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March 1999: The Moral Maze.
The moral maze may sound like a cheesy Channel Five game show hosted by everyone's favourite guy, Graham Norton, but it's actually the serious subject of this months Soapbox. Following the on going Pornography theme in The Indie (see the October 1998 issue on saucy software and splattered across every letters page since), I'm going to research the dark underbelly of this complex subject on your behalf, strictly in the name of quality journalism you understand. We're all adults here, aren't we? (I can hear giggling at the back). If not I suggest you stop reading now, or else risk seeing something that may disturb you, for this is a subject for much moralising. A subject to question individual freedoms and also one for hypocrisy. You already know that PC's and Porn go together like politics and corruption. The Internet is a pervert's paradise. There's no escaping the fact that if you bring a dirty book home from Holland then customs will catch you, confiscate it and do a cavity search for more. Download a ton of Hot Dutch Tottie from the web, however, and no one will ever know. Video clips, hi-res. pictures, chat rooms, even text files all offer Onanistic pleasures (I'm told). Now the home groan (sorry, grown) product is also becoming popular, in the same way video cameras aren't just for videoing children's birthday parties. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. The following is virtually a true story, only the names and events have been changed to protect the (and the not so) innocent and also protect any future business I might enjoy with a man we'll refer to only as 'Bob'...
Byte the Bullet Computers is a customer of mine, fronted by the wild 'n' crazy Bob. Whilst enjoying our weekly chat, (which involved The League of Gentlemen and the hole in the Ozone layer, and what these things mean to the independent computer retailer, interspersed with my asking if he'd like to buy a product or two and him replying no) he mentioned a recent incident. A regular and well-liked customer, who we'll call 'Mr Customer', had brought his PC in for a Ram and Processor upgrade. While in his possession, Bob, being a thorough chap, gave the machine a quick service, to the tune of a scandisk and defrag. A directory name caught his eye as it flicked past, as they sometimes do. Inquisitive Bob had a quick peek on the machines hard-drive. This is the sort of peek which involves looking for hidden files and folders, you understand. Perhaps you're tutting. Well, if he'd found Gary Glitter (allegedly) type pictures and called the police he'd have been hailed a hero for spotting a dangerous pervert. However what Bob found was of an altogether different nature. Having sold 'Mr Customer' a digital camera some months earlier Bob wasn't entirely shocked to discover undraped pictures of 'Mrs Customer' in a hidden directory. After all, why else do people buy Polaroid and other instant cameras? (Or is that just me?) Anyhow, he waded through increasingly continental bitmaps until a growing feeling of Peeping Tom-hood and mild (only mild, mind) self-disgust made him switch off. After lunch, the day was quiet and boredom, that root of much mischief, raised its ugly head. Being by nature curious (in both senses of the word) Bob fired the tower up again in search of voyeuristic pleasures. In later pictures Mrs Customer appeared to be a regular purchaser at Ann Summers parties. Eventually Bob turned the PC off with an acute feeling of embarrassment. At least I think he said he was embarrassed. By this time his recounting of the incident down the 'phone was being fitted around uncontrollable laughter. Of course when Mr Customer came into the shop to collect his upgraded machine he may have noticed how Bob was avoiding eye contact and suppressing a grin. Or he may not. Afterwards, Bob felt like a dirty old man. So he went out and found a dirty old- No, that isn't right. He reasoned that if Mr Customer hadn't been so careless the incident would never have happened, which just might be another way of saying 'I feel a bit guilty and want to blame someone else'.
I've spoken to a number of my customers about this issue. The response has been everything from frank admissions to total rejection. One chuckling shop owner told me thorough drive checks were frequently made and anything 'good' saved to a company drive for further (private) enjoyment. I was told, "If you send a book to be rebound, you can expect someone to read it, can't you? It's just human nature to be curious". (Is your reaction suitably disapproving?) The tale was recounted of a female customer who was complaining of too little drive space. The Pc had two gigabytes of the husbands saucy Internet sauced images tucked away on it. Although the shop owner hushed that incident up in the name of matrimonial harmony, she added had they discovered anything illegal it would naturally have been reported to the police. An ex-engineer, now purchaser for a large firm that had, in the past, reported at least one customer to the police explained his companies' policy was one of vigilance. If an icon was marked with a suggestive title it would be investigated, but otherwise the customers data was sacrosanct. He also made the point that if looking for images is acceptable, where do you stop? Document files could also easily include material which under the obscene publications act would be illegal to own. A third retailer dismissed the idea of inspecting customers drives as 'weird'. He said nothing like that happened in his shop and any member of staff caught doing anything unnecessary to a customers data would be instantly dismissed as that would be a clear betrayal of the customers trust. He added that after Mr Glitters (allegedly) well publicised downfall, any pervert with half a brain would back up their files and erase them prior to any work being done on their machine. Logically he felt that if he were to find something unacceptable on a customers Pc he would be placing himself in a moral dilemma. Like a burglar who discovers a murder victim, he shouldn't have been there in the first place.
So let's have a quick vote. Hands up those of you who wouldn't investigate a directory named 'iffy pics'.
This months product news is on another sticky subject. Adhesive labels. Most of you are dealing in CDR and CDRW drives these days which is good as the market for these products is still growing fast and as prices continue to fall they'll only get more popular. However, the ideal add-on sale (apart from media) is still slipping past many of you. I refer, of course, to the Pressit CD Labeller. Here we have a foolproof product with built in repeat sales in the shape of extra blank labels. The idea is you can effectively label, decorate and generally groovy-up home-made CDs so they look far more professional than simple hand written notes, in a way which centres the label properly to avoid drive damaging vibration. I've also heard that some CD marker pens contain chemicals that can damage the recording over time, which is something else to avoid. To sum up: If you sell CDR drives, sell these! (Now available through us, naturally.)
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