@internet -- Promises, Promises

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine

I like to keep my promises. Honest I do.

Naturally, my record isn't perfect. After all, I'm as human as anyone else and -- like all humans -- I occasionally over-promise and under-deliver. I feel bad when I fall short, though, so I try to do what I say I'll do, when I say I'll do it.

Take this column, for instance.

Every month, come Hell or high water, I'm obligated to produce 1500 words to fill this space and, when deadline time comes around, it doesn't matter if I'm in a writing mood or not. Got the flu? Heavy social schedule? Writer's block? Well, you can tell it to the Marines, pal, because the editor don't care.

And the darned thing stubbornly refuses to write itself, so if I don't do it, it doesn't get done. (I'm not about to let anyone else do it for me -- the folks at Boardwatch might get the idea I was replaceable. And that wouldn't do at all.)

At the same time, in the course of talking to and corresponding with certain people, I sometimes find myself promising to mention them, their company or their product in these hallowed pages at some appropriate time. Usually, I have in mind a column on a specific subject and can follow through in short order. Once in a while, though, the right circumstance simply never arises and I'm left looking like a jerk.

I hate it when that happens.

And then there's the little matter of correcting my errors and omissions. They occur right here, in public, with everybody watching, and maintaining my credibility requires that I publicly acknowledge and take responsibility for them, too.

Sooner or later, most of my mistakes get covered in this fine magazine's Letters to the Editor section, but -- for one reason or another -- some of them don't. I suppose I could just pretend those exceptions never happened, but that seems dishonest to me. After all, whether you find out or not, I'll still know I blew it. So will whomever pointed it out to me.

And confession, so they say, is good for the soul.

I see now that all these elements exist for a reason. That, with enough lemons, you can corner the market in lemonade. And that, through the Miracle of Journalistic Transubstantiation, I can spin this sad dross into the gold of Boardwatch content -- and discharge myriad outstanding obligations in the process.

And that life, after all, is good.

Sorry, Wrong Number

Way back in July, 1998, I did a column about O'Reilly & Associates' very first Open Source Summit. In listing the attendees of the invitation-only event, I characterized Internet archangel John Gilmore as being "President of Cygnus Solutions." That was incorrect. Although Gilmore was one of Cygnus' founders and was the driving force behind its focus on security, he was not the President of the company.

In email to the Pigdog list -- where he is better known as Johnny Royale -- reader Kris Baakkonen pointed out an error in my March, 1999 column, "It's the End of the World as We Know It." I was off by one full (binary) order of magnitude when I stated that Unix will experience its timekeeping Waterloo in 2038, "exactly 2^32 seconds since the Unix epoch began" at midnight, January 1, 1970.

As Baakkonen observed, Unix's time_t is a signed, 32-bit integer. That means it uses one bit for the sign's value, so a mere 2^31 seconds -- and not the 2^32 seconds I claimed -- after the Unix epoch's start, it will suddenly be 1970 again.

In that same column, I managed both to misspell the name of the Pigdog Journal's editor, Evangelo Prodromou, and to get the Usenet group devoted to net.legend Tjames Madison wrong, as well. (I said it was alt.tjames. It's actually alt.usenet.tjames -- and I ought to know better than to print URLs from memory without first doublechecking them against reality.)

Last July, in "Jimmy Olsen's Blues," I referred to Steven William Rimmer as "a self-published author of Gothic witchcraft and espionage novels." As it turns out, Rimmer's novels are published by Jam Ink, a boutique publisher, rather than by Rimmer himself.

As the expression goes, "This space regrets the errors."

And, while I'm at it, this is probably the right time to set the record straight on Dr. Roger M. Firestone. He's the coiner of Firestone's Law of Forecasting, which reads, "Chicken Little only has to be right once." I used his aphorism as a subtitle all the way back in March, 1998 and, almost two years later, he wrote to me asking for retroactive attribution.

Props to you, Doc. Hope this eases your mind.

Of course, some errors simply aren't worth the effort to correct. For instance, I won't even bother trying to update all the URLs that have moved or changed or gone to the great 404 error in the sky since I originally cited them. That's a mug's game I'm not willing to play.

The Web is in constant flux and I'm not your Mommy. Deal with it.

Meet John Doe

I regret that I never found an opportunity to talk about the Adaptive Fiction Finder (Ada-FiFi) -- a now-vanished catalogue of online novels developed by a Brit who uses the handle "Vita Amory". I strongly suspect that "Vita" (the name means something like "love of life" in Latin) is actually , editor of Elsevier Science's technical journal, Computer Aided Design and Director of Information Geometers.

It's hard enough for self-published authors to find an audience. Ada-FiFi made it a little easier and I'm sorry it's gone.

In my book, publishers are useful critters -- just ask any unpublished author. One of my faves is O'Reilly & Associates. Their books fill the gaping holes in what's laughingly referred to as "documentation" for much of the software that runs the Internet. Well, now O'Reilly has published Bill McCarty's excellent Learning Debian GNU/Linux (ISBN 1-56592-705-2, $34.95) -- a guide to installing and using Debian for "new users," that's designed to let ordinary mortals get up and running with the legendarily user-unfriendly Debian.

There's a reason why Caldera Systems, Corel and VA Linux all base their products on Debian. (VA Linux actually distributes the O'Reilly book as part of their Debian GNU/Linux Box Set.) It's the most technically-advanced of the Children of Linus. Properly set up with a broad-band Internet connection, Debian can be configured to automagically update and patch itself from the central Debian repository, so it's always at current rev levels without ever needing human intervention.

That's a pretty neat trick -- and now, thanks to O'Reilly & Associates, it's within reach of Everyman.

If, like most of the Earth's humans, you're still running Windows 9.x, run, don't browse, to download Kookaburra Software's quite wonderful utility, Cookie Pal. It's the most complete, full-featured and easy-to-use cookie management system I've run into so far. And it's cheap -- starting at $13 U.S. for a single computer and plunging to $7 per station for 50 or more.

Cookie Pal allows you to create rules for accepting cookies as you receive them. If the cookie you're being offered is from a server other than the one to which you're connected, you'll get the opportunity to refuse all cookies from that domain -- neatly frustrating banner ad tracking applications -- while keeping the option to accept other cookies from other sources. And you can choose to reject a given cookie either permanently or just for a single session.

It's cheap. It's indispensible. Get it. You'll be glad you did.

You'll also be glad you paid a visit to John Breen's elegant eleemosynary project, The Hunger Site. It lets you donate food to starving people around the world simply by clicking on a button.

That's it. No forms to fill out, no ongoing committment, no fuss, no muss, no bother. And no salesman will call.

The Hunger Site is a strictly volunteer effort. When you click on the "Donate Food" button -- which you can do once daily -- it displays a page of banner ads from The Hunger Site's sponsors for that day. The sponsors pay for the food you "donate". The more visitors The Hunger Site recieves, the more food its sponsors donate.

And -- should you decide to become a sponsor -- it's a cheap, effective and satisfying way to build traffic to your site. "Impressions" -- one pair of eyeballs viewing one ad -- run about half-a-penny apiece, by contrast with the Web standard of nearly 3.5 cents per impression and The Hunger Site's click-through rate is six times the rate of most Internet ads.

It's completely painless charity. And an excellent advertising value. After all, where else can hungry people get another day's food for the price of a mouse click?

So, pay it a visit. And put a link to it on your site. You'll feel good about yourself -- and you'll get to keep on feeling good about giving your users a way to make the world better, literally without lifting a finger.

They'll like that.

I promise.

(Copyright© 2000 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)