I don't know if the term "spend a penny" has the same meaning to people outside our little corner of the world as it does here in England - but if you happen to use email it soon might. Mainly because, according to a report in the newspaper today, there are people in and around Government seriously considering charging a penny in tax for every email you send and receive.
I suspect there are many people who, on reading about this, will be mentally (and perhaps audibly) forming some syntactic expression that corresponds to both the action described by the aforementioned phrase, and the way they feel about the proposal (although I can't actually crystalize that expression into the written word here due to the MSDN Blogs site policy on disseminating profanities).
Of course, if they used the money to transform our creaking telecoms infrastructure into a proper high-speed data network, or even to halt the onslaught of spam and viruses, I suppose you could argue that it's a good idea. But that's a bit like expecting them to spend the vast amounts of money raised from vehicle and fuel taxes on improving the road network. In other words, unlikely. They'll need the money to employ a team of several thousand Email Analysis and Fee Enforcement Officers, a huge palatial office block, and a massive computer system that never actually works.
Meanwhile, in another example of blatant profiteering, I was amazed this week to discover that you now have to pay to drop somebody off at our local provincial airport. East Midlands Airport used to be such a nice small and friendly place, but now they've obviously decided they need to pretend to be a major transport hub. Maybe they're hoping to be christened London's fifth airport (even though London is more than 150 miles away). And it's not even that they are an international airport, or actually fly anywhere useful. Yet they charge a pound just to slow down by the Departures door to toss your passenger (who is, coincidently, their customer) out of the car.
So I suppose, in light of the fact that it's obviously now acceptable to charge people for things while providing them with no tangible benefit, we in the IT world should be looking at introducing the new BlaPro (blatant profiteering) features into our industry. For example, how about charging a "per source code line" fee for users to run your applications? This would have the useful side-effect of dissuading developers from using all those fancy shorthand statements that make code harder to read. And perhaps even make them put their curly brackets on separate lines so it looks neater when people like me come to document it.
Or how about charging a fee for exceptions? After all, it's time consuming writing all that error-handling code. You could pop up a dialog that, along with the perennially useless "Contact your system administrator" message, includes the requisite boxes for the user to enter their credit card details to enable the "OK" button. Surely nobody would complain about an occasional divide by zero error or null pointer exception. Mind you, when management start to encourage developers to generate increased income from their applications this feature may end up having an adverse effect on program stability.
Of course, the operating system manufacturers would also need to consider how they can take advantage of BlaPro as well. I'm all for charging a rental fee for desktop real estate usage. And double if the application decides to stuff things into the notification area or my right-click menus. That might stop manufacturers from dropping shortcut icons all over my desktop every time they fix some security hole in their applications (yes, Adobe Reader, I mean you). Or at least make them think twice about adding shortcuts to every menu, taskbar, and other corner of the OS when I install a program.
Meanwhile, system administrators and infrastructure providers would not be denied their own BlaPro opportunities. OK, so they already charge plenty for renting out rack space and servers, and for the individual transactions performed. But what about DNS lookups? As far as I know, nobody is charging for these yet. Surely there's a whole new market and profit opportunity there.
And, closer to home in my case, it's surely time that documentation started to earn its keep by applying some BlaPro capabilities. We could start to charge for help files and user guides by the sentence - or even by the word. With a special additional charge for words containing more than four syllables. And a special supplemental fee, based on the total number of pixels and the color depth, for schematics and screenshots.
All of which means that, if you managed to struggle this far, you now owe me $8.43. You can email me your payment - remembering, of course, to include an extra penny to cover the email tax...