by Mark Trescowthick
Note :- All quotes used in this piece are from Patricia Cornwell's latest book, Southern Cross. This is Copyright 1998 Cornwell Enterprises and is published by Little, Brown. ISBN 0 316 84681 3.
I've been a Cornwell fan for ages - I love a good detective thriller whilst veging out at the beach. But her latest, Southern Cross, just takes the technically illiterate cake for 1999.
One (moderately important) sub-plot in the book is the hacking of the police force in question's new computer system. It's hacked via the web site that has just been set up. So far, so odd, but nothing out of the ordinary. Where things get wacko is that most OTHER police forces are also out of action, at least so far as one "new" piece of software is concerned.
The reason? Apparently, it was all to do with, wait for it, the URL! The URL in question I reproduce as a scan from the book, lest you fear I have made it all up or mis-typed it :-
Now, let Patricia tell us why the URL is so long (never mind invalid!) :
"It was a matter of finding gateways to pass through en route to our website, sort of the way mail is routed here and there before it finally gets to you, or the way you may have to change planes at four different airports before you need to go…"
Bizarre? You bet!
Now, having set up that bit of pig-ignorant rubbish, let's cut straight to the denouement of this particular sub-plot. As a small help to probably struggling readers, let me just note that the "hack" was to put up a picture of fish on screen. Rebooting or any other tactic was helpless against this vicious hack.
"Just take out the program I did when I punted and messed up the HTML interpreter in AOL."
Judge Davis couldn't help herself because like all else in the world, she used AOL and lived in fear of color bombs, IM bombs, HTML Freeze/Lag, HTMO errors, a combination of the above, or possibly the less innocous but more annoying Blank IM bombs.
"The bug's in autowrap in the text handler", he [The hacker] informed her as if his explanation was as obvious as colors. "See, if you use VBMSG subclassing, you know?" To hold the window open and do some other things I told it to do, you know?" 'Cause, see, like I said, there's this bug. So I told it to put my map on there and hold it. And the anti-punt program won't work, either, because I made my program hit Reply on the IM."
Now, I'm sure we can all of a bit of a giggle at Patricia's expense. But what I would want to know, if I was her publisher (or, indeed, her) is what in the blue blazes her sub-editors were doing to earn their pay? Do none of these people use computers? Have none of them any clue at all?