Tell Sid: beware of flobbabytes

17th March 2000 at 00:00
THERE is a bloke called Sid Cyberspace who is ruining my life. I suspect he is also giving a hard time to everyone else working in education.

Sid is an obsessive 24-hour-a-day workaholic who never sleeps. I don't know what he looks like, where he lives, or what he eats for breakfast. I only know what he does, or rather what he probably does, since I have never met him.

"Did you get my e-mail?"

"What e-mail?"

"Don't say e-mail is down again. We've been having problems all day." That is just one typical example of Sid Cyberspace at work. He spends much of his time tampering with the Internet and e-mails.

Before anyone is awake he is busy typing neat little screen notes with yellow exclamation marks, saying "connection to server has been severed", "host not known", and "all proxies are down". They are as informative as an Albanian thesaurus to most of us, farcical even, but that is Sid's style.

He used to work for the railways, writing those smeared felt-tipped messages on whiteboards: "Trains to Little Piddlington will be delayed because of operating difficulties in the Greater Piddlington area".

"Operating difficulties" meant that some poor passenger, driven to desperation by Sid's little japes, had hurled himself off a bridge.

The moment you log on to your computer, Sid Cyberspace will slip in one of his bits of gibberish. As a result you can never be certain that your e-mails have been received, so you send them again, just to make sure. That is why e-mails, like buses, often arrive in pairs.

In offices, schools, universities, I see person after person sitting in front of a screen, staring vacantly. What did people working in education do before computers started to dominate their lives, for goodness' sake? Talk to someone? Read books? Teach?

Why, in former simpler times, did we waste our time on these trivial pastimes? We could have been gazing longingly at our monitor, waiting for Sid's wretched hourglass to go away.

Just when yu've had enough and want to close your computer down, escape at long last from the cyberworld and re-enter the real one, blinking uncertainly in the light, rubbing your eyes, wondering who these people with legs and a head are, what does Sid do? He flashes up his bloody hourglass.

So you sit you there, open- mouthed, hopelessly hooked to the end of time, in my case screaming: "Come on, shut down, you evil bastard." When, in sheer desperation, you simply pull the plug, just to get rid of the irritating little icon, Sid waits until the next time you switch on to get his revenge.

"Your computer was shut down prematurely". Yes, Sid, I know it was. I pulped it with a sledge hammer, so I could get some sleep. It is no good protesting. He will make you run Scandisc, or Rumpelstiltskin or something, before you can play again.

Then you bump into one of Sid's human-form pals, not realising they are his agents. Their job is to tell you that you need an even bigger, faster hard disc and yet more RAM. You've probably got 64 trillion megabytes of junk already, but Sid's mates will talk you into buying another truck load.

The correct scientific term for this phenomenon is "Sid's Law of Halves". According to Sid's Law you always have exactly half of what you actually need. You've got 32 flobbabytes? What a pity, Sid's chums will gleefully pronounce. You should have at least 64. Only for a while that is, because once you've got 64, you will need 128.

Unfortunately you cannot outrun him. He is insatiable. He gulps down bowls full of ROM and RAM like cornflakes. In the end you actually phone people to check if your e-mail has arrived. The tinkling noise from your computer is Sid laughing hysterically at the irony of it.

I now know what we in education must do. Each of us should buy a million flobbabytes of everything and ram it all into our computer in a tangled heap. That will show him. If Sid Cyberspace is in there, I hope the spiteful little bugger suffocates.

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