Wave a dead chicken and pick up some sex appeal

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2003, 12:00am

The bird burst through the windscreen, broke the engineer's chair, and made a dent in the back wall of the engine cab. But this damage, it transpired, proved nothing because the British had not read the instructions closely enough. 'Next time, thaw the chicken,' came an advisory from (of all people) the United States Federal Aviation Authority.

In a variation on the story, an examination of high-speed video footage showing a flying poultry projectile reveals an involuntary hitch-hiker: a hungry, startled-looking stray cat clinging to a half-eaten chicken as it exits the barrel at Mach 0.7. Unfortunately, an intensive research effort by Technopedia has failed to find this image, or indeed any evidence that either event actually occurred.

Either way, the dead chicken you are likely to encounter in the technology arena will not be flying, but waving in the grip of a know-it-all technician - figuratively speaking. In the digital dictionary the phrase, 'wave a dead chicken' means to perform a voodoo-style ritual in the direction of crashed software or hardware that is likely to accomplish nothing except satisfy the ignorant natives that the appropriate degree of effort has been expended.

Computer frozen, cursor apparently nailed to the screen? Call technical support and watch in awe as they perform the chicken-waving ritual.

Printer coughing and convulsing like a chain-smoking octogenarian? It is time for the nerd with the bird.

The usual dead-chicken procedure takes the form of that spectacularly reassuring and pointless gesture, the virus scan. Ignore the rash of scare stories whipped up by technology writers desperate to talk about something more interesting than the latest version of the Winsux operating system. Viruses are not queuing up to annihilate your hard drive. Nor are they already lurking inside your computer ready to jump out and frazzle your motherboard the next time you type the word 'the'.

But running a virus scan is a bit like a visit to the beauty salon. It feels good, and it makes you look good too. In action, the virus scan software I rely on shows a recurring wave of purifying white light sweeping an image of the globe.

Sure, the score card always reads the same: 'Scanned 150,000, Infected 0, Repaired 0, Quarantined 0'. But really, how could you criticise anyone for taking the trouble to run one? Just conceivably, a virus could be hiding in the darkness of your hard drive between a text file and a Jpeg, with its legs and antennae retracted.

The witch doctor who has run the scan can bask in that I-gave-it-my-best-shot, Alamo-esque glow of heroic failure. This glow can actually be mistaken for glamour. As a result, in some extreme cases, devout chicken wavers can become something almost unheard of in the realm of Information Technology - attractive to the opposite sex.

This in turn means that, unlike his rivals, the witch doctor will have the chance to reproduce without resorting to hi-tech methods such as cloning. Anyone who succumbs to his magic also benefits from warm fuzzy feelings which, research shows, can triple output. Thus, the manager too is happy.

In short, to borrow a phrase beloved of management theorists, despite its futility, waving a dead chicken is a 'win-win' activity. Unless, of course, you are a chicken.