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The Northern Spy
November 2003

The 2003 Dumbbell Awards

Rick Sutcliffe

With the advent of hockey season (Go Canucks!), the Spy feels simultaneously puckish and curmudgeonish. It's not a recommended combination, especially with a low-grade flu threatening to push the balance toward the latter.

One thing being a member of a language standards committee does for one (besides honing skills at pathological programming examples) is to create an appreciation of the third law of rule making (The first being to make as few as possible, the second to use law for protecting the helpless against the greedy rather than the other way around):

3. Thou shalt not legislate against stupidity.

In review of the year, it seems on the one hand, the industry could have put such legislation to good use, though on the other we might all be obsoleted were it to be passed. 'Course I dunno 'bout yerself, but the Spy never makes mistrakes.

So whilst (love that word) others award brickbats or raspberries, the Spy deems it appropriate to reward several choice morsels of the sort one might legislate against were one to throw sense to the winds in violation of the third law.

The envelopes, please.

Fourth place is awarded with respect to Apple's marketing claims. Steve is one byte short of a full fruit for claiming to have a digital hub strategy whilst (second use) going into 2004 on a flat wheel, that is, for lacking a PDA/bookreader spoke in the product wheel. But there's no dumbbell for that. As iTunes has shown, it's often better to wait until you know how to do it right. And too many others, most notably NuvoMedia, did it wrong. Besides,it's rumoured Apple will fix this in January, though I won't hold my breath.

More serious ( a second missing byte) are Apple's claims to be selling the fastest personal computer on the market today. After all, though in theory a 2 GHz 970 should equal a 2.5-3.0 GHz Pentium IV, we all know that in practice the practice of theory ain't the theory of practice.

It might have been more honest (but carrying less zing) to wait until independent agencies verified the claims or substituted tests of their own, or for the chance to test properly optimized code before going out on a limb with what some spoilsports claim are the results of flawed or biased testing methodology.

Are they? This one is arguable, especially since throughput is more than processor speed, and there can be no doubt the fast bus and serial ATA both make a contribution to the overall picture. The Spy's own experience weighs slightly on Apple's side.

And, no, it's not Apple that gets the prize here. No, its the U.K. agency that banned their ads from television as misleading on the basis of a handful of complaints and because they "found that the claim was not supported by independent reviews and that, at best, the G5 was only 'generally as fast' as its competitors." (quote quotes fixed)

Source: http://www.news.scotsman.com/latest.cfm?id=2160562

Note that they didn't say the ads were false, harmful, or even wrong, just that a debatable opinion with some research backing cannot be presented as fact. Have they banned editorials programs as news? What of the demeaning and dangerous depictions of (and tutorials in) sex and violence? Why, they ought by these lights to shut down the whole industry, not just an advertiser who may (or may not) at most have stated facts with an excess of enthusiasm.

So, the zinc dumbbell for fourth place in the "Maybe there oughta be a law against stupidity after all" category of 2003 goes to the U.K.'s Independent Television Commission. Let's all applaud the winner.

Third place is awarded in the "Tell me again slowly. Why exactly did you fire me?" category. for this one we turn to a ComputerWorld report at


where we are advised that "A report that might have been a valuable contribution to the study of the security ramifications of monolithic IT infrastructures has instead become a pawn in the unending political battle between pro- and anti-Microsoft factions. And it has cost one of the co-authors his job... co-author Dan Geer was fired from his job as chief technology officer at Cambridge, Mass.-based @stake Inc., a security company that derives a hefty percentage of its income from Microsoft."

Seems Dan Geer's sin was claiming that Windows OS gets the majority of security attacks not because of its ubiquity but because its dominance results in it being inherently insecure, a view many share, but apparently no longer dare say aloud for fear of joining the unemployed. This firing is an effective strike against free speech on behalf of the behemoth, but hardly a contribution to salt and light. Did Geer's superiors receive a call from Redmond, or did they engage in this sleazy assassination without even needing to be prodded?

So, third prize, the bronze dumbbell, goes to @stake who in a wonderful twist of irony don't seem to get what's at stake when free speech is stifled. After all, it's not as if there is a potential shortage of victims in this category. Others have been as voluble.

The fundamental issue was that the method by which Microsoft develops code is not up to the job for building enterprise level computers." Bill Malik, VP at Gartner Group quoted in Silicon.com http://www.silicon.com/news/500009/1/1028004.html

And, in a related move, the US Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) has urged the US Department of Homeland Security to avoid using Microsoft software. http://www.theinquirer.net/?article=11249

But wait. There's a second contender in the same category. Seems a poor benighted print shop employee at Microsoft itself posted pictures of the arrival there of three pallets of G5 machines. See:


Note there are no negative comments with the article, not a hint that MS was doing anything wrong, unusual, or contradictory. After all, they do develop software for the Macintosh computer last time any of us heard. Indeed the only negative item in the posting is a comment on the way the machines were wrapped for shipping. But apparently his superiors deemed this act disloyal and Michael Hanscom also found himself without a job in short order.

Oh, hey, any action that reveals what your company is up to is problematic. But the behemoth responded not with a warning roar but by swallowing the fellow whole, prompting the Spy to wonder if what we ought to legislate against is legislation against stupidity, for such attempts invariably outclasse the act against which they are directed. Ah, but the Spy digresses into a potentially infinite recursion. In any event, and whatever else Hanscom may have been guilty of, the optics on this one are way out of focus. Give the poobahs responsible for this lulu of a decision a cheap copy of the bronze dumbbell award. We can't afford two originals.

Second place goes to Red Hat, for the recent announcement it will shortly discontinue support for Linux versions 7, 8, and 9. They evidently expect their many thousands of users to migrate either to the company-supported Enterprise version (and pay $300+/y) or to the user-supported, experimental Fedora version.

Both are currently unsupported by major software vendors who have plied their wares for Red Hat for years. Will developers and customers stay within the RH fold after this bombshell? Unlikely, considering there are both paid and unpaid alternatives (Mandrake and Debian respectively), and other contenders who'd like nothing more than to flesh out their market share. Moreover, the reputedly more secure BSD version of Unix waits just around the corner, with the Apple Macintosh the leading platform in this arena.

Sorry Red Hat, but "market share" gained with a free product is unlikely to go to a paid one when you discontinue. The Spy notes that within a week, major hosting appliance vendor cPanel moved their progress indicator for a Mac OSX version from 90% to 93% complete after going months without budging.

So the dumbbell for spinning off enough bad will processes to simultaneously shoot both reputation and clients in all their collective feet goes to Red Hat. They get a pitted and tarnished faux silver version for their placing.

But the grand prize for foot shooting has to be awarded in the category "arrogance in litigiousness to the point of suicide." Usually when there is a dispute (whether it goes to law or not), sufficient FUD can be spread about to make the (mostly) injured party consider swallowing hard and settling. After all, one does not want to bet a small company's future on possible redress from legal bills, even if the suit appears vexatious and without merit. Being held even 1% responsible could ring the death knell, for an enterprise, the other 99% notwithstanding.

But sometimes the suit is so without merit that one isn't sure whether to laugh or cry. Notable potential winners in this category include the gengineered seed companies who sue farmers in adjoining fields when the bees and the wind spread their patented genes more broadly than anticipated. And, speaking of patents, there are those who've duped the Patent Office into granting protection to algorithms, then sued users for redress on something that is not supposed to be patentable (a formula). One must also not forget the "look and feel" suits of the past, wherein code owners tried to claim protection not only for the algorithm and code but even the end result appearance. (All boo and hiss together now.) These are mere pikers.

This year's winner is sure to go down in history, the contra-Wayne Gretzky or Patrick Roy all-time perverse champion (best of the worst that is, not best of the best). Both of they two are retired true winners. But when our flip-side winner passes into the great dev/null it will be because of losing one of the most mind-numbingly meritless lawsuits of all time.

Consider the summery at:


Behold the spectacle of SCO suing IBM and other industry giants over the notion that programmers preparing code for Linux knowingly stole copyrighted code from SCO's source. Remedies desired include penalties for anyone using affected versions of Linux and not paying SCO's extortion money for a license. Code auditors and the European courts have already opined the lawsuit to be without merit, as has IBM and other lawyers. Evidence is of the thinnest sort, and nothing of substance has been offered so far. It is only a matter of time before other courts follow, ahem, suit. Given the way Linux code is prepared and distributed, and that it is publicly available for examination, it is unlikely a programmer would risk reputation and employment by stealing from the likes SCO. And, one or two coincidentally similar lines are easily changed. SCO has already struck out; they are just not aware of it yet.

Does anyone doubt that this is a primarily a PR move designed to extract ill-gotten gains through the legal system that could never be won by offering products? One has to wonder about the intellectual ability of the lawyers who approved this suit, unless they are working at flat rate rather than commission. What is more, once IBM and the other defendants are done with them, it seems unlikely there will be an SCO still extant, become one more competitor in the IT arena to fall on its own sword.

This one is right up there with a Darwin award for bungee jumping off the Calgary Tower sans a rope. So, ladies and gentlemen, a big hand to SCO for the gold dumbbell award of 2003. Whilst you clap, we ought to add that we understand they intend to get it bronzed. But we wouldn't want to stop them. After all

3. Thou shalt not legislate against stupidity.

--The Northern Spy

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Last Updated: 2006 11 08