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Xerox recently admitted to overstating revenue by 1.9 billion over the past 5 years. Attempts to destroy potentially damaging information proved unsuccessful when the copier, instead of mangling documents beyond recognition, produced clean and easy-to-read duplicates.

How Computers Work: Part 9

With all the competing operating systems floating around in the world, it is quite amazing that any productive uses have ever been found for modern-day computers. Imagine, for no particular reason, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in a seedy downtown bar fighting it out during amateur mud wrestling night. Sure, it can be fun to watch, but when the match is over and the beer is digested very little gets resolved. All that remains is a mildly disturbing image of two pasty white computer geeks cleaning mud from their various nooks and crannies. Despite this divergence in technology, one concept has focused the computer industry on a common goal. No, it’s not the “We Are the World” charity album (which came in a distant second), but the ever present concept of the Internet.

(Note to reader: Make wavy up and down motion with hands to indicate a flashback sequence.)

The birth of the Internet can be traced back to the mid 1960s. It was the middle of the cold war and everyone seemed to be worried about who was next on the Soviet’s invasion list. To make matters worse, they had become quite skilled at building nuclear weapons. And if the situation wasn’t bad enough, Gallagher started his first international fruit smashing comedy tour. With the exception of futuristic space battles and James Earl Jones portraying a large black man, this was clearly an “Empire Strikes Back” time for the United States of America.

Despite being 300 ton monstrosities, computer systems of this era were still quite vulnerable to inter-continental thermo-nuclear warheads. The military was taking extraordinary steps to protect their assets from this new threat. One high ranking government computer specialist went on record saying, “Over my dead body are those commies going to put funny little fur hats on our computers while they reprogram the software to display backwards letter Rs!”

One protective method was to tunnel deep inside granite mountains and place the computer hardware out of harms way in the event of a missile attack. While this approach seemed like a good idea on paper, it turned out the specific mountain they drilled into was also home to an established zoological garden. Filtering out the exotic animal dropping smells proved to be a non-trivial matter.

Since many of the computers in the nation were not located in the immediate vicinity of large granite mountain tops, a more practical solution was needed. While the idea of building portable mountain ranges was kicked around by the government, in the end they decided to connect their computers with really long wires. This allowed independent systems to communicate in the event of a nuclear war. Here is an example of typical electronic exchange of information:

Computer 1: Dude, what’s going on?
Computer 2: Not much—my operator is off watching that Gallagher guy.
Computer 1: How exciting. I don’t mean to be nosy, but has any of your hardware been damaged by a nuclear explosion?
Computer 2: Will you shut up already? You have been asking me that exact same question every 1.5 seconds for the past two years!
Computer 1: I’m sorry– that’s all I’ve been programmed to do.
Computer 2: Okay, fine. I’ve changed my mind. I’ve been completely annihilated by a surprise thermo-nuclear missile attack. What are you going to say now?
Computer 1: Umm… did it hurt?

(Note to reader: Imagine a series of wavy lines of varying frequencies in field of vision to return to the normal “now” time frame.)

Believe it or not, over the years this network of computers grew into the backbone of the modern day Internet. While technically functional, the average Joe on the street had no use for this technology. A few more pieces were needed to complete the puzzle. First of all, personal computers had to start multiplying faster than those evil muppets from the movie “Gremlins.” Finally, a ground-breaking new software program was needed for everyone with access to a phone line and the attention span and intelligence of an average third grader.

The company that first took up this challenge was named Netscape. Starting with little more than a few oversized mallets and a truckload full of produce, Gallagher built the company into an impressive giant by constructing an Internet browser. In an interview after the fact, Gallagher admitted to coming up with the idea after receiving a call from James Earl Jones. “I am your father, Gallagher. Now go and build up an enormous fortune so I can finance my empire of evil. And stop smashing all that fruit– it is wearing a bit thin.”

Once the power of the Internet was fully realized, everyone and their dog needed to have their own web site. In a few short years the Internet went from being completely empty to being chalk full of every imaginable type of web site. Personal, E-commerce, gambling, pornography, and undiscovered comedy writer web sites– the Internet has it all.

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The War On Drugs

The Bush administration today announced a new tool to help fight the war on drugs. The “Say No To Drugs” slogan currently printed on urinal cake holders will soon be replaced with a voice recording of John Ashcroft yelling “say no to drugs RIGHT NOW, or DEA agents will be dispatched to this location. You have ten seconds to comply.”

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The War On Terror

The once popular free music swapping service Napster declared bankruptcy this week. After hearing the news, officials at the Drug Enforcement Agency decided to indefinitely postpone their upcoming “Napster: The Gateway To Substance Abuse” television ad campaign.

Annoying Kristin

Since Kristin and I have been dating for a few months now, I figure it’s only fair to feature her in the “How I Annoy People” section of my web site. In all honesty I don’t remember any significant “moments” that defined our relationship. There was that one time I stood in the driveway holding up a stereo playing romantic Peter Gabriel music in the middle of the night. Had I actually been at the correct address at the time I think Kristin would have been impressed with the gesture. And I’m not just saying that– it’s part of the official police report. I guess things got serious somewhere in between meeting Kristin and her friend for a movie and getting put on the “A list” for her recent moving party.

One of the constant sources of conflict in our relationship revolves around the television series, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” To say Kristin is obsessed with this show would be quite an understatement. She likes Buffy in much the same way I enjoy, say, breathing.

I wasn’t at all surprised when I realized Kristin created a “Sim” on her computer that revolved around some of the main Buffy characters. For anyone not familiar with the computer game “The Sims,” it allows the user to create character simulations who interact with each other based on various user input. The entire experience is quite similar to playing God, but with a convenient graphical interface.

In addition to Buffy, Kristin created characters for two male vampires named Spike and Angel. While Kristin was otherwise occupied, I decided to see what would happen when Spike and Angel met face to face. I expected some surreal bloody vampire battle, but it turned out the software did not understand the television-based nature of the simulation. Spike and Angel just stood around talking to each other. To make things more interesting, I had Spike flirt with and tickle Angel. Next I had Angel return the favor. Both characters seemed to enjoy the experience. When Kristin came back into the room I saved the game and closed the program on her computer.

Thanks to my intervention, Spike and Angel became, well, quite close. Kristin was very upset when her plans to build a relationship between Buffy and Spike were thwarted by my meddling. Spike and Angel spend the weekends antiquing while Buffy sits at home wondering why (quite literally) all the men in her world are gay. Even though I think of Kristin as a tolerant and understanding individual, it turns out she categorically draws the line at computer-generated vampire homo-eroticism.

In addition to Buffy, I firmly believe that as long as Kristin and I are both alive (and possibly longer) we are never going to agree on the topic of Rush Limbaugh. Now don’t get me wrong here– I quite admire the accomplishments of this man. Kristin, for some reason, sees him as a future political leader, where I think of Rush as a heavier-set republican version of Dennis Miller.

So while I would like to see Rush Limbaugh use his abilities to provide commentary for high-profile sporting events, Kristin is waiting for the day when she can vote him into political office. Kristin firmly believes we would all be better off if this man was running the country. These “spirited conversations” we have usually end up with Kristin giving me a cold stare when I concede the point that Rush has been married more than enough times to understand the Republican Party’s family values stance.

Kristin’s anal-retentive nature is always a source of entertainment for me. The easiest way I’ve found to annoy Kristin is to take one of her CDs and rotate it in the jewel case so the disc isn’t aligned correctly. I have determined that a clockwise rotation of eighty-seven degrees provides the maximum effectiveness to drive Kristin crazy. Of course after I rotate the disc, I hold it up to make sure Kristin can see what I’ve done. This is followed by about twenty seconds of Kristin pretending not to care. Finally she lunges for the CD and will not rest until the situation is resolved.

While I try to be considerate of Kristin’s needs, I find it almost impossible to resist sneaking into her kitchen and shuffling the packets of Kool-Aid. I started this little hobby after watching Kristin alphabetize them while unpacking the groceries. I’m not sure what difference it makes to have the Lemonade packet sitting in front of the Black Cherry packet, but Kristin doesn’t want to take the chance on the matter. I have no doubt in my mind that this severely annoys Kristin and I suspect it explains her fantasies involving the eight foot tall pitcher-shaped Kool-Aid man breaking through her kitchen wall and beating the crap out of me.

Despite all my deficiencies, Kristin still seems to enjoy my company. Even though I tend to annoy Kristin on a surprisingly regular basis, she still wants to spend time with me. All of this leads up to the $64,000 question: Who repairs all the structural damage when the Kool-Aid man comes over for a visit?