A bogus computer range may con the propeller heads in polyester but not the clever BOFH who has a nasty sabotage surprise waiting in his pocket

Year 1998 - Episode 38


So I'm at this presentation where a manufacturer's showing its new range of mini-computers.

As expected, it's wall-to-wall propeller heads with 100 per cent polyester appearing to be the clothing order of the day.

And, also as expected, the vendor wheels out the new hardware while simultaneously reassuring the assembled clientele that this is not a REPLACEMENT of the kit that they bought a few months ago, just a parallel product.

The fact that last quarter's machines have been removed from the hardware catalogue (along with the support from the maintenance catalogue) is purely coincidental...As is the fact that the serial number on the new kit implies that it was actually manufactured SIX months ago. No, no, it wasn't a product-dumping exercise at all. Just coincidence.

Oh, and a complete change of architecture...

So we see the new model, with a new bus (which means that stockpile of peripheral cards you bought are about as in demand as XT thin-wire cards), 20 per cent increase in processor speed, 80 per cent increase in cost, 200 per cent increase in size and ugliness of logo, and immediately the braindead among the audience start drooling.

"As you'll see," our presenter says with a coat-hanger grin, "the SpecWPIOP Int figures for our machine are much higher than for any other manufacturer's machine of comparable price..."

"Ah," I interject, suppressing with great effort my sense of annoyance at their transparency, "could that be because you just made up the SpecWPIOP Int standard to take advantage of your new kit's design?"

"Certainly not," our presenter hotly denies, "the SpecWPIOP Int is an open industry standard!"

"And who," I ask, knowing full well the answer, "developed and opened this standard?"

"Well I have to admit, somewhat proudly, that our company has excelled in developing a standard which truly reflects the loads on an active system of varying users more accurately than something which performs simple integer test cases."

"In other words, you made it up?"

"No No! Bookmarking figures have, for some time, not taken into account the true loads on a system which may have users of varying types, from development, to database, to data entry. The SpecWPIOP takes into account all these things to produce a figure that is fully representative of the 'whole-system', or 'holistic-interoperative' approach, as we like to call it."

I look around me and notice that the guy's got about 60 per cent of the customers sold, with their proverbial pants already at half mast.

"So SpecWPIOP, what does that stand for?" I ask.

"Specifications When Pmmmmmdmd Idndn Ouidud Pddnls," he mumbles. "Pardon?"

"Specifications When Plugged Into Our Peripherals," he murmurs slyly.

"Oh! So what you're saying is that when you plug one of your SCSI disks, say, into another manufacturer's hardware, the processor is so busy dealing with the errors generated by your non-standard interface that it works much slower."

"That's not it at all," he gasps, incredulous. "Why, just looking at the system in action would convince anyone otherwise!!!"

He proceeds to power the thing up and it whirrs into life with an impressive start-up sound.

Worth at least half of the purchase price alone, when combined with the new full-colour start-up graphic!!!

"And if I could get a volunteer from the aud..."

I almost pop a hamstring in my hurry to be first out the gate and up to the podium. I can tell that I wasn't the volunteer that he was looking for - probably having primed some Infomercial dropout with questions to ask and 'Gosh, look at that!' responses to give.

"Ah," he murmurs, not wishing to let me near his kit, but not really having much choice in the matter. "How about you start up the Graphical User Interface by clicking on the little screen icon then?"

I do so and am actually very impressed with the speed of the start-up. As is the rest of the flock, who crowd in closer to get a good look...

Obscuring my hand briefly... quicker than you can say: "What is that, aluminium foil cuttings? Chocolate wrapper bits? Iron filings?" I've surreptitiously flicked a small handful of aluminium foil underneath the machine...into the thirsty holes of the cooling-inlet.

The subsequent short-circuiting, smoke and minor explosion rounded off the entertainment for the afternoon - ruining the new business prospects for the manufacturer and sending the presenter home with a 'shocking' new hairstyle - after he regained consciousness. Suffice to say that the rest is history - the model isn't being pulled from the market per se - another demonstration is being organised in a month from now when they iron out the "power supply problems", but at least it's restored, temporarily at least, the resale price of my peripherals to give me a chance to offload them on some poor, unsuspecting alternate customer of our vendor.

Ah well, you know what they say - all's fair in love and hardware acquisition...