Archive for the 'Gigglebytes' Category

Decimated Decade: Gigglebytes’ 10th Anniversary

That new photograph’s a shocker, isn’t it? I’m suddenly ten years older. Well, let me assure you, Gigglebytes has contributed to those gray hairs.

Yes, it’s been ten years since Gigglebytes (or ChuckleBytes as it was called in the first issue), made it’s debut on August 12, 1986. And so, I’d like to review some of the most memorable, irrelevant, and offensive columns of my first decade as…whatever I am.

Quick note: All of the dates listed here are for the San Francisco Bay Area edition of Computer Currents, where my columns have always appeared first.

December 2, 1986: "The fog was as thick as a dBASE manual when I returned to my office. I had a hard disk whose insides needed cleaning out and an old toothbrush to do it with. Pouring myself a glass of cheap bourbon and lighting up a Lucky, I settled down for some serious work." In "The Sunnyvale Falcon," I introduce my first recurring character, hard-boiled private consultant Mack Rowe.

April 7, 1987: "In the end, Judge Peel was forced to rely on the most basic of courtroom procedures…he determined that Blossom Growth had spent more money on lawyers…and therefore ruled in their favor." "Looks and Feels" was the first of six columns to deal with the infamous look-and-feel lawsuits of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Years after that first suit drove defendant Paperback Software into bankruptcy, a former Paperback employee told me how much my columns kept up moral during those dark days. Gee, I never intended to make a software vendor feel good.

October 20, 1987: Do you remember when Microsoft had a much-delayed vaporware operating system that everyone was calling the future of computing? Okay, but do you remember when that operating system was called OS/2? "HMS Microsoft," about the unreleased 16-bit wonder, was my first column in script form, my first starring Bill Gates, my first musical, and the first column for which I needed a rhyming dictionary:

SIR WILLIAM: Then IBM–they are first rate–
Wanted a system they could operate.
They offered cash but they asked me when,
So I stole the look and feel from old CP/M.

CHORUS: He stole the look and feel from old CP/M.

SIR WILLIAM: I stole the look and feel so carefullee
That now I am the owner of this companee.

CHORUS: He stole the look and feel so carefullee
That now he is the owner of this companee.

December 15, 1987: With the first "Friday Awards," I started a tradition of offering an annual "tribute to those who supply the jokes it is my duty to report." The original Friday Awards were named after an Ashton-Tate program that flopped very badly (not quite a redundant phrase at the time). In 1994, I changed the name to the Pentium Awards, in honor of a popular CPU that couldn’t handle math.

March 8, 1988: I write for the first time about the war between Mac and PC users (what took me so long?), telling the story of an office where users are one by one turned into mindless Macintosh devotees. The column boasts my all-time favorite title, "Invasion of the BIOS Snatchers."

November 15, 1988: In "Graphic Violence," I introduce my son Nebuchadnezzar, a thinly-disguised version of my real son, Elijah. Elijah is not pleased. (I eventually stopped using Nebuchadnezzar for Eli’s sake, but have since received permission to revive him.)

November 29, 1988: With "What’s Next?," I’m the only member of the computer press to cover the rollout of Steve Yobs’ latest machine, the NeBiSH Computer Work Station: "The ‘harbinger of things to come’ is a one foot long black foot designed…by Salvador Dali. Inside that foot, however, is so much innovative processing power that someone, somewhere, is bound to find a use for it."

July 11, 1989: "Immediately, a large toad leaped into [Alice’s] lap and looked at her as if it wanted to be loved. ‘Grep,’ it exclaimed.

"’Don’t mind him,’ explained the Mad Hacker. ‘He’s just looking for some string.’

"’Nroff?’ asked the Frog."

My first and only attempt to write about UNIX, "Alice in UNIX Land" became the first of my columns to be ripped off on the Internet (then pretty much made up of UNIX nerds). Astonishing, really, as I’d never used UNIX at the time.

August 12, 1989: I’ve been writing Gigglebytes for three years and still no book contract.

December 5, 1989: That year I made my first annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas for Fall Comdex, and with "Beer and Coding in Las Vegas" began an annual tradition of knocking the show and city that hosts it, a town which exists "to give Los Angeles the illusion of cultural depth."

March 27, 1990: I introduce another regular feature, "Ask Dr. Deeram." That first time around, I answer questions like "How do I get my copy of 1-2-3 to print sideways?" ("Design narrower worksheets") and "What exactly is the DOS prompt?" ("The performance difference between straight DOS and Windows.")

Dr. Deeram, by the way, always inspires the humor-impaired, who send in serious questions or challenge the wisdom of my answers ("How dare you say that Windows 95 will solve all our problems?"). I would no longer dare suggest, as I did in 1990, that users turn on their computers while standing in a bucket of water.

August 13, 1991:. With Bill Gates’ famous "worst nightmare" memo and Borland’s buyout of Ashton-Tate in the news, I needed a whole new way to satirize the big guys. My solution: my neighbor Norman, the inept owner of a very small software company who thinks he’s playing in the big leagues. "Our worst nightmare is a reality. Multimate is outselling our word processor, RapidFile is outselling our database, and VisiCalc–a program that no one’s bought in years–is outselling our spreadsheet." [Editor’s note: This is a lost column. I have neither an electronic nor a hard copy of it.–LS]

March 10, 1992: "The Tragedy of Macbill" was my first, and so far only, column in iambic pentameter. It gave me a chance to create a tragic hero who could bravely face a flawed world with a rhyming couplet. "The knowledge, it dost bring my heart to ache;/That other folk, from software, profits make."

August 12, 1992: Six years and still no book contract. Come on you publishers, I’m waiting.

July 1, 1993: "The Legend of the Pea Sea" is another column that’s all over the Internet without my name on it. It tells the story of the Dosfish, "who was small and spry, and could swim the narrow sixteen-bit channel." The Dosfish triumphs, despite challenges from the Magic Apple, the Eunuchs, and Oz II Too, who "was indeed mighty, and awesome, and required a great ram."

May 17, 1994: "Apocalypse DATE$()" is a personal favorite. "I wanted an assignment, and for my sins they gave me one. An assignment that would snake across the company like a network cable–plugging me straight into Kurtz. There is no way to tell his story without telling my own; and if his story is an algorithm, then so is mine."

December 13, 1994: Many people consider "2001.267", my parody of the Pentium flap, to be my masterpiece (I’m not one of them). Unfortunately, many more think it’s the masterpiece of some anonymous person who posted it on the Internet sans byline. This was my worst nightmare.

February 7, 1995: I reacted to the 2001 rip-off with "," the column that gave Mack Rowe a chance to sleuth for Bill Shakespeare: "I logged onto the ‘net and checked out alt.revenge.greatdane. Nothing called ‘Hamlet,’ but I found Bill’s piece in an article called ‘Small Town, Prince of Denmark.’ I checked who’d posted it. No surprise–it was Frank Bacon."

The Future: What’s ahead for Gigglebytes? Will Mack Rowe do battle with Norman? Will Dr. Deeram be adapted into a Wagnerian opera? Will I finally get a book contract? Nah.


The night was as gloomy as a Borland stockholder. I had just solved another case–some guy in over his head in one-to-many relationships–and I was about to crawl into another bottle of Jolt Cola.

The name is Rowe. Mack Rowe. Private consultant.

I was ripping off the twist-top cap when my visitor arrived. He had a pointed beard, longish hair, and was carrying a quill pen. I knew the type.

“Mr. Rowe,” he said, “my name be William Shakespeare, and I needeth thy help. I did write a play called Hamlet, and but two days after it did open, it appeareth on the Internet, in the alt.revenge.greatdane newsgroup, with naught my name attached to it.

“I ownth the copyright, sirrah, and must protect it. I hath worked hard, and now people be reading my play without e’en knowing tis mine.”

“And you’d like me to find…”

“Aye, sir, the wretched nave who hath done it.”

It’s not how I’d have put it, but we came to an agreement on price. As soon as he left I got to work.

I logged onto the ‘net and checked out alt.revenge.greatdane. Nothing called “Hamlet,” but I found Bill’s piece in an article called “Small Town, Prince of Denmark.” I checked who’d posted it. No surprise–it was Frank Bacon.

I sent the sysop a note, telling him to kill the article or I’d FTP him a couple of strong-armed viruses. Then I set out for Bacon, who I found trying to sneak out of a cheap dive on the bad side of the World-Wide Web.

“Hey, Frank,” I typed .. “Read that funny piece you wrote. You know, the Denmark thing.”

“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.” He seemed scared.

I refreshed his memory. “Boy meets mom, mom meets uncle, boy meets ghost, everybody dies.”

“Oh, that. I got it on the Bloody Revenge mailing list. I liked it and wanted to share it.”

“Any idea who wrote it?” I asked.

“Wrote it? No one writes these things; they just appear.”

“Well, a guy named Shakespeare thinks otherwise, and he’s mad as a COBOL coder learning C++.”

“So he wrote it. Does that make it his? He should be flattered someone thought it was good.”

I was about to massage his I/O ports with a brass mousepad when Bill came busting into my office. “Good Rowe,” he cried, “I hath received it, again.”

I told Bacon I’d deal with him later, signed off, and gave Bill my attention. He explained himself. “Good Ben Johnson hath sent me E-mail this day, including a play he thought I might enjoy. Twas my Hamlet.”

“Know where he got it?”

“Aye. He doth subscribe to ye Oedipus Mailing List.”

Whoever had posted Bill’s piece knew what he was doing. I figured I’d better go see an expert.

Farewell, My Lawyer

The next day I paid a visit to Isa Tort, a cute little copyright lawyer who likes me–I can tell.

“Hey, baby,” I said, “if you help me out with a case, I’ll let you come over and rummage through my private files.”

“Buzz off, Rowe.” Like I said, I can tell. She waited a few minutes to see what I’d do. When I didn’t kiss her, she sighed. “Tell you what. I’ll answer a few questions if you promise to leave me alone.”

I told her about Bill and Hamlet. She shrugged. “Happens all the time. Tell ‘im the exposure will do him good.”

“Not likely, sweetheart. They didn’t bother to post his name.”

That got a reaction. “Really? Most people at least credit who they steal from.”

“I deal with the muck of the sewer.” Girls love that kind of talk.

“Well, despite what some people say, his copyright’s still good, even in cyberspace. He could sue everyone involved–assuming he has as much money as Paramount or Playboy.”

She was talking my kind of language. Then she added “Now get lost.”

I dropped in on Bill backstage at the Globe. “Bad news, amigo,” I told him. “About the only thing you can do is post a message wherever you see your Hamlet on the net. You’ll get flamed by the lunatics, but at least a few folks’ll read your name.”

“Pray tell, didst thou find the vile toad who did post it?”

“Sorry, kid, but that’s the toad that got away. No way around it, Bill; what happened to your Hamlet is a tragedy.”

I was feeling pretty bad as I left him. When I got back to the office, I decided to cheer myself up with a little quality time on the Infobaun. I checked into one of my favorite haunts, fic.detect.filmnoir, and grabbed a story that I thought would amuse me. It opened like this:

“The night was as gloomy as a Borland stockholder. I had just solved another case–some guy in over his head with one-to-many relationships–and I was about to crawl into another bottle of Jolt Cola.”

Whoever he was, he was working fast.

(A note to my readers: Within a week after my column 2001.267 appeared in Computer Currents, it was in at least three locations on the Internet–without my permission, the proper title, or my name. Please understand: I hold no animosity towards the vile, wretched toad who stole the fruits of my labors. I understand that you did what you did out of appreciation for my work, and I hold you in the same high moral regard as I do Microsoft’s legal staff.–Lincoln Spector)