This is not a warning

This is not a warning

Flushed with enthusiasm, Matthew JC. Powell wonders what to do with all this styrofoam . . .

I took delivery of my shiny new computer the other day, a mere few days after I placed my order. Lovely thing it is - fast processor, lots of RAM, big hard drive, big screen, Zip drive and a video capture card. Naturally, I wanted to leap right in and start installing software and getting on with the serious, business-oriented productivity that I bought it for. Like Quake and stuff.

Of course, being in Sydney, I had to boil it for a minute or so first, in order to avoid potentially deadly contamination. It's an annoyance, sure, especially finding a pot big enough. I ultimately had to do the monitor separately. But it's what we've got to do these days. I'm sure many of you, concerned for the safety and well-being of your customers, have started selling computers and software pre-boiled. It doesn't take very long, and your customers will appreciate your consideration.

If you're concerned about the effect that boiling water might have on semiconductors and hard drives and so on, I understand that a good jolt of steam will do the trick in most cases. The consequences of ignoring the crisis are too horrible to contemplate: how will you cope with the lawsuits when your customers go home and eat tainted computers?

There's been a lot of finger-pointing and scapegoating about who's to blame for all this contamination by parasites. I think it's important that we rise above all that. Personally, I blame left-wing do-gooders like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Electronic Frontiers Australia. All their bellyaching about how the US Government shouldn't restrict people from exporting strong crypto, and now look where it's got us. The stuff's everywhere, and you can't even drink a glass of water without a PGP key.

Safeguard in place

What this whole incident says to me is that it's about time we had some safeguards in place. This could be a great opportunity: set yourself up as an expert in the professional boiling and decontamination of computer equipment, and wait for the dollars to come rolling in from fretting customers.

In some ways I've found this whole "killer water" thing fairly amusing. Sitting around with friends and colleagues looking worried and drinking bottled water while discussing the precise and rather graphic effects of parasitic contamination - when have you ever heard the term "stinky burps" before in polite conversation? - reminds me of the doomsday talk that often dwells in the air around computer people.

Virus protection companies thrive on exactly this kind of paranoia, accompanying each new update with press releases about the hideous deforming effects of new viruses they've "isolated in the labs" and for which they have miraculously already managed to devise "vaccines". I once saw a promotional video for Symantec's AntiVirus Research Centre which showed concerned looking "technicians" in lab coats taking floppy disks out of safes with rubber gloves on their hands as if there was some possibility that they could contract and pass on the virus by touching the disks. All a bit of fun, but the message was clear: computer viruses are every bit as dangerous as Ebola, so be very very afraid.

And that's not really a problem. Computer viruses are real, they are unpleasant (especially if you're stupid enough not to have backed up your work) and they represent a legitimate business opportunity for Symantec and its ilk, and for resellers to throw in an extra box of software with a sale.

Big events

The fun comes with the "big event" viruses, things like the "Michelangelo" virus of a few years back, which had TV news people counting down, live, on air, to what they believed, or what someone wanted us to believe, was doomsday. It was nothing, of course, but the panic was exquisite.

The Millennium Thingy is the currently fashionable harbinger. Reading the research page of this publication over the past couple of months, you will have seen a detailed breakdown of how Australian businesses are dealing with the problem, and you will have seen that not all of them are ready for what lies ahead. My own opinion is that a little bit of diligence and some well-placed repair work will minimise the damage from Y2K, the world won't end, and hardly anybody will actually die. I'm an optimist.

The rather more pessimistic message, supported by our figures from Inform, is that enormous opportunities still exist for you to make money out of this if you are unafraid to sow the seeds of fear and paranoia in the minds of your customers. The fact that a real threat exists only makes that job easier.

If you doubt what I say, go talk to the marketing folks at Mount Franklin.

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