[cls][moreon][ckon][white]+quot;THE TIMES, THEY ARE A' CHANGIN'+quot;[gray] On April 16th,
[cls][moreon][ckon][white]"THE TIMES, THEY ARE A' CHANGIN'"[gray]
On April 16th, I issued orders to cut off my inputs (and outputs) all of
the Echomail conferences on WeirdBase except for MagickNet and Feminism. I
have not made up my mind for certain, but I feel pretty confident that in
another few weeks, I'm going to drop MagickNet entirely and make Feminism
sysop-only (for Kim, who runs it). At that point, WeirdBase will have NO
message areas at all.
Most of you will never miss them. There are only about six out of the
hundreds of users who regularly use Echomail on WeirdBase. But I feel that I
owe those six (and anyone else who is curious) an explanation.
And to do that, I need to provide most of you with a little perspective.
[white]"I WAS SO MUCH OLDER THEN, I'M YOUNGER THAN THAT NOW"[gray]
In March of 1984, I was working for what President Eisenhower called the
Military/Industrial Complex...specifically, the Quality Assurance division of
McDonnell Douglas Aircraft (MCAIR), a part of the McDonnell Douglas
Corporation. That was when we got our first asynchronous modem. (Racal/Vadic
1200 baud external...and I never did get the d@mned thing to dial out properly
on its own.) We had just gotten our first PC/XT (McDonnell Douglas's
eleventh) a few months before. My boss wanted to know what I could do with
the modem, so I scraped up a copy of MiniTel (IBMMINI.EXE) and went cruising
for bulletin boards, starting with McDonnell Douglas's own Recreational
Computer Club BBS.
In the process, I discovered something called FidoNet. (Perhaps you've
heard of it.) At the time, FidoNet was just undergoing the upheaval that
added the "network" layer to the address (previously, nodes just had "node
numbers"). Fido was free to download from MDC/RCC (then FidoNet node #10,
later 1:100/10), so I set up a copy of Fido (version 10i) on that PC/XT and
arranged a link into the St. Louis branch of FidoNet, net 100, as node 523.
A few months later, I came up with the idea of doing something that would
be a cross between a USENET newsgroup and an APA; I put an article in FidoNews
describing a specification and asking for comments. Two issues later, Jeff
Rush of Texas announced that he and several other Fido hacks had already been
working on a similar facility, which they called ECHOMAIL. Needless to say, I
was excited...and I was the first node in St. Louis to install it in early
1985. In late 1985, amid the fuss over the Helms Amendment (see AMEND705.* in
the files areas), I proposed a Pagan Rights and general Magickal Religions
Echomail conference, to be called MAGICK, and eventually ended up co-running
it with three other sysops.
In late '86 I began making arrangements to leave MCAIR for another company
in McDonnell Douglas, called McDonnell Douglas Health Information Systems
(later McDonnell Douglas Federal Systems). It was obvious that I wasn't going
to have that same PC/XT on my desk, so I bought an "el cheapo" PC/XT clone
from the now-defunct Texas Computer Systems. Since the hard disk at work was
getting a little crowded (WeirdBase took up 5 of its 10 megabytes), I splurged
and bought a Seagate ST225 20MB hard disk. (Luxury of luxuries, it was only a
half-height drive--quite an innovation at the time.)
In 1987, while I was working with Macintoshes at Federal Systems in the
daytime, I spent many an evening working on WeirdBase. First, I upgraded to
the revolutionary new Fido clone, Opus (version 0.9-something, I think--I
remember that I needed to run Fido as a mailer front-end). That was when the
phone number changed from 232-something to 389-WYRD; I moved it from my desk
at MCAIR to my home (an apartment on Roland in Pasadena Hills). Secondly, I
began experimenting with a radical new idea: the "No-Parasite BBS."
Some time in early 1987, I had it ready. I had a software package called
CHARGES which post-processed the OPUS.LOG file and charged each user one cent
per six minutes or fraction thereof, and offered people a wide variety of ways
to get credit towards that, including paying their shareware fees and writing
letters to Congress. In fact, other than the fact that the Twit limit was 2.5
hours (25 cents) overdue instead of the present 10 hours ($1.00), it was
pretty much the same system I use now.
While I was away at the June 1987 International Pagan Spirit Gathering,
WeirdBase had "a little accident." In fact, the power supply blew up from
heat stress. (The air conditioner had failed.) When I reset it, it ran fine
except for an annoying whine from the power supply, so I kept on running it
until it finally died for good. That time, in January of '88, the power
supply shorted the 120v AC line voltage directly into the 12v DC output,
thoroughly frying the hard disk, the diskette drive, and of course, the power
supply. Worse, this happened right when McDonnell Douglas Federal Systems
laid me off. (We had failed to get The Big Contract that Corporate was
relying on, the TRIMIS project.)
[white]"HERE I GO, AGAIN."[gray]
I went into all this detail for a reason. This was WeirdBase's Great Hard
Disk Explosion, and I threatened to hang it up for good. Repairs were likely
to run into the hundreds of dollars, and in fact the total was on the far side
of $1,000. So I went onto a surviving MAGICK node and told people that I
wasn't coming back any time soon. I had dead hardware and NO money. I also
had a mild case of burnout--message traffic was up on the high side of 50
messages a week! (Gods, I thought I had problems then.) But two people came
through with HUGE contributions, and a lot of people came through with small
contributions. I bought a bigger hard disk that cost the same amount (Seagate
ST238, 30MB) and a cheap diskette drive and with money from Josh Gordon and
David Dyer-Bennett, upgraded from 1200 baud to the unheard-of speed of 2400
bits per second. By late spring of 1988, I had it back up. People who'd
downloaded the file areas gradually re-uploaded them, and I was less gradually
persuaded to re-harness myself to the MAGICK Echomail conference chair.
But already, I was finding it a strain to keep up with the MAGICK echo and
with the BBS in general. I automated everything I could, but it just wasn't
enough. I ultimately got the rest of the conference to agree to set up a side
channel JUST for off-topic messages. That helped some. It also helped us get
rid of several people who didn't respect the private-topology rules; we
"killed" the MAGICK echo and reformed under the label MagickNet.
Many months later, a guy I knew at Federal Systems who had also been laid
off got me a job at a fledgling training outfit called Wave Technologies
Training. The pay was awful and the work hard, but it kept the wolf from the
door...until they laid me off again the next January. Fortunately, one of my
students at Wave was the number-one guy in MasterCard's Macintosh PC Support
department, and he hired me right away.
Ultimately, the 30MB filled up too, so I bought yet another half-height
30MB (ST238) and added it to the system. (In the processing accidentally
erasing the old one without a complete backup, costing me my accounting
software and most of the files areas. Fortunately, most of that is back
again, now.) And that is where the hardware situation stands now: an XT
clone, a 2400 bps internal modem, and two ST238 30MB hard disks. And that,
you see, is the first of the Problems That Won't Go Away.
[white]"THIS AIN'T NO TECHNOLOGICAL BREAKDOWN;
OH NO, THIS IS THE ROAD TO HELL."[gray]
First Problem That Won't Go Away:
When I set up the No-Parasite rule, I gave people a huge psychological
incentive to upload files. In fact, it seems to be the most effective
incentive that's been offered; I have MUCH better luck than systems that use
up/download ratios. I'm quite proud of it. But it's a nightmare.
You see, even after throwing away THREE WHOLE FILE AREAS recently, I still
have an absolutely full 30MB hard disk just of files. The other hard disk
holds message areas and software. It's up to about 25MB--which is full enough
that about once a month, the system crashes because it hasn't got enough room
to unpack the night's mail. The results are Not Pretty; it takes me an entire
day (or a sleepless night) to put the thing back together afterwards. And
mind you, that's reading no messages, writing no replies, verifying no files,
and validating no users. And it doesn't stop; recently, y'all have uploaded
even more files than I have time to deal with. Heck, it's not even slowing
down, it seems it may even be speeding up. (Perhaps being denounced by Lyndon
To have room for all the messages AND all the files, I'd need another hard
disk. Since I'm out of bays, it'd need to be a HardCard. I could get another
40MB on a HardCard for about $460. I even thought about it. But that would
make the Second Problem That Won't Go Away even worse.
Second Problem That Won't Go Away:
Put simply: I want my life back.
For over six years now, I've been working 30 hour weeks for no pay. (In
fact, it typically costs me $1k per year between phone bills and repairs--and
yes, that's $1k MORE than each year's contributions.) But it's not the money
I regret the most. I miss the TIME.
For four years now, I've had three books in progress. In the last two
years, I haven't even managed to get a line of type written. On the rare
occasions when I have the time (usually because I'm slacking off on WeirdBase
maintenance or MagickNet duties), I don't have the energy. Likewise with the
terminal program I've been going to write for the last two years. Likewise
with the role playing game I have written but haven't had the time or energy
to market and sell.
And I used to read at least one new science fiction novel a week, plus
every issue of ANALOG, plus whatever else looked good on the newstand. Now I
make time for maybe five or six new SF novels a YEAR, and maybe half of two
I used to be active in the SCA. I used to play several role playing games,
and took tremendous pleasure from them. And I used to write prolific text AND
code. Now all I do is (a) try to read a thousand messages in an evening, or
(b) moan because I'm over a thousand messages behind.
It's a hard, cold fact. When you have more things to do than time to do
them, the only moral, the only REASONABLE thing to do is to decide which ones
you want to do most. And for several reasons, Echomail lost entirely.
WeirdBase isn't even secure.
You see, it isn't going to get any better. Even dropping everything but
MagickNet, traffic on MagickNet averages on the high side of 50 pages a night.
Folks, I don't read that much newspaper--and it's better organized and on the
whole better written AND on a more diverse (and therefore interesting) range
of topics. Echomail has tapped a gusher of public writing, and just on the
somewhat esoteric subject of Magick, there are hundreds of people who have
dozens of pages to say every week. And frankly, I don't want to read dozens
of pages a day!
In fact, the sheer volume (combined with the sheer contentiousness) seem to
have driven off the authors I =did= want to read. Echomail got to be a
stupider and clumsier place since Judy Harrow got angry and left. There are
others, but that's the one that stands out in my mind.
And I cannot begin to see a solution. You see, with rare exceptions
(already covered by the rules, and generally enforced) I virtually never see a
message on MagickNet that wouldn't be fascinating to me...if it was one of the
only three or four that came in that day. But which three or four am I going
to read? Which three or four should be allowed to post? Folks, I can't
imagine an answer to that because any rule I can devise would have likely left
ME out, several years ago. (Back before I became a "Big Name Pagan"--snort.)
I don't want to do that to somebody!
I don't know how those of you who keep up with Echomail manage to find the
time to do so. But if it's to your liking now, don't change it on my behalf.
Not only would that be immoral, I can't imagine a change that would make me
happy. Instead, I'm just going to get on with my life and do something else
for a while.
[white]"SHOW ME THE WAY TO GO HOME..."[gray]
So there it stands. I've already dropped all the echos I don't have
personal responsibility for. I currently plan to give MagickNet a few weeks
to find a new Coordinator, and then it's going, too. At that point, I'm
dropping all message areas on WeirdBase.
Now, I currently think that if I didn't have to worry about nightly
Echomail processing and a vast backlog of messages, I could probably spare a
few hours every few weeks to verify, post, and credit new uploads. (I warn
you, that's all the faster service I'm offering!) That would let me leave up
the only REAL unique part of WeirdBase, the files area. As I say, it's also
the part that most of you use.
's funny, y'know. Ask an Old Sysop what it was like in 1985. You'd put
up a BBS, and hope and pray like mad that people'd call in and post messages.
If you had a message area with 50 messages in it, you backed it up every
night--because 50 messages would take you MONTHS to collect. Now 50 messages
roll through EVERY message area EVERY night--some of 'em, hundreds a night!
Back then, nobody paid much attention to files because everybody had the same
few dozen CP/M and MS-DOS utilities, so who cared? If you lost it, you'd re-
down load your entire files section in an afternoon from two or three BBS's.
Echomail and FidoNet have changed literally everything.
So there you have it. The world turned upside down, and WeirdBase is
turning upside down with it. If you don't like it, then leave. After six
years of this accomplishment, I've built up all the Ego Points I need from it;
I'm ready to do something else. If there's still something here for you, then
by all means help yourself! Just don't get demanding, because I am VERY
serious about wanting my real life back.
[white]"WHAT CAN I SAY?"[gray]
What can you do or say to talk me out of changing WeirdBase all around?
NOTHING. I flat-out cannot afford the hardware costs OR the time. Even if
you paid the hardware costs, you are not about to pay me the $35,000+ per year
it would take to get me to give up my day job. And as far as I can tell,
that's what it would take to free up enough time in my life to do what I want
and still maintain things as they are. And even if enough of you wanted it to
do that (which would be unprecedented in the history of BBSing), I'm not sure
this is the full-time job I want any more. (I admit, I'd think about it...but
it's a fantasy; that kind of money isn't out there for this.)
[white]"DUST IN THE WIND...
ALL WE ARE IS DUST IN THE WIND."[gray]
So you'd better ask the BETTER question, if you care: What can you do or
say to talk me into keeping WeirdBase up in any form, at all?
Forget flattery. I've had all the flattery for this that I need for the
rest of my life. I'll tell you in blunt terms what it will take: a small
amount of cash. Because I'm =still= going to run into trouble soon with out
of disk space, even after freeing up 10MB or so from killing the message
areas. If this is going to go on for more than a few months before I go batty
again, I'm still going to need that HardCard.
That sounds pushy and demanding, doesn't it? I guess it is. You're
probably thinking that I'm not worth that. And you're probably right. So I
guess six years is enough to be proud of. That's a LONG time in BBS-years,
folks. (Figure most BBS's crap out after one year. A long-lived one makes it
to four or maybe five.) If it gets to that point: "So long, and thanks for
all the fish!"
-- Brad Hicks, System Operator
1-314-741-2231, 2400bps, 8/N/1
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank