News and commentary from the cross-platform scripting community.
Mail Starting 8/1/98
Good column. Being on the net is like journalism. And, journalists get flamed. Even though I spent nearly 20 years as a magazine editor and publisher (NewMedia, Frets, EQ, Drums & Drumming) I was frequently amazed at the effort some readers would put into expressing their hatred for me. It's part of the trade, though. Maybe flames are just further proof that on the net, we're all journalists.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Phil Hood);
Sent at Tue, 4 Aug 1998 12:37:39 -0700;
Re:The Emotional Age of the Internet
I think when you're talking about the emotional age of the net, you need to consider that it's very indicative of the emotional age of a lot of computer people in general. I see the flames on email lists, and people staying in situations where they are power- less as symptoms of the type of person who seems to get involved in the computer business.
From: email@example.com (David Polaschek);
Sent at Tue, 4 Aug 1998 09:38:36 -0700 (PDT);
Re:The Emotional Age of the Internet
As I see it, people who work with computers are very often those who want things to be neat and tidy, and like to be in control. While this is often not reflected in the physical surroundings of nerds, there's an underlying need to control things. When that control is lost, people throw tantrums. I suspect it's worse on the net because of the type of people inhabiting that space and further exacerbated by the speed with which you can communicate via the web and email. In an age of instant communications, few people take the extra time to reflect before responding.
This is also reflected in the way computer folks in general complain about "office politics". Whether we like it or not, office politics are part of the work world. Even if they're fairly restrained and you're working in a relatively healthy atmosphere, there are still some politics that happen. You know that a certain co-worker reacts badly to change, for example, so you try to let that person know of changes as early as possible (or if you don't like the person, you let them know about changes at the last possible minute, just to watch the fireworks). On the other end of the scale, you have two managers in a power struggle over who is going to control the direction of a certain product, and they fight over everything from what kind of coffee is in the coffee-maker to who gets more funding and employees. Again, it's about control, and lack thereof.
The larger point I think I'm wandering toward is that it's all a part of being human, and we need to deal with it. Your suggestion of leaving when you lose control is but one way of dealing with the political/social issues that nerds (as a gross general- ization) don't handle well. Another approach is to complain vociferously about the problems. That's very similar to the flame-wars you cited. The third approach is to work within the situation you're in, attempting to gain enough power/influence/ allies to make a change. While working within an unpleasant situation is hard, and may not be very rewarding in the short- term, it offers the possibility of making beneficial changes in the long run. At least that's what the optimist in me thinks.
I don't know if this helped you at all, but I'm glad I wrote it. I don't think all the ideas I've typed are fully-baked yet, and I apologize if they're unclear, but I thought a slightly different point of view might help us both get to better answers to the sort of problem you talked about.
I think that the best way to effect change, perhaps the only honest way, is to lead by example. Your observations on the emotional age of much of the current level of internet and web debate are well taken, but they sow the seeds for change when you go back to some of your own earlier writings and admit that you have at times been part of the problem.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (David A. Feldt);
Sent at Mon, 03 Aug 1998 23:57:06 -0500;
Re:"aug 3 1998 davenet piece"
Your passion remains a primary reason for consulting davenet daily (hints about the future of Frontier are another good one). Sharing some of your insights and emotional growth feels real, important, and personal in a way that so much these days on the internet feels, artificial, meaningless, and sterile.
I thank you for leading by example, being willing to admit to imperfection, and continuing to dig despite the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (and also to formulaic email venting).
From: email@example.com (Dan Gillmor);
Sent at Mon, 3 Aug 1998 17:42:32 -0700 (PDT);
Response to flames --
I like Larry Tesler's approach to flames, and use it (or a paraphrase, at any rate) from time to time. I also have two other responses to personal diatribes.
One is to thank the person for writing such an excellent parody of a crazed person's rantings. Or, if I'm feeling as though there's a possibility of connecting intelligently with the writer, I explain that it's difficult to have a rational conversation with someone who resorts to that level of abuse. Sometimes the person apologizes and offers to start again in a more civilized tone.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (David Glynn);
Sent at Mon, 03 Aug 1998 18:50:34 -0500;
The Net and blame
"Never mind, the collective net still blames Microsoft."
I have noticed this also, but the most irritating part of these types of arguments about "owning the net" is that almost no one (except, I guarantee, your ISP) points out the telcos and their never ending attempts to reign in the entrance points and major transport mechanisms of this currently thriving environment.
The fact that they use the regulations that are intended to defend consumers from monopoly positions held by the major telcos is just all the more galling.
Incumbent local exchange companies (usually Baby Bells) are now petitioning to be allowed to create separate data networks for services that they would not be required to resell. This means that telcos could use their current position (effective monopoly) to build competitive services. Translation; no competitive Internet service provider businesses run by individuals or small businesses.
Restrict competition for access or transport and then you have a real threat to the Internet.
But no, we're all worried about Bill, and Java, and Steve, and NC's, etc, etc, ad nauseum.
Trust me, compared to GTE Microsoft is the most responsive, customer-oriented company in the world. Of course now GTE is merging with Bell Atlantic, which of course merged with Nynex. *sigh*
BTW, love the columns. Keep diggin'!
Fine wine cannot be made in a day. When someone gets irate and sends off a flame, the quality of the thought process shows. No time to mature. If we could look at the start time and the sent time on a missive and discard the ones that did not take long enough to think out properly, we could get rid of most of the flames. The rest of the flamers quite quickly get to be known as the shallow end of the gene pool and can be filtered out automatically. The problem we would then be facing is the loss of all of the good ideas that start out with just a vague hint of what they can ultimately become and need to be carefully aged or blended to bring them to maturity. Some of them even start out as flames.
From: email@example.com (Larry Cox);
Sent at Mon, 03 Aug 1998 16:28:23 -0700;
Re:The Emotional Age of the Internet
The web did not become what it currently is until the browser became readily available on desktop priced computers. Because it did not have to be viewed on the flavor of computer that it was created on, the content was taken away from the marketing departments that had worked so hard to lock customers into their brand of equipment. I have worked for a computer vendor on projects where the defining issue was the level of proprietary software commitment, the lock in capability provided, that would keep the customer buying the same brand in the future. As the resentment of that philosophy grew, the vendors that failed to move to a more standard interface mostly disappeared. I was forced to look for other work by the demise of the company that I worked for. The entire engineering department had failed to convince the marketing, sales, and executive levels that the direction we were going would dead end.
In retrospect, most of the companies that chose to conform to standards also failed due to the attitude in so many purchasing departments that buying from a small supplier (not one of the top 2) was not a safe choice. I do not believe that most of the people making the purchasing decisions have realized yet that if there is only one supplier, there is no difference between a standard version and a proprietary version. In the late seventies and early eighties so many people criticized IBM for making arbitrary decisions that were in IBM's short term interest but not in anyone's long term interest. The migration away from IBM mainframe computers was more about the cost of doing it IBM's way than it was about any inherent quality of standard software. Now we see the cost of doing it Microsoft's way exceeding the cost of doing it IBM's way.
So far, Microsoft's way is still a bit more satisfying. The immediate response still has a way of offsetting the cost. The constant cost of having the system crash in the middle of something important, of having to update several separate things due to incompatible pieces (dll's), and the almost universal acceptance of software that does not work correctly or consistently, is a cost that is hard to add into the cost of operation.
Microsoft has announced that a system with less than 64Meg of memory and at least a 300Mhz Pentium class processor will not be considered acceptable for Win98 in the near future (sometime in 1999 if the press release was accurate). It is easy to see why they consider that a minimum system. Ten years ago I was getting better performance (lines of code compiled, serial IO performance, ...) on 20 MHz processors than I get today on 233 MHz Pentium systems. It is simply not possible to build a processor fast enough that it can't be hobbled by poorly written software.
The computer revolution did not happen in the data processing department of the companies that were buying IBM mainframes. A simple application on a very limited desktop computer caught the attention of people who were not being served by the existing systems. The new computers were brought in through a different door (like adding machines) and the people who used them achieved things that could have been done easily by the DP department but weren't.
IBM was very good at convincing the purchasing authority that buying something that wasn't part of the "Grand Plan" would cause trouble. Although the original Visicalc machines were made by Apple, the revolution happened when the people who were saying "I just need a machine to do this spread sheet" were able to ask for an IBM machine to do the spread sheet. Once enough of those machines were installed and another source was able to say "our machines work just like the IBM machines but are - cheaper, faster, lighter, ...", the hole was in the dike. Microsoft took advantage of this and was able to say "it doesn't matter who your system came from, our software will work just the same on it" and it was almost true.
It is common for finance or purchasing departments to approve something that says Microsoft but has not been proven to work rather than accept something that has been proven to work but has another name on it. The philosophy appears to be "Even if it isn't quite right, it will turn out to be just a minor problem and Microsoft will get it fixed". In the real time environment where I work, Microsoft has justifiably earned a reputation for being not just inferior but completely unusable.
As a software professional, I find Microsoft's attitude offensive. They have said, as if they were proud of the fact, there are more than 20 Million lines of code in NT 5.0. The closest competitive system that I have any direct knowledge of provides about 70% of the functionality that NT provides but contains less than 10% of the lines of code. It is perhaps not surprising that the users of Linux are pleased with the performance and reliability of their system. One of the major computer industry publications made a statement some time back in support of converting to higher level languages that, regardless of language, for every 2000 lines of code in a system there would be on average 1 serious bug. If this is true, it puts NT in the 10,000 serious bugs as shipped category. Although any system may be made unusable by 1 bug in a critical place, the chance of finding a bug in a serious place is much higher with that much code to hide in.
The market dominance of Microsoft systems allows them to continue to deliver overly large, terribly inefficient software with serious known bugs. It allows them to refuse to inform customers of those known bugs. And it allows them to expect their customers to accept the situation and even pay for replacement software that should have been provided as a fix for the bugs that were known to exist when the software was shipped.
I believe that the problem is not with Microsoft but rather with the industry. In an arena where change is the constant that we can rely on, the power to make major decisions has been given to people who may understand the business requirements of their company but are totally unprepared to deal with technology. As a result, they rely on "Safe Choices" provided by companies with strong financial track records. Until Microsoft makes a blunder that upsets their stock price in a major way, we cannot expect to see anything except more of the same thing. And we will all be forced to continue to pay our Microsoft tax.
Thanks! It's the articles like this that make me, a Windows programmer and Unix bigot with no applications for Frontier, tune into Scripting News regularly.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Dan Lyke);
Sent at Mon, 03 Aug 1998 16:28:53 -0700;
The Emotional Age of the Internet
I was originally going to leave it at that, but your GeoCities comments disturbed me slightly. The hype for GeoCities is "virtual homesteads" and "creating communities". Apparently GeoCities has succeeded.
It has become a popular fiction recently that local governments can be treated as businesses. Don't like the zoning laws or schools here? Move! It's easier than working to change things! I'm part of that culture; I rent and am more likely to pick my residence based on proximity to my work and have said "hi" to my immediate neighbors, but that wasn't the attitude of my grandparents, who lived in the same house for over 50 years and knew everyone on their block, every cop and fireman in the town, and served in the local government.
The dream GeoCities was selling, and, if the fervor of my GeoCities hosted friends to police their "neighborhoods" and be involved in the regular chats is any indication, the one that people bought into, was just like that town.
My web pages aren't hosted at GeoCities because I've got a rough idea of the economics involved and knew that the ads would eventually have to encroach. To carry the metaphor, eventually the town would need the tax revenues and let the chemical plant build on the ballfields. It's good to hear that in this era of disposable condo developments some people are willing to say "No, the developers lied, and we've put enough of ourselves into this place that if they're going to take our homes we're going to take them down with us."
Of course having praised this attitude, I still have my own domain so I can pick it up and move it if my ISP ticks me off.
I was reading Phil Hood's comments in contrast to Chuck's and had to sigh and write. I've gone over and over about this with family and friends. The saddest part about this whole thing is how ridiculous it all is.
From: email@example.com (Rick Eames);
Sent at Mon, 03 Aug 1998 15:09:55 -0700;
Do I care that Bill had sex with Monica? Well, yeah, I actually kinda do. Why? Let's see, he's the President of the United States, arguably the most powerful man in the world. She is a 21 year old white house intern. Quite a disparity there in age, power, responsibility and maturity. In any corporation, a CEO would be out on his ass for dorking a summer intern. No question. But people are willing to look past it for Bill. Not sure why. I also want my president to set an example. That's not exactly the example I was hoping for. Quickie's with a young girl in the oval office. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Complete lack of judgement.
But I think Chuck's point is the right one (and I think Phil is wrong on this count): the lying about it and asking others to lie about it is just plain wrong. It is his job to enforce the laws of the land. One of the biggest is that you don't like under oath. He has apparently done this. It is not okay.
Not that any of this matters. I've said it once and I'll say it again: I think Bill Clinton could rape a nun on camera and people wouldn't care. The economy is all people are focused on. Too bad too, because I think the stuff with China is really the nasty stuff that this blowjob thing is taking all the attention.
I'm sure you'll hear this from 100 people, but you can't move a pawn back and forth in chess; it can only move forward. When it reaches the end of the board safely, you can "promote" it to be any piece you like. Some interesting analogies there, too.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Dan Shafer);
Sent at Mon, 3 Aug 1998 14:26:19 -0700;
Re:The Emotional Age of the Internet
From: email@example.com (Ian Beatty);
Sent at Mon, 3 Aug 1998 14:11:29 -0700;
Re:The Emotional Age of the Internet
Thank you for an extremely thought-provoking piece. Perhaps you'd be interested in a couple of thoughts I have in response.
Did my salutation "Mr. Winer:" seem overly formal? My original inclination was to begin with "Hi, Dave." But upon reflection, that seems a terribly presumptuous way to address a company president and public columnist/commentator I have never met. I would never walk into your office and call out "Hi, Dave." So why here?
I think one of the threads your piece touches upon is the culture of informality which pervades the Internet. I'm not saying this is bad. But it doesn't surprise me when the people on UserLand mailing lists who so easily chat with and about "Dave" and your product start flaming you and making inappropriate (to my mind) personal comments about your motivations, personality, and so on when you announce your intention to make money from that product.
To be fair, you seem to cultivate this. In DaveNet, you reveal yourself rather more to an anonymous public than most business and professional people do in most venues. You are by far the most "public" personality I know on the Internet. And this, I suspect, encourages a more personal reaction from most people, whether positive or negative.
But this relates to my second thought about your piece: the anonymity of the net. Flame-wars rarely happen face to face because, I think, we hold ourselves more accountable when we are seen and identified by the people we communicate with. We require ourselvse to be more mature. On the net, when all someone knows about us is an email address and perhaps a contextless name, it's easy to be immature.
What you say on the Internet has credibility with me, more than most sources would, because you are anything but anonymous. Your evolving opinions are on record, as well as your business position and objectives. When you speak, I hear a person, not an email address or web page. This builds understanding, and understanding buids trust. And I think it makes you more careful.
My third thought about emotional immaturity on the web is that it's cheap. That is, it doesn't cost anything but a few minutes' time to send a flame or thoughtless opinion email. It doesn't cost much more to throw an opinion on a web page. Would people require themselves to be more mature if they had to pay real money to express themselves -- say, 32 cents an email? Would people plaster so much garbage on their web sites if they paid a per-hit price to help subsidize the cost of all the routers, nameservers, and so forth that supported the Internet? There's not much doubt in my mind. What fraction of prank phone-callers dial long distance?
Of course, if anyone suggested making the Internet a pay-as-you-go operation, the outcry would be loud and violent (and mostly immature). As you saw when you transitioned Frontier from a free to a commercial product, when something is free for very long, it quickly becomes perceived as a right.
I don't know if I've quite hit the artery on this problem, or what to do about it. But as our society becomes increasingly electronic, I think it's important to address. And your public and credible position is about as good a one as I can think of for addressing it from.
Thanks for taking on the responsibility that goes with accepting your power.
Bloomberg Financial Definition: Gresham's Law. Theory of Sir Thomas Gresham, an English economist during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, that if a country has two forms of currency, citizens will hoard the currency with the higher intrinsic value, thus forcing it out of circulation.
From: TuckerG@sandellmgmt.com (Tucker Goodrich);
Sent at Mon, 3 Aug 1998 16:48:23 -0400 ;
On mailing lists, there's two kinds of "currency," that define the "value" of the conversation: first is reasoned, rational discourse, and the other is flameage.
People with something worthwhile to say will get sick of getting flamed, and leave, leaving the flamers to flame each other.
Gresham's law gives you a pretty good idea of who's going to win.
Pretty depressing, eh?
Nice piece today. I had totally forgotten about: "Someone is obviously using your email account without your permission."
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Chuck Shotton);
Sent at Mon, 3 Aug 1998 14:16:17 -0500;
It's *really* interesting to have those 1996 issues held up to the light again. I agree 100% with your assessments, too. Sure do wish I hadn't wasted so much emotional effort on something that was preordained and immutable. And it's a damn shame we have to go through all those stupid machinations and then wait 2 years before we realize that it wasn't such a good idea. It'd be kinda nice to get a clue a little earlier. Maybe next time...
I finally found a decent book on XML. One that finally explains to me what it is, what it does and how to use it. Heck, they even mention you and Frontier a few times. It's a terrific book for XML Beginners. I bought it an within 30 minutes I had made my own DTD, XML, and XSL files along with some HTML output. Sweet!
From: email@example.com (Brian Kelly);
Sent at Mon, 3 Aug 1998 13:00:05 -0400 (EDT);
Excellent XML Book
It's called XML : Extensible Markup Language by Elliotte Rusty Harold ISDN: 0-7645-3199-9
The thing I like about XML is the same thing I love about Frontier: they seperat the content from the design and allows you concentrate on them seperately. I love that!
Remember Chrome? MS has some interesting articles about it. Try this one:
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Wesley Felter);
Sent at Mon, 3 Aug 1998 00:57:09 -0500;
Web user interfaces
At the bottom it says "Here are a few usability recommendations for adding Chromeffects: Keep it simple. Less is more!" and "Use Chromeffects to conserve screen real estate."
I just have to laugh! Rotating 3D cubes? Conserve screen real estate?
Honestly, what is going on at Microsoft? This stuff makes zero sense to me. I can't think of any reason why I'd want to see 3D stuff on Web pages, or how it could increase usability.
I guess I don't have to worry about it though, since I don't have a 350-MHz PII or Windows 98.
Sixty-six percent of the American people believe Bill had sex with Monica. Among people I know it's 100 percent. But most don't care. I certainly don't. I think far greater harm is done to the Republic by this witch hunt of Ken Starr's than by the messy moral habits of Bill. It's widely accepted that at least five of the last eleven presidents had affairs. I don't think this reflects poorly on any one, unless you want to blame God's design of sexual hormones. These things happen now, they happened in Virginia in 1776, they happened in Venice 1542, they happened in China when the Great Wall was built. They will happen tomorrow if we're lucky enough to be here and still have animal impulses.
From: email@example.com (Phil Hood);
Sent at Sun, 2 Aug 1998 15:56:24 -0700;
Re:A Relaxing Summer
I suspect that in our heart of hearts we expect a man who cheats on his wife to lie about it. In a twisted sort of way it's the noble thing to do. After all, we expect Presidents to lie. They must be privy to information they can't share. They must have the courage to lie in order to deceive enemies and the courage to send men into battle. Do we want a President who would sacrifice himself to a pack of political weasels led by a Puritanical schoolmasterish lawyer just to satisfy someone else's definition of mundane honesty. In a real human life is it perjury to lie to protect your wife, your daughter and a young White House aide from the media fallout of your own weak indiscretions?
Yes, it probably is perjury. But the American public knows it isn't really a public matter, and has little to do with our collective future. And, so we ignore it.
A friend of mine says we are past the age of enlightenment and the age of discovery and the space age. "We are," he says, "in the age of bullshit." That sums up Clinton, and Kenneth Starr's act, too.
Thanks for posting the link to the Bill Bradley article in the Merc. Being in Oakland, I don't see the Merc much and I am glad to have read this article.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Pat Lee);
Sent at Sun, 2 Aug 1998 10:51:06 -0700;
Bill Bradley link
It would be a great thing to see Bill Bradley run for President. He has the intelligence and understanding to be a great leader, at the same time he has been in the trenches on Capital Hill to understand how the machine works as well.
The only problem is that if he runs as a third party candidate he will not win unfortunately. The two party system has too many people believing that those are our only choices.
I am personally hoping for choice like Bill Bradley in 2000, it would mean that I could stand by my vote enthusiatically instead of saying I voted for the best of two so so choices.
Two comments, one about today's DaveNet, one possibly fodder for a new one.
From: email@example.com (Chuck Shotton);
Sent at Sat, 1 Aug 1998 16:29:01 -0500;
Things are going wrong...
It is really depressing to me how many people are totally missing the point about the Monica Lewinsky fiasco. The press and the general public seem totally fixated on the president's privates to the exclusion of the real issue. If Bill Clinton dipped his wick somewhere it shouldn't have been, it places him in the company of plenty of other presidents, many far more revered than he is likely to be. That's not the point. The point is that it is very possible that a sitting president perjured himself in a federal trial and then coerced the testimony of others. If so, he probably shouldn't be president. But by parading prudish (hypocritical) "good ol' American" values about morality and sex, the press and the public are deluding themselves about the real issue. Why? Are they just ignorant or don't really care about the bigger issues?
The second issue affects anyone who uses a computer, FAX machine, or other automated connection to phone lines and has AT&T's long distance service. Today, without any announcement, warning, or apparently any thought for the consequences, AT&T began inserting a voice message in the middle of outbound calls prior to the first ring. So after dialing a long distance number, their stock little chime now sounds, followed by the Stepford Wife voice telling you "Thank you for using AT&T". But to make things worse, they also take extra time to tell you what time it is in the location you're calling. Cute. And some marketing dweeb probably thought it was a good idea.
But guess what that does to hardware and software that is designed to detect a ring signal after dialing? And what about automated dialing systems that can recognize a voice answering instead of a computer? That stupid, mechanical voice now tricks modems and other computer hardware detects voices into thinking that the data call has reached a wrong number. What are the AT&T tool-heads thinking?!?! This is totally disruptive to many peoples' on-line connections, adds virtually NOTHING to the phone service, eliminates the customer's ability to detect the first ring, and is generally a nuisance. I called to have this "service" disabled and after being told it couldn't be disabled, I informed the phone 'droid on the other end that if that was the case, I'd be switching my long distance service to MCI as soon as we hung up. That got the desired response and I was quickly informed that the voice would be disabled later today.
This type of unilateral change to our telecommunications infrastructure is no longer appropriate. Marketing and sales people have to stop pulling these stupid human tricks without considering (or allowing competent engineers to consider) the implications of their actions. Just on general principle, I'd encourage all the DaveNet readers that have AT&T long distance to call the AT&T customer service number, 800-222-0300, and have this intrusive bit of voice spam disabled. If enough people do it, maybe they'll get a clue that it was a dumb idea.
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