U-TURN FOR GATES
The former MI6 man who posted names of intelligence officers on the Web last week may not have succeeded in undermining national security but he still managed to cause a certain amount of confusion. Reporting the story, the Daily Telegraph made the rather wild claim that the fellow had "launched the California-based site, GeoCities" to make his odious disclosures. Setting up an ISP merely to publish a few Web pages seems rather extravagant even for a former secret agent.
Also confused were the many outraged "commentators" who went on the radio and television to protest that closing the site down was an act of censorship.
Too many lentils and an excess of marijuana have rendered these poor souls incapable of distinguishing between freedom of speech and treason. It will be their own silly faults if they start disappearing under tube trains and falling on the tips of poisoned umbrellas.
Among the many mysterious aspects of the affair are why the British intelligence service employed a scruffy New Zealander in the first place, when he had none of the usual qualifications (British passport, public school education, homosexual tendencies, etc.). And why wasn't this irksome Antipodean simply bumped off years ago in the manner prescribed by the service handbook?
MI6 is clearly losing its grip.
Novell's marketing people are a funny lot. The company has just launched a product named Year 2000 Information Ferret to assist with last-minute millennium preparations. The ferret is an odd choice of animal. Despite its reputation for rooting things out, Mole's experience of ferrets is that they disappear down dark holes, stay there for several hours and only re-emerge when they have chewed their way through the rabbit you sent them in after. Presumably Novell has something else in mind.
Mole reported recently on the radical Y2K precautions taken by Peter Camidge, an IT manager at London Electricity, who told users to start deleting files to reduce the chance of errors. In the interests of accuracy, Mole should qualify the story by adding that Mr Camidge was only responsible for desktop computers, making it extremely unlikely that customer account information would be affected. Sorry about that. To make amends, Mole would like to congratulate Mr C on his new job - he has been promoted to look after the company's mid-range and mainframe computers, the systems responsible for billing. One can only wonder whether Mr C will indulge his passion for the delete key in his new role.
Mole has a sneaking admiration for salespeople. It's their nerve, their resilience, their brazenness, their sheer ignorance. Take the man who rang a large software vendor recently offering to install SAP's R/3 management suite in under three months and for half the price charged by SAP. Very clever, Mr Bond, but also very stupid. Your sales calls will be more effective if you avoid placing them to SAP's direct competitors, in this case PeopleSoft's marketing manager Alastair McGill.
Many years ago, Mole had the opportunity to quiz Bill Gates in the back of a car. Mr Gates was in London to launch some piece of software or other and Mole had hitched a lift in the limousine that carried His Billness from engagement to engagement. Young and rather inexperienced, Mole chose to canvas Mr Gates' views on Unix. This turned out to be a mistake. Mr Gates had a lot of quite nasty things to say about the operating system and those who subscribe to it, and made no secret of his disdain for Mole and his insolent line of questioning.
It is therefore something of a surprise to hear of a rather sudden change of heart in Redmond. It comes after Microsoft was ruled out of a bid for an enormous US Army contract for strategic battlefield software. Exchange was written off after the Army expressed concerns about security flaws in Windows NT, leaving the field clear for Lotus and Sun. In a desperate last-minute ploy, Microsoft has now decided Unix is not such a bad thing after all and is hastily throwing together a Unix version of Exchange in an attempt to bluff its way back into the running.
Hypocrisy features in another story that reaches Mole. Virgin Net, the ISP that took one of its customers to court last month for using its network to send "spam" Email, has been doing a bit of spamming of its own. One victim sent Mole a copy of a message from Virgin Net addressing him as "Dear member", even though he is not and never has been a subscriber to the company's service. Having set a legal precedent for the prosecution of spammers, how unfortunate it would be if Virgin Net found itself up on the same charge. As a Virgin Net press officer said just the other day when its wayward customer put it at risk of going on the spamming blacklist: "We don't want our good will to suffer ... There's a reputation issue at stake."
Whether it's obscure Unix software or the names and addresses of MI6 officers you're after, Mole has always found HotBot to be among the more useful of the publicly available Web search engines, so he was pleased to find what appeared to be a UK version of the site at hotbot.co.uk.
Sadly, this HotBot is not a search engine at all, but a virtual outlet for hot-water bottles in the form of Pooky the teddy bear and his little friends. Only a cynic would suggest that the owners of the hotbot.co.uk domain are not interested in selling hot-water bottles at all but are hanging on until the US owners of HotBot can be persuaded to shell out for rights to the domain name.
Are you paying attention?
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