Archive Page 2

Rhyme Without Reason

Edgar Allan Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary
Over many a mystic message, errors I could not ignore—
Soul as dark as looters looting, my PC I thought of shooting.
Damn machine that would, when booting, give me errors I abhor.
No programs, documents, or settings. Just the errors I abhor.
Only this, and nothing more.

Ah, distinctly I remember, something written in assembler
When installed did quick dismember Windows to its very core.
Though the program was not beta, wiped my settings and my data
Oh, you cruel, corrupting fate! A chill that reached me to the core.
Nothing like a bad computer chills me to the very core.
‘Tis the thing I most deplore.

As I sat there, terror-stricken—data gone in Word and Quicken—
In my office strode a chicken—dignified, the air she bore.
Fearing neither sun nor winter, cut or burn or wooden splinter,
Climbed onto my laser printer, four feet high above the floor.
Over paper, plugs, and cables, four feet high above the floor.
Laid an egg and nothing more.

Seeing her, my soul grew higher; smiling, I said “Welcome, fryer,
“There is something I desire. So I’ll ask, so I’ll implore.
“Windows finds in me but error; fills my soul with darkest terror.
“Will I boot up sweet and fair or will my system work no more?
“Oh, my fine and feathered chicken, will my system work once more?
Quote the chicken, “No restore.”

Hearing that, my pulse did quicken, but to listen to a chicken
Would imply a skull that’s thickened to a width not seen before.
Fearing mind of mine would crack up, swearing not to get my hack up,
Cried I “Wait! I have a backup! Back up in my cabinet drawer.”
But my backup was too old. Three years it sat within my cabinet draw.
Quote the chicken, “No restore.”

And the chicken, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On that cabled laser printer as her mess grows on my floor.
And her eyes have all the knowing of a monitor that’s glowing
And my chances are not growing that my data I’ll restore.
Not my data nor my Windows nor my pride will I restore.
All is gone forevermore.

Ernest Lawrence Thayer

It looked extremely busy doing Tech Support that day,
With broken links and missing files, CDs that wouldn’t play.
Some called with printers out of ink or errors in their RAM,
In hopes they’d speak to someone who would know and give a damn.

But Tech Support phone answerers were not a knowing lot,
To check things in a database was all that they were taught.
“If Casey just could be here,” they all thought with a groan.
The questions would be answered right with Casey on the phone.

Then from the gladdened multitude went up some joyous yells,
It rumbled in the IBMs, it rattled in the Dells;
It bounced off of the servers with enthusiastic tone.
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the phone.

Now Casey took a call and got a woman on the line
Who said “It’s all now broken. Yesterday, it worked just fine.
“Your software on your hardware doesn’t work as we had planned.”
But Casey shook his head and said “We don’t support that brand.”

A panicked voice caught Casey’s ear on phone call number two.
The voice cried “There’s no Windows, just white words on screen of blue.”
Casey said “Hold on a moment and all things will work out fine.”
Then with one triumphant gesture he did disconnect the line.

The next call was so simple that it make good Casey smile.
The user had misplaced what was a most important file.
“This problem is so simple,” Casey said with great dispatch,
“Just format your drive C: and install everything from scratch.”

The smile remained on Casey’s lips as he hung up the phone,
For little did he know that for this sin he must atone.
That call was not from any Tom, Dick, Mary, Jack, or Moe,
But the top guy in the company; ’twas Casey’s CEO.

Oh, somewhere tech reps answer phones, tell people what they need,
To help them use computers when the doc they cannot read.
Oh, somewhere folks are helpful, with PCs and Internet.
But Casey isn’t near them. Tech support’s now in Tibet.

Lewis Carroll

‘Twas gator, and the sasser code
Did phish and spoof throughout mydoom.
All kazaa in the toptext mode
And the welchia in bloom.

“Beware the JavaScript, my son,
The pages vile, the Spam so thick.
Beware the netsky bird and shun
The cookies doubleclick.”

He took his Spybot sword in hand.
The bagle foe could not prevail!
So rested he by the PPP
And downloaded his mail.

And, as he stood in phatbot dell,
The JavaScript, with eyes sobig,
Came loading through the DSL
Alexa as a pig!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
With Norton blade, the worm he checked!
Its blaster lost, its cookies tossed,
No more would it infect.

“And has thou slain the JavaScript?
Come to my arms, my boy so fine!
O WiFi day! O plug and play!
We safely go online!”

‘Twas gator, and the sasser code
Did phish and spoof throughout mydoom.
All kazaa in the toptext mode
And the welchia in bloom.


Sing, goddess, the anger of Pentium’s son Athlon…

Oh, forget it. The Iliad has suffered enough, lately!


Notebook of the Damned

My son Nebuchadnezzar came home from college the other day. And this time he came with more than his dirty laundry—he brought home his notebook.

He generally doesn’t let me get anywhere near his PC. I suspect he doesn’t want me to see any record of the Web sites and chat rooms he frequents. Talk about dirty laundry.

“Dad,” he said, as soon as he’d filled the washing machine and emptied the refrigerator, “I need your help. My computer is evil.”

That sounded serious. Evil is a word he generally reserves for ex-girlfriends. “What’s the problem?” I asked.

“When I open Outlook Express, Microsoft Word crashes. When I reopen Word, QuickTime crashes. When I relaunch QuickTime, Outlook Express crashes—followed by Internet Explorer, Photoshop, and Where in the Hell is Carmen Miranda—and I don’t even own that game. Then I get the blue screen of death, the yellow window of eternal dread, and the red icon of the living nightmare.”

“Sounds serious,” I admitted. “Do you have a current backup?”

“A current what?”

“Never mind. Let’s boot it up and see what we can see.”

We plugged in the AC adapter and booted up the machine. Half an hour later the system was up and running. “How many programs are you loading at startup?” I asked.

“Am I loading programs at startup?”

I brought up the Run box, typed “msconfig,” and pressed Enter. The System Configuration Utility appeared briefly, then vanished in a puff of code. “You’ve got the Bagel Beagle virus,” I told him. “It’s a good thing I didn’t plug into your Ethernet port and connect you to the network.”

“You don’t have to,” he said proudly. “I bought a WiFi card.”

Killing the Bagel Beagle

I quickly removed his WiFi card and set about to remove the virus. This involved erasing 18 specific files, replacing 23 infected programs from the original CDs, and re-editing half the Registry—not easy since Bagel Beagle also disables regedit. I finally managed with the help of some useful freeware, an old backup program, and a live goat.

The virus removed, I rebooted the notebook. A half hour later, I was finally able to try msconfig. The Startup tab contained more entries than Bill Gates’ stock portfolio. I unchecked everything except a few essentials and rebooted. The boot now took only fifteen minutes.

“Wow,” he exclaimed. “I didn’t know it was so fast!”

But when I opened Microsoft Word, then Outlook Express, the results were exactly what Nebuchadnezzar described.

“Okay, so that wasn’t it,” I admitted. “Maybe I can find a solution online.”

I launched Internet Explorer, waited, read the error message, plugged the WiFi card back in, and tried again. Up came an extremely graphic page promising “A Million and One Beautiful, Bare, Bodacious Babes,” followed in quick succession by a million and one additional browser windows.

“Oh, yeah,” added Nebuchadnezzar, “that’s another problem I’ve been having, lately.”

“Did you try changing it back?” Nebuchadnezzar’s no hacker, but he knows how to change his home page.

“Yeah, I changed it back to…um…what I had before. But then it just changed back to this.”

“Well, let’s try it again. What’s your preferred home page?”

He looked away from me. “It’s, um…”

I changed it to my preferred home page. It seemed to stick. I even rebooted and it stuck. So I clicked the browser’s Search icon and got a Million and One Beautiful, Bare, Bodacious Babes and a million and one browser windows. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “It happens there, too.”

Changing the search panel is very much like changing the home page, except that instead of using a dialog box, you hack the Registry. Thankfully, with Bagel Beagle gone, I could now use regedit (good thing, too—I was running out of goats), where I changed the search setting. Of course, I changed it to a Mystery Science Theater fan page, but at least it wasn’t doing any harm.

Back to Square One

The browser was now acting properly, but Outlook Express still caused a chain reaction that would have made Edward Teller proud. So I went to a proper search page, typed in a few appropriate keywords, pressed Enter, and waited to see what I found.

One site looked very promising. “What to do when Outlook Express crashes Microsoft Word, which crashes QuickTime, which crashes Outlook Express, Internet Explorer, Photoshop, and Where in the Hell is Carmen Miranda—even if you don’t own that game.” I clicked it, and up came a Million and One Beautiful, Bare, Bodacious Babes and a million and one browser windows.

I returned to msconfig and eliminated a new autoloading program called “This Is A Completely Innocent Program That Has Nothing To Do With A Million and One Babes.exe.” Then I rebooted and reset both the home and search pages. Then I did the search again and went to the same link.

The fix, as it turned out, involved opening up Outlook Express’ Options dialog box, and unchecking the “Mess Up Everything When I Load Word” option. Who would have thought.

“There,” I said triumphantly when everything loaded normally (if you can call anything Windows does normal).

“Great! Thanks a lot, Dad.” Then he paused. “While you’re at it, do you suppose you can figure out why the CD drive no longer plays audio CDs, the tab key inserts a tilde, and the contents of My Documents gets wiped out with every boot?”

By now it was getting dark, and his last load was almost dry. “Nebuchadnezzar,” I said, “I think maybe it’s time to buy you a new computer.”

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 Tragedy of DSL

Author’s Note: This column is still available at the ComputerUser Web site. However, I’m reposting it here because they didn’t properly format a play in verse.


Act 1

Recording: Thy call’s gone through to Broadband ISP.
To order DSL please dial a One.
If billing questions have thee, then press Two.
If trouble with thy line, please dial a Three.
We value great thy call, so be not cold;
For fifteen minutes more now wait on hold.

(30 minutes later)
Technician 1: My name be John. What problem do you have?

Hamlet: A heart so full of woe to shame the gods.
My father dead. My mother newly wed
To mine own uncle who hath stole my crown.
But worst of all, like demon born of Hell,
Connection’s lost; I hath no DSL.

Tech1: I sorry am. Is thy computer on?

Ham: It is.

Tech1:        And that does not the problem solve?

Ham: A boot cannot return me to the Net.

Tech1: Then follow this advice, unlucky soul.
Format thy disk, then Windows reinstall.

Ham: ‘Z wounds! Tis hard. Is there no other way?

Tech1: Nay. None. Do you these things of which I say.
And if connection fair thou can’t reclaim
Call back, and thou make ask for me by name.

Act II

Technician 2: My name be Sue. What problem do you have?

Ham: To John I must now speak. Please transfer me.

Tech2: A John I do not know. Perhaps he works
In office far away. So spread are we
That I know not if Texas or Japan
Is where he sits. Did family name he give?

Ham: Alas, did not. Nor state the place he works.

Tech2: He should have. If a call back he did ask.

Ham: And will thou give me last name and address?

Tech2: I would except our rules say I cannot.
I ask again what problem do you have?

Ham: My DSL connection doth not work.

Tech2: I sorry am. Is thy computer on?

Ham: It tis. And that does not the problem solve.
Nor Windows reinstall, for this I’ve tried.

Tech 2: Fear not, brave soul. To hope thou must now cling.
Your sometime broad IP address I’ll ping.
Alas, now mourn. My ping tis all tim’d out.
There’s no more I can do.

Ham:                                    Is all now lost?

Tech 2: Not yet. For I will pass thy problem on.
Another call thy’ll get within three days.
Then bits of Web will be there for thy viewing
Once help’d by one who knows what he is doing.


Technician 3: My name be Ted. What problem do you have?

Ham: I’ve call’d you once, then twice, and now time three
Because my DSL doth not connect.
No pages from the Web come through its line,
Nor e-mail lovely from Ophelia fair.
A week ago fair Sue, one of your own,
Did try to ping my line without success.
She promis-ed a call I would receive.
A week’s gone by, yet I’ve receiv’d no call.
Can you connect me to this wiser soul?

Tech3: I’m sorry, I cannot, though great thy woe.
Our rules say that before wise ones are call’d
We must run tests, be dusk or noon or dawn.
So now the first: Is thou computer on?

Ham: Aye, that it is. I’ve been through this before.
And formatted my disk upon request.
Must I go through this torture once again?

Tech3: Perchance thou won’t. I’ll tell thee what I’ll do.
I’ll phone our wisest leader and I’ll ask
If you could be put through to one who knows.
Please hold a bit.

Ham:                   Thank you. I’ll do just that.

Tech3: (Aside) The fool’s on hold, and trusting as a pup.
I’ll let him wait awhile and then hang up.

Act IV

Technician 4: My name be Kim. What problem do you have?

Ham: My anger waxes greater than a bear
Whose fair abode’s been turn’d to tourist trap.
The Internet to me is wholly block’d
With DSL that’s dead as most dot coms.
Your person, name of Ted, did hang me up
When promis’d he to put me through at last
To some wise soul who’d calm my fever’d brow.

Tech4: Thy DSL is dead? Then I must ask
One question…

Ham:              I know. My computer’s on?
I’ve reinstall’d my Windows. Did not help.
I have been ping’d, that too to no avail.
And promises I’ve heard of experts’ calls.
Yet still no data comes from off the Net.

Tech4: I understand. Please let me take a look.
What ho? For sooth! My gosh! What have we here?
I see a little switch that hath been flipp’d.
I’ll simply…that was it. Now does it work?

Ham: It does! I’m on the line! Oh, joyful day!
Pages from the Web downloading quick!
My e-mail’s here, with Spam both straight and gay
And viruses! Enough to make thee sick.
I thank you, but I have one question more:
No broadband have I had for o’er a week.
Will that affect the bill I pay this month?

Tech4: It shan’t. For we would never charge you more
For little thing like service we depriv’d.

Ham: Will you charge less?

Tech4:                               We might. I do not know.
Please call someone in Bills. They’ll tell you so.

Act V

Clerk: My name be Dan. What problem do you have?

Ham: For eight straight days, my DSL work’d not.
Thy people did not try to get it right
Until this very hour, when good Kim
Did flip a switch, and my connection lives.
So now, oh Dan in Bills, I wish to ask
That I not pay for service for last week.

Clerk: I’m sorry, your request cannot go through.
‘tis most against a policy we state
Quite clearly on our Web site if you click
The link that says “Thou’st never should go here.”

Ham: A minute. Let me check that grievous news
To find that claim that most affronts mine ears.
Alas! Those words with my eyes shan’t be read.
The DSL so short regain’d is dead.

Dirty Work (with apologies to Bob & Ray)

Author’s Note: This column was written for ComputerUser, and is still available on their site. Well, sort of. For some reason, it’s truncated well before the end. So I give it to you here in full.


Dirty Work

DEK: Surf is in the mind of the beholder

Bob: Good evening. This is Bob LeBlob welcoming you to another edition of Unusual Occupations. And now let’s welcome tonight’s guest, Raymond Hayes Breen.

Ray: Hello, Bob.

Bob: Hello, Ray. So, Ray, what do you do for a living?

Ray: Well, Bob, I do something very unusual—I look at pornography on the Internet.

Bob: Gee, Ray, that must be as rare as looking for oxygen in the atmosphere. So tell me, do you actually get paid for doing this or is it just how you’ve chosen to spend your time?

Ray: Both. I work for JackBoot Software, the makers of that famous child protection program, JackBoot Software. My job is to search the Internet for anything we think you might think your children would find unthinkable.

Bob: And what sort of unthinkable things should my children not be seeing?

Ray: Well, first and foremost, they shouldn’t see anything that criticizes JackBoot Software. Negative reviews, editorials, or legal documents are all rated Absolutely Intolerable.

Bob: So you have a rating system?

Ray: Of course. In addition to Absolutely Intolerable, sites can be rated Slightly Sensitive, Somewhat Salacious, and Sensationally Sleazy.

Bob: So how does JackBoot Software treat these different categories of objectionable sites? How would my experience differ if I went to, say, a Sensationally Sleazy site as opposed to one that was merely Slightly Sensitive?

Ray: Well, Bob, on a Slightly Sensitive site, you might see an illustrated discussion of how condoms can be used as water balloons. But on a Sensationally Sleazy site, you’d find…

Bob: That’s alright, Ray. But how does JackBoot treat these differently? If I had your software running, what would happen if I visited a Sensationally Sleazy site?

Ray: JackBoot would block access.

Bob: And a Slightly Sensitive site?

Ray: JackBoot would block access.

Bob: So what’s the difference?

Ray: Well, like I said, on a Slightly Sensitive site, you might see an illustrated discussion of…

Bob: Thank you, Ray. What I meant was, what’s the difference in how JackBoot Software treats a Slightly Sensitive site and a Sensationally Sleazy one?

Ray: Well, it would block a Slightly Sensitive site so that you couldn’t access it, but it would block a Sensationally Sleazy one with extreme prejudice.

Bob: Meaning?

Ray: It would e-mail everyone on your mailing list about your viewing habits. But keep in mind that we at JackBoot Software recognize the difference between erotica and pornography.

Bob: And that is?

Ray: What turns me on is erotica. What turns you on is pornography. At JackBoot Software, we ban them both.

Bob: Sexually explicit sites aren’t the only ones that worry parents. Do you ban hate sites?

Ray: Of course, but we also ban sites promoting love and understanding. Then we discovered that some parents are against love and understanding. We have to take into account the needs of all kinds of parents.

Bob: What happens if parents want to see something about, say, love and understanding, themselves?

Ray: They ought to be ashamed of themselves. And, of course, JackBoot Software caters to those kinds of parents, as well. That’s why we have a special Ashamed Parents Override, which gives you access to banned sites after you type the secret password—IamNotaKid. In case you forget the password, it’s displayed in the lower-right corner.

Bob: Ray, I understand that JackBoot Software is branching out into the business world. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Ray: Gladly. We’ve recently discovered a new market in the business sector, where many companies are concerned that they’re not sufficiently treating their employees as children. In order to cater to employers who don’t want their workers using the Internet for anything that isn’t business related, I’m now searching through the entire Internet, listing for banishment any Web site that someone somewhere may find entertaining. Luckily, there are fewer of those than one might think.

Bob: Ray, getting back to family issues, do you think that government censorship is a viable solution?

Ray: Oh, absolutely. I censor everything by the government.

Bob: I’m sure we’re all thankful for that. Ray, I’m sure there are countless people in the audience who are wondering the same thing: How did you get your job?

Ray: Well, Bob, I didn’t so much find my job as it found me. You know the big Internet advertising company It’s the one that’s been in the papers lately—you know, the controversy about whether or not it’s been tracking people’s surfing habits? Anyway, they sold my name to JackBoot Software; I was apparently on the top of a list of people especially adept at finding pornography on the Internet.

Bob: And how much does it pay?

Ray: You know, Bob, I’ve been trying to figure that out. But the Web page with that information is rated Absolutely Intolerable and Unfit for Anyone.

Bob: An apt description of your status. Thank you, Ray, and goodnight.

Hardware and Footwear

Rather than post this column here, I’ll simply direct you to the original post at ComputerUser.

You’ll find links to all of my ComputerUser columns (the ones I wrote from March, 2000 to May, 2003) here.

The Big Cookie: Another dark tale of Internet noir

The night was as black as an overworked metaphor. I was returning from the office after a particularly difficult case—some poor mug in trouble with a loan shark had accidentally wiped out his Quicken file.

The name is Rowe. Mack Rowe. Private consultant.

She was waiting for me in the hallway, as expectant as a dialog box and as beautifully built as an iBook. “Mr. Rowe? May I come in.”

I opened the door for her. “Sure thing, toots.”

I sat down behind my desk, put my feet up, lit a cigarette, and set my hair on fire. “What can I do for you, babe?”

“That’s Miss Babe,” she said, correcting me. “But you can call me Toots.” She handed me her card. She was Toots Babe, Manicurist Extraordinaire. “Mr. Rowe, I’m in a desperate fix. I’ve been surfing the Web a lot lately, and now I’ve got a desperate feeling that someone is following me. Every site I go to, they know my name, they know my shopping habits, they know about those intimate love letters I’ve been posting on Usenet. It’s such a violation of my privacy! Can you stop it?”

I named my fee and she accepted it. Then she gave me a long and luxurious kiss before walking out the door. I sat at my desk for awhile, thinking about the case and wondering about the retching sounds coming from the hallway.

Ferreting Out Data

The next morning I paid a visit to an old adversary, Jimmy D. Weezill. Two years before I’d caught Jimmy red-handed collecting compromising data on just about everyone. Thanks to the evidence I gathered, he got five to ten at Microsoft with generous stock options. I figured he owed me a favor.

“Of course someone’s following Toots Babe. She’s a consumer, and if consumers aren’t watched, they stop consuming.”

“Who’s tailing her?” I asked.

“Probably a cookie.”

“Does she owe him money?”

“Not a bookie, a cookie. As in walnut or chocolate chip.”

Now I understood. She was being tailed by a dessert. I gave Jimmy a tip—I told him not to wait for Windows 2000—and went off in search of more information.

Next I visited an old friend turned Internet billionaire, Dorothy Kaum. Her company,, is worth billions, and probably will be for at least another week.

“Dot, ever heard of a bird named Toots Babe? She’s being tailed all over the Net.”

Dot thought for a moment. “Let me look up her credit card number.”

Something felt as phony as a Microsoft press release. “How do you do that?”

“When someone buys something from my Web site,” she explained, “their personal information is stored in a decrypted database on our server. We then share this information with other e-commerce companies and they share their credit card numbers with us. This is a big convenience for Web shoppers—we can charge them without their ever having to visit our site. It’s all in our privacy policy, right under the part about breaking their legs.

“Do you have my credit card number?” I asked.

“You mean the card that was revoked three years ago?” I didn’t answer.

“Here we go,” she said triumphantly. “Everything you need to know about Toots Babe. That’s odd.”

“What’s odd?”

“She has the same IP address as Trudy Kockenlocker.”

Suddenly everything fell into place. I leapt out of my seat and everything fell on the floor. It was as clear as fresh spring water poured over a brand-new surge protector.

Confrontation at Dinner

That night I went to Toots’ house for a dinner date. She greeted me in a luminous, semi-transparent raincoat. “Darling! I’m so glad you could make it.”

“Enough of that, Toots. Or should I call you Trudy?”

She looked confused. “Whatever do you mean?”

“You tried to play me for a sap, didn’t you? In fact, you did worse than just trying to play me for a sap; you succeeded in playing me for a sap—just like all the others. You’re not Toots Babe, Manicurist Extraordinaire. You’re Trudy Kockenlocker, founder of, the evilest manicure Web site of them all. Every time some unsuspecting dope logged onto your Web site for a manicure, you noted every cuticle and torn nail in your database. Yes, you’ve been gathering information on the fingertips of every well-dressed swain and dame in the country.

“But you wanted more than that. You wanted people’s credit card numbers, shopping habits, and political party affiliations. And to find out how it’s done, you created Toots Babe and shopped the Web. Then you sent me out to do your dirty work for you.”

“Yes, Mack, you’re right,” she cried. “I’m a bad sector. I admit it. But there’s something else. I…” She paused and swallowed hard. “I love you.”

“Sorry, babe, but I’m not buying it. Most women gag three or four times before they say that.”

I walked out of her house and into the night. Before getting into my car, I paused to light a cigarette. I heard the distant sound of a modem making its connection. Someone, somewhere, was getting onto the Internet. I idly wondered who it was. “Oh well,” I said, “I’ll find out back at the office.”