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At Large: Pull the other one

At Large: Pull the other one

If you're interested, Matthew JC. Powell has a bridge he's willing to part with . . .

Some years ago, one of my colleagues ran a story in the magazine of which he was editor, which said that scientists had serendipitously discovered a unique way to extract higher performance out of any computer. The trick, according to the article, was to place a Mars bar on the motherboard (unwrapped) and allow it to melt. The resultant sugary, caramelised mess would improve the circuits' conductivity and boost performance several times over.

As a cautionary note, he said that the Mars bars had to be applied a certain way and may require trimming to fit certain computer models. He recommended consulting a specialist trained in the procedure, and gave the direct telephone number of Paul Zucker as a contact.

As you can imagine, Paul had a terrific laugh with the multitudinous callers who contacted him in hopes of enhancing their computing experience with chocolate. From memory, he had his extension changed after a couple of weeks.

The joke, of course, is that Mars bars are every bit as good for computers as they are for people. If only the picture on this page extended below my shoulders, you would see the devastation they can wreak. Oh, if only they weren't so sweet and chocolatey . . .

Sorry, I suddenly had an urge to go to the 7-11. Back now.

The people who responded to that article were prepared to take the authority of a computer journalist ahead of their own common sense. Had he not advised them to contact Paul (thus making Paul's life a misery) they would doubtless have turned their IT investments into sweet, delicious junk.

And they'd have avoided that embarrassment if they'd noticed it was the April 1 issue of the publication.

The gullibility of IT users is nothing new to read about - does the phrase "Windows 2000" mean anything to anyone? How about "Java is completely platform independent"? I do get a laugh sometimes. What is new is actual documented proof of the extent of that gullibility (if Windows 98 isn't enough).

A respected government body, specifically the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), played a joke recently. It set up a Web site for a company called Millennium Bug Insurance, and invited people to invest. It attracted people to the company's site (www.smbi.com.au) with banner ads placed strategically around the place saying "The Millennium Bug Could Make You Rich" - a fact which has no doubt already occurred to readers of this publication. The idea behind the company was simple: corporate paranoia about Y2K is running high, but governments and insurance agencies are being cagey about what, if any, financial compensation there will be for damages arising. MBI would specifically cover millennium catastrophes for big corporates, and therefore could charge astronomical premiums. If you want a slice of those premiums, said the site, all you have to do is commit to buying shares in this ground-floor opportunity.

Two hundred and thirty-three people committed to share packages worth $10,000 and $50,000, right there on the site. They handed over personal and business details and all the information required to make the deals - all up, MBI's IPO raked in $4 million - not a lot if you were wanting to start an insurance company, but a handy sum if you were running a scam.

The company, of course, doesn't exist. Those 233 people didn't bother to use ASIC's online facilities to find out if the company existed, and didn't question the lack of a prospectus. They also, like our caramel computer people, didn't question the fact that the IPO was dated April 1. They simply, gleefully, handed over their money. Most likely, they also thought they were pretty smart, taking all those big dumb corporations for a Y2K ride.

ASIC's press release says that it demonstrated that too many people have too much faith in the Internet to be reliable and trustworthy. I kind of wonder about ASIC myself - I can't think of anybody else who's run a $4 million online scam, just off the top of my head.

The whole incident has, of course, filled my head with notions. I not only have the facilities to start up a front company on the Internet (with IDG's resources of course), I am also a computer journalist.

Both of the above April Fool jokes suggest that this combination should make me one of the most trusted people alive, at least to a particular sector of the population.

I should be able to make people give me money, do me favours, drink the Kool-Aid (al a Jim Jones) - all from the anonymous safety of my Web site.

ASIC has 233 names, which should make a pretty good start.


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