"The tech industry has finally come up with the product that polarises the sexes more than anything yet invented," is the introduction to a product that must surely go down in the annals of Xmas history as the most pointless waste of thought, effort and plastic ever achieved.

It costs $35, it plays compact discs and it does nothing but make smells. Now for the same money you could have exactly the same with a DVD, curry and four cans of beer. What the hell is it? It's the Febreeze Scent Story. Yes, Scent "Story".

It's like a CD player but isn't. Instead it "plays" separately purchaseable disc, each of which contains a "progression of scents". The machine blows air through the disc, pumping out a range of five synthetic stenches over the course of half an hour.

The boys at Extreme Tech loaded up "Wandering barefoot on the shore" and were universal in their hatred for the odorous object. However, they swear blind that a similar test with a group of sales women produced the exact opposite effect.

We very strongly suspect this demonstrates a fascinating and not-fully-understood aspect of the female psyche. Put simply it is: "Anything that produces a smell that doesn't cause you to gag is immediately wonderful. Only after a variable time period (dependant on the price) can it then be vilified with the disgust usually reserved for animals and farts." At $35, the Febreeze Scent Story will last approximately two to four weeks before being discarded.

At that point, it is yours to pull apart, play around with, rotate at destructive speeds and eventually put in the garage or shed for the next 12 years. Either that or don't buy the bloody thing in the first place.

Microsoft's morals and ethics
So from that fragrant piece of Xmas fluff to the more serious issues of global economics, poverty, hospitals, police and software piracy.

Microsoft has done a lot of things it should be thoroughly ashamed of, but the press release it pumped out this week entitled "'Ethical' buying for many consumers is only skin deep" is so poorly judged that we half expected a formal apology to be issued by the company the next day.

A common form of argument for untrustworthy cads follows the structure: "All men have penises. All rapists have penises. Therefore, all men are rapists." Somehow though, you don't expect one of the world's biggest companies to try to same trick.

Watch how this one works: "According to YouGov research, 89 percent believe themselves to be ethically driven consumers... but nearly half (43 percent) sample own material and goods they know to be counterfeited."

Yeah, we know, there's a missing step there. It has another go: "Three quarters (75 percent) assert that 'ideas belong to those that create them' while the same proportion (78 percent) said they would hate it if their ideas were stolen."

Right.

"Yet this apparent concern for ethical purchasing evaporates for 43 percent when faced with the opportunity to buy counterfeit and illegal goods."

Again there's a step missing there. Third time lucky: "The overwhelming majority of respondents who own pirated software also felt that some UK public services were underfunded."

Eh?

"When asked, 82 percent believed there should be more police on the streets, 69 percent said that the NHS was under-funded." What the hell has that got to do with... "Yet independent research has showed that only a 10 percent reduction in the UK's software piracy rate would provide enough revenue to:

  1. Build nine new hospital developments or
  2. Reduce council tax by 17 percent or
  3. Increase the Police Force in England and Wales by 82 percent..."

Hang on, hang on, we've had enough of this. Are you seriously saying that the people that don't pay for Microsoft software are to blame for shortages in the NHS and Police? No, that is only what it being implied because to actually say that would be utterly ludicrous, irresponsible and wrong.

Instead, we backtrack a bit and Microsoft's anti-piracy manager Alex Hilton goes back to buying ethical goods: "This survey shows a higher than expected number of people say they believe in protecting intellectual property but at the same time are buying counterfeit software," he restates. "It is surprising because a lot of these people make considerable efforts to purchase other products 'ethically'. Software is no different to any other product, most consumers would not dream of stealing software from a store, yet they perceive no issue with illegally downloading or copying the intellectual property."

Ah, now we get to the crux of it. So ignore all the stuff about hospital funding and police on streets, why don't people understand that buying Free Trade coffee is the same as buying Microsoft software?

We can't be sure, but we suspect that's because coffee growers on the other side of the world live on less than $1 a day, thanks in some large degree to the fact that multi-national corporations collude and abuse their control on the market to drag everyone's margins but their own to barely sustainable levels.

Microsoft, on the other hand, is a convicted monopolist, which has spent the last decade doing much the same to the software industry, and browser market, and pretty much anything else it could lay its hands on. While Free Trade goods may enable the growers to receive a very small increase in the daily wage (and supermarkets an even larger margin, incidentally) we can't quite recall the last time a Microsoft executive was forced to beg for food.

But just when your stomach starts turning over this rather sickening PR effort, in comes the Business Software Alliance blowing the whole thing into farce. The BSA you will remember drove about the UK a few years ago with a TV-style detector van claiming that it could pick up instances of pirated software running on machines. It makes Blunkett and Bush look like calming influences.

Here's what it treats us to this time: "Business Software Alliance research has shown, that [pirate software] purchases are supporting organised crime networks involved in drugs and prostitution."

So next time you run that copy of Office, look yourself in the eye and wonder whether you can really justify supporting men on coke-fuelled, whore-banging binges. And then think twice about giving Microsoft executives your money when there's a poor Malaysian counterfeiter who will do it for a tenth of the price and appreciate the money more.

Tis the season to be... selling unneeded security kit
It's nearly upon us, the festive spirit is rising, just as the other spirits are falling down the back of your throat. But just as we all get together in a collective joyful mood to celebrate the birth of our lord Santa Claus, STOP! Have you thought about your network security?

No, you say, that is exactly what I was trying to forget. But BeCrypt just won't let you. Here come the party poopers: "The festive season poses a major threat to business security as the party season gets into full swing," Scrooge intones. "BeCrypt maintains that employees with any commercial data on mobile devices must be advised to be extra vigilant against both theft and forgetfulness."

Yep, while you're enjoying yourself, you could be endangering the thing you love most - your company. "Staff are likely to take work home with them," it warns. "Commuters leaving peripheral devices on trains or in pubs, for example, risk leaving sensitive corporate data in the hands of unscrupulous third parties if it has not been secured."

That's true, actually, Jed left got so pissed at last year's do that... "Shut up!," cries Peter Jaco, BeCrypt's CEO. "Extra vigilance is particularly required in light of new legislation such as the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act, which require companies to prove that they have secured personal information held about individuals on their IT systems. People walking around with laptops, PDAs or other removable USB connected devices must take particular care..."

Oh give it a break Peter, put a cork in it and have another drink you miserable git. Come on, all together now, "So here it is, Merry Christmas, everybody's having fun..."

Previous Friday Fun
Scott McNealy mistakes submarine for computer - 10 Dec 2004
Pubes in your keyboard, chips on your glitterballs - 3 Dec 2004
Gay porn and violence - don't you just love it? - 26 Nov 2004