If you're one of those people who enjoy having your eye fooled by a magician's sleight of hand or the bizarre twists of an MC Escher painting, I've got another type of optical illusion you can experience. Buy an optical drive with dual-sided media and watch half of its advertised capacity disappear before your eyes.
One witness to this remarkable trick is a reader we will call Mr Short, in honour of his coming up short of gigabytes with his Pinnacle Micro Apex 4.6GB magneto-optical drive.
"After I installed it, I found to my dismay that it only writes 2.3GB per side," said Short, who had purchased the drive to do overnight backups of more than 3GB of data. "Basically, the drive is only 2.3GB, but the media can hold 4.6GB if you use both sides."
Not without difficulty, Short finally managed to confirm with technical support at Pinnacle that the only way you get access to 4.6GB is to physically remove the media and turn it over.
The technician's attitude was that only a dummy wouldn't know that, although Short had not seen anything in the product literature that made it clear the drive only read one side at a time.
"Isn't it fraud to sell a 4.6GB drive that is only 2.3GB?" Short asked. I had to agree it sure sounded like it, but it also sounded like a fam-iliar tactic. So I suspected I knew what I'd hear when I contacted Pinnacle, and I wasn't disappointed.
"This is just the way the industry advertises optical storage products Ñ there's nothing we do that's unique," said Stuart Thomas, director of sales at Pinnacle. He added that all companies with 5.25in optical media quote the capacity of both sides. "Everybody does it this way, and that's the way it's always been. If we did it differently, people would just get confused."
Thomas also said the investment in an optical drive is steep enough that most customers do lots of research up front to understand what they are actually getting.
"In every technology there's some things that have to be explained," Thomas said. In other words, Short didn't do his homework, it's his own fault. "Nowhere in our literature does it say that the online capacity of the drive is 4.6GB."
Of course, nowhere in the product literature I found on Pinnacle's Web page did it say the online capacity was only 2.3GB, either. It does prominently claim "4.6GB capacity at 2 US cents per megabyte media cost" without any mention of the media being dual-sided. Only deep in the specification tables is there a hint the media has two sides with a capacity of 2.3GB per side, and even then it isn't clear that is the true online capacity. So exactly how was Short supposed to do his homework?
As Thomas suggested, it does appear to be true that everybody in the optical business promotes drives with dual-sided media by the total capacity of both sides.
"You can go right down the line," said Jim Porter, president of Disk/Trend -- a market analysis company specialising in the storage industry.
"Some of them make it a little clearer in their text than others, but they all do it. It is confusing to a customer who is not a sophisticate, and we think it's the wrong thing to do."
This is fraud
It's true that an experienced optical drive customer would not have made Short's mistake. But everyone is inexperienced with a new technology once.
Is Short a dummy for not realising the "4.6GB" in the Apex drive's name refers not to the online capacity of the drive but to the capacity of the media when it's sitting on the shelf?
Short may not be a sophisticated optical drive buyer, but he's right about one thing: this is fraud, whether it's being committed by one company or an entire industry.
If you've been deceived by this optical illusion, even if it was a while back, write to me at email@example.com with the details. Ultimately, I think we'll prove this to be more of an optical delusion, because the storage industry is only fooling itself if it thinks it can keep getting away with this.
Junk e-mailers target IT managers
One of the disagreeable aspects of junk e-mail is the way it is shotgunned to all regardless of interest. But keep in mind as you wade through the spam for get-rich-schemes and porn sites that it could be worse: bulk e-mailers might become all too discriminating in who gets their junk mail.
The reason this would be worse is corporate IT managers would very likely be their prime target.
A definite trend I'm seeing in the junk that e-mail readers forward to me is the clear intent of those who promote bulk e-mail as a business, to build targeted address lists of IT managers and other professional groups. Before we continue the debate we began two weeks ago about spam and freedom of speech Ñ which has generated an enormous response from readers Ñ let's examine this emerging phenomenon.
New sales tactics needed
It is not surprising that bulk e-mailers would seek to be more discriminating in the way they disseminate their dubious product. The only way most of them make any money now is by sending out enough junk e-mail to lure a few newbies into joining their pyramid schemes or buying their spamming tools. At some point the supply of naive newbies must start to dwindle, meaning they have to find another sales approach for their bulk e-mail services.
There are many signs that at least some of the bulk e-mailers already have IT managers in their sights. One sign is a growing number of junk messages advertising mailing lists supposedly containing "e-mail addresses for 50,000 IS directors". Another indication of the focus on IT professionals is the increasing frequency with which many find themselves getting unsolicited recruitment messages.
"The first time or two it's almost flattering," said a reader who has received a number of messages apparently sent to a list of IT managers with SAP experience. "Then I began to wonder how all these strangers are getting my name and how it is they know what I do".
One explanation of how address lists may be compiled is this message sent by an e-mail recruiter to one reader: "I queried the Boolean expression ÔLotus AND SQL AND analyst' in the Diedre Moire Million Plus rsum database and several Internet search engines. One of the retrieved rsums, postings, or pages advertised your e-mail address indicating that you would welcome inquiries on related subjects. I am looking to hire a business systems analyst to conduct testing, QA . . . and full life-cycle support. Knowledge of Lotus Notes, SQL, C, C++, Visual C++ required."
Recruitment e-mail is something of a grey area, just like some of the cases we've previously discussed where vendors send e-mail touting new products to customers who may not have given them their address for that purpose. But whether it is pure spam or borders on the legitimate, there's no question that a lot more stuff is coming your way.
Ed Foster has been writing about technology and consumer issues for nearly 20 years. Send him gripes about computer companies and products at firstname.lastname@example.org