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Annoyance Factor

The followng is in “bad news — good news” format. We start with our hair standing on end. We finish by combing it placidly back into place. The news also has a moral that comes from a source that makes all the sense in the... Solar System... if you stop to think about it: Bertrand Cayzac’s Floozman in Space.

We don’t normally bother to tell readers about routine matters, but in this case it seems prudent to do so.

In the past ten days, a Review Editor and I have been dealing with one of those headaches that periodically plague websites: a virus report. In this case, it’s one issued by Norton’s “safe browsing” software.

The short report to you is that we’ve been working on it. Our questions to Norton and to our web host have been: Does it even exist? If so, where is it? Our web host reports only “ticket closed,” which, a “junior technician” says, means the problem has been resolved.

For the record, here’s the long report: Norton’s software discovered something it called an “annoyance factor.” As a result, visitors who use Norton’s software are warned away from BwS. That gives us a bad name.

What is the “annoyance factor”? It’s a link that occurs only in[the rest is omitted here, for obvious reasons]. Clicking on the link appears to lead to a phishing website — or who knows what.

But how can anyone open the link? It occurs nowhere in BwS, and “” is not in use. You’d have to create the rogue link yourself in order to run afoul of it.

My guess is that the suspicious link arrived in an infected e-mail received at an obsolete address. There were two such e-mail accounts at the BwS site, each of which had been used occasionally by our late publisher, Jerry Wright, but never since. I’ve deleted both accounts.

Our web host appears to have disposed of the problem, presumably as a matter of routine. Officials at Norton have promised to double check. Meanwhile, we’ll proceed normally.

This just in: Monday 5 October

Our long-time veteran Review Editor relays the news that Norton has declared BwS “safe.” The panic button has been unpressed.

Have you read software users’ manuals that seemed to have been translated from some weird language even though the developers had written them in English? Hah. With the exception of a kindly telephone consultant at Norton, who advised our Review Editor, we’ve barely had that much.

Web hosts and technical services must beware of one thing above all: “tech-speak” syndrome. So much is obvious or routine to Information Technology professionals that they sometimes forget that only they speak their language.

As a consequence, technicians tend to talk only to themselves or each other, not to their customers. In the worst cases, they don’t even speak to their customers at all. A possible solution: hire a non-specialist as a combination “translator” and editor who can say what customers need to know and will understand. What is the “moral” of the story? The link to Challenge 638, below, will take you to it.

Now, BwS points the same finger at itself. How have we been doing? Better than most, we like to think: our website is unusual in appearance; it isn’t “cookie-cutter.” That is our intent and tradition. However, it conforms to standard Net style: it uses four colors at most, not counting the background; and the information is listed in order of priority from top to bottom.

Are our Submissions guidelines confusing? We have only one: “Send us something; we’ll be glad to consider it. If there are problems, we can talk about them.” Everything else amounts to footnotes that can be consulted as needed.

Ideally, we would like to have a Frequently-Asked Questions page, but we don’t quite know where to start. Suggestions welcome!

Don Webb
Managing Editor
Bewildering Stories

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Proceed to Challenge 638...

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