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By Joel Klebanoff

Keep the Scumware Flowing

I've been doing some serious thinking. Whoa! I better lie down for a while. That hurts. It hurts like hell!

. . . OK. I've taken a mega-dose of analgesic. I think I can struggle on. As I said, I've been thinking. In previous tirades, I've done an awful lot of whining and complaining (my only two real skills) about the, as I've so lamentably considered them in the past, vicious, evil, scum-sucking degenerates who are foisting spyware, spam, viruses, Trojan horses, and other malevolent bits and bytes on us. I'm beginning to change my mind about them. I'm no longer so sure that they're entirely bad.

Think about it. If it weren't for them, thousands--maybe even millions--of honest, hard-working people would be out pounding the pavement. Well, maybe only a few of the more mentally challenged of them would be actually pounding pavement, since that seems like such a fruitless endeavor. Most of them would be looking for work, but you get the picture.

Loaded on my computer right now, I have a firewall, an anti-virus program, an anti-spyware program, and a spam filter. All of them are either running continuously in the background or waiting to go to work as soon as email comes knocking on my computer's door. Their sole purpose is to protect me, or rather to try to protect me, from the electronic nastiness that regularly comes my way. In addition, there's another firewall on the router that stands between my DSL modem and my computer. There is also a second spam filter running on a server at my Internet Service Provider (ISP).

If it weren't for the evil varieties of hackers, con artists, sleazy marketers (no, despite what you might have heard, we're not all sleazy), and just plain crooks who send all of the wicked stuff our way, neither I nor anyone else would need any of the protective software. In addition to being a tad upsetting for the shareholders of the companies that make these products, such an eventuality would throw a lot of developers at many companies out of work. And what would happen to all of the people who write the totally incomprehensible users' manuals for these tools? It takes a lot of person-years to compose those documents. Do you think it's easy to put together a complete manual that appears to be written in English, yet cannot be unambiguously understood in its entirety by a single soul in the English-speaking world?

Furthermore, killing the market for protective software would also cut off the incomes of the vendors' executives, managers, marketers, salespeople, customer aggravators (companies that play fast and loose with the truth sometimes refer to them as customer service representatives), support staff, maintenance workers, cafeteria chefs and servers, onsite masseuses, in-house fitness instructors, pinball machine repairers, and the people who clean the washrooms. Obviously, I'm exaggerating a little bit here. Even if you don't have a job, you still have to go, so the washroom cleaners could probably find other jobs quickly.

It's not just companies developing protective software that would be in trouble. If I didn't have to run all of those applications, a 20-year-old pocket calculator would probably provide enough computing power to meet my needs. Of course, I'd have to also get rid of all of the bloatware from a certain exceptionally large software company headquartered in Redmond, Washington, which I won't name. Let's just call it MS to protect its identity; its identity is not what matters here. Think of all of the computer manufacturing jobs in China that would be lost if we didn't have to replace our obsolete computers every few months when they no longer have enough power to run all of the new, expanded protective software that we now need.

Then there are all of the security consultants charging unconscionably large fees to, first, offer advice to companies on ways to secure their data centers and desktop computers and, second, either run like the wind (gale force, at least) before something defeats the prescribed defenses or make sure that they've already found someone else to blame for the failure. What would they do if there were no longer any risks to protect against? There's no market for snake oil today, so they'd have to look elsewhere. (I apologize in advance for that cheap shot. It's totally unfair. I went for the easy laugh. If you're a security consultant, you are, no doubt, one of the many fine exceptions that prove the rule. Or maybe not. You decide.)

I can't remember the last single day when I saw less than a half dozen articles talking about some new computer threat, an old threat that has worsened or morphed into something else, the consequences of the threats, or what we should do to protect ourselves from them. And those are just the articles that my eyes alight on. I only peruse a very small fraction of 1% of the publications that are available in the world. There are undoubtedly many more articles about technology malfeasance that I never see. If there weren't any of these sorts of stories to report on, what would all of the journalists walking the high tech beat do? They'd be seeking new employment too. That's what.

I can confirm the previous statement. I know that if there weren't all of the high tech evilness that there is in the world today I'd certainly have trouble finding things to rant about every week. But that's OK. Don't worry about me. I'm not important. I'll suffer. By the way, have I ever mentioned my Jewish heritage? Suffering is my middle name. I've never forgiven my parents for that.

Even if you aren't a computer journalist and you don't work for a software or hardware firm, your job may still not be safe. Consider how much time ordinary employees at companies of all sorts, and the IT support staff who have to hold their hands, spend installing all of the preventative software and fixing the problems caused by the electronic vandalism that inevitably sneaks past it. If we could eliminate all of that wasted time, companies could probably cut their staffs in half and still get as much productive work done, if not more. So while you're at work, look at the person to the left of you and the person to right. If we can get rid of all of the garbage that haunts our computers, one of those people might be gone tomorrow. While you're at it, look in the mirror. You might be the one who gets the axe.

There will also be a lot of secondary job losses. It's hard to afford a grande, low-fat, decaf, caramel, macchiato, extra-hot, extra-foam latte and a chocolate croissant when you haven't got a steady income--or any income at all for that matter. So you can say goodbye to a lot of baristas too. While I'm at it, think how much less time we'd spend in line-ups at Starbucks if people would just ask for a doppio espresso instead of all of that sissified crap. What are they, little wimps who are afraid it'll keep them awake at night? Big deal! Get over it! You probably sleep way too much anyway. But I digress.

Another regrettable outcome is that a lot of people who would have bought new cars will, for economic reasons, be forced to buy used (sorry, pre-owned) vehicles instead. Unfortunately that will mean that, in addition to a lot fewer workers at car plants and new car dealers, we'll have to put up with a lot more used car salespeople. There are a lot of jokes about loud, plaid suits and loud lying that I could use here, but they are all way too obvious, so I'll pass.

Spend just a few moments pondering the inevitable effects of those massive job losses. The world economy would collapse. There would be widespread poverty. Poverty would lead to famine. The resulting malnutrition would lead to weakened immune systems. Weakened immune systems, coupled with the festering bacteria seeping from sewage systems that are non-existent or degrading due to under-funding, would lead to wide-ranging incidences of deadly diseases. Oppressive poverty would also breed looting and other violent acts. Citizens would mount the ramparts, demanding that their governments act decisively. Outbursts of rioting, rebellions, and insurgencies would occur in various spots around the world. In other words, it would look very much like an average day on the planet, only more so. And who wants that?

So, please, before you do anything else today, remember to take the time to say a heartfelt thank you to your friendly local malevolent hackers and spam artists. Make them your friends. Buy them a round of drinks. Your job and the very fabric of society may depend on it. Just keep them the hell away from my damned computer!

This article originally appeared as part of a weekly series of "Tech Tirades" in MC TNT from MC Press Online. The first year's worth of Tech Tirades does not appear here. Instead, you can find them in BYTE-ing Satire.

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