I Want My Beowulf Cluster!
Fake News written by on Wednesday, August 11, 1999
ACTON, MA -- The Andover Network, which now holds a monopoly on "News for Nerds", is reeling after a dispute over the company's recent Andover Points(tm) promotion. Ava Rice has filed a lawsuit claiming that Andover owes her a "1000 node Beowulf cluster" in exchange for the 10 million Andover Points she collected.
In the promotion, Andover advertised prizes for customers who collected a certain number of points. Some prizes included an Andover T-shirt (100 points), a printed "Andover Acquires Slashdot" press release autographed by Rob Malda (1000 points), and the right to publish one article on Slashdot (25000 points). Also advertised was a "1000 node Beowulf cluster" for 10 million points; it was supposed to be a "gag prize" that any reasonable person would take as a joke. Ava Rice isn't a reasonable person and she certainly didn't see the humor.
During the promotion, every webpage in the Andover Network contained a small "Proof of Download" .gif image with a serial number that could be printed out and redeemed for one (1) Andover Point. Signing up for an Andover mailing list netted ten (10) points, posting a comment to an article yielded three (3) points, and so forth.
Ms. Rice managed to collect 10,252,959 Andover Points during the two month span of the promotion. "I set up a distributed computing project with 16 friends called Andover@Home," she explained. "Using the client software I developed, each participating computer would download Andover pages throughout the day and print out the Proof of Download images. The scheme was a complete success: after two months we collected 2.3 tons of printouts that we sent in to Andover Headquarters for redemption. We've held up our part of the bargain; now Andover owes us a supercomputer!"
Legal observers have mixed feelings about Ava Rice's lawsuit. Noah Morals, the lawyer Humorix has on retainer, said, "It's good to see stuff like this. The fact that a group of geeks with obviously no life can file a lawsuit like this shows that the American legal system is the best on Earth! I would offer my services for free, but apparently Rice & Co. have already received free help from dozens of other attorneys."
Mark Gruber, a lawyer for a sweepstakes company, is not so enthusiastic. "This is absurd. Any reasonable person knows that companies make use of false advertising all the time. Anybody who thinks otherwise is stupid. American businesses have a right to run misleading advertisements and rigged promotions. It's in the First Amendment!"
A third attorney we interviewed, Bob Hutz, said, "Even if Andover does lose in court, they can still come out ahead. Their ads never specified what a '1000 node Beowulf cluster' actually is. Maybe it's a (wink, wink) bookshelf containing 1000 copies of the Beowulf legend. Maybe it's a (nudge, nudge) computer network composed of ancient 8088 machines with a total market value of about $100..."
A preliminary hearing for Ava Rice's case is slated for next month. Andover's legal department and the American Bar Association were both unavailable for comment.
In a related story, Andover has released a Perl script that automatically generates "Andover Acquires..." press releases. Eric Revodna, a programmer at Andover, explained, "This program, acquisition.pl, simplifies our work by automagically producing press releases for each and every of Andover's acquisitions. We expect to use this script heavily in the future and therefore have decided to release it under the Andover Public License to allow others to use and enhance it."
The public version of acquisition.pl accepts several parameters and then cranks out a suitable press release. Of particular interest is the -bs command line switch that allows the user to tailor the hype/bullshit level of the press release to the desired amount.
For instance, with a -bs level of 10, the script produces a press release with the title "Andover.Net is Now the Largest Linux Network and the Leading Source for Content, News and Community". But when -bs is set to the lowest value of 0, acquisition.pl spits out this headline: "Andover (All Nerds Depend On Very Erroneous Reporting) Establishes Monopoly And Choke-Hold on Linux Content After Following Microsoft-Like Tactic of Spending Megabucks Acquiring Sites Built By Others".
Further information about the acquisition.pl script is available at Freshmeat. Webmasters of the 1,245 self-proclaimed "Linux portals" that have not been acquired by Andover (yet) were all unavailable for comment.