As our recent Barbie give-away illustrated, the average age of the computer literati is getting lower all the time. Old fuddy duddies of Mole's generation may feel there is something sad about the thought of children spending their formative years in front of a computer screen when they could be dissecting earth worms, torturing frogs and engaging in the other harmless pursuits that occupied Mole as a youngster. But such sentimentality will cut little ice with today's parents who firmly believe that if their child is computer literate it has a chance of growing up to be the next Bill Gates.
Meeting the present Bill Gates would soon disabuse them of the notion that this would be a good thing, but since they are unlikely to have this privilege we can assume that the global nerdisation of children is set to continue.
Users of Microsoft's Word may have noticed that among the "tips for the day" offered when the package loads is the warning that "you can hurt yourself if you run with scissors" - evidence, suggests one reader, that Microsoft is pitching the product at the under sevens. Not quite. This tip is a Microsoft programmer's attempt at grown-up humour, but because the emotional and intellectual development of Microsoft programmers is arrested before they reach puberty, their jokes play to a lower age group.
Another example of a Microsoft joke likely to appeal to children but not to adults is the one about the Word 95 converter that opens Word 97 files. It doesn't, of course, but your kids will have no end of fun rebooting your computer after it has crashed in the attempt.
For every deliberate act of sabotage to afflict a computer firm, there is an accidental one waiting to happen. Take the Apricot engineer who was showing a customer how to configure machines and made a few witty alterations to the system files before being called away on urgent business.
The engineer's joke made its way to the factory and passed effortlessly through quality control before ending up in front of a buyer from a major retail chain. As the machine booted up, an icon depicting two spherical objects with the somewhat superfluous label "bollocks" appeared. And in the README file behind the icon, a wealth of practical advice was presented under the heading "Apricot speaks balls". Curiously, he immediately placed an order.
Contrary to popular belief, not everything in the computer industry is funny. If you get a call from someone claiming to be from a well-known IT firm and offering free software in return for taking part in a survey, be on your guard. Among other things, the questions establish your income bracket, home address and hours of employment. Staff at several big firms have had these calls and Mole knows of at least one case in which someone who took the bait had his house comprehensively robbed the next day. Worse still, the free software never arrived.
People in IT are particularly prone to this sort of thing because they are exposed to fraud on a daily basis. Microsoft , for example, now models user licences on u5 notes, right down to the metal strip and the watermarked paper. Mole is told that this is not a simple case of counterfeiting, but of Microsoft preparing for a smooth transition to its imminent takeover of the Bank of England.
To illustrate further the similarities between the computer industry and the criminal fraternity, someone has sent Mole a document comparing drug dealers with programmers. Is it coincidence that both refer to their clients as "users", offer free trials to potential buyers and do most of their business with the 14-25 age group?
Scott McNealy, head of Sun Microsystems, once stunned a roomful of clean-living Californian journalists by saying that it would be better to give children drugs than MS-DOS. No doubt he's right, though it is hardly fashionable to say so. If you want normal, healthy children, buy them Barbie or Action Man, or give them a pen-knife, send them into the garden, and tell them not to come back until they have murdered a few invertebrates. It worked for Mole's parents.
In last week's issue we implied that a Mr Gibbs had entered our Barbie CD-ROM competition, instead of his daughter. We are asked to point out that it was his daughter who entered. Our apologies to Mr Gibbs for this misunderstanding and a CD to Kirsty.
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