clad babes cavorting around in the sand but for those who want to know more about the sport itself, check out for a full rundown of its history.
  • If you fancy yourself as a bit of an expert, take a crack at the Virtual Olympics.
  • Stuff, your favourite news site (well, it better be) has a comprehensive Olympics section with info on the entire New Zealand team, the latest news from Athens and a full schedule of Kiwis in action.
  • The official Olympic Movement website has all of the Athens news you’d expect along with the history of the various sports, a rundown on the venues and information on future summer and winter Olympics. It also has a section on the Olympic Museum that includes a 360-degree virtual tour (you’ll need QuickTime installed to view it).
  • Members of the Perseus Project created a digital exhibit on the ancient Olympics during the 1996 Games in Atlanta. The exhibit allows you to compare ancient and modern Olympic sports, tour the site of Olympia,learn about Games and its famous athletes from ancient times.
  • Fact Monster has, as expected, a monster-load of facts on the Games. There’s a timeline, some fun facts (read all about Stella the Fella), the history behind some of the Olympic symbols and more. Test your skills with one or two of the quizzes.
  • One of the Games’ blue ribbon events is the marathon and you’ll find a site with the history of this gruelling event at Marathon Guide. Included is the fact that the current marathon distance of 26 miles and 385 yards was set forthe 1908 London Olympics so that the course could start at Windsor Castle and end in front of the Royal Box.

Ever wonder what the Olympics would be like run by rednecks? Wonder no more; its all explained at


A for ingenuity; F for effectiveness

British anti-virus firm Sophos found a work wanted ad tucked away in the code of the MyDoom.U and MyDoom.V worms.

In a bad sign for the virus-writer, the worm isn’t spreading too fast but I suppose you have to give him or her an A for ingenuity.

If you use a webcam, take note: Sophos has found Rbot.GR virus doesn’t simply follow the usual trend of infecting hard drives, stealing passwords and launching denial-of-service attacks, the little sucker also takes over webcams and microphones to spy on unsuspecting victims.

Feel like you’re being watched?

Someone who doesn’t mind us spying on his daily routine is Kiwi film-meister Peter Jackson. Kong is King has all the latest news and goss from the King Kong set, including Jackson’s production diary.



Jillian "George" Allison-Aitken

I live in the deep south of New Zealand, where smelly dairy cows are taking over from sheep in the livestock stakes. My hometown is the small but perfectly formed city of Invercargill, which is also the hometown of the original boy racer, Burt Munro. Find out more about me here.


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