BOFH: The Hypochondriac Boss and the non-random sample

Cherry-pickin'? You darn tootin!

Episode 14 "It's called Selection Bias," I say to the Boss.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean they're cherry-picking research that supports their opinion."


"Okay, so say I think that playing first person shooter games gives you migraines."

"It does," the Boss says.

"No it doesn't," the PFY says.

"It does - I get them every time I try to play," the Boss counters.

"Perfect!" I say. "And say I start a business that... I dunno... makes a special chair that prevents migraines when playing arcade games." "You can get a chair that stops migraines!?" the Boss gasps.

"Migraines caused by first-person-shooters," I say. "Yes?"

"How does it work?" he asks.

"It uses piezoelectric cells to generate small currents based on the movement of your backside on the chair to drive the self balancing circuits in the seat base whilst also adjusting the frame rate and sync on the monitor via Bluetooth."

"And that really works?"

"Yeah - the feeling of sea sickness is caused by the disparity between what your eyes see and what the ears report in terms of motion. We correct that and then by adjusting the frame rate of the picture to your circadian rhythm your eyes are more attuned and less likely to notice the vestiges of flickering which cause the migraines."

"Really? Can I get one of these chairs to test?"

"Of course not, they don't exist."


"But if I WERE going to market them I'd use someone like you as a starting point."


"Absolutely. You've had these migraines often?"

"Oh yes."

"So you have experience. And you get paid by our company to perform a role in the IT department?"

"Uh, yes."

"So you're an experienced IT Professional with a history of migraine research."


"You've used a computer and not had a headache, used a computer and got a headache and determined that it was caused by games. Research."

"I... I supposed you're right." the Boss admits.

"And it doesn't matter to me that you have the IT skill level of the monkey they fired at the moon - we're using the term liberally."

"Like when they use the word 'nutritionist' in a diet advert," the PFY says. "No real certification."

"Unless we printed you a certificate - and then it would be a "Certified Nutritionist'," I add.

"And say they advocate Lard sandwiches as a cure for heart disease," the PFY says "They'd be an INDEPENDENT Certified Nutritionist who has shaken off the mistakes of the past."

"An Independent NATURAL Certified Nutritionist," I add.

"What's this got to do with network security? Or that chair?" the Boss asks.

"Okay, so I want to sell my chair. First thing I do is put the message out there that I'm looking for people who have experienced migraines and headaches from playing first-person-shooters. I'll be flooded with calls from idiotic hypochondriacs like you who think that there's someone out there who will finally listen.

"I'll get some survey company to ask you questions like 'Do you think this has affected your overall sense of wellbeing?', 'Do you think that this loss of wellbeing has affected your marriage?' and if you're over 40 'Do you think your health has deteriorated in the 20 years since you played your first person shooter?' Hell, I'd probably check to see if you've had a cancer scare."


"Because then we can claim that FPS can ruin your sense of wellbeing, end your marriage and - most importantly - claim that first-person-shooters MAY cause cancer."


"Because then I'll wheel out a chair, shove a couple of magnets in the base of it and - because you're so suggestible - tell you that it should help with your migraines. You - being suggestible - will answer the follow-up question of 'Do you think this chair reduced the symptoms' with a Yes - even if you did get a headache, and suddenly I'm selling a chair endorsed by a certified IT professional with a background in health and usability research."

"And not a suggestible hypochondriac with the IT skillset of a potato," the PFY says.

"I still don't see what this has to do with network security?"

"Okay, so this network security company goes out on the web looking for companies who've had idiots open an attachment that encrypts their filesystem. They sift through these companies to find those who don't take backups and/or virtual machine snapshots. They then sift through those companies for the ones with extremely poor financial performance and ask them how much money they were making in their heyday and how much money they are making now. They subtract B from A, multiply (B-A) by the number of companies that responded and then publish a document that claims that poor network security costs the country 47 billion pounds a year."

"They find the person who clicked on the attachment in the first place - who is now cleaning toilets in hell - suggest that we should also consider the social cost," the PFY adds.

"We imply that a patriot would want to take all steps necessary to reduce the risk of this kind of financial loss on the country, we'd pick stacks of examples of companies who have gone to the wall (regardless of whether it was because of IT issues or not), state that the cost is too high and then show you some pictures of children in the third world and ask you if that's what you want for your kids."

"And then we'd offer you 500 quid antivirus package," I say. "Which you would buy."

"By clicking on the link in your email," The PFY says.

"You now owe us 47 billion pounds," I say.

True Story: The antivirus coordinator at a place I once worked sent out an IT security CD to all staff - with a virus on it.

Similar topics

Broader topics

Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022