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I was on vacation

I went on vacation and I guess my DSL connection got jealous. As far as I can tell it died two days into the trip. Figures. So that’s why the site’s been dead.

If it interests youm I’ll tell you about my trip.I went with the girlfriend’s family to Orange Beach, Alabama, which is close to Pensacola, Florida. In Alabama the beaches are just about as white and much easier to walk on because it’s softer, but the shell hunting is better across the Florida border.

My St. Louis buddies say I’ve already lost the twang I picked up down there. That’s a good thing. I’m a northern boy.

Train fans will have something to look at near the intersection of highways 59 and 98 in Foley, AL. An old Louisville & Nashville diesel switcher locomotive, L&N caboose and boxcar are there, along with a St. Louis-San Francisco (Frisco) boxcar. They appear to be in reasonably good condition.

The Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola is excellent. I could spend days there. Take the 11 AM restoration tour if at all possible. They take you out into the airfield where planes that won’t fit in the museum are displayed, but they also take you inside the hangar where you can see their works in progress. In front of the hanger was what was left of a Brewster Buffalo, an early Navy fighter from World War II. It’s something of a holy grail today, because its ineffectiveness against the Japanese Zero doomed it early in the war. We sold a bunch of them to Finland and palmed a few more off on the British while the Navy did its best with the Grumman Wildcat, which was slightly less ineffective, while waiting for the Hellcat and Corsair fighters.

But anyway, they had the *censored*pit section of a Buffalo in front of the hangar and another Buffalo inside, which was waiting for its wings to be installed and a trip to the paint shop. They were also working on a replica of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra. She wasn’t in the Navy, but her role in aviation and women’s acceptance in it means the museum was interested in the plane. The widespread belief that the Japanese believed her to be a U.S. spy and shot her plane down doesn’t hurt, either.

For great fish and seafood, check out Original Oyster House in Gulf Shores, AL. We had an hour and a half wait, which we passed by browsing the adjacent shops. I imagine that’s the source of most of those shops’ business. The shops aren’t earth-shattering but won’t bore you to tears either. The seafood is.

Flounders Chowder House in Pensacola Beach, Florida, is also amazing. Don’t ask me which one’s better. I think Flounders has the better atmosphere but the food in both places is first-rate. While just about every seafood place in the area is going to be better than Red Lobster, it’s easy to find disappointingly mediocre seafood in the area. But these two places knocked my socks off.

I made a new friend outside Papa Rocco’s in Gulf Shores. A sign outside Papa Rocco’s advertises warm beer and lousy pizza. Seriously, that’s what it said. I was walking across the Papa Rocco’s lot on my way to a souvenir shop when a woman started yelling at me. I kept walking but turned a couple of times. When I turned and looked at her, she yelled, "Yeah, I’m talking to you!" She wasn’t anyone I knew and she was obviously drunk. I have no idea why she was upset with me. I picked up my pace and got lost in the souvenir shop as quickly as I could.

I was crossing Papa Rocco’s to get a good look at Tracks To BBQ. Obviously if I’m on the Atlantic coast I’m going to eat seafood, since I can get good BBQ closer to home. But the ad for Tracks To advertised "Antique model train cars on display." So of course I wanted to check it out. Peering into the window, I was able to see that it was a small establishment, with only two or three tables inside. I saw a couple of Lionel posters on the wall and some assorted trinkets in the window. Further back, next to the cash register, I saw a couple of old OO or HO scale train cars that looked pretty old. What appeared to be a locomotive in the original box sat next to them. On a shelf below that I saw a postwar Lionel hopper car. I paid $10 for the same car at a swap meet last month. Nothing earth shattering there, at least not from what I could see inside. That’s not to say there wasn’t something cool running on a shelf under the ceiling, but I couldn’t tell from outside and the establishment was closed.

I’d hoped to see some prewar tinplate. Oh well.

The outlet mall in Foley is large and you can spot the occasional bargain. Some of the shops were handing out 40% off coupons for other shops in the complex. I got a pair of $50 Reebok tennis shoes for $20. I thought about buying a pair of the canvas Reebok Classic shoes as well. They would have been $12 with a coupon. I’ve had a couple of pairs of them in the past and they’re decent shoes. I’ve had shoes that were better looking and lasted longer, but in most cases I also paid $60 for them.

But as with all of these kinds of places, caveat emptor. I tried on plenty of shoes with lumpy soles. Those shoes aren’t worth taking for free because of what they’ll do to your feet. And mixed with the bargains you can find some high-priced items that are trading on reputation. Careful shoppers can save a bundle though.

I also learned that a large sand castle can attract a lot of attention. We built one large enough for a 4-year-old to hide in completely. It drew lots of looks and comments.

Some baseball players entertain; Dave Dravecky changed my life

This evening I looked at the list of short biographies I’ve written. Some were requests. A number of them were people I found fascinating. And in the case of Lyman Bostock and George Brett, they were men who changed the way I lived life.
I asked myself who was missing. And I came up with some names.

Dave Dravecky.

Dave Dravecky. Man, what can I tell you about Dave Dravecky? He happened to be pitching on one of the worst days of my life. I won’t go into details–it wasn’t his fault. The day would have been a little bit better if he hadn’t pitched those two shutout innings, but not much.

Three years later, my dad scored tickets to Game 2 of the 1987 National League Playoffs at Busch Stadium. Dad and I made a career of living in eastern Missouri and hating the Cardinals; we donned our Royals gear and watched Dravecky pitch the best baseball game I ever saw in person, tossing a sparkling two-hitter. Amazing. I remember thinking that must have been what it was like to watch Lefty Grove or Sandy Koufax pitch.

The next season, Dravecky started feeling sick. Doctors found cancer in his pitching arm. They took half his deltoid muscle and froze the humerus bone. The doctors’ goal was to kill the cancer and leave enough arm for him to be able to do things like tie his shoes. Dravecky’s goal was to pitch in the majors again.

You can probably guess what’s next, since the story’s not over yet. He pitched two games for the San Francisco Giants in August 1989. The first game was a drama. Not a masterpiece like the game I saw at Busch, but a solid 8-inning performance that he won 4-3. The second game, he felt his arm start to tingle in the fifth inning. In the sixth inning, it broke as he threw a fastball to Tim Raines. The Giants were headed to the World Series that year and everybody knew it, and Dravecky wasn’t going to be able to contribute any further. It was heartbreaking. It was heartbreaking because he’d been through so much. And it was heartbreaking because the Giants lost that World Series, and Dravecky’s left arm probably could have won it for them, and what a story that would have been.

Dravecky’s arm broke in a second place during the celebration as the Giants won the last game of the playoffs. Dravecky was asking God some questions after that. Not “Why me?” but rather, “Why was I so stupid?”

Well, some good came of it. A doctor was examining the x-rays to make sure the two breaks were lining up. The good news was, they were. The bad news wasn’t that he’d never pitch again. The bad news was what else he saw.

The lump was back.

Two surgeries later, the cancer was gone, but Dravecky’s once strong arm was a dead limb. He had no range of motion and he was in pain and it was constantly infected. Two years after his aborted comeback, he had to have the arm amputated. Now he really wasn’t going to pitch again.

So now Dravecky is a former baseball player, as well as an author and evangelist. His 1992 book, When You Can’t Come Back, is inspiring. I read it in high school. Flipping through it to find details for his bio, I decided I really need to read it again.

There are other names that came to mind. Ron Hassey. I’ll never forget a game in 1984, after he’d been traded to the Chicago Cubs. He went from the starting catcher for the cellar-dwelling Indians to a little-used backup for a contender. One day, out of the blue, he was playing first base. Not his usual position. And at one point in the game, he stretched to make a catch, and pulled a muscle. He made the catch, then he collapsed, grimacing in pain. Players surrounded him. And you know what Hassey did? He rolled, squirmed, stretched, somehow made his way over to first base, tagged the base, and made the out. Then they carried him off the field on a stretcher and it was two months before you saw him again.

How he noticed that he could take advantage of the situation and get a cheap out, I have no earthly idea. I admire people like that.

I like people like that. People who give 100%. Even when their 100% is a mere 1% of what it would be on any other day, people who still give whatever it is they’ve got. I don’t know how many people remember Ron Hassey, but I’ll never forget him.

And I know I’ll never forget Dave Dravecky. Dravecky lost everything. For as long as he could remember, his left arm was the reason people were interested in him. Then, one day, it was gone. He learned what he could do with what he had left. He could give people courage. Hope. It took him some time. But he’s afffected thousands of people in a powerful way. Not bad for a guy who wondered what he had left.

There are people who give momentary thrills, and there are people who change your life.

I know which one I’d rather be.

Network infrastructure for a small office

We talked earlier this week about servers, and undoubtedly some more questions will come up, but let’s go ahead and talk about small-office network infrastructure.
Cable and DSL modems are affordable enough that any small office within the service area of either ought to get one. For the cost of three dialup accounts, you can have Internet service that’s fast enough to be worth having.

I’ve talked a lot about sharing a broadband connection with Freesco, and while I like Freesco, in an office environment I recommend you get an appliance such as those offered by Linksys, US Robotics, D-Link, Netgear, Siemens, and a host of other companies. There are several simple reasons for this: The devices take up less space, they run cooler, there’s no need to wait for them to boot up in case of power failure or someone accidentally unplugging it, and being solid state, theoretically they’re more reliable than a recycled Pentium-75. Plus, they’re very fast and easy to set up (we’re talking five minutes in most cases) and very cheap–under $50. When I just checked, CompUSA’s house brand router/switch was running $39. It’s hard to find a 5-port switch for much less than that. Since you’ll probably use those switch ports for something anyway, the $10-$20 extra you pay to get broadband connection sharing and a DHCP server is more than worth your time.

My boss swears that when he replaced his Linksys combo router/100-megabit switch with a much pricier Cisco combo router/10-megabit switch, the Cisco was faster, not only upstream, but also on the local network. I don’t doubt it, but you can’t buy Cisco gear at the local office supply store for $49.

For my money, I’d prefer to get a 24-port 3Com or Intel switch and plug it into a broadband sharing device but you’ll pay a lot more for commercial-grade 3Com or Intel gear. The cheap smallish switches you’ll see in the ads in the Sunday papers will work OK, but their reliability won’t be as high. Keep a spare on hand if you get the cheap stuff.

What about wireless? Wireless can save you lots of time and money by not having to run CAT5 all over the place–assuming your building isn’t already wired–and your laptop users will love having a network connection anywhere they go. But security is an issue. At the very least, change your SSID from the factory default, turn on WEP (check your manual if it isn’t obvious how to do it), and hard-code your access point(s) to only accept the MAC addresses of the cards your company owns (again, check your manual). Even that isn’t enough necessarily to keep a determined wardriver out of your network. Cisco does the best job of providing decent security, but, again, you can’t buy Cisco gear at your local Staples. Also, to make it easier on yourself, make sure your first access point and your first couple of cards are the same brand. With some work, the variety pack will usually work together. Like-branded stuff always will. When you’re doing your initial setup, you want the first few steps to go as smoothly as possible.

I’d go so far as to turn off DHCP on the wireless segment. Most wardrivers probably have the ability to figure out your network topology, gateway, and know some DNSs. But why make life easier for them? Some won’t know how to do that, and that’ll keep them out. The sophisticated wardriver may decide it’s too much trouble and go find a friendlier network.

Why worry about wireless security? A wardriver may or may not be interested in your LAN. But that’s one concern. And while I don’t care if someone mooches some bandwidth off my LAN to go read USA Today, and I’d only be slightly annoyed if he used it to go download the newest version of Debian, I do care if someone uses my wireless network to send spam to 250,000 of his closest friends, or if he uses my wireless network to visit a bunch of child porn or warez sites.

Enough about that. Let’s talk about how to wire everything. First off, if you use a switched 100-megabit network, you can just wire everything together and not give much thought to anything. But if you’re using hubs or wireless to connect your desktops, be sure to put your servers on 100-megabit switch ports. The servers can then talk to each other at full speed if and when that’s necessary. And a switch port allows them to talk at full speed to a number of slower desktop PCs at once. The speed difference can be noticable.

Memoirs of writing a book

Book memoirs. I got e-mail yesterday asking me to reflect back on dealing with a publisher while writing a book. I’ll never talk publicly about specifics, and I’m not even positive how much I’ve told my closest friends, for that matter. But it got me thinking.
And, as it turns out, it was two years ago this month that I sent my manuscript off to O’Reilly, and it was in late October that I got a set of PDF files to read and correct. In hindsight, I should have asked for a hardcopy, because I would have found more mistakes. But in hindsight, I’d do a lot of things differently.

First, I’d ask for more money. That’s not as much about greed as it is about raising the stakes. Supposedly, my advance on my first book was on the high side for first books in the computer field. Whether that’s true or whether that was my agent trying to stroke my ego after the fact, I’m not sure. Fact is, I took their first offer, and I’m pretty sure I took it the same day. Big mistake. I was staying up nights wondering if O’Reilly was interested in me. Nothing a first-time author can do will make an editor do the same thing, but the author needs to give the publisher a little time to wonder. I’m sure if I’d been sitting at my desk when the offer came in, I’d have responded immediately.

Don’t do that. Sleep on it. Then, I’m inclined to suggest you should make a counter-offer. What are they going to do, withdraw the offer if they don’t like your counter-offer? Get real. If they offer you an $8,000 advance and you demand $120,000, they’ll be insulted, yes. They’ll probably tell you you’re being unrealistic. Me, I hate haggling as much as I hate schmoozing, so I can’t give you any meaningful advice on how to dicker. It’s like asking a girl out. You go with your instincts and hope you don’t send off unwelcome I-want-you-to-have-my-children signals. Just as I wouldn’t trust anyone who claimed to have a sure-fire way of asking girls out, I wouldn’t trust anyone who claimed to have bulletproof negotiating technique.

I wondered if any publisher would be interested in me, and that was why I bit so quickly. Once again, a dating analogy helps. If one girl seems semi-interested in you, chances are there’s another girl somewhere who’d be semi-interested in you. Maybe I didn’t realize it at the time, but having O’Reilly interested in me was like having a Prom Queen candidate come sit down at my lunch table. Any overconfident and annoying stud knows when that happens, he’s got a chance with any unattached pretty girl in the room. And there are a lot of pretty girls who were never a candidate for Prom Queen. Likewise, there are a lot of good publishers who aren’t O’Reilly.

I found that out after publishing the first book. Macmillan wouldn’t give me the time of day before then. They were an early candidate for my second. IDG wanted to do my third book, but they wanted it to be a Dummies book and I wanted it to be a standalone, so that one never got beyond proposal stage. No Starch and Sybex also expressed interest in my work at one time or another. That experience made me realize that I didn’t have to marry O’Reilly. Just one date was enough to bring plenty of other suitors.

The issue of representation comes up. I had authors tell me I was a fool for writing my first book without an agent. That makes sense. An agent is better-equipped to play hardball than you are. He knows what his other clients get. He knows what else the publisher is working on. He knows what the publisher’s competition is working on. He’s emotionally detached from the work, so he can afford to make an editor sweat a little. And he knows what risks are worth taking and what he has to do beforehand. (I just realized I implied there are no female literary agents. There are. Every agent I’ve worked with happens to be male.)

But there’s something to remember about agents. Your agent doesn’t just work for you. Your agent has to maintain a good working relationship with every publisher in the business in order to stay in business. So when things get really ugly, your agent might not stand beside you the way you’d like. And no, I’d really rather not elaborate on that, other than to say I worked with an agency, but recently I’ve negotiated all of my magazine contracts myself, sealed deals my agent never would have, and I feel like I got a fair deal on them considering the amount of work required on my part.

I guess the other mistake I made was not talking about the book enough. Sure, all my friends knew about it. Pastor announced it in front of the congregation a couple of times (and he still introduces me as “Author Dave Farquhar” sometimes but not as often now that there’s another author in our congregation who’s published a lot more books than I have), so it seemed like the whole church knew about it. That was the problem. Everyone knew what I thought of the book and its prospects, except my publisher. Yeah, my editor and I talked about the prospective market, and we argued about the title. I backed down way too quickly–I still hate that title, and it takes an awful lot for me to hate something enough to put it in blinky text. Sorry Netscape users.

My editor and I should have talked a lot more about it. We talked some during the negotiating period. We talked briefly about the title once the ink was dry on the contract. I wrongly spent the majority of my non-asleep time just working on it. The result was a critically acclaimed book that sold about as many copies as it would have if I’d hawked it myself on a streetcorner. I should have sat down for three hours, written down every possible title that came to mind, and e-mailed it to my editor. I should have had the courage to suggest that hey, I know it’s not The O’Reilly Way, but this book is targetting consumers, not sysadmins, so why not do a more consumer-oriented cover? Sure, sysadmins will buy it based on the publisher, but there are a lot of consumers out there, and they don’t know Tim O’Reilly from Adam Osborne (sorry, that was bad).

A guy who’ll post every bizarre idea that’s ever crept into his head on his web site should have been willing to send a few bizarre ideas to Cambridge and Sebastopol and be shot down. The idea isn’t so much to get your way as it is to make everyone else think. There’s a fine line between insanity and genius, and it doesn’t matter much which side of the line you’re on, as long as someone involved in the project ends up on the right side.

So yeah. I should have been talking to my editor about the book. I should have found out who the marketing director was and talked to him or her once or twice a month, so that each of us knew what the other was thinking. I still don’t know who the marketing director for Optimizing Windows was. I never did.

Once the thing was on the shelves, I made another mistake. One of the marketing gals got me a gig on a talk radio show. I don’t remember which one anymore. The host flaked out–dropped off the face of the earth the week before my scheduled appearance. He wouldn’t return my calls or hers. As soon as the possibility of being on the show arose, I should have asked for a phone number. That’s fine if she wants to make the arrangements, but I should have talked to the guy–or at least someone with the show–at least once. That way he knows I’m serious, and he’d better be serious.

A little while later, ZDTV’s The Screen Savers came calling. They wanted me to appear, but they wanted me to pay all my own expenses. Well, flying to San Francisco from St. Louis on short notice isn’t cheap. Neither are the other accomodations. I asked her if the appearance would sell enough books to justify the expenses. She talked it over with the rest of her cohorts and said it’d be a ton of fun and I’d get to meet a bunch of interesting people and my Web site counter would go ballistic, but I’d be lucky to sell a couple hundred books based on the appearance.

I turned them down, and rightly so. They had nothing to lose if they bumped me, and then I’d be out the money and everything else. But in retrospect, once again, I should have talked to someone at ZDTV. That way, we’d have at least gotten a feel for how serious the other was.

It seems to me that authors who sell lots of books spend an awful lot more time on the phone than I did. I assumed that if I put my time and effort into making a quality product, it’d sell itself. I underestimated how many titles it was competing with. There are plenty of mediocre (or worse) books that outsold mine, and by a landslide. And it’s pretty obvious why. Their authors were more serious about selling books than I was.

I guess there’s one other question worth answering. What publishers should you work with? I’m hesitant about big publishers. They tend to pay less, and they market whatever they feel like marketing. For every Dan Gookin (DOS for Dummies) and Andy Rathbone (Windows for Dummies), there are plenty of authors who sold fewer books than I did. The stakes aren’t high enough. When you publish hundreds of books a year, only a few of them can be bestsellers, and the potential blockbusters seem to get all of the marketing effort. They can afford to take a chance on a long shot, and you might get your hopes too high. Or they can afford to pick up a book just to keep a competitor from getting it, which is what I suspect happened with my second ill-fated book. That’s not to say I wouldn’t work with a big publisher, but it wouldn’t be my first choice.

Unfortunately, I think O’Reilly’s gotten too big. The stakes weren’t high enough with Optimizing Windows. A company like No Starch publishes a dozen titles a year. Realistically, every title, or nearly every title, has to make money when you publish in those quantities. I think that’s part of the reason why O’Reilly doesn’t release nearly as many new titles now as they did two or three years ago, and why they’ve pulled out of certain markets. Too many titles were losing money, and the big sellers weren’t making up the difference.

If I had it to do all over again, I’d probably still go with O’Reilly on my first title, for the same reason that everyone wants one date with the prom queen. Everyone craves prestige, and the sooner you get it, the better off you think you are. For the second book that never happened? Lots of possibilities, but No Starch seems attractive. No Starch is a cool company, and they’re smaller. Presumably, they’re nicer because they have to be. And while it was cool to be seen with the beauty queen, when there’s another girl who seems nicer, the smart guy will go see what spending time with that nice girl is like.

So when will I write another book and do it right this time? Keep in mind writing a book is like a bad relationship. It has a lot of high points, but nothing feels better than the moment it’s over. And keep in mind that after one bad relationship, I waited four years before starting my next one.

Craig Mundie’s infamous speech

I haven’t said anything about Microsoft Executive Craig Mundie’s speech yet. Everyone’s heard of it, of course, and the typical response has been something along the lines of “Now we know Microsoft’s stance on Open Source.”

No, we’ve always known Microsoft’s stance on that. They’re scared of it. Remember the stereotype of open-source programmers: college students and college dropouts writing software in their basements that a lot of people are using, with the goal of toppling an industry giant. Seem far-fetched? Friends, that’s the story of Microsoft itself. Microsoft became an underground sensation in the late 1970s with Microsoft Basic, a programming language for the Altair and other kit computers and later for CP/M. And while we’ll probably never know the entire story of how and why this happened, when IBM decided to outsource the operating system for the IBM PC, they went to Microsoft and got both an OS and the must-have Microsoft Basic. Ten years later, IBM was just another hardware maker–really big, but getting squeezed. Today, 20 years later, IBM’s still a huge force in the computing industry, but in the PC industry, aside from selling ThinkPads, IBM’s a nobody. There may be hardware enthusiasts out there who’d be surprised to hear IBM makes and sells more than just hard drives.

Ironically, Microsoft’s response to this new threat is to act more and more like the giant it toppled. Shared Source isn’t a new idea. IBM was doing that in the 1960s. If you were big enough, you could see the source code. DEC did it too. At work, we have the source code to most of the big VMS applications we depend on day-to-day. Most big operations insist on having that kind of access, so their programmers can add features and fix bugs quickly. If Windows 2000 is ever going to get beyond the small server space, they really have no choice. But they do it with strings attached and without going far enough. An operation the size of the one I work for can’t get the source and fix bugs or optimize the code for a particular application. You’re only permitted to use the source code to help you develop drivers or applications. Meet the new Microsoft: same as the old Microsoft.

Some people have read this speech and concluded that Microsoft believes open-source software killed the dot-com boom. That’s ludicrous, and I don’t see that in the text. OSS was very good for the dot-com boom. OSS lowered the cost of entry: Operating systems such as FreeBSD and Linux ran on cheap PCs, rather than proprietary hardware. The OSs themselves were free, and there was lots of great free software available, such as the Apache Web server, and scripting languages like Python and Perl. You could do all this cool stuff, the same cool stuff you could do with a Sun or SGI server, for the price of a PC. And not only was it cheaper than everybody else, it was also really reliable.

The way I read it, Microsoft didn’t blame OSS for the dot-com bust. Microsoft blamed the advertising model, valuing market share over revenue, and giving stuff away now and then trying to get people to pay later.

I agree. The dot-com boom died because companies couldn’t find ways to make money. But I’m not convinced the dot-com boom was a big mistake. It put the Internet on the map. Before 1995, when the first banner ad ran, there wasn’t much to the Internet. I remember those early days. As a college student in 1993, the Internet was a bonanza to me, even though I wasn’t using it to the extent a lot of my peers were. For me, the Internet was FTP and Gopher and e-mail. I mostly ignored Usenet and IRC. That was pretty much the extent of the Internet. You had to be really determined or really bored or really geeky to get much of anything out of it. The World Wide Web existed, but that was a great mystery to most of us. The SGI workstations on campus had Web browsers. We knew that Mosaic had been ported to Windows, but no one in the crowd I ran in knew how to get it working. When we finally got it running on some of our PCs in 1994, what we found was mostly personal homepages. “Hi, my name is Darren and this is my homepage. Here are some pictures of my cat. Here’s a listing of all the CDs I own. Here are links to all my friends who have homepages.” The running joke then was that there were only 12 pages on the Web, and the main attraction of the 12 was links to the other 11.

By 1995, we had the first signs of business. Banner ads appeared, and graduating students (or dropouts) started trying to build companies around their ideas. The big attraction of the Web was that there was all this information out there, and it was mostly free. Online newspapers and magazines sprung up. Then vendors sprung up, offering huge selections and low prices. You could go to Amazon.com and find any book in print, and you’d pay less for it than you would at Barnes & Noble. CDNow.com did the same thing for music. And their ads supported places that were giving information away. So people started buying computers so they could be part of the show. People flocked from closed services like CompuServe and Prodigy to plain-old Internet, which offered so much more and was cheaper.

Now the party’s ending as dot-coms close up shop, often with their content gone forever. To me, that’s a loss only slightly greater than the loss of the Great Library. There’s some comfort for me: Five years from now, most of that information would be obsolete anyway. But its historical value would remain. But setting sentiment aside, that bonanza of freebies was absolutely necessary. When I was selling computers in 1994, people frequently asked me what a computer was good for. In 1995, it was an easier sell. Some still asked that question, but a lot of people came in wanting “whatever I need to get to be able to get on the Internet.” Our best-selling software package, besides Myst, was Internet In A Box, which bundled dialup software, a Web browser, and access to some nationwide provider. I imagine sales were easier still in 1996 and beyond, but I was out of retail by then. Suddenly, you could buy this $2,000 computer and get all this stuff for free. A lot of companies made a lot of money off that business model. Microsoft made a killing. Dell and Gateway became behemoths. Compaq made enough to buy DEC. AOL made enough to buy Time Warner. Companies like Oracle and Cisco, who sold infrastructure, had licenses to print money. Now the party’s mostly over and these companies have massive hangovers, but what’s the answer to the Ronald Reagan question? Hangover or no hangover, yes, they’re a whole heck of a lot better off than they were four years ago.

I’m shocked that Microsoft thinks the dot-com phenomenon was a bad thing.

If, in 1995, the Web came into its own but every site had been subscription-based, this stuff wouldn’t have happened. It was hard enough to swallow $2,000 for a new PC, plus 20 bucks a month for Internet. Now I have to pay $9.95 a month to read a magazine? I could just subscribe to the paper edition and save $2,500!

The new Internet would have been the same as the old Internet, only you’d have to be more than just bored, determined, and geeky to make it happen. You’d also have to have a pretty big pile of cash.

The dot-com boom put the Internet on the map, made it the hot ticket. The dot-com bust hurt. Now that sites are dropping out of the sky or at least scaling operations way back, more than half of the Web sites I read regularly are Weblogs–today’s new and improved personal home page. People just like me. The biggest difference between 1994 and 2001? The personal home pages are better. Yeah, the pictures of the cat are still there sometimes, but at least there’s wit and wisdom and insight added. When I click on those links to the left, I usually learn something.

But there is another difference. Now we know why it would make sense to pay for a magazine on the Internet instead of paper. Information that takes a month to make it into print goes online in minutes. It’s much easier and faster to type a word into a search engine than to leaf through a magazine. We can hear any baseball game we want, whether a local radio station carries our favorite team or not. The world’s a lot smaller and faster now, and we’ve found we like it.

The pump is primed. Now we have to figure out how to make this profitable. The free ride is pretty much over. But now that we’ve seen what’s possible, we’re willing to start thinking about whipping out the credit cards again and signing up, provided the cost isn’t outrageous.

The only thing in Mundie’s speech that I can see that Linus Torvalds and Alan Cox and Dan Gillmor should take offense to is Microsoft’s suspicion of anyone giving something away for free. Sure, Microsoft gives lots of stuff away, but always with ulterior motives. Internet Explorer is free because Microsoft was afraid of Netscape. Outlook 98 was free for a while to hurt Lotus Notes. Microsoft Money was free for a while so Microsoft could get some share from Quicken. It stopped being free when Microsoft signed a deal with Intuit to bundle Internet Explorer with Quicken instead of Netscape. And there are other examples.

Microsoft knows that you can give stuff away with strings attached and make money off the residuals. What Microsoft hasn’t learned is that you can give stuff away without the strings attached and still make money off the residuals. The dot-com bust only proves that you can’t necessarily make as much as you may have thought, and that you’d better spend what you do make very wisely.

The Internet needs to be remade, yes, and it needs to find some sustainable business models (one size doesn’t fit all). But if Mundie thinks the world is chomping at the bit to have Microsoft remake the Internet their way, he’s in for a rude awakening.

More Like This: Microsoft Linux Weblogs Internet Commentary

04/08/2001

The Kansas City press is already talking about how much they miss Johnny Damon since the Royals got off to their 0-4 start. ‘Scuse me? Am I the only one who remembers how Johnny Damon normally hits under .200 the first month of the season? And am I the only one who checked and saw that he’s hitting .133 for Oakland at the moment?

Johnny Damon is a non-factor until June. Meanwhile, his trade got the Royals a proven closer and a throw-in backup catcher that it turned out they need. And they needed Roberto Hernandez yesterday when they got their first win.

How far we’ve come… While I was hunting down tax paperwork yesterday (found it!), I ran across a stash of ancient computer magazines. For grins, I pulled out the May 1992 issue of Compute, which celebrated the release of Windows 3.1. I would have received this magazine nine years ago this month.

Some tidbits I liked:

“Windows 3.0… entered a hostile world. OS/2 loomed on the horizon like a dragon ready to devour us, and MS-DOS, stuck in version 4.0, had lost its momentum. It looked as if Digital Research…was the only company trying to make DOS better.” –Clifton Karnes, pg 4

That’s what happens when there’s no strong competition. I don’t get the OS/2 and dragon metaphor though. What, people didn’t want a computer that worked right? I didn’t get it at the time. I had an Amiga, which at the time offered OS/2 features and a good software library.

“Some people even started talking about Unix.” Ibid.

Some things never change.

“The masses are happy, and nobody talks about Unix much anymore.” Ibid.

That certainly changed.

“You can now buy a 200 MB drive for just $500.” –Mark Minasi, pg 58

I’ve got some 200-meg hard drives that I’d absolutely love to get $500 for. You’ve got my e-mail address. And while we’re at it, would you like some snake oil? That now-laughable line was from a Mark Minasi column talked about strategies for getting drives larger than 512 MB working. Strangely, that problem still rears its ugly head more often than it should, and its descendant problem, getting a drive bigger than 8 gigs working, is even more common.

“A 286-based notebook is a very capable machine; with a decent-size hard disk and a portable mouse, you could even run Windows applications on one (except for those requiring enhanced mode performance such as Excel).” –Peter Scisco, pg 72

Don’t let any of the end users I support read that line. That’s funny. Later in the same article, Scisco discusses the problem of battery life, a struggle we still live with.

“The last dozen modems I’ve installed here at Compute have been compact models. It’s almost like the manufacturers are trying to get better mileage by leaving out parts and making the cards smaller. These modems don’t reject line noise very well.” –Richard Leinecker, pg. 106

Now there’s a problem that only got worse with time.

An ad from Computer Direct on page 53 offered a 16 MHz 386SX with a meg of RAM and dual floppy drives (no hard drive) for $399. Your $399 gets you a lot more these days, but that was an incredible deal at the time. A complete system with a 14-inch VGA monitor and 40-meg HD ran $939. The same vendor offered an external CD-ROM drive (everything was a 1X in these days) for $399.

An ad on page 63 proclaimed the availability of the epic game Civilization, for “IBM-PC/Tandy/Compatibles.” Yes, these were the days when you could still buy a PC at Radio Shack and expect to be taken seriously.

Weird week. On Tuesday, cold season gave way to allergy season, and it happened over the course of a couple of hours. Winter’s attempted comeback fell flat on its face, and spring arrived, bringing with it temperatures in the 70s, and the two things St. Louis is known for more than anything else: humidity and pollen.

In recent years pollen hasn’t bothered me much, but whatever’s in the air this time around bothered me enough to think the cold I shook last week had relapsed on me. But then I figured out that when I stayed in my air-conditioned office, I had no problems. At home, where I haven’t turned on the AC yet, I do. So I finally broke down and got some antihistamines, which never used to make me drowsy. They do this year. Go figure.

Last week I still had the heater going because it was cool enough at night that my apartment would drop to 60 degrees by morning if I didn’t. Normally I refuse to turn on my AC before mid-May out of principle, so turning on the AC less than a week after I was running the heat is ridiculous.

If you can’t buy it, is it legal to copy?

3/29/00
Here’s a big, hairy question:

From: Francisco Garcia Maceda
Subject: Napster
To: Dave Farquhar

I have also been playing around with Napster for a couple of days and as you have seen there are a couple of rough edges still in the design and implementation. However, I think this is going to grow to something bigger and probably very different from the original implementation. There is already Wrapster, which allows you to “wrap” files, images, videos, programs, etc. in MP3 headers so you can exchange this “wraps” as if they were actual MP3’s. We’ll see.

The other day I was talking to a friend that made some research into copyright law both in the US and locally (Mexico). It appears that in both countries you can copy ANY copyrighted material that is out of print or distribution as long as you do not redistribute it or profit from it. This could be very important for people that don’t want to encourage piracy but at the same time is looking for some old tunes/books/etc. that are impossible to obtain today since they have been out of print for years/decades. Maybe you or one of your readers could shed some light in this topic regarding copyright law in the US and even in the EU?

Francisco Garcia Maceda

My understanding is that copyright law makes no provisions for material that’s in print or out of print, and until the copyright holder says it’s OK to freely copy something, freely copying it is illegal.

Tracking down the copyright holder can be a real pain. I wrote Optimizing Windows, but I don’t hold the copyright on it. If O’Reilly takes the book out of print, that doesn’t mean people can freely copy it. And in the case of my contract, O’Reilly retains the copyright, so you can’t get my permission to copy it–because I can’t give it. Sometimes the rights revert back to the author, but only the publisher and author can generally answer that question.

Those Young Snakes tunes I was referring to are a case point. Aimee Mann doesn’t own the copyrights on those, so she can’t give permission to freely copy them. She’s toyed with the idea of buying back the rights, but that’s never happened. So, technically, yes, by owning those MP3s, I’m breaking the law. Whether anyone cares is another question. Since no one’s making money off this 20-year-old EP that’s been out of print for probably 18 or 19 years, probably not. As Pournelle says, you have to let your conscience be your guide. [Ironic note: Some months later, Andy Breslau, the album’s producer, mailed me. We had a long, pleasant discussion over e-mail, and $10 later, I have a legal copy of the EP. So sometimes copyright holders will find you.]

Music is a bit hairy, because there’s the copyright on the lyrics and notes themselves, but then there’s the copyright on the recording. The label owns the copyright on the recording. The songwriter owns the copyright on the lyrics and notes. If an artist breaks from a label, the recordings don’t go with them, but they have the rights to re-record the song. Prince has long been threatening to do exactly this (and for all I know he’s made good on it).

That leads us into live concert recordings. A recording that a sound technician makes by splicing into the soundboard or that a fan makes by smuggling in a recording device isn’t covered by the label’s copyright, nor are they covered by the artist’s copyright, which is why the courts have upheld the rights of bootleggers. When you go into a record store and plunk down $40 for a Tori Amos live CD, Amos never sees a dime of it. The live recordings field is an underground industry, living on the very fringe of the law. As I said before, some artists worry about this stuff a lot, while other artists go so far as to encourage it. You have to be a fan to love these recordings, so I don’t see any problem with them. Record labels do, but the law isn’t on their side in this case. They may argue that this hinders their ability to sell live CDs, but I don’t buy that. I own every live Joy Division album their record label ever put out, plus every bootleg I’ve managed to find. The fanatics will buy anything that has their favorite band’s name on it, and those are the people who plunk down obnoxious amounts of money for these bootlegs. If those MP3s hurt anyone, it’s the bootleg record companies and the record stores that deal in them.

The other place where this question comes up a lot is old software. The author doesn’t make a dime if you go buy an Atari 2600 cartridge at a flea market for a buck, so it doesn’t make any difference to the author, I would assume, if you bought a copy of it or just downloaded the ROM image and played it with an emulator–though it makes a big difference to the law. With software this old, frequently the publisher is long gone, the author may or may not still be alive, but the copyrights are still valid for a few more years and someone, somewhere, owns them and could choose to enforce them.

Really, what it comes down to is two questions: 1. Am I hurting the owner of the copyright? And 2. If I’m not hurting the owner, morally I can do this, but legally I may not be able to, so am I willing to take that risk?

I hope that answers your question. I’m sure others will pipe in as well.

Dave

More thoughts on MP3. Record sales are down. The industry blames MP3. But as labels consolidate, they axe artists by the hundreds or thousands. The end result is fewer people recording music, and, probably, fewer sales. Plus, many artists don’t hit it big right away. It took U2 seven years and five albums. Today, they’re Ireland’s biggest industry. They wouldn’t have survived if they had come along in 1999 rather than 1979–Boy was a great album, a really great album, but probably wouldn’t have been a great commercial success in any era.

I don’t think MP3 hurts teenybopper bands like The Backstreet Boys and ‘NSync. Sure, those songs get pirated by the boatload, but they also sell by the boatload, and much of the money surrounding bands like that is in merchandising–lunch boxes, bedsheets, posters, videos… The records are an afterthought. (And it shows.) Those bands will disappear within a couple of years, just like the New Kids on the Block did in the late ’80s/early ’90s and the Bay City Rollers in the mid-1970s.

I think who the MP3s really hurt are the one-hit wonders. You know, bands like Deep Blue Something, who record an album with exactly one catchy song (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” in that band’s case) that goes on to become a mega-hit, but with no obvious followup the band drops off the face of the earth.

I don’t see how MP3s can hurt established bands any more than radio taping does. And record companies fall all over themselves to get their acts played on the radio.