Last night Australian time, the geekiest parts of the blogosphere were all aflutter. Some of their own — Alpha Geeks, no less! — had been denied visas to attend a conference in Hobart. Quelle Horreur! It’s a disaster! A conspiracy! Erm, no.

It all started with a blog post.

Munich-based Kaj Arnö coordinates the community of developers for the popular MySQL database software, now owned by Sun.

“Several Sun Microsystems Inc employees … have been denied short stay business visas to Australia, over the last few months, as they have been seen to be competing with local Australian businesses unfairly,” he wrote.

Speculation exploded.

“Microsoft has a big MS SQL Australian shop no? Is that the reason?” asked one commenter, referring to MySQL’s biggest competitor.

“How do such uneducated people get to make decisions like this?” asked another.

“The public service has a lot to answer for.”

The story was picked up by IT news site The Register, where the “several employees” now included “many of whom worked with MySQL”. Many?

“He [Arnö] never expected the Australia [sic] inquisition,” they wrote, using a Monty Python reference all true geeks understand.

El Reg commenters kicked off too.

“Just more proof of the hypocritical lying bastard criminals who run our country,” roared Adrian Esdaile.

Goodness me!

As it happens, it’s all a storm on a mousepad. Only two Sun employees were involved. And the “Update/Clarification” Arnö posted this morning Australian time makes it clear neither of them were truly victims.

One traveller, based in Germany, already had a valid visa. But in an online chat an Australian MySQL developer scared him off:

I have filed a complaint with the Australian competition and immigration authorities regarding MySQL’s activities here. I don’t expect the americans [sic] to apprecaite [sic] the intricacies of extracting money out of the country to the detriment of local workers but Austrlaia [sic] feels rather strongl [sic] about that. that will affect MySQL. What might affect you is the immigrtion [sic] issue. There is no valid visa for what you’d be doing here; if intercepted you can be sent back home”.

Panicking, he cancelled his flight. Once he’d realised his mistake, flights were either full or hideously expensive.

The other, from “an Asian country”, had applied for an online Electronic Travel Authority (ETA). It was rejected with the words: “SHORT TERM BUSINESS ETA APPLICATION WAS NOT APPROVED NO AUTHORITY TO TRAVEL TO AUSTRALIA HELD BY PASSENGER.” But ETAs are often rejected. Resubmitting as a “proper” visa application is often successful. Alas, too late for that.

One of the credos of open-source software is that if you want the Truth, you check the source — the original program code. However the zealots — sorry, advocates — for software freedom and many other geeky causes seem remarkably poor at applying that principle elsewhere.

I call them the Internet’s feral goldfish. Like piranha, they swarm at the slightest hint of blood in the water. But like goldfish, they have no memory and are totally ineffectual.

Of course, professional journalists would never go into a wrong-headed feeding frenzy like this. Would they?

Peter Fray

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