Quite by mistake, I bought the New York Times yesterday. I thought it was Paul Krugman day, but he wasn't there - his column doesn't appear on a Thursday.
So there I am, creaking open the coffin lid of this newspaper - picture the scene if you will, imagine a bit of mid-afternoon San Francisco sunshine at a usually-windblown outdoor coffee table - and I'm trying to open this ancient newspaper which looks like it was last redesigned in about 1879, and in fact looks even older than The Onion's parody of the New York Times as a turn-of-the-century newspaper, then what should leap out at me from the hallowed op-ed page, but a Microsoft advertisement.
Now buying space on this most-hallowed turf - jostling amongst the highly-paid columnists and other worthy sentinals to which the New York Times shares this very special place - cannot be cheap. It's the only advertising slot on the whole page, so whoever wants to get there, must have tried jolly hard to make their case. Furnishing huge bundles of dollars.
But Microsoft yesterday bought this space and for the devil of me, I can't work whether this particular advertisement was planned months in advance, and then just sailed through this particular post-Slammer week, or whether it's a topical damage-limitation exercise written in great haste. Can you help, dear reader?
It's called - and this in a very distinctive Sans Serif typeface placing at least one hundred years' ahead of where the New York Times is design-wise - this is very striking indeed - "SEEKING SECURITY IN A WIRED WORLD". And promises to be (no shit) ... "One in a series of essays on technology and society. More information is available at microsoft.com/issues/.
Uh, what? Which deluded advertising person thought they could pass off an "essay" - and what learned potential that word has - yes, an "essay" on the hallowed ad-spot of The New York Times. Dammit, we might have rumbled by now that that's the spot where adverts go.
Were they hoping that someone might stumble onto the ringed section of this sacred ground, where they usually find the Op-Ed advertisement, you know - just sort of wander over - and be suckered into reading "an essay", all of a sudden? Just like that?
I mean, what are you thinking of when you open The New York Times in an anxious moment on the morning commute. You're thinking: well, this train's late and I'm about to be fired, but no - why don't I read "the first in a series of essays on technology and society", which has been written especially for me, in this Sans Serif-faced and easily digestible chunk, by Microsoft? Cancel all engagements, dear, there's an essay coming in...!
Probably, the person who devised this cunning advertisement did think, yes, you would be suckered - which assumes an enormous level of stupidity on our part, don't you think?
This essay is particular ill-placed however, because one phrase leaps out at you: "Secure By Design". **
"Engineers spent several weeks reviewing many millions of lines of code in Windows. This unprecedented effort has already paid off in software updates that have closed security gaps."
And this, only days after the Slammer worm removed Korea from the Internet for several hours, and threw Microsoft's own sysadmins [and that word will appear later in this observation] into a blind panic:-as you can see here:-
Update: HELP NEEDED: If you have servers that are nonessential, please shut down the MSSQLSERVER service as well as SQL Agent (so SQL doesn't restart)
The advertising copywriters, having convinced themselves that they're sufficiently "secure by design", go on to conclude the ad with this rather plain warning:-
"...everyone should stay up to date on patches, use a personal firewall, run antivirus software and keep it up to date."
"To help keep intruders at bay, we all must do our part."
Which roughly translates as:-
"We've done all we can and are bothered to do, so if these Internet viruses and worms keep showing up, it's all the fault of system administrators who are too drunk, stoned or simply bone-idle lazy to run all of our patches through their systems. Don't blame us. It's their fault. We only work here."
So on one level it's just a really lame advertisement targeted at no one in particular and reaching no kind of punchline. On another level, though, it's a two-hands-in-the-air surrender salute which says, very simply, you BOFHs and sysadmins must take responsibility for our crap, hole-ridden software stack.
Which is when you think about, using the New York Times editorial section - Hallowed be its Name, and more incense please, vicar - to promote a peculiar form of cultural war against a very discriminated-against class: BOFHs.
We hope BOFHs recognize the challenge and rise up against this underhanded move. It simply seeks to pass responsibility from a corporation with $40 billion in the bank earning interest, onto its users - saying: "if we goof, we're not to blame. You just haven't used our stuff CORRECTLY".
What a cop-out.®
* Not all American newspapers look like they were designed in 1879, but this one takes pride in its antediluvian appearance.
** The keepers of the Reg ancestral records are almost certain we've shown somewhere in the past that this slogan was swiped from BSD. But, er, we can't quite put our finger on the precise record. So, as a small consolation, we propose this frighteningly appropriate alternative possibility.