Sunday 21 January 2007

A LOAD OF B****!

I am constantly intrigued by the way in which misinformation circulates on the internet and, for the most part, survives intact and unchallenged.

Such items range from endlessly repeated accounts of scams and viruses that have long been authoritatively denied to urban legends that do no more harm than any of the shaggy dog stories or hoary old jokes that used to be passed around by word of mouth in the days before the internet.

Yet, what remains curious is that the internet itself - the medium which circulates such material - often carries the very information that can debunk or defuse such stories - if anyone bothered to check them out!

For example, take the following e-mail that I received recently and which may well have turned up in your Inbox - possibly more than once!
Mouse Balls & Mouse Ball Inspector

I don't know how they wrote this with a straight face. This was a real memo sent out by IBM to its employees in all seriousness. It went to all field engineers about a computer peripheral problem. The engineers rolled on the floor! Especially note the last couple of sentences.

If a mouse fails to operate or should it perform erratically, it may need a ball replacement. Mouse balls are now available as FRU (Field Replacement Units). Because of the delicate nature of this procedure, a replacement of mouse balls should only be attempted by properly trained personnel. Before proceeding, determine the type of mouse balls by examining the underside of the mouse. Domestic balls will be larger and harder than foreign balls.

Ball removal procedures differ depending upon the manufacturer of the mouse. Foreign balls can be replaced using the pop off method. Domestic balls are replaced by using the twist off method.

Mouse balls are not usually static sensitive. However, excessive handling can result in sudden discharge.

Upon completion of ball replacement, the mouse may be used immediately. It is recommended that each person have a pair of spare balls for maintaining optimum customer satisfaction. Any customer missing his balls should contact the local personnel in charge of removing and replacing these necessary items.

Please keep in mind that a customer without properly working balls is an unhappy customer.
There are versions of this story that are prefaced by the use of the word “allegedly” but this storyteller feels no obligation to question the veracity of the tale being told. In fact, quite the contrary, the set-up makes it clear that what we are being told is true: “This was a real memo sent out by IBM to its employees in all seriousness.”

Now there’s nothing any of us like more than a good joke and this is a good joke. But does it necessarily become any better for being TRUE rather than invented…?

Search for "Mouse Balls" on the excellent myth-busting site, and you will find the version above plus the following information:
The IBM "Mouse Balls" memo is one of the oldest bits of internet jokelore. Examples of it show up in USENET archives as far back as 1989, and scarcely anyone who had an e-mail address back then escaped without receiving this in his inbox more than once, which certainly drops it into the long-beard category with a loud thud.

Was this a real memo? "Real" in the sense that someone at IBM actually wrote it and distributed it to field service techs, perhaps, but it was always intended as an occupational in-joke; it wasn't a "serious" memo that some hapless supervisor inadvertently worded as a hilarious tour de force of double entendres.

The memo has remained remarkably unchanged through the years. As the piece has been passed from hand to hand through cyberspace, a few alterations have been made to the text (the "Please keep in mind that a customer without properly working balls is an unhappy customer" zinger wasn't in the original, and today's "Any customer missing his balls should contact the local personnel in charge of removing and replacing these necessary items" used to be "Any customer missing his balls should suspect local personnel of removing these necessary functional items"), but for the most part what turns up in inboxes now is fairly close to what was being circulated more than a decade ago.
What is fascinating - if perhaps predictable - is that greater access to information doesn’t necessarily guarantee greater dissemination of TRUTH.

Still, as Pilate asked…

[Illustration: Worth1000]



In case you missed it among the comments to yesterday's blog, SUZANNE solved LISA's word puzzle! Hooray!

The question, you will remember, was:

"What is the only English word when the first letter changes from lower to upper, BOTH the meaning AND the pronunciation change?”

And the answer?

polish / Polish
I really ought to have guessed this as I vividly remember my drama teacher at school, Harry Thorne, making us perform a terrible old music hall routine in an end-of-term show...

FIRST MAN [Coming on stage and singing in a funny (i.e. foreign) accent]:
Kiwi, Kiwi, Cherry Blossom, Nugget,
Kiwi, Kiwi, Cherry Blossom, Nugget,
Kiwi, Kiwi, Cherry Blossom, Nugget...

SECOND MAN [Coming on stage and interrupting]: I say, I say, what do you think you're doing?

FIRST MAN [Still in silly accent]: I'm-a singing in-a POLISH...

Anyway, well done, Suzanne! Although I do think Lisa’s 'clue' that "One of the words will make you lose weight, but only if indulged in excessively,” was, frankly, a bit misleading!


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Anonymous said...

Whoops! I just protested and then went back to your blog to realise that I had misread your last sentence. I don't know what I read, but it wasn't what was written - I just realised that you said the clue was misleading!
I really ought to wake up properly before I switch on my computer!

Brian Sibley said...

What intrigues me, Mr Scrooge, is that sites like Snopes and Hoaxslayer are readily accessible and yet comparatively few people (or few of those who forward stuff to ME!) ever seem to check out these legends and stories...

Not sure I altogether understood your comment, Suzanne, but since you brilliantly came up with the answer to that infernal puzzle that was driving me INSANE, I'll put it down to early morning, pre-caffeine incoherence --- MINE, that is, not yours!! ;-)

Brian Sibley said...

GILL e-mails to say:

"Scrooge's mice may not have balls but mine do! I just inverted my mouse [apologising for the early hour] and there is definetely somthimg small and spherical! I could not examine further without accusations of harrassment!


[Life President, the Testicles for Rodents Preservation Society]

Anonymous said...

Definitely MY pre-caffeine delirium, Brian! On top of yet another sleepless night! Oh well.
A propos of nothing at all, did you know there is a Belgian beer called "Delirium Tremens"?

Anonymous said...

Brilliant -- "polish/Polish" -- one of those "duuuuh -- of course!" moments. Thanks for posting the answer.

Brian Sibley said...

Pleasure, Maxine - sorry for the stress!

"Delirium Tremens", Suzanne? I want a crate - NOW!!

Brian Sibley said...

Steve Jobs would be proud of you, Mr S!

Anonymous said...

Maybe the person who gave you the "misleading clue" had a different and more lewd interpretation of polish in mind.