One exhibit shown last week at Techfest, Microsoft's internal research fair, has riled some Harry Potter fans. Microsoft researchers showed off...

Share story

One exhibit shown last week at Techfest, Microsoft‘s internal research fair, has riled some Harry Potter fans.

Microsoft researchers showed off a digital clock they had developed that had a separate hand for each family member. Instead of numbers, the hands pointed to locations, such as home, work and school, and would show where a family member was at any time.

For Harry Potter fans, the setup sounded strikingly similar to a grandfather clock at the Weasley household in J.K. Rowling’s book “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” On that clock, the names of each family member was engraved on one of nine golden hands, which would point to locations or such words as “lost,” “traveling” or “mortal peril.”

At the Leaky Cauldron, a Harry Potter enthusiast site, fans howled in protest of what appeared to be a rip-off by Microsoft. Some even suggested that Rowling sue Microsoft.

The discussion prompted Tim Regan, a Microsoft researcher working on the project, to post that the clock was in fact inspired by the Weasley’s clock. Microsoft researchers, Regan said, wanted to see if they could create a working version for Muggles.

At any rate, the clock is a research project and not headed for stores anytime soon, so it’s not likely that Microsoft will profit from Rowling’s idea.

Heart of the network

Worldwide sales of Ethernet switches exceeded $12 billion in 2004, up 24.5 percent from the previous year, with market-leading Cisco Systems commanding a 75 percent share.

Source: Gartner

Exploring the options

The Mozilla Foundation‘s Firefox browser is slowly chipping away at the market share held by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and credit for some of that goes to none other than Google.

Gervase Markham, a Mozilla staffer, said last week at a conference in Brussels, Belgium, that a deal with Google has given Mozilla the money it needed to hire about 10 people, according to ZDNet. Firefox agreed last year to make Google its default Web search engine, and Google hosts the browser’s default start page.

The money from the partnership has also allowed Mozilla to open up five more as-yet-unfilled positions, according to ZDNet. Google has said all along that it isn’t developing its own Web browser (even though it has registered the domain, but its commitment to Firefox shows a definite interest.

Talk is cheap

Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA launched a new ad campaign last week, featuring subscribers who try to save money on their cellphone bills by talking very fast, according to Adweek.

Publicis in Seattle created the ad to show family members talking at ridiculously fast speeds. In it, a husband and wife furiously discuss grocery items, a teenager negotiates to extend her curfew and a son makes a high-speed plea for a ride home, the magazine reported.

To make the commercial more believable, the agency hired a full-time auctioneer to work with the actors in delivering their lines. The spot uses T-Mobile’s existing “Get more” campaign, but ads to it, using the tagline: “Get more minutes.”

The tagline extension is possibly to differentiate itself from Qwest. In a recent lawsuit, T-Mobile USA says Qwest is illegally using its trademarked “Get more.”

No small feat

Toshiba said it has made the Guinness World Records — for, ah, building the smallest direct methanol fuel cell.

The world’s smallest fuel cell will appear in the 2006 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records, and be introduced into commercial products this year, according to the company.

The cell is about as long and as wide as a thumb and is powerful enough to power an MP3 music player for as long as 20 hours on a single methanol cartridge.

On the record

Partnerships: Bellevue-based TeleSym is partnering with Seattle-based Active Voice to provide customers worldwide with VoIP technology. … Adaptix, a Seattle developer of wireless broadband technology, has struck an agreement with Interpeak, based in Stockholm, Sweden, to offer a mobile-technology package.

Awards: Seattle-based Envision Telephony‘s Performance Suite won Best Performance Management Solution in the Americas at’s Third Annual Members’ Choice Awards.

Download, a column of news bits, observations and miscellany, is gathered by The Seattle Times technology staff. We can be reached at 206-464-2265 or