IT from Planet Bizarro

I have always loved comic books and old science fiction movies. I wasn’t a big fan of Superman, but I liked the stories about the planet Bizarro. Bizarro was an opposite world, where people set their alarm clocks to ring when it was time to go to sleep. And for some reason I never quite understood, the Bizarro people all talked like Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster: “Me want cookie.”

As for old science fiction movies, one of my favourites is the 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, starring Kevin McCarthy.

The plot revolves around seed pods that replace people with identical-looking, but emotionless drones. The transformation occurs when the victim falls asleep near a pod.

I’ve only recently discovered that these two seemingly unrelated yarns are actually halves of a single reality that’s unfolding before our eyes. I’m convinced that aliens are hiding seed pods near our beds, gradually replacing us with Bizarro versions of ourselves as we sleep.

I should have noticed something was wrong about five years ago when Oracle Corp., IBM Corp. and others tried to promote network computing. IT decision-makers reasoned, “Me can spend US$5 million in 10 years with network computing solution, or me can spend US$10 million in five years with high-powered PCs on desktops. Me save money by purchasing PCs and upgrading every two years so workers can play solitaire and write e-mail faster!”

That business strategy always struck me as rather odd not to mention the poor grammar. But I wrote off this blatant waste of resources to an effective Microsoft propaganda campaign against network computing. I drew back into a state of complacency until people started speaking positively of a new technology trend called grid, or utility, computing.

By itself, grid computing makes perfect sense. But when I heard people talk about basing their computer grids on desktop computers, something didn’t seem right. The idea is to be able to add and redistribute computing resources by siphoning computing power from hundreds or even thousands of unsuspecting users. I know it’s supposed to leverage unused CPU cycles, but I couldn’t help but think of it as a managed distributed denial-of-service attack. As crazy an idea as it was, it wasn’t quite the kind of insanity usually produced by the well-documented mind-control rays that emanate from Redmond.

Then I suddenly saw the connection. Grid computing is a logical continuation of the Bizarro decision to reject network computing. “Me waste big money on thousands of PCs with super-duper processors and waste more money managing all these PCs. What me do now? Replace PCs with network computers, simplify management and stop expensive upgrade cycle? No, me save money by adding new complicated software to PCs to off-load server processing to overpowered desktops. Me have more software to manage, more things to break and thousands more potential security holes!”

How many chief technology officers had fallen asleep with Bizarro pods under their beds? And how far had this spread? I had to know. Then I read a review of Onset Technology Inc.’s METAmessage ( Here, at last, was irrefutable proof that the invasion had spread even to vendors. Look at the problem METAmessage addresses: People often want to share information by sending e-mails with attached spreadsheets or other complex documents. Unfortunately, many wireless handheld devices can’t read or decode these attachments.

There’s no reason why productivity applications can’t convert and mail complex documents as HTML. Some already do. Make it company policy, and the problem is solved. The folks at METAmessage, however, said, “Me solve problem by selling US$7,000 server and extra handheld software. User clicks on attachment, handheld e-mails spreadsheet to server, server converts spreadsheet to HTML or text, and e-mails new message back to handheld! Me customers save money by paying for more servers, software and wireless traffic! Users save time by waiting for attachments to go to the server, get translated and returned as HTML!”

So, listen to me before it’s too late! You’re in danger. Can’t you see? The Bizarro pods are after you. They’re after all of us. You’re next!

Petreley is a computer consultant in Hayward, Calif. He can be reached at