IT conspiracy theories

Put on your tinfoil hats: Utilities, Google, and Sun may have secret master plans

I’ve never been big on conspiracy theories. i don’t believe the FBI bumped off JFK, or that the Trilateral Commission was running the world. Was the voting in Florida rigged? Probably not. Crop Circles? I’m doubtful about aliens, although a recent rerun of Men in Black was somewhat convincing.

But when in comes to conspiracy theories in IT -- now you’re talking, baby. You gotta believe there’s stuff going down that you and I can’t even guess at. Case in point: Last week I had two IT conspiracy theories intrude on my life within 24 hours. What are the chances of that?

Here’s the first one -- you be the judge. I read this great article in Fast Company about the new compact fluorescent light bulbs, which use 20 percent of the energy of regular bulbs and last up to 10 times longer. A no-brainer, I thought -- I’d never have to teeter on a ladder to change a bulb again, and my electricity bill would go to zero.

I get to the hardware store and the new bulbs are on sale for $1, subsidized by my local utility, Pacific Gas and Electric. I buy a bagful, go home and put them in, and they work great. But right away my wireless network stops working. It turns out these high-tech bulbs emit some UV waves that can interfere with certain wireless networks. I eventually get my network working again by selecting “Use Interference Robustness” (whatever that is) on one of the menus of my Mac.

And then it hits me.

The power companies want to roll out broadband service over their own power lines, to compete with cable and DSL. How ingenious … first they massively subsidize the new bulbs, ensuring widespread adoption and coincidentally scrambling the last 50 feet of the competing broadband providers’ signals! Then they swoop in with their own offering, bringing high-speed service to every electrical socket, thus eliminating those wireless headaches that they themselves created. Ingenious!

But don’t stop reading here.

The second conspiracy theory of my week was actually suggested to me by the gray-bearded CIO of an $80 billion multinational corporation, whom I sat next to during an IT management luncheon. “Dark fiber,” he whispered ominously. “You’ve heard Google’s buying up dark fiber, right? It’s part of the Google-Sun conspiracy.”

He went on to say he’s pretty sure that Google and Sun are in cahoots to fulfill Scott McNealy’s vision of thin or zero-client computing using Sun Rays and lots of bandwidth.

You may remember that Google CEO Eric Schmidt used to work at Sun, and that Google and Sun did a press release about a “deal” a while back that nobody really understood (one of those kumbaya “We like each other and will share technology” deals). What you may not know is that the initials of Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergei Brin, when scrambled, spell LBSP, or “Lets Back Sun Processors.” (I know this having just finished The DaVinci Code.)

 Diabolical or not, this is one conspiracy that customers may not actually mind. The CIOs at lunch actually loved the idea of simply giving employees a display and a mouse and getting complete control of the desktop from a security and manageability standpoint (not to mention paying Microsoft less money). And of course, a little intrigue never hurts.