The FREE, 0% APR, Better Sex, No Effort Diet

I AM MRS. HAJIAH HASSAN AHMED, THE WIFE OF LATE CHIEF ALHAJI HASSAN AHMED...I SEEK IN CONFIDENCE THAT YOU ASSIST ME TO INVEST THIS US$34,000,000 FUND. I HAVE RESOLVED TO DEPART 25% OF THE TOTAL SUM TO YOU FOR YOUR ASSISTANCE IN THIS TRANSACTION SECURED BY YOUR GOOD FAITH DEPOSIT OF US$5,000.

Few of us would rush to send Mrs. Ahmed the $5,000 she asks for in return for a promised $8.5 million. This is clearly the mythical free lunch; a scam; a pitch that promises something for nothing; a special deal only for us. We are all much too sophisticated to believe that millions of dollars will fall into our laps with no effort on our part—or are we? Many of us buy the following scams where perhaps the lack of all caps serves to disguise them.

Free Software

Why buy expensive software or spend millions to develop it yourself? You can get complex systems at absolutely NO COST! Yes, instead of having highly paid programmers at Microsoft, IBM, Sun, or even Blackboard build your critical university systems, you can have scores of software gurus scattered around the globe working completely independently build them for you FOR FREE. These folks are some of the same great people who are supposed to be working for you anyway, plus a smattering of teenagers too young to work at Redmond, hackers, virus creators, and a menagerie of others with whom you will feel great pride in entrusting your IT infrastructure.

This is the alluring pitch of open source software. We may have to give up project planning, quality control, coding standards, accountability, version control, and support, but it’s FREE and we get the ability to modify the source code ourselves, something that is extremely dangerous to do, was discredited decades ago, and few people do anyway.

Yes, PeopleSoft is very expensive and those greedy folks at WebCT expect to make a profit, but they have to pay for quality software to be developed and so do we! We either pay commercial software developers, pay to build it ourselves, or pay the even higher price to manage and maintain FREE open source software. Who cares how much we have to spend as long as they say it’s free—or nearly so. While you are installing your free open source software you may want to write Mrs. Ahmed a check. Her $8.5 million will help pay for the real cost of that free software.

Free Labor

Another way to get free software is to have students develop our critical systems. We all know how clever students are and how being born in the computer age they have bypassed a million years of evolution to become cyber sapiens. Software development is instinctive to them. While your aging, over-21 staff demands high salaries and benefits, and fusses with security, documentation, and project planning, cyber sapiens work for a few dollars an hour and can manage several projects in their heads without writing a single thing down. They also write bug-free code, work during exams and vacations, and are not distracted by alcohol, sports, or the acquisition of potential mates. Best of all, students do not tie up your expensive equipment. They can develop and run your systems on their own dorm computers where their cyber sapien friends can do quality assurance with your confidential data. It is no wonder that we are so sad to see 25 percent of our students leave each year, abandoning their superbly crafted systems. Your IT staff will let you know that as geriatric non-cyber sapiens they can’t manage these orphaned student-developed systems so they must be passed on to the next class of cyber sapiens.

Free Market

You can also get free software developed by having your users develop it for you. Really, users are no dummies and if they are there are books just for them on every imaginable subject. Buying users copies of SQL for Dummies ($17.49 at Amazon.com) is a lot cheaper than having your expensive IT staff write a whole bunch of reports for them in SQL. Empower your users! Give them control of their own raw data! You thought users wanted information, not data, but they’re never happy with your idea of information. Why try to figure out what users want? It’s a hopeless task. You might as well just give users raw data and let them deal with it the way they think is best. Amazon.com has 2,014 entries for Dummies books. Think how smart your users will be once they’ve read them all. You’ll never have to do expensive software development again.

Schools often provide free food for you and your staff for working meetings during lunch. Assuming that you eat about $8 worth of food during the extra hour of work, that turns out to be about $16,000 per year. This may be a good deal for cyber sapiens but not for staff. Would your staff work a vacation day in return for three free meals? Your staff needs a break during the day. You cannot buy that time for only $8 per hour. What looks like a gain is really a loss in productivity and creativity. If you can only schedule meetings during meal times you don’t have an overworked staff, you have a dysfunctional organization.

We all complain about spam and junk mail, but the pitches they make deliberately strike at some place deep inside us that longs for a FREE ride; a silver bullet to solve our every problem with no effort. People do send Mrs. Ahmed money. IT planning is difficult and risky and results in decisions that may be very expensive. We cannot avoid the high cost of high-quality IT no matter how temptingly Mrs. Ahmed beckons us with her siren song.

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