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Friday, January 28, 2005

Pickoff Moves

OT: AOL Abandons Usenet

Many, many years ago -- a little more than 15 years ago, I worked for the last 800-lb nonprofit gorilla of aerospace called Hughes Aircraft Company. Howard Hughes and many of the large aerospace manufacturers had finagled tax deals making their companies subsidiaries of nonprofit corporations, in this case, Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The subsequent combined entity therefore -- presto! -- owed no taxes. Congress subsequently removed that gravy train, making Hughes a less pleasant place to work for everyone; if you actually have to produce something, it kind of ruins your whole day, y'know?

Anyway. What some call a lackadaisical attitude -- more currently, "slacking" -- Hughes in those days thought of as being conducive to broad, expansive thinking. Part of this was participation in the fledgling computer networks of the day, the then-hardly-impressive Internet, and its cousin-in-suffix-only, Usenet. But Hughes was an archipelago of little divisions and groups, and not all shared connectivity alike. Ours was a tiny desert island of less than 200 in the huge sea.

About that time, management in our group funded a complete upgrade of our workstations to the soon-to-be-orphaned Sun 386i, the only Intel-based machines Sun would produce (unless I'm mistaken). Somehow, we also convinced our bosses that we hadda -- positively had to -- be connected to Usenet, and if we could manage it, the Internet, eventually. Miraculously, they agreed to cough up the thousand dollars needed to get a Telebit 9600 bps modem this would entail. Oh, sure, you're containing a giggle, but in those days, it was the Porsche of modems; it was so famous at one point, its distinctive negotiating tones were a dead giveaway to techheads that you were in the presence of someone with both a big wallet and taste.

Fast forward a couple years: I had assembled a Linux box of my own, and connected to a friend with a connection of his own. In those days, there was no such thing as a legal ISP. The National Science Foundation, which underwrote the ungainly but wildly successful Internet experiment, didn't want anybody to make money off it. So, you cribbed a link from a company with access and a friendly administrator, didn't write anything that even remotely looked like a "for sale" notice, and went about your business -- which was mainly using Usenet. Usenet, a distributed bulletin board system, was initially set up by two Duke University students with more time on their hands than good sense -- and probably less after they set it up.

But, like all creation stories, this one has a snake in it; in this case, it was the introduction of AOL and its enormous user base into the thing. This immediately caused a huge increase in the number of postings, and the number of clueless users, and the amount of junk. AOL took the blame for generally polluting what had been a congenial space for discussing like interests.

Eleven years later, they're pulling the plug.

It's probably about time; I doubt if a tenth of their membership even knows what Usenet is, let alone how it works. 9600 bps modems might not be coming back, but if an effective answer to spam can be found, Usenet might once again be, well, useful. In the meantime, this timeless, modest proposal, as useful then as it is now. All hail Leader Kibo!

OT: The Bubble Bowl

Thanks to Slashdot for this Forbes story about the 2000 Superbowl. Where are all those dot-com-panies spending megabucks on a Superbowl thirty seconds? Heh...

Sosa Deal Near Completion

... sayeth the AP, and this time, the Cubs get a coupla pitching prospects (unnamed) in return as well.

Pittsburgh Owner: You Spend Too Much

Kevin McClatchy, owner of the Pirates, says other teams spend too much, and the fiscal restraint evidenced in the previous two offseason is dead.
McClatchy, who serves on baseball's executive council and long-range labor committee, is promising to be more outspoken in future owners meetings.

"I've think they've created a hawk," he said. "A lot of us are concerned and are definitely going to speak up."

Despite McClatchy's glum financial talk and the Pirates' 12th consecutive losing season in 2004, the team's annual Fanfest opened Friday to what was expected to be record crowds. Attendance was way up during the first week of the team's winter caravan, which featured Wilson and promising pitcher Oliver Perez.

Season ticket sales are up about 30 percent, partly because buyers who keep their seats the following season get the opportunity to buy 2006 All-Star tickets.


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