ZIP Beep #56
by Chuck Strinz
In all the type and videotex devoted to computers and computing, I have yet
to see anything on the topic of this article.
Sure, it's a sensitive subject. But that's true of worms, viruses, trojan horses and other distasteful novelties of the microcomputer age. Now it's time for us in the profession to act on another, more insidious issue. It's time to open the eyes of the public again, recognizing that we will deal with things that are hard to understand and that are uncomfortable to look at. Younger and more juvenile readers, consider yourselves warned. We are about to examine a phenomenon so new that it doesn't have a name yet...but one we must recognize and act upon while there's still some possibility of control.
It probably started with the widespread use of portable laptop computers, most likely those with large hard drives. Many corporations with foresight provide laptops for use by selected employees. Laptops have begun appearing at business meetings, sales calls, on airplanes, practically everywhere in fact (as you have undoubtably noticed). And, of course, they go home with ambitious executives.
To fully appreciate the scope of the resulting problem, we must first consider the manner in which a computer virus is generated. While it can be regenerated and duplicated spontaneously, its original source is mankind. More specifically, it is the conscious creation of a human being.
Imagine the implications of a computer virus that is the unconscious creation of a human being. Now imagine that it is not a virus, but something that more closely resembles a hormone.
This may very well be what we are dealing with.
How are we dealing with it? Not very well. A certain type of computer user group has appeared in many cities. People don't talk about them much. Learning their locations and meeting times can be difficult. But it's time to bring these people and their machines out of their computer closets, so we can all help each other and avoid the exploitation of innocents by unscrupulous profiteers.
The very sporadic and unpredictable nature of the problem is one aspect that has kept it in the dark and away from examination. Some laptops are unaffected. Others become slaves, sometimes taking their owners with them.
Let's talk specific cases. Take the example of a business executive from Burlington, Vermont. RM (not his real initials) received a NEC laptop in 1987 to use in his work for the Corporate Marketing Department Sales and Troubleshooting Division of a major manufacturer in the microchip industry. RM used the laptop for several months, became attached to it, and completely dropped his paper-driven projection and sales scheduling system in favor of a software package. He loaded all of his data into the laptop, and continued to use the machine for several weeks without incident.
At this point, and to the best of our knowledge in attempting to reconstruct the events, RM began using an interface cable that connected his laptop directly to the company mainframe. This, it appears, is where RM's troubles began. As previously noted, the sporadic nature of the problem makes it difficult to pinpoint its origin. And although the scenario involving RM has been reported in several instances, we should remember that most of our evidence on any level is still anecdotal.
After several days, RM's laptop began performing poorly. He didn't relate it to company's Cyber 170. (Other incidents have involved completely different computers, so don't stop reading if you don't own a NEC or Control Data machine.) But soon, his waking hours became a series of DOS errors, print aborts, screen fluctuations and low power indications.
Hesitant to trust his laptop as completely as before, he avoided directly interfacing with the mainframe. But some confusion in the implementation of the company's invoice-generating software made it necessary, and RM was forced to take a chance. After cautiously connecting, RM was delighted to see his laptop was working fine. Better than ever, in fact. Seemingly faster.
When his batch file adjustments were complete, RM just as cautiously disconnected the laptop from the mainframe, fully expecting his machine to revert to its recalcitrant state. Again he was delighted to see it function perfectly, and his delight continued for almost a week.
Then the laptop suddenly went bad again. There was little RM could do with it. Over coffee, he asked a friend in MIS, who thought it quite odd. They took the laptop to the mainframe, made the connection, and confirmed what they had both suspected; the laptop came back to life.
It was immediately disconnected, and went down. They plugged it back in, and it was back on. RM ran a few routine tasks using the laptop's internal software, disconnected it, and was surprised to see it function perfectly again.
Over the next few months, RM found time to interface the laptop and mainframe periodically. Before the problem came up, the laptop had wandered around the country with RM, but now RM began to make excuses for staying in the home office.
One night, he walked into the central computing facility and was surprised to find another laptop connected to the mainframe. At the keyboard was KD (not his real initials). Both men were uncomfortable, but agreed to discuss their problem. Later they discovered another solution: connecting their laptops together rather than to the mainframe. Today they live anonymously in Maine, where they operate a small computer repair service and are active in local civic groups.
RM's story ended happily, but such is not the case for others. Like RM and KD, most people are uncomfortable with the subject. There is a certain amount of guilt, deserved or not, since some evidence suggests the computer operating imbalance may be the result of exposing laptops to a wide assortment of locations and thought patterns. Starting a support group is difficult. RM and KD found their solution in working together. Without the other, neither would have admitted to the problem.
For the most part, the only people who are aware of it are those who are afflicted. Even many who suffer from it have not recognized the pattern, or have shelved problem computers (and often their careers) because they weren't lucky enough to stumble upon a way to cope.
But already, in addition to the very few support groups (which we might call "computer dating services"), those who would prey upon their fellow men and women are hosting clandestine evenings of costly encounters. These are not mere trysts. Some involve stimulating computers to better performance through the use of ANSI, Teletel, NAPLPS and other graphics programs adjusted to display scenes of computer depravity. While these "porno-graphics" routines hold the interest of clearly troubled computers and owners, others urge them to more astounding depths (which we plan to explore in a future article about mixed chip silicon pit wrestling).
The need to recognize and provide for those afflicted by this scourge is evident. If we don't do it as a society, organized crime will do it as a parasite on society. Don't be afraid to talk about it if you have the problem. (I myself haven't been so unlucky yet, and I probably won't be since I live right and stay home a lot, but I'm concerned nonetheless.) Set up a legitimate computer dating service in your community, write to your representatives in government, and above all, talk with each other.
This videotex service is a good place to start. Say, would you consider sending a check if we set up a support group?
ZIP Beep #56
by Dennis Wallaker
[IDIOT'S NOTE: The only thing this piece has to do with Arnold Finky (I promise, this will be the last time I pull this crap) is that he is my second cousin and I've been waiting for 25 years to use that name, but whenever I use it in a fictional context it sounds real phony like that "Major Major" stuff that Joseph Heller used in CATCH 22. I haven't seen Arnold since I was 10 when he was afraid to swim in the lake 'cause he figured the fish might bite him and so he decided to become a fag. According to Great Aunt Jo, he's not even good at that. He keeps changing the wallpaper all the time. That's all I can really say about it except that if you run into him, tell him he has been immortalized in print.--DW]
THE NEXT PART
This is actually the way this thing is supposed to work. Here's the quote - "Where's my guitar?" - James Taylor
It was winter. There was a blizzard going on outside. I figured I better get out there so everything goes off without a hitch.
I grabbed Little Pete, my cat, who was every bit as concerned as I was ,and we headed towards the parking lot.
I said, "Pete, it's really coming down," but now for some reason he was relatively unconcerned.
As we were walking back to my place, we ran into the Chef in the hallway.
He said, "Dennis, I'm never going to have anything to do with canned shrimp again."
He replied that everything's been ruined.
I asked, "Was this casual? Was it serious? Were you thinking long term? Were you thinking relationship? What about communications?"
"Very funny, Dennis! Talking to you is like talking to a brick wall!"
I said, "I know you mean that as a compliment, but it's really hard for me to take it that way when you use that tone of voice."
He told me that I was a "big poop."
Like my cousin, Arnold Finky (okay, so I guess this piece does have something to do with him, in a way), the Chef has been able to tear through the fabric of masculinity and get right to the raw sensitivity.
But I don't stoop to that level.
I said, "I think you're a bigger poop than me."
He stomped off and the hallway dulled, so I figured I'm not going to get any more free pastries and stuff, but I don't care 'cause I usually feed them to the cats anyway. And if they die, I can live with it.
LITTLE TOM DOWD
DISCLAIMER - Tom Dowd is a dwarf and if you are offended by dwarves you might want to punch out except that I, personally, feel this is pretty funny, especially if you know Tom, which you don't, but what the heck...
I wanted to have hotdogs but I had no hotdog buns and so I thought let's have Beans & Franks, but I had no pork and beans so I figured I better go up to the overprice store. It's a drag when you've taken the time to thaw something out and you have forgotten things that might make the meal truly memorable.
I walked outside and ran into Little Tom Dowd.
Tom was headed up to the store for some porkchops and while they are too expensive I figured that's his biz. If he wants chops, it's okay with me if he buys chops at inflation rates.
Then he started giving me a bad time.
My ex-brother-in-law, who used to play with the circus, once told me, "Dwarves can be real jerks. Granted, when you're getting shot out of a cannon, you want your drum roll on cue, but then again, your're winding up in the net!"
WHAT LITTLE TOM DOES
1) If you walk to fast, he hits you right next to where you keep your keys. Well, I'm not going to take baby nun steps no more, for no one.
2) Tom Dowd is constantly criticizing my appearance. I often hear such things as "Another $2 haircut?" or "Is this the only pair of dirty boots that we own?"
But you have to expect that from Tom Dowd.
He's a lint detective.
Whenever you see him walking through the security door, you say to yourself, "How many people can get married in one day!"
But that's the way he dresses to go to work.
Makes it great for me because if I can't power dress like Tom, I ain't going to any more weddings and I'll probably skip work too.
SCAREY PART - DO YOU? TOM DOWD DOES!
A) Do ya shine yer shoes 3 times a week? (Okay, okay...but no one should have to.)
B) Do you have yer suits drycleaned once a month? (He does.)
Gunga Din, you're a better man...etc.
Dwarves are great folks but some of them get sick pretty easily and Tom Dowd is kind of sick. I don't want you to send him any money 'cause he'd just spend it on clothes, but if you are the kind of person that prays, give him just a short one. He's got a big ego, he'll take care of the rest.
TOM DOWD'S FAVORITE STORY (SO FAR) OF MINE
I'm getting so sick of people who write about or should I say bitch about the problems they are having in their bathrooms.
Except for me.
Folks, this is the real thing. I got a right to sing the blues. I've spent a lot of time sitting and thinking about this.
My mother used to say, "Time and time and time all over again I try to do something about this, but nobody listens!" She was usually referring to the potluck dinners that they have over at the church but I feel the same thing applies to this toilet.
So I complained again and they asked me if I could "put it in writing."
I grabbed a felt tipped pen and went into the bathroom, kneeled next to the toilet tank and started writing.
"The john don't work. I have to run a hose over from the sink. My dad came over here one day after we'd had one of those $1.99 breakfasts and we both agreed that the john don't work!"
It then occurred to me that they probably wanted me to write this stuff on paper!
You never know.
Don Fitzwater wants everything on floppy disks. And he'll have nothing to do with you unless you're alive, but he is a good husband, a great father, a sometimes excellent editor, not to mention his driving skills except for an incident a couple of years ago but ya...Enuff about Don...
Anyway, I grabbed the pencil and paper and started copying this stuff off the toilet tank.
My pet squirrel, Little Grey, showed up, definitely concerned. Squirrels are quite a bit like CPA's. They are a lot more concerned with our lives than we are. But they don't have coffee cups with their initials on them.
I looked at him and said, "I'm copying this stuff that I wrote on the toilet tank and putting it on paper."
He doesn't have that high an opinion of me anyway, and never has, so it came as no surprise when he split and headed up through the insulation break that leads to the roof.
On top of that, one of the maintenance guys borrowed my key for the security door and broke it off in the lock.
So I've got no security and my john looks like VJ Day in Nagasaki.
Ideally, it would be nice if some of the local gang members broke into the building and fixed my toilet, but you can't depend on something like that.
Plus, I got a brand new litterbox for the cats except no one wants to use it so the chances of me ever getting my damage deposit back are slim and none.
I'm sure complaining a lot.
It has to do with winter ending and spring beginning. In winter, everybody's bundled up and just trying to make it from point A to point B. Spring comes and people start walking around in front of your face like they're on TV or something.
Colorful frolics and bland personalities mesh to create an attitude that I don't see on a regular basis.
Oops, I'm complaining again. I'll be better when they fix the john. And I don't care what kind of wallpaper they put in there, or even if they put any in at all for that matter.
ZIP Beep #56
COMPUTING IS NEXT TO GODLINESS
An ALTERNATE UNIVERSE NEWS Feature
Transcribed by Don Fitzwater
[Editor's Note--Continual readers of ZIP Beep have followed our reports of news and entertainment from the Alternate Universe. New readers, on the other hand, probably wonder what the heck we are talking about. By way of short explanation, our satellite dish is set up next to a rather large aluminum building. When the weather and astronomical conditions are just right, and for reasons we cannot explain, we receive signals from a place we have come to know as the Alternate Universe. In the past this has seemed to be limited to receiving only the audio portions of what were apparently some sort of television broadcasts. This happens very rarely. But on these few occasions, we like to share transcripts of the broadcasts with the readers of ZIP Beep. This time, things were a little stranger than usual. We've recently hooked up a fax at the ZIP Beep offices and we are already used to receiving all manner of letters, press release and advertisements via the fax. And we've also received a fair number of pretty strange "junk" faxes, but this press release/news item from the Alternate Universe we just had to share. --ED.]
(CUPERTINO, CALIFORINA) The NeXT machine has been chosen to be God by an entire island in the Pacific. Anthropologists from Silicon Valley University revealed they had found a strange religious cult living on a small island in the Pacific.
"You may be aware of the so-called 'Cargo Cults' in remote New Guinea," said Cultural Anthropologist Hu Su Ying Hu, "These are cases where the natives have come across crashed cargo planes and assumed that since these items came from the sky they must belong to the Gods. Naturally they worship these items and whole cultures, mythologies and social taboos spring up around these totems of the Gods. In our recent research in the South Pacific region we've uncovered something really unique in the field of cultural anthropology, a complete island's culture and religion revolving around a personal computer."
What makes this out of the ordinary is that not only are the islanders aware of the artificial man-made nature of the object, but they also actually made a conscious choice to select the item rather than find it as is usually the case with most cargo cults.
Reportedly their old God (a lump of black obsidian glass) was wearing out, and the color of the NeXT machine, coupled with one of the island's factions desire for higher tech materials than obsidian, resulted in the NeXT being chosen. [EDITOR'S NOTE: The NeXT machine's main body consists of a solid black magnesium cube about a foot long on each side. This thing looks like the Darth Vader of computers.]
The selection committee read everything they could get their hands on about the NeXT machine.
"BYTE, PC WORLD, INFO WORLD, you name it and we've read it," said one islander, "once we saw the pictures we were hooked."
Even though most of the island's 1,000 inhabitants still lack a reliable source of electricity, and the advance word on the machine was very sketchy, their desire for this machine was strong.
"It really surprised the anthropologists when we told them we were at the unveiling ceremony last October," commented islander Heidi Siehk. "When we let the folks at NeXT know that we were very interested in their new machine, they went out of their way to make it possible for us to attend."
Arrangements included sending a private chartered jet to pick up members of the selection committee and fly them to the machine's gala rollout event.
When asked if they thought chosing a computer for a God was a little out of the ordinary, the islanders were very forthcoming in their responses.
"Like man, you know, a God is supposed to be like mystical and all-powerful. Unknowable and beyond mortal man's comprehension...we think the NeXT mchine fits that description perfectly..."
"It comes with the complete works of Shakespeare, considering most folks only manage to read a play or two, I'd call that pretty god-like..."
"Hey, to a lot of old school MIS types Unix IS God!"
"The 25 minutes between boots works out just great for our rituals, offerings to the God, and General chit-chat. Besides, it looks cool."
Industry pundits thought the NeXT's selection as God was probably due more to the entire island's population consisting of ex-Carnigie-Mellon Computer Science students, rather than the NeXT having any inherent theological significance.
"Hell, this thing doesn't even have much significance as a computer!" remarked noted columnist John DeVorjacque.
But even before the new God is installed there is trouble in paradise. The decision to go with the NeXT machine evidently caused a schism in the original selection committee. Some of the members have not only refused to participate in the officially sanction religion, but have also gone ahead with their plans to install their own candidate for God.
"Frankly, we just don't believe the claims made for the NeXT machine," said Bill Redmond, high priest of the rival faction. "This thing doesn't even have a stable operating system yet, let alone any real power or software. Sure, it looks cool, but let's get real for a moment here, ok? Which would you rather have...a God that looks good, or one that can really get things done?"
This splinter sect is pushing for a 386-based machine, though the members all admit that its selection was a near thing. Evidently a VCR and a metal detector were high on the selection list as well.
The NeXT contingent isn't worried.
"In any religion there are always sects," commented Siehk. "We just have to have faith that everything will work out in the end."
A large feast and ritual is planned to honor the new god just as soon as it arrives...probably early 3rd quarter 1990.
ZIP Beep #56
by Bret Stanley
Okay. Let's see. First off, I want you to know that I don't normally do movie reviews. But ZIP Beep said they wanted a movie reviewer who is not all caught up in the Hollywood hubbub. They want somebody who just goes to movies because movies are a good place to go hang out and goof off and like that. Somebody who is more like the average movie-goer.
Well, first off, I guess I fit that, 'cause I don't go to a lot of movies. I mostly just sit at home and watch TV. It's a lot cheaper, even with the cable.
So let's see...I was supposed to review a movie, uhm, some new thing about a bunch of kids trying to save their school by putting on a show. Something like that. But first off, you should know that I don't like movies like that.
I didn't think you'd want to read a bad review about some bad movie about kids putting on a show. If you like that sort of thing, go rent an old Mickey Rooney movie. (I liked the one with Judy Garland and whatsername, the blonde that did that other show kinda like the Mickey Rooney movies, only with a taller guy.)
Okay, well, then, I guess I must have wandered around about an hour looking for another movie to see. I looked for something kinda similar, but all I could find was this movie about a guy in that patrols the halls of this New York school using a baseball bat, which is kinda like that other movie I was supposed to see because Mrs. Rauschetler back in my grade school used to keep a bat behind her desk and she also was our drama and music teacher. Then there was this other movie about a guy that teaches poor kids how to do real complicated math stuff. But I didn't really want to see any of those, so I went home. I stopped in at Casey's Baseball Bar on the way, but you don't want to hear about that, since first off, there wasn't any movie there, just some lousy one-man band. I dunno why I went there anyway. I think maybe I was thinking about that guy with the baseball bat in school, and that made me think of Mrs. Rauschetler, so I thought I'd have a drink in her honor.
So I'm thinking maybe I'm not really cut out for this job, but then I'm thinking maybe I need the job anyway. So I went to sleep and had this dream that was like a movie, but I can't tell you about that. It would make some people mad, especially one person and I don't want her to be sore at me.
Well, when I got up I ate some lunch and thought I'd better get out and see a matinee so I can make this deadline. But first off, I need to find a movie to see, and I don't want to be wandering the streets so early and while it's still light out. So I look in the paper and see that guy from Saturday Night Live is in a new movie called Fletch Lives, or something like that. And it's just down the street at the Bijou, which is about four blocks away and has the stickiest floor in jujuland, but sometimes the movies are pretty good if you can ignore the screaming kids and if the guy that focuses the picture isn't asleep.
Okay, so I walk out, all the way down to the Bijou, and when I get there I see there's something else on the bill. I guess I was looking at last week's newspaper, or maybe there's another Bijou in town now. I dunno. But first off, I figure I better see some movie, any movie, if I'm going to be a movie reviewer.
So I goes into this movie and sees it. And it's really strange. I don't even know what the title was. Something with Danger in it, I think. Or Dangerous. And something about cuts or wounds, something like that. So first off, I figure this is going to be okay, I'll get to see some blood, maybe even see a few heads roll (as my favorite movie reviewer, Joe Bob Briggs, says). And I'm thinking maybe I can be the next Joe Bob Briggs, because what I need first off is some kinda bloody movie to review, and this looks like it.
But there weren't hardly any cuts or wounds, except for one scene. And any way you look at it, I know I sure haven't ever seen a movie like the one that was up on the screen there at the Bijou, or at least not like the one that was up on the screen there at the Bijou that's down the street from me. Geeze! Everybody is dressed like it's Halloween or France or something like that. And I sure don't remember anybody's name, because they're all like French names or something. But I figure I'm there and I should watch it so I can turn in some kinda review.
So there's this one guy, a Count or something, and he's kinda young, and then there's this lady who is the same actress that was in The World According to Garp and a couple of other things I can't remember right now. She has a man's name, but I can't think what it is. Anyway, this lady is like a Duchess or something, and they both talk about how they can get uncorruptable men and women to jump in the sack. And they have some kinda bet going about who can corrupt who, but I didn't really follow any of that. I liked some of the scenes, though. Especially when the young Count keeps writing letters in bed, and uses some girl's back for his writing desk. Kind of funny. And there was a neat sword fight. But that's about all. Except for some opera, which I couldn't stand anyway.
Let's see. I suppose I should say something else about the movie. I wish I could remember the name of it, because first off, you need to know the name of a movie you review so you can put the name in the title of the review. I dunno what I'm going to do about that.
But anyway, the lady with the man's name was pretty good. I think she may have won an award or something. And the Count, who maybe also won an award, looked kinda like that guy that was in Star Wars, not Luke Skywalker but that other...oh, wait a minute, that was Battlestar Galactica. Anyway, he looked like him. Or maybe I'm thinking of somebody else. You know who I mean. And there was this other lady who was really nice and who dies at the end. I suppose I shouldn't tell you that. Anyway, she was good. I liked her. I think she won an award, too.
So let's see, I guess the most I can say for this movie is it had a good sword fight, like I said, and the human writing desks were good looking, and that Count guy looks like that other guy, and there's some opera in it so you should stay away if you don't like hearing fat people sing. And I don't. That's another reason I didn't go to the movie I was supposed to go to. With all those kids singing and dancing, one of them is bound to be fat, and I can't even stand the idea. So first off, you should go to this movie I went to if you like hearing fat people sing, and if you can speak a foreign language so you can tell who is who when they talk about each other. Otherwise, I'd say hold out for something else, like a baseball movie that doesn't have anything to do with high school.
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