Eightball and Thundercloud's RANT

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Our Little Rant by Eightball & Thundercloud
From InfoAve Premium Issue #97 - August 26, 2005
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Far From The Madding Crowd

I would first like to express my apologies to Thomas Hardy for borrowing a title from one of his novels. Thomas has been departed for quite some time. Still, however, I like to give credit where credit is due.  Actually, I didn't care much for the book Far From The Madding Crowd. Tess of the d'Urbervilles is actually my favorite Hardy book. Anyway, I borrowed the title of this Rant from Thomas Hardy and I just wanted to thank him, albeit posthumously. So, there you go, Thomas. Rest in peace.

I subscribe to many newsletters: technical, software, anti-spyware, and that sort of thing. Last week I received an email newsletter from an anti-spyware site, which I shall, magnanimously, not name here. To me it appeared that the author of this particular newsletter has gone insane. Seriously. I mean I'm all for privacy. Most of you that read this newsletter each week or know anything about Cloudeight are (or should be) well aware of our stance against spyware, adware, malware, slimeware, and trickware. We're avid proponents of the rights of individuals to make informed decisions and even more vigorous in our support of the individual's right to privacy. And we've written dozens, perhaps hundreds, of articles over the years intended to keep our readers informed and therefore well-armed against the ever-advancing crush of spyware, adware, and other potential threats to individual privacy.

In recent weeks, I have chortled, however, as I read one particular anti-spyware newsletter which I once respected and considered credible. He's way too serious and, it appears, too enamored with his own "importance". I think he's gone a bit off his rocker. And yes, I can hear the snickers from any number of you reading this who already think I'm not only off-my-rocker but have been for a long time. He's gotten off into topics like governments spying on its citizens (particularly the U.S. government), deriding the U.S. Congress for being stupid (don't we all already know that?) and blowing thing way out of proportion. I think he's going for a job with The Globe. Heck, he even had me checking my phone lines for wiretaps and my closets for secret agents hiding behind boxes of old, useless, cob-webby computer-related junk. I wanted to sleep with the light on and a shotgun by my side (just kidding folks!).

Last week, in his newsletter, he described the Internet as (and I quote) "a gangland war zone and your computer is the street corner being fought over." A gangland war zone? Oh really? And my computer is THE street corner that's being "fought over"? Wow. All these gangsters want my computer? Wow. All these gangsters want my computer?

I imagine a surly, husky dude with a huge cigar protruding from his mouth (named Al Computerpone?) watching me from some remote location, submachine gun at his side, expelling huge puffs of  thick, gray, smelly cigar smoke at his HP, slugging down whiskey straight out of the bottle and salivating at the thought of turning my computer into a zombie in his ever-growing network of zombies. Maybe he wants to make my computer a speakeasy? It seems "Big Al" Computerpone seeks to wrest control of the Internet from rival Bugsy 'Spyware" Malone. Gee, maybe we should build a Cyber Alcatraz and lock them up. Then wait and see if they can escape on cyber rafts made of cyber raincoats. What a movie that would make. Ya think?

Being informative is one thing and using hyperbole to get people all riled up is another. I hate to see a once-decent newsletter turning itself into a tabloid. We sure don't need a cyber version of the "National Enquirer". And I really have a hard time believing the Internet is comparable to Chicago in the 1920's. I don't know of anyone whose life and physical well-being is in grave danger because of some spyware or adware program running in the background on his or her computer. While it may well be sending his or her private surfing data back to its home server that's not quite the same as having your body riddled with bullets from a submachine gun on a street corner in Chicago in the "Roaring 20's". Is it?

There is a fine line between responsible journalism and sensationalistic journalism. I might have crossed that line a time or two meself :) But, you know, keeping a sense a humor is important, I think, to keeping things in perspective. When one drones on and on as if a computer were actually a human body and all these detestable things are being done to it - and we have to stop it before the Martians turn our computers into mounds of green, flesh-eating slime - it gets a little old. Calling the Internet a "gangland" where mobsters plot to divvy up our computers amongst themselves to form some kind of vile, information-stealing ethereal monster network is just going off the deep in in my admittedly bizarre mind.

I hope he gets real before real people start really become alarmed by some of the really exaggerated stuff he writes. (My English professor would have "really" liked that last sentence). Face it, the computer is a machine. It can bring frustration and anger when it doesn't work right. But so can an automobile. Any of you living where winters are cold know this. What's more aggravating than going out on a minus twenty-degree morning and turning the key and having the car sound like a frog croaking its final death croak (if frogs really do have a final death croak). Machines break. And machines, when they're not working can make you very angry - but still they're just machines. Yes, yes, I know, people don't attach spyware to your car to steal your private information. Well, actually, you drive around with a license plate on your care (I hope) and that little number can provide a lot of information about you and I'm sure if one tried hard enough one could discover lots of information about a car's owner just using that license plate number. It was just a simple example, folks. You get my point.

Digressing. Your computer is not an organ in your body (yet) and if it becomes "diseased" you can just kill it and bring it back to life. If something goes awry with your liver you can't just expunge it and start over. At least not easily. But, if your computer becomes infected, it's not going cause your house to blow away or some secret agent man to come and haul you away (oh, well, maybe if you're a really bad boy or girl he might).

Seriously, there is way to present information so that it is informative and not sensational. You can present serious things to people and still keep them smiling. We're all on this earth for a very limited engagement and I think we really need to smile more - even when we're discussing some computer issues that can be serious. I don't think presenting computer information in a stodgy, holier-than-thou, or slightly condescending way, filled with hyperbolic rhetoric is the right way to do it. I could be be wrong. I know one thing for sure - sensationalistic statements like the "the Internet has become a gangland war zone" is rhetoric designed to incite you and nothing but an exaggeration.

I really do hate to criticize a guy who really has done a lot of good for the anti-spyware cause. But, I don't agree with using far-fetched metaphors or analogies to "shock" the reader. That's best served by newspapers like The National Enquirer and other tabloids - and not by a once well-respected writer who seems to be changing course and reducing his newsletter to tabloid-like filled with "shock" journalism. Is he trying to increase his subscriber base by using statements like "gangland war zone"?

I think people learn better when they're happy - not scared or angry. And since computers are not your life or your family and almost anything that goes wrong with them can be fixed - why not teach and help people learn while making them smile? I mean really - a gangland war zone? Get real!

Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm the one who's lost it. Am I that far from the Madding Crowd?

"Yo, Bonnie!  Bring me my submachine gun. We're gonna hit granny Smith's computer tonight at 10:00. She won't know what hit her!" "OK Clyde, nice shirt too by-the-way!".


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