Almost all Mole's correspondence in the past week has been about error messages, so before he breaks his promise not to return to the subject this year and works through the enormous pile of computer generated faux pas, a quick review of some items that look like errors but probably aren't.
It is now a moot point whether the appointment of Gil Amelio to the job of pilot and first officer of the doomed Apple was a mistake. With or without Mr Amelio at the controls, the company is in a tailspin from which it can never recover. In an interesting footnote to a recent filing to the US financial regulatory authorities in which Apple warns of lower than expected sales, it emerges not only that Mr Amelio left the company with $6.73 million in severance pay, but that he had a nice little earner on the side. The company ran up bills of $471,461 with Aero Ventures, the outfit that flew its self-important head man to meetings during his brief tenure. As Apple continues to plummet towards the ground, Mole makes a mental note never to fly in anything operated by Aero Ventures, not least because it just happens to be owned by Mr Amelio.
Turbulence of a less life-threatening kind continues to shake the gigantic dirigible known as Microsoft. Philip Malone, a lawyer for the US Department of Justice said last week that the facts of the anti-competition case against Microsoft are not in dispute. All the issues at stake, he said, are matters of "interpretation". Given Microsoft's aptitude for semantic chicanery, this is bad news for those who would like to see the company's marketing excesses curbed. Microsoft's lawyer, Richard Urowski (pronounced "You're off the ..." and best used in conjunction with the word "hook") argues that the version of Internet Explorer bundled with Windows 95 is part of an "integrated product", whereas Internet Explorer 4.0 is "an upgrade". It is to be expected that a company that specialises in hot air would argue the case in this way, and the Justice Department appears resigned to the fact. "This case appears to be awash in vapour," sighed a not terribly surprised sounding Mr Malone.
Meanwhile, poor little Netscape has resorted to desperate measures to fight back. If you consult the company's web pages to scrutinise its financial results using Internet Explorer, you will be greeted by an error message explaining that you are using the wrong browser and requesting that you download the Netscape product before proceeding.
The awesome, destructive power of Intel is no longer recognised only by those of us unfortunate enough to make a living in the computer industry.
In the Simpsons Halloween Special, which to the best of Mole's knowledge has not yet been shown on UK TV screens, the French launch a nuclear strike on the fictional town of Springfield after some ill-judged remarks by the mayor. For an added touch of realism, just as the missile is leaving French soil, the Intel Inside logo can be clearly discerned on its side.
Readers concerned at the more gradual destruction of the planet being promoted by Hewlett-Packard with its Mopy Fish scheme have discovered a way to amass points without printing unnecessary reams of paper. Simply hit "print to disk" and you can get your silly screensaver fish all the accessories it will ever need, with the added satisfaction that you will not be increasing HP's toner revenues by a single penny in the process.
Remember the curious advice from the environmentally conscious Microsoft about the best way to dispose of unwanted CDs? The handy tip was to cut the disks on one side only. This is not good enough for Mole's most virulently Microsoft-hating correspondent - let's just call him Robert - who wanted to ensure that before he recycled any Microsoft CD, there would be no chance of anyone retrieving any of the company's horrible software from it. After unsuccessful experiments with acid (no, not that acid) and other radical solutions, Robert has hit upon the perfect method. Simply microwave your unwanted CDs at 650Watts on full power. As well as an impressive incendiary spectacle, this simple technique also provides an absolute guarantee that any data left on the resulting drinks coaster will be thoroughly unreadable. A word of caution, though: this is probably best done with someone else's microwave.
And so, in no particular order, to those error messages. From Novell (SFTIII and NetWare), feigned surprise and poetically expressed: "An error has been detected where no error was expected." From the venerable ACT Sirius, the rather blunt "Error=FA", generally taken to mean "There is F- all wrong. You left the drive door open again". An even blunter variation on a similar theme from DataFlex 2.2, which greeted invalid drive letters with the message "Bullshit" - something the programmer no doubt never expected to have to display, or so one would hope. An over-assertive version of Ultrix on the old DEC 5400 used to insist "This must be here", though the same system sometimes lapsed into hopeless uncertainty with the line "Are you sure you want to down the server now? Why not wait until tomorrow?" A Vax C compiler understood that to err was human - but only up to a point: it was in the habit of declaring "Fatal error: too many errors". Let's not forget the famously unhelpful message common to most PCs: "Keyboard error - press F1 to continue." Error messages have often been rude, though the language has become more informal. Take a message returned by a remote SCO 4 server after a user tried to start a Telnet session without setting up the necessary permissions: "Sir, you are a charlatan", it replied indignantly before promptly closing the port. By way of contrast, consider this reprimand from Internet Explorer 4: "I don't know what the hell you did, but don't do it again!" Finally, a seasonal example, in which a bored programmer took it upon himself to replace the familiar "Out of disk space" with something a little more apt: "No room at the Inn."
Happy Christmas and an error-free New Year. Don't forget Mole on your Christmas present list. You know the sort of thing he likes.
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