The wrong side of the law

The wrong side of the law

We have Alanis Morissette to thank for a recent upsurge in people's awareness of the true meaning of irony. Ms Morissette released a song a few years ago purporting to be about ironic stuff, and in fact demonstrated that she had no idea what irony was.

I have to confess here that I've not listened to the song in any great detail, since I find the screeching and caterwauling of this particular inexplicably successful `singer' unbearable, even for the purposes of research. However, the song is entitled Ironic and mentions such events as rain on your wedding day - which isn't ironic, just unfortunate. A series of similar misnomers in the song has been analysed and dissected to the point where Ms Morissette's fans are probably more aware than the average person about what does and does not qualify as irony. Socrates would be proud.

It is ironic that the Department of Justice, compiling the reports that might bury Microsoft once and for all (they won't, I'm just being dramatic), is using Microsoft applications running on Windows to do so. Despite offers from a number of quarters to `upgrade' them to other operating systems and alternative word processors (at least in the execution of its current mission), the DoJ has resolutely stuck by a technology solution - albeit a monopolistic one - that serves it best.

It's also ironic (although less so) that the process of compiling these reports has led the DoJ to discover a bug in Microsoft Word that might otherwise never have been found. The investigations of its persecutors have indirectly assisted Microsoft in improving one of its flagship products.

The bug, apparently, affects word counts in documents with footnotes longer than 14,000 words. I will of course refrain from comment on the readability of any document with 14,000-word footnotes. The longest thing I've ever written was only slightly longer than 14,000 words, and no single footnote ran to more than a couple of hundred words. I clearly do not share the DoJ's fanatical dedication to the art of footnoting. I'm no lawyer.

At any rate, I understand a patch has been made available, so all you zealous footnoters out there can cross-reference without fear that your words will go uncounted.

I've also found considerable irony in my recent dealings with my credit card provider. You see, I've had my card number nicked by person or persons nefarious, and used for no-goodness on the Internet. Only a few months ago (I should tell you which issue, but I'm too lazy) [July 14] I wrote a column defending credit card use on the Internet as a secure means of commerce.

The ironic thing is that I am still a staunch defender of e-commerce, but my bank is clearly not. In numerous discussions with the `disputed transactions' people, I've been lectured in the most condescending way about how terribly insecure it is to use your card on the Internet. I ended up lecturing back at one of them about how easy it is to misappropriate a credit card by non-electronic means. The fact is I don't know for a fact that my card was intercepted on the Net - that just happens to be how it has been used.

If I were a credit card provider, I would want to encourage an image of the Internet as an extremely safe and secure environment for commerce. The last thing I would do is tell people, as I was told, to send cheques instead.

Speaking of condescending lectures, there's a sideline in this worth mentioning. The first unauthorised use of my credit card was when I apparently purchased a membership in AdultCheck, an age verification service for Internet porn sites. Since I assumed this to be some sort of glitch and not the beginning of large-scale fraud, I called the company (whose phone number appeared on my credit card statement) and asked them to cancel the membership and refund my money.

To put it bluntly, they didn't believe me for a moment. They assumed my wife or significant other had discovered the payment and I was now trying to weasel my way out of it. It was only when `I' purchased three more memberships in AdultCheck that I got a sympathetic hearing. While it may make sense for a person to want an Internet porn membership (they're very popular I hear), why on Earth would anyone want four of them? (Don't answer that - I don't want to know.)It is, of course, not ironic that the credit card thief would have got away with the crime if they had an iota of common sense. Such stumbles are only to be expected.

Matthew JC. Powell is the editor of ARN's sister publication PC Buyer. E-mail him at matthew_powell@

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