Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Ten years ago today

Jerry Stratton, January 1, 2010

Ah, retrospectives. What was I doing ten years ago? Watching movies! After years of disappointment watching movies on VHS, I discovered DVD at the tail end of 1998, and I spent 1999 and 2000 watching a lot of movies. I had discovered the difference between chopped movies and uncut movies, and that part of my disappointment over watching great movies on VHS was that most of them had had the sides chopped off. I wasn’t the only one; there was a renaissance in movie-watching parties for several years after DVD hit the mainstream.

Around this time, in a tiny victory for video freedom, DIVX died. DIVX was an attempt to make people pay ownership prices for rentals. In retrospect, its death was inevitable, but at the time the movie studios loved it and it was not at all obvious that it was going to die. It seemed likely to limp along for years, much like GM appears to be doing today.

We had a similar problem with music: the record companies were all pushing rentals as the online model for listening to music. It seemed inevitable that within the next decade, no one would purchase music, and if you wanted to listen to music you’d also have to purchase an approved computer. At the time, I used the MacOS and occasionally Linux. Neither of them were on the approved list. Apple eventually did something about that. Turns out, giving customers what they want when everyone else is trying to force customers down an industry-approved path is good for business.

And of course, there was the Y2K bug. Coming up through 1998 and 1999, I complained that we were rewarding failure. We were giving companies more money if they had written bad software, and withholding money from the companies that wrote good software. At our school, the biggest loser was Apple Computer, whose software had no problem with the turn of the century. Ten years later, their attention to detail appears to have paid off.

I was starting to write satire again. But first I had to write newspaper software to handle it. The Walkerville Weekly Reader was my first major web application, and the first article went live January 17, 2000. I need to pull that site over to the new Django-based system in 2010 so that I can start using it again. I need to make more time in 2010 so that I’ll have time to start writing more.

I was writing a role-playing game. By October 21, 2000, I had enough written to post the first version of The Game under the Gnu Free Documentation License. Somewhere around then, definitely by 2001, we had restarted our AD&D 1E gaming group. Very sporadically, but we did restart it. That game eventually fizzled, but after a short hiatus we switched over to Gods & Monsters and will, in fact, be playing again sometime this weekend. They’re currently trying to make their way through the original Fell Pass.

I was writing a book, too. It Isn’t Murder If They’re Yankees was through with the first draft, and most likely the second and third. The book opened in 1993, just after the truck bomb at the World Trade Center. I’d finish the book to my satisfaction in early September, 2001. Which is fortunate, because I probably wouldn’t want to have had to work on it after September 11. I should, however, go over it one more time and try selling it again.

What new things have popped into existence since January 1, 2000 to make my life different?

  1. The iPod Touch. I still haven’t purchased one, but I got a first-generation one as a gift several years ago. The calendar is a lifesaver at Comic-Con; I no longer have to carry a contact list, or a notepad; I no longer have to maintain only two or three passwords and re-use them; 1Password handles it for me. I no longer carry a paperback with me; Eucalyptus handles it for me. I no longer use a command-line tool and ssh to control iTunes from another room; Apple’s Remote handles it for me. I have a photo album with me at all times that automatically updates to get my latest and best photos.
  2. Django. This is the framework I use to create this web page. Adding new features, such as the list of all pages on the site within a range of dates above, is trivial. Every new feature I’d wanted to add to the old self-coded PHP version of Mimsy, but had been waiting on, became easy once I switched to Django.
  3. Gods & Monsters. We stopped gaming in the mid-nineties after getting tired of Shadowrun and Vampire. Years later, we started playing first edition AD&D again, and a few years after I renamed The Game to Gods & Monsters, we started playing that. The game has come along quite nicely, and we’ve been playing our longest-running campaign yet. It’s been a hell of a lot of fun. If you enjoy gaming but haven’t found exactly the right game for you and your friends, I strongly encourage you to take what you like that’s out there and write your own. Lurk around The Forge while you’re playing.
  4. Vinyl. I’d already started listening to music again when iTunes came out, but I only started listening to vinyl again in 2001. I ripped my first vinyl—Nick Gilder’s City Nights and Frequency, albums I’d had for twenty years—on January 20, 2001. Since then I’ve ripped all of my vinyl with the exception of a few best-of albums whose songs duplicated songs I’d already ripped on the originals. That first year is filled with wonderful seventies and eighties albums I hadn’t listened to in years, but of course it didn’t take long for me to start buying new albums and, eventually, a much better turntable. Being able to rip vinyl has let me find music I’d never be able to get on CD or even cheating on-line.
  5. OS X. The beta version of OS X—OS X 10.0—was released on March 24, 2001. The initial release was more than a bit rocky. But the ability to shift seamlessly between the GUI and the command line has changed the way I automate my work. Instead of trying to force everything into AppleScript as I once did, I now can use Perl, Python, AppleScript, and even Automator, depending on which tool is best for the job, and the command-line tools easily integrate with GUI applications using SilverService. I can easily integrate my local Macintosh with my remote Linux web server. And at the office, OS X Server has made it possible for me to manage servers1 as needed to add new functionality to our web sites.
  6. RSS. The ability to manage my own news feed and quickly add any new journalist, citizen journalist, politician, or web site to it and have Safari tell me how many new articles are waiting and then show them to me, has completely changed how I get my news. Google News was a big deal when it came out; so was Memeorandum. But I don’t really use them any more. I glance at them but most of my time is spent reading rather than wondering what to read.

There was a much bigger change between January 1, 1990 and December 31, 1999. On the computer front, I went from hacking C on a Radio Shack Color Computer running OS 9 to buying Macintosh. On the writing front, I finally managed to finish a book. And at work, I went from doing backups part-time to managing the web site and the server software. The changes in the 2000s were a continuation of changes started in the 1990s. Hell, I’d even been using a database to manage my personal web site well before 2000 came around. But all in all, 2000 to 2009 has been pretty nice.

  1. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but it’s definitely changed my job description. Whenever I suggest that perhaps the system administrators should be administering these systems, they say, well, we’re going to need this many extra people to take on that many new systems. And so I continue to manage them.

  1. <- Presumption of guilt
  2. Short-sighted supermajorities ->