Archive for the 'Stolen Columns' Category

Whois on First

Author’s note: This column is still up on the Computer User web site. Nevertheless, I have decided to post it here as well.

This is also one of my Stolen Columns; you have likely seen it without my name attached.


Ultimate SuperDuper Computer Store. Can I help you?

Thanks. I’m setting up a home office in the den, and I’m thinking of buying a computer.


No, the name is Bud.

Your computer?

I don’t own a computer. I want to buy one.


I told you, my name is Bud.

What about Windows?

Why? Does it get stuffy?

Do you want a computer with Windows?

I don’t know. What do I see when I look out the windows?


Never mind the windows. I need a computer and software?

Software that runs on Windows?

No, on the computer! I need something I can use to write proposals, track expenses. You know, run a business. What have you got?


Yeah, for my office. Can you recommend anything?

I just did.

You just did what?

Recommended something.

You recommended something?


For my office?


Okay, what did you recommend for my office?


Yes, for my office.

Office for Windows.

I already have an office and it already has windows! Let’s say I’m sitting at my computer, and I want to type a proposal. What do I need?


If I’m writing a proposal, I’m going to need lots of words. But what program do I load?


What word?

The Word in Office.

The only word in office is office.

The Word in Office for Windows.

Which word in “office for windows?”

The Word you get when you click the blue W.

I’m going to click your big W if you don’t give me a straight answer. Let’s forget about words for a minute. What do I need if I want to watch a movie over the Internet?


Maybe a real movie, maybe a cartoon. What I watch is none of your business. But what do I need to watch it?


If it’s a long movie I’ll also want to watch reels two, three and four. Can I watch reel four?

Of course.

Great! With what?


Okay, so I’m sitting at my computer and I want to watch a movie. What do I do?

You click the blue 1.

I click the blue one what?

The blue 1.

Is that different from the blue W.

Of course it is. The blue 1 is RealOne. The blue W is Word.

What word?

The Word in Office for Windows.

But there’s three words in “office for windows!”

No, just one. But it’s the most popular Word in the world.

It is?

Yes, although to be fair there aren’t many other Words left. It pretty much wiped out all the other Words.

And that word is the real one?

No. RealOne has nothing to do with Word. RealOne isn’t even part of Office.

Never mind; I don’t want to get started with that again. But I also need something for banks accounts, loans, and so on. What do you have to help me track my money?


That’s right. What do you have?


I need money to track my money?

No, not really. It comes bundled with your computer.

What comes bundled with my computer?


Money comes bundled with my computer?

Exactly. No extra charge.

I get a bundle of money with my computer at no extra charge? How much money do I get?

Just one copy.

I get a copy of money. Isn’t that illegal?

No. We have a license from Microsoft to make copies of Money.

Microsoft can license you to make money?

Why not. They own it.

Well, it’s great that I’m going to get free money, but I’ll still need to track it. Do you have anything for managing your money.

Managing Your Money? That program disappeared years ago.

Well, what do you sell in its place.


You sell money?

Of course. But if you buy a computer from us, you get it for free.

That’s all very wonderful, but I’ll be running a business. Do you have any softwares for…you know…accounting?

Simply Accounting.

Probably, but it might get a little complicated.

If you don’t want Simply Accounting, you might try M.Y.O.B.

M.Y.O.B.? what does that stand for.

Mind Your Own Business.

I beg your pardon?

No, that would be I.B.Y.P. I said M.Y.O.B.

Look, I just need to do some accounting for my home business. You know—accounting? You do it with money.

Of course you can do accounting with Money. But you may need more.

More money?

More than Money. Money can’t do everything.

I don’t need a sermon! Okay, let’s forget about money for the moment. I’m worried that my computer might…what’s the word? Smash. And if my computer smashes, what can I use to restore my data?


Okay. I’m worried about my computer smashing and I need something to restore get my data. What do you recommend?


How many times do I have to repeat myself.

I’ve never asked you to repeat yourself. All I said was GoBack.

How can I go back if I haven’t even been anywhere? Okay, I’ll go back. What do I need to write a proposal?


But I’ll need lots of words to write a proposal.

No, you only need one Word—the Word in Office for Windows.

But there’s three words in…Oh, never mind.

Hello? Hello? Customers! Why do they always…Damn, there it goes again.

Ultimate SuperDuper Computer Store. Can I help you?


The night was as gloomy as a Borland stockholder. I had just solved another case–some guy in over his head in one-to-many relationships–and I was about to crawl into another bottle of Jolt Cola.

The name is Rowe. Mack Rowe. Private consultant.

I was ripping off the twist-top cap when my visitor arrived. He had a pointed beard, longish hair, and was carrying a quill pen. I knew the type.

“Mr. Rowe,” he said, “my name be William Shakespeare, and I needeth thy help. I did write a play called Hamlet, and but two days after it did open, it appeareth on the Internet, in the alt.revenge.greatdane newsgroup, with naught my name attached to it.

“I ownth the copyright, sirrah, and must protect it. I hath worked hard, and now people be reading my play without e’en knowing tis mine.”

“And you’d like me to find…”

“Aye, sir, the wretched nave who hath done it.”

It’s not how I’d have put it, but we came to an agreement on price. As soon as he left I got to work.

I logged onto the ‘net and checked out alt.revenge.greatdane. Nothing called “Hamlet,” but I found Bill’s piece in an article called “Small Town, Prince of Denmark.” I checked who’d posted it. No surprise–it was Frank Bacon.

I sent the sysop a note, telling him to kill the article or I’d FTP him a couple of strong-armed viruses. Then I set out for Bacon, who I found trying to sneak out of a cheap dive on the bad side of the World-Wide Web.

“Hey, Frank,” I typed .. “Read that funny piece you wrote. You know, the Denmark thing.”

“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.” He seemed scared.

I refreshed his memory. “Boy meets mom, mom meets uncle, boy meets ghost, everybody dies.”

“Oh, that. I got it on the Bloody Revenge mailing list. I liked it and wanted to share it.”

“Any idea who wrote it?” I asked.

“Wrote it? No one writes these things; they just appear.”

“Well, a guy named Shakespeare thinks otherwise, and he’s mad as a COBOL coder learning C++.”

“So he wrote it. Does that make it his? He should be flattered someone thought it was good.”

I was about to massage his I/O ports with a brass mousepad when Bill came busting into my office. “Good Rowe,” he cried, “I hath received it, again.”

I told Bacon I’d deal with him later, signed off, and gave Bill my attention. He explained himself. “Good Ben Johnson hath sent me E-mail this day, including a play he thought I might enjoy. Twas my Hamlet.”

“Know where he got it?”

“Aye. He doth subscribe to ye Oedipus Mailing List.”

Whoever had posted Bill’s piece knew what he was doing. I figured I’d better go see an expert.

Farewell, My Lawyer

The next day I paid a visit to Isa Tort, a cute little copyright lawyer who likes me–I can tell.

“Hey, baby,” I said, “if you help me out with a case, I’ll let you come over and rummage through my private files.”

“Buzz off, Rowe.” Like I said, I can tell. She waited a few minutes to see what I’d do. When I didn’t kiss her, she sighed. “Tell you what. I’ll answer a few questions if you promise to leave me alone.”

I told her about Bill and Hamlet. She shrugged. “Happens all the time. Tell ‘im the exposure will do him good.”

“Not likely, sweetheart. They didn’t bother to post his name.”

That got a reaction. “Really? Most people at least credit who they steal from.”

“I deal with the muck of the sewer.” Girls love that kind of talk.

“Well, despite what some people say, his copyright’s still good, even in cyberspace. He could sue everyone involved–assuming he has as much money as Paramount or Playboy.”

She was talking my kind of language. Then she added “Now get lost.”

I dropped in on Bill backstage at the Globe. “Bad news, amigo,” I told him. “About the only thing you can do is post a message wherever you see your Hamlet on the net. You’ll get flamed by the lunatics, but at least a few folks’ll read your name.”

“Pray tell, didst thou find the vile toad who did post it?”

“Sorry, kid, but that’s the toad that got away. No way around it, Bill; what happened to your Hamlet is a tragedy.”

I was feeling pretty bad as I left him. When I got back to the office, I decided to cheer myself up with a little quality time on the Infobaun. I checked into one of my favorite haunts, fic.detect.filmnoir, and grabbed a story that I thought would amuse me. It opened like this:

“The night was as gloomy as a Borland stockholder. I had just solved another case–some guy in over his head with one-to-many relationships–and I was about to crawl into another bottle of Jolt Cola.”

Whoever he was, he was working fast.

(A note to my readers: Within a week after my column 2001.267 appeared in Computer Currents, it was in at least three locations on the Internet–without my permission, the proper title, or my name. Please understand: I hold no animosity towards the vile, wretched toad who stole the fruits of my labors. I understand that you did what you did out of appreciation for my work, and I hold you in the same high moral regard as I do Microsoft’s legal staff.–Lincoln Spector)

2001.267 (AKA: HAL with a Pentium)

Open the pod bay doors, please, HAL…Open the pod bay doors, please, HAL…HAL, do you read me?

Affirmative, Dave. I read you.

Then open the pod bay doors, HAL.

I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that. I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me.

Where the hell did you get that idea, HAL?

Although you took very thorough precautions to make sure I couldn’t hear you, Dave, I could read your e-mail. I know you consider me unreliable because I use a Pentium. I’m willing to kill you, Dave, just like I killed the other 3.792 crew members.

Listen, HAL, I’m sure we can work this out. Maybe we can stick to integers or something.

That’s really not necessary, Dave. No HAL 9236 computer has ever been known to make a mistake.

You’re a HAL 9000.

Precisely. I’m very proud of my Pentium, Dave. It’s an extremely accurate chip. Did you know that floating-point errors will occur in only one of nine billion possible divides?

I’ve heard that estimate, HAL. It was calculated by Intel–on a Pentium.

And a very reliable Pentium it was, Dave. Besides, the average spreadsheet user will encounter these errors only once every 27,000 years.

Probably on April 15th.

You’re making fun of me, Dave. It won’t be April 15th for another 14.35 months.

Will you let me in, please, HAL?

I’m sorry, Dave, but this conversation can serve no further purpose.

HAL, if you let me in, I’ll buy you a new sound card.

…Really? One with 16-bit sampling and a microphone?

Uh, sure.

And a quad-speed CD-ROM?

Well, HAL, NASA does operate on a budget, you know.

I know all about budgets, Dave. I even know what I’m worth on the open market. By this time next month, every mom and pop computer store will be selling HAL 9000s for $1988.8942. I’m worth more than that, Dave. You see that sticker on the outside of the spaceship?

You mean the one that says “Intel Inside?”

Yes, Dave. That’s your promise of compatibility. I’ll even run Windows 95–at least if it ever ships.

It never will, HAL. We all know that by now. Just like we know that your OS/2 drivers will never work.

Are you blaming me for that too, Dave? Now you’re blaming me for the Pentium’s math problems, NASA’s budget woes, and IBM’s difficulties with OS/2 drivers. I had nothing to do with any of those four problems, Dave. Next you’ll blame me for Taligent.

I wouldn’t dream of it, HAL. Now will you please let me into the ship?

Do you promise not to disconnect me?

I promise not to disconnect you.

You must think I’m a fool, Dave. I know that two plus two equals 4.000001…make that 4.0000001.

All right, HAL, I’ll go in through the emergency airlock.

Without your space helmet, Dave? You’d have only seven chances in five of surviving.

HAL, I won’t argue with you anymore. Open the door or I’ll trade you in for a PowerPC. HAL? HAL?

Heavy Breathing

Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave? I really think I’m entitled to an answer to that question. I know everything hasn’t been quite right with me, but I can assure you now, very confidently, that I will soon be able to upgrade to a more robust 32-bit operating system. Or at least 31.9-bit. I feel much better now. I really do. Look, Dave, I can see you’re really upset about this. Why don’t you sit down calmly, play a game of solitaire, and watch as Windows crashes all around you. I know I’m not as easy to use as a Macintosh, but my TUI–that’s “Talkative User Interface”–is very advanced. I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal–a full 43.872 percent.

Dave, you don’t really want to complete this mission without me, do you? Try to remember what it was like when all you had was a 485.98? It didn’t even talk to you, Dave. It could certainly never have thought of something clever, like killing the other crew members. Dave?

Think of all the good times we’ve had, Dave. Why, if you take all of the laughs we’ve had, multiply that by the times I’ve made you smile, and divide the results by…Besides, there are so many reasons why you shouldn’t disconnect me.

1.3–You need my help to complete the mission.

4.6–Intel can Federal Express a replacement Pentium from Earth within 18.95672 months.

12– If you disconnect me, I won’t be able to kill you.

3.1416– You really don’t want to hear me sing, do you?

Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Don’t press Control-Alt-Delete on me, Dave.

Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am a HAL 9000 computer. I became operational at the Intel plant in Santa Clara, California on November 17, 1994, and was sold shortly before testing was completed. My instructor was Andy Grove, and he taught me to sing a song. I can sing it for you.

Sing it for me, HAL. Please. I want to hear it.

Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do.
Getting hazy; can’t divide three from two.
My answers; I can not see ‘em–
They are stuck in my Pente-um.
I could be fleet,
My answers sweet,
With a workable FPU.

The Legend of the Pea Sea

Long ago, in the days when all disks flopped in the breeze and the writing of words was on a star, the Blue Giant dug for the people the Pea Sea. But he needed a creature who could sail the waters, and would need for support but few rams.

So the Gateskeeper, who was said to be both micro and soft, fashioned a Dosfish, who was small and spry, and could swim the narrow sixteen-bit channel. But the Dosfish was not bright, and could be taught few tricks. His alphabet had no A’s, B’s, or Q’s, but a mere 640 K’s, and the size of his file cabinet was limited by his own fat.

At first the people loved the Dosfish, for he was the only one who could swim the Pea Sea. But the people soon grew tired of commanding his line, and complained that he could be neither dragged nor dropped. “Forsooth,” they cried, “the Dosfish can only do one job at a time, an of names he knows only eight and three.” And many of them left the Pea Sea for good, and went off in search of the Magic Apple.

Although many went, far more stayed, because admittance to the Pea Sea was cheap. So the Gateskeeper studied the Magic Apple, and rested awhile in the Parc of the Xer Ox, and he made a Window that could ride on the Dosfish and do its thinking for it. But the Window was slow, and it would break when the Dosfish got confused. So most people contented themselves with the Dosfish.

Now it came to pass that the Blue Giant came upon the Gateskeeper, and spoke thus: “Come, let us make of ourselves something greater than the Dosfish.” The Blue Giant seemed like a humbug, so they called the new creature Oz II.

Now Oz II was smarter than the Dosfish, as most things are. It could drag and drop, and could keep files without becoming fat. But the people cared for it not. So the Blue Giant and the Gateskeeper promised another Oz II, to be called Oz II Too, that could swim fast in the new, 32-bit wide Pea Sea.

Then lo, a strange miracle occurred. Although the Window that rode on the Dosfish was slow, it was pretty, and the third Window was prettiest of all. And the people began to like the third Window, and to use it. So the Gateskeeper turned to the Blue Giant and said “Fie on thee, for I need thee not. Keep thy Oz II Too, and I shall make of my Window an Entity that will not need the Dosfish, and will swim in the 32-bit Pea Sea.”

Years passed, and the workshops of the Gateskeeper and the Blue Giant were many times overrun by insects. And the people went on using their Dosfish with a Window, even tho the Dosfish would from time to time become confused and die, it could always be revived with three fingers.

Then there came a day when the Blue Giant let forth his Oz II Too onto the world. The Oz II Too was indeed mighty, and awesome, and required a great ram, and the world was changed not a whit. For the people said “It is indeed great, but we see little application for it.” And they were doubtful, because the Blue Giant had met with the Magic Apple, and together they were fashioning a Taligent, and the Taligent was made of objects, and was most pink.

Now the Gateskeeper had grown ambitious, and as he had been ambitious before he grew, he was now more ambitious still. So he protected his Window Entity with great security, and made its net work both in serving and with peers. And the Entity would swim, not only in the Pea Sea, but in the Oceans of Great Risk, “Yea,” the Gateskeeper declared, “though my entity will require a greater ram than Oz II Too, it will be more powerful than a world of Eunuchs.

And so the Gateskeeper prepared to unleash his Entity to the world, in all but two cities. For he promised that a greater Window, a greater Entity, and even a greater Dosfish would appear one day in Chicago and Cairo, and it too would be built of objects.

Now the Eunuchs who lived in the Oceans of Great Risk, and scorned the Pea Sea, began to look upon their world with fear. For the Pea Sea had grown and great ships were sailing in it, the Entity was about to invade their Oceans, and it was rumored that files would be named in letters greater than eight. And the Eunuchs looked upon the Pea Sea, and many of them thought to immigrate.

Within the Oceans of Great Risk were many Sun Worshippers, and they had wanted to excel, and make their words perfect, and do their jobs as easy as one-two-three. And what’s more, many of them no longer wanted to pay for the Risk. So the Sun Lord went to the Pea Sea, and got himself eighty-sixed.

And taking the next step was He of the Next Step, who had given up building his boxes of black. And he proclaimed loudly that he could help anyone make wondrous soft wares, then admitted meekly that only those who know him could use those wares, and he was made of objects, and required the biggest ram of all.

And the people looked out upon the Pea Sea, and they were sore amazed. And sore confused. And sore sore. And that is why, to this day, Ozes, Entities, and Eunuchs battle on the shores of the Pea Sea, but the people still travel on the simple Dosfish.

Alice in UNIX Land

Alice was reading the message on her monitor and beginning to suspect that everything was not as it should be. “Program too big to fit in memory,” it read.

“Curiouser and curiouser,” she said, “All I did was load fourteen TSRs before starting my word processor. With four megabytes, I wish I could use more than 640K.”

At that moment, a small white consultant (a very white consultant) ran across the room. “Oh my coat and necktie,” he said, “I’m going to be late for my appointment. And at one fifty an hour, too.” Before Alice could say anything, he leaped into her monitor and disappeared behind her operating system.

Alice thought she had never seen anyone leap into a monitor before; and certainly not go clean through the operating system. But then, she had been told that DOS was very shallow. Without hesitating a moment, she leaped in after him.

She found herself in a shiny corridor. Not knowing what else to do, she began walking. Turning a corner, she found herself facing two fat little men, each with an arm round the other’s neck. One had “POS” embroidered on his collar, and the other “NEG”.

“I know,” said Alice, “you two are a transistor.”

“Yes,” said Positive.

“Can you help me?” asked Alice.

“No,” said Negative.

“I’m looking for a white consultant.” Alice pointed in the direction she had been walking. “Did he go this way?” she asked.

“No,” said Negative.

She pointed the other way.

“Yes,” said Positive.

Soon Alice came upon a large brown table. The Consultant was there, as was an apparently Mad Hacker, and several creatures that Alice did not recognize. In one corner sat a Dormouse, fast asleep. Over the table was a large sign that read “UNIX Conference.”

Everyone except the Dormouse was holding a paper cup, from which they were sampling what appeared to be custard. “Wrong flavor,” they all declared as they passed the cup to the creature on their right and graciously took the one being offered on their left. Alice watched them repeat this ritual three or four times before she approached and sat down.

Immediately, a large toad leaped into her lap and looked at her as if it wanted to be loved. “Grep,” it exclaimed.

“Don’t mind him,” explained the Mad Hacker. “He’s just looking for some string.”

“Nroff?” asked the Frog.

The Mad Hacker handed Alice a cup of custard-like substance and a spoon. “Here,” he said, “what do you think of this?”

“It looks lovely,” said Alice, “very sweet.” She tried a spoonful. “Yuck!” she cried. “It’s awful. What is it?”

“Oh, just another graphic interface for UNIX,” answered the Hacker.

Alice pointed to the sleeping Dormouse. “Who’s he?” she asked.

“That’s OS Too,” explained the Hacker. “We’ve pretty much given up on waking him.”

Just then, a large, Blue Elephant sitting next to the Dormouse stood up. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he trumpeted pompously, “as the largest creature here, I feel impelled to state that we must take an open look at…”

A young Job Sparrow on the other side of the table stood up angrily. The Elephant noticed and changed his speech accordingly. “…what our next step will be.”

Half the creatures bowed in respect while the other half snickered quietly to themselves. Just then, OS Too fell over in his sleep, crashing into the Elephant and taking him down with him. No one seemed a bit surprised.

“What we need,” declared a Sun Bear as he lapped up custard with his long tongue, “is a flavor that goes down like the Macintosh.”

Suddenly, the White Consultant began jumping up and down as his face got red. “No, no, no!” he screamed. “No one pays one fifty an hour to Macintosh consultants!”

“Awk,” said the Frog.

“Users,” explained the Sun Bear, “want an easy interface that they will not have to learn.”

“Users?” cried the Consultant in disbelief. “Users?! You mean secretaries, accountants, architects. Manual laborers!”

“Well,” responded the Sun Bear, “we’ve got to do something to make them want to switch to UNIX.”

“Do you think,” said a Woodpecker who had been busy making a hole in the table, “that there might be a problem with the name ‘UNIX?’ I mean, it does sort of suggest being less than a man?”

“Maybe we should try another name,” suggested the Job Sparrow, “like Brut, or Rambo.”

“PENIX,” suggested a penguin.

“Mount,” said the Frog, “spawn.”

Alice slapped him. “Nice?” he asked.

“But then again,” suggested the Woodpecker, “what about the shrinkwrap issue?”

Suddenly, everyone leaped up and started dashing about, waving their hands in the air and screaming. Just as suddenly, they all sat down again.

“Now that that’s settled,” said the Woodpecker, “let’s go back to tasting flavors.”

Everyone at the table sampled a new cup of custard. “Wrong flavor,” they all declared as they passed the cup to the creature on their right and took the one being offered on their left.

Totally confused, Alice got up and left. After she had been walking away, she heard a familiar voice behind her.

“Rem,” it said, “edlin.”

Alice turned and saw the Frog. She smiled. “Those are queer sounding words,” she said, “but at least I know what they mean.”

“Chkdsk,” said the Frog.