If the title didn’t put you off, then perhaps you’ll find this minor real-life adventure worthwhile. It’s all true, but the names and circumstances have been changed, in part to protect the guilty, but mainly to protect me.
Long ago, an ambitious boy — call him Jimmy Proton — started a little company to provide tune-up services for starship engines. This new business was given the pretentious name of Yoyodyne Engineering.
Thanks to my specialized skills and a personal connection, I ended up doing much of the technical development for Yoyodyne. In particular, I figured out how to patch into the industry-standard nacelles built by Acme Galactic, so that our process would augment the Acme firmware and improve engine efficiency.
To make a long story short, Jimmy’s Yoyodyne was acquired by Acme, which planned to merge our technology into their product line. Thus we became, in effect, a small department of Acme.
I was surprised to learn that I had been listed as an asset of Yoyodyne, and I was thus now personally owned by Acme. I was advised not to challenge my status as property, lest I topple the deal and make Jimmy look bad. This sounded odd to my naïve ears, but I shrugged and figured this is how it’s done in the big leagues. In the meantime, I was doing my job same as before, so why should I worry who owned me?
Jimmy had a right-hand man named Mickey. Mickey could be clever but oblivious; the kind of guy that perhaps shouldn’t be completely autonomous.
Mickey’s current idea was that starship owners ought to be given a free trial of the Yoyodyne app so they could see how great it was, and they would in consequence purchase it. There was well and good in principle, but there are right ways and wrong ways to do a thing. Mickey did it the wrong way.
At the time, there was a smart engineer, Schmutzy Schmaltz, who ran a small but respected business, TryItOut.com. This was what Yoyodyne needed to distribute a demonstration package.
The right thing to do would have been to contract with Schmutzy to build the demo package for us. But because he was too busy to be troubled with silly protocols like contracts, Mickey just borrowed the wrapper off Schmutzy’s website. He installed this on a new site he’d created, TryAcmeYoyodyne.com. Then he put out the word that starship owners should visit this site and take our app for a spin around the galaxy. Mickey did this all on his own; I don’t think anyone else knew what he was up to. (I didn’t learn about it until, as they say on the Internet, #tshtf.)
Schmutzy soon heard of the Yoyodyne demo, and he discovered it was an illegal distribution of his own software. So Schmutzy called the Acme switchboard and asked why Acme was ripping him off. The Acme secretaries that answered the phone had no idea who Schmutzy was or why he would be calling them. The secretaries, not entirely unreasonably, wrote Schmutzy off as a crackpot, sort of like the people that call the White House to complain that the president is sending them coded messages in the State of the Union address.
So Schmutzy talked to a friend in the trade press, and here he got understanding and action. Any technical person (and Schmutzy’s friend was such a person) could quickly see that Acme had appropriated Schmutzy’s property.
This made for the sort of narrative the public loves. There was a big, bad, corporate villain. There was an honest, industrious small businessman. There was a crime. There was abuse. There was malice aforethought and malice afterthought.
In short, this was the most perfect narrative since David and Uriah the Hittite. The industry press ran with it, making up gory theories (written as if they were established facts) about how this crime was planned by Acme bigwigs, who took a moment’s pause from their daily routine of dining on puppies to share a big laugh at how they shoved poor Schmutzy’s face into the mud.
As I read those reports, I rolled my eyes and thought about how the whole thing was nothing but a bonehead move by an isolated jackass.
A select few of us insiders knew what really happened. The next guy up the food chain from us was Mickey, and of course we had nothing to say to him about the incident. So true knowledge didn’t move beyond a couple of the indentured servants. (Memo to newsboys (if any yet survive): If you want true facts, ignore the bosses and ask the staff!)
As far as Schmutzy goes, the story has a happy ending. Acme paid him for his work product and apologized. But the incident still left Acme with a black eye in the court of public opinion.
That’s my story, and I’m not relating it for the purpose of making a specific analogy to any other news item. It’s just an interesting example of which I have some personal knowledge.
I saw Andrew Breitbart speak at a Tea Party rally shortly before he died, and one of the major points he made was the way media warps the “news” around the framework of its favored narrative. And of course this is a trap for all of us. Who doesn’t love a good narrative?
(My take-away from Breitbart, in a nutshell: He who controls the narrative, controls the world.)
An example of “our” narrative is the corruption of the IRS. Contrary to Obama’s claims, the evidence supports the validity of this narrative. This latest bit of news about Lois Lerner’s long-demanded emails having supposedly been lost adds to that scandal, much as “erased” bits of Nixon’s secret tapes added to the Watergate scandal. But we must take care not to add anything to the IRS narrative that doesn’t solidly belong there. The bad guys have forfeited any claim to intellectual integrity; it may be silly of me, but I refuse to follow suit.
(As an aside, it would be surprising for it to be at all possible for Lerner to “lose” a couple years of emails as a result of a computer crash. These government PCs are not isolated and unaccounted for; they’re part of a greater system with a large tech support infrastructure. Among other bits of maintenance the standard framework gives are security checks and an automated backup. And of course the emails would pass through a government mail server, which would also be expected to maintain records and backups, because government is expected to be accountable and ready for this sort of scrutiny (especially true for “the most transparent administration ever”). So are we really expected to believe that this major executive did her official work on an unmaintained PC? Or that the systematic backups have also been lost, from both Lerner’s PC and the mail server? As Ricky used to say: Lois, you got some ‘splainin’ to do. But I digress.)
I write this upon escaping from TamCon, having partaken of Tammy’s generous assortment of wines and lovely horse d’ordures, and I am thus obligated to post a note of great insight and wit. Alas, I seem to mainly be expressing general caution in a world of many lies, some intentional and some (as with Acme) sincere but wrong.
I think it was Mark Twain, quoting Donald Rumsfeld, who said something about the greatest danger being what you know that ain’t so.
Anyway, it was good to gather with my fellow TAMs (and I hope the sentiment was mutual). That’s my conclusion.