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News Schmooze: Resurrected Daleks hail new e-minister

Douglas Alexander had the IT industry scratching its head, hoax emails caused worry, and Microsoft hacked itself...

A new e-minister has arrived to put Britain at the centre of the Internet, and this saviour is... Douglas Alexander, MP for Paisley South. Besides the obvious confusion factor of appointing somebody with two first names, has anybody in the IT industry heard of this man? Maybe not, but some, like Microsoft, are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. The Lib Dems even called him the "wunderkind of the Labour party", but they are the opposition, after all, and could just be setting him up for a fall...

The death penalty may get lots of debate on the Internet, but it's a fact of life in the US. But it hasn't yet reached the point of being broadcast on the mass media, despite the efforts of a free-speech-come-porn-publisher a few weeks ago. So imagine the surprise of Internet users when they got an email promising video clips of a recent execution... Of course, it turned out to be a hoax, and implanted the would-be voyeurs' PCs with a Trojan horse called SubSeven. A researcher sounded genuinely disturbed about the capabilities of this virus: "Basically the hacker has total access to your computer without you even knowing it. They can even turn on your microphone and listen to you and turn on your camera and view you."

In the same "duh" category must fall this week's AOL "virus". This started off as a rather arcane parody of an earlier virus hoax, and urged people to delete a harmful file on their system called "aol.exe". The weird thing isn't so much that people took it seriously and deleted their AOL application, but that we are still surprised people are capable of such cluelessness.

As if the blackouts across California's messily deregulated power system weren't bad enough, officials there admitted hackers have been persistently trying to break into the power grid's computers. They insisted nobody has succeeded so far, despite blackouts around the same time the hacking activity was at its peak -- insidious government cover-up anyone? But on the other hand, maybe they were just using Microsoft servers, some of which were disabled for the second time by a well-meaning Microsoft bug fix. Need anyone wonder at the motives of the guys who create viruses like DoS.storm, designed to send huge amounts of filthy email to Bill Gates?

We've all heard about the cool new features of Windows XP, like smart pop-up tags and bright colours, but apparently Bill hasn't given up on his idea of using the platform to control your brain. The latest evil plot is apparently to not include an MP3 decoder in Windows -- an insidious case of "not-bundling". Well, MP3 decoder sellers should stay in business for a while longer, then. Oh, and don't try running any of this unless you've got at least, er, 128MB... no... 256MB of RAM.

In, say, musical terms, 1995 wasn't that long ago -- Marilyn Manson was freaking people out then as now. But in Internet years it's at least a generation, and that's why the demise of the two oldest Webzines this week seemed strangely meaningful, even though they were only founded six years ago. Considering the current investment climate and the earlier disappearance of so many of their contemporaries, maybe the surprising thing isn't that Suck and Feed have closed down, but that they lasted so long. Maybe they could've been saved by a timely intervention from e-queen Britney Spears. Microsoft-funded Slate.com doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon, though.

But of course, there's always a second chance, as one scientific pioneer can attest to. We refer of course to Dr Who, who will be making his latest regeneration online, courtesy of the BBC. The Schmoozer understands the Daleks won't be making an appearance -- the Beeb sold them all off to nouveau-riche dot-com entrepreneurs in 1999.

The News Schmooze is ZDNet UK's irreverent take on the week's news. Send your tip-offs to: mailroomuk@zdnet.com.

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