Can’t get there from here: Go West, Young Men!

  1. Is There Anybody Out There?
  2. Can’t get there
  3. A New Language

“Oh, yes. Dr. Chasuble is a most learned man. He has never written a single book, so you can imagine how much he knows.”--Cecily Cardew, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest

Two friends and I started an Internet business today. It’s a business, and it’s on the Internet. Beyond that, we aren’t exactly sure what it’s supposed to do, although it’s costing us about two hundred dollars a month. Then again, renting out a storefront on two hundred dollars would be awfully hard in downtown San Diego. Thor--I’ve mentioned Thor before, he’s the patron saint of Valhalla--is quite impetuous. Thor and I have been through this sort of thing before. But the Internet is a home for abandon, reckless as well as forlorn, and whether FireBlade Publications is the next McDonald’s on the information main street or dies unnoticed in a ditch down the side of an information mountain, it won’t be out of place on the Internet.

If you’d like to find out if it still exists, hop onto the infobahn and finger or e-mail [i--o] at []. is our Internet site. At the moment, it’s probably a cheap Macintosh (not really) with a 14.4 kbd modem. But it’s also got a direct connection to the Internet, twenty-four hours a day, that we’re renting from a group called CTS for one hundred and seventy-five dollars a month. And three Internet gurus watching over it.

Now all we have to do is figure out what to do with it.

From: [j--r--y] at [] (Jerry Stratton)
To: [t--r] at [] (Thor Brickman), [s--e--r] at [] (Steve Spear)
Subject: The Tiger and the Lady

Okay guys, it’s Monty Haul time now: door number one or door number two. We need to find some way to make this thing actually bring in a hundred and seventy five real bucks; no dead deer need apply. I apologize for the tone of this letter, but I’m including it in the book, and it helps if I sound like I’m high on mescaline. Picture me shooting a .40 Smith & Wesson off into the night sky at random intervals if it helps.

First thing we need to do is make sure people can get information from us. None of this sending off electronic mail to six different companies and not getting a single response back like I did when we were looking for a provider. The e-mail server I’ve been writing in my spare time is probably as reliable as a politician, but it ought to do the job. We need two addresses: [i--o] at [] and [h--p] at [] Help will be written to a file in an administration directory on FireBlade. Info will return a description of the services offered by FireBlade. I’ll get back to that in a moment...

Other software we’ll need to get going on FireBlade will presumably include MacHTTPd for web service, and FTPd for ftp and gopher service. FTPd is important, because we can use it to give each of us access to FireBlade’s administration and other directories. Not to mention giving us anonymous ftp and gopher service. FTPd also allows us to stop and restart applications remotely if necessary. Peter Lewis’ Remote Script server will allow us to actually go in and execute applescript commands. We’ll need to run it on some strange port so people don’t hack their way into it. We need some really high number that people won’t guess. Thor, what’s your chest size?

Now, [i--o] at [] needs to automatically return a “description of the services offered by FireBlade.” So, like, what are they? Remember that at 14.4 kbd, we need to keep the filesizes at a minimum... but we do need an emblem. I think that one’s going to be up to you, Thor.

We need to come up with the system(s) we’re going to use to give people access to the information generated by their smart business cards. I’ve got an AppleScript that will automatically e-mail forms to an e-mail address. If that doesn’t work out quite right, well, the code from that mail server could be copied and pasted into whatever script interprets our business card forms. The information could also be saved into a file, and each customer would have a password they could enter via web to see their info. (In this case, we might well do some added value processing to the info: keep a list of people or domains whose info needs to be e-mailed immediately, or whose data should be completely ignored.)
There’s always generally money to be made selling shit to the government. I was thinking that maybe the concept of “sister schools” might be something both useful to the students and saleable to the bureaucrats. The idea is that we would provide the ‘link’--a mailing list, and web, ftp, and gopher space--between schools in San Diego and the rest of the world. By cutting the possibilities down from the entire rest of the world to a single school in the rest of the world--say, in Russia, or Japan, or Tijuana--the whole thing gets more personalized and people pay more attention. Of course, having a MOO would make this kick butt. Any possibility of getting 64 Meg for that IIcx? And remember that a lot of money for us is not necessarily a lot of money even for an ill-funded school. Our storefront sounds pretty expensive to *me*, but it’s pretty cheap for anything downtown.
Home Schooling:
Home schoolers might (or might not, depending on why they got into home schooling to begin with) be interested in the idea of collaboration with other home schoolers, around San Diego, around the United States, or around the world. We might focus on languages at first, for example. Come up with a nice name for pen pals that kids would like.
Conference space:
While there is at least one chat server for the Mac, and we could, if we wanted, waste 8-16 Meg on a MacMOO, this is really more appropriate for when we’re wildly successful and have a Unix box with a MOO running. What are the possibilities of dividing incoming calls by port, so that port 4444 goes off to the IBM PC while everything else goes over to the Macintosh?

I dunno if we actually have the bandwidth to do this, but one obvious saleable item is the standard Internet services: mailing lists, ftp and gopher space, web space (handled by what I called SmartCards, above, and your web-able html creator), and mail file servers.

We might decide to come up with a theme: education, library, baby pictures. Once it becomes really feasible to do credit card transactions we could sell publishing space: someone writes a book, sends it to us, we ‘typeset’ it minimally and put it up, charging readers a penny every ten kilocharacters or what not.

Let’s start talking about this. I can hear that money swirling down the drain :*)


“Art is a running joke which is always taking new forms. Find out what the current joke in art is and adopt it, or you will find yourself left behind. “
-- Ramon Gomez De La Serna

Who is FireBlade? I’m not going to tell you who she really is, but I’ll make up a pretty good story. Back in college Thor and I played role-playing games. As a fan of superhero comic books, I’d written a role-playing game in which the players pretend to be superheroes. FireBlade is one of the characters from that game. She’s a social worker who found a magical foil in an abandoned tenement in New York City. A pre-Morrison Morrison-esque origin. FireBlade has the power to will fiery explosions (among other strange things that the magical foil does), blowing up the countryside along with whoever the supervillain of the week was. FireBlade is... drum roll please... a ‘hot babe’. Hey, we were in college at the time. Hell, we’re still in college.

On the Internet FireBlade is also a hot babe. The fiery explosion you’re about to hear is our modem blowing up. What services is FireBlade going to offer? FireBlade will offer services to people both on and off the Internet. To people on the Internet, it will offer a place to gather--electronic ‘real-time’ conferences, and electronic mail discussions. For ‘real-time’ conferences--conferences where everyone is present somewhere on the net at the same time--FireBlade will provide an actual electronic ‘conference hall’, complete with electronic booze.

It will also provide an easy and cheap way for others to provide Internet information services. We’ll sell them space on our hard drive, and we’ll ‘serve up’ their information by any of the major Internet service types--world wide web, gopher, ftp, finger, electronic mail.

And I’m going to work hard to make it possible to provide an electronic bookstore: a real electronic bookstore, not a mail-order storefront on the infobahn (although it will be that as well). Readers will drive up, drop off their credit card number, and read what they want to read. If they read half the chapters in a book and then give up, they only get charged for reading half the chapters. Part of my goal is to keep it cheap. So cheap that it’s easier for people to come back and re-read the thing--paying again in the process--than to download it and store it on their home computer.

I’m a big fan of comic books, and one of the great things in the comic book industry is the concept of the self-publisher. These are people who write and draw their own comic books, pay someone to print them, and then sell them through the comic book distribution services. In book publishing, that’s called vanity press, and it isn’t a flattering term. Among novelists, people who print their own book are assumed to be bad writers or idiots. In the comic book world, self-publishers often engender more respect than comic creators who work through the large, established publishing companies.(?)

Self-publishing wasn’t always reviled in the main publishing world, and I think that the Internet can bring it back. Complaining about the “growing complexity and cost of communication” fifty years ago, Norbert Wiener wrote:

A hundred and fifty years ago or even fifty years ago--it does not matter which--the world and America in particular were full of small journals and presses through which almost any man could obtain a hearing. The country editor was not as he is now limited to boiler plate and local gossip, but could and often did express his individual opinion, not only of local affairs but of world matters. At present this license to express oneself has become so expensive with the increasing cost of presses, paper, and syndicated services, that the newspaper business has come to be the art of saying less and less to more and more.

I hope that FireBlade can allow more and more people to say more and more useful things, both in writing and pictures and, tomorrow, in video and sound.

  1. By the time you read this, of course, we’ll have (upgraded it to a PowerPC) , with a full-speed Internet hook-up. Or we’ll be out of business with a couple thousand dollars debt. And actually, as it turns out, our “cheap Macintosh” is currently a 50 Megahertz Mac II with 20 Megabytes of RAM. Nonsense to you, I know, but it definitely is a hot babe to us computer nerds.
  2. Established publishing companies that do comics? You know them as Marvel and DC--or, more likely, as “Spiderman” (Marvel) and “Superman” (DC).
  3. As it turns out, by the time you read this, we have upgraded it to a PowerPC, with a double-speed connection, and it may even be a real connection by now--we’re looking at ISDN “as I write this”. Oh, and we’ve also gone out of business and come back again. FireBlade Publications is just another part of Negative Space ,
  1. Is There Anybody Out There?
  2. Can’t get there
  3. A New Language