How I freed a seized-up garbage disposal

I’m sure all landlords have a story like this, but let me tell you my garbage disposal story. I don’t know what the last occupant put in that disposal, and I don’t want to know. What I do know is that it was completely seized up and wouldn’t run.

The motor hummed, which I know from years of tinkering with old Lionel and Marx electric trains that meant the motor wasn’t completely dead, so I had to find a way to free up whatever was keeping the motor from turning.

The usual fix is to use a garbage disposal wrench (which is really just an allen wrench–so you can use any allen wrench that fits) to spin the motor in both directions until it turns freely. There’s a little key in the center of the underside where the wrench goes. Mine wouldn’t budge. I wasn’t being wimpy either–I’d lean on it to the point where the disposal itself was shifting in its mount, but the motor stubbornly refused to go anywhere.

At this point I’d about written it off. A 1/3 horsepower Waste King Legend disposal costs around $55 online, and sometimes you can get their low-end half-horse unit for around $5 more, so I figured I didn’t have a whole lot to lose, and I knew I couldn’t make the disposal any worse.

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Bernard the Legend

It was Friday or Saturday night and I was back from college. I don’t remember what the occasion was anymore, but I’m pretty sure it must have been 1993. I got together with some friends back home in St. Louis to blow off steam.

I did this a fair number of times when I was in college. I don’t remember what movie we saw and I barely remember who I was with. There’s no reason for me to remember that night. Except for one thing.

His name was Bernard. I worked in food service for 2 1/2 years, and one of my managers told us to be legendary. That was our location’s catchphrase. But in all my years, I’ve never encountered anybody in a restaurant more legendary than Bernard. Read more

IBM dumping its PC business?

John C. Dvorak comes full circle in his column about IBM possibly dumping its PC business. He starts off saying it makes little sense, but by the end of the editorial, he has his mind made up that IBM should have done it years ago.

Of course, this was probably written before word got out that its talks are more of a joint venture or spinoff than a complete sellout.

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What to do with those e-mail forwards

Coke is unpatriotic and anti-God. Pepsi is unpatriotic and anti-God. Target doesn’t support veterans. Dennis Miller supports the war in Iraq. Andy Rooney doesn’t like the French. An atheist made the FCC make CBS discontinue Touched by an Angel.
If you actually read the 72 e-mail forwards that are probably in your inbox when you come in to work every morning, you’ll find lines like those in them. Makes me think I should be glad most people have forgotten the 1993 Diet Pepsi can scare.

Forget needles, pins, screws, crack vials, bullets, and Mercedes-Benz hood ornaments. I found O.J.’s bloody glove in my can of Diet Pepsi! Wait. O.J. didn’t happen in 1993. I must be a time traveler!

When someone told me the other day that Target didn’t support veterans, I suggested looking at Snopes. I checked myself. Sure enough, the rumor contains only a hint of truth and was originally perpetuated by someone with an axe to grind. While Target didn’t provide money to one particular Vietnam War memorial (the applicant didn’t apply correctly), according to the VFW, Target did provide money to fund another Vietnam War memorial.

The next time someone sends you an e-mail forward, you might wish to reply back with a couple of links:
http://snopes.com/info/whatsnew.asp
50 Hottest Urban Legends

That Middle East oil rumor

You’ve probably seen the e-mail circulating around about what companies buy Middle Eastern oil and thus could be indirectly funding terrorism.
That e-mail came up in conversation today, and then I remembered the Truth or Fiction Web site, which I’d stumbled across while researching the story of Butch and Eddie O’Hare. When I’d first seen that e-mail, I went to the Department of Energy web site to see if I could, as it said, “easily document” who was buying oil from countries that don’t like us very much. I didn’t find anything.

They did. And the e-mail rumor, based on their research, has the numbers wrong but is mostly correct about which companies are buying oil from the Middle East and which ones aren’t, even if it was wrong about the number of barrels (and sometimes they were off by a factor of 10).

The question is, will it do any good? Economic boycotts have worked in the past–take a look at the early days of the Civil Rights movement for an example–but you have to really want it, want it enough to stick to your guns. Based on the rumor, I bought all my gas at Phillips 66 for months, figuring I probably wasn’t doing any harm and might be doing some good. But my last couple of tanks have come from the Mobil station that’s on my way to work. There are a couple of Phillips stations not far out of my way, but they are out of my way.

That’s pretty typical. These days, we’ll talk tough, and we’ll even act tough for a while. But more often than not, ultimately what wins out is what’s cheap or convenient. That Mobil station is close and on the way, so it couldn’t be any more convenient, and it always seems like it’s the first station to lower its prices and the last to raise them. So I’ve been buying there.

I probably should start driving that extra mile to buy somewhere else. There’s a Citgo close by too.

Oh, and by the way… Next time someone forwards you that Pepsi can Pledge of Allegiance rumor, tell them to stop circulating it. It was Dr Pepper, not Pepsi. I can’t say anything with my dollars there. I don’t know that I’ve bought anything from either company in the past year because I almost never drink soda.

A total blast from the past

I don’t remember how I stumbled across it, but textfiles.com tries to collect documents from the classic days of BBSing, which the curator defines as having ended in 1995. I wouldn’t have thought it that recent. I was still BBSing in the summer of ’94, but by the fall of ’94 I’d discovered the Web, and I thought I was the last one to wake up to it.
I’d learned FTP and Gopher when I went to college in 1993, and I’d been using Usenet via local BBSs for even longer, but as everyone knows now, it was the Web that put the Internet on the map. I think a lot of people think the Web is the Internet.

Anyway, before the Internet, hobbyists would take computers, get a phone line, hook up a modem, and see who called. There were usually discussion boards, file transfers, and at least one online multiplayer game. The really big BBSs ran on 386s with hard drives, but an awful lot of the BBSs I called ran on 8-bit computers and stored their data on floppy drives. I remember one board I called used seven or eight floppy drives to give itself a whopping 6 or 7 megs of online storage. It was called The Future BBS, and the sysops’ real names were Rick and Jim (I don’t remember their handles), and it ran on a Commodore 64 or 128 with, ironically, a bunch of drives that dated back to the days of the PET–Commodore had produced some 1-meg drives in the early 80s that would connect to a 64 or 128 if you put an IEEE-488 interface in it. Theirs was a pretty hot setup and probably filled a spare bedroom all by itself for the most part.

It was a very different time.

Well, most of the boards I called were clearinghouses for pirated software. It was casual copying; I didn’t mess with any of that 0-1 day warez stuff. We were curmudgeons; someone would wax nostalgic about how great Zork was and how they didn’t know what happened to their copy, then someone would upload it. I remember on a couple of occasions sysops would move to St. Louis and complain about how St. Louis was the most rampant center of software piracy they’d ever seen, but I see from the files on textfiles.com that probably wasn’t true.

Besides illegal software, a lot of text files floated around. A lot of it was recipes. Some of them were “anarchy” files–how-to guides to creating mayhem. Having lots of them was a status symbol. Most of the files were 20K in length or so (most 8-bit computers didn’t have enough address space for documents much longer than that once you loaded a word processor into memory), and I knew people who had megabytes of them in an era of 170K floppies.

A lot of the stuff on the site is seedy. Seedier than I remember the boards I called being.

But a lot of the content is just random stuff, and some of it dates itself. (Hey, where else was I going to find out that the 1982 song “Pac-Man Fever” was recorded by Buckner & Garcia? Allmusic.com forgot about that song. If I recall correctly, that’s probably proof that God is merciful, but hey.)

Mostly I find it interesting to see what people were talking about 10 and 20 years ago. Some of the issues of yesterday are pretty much unchanged. Some of them just seem bizarre now. Like rumors of weird objects in Diet Pepsi cans.

Actually that doesn’t sound so bizarre. I’m sure there’s an e-mail forward about those in my inbox right now.

A prank no more

I knocked on the door of a house in Soulard, a neighborhood in south St. Louis. A tough, biker-looking guy answered the door. “Tom’s not here,” he said.
“Oh, we know,” I said. “That’s why we’re here. We’d like to turn Tom’s computer into a multimedia tribute to M.C. Hammer.”

“Ah,” he roared, opening the door wider to let us in. “Go on upstairs. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”

So the three of us charged upstairs, and fired up Gatermann’s computer. First, we changed the Windows startup screen. In bright letters on an annoyingly brighter background, we wrote the word, “Proper.” In reference to M.C. Hammer’s Pepsi commercial, if you don’t remember. (I didn’t. One of my co-perpetrators did.)

And then we took an M.C. Hammer CD, belonging to my other co-perpetrator, and made MP3s out of it. Gatermann only had 3 or 4 uses left on the trial version of whatever MP3 ripping software he was using at the time, so he appreciated us using them up for him. I know because he told us that. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We visited www.mchammer.com (now a joint selling cellular phones, which I don’t get–who would go to that address looking for a cell phone?), which was, at the time, still dedicated to the one-time pop star of the same name, and we downloaded every picture from the site. And we downloaded all the sounds we could find too. So we set sounds to system events, we gave him some nice wallpaper, we set his Netscape homepage to www.mchammer.com, we put a couple of tunes in his startup group, and we put Netscape in his startup group as well. Then we left, because he was going to be getting off work within the next 15 minutes and we definitely didn’t want to be there when he turned his computer on.

Later…

The phone rang. One of the other guys picked it up. Silence. Well, except for some breathing. And even the breathing sounded angry. Finally, the voice on the other end broke the harsh silence.

“Alright, which of you [deleted] am I gonna [deleted] kill first?”

Wanna take a guess who that was? Besides someone who didn’t appreciate our attempt at art, I mean.

Not that his opinion is too important. I appreciated it, and still recognize that as one of my finest moments.

But unfortunately, it would be a lot harder to pull that prank on someone today, since www.mchammer.com has apparently fallen victim to a domain squatter.

There’s always Alien Sex Fiend, but somehow that doesn’t quite have the same effect.

The giant homo sapien conspiracy against me

I’m confused, I’ve finished my book (reading one, not writing one–that’ll be the day), and I’ve found I’m in no mood for P.J. O’Rourke. Meanwhile, my readers are egging me on.
It’s part of a plot. I can tell. It’s part of that huge homo sapien plot to take over the world. You gotta watch them homo sapiens.

I learned yesterday than I’m no good at plotting. I’m no good at conspiring. This surprised me. You see, at the age of 23, my next-door neighbors decided the whole world was a huge conspiracy–though they weren’t quite smart enough to figure out that it was the homo sapiens behind it, but you’ll find that out soon enough–and somehow, even at my very young age, I’d managed to rise to the very top of that conspiracy.

They didn’t get out very much. They also happened to believe that the X-Files was really a documentary. You see, constitutionally, the government is required to disseminate that information. So they dress it up like fiction. That way, they’ve fulfilled their constitutional duty in an underhanded way. But really smart people (like them) could see through the whole thing.

Well, I’m not sure if they actually ever said that, but I sure did get sick of listening to UFO conspiracy stories. I can’t remember if they ever went so far as to try to tell me the X-Files was real.

I came out of that experience feeling like I had connections and conniving ability, like I could conspire if I really wanted to.

So as a friend and I started to weave this vast conspiracy, this person asked me a question that let all the air out of my balloon: What if [the person we were conspiring against] already has plans?

Dang it. I didn’t bother finding that out. I just assumed this person had nothing better to do than to fall into my carefully laid trap, which I’d been carefully laying out… because… I… No, not because I didn’t have anything better to do. I had lots of better things to do. I just didn’t want to do them.

Why doesn’t anyone believe me?

You’re in on that homo sapien plot too, aren’t you? You gotta watch them homo sapiens. They’ll take over the world if we’re not careful.

But I just went off on one of my really long digressions. Or maybe it was two of them. So, Steve DeLassus takes offense at me using the word “litter” and implying the trademark “White Castle” in the same sentence. Obviously, Steve’s forgotten one important thing. I’m a transplant to St. Louis. I’m not a native. I’m native to Kansas City. And let me tell you something about Kansas City. White Castle went to Kansas City… and flopped. No grace about it. We’re talking a big, messy belly-flop right onto dry, hot pavement.

Evidently, in Kansas City people wondered the same thing I did the couple of times I’ve had occasion to eat a White Castle. I wondered whether the little cardboard box the thing came in would taste better than the smelly, greasy thing they tried to pass off to me as a hamburger. I know it would be easier on your digestive tract and on your arteries.

White Castles are obviously a creation of the homo sapiens. But not even their most carefully laid plot could save them from the discriminating palates of Kansas City. Good on them. The Kansas Citians, that is.

The St. Louisans aren’t doing such a good job of staving off the plot. White Castle isn’t even a St. Louis creation.

Which leads me, somehow, to Bruce Edwards’ question. Evidently, where he used to live there was a chain of White Castle clones. We had one of those, in Columbia, where I went to college. It opened up the first semester of my freshman year. They bought a tiny drive-thru, painted it pink, and hung out a big pink-and-green sign that read in neon-style letters: Grill ‘n Chill. Their specialties: cheap belly bombers and thick milkshakes. The student newspaper I was writing for at the time reviewed it. “Completely unoriginal,” the reviewer said. I never bothered to check it out. To me, it seemed like cloning a Yugo. Why bother? Not that I had much of a chance to check it out. Within a couple of months, the venture went belly-up, and the atrociously colored pink building stood there vacant for years, a painful reminder of the failed venture. Well, I guess it wasn’t so painful if you remembered your sunglasses. I used to have a neat pair of black wraparounds. I think one of my ex-girlfriends took them. She never did like them. I think she was a closet homo sapien. That would explain a lot about her. Like how she walked upright, breathed oxygen, communicated using spoken words… I never did try to sneak out with any of her genetic material–you know, a bit of hair, or some nail clippings–to test, but I’ll bet she was carbon-based too.

And there I’ve gone, and taken the question and made it all about me. What, do I look like the guy on a date?

I blame the homo sapiens. They keep distracting me. They’re all around me. They’re everywhere, you know.

Anyway, back to the question, which I hadn’t even finished writing out when I got so rudely sidetracked: Some of his coworkers offered him $100 plus the price of the (ahem) food if he could eat 100 belly bombers in a 24-hour period. Bruce asked how I’d respond to an offer like that.

Well, I’m thinking that in exchange for three meals at Smokestack BBQ in Kansas City and $100, I might be willing to think about the sight and smell and taste of 100 belly bombers. But one would have to seriously raise the stakes for me to eat 100 of the wretched things over the course of a day. I get sick to my stomach if I take my vitamins too early in the day.

And that has absolutely nothing to do with homo sapiens. Which surprises you, I’m sure. I know it surprises me.

So, no, I’d tell my friends they could spend all weekend getting acquainted with their toilets if they wanted, but I sure wouldn’t be joining them.

Steve then made the smooth (as a gravel road) transition to the subject of Pepsi and toilets. About a year ago, Steve got one of those annoying forwards that clog up everyone’s inbox (if that’s not a homo sapien plot, I don’t know what is) that was something like 25 things you didn’t want to know about cola. It talked about how you could dissolve a nail in a can of Coca-Cola inside of a week, and other weird stuff. Well, I had a two-liter of Pepsi in my fridge. I’d had company over, and whoever it was only drank one or two glasses, leaving me with most of a two-liter that I had no intention of drinking, because when I want caffeine, I generally want coffee. One of the claims of the message was that a can of cola would do a very nice job of cleaning your toilet.

Now, knowing that if I read it on the Internet it must be true, I took the advice to heart. My toilet was badly discolored because I’m a bachelor and out to impress no one–or I figure if I’m going to impress someone, it won’t be with my toilet. Now, it’s never been as bad as that “worst toilet in Scotland” scene in Trainspotting, but I thought I had a pretty formidible test for that quantity of Pepsi. So I poured it in one morning before I left for work.

I came home about nine hours later. I stirred the contents of the bowl around with my toilet brush, but couldn’t get a good look at the interior. I guess it was a little cleaner. But I decided to let it sit a while longer.

Finally, around 8 p.m., I couldn’t stand it any longer. I had two choices: abandon the experiment, or use the sink. I’m not that much of a bachelor. (I’ve managed to fight off some of that homo sapien influence that so pervades our society these days.) So I flushed the toilet. And you know how they talk sometimes about “ring around the toilet?” I definitely had one of those. But the dirty part was the top of the bowl.

So forget about those fancy-dancy, high-fallutin’ blue things you hang in your toilet. Once every couple of months, buy yourself one of those 59-cent two-liter bottles of generic cola. Take it home, dump it in the bowl before you go to work, and let it sit. It’s cheaper than those blue things and it’s a whole lot easier than scrubbing. Does a better job too. And it’s better for the environment too, since there’s no poisonous bleach involved. Moby would be so proud of me.

I’m sure those homo sapiens don’t want you to know that.

St. Louis secrets

St. Louis secrets. I have no idea how many of you live in St. Louis or travel to St. Louis or have ever been here. I’m a St. Louis transplant, being a native of Kansas City. Toasted ravioli was odd. I learned to like it pretty quickly (for the unitiated, it’s ravioli that’s been battered and then deep-fried. In these health-conscious days, sometimes you can get it baked instead.)
St. Louis-style pizza, on the other hand… I tolerated it. But real pizza was from New York or Chicago. To get good pizza in St. Louis, you had to go to one of the places that specialized in one of the foreign styles. When I was in college, to get a decent pizza, my dad and I would go to Shakespeare’s, a little hole in the wall (well, now it’s a big hole in the wall) at 9th and Elm streets in Columbia, just on the edge of the MU campus. I remember once, my sophomore year, sitting there with my dad, and he looked off, whimsically in the distance. “I’m gonna miss this place.”

There wasn’t anything remotely like it in St. Louis. Ironically, their sausage and pepperoni was delivered fresh every day from St. Louis. St. Louis knows how to make this stuff–the Italian population here is huge, and the Italian restaurants in St. Louis are to die for–but Imo’s, the most famous place to get St. Louis-style pizza? Forget it. I’d rather stop at the grocery store and get a frozen pizza. Seriously. If you bake it on a baking stone, you’ll get a crisp crust that’s almost as thin, and bettter in every other way. The other big local chains are comparable.

So if you’re ever in St. Louis, skip Imo’s. Skip Cecil Whittaker’s and Elicia’s too. They’re better, but I have a hard time thinking they’re anything special.

I found out this weekend the place to go. It’s called Fortel’s Pizza Den. There are four or five locations, and they don’t advertise a whole lot. Gatermann and I paid it a visit at about 8:30 Saturday night. There were only a couple of emtpy tables when we got there, and when we left an hour later, people were still coming in about as fast as they were leaving. That tells you something. The toppings were extremely fresh, not to mention plentiful, and there was something special about the sauce. I’m not good enough at identifying spices to know what they did with it, but it’s absolutely a cut above anything the national chains like Domino’s and Papa John’s use. St. Louis knows how to make a red sauce, which you’ll know if you visit any of the Italian restaurants here. You wouldn’t know that from Imo’s or Cecil’s. You’ll know it from Fortel’s though.

So if you’re visiting a friend or relative in St. Louis and they want to show you Imo’s, show them Fortel’s instead.

I figured that to get a decent pizza joint in St. Louis, I’d have to open it myself. I’m glad I won’t have to do that now–the thought of owning a restaurant never really appealed to me. And now I don’t have to drive two hours to Shakespeare’s in Columbia to get a first-class pizza either.

Speaking of Italian restaurants, I recommend Zia’s on The Hill. There are pricier restaurants out there, but I’ve never found one that was better. Get a salad, and get their Italian dressing on it. Trust me, you’ll love it. Another hint: They sell it in grocery stores. You can stop at Schnucks or Dierbergs (the two biggest grocery chains here, both run by families who don’t know how to use apostrophes) and buy a case of it to take back with you. You’ll want to.

The Dierberg family is Lutheran. There are lots of Lutherans in St. Louis.

And if you want a goofy souvenir, stop in at Dirt Cheap Beer. There are dozens of convenient locations all around St. Louis. Pick up a six-pack of their house brand. It’ll set you back about $1.75. I won’t ruin your fun by describing the label on it. No, it’s not any classier than the word BEER in solid black block letters on a white can. But it’s a lot funnier. I’ve never been brave enough to drink any of it. One of my rules is to avoid all beer that costs less than Pepsi.

For frozen custard, there’s Ted Drewes on Chippewa. I think 3/4 of the appeal is the atmosphere and nostalgia. But it’s good. The place is always crowded, so I’m not the only one who likes it. Ted Drewes is Lutheran. He doesn’t know how to use apostrophes either. Maybe the Dierberg family taught him.

For the best deli sandwich in the world, there’s Amighetti’s on The Hill. For the second-best deli sandwich in the world, there’s Mom’s Deli on Chippewa. They’re both amazing. (I’m still mad about the Amighetti’s franchise in Crestwood, near where I work, closing. The sandwiches were to die for, and the girl who always worked the counter was really cute, too.) They know how to use apostrophes both places. Must be because they’re not Lutheran.

There’s another place I haven’t checked out yet, but I’ve been ordered to do so at some point. Up in north St. Louis, there’s a joint called Crown Candy. It’s a candy store (they make their own) with an authentic old-fashioned soda fountain. They serve food too, so you can get acceptable lunch fare on your pilgrimage. The milkshakes are supposed to be out of this world.

But if you want good barbecue in Missouri, you still have to go to Kansas City. And if you want good beer from Missouri, skip Anheuser-Busch’s products, which are as smooth as a gravel road. Get a Boulevard. That’s brewed in Kansas City, of course. (You can take Dave out of Kansas City, but you’ll never take the Kansas City out of Dave.)

04/14/2001

Mailbag:

IE Synchronize; ASPI Error

One night last week, I had a beer with a good friend. He invited me to join him for dinner; I always learn a lot from him (I hope it’s mutual) and it seemed like he needed to talk, so while I’d already eaten, I joined him for a beer.

Hopefully I can say this without betraying any confidences. There are two people who mean a great deal to him; I know both of these people, so I understand why. In their minds, he let each of them down. In his mind, there wasn’t much he could have done differently; there certainly wasn’t much of anything he could have done better. He did his best, and in these instances, his best wasn’t good enough. In the time since, they’ve let him down. The question is, did he get their best? He doesn’t know. And it hurts.

It always hurts when a friend or someone else you really care about lets you down. When someone you don’t like does something stupid to you, it hurts, but let’s face it. You don’t expect anything else from those kinds of people. What more can they do to you? They continually try to show you what more they can do, but usually it’s not much. It’s lost its impact.

But like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, who, at the end of a day whose events particularly repulsed him, realized it was his 30th birthday, these last couple of days are significant. Thursday was the holiday known as Maundy Thursday. Some 1,972 years or so ago (no one’s ever precisely pinned down the day) on Thursday night, the most infamous letdown by a friend in history took place. A young Jewish rabbi was praying on a hilltop with his three closest friends trying to keep watch despite total exhaustion. An armed mob of his political enemies ascended that hill, led by another one of the rabbi’s closest friends. Judas Iscariat walked up to the man he’d followed and dedicated his life to for the better part of the past three years and forever tainted a sign of love and respect. With a kiss, he pointed the target out to the mob. The result of that betrayal, of course, was the arrest, trial and execution of Jesus Christ.

But I’m convinced that Judas’ kiss hurt more than the crucifixion. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were nothing more than self-righteous scum who couldn’t stand seeing someone understand the things they didn’t. This was to be expected. And the Romans? Well, what else do you expect from a spineless governor under the thumb of a totalitarian dictator? He didn’t get his office by doing the right thing, after all. But Judas… Judas was capable of so much better. Jesus knew it, and the 11 knew it. They’d all seen him do great things. Those religious leaders were no loss. They were lowlives, doing what lowlives do. Judas showed flashes of brilliance, then he flamed out. The other 11, who were just like him, went on to change the world. Judas could have been one of them. But he chose another path, even though he knew better.

Or maybe the significance of last week means nothing, because to me it seems a sacrilege to compare 11 people who changed the world to a ragtag band of people who keep online journals. Or maybe the awkwardness is perfect, because some of us have been attaching too much importance to it. Maybe that puts it in perspective a little.

At any rate, we’ll never change the world, but for whatever reason, there are people who have high expectations of the crowd known collectively as Daynoters. Maybe it’s because of the difficulty of doing what a Daynoter does–getting up each day and having something to say. It’s hard to write something new every day. And a lot of the Daynoters not only write something every day, but they write something consistently thought-provoking, or entertaining, or informative, or useful, nearly every day. And occasionally, someone writes something that manages to be all five.

It’s hard to do. We all know it’s hard to do. Usually we just settle for writing something, anything, each day. We write our stuff, then we go wander around and see what some of the others have to say. Invariably, there’s a jewel out there somewhere. Someone exceeds expectations. And maybe what they write is something we can relate to, so we feel close to them, even though in most cases it’s someone we’ve never met in person and in many cases it’s someone we’ve never even spoken with on the telephone. Even still, expectations rise.

Most of us are computer professionals or hobbyists, and in this field, wild and hairy problems breed. They’re everywhere. When one of us gets surrounded, we post something to the backchannel mailing list. Invariably, someone’s been there before, seen it, conquered it, and has guidance to offer. Again, expectations rise.

I would argue that in some cases, we may expect more of a fellow daynoter than we would a close friend. I know my friends’ faults. I spend enough time with them that it’s impossible not to know them. I don’t know any of the Daynoters that well. I know Dan Bowman better than any of them, but I don’t know his faults, let alone those of the other 29-some people on the Daynotes mailing list. From where I can see, his biggest fault is drinking too much Pepsi. But he’s the exception. At least I know he has to drink Pepsi. I’ve got some indication the guy’s human. What do I have of these other guys? All I know is they know more than I know, write books that sell more copies than mine do, write for bigger-circulation magazines than I do, get more Web traffic than I do… It’s easy to start thinking of them as larger than life.

And then the talk strays from computers… I like talking about computers, because there’s almost always a right answer, and it can be proven conclusively. If you want to boot off an IDE hard drive, you plug it into IDE0 and set it as master. Period. End of argument. Anyone who disagrees with it goes off and quickly makes a fool of himself. Sure, there are holy wars, like AMD vs. Intel, or Apple vs. 98% of the market. But you can do something even with those arguments. No sane person would use a non-Intel CPU in a mission-critical system? I can respond to that. My Cyrix-based PC was only up to producing a 292-page book. In the end, it turned out that Cyrix CPU was a whole lot more reliable than my wrists were.

When the talk turns to political or social issues, there are few slam dunks. Is the American way of doing things demonstrably better than the European way? The majority of Americans think so. The majority of Europeans do not. And professional politicians, having no answers, frequently fall into logic traps, or, worse, finger-pointing and name-calling and other things no human being over the age of 15 should fall into. We turn away in disgust when politicians do it. And when the world’s problems show up on the Daynotes backchannel, and the great minds can’t slam-dunk them?

Well, it turns out they’re human too. And soon, the same traps come up, and we’re disgusted. But it’s worse than seeing Dick Gephardt roll around on the floor and throw a temper tantrum. We expect that of Dick Gephardt, because we already know he’s a finger-to-the-wind, unintelligent, uncreative individual who can’t think for himself who’s in politics because he’d be a total failure in the real world. He’s not worthy of respect. But then we see people we know, people who’ve earned our respect, reduced to that…?

Sometimes when that happens, we join in. If we agree with them, we try to help them out. If they’re attacking someone we agree with, we lob a grenade.

Or we can get disgusted and ignore it. All of our keyboards do have Delete keys, and a lot of our delete keys are starting to wear out from excessive use these past few days.

Or we can get disgusted and try to stop it. Or we can get disgusted and leave the community.

On Tuesday, the Daynotes.com mailing list shut down to mixed reactions. In some cases, our disgust with one another turned into disgust with the one who would try to exercise authority over us. Personally, I thought it was the only sane thing to do–close things down, let things cool down for a time. That turned out to be the right decision. Reality hit. People started realizing that name-calling wouldn’t solve all the world’s problems, and that a valuable resource was suddenly gone.

I don’t know how many people know this, but I had a run-in with a fellow Daynoter back in January, 2000. You can ask my sister about it, because she was visiting when it happened. She and I lived in the same house for about 18 years, so she’s seen me mad, but never madder than I was that night. I was ready to chuck it all and leave the community then. It was bad enough that I had gender in common with this guy, let alone had my name on the same Web page as his. I didn’t want people to associate him with me. But my sister advised me to sleep on it, say as little as possible, do as little as possible, and sort it out after I’d had time to cool down. I called a friend who knew both of us and got his counsel. With their help, I determined that leaving wouldn’t solve anything. So I didn’t. He and I haven’t spoken since. And that’s fine. We couldn’t resolve our differences, but at least we didn’t let it become a war.

Late on Thursday, the Daynotes.com portal was also shuttered. I didn’t see any point in that measure. It was more a symbolic gesture than anything else, and as far as I can tell, the only thing it accomplished was making a lot of people as mad as I was that night in January 2000. I was mad too. Chris Ward-Johnson and I both published that address as a resource for people to reach us and others like us. Now we look like just another fly-by-night dotcom.

And as soon as the thought had occurred to me that Daynotes.com’s absence might be intentional, rather than just a flipped bit in Tom Syroid’s Apache configuration file, the coup occurred. I had notification in my inbox that I’d been subscribed to the Daynotes mailing list at Bobwalder.com. I had messages in my Daynotes folder–mail from the new backchannel, all thanking Bob for his efforts. Then I had notification that Bob had registered the domain name daynotes.org and he expected it to be active come Monday. In the meantime he offered an alternative portal for people to use…

And the talk on the backchannel? It was mostly like old times. Lots of well-deserved thanks and congratulations headed Bob’s direction. A little patching up. And some traffic was exactly like old times. Jonathan Hassell wrote in asking for recommendations for a hotel in New York. Then I made a rare appearance, asking my cohorts across the Atlantic whether Murphy’s Law meant the same thing there as it does here, because I didn’t know and I wanted to invoke it in the Shopper UK article I was writing yesterday. The result? Jon got hotel advice, and I got a brief, “Well, over here it means ‘anything that can go wrong will go wrong…'” from the Good Dr. K.
This has dragged on far too long, so I’ll conclude with this. Three years ago this past week, I had a life-changing experience. I spent a week in a big room 120 miles from home with about 50 people I didn’t know from Adam. And I learned something in that room. Friends aren’t people who like you because of the superhuman qualities they see in you. Our group spent close to 90 hours together that week, and trust me, we didn’t see much in the way of superhuman qualities in one another. Indeed, mostly we saw the very worst that 50 people can offer the world. We could have held it against one another. But those 50 people continued to stand by and admire one another. I never did figure out if that was in spite of what we knew about one another, or precisely because of what we knew about one another.

I’ll never, ever forget that life lesson. True friends learn how to work around their weaknesses and disagreements. It’s hard sometimes, but even at its worst, it’s a whole lot easier than living in isolation.

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