iTWire - iTWire - Latest News iTWire - Technology news, trends, reviews, jobs http://www.itwire.com Sat, 22 Nov 2014 21:16:14 +1100 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Adobe backpedals on Click Frenzy claims http://www.itwire.com/it-industry-news/strategy/66219-adobe-backpedals-on-click-frenzy-claims http://www.itwire.com/it-industry-news/strategy/66219-adobe-backpedals-on-click-frenzy-claims Adobe backpedals on Click Frenzy claims

Adobe’s prediction that the Click Frenzy online shopping promotion would generate $189 million in sales has been ‘corrected’.

It seems that Adobe’s prediction was incorrect, and based on a poorly worded press release. The company has only itself to blame.

This week we wrote that Click Frenzy was a failure. That assertion was based on the extent to which our calculations of its sales this year fell short of Adobe’s predictions. Based on various observations and calculations, we worked out that Click Frenzy maybe made its participating retailers $51 million during the 24 hour promo (though a more relevant figure would be how much more they made during that period than they would have if Click Frenzy did not exist).

We then simply applied that number to Adobe’s prediction, outlined in a press release on 7 November, which was widely published as the Click Frenzy target, and pointed out that $51 million is barely a quarter of $189 million.

No, no, no, that is not what we meant at all, says Adobe, in a flurry of backtracking late Friday afternoon. First iTWire received a note from Edelman, Adobe’s PR company, that: “The Adobe Digital Index shopping prediction takes into account all Australian online sales, not just the retailers that are part of the Click Frenzy Group.”

{loadposition graeme}

Hmmm – the initial press release did not read like that: “Australian shoppers will reach for their smartphones when Click Frenzy, the biggest online shopping day of the year, kicks off the holiday shopping season next week with spending predicted to top $189 million in just 24 hours.”

Now, you could at a pinch read that to mean that the $189 million was not just Click Frenzy, but by heading off with Click Frenzy (and heading the release “Australians poised to set new records as online holiday shopping frenzy looms”) it was easy to read it the other way. Many publications, including Fairfax Media (see here), did indeed read it that way, with the Fairfax article also quoting Click Frenzy’s Grant Arnott as endorsing Adobe’s prediction.

So ambiguous was Adobe’s claim, in fact, that Edelman felt the need to send out a correction to all media at the ridiculous time of 6:11pm on Friday (a time when most journalists are on to their third beer): “Please note correction to Adobe media release dated 7 November 2014. Adobe Digital Index spending prediction of $189 million for online holiday shopping period includes all online retail spend including Click Frenzy. The period mentioned in the original media release was 24 hours and we regret the error.”

I’m sure they do regret it. There must have been a fair bit of faecal matter hitting the cooling blades at Click Frenzy, Adobe and Edelman as things were clarified. Strong words would have been exchanged. Senior PR people don’t issue corrections out of hours unless someone’s well and truly got their knickers in a knot.

In its enthusiasm to promote Click Frenzy as an example of a trend supporting its self-interested predictions, Adobe – or its PR company Edelman – wrote a press release containing a claim so ambiguous it needed to be corrected.

Of course, all this could have been avoided if the original press release had been clearly written. Better still, Click Frenzy could come clean on its numbers, rather than issuing slippery statistics on growth rates. Unless it has something to hide …

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graeme.philipson@itwire.com (Graeme Philipson) Strategy Sat, 22 Nov 2014 17:12:47 +1100
WhatsApp co-founder donates US$1m to FreeBSD Foundation http://www.itwire.com/business-it-news/open-source/66218-whatsapp-co-founder-donates-us$1m-to-freebsd-foundation http://www.itwire.com/business-it-news/open-source/66218-whatsapp-co-founder-donates-us$1m-to-freebsd-foundation WhatsApp co-founder donates US$1m to FreeBSD Foundation

The FreeBSD Foundation has received the largest donation in its history, a sum of US$1 million from Jan Koum, the chief executive and co-founder of WhatsApp.

The foundation supports the FreeBSD open source operating system and its community worldwide. WhatsApp Messenger is a cross-platform mobile messaging app.

In a media release, the foundation said it was deciding how to use this donation in order that its effects could be felt for many years to come.

The foundation sets targets for its fund-raising every year and the target for 2014 was US$1 million.

{loadposition sam08}"But this does not mean we can stop our fund-raising efforts," a foundation spokesperson said in the release. "Only by increasing the size and diversity of our donor pool can we ensure a stable and consistent funding stream to support the FreeBSD project."

In a Facebook post, Koum said he was one of the people who had used FreeBSD to pursue his passions and bring his ideas to life.

"I started using FreeBSD in the late 90s, when I didn’t have much money and was living in government housing," Koum wrote. "In a way, FreeBSD helped lift me out of poverty – one of the main reasons I got a job at Yahoo! is because they were using FreeBSD, and it was my operating system of choice.

"Years later, when Brian (Acton - the other co-founder of WhatsApp) and I set out to build WhatsApp, we used FreeBSD to keep our servers running. We still do."

Koum said he was announcing the donation to shine a light on the good work being done by the FreeBSD Foundation, with the hope that others would also help move the project forward.

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sam@gnubies.com (Sam Varghese) Open Source Sat, 22 Nov 2014 00:49:43 +1100
Google’s ‘Contribution’ to new ways to fund web publishing http://www.itwire.com/opinion-and-analysis/fuzzy-logic/66217-google’s-‘contribution’-to-new-ways-to-fund-web-publishing http://www.itwire.com/opinion-and-analysis/fuzzy-logic/66217-google’s-‘contribution’-to-new-ways-to-fund-web-publishing Google’s ‘Contribution’ to new ways to fund web publishing

With Google being the world’s biggest ad engine fuelled by the world’s biggest search engine, you wouldn’t think Google would be the company to come up with a way for end-users to deliver themselves a reading experience free of Google’s ads - but its new experiment does just that.

Is Google trying to prove that end-users simply don’t want to pay for content, thus cementing Google’s position as the world’s leading ad server?

Or is it truly trying to help publishers find new ways to get funding directly from end-users while enjoying the side benefit of no Google ads appearing on screen?

Google normally does things that suit itself first, given it is the big data money making machine of super successful proportions, so Google’s true intentions behind its intriguing new ‘experiment’ are yet to be truly determined, but it surely is an interesting development.

It’s called ‘Contributor by Google’, with the company asking both end-users and publishers a question: “What if there were a way to directly support the people who create the sites you visit each day?”.

The system works by choosing a monthly contribution you’d like to make - of between $1 and $3 per month. You then visit participating sites, and then instead of seeing Google’s ads, you see a ‘pixel pattern’ instead, or even a ‘thank you’ message.

{loadposition alex08}Those sites then share in the monthly contributions, presumably based on readership, and are thus earning money not from ad-serving but from people’s ‘contributions’.

Just a few of the sites already participating in the experiment are the Urban Dictionary, The Onion, Science Daily, WikiHow, Mashable and Imgur.

Google invites other content creators and publishers to join the waitlist for an invitation.

And really, that’s it. Google presumably gets some kind of cut as well, 

It isn’t the first time someone out there has tried to come up with a payments system that allows publishers a different way of getting paid for content, with the ABC’s Technology Editor, Nick Ross, trying to get his own micro-payments system for viewing content up and running. 

But none of these ‘smaller’ experiments have the backing or power of Google, which is tweaking the model slightly.

We also don’t know whether other ads from other ad-serving companies would be pixelated out or replaced by a thank you message, so you might contribute but still see ads.

Either way, even if Google’s intentions aren’t pure, it is seemingly a genuine experiment in new ways for end-users to fund content, so how it evolves and what happens next will certainly be fascinating to watch!

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alex@itwire.com.au (Alex Zaharov-Reutt) Fuzzy Logic Fri, 21 Nov 2014 23:00:41 +1100
VIDEO: AdvanceRetail’s CEO Mark McGeachen talks retail innovation http://www.itwire.com/business-it-news/business-technology/66216-video-advanceretail’s-ceo-mark-mcgeachen-talks-retail-innovation http://www.itwire.com/business-it-news/business-technology/66216-video-advanceretail’s-ceo-mark-mcgeachen-talks-retail-innovation VIDEO: AdvanceRetail’s CEO Mark McGeachen talks retail innovation

One of AdvanceRetail’s customers is Pandora - the top-end jewellery company, not the music streaming service - and I spoke the company’s CEO, Mark McGeachen not just about the point-of-sale retail transformation within Pandora but in the industry generally.

One of AdvanceRetail’s latest products is its SmartStore Mobile Solution, which goes beyond the Apple Store method of having staff members with mobile terminals through to using iPod Touches and iPads as a vital part of the customer shopping experience.

AdvanceRetail’s SmartStore provides a ‘comprehensive, intuitive and scalable POS system, that has been developed in response to today’s changing retail landscape.’

The company says that it is ‘a next generation multi-platform software solution for retailers delivering a contemporary customer service experience solution that will easily adapt to future technological advances’, which also allows ‘staff to serve customers from anywhere on the floor with full product and customer information at their fingertips, and the small hardware footprint also frees up valuable store space.’

The need for such a solution has evolved because of the changing expectations of consumers in Australia and New Zealand (and worldwide), which is having a significant impact on retail investing in mobile and online technology, which is in turn driving a profound change in the way retailers connect and communicate with their target markets.

At a round table media event last month, AdvanceRetail CEO, Mark McGeachen said that: “Today’s technically savvy consumers expect retailers to utilise technology that will improve service, speed up processing and provide them with purchasing options. Customers are often better informed than store staff with information and price comparisons literally in the palm of their hand while shopping.”

“The future is no longer about online or bricks and mortar – it’s now an omni-channel world, a seamless path-to-purchase spanning whatever channels each customer chooses to utilise. Consumer expectation is driving innovation in our business to ensure we can offer our retail clients the world’s most up-to-date and innovative technology that can add value to their business.”

Here’s my interview with Mark McGeachen, which covers some of the Pandora developments in the rest of this article below, and plenty more - enjoy!

AdvanceRetail isn’t some newcomer to the market, either. It first launched a POS system way back in 1990, and today it is focused on the needs of the multi-site retailer, providing full business process consultancy, implementation, training and support services with the ultimate aim of designing software to transform the in-store retail experience.

At the same time, AdvanceRetail Technology has partnered with a number of merchandising and ERP software vendors to provide clients with an integrated end-to-end retail management solution, with the company ‘totally committed to the retail market and invests heavily in research and development.’

One of the examples given of a forward thinking retailer was the aforementioned haute global jewellery retailer, Pandora.

Pandora’s existing AdvanceRetail systems worked well enough, but during especially busy times, the pressures of serving so many people could inevitably lead to delays and problems for both customers and staff.

Pandora’s management wanted a way to speed customer service and provide a better consumer experience, so they decided to trial AdvanceRetail SmartStore, which is ‘a mobile retail solution that could integrate with Pandora's existing AdvanceRetail POS system and which would enable staff to serve customers from anywhere on the floor.’

Pandora’s VP of Sales and Business Services, Brien Winther said: “What we were after was a queue-busting system, something that would make it easier and faster for staff to service customers.”

“We were already using AdvanceRetail’s fixed POS system which had provided us with exceptionally rich data. In fact, the quality of the data we are able to obtain is unsurpassed by Pandora globally. Therefore, I had no hesitation in trialling AdvanceRetail SmartStore across all Pandora company stores, to run on Apple iPods. The timing was deliberate. It would give staff an opportunity to become familiar with the technology prior to one of our busiest times – the Mother’s Day rush!”

Winther says he fully expected teething problems with the deployment but was surprised when the biggest hurdle turned out to be operational rather than technical. “We had a lot of staff resistance to using the devices. They were comfortable with the old manual processes and didn't want to change,” he commented.  

“Many felt the new technology would slow them down and there were concerns that this would negatively impact their ability to reach their sales key performance indicators.”

“In the end we had to be very tough about getting staff to use the mobile devices. Once they started to use the iPods however, all the fear was gone and we got immediate buy-in,” Winther adds.

“In fact the original intention was to have two to three devices per store and for staff to share them, however they insisted they needed a device each to fully reap the benefits, which has certainly been delivered and proven to be well worth the investment. They now do up to 100 percent of sales on the devices including returns.”

Pandora's AdvanceRetail SmartStore trial has proven to be a very positive one with no customer problems and an increase in sales across Pandora’s company stores. The technology has proven its value and Winther is now keenly pursuing a wider roll-out to its franchise stores. It is a roll-out he would like completed by February 2015.

“Our strategy is to continue to grow the retail sector. We have a fresh product range and a brand people trust. We intend to make Pandora’s jewellery available to customers across all channels by 2015,” Winther concluded.

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alex@itwire.com.au (Alex Zaharov-Reutt) Business Technology Fri, 21 Nov 2014 22:11:00 +1100
Yummba puts online banking credentials (and your money) at risk http://www.itwire.com/business-it-news/security/66214-yummba-puts-online-banking-credentials-at-risk http://www.itwire.com/business-it-news/security/66214-yummba-puts-online-banking-credentials-at-risk Yummba puts online banking credentials (and your money) at risk

A major cloud company has warned of a new set of tools being used to commit bank fraud.

Akamai's Prolexic Security Engineering and Response Team (PLXsert) has detected a new set of webinject tools used in conjunction with the Zeus malware to steal online banking credentials and perform fraudulent funds transfers.

"PLXsert has identified more than 100 financial institutions for which active webinjects are available in the wild. Most are mid-size and large financial institutions in North America and Europe," said Akamai security business unit senior vice president and general manager Stuart Scholly.

Webinjects - the insertion of custom elements into web pages - are nothing new. They are often used by malware to collect and exfiltrate credentials for banking and other websites.

{loadposition stephen08}The Yummba webinjects - the name is that of the (apparently Russian) individual or group behind the code - work with the Zeus malware kit and the Automatic Transfer System (ATSEngine) to collect banking usernames and passwords, card and CVV numbers, expiry dates, and other sensitive information such as dates of birth.

This may be done under the guise of an "additional authorisation process" or similar, with each webinject customised to match the look and feel of the relevant organisation's real website.

Where online banking credentials have been obtained or a legitimate session established, the malware may immediately transfer funds from the victim's account.

The PLXsert report [registration required] suggests the first line of defence is user awareness. Learning to recognise suspicious emails ("Red flags are generic salutations, grammatical errors in URLs, unexpected attachments, and attachments sent from unknown entities") helps prevent the Zeus malware from reaching a computer in the first place.

Endpoint security software can help, but PLXsert warns "there may be very low levels of detection for some threats."

At the network level, deep packet inspection and the blacklisting of illegitimate URLs provides some protection.

"PLXsert anticipates the underground crimeware ecosystem will continue to produce new and more powerful tools like Yummba webinjects to take advantage of the massive number of exploited devices on the Internet," said Akamai.

Image: EFF-Graphics [CC BY 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

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swithers@blackandwrite.com.au (Stephen Withers) Security Fri, 21 Nov 2014 17:34:01 +1100
Alert! Safari Trojan http://www.itwire.com/business-it-news/security/66213-alert-safari-trojan http://www.itwire.com/business-it-news/security/66213-alert-safari-trojan Alert! Safari Trojan

A friend has had an annoying Safari browser based issue where clicking a link opens a separate ad tab.  This is a relatively new Trojan malware that cleverly obfuscates the most useful page on getting rid of it.


Who said Macs are not vulnerable to security attacks?  Nobody recently that’s for certain, it is true however that incidents of such attacks are far less frequent that those of us running Windows based machines.

However, I thought I would relate this recent experience:  A friend showed me her iMac Safari problem.

“Every time I click on this hyperlink, a new tab opens trying to sell me software” she said.

And sure enough, doing a search engine search and clicking on one of the resultant links not only opens the expected window, but gives focus to an unwanted tab trying to flog security orientated software.  The kind of thing we see all the time on Windows based boxes.   It does not seem to vicious in its intent, just extremely annoying.

Trying to investigate the issue online with only Safari to work with becomes a chore.  Particularly – as I soon found out – when it becomes clear this clever piece of malware hides the one page I have found that helped from the machines browser.

It was not until later on searching using another device that I found the following link:

Https://discussions.apple.com/thread/6531026

This link features the steps required to remove the malware.  This involves removing certain installed services , files and extensions (as needed).  It works perfectly but does highlight an issue Apple need to address.

{loadposition mike08}Yes this particular user has had their machine infected from a site offering streaming of [illegal] media, in this case Megashare.  However, as is pointed out on the helpful page, you cannot rely on the OS X Gatekeeper functionality to warn you of the malwares installation.  In this case the developer has a valid codesigning certificate issued by Apple, meaning the software is installed without vetting by Gatekeeper.  Nice.

Be careful out there.

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mike.bantick@gmail.com (Mike Bantick) Security Fri, 21 Nov 2014 16:39:42 +1100
VIDEO: Brand ‘New Nintendo 3DS and 3DS XL’ launch with new Pokémons http://www.itwire.com/your-it-news/entertainment/66212-video-brand-‘new-nintendo-3ds-and-3ds-xl’-launch-with-new-pokémons http://www.itwire.com/your-it-news/entertainment/66212-video-brand-‘new-nintendo-3ds-and-3ds-xl’-launch-with-new-pokémons VIDEO: Brand ‘New Nintendo 3DS and 3DS XL’ launch with new Pokémons

It’s not just Apple that can get thousands of people to queue for new products, with Nintendo’s launch of two new Pokémon titles and brand new versions of the Nintendo 3DS and 3DS XL attracting huge crowds!

Midnight launches - we’ve seen them for games in the past, we’ve saw it for Windows 95, and while I don’t think we’ve ever seen it with an Apple product, Nintendo knows how to get people to Ninten-go and stand in a queue with thousands of other people.

The legendary gaming company said that thousands turned out for midnight launches across Australia and NZ, not just for the two new Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire titles but also those two new Nintendo 3DS models.

The New Nintendo 3DS will sell for $219.95, with a screen 1.2x bigger than the original, and with customisable cover plates that hark back to Nokia’s interchangeable covers for its 2G phones all those years ago - as well as various Nokia Lumia models today.

The bigger New Nintendo 3DS XL sells for $249.95, with a ‘luxury look’ and a 4.88-inch screen.

Sneakily, Nintendo says that you can either use the AC adapter from any of the previous 2DS and 3DS systems, or you can buy one for $14.95.

Part of the improvements in both new models is a ‘super-stable 3D’ capability designed to deliver a ‘more comfortable 3D gaming experience’.

An inner camera recognises your face and automatically adjusts the angle of the 3D display if you move your head or console whilst poking Pokémons or zapping aliens or playing whatever games it is that you like playing on Nintendo.

NFC is built-in for upcoming ‘amiibo’ titles, while future compatible titles will be able to make use of the new C stick, ZL and ZR buttons.

Huge crowds of people at the EB Games store in Melbourne for last night's midnight launch!

The CPUs within have also been boosted, enabling faster use of Miiverse, faster download speeds, and smoother transitions when switching between apps.

There’s also going to be new titles designed specifically for the New Nintendo 3DS models which take advantage of the extra performance - while giving existing 3DS and 2DS owners a reason and/or excuse to buy one or both of the new models.

An example of one such title due in 2015 is the Xenoblade Chronicles, an RPG title which first came to the Wii in 2011.

As you can imagine, both new handheld consoles are fully compatible with all existing 3DS titles.

MASSIVE amounts of information is available at the New Nintendo 3DS/3DS XL website.

 


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alex@itwire.com.au (Alex Zaharov-Reutt) Entertainment Fri, 21 Nov 2014 16:34:00 +1100
IT workers optimistic about salaries, bonuses http://www.itwire.com/it-people-news/enterprise-staff/66211-it-workers-optimistic-about-salaries-bonuses http://www.itwire.com/it-people-news/enterprise-staff/66211-it-workers-optimistic-about-salaries-bonuses IT workers optimistic about salaries, bonuses

A recruitment firm says IT professionals are optimistic about salary increases in 2015.

Recruitment firm Robert Walters carries out a regular pay and bonus survey, and one of the latest findings is that 60% of IT professionals expect a pay rise - mostly between 1% and 10% - in 2015.

Furthermore, 34% anticipate receiving a bonus.

But only 43% received a pay rise in 2014, and 23% said they had received a bonus. So does this indicate a triumph of hope over experience? Perhaps not.

Robert Walters director of IT in Sydney Peter Bateson said "The results show that the number of IT professionals expecting a salary increase in 2015 is on par with the average candidate response.

{loadposition stephen08}"IT workers are most likely picking up on a general increase in business sentiment that we are currently witnessing in the Australian market, and expecting their remuneration to be increasing as a result."

And the company's associate director of IT in Perth Jodie Gillespie warned "Bonus payments can be very influential when it comes to candidate performance.

"Many IT candidates are anticipating a bonus on top of their base salary in 2015, and so we encourage employers to investigate their reward schemes and make sure their offerings for top performers are going to meet expectations."

Just over one-third of IT professionals say they will be looking for a new role in the next three months. Remarkably for an industry known for its staff mobility, that's relatively low - the average across all professions was 45%.

But almost two-thirds expect to change jobs sometime during 2015.

What are IT workers looking for? Increased opportunities for career progression, followed by a pay rise, improved work/life balance and improved job security.

The report is available here.

Image: Martin Kingsley [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

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swithers@blackandwrite.com.au (Stephen Withers) Enterprise Staff Fri, 21 Nov 2014 16:06:09 +1100
ACMA boosts the fight against malware with new portal http://www.itwire.com/business-it-news/security/66210-acma-boosts-the-fight-against-malware-with-new-portal http://www.itwire.com/business-it-news/security/66210-acma-boosts-the-fight-against-malware-with-new-portal ACMA boosts the fight against malware with new portal

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is launching a new initiative to further enhance its efforts, with industry and business, to identify and warn of malware infecting devices on the Internet.

ACMA will launch its Australian Internet Security Initiative (AISI) online portal on Friday 28 November in a free live webcast to industry and the public.

The AISI has been collecting and collating information that indicates malware activity since 2005, and ACMA’s Internet Security Programs Manager, Julia Cornwell McKean, says the portal is the next generation of the AISI, which partners with industry to identify infected devices on the internet.

Cornwell McKean said ACMA uses the information collected through the portal to provide details to the AISI’s voluntary participants – internet service providers and educational institutions – of apparent infections in their networks.

{loadposition peter}“In turn, internet service providers can help their customers identify and treat these infections,” Cornwell McKean said.

The live webcast of the AISI portal next week will be led by Cornwell McKean, who will talk about the ACMA’s suite of internet security programs, including the AISI.

Cornwell McKean will also explain how the new portal can be used by internet service providers to help consumers identify compromised devices and rid them of malware.

The launch will include the premiere of a new video that highlights the malware threat faced by Internet users.

To tune in live to the launch event at 9.30am, Friday 28 November, or to sign up to receive reminders, before the event begins, click here.       

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peter.dinham@itwire.com (Peter Dinham) Security Fri, 21 Nov 2014 15:51:27 +1100
Does Barbie know Linux? http://www.itwire.com/opinion-and-analysis/the-linux-distillery/66209-does-barbie-know-linux? http://www.itwire.com/opinion-and-analysis/the-linux-distillery/66209-does-barbie-know-linux? Does Barbie know Linux?

According to Mattel no; because she is a girl she still needs the boys to help with those things called computers.

In January 2010 Mattel Inc decided Barbie – formally known as Barbara Millicent Roberts - needed another career. She’s had no shortage of job changes, but given her sporty cars and expensive fashion tastes it would appear Barbie is top of her game no matter what industry she deigns to dabble in.

This was unique; it was the first time in Barbie’s history she asked the world to select her new career. Mattel conducted an online voting campaign calling upon Twitter followers and Facebook fans to make the choice for her.

One option was ‘Computer Engineer’ which so inspired the likes of online communities such as Reddit that the poll – which may ordinarily receive a mundane number of visitors – saw staggering vote stacking. The Computer Engineer Barbie was a landslide winner.

Yet, it would seem the fuddy-duddies at Mattel couldn’t quite get their heads around Barbie, a girl, doing something so boy-like as being a computer engineer, despite ousting the competitors.

Mattel thus proceeded to ignore its own poll and pronounced Barbie’s 125th career as News Anchor Barbie. After some apparent reconsideration, Mattel honoured its original commitment and made Computer Engineer Barbie the 126th Barbie career and doll. This career was not bestowed the honour of “winner”, though, but “popular choice.” In which case why run the poll at all?

The doll was produced with fashionable glasses and binary-code patterned clothing. Her accessories included a Bluetooth earpiece, a pink laptop (running BarbieOS presumably, based on the image on-screen), a laptop bag and mobile phone. Apparently Barbie designers worked closely with the Society of Women Engineers and the National Academy of Engineering to develop this wardrobe.

Mattel stated Computer Engineer Barbie would inspire a new generation of girls to explore this important high-tech industry. The President of the Society of Women Engineers, Nora Lin, stated at the time “All the girls who imagine their future through Barbie will learn that engineers – like girls – are free to explore infinite possibilities, limited only by their imagination.”

It all sounded very good and promising and inspirational. If only Mattel’s book authors were told this.

{loadposition david08}Before we get onto the book, I confess I purchased the Computer Engineer Barbie doll myself. Yes, as a geeky techo guy I thought it could sit in my collection alongside Dr. Who and Fantastic Four never-to-be-played with collectibles. This didn’t last long; my daughter, born the year prior, eventually began to crave the Barbie toy for her own collection and eventually I relented. To my horror I then found she had been amputated from the ankle. My wife explained she found our cat chewing Barbie’s foot. From then on my daughter referred to her as “bite foot Barbie” and she was no longer “Computer Engineer Barbie.” In fact, her clothing and accessories had been long scattered amongst the other Barbies.

At the time I had no idea Computer Engineer Barbie had an accompanying book to spruik her mighty tech accomplishments. Yet, a book was indeed released in 2010, though has only just made the rounds on the Internet giving it a new burst of fame.

“Barbie I Can Be A Computer Engineer” was scanned and placed online by blogger Pamela Ribon, otherwise known as Pamie. Pamie explains she visited her friend and was excited to find the Barbie book at her home. She gleefully read it only to find a tale of woe.

Just remember, Barbie is a computer engineer, at least Mattel’s vision of a female computer engineer.

The story begins with Barbie working hard at her laptop one morning. Her sister Skipper asks what she is doing. Barbie explains she is designing a game to show kids how computer works. So far so good. Barbie continues to explain that for some reason this game includes a robot puppy that does cute tricks by matching up coloured blocks.

Skipper things this is great and asks to play the game. Barbie laughs, oh, “I’m only creating the design ideas” she says, reminding Skipper and the readers she is a girl. “I’ll need Steven and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!”

That’s right; Barbie can’t code. She just makes design concepts.

Barbie next tries to email her design to Steve but her computer crashes. She reboots it, with her sister’s assistance, but nothing works. Yep, Barbie has a computer virus.

Fortunately her work is not lost! She backs up everything onto a flash drive that she wears as a heart pendant around her neck.

She inserts the disk into Skipper’s laptop and … oops, now it is infected too. Barbie realises too late that her USB stick is virus-infected.

Skipper is unimpressed; all her schoolwork and music is on her laptop and she has no backup. She’s also in the middle of writing a major assignment about a person she admires (you can guess where that is going.)

Please read on ...


Barbie says she will fix it; Skipper says she had better and doffs her with a pillow because, I suppose, a pillow fight solves all.

Barbie goes to “computer class” and asks her lab-coat wearing professor, Ms Smith, how she can retrieve files from a computer with a virus.

Smith explains you can remove the hard disk and put it in another computer and provided you have good security software on that second computer you can recover data.

Barbie is inspired so she tells her friends, Steven and Brian, that she needs to fix two laptops before she can send the work she was supposed to email. They deduce Barbie is out of her depth and Steven states “It will go faster if Brian and I help” no doubt thinking “Egads, you’ve broken enough now, Barbie. Don’t touch another thing!”

Steven recovers Skipper’s assignment and music and then repairs Barbie’s laptop also.

Skipper is delighted the next morning when Barbie presents a working laptop to her. Skipper tells Barbie how cool she is for fixing her computer and saving her homework. Of course, Barbie takes the credit for this and keeps silent that she caused all the problems in the first instance.

Skipper goes to school and presents her assignment on someone she admires, which no doubt you guessed, is her big sister Barbie, the incredible computer engineer.

Meanwhile, Barbie is back at computer class (whatever that actually means) and shows everyone the game she designed. Ms. Smith is so impressed by these designs – despite no actual programming having taken place – that she gives Barbie extra credit.

Barbie’s terrific computer skills have saved the day for both sisters, the book declares, happily forgetting the tale is actually one of woe where an inept designer with no technical ability infects two laptops with a virus. In actuality Barbie’s skills were limited to being social enough to have friends who can restore the damage.

“I guess I can be a computer engineer!” says Barbie happily. It is unclear what leads her to that conclusion because in reality the story portrays Barbie as clueless except being able to design a concept. When she actually needs “real” technical work done she goes to the boys.

{loadposition david08}While Pamie’s blog posting brought the book to the attention of the Internet this week, reviews exist over the last few years where the reception has been similarly critical. People note the book teaches girls that women are not able to do hard things like program computers or fix computers, and moreso it’s better not to even learn because you can just let someone else does it.

Ironically, the book was written by Susan Marenco whose web site proudly is labelled “Your Site Title” so perhaps the author drew from her own experiences.

The story became so popular that Pamie refiled it at Gizmodo to give her own blog a break from the traffic. Since then actual female computer engineers have made their own renditions of the story, tweeting under hashtag #feministhackerbarbie with such great results as Barbie commenting on Steven’s pink laptop, or hacking into the KKK.

You can now make your own rendition via this site made by kaflurbaleen, a female programmer, heaven forbid Mattel!

My favourite rendition so far is Barbie the Debian Developer by Neil McGovern where Barbie is responsible for creating systemd. Now you know where to direct your anger.

Interestingly, the real book is no longer for sale at Amazon.Com and TechCrunch reports Mattel intervened and pulled it off the site.

Mattel has since published an apology on its official Barbie Facebook page apologising that the portrayal of Barbie in this specific story does not reflect Mattel’s vision for what Barbie stands for.

Mattel states “We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologise that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girl’s imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.”

Yet, my erstwhile colleagues inform me the book actually does reflect the brand, at least as it was in 2010. I am advised by one fellow journalist that his daughter has a library of Barbie books and they all essentially follow the same theme. Consequently, his take is the book may not reflect Mattel’s brand strategy going forward but it definitely was written in the same thematic style of Barbie books back in the long-gone era of simply four years ago. In other words, it is the brand Mattel is trying to shift. You may verify this by taking a stroll down the Barbie aisle of your local bookshop.

As another colleague quips, “If Mattel weren’t so shifty they could have shifted the brand ages ago instead of giving girls a shift sandwich.” Is the era of Mattel telling Brattels what they can and cannot do over? Time will tell.

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david@alivad.com (David M Williams) The Linux Distillery Fri, 21 Nov 2014 15:16:30 +1100