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Alive 2

The  secret  history  of a small but vital  component,  that  has  been 
dogging you throughout your whole computing history!

This is the inside story of a small, unsung, but very influential piece
of  hardware,  that  has been with people ever since the dawn  of  home
computing.  Way  back  then,  it was decided pretty quickly that a home
computer needed such dull and commonsense items as an operating system,
BASIC, a keyboard, RAM, ROM, and so on. In addition to these, a secret,
but  very advanced component was included with all new designs of  home
computer, from the ZX80 onwards.

The  existence  of this was kept secret up to now,  but often  jokingly
referred  to,  in  computing  circles,  as the infamous  "Embarrassment

It  was  a component that would lie dormant most of the  time,  quietly
sitting in the background,  until such a time as the user was trying to
impress  other  people  with their computing  prowess,  then  it  would
activate, and throw in a random fault, which would defeat the object of
the prowess showing exercise.

The  specification,  and  reasons  behind such a device,  will be  made
clearer a bit later on.  For now, we will look at a few case histories,
which will bring the secret existence of the embarrassment chip into  a
clearer light.

It  most  certainly featured on the Acorn BBC computer,  where type  in
listings  that  performed  flawlessly when I was on  my  own,  suddenly
crumpled to non operating dust,  in front of a sceptical friend. It was
probably at this point, I decided my programming career was over.

The embarrassment chip followed on to the 16 bit machines too, where it
manifested itself most often at user group meetings. Software that used
marginal  or  illegal  techniques,  worked fine at home,  but when  the
machine was transported to the user group, decided not to work at all!

It even turns up in the most modern Wintel systems, as my recent visits
to the premises of Dave Hollis, former editor of the 'ST+' Diskmag, and
current PeeCee fan, have managed to produce at least one major hardware
death,  per meeting,  when they attempt to link up their windoze boxes.
Again,  careful  note  has  to be taken of the concept  of  'trying  to
impress  people  and failing.' And no,  I'm not going to get  into  the
argument  of  Windows  being a possible  software  substitute  for  the
hardware based embarrassment chip,  as my final illustration will show,
this is not the case.

The  embarrassment  chip  even makes an appearance in  other  sorts  of
hardware,  which  only  appear  in specialist fields.  Where I work  is
something  to do with garage equipment.  I won't bore you with too much
detail,  but it is sufficient to say that this includes some electronic
or  computer-based  diagnostic  tools.  Now we had a  slightly  worried
sounding  person  on the phone,  the other day,  to say that his diesel
emissions  measuring  device had froze-up in mid test,  in  front of  a
Ministry of Transport Inspector!  Which is the LAST person in the world
that you would  want such a  failure to happen  in front of,  and proof
conclusive, of the spread of the embarrassment chip in just about every
significant electronic device in the world! Are even pocket calculators

So now  we know it is there,  what is it,  where did it come from,  and
what the fuck is it doing in my computer? We reveal the answers, next!

The embarrassment chip is a self-contained device. A complete computer,
within a computer.  Owing to the original source of the technology, and
more on this in a minute,  be patient!  It is always much more advanced
than the surrounding components of its 'host' machine.  How it actually
works,  has  to go into the realms of speculation,  but the most likely
explanation,  is  that there is a voice recognition system,  and a core
routine,  which  'learns'  the voice patterns of the person most  often
using the host machine, the intended owner of it.

The  fault  randomiser,  only goes active when it detects  a  different
voice pattern,  which operates IN ADDITION TO the regular voice pattern
it  is  used to.  In other words,  when another person,  as well as the
owner, is in close attendence to the Host machine. Another semi-serious
suggestion,  is  that the above is activated by some kind of brain wave
detecting technology. A suggestion totally off the wall perhaps, but it
may have more credibility, when you've read the next paragraph!

Where  did  it  come  from?  Well,  I've always wanted to go off  on  a
breathless   and   excited  tangent,   making  wild  claims  of   alien
interference in Earth's affairs.  Yes, it's another Roswell put-up job,
but   rather  than  the  somewhat  extravagant  mass   abductions   and
assassinations  that are claimed for them,  the little green (or grey?)
fellas  chose  a  more  prosaic method  of  sabotaging  humankind.  The
embarrassment chip, is alien technology!

The reason behind it, is that they are fearful of what could happen, if
the  bulk  of  the Earth's population  become  computer  literate.  The
embarrassment chip was included in all new hardware, as it was intended
to undermine most people's confidence in computers.  This would prevent
the  early  development  of  a race  of  coding  superbeings,  able  to
challenge the aliens on equal terms!

Thus,  only  a  few  dogged and obsessive people  would  bother,  which
accounts for the weird mindsets of those people we call coders, today.

The  aliens would seem to have it covered,  but it looks like they  may
have  also  been  reaching the wider population,  through  their  front
company,  known  to  us as 'Microsoft'?  That is another story  though,
which will have to wait until another time!

CiH - For Alive! Magazine, Jan 2001. But it's not real, is it??

Alive 2