Does Bill Gates get up your nose? Then try Microsnot

BUNHILL

This evening the television programme Triumph of the Nerds will undoubtedly have much to say about Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft.

An extraordinary thing about Gates is the venom he generates among the computerati. The Internet is full of rather laboured anti-Gates jokes, usually concentrating on his supposed megalomania and failure to deliver products on time.

But this is more than jealousy. Some people really do think he is bad. This, for example, taken from a discussion group: "I hate Microsoft. Microsoft is the focus of evil in the modern world. Bill Gates is the Anti-Christ." A joke? I don't think so. The "Microsoft Hate Page" is full of such stuff.

So I was glad to find some witty and less deranged Bill-bashing. It was an announcement by "Microsnot", and it said: "Microsnot is pleased to announce the acquisition of Englandf, a leading country. England will bring many advantages to Microsnot including Englishf the world's leading language, some prime real estate, and a strong military.

"Englishf will no longer be made available publicly. All users of Englishf must register with Microsnot. A trial version of Englishf will be made available with a limited vocabulary." The point here is that Microsoft has a ruthlessly commercial attitude when it comes to defending copyright on computer languages it owns - use a pirate copy of one of them, many believe, and a thunderbolt will blast you to Kingdom Comef.

A colleague rang FT Magazines (publisher of Investors Chronicle, The Banker and the like) at 10.20 on Tuesday morning. "The switchboard is closed," a recorded voice announced. Who says the days of leisure are dead?

Digitally challenged

You have probably heard that our young are becoming dimmer and dimmer. Well, it is probably true that their Latin is less fluent than it was, but we are apparently going from strength to strength in the Informatics Olympiad, an international computer programming competition. Now computing is not of course as important at Latin, but I understand that it has certain narrow uses.

The final will be held in Hungary in July, but results from the British heats are encouraging. Anthony Rix, who organises the team, has high hopes it will come back laden with medals.

What, you may ask, are these youngsters so good at? I asked, and was given this question as an example. It is all about a cuddly mathematical concept called amicable numbers.

Amicable numbers are almost, but not quite, as friendly as perfect numbers. A perfect number is one whose divisors add up to the number. Six can be divided by three, two and one. Add them to together, and you get six. Clear?

Amicable numbers are pairs of numbers such as 2,620 and 2,924. Take the divisors of 2,620, add them together and you get 2,924. Do the same with the divisors of 2,924 and you get 2,620.

Anyway, our bright boys and girls were asked to write a computer program that worked out whether numbers were amicable or not. Now do you see see why computing is almost as useful as Latin?

The problem with business is that, rightly or wrongly, it has a deeply dull image. I therefore intend to introduce business people who are anything but dull.

Number one is James Fisk, born in Vermont on All Fools' Day, 1834, died 7 January, 1872. Dead people are better because you can't libel them and, boy, is this guy worth libelling?

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, he worked as a circus hand, a pedlar, a dry-goods salesman, a stockbroker and a corporate official. Then in 1866 he formed a brokerage firm called Fisk and Belden with the support of Daniel Drew. The next year he joined Drew and the notorious Jay Gould in issuing fraudulent stock in the Erie Railroad, as a device to protect it against Cornelius Vanderbilt's attentions. Fisk also used company money to corrupt public officials, produce Broadway shows and "support" Broadway beauties, whatever that means.

Getting more adventurous he, Drew and Gould tried to corner the gold market. This triggered one of the great crashes of the last century, Black Friday - 24 September, 1869. Unfortunately for Fisk, Gould secretly sold much of his gold before prices fell. Then, romantically, Fisk was shot dead by a business associate in a quarrel over Josie Mansfield, one of the Broadway lovelies.

And you still say business is boring?

Boring bankers

A refinement of the above. The British Bankers' Association recently sent out a letter saying that its press briefing had been cancelled because "we feel that at present there are no developments of significant interest which can be tabled". So bankers are indeed boring, but at least they know they are boring.

A correction. On 4 June last year I wrote that the Nissan Cedric, a car popular in Japan, was so named because a past head of the company was an admirer of Sir Walter Scott (who, as you will know, invented the name Cedric in Ivanhoe).

How wrong I was! Jeremy Bell has written from south-east London with the real explanation which is much more interesting. The first Cedric was built in 1936, which gives it a longer pedigree than any other model, I think. Apparently a founding director of one of the two companies that today form Nissan had a fondness for Hollywood films. Hence the Cedric was named after Cedric Hardwicke, the distinguished British actor, the Nissan Gloria after Gloria Swanson and the Nissan Laurel after Stan Laurel (Nissan still makes a Laurel too).

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