Leonard Grossman


~ Extraordinary Words ~

~ Divrei Torah ~

~ Modem Junkie ~ Ordinary Potato ~





Leonard Grossman


Chicago IL USA

Table of Contents



Introduction 7

About The Author 9

Distinguished Career Service Award 13

Divrei Torah: Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible 17

Tzav - March 22, 2008 18

D'varim - July 29, 2006 23

Shabbat Hachodesh - March 25, 2006 27

Tazria April 2004 30

V'Etchanan - August 8, 1998 32

First Shabbat of Consolation, Shabbat Nachamu 35

Tazria - April 1, 1995 36

Shemot - January 1, 1994 39

Haftarah Shemot January 1, 1993 43

Bereishit - October 24, 1992 45

Re'eh August 22, 1988 47

Vayishlach - December 5, 1987 51

Beshalach - February 14, 1987 54

Shabbat Hanukkah - December 14, 1985 59

Community 63

Community of Congregations of Oak Park and River Forest, 2003 64

Rededication of St. Edmunds - November 19, 2000 68

Thanksgiving November 22, 2000 69

West Suburban Temple Har Zion Web Site 70

WST Remarks on the Installation of Hilarie Lieb May 14, 1996 71

WST President's Message March 1991 73

WST President's Welcome - Across the Sea, March 1991 74

WST President's Message March 1991 75

WST President's Message December 1990 76

WST President's Message October 1990 77

WST Yom Kippur Appeal 1990 78

WST Annual Report, April 7, 1990 81

WST President's Message January 1990 87

WST President's Message 88

WST President's Message September 1990 89

WST Board of Governors 1990 90

Focusing Institute Web Site 91

Reflections of a Modem Junkie 93

Reflections of a ModemJunkie: The Complete Archive 94

Catching Up, January, 2002 96

The Morphing of a ModemJunkie - April, 2000 109

What a Tangled Web: February 2000 113

Trust or Consequences, January 2000 123

Thoughts at the End of a Century, December 1999 133

My Cup Runneth Over, November, 1999 136

Searching for Barry Goldstein: Virtual Community -- Real Loss, September 1999 139

Presents Tense, July, 1999 146

Plugged In Unglued, June, 1999 150

Quitting Comdex Cold Turkey, May, 1999 155

Validated --Balance in a Brave New World, April, 1999 157

Still Online Still Amazed; Tales of Then and Now, February, 1999 160

A Virtual Vacation and a Real Rest, January, 1999 166

I Ain't Cuttin' My Blessin': A Story for the Season, December, 1998 169

Catching Up: Including a Look at WordPerfect 8, November, 1998 171

Because it's There: The Publication of the Starr Report, October, 1998 176

How the Web Brought Back my Childhood, Explained a Mystery, and Made an Honest Man of My Cousin; Or: Why E-Commerce Ain't All Bad. September 1998 185

Installing Windows 98 -- On the Cutting Edge, July, 1998 189

A Matter of Perspective -Two Unrelated Events, June, 1998 196

Spam, Spam,Spam,Spam,Spam, May, 1998 198

Catch 56, April, 1998 204

What hath God Wrought? March, 1998 208

The Quest, December, 1997 209

Thanksgiving Thoughts, November, 1997 212

I am not a Luddite, October, 1997 214

October Supplement: They are coming to take me away 217

A Matter of Time, September, 1997 218

I am Counting on You, July, 1997 221

Dr. Debakey: Where are you now that I need you? June, 1997 223

How else do you get rid of the dead Indians from the bottom of the t.v.? May, 1997 226

Culture Shock, April, 1997 229

ACCESS, Access, access, February, 1997 231

New Years Revelations, January, 1997 234

Don't Wait for the Fat Lady, December, 1996 236

Multimedia Interactive Multitasking, October, 1996 239

Triangulation - Then and Now, September, 1996 241

Summer Reverie Edition, August, 1996 243

Comdex in a day, June, 1996 244

In Memory of Arthur, May, 1996 247

A World Grown Smaller . . . April, 1996 249

A ModemJunkie tries HTML-IN HTML!!? March, 1996 250

"To See Oursel's As Others See Us!" February, 1996 252

"Whither are We Drifting?" January, 1996 255

"All I want for Christmas . . ." December, 1995 258

Faster FASTER F A S T E R!! Up to 28.8 - November, 1995 259

Looking Back...A Year on the Net, October, 1995 262

Starting Place, September, 1995 266

Win 95 --A Revolutionary Approach, August, 1995 270

This may be the greatest moment in online . . . July, 1995 272

"The Corner Garage " June, 1995: My Favorite Piece 275

Slowing down (I came home and didn't logon), April, 1995 278

Getting "Stoned" and an intro to my favorite sites, March, 1995 279

Life before the InfoBahn, February, 1995 282

Learning to Walk Again --First Steps on the Net, December, 1994 284

The Pawnshop Special (I jump to Windows), November, 1994 286

Rush Hour on the information Highway, September, 1994 288

Discipline (I promise not to logon today), June, 1993 290

Meeting the Faces Behind the Screen, May, 1993 293

The DOS 6 Rollout, April, 1993 294

The Great PKZIP Flap, March, 1993 296

Quicken--A TRIPLE THREAT!! July 3, 1992 297

Ordinary Potato 301

Oh Johnny, We Hardly Know You, 2004 302

See No Evil, 2004 304

O Little Town of Bethlehem, 2001 306

Strange Hero, 2000 / 2008 309

A Visit to Israel, 1997 313

An Open Letter To Benjamin Netanyahu, 1997 315

A Fire is Burning: On the Federal Shutdown, January 1996 317

Blog, 2008 319

Voices From The Past 321

Et Cetera 325

The 10k HTML 326

Columbus Park Acrostic 327

Finding Poetry in the Net, By James Coates, Tribune Computer Writer, April 2, 1995 328

Albums and Images 333







LEONARD GROSSMAN has been a man of words since his earliest days, and has lent his voice, his passion and his intellect to causes and goals ranging from the pursuit of justice to feeding the hungry, from leading the community to sustaining and entertaining his large circle of acquaintance. His heart is as big as the globe and more, eagerly welcoming and cherishing friends, extending care and nurturing, healing the world with deeds of energetic tenderness, in small steps and large leaps.


THIS VOLUME brings together some of Len's public writing for the first time. The remarkable scope of these essays serves to limn the broad outlines of his eclectic interests.


ON THE OCCASION of Len Grossman's sixty-fifth birthday, his friends and family gather to celebrate the words and the heart of a creative, loving, passionate, thoughtful, astute and incisive observer of the decades which have bridged the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. We all anticipate many more words of Len's wit, wisdom, and humor.


Lovingly assembled by

Len's wife


Cindy Barnard

November 2008





A note about the graphic on the title page


The Gropper Windows: Genesis in Glass

In 1967, artist William Gropper completed a series of five windows in the Gottlieb Community Hall at West Suburban Temple Har Zion in River Forest, Illinois.'s

Len Grossman has been connected with West Suburban since his childhood and has had a love affair with these gorgeous windows since their installation. He has featured them on his web site for many years.


Len particularly loves the top of the Abraham window. Indeed, it is a perfect emblem for the title page of this volume. Abraham's two defining moments, for many Jews who study the text, are found in his readiness to accept the radical covenant offered by a unified yet complex God, coupled with his unhesitating challenge to God, demanding that God live up to his promise of justice and compassion. Len Grossman embraces the complexity he finds in this world, and demands justice and compassion from God and from his fellow human beings. For his embrace and his demand, we are all the richer.
About The Author

Leonard A. Grossman


BORN IN 1943 to remarkable parents, Len Grossman was a bright, thoughtful boy with an early love of literature and reading, particularly poetry. His mother fled Germany in 1933, and his father had risen to influence as an attorney and Chicago alderman. Bridging more than twenty years age difference, they created a marriage of love, humor, and partnership that would enrich the lives of their sons, Len (1943) and Ray (1945). Leonard J. Grossman was a larger-than-life figure in Chicago aldermanic and legal circles, and Len and his mother and brother gloried in their pride in this energetic fighter on behalf of the Radium girls and other celebrated legal battles. Trudel Adler Grossman was a woman of almost legendary versatility, balancing careers in millinery, bookkeeping, and tireless volunteering as she created a life and role model infused with community, friendship and responsibility.


Len grew up in the shadow of Chicago neighborhoods rife with anti-Semitism, and found a home-away-from-home in spending considerable time at distant West Suburban Temple Har Zion and in its youth group. His childhood was marked by the loss of his father following a prolonged illness, when Len was twelve years old. His mother never remarried, and her sons and grandchildren formed a loving and protective network around their ever-amazing Omi, who continued to enrich the world until her death in 2007 at nearly 95 years old.


Exterior, 1995LEN's COLLEGE YEARS took him from the Loop College and the University of Illinois to Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. His early interest in linguistics eventually merged with a first career in teaching. Len worked in the Chicago Public Schools for a decade, in Lawndale on Chicago's west side, in what had formerly been the Jewish People's Institute still adorned with plaster menorahs, stars of David, and decorations recalling that storied past.


WHILE STILL TEACHING, Len yielded at last to a longstanding interest in law, and returned to law school at IIT Chicago Kent School of Law. Still teaching, he completed his law school degree at night, and began private practice of law in 1977. In March 1979 he joined the Department of Labor and began a long and respected career, litigating in virtually every program of the Office of the Solicitor of Labor. If there is an acronym in the DOL, Len can elucidate its meaning and significant legal developments of recent years: OFCCP, OALJ, EEOC, MSPB, STAA, FLSA, ERISA, FMLA, ESA, and dozens more cram his office, his resume, and his many marvelous stories spanning so many decades, locales, and cases.


POSSIBLY LEN'S MOST PRIZED ACCOMPLISHMENTS in the Department of Labor include his years of successful work on behalf of migrant laborers for decent working conditions, his ground-breaking work to hold corrupt union officials accountable for manipulated elections, and extensive work for Fair Labor Standards and race, sex and disability discrimination / affirmative action. One particularly massive migrant labor case spanning Texas and Wisconsin resulted in a federal circuit judge's observation that "This, as unlikely as it may at first seem, is a federal pickle case." (Secretary v. Lauritzen, 624 F. Supp. 966 (E.D. Wisc. 1985) and 649 F. Supp. 16 (E.D. Wisc 1986), 835 F.2d 152 (7th Cir 1987))


IN 1999, LEN RECEIVED THE DISTINGUISHED CAREER SERVICE AWARD (see following pages). The award recognized two decades of work of remarkable breadth and collegiality. Len is known as an attorney who works particularly well in a team, who thrives on successful partnerships producing the best possible legal and human outcome, and who excels in forming and maintaining productive relationships with staff inside and outside the Department of Labor. He continues to expand his technical and strategic interests in DOL litigation, most recently in areas of occupational safety, mine safety, and still continuing his work in union elections, fair labor standards, migrant rights, and other areas.


BEYOND THE WORKPLACE, Len's interests and achievements range far. Recalling his intensive childhood and high school involvement at West Suburban Temple Har Zion and the Conservative movement in Judaism, Len renewed his connections there as an adult with wife Sally and baby daughter Sarah (born 1979), whose childhood and then adult involvement at the temple has been a source of continuing joy to Len.


AT WEST SUBURBAN TEMPLE HAR ZION, over the years, he became a central figure on the Board and temple leadership, becoming president in the late 1980s and leading the search for a new rabbi. Len's love of text, willingness to struggle with the challenges of faith and history, and eloquent writing have led him to take the bimah podium on many occasions to offer a sermon or D'var Torah, a word of Torah for the congregation. These are collected in this volume.


REACHING BEYOND WEST SUBURBAN TEMPLE TO THE COMMUNITY, Len also became active in the Community of Congregations of Oak Park and River Forest. His roles there as Board member, President, and active volunteer have given voice to his commitment to ecumenicism and collaboration on behalf of justice, social welfare programs, and community-building. Once again his lifelong talents in forming connected personal relationships across all sorts of social and political dividing lines have served him well, and he has given back to his community generously. A few of Len's contributions to this community are also captured in this book.


ANYONE WHO VISITS LEN'S WEB SITE will be intrigued immediately by dozens of thoughtful essays reflecting on the early years of the World Wide Web. Len's exploration of this brave new world in the early 1990s and thereafter brought him an unimaginably wide circle of acquaintance, across nationalities, generations, and continents, as he formed new kinds of relationships mediated by web logs (later "blogs," email and the arcane early worlds of modems and File Transfer Protocols. The self-styled ModemJunkie wrote monthly essays and engaged in international debate and dialogue about matters technical, political, and philosophical, and lent an elegant and eager energy to an emerging world of intellectual engagement in binary code. This large body of work is collected here, and although the technology may be obsolete, the charm and reflection of the author are as sparkling and thought-provoking as they were when the columns were first written.


THE ORDINARY POTATO is, in fact, a most extra-ordinary observer of the world we inhabit. Len's ironic use of the term for his political and social essays belies his unique sensibility. The Common tater is truly an incisive and candid voice, open to the pain and hope that the world has to offer us. Len believes deeply in the Jewish principle that it is the human obligation to repair and improve our flawed world, to leave it a better place than we found it, to contribute our energy, love, and belief in a more perfect future. The ordinary potato essays are also captured in this book.


LEN's ALBUMS is a meaningful term for any web search. Len's marvelous and vivid photo albums will reward the effort. While it is not the purpose of this particular volume to showcase Len's photographs, a few of them are included here to recognize that in addition to being a man of wonderful words, Len is a man of a clear and vivid vision, as well.


Len's FAMILY IS UNDOUBTEDLY HIS FIRST LOVE, and his deepest. His pride in his lovely and accomplished daughter Sarah is legendary and well-deserved, and her admiration for her dad is evident in the way she has crafted a life of integrity, community, personal commitment and engagement with others, and profound care for those who need her. Len's enjoyment of his mother's wit, thoughtfulness, and unique creativity, and his pride in her many accomplishments for the temple and community, were evidenced in his close ties with her over the years. He still recalls with love the driving trips they took to New York, time spent with her sister, and hours of evening story-telling and anecdotes of her childhood. He is on close and friendly terms with a large extended family including his younger brother Ray (and sister-in-law Darlene, children and grandchildren), his first wife Sally, and his cousins, children of cousins, and more. Family celebrations are deeply important to him, from Passover seder to birthdays, b'nai mitzvah, high holidays, Sukkah decorating, Thanksgiving and Chanukah. This volume includes some reflections on family, though not his more private and intimate writing.


IT IS A RARE PRIVILEGE to be married to a man who is a dearest friend, a man I admire and cherish, who brings deep joy to our shared life, a man whose gifts to the world are legion. Len comes to the world with an open eagerness and pleasure, a readiness to care and to castigate where needed, to plunge in and offer his energy to make the human family more just and more human. Len brings a deep joy to life and to those he loves, and leaves each person richer and brighter for his touch. On the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday, I am proud to salute him and deeply grateful and delighted at our discovery of each other.

Cindy Barnard

November 2008





Distinguished Career Service Award

Spring 1999

DOL Seal - Link to DOL Home Page

In Spring, 1999, Leonard Grossman was among a number of recipients of the Department of Labor's Distinguished Career Service Award.

As an attorney in the Office of the Solicitor for over 20 years, Mr. Grossman has handled cases for almost every agency within the Department of Labor. His primary involvement has been in cases and programs under the Employment Standards Administration, including but not limited to Fair Labor Standards Act.

Mr. Grossman was hired in 1979 as a GS-11 General Attorney after ten years of teaching in the Chicago Public Schools and a year of private practice. He followed the standard progression, becoming a GS 12 in 1980. Beginning in these early years he became involved in the Regional Farm Labor Coordinated Enforcement Committee, which provided a basis for significant work in later years. In that role and others, Mr. Grossman has frequently represented this office as a speaker at public hearings and conferences throughout the Midwest.

* Estate of Dorfman - Within months after becoming a GS-13 in 1981 Mr. Grossman became involved in a number of significant matters. The most visible of these were the Special Litigation Division's ERISA cases involving the Central States Teamsters Pension and Health and Welfare Funds. Mr. Grossman served as local counsel for these proceedings, which involved countless courtroom appearances over the next two years - an average of more than one a week during the period.

Closely related to the District Court cases was his successful effort to retain Allen Dorfman's million dollar cash bond for creditors, preventing it from bypassing probate, after Dorfman was murdered, and returning directly to the individuals and corporation who loaned him the money. This unusual litigation involved countless depositions and unusual discovery techniques. The successful trial and appeal of the State court matter, both of which were handled by Mr. Grossman, preserved the asset for the eventual resolution of the Department's ERISA litigation. Estate of Dorfman, 138 Ill. App. 3rd 646, 486 N.E. 2d. 310 (1985).

During the course of his employment he has obtained a number of significant published decisions which have advanced the interests of the Department. Some of these are highlighted in the narrative which follows.

* Secretary v. Lauritzen, 624 F. Supp. 966 (E.D Wisc. 1985) and 649. F. Supp. 16 (E.D. Wisc. 1986), 835 F.2d 152 (7th Cir. 1987) (Cert. denied 488 U.S.898.) This case was a significant milestone in the extension of Fair Labor Standards coverage to migrant laborers.

The Lauritzen case established that migrant workers an employees and not independent contractors in the face of a contrary decision in the 6th Circuit. The original complaint had been referred by Legal Action of Wisconsin to the Wage and Hour Division in Madison, Wisconsin. With their cooperation, the cooperation of Texas Rural Legal Aid, and investigators in the Wage and Hour Division in Texas, he was able to coordinate extensive discovery in Texas and Wisconsin and to obtain the cooperation of witnesses who never would have testified under other circumstances. Only by obtaining the cooperation of individuals at all levels was it possible to achieve the significant victory obtained in this matter in the face of adverse precedent and motivated opposition represented by the same attorneys who had prevailed in the 6th Circuit. Mr. Grossman won a number of motions for partial summary judgment in this matter in the District Court and worked closely with the attorney from the NSOL in successfully defending an appeal to the Seventh Circuit.

While the matter was pending before the Supreme Court (which ultimately denied certiorari), Mr. Grossman became aware of a rumor that Lauritzen was once again violating the child labor and minimum wage laws. The next day he notified Wage and Hour and initiated an investigation task force. Within a week he presented a motion for contempt, with supporting affidavits, to the Court. The following Tuesday, a hearing was held in district court, utilizing the services of a court appointed interpreter. The hearing could not be concluded that day. The next day the defendant agreed to pay the back wages involved and established an entirely new record keeping system as well as several thousand dollars in agency costs. (It should be noted that haste was necessary because the season was virtually over, within days all of the employees would have left the Midwest for Texas and it would have been impossible to prosecute the matter. The settlement was achieved within 12 days of originally learning of the violations.)

In 1987, Mr. Grossman became a GS-14 Trial Attorney. Shortly thereafter he filed Secretary vs. Dill.

* Secretary v. Dill et al., 696 F. Supp. 401 (N.D.Ind. 1988). This case broke a log jam of opinions and litigation over coverage of the FLSA in the in-home carpet cleaning industry.

Mr. Grossman persuaded the agency that this case was the appropriate one to resolve a longstanding dispute over how to tackle this question and succeeded through discovery and effective briefing in persuading the Court to resolve this issue which was creating problems throughout the country.

* Secretary v. Morefield Construction Co., et al. 745 F. Supp. 1231 (E.D. Mich. 1990) This case was the first in the Sixth Circuit to clearly establish interstate commerce coverage based solely on the intrastate purchase of goods and materials originating in other states.

In the face of the defendant's adamant insistence that it purchased all of its materials and supplies from local sources, Mr. Grossman conducted extensive discovery which led to the foregoing decision on partial summary judgment. On the eve of trial his aggressive pursuit of this matter persuaded the defendant to enter into a consent judgment calling for $100,000.00 in back wages.

* Secretary v. Curtins, 30 Wage and Hour Cas. 1380 (BNA), available on Lexis (D. Minn, 1992). This case appears to be the first published decision which establishes traditional interstate commerce coverage solely on telephone conversations.

Once again, Mr. Grossman was able to combine discovery and writing skills to obtain a valuable precedent. This case involved the use of telephone records to establish the extensive involvement of all of the defendant's employees individually in interstate commerce.

In recent years, Mr. Grossman played a major role in this office's information management matters relating to computers and online communications and was directly involved in developing the recommendations which were implemented for an upgrade of our computer operations.








Divrei Torah: Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible



West Suburban Temple

Men's Club Shabbat

Tzav - March 22, 2008


Today we read Parshat Tzav, which begins on page 613 of the red Chumash at your seats.


For weeks we have been reading about the design, funding and building of the tabernacle. While some might not find these the most scintillating portions of the Torah, they cover familiar territory. There are some here who remember the excitement in this congregation when the new Ark was installed on this bimah more than 20 years ago. After that the Sisterhood funded a modernization of the kitchen. And several years ago we engaged on a thorough rehabilitation of this building, adding rooms, moving the library to the second floor, installing an elevator. During that process many of us became familiar with issues of design, the almost universal architectural language and symbolism used in religious space, priorities of use, questions of materials, and the quality of the work, even accountability for the funds raised. So many of the issues raised over the past few weeks were somewhat familiar. Even the descriptions of the vestments of the priests are familiar through analogy to the vestments of clergy in other religions.

Of those only the umim and thurim, the jewels in the high priest's breastplate, puzzle us very much today, and I won't attempt to explain how they worked (or even to try to understand them myself).


But last week we began reading about the sacrifices in the Temple. We moved from the comfortable familiarity of materials and surfaces to the gory, bloody, literally visceral experience of sacrifices. If you have visited a slaughterhouse it might be possible to imagine the some of the sights and sounds of the Temple on a festival day, but add ritual and crowds and the money changers. It becomes overwhelming.

It is said the coals are mixed with incense to create a pleasing aroma. Perhaps only with incense is the whole thing tolerable.


There are so many kinds of sacrifices, lamb, kid, calves, rams, bulls, goats, cattle, birds, grain with oil, grain without oil. And sin offerings and burnt offerings and guilt offerings and peace offerings, and within these are subdivisions and classifications. Some are mandatory, some are voluntary, some are time related and some are related to behavior or states of mind. And there are so many details of procedure.


The whole concept of animal sacrifice is alien to our modern mind. The practice ended with the destruction of the Temple. Although early in our history there were many altars and places of sacrifice, after the building of the Temple, sacrifice was only permitted in that one central venue.


There are many explanations for the existence of sacrifice in early Judaism. Perhaps, sacrifice is just one of those things that were done because they were commanded, like the ritual of the red heifer or kashruth.

Perhaps sacrificial rituals made it possible to channel the energies of the ancient Israelites into familiar modes, while changing the meaning and purpose of the act. Perhaps, after the golden calf, God recognized the need for focus and ritual giving. Perhaps, the actual giving of something of value impressed on the minds of the people the seriousness and meaning of their behavior and religious thought.


Modern Judaism has difficulty with even the concept of sacrifice. Indeed, today, we substitute the portions of our service for the sacrifice, referring to it as a sacrifice of the heart rather than physical sacrifice. As suggested by the prophet Hosea, we render for bullocks the offering of our lips."? [Hosea 14:3].


Perhaps you have noticed that before the Amidah, the Rabbi announces the availability of an alternative version. What some of us may not have noticed is that as part of the Amidah, we pray for the restoration of the Temple and the restoration of the sacrificial rituals. Many of those of us who have become conscious of that language in our siddur take it with a grain of salt, not intending it literally. But for some of us such concepts are offensive. The alternative readings omit those prayers. In some other congregations, only the alternative readings are selected and in some congregations the alternative of restoration of sacrifice is omitted entirely.


Even the prophets themselves, speaking in the name of God, question the value and validity of sacrifice or whether God really desires sacrifice. In deed, this is dramatically emphasized by the contrast between today's parsha and the haftora we read today as well.


In today's haftorah Jeremiah contradicts what we read in today's parsha, saying,

For when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt, I neither spoke to them nor commanded them about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey Me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the way I command you, that it may go well with you.

How can that be? Today we will read the very words of God commanding sacrifices. Jeremiah is not alone. Isaiah and others question the efficacy of sacrifice in the absence of social justice. And this is mirrored in Isaiah's comments on sacrifices


In Chapter 1 of Isaiah he says:


11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to me? says the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and I do not desire the fat of fed beasts, or the blood of bullocks, or of lambs or goats.

* * *

16. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away your evil habits from before my eyes; cease doing evil;

17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.


Clearly, even though the Torah is full of detailed requirements of sacrifice and the Talmud devotes page after page to the minutia of the sacrificial rituals, the Tanach as a whole is ambiguous at best with regard to such practices.


What does it mean today to make a sin or a guilt offering? How does sacrifice expiate sin? Rather we have tshuva, repentance, return, and tikkun as methods of dealing with such conflicts. But that one might offer a token in thanksgiving in recognition of our well being or good fortune is not such a strange a thought.

This is the psalm designated to accompany the thanksgiving offering.


1 A Psalm of thanksgiving. Call out unto the LORD, all the earth.

2 Serve the LORD with gladness; come before His presence with joyous song.

3 Know that the LORD He is God; it is He made us, and we our His, His people, and the sheep of His pasture.

4 Enter His gates with thanksgiving, His courts with praise; give thanks to Him, and bless His name.

5 For the LORD is good; His kindness and mercy endures for ever; and from generation to generation is His faithfulness.


Of all the sacrifices, perhaps the most congenial to the modern mind is the offering of thanksgiving.


Now of all of the sacrifices, some are burned completely, portions of some may be eaten only by the Cohanim, some may be eaten by the priests and the people. But only what are known as the peace offerings were eaten virtually entirely by the one offering the sacrifice and his or her family, with only a token being consumed on the alter. The thanksgiving offering is one of those. And thus, though a portion is consumed, the rest provides sustenance to the giver. One of the distinctions of the Thanksgiving offering, is that unlike some of the other sacrifices, it had to be consumed in one day, rather than two or three. Indeed according to some sources, the offeror of a thanksgiving sacrifice had to make such a large gift that in order to consume it in one day it was necessary to have a feast and to invite a large gathering to share his table and thus share in the gratitude being expressed by the offeror.


And indeed, thanksgiving does provide strength to the giver. In order to meaningfully give thanks we must acknowledge that we are not self-sufficient. Whether we give thanks to a parent, a spouse, a colleague, or, ultimately, to God, to fully express such thanksgiving, it must be public and shared with the community. This need was fulfilled by the thanksgiving offering and its rituals.


The ancient rabbis and sages were troubled by the role of sacrifice in Judaism. One response, by Maimonides and others, has been that the sacrificial rituals were initiated in Judaism to help in the transition from the surrounding pagan cultures to monotheism. Jonathan Sachs, Chief Rabbi of England, notes, by prescribing limits on sacrifice and limiting sacrifices to the Temple, the Torah does not glorify sacrifice but rather narrows its scope. It gives focus to sacrifice, simultaneously making sure that sacrifices are made only to God and making it clear that God does not need the sacrifice. Perhaps the purpose of sacrifice is not to sustain God but to sustain the offeror, by instilling in him or her attitudes toward life and those around that require acknowledgement. Whether the sacrifice is purely ritual like some of the holiday offerings, or purifying and cleansing, such as sin or guilt offerings, or ultimately the thanksgiving offering, the rituals serve to make one aware of God and society and the needs of the community.


When the sacrifice and other rituals become rote activities, performed for their own sake they become forms of idolatry. When they are offered by those who ignore the needs of their communities and their fellow human beings, they become worse then meaningless, giving the offerors a false sense of security, the sense that somehow they can behave as they will.


And then the prophets, like Amos, cry out and say, in the name of God,


I hate, I despise, your religious feasts;

I cannot stand your assemblies.

Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,

I will not accept them.   

Though you bring choice peace offerings,

I will have no regard for them . . .

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream. [Amos 5:21ff]

With the fall of the Temple, the Rabbis substituted ritual prayer for the rites of sacrifice, fulfilling the suggestion of Hosea I mentioned before.


We pray in the Olenu, that in the world to come, ba yom hahu, the whole world will recognize the Jewish God as the only true God, and the Jewish religion as the only true religion (Isaiah 2:3; 11:10; Micah 4:2-3; Zechariah 14:9). It is said that then there will be no murder, robbery, competition or jealousy. There will be no sin (Zephaniah 3:13). It is said, however, that even then sacrifices will continue to be brought in the Temple, but it is said that these will be limited to thanksgiving offerings, because there will be no further need for expiatory offerings.

The rabbis and the sages may have been ambivalent as to whether or not such rituals should be restored if the Temple were to be restored, but still, were we all to be beyond sin, were we no longer subject illness and pain, were we to live in a perfect world, and all our needs satisfied, we would still have one obligation, and that would be to give thanks. Indeed, in such a world, how much more gratitude we would need to give.

There are times in life when things go bad, illness, pain, personal disappointment. At such times we often cry out to God, if only in the privacy of our silent thoughts. King David was full of such dread and pain, and many of the psalms reflect his anxiety and need.

But when things go well, there is a tendency to take them for granted, or worse, to believe we deserve them. That somehow our good fortune is the result of our own merit. Our self-congratulation can border on idolatry. At such times the need to reflect, to give thanks, may not come to the fore but at such times the need is even greater. The sacrifices of thanksgiving serve to remind us that it is not all our own doing. King David did not forget God in such moments. Many of his psalms are peans of gratitude.

As he said,

4 Enter [the Lord's] gates with thanksgiving, His courts with praise; give thanks to Him, and bless His name.

5 For the LORD is good; His kindness and mercy endures for ever; and from generation to generation is His faithfulness.


Good Shabbes.


D'vrim - July 29, 2006


Shabbat Shalom


Our text today is D'vrim 1:1 to 3:21. it begins at page 981 in the Etz Hayyim Chumash.


We read today's portion just a few days before Tisha B'av, during the sad and sensitive period between fast days, when so many calamities befell our people. Let us pray that we are not again in such a time. This is a time of special sensitivity.


But as for our sedra, It's time to get out of the desert. After nearly 40 years in the desert, the Israelites are on the move. This week we move from Bamidbar, the book of Numbers to D'vrim, the book of Deuteronomy. In translation, we move from Bamidbar, "in the desert," to D'varim, the world of words. But the transition is even greater than it would seem at first.


The outline of today's portion is simple. The reading is the beginning of Moses great series of lectures on history and law. He begins to prepare the Israelites to enter and live in the land of milk and honey. He reviews their 40 years of wandering in the desert, and rebukes them for their failures in the past so that they will learn, he hopes, from their mistakes. He recalls what happened at Mt Sinai, the appointment of Judges and administrators, the story of the spies, of how the pessimism of the people caused them to waste 40 years in the desert.


He talks about prohibitions against attacking certain enemies, and he reminds the people of their victories, kindly only mentioning the place names of their failures, and omitting the details.


And finally he recounts how land in the Transjordan was given to the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and Menashe, reminding them, and us, that the privilege of living in the Diaspora requires those who would do so to provide support for those who enter the land. Only after helping in the battles to conquer Israel, will the men of those tribes be allowed to return to their families in TransJordan.


For more than 38 years the Jews have been stuck in the desert, only recently have they finally begun to move. Now the promised land is within eyeshot of the higher peaks. So Moses stops and gives a lecture.. a lecture that will last in our weekly readings from now until the High Holidays. How frustrating it must have seemed at first to a people eager to get across the river.


The story seems simple enough, but it is a radical shift from what has preceded it in the previous 4 books of the Chumash.

Our Bible is called the Five Books of Moses, but Moses does not even appear in B'reshit (Genesis), and in that book and the next three books the actor is really God. Oh yes, there is an omniscient third person narrator, but probably the most common phrase is Vayomer Adonai and the Lord said/p>

In B'reshit, of course, God interacts with Adam and Eve and Noah and the story of the patriarchs is told. Each character gets his day on the stage, but the story is of action compelled by or in response to God. There is a wrestling of good and evil, of contrary spirits and forces, so well brought out by Jacob's struggle with with an angel? himself? Perhaps with God?


Moses finally appears in Sh'mot (Exodus), the second book, and through that book we watch him grow and timidly accept his responsibilities, growing into the great advocate of his people, but still the story is in the third person, and the great actor is God. God hardens Pharoh's heart, God splits the Red Sea.


In Exodus, the great dramatic story of redemption is told, followed by the revelation at Sinai. Then in the next two books, the rules of the priesthood are established, the law is expounded, the Israelites build their tabernacle, furnish it, get impatient from time to time, and get in trouble.


And through all this Moses has to try to keep his people together through the long period of their purification and recovery from the attitudes and habits of Egypt. And still the story is in the third person. Vayomer Adonai, The Lord said, remains the basic theme.


Through all of this we learn that times of transition can be confusing dangerous times they are openings in the ether that allow transgression and transcendence. During these periods there is a tendency to revert to old ways and habits.


Perhaps one of the first great transitions was that of Abraham. His whole life was one of change, he left his home, he left his beliefs, but there was not yet anything to replace them no theology and no rituals. He was so confused that he actually may have thought that God wanted him to kill his son, a reversion to the customs of his neighbors that seems shocking.

But is it so shocking that as Abraham is confronted with the responsibility to pass on his new religion to the seed of a great nation, he becomes confused, scared, and believes, at least for a while, that his God, too, requires human sacrifice.

Abraham had no mentor, no teacher, he had only himself and an angel or two and a ram in a thicket to help him recover from the edge of disaster.


Each of the generations of the patriarchs also faced transition and confusion. They steal birthrights, sell brothers and more and wind up in Egypt in the false comfort of slavery, where there is no confusion, there is stability, until Moses tastes of something different and at God's insistence, they begin the second great transition, the movement from Egypt into the unknown, the realm of faith, something that had not been seen or known before.

They had to step into the sea before it split for them and having survived that leap of faith, the people still fell to bickering and complaining.


And then comes the greatest transition of all. Moses ascends Mount Sinai, the people know something strange is happening, they have to wait at the bottom, they see clouds of smoke and thunder and lightening and they have to wait.. and their leader has disappeared up a mountain. Had Moses prepared his people for this event, for his absence?


No. He was still learning about leadership himself. And in the confusion and fear of the imminent transition of revelation, the people, like Abraham almost did before them, revert to old habits and build the golden calf. They will not depend on something unseen and scary and powerful, but on something concrete, something they can see and touch and ultimately something not very scary at all, because even though they want to worship it, they also know it has no power. That perhaps is the comfort of idol worship, it gives the illusion of safety but the certainty of failure.


There is no risk in idol worship, because we know it can's satisfy so we discount it ahead of time, but continue in our addiction. And because of their fears and addictions they were stuck in the desert for a generation.


And so we leave the desert and begin this final book. D'vrim. And something radical happens. The narrator changes. This book begins,"Eleh had'varim asher Moshe daber el kol yisroel?" These are the words that Moses spoke to all of the people of Israel on the other side of the Jordan.

Moses has become the narrator, and God almost disappears. With two exceptions, every reference to God in D'vrim is in the past or future tense as Moses repeats what God had told him before, or he warns the people what God may do if they do not heed his, Moses' words.


It can be said that, in a way, it is with these words that Judaism begins, for here for the first time Moses becomes Moshe Rabeinu, Moses our Rabbi, Moses our teacher, and the people become students, learning at his feet. From now until Rosh HaShana, in our weekly portions, Moses will hold forth, lecturing, haranguing, setting forth the law, even announcing new laws


And what are those new laws, they are the laws that provide for living in Eretz Yisrael, the promised land. Moses is determined not to make the same mistake twice. The people were not prepared for Sinai, but this time he wants to make sure they are ready not only to enter but to inherit the land and so he talks to them to prepare them for the transition.


It is at this time that Judaism becomes a historical religion, moving through time.

The first four books are, in a sense, told in the present tense, we watch things happening. But here, Moses recites the Israelite's history and admonishes them as to what might happen in the future. The transition in story telling is radical, only slightly less radical than the next step will be, for this teacher has spoken directly with God, from now on the leaders will be inspired, they will have dreams and visions, but they will be one step further removed.

In the future, the people will have to rely on themselves. But not alone as Abraham had to do, because here, Moses takes the first step in preparing them for that change. He begins to inculcate the process of teaching and learning.


God will only appear personally twice more in the Chumash.


At the very end of Ha'azinu, the penultimate portion of the bible, on Shabbat Shuva, between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, Moses will deliver a great warning to the people that God will wreak vengeance on the people if they reject Him.[1] But that if the people faithfully observe his teachings they will long endure in the land that they are about to enter.[2] And that very day, with his great warning to the people barely out of his mouth, the Lord speaks to Moses telling him to ascend Mount Nebo from which he will be able to see the land.


But reinforcing the lesson Moses just taught, God reminds him that he will not enter the land himself because of his own moment of faithlessness. Moses becomes the great object lesson of his own words.[3]


And then finally, on Simchat Torah, when we conclude the holiday season with the final verses of D'varim, in the sedra, V'zot HaBrakah [And These are the Blessings], the last page of the Torah, when our own spirits make the great transition from tshuva, of attempting to look inside our selves and return to God, to our return to joy of the every day world, illuminated by Torah, Moses delivers a magnificent poem of praise and blessing,[4] and when Moses finishes his oration, he climbs the mountain and God speaks for the final time, telling him this is the land of which he swore to the patriarchs, that he would assign it to their offspring. "I have let you see it with your own eyes, he reminds Moses, but you shall not cross here." [5]


As the Torah ends we are told,  "Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moshe whom God knew face to face?"[6]


Although God did speak a few times to Joshua, from then on our fate would be in the hands of humans who may have been divinely inspired but to whom God would speak, if at all, through the dim glass of dreams and visions.


And since then we have guidance of those who study the words of the teachers before them, for Moses has taught us to be students, and in that tradition we have been studying and learning and preparing for transition, and through these practices, hearing the voice of God in our own ways, I hope, ever since.


Good Shabbos.


Shabbat Hachodesh - March 25, 2006


Today, Shabbat Hachodesh, is the last of four special Shabbats preparing us for Passover.


In each of these special weeks we read from two Torahs. But this week we are blessed with not two, but three parashas: Vayakhel, Pekudei and Hachodesh, as well as a special haftarah for Shabbat Hachodesh, which echoes themes found in our Torah reading. The themes of these four texts overlap and reinforce one another in some obvious and not so obvious ways. And they resonate with texts we have recently read and events about to happen. Before I begin, let me thank Rahmiel Drizen and Rabbi Hershey Worch who led me to ideas I have woven into these remarks. The interpretations however, are my own responsibility.


The first theme in today's readings is the building of the sanctuary in the desert. This is strange because just a few weeks ago we read a detailed set of instructions on how to build the tabernacle and now we hear many of the same details over again. It is very rare for something to be repeated in the Torah. I have been accused more than once of saying the same things over and over again. But that is not a criticism we can level at the Author of our texts. There must be a twist, a reason for the second version.


Vayakhel begins with Moses gathering the people together to build the mishkan, the tabernacle, in the wilderness.


Pekudai begins with Moses reckoning of the accounts of the construction project and then moves on to acknowledge the magnificent materials from which the priestly vestments were made and then recounts the assembly and consecration of the mishkan in the desert on the first day of the first month, That is, the first day of Nissan. Next month. The month of Passover. And here we see the beginning of the second theme. Time.


Our maftir today, the reading from the second scroll, begins with the Lord telling Moses and Aaron, "This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months of the year for you and then goes on to set forth the instructions for the first Passover.


Wait a minute, isn't Rosh HaShona, in the Fall Doesn't the year begin then How can Pesach be in the first month?


Well, as we know, there are at least four new years in the Jewish calendar.


1 Tishrei

The best known, of course, the one we think of as the Jewish New Year, is the First of Tishrei, Rosh Hashanah, which serves as the New Year for several purposes, in addition to starting the holiday season, it is the New Year for the civil calendar, and the new year for seasons Rosh Hashanah is literally the head of the year./p>


15 Shevat

The second new year is Tu b Shvat, the New Year for trees. This holiday has much mystical and cabbalistic meaning and it has its own special family centered rituals, including its own special seder.


1 Elul

Another new year is the First of Elul, which was the New Year for the tithing of cattle. In effect it was the beginning of the fiscal year for tax purposes.


1 Nisan

The final Jewish new year is the First of Nisan, which corresponds to the season of the redemption from Egypt and the birth of the Israelite nation. This year it begins next week. Aside from this special Shabbat, Shabbat Hachodesh, we rarely think about this special new year even though it corresponds to the beginning of our organized Jewish ritual life, which began with the setting up of the tabernacle and the anointment of the priests and is the month of Pesach.


As I mentioned, the purpose of today's maftir is to instruct us in the details of the first Pesach and the establishment of the Passover rituals including the requirement to eat only unleavened bread during this special time. And thus, with this discussion of time we have returned to where I began.


But let's look a little closer.


Sanctuary and Time. Two essential elements of our faith. Indeed one of the hallmarks of Judaism is its focus on the sanctification of time, the setting aside of holy time from the rest of the week.


One of the most notable differences between the first set of instructions for the sanctuary and today's reading, is that today's reading begins with Moses bringing the whole Israelite community together and saying to them, "These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do." Does Moses then begin by reiterating the instructions for building the tabernacle and telling them to get started. No.


Instead, he commands a break. He says, "In six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord." Only after that special reminder, does the description of the detailed construction of the tabernacle begin.


Now the first set of instructions began simply. God told Moses, "Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts," and then described all the wonderful materials to be gathered and assembled for the sanctuary and the vestments. There was no admonishment there to observe Shabbat.


So what happened between the first set of instructions for the building of the sanctuary, which we read a few weeks ago, and today's reading. Well, quite a bit. But most significantly for our discussion, in between came the creation of the golden calf.

The traditional view is that the building of the mishkan, and in particular, the heartfelt generosity of the Israelites in donating to and participating in the project, was atonement for the golden calf. This time, instead of creating something to worship, a substitute for God, the people created a place in which God could dwell.


Creation and creativity have a very special place in Judaism. The Tanach begins, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." But on Shabbat, God rested from creation. Human creativity is perhaps the closest we come to emulating God. But, according to some rabbis, by using our creative power to make the golden calf, human creativity had been corrupted, it no longer served holy purposes. Before humans could build sacred space, that power needed to be redeemed. And so our portion reminds us, commands us, to observe the Shabbat and thereby to sanctify time, and ultimately through the Shabbat to restore the sacredness of human creativity.


I mentioned earlier that Pikudei, the second portion we read today, begins with Moses conducting a detailed accounting of the contributions and materials used in the construction of the mishkan. Last night Rabbi Mirelman referred to this in his benediction.

He talked about how the accounting was a way of accepting the materials and the workmanship and then he added something unique. The rabbi asked that we all be granted the ability to take accountings and to accept things.. and above all to accept ourselves. This wonderful thought brings me back in an odd way to the instructions for the Pesach, for the feast of unleavened bread contained in the maftir, and reminds me of one further crumb I offer for your consideration as Pesach gets closer. As we know, during the Seder ritual, we break the middle matzo in half and hide the larger half as the afikomen, the dessert, without which we cannot complete the seder meal.


So important is it that we offer prizes to the children who find that piece of matzah, for without it we could not go home.


Now some rabbis have suggested that the middle matzah represents the self, and that the entire Seder is in some senses a preparation for a deeper understanding of our selves and the liberation that Pesach represents.


Each of us contains in some measure each of the four types of children about whom we talk at the seder, we are in turn in some ways wise, in some ways wicked, in some ways simple, and sometimes we don't even know how to ask for what we need or what we should be asking for. So hiding the afikomen represents the large part of ourselves we hide, even from ourselves.


Hopefully, by the end of the seder, by the time we find it and eat it, ritually and physically accepting the afikomen, we will have come to have a greater understanding and acceptance of ourselves and the holiday we celebrate.


Shabbat shalom.

The reading begins on page: 560. Exodus 37:17

Tazria April 2004

A month or so ago, Ed Sachs asked me if I would like a part in today's service. How about the D'var Torah? I said, knowing that it is usually taken. And sure enough, Ed said, "That is already taken. How about leading Ashre?" Well, I said, "If you are sure you can tolerate my singing, I will do it! belittling my own musical talents.


Then a couple of weeks ago, Ed came up to me and asked if I would do the D'var. "Sure, I said, if someone else will lead Ashre," relieved that I would not have to inflict my inability to carry a tune upon you.


But I wondered why the change. How come suddenly no one wanted to talk about this week's portion Then I looked it up. This week's portion is about leprosy, plagues, mold, impurity, childbirth, and bodily emissions. Fun stuff! It is so bad that the commentators insist over and over again that much of it is metaphor. Not a portion to be taken straight.


Leprosy isn't a disease, the commentators tell us. It is gossip. And even if it is a disease, it isn' what we know as leprosy anyway. There is one example after another.

The reading for the third triennial portion of the combined parasha, Tazria/Metzora, is especially strange. It begins with an apparent contradiction:

God says: "And I will place a tzaraas affliction upon a house in the land or your possession (Leviticus 34)."

Tzaraas has been described as a plague or mold in the walls. Exactly what it was is a major source of debate among the sages. They even debate whether such a plague was ever inflicted upon Israelite homes.

But the line is a simple declarative sentence. Not might put a plague in a house. But will! No ifs or buts about it.

One interpretation of the plague is that when the Canaanites knew the Israelites were coming, they hid their valuables in the walls. When they were forced to flee, the mold had to be removed, revealing hidden treasure. Another interpretation is that efforts to remove the mold required that all the possessions of the house be placed outside during the cleansing process, forcing misers, who had denied the ability to give charity, to reveal their hidden wealth .

Other interpretations suggest that the mold symbolizes guilt or evil, the presence of moral corruption. Like a mark on the forehead, the moldy walls revealed some thing about the owner .

But it is the second line of this week's portion that really fascinates me.

The owner of the house is instructed to say "Something like a plague has appeared to me on the house." Not "there is a plague." but "Something like a plague." What a strange vagary. God says, "I will put a plague on the house!!" and the householder says meekly, "Well, there is something like a plague on my walls." Does he lock up the place right away to protect people, to contain the infection. No, he goes to find the Kohen to have him check it out. And only then does the Kohen quarantine the place.

In checking out the sources on this parasha, I came upon a story I love:

The Chofetz Chayim [a renowned 19th-century teacher of Jewish ethics] was once stopped by a stranger who asked directions to the home of the great gaon [revered scholar] and tzaddik [righteous person], the Chofetz Chayim. The Chofetz Chayim directed him to his house and said, "but he is not such a great gaon and tzaddik." The stranger became irate and slapped the Chofetz Chayim's face. "How dare you speak like that of the greatest gaon and tzaddik of our time!" he said.

Later, the man discovered that the person he had struck was none other than the Chofetz Chayim himself. He apologized profusely, but the Chofetz Chayim said smilingly," There is no need for an apology. After all, it was my honor you were defending. But this incident taught me something. I have been stressing the prohibition of speaking disparagingly about others. Now I know that one may not talk disparagingly even about oneself."

And that is the true lesson of this portion and it explains the reticence of the home owner. It may even be the origin of the Fifth Amendment.

Even if you think you know you have done something wrong, or you are sick, it is important not to convict yourself. Do not judge yourself.

That doesn't mean hiding problems or pretending they don't exist. it means going to the expert, getting help. Whether the issue is legal, spiritual or psychological Let someone else make the final diagnosis. Don't judge yourself.

The story of the Cofetz Chaim, suggests that we should not underestimate our abilities and talents. We should not disparage ourselves, we should not judge that we are incapable of performing, doing.

So in that light, perhaps I should sing the Ashre. Who am I to judge.

But, I will resist.

Today's portion begins on the very last line of page 663.

V'Etchanan - August 8, 1998


When the Rabbi asked me last week if I would like to say a few words about this week's sedrah, I hesitated slightly. These are the dog days of Deuteronomy. It is the middle of the summer. The portions are long, boring, repetitions of laws and rules. We are in the desert, but far from the excitement of the first few weeks, long past the Red Sea and the events at Sinai.


Where, in these hot summer days do we find the dramatic personalities of Genesis and Exodus. Where are the daring tales that excited us so much in Hebrew school (maybe that is why there is no school in the summer.)


Thanks to the Internet, I was able to scan a number of sources and sermons, traditional and modern. What was amazing about them was their variety. On most weeks, if one were to make such a search there would be similarities in the emphasis of the writers. But these scholars of the desert were all over the map. It is as if there were nothing significant to grab the attention of the writers.


But then I took a closer look. Here in the center of the summer is one of the most compact and dense chapters in the entire Torah. Look closely, you will find at least five important passages which are regular portions of our liturgy (Tell me when you find them - I have only located a couple - I am trusting my sources.) There is a richness here not found every week. We climb out of the desert to the top of Mt. Pisgah.


I will not attempt a comprehensive review, but instead will only paint an impressionistic picture of some of the highlights of the portion. Although I rely on insights discovered by a number of commentators, I am responsible for these almost random thoughts.


The sedrah begins with an amazing segment. Moses is recounting his latest confrontation with God. Joshua has already been appointed to replace him. There is great pathos in his story. This, we know is the beginning of the end for Moses. Any of us who have elderly relatives and friends can feel his pain as he tells us he will not be allowed to complete his life's dream. He tells us that once more he has asked to be permitted to cross into Israel and he is essentially told, "Enough already, You will not cross this Jordan. Period." As a father, I recognize the tone of voice, although Moses was anything but a child. As though in consolation, Moses is taken to the summit of Pisgah, where he will eventually be laid to rest. From there he is shown every inch of the promised land. As one commentator says, it is seared into his mind.


Then Moses tells his audience why he has been forbidden to complete his journey. The answer is not what we expect.


"It is because of you," Moses says to the people. Not because of his own lack of trust, his own impatience, but for them, for us. How In what way In the most primitive interpretations he is forbidden to enter the land as an object lesson in behavior to the Jewish people. If you don't behave, you will be punished. No matter how great your accomplishments. No matter. If Moses is subject to the rules, who is not?


Other commentators go farther. In the moment that the land of Israel was burned into Moses' consciousness it was burned into ours as well. And it is placed there indelibly from the perspective of the outsider. From a place of longing. And for most of us that has been our position ever since. In these terrible days when Israel's leadership seems to have squandered the opportunities for peace, when pragmatic politics has replaced vision on both sides of the Atlantic, that perspective haunts us.


We long for Israel but seem unable to come to terms with what that means. For like Moses we are outsiders and in my darker moments, like the commentators, I fear we will wake one day to find that the opportunity to secure Israel has been lost. That it was a midsummer night's dream, a folly. We can't even find Mt. Pisgah any more. No place from which we can see the whole picture. We have no vision for the future. How can we hope for Israel


But all this is triggered only by the introductory verses.


Then comes an interesting paradox. The text goes on to enunciate more Law. We are instructed neither to add to the Law nor to detract from it. At first this seems like a strict constructionist approach. The law is never varying and we shall not change it, nor shall we add new rules nor subtract from them. But in the next few verses precisely that happens.


Moses recounts the Ten Words or the Ten Commandments as they have come down to us. But he can't tell it to us straight. He has to change and embellish. Sh'mor v' Zochor b'd'boor echod.


Guard and remember in one word. It had only been 40 years or so. Can't he remember? They were written down. Why not look at the tablets? Maybe his handwriting was as bad as mine and he couldn't tell.


Of course, we have learned the differences well over the years, so well that few of the modern sermons I found even touch on the point. They save that one for Sunday school. As a child I focused on the difference between guarding the Sabbath and remembering it. But in my studies now I focused more on the rationale. I never thought of it before. Remember the Sabbath to remember the Exodus. After 40 years Moses has already to remind his people and to change the text of the law to do so. How forgetful we are.


Well maybe it is all right for Moses to edit the text, but what about us Surely we are not given that freedom. Surely we must neither add to nor diminish the Law.


As an aside, let me note that one commentator talked about the commandments not to be jealous or to covet our neighbors wife or his house. The commentator stressed that this commandment does not mean that we are forbidden to have secret desires for these things.


In his interpretation, what is forbidden is to take action based upon those thoughts. As though jealousy and covetousness were verbs rather than states of mind. I tell you this discussion took a great weight off of my mind. Judaism prohibits action, not thought. You are O.K. Jimmy Carter. I won't comment on any of your successors.


Back to the main thread. As I said, Well maybe it is alright for Moses to edit the text, But what about us Surely we are not given that freedom. Surely we must neither add to nor diminish the Law.


In addition to specific rules, we are taught in this portion "and you shall do that which is right and good in the eyes of the Lord." It is not enough to follow the letter of the law. In all things we are charged with the obligation to discern what is right and good in the eyes of the Lord. What freedom. What a burden.


In which order shall I place those statements. What a burden, what freedom. There is no objective standard. We must decide in every case what would be right and good in the eyes of the Lord. We must, it seems add or subtract from the law. And thus we have rules which permit, actually require -- the breaking of other rules to save a life.. We learn to tell white lies for the sake of peace. I have to credit Rabbi Mirelman with that insight. Not, be assured, by example, but it is a concept he has returned to more than once. And one I had never accepted or thought through before his remarks. There are times when less - or more than the truth is required.


Finally, and I say that not because this sedrah has been fully mined, but so that I can sit down and free you from my gaze -- Finally, there is the Shema. This arid summer story presents to us the shema. We could talk about that for hours, but what the commentators talked about most was the concept of love.


Elaborating on the V'ohavtah, the commentators explored what it means to love God and concepts of oneness.


A few years ago Rabbi Mirelman reviewed the book, The Jew in the Lotus, a discussion of Jewish Buddhists or JuBus in the unfortunate phrase of the text.


As I read the commentators discussions of love and oneness I felt close to meditation -- an urge to come into oneness with it all. I wanted to sit in the Lotus position and love. But then I read again - in Judaism, love, like so much else is expressed in action, not merely in thought and mood. Love is a concrete thing. Behavior. Just as in what we are forbidden, so in that which we are commanded. How we are in the world is what counts. Not how we are in our secret thoughts Tikkun Olam. That is what counts. And how fortunate we are that through this very chapter, the process of change itself has been written into the Law.


There is so much more in this portion- from religious tolerance to the prohibition against intermarriage in Israel. But for today, our reading begins on p.____.




First Shabbat of Consolation, Shabbat Nachamu

(Haftarah following v'Etchanan)


The Shabbat immediately following Tisha B'Av is called Shabbat Nachamu. The Shabbat pf Consolation. It takes its name from the first word of this week's Haftorah. "Comfort, comfort, my people says your God. The prophet, Isaiah reminds the people that the time of the exile has come to an end.

In preparing for this week's D'Var Torah, I had the occasion for the first time to use the Shocken Bible. The language was especially clear and lucid. It took me a while to get used to reading YHWH in English text, instead of Lord or God or Adonoi, but the translation was very helpful in understanding the portion. On the other hand the language of the Haftorah in our Chumash is quite accessible and especially beautiful. Unless you really understand the Hebrew, I recommend, this week, that you read the portion in English. Better yet, let your eyes select a few verses and read them over several times. Savor them and be consoled. In these stressful times we all can use it.


Page 776.

Tazria - April 1, 1995


I was quite pleased when I received a call from Cantor Brindell a week ago, asking if I would deliver the D'var Torah on this special day. I quickly looked at my calendar and discovered that we read today not from just one torah, not from two, but from three. Imagine my excitement. Not one choice of topics, but three-- four if I include the haftarah.


Then, I opened my chumash and looked at the actual portions...

The first selection is Tazria, Leviticus 12:1-13:59, a detailed discussion of the rules of purification following childbirth and coming into contact with a leper. On another occasion, it might have been interesting to delve into the questions raised by these rules. What do we make of the fact that the period required for purification is twice as long after birth of a girl than it is for the birth of a boy? Is this another example of purported chauvinism in the Torah? or is there another explanation? How do we react to the treatment of the leper? Would we consider it humane today? Are there analogies to contemporary treatment of sufferers of aids or other diseases?


As I said, on another occasion, these might be interesting questions to examine, but today, a day on which Sherwin and Rhoda Patsner celebrate their 46th wedding anniversary, and when Sally and I celebrate our 25th, somehow these questions don't seem compelling or appropriate.


Then I looked at the text from the third scroll from which we read today, which can be found at Exodus 12:1. There we find the detailed instructions for the preparations for Passover, which is only two weeks away. Fairly interesting, but nothing seemed particularly exciting or relevant and within a couple of weeks we will feel as though we had been immersed in the topic.

So, Next, I looked at the Maftir, found at numbers 28:9. But there we find only a few short lines describing the sacrifices to be offered on certain occasions and in particular on the New Moon or Rosh Hodesh. Not much there for inspiration.


Finally, I looked at the haftorah selected for today. I was excited to discover it was from Ezekiel. . After all, it was Ezekiel who wrote the words engraved on the wall of this building, "Not by might, not by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts." It was Ezekiel who told the tale of the dry bones rising again, the prophecy of renewal and redemption. I remember one time, when I was sitting on the Bimah as President of this congregation. Rabbi Mirelman leaned over and whispered, "I love Ezekiel... he's crazy."


Then I looked at today's selection, which is found at Ezekiel 45:16. It is in the midst of Ezekiel's prophesy of a New Jerusalem. It prescribes rules for the New Age, the rules it prescribes are different form those found in Exodus and Numbers, so different that they were ignored by later generations, when the Temple was rebuilt. But today's portion is brief. The only reason for its inclusion is because of its prescription of rules for the observation of Pesach in the time to come. Not much there on the surface. The footnotes were fascinating, with hints of the magnificence of Ezekiel's vision. Indeed, one source quoted there, notes that 'Ezekiel realized that great things on earth are only produced by union. He therefore regarded it as the aim and task of his prophetic and pastoral mission to educate individuals not only to be religious, but also to be part of a community. But I cannot find in the text presented for our reading today the basis for this magnificent assertion. The portion before us today seems dry, not particularly inspiring. another set of rules.


How did we get in this fix? Why do we have to read so many portions today? And why so many sections which contain little more than reminders and rules?


Perhaps the answer can be found most clearly in the selection from Exodus. There in the footnotes, is a discussion of the institution of the holiday of Passover. The discussion goes into a dissertation on the Jewish calendar. It is the confluence of a number of calendar events which requires the reading of so many sources on one day. First we have the annual cycle of the reading of the Torah. It is that cycle which demands that we read from Leviticus today and discuss the laws of purification. Then there is the lunar cycle which is determined regularly by the 28 day cycle of the moon. Today is a new moon. The beginning of a new month. our tradition demands that we acknowledge that by the brief reading from numbers. The footnotes discuss the complications of the lunar calendar, the fact that the year can't be divided equally into 4 week cycles. adjustments have to be made to keep the holidays in their seasons... or we would be celebrating the planting in the dead of winter and so on. Even with these adjustments we were all shocked this year when we discovered that Rosh Ha Shona came on Labor Day. Which brings us back to the schedule of the holidays.


And so we return to Ezekiel, his rules for a new age required preparation for each festival.. On the first day of the month in which a festival was to take place, he suggested the institution of a fast and a period of atonement in order to become ready for the upcoming celebration. These days of atonement were never incorporated into our practice. When the Temple was rebuilt, the priests treated Ezekiel's preachings as a prescription for the messianic age and not for our time. But the lesson of preparation was retained, and so on the first day of the month of Passover, we take a moment to look ahead and to rehearse the rules so that time does not sneak up on us. So that we can be ready. So that we can truly appreciate and participate in the festival.


The footnote I referred to earlier quotes an unnamed but nevertheless purportedly renowned non Jewish scholar as having declared, "There is nothing more perfect than the calculation of the Jewish year." Whether or not that is true I cannot say, but what is clear from all of this is that Time is important to Judaism.


Much of what we do in Judaism is to celebrate and acknowledge time. God set apart a day.. time.. from the rest of the week in the creation of the Sabbath. When we recite the kiddish, the prayer over wine, what we are really doing is sanctifying time.. marking it off as holy. Thus we begin each Sabbath, each holiday with the kiddush, which itself comes form the word kodosh, "holy." The prayer over bread with which we begin each meal is not so sanctified. We are not commanded to say a kiddush every time we drink wine...only when the time which is involved is holy. As Harvey Gross reminded me, Rabbi Heschel once said, Judaism builds cathedrals in time rather than in space. Thus when the shabbat ends we commemorate it with a special celebration involving not only wine but also light and shadow, and spices, to demark the separation of the light of the shabbat from the rest of the week, the fragrance and beauty of the shabbat from the mundane.


So, today, through these readings we, too, acknowledge time... we acknowledge the shabbat...we acknowledge, the new month...and we acknowledge the coming of passover..


So it is especially appropriate that this day, already marked off in time, is further set aside to celebrate the passing of time, the holy time sanctified by marriage. And so I say to the Patsners and to Sally, Mazel Tov. L'Chaim. Thinking of Ezekiel who celebrated union and community, whether we can find it in his text or not, It is good to celebrate and particularly good to celebrate our unions as part of this community.


Shabbat Shalom.



Shemot - January 1, 1994

Today we begin a new year, so it is entirely appropriate, although a coincidence, that we also begin a new book of the Bible. We move from B'reshit to Shmot, from Genesis to Exodus. As I will discuss in a few moment, the shift is greater than merely the turn of a page. There is a whole shift in emphasis, a shift in perspective. But before I do that, let me also point out that one of lessons implicit in today's sedra is that we must be patient.


Although the people of Israel are already suffering at the outset of our story, they are not granted immediate relief. When the baby Moses in placed in a basket in the river, his family has to wait to see what will happen. When he is rescued by the Pharaoh's daughter and taken into his household, years have to go by before he is ready to serve his people. When he emerges a responsible adult, with strong ideas of justice and fair play, he is still not ready to serve.


Instead he must serve years in exile before being brought back to confront pharaoh and to lead his people. At the end of the Sedrah, Moses has returned from his first confrontation with Pharaoh. It has seemed counter productive. Instead of easing their burden, Pharaoh has made their task more difficult. Decreasing resources but insisting that productivity be maintained. (Reminds me of the current reinvention of government.) The people are angry with Moses. Moses even questions God. But the people, and Moses, and the reader, must wait until the moment is right.


So, too, I have had to be patient. 37 years ago on December 29th 1956, I became a Bar Mitzvah. I was disappointed in my maftir. The previous week's sedra was so much more interesting, I thought. for the previous week was Shmot, the opening chapter of Exodus, with the familiar stories of Moses in the bull rushes, his growth in pharaoh's house, his exile, his nursing of the lost sheep, the burning bush, his return, his first confrontation with Pharaoh. Shmot has an incredible density...so much happens within the space of a few pages. I would rather have talked about that. So today I have my chance, at last.

The stories are familiar. I would almost say we don't need to be reminded of them..but of course we do and that is why we celebrate Pesach.. precisely to remind us of the magnificent events of these chapters and the ones that follow.

Since much of the story is so familiar, allow me to turn my attention to other matters-- To matters of scope and perspective, as I indicated a few moments ago. And let me also touch upon a few details which are less well known perhaps.. or at least were less well known to me.

Genesis, B'reshit, was a collection of tales, each centered on one or two of a few great personalities-- the patriarchs. From Abraham onward, the focus was on his direct descendants, the tribal leaders-- Although there may have been a significant number of Israelites by the time of Joseph, Israel was still really a collection of tribes. Certainly not a people. It is easy to play number games and there are many disputes, but at the time of Joseph's death it is unlikely that there were many more than a few hundred, a couple of thousand, at most. But by the beginning of Exodus the numbers have grown enormously.. Scholars debate whether three generations or three hundred years passed between Joseph and Moses, but in either case, the population had multiplied time and time again. The Israelites were now perceived as a people. Interestingly, the Israelites themselves are not the first to recognize this. It is Pharaoh who first refers to them as such. It is not the last time in history in which Jews will be defined from outside rather than from within. But, even if the figure of 700,000 is an exaggeration, they are no longer merely a group of wandering tribes.

Even in their low condition they are a force to be reckoned with.

So the camera is forced to drop back.. Now the scale is large enough for a DeMille. We are discussion the creation of a nation, not the growth of a family. Still, the must be told in human terms-- in terms of individuals making decisions and confronting the challenges of their times.

This past weekend I had the opportunity one more time to hear the story of Christmas and of the birth of a baby who became to some, a prophet, if not a god.. The similarities are interesting.. but the differences are more striking. For in the Jesus story the emphasis is on redemption as the result of Grace and, in our story the emphasis is on redemption which involves will and action as well as the hand of God.

Throughout our story human beings must confront events and make decisions. Ironically, although the Haggaddah makes no mention of Moses, in a kind of turnabout, the scholars call to our attention the fact that until the very last few sentences of the second chapter of Exodus there is no reference to God. Indeed, we are told that Moses is not mentioned in the Hagaddah to emphasize that it was God who brought us forth. Still, at the beginning of our Sedrah,

there is a people...down trodden..


The Israelites have allowed themselves to be placed in a condition of servitude.. Among them are people of vision and courage.. or at least of sufficient fear to refuse to accept the decrees of the pharaoh lying down..sufficient independence that the mother of a new born baby refused to permit her child to be slaughtered. But there is no mention of God in the text.

Of course we assume God was in the background;

But we can conjecture all we will that God arranged the circumstances, yet without the action of Yochabed and the courage of Pharaoh's daughter, who clearly knew what she was doing..Moses would not have survived.


And Moses did not come forth into this world a prophet. In order to fulfill the role that we now know he was destined for.. he was required to obtain an education. He had to learn the ways of an alien class to train for his vocation.


And through all of this there is no mention of God in the text.. The treatment of the Israelites continues to deteriorate.. Moses is forced to flee. Whatever forced his moral outrage at events around him.. he does not publicly attribute it to God.. He begins a life of his own in another land. Far from the life of his people. He even fails to circumcise one of his sons.


While he is gone the pharaoh dies.. a new king is crowned...However, the burden of the Israelites is not relieved.

At last, and I quote, "the children of Israel sighed by reason of their bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up to God.. And God heard their groaning and God remembered their covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.. And God saw the Children of Israel and God took cognizance of them."

Now things begin to move quickly. The people, who at the outset seem to have forgotten God.. have cried out.. within a few sentences God acts.

But not until called upon. Again, whatever the midrash may say about the unseen hand of God in the background of this story.. until the people themselves seek God, God does not appear in this story. And then, within a few lines Moses finds himself at the burning bush...

It is as though God has been called into being by the outcry of the people. Or put another way...can it be that the relationship of God to the Jewish people is interactive and not passive

Can it be that there must be at least a desire for God's help before God can.. or will . . . become manifest.


Again. throughout the story God acts not through Grace but through the acts of human beings.

As has been pointed out, time and time again.. the relationship of God to the Jewish people is one of struggle and interaction. From Abraham at S'dom..to Buber and beyond...God cannot be defined except, perhaps, in terms of interaction. Even though it is in this chapter that God's identify is revealed to Moses. Or that, perhaps more accurately, that Moses is given an aphorism by which to refer to God if the people ask.. it is in the interaction of God with humans and in the choices made by those humans that God is ultimately revealed.


So, here, Moses debates with God..He discusses his own infirmities.. his weaknesses. They discuss stratagems to convince the people of Moses' abilities-- tricks of the trade as it were..as necessary to convince the Israelites of his power as to convince the Pharaoh. Eventually Moses prepares to do God's bidding and begins his journey back to Egypt..


In the midst of that journey there is a strange episode and one that I will not dwell upon for long but one that, with your permission, I will touch briefly.. At first it, too, reminded me of the Christmas story, for it occurred at a lodging place upon the road..

The line in our text is simple and startling. and I quote:


"And it came to pass on the way at the lodging-place, that the Lord met him (Moses, that is) and sought to kill him."



I have to tell you, I had forgotten this line, if I ever knew it. It blasted me out of my preconceived notions about this Sedrah and forced a new examination.


Why would God want to kill Moses The answers are unsatisfactory. It is suggested that it was because Moses had failed to circumcise one of his sons. There are a number of explanations for the failure and I won't explore them here for they would lead to further digression. But the resolution is swift. Zipporah immediately recognizes the problem and instantly circumcises the infant... The concluding sentence is a masterpiece of understatement and I quote:

"So He left him alone."

Put another way.. "So God left Moses alone".. and he recovered. --An incredible drama in the place of the few lines.

Another school of interpretation holds that in stopping at the lodging place Moses had delayed because he was still hesitant of his mission and became ill. Not until he recovered his determination was he restored to health. In this sense, perhaps he is like Jacob who also faced death on the eve of a great confrontation.

In either event, the consequences of individual choice and action and their interplay with predestination are what is striking. Whether Moses suffers because of a ritual failure or his own timidity the conclusion must be... and for this I must take full responsibility and I cannot blame the texts.. that human will and choice are essential to God's plan and that they are not predetermined. The alternate interpretations of this event and its immediate lessons are quite different.

If the question is one of Moses' failure to complete the ritual, the lesson may well be that no matter the importance of the mission or the power of the individual.. one is not excused of one's personal obligations. It may be that without Moses the people would not have been redeemed, if so, then perhaps without the circumcision there would have been no redemption. But in Judaism no human is above the law.


If the question is one of Moses' timidity, the point may well be that timidity and fear can lead to a kind of death. There is no safety in retreat.

But regardless of the immediate interpretation, the same ultimate lesson may have to apply. Unless each does what is within one's power God's plan cannot be fulfilled.


It may well be that the ultimate nature and outcome of God's plan.. if such a term has any meaning.. may well depend on the choices made by human beings in their daily lives.


At the outset I spoke of patience. I thank you for yours.



Haftarah Shemot January 1, 1993


Introduction to the Haftorah January 1, 1993


Shmot- Isaiah XXVII, 6-XXVIII, 13 and XXIX, 22 and 23


I spoke earlier of the density of today's sedra. So much was compressed into a few pages. Today's haftorah is also compressed.. but it is with the density and clarity of poetry rather than of events. Similar themes are evoked. It, too, is a time of dispersal.. a time when God is ignored.

The people are not interested in God and even the leaders have devolved to a level of drunken debauchery which is graphically described in the text.


Isaiah makes it clear that Israel's condition is in its own hands, and I quote:

For it is a people of no understanding;

Therefore He that made them will not have compassion upon them,

And he that formed them will not be gracious unto them


Yet, Isaiah predicts that there will be a redemption. Indeed, in the opening lines, Isaiah predicts that Israel will be saved and will perform its role in carrying its message to the world. But as before, there must be patience. In the beautiful words so familiar from Yom kippur, Isaiah says:

And it shall come to pass in that day,

That a great horn shall be blown,

and they shall come in that were dispersed in Assyria,

And they that were dispersed in the land of Egypt;

And they shall worship the Lord in the holy mountain in Jerusalem


But the people are not interested.. they must be treated as children. They complain of the prophet's pedantry. In a voice familiar to teachers from every generation, Isaiah laments that they must be taught, and I quote,


precept by precept, precept by precept;

Line by line, line by line;

Here a little, there a little.


If Jacob were to look on this generation as it is, he would pale in disgust. But Isaiah, too, counsels patience. He knows that here a little, there a little the people will return to God and then God will redeem them. Jacob will ultimately not be ashamed,


When he sees his children,

the work of God's hands, . . .

That they sanctify Gods name;

Yea, they shall Sanctify the Holy one of Jacob,

And shall stand in awe of the God of Israel.





The implication is clear, when the the people are ready, God will respond.

Again, the future is in the hands of the people. Let us all have patience, and let us all progress, here a little, there a little.

Amen. Today's Haftorah can be found on page 225


Bereishit - October 24, 1992

Len's text for this D'var is in the form of notes.


























































Re'eh August 22, 1988

"Hear ye, Hear ye, Hear Ye, God bless the United States and this Honorable Court" With these words clerks of the United States District courts all over the country announce the entry of the judge and call the court to order.


It is a shock the first time one hears it, having grown up with a text book understanding of the separation of church and state. But it calls attention to a significant phenomenon.. Although the first amendment prohibits establishment of religion or free exercise thereof there is in this country a significant relationship between the law and religion. It is with that relationship in mind that I turn to today sedra, Re'eh


With this week's sedra and those of the next few weeks, we begin our study of what is called the Code of Laws. This week we deal with religious institutions and worship, including a discussion of the pilgrimage festivals. In the ensuing weeks the Torah turns to a discussion of government of the people, Criminal law, domestic life and finally the specific rules regarding first fruits, tithes and accompanying prayers. Each of these topics is a lawyer's dream.


But today I want to focus on just two areas and ask a few questions that may provoke thought on issues of our time.. The first is to ask some questions about the Constitution of the United States as a religious document and the second is to consider economics and idolatry.


Woodrow Wilson once said: "...it would be a mistake...to ascribe to Roman legal conceptions an undivided sway over the development of law and institutions during the Middle Ages... The Laws of Moses as well as the laws of Rome contributed suggestions and impulse to the men and institutions which were to prepare the modern world; and if we could have but eyes to see the subtle elements of thought which constitute the gross substance of our present habit, both as regards the sphere of private life and as regards the action of the State, we should readily discover how very much besides religion we owe to the Jew. /p>


It is with that in mind that I pose the question, Why is it that the Constitution of the United States survives while the constitutions of Central America and Asian Islands are torn up with impunity? I suggest the answer is that the Constitution of the United States is essentially a religious document, that is, that it has been received by the people almost as revelation.. Regardless whether you are on the right of the left, political positions are framed with respect to the constitution. To call something unconstitutional is a uniquely American curse.


Like Moses disappearing in the clouds of Mount Sinai, the framers concealed themselves until they had completed their work. And yet it was a work in progress. So too was Moses' development of legal system. In Exodus, shortly after arriving in the desert, Moses' father in law tells him he is working to hard and helps him establish a primitive system of judges. By the time of the Second Discourse, as we will see next week, a sophisticated system will have been designed, with an elaborate ethical code and rules of procedure, quite relevant to our time.


The sanctity of the our Constitution was heightened by Article V which expressly and deliberately made the process of amendment extremely difficult even though, or precisely because, they had just destroyed the previous constitution and even though they knew they would have to return shortly to adopt the Bill of Rights. That the bill of Rights could be adopted over the stringent amendment requirements added of course to the sanctity with which they those rights are viewed.


The restriction of power to amend is found in striking form in today's sedra. In Chapter XIII verse 1 we find the Words "All this word which I command you, that shall ye observe to do; thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it" These are significant words for Conservative Jews. As the footnote in the Chumash points out they reiterate the sense of the divinity of the Torah, How shall we interpret them.. Must we look to original intent?


As Phillip Kurland has pointed out, Robert Bork, in discussing the deficiencies of attempting to rely on the so-called intent of the of the framers of the Constitution as determinative of its meaning today stated that the text of the Constitution, as anyone with experience with words might expect, is least precise where it is most important. Like the Ten commandments, the Constitution enshrines profound values, but necessarily omits the minor premises needed to apply them.


The First Amendment is a prime example. To apply the amendment, a judge must bring to the text principles, judgments and intuitions not to be found in the bare words. History can be of considerable help, but it tells us much too little about the specific intentions of the men who framed adopted and ratified the great clauses. The record is incomplete... and no one foresaw, or could have foreseen, the disputes that changing social conditions and outlooks would bring before the Court.


Of course, Bork made that statement in 1968, before he was appointed by President Nixon to the Justice department and his views may have changed in the interim. But the approach he took then was one which enabled the Constitution to remain a living, vital document..and so too Conservative Judaism has interpreted the Torah in a vital dynamic way, recognizing that even within the biblical period there were rules that were intended to be followed in the desert but not in Canaan, rules that applied when the sanctuary was in existence, and rules that could not be applied before it was established or after it was destroyed.


Thus the interpretation of the Torah is inspired not merely by the words but the spirit and interpretation of the Torah, by generations and generations and generations of students gone before.


Although we may seek to discover the will of God, to assert that one knows or can know God's intent is a form of hubris that can only lead to disaster. Just as one is not free to interpret the Constitution willy-nilly but must look to precedent and previous decisions and commentary so to one is not really free to interpret the Torah from scratch.


Having said that I will now leap into the air to pose a final question and hope you will

provide me with a net.


Chapter XII is a discussion of religious seducers, a discussion of the prohibitions and punishments to be meted out to false prophets who would set up false gods. But what does idolatry mean in the last part of the twentieth century and who are the false preachers of our generation.. Of course we are familiar with the cult problems that have plagued college campuses in recent years.. From time to time the Joneses streak across the ten 0'clock news... but that is not my concern today.. So, too, we can talk about the desire to have a BMW in every driveway or second VCR in every den.. but the excessive desire for material goods can be condemned as covetousness and greed and need not be raised to the level of idolatry to receive our disapproval.


Let me make a suggestion. I suggest that when, what I will call mechanistic theories that purport to be descriptive of human behavior are raised to the level of normative goals rather than being limited to their theoretical place as descriptions of past behavior or predictors of the future, such conduct becomes idolatry and those who would persuade us of their value may be considered false prophets..using deceptive reason to seduce our compliance. So when, in its day, the idea of the survival of the fittest became a norm, a justification for amoral or immoral conduct, it became to that extent a form of idolatry rather than a useful tool. I suggest that today the current vogue for the market place analogies and wealth maximization is that idol.


When we sit on the runway for an hour and a half waiting to take off for a 50 minute flight to St Louis or when we get three telephone bills instead of one we may begin to suspect that the god of deregulation and the free market is a strange god indeed.. but those examples are limited to economic areas where such concepts may have some limited validity, and ,although it may be hard to see at times, even some utility. When those same principles are extended into areas that are not strictly economic they do indeed become a form of idol worship..


Before he became a Circuit Court Judge, Richard Posner of the University of Chicago, who is often associated with Judge Bork philosophically, but who many commentators have insisted is brighter, wrote a book called the Economics of Justice, in which he proposed wealth maximization, which may be defined, over-simply, as the application of market principles in non market situations not only as a description of the history of the common law and a predictor of the direction of judge made law but as a normative value system, that is, as an alternative system of ethics that should inform our courts and legal system. A few years later he wrote an updated preface to the volume looking back from his prospective as a judge. He said he really wouldn't change anything but he wanted to stress that he was not proposing wealth maximization as a blueprint for all social action but was merely intending to stimulate thought and discussion regarding the power of economics as an ethical tool. He recognized, in his words, the rather bizarre results that unflinching application of market principles could incur.


He recognized that there were hard cases that appeared to require some kind of amelioration and he described a hypothetical fact situation in which there were a new human growth hormone that was in limited supply. He recognized that it might shock the conscience to permit a wealthy man to purchase the entire supply merely because he wanted to be two inches taller while individuals who were severely dwarfed were deprived of the chemical because they could not compete in the market. Even then he hedged by suggesting that use of market principles might ultimately result in production of a greater supply of the hormone.


Whatever his view toward hypothetical situations, his application of economic theory in real cases became clear a well publicized dissent in a case called Merritt v. Faulkner. In that case a prisoner named Merrit had charged that he had injured his eye while in prison and contended that the prison had been negligent in treating him, resulting in blindness. He sought court appointed counsel which was denied and he lost his case.. On appeal the Seventh circuit reversed indicating that the prisoner should have been provided counsel. The prisoners case was reinstated.. Judge Posner strongly dissented stating that personal injury cases were contingency cases and that, especially in prisoners rights cases where if victorious even attorneys fees can be recovered, he believed that it the prisoner's case had any merit he would have been able to find a lawyer based on market principles. Ultimately the court appointed lawyer reached a settlement with the prison. However the prisoner Merrit became unhappy with the settlement and sued to have it the agreement overturned. He lost again and again appealed. This time the entire three judge court agreed that .the settlement was valid but Judge Posner took the occasion to discuss his theory again...oddly enough, beginning his discussion with a quote from Karl Marx. Based on the fact that the settlement that was reached was far less than what Merrit had originally requested and some evidence that there may have been some question as to the

extent of the disease, the Judge insisted that his original position had been validated, that indeed if Merrit had never been provided with counsel, he never would have wasted the resources of society, the lawyer could have been doing something of value, representing paying clients.


There are many factors that can be considered in determining whether and under what circumstances it is appropriate to provide free counsel to any class of individuals, whether they be indigents, prisoners, aliens or coal miners seeking black lung benefits. .It may well be that society cannot afford to provide counsel in cases like Merrit. A legislative or even, perhaps, judicial decision based on such economic principles may indeed be supportable. But, what is so troubling about Judge Posner's comments is not that based upon a review of the facts and applicable law he came to the conclusion that this prisoner was not entitled to such counsel but the inescapable conclusion that Posner believes that the market was capable of determining the validity, the merit if you will of Merrit's claim.


The opinions in this case make it clear that the Judge does not consider wealth maximization a mere subject for discussion but that he has attempted to apply it in situations where ethical concerns demand other approaches. Allowing theories of the market place or wealth maximization to determine the rights of individuals in non market areas is surrendering moral decision making to mechanistic theory. Such worship of the marketplace is a troubling form of idolatry indeed.


It would be interesting to hear Judge Posner's comments on the poor tithes and the release of creditors found in chapter XIV and XV in today's sedra. Amen


Today's sedra can be found on page 799 in the Bibles at your seats.

Vayishlach - December 5, 1987




Today's sedra is Vayishlach. At the end of today's sedra we find the story of Dinah.


It is a tale of love, sex, violence, betrayal and revenge. If this were a ratings sweeps week, I might be tempted to devote my remarks today to that story.... but instead I will turn to the more familiar story of Jacob that is at the core of today's sedra... If you want to know more about Dina, as imagined from a modern feminist perspective read The Red Tent (with a grain of salt). But for now, we will stay with Jacob.


We are all familiar with the outlines of Jacob's life... His birth at the heel of his older twin, the story of his birthright. His father's blessing, his brother's anger. We know his mother warned him to get out of town. We know of his dreams, his marriages, the many long years he put in working to pay for his wives and to develop his own wealth. Last week when we left him he had just left his father-in-law's and was lucky to escape with his life after it was discovered that his favorite wife had stolen is father's icons.


Now after twenty long years away from home he is on his way back, a wealthy man in his own right. He sends messengers ahead to tell his brother he is coming.... and they return to tell him Esau is coming with 400 men. Jacob is frightened. He makes military plans. He sends a series of overwhelming gifts to his brother to placate him and perhaps to demonstrate that Esau need not fear him. He divides his camp into two so that if one half is attacked the rest will be saved. He sends his family across the river to await the dawn, the day of confrontation.


Jacob himself remains across the river to spend the night alone. To gather his thoughts? To rest? To get a good night's sleep?


Perhaps all of these.


But it was not to be. For then occurred an event of great mystery -- a story we know well... Jacob wrestles. Is it with God? or with an angel? or as the text indicates -- with a man Is it with Esau's sprit or with his own?


But our focus is different. What is clear is that is was an amazing confrontation -- one that lasted all night that left Jacob a changed man with a new name. At the end he has demands a blessing from his challenger and receives it but he is left exhausted ands limping as the sun comes up.


Now perhaps Jacob can get a rest... perhaps he can close his eyes and get some sleep.. But it is not to be...In the very next instant "...Jacob lifted up his eyes and, and looked... and behold Esau came... and with him, 400 men. /p>


In our lives we frequently want to rest. When we have had great victories or accomplishments we want some time to pause, to rest on our laurels, but events sometimes don't let us. The daily demands of our work or our families go on. When we are exhausted, too, or depressed, events don't always allow us to take the time we need.


How we respond in such times is a great measure of our character and personality. Sometimes we are faced with great or even lesser challenges, times when we are just not ready. How do we proceed? There are many answers. We can run, or turn bitter, or hide. But there are other ways too. We can rely on custom and tradition and ritual and religion, to help us bear the burden. We can also choose to go forth and face the day, optimistic in the face of uncertainty and the unknown.


How had Jacob responded in the past? -- he bargained with God, not like Abraham at Sodom and Gomorrah, but for himself.


This time he did not bargain or run or hide. He set aside his military plans and went forward to meet his brother with his family.


There are midrashim and commentaries that castigate Jacob because he bowed seven times as he crossed the field to meet his brother. They accuse him of improper weakness and obeisance, of overly humbling himself. But a look into the practices of the times shows that such a greeting was a common formality, a ritual just as permissible and appropriate as today's handshake or social kiss.


By using the conventional greeting of the day, Jacob had found a method of concealing any doubts and fears he may have had. The use of social custom enabled him to summon whatever optimism he may have had. The use of ritual provided a source of strength, just as the forms of religion can provide comfort and strength in times of trouble.


And how did it turn out Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him and they wept.


Now the commentaries are full of negative interpretations, imputing evil motives to Esau. But it is not necessary to read the text in that way. It is possible to believe that Esau did desire peace. After all he was now a rich man in his own right; and his brother had his own wealth earned by his own labor and not as a result of the stolen birthright and blessing. Neither side had reason to fear the other any longer. Perhaps Esau's offer of assistance was genuine. It was only Jacob who dissembled and promised to meet him later and knew that he would not. Perhaps possibilities of rapprochement were missed that could have changed the world but I stray from my point.



There is a person on the bimah today who has faced many challenges, whose life has not been easy but whose willingness to go forward has been inspirational to her children. In 1933, when my mother was not yet 21, she was living in Frankfort Germany. She wrote in her diary, "There is no future for us Jewish youth in Germany. I shall go to Palestine but a distant relative in Chicago offered her an opportunity to come here. At a time when those around her could not yet believe what their eyes told them, she came to an unknown land and a strange city.


Not long after my father's death, in the months before my bar mitzvah, I overheard her tell a friend, talking of the many years of my father's illness, "I have no regrets." I could not understand then. I think I was hurt somehow. How could she not regret how hard it had been for her, for the family. But thinking about today's sedra, I think I understand. If my mother ever fought with God or with herself, she too did it alone. She never laid her trip on us.


She has found strength in religion and ritual and she has gone forward to meet each day with and incredible optimism and energy. She has demonstrated that through action the weight of the past can be lifted from your shoulders and that the future loses its foreboding. Like Jacob she has found that if you go forward things often turn out better than you have a right to expect. Happy Birthday, Mother. Amen.







Beshalach - February 14, 1987

Why is this Shabbat different from all other Shabbats Because on all other Shabbbats we don't sing during the Torah Service even once, but today, depending on how you count, we sing twice, or even three times. Today is Shabbat Shira, The Sabbath of the Song and our sedra is Beshalach.


Pharaoh has let the Israelites go. Instead of taking the short rout through territory occupied by the Philistines, the Israelites are led instead to the Red Sea. While there has been much speculation about why this choice was made, the text is clear.... God feared the Israelites would regret leaving Egypt if they immediately faced war. So instead, the Israelites were brought face to face with a wall of water. Perhaps we will discuss with the children later whether there were indeed times when the Israelites did repent of having left Egypt, but for now let us focus on the songs.


The core of today's sedra is a magnificent song, the Song of Moses. In today's haftorah there is also a song, the Song of Deborah, one of Israel's two female prophets. If you have a chance to look at it, please do, it is beautiful and gruesome.. Like the Song of Moses it is a song of triumph and praise of God. But it is much more specific and personal in its gory climax of intimate murder... It might make an excellent mini-series, but it is to the vast spectacle of a Cecil B. DeMille that we turn today and to a song that has come to be cherished and honored uniquely in our tradition.


Thanks to DeMille, it is probably impossible to freshly imagine the crossing of the Red Sea. We can no longer see it in any other way than the roaring waves created by DeMille's special effects department some thirty years ago [in the 1950s].


But as Mary Zavett reminded us last week the Hagaddah commands us to view the events of the Exodus as though each of us had not only witnessed but had been a part of the events... As though it were we who were liberated from Egypt....as though we were the ones who faced the Red Sea with the Egyptians at our backs... who saw the seas part and crossed safely on dry land... How can we do that?


The first part of today's sedra recounts those events in detail... They must have been horrifying and confusing to live through. From the vantage point of a person on the bed of the sea, the events must have been inexplicable and incomprehensible.. But the raw emotion and memory of the experience was present. By encapsulating the experience in song Moses made it possible for the people to make sense of their experience and hope for the future... and gave them the opportunity to express their feelings.


So after the detailed description, the magnificent anthem appears, the Song of Moses, HaShira. Perhaps by looking closely at this song we can gain for ourselves some of the experience itself.


The significance of haShirah is demonstrated by the fact that when we come to that portion of the sedra we will rise and join in the singing of the song. There is only one other time during the entire cycle of Torah readings that a similar event occurs: During the reading of the Ten Commandments.


Because we will be standing and because we will be concentrating on the Hebrew I thought it would be worthwhile to spend a few moments on the song itself. Although a whole chapter on Hebrew poetics could be based on this song (and it's been done more than once), I thought I would take a less formal look at this magnificent poem, which could be called the Hatikvah of its time, a song of praise and hope.


Please turn to page 270 of the Bibles at your seats (Hertz edition) so that you can follow the reading with me... so that you can observe the patterns of repetition and amplification and contrast that are at the core of Hebrew poetry. .. So that you can see the genius of the author who composed an anthem for a people who shortly before were begging to return to Egypt.


The first and most essential thing we must notice is where credit is given. Although it was Moses who led his people . . . although it was Moses who stretched forth his hand, it was God who caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind. The song is NOT "Moshe, Melech Yisroel.'' It is not a song of praise for a temporal leader. Rather it begins at Chapter 15, verse 1:


1. I will sing a song unto the Lord, for he is highly exalted

The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.


In these few words the essence of the experience is recaptured. All of the Egyptian host is captured in this brief epigram.


Through repetition and amplification the emotion is heightened.

The Lord is my strength and my song

and he is become my salvation.

This is my God and I will glorify him,

My father's God and I will exalt him.


In this phrase, the singers have establish continuity with the past. Not only is this their God, but the God of their ancestors to whose homeland they now seek to return.


At first the God they describe seems a rather awful god as they praise Him in the following words:


The Lord is a man of war

The Lord is his name.

Pharaoh's chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea.



5. The deeps cover them--

They went down into the depths like stone.


6. Thy right hand, O Lord, glorious in power

Thy right hand O Lord dasheth in pieces the enemy.


And in the greatness of thine Excellency thou overthrowest them that rise up against thee.

Thou sendest forth thy wrath, it consumeth them as the stubble,


The majestic event is described in a powerful image:


8. And with the blast of thy nostrils the waters were piled up

The floods stood upright as a heap;

The deeps were congealed in the heart of the sea.


And then in a magnificent contrast of bombast with understatement, the poet in verse 9 and 10 contrast the boasting of the Egyptians with the simple facts.


The boast:


9. The enemy said: "I will pursue, I will overtake

I will divide the spoil

My lust shall be satisfied upon them

I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.


The facts:


Though didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them.

They sank as lead in the mighty waters.


Now in verse 11, the poem returns to the glorification of God in a verse that has needlessly troubled translators for generations yet has become part of our daily liturgy.


Mi komocho boelim Adonai, Mi komocho nedor ba kodesh, noroh tehilot, oseh feleh.


In the Hertz edition it is rendered:


Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the mighty?


Other translations have it : among those that men worship, but the Hebrew is "boelim, "? "among the gods"



Perhaps the translators believed that a direct translation would be perceived as giving validity to other gods, acknowledging them. But the people for whom the song was created lived in a polytheistic world. There were gods everywhere. The whole point of the song is that none of the other gods have any validity. "Who is like unto Thee, O Lord?" The question is rhetorical.


Who is like unto Thee, among the gods?

Who is like unto Thee, glorious in holiness,

Fearful in praises doing wonders?

Thou stretchest out thy right hand -- the earth swallowed them.


There are those who would criticize the anthropomorphism of this image, asserting that it improperly attributes human characteristics to God, but they lack understanding of the power of the metaphor. The literalist fails to see the truth.. The witness knows that Moses stretched out his hand but God caused the waters to part. The critic fails appreciate the innate ability of ordinary people to understand the conventions of poetry, intuitively, if not intellectually.


Earlier we talked of an awful god, a God of war, but in verse 13 we see God's motivation and the promise of the future:


Thou in love hast led the people that thou hast redeemed.

Thou hast guided them in thy strength to thy holy habitation.


God acts, the poet tells his people, out of love and with the future in mind.. to fulfill his promise to our ancestors. So now the poem becomes a prophecy of future success... a song of hope. Some critics have attempted to show that the remaining verses were written later, after the desert was crossed and the Israelites had once again reached the promised land. But others find ample support to believe it was written contemporaneously with the events it commemorates. Surely Moses knew enough of the geography and politics of the region to predict what lay ahead and what must be accomplished if the people were to survive.


The miracle at the Red Sea would become part of the reputation of the Jewish people, the story of those events became a message that traveled before them in the desert, throwing fear into their adversaries and helping to ease the way.


So in verse 14 we find:


14. The peoples have heard, they tremble

Pangs have taken hold of the inhabitants of Philistia.


Then were the chiefs of Edom affrighted,

The mighty men of Moab, trembling taketh hold upon them.

All the inhabitants of Canaan are melted away.


16. Terror and dread falleth upon them;

By the greatness of thine arm they are still as a stone,

Till thy people pass over, O Lord.

Till the people pass over that Thou hast gotten.


These are lines of prediction, not history... for then the poem becomes a prophesy of return to the holy land


Though bringest them in and plantest them in the mountain of thine


The place O Lord which thou has made for them to dwell in,

Thy sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established.


The song then ends with the familiar words:

Adonoi yimloch leolom voed.

The Lord shall reign for ever and ever.


I spoke earlier of three songs, but I have mentioned only two: The Song of Moses we have just read, and the Song of Deborah in the haftorah. However, the next few lines, which constitute the Song of Miriam are treated critically as a separate song. Although as I mentioned earlier, there is a critical debate as to whether the Song of Moses was contemporaneous with the events that it describes, there is general agreement that the Song of Miriam, who, of course, was the other female prophet, is the oldest Hebrew chant known and was quite likely to have been written on the spot. Her poem in two lines encapsulates and summarizes the whole of the experience. And so we find at verse 20 and 21:


And Miriam he prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all of the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances


21. And Miriam sang unto them:


Sing ye to the Lord for he is highly exalted.

The horse and his rider He hath thrown into the sea.



We don't have dancing women with timbrels, but we do have the beautiful voice of Lisa Newman who will read the Torah for us today.

Shabbat Hanukkah - December 14, 1985

Today we have two Torah portions, a Haftorah (selection from the Prophets) and a footnote for our consideration. The primary Torah portion is the beloved story of Joseph and Pharaoh. But, although I will later discuss some dreams or night visions, if you will, it is rather to the second Torah portion, the Haftorah and the footnote, each of which are relevant to Hanukkah, that I will call your attention.


Today is Shabbos Hanukkah.


Hanukkah is an interesting time of year for contemporary Jews. It is increasingly common for Jews to share their holiday with friends and even relatives who celebrate a different event at this time of year. Under these circumstances it is essential to understand our holiday.


What is Hanukkah? According to a contemporary religious philosopher, Hanukkah is a high holy day during which Jews celebrate the darkest nights of the year by eating peasant food and lighting candles recalling the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days.


Who is the contemporary philosopher? Jeff Smith--the Frugal Gourmet--who offered his insight into the commonality of traditions while placing a plate of latkes (potato pancakes) next to a bowl of pasta smothered in octopus and squid, being careful to use peanut oil rather than butter to assure kashruth.


According to the Chicago Tribune, Hanukkah was originally celebrated with tree branches and lights. The Tribune seemed to suggest some significance in the fact that Christmas is now celebrated with similar symbols.


It is more and more common to attempt to demonstrate the similarity between Hanukkah and so-called midwinter festivals on the assumption that this will make it easier to live with neighbors or extended family members who do not share our traditions. A Skokie Rabbi was quoted repeating some of these ideas in this week's Oak Leaves. He did not even appear to object to the phrase "Jewish Christmas" in reference to Hanukkah.


I believe that these efforts and attitudes are in the long run, counter productive, directly contrary to the specific meaning of Hanukkah and that they derogate the meaning of both Christmas and Hanukkah.


It is possible for Jews to go to Christmas parties, to accept Christmas presents from non Jewish friends and relatives--perhaps even to sing Christmas carols or visit a church service-- and to invite non Jews to share in our festivities. But, in each case the individual must recognize that there must be a difference in the way in which one participates in the religious observances and celebrations of others and the way in which one participates in his own. Each person must be able to say "This I believe. .. That, I do not." In celebrating Hanukkah I celebrate things which are essential to my faith and traditions. When visiting non Jews at this time of year I share their joy but not the source of their happiness. And I hope that non Jews who participate in our festivities will share our joy but I do not expect that they will share our beliefs.


When my non Jewish neighbors tell me more about their traditions, my appreciation is heightened. When I can explain more about Hanukkah and how it is different from other so-called midwinter festivals, their appreciation is heightened.


Where then to begin?


The Talmud has little to say about Hanukkah. The appropriate Torah and Haftorah portions are identified, there is some discussion of the appropriate placement of the Menorah (candelabra)--outside if you are on the first floor--otherwise in a window-- except in time of danger, little else.


As we know, the story of Hanukkah, the Book of Maccabbees, is not found in the Torah or the Prophets. It appears that the earliest versions we have were translated into Greek and only later retranslated into Hebrew. Therefore we must turn to a footnote. The story of the Maccabbees is summarized in footnote 49 on the bottom of page 990 in your Chumash (Bible with weekly and special readings form the Prophets) and continues on page 991.


The specific message of Hanukkah is one that is directly counter to the blurring of distinctions I objected to earlier.


In response to an invitation to assimilation, to be accompanied by "silver and gold and many rewards," Mattathias answered, "Though all the nations that are under the King's domain obey him and fall away everyone from the religion of their fathers, yet will I and my sons and my brethren walk in the covenant of our fathers."


The need to resist compelled assimilation was recognized by Judah HaMaccabbee, but he also observed that victory depended not on strength but on the will of God. A whole sermon could be devoted to the existential need to act without guarantees of outcome, but that must be saved for another day and another speaker.


We also learn from the book of Maccabbees that Hanukkah is not a midwinter festival designed to break up the short days and long nights of the darkest time of year. The date of the holiday is set, unlike that of Christmas, by the exact date of a specific event-- the rededication of the Second Temple. The Maccabbees commanded observance on the day of rededication-- The holy vessels had been remade, the Menorah had been replaced in the Temple.


And what of the tree branches referred to in the Tribune. It appears, from other sources that the original Temple celebration was a kind of second Sukkoth (eight day harvest festival) and that indeed the celebrants carried lulovs (palm branches bound together with a sprig of myrtle and willow) into the Temple just as they would on Sukkoth. As much as the story of the miracle of the oil lamp is beloved, it remains a myth, apocryphal even to the Apocrypha. It may well be that the basis of the eight days of celebration also lies in analogy to Sukkoth.


Although it was never a "high holy day", Hanukkah has been a family centered event of great joy since at least the middle ages and did not arise to counter Christmas.


Since, as I have pointed out, the Talmud is almost devoid of any discussion of Hanukkah, how can we discover what the Rabbis considered to be the most significant elements of Hanukkah. Perhaps by taking a quick look at the Torah and Haftorah sections they selected for the occasion.


The Israelites are in the desert, they have fashioned their portable sanctuary and now a representative of each tribe presents gifts for the dedication of the alter. Each tribe gives exactly the same series of gifts. Although the Rabbis discuss each gift separately and the symbolism of each gift changes with the giver, for our purposes today, the significance of this portion is its emphasis upon dedication of the alter. It should be noted that each tribe gave its gift on a separate day - thus resulting in a twelve day celebration. This too may be some source for the idea of an extended festival.


The specific reading is found on page 599 of your Chumash.


Finally we turn to today's Haftorah, which comes from the Prophet Zechariah and can be found on pages 987 through 989 of your Chum ash.


The time is the year 520 B.C.E. Years earlier, King Cyrus of Babylonia had ordered a restoration of the Temple. After a false start, seventeen years had elapsed without further construction. It was a time of despondency and despair and political confusion. Zechariah desperately wants to see the rebuilding of the Temple, which he believes will usher in the Messianic Era. He reports a series of night visions. Among these are some involving the High Priest Joshua and a political leader, Zerubabel.


Zechariah, like Joseph, uses visions for good purpose. In his visions Joshua and Zerubabel are exalted. Visions of a Messianic Era are reported. He reports a vision of a glorious gold Menorah and discusses it with an angel. The angel reports that Zerubabel will preside over the rebuilding of the Temple but he stresses that it will be, as it is written on the walls of this building:


" 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit', sayeth the Lord of Hosts."


Zechariah was wrong about Zerubabel. The king removed Zerubabel from authority shortly thereafter and another administrator was installed, but Zechariah's prophesy played a significant role in spurring the restoration. And in establishing what would be the essential elements of a later restoration and the holiday we celebrate.


Men must act, they must maintain their faith, but success ultimately depends not on might, not on power but on the spirit of the Lord.














Community of Congregations of Oak Park and River Forest, 2003


President's Report - 2003


The past year began on a personal and intimate note. The highlight of last year's annual dinner was a powerful exercise in introspection as we broke into small groups under the leadership of Hal Edwards. At that time we shared and reflected on our individual backgrounds and our first experiences of faith. For some of us this may have been the first time we looked at our own experiences in this way.


With the sensitivity gained from this experience we embarked on another ambitious year.


In March, the Community Meeting took place at the Woodbine Convalescent Home under the leadership of Deborah Spector, our outstanding vice president who has proved to be a wonderful addition to our board. At that meeting Amy Papageorge presented a "Litany of Peace and Love," inviting us to become sensitive to the issues in the Middle East, encouraging us to work for peace and social justice.


Our May meeting at St. Vincent Ferrar focused on various ministries or programs that are supported by the Community of Congregations. In addition to reports from many of the programs, Six dynamic young people from the Youth Advocacy Program at OPRF High advocated a creation of a new Teen Center and discussed ways to give back to their community.


During the Summer we participated in the Festival of Potluck Foods, put on successfully this year once again under the dynamic leadership of Jim Boushay and Rickie Sain. This gathering in the street west of the Conservatory included the most incredible variety of Oak Parkers I have ever seen in one place -- eating, talking, sharing, enjoying and celebrating each other in that variety.


In September we met at Oak Park Temple. This meeting included introducing Fraternite Notre Dame to our community. This worldwide Catholic Order, with its Mother Church in Austin, provides a wide variety of services to that area. The energy and humility with which the nuns and priests of this order serve the community is inspiring. Their participation in our activities throughout the year has been a wonderful addition.


At that meeting David Sokol proposed a new book "Oak Park, Illinois, Continuity and Change" and solicited interest in the project. The meeting also focused on the needs and accomplishments of the Hunger Task Force Food Pantry.


In November, we held our annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at Ascension Catholic Church. Each year the service is unique and wonderful in its own way. This year's service, under the leadership of Gene Orlando, was simply the most musically beautiful Thanksgiving service I recall. You can find pictures of the Thanksgiving Service on our website at http://www.lgrossman.com/comcong.html. Just click on the picture of the Ascension Choir. Among those pictures you will find one that includes representatives of Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Baha'i and a number of Protestant congregations. It has been a dozen years since we opened our doors to include a variety of faith communities. We are truly becoming a Community of Congregations.


Finally, in December, the Holiday Food and Gift Basket Program, once again under our leadership, continued to build on its success of the previous year. This year 665 families were served.


During the past year we continued the informal "Sacred Space" program through which many of us learned more about the architecture and traditions of our host congregations. This has led to renewed interest in a substantive series of interfaith classes, similar to the series on life cycle events we sponsored several years ago. We invite your ideas as to the content of such a program and for other programs you would like to see.


Even though we have accomplished much, there is much to do. In spite of the efforts of Linda Abrams and others, the Student Religious Exchange Program did not get off the ground. And the after school mentoring program we talked so enthusiastically about two years ago remains to see the light of day. There are other needs that must be met.


Our treasury remains bare and attendance at regular community meetings must be improved. We need to involve congregations who have fallen by the wayside and others who have not joined us in the past. Still, the attendance here tonight is a tribute to our success.


Of course naming anyone is dangerous when there is not room to name them all, but I cannot end the year without expressing my thanks to so many of you. The work of this organization and its ministries could not have been done without the tireless energy of many volunteers. I am eternally grateful to Pat Koko for her energy, advice and work throughout the years. And I thank Dorothy Patinka for the detailed and accurate minutes that let me prepare this report. I have had the pleasure of working with outstanding executive board which also included Rev. Mark Reshan, our treasurer, and Joyce Marco. I am also grateful to Rev. Ed Hiestand who in addition to serving on our board, served as a mentor and who, along with others, gave me strength throughout a difficult year.


I especially look forward to the coming year under the leadership of Rev. Dwight Bailey of Austin Boulevard Christian Church and Deborah Spector, a lay leader at Oak Park Temple. They bring an energy and excitement we have not seen in some time.


It has been a privilege to serve as your president for the past three years. I have learned much and been lifted by the experience


May this organization continue to go from strength to strength.


Leonard Grossman



Programs and activities with which we have been involved included


1.     PADS: PADS which was now in its 11th season


2.     CROP: Three schools and 29 churches participated in the 2002 Crop Hunger Walk.


3.     Faith and Fellowship: This organization discussed providing small groups for the mentally ill in the community. They are looking for more faith communities to provide meeting space.


4.     Clergy Lectionary Groups: The meetings have been taking place for over 20 years.


5.     Housing Center: 5,000+ people have been assisted by the Housing Center.


6.     Oak Park Township Youth Services: COC worked with OPTYS last year to successfully head the Holiday Gift Basket Program, taking the administrative responsibilities for the first time. This year, building on that experience the program was again an outstanding success, serving over 665 families with gifts tailored to their needs.


7.     Food Pantry: Donations continue to be needed, they are looking for congregations to provide one item or money consistently. They are located at 225B South Blvd.


8.     Peer to Peer Tutoring: A group meets every Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Pine Ave. Church in Chicago, volunteers are invited to participate.


9.     Seguin Services: Providing services to developmentally disabled and mentally ill in area. Reductions in state funding have greatly impacted their programming.


10.  Project Unity: Builds on the strength of diversity.


11.  Walk of Faith: 23 congregations/groups participated in a wonderful event.


12.  Centennial Legacy Program: Provides ways to leave a legacy to different

organizations of your choice through Planned Giving Program.


13.  Fraternite Notre Dame, 502 North Central Ave. in Chicago was represented by Sister Marie Christine.



Rededication of St. Edmunds - November 19, 2000


While searching for an appropriate text for today, I looked at Exodus 39 and 40, which describe the completion of the Tabernacle in the desert and the setting up of the Sanctuary.

When the Tabernacle was complete Moses thanked the people by invoking a blessing upon them. As the commentators say, The time had been short, the task great and arduous, but fired by holy enthusiasm and zeal the people had joyfully completed the work they had undertaken.

A commentator observes, Moses did not pronounce his blessing at the beginning of the sacred enterprise.

eginnings are easy; completions are as hard as they are rare. /p>

Tradition tells us that Moses composed Psalm 110 for the occasion. That Psalm concludes:

et Thy work appear unto Thy children.

And Let the graciousness of the Lord our God be upon us;

Establish Thou also upon us the work of our hands;

Yea, the work of our hands, establish it. /p>

May the work of this congregation and of those who contributed to this magnificent House of God be truly blessed.

Thanksgiving November 22, 2000


Worship the Lord in gladness,

come before God with joy,


The Creator of the heavens and the earth, provides food for the hungry with mercy,


God brings justice to the oppressed.


God covers the sky with clouds, sending rain,

bringing forth bread from the earth to sustain us,


providing wine to gladden the human heart.


God has blessed us with liberty,

with noble dreams, and with the pursuit of happiness and has brought peace within our borders.


How shall we thank God for our blessings?


Let us share our bread with the hungry;


Let us not turn away from the needy.


Clothe the naked and shelter the homeless,

Help those who have no help.


Let us not take our blessings for granted.


Let us share them with others, with thanks.


Sing a new song for the Lord,


Where the faithful gather, let God be praised.


God love endures forever.


Let us share in that love with our life.

West Suburban Temple Har Zion Web Site








WST Remarks on the Installation of Hilarie Lieb May 14, 1996



It was a great pleasure to have been asked by Hilarie to join the ranks of those who have had the honor of installing the officers of this congregation. Becoming a president of this congregation is a special moment, second only, as Paul will soon become aware, to becoming a past president, which is truly empowering.


When I began to prepare these remarks, I thought I'd take a look at the Sedra, not to steal the thunder from the Rabbi's sermon but to find a theme appropriate to the day.


A quick glance at today's portion, EMOR, told me I was in trouble. I don't believe in PC language, but, if ever there was a portion that cried out for retranslation with attention to gender this is it, with its emphasis in the first few verses on "the chief MAN."

This was not the appropriate message for today. Actually, I am sure the rabbi will tell us this chapter should be thought of in its historical context rather than as providing a justification for chauvinism today.


But it got me thinking about a joint government/industry press conference I attended recently. It was devoted to announcement of a new initiative and corporate models for shattering the glass ceiling, a metaphor for bringing women into the upper echelons of corporate power. What an image for today. Then I recalled, of course, that Hilarie is not the first woman to become the president of this temple. When I became active as an adult, Judy Loevy served the congregation in that role.


More important, Hilarie is not a symbol or a metaphor but, although she follows in a proud tradition, she is a unique individual who brings special talents to this job.


Hilarie, It has been a great pleasure to watch your growth and development as a leader in this congregation and your involvement in the greater community. Your recognition of the importance of both of these aspects of life in Oak Park River Forest together with the love of and from your wonderful family will bring balance to your term in office.


You come to office not to wield power or for self aggrandizement but out of a genuine sense of commitment to this congregation. Over the years you have demonstrated your concern for all aspects of this congregation. You have had an especial concern for our children and our young people. In the months before this day, I have watched you become immersed in the operations of this synagogue --in its formal and its informal structures. In its formal and informal personal relationships.


As an economist you may bring specially needed skills at a time when financial concerns may seem paramount. But as a concerned and involved human being, you have the sensitivity and understanding never to let fiscal issues take precedence over personal relationships and spiritual issues, as well.

This congregation has long been known for its warmth and hospitality. Paul served during a scary and trying time of transition and reconstruction. You will be the recipient of the good fortune of the fact that by the time you deliver your first Yom Kippur appeal, the renovation will be completed and we will be at the beginning of a great new era. As the dust clears, you will have the opportunity to work with all of us to bring life into the structure we love so dearly.


In conclusion, I will, after all, return to today's Sedra.


While, the first half of the portion is historical in nature, describing the time of the priests and their roles and functions, the second half of the portion is eternal, for there the entire holy calendar is laid out. The seasons, the pilgrimages, all described in detail. You are a president not for one reason or another but for all seasons.


Finally before I install you I remind you of one additional section of today's sedra. Although there may be times when you will be frustrated with the difficulties of the role you are about to undertake it is in this chapter that the profanation of God's name, "chillul ha shem," is prohibited. Take strength from that. The reminder may come in handy. Looking forward your term in office may seem endless.. looking back it is just a blink.


It is with great pleasure that I declare you "installed."

WST President's Message March 1991


President's Message


It is with mixed emotions that I sit down at the keyboard for the last time as President of the congregation. It has been a special privilege to serve during the transition between Rabbi Tabachnik and Rabbi Mirelman.

The experience of the Presidency has shown me the depth and breadth of this congregation and the warmth and love of its members. The past two terms have gone so quickly and there are many things I wanted to do that I haven't got around to. But we are a congregation that is blessed with energy and leadership. I believe it is necessary to step aside and allow others to take their turns as leaders of the congregation.

The Nominating Committee has recommended election of Alan Smith as President of the Congregation for the coming year. During years in which I have been active in Temple affairs, Alan has demonstrated his love for our congregation and his support for the high standards that make this such a special community. I wish him well and know that you will show him the same support you have shown me over the years.

Also stepping aside to make room for new officers will be Vice President, Mickey Baer, and Secretary, Mary Harris, two individuals who have contributed greatly to this congregation and who have made my work as president much easier. Both of them will join me as members of an excellent Board of Directors next year and Alan will have the benefit of their creativity and wisdom.

The Nominating Committee has recommended three outstanding individuals as new officers. Paul Wolfman, nominated as a Vice President has served ably as our school chairman, Barry Newman, another Vice President, served ably on the Board of Directors in the past and Dick Golden, nominated for Secretary, is a recent addition to our Board, but in the short time he has served he has listened and then given good advice in many areas.

In addition to Alan, two other officers are returning: Sherry Castro will serve again as a Vice President, continuing an important link with the past leadership of the congregation, and Shirley Lieb will continue in the thankless job of Treasurer, the one position that is forced to face the financial realities that many of us would like to ignore.

To all of the new officers and the old and to all of you who have been so supportive of our efforts, "thank you" and "Ya'asher Koach."


WST President's Welcome "Across the Sea" March 1991


President's message for Dinner Dance



When Sally and I received the elegant invitation to tonight's dinner dance, Across the Atlantic, with the Eiffel Tower embossed on the cover, the first thing we thought of, of course, was Paris, the City of Light. Paris has long symbolized elegance, beauty, and sophistication -- a good description of the group that has come together this evening in celebration to support our congregation.


But the theme, Across the Atlantic, has a wider meaning, it reminds us of our diverse backgrounds in the cities and towns across Europe and beyond. It reminds us of earlier times and places now lost to all but memory. At the same time it reminds us of a world grown smaller, an interconnected world, where events thousands of miles away can affect us instantly.


Finally, if we go farther Across the Atlantic, and take a trip across the Mediterranean, we come to Israel and think of Jerusalem, the City of Peace and our common heritage and hopes.


So let us put ourselves in the hands of our wonderful tour directors, Marlene Mann and Joyce Serota and their excellent committee, and together enjoy a delightful evening Across the Atlantic.


Leonard A. Grossman

WST President's Message March 1991


President's Message March 1991


Well, Spring is just around the corner and we welcome back all the Snowbirds. Once again the Temple calendar is full.

As a growing, dynamic, congregation we try to respond to your wishes. For years many of you have asked for a Sunday Purim carnival. So here it is, getting the month off to an exciting start (and a special thanks to our High School Youth who participated in the Megillah reading on Wednesday night and to those of you who stayed around to help set up the carnival). The month ends with Pesach and our Second Annual Congregational Seder, reinstituted last year and repeated because of popular demand. In between we continue our lecture series and adult studies programs as well as programs and activities for all ages an interests, including our annual Kallah in the Wisconsin Dells.

If there are programs or activities you would like to see added to our calendar or there are changes we can make that you think would add to the enjoyment or well being of the congregation, please let us know.

Just a couple of weeks ago many of us enjoyed the Sisterhood's annual informal dinner dance "Country Capers," reminding me that our annual formal dinner dance, the "President's Ball," is early this year. So get your ads in soon and plan to join us on this gala occasion. (There is no greater bargain than the "President's Ball."? Each year I am surprised to discover that there are members who don't realize that you can cover the ENTIRE cost of tickets AND support the congregation as well by selling a few ads. If you need further information, please call the Temple office.) I look forward to seeing you there.

Best Wishes for a Happy Pesach.

WST President's Message December 1990


President's Message

December, 1990


Happy Hanukkah!


It hardly seems possible that Hanukkah is just around the corner as I sit here in mid-November, with the temperature hovering near 70 degrees. But, in a few days we will light the first candle and sing Mooz Tzur once again. Once again each of our families will celebrate this festive holiday in our own unique ways. (It would be interesting to share family traditions. I know that to me, so many of the traditions I associate with the holiday are family traditions rather than intrinsic to the holiday. It wasn't until I grew up that I learned that everybody doesn't hide presents, for example.)


But the holiday is not just a children's festival and a time to exchange gifts. It is also a time of rededication and reconsecration to Jewish values. As we approach this hectic time of year, I hope that the fun and the meaning of Hanukkah will enrich your lives.



WST President's Message October 1990


President's message

October 1990


Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. To everyone who helped to make the Holidays such a special time. . . the Rabbi, Cantor, Marshall Wolke, the Choir, the ushers, everyone who participated in the services, the planners of the Break-Fast (and especially Joyce Sirota, who invited more than 60 people to her home on a moment's notice). And a special Yasher Koach to Bob Silverman and Paul Wolfman who reinstituted children's services after so many years instead of just asking why we didn't have them. The list really goes on and on (How can I forget Georganne Zussman's beautiful floral arrangement for Sukkot) and includes each of you.


Now that here is a nip in the air and an 85 degree Shabbat in the Sukkah is merely a memory, the Temple year has begun in earnest. It is time to participate in the activities that fill our calendar. . . lectures . . . classes. . . Shabbat dinners. . . . Come to our monthly family services in River Forest or Downers Grove. Support the Sisterhood. The Holidays were special because YOU participated. The same is true of the rest of the year. The activities mean nothing unless you are involved. If there is a class or an activity you would like to see that we don't have now please drop us a note or give me a call. Better yet, join a committee (or start one) and make it happen. And remember, there's always a cup of coffee in the kitchen.




WST Yom Kippur Appeal 1990












































WST Annual Report, April 7, 1990
















































WST President Message January 1990


January 1990


President's Message


As we enter a new year in the secular calendar in a time of world tension and uncertainty we also look back at the changes that have occurred during 1990.

In some ways it is hard to believe that it has been a full year since Rabbi Mirelman assumed the pulpit of this congregation. In other ways, he has become so much a part of our congregation and our hearts that it seems impossible that it has been only a year.

During the past year there has been a surge in membership and in activity by younger families in our congregation. A new feeling of vitality echoes in the halls of our building. At the same time we have not ceased to provide programs and activities for all ages. Our tireless Cantor continues to teach each and every bar and bat mitzvah, providing individualized instruction and tapes (I wish we had had cassette players when I became a bar mitzvah, maybe then Cantor Brindell would have let me sing my haftorah instead of reading it word for word). Now he is training Charles Shapera to assist him in this important work. The Sisterhood Choral Group continues to perform its magnificent mitzvot throughout the Chicago area, the Shohet minyan meets every morning, performing a valuable service to the community as well as a sense of fellowship to those who attend regularly. (At this point, a commercial: Many of the regular members of the minyan are fortunate enough to be able to go south in the winter, others can't get out as easily when it's cold or snowy. If you can come to the minyan once a week, your attendance would be greatly appreciated, helping to assure that there will be services for those in mourning and others who depend on their availability).

I look forward to seeing each of you during the coming months: at services, at meetings, dinners, at Country Capers . . . Please come and join our expanding family. Happy New Year.

WST President's Message



"Music, music, music" is the theme of this wonderful evening. And it is an appropriate theme for this year. In many ways a congregation is like a symphony orchestra. Like Solti passing the baton to Barenboim, Rabbi Tabachnik has passed the spiritual leadership of this congregation to Rabbi Mirelman. And we continue to make fine music under his direction.


In an orchestra each of the sections has a first chair. Our congregation is fortunate to have officers and committee chairpersons who are dedicated to their responsibilities. This year we have heard some new melodies, not only in our services but also in the programs we offer. New members of the orchestra have introduced new leitmotifs, but we remain a great

Conservative congregation.


Our congregation is known for its warmth and quality of its leadership. Tonight we honor Simmy and Barry Weiss, individuals who represent those qualities at their finest. I remember watching Barry in action as the president of this congregation. I hope I learned from him. All who know Simmy, know her charm and warmth, but not everyone knows the countless hours she has spent behind the scenes making so many events a success. The greatest tribute we can pay to them is to dedicate ourselves to continue the traditions they have worked so hard and so lovingly to maintain.


Strike up the band . . .







WST President's Message September 1990


Ever since he first shared the bimah in a beautiful service with our distinguished Rabbi Emeritus Joseph Tabachnik last January, there has been no question but that Rabbi Mirelman is also "our Rabbi."? It has been a delight to see how responsive the congregation has been to his leadership and how he has responded to the challenges of our unique community. However, we have waited to formally install him until his family could be here to share in the joy and pride we take in this special event.


Rose Miriam, Jessica and Yael have arrived. So, the time has come. Rabbi Mirelman will be installed in a special service on Sunday, September 9, 1990 at 10:30 a.m. Rabbi Barry D. Cytron of Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minneapolis, a colleague and friend of Rabbi Mirelman will perform the installation. The services will be followed by a festive luncheon with entertainment in honor of the occasion.


Our First Vice President, Alan Smith, recently came across a collection of Temple Bulletins going back to the late 40's. Reviewing them, it is clear that the installation of a new Rabbi has always been a significant event in the life of our community. I urge you to join us on this joyous occasion that will also serve to kick off a new year of activities and events for our congregation.


Let me use this opportunity to congratulate Rabbi Emeritus Tabachnik on being asked to conduct High Holiday services at congregation Ezra Habonim in Chicago this year. Yasher Koach.


Let me also take this opportunity to Welcome Rose Miriam as well as Jessica and Yael to our community and to be the first to wish you all a happy and healthy New Year.

September 1990

WST Board of Governors 1990







This is a very special occasion. For the first time in many years we have called the Board of Governors of our congregation to come together to meet and to talk.


This is a very special group representing the leadership of this congregation for over a period of some 40 years. As the president of the congregation, I often feel I have to make up the answers and even sometimes the questions as I go along. But the wheel doesn't always have to be reinvented. In this group is the collective wisdom and concern that has guided this congregation for generations.


These are exciting times. We have some 40 new member families this season, our programs are expanding. In fact, we have to remember that we have only one rabbi and we can spread him only so far. We have week night classes and sunday morning classes. And the attendance at the early Friday night services sometimes even approaches the numbers we used to see in the hay day of the late service. Once again we have a growing youth program. The time has come for us to begin to take stock, to assess where we are and to see where we should be going.


The tremendous enthusiasm in the far western suburbs must be maintained and nurtured. At the same time we must recognize the resurgence of vitality in the Oak Park River Forest Community. How can we best meet both needs. How can we meet the needs of our lake front and North Shore and even Florida communities. How can we maintain our aging building. How can and should it be modified to better suit our needs. Should we have a small chapel. Do we need to expand the library. And how can we afford these thing?


For years we have been wasting a tremendous resource. We have elected you to serve as a board of governors but we have not asked you to govern or even to meet. Perhaps you should meet regularly twice or three times a year. And on an ad hoc basis more often if you see need.


I ask you to think over these things and I ask for your advice and open the floor to discussion.


Focusing Institute Web Site









Reflections of a Modem Junkie

About ModemJunkie:


While ostensibly not a weblog, he has an excellent linked article style that I find myself wishing I could do on cohesive updates for a particular topic.

Weblog Apathy (Dan Fitch, November 21, 1999)


Reflections of a ModemJunkie is one of the oldest tech-oriented personal web sites on the web. Lots of great stuff to read here.

Weblog Camworld (Cameron Barrett, November 25, 1999)

Blue Ribbon Campaign


Reflections of a ModemJunkie: The Complete Archive


Catching Up, January, 2002

Clearing a Space

They say that time goes faster as you get older. In that case I must be ancient. It's been two years since the last time I wrote a ModemJunkie piece. Only one edition this century -- not even that if you are a mathematician. Still, in some ways it seems like just yesterday.

Why did I stop? Well, there are a number of reasons and I will probably touch on one or two of them in this essay, but as my father used to say, "If you have more than one reason for not doing something there is only one that really counts: 'I don't want to.'" All the rest is commentary.

Why am I starting again? Because I want to.

So here I am. Over the past couple of years I have had many things pop into my mind that I thought might bring me back. But then I would begin to think of all of the oher things I hadn't wrtitten about and didn't know how to choose. Some were so important. Others trivial. I was stuck. But now I have decided to jump in. So I am playing catch-up. I won't talk about everything I thought of over this period, but I will touch on a few -- acknowledging them and clearing a space for the future.

A Trip to [the] Opera

Opera 6.0 for Windows Released!!!

Long time readers of my columns know that I have been a fan of the Opera browser for many years. I have been communicating with people at Opera since it first came out. I wrote my first detailed review of Opera in 1996. [Note: Over time, that page has become very ugly, suffering from careless updates. I promise to clean it up soon.] I didn't realize back then that some of the guiding lights behind Opera were in one way or another, associated with the Web Design Group (WDG), which encouraged me to use clean, validated HTML and to strive for accessibility. Whether the connection is direct or not. The philosophy prevails.

I have been indebted to the philosophy of the WDG and some of its members over the years, although I have not created many new pages lately nor, I confess, have I been as careful as I should have been recently in maintaining my old ones. And I didn't take all of their advice. The members of WDG were among the earliest proponents of the use of cascading style sheets, CSS, in the design of web pages. I confess, it always sounded too complicated for me. Although the principles behind CSS were consistent with my arguments for clean, accessible design. See for example, my essay, ACCESS, Access, access.

Back in late July, in the midst of the agony and frustration of the changeover to LGrossman.com, which I discuss below, I got an e-mail that promised to infuse some light into the darkness. To make a long story shorter, at the end of August, I found myself on an airplane headed to Oslo. I usually suffer terribly from jet lag. The first afternoon overseas, I usually hide in my bed, but this time I found myself wakened after only 5 minutes of sleep by a young man from Finland with an infectious smile.

Before long, I found the fog of jet lag being dispelled by the bracing winds in the Oslo Fjord, sailing in a small sailboat, under the command of H'akon Wium Lie.

Our host was a Web pioneer, having worked on the WWW project at CERN, the cradle of the Web. He first suggested the concept of Cascading Style Sheets in 1994 and he later joined W3C (the World Wide Web Consortium) to further strengthen the standards. In 1999, he was listed among Technology Review's Top 100 innovators of the next century. H?'akon is Opera's Chief Technical Officer. He is a man of great energy. His favorite expression is a crisp "Perfect!" with which he responds to many things. Close watchers can learn a lot from the precise inflection to which he gives that word, which can range from approval to skepticism or worse. But that afternoon he was he perfect host, stopping to buy fruit for our voyage, taking a boy from the American Heartland who had never thought of going to Oslo, into a wonderful new world. From the middle of the fjord, we heard the cannon celebrating the royal wedding, taking place not far away.

Over the next few days there was time to learn a bit about Oslo, to picnic at Akershus, the great castle on the waterfront, to visit museums and the incredible Sculpture Garden at Vigelandsparken.

But there was also the opportunity to visit the headquarters of Opera Software. There I had the chance to meet with some of the top management and internal staff of Opera and a small group of beta testers who had gathered in a final push to complete the next version of Opera. What a thrill. The group ranged, it seemed, from 17 to 57. (Well, maybe nobody was only 17 but from the other end of that spectrum, the group seemed very young.)

On Monday morning H?'akon used Opera's presentation mode,OperaShow, a magnificent unheralded feature of Opera that I promise to discuss some time in the future, to give us a brief history of the company, which has been a major success in recent years. Opera is the third most popular browser world wide - and it is not free. More people have paid for Opera than any other browser, although an adware version is now available. Jon S. von Tetzchner, co founder and CEO of Opera was next on the agenda. They asked us to make a few comments. When it was my turn, I was flabbergasted. The others really understand software and coding and many of the complex details of the browser world. I am a true amateur, hacking out my web pages by trial and error. I was asked to say something about accessibility. I mumbled something, forgetting momentarily that years ago, in my earliest conversations with the WDG and with Opera, accessibility was on the top of my agenda. It wasn't until I got home, that I suddenly realized that they remembered and the platform I had been given and the opportunity I had missed.

There was a special electricity in the air. A number of people in the room had never met before. Beta testing had been an online collaborative effort for many of them. Now there was a palpable energy as several PCs were set up and people who had always had to use the written word and screenshots to convey their ideas were able to call to one another and look over their shoulders. A white board and flip chart rapidly filled with comments and questions as, with incredible energy, they attacked the latest beta build.

In addition to the actual work, there were intense discussions at dinner and over beer and in the parks, about what a browser should be, what should be included. About Unicode, about the future of peer-to-peer sharing, about MDI and SDI. About BiDi (and that is not a sexual preference) and DOM (which has nothing to do with domination).

But while some of the discussions were purely theoretical and had nothing to do with Opera's actual plans, over the next few weeks, as version 6.0 came closer to reality, I began to see how some of them played a role.

Opera 6.0 Rocks!!

Opera 6.0 is fast, and light, especially compared to IE and Netscape, although the standard 3 Meg download triples if you need to download Java at the same time. Although to some critics this build does not seem the major breakthrough that it reallyis, watching it develop has been fascinating and it is clear that it is really light years ahead of its predecessors and in this reviewers humble opinion, far superior to Internet Explorer and Netscape.

Opera has managed to maintain a careful balance between standards compliance and the ability to render pages as they are actually written. This is not easy. There comes a point when attempting to display everything undermines the whole notion of standards. On the other hand, failure to display popular pages would eliminate Opera from the market place. Opera has sought to maintain the best of both worlds and at the same time has created an immensely configurable tool.

The terms MDI and SDI were new to me. A friend, to whom I had previously recommended Opera had rejected it because it used the MDI interface. MDI means multiple document interface; SDI is single document interface. I never noticed that Opera was special in its use of the MDI because I migrated over to Opera from Netscape way back when Netscape also used an MDI approach.

Put most simply. In MDI all web pages open within a single instance of Opera, while in SDI each document stands alone on your desk top. At work we are being forced to switch from WordPerfect to Word. (You are being spared a long wail and moan of grief about that because of the length of this article. Stay tuned.) One of the unremarked differences between them is that WP is essentially an MDI format. If you close WP all open pages close. In Word you have to close each separately. I find it confusing. I hear there is a way to make Word emulate an MDI interface, but that is another discussion. To me the SDI seems like a multiple document interface, with instances all over the place. MDI seems neat and tidy, one frame holding it all. But the breakthrough here is that Opera has managed, once again, to include the best of both worlds. To long time IE users, Opera is now available in a familiar form, A single click in the newly revised preference menu, close and reopen Opera, and presto, you have changed the interface.

And that leads me to one of the most important features of Opera. Its exceptionable configurability. Its buttons, menubars, task bars and other features can be moved, turned off or on, or in some cases replaced. It now has a "personal bar" which can be configured to your whim. Something that makes a lot of people happy, and I confess I don't understand, is that now Opera can be skinned, which means that you can change its appearance. This is a totally non-functional advance. Some older users of Opera don't like the new default skin and may not be aware that a single click in the preferences will turn it off. And a few more clicks will let you modify the foreground or background with the skin of your choice.

More important, Opera gives the user unmatched control over the way web pages appear in the browser. Through the use of cascading style sheets, controlled, primarily by options in the preferences dialogue, many details can be controlled. And the rules regarding priority of details can be adjusted. It is that set of rules for how multiple sets of rules overlay and interact with one another that constitutes the "cascading" part of CSS.

The incorporation of Unicode capabilities into this version of Opera is a true breakthrough, although it may not seem significant to the ordinary American user. Through its recognition of Unicode fonts, Opera can now handle many languages: Chinese, Russian, Korean, and the Eastern European languages. The addition of support for Asian languages opens that developing market to Opera. In order to take advantage of these features it may be necessary for a user to add Unicode fonts to his or her system. First go to a foreign language page, notice if boxes or other strange characters appear instead of the expected characters. Then click view|encoding and try the various options there. If they don't work you will need new fonts. You can get them from Microsoft's TrueType font page. Go there and download any of the fonts found there that are not already on your system.

I mentioned BiDi before. It means Bi-Directional. One of the issues Opera still has to tackle is how to best handle languages that read from right to left, like Hebrew and Arabic. Some pages actually use both English and Hebrew so bi-directional support is necessary. Opera will now render the fonts, but, depending on how the website was created, the characters may appear in the reverse order. It is very strange reading werbeH, but it can be done. And it will be fixed. In the meantime, it is no drawback to the vast majority of potential Opera users.

There are far too many features of Opera for me to detail them all here. Its internal mail reader and news reading capabilities have been vastly improved, for those who prefer an all in one tool. Opera now has its own instant messaging tool, something I promise I will not write about in this life, but others find it valuable.

You may be interested in Opera's press release. There is also a useful unofficial page discussing many of the features in detail as well as Opera's official reviewer's guide.

Opera, the company, has grown significantly over the last year and seems robust and profitable. Even its dining room has expanded. They now have their own cook who prepares delicious hot lunches. Some may wonder how Opera can succeed in a world dominated by Internet Explorer. Well first of all, Opera is now available in many flavors: There are versions for BeOS, Linux/Solaris, and Mac. OS/2. QNX and the Symbian OS as well as Windows. In addition Opera has carved out a special niche for itself in the world of hand held web browsing and embedded applications. Among the devices where Opera has obtained a strong toehold are the Psion Revo+ and netBook, the Sharp Zaurus SL-5000D, the Ericsson Screen Phone, the IBM NetVista Internet Appliance and the RSC Technology WebPad as well as the Canal+ Technologies set top-box solution. May Opera live long and prosper.

The Decline of the Independent ISP.

The move to LGrossman.com

One of the ongoing sagas that has captured my attention has been the steady, sad, demise of the independent ISP. I began to be aware of the problem several years ago when the iconoclastic character who owned my first real ISP, Karl Denninger, sold his company, MCS, to Winstar and moved to Florida. Wise people jumped ship then. But I was stubborn and lazy. MCS was an old line ISP - one of the first. When James Coates of the Chicago Tribune interviewed me for an early piece on the web in 1995, he simply assumed I must be an old unixhead just because that was where I got my service. So, when he wrote about how I used gopher and veronica and archie to help my daughter with her homework, he assumed I was doing it all from the command line. Little did he know I had waited until I could trade up to a 386 to get on the web, just so I could avoid that. I had tried various unix based freenet solutions and was lost.

[Read about those early days in The Pawnshop Special (I jump to Windows) (November, 1994) and Learning to Walk Again --First Steps on the Net (December, 1994) Looking over my columns from that era is a real hoot. They are archived at http://lgrossman.com/mjnk/.

Well, its been more than half a dozen years since then and a lot has changed. MCS turned out to be a solid, if quirky, provider and things went very well. Karl's grating personality drove away many customers, but he cared passionately about the business and strove to make it work. Karl's standard reply when customers complained about technical issues was that the problem must be on the user's end. But miraculously, after the internal newsgroup of MCS subscribers began to show the same problem across platforms and among a lot of users, somehow, the problems would get fixed.

One of the major benefits of MCS was its active newsgroups, which created a community of common interests. Unlike some of the nation wide groups that exist today, the group was small enough that a participant could learn who to trust and who was just blowing steam. Useful help was abundant. That kind of intimacy and trust is not available in the big online newsgroups and forums available today.

During the half dozen years I used MCS, my website collection grew from one or two simple pages, to become an elaborate site, containing over 200 html pages in addition to countless text files and graphics. Through all that, I refused to get my own domain name. "This is a hobby," I said, "Who needs his own domain name. That's just an ego trip. " And it sounded so complicated. Finding a host, selecting a name, registering it, propagating it, moving all of my files . . .

During this time I had subscribed to 's MediaOne for broadband cable access. [So much for the idea that by eliminating this column, I would cut down my online time. Now I was all cable, all the time.] But I still needed my MCS account to host and manage my web pages. MediaOne permitted personal pages, but not personal domains. There was no point in my going to all the trouble of moving my pages and still not having my own domain.

Then came the sale to Winstar and things started to deteriorate. News group access became degraded; Karl's unique spamblocker technology was discontinued. Then, last Spring, eliminated shell access. That should have been the real warning. But still as others left, I was still there to turn out the lights.

Then, early last summer the boom fell. Winstar announced they were going out of the dialup business. Their stock had gone from something like $27.00 to 27 cents. (Rumors have it that Karl cashed out long ago and did not get burned. I hope so. ) We were warned that we had an option to transfer to Earthlink or leave. On a certain date our web pages would disappear. I began to look for a new host. I was terrified. If only I had my own domain name.

Finally one weekend, convinced by an e-mail I had received from Winstar that my websites would be disappearing imminently, I bit the bullet, found a new hosting service, Dreamhost, online and began the process of choosing and registering a domain name and setting up the account. It was tedious, and the host I chose had no voice tech support, so I had to guess whether I was doing things right.

I set up the domain, put up a temporary home page and began the wait for the site to propogate across the nameservers. Then I got a note from a friend in Australia . . . She had reached the new site. Now, as soon as I could see it here in Chicago, I could begin the process of moving hundreds of files. Moments later I reached it, too. I began FTPing hundreds of files into the same directory structure I had at MCS so that at least those pages that had relative links would still link to one another. I wish I had learned about relative links a few years ealier. I am still finding broken links to my old address.

It was tedious work. I was depressed. In the middle of it I received an e-mail. At first I thought it was SPAM and almost deleted it. "You are cordially invited. . . " the subject line read.

It turned out to be the beginning of a wonderful adventure.

But first I got my website moved. I had been getting nearly a thousand visitors a day on my old pages. Now I was getting only a hundred, and half of those were probably me, checking things out. Since I thought the old pages were going to disappear shortly, I hadn't put forwards on my old pages. But as the weeks went by the pages didn't go away. So, one by one I replaced my most important pages with referrers and slowly traffic began to build. I must have put up about half a dozen before the pages did disappear one day, about six weeks later.

My pages ranked highly on Google and some of the other search engines. Now they were still there, but the links were to dead sites. 404 should have been my URL. Has a certain ring, http://404.com/.

My Google rankings are slowly picking up, but even though I have submitted my main pages to the other engines, many have dropped me in their listings.

I wish there was a service that would provide some kind of ghost hosting at my old address and would forward from there. I have written Winstar a number of times asking if they would let me do something like that, at least from the six or seven top pages, since they still own the MCS domain, but they have never even done me the courtesy of saying no. They simply ignore my requests. Still, I didn't know how lucky I was. It could have been much worse.

The AT&T Broadband Debacle

During recent weeks there have been many stories about the bankruptcy and likely demise of the Excite@Home broadband network. As part of the bankruptcy proceedings, AT&T was negotiating for purchase of @Home's physical network. Comcast and others were in the bidding. There were rumors that @Home would cut off AT&T's access to its facilities as negotiations intensified. On Friday, November 30, 2001, the Bankruptcy Judge authorized @Home to pull the plug. AT&T posted a notice and press releases on its website about what would happen in the event of a shut down. Most notably, it expressly stated that present and former MediaOne Subscribers would not be affected by any service cutback.

[At this point I should note, that over the past few months AT&T has been converting its MediaOne subscribers to @Home. This was also a painful process with much confusion. Subscribers with MediaOne e-mail addresses had to change to @home.com. Personal websites needed new domains. The use of routers or cable gateways to network two or three computers in your home to use one broadband connection had been essentially transparent under MediaOne. To discourage multiple users on one account, the process has been made much more complicated by AT&T since the switch. But the use of home gateways is a story for another time.]

Well, as I have said, I became an AT&T@Home subscriber. Aside from a few issues regarding the use of a cable gateway to network my home system, the transition wasn't too difficult. [Of coure, AT&T did try to interfere with free home networking, but that was another story.

As a recent convert from MediaOne, I was not worried about the posibility of a shutdown. Friday night [November 30], I posted copies of AT&T's reassuring press release in news groups and on mailing lists to users in my area. Many Oak Parkers were slow to go on line. But when they did, many jumped in directly to broadband. For most of us MediaOne was the monopoly of choice (some of us live close enough to the Telco switch to use DSL, but most do not). In recent months, I would say that a huge percentage of e-mail from people active in local affairs has had the MediaOne.net as the domain. I felt good that through a little online research, I was able to let my friends know not to worry.

Then, @Home called AT&T's bluff. According to the news reports, access could be cut as soon as midnight that Friday. Rumors pushed it back to 3 or 4:00 a.m., Saturday morning. The system was still up at 4:30 a.m. (I told you I haven't broken this online habit.) And again at 7:30 when I went to get in the shower. I came back up to my study a little after 8:00. The cable modem was dead. No connections.

More than three quarters of a million AT&T customers had been cut off - maybe more. [I later received a note from another former MediaOne subscriber who told me that the tech support person told him that well over two million subscribers have lost access. I was not able to confirm that report.] AT&T insists that it properly warned its customers by e-mail and telephone. That is simply false. I received no warning. Further, they had expressly told a large subset of their subscribers they would not be affected. It took several hours to get a hold of tech support, which sheepishly admitted, in effect, that they had lied. Perhaps in some other geographic areas, MediaOne subscribers were protected. But the entire state of Illinois was down.

I consider myself lucky. When I set up my domain with Dreamhost, I started using my new domain for e-mail. And my web pages had been moved. Strangely enough, my old MCS e-mail address still works, although it primarily receives ads for penis enlargement and get rich quick schemes. All I needed was a dial-up account and I would be back in business. I could pull my mail through my Yahoo Mail account on anyone else's machine or directly from MCS and LGrossman.com -- if I could get on line. I had prepared. When MCS/Winstar went down, I signed up with Earthlink for a cheap dialup account as a backup.

I had never needed it and had lost the set up parameters, but with a call to Earthlink/Mindstream support, I was soon online. [BTW: If you are having trouble thinking of Christmas presents for someone who has almost everything, get him or her a speaker phone. It is the most essential tool for anyone who has to wait to get through to tech support for all those other things they have.]

I went through immediate high-speed withdrawal. At first I was amazed how fast things go without cable at times, but most of the time it is dismal. My Earthlink account was designed as a cheap back up. It only included ten hours of usage, before hourly charges kick in. I have upgraded the account, but it took several days until the next billing cycle kicked in to change my rates. I am afraid to see the bill. Customer Service kindly confirmed that I could cancel my account and set up a new one, with almost free service for a couple of months, but, I really didn't want to spend another afternoon changing the setup for each of my accounts once I finally got the up again. They gave me a $20 credit. I haven't seen the bill yet.

But, as I said, I was lucky. Many former MediaOne customers have just gone through the trauma of changing their accounts and their e-mail addresses. Now they have had to do it all again. Many accepted AT&T's assurances and did not back up their old web pages. It is certain they will have to move them. It is not clear at this time whether they will be able to reach their old pages to make the back ups. Many, based on AT&T's' assurances, failed to set up alternative accounts. It is amazing how blind and sealed up one can feel when access is lost. The economic losses, and the cost to AT&T's credibility will be immense. Not to mention the simple loss of time and the aggravation and frustration as we reconfigure and reconfigure. Now when mail addressed to MediaOne .net or AT&[email protected] bounces, try ATTBI.com, AT&T's latest incarnation.

AT&T estimated that restoring service nation wide would take up to seven days or more. Service was first restored in some western states and spread slowly east. In the Chicago area, most of us were offline for about four days, even though they has earlier issued a news release indicating Chicago would be up a day or two sooner. AT&T has promised a rebate of two days charges for every day off line. How presumptuous. Cable is expensive, but when divided into daily charges it is not much. A week's rebate at that rate would come to something like $15. Divided by the hours I have spent getting back on line, which for me was relatively easy, that comes to a mere pittance. Not to mention the cost of alternative service.]

I have long argued that the cable companies should not be content providers. Quite simply they should do no more than maintain the pipe. First of all, the big companies simply do not understand the Internet and how it is used. Each of them supports only one or two browsers, only one or two e-mail clients, they have never heard of third party news group readers. They do not know what the shell is and care less. They refuse to support many of these tools. Let them provide the pipe. Let ISPs or hosting companies provide the rest. Indeed, in effect that is what I have now. The cable and DSL providers would be required to provide simple connectivity directly to the host or ISP of your choice. Nothing more - Nothing less. If that were the case here, thousands of others could do what I have done, simply changed my pipe. It is a nuisance, but I am up and running. Many of my friends are not so lucky.

Back to top


Nachas is a Yiddish term that means something like the joy one gets from one's family. This tale isn't exactly about family, but it feels like it. Over the years, I have written about the pleasure I have had in actually meeting the people I have known online. Visiting Oslo was partly about that. But this story takes the prize. About half a dozen years ago, I somehow found myself on a small mailing list, the Drivel list started by Lynn Alford, the Programmer in Black, who reviews games for WindoWatch. There I met Paul Saunders from Tasmania. It seems that at about the same time he was part of an online group called Callahan's Bar. There he met Susan Martin who lives in Chicago. He visited her here a few times, the first time arriving from the hot Australian summer in the midst of a Chicago blizzard. We all went out to hear good Chicago jazz that time. Well, Paul came back a year or so ago, and they decided to get married. It was with great pleasure that I accepted Paul's invitation to serve as Best Man and act as an MC at the reception and dinner. Little more than a week after the WTC tragedy and saddened by the illness of Susan's father and the fact that Paul's sister and grandmother were unable to attend because of the interruption in air travel, it was still a joyous event, which carried a special message of perseverance and hope in those dark days. Paul's parents and his twin bother did make it, as did a large contingent of members of Callaghan's Bar. It was a very special occasion. I have put a collection of pictures of that day online. I am the guy with the gray (white?) beard, escorting the maid of honor.

Back to top

Up and Coming

In the coming months I hope to return with some regularity. I have missed the chance to put my thoughts online and share with you. Among topics for the future will be reviews of Irfanview, a powerful freeware graphics viewer and editor, and AVG, the free virus protection application from Grisoft, running in the background here, and regularly catching little beasties, without interfering with my regular operations.

I will also discuss my new machine. I have long been famous for writing from the perspective of the have-nots. Until this fall, my fastest machine was a P166 with 64 megs of RAM. But something came over me last September while I was at the monthly computer flea market and show at a local university. Somehow, I came home with a new box with a 1.4 gigaherz Athlon Thunderbird Chip, an ASUS A7A 266 FSB motherboard, 512 megs of DDR RAM and a few other features. Like a 21 inch monitor, CDRW and DVD. I will spare you for now the pain of the discovery, when I got home with that machine, that the vendor had "neglected" to install an operating system and had not included one in the box. To summarize, eventually I wound up with the OS I wanted, Win2Kpro. But there still remain a few tales to tell. I haven't even discovered them all.

A version of this essay originally appeared in the December edition of WindoWatch magazine. There, I promised to try to use cascading style sheets at last. I have been putting myself to sleep each night with H'akon's great book Cascading Style Sheets, Second Edition: Designing for the Web, which contains a very readable refresher course in HTML and a great tutorial on CSS. I want to thank the many friends who have helped with tips and hints about using CSS. If you have suggestions or criticisms about the way I have implemented it here, please drop me a note.

For online information on Cascading Styles Sheets, see the official W3C CSS site. For tips and tools and practical implementation visit glish.com. Other useful sources include Lynn Alford's Best Practices page, as well as W3School's CSS Tutorial, and A List Apart.

Back to top

A Final Note

You will note that I have not really discussed September 11, here. There is much room for discussion. Lois Laulicht, the editor of this magazine has written powerfully each month in her SoapBox columns. I have written elsewhere (see the October WindoWatch, for example) on some aspects of the situation. The current tendency to disregard principles of laws distresses me. There is much to say. I have been active in MidEast Web, An online world that originally focused on Israeli-Palestinian issues but is now expanding its scope. [The tragic bombings of the recent weeks may cause a refocusing of those efforts.] MideastWeb has a number of active mailing lists including dialog, hard news from many sources, and background and commentary.

One thing worth remarking here, though, is how the Internet has truly grown and developed. While there were many glitches, in the aftermath of the tragedy e-mail connected people who had lost their regular phone lines. We've come a long way since the days when the release of the Starr Report brought the Web to its knees. Although things slowed down on September 11, and television and radio provided immediate news, e-mail became a prime method of communication, which in many instances proved more reliable than even the telephone.

Since the Starr report, the Internet has grown in sophistication and capabality. Weblogs have evolved in variety and, in some cases, improved in responsibility. While Jorn Barger's Robot Wisdom has continued to sink, mired in hate and anti-Semitism, others have picked up the mantle. One of my favorites is Dan Hartung's Lake Effect. His view on post 9/11 events and politics may be somewhat more sanguine than I would would be, but it is thought provoking and thoughtful . He has collected a set of links to other relevant warblogs on his site. Definitely worth a look.

Among the many other kinds of weblogs, I am addicted to Lindsay Marshall's Bifurcated Rivets. I find myself visiting this eclectic site every day to see what Lindsay has found to bring a smile to my sour face.

Back to top

Visit me at LGrossman.com, the new home of the ModemJunkie's Portal. The Complete Archive of Reflections of a ModemJunkie can be found at LGrossman.com/mjnk/


The Morphing of a ModemJunkie - April, 2000


The Incredible Lightness


At first I thought of calling this valedictory essay, the Incredible Lightness of Being. When I first announced to a few friends a month or so ago that I was retiring the ModemJunkie columns, I felt an incredible lightness. A weight had been lifted from my shoulders. The next morning I plunged into my day job with an energy and focus I had not felt for a long time. I had made the right decision, I knew.


Still, strangely, as soon as I made the decision topics came flooding into my head. I was awash with ideas for future columns. Some practically wrote themselves in my head. All I would need to do, I thought, would be to sit at this machine and the words would pour out. But I know that is not so. As my column has developed in recent months,, I can no longer rely solely on think pieces. The need for research has become greater. Even simple articles demand copious links to make full use of the online medium. The time commitment is growing greater. Indeed. I had made the right decision. Writing a farewell should be easy.


But as the deadline grew closer other emotions surged. It is not easy to give up a principle source of joy. And I have enjoyed the freedom to share my thoughts, regardless of their worth, with a growing audience over the last ten years. The mood is definitely not light.


Yet, today I keep remembering a wonderful scene from the lat 60's movie, Bye, Bye, Braverman. Sadly, this movie does not seem to have ever been released in video. But one scene keeps coming to mind. One of the main characters, a writer, has a project due. He straightens out his desk, sharpens his pencils, puts a clean piece of paper in the typewriter, types a word or two. He pulls it out in disgust. Crumples it up, straightens out his desk, sharpens his pencils, puts a piece of paper in the typewriter . . . Over and over he repeats the ritual. But he cannot get started.


So, today, I keep going through some kind of delay. I have looked up terms in online dictionaries and in hard cover. I have taken the dog out. I have . . . Well, anything to get started. Usually, for me once I start it flows. But... Oh the dog is barking. I'll be back in a moment.


In the beginning


In the beginning was the word..... Oh no, that was another beginning. For this column the beginning was ten years ago this month. Ten years ago, I bought my first computer a 286 with a 40 meg hard drive. I seem to recall that it was a 12 megahertz machine with a Hercules graphics card for sharper text. But I had to be talked up to that machine. All I wanted was an XT with WP 5.1


That first night a friend came over and installed about 20 megs of software and two peripherals.

The most important software was Lotus Magellan, that great Swiss Army Knife of a file manager.

The peripherals were a dot matrix printer and a 1200 baud modem. That modem changed my life.


Within weeks I was hooked. I was commenting regularly in Fidonet and RIME echos or newsgroups on a local BBS, Syslink (which sadly, went off line completely in January after over 18 years - Final statistics showed that I had logged on to Syslink over 37,000 times). By the end of the year, I was a regular on the GEnie network and on CompuServe.


In 1992, I wrote my first software review for the newsletter of one of Chicago's oldest PC User Groups, CACHE. That review of Quicken is still one of my favorite pieces. I have archived it with my ModemJunkie articles at http://lgrossman.com/mjnk/quicken.txt

By the next year I was writing fairly regular articles for CACHE under the ModemJunkie byline. By late 1994, I was chronicling the web on a regular basis. Indeed, my columns were becoming irregular precursors of the now nearly ubiquitous weblogs.


Although the title was meant in jest, it bore a kernel of truth. By then I was spending far too much time online. Then in 1995, Lois Laulicht spotted a comment I had posted on the RIME network about Windows 95. Lois asked permission to include it in the forthcoming edition of WindoWatch magazine. http://www.windowatch.com


Since then her regular gentle reminders have encouraged me to write. And Lois has encouraged me to broaden my perspective and not to fear that any topic was too esoteric or too far from the expected focus of my regular readers. (And she has courageously used her Editor's Soapbox to discuss a wide variety of topics ordinarily ignored by similar zines)? By Spring 1996, I finally dipped my feet in HTML and began posting my columns in that format as well. In the past four years, my articles and web pages have been viewed well over a quarter of a million times. I have written about everything from the Starr Report to the short stories of E.M.Forster. I have reviewed software and weblogs. I have written on broad public issues and on personal, almost private matters.


So what brings me to this pass.


The Morphing of a ModemJunkie


The word morphing implies change. It has roots in linguistics and biology and faint echoes of mythology and medicine. Structure and addiction. It has been adapted to use in the computer world to describe the change from one image to another. It is a good word for this point in my life. A morphed image is not an entirely new one. One can generally trace the stages in a morphed image.


The computer and online worlds are changing. That 12 megahertz machine was fast for its day. Indeed, I had to use a program called slow.com (remember when .com meant a command file and not a website) to even be able to run some older games, like the fascinating Cron. In fact, I had to run several iterations of slow.com to even see the action.


My 1200 bps modem was quite satisfactory. 2400 was O.K. too. When I jumped to 9600 and then 14,400, I had to change my online reading habits. Before that I could usually read a scrolling screen of text as it downloaded. Now I had to pause text at every screen. Today I am blessed with a cable modem. When it works well it is amazing. This morning I downloaded my entire 7.3 meg html.log for March in a few seconds at transfer rates exceeding 2.3 megabits per second.


My columns, too, have changed. And not necessarily for the better. The bemused, amused, everyman, humorously taking on Microsoft and challenging the system has become, at one time, sadder and angrier and more serious. A certain lightness has been lost.


And fast as things are getting, there is only so much time. I feel the existence of this column is giving me too good an excuse to limit my life. I need time for other things. I need time to discover what they are. (I can, at least theoretically, retire from my day job in 3 years if I can find another source of income. I need time to plan that too... but even more, I need time to discover new directions. As of now, I can?'t even imagine what I would do -- but staying at home on line is not the option I want to exercise. Keeping up this column would push me in that direction, by default.)


There is still much to write and think about. Webloggers do daily much of what I was doing every month or so but sometime it is hard to get the big picture from so close up.


I worry about the commercialization of the Web. The excitement for me was the openness of communications. My early websites compete with the best of that era. I carved them by hand. I am not interested in learning the latest tools and gimmicks. There seems less space for ideas and more noise and hype than ever. Soon, even my beloved Opera browser won't fit on a single floppy.


Perhaps it is a character flaw. But I have never been interested in making money. That is not quite right. When I was in college, I drove an ice cream truck each summer. How much I made depended on how hard I worked. I wound up working from 9:00 a.m. to midnight. Later, I drove a cab, I drove from 2:00 in the afternoon until I couldn't any more. Sometime until the sun came up. I don't like living that way. (Maybe I have a conflict about money -- I sold my Dell stock at 44; allowed my self to get talked out of USRobotics at 2. I have never made a penny on the web. If anyone wants to pay me for my thoughts, I might rethink this attitude.) I am not interested in e-commerce. I don't want to become more driven.


As I watch the bloat and hype I feel like a very small boy with my finger in a huge dam and there are so many holes.


Every piece of improved software I have used in the past two years is also at least one step back.

I am tired of trying to even keep behind. I used to be able to build myself machines at a reasonable price and stay close enough to the state of the art. But with Gigahertz processors on hand software bloat just continues. Recent articles point out the difficulty of keeping up. By the time your order is delivered, processor speed has jumped and you are well behind.


Since making my decision, almost every day brings some new topic that cries for the long view. A catalogue here would not help.

The power of the Internet and the speed with which misinformation can spread multiplies beyond calculation. It is especially hard to give up a platform in a political year, so I don't expect to disappear entirely. I expect to reappear under a different mark from time to time. Perhaps it will be under the style, the Ordinary Potato. It is a name I have thought of using since my law school days. (Note: Yeshiva University already has used that name for its special Purim parody http://www.yucommentator.com/archives/purim/ so I may have to rethink my plans.)


I thank my regular readers and all those who have commented from time to time.


Sleeping Dogs


My recent columns on online responsibility have been especially draining. Indeed. It was in rereading those columns that I realized that I had lost the voice or persona of the ModemJunkie. My columns had become more serious and required greater effort.

I never could obtain the objective distance from Jorn Barger irresponsible link that I had hoped. I had hoped this month to put that all behind me, except to thank all those who responded to those articles publically or privately, regardless of whether we agreed or not.


Amanda Holland-Minkley, who writes Screenshot weblog, feels I misrepresented her and perhaps others. In my description to the reactions of the Weblog community. I apologize if I have done so and I refer you to her follow-up piece for consideration. She certainly does well demonstrate the hazzards of pullquoting. See her entry for February 16 at http://www.io.com/~amh/screenshot/arch/Feb16_00.html

One of the interesting features of the weblog world is the way in which the bloggers speak to one another through their own pages instead of directly. That only works, however, when everyone posts almost every day. So I hope the others who responded will forgive me if I don't point to pages at this late date. Most of you will find links to your pages either in the original piece Trust or Consequences http://lgrossman.com/mjnk/mjnk0001.htm or in the follow-up What a Tangled Web



As I said, I had hoped to merely let sleeping dogs lie but last week I received an e-mail from a reader who had found a new link to Shahak essay on Jorn's pages. He had pointed again to the web page set up by Matt Nuenke, a notorious racist, nationalist and proponent of eugenics, who hosts the article by Israel Shahak that triggered my earlier articles this month. This time Barger suggests that the article can give some context to an unfortunate story originating in Israel. There are a number of more responsible sources to obtain such context, as I have pointed out before. See, for example, For the Land and the Lord: Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel" by Ian S. Lustick.

http://www.sas.upenn.edu/penncip/lustick/index.html for a more balanced view of the subject.


I conclude with the same quotation with which I began my January piece:


Webloggers gamble their reputation with every link they offer. /p>

-- Jorn Barger

So, Dear readers, Farewell/ I may be back. Maybe as the Ordinary Potato. Maybe even as the ModemJunkie. But for now I need to morph.



What a Tangled Web: February 2000


Lindsay Marshall wrote last month in his weblog, Bifurcated Rivets,

Is it just me or is the web really rather dull at the moment - loads of really stupid e-commerce sites and not a lot else. Maybe I am just feeling jaded and uninspired.

I often have the same feeling. For some time, nothing I come across seems to inspire awe or amazement. Then, almost out of the blue will come a reminder of just what an amazing thing this web really is. From Wall Street to Fleet Street, maybe the money and the media are entranced by the possibilities of E-commerce, but that is not why I am here.

Sir Walter Scott wrote, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave/when first we practice to deceive." But it is not deceit that interests me this week. It is the amazing, tangled interconnectedness of the web that inspires this months maundering.

Mysticism and Music

I, too, was in a mood like Lindsay's. Home one day last week recovering from a bug, I really didn't want to write this piece. I knew I had to follow up on last month's mire and needed a change of pace. I checked in with Dan Fitch's Apathy weblog - a refreshingly unpretentious site that frequently lifts my spirits. For several days Dan featured an evolving diagram. It looked something like this:

1 2
.' .'.'.'.
2-.' .' . '.'.'.-1
Patton |--: .:!:. :--| Grubbs
1-'. '. .'.'.'-2
'. | |'.'
2-'. .'-1
Zorn |'.'| Fahey
1--' '--2

Dan described it as a "musical diagramme." But in the serendipity that is the Web, I misread "musical" as "mystical." In that frame of mind, it reminded me of the mystical Tree of the Sefirot, an image used in Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism. I did a search on Google which led me to a page of illustrations from Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection. The first illustration there is from a 16th century translation of the Kabbalah. Some of the images there bore a remarkable resemblance to Dan's ASCII drawing.

The Sefirot

In my haste to find the image, I hadn't noticed that the article was not about Judaism but about the founder of Mormanism. A better source might have been Treasures from the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica. The image there is larger and the text puts the woodcut in some context. But even that is a far stretch from an authentic Jewish source. What a tangled web!!

In any event, I sent Dan a note. He wrote me back, calling my attention to the reference to Zorn in his diagram and pointing me to John Zorn's Tzadik, a project dedicated to releasing avant garde and experimental music, presenting a worldwide community of contemporary musician-composers who find it difficult or impossible to release their music through more conventional channels. One of the subdivisions of that catalog is Radical Jewish Culture which includes music from more than two dozen contemporary Jewish artists.

The music was an eclectic collection. For each artist there were one or two Real Audio clips. I spent a good part of the day saying, I'll listen to just one more, what will 1 minute and twenty seconds cost me?" Some of the music is quite accessible, some challenging, some magnificent, some....indescribable. With one exception, each set introduced me to music I had never heard before. The music was in many styles. Jazz, modern Klezmer, classical... styles I couldn't begin to describe. Some even had to do with Jewish mysticism, which is where this journey started. The only thing I didn't understand was the inclusion of a large collection of Burt Bacharach songs. I am just not sure what Liberty Valance has to do with Judaism.

This was an adventure. A happenstance association led me to new discovery. This is what the Web has always been about for me. This is what led me to Weblogs in the first place. In the midst of all the e-commerce and commercialism, I needed ways to find what I wasn't looking for.

Let me repeat that. I needed ways to find what I wasn't looking for. The Web is great at finding what you ARE looking for. Once I got the idea that Dan's image reminded me of the Sefirot, it only took a few seconds to type in a few key words in the Google search engine. And Voila! I had found the images I wanted to share with him.

That is useful. And search engines have come a long way. Back when I started on the Internet, we had to use tools like, gopher, veronica and archie to search things out. A pioneering series popularizing the Internet appeared in the Chicago Tribune in 1995, Finding Poetry in the Net, discussed the tools available back then in detail. We have come a long way since then.

But efficiency is not what addicted me to the Internet. As Dan wrote, in a response to a note from me: "The interconnected amazement never ceases." Interconnection and the unexpected. Those are the amazing strengths of this medium.

By the way, Lindsay's, dyspeptic remark has it's own answer. The latest edition of Bifurcated Rivets is full of new finds and amazing recommendations.

Kabbalah is a fascinating subject. Jewish tradition insists that before it is safe to study Kabbalah, one must be thoroughly familiar with the Torah and the Talmudand, to over simplify, all the commentaries on the commentaries. (If I remember right, one is also not to begin study of Kabbalah until one is at least 40 years old.) In addition, there are many sites on the Web which lead to a kind of new age mystical interpretation or use of Kabbalah as a shortcut to some kind of mystical union or meditative state. That is not the intended purpose of Kabbalah. So it is with some trepidation that I point you to an interesting introduction to concepts of Kabbalah: the Lone Star Kabbalah page. It is certainly a popularization and a simplification, and as such, contradicts the tradition by its very accessibility and existence. Nevertheless, it is a glimpse. Contemporary computer generated images of the Tree of the Sefirot can be found there as well. Caution: the author claims he uses them for meditation, himself.

Back to the top

What's a library? updated.

In 1995, Andy Lester posted the following fantasy in a Usenet article:

Grandpa Andy, tell me about life before the Infobahn!

Well, it was pretty rough. We used to have these things called 'newspapers', and they were like newsgroups, except that they were printed on paper! And we had books. They were like big FAQs, but also on paper. And there were these library things, where they collected these books and newspapers.....

Kind of like a big FTP site?

Yes, Johnny, kind of like a big FTP site.

Quoted in Life Before the InfoBahn.

Of course, one day, FTP sites may go the way of gopher and veronica as sources of information. The Washington Post recently suggested that the Usenet itself may soon become history. But what reminded me of the Andy's hypothetical anecdote was something else.

In one of my many hats, I teach Advanced Drafting and Legal Research in Labor Law to third year students at IIT/Chicago Kent College of Law. Three years ago, I was amazed to discover that my students were quite unfamiliar with the Web. After the Westlaw and Lexis training sessions, I devoted an extra session to just learning how to browse. Today that is no longer necessary. Indeed, this year's students are aware of sources I had not discovered on my own, like FindLaw.com. And, unhampered by a decade of bad habits, they make much more efficient use of their time on the Web than I do.

But over the years, I have sensed that students, like the rest of us, are becoming too reliant on the Internet. I detected the same thing in my daughter's study habits over the years. There is the feeling that any paper can be put off until the last moment. All you have to do is sit down at 10:00 at night and type a few words into a search engine. And voila! Instant research. No need to move from your room, no need to fiddle with dusty volumes.

For law students with free access to Lexis and Westlaw, the temptation to stay glued to the computer is overwhelming. Especially for busy night students with demanding full time day jobs and families as well. I remember. I did it that way -- except there were no computers back then.

But there are things that can't be learned on line. You can't browse in the traditional sense. You can't serendipitously discover related material that isn't within your search terms. I could go on. Once the free accounts expire, the ones the commercial services kindly provide to law students to get them hooked, the cost can be prohibitive. In the private sector, the lawyer is billed by the search. An hour or two on line can cost hundreds of dollars. If the cost can't be passed on to the client . . . Need I say more?

So I began this semester with a new introduction.

I gave a little personal history. "I have been practicing law for over 20 years," I said.
"But before that, I taught Junior High for ten years." "So," I announced, "Tonight we are taking a field trip."

I looked at their amazed eyes in amusement. "Yes," I said. "We are going somewhere some of you may not have been in years. Somewhere dark and dusty. Where you can explore unseen treasures. We are going to the . . . library."

Now, the library at Kent is one of the best. Well lighted, clean, comfortable, and a major repository of legal material, it is not really dark and dusty. Still, most of the students admitted they rarely used the library, except, perhaps, for the computer labs and online materials. One student admitted he hadn't been to the library in two years. In my class, students will have to use paper materials to complete some of their assignments. So we went as a group. I pointed out the loose leaf services with their useful indices and finding lists. We actually touched the volumes of statutes, and the tissue paper thin update pamphlets and volumes. In paper, one can see the context and relationship of the parts. We visited the Federal Register section. Hundreds of pages, published every business day of the year. A searchable Federal Register is available free online. But when searching online one cannot get a hint of the vast quantities of material published every day. And then we took a peek at the legislative history, the Congressional Record and related materials. These materials are very hard to search on line. And they are essential to thorough research.

Much of this material is now on line. But there is a utility as well as a pleasure in handling the text. In reading. In actually taking notes instead of cutting and pasting. I believe there is a kinetic connection between mind and source in the writing process. (Indeed, I resent what seems to be a drastic reduction in my attention span, in my ability to read anything that does not have strong narrative pull since I have become a modemjunkie - - but that is a topic for another day.)

So we paraded like Miss Peach and her charges, sans umbrella, to and through the library. I think it was a useful exercise. If nothing else, it was a little exercise. A few moments not sitting. And that has to be healthy.

Yes, Grandpa Andy. Its five years later. And there still are libraries. And at least some of today's students have seen them. I guaaaarooonteeee!

By the way, tonight my students completed a hands on paper assignment in the library. It took them more than an hour. One of them then reported he tried the same project online. It only took him eight minutes. As things online get faster and better, the traditional tools will be even harder to sell.

Back to the top

Trust or Consequences -- The Aftermath

"Webloggers gamble their reputation with every link they offer."
-- Jorn Barger January 13, 2000.

Last month's article, Trust or Consequences, was a drag. Literally. It dragged me down. It is clear I was angry before I began to write. Sometimes writing is a way of purging tension. This time it merely served to increase the upset. I like the persona who usually appears on these pages. A bit of Everyman battling hype and ballyhoo. Celebrating computers and the Internet, but trying to put it all some kind of perspective. But last month's article needed to be written. Not to expurgate my demons but to air necessary and continuing issues.

The response was interesting. A number of well known Weblog authors linked to my essay. Many offered their comments. While my essay was triggered by an antisemitic article written by Israel Shahak and posted by a recognized neo-Nazi, very few responses dealt with the actual content of that article. Instead, most focused on the responsibility of the Weblog author and the nature of the Weblog.

Dan Bricklin, cocreator of VisiCalc linked to the article in his weblog. He found that my essay raised another issue:


When writing for the web there are many levels of research you can do. Doing the research takes time -- often lots of time. If it takes too much time, you can't keep up the pace of posting. Understanding this cost is important. This isn't much different than with normal journalism, but still needs to be said for this more "private" type of communication.


Bricklin gave examples and invited comments. He later collected some of the comments at and made them available in a special archive.

Lynn Millett, who writes the Medley Weblog picked up on the subject in her January 12 blog and linked to my piece, saying.


Dan Bricklin points to this thought-provoking reflection on weblogging [My essay. LAG] and what the journalistic responsibility of weblog writers is. Seems that the author of the piece was disturbed by some inflammatory (and to his mind at least somewhat inaccurate) information he read in Robot Wisdom. It's a question that's been asked before. How much of a responsibility do webpage editors (whether it be weblogs, journals, rants, opinion pieces, whatever) have to be accurate and fair? How much work should they (we) put in to do so? This is a highly loaded question with lots of issues associated with it. I don't have any good answers, but will jot down what I try to do.

Her detailed and thoughtful discussion is archived and is still available online.

Lynn went one step further, however. She created an online discussion forum for the subject. This discussion led to some interesting issues.

The discussion revealed a certain sense of self importance among some webloggers. Dan Lyke, who edits the Flutterby Weblog, wrote that he believed that Webloggers had a much higher standard of ethics than the mainstream media. On the other hand, in a later note he wrote, "Isn't "journalistic ethics" an oxymoron anyway. I mean, why would anyone apply a higher standard of truth to Jorn than, say, the New York Times?" I doubt that I have suggested any such thing.

He also declined to comment substantively on my article, since I have already had my "15 minutes." How kind of him. Since I have been writing and posting commentary on line in one form or another since 1990, I guess I had better pack it up.

Another writer suggested the heart of what weblogs are really all about is subversion of the fourth estate. David Chess had a less lofty view:

I don't expect or require that bloggers giving links also give suggestions as to how seriously the material at the other end should be taken; I can judge that for myself, and I don't consider or expect the bloggers to be expert judges to whom I should defer. We're all just trading "here's something that might be worth a look" pointers. That's what we do....

David Chess has his own Weblog but reserved his comments for Medley's discussion group.

Amanda Holland-Minkley picked up on the same perspective in her article for January 17 in her Screenshot Weblog.

I don't agree at all that I have a responsibility to verify the accuracy of the things that I point to. I think that it's very clear that the things I write are just my reactions to what I read. I'm not claiming to have found the Truth.

I really see weblogging as more like journaling than journalism; the "reading in public" quote is quite applicable here. I assume that all a link in a weblog means is that the writer found something in the linked-to article/site that interested them on some level, or made them think even a bit. They are sharing that with me, and perhaps some commentary on what it was about the link that grabbed them.

I believe that approach can lead to an abandonment of responsibility and loss of respect. While it may be accurate with regard to some links and on some blogs, it ignores the context of the original link which, appeared to me to assume the accuracy of the linked material and pullquoted the most lurid language, ignoring the clearly tainted source of the article and the incendiary nature of the material, as well. Why does that remind me that we no longer give unwrapped candy or fresh fruit to trick or treaters?

At the very least, Amanda's approach is honest. She does not hold forth the lofty view that some bloggers have that they are a needed alternative to the mainstream media.

Pith and Vinegar echoed the same viewpoint, stating, on January 12, "I think many weblogs don't claim to be authoritative sources on subjects (just one person's point of view), but as with all things on the 'Net, they should be taken with a grain of salt."

A number of other Weblogs linked to my article, including some without substantive comment, such as Apathy and Camworld. I believe the discussion which has been generated has been worth while.

Although the article focused on a link and related pullquotes posted by Jorn Barger on his weblog and I invited his response, he did not choose to respond to me. Instead he responded on the message board created by Medley. Indeed, his was the first response. He did not answer the question posed by Medley. Instead, he wrote:

Webloggers gamble their reputation with every link they offer. If they link to a page that consists entirely of character-assassination, they lose my respect. (Grossman's page is entirely character assassination.)


Certainly, I agree with the first sentence. Indeed it is the sad subtext of my essay itself. Webloggers do gamble their reputation with every link they offer. I have tremendous respect for Mr. Barger's work. But he gambled his reputation with that link and his failure to acknowledge questions about it. I think -- I hope -- that is what comes through in the article.

The second sentence of Mr. Barger's response, and the parenthetical which follows are troubling. It is sad that Mr. Barger saw my piece as a personal attack -- as character assassination -- although, I can understand why. Still, I did not ascribe to him the qualities I ascribe to the original poster of the Shahak piece. Indeed, I deleted over 12 single spaced pages from the first draft of my essay. I tried, apparently unsuccessfully, from his point of view, to eliminate any unfair inferences I may have raised in my original outraged response to his comments and the link he posted.

Oddly, Mr. Barger's post is in its own way character assassination itself. The implication is that he lost respect for those who linked to my article. About half a dozen webloggers linked to my article. Many among the most respected in the Weblog community. They may not have agreed with my premise. But at least some of them saw an issue for consideration. (I also note that Mr. Barger linked again to a number of their pages in the days that followed, although he still does not respond to mail from me).

Maybe I have had too lofty a view of the weblogging community. However, there was one other comment worth noting. Dan Hartung in his Lake Effect Weblog for January 12, wrote:

ModemJunkie writes brilliantly of Trust or Consequences. In this era of Big-Deal media convergence, it's tempting to assume that webloggers can provide an independent voice. Leonard argues convincingly that we still need to question carefully what we read. The weblogging community is a quiet, conversational inglenook of the net. Other corners of the net contain extremely questionable journalism, and their members implicitly trust each other. One year ago, as these corners argued about why "the truth" was not being presented on traditional media, the worry I had was of media fragmentation, where no one outlet had the authority and goodwill that American journalism once seemed to automatically accrue. We've still got work to do.

Perhaps Dan has it right. Clearly, many of the Bloggers refuse to accept responsibility, whether as a matter of principle or simply by habit. Or perhaps, as Dan Bricklin suggests, careful checking may be beyond the nature of the beast. So my essay becomes a cautionary tale. The reader must always be on guard. If not careful, perhaps the Weblog community will lose the goodwill that it had been building.

Don't accept candy from strangers.

By the way, none of the commentators answered a question I thought I had posed, or at least implied, in my essay: What should an author who publishes on the web do when a reader points out a problem with content on page or with a link to which it points? Assuming the author has the ability to do so, does the author have any obligation to respond in any way - publicly or privately?

Back to Top

Notes and additional sources:

Bifurcated Rivets
Rivets Archive

Dan Bricklin's Log
Bricklin's Discussion of ModemJunkie Article
http://www.bricklin.com/log/2000_01_10.htm .
Bricklin's Collected Reactions to his Discussion of ModemJunkie Article.

Medley Weblog (Discussion of ModemJunkie Article)
Medley Discussion Board


David Chess

Screenshot (Discussion of ModemJunkie Article)

Pith and Vinegar (Discussion of ModemJunkie Article)


Lake Effect Weblog (Discussion of ModemJunkie Article)

Search engine:


Kabbalah and related materials:

Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection. http://www.webcom.com/~gnosis/jskabbfn.htm
Treasures from the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica http://www.ritmanlibrary.nl/treasures-091.htm .
Lone Star Kabbalah
Talmud Sources

John Zorn's Tzadik
Radical Jewish Culture

Finding Poetry in the Net

Life Before the InfoBahn
Trust or Consequences

Washington Post essay on the Usenet

Westlaw http://www.westlaw.com

Federal Register



Trust or Consequences, January 2000


Ah, a clean slate, a new page, a new year, a new start, a brave new world. . .. Well, already I know better.

After a relaxing Holiday weekend, I began writing my January essay in long hand. With my right hand. That would not be unusual except for two things: 1. I am left handed. 2. I haven't written anything by hand that could be written on a keyboard for the last ten years. My handwriting is illegible. That was the reason, and the only reason, I got a computer back in the dark ages. So, I had hoped to begin the new era with an exploration of the results of an experiment in attempting to write with my right hand for several days. The new millennium would begin with a new me. Clear thinking, competent, patient, thorough. But just as so often happened before we entered the '00s, something occurred that stole my time and interrupted my plans.

In late December, the editor of a respected Weblog quoted extensively, selectively, and, worst of all, from my perspective, approvingly, from a very troubling document. This event raised a number of significant issues. How do we discern troubling content? How can we validate what we find? And What can we do about it?

I am not the first nor will I be the last to explore these matters. Others have already joined the fray. I hope this essay will stimulate a further discussion and debate on the issues.

One of the interesting things about the Internet is the ability of anyone, even me, to create and publish authentic looking, authoritative appearing documents for virtually no cost and with little effort. A bogus report on a serious subject looks just as official as the real thing. Using search engines, we can be led to official authority, unofficial commentary, and misleading or fraudulent material in the click of a mouse. In the face of such possibility questions must also be raised about the responsibilities of web authors.

One of the joys of the Internet is discovering new sites about wholly new subjects - - things I never knew I was interested in. Search engines and portals are useful for finding something when you know what you are looking for, but where do you go to find the unknown.

I have written before in these pages in praise of Weblogs. Further, In the "Getting Started section of my home page, I wrote,

In the last two years Weblogs have become a phenomenon on the web. Although the sites are filtered through the sensibility of the editor or "blogger," you can quickly come to know the quirks and strengths of one or two, so you know who to trust and what to take with a grain of salt. Blogs vary from sites which are little more than lists of new links discovered and collected during the blogger's daily online journey , to detailed diaries and journals. Most are eclectic but focus on a few areas of interest.

Before the advent of Weblogs, the one of the best ways to find new sites was to follow newsgroups that specialized in announcements of new pages. I still like them because you can find sites that otherwise slip through the cracks - especially because they are unfiltered by a reviewer's tastes or interests. I have pointed to some in the Getting Started section. But, these sites rely on descriptions prepared by the page editors and authors themselves, or their publicists, not necessarily objective observers. In the welter of new sites, hot lists, and commercial portals, I felt that Weblogs provided a useful tool to assist the web surfer to find new and interesting sites in a more personal way.

So, How did I get absorbed in this topic?

In late December, Jorn Barger, editor of the Robot Wisdom WebLog pulled ten paragraphs from an article he called a "[l]ong, extremely lucid (and appalling) history of Jewish fundamentalism" and quoted them on his page. (The material to which I refer has since been moved to an archive.)

I have written before in praise of Mr. Barger. I turn to his Weblog at least once a day to stay current in many areas. So, as a Jew, it was with great interest that I looked at what he had quoted.

Mr. Barger's introduction was extremely provocative. I read his quoted material closely. Then I turned to the referenced article. The article was indeed long. A printout covered 59 pages. But it was more lurid than lucid, It was the article itself that was appalling. I questioned whether what I found there can truly be called a "history" of Jewish fundamentalism.

What I read on The Robot Wisdom Weblog page disturbed me. It contained strangely concatenated political and historical arguments with irrelevant but inflammatory quotations purportedly taken from the Talmud and other sources of Jewish law (Halacha). It presented questionable interpretations of current practices among Orthodox Jews in Israel. All of these were drawn from the text of the article, but in a way that heightened their inflammatory nature.

However, I am not an expert on Talmud. I am not an expert in Halacha, and certainly not in halachic practice among Orthodox Jews in Israel.

The Stomach Test

So, how did I know something was wrong? I trusted my stomach. Something just did not seem right. This is not a scientific test, but it is one which we must develop and must exercise when looking at anything on the Internet.

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said of pornography -- "I know it when I see it." I concede that isn't good enough for the complete analysis, but it is a starting place. I have learned that we must not accept anything we find at face value. When something doesn't seem right we must challenge it.

What does that mean?

It does not mean that all of us must become web police officers. We don't have the time or energy. But when something doesn't look or sound right we must at least challenge it in our own minds. We must develop critical thinking.

There are some tools we can use, some questions we can ask.

Is the material presented calmly or in a lurid or sensational manner? Does it take its materials out of context?

In the instant case, the very lurid nature of the selected quotations was sufficient to raise a flag. A quotation about Jewish law treating listening to the voice of a woman as being equal to adultery, should put the reader on guard. The use of quotations from religious texts out of context is always suspect.

Of cource, such a flag is not foolproof. Indeed, there is commentary which makes such a similar statement. However, as, Adin Steinsaltz, one of the great contemporary commentators noted in The Essential Talmud that, "[a]lthough its main objective is to interpret and comment on a book of law, it is, simultaneously, a work of art that goes beyond legislation and its practical application. And although the Talmud is, to this day, the primary source of Jewish law, it cannot be cited as an authority for ruling . . ." Later in the book, he states, "It is impossible to arrive at external knowledge of this work." While this statement may infuriate critics, it is essentially true of external critiques of many religious writings. It is especially true of the Talmud because of the nature of the composition and study of the Talmud.

The most provocative quotation might be technically accurate, in some way, but is it relevant? What is the context? How is it being used?

There are subjects that are lurid, deservedly so. But when a document purporting to be an historical analysis seems shocking, it is necessary to raise an eyebrow.

Is the material within the speciality or area of competence of the blogger?

One of the reasons I value Weblogs is precisely because, over time, we can develop a sense of the competencies and biases of the blogger (Weblog editor). I thought I had done so in this instance.

Does the blogger have strengths and weaknesses? Has the blogger's bias been demonstrated before? Is the questioned material consistent with that bias or not? Is it in the blogger's area of expertise? If you are reading a blog written by someone who is a specialist in pop music, or scripting languages, or mathematics, is the material within that subject range or does it go beyond?

In the instant case, the blogger is quite interested in James Joyce, contemporary literature, search engines, online discussion, scripting languages, popular culture. I am sure I do not do him justice. But, it is fair to ask oneself whether the subject of an article to which he points appears to be within his areas of competence?

What is the blogger's world view?

Some bloggers write on political areas enough to begin to ascertain their basic perspective on certain subjects. Should that give the reader a hint of how to read materials within those areas.

For example, this Weblog has led me to interesting, left of center, news sources and commentary. There have been other hints that he favored an approach to third world issues that is quite different from mine. This of course means that he will have a different set of heroes and models than I do.

Thus, it is not surprising that he will give more credence to certain materials than I do. Perhaps I should not have been surprised at what I found.

Indeed, I was not mislead by the quotations. I reacted immediately. I sent him a note commenting on the nature of his post.

My sensors were up. In writing this essay I realize that what I am concerned about in this instance, is not myself but other readers who may have less sensitive stomachs on this issue. Perhaps I should let them take care of themselves. Perhaps my approach is elitist. On the other hand, perhaps it is valuable to continue to explore this issue. What about areas where I have no sensitivity, no internal warning system?

What is the source of the material?

When something doesn't seem right, the first step one can take is to try to trace the source of the material. Searches on the Web can lead to anything. I have no idea how this blogger found the article in question.

But there were hints that should have raised flags right away, for Barger as well as for me.

The material which troubled me was drawn from a book entitled Jewish Fundamentalism In Israel by Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinsky, Pluto Press (1999). However, the material quoted by Barger did not come directly from the book. It came from a web page set up by Matt Nuenke, who has excerpted a significant amount of material from the book in a page on his website.

Mr. Nuenke prefaced his quotations with several revelatory paragraphs of introductory comments. He describes himself as "a promoter of eugenics, nationalism and futurism."

Had this sentence, and perhaps a few more from the introduction been included in the selections quoted in the Weblog, perhaps it would have provided greater warning to the unsuspecting reader.

A quick look at Nuenke's home page is telling. It is titled A Eugenics Perspective: Breeding an Improved Human Species Through Purposefully Directed Evolution. Mr. Nuenke states that his purpose in presenting the excerpts "is entice you to read the whole book and other related readings with regards to eugenics, race and nationalism."

He goes on,

[The Shahak] book provides a peak [sic] inside Israel that can give nationalists a justification for setting up nations based on racial purity and eugenics practices. . . . Judaism I believe is the best example of a successful breeding program that can provide an understanding of breeding for intelligence and developing group solidarity.

Thus, the reader who traces the quoted excerpts back to their source, will quickly find some background with which to evaluate the material. Of course, Shahak and Mezvinky are not responsible for Mr. Nuenke, but the fact that someone with Nuenke's expressed views finds the book to be useful for such purposes should be of at least some value as a tool in analysis.

Uncovering Sources

Interestingly, the page on which the article was posted did not have a back link to Mr. Nuenke's home page. I had to search to find it.

One technique used to discover the source of a web page is to work from the address of the page. Thus you can work back from the address. This article appears at lgrossman.com/mjnk/mjnk0001.htm.

Even if there were no links to my archive or my home page you could discover them easily. By dropping the "mjnk0001.htm" you would discover my archive at lgrossman.com/mjnk/ and from there you could discover my home page at lgrossman.com / If you really cared you could work back to the ISP where my pages are hosted. But in Nuenke's case working back didn't work. So I did a search for key words from the article together with "nuenke" on Google. That led me directly to the page I cited above. Both of these techniques are useful for many exploratory adventures online.

Discovery of who hosts an article or who provided links to it can often, as here, be a great hint as to the value of the material. But caution should be used. I have no indication that Shahak sought to have his material excerpted by someone who fosters eugenics as a program half century after Hitler.

Are there other indicators of the merits of the article?

Another tool is to look for reviews or articles on the material. In this instance, the search was frustrating. I found numerous articles about Professor Shahak and reviews of earlier books, but virtually no commentary on the one from which these quotations were drawn. Nevertheless, the search was somewhat useful because it led me to understand who found his books valuable and who did not. There was a consistency there which I need go into here. My purpose here is not to evaluate Shahak's book, but to discuss ways of evaluating it.

My searches also led me to other materials on the subject. I found, for example, an article with a similar title, "For the Land and the Lord: Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel" by Ian S. Lustick. Although it was written in 1988, it deals with many of the issues which one would expect to see discussed in the Shahak piece, although from a significantly different perspective. [I must note that a definition of Jewish Fundamentalism that is broad enough to include what Lustick refers to as "nonreligious fundamentalists" is somewhat problematic. I would have thought the term was an oxymoron.] Lustick, Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, is a specialist on Middle Eastern politics, with particular reference to Israel and Arab-Israeli relations. Given enough time, I could read Lustick's materials and I could learn more about his credentials.

On the other hand, Dr. Israel Shahak is a retired professor of organic chemistry at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His lack of formal background in the subjects on which he writes does not preclude knowledge and competence in the area. As Chairman of an organization called the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights he has been lionized in the Muslim press and in countless articles.

How can we judge?

Although, I concede that academic credentials alone are an insufficient basis to compare the work of one to the other, they do provide at least a starting place, in our ability to judge.

What else can we do?


We can also do research on the subjects in question. In the instant case, I have vastly expanded my knowledge in the past couple of weeks by finding materials on Talmud, and Halakha as well as on the Middle East, and the peace process. Perhaps I should be grateful for this experience. Of course, because of this I now have a much greater sense of how little I know, as well.

Google reports 827 pages for the search "Israel Shahak." How many deal with Professor Shahak and how many with an Israeli general named Shahak, I cannot tell you. A similar search for "Ian Lustick" returns only 132 pages. But many of the Shahak references are repeated citations of identical or similar pages from the Muslim press.

Barger states that he compared page-frequencies for some relevant subjects, He found the following: 'Islamic fundamentalism' (7000), 'Christian fundamentalism' (1400), and 'Jewish fundamentalism' (300). He did not indicate the tool he used to reach these numbers.

Where does this lead us? Numbers certainly don't help. But there is clearly quite a bit of material to review.

Is it significant that although Shahak's earlier works were frequently reviewed, I have been unable to find a single review of "Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel" Is that an indication that although once regarded as worthy of review, serious commentators no longer take Shahak's work as seriously as they once did?

The tools at our disposal are limited. Quite frankly, in the absence of red flags or our stomachs, there are no guarantees. We must learn to read critically and to question what we find. We, of course must make meaningful distinctions. The level of care we use need not be as high for some subjects as others. But when a people or a tradition or a religion is being excoriated, caution is warranted.

What is the obligation of the online writer?

What is the obligation of the online writer? I suggest that obligations vary with the nature of the writer's presentation.

I write a semi regular periodical piece. These essays appear sporadically at least a month apart. They also appear in both pdf and html versions.

When errors appear in my pieces, I usually correct the online version. That is the advantage of html publication. But I don't usually write on political subjects. The errors people find in my columns are usually typos. I can easily fix those without ego involvement. But what if someone contradicts my opinion? Or questions my judgment.

Is my obligation any different than that of a blogger whose work is updated and read daily by and by a much larger audience? If I am challenged do I have an obligation to note the objection? The answers are not easy.

What is the reader's obligation?

I have learned in the last two weeks that attempting to respond to such material can be overwhelming. But I suggest that readers have an obligation not to let these things pass unremarked. There would be no point trying to argue with Mr. Nuenke, but I felt it at least worthwhile make Mr. Barger aware of my response. So I did write him. My dismay may have overwhelmed the rational substance of my comments but I did suggest that Mr. Barger at least modify or qualify his introductory statement. I am aware that at least one other commentator wrote Barger directly with more knowledgeable comments than I was capable of. I suspect others may have as well.

Does Mr. Barger have an obligation to at least note my objection to his quotations and to the link he provided. He reaches a much larger audience than I do. I suspect many visitors frequently come to his pages for his views on the online world. To some extent his regular viewers also appreciate his comments on literature, pop culture, and other matters. His very astuteness in those fields creates heightened expectations with regard to the accuracy of his positions.

Perhaps I am taking this too personally. As I have said, I respect Mr. Barger's work. But, quite simply, I find the quotations he selected and the way in which he characterized Jewish fundamentalism to be offensive. Especially if that characterization is based solely on the article cited. I resent the fact that his response lowers my ability to trust his other comments.

In the end, perhaps he has no obligation. But I have countless links to his pages on mine. What am I to do?

This time there were outrageous quotes to tip my stomach off to the fallacious nature of Professor Shahak's arguments. But what of the reader whose stomach has not been sensitized? What of the high school student who comes across this article seeking to learn about the Middle East?

What are we all to do?

Mr. Barger, I invite your response.

Discussion and Debate

[01/14/00] Note: Jorn (the weblog editor in question) has responded, not to me but on Medley's discussion page. Go there and add to the debate.

Dear Reader, I invite your thoughts as well. Not only as to the specific issues raised by Mr. Barger's link, but regarding the broader issues of the responsibility of the web author and the question of validating and distinguishing sources.

You can reach me at Len @ Lgrossman.com

A number of online writers have responded or have already begun to explore these issues. For example, Weblogger Dan Bricklin, has raised a number of questions stimulated by this essay on his Weblog. Lynet Millett poses additional food for thought on her Medley blog. Dan Hartung adds his point of view on Lake Effect. You will find a brief note on Pith and Vinegar, too.

I have discovered that weblogger, Dan Fitch, who edits the Apathy Weblog, has begun an extensive project, exploring related issues he calls Opinionation. There are many interesting and relevant links posted at that site.

Notes and additional sources:

Sources on Talmud:

A very helpful introductory definition of the Talmud can be found in a brief passage from the first chapter of The Essential Talmud, Adin Steinsaltz, Basic Books, Inc., New York, 1976, which I have included on a special page of Talmud resources I have put together at lgrossman.com/mjnk/talmudsources.htm.

Introduction to Talmud A Project of the Melton Research Center for Jewish Education of the Jewish Theological Seminary

Gates to the Talmud Photo of a page of Talmud with descriptions of the sections (various sources and commentary).

A Page from the Babylonian Talmud (Interactive) www.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/TalmudPage.html

A detailed and useful FAQ on Talmud and Halacha can be found at http://www.shamash.org/listarchives/scj-faq/FAQ/03-Torah-Halacha.

Back to the top

Materials on Halakha

Halakha is defined in the online Encyclopedia Britannica as "the totality of laws and ordinances that have evolved since biblical times to regulate religious observances and the daily life and conduct of the Jewish people."

Examining Halacha, Jewish Issues and Secular law

FAQ: Torah and Halachic Authority

Role that Halacha plays in Masorti (Liberal) Judaism

Halacha Online www.mcs.net/~kollel/www/halacha/halacha.html

Doctrine -- Article by Howard Wettstein
University of California, Riverside
Faith and Philosophy 14 no. 4

Back to the top

Materials on Israel Shahak

A list of representative titles of articles by Israel Shahak found the Radio Islam page

A critical review by Werner Cohn, of one of Professor Shahak's earlier books on similar topics, Jewish History, Jewish Religion. The Weight of Three Thousand Years, can be found at http://www.wernercohn.com/Shahak.html.

A favorable biography of Professor Shahak is found in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Back to the top

Ian Lustick

Ian Lustick is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, is a specialist on Middle Eastern politics, with particular reference to Israel and Arab-Israeli relations. In 1979 and 1980 he worked at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research as a Council on Foreign Relations Fellow responsible for analysis of Israel-West Bank affairs. He also served as President of the Association for Israel Studies. Additional credentials can be found at www.sas.upenn.edu/penncip/lustick/auth.html.

Back to the top

Israel and its neighbors

For the Land and the Lord: Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel by Ian S. Lustick.

There are a number of additional sources for information on Middle East peace and relations between Israel and its neighbors and the people and communities involved. Some of which I regard highly. Among them are: Peace Links www.ariga.com/peace.htm

Also worthy of consideration is Ariga at www.ariga.com/gentoc.htm, an eclectic online magazine carrying current events, arts and letters, and various materials suggesting that the peace process is bigger than any politician. Another source of information is Mideast Web at www.mideastweb.org. The editor of Mideast Web, Ami Isseroff, responded directly to Mr. Barger's selected quotations. With his permission, I have made those comments available online http://lgrossman.com/mjnk/jewishfundamentalism.htm

Peace Now at www.peacenow.org/, is a national grassroots organization of American Zionists committed to peace and security for Israel.

I have not yet read The Multiple Identities of the Middle East By Bernard Lewis (Schocken). However, an interesting review can be found at www.nytimes.com/books/00/01/02/reviews/000102.02wheatct.html. The First Chapter can be found at www.nytimes.com/books/first/l/lewis-identities.html.
(Password registration may be required at the New York Times site.)

Thoughts at the End of a Century, December 1999

I do not usually find it hard to find words. I can talk about anything. But finding appropriate comments for the last column of the decade, the century, the millennium, has not been easy. I compared our times to the end of the nineteenth century. I took a look at the technology which was transforming the world a hundred years ago. I looked for inspiration at end of the first millennium. I even reviewed recent films as a commentary on our time. Each stimulated thought but in the end, it is a personal story and one that actually involves computers which to me summarizes the best of our century and provides hope for tomorrow.

Fin de Siecle. The end of the century. In French the words seem so elegant. They call forth a touch of fashionable sadness, world weariness and despair. These words describe the late 19th-century climate of sophistication, escapism, and extreme aestheticism, as well. On the surface that mood could well be seen to apply to our times as well.

Of course it is the onslaught of the '00s which inspires these remarks. The argument as to whether the decade and the century, even the millennium, ends this year or next continues to rage. Some say it will end in fire and some in ice. The U.S. Naval Observatory holds we have another year to wait and even has a detailed set of millennium pages as well as a Millennium Clock counting down the seconds.

Some people actually get worked up about the issue. For example, one author rages about people refusing to accept the "fact" that the millennium doesn't end until next year. The article leads to a whole thread of posts on the issue.

I tend to side with those who favor ending the century and the millennium NOW! I know the rational arguments. And I also know that just as there was no year zero, there was no year one or two or.... (I said that last month. Didn't I?) But I favor ending it now for a couple of reasons.

First of all I am impatient. Who knows if I will be here next year. Second, When we talk about decades we know that 1990 was in the Nineties. We don't refer to 1960 as the last of the 50s. For whatever reason we think of clumps of years (gaggles? prides?) by their digits not by some theoretical starting point. And besides, if we count this as the end, we can start the next century and the next millennium twice. And most of us could use a second chance. (If next year is perfect, I'll withdraw this remark.)

This age doesn't seem to have the dignity of the end of the last century. What appellation will they apply to these days? We don't even know what to call the next decade yet. The 00s? the Aughties? there is even a web page, suggesting the Naughties (I side, for now, with the 00s, perhaps because I know NOTHING about them yet. We can rename them when we get to know them better.)

As I have said before, I don't believe that there is any magic in the turning of these digits, even though I have since childhood been an incurable odometer rollover watcher. (How sad it is to have had at least two cars pass the hundred thousand mark and to have missed the mystical alignment of the numbers both times. I wonder, was the last digit almost "1" by the time the first digit came into place?)

So, I tried to compare the end of this century to the end of the last. I began searching websites for information.

It was a time quite different, yet much the same as ours. Newspapers were the primary source of information. The term yellow journalism had just been coined. Photography had been around since the middle of the century.

Although Edison had begun early recordings, the ability to transmit radio signals had just been demonstrated by Marconi in 1895. Never the less, by the end of the century the telegraph and telephone were speeding the transmission of news and information from around the globe.

A Byte review of a new book, The Victorian Internet asserts that yesterday's telegraph is more like the Internet than we imagine. The author states that [i]t contains parallels between the reception of the telegraph and the Internet which I knew nothing about. Still. It was a far quieter time. The press may have been as irresponsible as it is today, but immersion in media was not so total and unrelenting.

All of this may be interesting. But it doesn't capture what I have been looking for.

I went farther back, I looked at sites discussing the middle ages. Then, somehow, I found a fascinating article in the Manilla Times. As the turn of the millennium approaches an Associated Press reporter tried to piece together what happened in Jerusalem and in Europe around the year 1000. It is written as a contemporary news story.

Still, I couldn't put my finger on what it is I wanted to talk about. I thought of movies which I think, wittingly or unwittingly, reveal much about our own times.

I have found it fascinating that a whole series of movies rebels, in one way or another against our materialistic era. "What Dreams May Come" presaged a series of movies that desperately seek solace from an anguish we don't ordinarily acknowledge.

This summer "Sixth Sense" was the surprise sleeper hit of the season. I am extremely grateful that no one spoiled the ending for me, and I hope I am not giving too much away by placing that movie in this list.

"Being John Malkovich" ultimately devolves into a silly resolution handled much better twenty years ago in "Rosemary's Baby." But this movie, in which people line up by the hundreds to experience 15 minutes in the mind of a movie star, also poses questions about just how satisfied we are with our era of full employment and low inflation.

All of this is brought to an unpleasant conclusion in "Fight Club", a movie which is entirely too violent and full of gore, but it painfully reveals a measure of the entirely unfashionable despair of our times as its main character ultimately rejects defining his life through an Ikea catalogue.

There are t.v. series like "Touched by an Angel" which further refuse to accept the realities of our age. Even "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" seeks answers beyond reason. Several new series this season continue the search.

All of these entertainments evade the issue, however. It is David Lynch's "The Straight Story" that led me to the true story of the end of this century. It is not surprising to find possibilities of despair and agony in a Lynch movie. His "Blue Velvet" and the t.v. show Twin Peaks would not fit uncomfortably among the films I have discussed here. But in "The Straight" Story," Lynch did something entirely different. He demonstrated how despair can be overcome. Throughout the quiet, true story of a 73 year old man, he demonstrated that one can deal with pain, physical and psychic. That wounds once opened and then covered with scar tissue can be healed. He demonstrated an amazing belief in the ability of people to connect - - in a movie ostensibly about a loner in isolation.

And this movie brings me back to this weekend and my own life and, of course computers.

Today is my mother's birthday. She is not a loner and she is certainly not isolated. But other elements of the story resonate. She is 87. She left Germany in 1934 in the face of an uncomprehending family and came alone, a 21 year old girl, to this great country, leaving all she knew behind. She married a much older man, my father, born in 1891. He died young after a long illness, leaving her with two young boys and a sea of medical bills.

If anyone has faced a right to despair she has.

Elsewhere I have told some of her story. Some time I hope to put it online. She has written, in pencil on the backs of newsletters and flyers, over 200 pages - translating her early letters home. Those, too I hope to get online. But this week something happened.

For several years she has been coming over about once a month to use my old computer. She climbs up the stairs, trying to ignore her arthritis to use Quicken to keep track of the dozens of charitable contributions she makes and to keep track of a few other expenses. We print out e-mails from her grandchildren who are spread at universities throughout the country.

At dinner, the other night, she said. "You know, it might be good to have my own computer."

Good thing she felt that way, for the next night, last night, we celebrated Chanukah and her birthday at her house as we have for countless years. 20 of us gathered for roast goose and red cabbage. And lit the candles. And the kids (great grand nieces) looked for presents hidden in the bookshelves and behind the furniture, as has become our tradition.

And then my brother, Ray, and I went to the car and brought in HER presents: an older Pentium, a new printer, a 16 inch monitor. Tears filled her eyes. (Could she have known that Ray and I had been planning this for weeks.) As we left we were debating the best AOL screen name for her account.

At 87 she is still learning, still eager. Many of her friends are gone, some are in nursing homes and can't or won't communicate. She can't move as well as she once could. She can't hear as well, either. But she refuses, ever, to succumb to despair.

That is the story of this century.

Encyclopedia Britannica <http://www.britannica.com>
Fin de Siecle <http://www.britannica.com/bcom/eb/article/3/0,5716,137883+1,00.html>
The U.S. Naval Observatory <http://www.usno.navy.mil/>
Millennium pages <http://www.usno.navy.mil/millennium/> as well as a
Millennium clock <http://www.usno.navy.mil/cgi-bin/millennium/CountDown3.pl>
When does the millennium end? An extensive discussion.
The campaign for the "Naughties" <http://www.foomedia.com/guruadrian/naughties.index.html>
The Sensational Beginnings of Yellow Journalism. <http://tnt.turner.com/movies/tntoriginals/roughriders/jour.home.html>
Jones Telecommunications & Multimedia Encyclopedia section on photography. <http://www.digitalcentury.com/encyclo/update/photo_hd.html>
The 100 years of Radio Web <http://www.alpcom.it/hamradio/>
A Brief History of Networking(telegraph), <http://www.silkroad.com/net-history.html>
Byte review of The Victorian Internet <http://www.byte.com/column/book/BYT19990908S0003>
The History Page - Middle Ages
Jerusalem and Europe and the First Millennium
"What Dreams May Come" <http://www.mrcranky.com/movies/whatdreamsmaycome.htm>
"Sixth Sense"
"Being John Malkovich" <http://www.being-john-malkovich.com/>
"Rosemary's Baby" <http://www.filmsite.org/rosem.html>
"Fight Club" <http://www.foxmovies.com/fightclub/">
Ikea catalogue <http://www.ikea.com/>
"Touched by an Angel" <http://www.touched.com/>
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" <http://www.buffy.com/>
"The Straight Story" <http://disney.go.com/DisneyPictures/straightstory/>
"Blue Velvet" <http://www.mikedunn.com/lynch/bv.html>
"Twin Peaks" http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Boulevard/1884/pg18.html

My Cup Runneth Over, November, 1999

Thanksgiving Reveries

"My cup runneth over." Those words from the 23rd Psalm seem especially appropriate as we approach the last Thanksgiving of the millennium. Actually, they seem appropriate regardless of our place in the millennium. The millennium is an arbitrary human marker. Such markers provide us with an excuse to reminisce or to prognosticate, but have no objective significance.

The coming of the millennium has even less significance than birthdays and anniversaries and is more arbitrary than the other markers of time we use to order our lives. The debate that rages over whether the next millennium will begin in 2000 or 2001 is emblematic of the confusion. "In 2001", say the purists, asserting that since there was no year "Zero," counting started with "one" and therefore, a thousand years didn't pass until 1001 and so forth. But there was no year "one" either, or two or three or four.

Counting didn't begin for centuries and even then, the exact year of Jesus' birth, and thus the advent of the "Common Era" is not known. (From my childhood memories of the Christmas SkyShow at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, it seems to me the actual date may have been what we now call the 4 C.E. (or A.D.) But that memory, too, is shrouded by the mist of years.

But I digress.

Thanksgiving is fast upon us. A marker of more than arbitrary significance. Although Thanksgiving clearly has a historical basis and commemorates the experience of the early Pilgrims and their thanks to God for their survival and for God's bounty in very difficult times, it is more an occasion for pause in the present than a commemoration of the past. Arbitrary in its position on the calendar, yet it demands that we take stock of where we are now and take at least a few moments to acknowledge the good in our lives. Perhaps it is the ability to do this which makes us fully human. This occasion demands not that we dwell in the past but, in a sense, that we live fully in the moment and acknowledge the present, in both senses of that word.

And the holiday is meaningful regardless of religious tradition. It is accessible to atheist as well as believer. It asks simply that we, however briefly, acknowledge the wonder of the world in which we live, regardless of our understanding of the source of that wonder. In its universality, it is the one truly American holiday. American in spirit, but one which we can export without guilt over imperialism. It is in itself a gift.

So we have set aside the Fourth Thursday of the Eleventh Month to make lists. Lists of that for which we give thanks. And to draw pictures of turkeys and black hats and to eat too much.

My list begins like this:

What does it mean to have people?

We don't have them. We don't possess them. If we are lucky we share some time and space with them. Their lives touch ours and they allow us to touch theirs. And in that touching there is magic, power, joy - a deepening of who we are, for which, if we are lucky, we will take a moment and give thanks. And I do.

I also give thanks for the community in which we live. It is not a perfect community. Many of us received hate literature in our mailboxes over the last few months. (It even promised to explain the secrets of the Jews. I have been studying Talmud for years and gave up on Kabala - maybe someone found it easy.) But on a more personal level, in recent weeks a Jewish family found a swastika made of children's stickers on their front sidewalk. (Is there a lesson in the medium?)

But it is a community not afraid to come together to say this is not who we are.

After less than three weeks of planning, hundreds of my neighbors came together in a vigil against hate. An evening of symbolism and action. There was a candle light vigil and, as corny as it seemed at first, group dance - 250 people holding hands and changing partners in a circle on the darkened lawn.
Sixth grade girls presented a powerful piece of choreographed reader's theater. It made me proud of them and of their teacher. It gave me reason to give thanks.

This week a church that ministers to gays and lesbians, among others, received a vile threat of arson and worse on its web page guest book. Word began to spread by e-mail at the start of the weekend.

This Sunday morning, in the small, elegant, chapel -- space provided by a more mainstream congregation, members of more than a half a dozen other churches and synagogues joined with the members of the threatened congregation in solidarity. In the golden glow of the stained glass windows one after another visitor rose to convey messages of love and prayer. As the service drew to a close, large numbers of members of the host congregation and another congregation a mile away filed into the room, to the melody of organ music and a joyful hymn. Every inch along the walls and in the aisles was filled with worshipers praying with and over the threatened members. It was another powerful statement of community. One at a time representatives of the visiting congregations rose to express greetings of love and prayer.

I had planned to write this month about my theories about hate. But instead I give thanks for communities which refuse to give in - - to communities which try to be inclusive. To empower those who otherwise would feel the least among us.

This season's movies, from Summer of Sam to the Fight Club give us much to think about. Clues as to hopelessness and hate. But rather, let us give thanks and continue to work to empower all who feel powerless. To enable all who feel hopeless and helpless. To diffuse rage and hate. We have this within our power.

Our cups truly do run over. Let us give thanks.

I also give thanks for this year's extended Fall. The forecasters said there would be no color in the trees this year. But instead, this Fall there has been one glorious day after another. Each beautiful day demands attention because it surely must be the last . . . and then this year, at least here in the Midwest, each has been followed by another. And I give thanks that we have been able to pause and enjoy at least some of them.

We do have things. And for that we are also grateful.
An honest job that leaves me the time to take walks in the woods, and to surf the web, and gives me the wherewithal to provide for those I care about, and to buy other things for which I also give a measure of thanks.

My cup truly does run over. Which brings me to another subject. The image of a cup running over conveys a gentle feeling of fullness and sufficiency. But imagine a glass full of water sitting in a sink. Now imagine turning on the faucet full force. In an instant the glass will be only half full.

Last month I made the leap, after ten years of dial-up communications I got cable modem access. While I have noticed download speeds of over 400 kb/sec., during peak hours speed can still slow to less than one kilobyte. I have the sinking feeling that it is not worth it but that I will never be able to go back to my old dial-up and my 56 k modem (speeds between 33.6 and 44.0). Now that I have downloaded a 14 meg file in a few minutes, have I lost my innocence? Time will tell.

For useful information on getting the most out of your cable modem take a look at The Navas Cable Modem/DSL Tuning Guide.

Along with the cable modem came cable t.v. Nearly 100 channels. Strangely, most of the time I find nothing on I want to see. It is just too much to figure out. Too much, too fast. The cup is spilling out. I will definitely be cutting back after the trial period is over.
It is too soon to give a full report on the pros and cons of cable access. Stay tuned.

With the advent of cable access came a strange coincidence. A few days later, George Matyaszek, the sysop of the Syslink BBS announced he was ending service after 18 years. I became a subscriber nearly ten years ago. I still logon every morning to check mail and play a trivia game. It was Syslink that got me hooked. The gift of a 1200 baud modem had destroyed my willpower. Since Syslink started keeping statistics I have logged on there over 7600 times.

George's little BBS opened up a world to me. My family and community are very important. The Internet is my hobby not my life. But I would be remiss, if at this time I did not express my thanks to George, as well. If anyone is interested in buying George's TBBS system, software and hardware, drop me a note. Thanks, George.

Searching for Barry Goldstein: Virtual Community -- Real Loss, September 1999



Searching for SWJM, early 50s,

Res. California/Israel.

Disappeared earlier this year in

midst of on-line dialogue. Reply to

Leonard Grossman

In the decade since a "friend" gave me my first modem, lots has changed in the on-line world. But some things have stayed the same. "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose."

I don't mean to ignore the tremendous growth, the incomprehensible commercialization, the speed, The use of the Internet by business for purposes we can't even imagine. But today I want to focus on the the basic, core element that runs through it all -- Interpersonal communication and the development of community -- and some of the consequences.

It was a decade ago that I got my first computer. The very first day a friend came over to set it up ... and he gave me a modem - a 2400 bps Multitech. I have told the story before so I will skip some of the details. All I wanted was a word processor. But within days I had discovered a local BBS, Syslink, with subscribers from all over the world. It was the interaction and feedback I had with this group, especially members of two local computer groups (NICOL and CACHE) that got me hooked.

Long before the days of Instant Messaging ("IM"), Syslink had "echoes," news groups on many topics, and an on-line chat facility. The echoes were local and international, using the old Fidonet network.

Some of the issues that exist today existed back then. Ignoring a page to come and chat was considered rude.. But sometimes I just didn't have time to chat. So the Sysop installed a feature that allowed me to be on-line without being seen by other users. (It didn't really work, but that is another story.) Even to this day, I prefer e-mail to chat except in very unusual circumstances.)

Last week's edition of Circuits, in the NY Times (Sept. 2), included a plaintive note from a teacher who finds herself in a similar dilemma. When she can't sleep, she grades papers in the wee hours of the morning. She whines that one of her students had begun IMing her at 3:00 a.m. She finally blocked the intruder's screen name. But then got a hurt note. The student had caught her exchanging notes with another student when she appeared to be off line. The first student used another screen name and got through.

The teacher complains. But she really isn't being honest with herself. She is hooked by instant messaging. If she really didn't want to be bothered during the middle of the night she could have completely turned off instant messaging. None of her students would have gotten through or known she was on-line. It was her desire to remain selectively hidden (or selectively available) that got her in trouble. Indeed, if she really wanted to get some work done, why was she on-line at all? Download those papers and get off line!!

Easy for me to say!! Hah! I am hooked as well. Though I do keep IM turned off. I do check my e-mail over and over again. And it is on in the background as I write this piece. (I have only been interrupted twice by spam during the past hour).

One of the echoes on Syslink was called "Writer's Roost." And there I found Ed. Ed and I left notes from time to time on the writer's art. And then one day he suggested we get together for a beer. Although he could have been any where in the world, he actually lived just around the corner. One house down from the stop where I waited for the bus every morning. Ed has become one of my closest friends.

With that first beer, the on-line world became much more real, and I have since met face to face many of the people I have first met on-line. In 1993, I wrote about "Meeting the Faces Behind the Screen"

But the vast majority of communication on-line is with virtual strangers. The great old New Yorker cartoon still hangs on my wall: "On the Internet, nobody knows you are a dog." And therein lies the rub.

I have had communications with hundreds of strangers over the years. Respondents to a Usenet posting. Comments on my articles or my web pages. Many of these exchanges last a few days or less and are over. But some ripen into longer lasting relationships.

Some are based on exchanges of technical information. Some are political. Some become more personal. Sometimes a communication begins that takes on a life of its own and extends for months or years.

There is a certain trust in on-line communications. We accept on faith the persona created by the correspondent. After all, even after nearly a decade of my columns, there must be some aspects of my life and personality that remain mine alone. How well do we really even know the people we see every day at the office? Or in Church or synagogue. Even, to a certain extent, our own extended families contain some mystery.

So we carry on. We don't know the whole truth, but like in other walks of life, we build relationships on what we know and on what we fill in, consciously or not, with assumptions, wishes, or misinformation. Even romances may be based on projections rather than reality. This all happens in the real world. Not just on-line.

However, on-line the possibility of misrepresentation or misinterpretation is magnified. Now, there are situations where this can be dangerous: Children's chat rooms, commercial transactions. Look at the extent to which E-bay has made seller information available to users. But these obvious dangers are not what I am talking about today.

I am a member of a few very small lists. Members share something, if not much in common. We do get to know each other in a simple way. We share good news and find comfort when disasters strike. We become more than text images on a screen. When someone disappears for a while we notice and comment. After a while we usually know each other well enough to have secondary sources of information. We can find out what has happened.

But some times that doesn't work. Years ago I began communicating with Cathy Murtha, who created an award for "speech friendly" web pages, pages which can be read by a speech synthesizer and therefore, can be "read" by the blind. I communicated with her, infrequently, for some time. Indeed a few of my pages proudly bear her award. I still try to keep the issues she raised in mind when I create a page, although I don't always succeed. Then I noticed links to some of her pages became broken. E-mail to her addresses bounced. I posted notes on news groups related to html authoring. No response. Cathy seems to have disappeared.

There is a loss. Someone has disappeared. But I have abandoned the search. The nature of the communication was not intensely personal. I am curious but not intensely so. I would like to know if she is O.K. But . . . If she had worked at the local flower shop, or in the library in town. I would know that I could find out what happened to her. I suspect that there is enough information about Cathy on-line, that if I really tried. I could get behind the silence.

But some communications are more intense and the need to know is more powerful and the roadblocks are more insurmountable.

I don't remember how "Barry" found me. Probably because of my Jewish Links page or my Open Letter to the former prime minister of Israel or something like that. I have saved hundreds of his e-mails but didn't start saving them until much later.

We talked primarily about Israeli politics, but about much, much more. Family matters, personal things. A relationship began. In his intensity he reminded me of my late friend Arthur, whose death I eulogized on-line.

For at least two years I corresponded almost daily with "Barry." As time went on the correspondence increased. Sometimes, if I didn't reply within an hour or so, I would get an urgent message asking if the earlier message had gotten through.

From the very beginning there was something strange. He revealed a lot, but he was always a bit secretive. Somehow he got out of sending me an emergency phone number when he was ill. He conveyed messages from his close friends but avoided giving me their e-mail addresses or enough information to find them.

He seemed a compassionate individual who has had, if any of it can be believed, a fascinating and difficult life. Through the original negotiations at Wye, during the run up to the Israeli elections, during all of this he was intense, always a bit secretive. But on the ball, informed, far to my Right, politically. Passionate. He would try to clear up my mushy headed pacifism. He claimed to be a realist in Arab/Israeli relationships.

Last spring claimed to have flown home to Israel to vote. He sent me messages purporting to come from his lap top on-line, in Europe, in Israel, always through his MSN account.

One of the most beautiful pieces he wrote was a description of the shifts utilized on his moshav (a collective settlement, something like a kibbutz, near the Lebanese boarder) to permit everyone to vote. Still he refused to tell me on exactly which moshav he was staying.

I am including his message because it doesn't seem to betray any confidences and it conveys a sense of my friend.


Len, hope you get this before work. was up at 5am.

took a short ride. then as is our tradition, sent the

first half of Moshav down to vote. My father insisted

on going along, even though his vote had been

registered, under the disability clause. a caravan of

our vehicles, pulled up to polling place, when the

polls opened. (remember the days, when we all came

in old trucks) this too is a tradition with us.


When the lift got my father out of a van, people came

over and hugged him. The children came along. This,

too is a tradition. perhaps that is why we have 100%



When the first group got back. the second group

stopped work, and another caravan went down to the



Now the cooks, some of them male, are making dinner.

This tradition I modified, after being in Texas. it is a

cross between a traditional Jewish feast, and a Texas

barbecue. with a Yemeni twist, not much considering

both love chili's. when the polls close, our Arab neighbors

will come over. still a work day, on a farm.


I just finished checking the yearlings. After I finish writing,

will go back and check some new foals. The menu will

include, lamb 'n beef chili. started FRI., takes three days

to make a really good chili. spitted lamb, fresh, very

fresh. barbecued chickens. some steaks that we traded

with a kibbutz, for a lamb. vegetables sauteed in olive oil.

a huge salad, that is my mother's specialty, along with her

"world famous" matzo ball grenades. Again she will

complain about how hard they are? Some things never

change. spiced deep fried potato skins, that is my dish,

although others will make it. along with other delicacies.

Special rice, Amnon will never tell how it is made.

along with a local wine.


When the polls close, We will open the meeting room.

it was re-built about ten years ago, so it could be

converted to open air. That is without endangering the

one large screen TV and watch the results. No matter

who wins, there will be some debates. But all will celebrate,

no matter who wins.


Why do we celebrate, even if the election goes against

what one wishes? We celebrate that we live in a land,

where free elections are held.


Yassmin and Miri just came in. time to show Yassmin

our foals. Yassmin has never been on a farm like this

before. and is acting like a teenager, on her first visit

to the big city.


Shalom, Barry

Everyone says hello, and write if you can.

(will be checking for personal mail periodically.)


Could he have made all that up. And if so, why?

"Barry" was somewhat coy about his actual political loyalties and I will preserve his confidences here. Still, for the next several weeks "Barry" claimed to be very much involved in lower level negotiations regarding the assembly of a governing coalition under Barak. He seemed to be everywhere.

Up until one hour before Barak actually announced his coalition, I felt very involved in the process, getting what appeared to be almost minute by minute reports from my friend.

We argued consequences and debated predictions. He always seemed at least 12 hours ahead of the news. He predicted weeks ahead of time that the big battles would be over who got what portfolios but argued long and hard that it would be best to include Likud. to which I protested loudly.

I put his name in quotes because I wonder if it was an alias. We were exchanging messages at least 4 times a day in the last few weeks when suddenly it stopped. Cold. No more messages.

In earlier messages he had claimed to be ill. Various illnesses had kept him hospitalized much of the time in California and hindered him in Israel as well. I worried. It was that situation that made me ask for friend's phone numbers or e-mail a year earlier.

I asked an on-line friend, an Israeli peace activist, with whom I knew Barry was corresponding, where Barry might be. Response: "In a mental institution, a hospital, or dead." He didn't have time or inclination to help in the search. They were politically poles apart.

My friend on the Left thinks he was crazy and didn't have any patience for him. His views were far to the right.. which for me was his greatest value. Testing my ideas. A corrective for some of my mushheadedness, even when I ultimately disagreed.

My friend on the Left questioned whether Barry Goldstein was even his real name. I wondered about many things, too, but decided to go with the flow. Attempts to really pin him down always met with a need for confidentiality for his "work" for the government. He claimed his dialogue with me gave him a chance to test his ideas, to let off steam, etc.

He was a Zelig like character, appearing almost everywhere. Born in New Jersey, raised on a moshav near Eyelet Hasachar (near the Lebanese border).. moving back and forth between here and there. Once married to an Israeli, close to the Palestinians in the local village. Living with a Palestinian woman in San Francisco. Or all made up.

I have been unable to trace Barry. His writings were frequently manic, stream of consciousness flows, but informative and grounded in verisimilitude...very personal. But he always maintained a certain level of secretiveness. Perhaps his e-mail address should have been a giveaway. I never thought about it. "[email protected] . Mail to that address does not bounce. So the account has not been canceled. [Hamovet means Death, with a capital D -- Death personified.]

I have posted notes on all the Israel related Usenet groups, searching for Barry. No response. An MSN subscriber did look him up in the MSN membership directory. He found him listed as an author living in San Francisco. But no more. I called all the listed Barry Goldsteins in the San Francisco area code. None were him or had any idea. Finding a "Barry Goldstein" in Israel would be like finding a needle in a haystack.

In any other community, I could have found out something. If he was a clerk I had run into at the local library, I could ask the management. If he were the news vendor on the corner, I could ask the local police. If he subscribed to a small ISP I could probably get the management to makes some inquiries. Not to put me in touch, but to verify that he was all right. But MSN does not respond. Its not that they respect his privacy. They have no personal face at all. </P

And perhaps that is what this story is ultimately about. As the on-line world grows we grow closer and closer, yet there is so much we don't know about each other. During the old Fidonet days, there was an irregular participant from somewhere in the Soviet Union. He had access to a computer in a university and somehow was able to sneak on-line from time to time. Then, as things got easier under Gorbachev, his messages disappeared. Once I reached him somehow and then...gone.

I wondered, but in that fluid society and rapidly changing world I could understand. That was the first Internet hole in my stomach. There have been others. But none as intense as Barry... and none whose disappearance was as stunning.

Four times a day. Heated political argument. Shared family and personal matters. All over with no warning. A hole.

Community is wonderful. But how do you grieve a virtual friend? Where do you sit shiva in cyberspace? Am I mourning something real or was I the victim of a two year elaborate hoax.

For several months, I have been reluctant to talk about this in public. I have been respecting Barry's right to privacy. I thought of using an alias for Barry when I wrote this article. But if I had, I would be giving up this one last chance of finding him. I hope I haven't betrayed him here. I sent him one last note, telling him I was going to write this story. He could have stopped me. If you have any clues as to his whereabouts, please send me a note at Len at LGrossman dot com.

After some two years of intense communication the silence is strange.



Presents Tense, July, 1999


It is July Fourth. Hot and steamy. As the summer deepens, people turn to outside pursuits, hits on my web pages decline, the in-box in my e-mail reader is uncluttered, but still the Web beckons, if in a gentler way.

So in this lighter mood, I will share with you a new find (Ellen's Presents), a new trend (Weblogs) and a new problem (Who owns your website after all?).

A recent issue of PCWeek magazine had an interesting article by Scot Petersen: In the land of flakes, the Web comes through in the crunch. On a recent airline flight he had found a box of a long forgotten favorite cereal and on the box he noticed the existence of a website for cereal. This discovery led him to collect a number of websites devoted to cereals, ranging from Flake World to the Breakfast Cereal Character Guide. More cereal sites are listed in Petersen's article.

The article got me thinking about how I used to surround my self with cereal boxes, devouring every word. Leaning forward, dripping milk down my chin. All that useless information. Somehow, I shut out the world around me and became immersed in Minimum Daily Requirements, special offers, decoder rings, Niagara Falls. Ralston Purina capitalized on this box addiction when it began printing what it called the Good News Newspaper on the back of the Chex cereal boxes. This pseudo paper was full of meaningless fluff, but I noticed that the jokes always depended on some kind of disaster. Banana peel humor.. At that early age, I think I began to recognize the thin line between humor and tragedy. I accept it more readily now.

I would read anything in those days. Closely related to cereal boxes, maybe starting with Matzoh Farfel, were the boxes of Manichewitz Matzoh around Passover. The reverse of the box looked exactly the same, except that it was all in Hebrew. I used to love to try to work out the Hebrew from the English, turning the box around and around and wondering about the few words I couldn't match.

But the article also made me wonder. Is my web addiction not much different from my rapt attention to the meaningless text on cereal boxes? I grab the online box, just like those old Frosted Flakes and Cheerios, reading and reading in splendid isolation.


But this is Summer, and my mood is cheerier. So it is in a lighter mood that I give you all a present. Or rather, I share a new find, Presents, an amazing website, updated daily by Neeltje Ellen Pronk from The Netherlands.

In December, 1997, I wrote a column, in which I discussed websites that amaze and delight. I had just discovered Tony Karp's amazing site, The Techno - Impressionist Museum. At that time I invited readers to submit recommendations for other sites that amaze and delight. The only rule was that no self nominations were permitted.

Strangely, I only got one response, and that was a self nomination. In any event, although I have found many delightful websites since then, I had not found any that met my own strict internal criteria for consideration. Until now that is.

Thanks to Jorn Barger's amazing RobotWisdom Weblog (about which more later), I recently discovered Ellen's pages. Every day, Ellen amazes and surprises with a new page at the same address: http://www.lfs.nl Bookmark that page. Most often these are graphic images that push the art of the animated .gif to new extremes. On other occasions it may include an autobiographic sketch or impression or something totally unexpected. An irregular feature is a soap opera involving squares. Impossible to describe, but requiring the Flash plugin, these gentle animated stories show tenderness and thoughtfulness not usually associated with this medium.

Every day is fresh.. Even when Ellen just announces she is taking a well deserved break. Ellen's daily creations are moved the next day to an archive of her current work. One of my favorites is an outstanding mixture of animated gifs and background from an earlier period, called Stupidgirl, But she constantly outdoes herself.

Don't let the title of the page put you off. Load the page, sit back and relax.

She calls herself, Ellen, Architect of Change. She has changed my daily routine. I log on over and over until her daily update is in place. A breath of fresh air, a bit of a breather, a smile on my grouchy face.

A good way to get in to the vast variety of Ellen's gifts is through her home page, which she calls Preview.

Thanks, Ellen, for the Presents.


I mentioned above that I found Ellen's pages on Jorn Barger's Robot Wisdom Weblog. I don't know when people began to maintain Weblogs, but several months ago I somehow discovered Barger's page. It has changed the way I explore the Net.

In the Getting Started section of my home page, I state, "Getting started on the net is easy with the right tools. The most important is a good starting point. But I don't like other people to tell me what I should see." That is still true. For years I have shunned hot lists and collections of cool sites. My most regular source of new pages to view was Comp.infosystems.www.announce (CIWA). CIWA was an almost completely unfiltered source of new pages, at one time more than 30 or 40 a day. But various factors have apparently forced the moderator to cut back and CIWA is only updated irregularly these days. I especially miss it because it was through CIWA that my own pages originally gained attention. I once announced a page with the image of a rose on CIWA, on Valentine's day. The page had over 300 hits that day alone. But, alas, it takes work to moderate a newsgroup like that. I gripe. But I am not willing to volunteer.

But today there are so many pages that, perhaps, it would be impossible to keep up with the crush and volume, and to sort out the commercial from the rest. The line has blurred, and it makes little sense to spend countless volunteer hours advertising commercial sites.

And I have complained long and loud about the timesink the Web has become. There must be a way to filter, to find a way through the noise, to new and interesting pages, without devoting all day to the purpose. Search tools and portals fail totally in this respect. For the great joy of the Web is in finding the unexpected. How do you look for something you have never seen, or even thought of, before?

That is where Weblogs come in.

The authors, creators, editors of Weblogs, do spend hours online. Filtering, sorting, finding the new, interesting, important, or even the outrageously banal, and they present it, daily or weekly, or whenever they feel like it, for their audience.

What is a Weblog?

At its simplest, a Weblog is a listing or index of a surfer's finds on-line...a log of the explorer's expedition. Weblogs range from simple collections of links to Jorn's extensively edited, savvy selection of news, gossip, graphics, and much more, containing pithy quotes and helpful comments, truly a daily guide to much of the interesting reading on the Web and much, much more.

Weblogs may appear daily, weekly or whenever the inspiration hits. The trick is to find an editor you trust. Weblogs by their nature, reflect the interests, biases and personalities of their editors. You don't have to agree with a logger's conclusions, but you want to find an editor who finds the same things worthy of attention. If the editor has a perspective that is somewhat different from yours, it makes the experience all the more worthwhile.

Interestingly, Jorn Barger conducted a survey recently to discover how many links his readers find completely uninteresting. The results:

10% More than 75% are uninteresting

28% About 50% are uninteresting

39% About 25% are uninteresting

23% Less than 10% are completely uninteresting

These results beg the question of whether viewers answer polls, but you see that less than 40 % of his respondents found 50% or more uninteresting. Over 60% seem to find a good proportion of useful material. The results of other recent Weblog polls can be found online.

I certainly don't have time to explore the Web like I once did. And as the Web continues to explode exponentially, such aimless surfing becomes more taxing and less rewarding. I don't even have time to read go to everything Jorn finds. But he collects interesting finds every day. And gives me enough information to help me make my choices.

Search for a simpatico Weblog.. It may take a while to find the right one. But it will make your surfing more efficient and definitely more enjoyable.

Other Weblogs of interest incude:

Barger has collected links to a number of other weblogs and other sources on his media.literate page.
Another good source of links to Weblogs is the list collected by Open Directory.

Jorn Barger has created a Weblog Resources FAQ which includes a detailed discussion of just what a Weblog is and many sugestions and hints at how to build your own. Highly recommended reading. link added 9/24/99.

A NEW PROBLEM (Making authors Tense)

One of the most annoying features of the Internet is the proliferation of Geocities home pages. Geocities makes webspace available at no cost and makes available simple tools so that anyone can create his or her own page. So far so good. Everyone should be able to publish.

In return, Geocities, requires users' (called Homesteaders) pages to pop up or forward to a new page with advertising, which pays for the space. In my browser of choice, this makes it very difficult to read Geocities home pages. Every time I go back to the content page, the refresher code forwards me to the advertising page. Back and forth, back and forth. I have found a work around. But this annoying feature is not the biggest problem.

GeoCities was recently acquired by Yahoo. GeoCities home page builders are finding that before they can enter the new Yahoo-GeoCities site, which launched at the end of June, they have to agree to new terms of service--including one that may result in relinquishing rights to their intellectual property. The term in question gives Yahoo,

the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive and fully sublicensable right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, and display such content (in whole or part) worldwide and/or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media, or technology now known or later developed.

This intimidating language certainly appears at first glance to give Yahoo a proprietary interest in web author's content. Sandeep Junnarkar, a staff writer, at CNET News.com wrote an interesting article raising these questions.

Later news articles seem to indicate that the new rights would not apply to content already appearing on GeoCities pages, but that if any such pages are edited or updated, the new rights would apply.

Yahoo-GeoCities has answered, stating: "Yahoo! does not claim ownership of the content on your site. We never have." The complete Yahoo response can be found online.

The issue of intellectual property rights on the Internet is growing and getting extremely complex. It is to early to completely analyze Yahoo's actions. But they bear watching.


Plugged In Unglued, June, 1999

It's been over thirty years since Timothy Leary wrote "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out," one of the bibles of the 60's. I lived through the 60's. I don't pretend to understand them. But sometimes, I realize that there was more wisdom in that age than we really understood. Today we are all turned on all of the time, not in the hazy drugged daze of our youth (or so we remember it) but by caffeine and latte. Stimulated beyond sensation to an ennui we could never have imagined. And our machines are tuned on all the time.

Unlimited access, news sources that refresh every few minutes, endless bombardment of factoids and noise. We are tuned in. We listen, cable t.v, radios, Palm Pilots, There is no escape. And in the end, one way or another, many of us drop out. Youngsters today don't get the 60's. But there was passion. Even dropping out was a statement. The very act of doing nothing meant something.

Today we are not engaged in the way we were then. My office looks out over a Federal Plaza, in days of yore, mounted police had to separate opposing factions for every military action. There have been a few pathetic gatherings since we started bombing, few supporters or opponents, mainly silence, except during the African Arts Festival when the Peruvian flutists fill the air with their repetitive and rhythmic melodies. (How do they play the same mantra like music over and over day after day? No wonder they have such blissful smiles on their faces. They must be on a long, long trip. Who needs drugs?)

But I promised this month to write about plug-ins.

The Internet is more than addiction. It is an excuse. It is amazing what I have been able to avoid over the years because I HAD to update a page, check a source, check my statistics, write this column.

Still, lately, my time online has been more and more focused on getting news updates. I have lost the energy to hunt and seek new and exciting pages and on line experiences. Quite frankly, the web is becoming boring. Better: I am becoming bored with the web.

This is the tenth Spring that I have spent so many glorious hours before a screen. A whole decade communicating with strangers over phone lines. First a local BBS, then Prodigy and GEnie and CompuServe and then finally the real thing. It has been more than seven years since I first wrote about software and touched upon the online world in print. I began writing as the ModemJunkie not long after that.

Reviewing my old columns, which are collected at http://lgrossman.com/mjnk/, it becomes clear how long I have known that it was taking control over my life. The first time I used the name ModemJunkie, I should have taken the hint. But, like addicts to other recreational drugs, I felt I could beat it. I was only joking, I said, making fun of my hobby But the symptoms are real.

Like a real junkie, I find excuses to log on when I really don't want to. Writing this column has kept me going, too. I tell myself, I must log on to learn. My readers depend on me.


Last month I promised to report on plug-ins. I had recently begun experimenting and thought I would have much to say. I expected the opportunity to explore Plug-ins, those additional programs which enable browsers to view video, listen to the radio, and witness tremendous feats of animation wizardry to kindle a fire. I could watch the trailer for "Eyes Wide Shut" and see previews of the latest Star Wars dollar sucker.

In recent weeks, I have updated the QuickTime viewer, added RealAudio, tried to update to RealPlayer G2, added Java and Shockwave and assured that my browser can handle Javascript, at least some of the time. Somewhere in that I have added the ability to view Flash and I have managed to go to the office in the daylight hours.

But I find that while there have been a few enjoyable moments, the overall experience is confusing and hardly worth the effort.

Part of the problem is Windows itself. While much of this new multimedia wizardry would not be possible without it, the automated installation applications have taken over our machines. Perhaps there are those, wiser than I, or with even more to avoid, who have the time and patience to actually understand these applications and how they are installed. But I grow old. Though shall not wear my trousers rolled, I find I would rather dare to eat peaches than spend the time engaged in such pursuits.

Part of the problem is the proliferation of plug-ins. There are competing applications and cute little applets (in baby blankets and pink bows?). How does one know which one to select? Which ones are mutually exclusive and which ones are capable of peaceful coexistence?

I find, it seems (or else something else is screwing things up), that some of these cuties install .dlls that overwrite others of similar names. Sometimes these affect other applications, even some totally unrelated to the web. Even within one application, there seem to be several competing versions? Or at least versions with similar names. It is hard to sort these out. Which is the latest?

Which really does what? Which will work with my browser of choice?

I had hoped to answer these questions and more in this article, but as the month progressed since I first began this project I have become more confused. I can't see the forest for the trees.

And then there is a philosophical issue.

I still believe in the using the simplest possible interfaces on the web. My browser can still be stored on one floppy. Yet I believe use of the web should be seamless. Which leads me to ask, Why not include all the plug-ins in the browser package.. Build them in, Make it really seamless, But these goals are incompatible.

Which brings me back to my original position: Special applications should not be necessary to view a page. Warnings should appear and alternatives should be available before your are taken to a world requiring plug-ins. But even more important. Special applications should be limited to occasions when they are necessary to the kind of information being provided. No browser should break on a page just on a whim.

But I have not explored the world of plug-ins as I "should" have. I am resisting. I started writing this column on Memorial Day. As I wrote, I got angrier and angrier. This column requires several hours of tinkering. I should be getting all the links to the plug-in sites. I should be reinstalling RealPLayerG2. I should be providing links to demos of the applications.

But instead I kept asking myself, Why am I sitting here. I became angrier and angrier. Finally, I said to my wife, "Let's get out of here!!" And we went for a hot steamy walk in an arboretum. It took over a mile before I calmed down.

But, I do have a few things to say.

My counter service requires the use of a Javascript in order to enable it to provide me with "referrer" data, that is, information which will let me know what web page you were looking at when you found a link to mine. I am not a programmer. I have no understanding of scripts. Yet, when I added the script, I took the time to ask how I could make the script transparent to someone whose browser cannot handle Javascript. That may be a small universe, but why should I exclude readers unless I have to. Which brings me to a favorite issue of mine.

To make the point, I will even bite the hand that feeds my ego.

Have you looked at the WindoWatch home page lately. It is beautifully designed, from a visual point of view. But it violates almost everything I am talking about. I don't know whether the June issue will be any better. But, first of all, as soon as you hit the page a Java Console opens up giving you loads of useless information while your computer processes the Java code. All for what? To present a scrolling banner containing information which could have just as effectively been presented in another form. TO W-Ws credit, I have discovered the page works quite well without Java, which begs the question......

Even worse, virtually, no pun intended, all of the text on the WindoWatch home page is contained in images. That is, the words are captured and presented in images. There is almost no actual text on the page. Viewed in Lynx or in a browser with graphics turned off the page looks like this [excess white space has been deleted]:



logo5_5.gif - 24569 Bytes

date5_5.gif - 9425 Bytes


nowndows.gif - 10446 Bytes

captn5_5.gif - 30654 Bytes




Mail Directory - [email protected]

There are several sad things about this.

1.     The page takes an unnecessarily long time to load

2.     The page is unreadable to speech synthesizers.

3.     The page is about words not images.

4.     On the practical side, WW is cheating itself.
Web crawlers and index services index the text content of a page in addition to the content of a meta statement in the page source. There is a brief meta statement on the page, describing WindoWatch which does get picked up by the indexes. But none of the other "text" gets picked up, depriving WindoWatch of countless readers who would discover the site if the topics covered each month were available in text form.

5.     It could easily be fixed. The use of "ALT" tags behind each image, containing the same text that appears in the image would permit text based browsers and speech synthesizers to "read" the page and permitting indexes to grab the text.

WindoWatch is not the only example. There is a gifted animator, who is capable of making simple animated .gifs do amazing things on your screen. Recently she has started playing around with Flash and Javascript. Today I froze two machines watching her latest artistic effort. Yet what she can do with .gifs alone is amazing. To explore her amazing world visit http://home.luna.nl/~ellen/preview.html. She has a new page almost everyday at http://home.luna.nl/~ellen/present/index.html.

[Confession: Since writing this page, I have correctly configured Flash on my machines. I truly enjoy Ellen's Flash experiments. I have also added a javascript to my Chicago Weather page. It randomly selects a different cloud background for the page when each time it is loaded. Cool. eh? Is there no end to my depravity?]

You will note something.

There is passion in the last few paragraphs. It feels good to make the point. Like most addictions, there are some highs. I can get involved. I do care. And that makes the online world more addictive. And the need to write this column feeds the flame. So once more I left my wife at the dinner table and came up here to this solitary space. In the decade since I have been online, I have expanded my world, but I have cut down on real life social interaction, I have gained back 50 pounds I lost the hard way 20 years ago. (Of course I can say, once again, "I weigh exactly what I weighed OVER 20 years ago.")

The anti-social nature of the web is discussed in what turns out to be a very constructive article in a recent issue of The Nation. The article, "The Net That Binds Using Cyberspace to Create Real Communities" by Andrew L. Shapiro, discusses ways in which the Internet can be a useful social tool but he acknowledges the issue I am raising:

"Few people, of course, intend to use the Internet in ways that will cause them to be distracted from local commitments. But technology always has unintended consequences, and social science research is beginning to show how this may be true for the Internet. Researchers who conducted one of the first longitudinal studies of the Internet's social impact, the HomeNet study, were surprised when their data suggested that Internet use increases feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression. Contrary to their starting hypotheses, they observed that regular users communicated less with family members, experienced a decline in their contacts with nearby social acquaintances and felt more stress. "

I have joked for a long time that there is a Twelve Step Program for ModemJunkies, but you have to log on to get to it. But I was wrong. There is a cure. And it doesn't require logging on. For more information go to: The 12-Step Program for W.A.S. (Web Addict Survivors)

So, to go back to where I started, Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out. That is exactly what has happened. I have turned on the Internet, I have tuned in to the world, but some how, I feel as though I have dropped out. Look at my old columns. For years I have been crying out for balance, for a way to cut down. Well, I am not going to quit cold turkey. But I am going to cut back on excuses. And one way is to stop promising myself to write this column every month, or even nearly every month. Can you guess how many times I have justified surfing by telling myself I have to have something to write about?

Well, I am going to take advantage of WindoWatch's summer hiatus to try to restore some balance. I'll be back. I am not sure how often and I am not sure if it will be as the ModemJunkie or in some other guise.

By the way, there is a Too Much Surfing? section on my home page. The latest addition is The Walking Place, a collection of great walks.

Get out of the house. Have a great summer.


Quitting Comdex Cold Turkey, May, 1999

I did it. After years of slavish obedience to the new, the latest, the hype and the future. I skipped Comdex this year.

Don't get the wrong idea. After all these years, I didn't discover some new reserve of willpower. I didn't turn my nose to the heavens in disdain. No. Indeed, when I got the first of dozens of notifications of this rite of Spring, I went online and registered. Weeks ago, I received my plastic ID card placed it above my desk, so I could grab it and run off to the concrete palaces on the lake.

But the exigencies of the real world conspired to free me from my chains. For years I have had to convince my employer that I needed to research the latest for the benefit of the office. In some years, I actually had to use annual leave ("vacation days" to you who don't feed at the public trough), but every year, I was somehow able to find a few hours, or even a whole day to immerse my self in the newest of the new. For the ultimate experience see my archived column, Comdex in a Day.

But this year I am involved in major litigation. I spent two days that week in a hog butchering plant in central Illinois, covering the end of one shift at 1:30 a.m. and then back again for the start of the day shift at 5:00 a.m and so forth. And then two days in the Seat of Wisdom (Our Nation's Capitol) for discussions of Great Importance, I am sure. There was just no way to squeeze a minute for Comdex, much less Windows World.

Many years ago, when I was studying for the Bar Exam, I used to swim a mile each day in Lake Michigan. I swam a slow, relaxed, breast stroke. It was for my head not my body. One day as I swam along the rocks, a quarter mile out, a powerful swimmer plowed the waves toward me. He wore a bathing cap, and goggles for all I know he could have been greased for speed and against the cold. He looked up:

"Want to race?" he shouted above the noise of the city and the wind.

"No," I responded.

"Thank God!" he replied and resumed his swim.

He really didn't want to race but felt obliged to make the challenge.

I think I felt that way about having to miss Comdex this year. I was relieved. The excitement was gone years ago. Perhaps my peak experience was in 1996. Still, when the announcement came this year I had felt compelled to go, even though it has long become an increasing physical and psychic challenge with fewer and fewer rewards.

The best thing last year was meeting members of my PC Users Group and a few others at the end of the day and feasting in China Town, which is only a few blocks from McCormick Place. That had become an annual tradition. I was sorry to miss that this year.

But thinking about last years gathering brings a sense of deja preview. Even last year it was strange. We went to a great restaurant ( a hole in the wall with a table for nine) and had a feast. But after a long day sampling the newest of the new, no one discussed anything they had seen all day. Until I mentioned the odd silence, you would have thought we had not spent the day in a common pursuit.

Not that we were silent. This was an animated group, some of whom went back to the days of the KayPro and the Osborne and before. But nothing that day had excited us. When I brought up the subject we did have a few favorites.

We liked the new thin, flat, screens, but none of us could remotely imagine shelling out the money. Nor could we imagine anyone who could justify them in our employment worlds. The highlights had been the Video Toaster and, above all, the Sony Digital Camera exhibit on the way in. It was fun posing while the demo people snapped pictures and gave us the floppies Indeed, we all thought the highlight would be getting home and looking at the digital images.

Perhaps it was symbolic. When I got home and opened the image there was a dark blob in front of an underexposed image of the Sony booth. Fortunately, I had LView Pro on my machine. I played with the image, lightening it enough to recognize myself. But it was unusable for any purpose. Like so much hype. Like so much promise.

Aside from those few things, the general feeling was that the show had been a bore. Years ago there was a need for two shows, Comdex and Windows World, but by last year it was clear it was all one event -- Microsoft Madness -- even if the show is still divided into two sections. Few competitors really bothered to show up. Those that did were now "Microsoft Partners." Gone were the huge pavilions of the major software companies. We even became nostalgic for the huge, sexist stage show put on by Computer Associates. (Of course, that nostalgia is entirely professional, I really don't miss the scantily dressed dancers, just the sense of competition.) CA is still the second largest software manufacture, but who ever even thinks of them. Those thoughts were the highlight of Comdex last year already.

So this year, it was with less sadness than expected that I missed the show . Instead I had lunch one day above a bowling alley overlooking the Illinois River and on the day of the NATO Anniversary, after the end of my IMPORTANT MEETING, I walked the unexpectedly quiet streets of Washington and visited the Sergeant Exhibit at the National Gallery. There are compensations for my devotion to my country.

I returned to Chicago to find the monthly newsletter of NICOL, the computer user group which I have served as president for several years. The first thing I noted was the headline. "COMDEX Disappoints." The first thing stressed was that afterwards several members went to the Evergreen in Chinatown and had the "Banquet for 8". Let me quote from the article, written by James Smith.:

The general consensus [over dinner] was that the show was becoming smaller and less interesting. I can remember going to the show when the 486 was announced as the successor to the 386, Halls on both sides of Lake Shore Drive were packed tight and there were many interesting products on display. You needed a whole day just to skim through. Coming a second day was conceivable. [Sometimes, mandatory. Ed. note.] Now it takes up less than one hall and much of that is devoted to consulting qua employment firms. Some of us vowed either to skip the show altogether next year or limit our attendance to half a day. A visit to Chinatown will stay on the schedule. [Emphasis added.]

The article did note a few things of interest, especially The Orb by Castlewood, a new disk drive from original deveoper of SyQuest. There was also a focus on security. But, once again, Jim noted, "Microsoft dominated the whole place with nonstop demonstrations of their new products. Practically no one else was displaying software." Storage Security. Is that where it's at?

Perhaps it is not the producers of Comdex who are at fault. The industry is in a period of consolidation. In spite of the incredible increases in power and speed, not much is new in the way we use computers. And what is new has been hyped so far ahead of time that when it arrives it seems old hat, already.

Perhaps the real news is the dramatic increase in the number of people who use what is already out there and in their lack of interest in how it works. Perhaps computers are becoming toasters. All users want is not to get burned. Hot pads and toast tongs don't make exciting shows. (Of course, the annual Housewares Show in Chicago is the hottest ticket in town each year but that is another story. And it isn't toast tongs that draw the crowds there, either.

In any event, it looks like by staying away, I am once again on the cutting edge even ahead of the pack. (And I have just discovered a good Chinese restaurant in my own neighborhood.)

I wonder what good excuse I can find to skip the show again next year.

Coming soon: The ModemJunkie Discovers Plugins. After years of resistance, the ModemJunkie yields to the demands of sites requiring plugins and loads his hard drive with Java, RealPlayer, QuickTime, Shockwave and more. Was it worth it? See you next time. (How's that for hype?)

Validated --Balance in a Brave New World, April, 1999

Most of us seek to be validated, somehow. And if we don't seek it, it still feels good to have our ideas and beliefs confirmed. It really feels good. So, this weekend as I sat in bed catching up on old issues of the New York Times, I suddenly felt very good.

I was reading the March 25th issue of Circuits, in the old gray lady's weekly technology supplement. Circuits is frequently filled with techno-hype. Article after article touting the latest gadgets and fads in the computer and online world. But this week article after article touched a chord. One after another, the articles focused on issues I have discussed here before -- the need for balance between old and new.

One article in this issue was entitled "In Love with Technology, as long as it's Dusty." Those of you who have read my tributes to my old 286 can imagine how at home I felt. I have to confess, that article made me feel like a comparative early adopter. This guy was collecting things like early phonographs and recordings - - pre Edison. You can read more about his obsession on his Resources for Phonograph Collectors web page.

I am not really that bad, but I used to have a cartoon hanging in my office. "Leonard is a Beta man in an increasingly VHS world." That definitely described me then, although I have long since given away all of my Lyric Opera opening night Beta HiFI tapes to someone I met on line. Still, reading about his hobby was somehow reassuring.

Then there was another article, "The Favorite Gadgets of the Geek Elite." One of the subjects of the article was Eric Raymond, president of Open Source Initiative. He doesn't carry any of the latest devices. "I certainly am not resistant to technology," he said. "I have been a happy Internet user since the 1970's. But at the moment I find that I don't have a Palm Pilot, I don't have a cell phone." Shocking. He may lose his place at the head of the table.

But Esther Dyson, head of a company hosting a technology conference, had no such devices either. "People who spend all their time thinking about technology have the power to choose whether or not to use it," she is said to have noted. But then she said something really important. To her, "the ideas that flow to her via the technology, whether they come as E-mail or an exciting new software application, are far more interesting than the hardware." Radical. It's the ideas that count.

Choice and content. Rather than slavery to technology and form.

But then two additional articles made an even more important point. One I have stressed before. David Oshinsky, chairman of the Rutgers University history department, reviewed a new CD-ROM, The Library of Congress: Eyes of the Nation. He begins by noting that he has consciously shied away from CD -ROMS, seeing digital tools as a "frivolous assault on scholarly standards."

But after spending time with the new medium, he states, "I have been partially converted, much like the wayward Puritan of the 1650's who made a 'half-way covenant' with his faith." "Used in conjunction with more traditional methods, the CD-ROM may well revolutionize the way we teach history." Even more radical. A distinguished historian accepts the new technology, when used in conjunction with the old. We don't have to ban the new. But we must not consign traditional media to the dustbin either. Each has its place.

This article is followed by another: "For Serious Lincoln Scholars, Chances for New Discoveries." This piece discusses a new project offering the eight volume set, "The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln" online. All 2,048,683 printed words. Not only will the material be available online but it will be accessible through a searchable database at www.alincolnassoc.com. This tool is meant to be a companion to, not a substitute for the hardbound copy.

The author, Herbert Mitgang asks, "Will the new electronic research really change our knowledge about the character and achievements of Lincoln or any other Presiden? It is too early to tell. With the printed word, the slower process of turning the pages can sometimes lead a researcher to lucky discoveries. My guess is that the books and the database are destined to supplement rather than replace each other." The author concludes, "But Lincoln, a sometime inventor and a lecturer on the power of books and the print media, might well have cheered the idea of reaching a wider audience with his words in any form."

As a lawyer, I know full well the value of researching on line. But I also know the advantage of reading cases from the page. I have discussed this with my third year law school students and they agree.

Technology is great but it is not always dependable. My ISP had been going through a meltdown. Indeed, that was my originally scheduled topic for this month. The frustration of not being able to get on line. Not being able to get my Internet fix. E-mail that won't go through. Web pages I can't edit or update. Sometimes I long for the old tools. Pencil and paper. Simple. Reliable.

The letters column of this issue Circuits discussed that issue too. In its March 11 issue, Circuits had an article entitled "Shakespeare never Lost a Manuscript to a Computer Crash." This week, writers argued about the effect of writing with computers as compared to the good old-fashioned way. One complained about the fancy fonts and beautiful layout of student papers which paid no attention to content, grammar or cohesiveness.

Another noted that the learning curve to become proficient with a quill in Shakespeare's day must have been quite a hindrance to productivity. But the writer went on to observe that not everyone is Shakespeare. "Most people who brave the learning curve of turning on a computer and starting a program find that this tool and the information, they can obtain will leave them far more educated and productive than those in Shakespeare's time or any time since."

I wouldn't go that far, but I do know that my handwriting was long a bar to productivity. I don't really know if the quality of my work is any better than it was BC (before computers) but the quantity certainly has improved. I no longer have to know how something will turn out to begin a project. I no longer have to worry about editing and the pain, with my poor penmanship, of rewriting. I have demonstrated to my students that form does affect content. I am sure the medium does so as well. But at least today things get written that were for so long locked in my head.

Still, there is something about words on paper. Imagine my excitement as a 12-year old to discover in my father's files, original documents from the Civil War era, including a telegram from Abraham Lincoln. At the beginning of his career, my father had represented the estate of a Civil War General. Among the documents was a United States Military Telegraph from the War Department. In faded pencil it read as follows:

Dated Sep 25, 1863.

To Genl. McCallum


I have sent to Genl Meade by telegraph

to suspend the Execution of Paul Sullivan

of Co. E. 13th Mass which was to be today

but understanding that there is an interruption

on the Line may I beg You to Send this to him

by the quickest mode in Your Power.


A Lincoln

What are the odds of a youngster discovering such a thing in his home in the century to come? If it is on disk, will there even be a program that can still read it?

But look more closely. The issues we face today have been with us for a very long time. I worry about my ISP going down. Sometimes all I can get is voice mail. Or worse, a fast busy. E-mail bounces. But we are not alone. Read that letter again. Even Lincoln had to face the limits of technology. The words jump out. "Understanding that there is an interruption on the Line."

An interruption on the line!! I did a little research at the time. I wrote an Eighth Grade paper about Genl. McCallum. But I never found out if that message got through on time. Was Paul Sullivan executed or was he saved? Did technology fail or did Lincoln's early efforts at redundancy succeed.

By the way, I wrote that paper in Parker Royale Blue ink with a Parker pen my father left me. It was actually quite legible. I even got an A. Some of you may remember washable ink. We had a flood in our basement a few years ago. All that was left of the paper was a pale blue wash on notebook paper. But Lincoln's pencilled note is still legible more than 135 years after it was written.

But I digress. Was it merely a coincidence that all these articles appeared in one issue of Circuits? I think not. We are coming to a time of consolidation. In this Fin De Siecle era, we are looking back. (Another article in that issue discussed using computers to digitally remaster old films to restore and save them for another day.) As we enter a brave new world, we are beginning to realize once again, that technology is great but it is not all. We need to choose. To use it to serve our needs but not to be subservient to it. Not to become hooked. Not to become slaves to the medium instead of letting it enrich our lives.

Still Online Still Amazed; Tales of Then and Now, February, 1999

This Month:

Regular readers of my columns know that from time to time I have expressed dismay with the online world, the hype, the commercialization, the noise, and, above all the amount of time it demands. I resist it. I curse it. But from the beginning I have been amazed. I am still online - - and from time to time I am still amazed.

A Tale of Then: The response to Holocaust denial on line.

My earliest days on line were on a local BBS (I still log on there every morning and play two trivia games) and after a brief disappointing introduction to Prodigy, I got an account on the GEnie network.

Around the time of operation Desert Storm a group of GEnie regulars, mostly Jewish, became concerned with the possibility of antisemitism related to the events in Iraq. This group grew and held heated e-mail and news group debates about the right way to deal with online hatred. Some of the people involved protested hate information on Prodigy. Others focused more specifically on holocaust denial. The debate over censorship versus open discourse was heated. One of the leaders in this discussion was a young lady named Stephanie Ann Brumlik, known on line as POOH.BAH.

Although afflicted with multiple sclerosis, which caused periodic paralysis and blindness for the last years of her life, she never stopped doing what she believed in. During the early Nineties Holocaust denial became a major issue on campuses. Deniers sought to place ads in college newspapers. Undeterred by her health, Stephanie and a few others would fly on a moment's notice to college campuses to hold all night seminars for college editors to help them understand what it meant to publish such materials and to help them to place the material in context for their readers.

Meanwhile, a small group debated the best approaches to the issues. It was a heady experience. We thought we were saving the world. Our internal e-mail debates became overwhelming. Once on the Sabbath, when the Orthodox members did not participate, I remember receiving 69 e-mail confidential e-mail messages discussing angrily the public messages posted by someone in our group that week. It all seemed so important. Some, like me, participated from the luxury of our homes, pontificating from the keyboard. Stephanie contributed much, much more.

Eventually the world moved on. I kept in touch with a few people from the group for a while. Stephanie's illness progressed. She moved back and forth to Israel. I would lose her e-mail address, she would change providers. Once in a long while, I would hear from her through her husband or a mutual friend. But eventually silence. I recently learned that she died two years ago this week in Safed, Israel, a town of artists and mystics and mystical beauty in the hills of northern Israel.

But she left a legacy. And that legacy has been preserved in a true labor of love by her husband Joel Brumlik, in a book entitled, "The Messenger That I Sent: A debate with those who deny the holocaust." I just received a copy this weekend. Much of what follows is paraphrased fairly directly from the introduction to that volume. I tried to call Joel this morning for permission to quote directly and learned, sadly, that he was buried this week. In memory of them both, I believe the following is a fair use of the information.

In March 1992, at 2:46 P.M. EST, something unusual happened. A man by the name of CONDOR invited over a million people to an open discussion. None of the participants had ever met, and very few would ever see each other. It took place on the computer network known as Genie. It was about the Holocaust, the slaughter of millions of innocents by Hitler and the Nazi regime. This discussion was started by someone with a covert purpose: to attract an audience and convince them that the Holocaust had never happened! CONDOR was an Holocaust denier, or, as he preferred to be called, a holocaust "revisionist".

The debate he launched and the transcript of that debate are studies not only in the verity of the Holocaust, but about the Constitutional right of free speech, about what is open to debate and what is propaganda, about what is scholarly research and what is dogma. The book is based on a verbatim transcript of 1243 of the messages that followed over a period of only about six weeks. While thousands lurked. Forty four participants engaged in the debate.

In this public debate I was a lurker. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. When confronted by professional polemicists and debaters, the slightest mistake - such as reference to unsubstantiated folk history and legend - could provide great targets for the other side. I quickly learned how much I did not know. For once, I kept my mouth shut. Still, looking through the list of participants, near the front of the volume, I find almost half a dozen with whom I have broken bread in places ranging from a kosher restaurant near Detroit and a hotel on Chicago's lake front to my own dining room. All people I met on line. Sometimes we agreed strongly, sometimes we disagreed passionately.

But the central figure in that debate was Stephanie Brumlik. Her intelligence and comprehensive knowledge of the subject and her debating skills help shape the discussion. The book is about Stephanie's heroism. It is the story of a woman who stood up for her people and her beliefs. But it is also about how to read carefully and critically. "It is about words that sound the same, but which, when used by someone with a covert agenda, mean something entirely different." Woven through this debate about rhetoric and historiography, legitimate claims and unsubstantiated claims masquerading and "truth," are bright threads of humor, compassion and remembrance.

This book is not an easy read. I have only had a chance to skim the surface. But it brings back intense memories of that time. Following an introductory chapter on Holocaust denial, which includes the text of Bradley R. Smith's controversial advertisement, and an introduction to the computer networks which helps explain the format and context of the preserved messages, there are over 500 pages of transcript, followed by more than 100 pages of references, glossaries and an index. The book also includes information about current holocaust denial on line. This is an issue which will not go away.

The book is truly a labor of love but it is more than that. In addition to everything else, it is essential reading for those who want to learn about the nature of online debate and study its development regardless of any interest in the subject of the debate.

"The Messenger That I Sent" is available on line from Buy Books on the web.com They can be reached at [email protected] .

For more information on the Holocaust and Holocaust denial visit The Nizkor Project.

[An aside: During the weeks leading up to and following the invasion of Iraq, I participated actively in an online debate on the GEnie network. If I remember correctly, eventually there were some 55 news groups or bulletin boards relating to various aspects of the war. The discussion was getting out of hand. GEnie announced that it intended to clean up. The messages would be deleted. So one night I downloaded them all. I think I still was using my first 1200 baud modem. I went to bed When I woke my machine was frozen. I had used every last bit of remaining space on my hard drive. Eventually I found a way to delete some stuff and then compress the file on to one or two floppies. I think I still have the disks somewhere in this clutter. The messages contain a fascinating record of public attitudes toward the invasion, before, during, and I believe, after the event. If anyone is interested in analyzing this material please send me a note. It's probably only a bit over a meg. Seemed a huge file then.]

A Tale of Now: Online access at the airport

I am jaded. I do take the Internet for granted. But once in a while something still opens my eyes.

I am an officer of a local organization known as the Community of Congregations, a pioneering effort at interfaith cooperation in Chicago's Western Suburbs. Their annual election meeting and dinner is an event I look forward to every year. Last year the program included an excellent inner city youth choir. Other years the programs have ranged from powerful messages of faith, to philosophical discussions of the issues raised by interfaith communication, to hands on methods of uniting to deal with the ne ed of the community in literacy, homelessness, food pantries, gang problems. And this year I would be elected vice president The dinner was long scheduled for January 21.

But, late last month I had to go to Columbus, Ohio on a business trip. I was supposed to be in Madison, Wisconsin, the next day. The trip had been too often postponed. There was simply no way to reschedule. I would be out of town on the twenty-first. One of the ironies was that I was scheduled to be changing planes at O'Hare less than half an hour ride from the dinner not long before the time they would say grace. I put the dinner out of my mind.

Discussions went well all day in Columbus. But when I got to the airport I discovered my flight had been delayed an hour because of rain and fog. What about the flight to Madison? It was also on hold but they didn't know when it would take off. I did n't know if I could catch it.

I made a rash decision. - - I would fly to Chicago that night but wait until Friday morning to go on to Madison. I had planned to review documents in my hotel and arrive fresh at the meeting in the morning but if I went home, maybe I could make it to the dinner.

One problem: Since I knew I would be out of town, even though I maintain the group's web page at lgrossman.com/comcong.htm , I had forgotten where this year's dinner would be held. I couldn't think of anyone to call at that time of the afternoon. If only I had a laptop with me. If only I could get online, I ruminated out loud to another poor soul in line waiting to change his reservations.

"But you can," he said. "There is an Internet kiosk down the hall." Sure enough, a hundred yards down the hall there was a kiosk, looking like a combination old video game and an ATM machine.

I was amazed.

Only a small line waiting. I chatted with the woman in front of me. She was an old hand. She met her husband on line on CompuServe in 1989. I stood back discreetly. She checked her e-mail and checked a few websites, eventually printing out a few documents she needed on the built in laser printer.

Now it was my turn. There was a keyboard and a primitive pointing device. I am not used to surfing or typing standing up. I swiped my credit card and followed the prompts. I typed in my URL and in a few seconds there was the page and all the information I needed. The interface was a bit clunky. And I wasn't sure sometimes whether to use the touch pad, keyboard or touch the screen. But I am sure I could get used to it.

I could have logged off right away but I had been chatting with the next person in line and decided to show off a few of my pages - - Forgetting of course that I was running up the clock. I finished. A few seconds later a receipt was printed out. I was afraid to look at it.

Pleasant surprise. The initial cost to log on was about $4.50 and 35 cents a minute for each minute. Total cost was about $7.95 (Unfortunately, the receipt with the exact figures is in my desk drawer at the office.)

The service is provided by TouchNet. and includes fax capabilities and other business services. You can also find a detailed discussion of the airport service online.

[Afterward 1. The flight made it to Chicago in plenty of time for me to go to the program, even if I would have to miss dinner. But when I thought I was changing planes in Chicago, I checked my luggage. It took over 40 minutes just to get my bag. I got home just about the same time as the closing benediction.]

[Afterward 2. The next day I learned the flight to Madison never left the night before. The passengers weren't informed until after 11:00 p.m. (By then I was cozy in bed watching NightLine indeed, I made the second half of ER.) Then they were taken to Madison by bus arriving close to 3:00 a.m. I did have to get up early to catch a morning flight but I was much better off. Even if I did have to take a bus back to Chicago that afternoon.]

Mini Reviews


Some months ago Symantec was kind enough to provide me a copy of pcAnywhere for review purposes. Perfect, I thought. My daughter, Sarah. was away in school and having problems with the used PC I fixed up for her. She was constantly calling me for help. I would close my eyes and try to visualize the screens she was describing. I constantly had her send me copies of her autoexec.bat and config.sys files and sometime whole .ini files (she was running Win 3.11, then). Then I sent them back with instructions. But her machine kept crashing. Locking up right in the middle of a paper -- actually, usually just when she thought she was finished but hadn't saved the file.

Perhaps I could use pcAnywhere. So when she came home for Thanksgiving, I installed pcAnywhere on this machine and gave her the disk to take back to school. She was busy, but eventually she installed the software on her machine with no problem and set it up in host mode.

It connected the first time I dialed in. She was amazed to watch me manipulate her cursor from two hundred miles way. I fished and snooped around. It was a bit slow but it worked. I found that her machine had been through the wars. Tons of remnants from long deleted applications. Ini and config files with conflicting statements and confusing instructions. Partially uninstalled memory managers, an operating system installed over old garbage. Yecch. It looked like her bedroom floor here at home. I cleaned up quite a bit.

It really was quite a joy having this tool. Sitting on one phone line reconfiguring your daughter's PC over another isn't exactly quality time, but any time between parent and child at this age is cherished. Thank you Symantec.

For a week or so the machine seemed better. But, still, from time to time it would lock up.

We decided the time had come to reformat the drive and start again. That is not something you can do remotely, so far as I know. So, over the next few weeks she saved her files and got ready. After a few missteps we managed to install Windows 95 by long distance. She was up and running. She reports it is running much better now.

Now I wanted to try out pcAnywhere and give it a real test so that I could do a decent review. But at Christmas she brought me a few CDs and after she went back to school, I discovered the pcAnywhere disk was on my desk. Sarah is due home again in a few weeks for a dental appointment. I will give her the disk to take with her. In the meantime, my wife is using my old "pawnshop special" in her office in our old spare bedroom. Perhaps I can clear enough space off of that machine to squeeze in pcAnywhere. Then I can talk to her as well.

A Short Story by E. M. Forster: "The Machine Stops"

Let me give you the setup: She had been meditating in an isolated, windowless room which was "throbbing with melodious sounds." She was interrupted by a call:

"Who is it?' she called. Her voice was irritable. For she had been interrupted often since the music began. She knew several thousand people; in certain directions human intercourse had advanced enormously.

* * *

But it was fully fifteen seconds before the round plate that she had in her hand began to glow. A faint blue light shot across it darkening to purple, and presently she could see the image of her son, who lived on the other side of the earth, and he could see her.

The readers of that tale must have been amazed -- not only by the fact that the round plate booted in only 15 seconds. The foregoing excerpts are from a short story, "The Machine Stops" written by E.M. Forster some time before World War I. A friend recommended the piece to me in consideration of the amount of time I spend on line - - in disembodied communication. And so I pass it on to you. It is a tale of fantasy, so on target are some of its predictions and so far off in others, I hope. It is good once in a while to absorb information from a page. To soak-in reflected light and thought instead of that generated by phosphorescent pixels. The story is anthologized in many places. One source is "The Collected Tales of E.M. Forster", copyright 1968, Modern Library. This edition contains an excellent preface by Forster and many other fascinating tales as well.

For those who prefer phosphorescent pixels, I have discovered that the complete story is available on line at http://www.plexus.org/forster.html. You may also want to visit Plexus which posted the Forster story.

A Virtual Vacation and a Real Rest, January, 1999

It is really a good way to start the new year. Snowbound. Well, virtually. We did begin the year with a family dinner at noon on January 1 and that was good. But by two o:clock the snow was falling. That was why we were eating our Friday night dinner in the middle of the day. My niece and her nephew had to drive to Ann Arbor and we wanted to let them get started before the snow.

But today is delicious. I woke up around 6:00 a.m. thanks to our dog, Mitzi. While I was up, I looked out the front door to find my hard copy of the NY Times. I read it online on Sundays. But the rest of the week, I like the hard copy. I can't spread the virtual version out over my desk to catch the coffee drippings when I dunk my whole wheat bagel. And on Saturdays it is nice to take it to bed in the afternoon and drift off into an easy snooze in the middle of the Arts section.

But today there was no sign of the paper. Well, in all this snow, I figured maybe the delivery person couldn't get out yet. A couple of hours later, I tapped a broomstick through the snow. Couldn't find it. And the snow was still coming down.

I was supposed to go out this morning. My wife, Sally, had to go out for a few hours to a house inspection (a realtor never has a day off.). So I had the old car. But, I looked at that snow... No way. How blissful to go back to bed with no guilty conscience. No obligations except for this column (and I thought it was already written in my head).

What a cozy day. Eventually, I did get up -- around noon. I was just putting on the kettle when Sally came in. Her car was stuck in the alley. I threw on some thick socks and an oversized warm sweatshirt and with the help of a neighbor we shoveled the alley and I managed to get her car into the garage.

Last night we had thought about getting milk and bread while were at the video store.. But we forgot. Why not go for a walk in the snow, now!! We'll take the dog. So we trudged a few blocks. Helping half a dozen stuck cars on the way. (Still, I don't feel sorry for the guy in the new BMW who was stuck in the intersection and his non-slip differential wouldn't let him rock the car. Should I feel guilty?) The dog was bounding over drifts. We got the milk. But they were all out of bread. Well, let us eat cake and all of the other goodies leftover from the over stuffed holidays just past. (Only minor regret: Why didn't I grab those other videos I was thinking about at Blockbuster last night. They would be perfect tonight. But a two mile walk in what is now nasty fine blowing snow for a movie. Never.

Anyway, we made it home (the BMW finally got out just after we passed him the second time). The walk was refreshing. Time to write this piece. The one about my virtual vacation.

I logged on to discover that I was already close to having a record day on my web sites. By 1:00 o'clock there were already over 600 hits on my pages over 500 were hits to my Chicago Weather page.

Then Sally announced breakfast, fluffy scrambled eggs and hot tea and toast (the last of the bread now we are down to cake).

Back upstairs to write this piece. By now the weather page had over 800 hits. Maybe I'll get 1000 hits today. Why not update the weather page with some special features for the storm.

It already has current conditions and links to forecasts and weather bulletins. I discovered that one of the links on the page included information on Illinois highway conditions. Then I saw a news group announcement about a Blizzard Webcam. Another link. Then I added a link to the Chicago Tribune's story on the weather.

I hope I was providing useful information on the weather page. But somehow this column wasn't getting written.

Then the doorbell rang. A young man with a shovel. Well, I negotiated ten bucks just to clear the stairs down to the street. I didn't ask him to do the 65 feet of sidewalk. Just as well, an hour later, I couldn't see the stairs again. But he did find the NY Times. Just in time for my afternoon nap.

So here I am again an hour later. Back at the keyboard. Hmm. The log now shows well over 1000 hits on the weather page alone. Maybe today's story is the weather.

And that leads to the story I was going to write.

I was going to write about our vacation. Our virtually planned vacation.

Back in the late summer we decided to drive to Charleston and Savannah for a vacation in early December. We looked forward to a peaceful, relaxing, few days driving the back roads of Kentucky and Tennessee. Then eating low country food in the elegant restaurants of Charleston. Gentle walks under the live oaks and moss in the Old South.

This was to be our first virtually planned vacation.

We searched for Savannah and Charleston sites on line. Looked at lovely pictures of the sunny south. Imagined ourselves sunning on the beach or in a rocker on the porch. Found information on bed and breakfasts and hotels.

I logged on to a number of mapping sites and typed in various parameters. I have grown to hate superhighways. If you are going to stay on Interstates you might as well stay at home and circle your local beltway. High speed lanes with rows of impenetrable evergreen trees on either side. Maine and Georgia look the same.

Well, I tried a number of mapping sites and eventually found AutoPilot. Unlike other sites, it permitted me to set a number of parameters. Some sites permitted me to exclude superhighways or require them. But AutoPilot let me select a "scenic route." A quick look at a map indicated it was giving me the best of both worlds. Superhighways on either end of the trip and scenic state routes and lesser US routes in Kentucky and Tennessee.

The route sheets provided interesting information about nearby national parks and other features en route and provided estimated times and mileage completed and to go. I bound them in a student notebook and we were ready to go. I was nervous about the time of year, but real estate is always slow in December and the low country is usually plagued by rain in November. Should be over by December. Of course, this year the weather was gorgeous in November and the first week of December. Record heat. Sunny days.

Finally December 6th arrived. The car was packed and we got an early start. In a steady rain. By the time we got on to Interstate 65 the rain was so heavy we had to pull over several times. We drove through sheets of rain for almost three days. I sent postcards from the Cumberland Gap with notes indicating that we were told the view was beautiful. We could barely see out the window. Every where we went they said, "This is the first rain we've had since summer. We really need it."

Then, as we pulled into Asheville, North Carolina, the sun burst out. But by then we were exhausted. And I was cranky. The rest of the trip had varied weather. Blustery but dry in Charleston. Soggy in Savannah.

So what does all this have to do with the ModemJunkie and my ususal focus on technology and the modern world?

Every night Sally called her voicemail. On the second day she learned that two deals she had set up before she left had gone through. Three days later she learned both deals had fallen through. And then there were the impeachment hearings. I am a hearing junkie. My parents borrowed their first t.v. to watch the Army-McCarthy hearings. My first summer of law school was spent glued to the Watergate hearings. Somehow, these current hearings and the news leading up to them had me hooked. We were wired into the world.

Those of us in the middle west are spoiled. News at Ten. Nightline comes on at 10:35. Sitting up in a motel waiting for the news was exhausting. Of course I could have logged on to the NET. I did have a laptop in the car. But I am proud to say I resisted. But what energy the rain didn't drain from this vacation, impeachment did. I alternated in rage at the Republican steam roller and the Democrats wrapping themselves in the flag.

I simply didn't have the willpower to ignore it all. One afternoon the sun came out and we were driving through a forest with golden leaves and low mountains in the background, but I had found an NPR station and I missed the whole thing.

Still there were moments that overrode it all. Floating in a rowboat in Cypress Gardens for the first time since I was 9 years old. Walking on a pier on Tybee Island in a drizzle after the best meal of the trip. (We spent a fortune on recommended restaurants in Charleston, but there was nothing like that Jamaican shack on the beach at Tybee. And nothing cheaper.)

But except for a few moments like those, today was better. Snowed in, cozy. I went downstairs a few minutes ago. Sally and my daughter Sarah had been watching a video. They fell asleep on the sofa stretched out in opposite directions under a feather comforter on the long living room sofa. Their heads sticking out like beautiful bookends. Blissful relaxation. And Congress is in recess.

Happy New Year.

I Ain't Cuttin' My Blessin': A Story for the Season, December, 1998

The other night after a long day at the office, I received a call from my friend Ed. Could I come over and help him install a new hard drive? Having several more important things to do, which I could now avoid, I ran right over. Eventually, we got it up and running, sort of, and finally, around 9:00, I allowed Ed to pop open a beer. I took the first couple of sips. The phone rang. It was my wife. The furnace had gone out at my mother's house.

Mother is 86 and is very self sufficient. The day before her water heater had burst and she stayed home mopping up and ordering a new one without even calling one of her sons (or anyone else) a for help, But after a day dealing with the installation (and a workman who fell through her ceiling -- but that is another story), when the fuse blew in the furnace late on a cold night, it was too much. She called my wife. Could we bring over a 15 amp Buss fuse?

There is a Menards home supply store halfway between my friend's house and hers. I called. They were open until 10:00. I found the electrical department. I saw two different types of 15 amp Buss fuses. One blue screw in and one long snap in type. I called Mother to make sure. It was the blue one. I went down to the cashier.

I was trying to decide which check out counter and cut off another customer who was trying to make the same decision. He had an arm load of 2X4s. He was kind of gruff in his initial comment, but we got into a discussion of parents and similar matters. Then I moved up in line. I reached for my wallet. It wasn't there.

It was almost 9:30. Not enough time to go home or to Mothers and get back, I thought.

What to do? I stepped out of line and began looking for the manager. A young checkout girl (her name tag said "Crystal") asked what I was doing. I explained I was going to see if somehow I could arrange to take the fuse and pay the next day. I had no credit cards, no ID, no nothing.

Just then the customer I had cut off came over. He handed me two bucks. "It's all the cash I have left after paying for the lumber," He wouldn't give me his name or number. "For your mother's sake," he said.

"Follow me" said the cashier. She rang up the fuses. The total was $2.42. She called over another check out girl. Together they picked through their pockets and came up with two dimes, three nickels and, finally, between them, some lint and a lifesaver and then seven pennies.

I jumped in the car and raced to Mother's (carefully, of course -- no driver's license).

I got there. She was exhausted. I went into the utility room and found the fuse box. The fuse I had picked up was too small. Turns out there are two blue 15 amp Buss Tron fuses. SL and TL. She needed TL. It was about 12 minutes to 10:00.

I called Menards. Yes, they did have the other fuse. "Take it down to Crystal." I said. "Tell her it is for the guy who owes her some money." Mother handed me a Twenty and I raced out to the car. No time to worry about cops. I ran in the door of the store. It was 9:58. Crystal saw me and we traded fuses. I tried to hand her the Twenty.

"I ain't cuttin' my blessin'," she said, waiving my money away.

It is interesting to note that this happened just a week before Thanksgiving. It put me in a frame of mind to recognize how blessed I am. Looking back, I see a similar episode occurred last year at this time. "Thanksgiving Thoughts"

Thank you Crystal. And thank you to all the anonymous individuals who repeatedly commit very specific acts of kindness.

A final note to this story: the second fuse did fit. And my wallet was at Ed's.

Best wishes for happy holidays and a healthy New Year.

Catching Up: Including a Look at WordPerfect 8, November, 1998

I began writing these pieces on a sporadic basis for my local PC user group's news letter back in 1992. The first article was a somewhat humorous review of Quicken. It is online in it's original text format at http://lgrossman.com/mjnk/quicken.txt. The articles increased in frequency until sometime in mid-1995, when I was asked to write on a regular basis for WindoWatch magazine. Her monthly "gentle reminders" have prompted me to produce an article almost every month since then. A look at the Complete Archive http://lgrossman.com/mjnk/index.html reveals some 50 articles since 1992. Still, some months are easier than others. This is one of those harder months.

Perhaps it is because I have promised myself to catch up this month. I thought that by now, I could catch up. Maybe write a gentle piece, touching on a number of things I have neglected during the past few months.

But, after 9 months of gestation our national wet dream is about to end in a non-referendum. By the time you read this, the pundits and soothsayers will be reading the entrails of the November 3rd election, purporting to explain us to ourselves. Maybe the fact that my birthday always comes within a day or two of Election day (I got Eisenhower and Regan as birthday presents) has made elections so significant to me. But this weekend, as I write, listening to Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz on NPR, I find myself kind of listless. Writing more by obligation than conviction. I used to think I had an opinion on everything and could spout off endlessly at the drop of a hat. Perhaps it is maturity, but I don't always feel that need anymore. I don't even know everything anymore. Still, I have promised some comments on Word Perfect 8 and a few other things have managed to burble to the surface of my consciousness. So put on some of your favorite music while you read and it won't be a total loss.


"Buy American!!" You remember the exhortation. Gone with the wind. Now the world economy depends on our trade deficit. In the 60's my first car was made in England, the second in Italy, the third and fourth in Germany. In some parts of the country local garages would have refused to work on them even if they could get the parts. Now try to even find a car that is "Made in the USA." My newest car (I haven't bought a really new one since 1973) is a Dodge Intrepid. The one before that, still chugging along at 150 thousand miles, is a Mercury Grand Marquis. Real Detroit Iron. Think again. Look at the doorplates. Both were assembled in Canada. We take it for granted that computers and their components come from beyond our borders. My first machine could seemed to have one component from each of the members of SEATO (The South East Asia Trade Organization).

But the greatest word processor ever made was a fantastic home grown product. Word Perfect from Orem Utah.

WordPerfect. Every lawyer will tell you it is the greatest word processor ever made. (I confess, lawyers don't need lots of fonts and the very simplicity of the DOS version is a special attribute. Windows features can lead to troubles with the court. Using "Make it fit" can actually be illegal and result to an action being dismissed.) It made us put down our yellow pads and learn to type. (Female attorneys could finally reveal that they could type, back when we were in school, women who could type had to do all of our papers and were often tracked into secretarial positions. Serious women frequently had to deny they could type, just to be taken seriously).

WordPerfect. Easy to learn, clear white text on a brilliant blue screen. Almost every centimeter of the screen available for text. Easily created macros simplified many repetitive tasks available quickly at the touch of a couple of keys. The list files popped up easily usable and readable. The whole program flew along, even on a 286.

Wait!! you say. You are talking about WP5.1, the great DOS application. Right you are. And there is no way we could ever go back to DOS. I admit it. The other day I was in an out of town office and had to borrow an old laptop to take some notes. It still had WP 5.1 on the hard drive. It was a struggle to go back. I have gotten used to the rodent and to cutting and pasting. And I still prefer WPWin to other Windows word processors. But WordPerfect's Windows incarnations have been significant disappointments.

WordPerfect stumbled badly in the early days of Windows and finally got into the picture with its kludged together WPWin 5.2 and 6.0. (I won't even talk about the WP graphic version for DOS. Was that WP DOS 6.0?) Still, WP loyalists clung to the DOS version and insisted that their IT departments stick with Word Perfect when the offices upgraded. They were sorely disappointed.

WordPerfect made some big mistakes. They left behind all but one of the features that made WP DOS so valuable, thereby leaving behind most of the reasons for their customer base to come along. I'll talk about that one saving feature later. But first let us mourn.

Although they advertised the possibility of configuring the program to utilize the familiar WP 5.1 keyboard commands, many of the improved features of the Windows version were unavailable from the old keyboard setup. Even worse, the new version failed to include any kind of macro conversion utility. Over the years, I had created several dozen macros which made my life easy. There was simply no way to import them in the Windows version. True, many of the functions for which I had created macros had their own keyboard commands already but into the new program, for example [ctrl-d] [ctrl-s] and a number of others. Still, if I have to learn a new set of commands, it is just as easy to learn Word or AmiPro (or whatever it is called now "WordPro?] or something else. WordPerfect, why should I stay with you?

And the Windows versions were slow. I have had WP 6.1 on my office machine for some time right now. And on a P200 with 32 meg of RAM it is not unbearable. But opening macros and waiting for dialog boxes (open files, save files) is like taking a break but not quite long enough for a nap.

In addition, other agencies with whom I must work have been upgrading to MS Word 97. And Office 98. WP 6.1 was simple unable to convert those files. (Actually with privately written viewer in my old DOS application, Magellan, I discovered I could save the new Microsoft files as text and then convert them to WP, with a great loss of formatting.

So I was excited when I got the opportunity to review the New Corel WP Suite 8. Maybe the improvements would justify the wait. Now I like light software (see the Great Lite Software section of my home page at http://lgrossman.com/ ). So the idea of reviewing a complete suite is daunting. I confess, I have not been able to sample all of the features of the Corel Suite in the past couple of months. I will report further as time goes on.

The package arrived. Imagine my shock to seen the return address from a location in Canada. Yes. Corel is located in Ontario now and is closing the Orem Utah facility, if it hasn't already.

(The Corel website http://www.corel.com still has a page with a map to Orem.)

Fortunately my new machine had an almost empty hard drive. I have to report that once WP8 is loaded it seems reasonably fast, but waiting for WP to load is still slow. Even on a Pentium with 64 meg of RAM.

WordPerfect has found it necessary to tinker with some of the best features of WP 6.1.

In WP 6.1, the file open dialog box was extremely configurable and robust in appearance. It took mine a few months to get used to it, but I found its features very useful.

Here is a bad screen shot of the WP 6.1 files Open Files dialogue box. Wp 6.1 Screenshot


As I set it up there are three main windows: The slot where the file name wild card can be inserted is on the top left. Immediately below it is a window showing the files in my default subdirectory (folder) - in the order I chose (normally most recent first) and limited by the inserted wild card. No further subdirectories are found there. Instead, subdirectories are found in a separate window to the right bottom of the image shown. Another window, just above that contains a "Quick list" of frequently used subdirectories.

I can find what I want quickly and efficiently. Other windows, not visible here, permit changing drives and other functions.

The new file open dialogue box is simply foreign to me. And infinitely less useful (even if I was able to get a better screen shot).

WP 8  Screen Shot

For some reason the file name slot has been moved to the bottom. Subdirectories appear in the same window, instead of in their own window. There is no quick list. I suppose I will get used to this but for now, I find my self lost when I try to navigate in WP 8.

These are probably the grousings of an old dog who doesn't want to learn new tricks. So I have saved for last one word of praise for WordPerfect. They have retained one of the most useful features of the old DOS program - Reveal Codes. I know that newer typists can't even conceive of reveal codes. They don't want to know. But I simply don't understand how writers can get along without it. How do they find out where an errant font begins or ends? How do they remove unwanted tabs? How many times have I been able to solve seemingly unexplainable problems for others in my office by opening reveal codes and taking a close look at what lies behind the printed page?

Which brings me, of course, to my biggest disappointment in WP 8. WP understands the benefits of revealing the underlying code - at least to some extent. A flick of a hot key [alt-f-3] brings up reveal codes. Another flick and you are back to WYSIWYG screen. Why not do the same thing in WPs HTML editor?

I compose my web pages using Dida Pro (the freeware version is available for download in the Great Lite Software section of my home page http://lgrossman.com/ . I do the composition in text mode (in effect, revealing the code) but a quick click on a tab and I am in a WYSIWYG mode viewing the page in form somewhat similar to that which the ultimate viewer will see it. What about an editor that would let me import pre written pages and move elements around as in a WYSIWYG editor, but would then let me switch to a reveal codes format and let me cleanup the underlying code. Sorry no go.<>

This column is being written is WP 8. I am glad to have a leg up. My office is supposed to upgrade in a few weeks.

Suites are amazing. I hunted all over to put AOL's Instant Messenger on my machine. Only after doing so, did I discover that is was included in the Corel 8 suite, as was a version of Netscape and lots of other stuff. Having missed a few meetings this month, I have installed the Corel Central planner in my system startup but I am getting tired of waiting for it to finish loading so I can get on to other things. But, I have only experimented slightly with the other features in the Corel 8 suite.


A few final thoughts for this month.

I mentioned above that I have included the Corel 8 planner in the start up configuration for my machine. It is slow. This is not a problem when I turn the machine on for the first time when come home at night ( I turn it on and then visit the washroom -- it is almost finished booting when I get back). And it usually stays on until I leave for work the next day. But if I am doing some configuring, or heaven forfend, of the machine should lock up or have to be rebooted, it is a pain. Here is a simple suggestion for Microsoft. How about a start up dialog box that would list all of the programs that have been dragged into the start up folder. The box would include radio buttons in front of each item so they could be turned on or off without having to drag them in and out of the folder. Just an idea).

Isn't it ironic that Janet Reno's Justice Department has chosen to personalize the Microsoft antitrust suit as a battle of personalities. OJ and Monicagate enter the world of antitrust. Is it more ironic that the opening shot was to attempt to show that Bill Gates perjured himself in his deposition. Will he be charged with perjury? I doubt it. Don't hold your breath. His name isn't Clinton.

Perhaps the real battle isn't only between Microsoft and Netscape, but in some ways between the two of them and the rest of us. A new campaign for compatible browsers has begun, but seems more like an advertising campaign than substance. In the meantime, Opera continues to improve its Windows browser. The latest public beta version is available at http://www.operasoftware.com/download.htm Sadly, it was announced this week their first attempts to create versions form the MAC and Linux and other operating systems has had to be scrapped and started over. I wish them luck.

Finally, when I wrote the announcement for this month's program at my PC Users group, I promised to discuss the "real villain in the browser wars." Only one problem, as the meeting approaches, I haven't the slightest idea what I meant.

Time to listen to some music.

BTW: When I finished writing this article, I decided to try to save a copy of it in the HTML format, which is one of the options available in WordPerfect. I thought my machine had locked up. The hard drive light was flashing but nothing seemed to be happening. Several times, I pressed [alt-ctrl-delete]. The dialogue box indicated WP was not responding. I shut it down and tried again. Finally, after a reboot, I tried again and went downstairs to make a sandwich. When I came back the hard drive light was still flashing. Then a box appeared with a message indicating that a file conversion was in process. I opened the file in Dida and indeed the WPD file had been converted to HTML. It even rendered fairly reasonably in the previewer. But it had lots of strange code and added some odd characters to the visible text. Further, for some reason it decided to underine every sentence in the last two thirds of the article. I have imported the WP coding directly into the template I use for the ModemJunkie pages and only cleaned up obvious errors. Please let me know if you have problems viewing this page on your browser

The original WordPerfect translation to HTML (untouched by human hands except that I substituted JPEGs for BMPS to save space) is available at lgrossman.com/mjnk/mjnkWP.html for comparison. (Note: Among other problems, none of the links created by the WP automatic conversion work. Use your back arrow to return here.)

I am in the process of preparing two hundred handwritten pages of material into a set of web pages. It will result in about 75 single spaced pages typed in WordPerfect. This may be the way to convert it to HTML. Maybe not. I'll report more later.

Because it's There: The Publication of the Starr Report, October, 1998

Just as the strength of the Internet is chaos, so the strength of our liberty depends upon the chaos and cacophony of the unfettered speech the First Amendment protects.

-- ACLU v. Reno

Public media should not contain explicit or implied descriptions of sex acts. Our society should be purged of the perverts who provide the media with pornographic material while pretending it has some redeeming social value under the public's "right to know'".

-- Statement alleged on the Internet to have been made by Kenneth Starr, in a 1987 "Sixty Minutes" interview with Dianne Sawyer. The N.Y. Times asserts that it was a hoax. Apparently Starr never appeared on 60 minutes.


The publication of the Starr Report and subsequent documents and recordings presents a number of issues which go far beyond the dichotomy presented by the traditional arguments for and against free speech. The arguments for and against publication are far more interesting than the mere irony of the fact that "liberals" are among those more likely to have opposed publication and that those most responsible for passing the Communications Decency Act of 1996 are, together with Judge Starr, responsible for the deluge of explicit descriptions of sex acts which has submerged us in recent weeks and threatens to completely drown us in the near future. (As this is being written, Congress is still debating how and when, and how much of the remaining 60 thousand pages of material to bestow upon us.)

I haven't been to Las Vegas or Atlantic City for years, but long ago I decided that Atlantic City was an infinitely sadder place than Vegas. And that was before the Disneyfication of the Desert. Why? Because Atlantic City is within an hour or two drive for millions and millions of people. It is right in the center of the densest population region of this country. On the other hand, it isn't easy to get to Las Vegas. You can't do it by accident. You have to plan. Yes there is pain and suffering in Vegas, but Atlantic City is too easy, it is there. Right on the doorstep of New York City. Right there where millions of poor and destitute can arrive in pursuit of an impossible dream. Old ladies can bus in for day trip. Young girls go there to find the main chance and wind up offering anything in the gray light of dawn just to get home. Why? Because it is there. Very There.

Friday, September 11, 1998, will forever be known as a scarlet letter day in the history of the Internet and this nation. For on that day the Starr Report was released to a breathless world. Millions of people tasted of it. Why? Because it was there. Many issues arise. I have arbitrarily divided them into two categories: (1) Methods of distribution, and (2), what I shall call, for want of a better title, the Decision to Distribute .


The following discussion does not consider whether the material should have been made public but, rather, the distribution itself. The second section of this essay will discussion that more controversial question.

Day 1

For hours untold millions repeatedly tried to access the official government sites and mirrors where the material was supposed to be available. Some were "lucky" enough to get access, most had to wait. For better or worse, I subscribe to a newsletter called "Jesse Berst's AnchorDesk." Within moments of public release of the material I received an e-mail announcement informing me of a number of commercial mirror sites where instant access was possible. I thought I could go there and quickly download the a file and peruse it off line.

Imagine my surprise when I found that the entire document had already been converted to a primitive HTML format. A long table of contents had been created, each section of the table of contents was a hypertext link to the content in question. Further, footnotes were linked to the main text by hypertext as well. There was no way to download the entire package for offline review.

Although this made the material much more readable than a simple text file would have been, it necessitated repeated access to the web sites to view each section of the report. I have seen a variety of estimates of the number of people who "read" the report online. I suggest this number is greatly exaggerated by the format. Not only would it take a number of accesses just to obtain the report but, quite simply, it is very difficult to read large amounts of text online. At the same time the online news services and the broadcast media began distributing highlights (lowlights?).

By midafternoon photocopiers and e-mail programs were multiplying the text as salacious footnotes spread through America's workplaces. I soon expected that some of the footnotes would be as well known by number as the "good" pages of Peyton Place were memorized by every red blooded American boy in the mid 1950's.

But I was wrong. There was simply too much. Fortunately for President Clinton, what I call "full water glass syndrome" was setting in. Did you ever take a full water glass and place it under the kitchen tap and then turn on the water full blast? Instantly, the glass will be half empty. Too much information too fast. In that torrent of salacious material it made no sense to memorize the details. It was impossible. I have heard less is more. Here, more quickly became less.

But back to my story.

As a distribution means, the Internet had proved a success. With patience, anyone with access to a computer and a great deal of patience could have obtained a complete copy of the report by early evening. Later that night it was possible to find zipped copies of the HTML Files and even of the plain text here and there. Which leads me to my first recommendation:

While we have now proved that it is possible to distribute vast amounts of information to millions of people quickly over the Internet, the problems of access could have been greatly reduced if posting of complete online HTML versions had been delayed for a day or so. Instead, the report could have been made available immediately in zipped format for offline reading. I downloaded a complete HTML version in less than 250 k. Summaries and highlights could have been made available for immediate viewing. Having only summaries and the compressed version available immediately would have greatly eased the burden on the Internet without interfering with the public's right to know.

Complete online distribution could have been delayed at least for a few hours when the initial rush was over.

The government was criticized because their servers couldn't handle the peak load that afternoon. This criticism is completely misplaced. The Thomas server and others utilized that day are apparently designed for about 250,000 hits a day. This level of activity is significant and preparation for mass access to those servers at a significantly higher volume is unnecessary and would be an unwarranted cost burden. Far more effective and efficient was the utilization of commercial mirror sites which have the economic incentive to maintain high access capable servers. This cooperation between government and the private sector should be encouraged and continued.

Day 2

Saturday morning I opened my front door to pick up my hard copy of the New York Times. I knew the Times would be printing the whole thing, I wondered whether it would come in two plastic bags. After all the report was over 400 pages. But no, there was only one paper. Would it weigh a ton? No. It did not seem any larger than my usual Saturday Times. The whole report appeared in a special section of only 18 pages. And the print was a legible size as well.

I thought I would give up my regular Saturday afternoon nap to read the report. I brought the paper up to the bedroom. Big mistake. I never got past page 3. I guess that would be the equivalent of 75 pages of the original typed report. Had the best snooze I'd had in weeks. Somehow, I never went back to read the rest. But I did learn a few things.

I missed the hypertext links between the table of contents and the text and between the text and the footnotes. Someday someone will invent a book or newspaper-like format with hypertext. Now that will be something. (Actually, a few weeks ago I did see that something like that is in the works. You hold what looks like a news paper, but touching a pen or stylus to a link changes the content. I didn't see much use for it at the time but it certainly would be useful for reading computerized versions of large sets of material. If anyone runs across more information on this format please drop me a note.)

The materials are now out in paper back. I suspect that serious researchers will find the paper back version the most useful, together with offline searchable versions of the report.

The Aftermath

A little more than a week later, Congress released a videotape of the President's grand jury testimony together with thousands of pages of supporting documents. Talk about water in the glass. If half the water spilled out when the Starr Report was released, the effect of releasing the video and other materials was overwhelming. And there are 60 thousand pages more to come. But for now, my focus on the means of distribution.

According to the media reports, the number of people who accessed the video via the Internet actually exceeded the number who "read" the Starr Report on line. I really don't know what those numbers mean but I still have trouble with 45 second Quicktime and streaming video clips on my machine. I can't imagine watching 4 hours of material that way. Better to buy the video. I understand once source has it available for one cent as an advertising promotion. The highest price I have heard is only about nine bucks.

Back to Top

Where to get the Starr Materials.

For those still interested in viewing these materials, a combination of online and downloadable documents, including transcripts, reports, supporting documents and rebuttals is available at This location now includes PDF versions of much of the material for offline reading. .

The official government sources and links for many of the documents can be found at http://icreport.loc.gov/icreport/. This site also has a number of the documents available in PDF.

A downloadable application called Romeo, which will permit offline review and searching of the materials is available at http://www.darwin326.com/romeo/. I have not yet had a chance to try this application.

An excellent, specially formatted, HTML version of the Starr Report is available at http://www.trellix.com/icreport/.

The supplementary materials and transcripts released October 2, 1998 are available from CNN at http://www.cnn.com/icreport/report2/. Thanks to John Dodge's "This PC Week" column in the September 21 issue of PC Week for leading me to the Trellix site.

Jesse Berst's Anchordesk is available at http://www.anchordesk.com/. To subscribe to the Anchordesk mailing list go to: http://www.anchordesk.com/whoiswe/subscribe.html/. Berst's newsletter arrives by e-mail daily with highlights and linlks too articles fropm that day's edition of computer related news.


Those who have known me for a long time know that I am a staunch supporter of the First Amendment. Most of my web pages carry a blue ribbon and a link to The Campaign for Online Free Speech . My home page proudly bears the quotation from ACLU vs. Reno with which I began this article. It bears repeating:

Just as the strength of the Internet is chaos, so the strength of our liberty depends upon the chaos and cacophony of the unfettered speech the First Amendment protects.

The foregoing is from the decision of the three judge district court panel which originally heard the case which overturned the Computer Decency Act. The language of that decision was much stronger than that in the final Supreme Court decision. Unfortunately my link to that decision is broken. However, the final Supreme Court Decision is available online at http://www.aclu.org/court/renovacludec.html.

Still, I was troubled by the decision to release the materials. Not for the hysterical reasons purportedly posited by Judge Dredd... oops, excuse me, Judge Starr, in his earlier incarnation as quoted above. But for what I believe are much more substantive reasons. I will attempt herein to touch on just some of the issues involved.

Mediated or Unmediated That is the Question.

One of the strongest arguments in favor of publication on the Internet of documents like the Starr Report is that such publication is unmediated. So much of the information we receive is filtered by the producers and editors of the medium through which the information is obtained. The material is presented in such a way that the public is unable to make up its own mind without its opinions having been shaped by the media. I often feel this way.

For example, I wish there were a requirement that there must be fifteen minutes of silence following the delivery of a Presidential speech especially the State of the Union. I would just like long enough to know what I think before someone else tells me what to think. My wife hates to read a movie review before seeing the movie. "Let me make up my own mind, first." she protests when I start to say, "Well, Ebert said . . . "

There is much to recommend unmediated access to information. The problem here is that the Starr Report was not an unmediated presentation. It was the very mediated presentation of allegations of a prosecutor with an axe to grind. The very fact of its presentation without context led to giving the report a much greater weight and validity than a mediated presentation could have afforded. When we first read it did we know that exculpatory material had been excluded? Did the general public understand or know that the grand jury had no input to the report or its conclusions? That the grand jury turns out to have been, ultimately, a coconspirator with Mr. Starr in the presentation of a very unlegal form document with out precedent in our jurisprudence.

Years ago, when I wrote a statement of facts for use in a brief I was filing, I proudly submitted it to a senior attorney for review. I was proud of my use of persuasive language and argument to make my case. My mentor was not pleased. A statement of facts, he said, should be just that, a statement of facts. No adjectives, no argument, just the facts. The good with the bad. If it is material it must be included. But when the reader reaches the bottom line, the facts must be marshaled in such a way as to lead to only one conclusion. That lesson has stood me in good stead over the years. There are places for argument. But not in the statement of facts.

Mr. Starr's Document contains no simple statement of facts. Every purported fact presented is placed there in an argumentative and conclusory context. The reader is not given the opportunity to make up his mind. He is told what to think. The reader is not advised that many of the facts are in dispute and that there is exculpatory information which is not included in the report. The document reads more like a closing argument than a legal analysis. It was been mediated, not by the media, who at least have the theoretical interest of the public in mind, but by the it's creator himself.

A Statement of Facts -What is this report?

Of course it is not quite clear exactly what the Starr Report really is. There is no precedent for such a document in our jurisprudence. Leon Jaworski did not make such a presentation in the Nixon case. He simply presented material to the Congress. Confidential material much of which has never been made public.

Jaworski did make indictments and named Nixon as an unindicted co-conspirator and turned much of his information over to Congress, which then conducted its own investigation. Here we have turned everything on its head. The cart before the horse. Congress is not asked to investigate and come to a conclusion. It is presented with a conclusion and asked to confirm it.

The biggest accusation is that the President lied to a grand jury. But was this grand jury functioning as a grand jury with regard to the President. I have serious questions about that. It seems to have been acknowledged from the start that this grand jury did not have the authority to indict the President. And none of the President's testimony is said to implicate anyone else. The grand jury was not asked to vote on Starr's report. If the President did lie, it was to his Grand Inquisitor not to the Grand Jury, which was never authorized to do anything with the testimony. All the Grand Jury could do was sit and listen. Starr was judge and jury all by himself. The report is his work. Oh, of course, he had a massive staff to help him prepare it but no vote was taken.

Extra-Constitutional Action and Grand Jury Secrecy

The extra-constitutional character of the independent prosecutor must be examined. In the case of Nixon, it must be remembered that Nixon fired his prosecutors. Special remedies were necessary. But Clinton never fired anyone for investigating him. His Attorney General has authorized investigation after investigation of Clinton and his associates. Remember when you wanted to be an FOB (Friend of Bill) . That seems a long, long time ago.

It is amazing that it was a Democratic Congress that insisted on recreating the institution of the Special Prosecutor when the original law lapsed Over the objections of the Republican party.

So now the President is accused of lying to a grand jury - - a grand jury which had no role in preparing the report presented to Congress.

And what of the vaunted secrecy of grand jury proceedings. I have some experience in this area. Years ago I had to dismiss a case seeking a massive administrative fine assessed against a crew leader for smuggling illegal aliens into this country. I discovered that my entire case file had been developed by an investigator who had been deputized to a grand jury. No matter how serious the conduct, all of my information had been obtained in violation of Rule 6(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. And at that stage of the process there was no way to cure the taint.

Years later I did use grand jury information in a civil case. But only after obtaining a specific order for its use from the district court judge. And my use was limited. Even though the information was legally provided to me, I still could not publicly disclose it without further explicit authority from the judge. Fortunately the case settled before it got that far. If the court had ruled against me on my application for further disclosure I would have had to dismiss my case.

Here, Starr went weeks in advance to the Court and obtained specific permission to disclose the material to Congress. But there appears to have been no review by the Court of the specific material and no discussion of what limits might have been placed on Congress' use of the material. Such unlimited authorization makes a mockery of the grand jury process.

Which leads me, at last to the decision to disclose.

Congress Abdicates

Congress, acting blindly voted by a large majority to disclose most of the material which would eventually be received from Starr, in effect, delegating specific disclosure authority to the Judiciary Committee.

On September 9, 1998, Starr dumped 36 cartons of material on the Capitol doorstep. Within 36 hours, the Judiciary Committee voted to make public the entire report and over 3000 pages of supporting documents.

The amazing thing is that the decision to disclose this material was made before a single member of Congress had reviewed the report. Let me say that again: THE DECISION TO DISCLOSE THIS MATERIAL WAS MADE BEFORE A SINGLE MEMBER OF CONGRESS HAD REVIEWED THE REPORT.

Forgive me for shouting. Whether or not you agree with the ultimate need for disclosure, the decision to disclose without review was one of the most reckless examples of dereliction of duty in the history of this country. It implied complete faith in one man. Complete trust that Starr would not invade legitimate privacy interests, would not make false or unsupported allegations, would not conceal exculpatory information. Was that faith justified? Time will tell.

I leave to the reader the ultimate verdict. I am just presenting the facts and asking the questions. Once information of this sort gets out you can't put it back in the bottle. Even if, after having read the report, you conclude that everything contained in the report is true and relevant and necessary, what basis was there to make that assumption without someone, not even one member of Congress, not even one staff attorney, having reviewed the contents before the largest mass distribution of information in history.

Ten days after the release of the Starr Report, the video of the President's deposition was released. Once again there was mass hysteria. Once again, arguably unmediated information was again released to the public. There is something almost pornographic about invading a witnesses privacy that way. Watching the President sweat and squirm. Kind of like watching a snuff film, I imagine.

An Overfilled Glass

But this time something different occurred. This time at least some members of Congress purportedly viewed the tape and read the transcripts. Word got out that an angry President lost control, stormed out of the room. Blew it. Eagerly the public awaited this latest tidbit. And something strange happened. The water overfilled the glass. In the end there was less rather than more.

A Republican committee overrode many of its Democratic members, gleefully awaiting public reaction. But somehow the tape had been mismediated to the Committee itself. Congress totally misread how the public would respond to the tape.

I know no one who actually watched all four hours. Those who were home caught glimpses and bits. The rest of us saw the mediated presentation on the evening news and NightLine. But in spite of the conservative spin of the media, the public saw something else. They saw an embarrassed and contrite human being, an intelligent man trying to dig his way out of a deep hole, a man who had concern for his country, his family, even his principal accuser. A man being pushed to the limit by impertinent and unnecessarily explicit questions. What they saw wasn't pretty. But what they saw wasn't what had been promised. And most Americans just wanted to sleep it off.

If only the President had slept it off after taking his deposition. He restrained himself in the deposition and blew it in his public speech that night. I know how I feel when I complete a day in a deposition, even when all I have to do is sit there and object every once in a while. When I get done all I want is a drink and a nap. I certainly don't want to go on national television and make the most important speech of my life. But I digress.

The Final Decision - - A lightbulb in the Theater of Eden

The decision to disclose this material was made before a single member of Congress had reviewed the report.

So now the Judiciary Committee is making the final decision as to how and what to release out of the remaining 60,000 pages. I wish it didn't have to be done. However, at this stage it is no longer avoidable. But I am also worried, with the Congressional abdication of responsibility in the original disclosure and the total mischaracterization of the nature of the deposition tape, how can we trust Congress to edit the remaining material?

We are told unnecessary salacious material is being redacted. Considering what has already been disclosed, what difference does it make? Can the material not yet disclosed be worse than what we have already seen? More invasive? More disgusting? I doubt it. But who now is to judge now that Pandora's box has been opened.

We hope material is being withheld that would unnecessarily invade the privacy of others who play bit parts in this soap opera of 1998. (I would have said, "of the '90s" but we have lived through OJ and Diana.) Who is to be trusted? Who is to mediate? To the extent materials must be redacted, the public must be presented with a Vaughn Index, an index of withheld materials, so that, if circumstances warrant, a demand can be made for further disclosure. Congress has insisted on making the whole country the jury. Having abdicated its primary duty, it must not now obstruct justice by tampering with the evidence the public needs in order to make an informed decision.

So, sadly, I must conclude that the remaining materials must also be made available. They just don't have to rub our noses in it. I just wish it could be in Las Vegas instead of Atlantic City. It should be available for research and verification but the days of restricted access are behind us.

Have you ever been in a movie theater at the end of the evening when they turn on the maintenance lights to clean the place?

I guess this is what it must have felt like when Adam and Eve shared that first fruit and someone blew out the candles and turned on the bare light.

How the Web Brought Back my Childhood, Explained a Mystery, and Made an Honest Man of My Cousin; Or: Why E-Commerce Ain't All Bad. September 1998

In my adolescence, I came upon a book of stories about Chicago, my home town. Chicago Stories. The book had been my father's; probably given to him during one of his last illnesses as a hospital present. The book was full of strong stories about places and people in the first half of the century. If I could no longer ask my father to tell me what the city had been like back then, I had a powerful substitute.

There were stories about drunks and writers, murderers and madams, politicians and fighters. These were gritty stories. Stories that made you feel you'd been there and smelled the smells and learned first hand the hard lessons these people had learned.

Through high school and college I read some of the stories over and over again, so often that some of them became so ingrained in my memory that I forgot where I had read them or that I hadn't lived them myself. Then, somewhere along the way I discovered that I no longer had the book.

Still, two stories in particular always stayed with me. One was about a huge, strange apartment building on Chicago's South Side. In my memory it was a dark, damp place full of life and pain. Every time I read about one of Chicago's failures in high rise housing projects I felt I knew every detail. Even though this building predated the "projects" by more than half a century, anyone who had ever read this piece could have foretold the misery that would arise from piling people on top of one another with no hope, no possibility of redemption or escape.

Stronger, though, in my memory, was a strange tale by Sherwood Anderson. It was the story of an advertising copywriter who was assigned to write an ad telling the glories of milk. As I remembered the story, it was Chicago in the midst of a great heat spell. The writer was walking the streets on a sweltering night. Heading to Oak Street Beach for a breath of air. All around he sees milk bottles on the window sills, keeping as cool as could be in those days before everyone had refrigerators. Milk everywhere, sour milk. And in my remembered version, he writes a great fantasy about marching bottles of milk, a Busby Berkley fantasy of dancing milk bottles.

Every summer when the days turn steamy I think of that story. No matter how hot it gets, that was worse, I think. And every summer I start looking for the book. First through my shelves. Then at my mother's house. I did give away 16 cartons of books that never made it out of the basement on my last move a dozen years ago. But I went through them first. But this book and another (an autographed Clarence Darrow broadside, Resist Not Evil) never turn up. Every summer I make a fitful start at finding the book.

The last two summers I even tried searching the web. I searched "Milk Bottles" on Amazon.com and every Sherwood Anderson site I could think of. Then, in early July, I went to the Chicago Public Library. In the online catalogue I found a number of books called Chicago Stories. But they were out. And the publication dates seemed way to early or much too late. Then I found a few Anderson anthologies, two of which had "Milk Bottles" in the tables of contents. But my lunch break was over and, besides, I wanted the whole book not just "Milk Bottles." (And I don't have a CPL card. Since then, my adjacent suburb has finally reestablished reciprocity after a 20 year lapse, but that is another story.)

That night I got an e-mail from a friend. One of those special friends you sometimes run into on the Internet. Someone you've never met but you feel you've gotten to know (and she also writes for WindoWatch). She was very excited. For years she had been looking for an illustrated Arabian Nights at a reasonable price. That week she had found a beautiful edition, at a, well, almost reasonable price through an online source called the Advanced Book Exchange

I immediately went to the site and found a simple interface which let me enter some search terms. Quickly, my search led to a handful of bookstores all over the world, one of which was in Chicago, John Rybski, Bookseller.

A quick look showed several books with similar titles at that location, including a couple that I had seen in the library catalog. It was late but I called. A friendly voice answered but told me they were closed, could I call back in the morning. "Would it be o.k. if I sent my request by e-mail?" "Of course." came the friendly, but tired reply.

I shot off a quick note. I asked for Chicago Stories, mentioned "Milk Bottles" and said a little about the apartment complex. I wondered if I would ever hear anything.

The next morning about ten o:clock, I got a call. The voice on the other end said, "I think I have what you are looking for. But it's not Chicago Stories. The book you want is called This is Chicago. He then told me the name of the apartment building, The Mecca, and summarized a few other stories, which came flooding back into my memory. "It was published in '53," he said. Just three years before my father died.

"Does it have a yellow cover?" I asked. It did. "I have a first edition," the friendly voice said. My heart sank. How much would this cost? I have a daughter in school and a "new" car and . . .

"Seventeen dollars," he said. "Plus shipping."

That was Friday. The next Monday the UPS guy showed up in my office, I ripped open the wrapper. There were tears in my eyes.

I couldn't wait to start reading. But I was scared. What if the stories didn't measure up? What if I had imagined their power?

At lunch, then on the way home on the "EL" I voraciously read "Milk Bottles" as though I had never read it before. It was magnificent. Far more than I had imagined. It was not just about a copywriter's fantasy on a hot night. It combined literary criticism with class consciousness with great story telling. There was layer upon layer. Even a story within a story.

Those who regularly read my columns know that above anything else, I like to tell stories. I may be a husband, father, lawyer, modemjunkie, but above all, for better or worse, I am a story teller. I never practiced. I never honed the art. I am grateful for the chance to write this column every month because it gives me the opportunity to tell stories.

But it never occurred to me that "Milk Bottles" was about story telling. I thought it was about frustration and oppressive heat. Now, in the middle of my life, I discover that the story I remember most from my child hood is about story telling. What a gift.

There were other surprises in the book as well.

One night in college many years ago, I took a nap when I was supposed to be working on a piece for my creative writing class. Suddenly, I woke up in a sweat. A story had come to me in a dream. I yelled to my roommate: "Quick! A pen!! Paper!!" I wrote it down feverishly. I could barely keep up with the ideas. I turned in the story and waited for the teacher to comment. A week went by. He called me into his office. He looked troubled.

"I would never have figgered you to be a plagiarist," he said.

I was stunned. "The story you wrote, he said, " is almost exactly identical to a chapter in Richard Wright's novel, Native Son. "It can't be," I protested. "I have never read the book." And I was telling the truth.

He reached up to his shelf and handed me a worn paperback copy of Wright's great book. I read in amazement. Oh, I had missed many of the details, but the story I had so feverishly written was clearly the same. I protested and explained how the story had come to me. Somehow I must have been believed because I wasn't punished. But, for over thirty years I have puzzled about that. Then a few weeks ago I turned the page in This is Chicago. There it was, "South Side Boy," a chapter from Native Son, copyright credit right there on the page.

Lucien Stryke, where are you. I confess, I did read that story once before. Not the whole book but that very chapter. It, too, had been seared into my consciousness. It had become part of me.

One final anecdote. A few weeks after I got the book, we had a family party. I was telling this story to my cousin and her husband. "I remember the Mecca," he said. "It was right across from my college campus." We talked some more. Then he remembered something else. "I have a book with a story about the Mecca, too." I went upstairs and got the book. He looked closely at it.

"That can't be," he said. "I remember that building. But the notes in the book indicate it was torn down years before I went to college."

I guess I am not the only one who was so strongly affected by these stories.

A few days later I found a check for $20 in the mail with a note from my cousin: "I hate people who don't return my books," it said.

When I figured out that he meant he had had my book all these years, I laughed and called him up and told him I would be returning the check. I was just happy to have the mystery solved.

There is a reason I am telling this story, aside from the chance to tell a story. It is easy to scream and shout about the commercialization of the Web, but at its best the Internet is about sharing information, whether it is scientific knowledge or sources or tonight's t.v. listings. The Web is overloaded with glitz and noise and flashing graphics. But here and there is a quiet oasis, with information.

I assume the Advanced Book Exchange is a profit making venture. Or at least it is trying to become so. And why not? The kind of service ABE offers goes to the heart of what is so wonderful and magical online. Of course it is supplemented by knowledgeable booksellers who know how to look beyond the exact request and find what the buyer really wants. The Advanced Book Exchange can be reached at http://www.abebooks.com. John Rybski Booksellers can be reached by e-mail at [email protected] Subsequent to posting this article I have learned of another book search site, MX BookFinder, which can be reached at http://www.mxbf.com. MX BookFinder performs metasearches of a number of online book sources, including everything from ABEBooks to Amazon.com. However, one of the things I appreciated most about ABEBooks was that it led me to the bookseller. My successful search was the result of a combination of online and human interaction. That was indeed satisfying.

The sad thing about all of this is the effect that the Web itself, together with that of the other entertainment media, is having on our ability to read. My own attention span is getting shorter. I read the first half of the book in a couple of nights. Since then, as excited as I was, it has been sitting next to my bed. The keyboard calls. A whole generation is growing up without experiencing the power of reading really good short stories.

Still, if you are aware of other sites which quietly serve useful purposes, please let me know. Drop me a note at Len at Lgrossman dot com. And tell me about your experience.

Which reminds me, in the December, 1997 ModemJunkie I talked about the Techno - Impressionist Museum. I asked for nominations for websites that engage and delight. Sadly, there were only two nominations. Both, in direct contradiction to the express rules, were self nominations and while both sites were interesting, they didn't come close to the magical engagement of the T-I M site.


Installing Windows 98 -- On the Cutting Edge, July, 1998

Well, the awful heat seems to have broken, just before dark tonight there was another thunderstorm and then fresh, cool air....and not a second too soon. Deadline approaches and it has been just too hot to think. At least that is my excuse. Not that I haven't had any ideas about what to write: Windows 98, Upgrading Hardware, etc., etc. Indeed, during the last few weeks, there have been lots of ideas bouncing around my frantic skull. I have come up with great titles for this month's ramblings but they rolled around bumping into one another without sorting themselves out.

Here, in no particular order, are a few of them:


Because It's There

What is it about new equipment, faster processors, more memory? What is it about the latest software? Why do we need to update and upgrade so often? Was it so long ago that I abandoned the trusty 286 - - the one I had to be talked up to from that special on the XT with a 20 meg hard drive - - for the Pawnshop Special, a 386 with 4 megs of ram? Wasn't it just last summer that I upgraded the motherboard to 486/100? Didn't I just replace those one meg SIMMS with 32 megs of RAM? Why do I need a new computer?

Well it's summer again. And a few weeks ago one of those moments occurred that challenge the resistance of full grown otherwise sensible human beings. The Final Beta of Windows 98 arrived. Two CD's just waiting to be installed.

But where to install them? The Pawnshop Special was working fine (except for a balky floppy drive and a tape backup it wouldn't recognize any more and some conflicts between my video drivers and my favorite Web browser ) but there was no way to cram Windows 98 onto even its recently upgraded hard drives. And besides the Special was loaded with legacy stuff. Almost every application I ever had was carried forward as I upgraded and updated my machines. DOS 3.x on top of 2.x. 5.0 on top of that. and then the whole series of 6.xes as MS tinkered with Stacker and Drivespace and Doublespace and double talk. Then Windows for WorkGroups (Win 3.11). Even an install and uninstall of the Windows 95 betas as I discovered I really didn't have enough resources to run it right back then.

During all that time, never a clean install. Always one system on top of another. Even when I traded the 286 for the Special, I copied my whole drive forward. When something crashed who could tell why. It could be anything with all that junk in there.

So if I was going to do Win 98 it had to be clean. But I need some of that old junk. And upgrading the Special just didn't seem to make sense as prices dropped for new machines. Isn't that what everyone says. Nice how other people spend my money.

Anyway time to watch the papers. Study prices. follow the *.forsale newsgroups.

I found a great buy on an almost new machine -- only five or six hundred bucks. Way out in the country though. Would have been a nice excuse for a Spring drive but my wife is working weekends. No car.. Stuck at home.

So to save a few hundred bucks on a computer I spent ten thousand on a car.... but that is another story. (I will reveal that somehow I passed up that beautiful, red, 79 MG ragtop also sitting on the lot. -- Be still my beating heart. My wife said she wouldn't have been surprised.)

So ready to roll, I sent another e-mail to the countryside: "I am on my way," I said. "Not so fast," came the reply: "Couldn't wait any longer. The machine is gone. Sorry."

Well, I thought, I didn't really neeeeeeed that machine. Why spend half a grand just to try some free software. But then an envelope from FedEx arrived. Windows98. The public release!!. Complete!! and by separate cover, the 98 Plus Pack. (Note: Win98 The Plus Pack alone requires 150 meg for the install.

A friend of mine retired a few years ago. I helped him buy a computer. He bought a 486. I think it was a 66 Megahertz machine. All he used on it was a copy of WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS. He could barely use that. A few weeks ago he called his old secretary to help him copy some files to a floppy. Something went wrong -- the files disappeared. After all, she had switched to Windows years ago as well. It is hard to walk someone through a process you haven't used in years. Somehow, instead of copying the files he had deleted them all.

Fortunately, when I helped him set up the machine I gave him one of the last new copies of Lotus Magellan I was able to buy at a close out and installed it on his machine. This is not the place for another lament for the greatest little piece of software ever written but I still keep a copy of Magellan on a floppy. There is a copy on this P166. It keeps bailing me out of trouble.

Over the phone, I walked him through Magellan's undelete process. He was able to recover more than two dozen legal files he had created in retirement.

When we were all done, I asked him why he needed to copy the files. "Well." he said, "I have this copy of AOL 4.0 and it won't install. I talked to AOL support and they told me I needed a Pentium and more RAM. Otherwise I can't use my 50 free hours." Did I do him a disservice a few years ago? He still doesn't really need the upgrade does he? But AOL 4.0 is there.

Why do we need new software? Because it's cool. Because it leaves you breathless. Because it strains all your resources. Like Mt. Everest. Because it is there.

Just Behind the Curve

As I said, Win98 was waiting to be installed. I had only 50 megs of space free on both hard drives combined. My wife keeps battling me for the old machine so she can actually _work_ on it. She uses it in her real estate business. WORK? Is that what these machines are for? And my daughter is home from college and an AOL junkie. She seems offended if I want to get online while she is home.

As I said, I guess I am not the one to talk, I think it really is the time to upgrade -- for me. But what to buy? With prices falling it really would be tempting to buy that dream machine. But with the "new" car and college tuition it just doesn't make sense. So I began checking prices again and frantically following the .forsale newsgroups. Price points are pretty close. I missed a good deal on a Super 266 with SCSI drives. Another machine seemed a little too limited. So I settled on a P166MMX assembled by someone out there in netland in The Land Beyond O'Hare. Since I have a house full of modems I talked him into pulling the internal modem (can't stand those things anyway I need to see the blinking LEDs) and upgrading from 32 megs of EDO RAM to 64 of SDRAM. With a used 15 inch Energy Star monitor and a 16 speed CD-ROM thrown in. It was a bargain at under $650.

Yes, I know. For $50 more here or a hundred there, perhaps I could have gotten a P266 or better. Or a 24x CD-ROM. But, I have always felt it should not be necessary to have all that to do what I do most often: Communicate and use a word processor Both things I did well with Telix and WP 5.1 on my old 286 with 1 meg of ram and a 40 meg hard drive. The only reason I ever upgraded to a 386 at all was to be able to use a graphical browser. I am not always sure it is worth it. The explosion of the Web has definitely made more information available but it is not always as easy to find. And Telix DOS works fine under Win98. Ever tried Lynx?

But I stray. I do have one other reason to upgrade. I like to write these columns. There is just too much out there that requires a Pentium today. Without a new machine I can't review it. Still, I don't have to have the latest. And if I don't neither do many of the others out there who broke the family bank to get that higher-end 486 in the last two years. The pressure to upgrade should be resisted.

But Win98 awaited.

It was a hot Father's Day weekend. One with lots of chores and events . . . All over town. But late Saturday night my daughter and I found our way to an apartment complex in Hoffman Estates. We got lost on the way but thanks to our cell phone (another essential) we got directions. While on the phone, I chatted with the seller. The machine came with a complete set of Win95. It was one of those with the back up files on the hard drive. All you had to do was sit down one night with a case of floppies and make your self a set.

Did I want to pick it up that way - - or since I was going to do a clean install, should he FDISK and format the machine right away. Should make life simpler. "Go ahead,' I said. "Well," he said. Why don't I leave 95 on the system 'til you get here. Then I can show you that it is operable and explain some of the features."

Good idea, I thought. When we got there he was very patient. He walked me through everything on the machine. Hardware and software. It was a real lesson. His daughter brought out juice and cookies. The machine worked like a dream.

Then the fateful moment. "Sure you want a clean disk", he asked one more time. I nodded and a few minutes later the machine rebooted in FAT 32. A small autoexec.bat and config.sys loaded the CD-ROM so I could do my install. At last after all these years I would do a clean install. Leave the legacy behind.

We carefully packed the new mini tower and the monitor in the back seat and headed home. Only a short stop at WallMart for a new mouse and a surge protector . . . but still it was late and hot by the time we got home.

It was too late and hot to do the install. There wasn't even room on the desk.

My daughter was excited. She wanted to help. But I was too tired. Even a little shaky (I don't spend money easily.) She was disappointed. But if I am too tired to play with a new toy you know I am really tired.

I awoke at 3:00 a.m. A cool breeze was blowing. I cleared up the junk in my study. Moved the old PC over to the side. And brought up the new equipment. In the cool night air, I set everything up. Checked the wiring. It was ready for the install.

I was all set for Windows 98.

So once again. There I was. A new computer. Once again, just slightly behind the curve.


I am not sure I ever got back to sleep. I was anxious to get going. Amazing what three hours sleep and a new toy will do. But Sarah slept in. Still I waited. Helping me set it up was going to be her Father's Day present to me. (Well, that's in addition to the photo of herself in a beautiful frame and the tie and the suit that Mom picked out that doesn't fit, yet -- I haven't had any time to go to the tailor -- I've got software to install.)

Finally, a little after 10:00 a.m. she arose. We opened the shrink wrap and popped in the CD, scarcely paying attention to the word "upgrade" on he package.

The machine immediately found the CD-ROM and began the setup. I clicked along merrily for a few minutes. Oddly, some prompts required [cr] to accept an option and [esc] to reject it while others were just the opposite. I suppose that is to keep you on your toes. It just confused me. It prompted me for the awful 25 character product key (password) I would come to hate. Everything going fine.

Then a dialogue box popped open. It was looking for a copy of an earlier version of Windows. BUT WE HAD FORMATTED THE HARD DRIVE!!

Now I looked at the manual.

There is a section entitled "Before You Begin." Nowhere on that page does it say, "WARNING IF YOU ARE DOING A CLEAN INSTALL MAKE SURE YOU HAVE YOUR OLD INSTALLATION DISKS HANDY."

There is a section entitled "Running Windows 98 Setup." Nowhere on that page does it say, "WARNING IF YOU ARE DOING A CLEAN INSTALL MAKE SURE YOU HAVE YOUR OLD INSTALLATION DISKS HANDY."

There is a section entitled "Installing from Windows 98." Nowhere on that page does it say, "WARNING IF YOU ARE DOING A CLEAN INSTALL MAKE SURE YOU HAVE YOUR OLD INSTALLATION DISKS HANDY."

Several pages later there is a section called "Performing a New Installation." On the second page of those instructions - - Page 30 of the" Getting Started manual, following the eighth item in the instructions, there is the following note: "If you're using the upgrade version of Windows 98, Setup may ask you to insert your original Windows 95 or Windows 3.1 disks." PAGE 30!! It should be on the box: "WARNING IF YOU ARE DOING A CLEAN INSTALL MAKE SURE YOU HAVE YOUR OLD INSTALLATION DISKS HANDY." But it isn't there.

Now I have had a number of machines with Windows on them. Most of them came that way. I have installation disks around here somewhere. But I can't even match my patterned socks in this clutter. (Another year's Father's day present was 4 pair of patterned socks. I usually stick to plain black so I don't have to try to match them in the morning gloom. But one year four pair of DIFFERENTLY patterned socks. I can never wear them. They look like new. Only on rare occasions do the same two show up in the same drawer.) I have a floppy or two with DOS 2.2 and 3.x and 5 and . . . but my old Windows disks . . . Finding them would be impossible.. Especially in that heat. And the clutter. With two P.C.s in this room I can barely get to my desk much less the shelves behind it.

Success!! I found a set of back up disks I made for Windows long ago. We tried the install again. You always have to start from the beginning. Back to that godawful password.. And then . . .nothing. It was a homemade backup made back in the days when I was more careful. Right after a virus attack had infected almost all of my disks. The disks were not official. And Win98 knew it.

Why did we ever format that hard drive? It would have been so easy to install over Win95 and then convert to FAT32. But somehow that conversion process scared me.

Back to the drawing board. It is getting hotter. I have missed a Father's Day Brunch with friends. I am getting cross. Several phone calls led to the idea that perhaps I could copy win.com from my old machine onto a floppy from the old machine. Maybe that would satisfy the authentication monster. Did I mention a balky floppy drive on the old machine? Now it wouldn't read at all.

Why didn't I read that $#^%#$^% manual FIRST....and carefully?

On the Cutting Edge

Well... Now the solution seemed to be to somehow get that floppy working. I opened the box on the old case (I never screw the case down anyhow anymore) and started fiddling with the ribbon connectors.) Nothing worked. Then I remembered. On the back porch there was the semi-melted remains of a Pentium Pro that had been through a fire. The floppy drive looked good. I grabbed the machine by the rails that hold the drive bay in place. I took it out on the deck so I could see what I was doing. Suddenly I noticed blood -- over everything. I didn't feel anything but the rail on the PC was like a razor. It had sliced across two fingers when I grabbed it. I washed the cuts and put on band-aids. But the blood kept bubbling out.

There is an emergency room a few blocks away. My wife drove me there. It was almost a relief sitting in the air conditioning (Did I mention I could probably air condition this house for what I have spent on computers this year?) But I was embarrassed sitting there with a little finger cut when there were people waiting with life and death problems. It only took one stitch but it really did need the stitch, the doctor assured me.

Any way I got back home and washed the blood off of the Pentium Pro. I had to remove the motherboard to get at the floppy. To make a longer story a little shorter.. suffice to say I never got the floppy drive working.

What to do next

Brilliant Idea!! I moved the modem back to the old machine and FTP'd the win.com up to my ISPs server. Then I used my wife's lap top to download it and copied it on to a floppy. (Why it never dawned on me to take the file from my wife's laptop or my daughter's I'll never know... must have been the heat and stress) I inserted it into the new machine and started the install once again. Once again I typed in the 25 digit password. I held my breath. Guess what? It didn't work.

Needless to say I tried several other solutions each with the same result.

Finally I went to bed.

Peace at Last

The next night I came home from work ready to try again. And there, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a CD-ROM. It was a Windows installation disk I had not seen in years. Why I couldn't find it the previous day I'll never know.

I started the install. One more time I typed that password. When prompted I took out the Win98 disk and popped in the old installation disk. Almost instantly I was prompted to replace the disk with the Win98 setup disk and the installation proceeded. How smooth and easy that was. RTFM-F.

I watched as it did its thing. It prompted me to insert a blank disk and created a Win98 boot disk. About half an hour later it advised me that it was going to reboot. It did. A Win98 splash screen appeared. At the bottom it said, "Loading Windows for the First Time."

About 45 seconds elapsed. I heard the hard drive clicking away. But nothing happened. Then the dreaded notice. A blank screen appeared with a legend something like. "Windows Failed to Load."

Well, I tried it over and over. Finally I got a hold of the friend from whom I bought the machine. I mentioned his patience before. Now his patience really showed. He walked me through everything time and time again. Each time the same result.

He thought it might not be recognizing the video card he had installed. We tried booting into safe mode and discovered that in Win98 you can't add or change devices in safe mode. That's a step back. I thought that was one of the main purposes of safe mode. How else can you change a conflicting driver?

Then he got a great idea. "Let's FDISK and format and start all over."

Boy, am I glad I had that boot disk.

Anyway "we" FDISKED and reformatted the drive and started over. Then we started the install one more time. One more time I typed the password, one more time I swapped in the old CD-ROM. From start to finish the install took well under an hour or two days depending on how you count.

Peace at last. Oh, Lord, Peace at last.

(And then FedEx called. They have my copy of Corel8.)


A Matter of Perspective -Two Unrelated Events, June, 1998

My wife, the Realtor(tm), was getting a bit impatient. She had submitted offers on behalf of two clients that afternoon and her beeper was silent. Why were the other agents not getting back to her? In fact, her beeper was strangely silent for this time of year. Usually at this time of year it is impossible for her to finish a cup of tea, much less a meal, without that consarned thing calling her to the telephone. But no messages for two hours, Why is this happening to me?

Then, she decided to call her voicemail service to see if there had been any calls. Normally, if someone leaves a message on the system it automatically pages her. Two hours of silence was too much to bear. So even though she hadn't been beeped, she called in.

Both offers had been accepted. And there were other messages, too. Why hadn't the beeper worked? Had the battery died Then she learned the pager system was down. Why was this happening during the busy season? It never occurred to her that 90 percent of beepers around the world had gone silent. Only the next morning did she learn that not only brokers, but doctors and news feeds, and t.v. networks around the world had lost their links to the world.

During the same week, Bill Gates continued his counter attack against the Federal Government. He ranted on and on about the evils of big government. But he went too far in his praise of private industry and his attack on Washington when he insisted that the Internet was one of the blessings conferred upon the world by private industry. As to government's contribution, the words of the late Mayor Richard Daley, suffice: "What trees do they plant?" he seemed to say.

Crediting private industry, to the exclusion of the government, for the TCP/IP protocol and the computer chip, is simply wrong. It is true that Microsoft was late in coming to the Internet, just as it has often been late in other areas as well. Microsoft's genius has been in co-opting and consolidation, not in creativity. But that does not excuse ignoring history - ignoring the basic foundations of the industry.

The early days of the computer industry were vastly underwritten by the government. And the Internet was almost totally the creation of governments as the Defense Department and the universities began their experiment in communication and began the creation of the backbones upon which today's Internet depends.

How easy it is to forget that four years ago Mosaic, purely the product of the government funded university environment, was virtually (no pun intended) the only graphical browser available. Real commercial competition didn't arrive until mid 1994 when upstart Netscape came on the scene. (Why is it I don't feel sorry for Netscape in the anti-trust battle? After all, Netscape was the benificiary of the Mosaic research. The DOJ is wrong if it thinks the question is whether Netscape is bundled with Win 2000 or whenever. There are much more important questions of open systems and contracts. But that is another story.)

But back to my story. The foundations of the Internet go back decades. Long before Microsoft saw the light. It is interesting that only three years ago people were questioning the commercial value of the Internet. Interesting, everyone said, but show me the money.

Industry's contribution to the Internet? Commercialization! Java, plug-ins. Fancy fonts and HTML formatted e-mail. The medium is getting in the way of the message. Take another look Mr. Gates. Private industry is milking the Internet. Or at least trying to find out how to do so. It doesn't get the credit.

So my wife's beeper goes down and Gates blasts the Feds. Is there a common thread? Actually there are two very different but very important threads weaving these stories together.

First, both Bill and Sally share the common virtue of viewing events from their own perspective. But more important, both points of view failed to take into consideration the vast, hidden, infrastructures which make possible our daily lives.

Way back in high school, I had a great Social Studies teacher, who made at least a couple of points I still remember. One day he was talking about the fields of civil administration and civil engineering. How often do we think of what happens when we flush the toilet? We take for granted the infrastructures upon which we so much depend. This is not necessarily bad. How could we walk down the street if we were constantly aware of our personal infrastructures -- our skeletal system, out muscles and blood vessels. What if we were constantly conscious of our nervous systems. Could we function?

Still, there are many infrastructures which require our attention. Who would have ever have imagined that the loss of one satellite could disable 90% of the worlds beepers and so much more? Who would have ever suspected that the PBS news feed shared the same system as a local pager? So much we take for granted.

And so much Mr. Gates takes for granted, too.

Spam, Spam,Spam,Spam,Spam, May, 1998

Just as the strength of the Internet is chaos, so the strength of our liberty depends upon the chaos and cacophony of the unfettered speech the First Amendment protects. - - ACLU v. Reno

Man: Well, what've you got?
Waitress: Well, there's egg and bacon; egg sausage and bacon; egg and spam;egg bacon and spam; egg bacon sausage and spam; spam bacon sausage and spam; spam egg spam spam bacon and spam; spam sausage spam spam spam bacon spam tomato and spam; Vikings (starting to chant): Spam spam spam spam...
- - Monty Python's Flying Circus

The cacophony of uncluttered speech is upon us. Or is it uncluttered any more? I have chosen to open this article not with a quotation from the Supreme Court decision on the Computer Decency litigation but rather from the more impassioned, and accurate, decision of the three judge District Court opinion which led the way. While the Supreme Court relied on legal arguments and on promises of blocking techniques that would supposedly enable parents and schools to keep out the pornography, the District Court judges grounded themselves by learning to use the Internet, even conducting some of the proceedings using Internet tools. Both sets of judges reached the same legal conclusions for very different reasons.

Both panels may have been right. But not for the reasons they thought, Blocking techniques have become important to the survival of the Internet -- not to filter pornography but to filter spam. Spam - the term as all computer congnosenti know, is derived from the Monty Python skits in which no matter what the customers wanted they got Spam.

In the online world there are two very different, but closely related types of spam. The first, and the primary subject of this piece, is unsolicited commercial e-mail, sometimes called "UCE." The second involves mass publication of articles in multiple newsgroups in the Usenet. Both present different problems with somewhat different cures.

Caveat: This article is not technical and I will not even pretend to understand the mechanics of the various techniques I will discuss. My focus is ultimately on the end user. How does all of this affect you and me?

One of the primary methods of combating Usenet spam is issuing "cancels" that kill or delete the unwanted commercial announcements. I recently read that spam and cancel messages combined may now total 80% of the postings on the Usenet. Even with vast increases in infrastructure, the amount of resources that must be dedicated to Usenet spam is incredible.

To give an idea of the scope of the problem my provider alone estimates that it filters approximately 100,000 spam attempts by E-mail a day. They also filter Usenet spams, and the rate of filtering there typically runs about 300,000 spams daily.

Unlike e-mail, the entire contents of the Usenet must be stored on countless Usenet servers around the world. So for resource reasons alone, the problem must be dealt with.

But there are greater reasons. Like the refrain on Monty Python, there is spam everywhere. Sometimes it becomes impossible to find what you are looking for in the sea of spam. Some of it is harmless, beyond the mere annoyance. But some times is more than that. Much of the spam is devoted to commercial ventures. Everything from pyramid and stock schemes to pornography that goes far beyond anything the proponents of the Computer Decency Act ever fantasized. Not merely content to invite the reader to sample their wares, the spammers frequently hide behind relatively innocent subjects and headers, and dumping files on our hard drive or revealing the basest forms of pornography at the inadvertent click of a mouse.

Don't misunderstand. I am not arguing against pornography. To each his or her own. To those who choose to seek it. But the presence of pornography which is forced upon the viewer will lead to a reaction which will not be healthy for the net.

I have heard that the "cancelers", those who have devoted time to canceling spam are on strike lately in an effort to force Internet service providers to take more drastic action against the large spammers and against sites that permit the promulgation of spam. And that leads to the place where I got on this merry go round.

Several months ago I discovered that I had not received several pieces of mail. As the techniques of the UCE spammers improves and develops, the source of the spam is not the return address on the message, but an ISP which inadvertently or deliberately permits itself to relay spam.

On some days my mail box fills up with spam. I have to hunt to find the real mail in there. "This is a one time mailing. You will not hear from us again," some assert. On that day I may have as many as four copies of the same message.

Some have compared spam to junk mail. But the difference is significant. The cost of junk mail is borne by the sender (and to some extent the Postal Service at bulk mail rates). From my end, all I need if I can avoid respondent to Ed McMahon, is a large garbage bag. This means that the volume of junk mail is somewhat limited by the cost.

But on the Internet the cost is shifted to the recipient. The UCE takes up space on the provider's server and in my mailbox. I have to spend online time downloading it and it contributes to my excessive use of disk space. (Since my html.log is now growing at about 7 megabytes a month and I have only a 10 meg allowance, every extra bit hurts.)

So, it was felt, something had to be done. Why should ISPs and users have to bear the inconvenience, frustration and cost of someone else's business. It is getting just too easy to send UCE. After sex, (now that I've quit smoking) the most common form of UCE is advertising for bulk mailing programs and lists of addresses.

Something had to be done.

There are basically four places spam can be 'blocked':

  1. By IP address (in routers or mail servers). Connections from hosts that are known to be sources or relays of spam can be refused entirely. They don't even get to offer the mail to the server.
  2. As it is received, unwanted messages can be 'rejected' by the mail server, either as a system wide default or per-user. The remote host offers the mail, but the server refuses to accept it.
  3. After it is accepted, mail can be filtered in the mail server, and the filters can then put it in the users's incoming spool, put it somewhere else, or throw it away. Generally this is done with 'procmail' and is on a user by user basis.
  4. After it is in the user's incoming spool, there are some POP clients that will examine the waiting mail and discard/store it. This is totally under the control of the user and does not require the ISP's cooperation.

The pitfall is the potential to reject legitimate mail. It is possible to catch a significant percentage of spam with a very low chance of discarding non-spam mail, but the closer one gets to blocking 100% of spam, the more likely it is that the filter will give a 'false positive' and refuse valid messages.

For some people, returning some good mail to the sender is worth the risk in order to get rid of nearly all of the spam.

So without initial disclosure to its users, It seems my ISP had begun to block the IP addresses of sources of spam. Usually the blocked source was one which dumped tons of spam on the site. But sometimes the blocked addresses were guilty of only one piece of unsolicited commercial e-mail.

The definition of inappropriate spam is not easy to agree on. Amazon.com was deemed a spammer because of its policy of sending announcements to anyone who had filled out a questionnaire or participated in a contest. The rationale for the blockade was that this was classic UCE because when the individual gave information to Amazon there was no disclosure statement indicating that the information would be maintained in a database for future commercial mailings.

Problem: Business transactions were blocked as well. Order confirmations and similar communications were blocked. At the same time, I wondered why my cousin in England had stopped responding to messages about our holiday travel plans. We had to burn up a few dollars on international phone calls because his e-mail had been blocked.

About this time, the ISP disclosed, in its support newsgroup that it had devised a form of spamblocking which had been in effect for some time. The provider eventually announced a method by which users could place a file in their directory which would give them control over the spamblock.

Essentially, through the creation of a .spamblock file in the user's home directory the blocking system can be configured. The user has the choice of accepting the complete set of blocks set by the ISP, substituting his own set of blocks, or adding to the ISP's list. The user can also "cut holes" in the list of blocked sites by including the IP numbers which should not be barred and finally, the user can turn off the whole system. Once a user creates his own .spamblock file, the system generates a log of all the messages that have been blocked. The contents of the file are gone. Just the source is revealed.

The last few entries in my log are the following:

Mon Apr 27 00:36:11 1998

from: I like sex

subject: hiya~! :op



Mon Apr 27 11:15:17 1998

from: pbs previews

subject: [200] pbs previews: April 27-may 3, 1998



Mon Apr 27 22:21:00 1998

from: [email protected]


Tue Apr 28 10:39:09 1998

from: [email protected]

subjec: (bat shalom):



[Comment: This was definitely mail I wanted to get.]


Tue Apr 28 20:59:30 1998

from: sabranet

subject: israel @ 50 - a sabranet time capsule



Tue Apr 28 21:52:56 1998

from: [email protected]

subject: help someone living with a.i.d.s



Tue Apr 28 21:52:58 1998

from: [email protected]

subject: help someone living with a.i.d.s



Wed Apr 29 21:21:46 1998

from: [email protected]

subject: career opportunities....



Wed Apr 29 21:25:23 1998

from: [email protected]

subject: career opportunities....



Thu Apr 30 11:19:36 1998

from: [email protected]

subject: need large income fast



Thu Apr 30 15:23:17 1998

from: marketing services <[email protected]>

subject: bulk E-mail without losing your isp!

bulk E-mail

The variety of mail is representative and interesting. Some of the messages are clearly spam which never would be missed.

However, at least one of the messages was one I really wanted to get in a timely fashion and another may have been. (I have mangled the personal addresses in the foregoing log to protect the innocent.) And how did PBS get on the list? In this case I "cut a hole" in the block for the regular correspondent by editing the spamblock file and I wrote asking her to resend the message. As to the other correspondent, I sent her (him?) a note inviting her to send me a note at another account which isn't blocked. However, as I will discuss below, serious issues arise with regard to users who are even less technically proficient than I am or those who don't follow the newsgroups and are unaware that their correspondence is being blocked.

You can see the details of my ISP's spamblock system in its FAQ in the section entitled Automatic user-configurable spam-blocking .

At first blush spamblocking at the ISP level seems an excellent idea but, perhaps through no fault of the ISP there are some problems with this system. First of all, the operators of ISPs have trouble recognizing that, believe it or not, many users of Internet services have never heard of a news group. Many are unaware of the existence of their home directory and have no knowledge, much less, interest in learning how to edit the spamblock file which must be created. For example care must be taken to use ascii. If the file is created locally and uploaded it must be transferred in the proper format (ascii, not binary) or it won't work. I edit my file on line using Pico from the shell. These are terms which mean nothing to many new users of the Internet who think of their e-mail like their phones and their answering machines. If someone sends a message they expect to get it.

Second, it takes a lot of time. Even though my name is out there on the Internet (a recent search of DejaNews shows nearly a thousand Usenet postings containing my address) I still had less than a dozen pieces of blocked mail in three days. I received at least. another half dozen or more pieces of spam in my mail that made it through. In order to make the system work, I had to edit the spamblock to include one IP number and I had to write to two blocked correspondents. To make the system effective, I should also forward spam that I receive to my provider to add to the universal log.

What to do? The answer is not easy. If it were only for myself. I would simply turn off the blocking as I have done before. It takes me far less time to delete the spam than to check the blocked-log and notify correspondents of missed mail and to edit the .spamblock. But spamblocking has other salutary effects beyond keeping my mailbox empty.

The spamblock system makes pariahs out of the relay sites and mass mailers. It puts pressure on the rogue ISPs to clean up their act. It costs them when their legitimate clientele learn that their mail isn't getting through they can take action by complaining or by leaving. In this way, slowly the problem may be addressed.

I strongly believe that the default setting for each user should be with spamblock turned off. Users should be invited and encouraged to turn on the spamblock. But there need to be easier ways for the average user to turn off and on the block and to cut holes in it.

I invited Karl Denninger, the iconoclastic CEO of my ISP to share his views on spam and spamblocking . He presents a strong case for system wide action and believes that for the system to be effective the default should be on.

But the vast majority of Internet users are unaware that their ISPs are blocking their mail. And if mail is being blocked communication is beginning to break down. And I have the feeling that we have just seen the tip of the iceberg.

Users of my ISP just learned that another form of blocking is going on. This is, it seems, even more justified that the spamblocking. It is called smurf blocking. Smurfs involve deliberate attacks on ISPs. The blocking techniqes are aimed at sites, frequently used without their knowledge, like university servers, which act to permit smurf attacks. The idea is that these providers will take action to blocking smurfs.

What is a smurf? I confess I don't really understand it. (My daughter sometimes calls me "Papa Smurf," but that is another subject.) In any event we had a crash course in the subject the last few days on our local newsgroup, You can find out more at http://www.mcs.net/smurf/ .

In order to learn more about spam and UCE I posted inquiries in a handful of newsgroups. (Not long ago even that small group of crosspostings would have been deemed a spam.) I received a number of thoughtful and interesting comments. I have not been able to include all points of view in this article, but here are some links to other relevant sites:

Thanks to all who responded to my requests.

For more information about spam filtering and related problems go to the newsgroup: news.admin.net-abuse.email but beware, the site is a hotbed of flames on the subject.

My final thoughts: It is clear that strong measures are necessary to combat the clutter. Not because it is annoying or distasteful, but because it threatens the Internet as a medium for communications. But subscribers should be affirmatively informed, not merely notified, that blocking is taking place and should be given user friendly tools to deal with it.

Catch 56, April, 1998

After I wrote this column I learned things may not be as bad as I thought. For an update see the Errata section below.

Don't read this article unless you have already checked your e-mail. Notice - - I didn't say read it all. Just check it and then come back. More about that later.

Remember Catch 22? Now it's Catch 56.

For months now I have been advising people to wait for the 56 K modem standard to be finalized before replacing their 33.6 modems. No sense jumping the gun and getting stuck. But a few weeks ago I found an on line offer for a Zoom K56Flex modem I couldn't ignore. I guess there is a reason they call me the ModemJunkie.

I tested my phone line and it was supposed to support the higher speeds, so after the exchange of a few e-mails the seller appeared in my study one Saturday morning with the new modem in its box, docs intact.

We hooked it up and I listened to it warble its strange new tune. On the third try I got a KFlex connection at about 44000 k. Not bad, I thought. I checked the news groups to find out that very day that V.90, as the final 56 K. standard is known, was out -sort of.

So nirvana is here.. What''s the catch?

First of all, 56 k modems (whether X2 machines or KFlex) are only high speed one way. Uploads are still limited to v.34 speeds. Second, many phone lines are incapable of handling the 56 k connection. Third, Federal regulations limit the permissible speed to slightly less than 56 k. even if your line could handle it. Fourth . . .

Are you beginning to get the idea that there is a catch here. That nirvana is a long way off.

Wait! There is more. The V.90 standard is not backward compatible to K56 or the X2 standard. Although a few modems will be capable of the dual standard, once flashed to the V.90 standard, many if not most of the modems sold during the past year will not be capable of connecting at speeds higher than 33.6 to ISPs that have not yet upgraded from either K56 or X-2 to V. 90. Yet ISPs that have upgraded to V.90 will not, in most cases have dual capability, meaning that those users who have K 56 or X2 modems but have not yet upgraded will lose their 56 K capability.

This means that timing is essential. To avoid disappointment, don't flash your modem to V. 90 until your ISP makes the move and announces that it is ready. If you jump ahead you should still be able to get V.34 connections but that is not why you shelled out the green,

Of course, V. 34 connections are not bad. On my "old" Cardinal modem I connected at 33.6 about 20% of the time and at 28.8 most of the rest of the time. On about 20% of my connections in recent weeks error correction has failed to negotiate, as a result, supposedly, of noisy lines. On the other hand with the 56 k modem I am now connecting at higher speeds (above 28.8) only about 10% of the time. And the highest speed I have connected at is 44k. But virtually all of my connections are now good. So, even if I can't take advantage of the higher speeds, I am getting more solid connections. Maybe it's only Catch 55.

If you want solid facts about the new modems instead of the frustrated ramblings of a ModemJunkie, visit Navas 28800-56K Modem FAQTM by John Navas. If you have more questions about modems, look at the newsgroup comp.dcom.modems.

Now about that e-mail

Why all of this concern with speed? What are we trying to do?

Mail does download faster. News flies, some of the time. But as I have learned at the office where I have networked access to a T-1 line (so they tell me), much of the time I spend on line is waiting. Not because my connection is slow but because there is a bottleneck somewhere else on the Internet. It could be that I am trying to reach a busy site, it could be a slow server on the other end, it could be the time of day.

Did you ever notice that as computer speeds got faster and faster your floppy drive got slower and slower. Well, it didn't. It just seemed that way. The same is true of waiting on line. With data moving faster when it moves, down time really drags. There is not much - No!!- there is nothing you can do about that. And it's going to get worse.

Still, the Internet is, above all, about communication. I take great pleasure in checking my daily log to see how many hits I have had on my web pages and how many countries are represented in my log. Last month the raw data for my html.log (a record of every hit on files I maintain) exceeded seven megabytes of ASCII text. Still, l have very little idea of whether people are finding what they are looking for when they get there, but it is nice to know they are coming to look.

But so often my e-mail goes out into the ether. And I never hear back. What difference does it make how fast it goes, if no one reads in on the other end.

Unfortunately, there is no ordinary way to find out if someone got your e-mail. Until you get a reply or the message bounces you just don't know.

It is amazing how many people give out their e-mail addresses but never check their mail.

I admit, I am compulsive about it. I check my e-mail several times a day . . . and sometimes in the middle of the night. I don't think that is necessary or even healthy. But I do think everyone who has an e-mail address should check for mail at least once a day.

The best practice is to check for mail the first time you boot up each day. Make it part of the routine - - or don't tell anyone you have an e-mail address.

I find it amazing how many people will hand you a card with an e-mail address or scribble it out for you when you ask. And then they don't look at it. When I ask about a message I have sent they reply, "Oh, I only check my mail two or three times a week," or I only check it when I want to send something.

Why bother.

It's about communication isn't it.

E-mail is one of the fastest, simplest forms of communication. I am not saying you have to answer every note. Certainly not right away. We should not be slaves to our machines. But check it. It might actually be important. It might be time sensitive.

Under Jewish law, funerals are held within a very few days of a death. Members of my synagogue have complained for years that postcards announcing these sad occasions always seem to arrive the same day as the funeral or the next. Phone trees never seem to work, We are slowly creating a database of members e-addresses. Those who read their mail get the news immediately. For the others, they might as well be back in the dark ages.

The editor of a newsletter I write for has an e-mail account . . . two, I think. Last month I couldn't reach him by phone so I left him an e-mail with the details for my column.

He also has a communications program with a host mode. When I want to reach him he wants to call him and have him set his com program up to wait for my call. Then I call using a DOS com program (Telix) and upload the file. Sometimes I can't reach him. Sometimes he calls me and leaves a message asking for my small article. I come home too late to return the call. Several days can be lost this way.

If he checked his e-mail just once a day, he could cut and paste my few comments each month in a few seconds and days of phone tag could be avoided.

Don't get me wrong. He does a wonderful job of getting the newsletter out every month. Even when I call and ask him to figure out what I would have wanted to say or don't get back to him in time for the deadline. It looks professional and clean. It even has useful information. But, why not use the tools available to make it easier.

At work I reserve the right to click "No" when the e-mail box pops up and asks if I want to read it now. I don't have to interrupt my train of thought to please the machine. So, please don't get compulsive about it.

But check it. Then decide.

Errata [Otherwise known as "OOPS!!"]:

One of the advantage of writing online is that you very quickly find out when you are wrong. John Navas and others wrote last month after I wrote this column to point out that the sky is not really falling. Some of the fears I expressed related to the move to the v.90 protocol may have been unwarranted.

It appears that V. 90 as implemented will generally be backwards compatible with whatever protocol was previously implemented by the ISP. Thus, users of Kflex ISPs shoud be able to continue to connect at Klfex speeds after the ISP upgrades to v. 90. The same is true of X2 providers. That is, subscribers with X2 modems should still be able to connect at X2 speeds after their old XT provider upgrades to v.90. But complete compatability between X2 and KFlex will not be available.

OTOH, most modems, except for a few deliberately backward compatible units. will probably not be able to connect to Kflex or X2 sites at Kflex and X2 speeds once they have been flashed. They will still be able to connect to those sites at v. 34 speeds.

This may not make much difference to many of us. Poor line quality and other difficulties between the end user and the Telco switch makes it very difficult if not impossible for many of us to regularly connect at the higher speeds in any event. I get connects above 28.8 with my Kflex only about 10 percent of the time and those connections degrade fairly rapidly. But then last week I sampled cable modems for the first time.

Anyone know a bank I can rob?

What hath God Wrought? March, 1998


What hath God wrought?
-- Samuel F.B. Morse
The first telegraph message ever sent (1844)

"What hath God Wrought?" With those words Samuel F.B. Morse ushered in the world of telecommunications more than one hundred and fifty years ago.

Buffeted between news of Lewinski and Lipinsky. Drowning in spam. Overloaded with a surfeit of wwws and an overload of dot coms. Indeed. What HAS God wrought? Or have we done it to ourselves?

We have two phone lines, two cell phones, a beeper, an answer service that pages the beeper, modems, Internet connections, BBS connections, online legal search tools, four televisions, countless radios. My wife looks up real estate listings online. I do legal research. The hours from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. are prime time for telemarketers. An uninterrupted dinner is a rarity. And an don't think of sleeping in on a bad day without turning off the phone.

At work I have an Internet connection on my desk. I keep the AP and Reuters news updates in the background, lurking behind WordPerfect, ready to be updated while waiting for someone to answer the phone or instantly checked for the latest from Israel or Iraq between sections of a project.

News is instant. Indeed we are so wired we often get news and gossip before it is news -- before it has happened. We get commentary on events in advance, during and after. And usually we assume something did indeed happen. Just once I would like two minutes of reflection after the State of the Union before the commentators and pundits tell me what to think. I often wonder if it is possible to know what I really think once I have heard the spin.

All of this is not new. But the omnipresence of the telecommunications has changed the way the word operates. Think of the ill fated production Madeleine Albright and her minions attempted to present on CNN for Saddam Hussein's benefit. Think of the pressure of the news media to keep up with the Drudge Report. And an in spite of all of our protestations that we don't care about the President's private sexual conduct, look at how addicted we became to following the latest rumors. Just check the ratings of T.V. newsmagazines and the cable news networks in the wake of Lewinskigate.

(By the way, don't do a search for "Lewinsky" on the Web if you are offended by learning of porno sites. The human imagination is amazing.)

And now it is so easy. I can spread my thoughts or my inanities throughout the world instantly. (Present article excluded, of course.) I can respond to news or mail so easily that often I wish later I had waited.

Over the holidays I went on a wonderful trip to Israel to visit my daughter, Sarah, who is studying there. During that whole trip I only checked my e-mail once. And I survived. On the way home, I stopped in England and even took the time to read a novel. Uninterrupted. Just sitting by the fire with a cup of tea, luxuriating in the power of words on a page to transport me to other worlds. On my return I was restored if also exhausted.

When I returned I found that I had changed. My surfing habits had changed. Oh, I still checked my e-mail to see if there was a note from Sarah. But my surfing time was down... way down. Then the Lewinski story broke. And the showdown in Iraq.

It is hard to tune out when the fate of our political system is involved (I know that's like saying I read Playboy in my youth only for the essays and the fiction). And it is hard to tune out Iraq when I learn that Sarah was issued a gas mask on her return to Israel after her semester break. So I am back online again almost all the time - nervously checking the latest State Department travel warning and waiting for Sarah's new connection from a kibbutz in the Negev.

And sometimes I am really grateful. As I write this news reports from Yahoo indicate the U. N. Secretary General may have reached a deal with Saddam. But late last week my wife and I started getting panicked phone calls from well meaning friends to tell us that the government had ordered Americans to leave Israel. Thank God I could immediately log on and find the State Department's Travel Advisory page and check the actual language. The advisory had indicated that dependants of American government employees and non essential employees who were anxious could leave Kuwait and Israel but stressed that there was no increased reason to believe Israel would be subjected to Iraqi attack. I even learned that I could sign up to a listserve of announcements from the State Department. I printed out a copy of the official report to calm their nerves.

Some times the world we have wrought does offer clarification and comfort as well as confusion and noise. Yes, it is overwhelming. The noise and hype keep us wired. It sometimes seems as if there is no time out. But that is our world today. We can't go back.

(Last week we received a gold foil envelope containing a lovely Valentine's card from Sarah. I have to say that seeing her thoughtful handwritten note warmed our hearts much more than her usual hastily written e-mail missives. But she is off line right now.. Waiting for a hook up in her new location in a kibbutz near Gaza. I can't wait until she gets back online. Still, I wonder how that envelope got here without a stamp.)

The Quest, December, 1997

I need your help. Let me explain why.

A few weeks ago I came across something I had begun to think was an endangered species: A website that delighted me. It challenged and engaged my intelligence. It drew me back again and again to follow one more link - to explore one more level of the ingenuity of its creator. The site did not depend on Java, or plugins, or frames or any of the recent fads in web development. The site: The Techno - Impressionist Museum (hereinafter the "T-I Museum" or the "museum").

I confess I don't spend nearly as much time looking for new websites as I used to. I still spend way too much time on line. But my time is spent returning to favorite sites, reading foreign newspapers to feel in touch with my daughter who is studying overseas, reading Usenet newsgroups on topics of interest. I simply haven't enjoyed what I was finding on the popular hotlists: Sites which hit you up front with huge graphics, technical limitations, garish graphics, illegible text against incomprehensible backgrounds, sound I don't want to hear, blinking, scrolling, rotating, advertising, impossible navigation schemes and ... and...

When I do want to surf, I use the newsgroup comp.infosystems.www.announce as my source. For some reason, even though that newsgroup, gently moderated by Kate McDonnel, is uncensored and unfiltered by anyone's sensibility, except to exclude commercial sites, I find it a much more interesting and useful hotlist than any of the more popular sites. CIWA is available on the web at What's New from CIWA, an online archive. It was there that I found the T-I Museum during a recent bout with insomnia.

I don't want to go into too much detail describing the T-I Museum. Part of my delight in visiting the site for the first time was the discovering what it was about for myself. The site is not just a one-shot flash in the pan. As the content has grown since it's inception, its authors have sustained a thread almost beyond belief. But every new gallery, every new essay is worth exploring.

If I have any complaints at all, it is that the image tags used in creating the galleries do not contain "ALT tags making the site difficult to navigate with Lynx or with graphics turned off. There are a few additional barriers to speech technology. It is a shame that the many articles and essays are not available to that additional audience. But that is not entirely unreasonable in a site that is an art gallery. Although I have asked the "curator" Tony Karp, to make them independently accessible, it could be a daunting task in so comprehensive a site.
(Note to web developers: Think of these things before it is too late to go back. I have some pages of my own that I should revise, but probably never will.)

What's a museum without a gift shop? Every great museum has one. The T-I Museum does as well. But with a difference. Instead of posters, their wallpaper brings art directly to your desktop. And their 1998 calendars will add artistic class to your surroundings. Best of all, everything in the gift shop is free! (Or I probably wouldn't be mentioning it here.)

No hype, no marketing, even the gift shop is another extension of the general philosophy of the Museum.

Late update: I have just learned that as of November 27, the T-I Museum is the first on line museum with restrooms. Caution, however, there may be a virtual line.

By suggesting this site, I am not offering a critique of any of the art, whether in the special exhibitions or any of the 35 "galleries." I leave that to you and the art critics. While I found the images interesting, I am much more fascinated with the concept and the textual content of the site. De gustabus non es disputandem. (sp?)


I began by saying I need your help. What do I want?

I came upon the museum serendipitously. Sites that engage and challenge my mind and make me smile are few and far between. Now that everyone and her aunt has his or her own web page it is even harder to separate the wheat from the chaff. Help me find such sites. If you will send me your recommendations, I will report back with my own idiosyncratic choices of the best of your suggestions and, if there are enough such sites, I will create a website dedicated to such excellence.

What are the criteria? Each site recommended must:

Please send your recommendations together with your comments and reasons for the nominations to [email protected] . I will be the sole judge of the nominations.

There will be no prizes other than ego gratification for the page authors and they might not even care. (Which reminds me: Please don't recommend your own site. I know you enjoy staring at your own navel. My stats show I do the same. I am interested in sites you have come across, not ones you have created. ;-)

I am writing this article on Thanksgiving Day. Thanks to the T-I Museum for just one more thing to be thankful for. And thanks to you, dear reader, without whom there would be no purpose at all to this exercise.

Thanksgiving Thoughts, November, 1997

Last month in this place you saw a rant about the crush of noise on the internet and elsewhere. I even wrote a supplemental rant about the replacement of my old desk with "system" furniture. As a r eward for putting up with that, at the end of this column you will find a mini-review of a great lite software find (a spell checker for edit boxes). But this is November and Thanksgiving is approaching. So permit me a little introspection before I get back on topic.

I am not ungrateful. Indeed, my cup runneth over. I do give thanks for a wonderful wife, who knows where I am at all hours of the night. And for a truly beautiful and sensitive daughter, studying in a far off land. And for an 85 year young mother who has more energy than I do. And . . .and and for a good job in which I am on the side of truth and justice more than 95% of the time - even if I grouse from time to time.

And more to the point of this article, even if not as significant in the scheme of things, in spite of my complaints of overload I do give thanks for this amazing world of cyberspace. I do give thanks for the interconnectedness, the resources, the sharing, the feedback, the hours of pleasure that I receive sitting here in front of the screen. I hope that my pages bring pleasure or are useful to some small segment of this great online community.

There have been times of stress, when I have come up here into my study and found friends, or comfort or the information I need. Or solace. And this place has given me a platform. too. Something I have always needed - A place to sound off, to share, even to pontificate.

Indeed, as overwhelmed as I was last month, just putting those words in type (in electrons?, on magnetic media? in cyberspace?) and seeing them there seemed to calm me - to ease the burden. To put down the load. And I am not alone in this.

Last week my daughter called me in tears from overseas. Something had triggered strong feelings and memories. We talked and shared as only can be done in voice communication. But then I suggested she put her feelings and thoughts on paper. Less than half an hour later I received a beautiful essay- a truly magnificent piece she had composed on line for hard copy publication elsewhere. Later she reported relief as well. This magnificent medium had enabled her to take raw emotion and convert it and share it with others, almost instantly.

So, yes, it can be too much at times. But I am grateful for all this and more.

Some weeks have gone by since I the upsetting events I wrote about last month. I am surviving the supposedly ergonomic system furniture, although my degenerative disk is acting up (the one in my neck - -not in my computer). But oddly, I adapted to the new furniture more quickly than some of those who thought I was being silly by objecting to it, for I had had a "system" arrangement for 15 years. For some of the others, they are truly in a changed environment.

And I have another Thanksgiving story to tell. Before the change, I had on my wall over a book case a TV artist's sketch of the opening argument of a case I tried many years ago. I decided to move it to replace the old bulletin board they ordered me to remove, but long ago the glass had cracked. Before moving it to its place of greater prominence I thought I should get it fixed. And the mat was a bit drab. I thought it should have a new under-mat in red to brighten it up.

The glass and reframing cost over $30. It would have been another $40 for the new mats. And I had already brought in a couple of other frames to fix. So after discussing it with the woman in the store, I had just the glass fixed.

To make a longer story somewhat shorter, I had noticed that the woman seemed somewhat distressed. It may have been my imagination even though I had already thought I had noticed something when I came in the first time.

"Are you O.K. " I asked.

"Yes," She replied. But she wasn't convincing. "The frames will be ready Monday."

But on Monday, there was a message on my voice mail. She couldn't come in that day and the big frame had fallen apart when she worked on it. The frames weren't ready. I checked with her on Tuesday. They still weren't ready. She was apologetic but I told her not to worry. It was just that I was trying to get comfortable in my changed office.

Thursday morning she called. "They are ready," she said. "But if I am not there don't say anything about the mat!" I was puzzled.

I went at lunch to pick them up. And she proudly showed me the TV artist's sketch. It was brightened up with a brand new mat. A much better choice than I would have made.

"You were so considerate," she said. " I decided to replace the mat on my own." She didn't charge me for the extra work and didn't want me to show my surprise in front of the boss, if he took care of me.

Somehow, this episode restored a little of my faith in human beings. It really felt good. The newly matted work hangs in the center of my wall. It covers most of the coffee stains and pinholes. And I have to confess that after 15 years the place did need a little sprucing up. Don't tell my boss. I do have lots to be grateful for.


Quinion's Spell Checker for Edit Boxes

Michael Quinion's Spell Checker for Edit Boxes isn't new but it is extremely useful for those of us who write online. I have used it in Eudora Lite, NewsXpress, DiDa, and the PFE editor. People used to make fun of my typos. Now they will have to look a lot closer to find them.

The spell checker itself is only 136 K to download. Dictionaries range from around 300 K to over 700 K depending on the language. They include British English, US English, French, French-Canadian, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, and Norwegian. There is also a developer's kit available.

This application is very versatile although it does take some getting used to. It seems to perform differently in different environments. Sometimes a context field pops up, sometimes not, sometimes I can follow the position of he checker by observing highlighted areas in the original text, sometimes not. And it seems to have entered some unwanted characters in this page when I tried it with Did, my HTML editor. But, still, it found some outrageous errors which had been here for a long time, and the KGV validator found the odd entries. Try it. Grab a copy at Quinion's website.


I am not a Luddite, October, 1997

An online dictionary gives the following definition:

Luddites (2 syl.). Riotous workmen who went about the manufacturing districts breaking machines, under the notion that machinery threw men out of employ. Miss Martineau says that the term arose from Ned Lud, of Leicestershire, an imbecile who was much hounded by boys. One day he chased a set of tormentors into a house, and broke two stocking-frames, whence the leader of these rioters was called General Lud, his chief abettors Lud's wives, and his followers Luddites. (1811-1816.)

The First Hypertext Edition of The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable by E. Cobham Brewer from the New and Enlarged Edition of 1894.

I really don't want to break the machines. (They break down on their own without my help.) I believe with perfect faith that computers create jobs (even though the secretarial staff in my office has shrunk from a 10 to about three). I am not an imbecile. (At least I don't think I am, although those around me may not be as certain lately.) And though I am tormented, I haven't been chasing my tormentors.

By whom am I tormented? By them. The systems managers, the software developers, the web page producers. They all share something in common. They want to design the world in which I live. My office, my network, my leisure. And they want to do it without considering me. No matter how many managers, CEOs, SysAdministrators recite the shibboleth, "You are my customer," I know the truth.

They all have someone else in mind. Themselves, their bosses, the bottom line. But I am not their customer.. I am not buying.

What got me started on this rant?

When our editor asked about my topic for this month, I noted that my office had just gone on line. Perhaps there is some humor in that, I sugested. But guess what!!! It ain't funny.

I have looked forward to becoming networked for years. I could share information. Do legal research from my desk. Have access to more applications. Nirvana!!

The moment has finally come. Overnight we went from machines with nothing officially on them except WordPerfect 5.1 (DOS) to a Networked Win 95 environment. Complete with WP for Windows, Lotus, a whole slew of applications we haven't even discovered yet. And also, Internet access. Internet Explorer, telnet., FTP, Lexis and WestLaw on line.

I have written before about my preference for WP 5.1 for legal documents. And why not, I have been using it about 5 hours a day for about seven years. I won't go into my reasons for my preferences now. And I admit that I am finding advantages to the Windows version as I get used to it. But I was used to the DOS app.

Boom! The sysadmin decreed that it would be deleted overnight. Now we are dependent on the network for access to our wordprocessor. We have gigabyte hard drives with nothing on them. Seven years of my work are now on the network.

And of course they want me to get rid of the old stuff. But there are no hard copies. And with Magellan I could index it and find anything in seconds. But the index won't run on the network. Progress. Why not leave a copy of WP DOS on our machines for emergencies? But then people won't make the transition we are told.

And then there was the first Friday afternoon after we were networked. Now in many offices Friday afternoons are kind of laid back. Indeed, in my office some people arrange to leave early. But for those of us who are there, Friday afternoon is usually very hectic. If we are there whatever we are doing must get out. If it weren't for some deadline we wouldn't be there. If we are lucky, two of the secretaries are in. Twenty or thirty lawyers are hunting and pecking away furiously. Trying to get IT done, whatever it is.

Booom. Suddenly each machine begins to lock up.. Strangely. One at a time.

I run up two flights of stairs. (By now most of the elevators are headed down with smarter people leaving early for the day.) I find the sysadmin's assistant.

"The system is down!!" I shout.

"It can't be," she replies, logging on to my account and proving me wrong, she thinks. But I convince her to come down to our office (the network supports a number of other agencies as well).

She looks at our machines and has to agree. But upstairs everything was fine. What can it be? We unlock the electrical closet and stare at the network concentrator in disbelief. It is shut off. Not an LED blinking. It looks like it is plugged in but close examination shows that the plug has vibrated loose, just beyond the contact point, but still inserted in the surge protector. There had been some construction going on maybe it was the drilling. Noise.

And the whole office was down during the most critical hour of the week. What if they had left a word processor on our machines instead of making us totally dependant on the network.

I could go on with the war stories, but I won't because all of this is really beside the point. The real point is the onslaught of pressure and noise the new system has added to our lives. People in offices next to each other sending each other memos by mail. Transferring files in strange formats. Every few seconds, it seems, another note. More noise.

And Internet access as well. Right there on my desk, the news. It is great but it is more noise. More to sort through. I could even check my private e-mail by telnet. When do you work?

And at the same time learning new interfaces, new apps.

This virtual world is strange. There are lots of things I like. I like keeping half a dozen docs open at once. But it can get confusing. It is easier to make mistakes. And in the virtual world it is harder to see what you are doing. I miss that white on blue screen I could read without my glasses. More noise.

My office used to be a quiet place, with wooden furniture, soft lighting, flowers in summer. Pictures on the wall. I used to get some peace there.

Speaker phones, system furniture, voice mail, e-mail. Pointcast. Push - Pull. The barrage can be overwhelming. Where do you hide? When do you think? Where do you think?

I need Time out. I really do. And I don't think I am the only one. Things are going too fast. There is simply too much noise. Too much new. No place for reflection. We have become addicted to bigger, faster, louder, more. People are curt, wired, or even (shhhh) scared.

I don't feel old, but maybe I am. The next generation has grown up with all of this. It has grown exponentially in their lifetimes. We don't know yet the effects. Can they adapt better than their predecessors? I don't know.

But I do know . . . I do need Time out!

That is nothing new. I have written on this subject before. But in the past I always seemed to be able to grab a quiet corner. Read a book. Hear a concert.

But now I seem to be hooked into it all. My attention span has shortened. I don't feel I am ever really free. Even at home. I try to read a book. But I have to check my e-mail. I want to take a nap, but I have to update my logfile analysis. I have a few minutes before I go out to the next community meeting. But I have to update that web page.. Check the news... write my daughter a note....

Time out. Please. TIME OUT!!

Shortly after the changeover described here, a more drastic change was made. Read about it in They are coming to take me away.

October Supplement: They are coming to take me away

They are coming to take me away. Well O.K. Not me. My desk.

For the last 18 years I have used a wooden desk, made with excellent workmanship. I even moved it down the hall when I moved up to a window office some 15 years ago. It sat at right angles to a credenza so that I could use an old BM Selectric they were about to throw out. Over the years the Selectric was replaced with various cast off word processors and memory writers and finally with a Pentium.

With the arrival of the first computer, I was able to move the monitor into that dead space created by the corner where the two pieces of furniture come together. The keyboard rested on the elbow of the desk. I could look at my text on the desk and back up to the monitor without twisting my neck, I didn't have to have my back to the door. My mouse pad (when Windows arrived) was just to the right of the keyboard, on the credenza. Right where I needed it. I was comfortable. Behind the credenza was a large orange partition, the kind they used to use to separate secretarial work spaces in the 70's. It added color to the drab room, served as a bulletin board, and, most important, it covered the pinholes and coffee stains my predecessor had left on the wall. (The last I heard he has been running a bar in the Keys since the mid 80's. Maybe he had the right idea.)

Well, last week they came to take it away. The last five offices were getting new "system" furniture. Not that I didn't know this day was coming. The rest of the office had been converted long ago. Excellent desks were replaced with off white and charcoal gray hunks of tin. The workmen couldn't believe the quality of the desks they were removing. Each was different. Only one was not attractive, an old steel case desk with a Formica top. The rest were outstanding. Two were what I call air craft carriers, large desks with a huge overhang enabling visitors to pull up to the desk and actually work. Mine was smaller so that it would fit along side the credenza. But it was well made, with elbows, locks, deep drawers, dividers. It was a desk.

The new thing is actually configured fairly similarly to my old setup. It is bolted together in the same right angle arrangement I used to have. It even has a "fully adjustable" ergonomic keyboard stand that swings out from under the part of the desk that is where my old credenza was. Except it is fully adjustable to any position except the one I want. The one I use. It hits my knees. It would require me to look straight at the wall, the one with the pinholes. And my notes would be over my right shoulder on the desk.

So now my keyboard, rests across the right angle between the two pieces. No elbow to support it. And the off-white top reflects an incredible amount of light. The ceiling of my office has six florescent fixtures. Back in the Carter administration it was decreed that only four should be used. But I have used only three for years. I can't really cut it down to two. I'll have to wear sunglasses.

Why all of this. Because THEY said so.

That's why. And I suppose it isn't really that bad but I resent the cookie cutter mentality that insists that every office has to look alike. That we may be professionals, but that we are fungible. I note that the managers still have huge real desks, and incandescent lamps (purchased by the government not brought from home). But this is a cookie cutter age. And I am a round peg in a square hole.

In this hectic, frantic world, the wood tones and the softer corloration of the light, reflected from the old bulletin board, the familiarity of the old materials, helped calm things and helped us acknowledge our individuality. But then that is old fashioned, very old fashioned indeed.

Back to where you left off if you were reading I am not a Luddite.

A Matter of Time, September, 1997

This month a reverie and a review -- LIKSE a useful Web search and browsing tool.

Just the other day a friend noticed that it's beginning to get dark early. Then the editor of WindoWatch sent me a note reminding me that the September column was due. I wrote her saying I seemed to have lost a week somewhere. But really, it seems like I have lost a summer. This strange summer, with periods of intense heat, then prolonged rain and a pleasant cool August. My yard has never been so green. Yet where has it gone? This last summer with our daughter at home before she goes overseas to college. Perhaps wishing it could stretch has made it go even faster.

I had promised myself that this column would be a reverie, an ode to my daughter. I've been thinking about it at odd moments all summer long, But it never got written. Perhaps I am still in denial. She can't be old enough to leave. She is so accomplished, so beautiful and yet, at times so young. Perhaps... perhaps.

Fortunately I also promised to write a software review. I haven't done that yet either. I rushed to download the software weeks ago. I tried it right away. But somehow I lost the summer.

Well, in Chicago, school started today. I taught school for ten years. In those days even the idea of going back to school before Labor Day would have been anathema. But there it is. School opened today. Summer is over. Time to shape up.

My websites need shaping up, too. I can't even count how many sub pages I now have. Dozens, I think. And on my hard drive I have duplicates and triplicates of many of the pages. Early drafts, backups, ideas and experiments. It is getting impossible to keep track.

As I have written before, the counter service I subscribe to, DBasics has changed its IP address again. What a pain. Now the address has to be changed on each page. Last time they did this, I discovered a perl script that would do the job. I ran it on one file. It searched for the old address and replaced it with the new one. So I telnetted in and tried it with a global wildcard. In one instant I had trashed my entire website. That's the thing about computers. They can be very efficient. Every file with an htm extension had been nulled. Fortunately I had backups on my own machine. I searched through and identified the latest version of each page and eventually the site was back up and running .

But I don't want to go through all that again. I did manually change the most important pages, but I don't even remember which of the lesser pages were coded. How long would it take me to search through all of the files in my \html directory to find out which ones needed to be changed? As I wrote last July, I don't want to go through all of that again.


Those of you who have followed my columns know that not long after I started creating web pages I discovered DiDa, a small simple HTML editor written by Godfrey Ko. Since then 90% of my web editing has been done with DiDa or it's big brother DiDa Pro, which has a number of advanced features. I soon made DiDa available for download on my homepage. I have been slightly amazed the significant number of hits my homepage gets for an informal, personal page. But, recent analysis of those hits show that about 40% of those hits are attributable to people searching for DiDa. Well over 10,000 copies have been downloaded from my page in the last year. If I deduct the hits recorded when I look at my own site, probably more than half my visitors come for that reason alone and not to read my words of wisdom. Quite a blow to my ego. DiDa is still available there.

Well, during that time Godfrey Ko has not been sitting still. He has been creating additional tools for web developers. One of those is NavRoad, an offline HTML browser, very useful for demonstrating web pages stored on a local machine without going on line. But the most useful of his ingenious creations is LIKSE. Not only does it let you view offline. But, above all, it can be used as a small portable, powerful search engine for html files on your local machine.

As I said, I have lots of files. Keeping track of what I have done and where it is, is almost impossible. I really wanted to know which files had that DBasics coding in them without having to open and search each file separately - - LIKSE to the rescue.

All I had to do was open LIKSE and click on search. Up came a screen quite similar to that on many of the more popular search engines with a few important additional options. It is possible to select the drive or path to be searched and also to indicate whether or not to search subdirectories. Additional choices are available such as whether the search should be case sensitive or not.

I simply typed in the old DBasics IP address and told it to search all subdirectories on the appropriate drive. Within seconds a hypertext screen appeared with a listing of all of the relevant files and the first line or two of text from the page. A click on the listing and the page opens for immediate viewing. If you have used relative paths, all of your local links and graphics will appear as well. And the links will work.

(In my early pages I didn't know about relative paths so I included full path statements for each link. Now I am stuck; although with LIKSE the problem of finding those old path statements so I can edit them will be much simpler if I ever get the energy.)

Back to the DBasics problem. I simply printed out the list created by LIKSE and used it as a guide in selecting the pages I needed to update. I suppose I could have left the LIKSE window open. Indeed, I could have run DiDa or Notepad or another editor right from within LIKSE. Like Godfrey Ko's other applications it is very easy on resources, but this way I could scratch out the irrelevant pages and check of the ones I had edited.

I then opened DiDa and entered the old IP address in the "search" field and the new address in the "replace" field. Going down the LIKSE list, I could now open only the relevant files and do a simple search and replace. Not as fast as a script that would have let me do a global search and replace of all the files. But much safer.

LIKSE also supports simple boolean search terms permitting fairly sophisticated site searches. I have used it to discover where I have used certain terms on my pages. I understand the application can also be used over an intranet as a local search too. That could be extremely useful for heavily text oriented sites. However, I have not had an opportunity to try it in that mode.

LIKSE is also small enough to fit on a single floppy together with a number of pages and graphics files - making it an excellent way to not only distribute and display whole websites, but to enable the viewer to search them as well. The compressed file is only 300 k. Expanded and ready to go it is under 800 k leaving over half a meg available on a floppy for your html and graphic files. That is really quite a lot if you are judicious in your use of images. My largest pages are rarely over 25k in text. I once even won an award for creating a complete page, including background graphics, in under 10 k. Take a look at A Note to Teach.

LIKSE can be run from a floppy or a CD-ROM without a Winsock.DLL. It supports client side image maps. It toggles easily from search engine to browser and has many other features.

My only gripe is that although searches can be made based on file age, file type and file size, the listing prepared by LIKSE does not tell you the date the file was created. Are you listening Godfrey Ko?

LIKSE comes in both 16 bit and 32 bit versions and is shareware. The basic shareware licence is $50. Site licences and royalty free licences are also available. For more information and to download the product go to the LIKSE page.

I still have lots of other catching up to do. At the summer Internet Expo I discovered a fascinating site analyzer which tracks every link on your site and not only tells you if it is broken but gives a wealth of additional information in a magnificent graphical form which is amazing to watch. After 10 minutes of exploring my site in incredible detail I let the demonstrator off the hook. I knew I couldn't afford the nearly $500 the application cost.

Then I ran across something more to my needs: CyberSpyder Link Test. Unfortunately the timed demo I have downloaded has expired so I'll have to grab a more recent copy before I can give a full review. Still, if I remember correctly the cost is around $35.00. It doesn't do nearly all the things that the huge commercial application did but it returns a heck of a lot of information about your site. The one night I played with it I learned quite a bit. If you can't wait, go to CyberSpyder. Note: At over 3 meg CyberSpyder will never make my Great Lite Software list, but it is still very useful.

For more than 30 years, before I became a labor lawyer the Labor Day weekend has always meant it's time for a fresh start. For over thirty years I was either a student or a teacher. I still have dreams of the first day of school and I quit teaching 20 years ago. So: Happy new year. I'll catch up on those summer projects. I suspect I'll write that ode to my daughter as her departure for Jerusalem comes closer - - or after she leaves and it really sinks in.

I am Counting on You, July, 1997

Let me begin me begin by stating that my internet activity is a hobby -- not a business. It may be an addiction but it is still merely a hobby. It may be compulsive -- but it is a hobby. My wife has reminded me more than once that I have not made a penny off of the Web.

My local ISP has a number of classes of service, the most popular being the "Packrat" account which permits 600 hours per quarter and includes PPP and shell access as well as 10 megabytes of free storage online for web pages and other purposes for a reasonable fixed fee. The ISP also has commercial classes of service available for significantly higher prices.

The ISP updates the html.log for account in my class of service once a night, usually between midnight and 4:00 a.m. After that I run Analog2.11 to prepare my stats pages.

During a recent week the reports were truncated at mid day on two occasions and no data at all was provided for a third. After a few complaints appeared on in the support newsgroup, the owner of the ISP, responded somewhat at testily that if we relied on those reports we should move up to a commercial class of service, which makes hit data available immediately.

I do host some web pages for not-for -profit organizations. But my work on those pages is totally uncompensated and voluntary. The vast amounts of time I spend on those pages and other activities, my wife reminds me, could be used in changing light bulbs, mowing the lawn or-- God forbid -- sleeping!! And that time is not even tax deductible.

Like other hobbyists, I want the best. That is why I chose my provider. and why I stay.

My interest in my html.log is purely one of curiosity. It is fascinating to see what people are looking at and where they come from. It is interesting to find out if efforts to publicize my pages are successful. But even though I am just a hobbyist, I still want the information I receive and post to be as accurate as possible.

Since the Packrat setup does not allow running domain lookups by a cron*, I run my logfile analyzer whenever I wake up late in the night. There just isn't time when I get up for work. I use WS_FTP to assure that the log has been completed some time before I begin and then run Analog2.11. It may be that the fact that I want to run the analyzer, explains why I wake up at about 4:00 almost every night. Sometimes I have to wait for the file to be complete before I run Analog. I may be up an hour waiting to finish and to review the log.

After all that, it is disappointing to find the results to be truncated or missing.

I understand that another level of service is available. I understand that there is no guarantee for complete logs on the Packrat account I keep trying to convince my wife we can afford (even if one of our two 12 year old cars just died and our daughter is starting college and even if I keep griping about TVs and lights left on all night -- while this PC stays on so I can logon at the touch of a key without waiting to boot).

I have also witnessed my ISPs dedication to quality service over the years.

That having been said: when I posted an article pointing out that the log is truncated, it was not to demand a level of service beyond what I am paying for. It is to find out what happened. On a couple of occasions, for example. by posting a notice I learned that I was running Analog too early, before the complete log had been created.

Now I check to assure the html.log is complete before I post a message -- BTW: The file, which is approaches 4 meg a month, must be gzipped regularly to save space. - - The last time I tried to view the whole file it transferred at almost 10 kbps Not bad on an old 33.6 modem.) My notices are intended to alert the provider that something correctable may be happening on their system. Maybe the cause can be determined. I also post to determine if others hare having the same problem.

When the html.log was incomplete three times within a week I became concerned.

Several hours after I posted the message upon which this essay was based, my html.log was updated -- in the middle of the day. The missing data seems to have been restored. Shortly after seeing this message, the owner of my ISP posted a detailed technical response explaining some of the problems and making it clear that he had not intended to come down on the hobbyists.

* A "cron" or "crontab" is set on the provider's machine and causes a script or program placed on the server to run automatically at a set time. It can be used to perform many different functions.

Stephen Turner, who wrote Analog, assures me that "cron" comes from the same root as chronometer, and does refer to time.

If I didn't want the domain lookups so I could tell where hits come from, I could simply "set a cron" to run my "updatelogs" script at 5:00 a.m. every day. However for security reasons, my provider doesn't permit domain lookups to be run automatically. Thus I must run the application manually. And thus the bleary eyes.

The logfile analyzer I use is very configurable.

Go to my statistics page to see some of the kinds of data it will report. A link there will lead you to a page from which you can learn more about the application and can download the file. You can also get information directly at: http://www.statslab.cam.ac.uk/~sret1/analog/. I should also note that I am still using a commercial statistics service from Dbasics since I got in on a very a advantageous price a year ago. But that is about to expire. As I get comfortable with Analog, I will have to reevaluate use of the Dbasics service.

One interesting feature of Analog is the ability to define what will be considered a hit or a page. Therefore, I asked the program not to include graphics in its report (it would by default -- grossly inflating the number of hits.) OTOH, I did require it to record downloads of *.zip files as hits thereby giving me a record of the number copies of a shareware editor (DiDa) that are downloaded from my page each day. (Should I be happy or sad to discover that about half of the visitors to my home page come there to grab that file. Over a thousand copies downloaded in June.)

I have much to learn about additional configuration possibilities with Analog. For example, I understand it can read gzipped files. Since, as I mentioned above, my html.log grows to about 4 meg a month this would be very useful. As it is, I have had to create an archive containing monthly reports instead of keeping a continuous history.

If you got this far, I hope you got a smile out of it..unless of course you recognize yourself ;-)

Note: As of 7/11 the problem continues to recur. To this have been added some gaps in http accessibility on the server. Grrrrrrrrrrr!

Dr. Debakey: Where are you now that I need you? June, 1997

A heart transplant for my p.c.

As my regular readers know, I believe in doing as much as possible with as little as possible.

It's been barely two and a half years since I abandoned my original trusty 286 in favor of the Pawnshop Special. I hadn't intended to abandon the 286 (after all it wasn't even 5 years old) but, somehow in the process of swapping cards into the "new" 386/40, I fried a couple of the old cards and cracked the motherboard. For the gory details see: The Pawnshop Special (I jump to Windows) (November, 1994).

I had intended to buy a "screamin' 486" but I passed the pawnshop, saw this old Magitronic sitting there and made an offer they could not refuse. It has served me well, but there are times when it is just too slow (not because of much that I want to do, but because of the software bloat that plagues us everywhere). So when a kind, gentle benefactor, a wondrous person indeed (who must remain anonymous) offered to send me a 486/100 motherboard, I jumped at the opportunity.

I eagerly awaited the mail. And then it came, all neatly packaged in plastic bubbles. I tore open the box. And there it was, with more jumpers than I had ever imagined and manuals, too. And notes and hints. And best of all it had lots of 30 pin slots so I could keep the 20 meg of RAM I had crammed into the old 386. Not only that but since it was a VESA local bus, I could move over my old cards.

I dutifully took the manuals to bed and tried to read them. Best cure for my insomnia I have found in years. Then I waited for a whole day off so I could do this all in one day. Remember, I am a user, a junkie, not a techie.

"This shouldn't be too hard," I said out loud. But, with experience as a guide, it was not without great trepidation that I opened the old box and took a look inside. After all, I was about to perform open heart surgery, indeed, a heart transplant, on a perfectly healthy patient.

First I removed all of my old cards. The ATI video, the I/O, the CD/ROM interface, the extra card with the 16550 UART and laid them neatly on a specially cleared wooden shelf (not on my metal desk like last time).

Well, these minitowers are nice, but the motherboard fits under the drive bay frame. O.K. I thought, just remove the drive bay frame and it'll be easy. Just a couple of screws to take out. But, NO! The frame is held in place with permanent studs instead of screws. I'll have to see if I can slide out the old board -- remember I cracked the motherboard last time. And I didn't even try to remove that one.

O.K. Lets just remove the plastic connectors that hold the board in place. But they expand when the board is installed-- they have to be crimped to fit through the bottom of the board. No problem, I have a PC tool kit I got for $6.98 at CompUSA back when it was still SoftWarehouse. But none of the tools are long enough, or strong enough. And my fingers are not skinny enough (Neither am I, but that is another story.) O.K. Now, what? I am just started and I can't even get the old board out.

I called Ron. Ron doesn't know much about computers but he does know circuit boards-- and he isn't intimidated by them. (See the November, 1994 story above. His soldering iron bailed me out that time.) Even though it was Memorial Day and his family had other plans for him, he was over within the half hour.

"Well," he said, after a few futile attempts to remove the plastic holders. "We could break them off." I cringed. Then I remembered seeing a plastic bag with new plastic pins in the box with the motherboard. So we broke off the old plastic pins and tried to remove the board. But there were also two screws that had to come out first. Then we carefully slid out the old board from under the drive bay with 2 floppies, two hard drives and a tape backup.

Although I had fallen asleep reading the manual there was one warning that my benefactor had alerted me to. The first sentence said that the voltage had to be 3.3 for the 486 CPU. The second sentence described some jumper settings. Nowhere was there anything but a leap of faith to indicate that the jumper settings would change the voltage, but we made the leap.

So. Now Ron and I peered at the motherboard trying to find the right jumpers. Eventually we thought we had. And they appeared to be set correctly - - after all the previous owner had used the same CPU. But we wouldn't really know until it was up and running ( - if - it got up and running). Since those jumpers had been correct, we didn't fool with any others. I could always change them later, I thought. They weren't as critical as the voltage regulator.

Then we installed a new heat sink and fan (but only after realizing that the black plastic around the CPU was the holder for the old fan and could be (had to be) removed first.

Then we heard my wife calling, "Lunch is on the table." If Ron can't resist helping with electronic problems, he really can't resist, good bread, cheddar cheese, liver sausage and Dijon Mustard. So, even though it was nearly time for the first of several barbecue parties his family had been invited to that day, we left everything on my desk and headed to the dining room. Soon, satiated but short of time, he had to leave and I was back up stairs. We had removed the old heart. Now it was time to replace it. Alone!!

Before I install it, I snap in all 20 meg of RAM from my old card. What a breeze. I remember the first time I added RAM and the problems I had. What a relief.

First thing to notice. The new board was at least an inch longer than the old one. (There sure are a lot of jumpers hidden by that drive frame...hope they are set correctly.) And I had to squeeze the new board under that drive frame.

Well, to make a longer story shorter, I did. Then I found the new plastic connectors and punched them into place. And then those two screws. Ah!! I don't remember any nuts holding them in place from when I took them out. And there are none in the bottom of the case or on my desk or on the floor. Oh well, once I screw in all of the cards the motherboard probably won't move anyway.

First, though, I connect the two power connectors. Which way do they go? Oh well, take a guess.

Then I install the video card (I decided to stick with my 16 bit 2 meg ATI Turbo so I wouldn't have to fool with the video drivers for now.) Then the I/O cards. A "new" 32 bit card for the floppies and the hard drives and an old extra one for the modem and the printer. Then the CDRom, the Soundblaster By now I have everything out of the box that came in the mail. I am getting confused between the new cards and the old ones. The neat, orderly, row of cards on the shelf is in disarray.

The time comes to plug it in. Heart in my throat, I plug it in. I turn it on.

Nothing moves. I think I hear a slight whine... but nothing. NOTHING!! Have I burned up the board. I know the RAM is in right. Then I look at those power connectors. And at the diagram in the manual. They have different numbers in the diagram. How was I supposed to know. White raised plastic numbers on white plastic. Once you know, they are easy to see. I had had enough trouble seating them without worrying about the sequence.

I reverse them and try again.. VOILA!! It boots!! I hit delete and set the CMOS (Yes, I had remembered to print out my CMOS info before removing the old board.) I reboot. It boots but won't recognize the drives. I check the CMOS. Replace the new I/O card with the old one. Nothing... Then finally, I remove the connectors from the drives and reconnect them exactly as they were. They must have come loose during the install because now the machine boots and the drives come up.

This is what is called success!!

And many things are really much faster. I can actually read WindowWatch Magazine in Adobe PDF format now. WordPerfect for Windows actually opens in less time that I can smoke a cigarette. (I haven't smoked in years but every time I load one of these new bloated new apps I want to again. And until now, I have had the waiting time.)

I still have to solve some IRQ conflicts and have a little fine tuning to go. Some times the printer doesn't work - - and sometimes Trumpet says my modem isn't responding. But slowly I am cleaning up the bugs. I hope I don't need to get at any of those jumpers under the drive frame.

But thank you benefactor.

And to the rest of you. If I can do it, so can you. It's upgrade time. Not to some P266 MMX machine but to something from just yesterday that will do the job.

How else do you get rid of the dead Indians from the bottom of the t.v. May, 1997

The foregoing was the punch line of a popular joke in the late 40's and early 50's. In those day's the Western was the most popular television format. So much so that tri-color plastic sheets were sold which snapped over the t.v. screen. The top third was blue and the bottom was green. For two days I have been asking people what color the middle was and no one has been sure. But in any event, with the top third of the screen representing sky and the bottom grass, it would be years before anyone needed a real color t.v. Talk about redundancy and low band width.

In that pre PC era, so many t.v. Indians were killed each day that the questions was asked, "Do you have an Indian removal service?"

Well, maybe we didn't need a removal service back then but we sure do now.

The other day I was reading an article in local newsgroup using NewsXpress. At the bottom of the article I noticed the following line: "Attachment converted: c:\download\vcard.vcf" The only time I had seen such a line before was when reading some articles in the Clarinet news groups. When news photos were included with an article, the file and a text description were automatically saved to a \download directory on my hard drive. But Clarinet warns the reader in the article header that a graphic is attached. The poster in the news group had not provided warning.

I looked in C:\download\ and found a file which contained some incomprehensible information. I posted a rather intemperate message in the newsgroup and received a response telling me that I should turn off the ability to accept attachments in NewsXpress, along with the the following explanation:

The VCARD is a Netscape convention that is really handy IF YOU ARE A NETSCAPE USER. Along with every message is my VCARD. A Netscape 4.0 user can drag the vcard picture that they see at the bottom of my message directly into their address book, and it brings my name, address, and a whole slew of other info into the address book. This also then becomes available to applications like MSOffice. It is really quite handy. It is like having a business card with your email. Like what you put at the bottom of your messages [sig file] but in a format that is readily accessible.

How wonderful? How absurd!!. First of all I am not a Netscape user and haven't been, except for specialized purposes, since it approached 10 meg, so the attachments are totally useless to me.. Be that as it may, instead of a simple signature file, which any reader could cut and paste, he attaches a proprietary piece of gobbledygook to every message he posts which requires additional band width and goes unbidden somewhere on every reader's hard drive (and creates an ugly signature as well). But the story doesn't end here.

The file I found on my hard drive did not contain merely sig information but much more that the sender apparently didn't know he was attaching. His explanation:

Also, I discovered where my attachments were coming from. The newest Beta of Netscape also allows encryption and digital certificate use. The crap at the bottom of my message was additional VCARD info that I didn't mean to be sending. It is my public key for encrypted messages. That should no longer be present. I don't know how it got turned on. Sorry for any inconvenience.

[name withheld to protect the guilty]

Attachment Converted: "C:\DOWNLOAD\vcard.vcf"

So!! If I hadn't posted my intemperate objection, the sender wouldn't have even known he was attaching all of that junk (and note: his standard attachment is still distributed with his e-mail, as well.) So to add to the ridiculous things Netscape has foisted on the public, it has added the ability to unintentionally send large meaningless files over both the mail routes and the Usenet. Swallowing up bandwidth and delaying transactions.

If this were the only example, I probably wouldn't be writing this column. But in recent weeks I have received a number of unwanted files from a number of sources. My hard drive is becoming cluttered with unidentifiable files.

First, there was supposedly well meaning e-mail from someone in Israel (at least the address ended in .il). It congratulated me on one of my pages but contained a huge attachment in an unrecognizable font, most likely Hebrew. I didn't ask for this nor can I interpret it. A reply from me went unanswered so I still don't know what it was. < /p>

And spam is bad enough, but now some spam comes with attachments that frequently turn out on examination to be files in HTML advertising this or that. But since I am not using a browser to read them, they are totally wasted on me. At least with spam, all I have to do is click on the trash can, but now I have to go to a file manager and clean out the download directory as well. (Which reminds me, many spam messages come with instructions as to various ways to remove yourself from the list. A local t.v. show suggested replying with "Remove" as the only text in your message. WRONG!! The best thing to do with spam, unless you want to go to a lot of work, is to simply delete and ignore it. Any form of reply verifies your address and makes its inclusion on lists more valuable.)

Of course there are many other ways in which our drives become cluttered with unwanted and even unidentifiable files. Installation programs leave behind debris. Uninstall programs leave behind .dlls and .ini and registry entries which are no longer needed. Manual removal leaves behind even more.

When I had a 40 meg hard drive, I knew what just about every file on my machine was for. Still I sometimes deleted things I shouldn't have. But with the huge hard drives which are now so readily available, there is no way to know what all that stuff is. Some of it can't be avoided but we don't need to be the recipients of gratuitous files we never asked for.

When Microsoft introduced Internet Explorer, many of us were fiercely loyal to Netscape. During the past year, NS has tried our patience with unnecessary proprietary extensions and other folderol in addition to its bloated size. But this unbidden cluttering of our hard drives is simply too much. It confirms my decision to stick with Opera.

In the meantime, does anyone know where I can get a removal service.

*I recognize that the title of this month's column is not PC, but then it comes from an era long before the term PC was invented, in either of its current uses.

Culture Shock, April, 1997

I don't really feel like writing right now. What I feel like doing is sitting back in an easy chair and surfing the Web on a giant screen. No keyboard, no supposedly ergonomic desk chair. No reading glasses to squint at the text. Just lying back in the comfy chair and pointing a magic wand across the room.

I did that just the other night. It isn't a fantasy and it isn't out of reach. But to begin this tale, let me go back a few weeks. I was checking out the guest books on a couple of my sites. One of my sites had seven new entries. On closer examination they were all from one e-mail address. The address of a couple I know -- a retired couple of a certain age. A couple which had never owned a computer and, until now, was never likely to own one. And the address was @webtv.net.

WEB TV!! WebTV? Horrors! What is an old modemjunkie like me doing even talking about that toy. Who would want a limited hunk of metal like that? Why not get a real computer and get with the program?

The answer: Lots of people. And they are becoming the program. Just as the Web has drastically evolved in the 3 years since Mosaic first came on the scene, it will continue to change. Although advertising with www.xxx.com has become ubiquitous, there is a vast potential audience out there who are afraid of computers and have no interest in sorting out initialization strings and downloading new software ever few weeks. But they have been trained on t.v. to sit back and enjoy. And they will want to see what this is all about.

Many of them would never do this on their own, but one way or another they will get hooked. In my friends' case, their son gave them the WebTV box for a present. Within a few weeks their 19 inch T.V. was replaced by a 32" model. And from looking at my hit record alone, I can tell they are hooked.

We talked about it and they invited me over. "Sure," I said rather condescendingly, "I'll take a look." I really doubted that this could be a worthwhile experience.

But there I was the other night, lying back on a big white sofa, munching snacks and looking up at some of my favorite pages. The beautiful rose filled with snow on one of my pages looked great up there. More to my surprise, my other pages rendered perfectly. The images appeared where I expected them, the colors were great, text was readable, if not really sharp. Zap!! All I had to do was click on the remote and I could move forward or back, up or down. Following links was easy. And it was fast -- with cute but not too obtrusive sound effects and graphics to camouflage waiting time.

Search forms worked, although at first I wondered how I could enter text from the chair. It turns out there are two possibilities. A click pops up an on screen keyboard. Point at the letters and it is possible to type in a primitive fashion. But, my friends were already so hooked that they had bought a standard keyboard (a good old IBM type - remember that metallic click that let you know you had typed something). They had added extension cords long enough to reach that sofa all the way across the room. Click on the wand and zoom! an e-mail from appears. Just type in your message and send it on it's way.

There are some features that are not implemented yet, like frames and the Web TV browser does not like pages that require fixed page widths. If you want to follow the news groups you will have to use an HTML format like DejaNews for now, but WebTV promises new features in the near future. Three is a little slot in the front of the box for upgrades. I haven't looked to see if it takes software or hardware.

[Subsequent to writing this article I have learned that WebTV has added a newsreader and has some frames capability. I am also told the slot is for use with a "Smartcard."]

If they hadn't promised to include frame capability, I would really be pushing it. Nothing could be better for the future of the Web than a vast audience without frames capability. Page developers would have to go back to sound design. But my prejudices are showing, so let me get on with the story.

Is this the way I would want to get online?. Not really -- not most of the time. But for a large segment of the public who are afraid of computers or simply have no interest in them, the Web TV is a welcome tool. We look down our noses at this possible audience at our own peril. And it wouldn't surprise me if many in that audience will find that the Web TV is the Trojan Horse by which computers slip quietly into their every day lives.

And there are sites which work especially well on the giant screen. There are many new "concept" pages which do not require frames or Java which should look great on the large screen. For starters try "Futile" or "Kabbalah" This is the kind of gray, damp, lazy Saturday afternoon on which it would be great to stretch out in that comfy chair with a bowl of chips and a bottle of something and just point a magic wand.

Culture Preservation

The foregoing story is another example of the vast change going on in the culture of the Internet. As I have noted before, a couple of years ago the news groups were full of negative comments about "newbies" destroying the culture. A message with an AOL address on it was sure to get automatic derision regardless of its content. Today that would be foolhardy. But there are aspects of the culture that are worth preserving and fortunately still survive.

Not that long ago a primary aspect of that culture was the concept of sharing. The idea that everything had a price, the idea of commercial sites with passwords and fees was anathema. Well, that is changing, but it also lives on.

The counter service I am using is about to become more expensive so I began to look into ways of analyzing my hits locally. It took some searching but eventually I found Analog2.11, a program in C by Stephen Turner which you can compile in your own web directory. It generates its results by analyzing the access log maintained by your provider and produces its results in HTML. It is very powerful and it remains free. Not just free to evaluate but FREE! To see an example of its output, go to lgrossman.com/analog2.11/output.html" and take a look. Go to the Analog home page for more information and to download the applicable files. I will give a more detailed discussion of Analog in the near future, after I play with its many configuration options for a while.

And while I am on the subject of the old culture, let me give another example. I was dismayed to discover, just after I registered the great new browser Opera (boy that felt good - - an honest man at last...just like that day, half a dozen years ago when I registered Telix), that Opera does not support gopher. I was surfing weather sites, many of them are in the gopher format and I kept getting error messages asking me to define a gopher proxy. Unfortunately, my ISP, MCSNET, elieves, for good reason, that a good browser should support gopher and doesn't have a proxy available.

I agree with him, but I also recognize that Opera is under tremendous pressure to add new features and at the same time retain its small size. I am also aware that I had been using Opera for some time and hadn't come across the problem. More and more gopher sites are converting to HTML.

So, in desperation I posted a note in a local newsgroup. Within hours I received a note from EnterAct, a competing local ISP. They offered to let my use their gopher proxy. I asked if they mind public thanks for their offer. They informed me they intend to keep it an open server. The old culture still lives.


ACCESS, Access, access, February, 1997

After I finished last month's column, in which I talked about my efforts to attain a design award for The Gropper Windows pages, I spotted a gold ribbon on a page proclaiming the site to be "speech friendly." The concept intrigued me and I learned of efforts on behalf of a number of people, including, Cathy Anne Murtha, to encourage the creation of sites which are compatible with speech synthesizers, enabling those with vision difficulties to hear the content of web sites.

Having just received the WDG Award for the Gropper pages, I should have been satisfied, but my curiosity got the better of me and I sent a note to Cathy, the sponsor of the award, asking whether a site dedicated to graphic images could be made speech friendly. I received an excited and gracious note in response indicating that, indeed, such a site could be speech friendly. She authorized use of the ribbon on the page without modification, but also suggested that I provide greater detail in my descriptions of the individual windows, a project I have yet to undertake (volunteers accepted).

I quickly added the new ribbon to the "miscellany" section of the Gropper pages, together with other kudos it has received.

The design simplicity rewarded by the Web Design Group had resulted in a "Speech friendly" site. On the other hand, my home page, Notes from a ModemJunkie, apparently did not qualify. What was the difference? I wondered.

Eventually, I discovered that while it is a great start, design correctness (validated HTML) and simplicity are not enough to be truly speech friendly, although they go a long way. Other considerations are also relevant. For example, on the ModemJunkie page I frequently include more than one link within a sentence or a line, which confuses speech synthesizers. There may have been other design elements which were also confusing. Indeed, when I added the Gold Ribbon the Gropper pages, I included a link to the Speech Friendly Page in the same sentence
as a link to the Web Design Group and to a Religious index which had featured the site. In the process of boasting about the award, I had violated its principles. (Notice: I put a line break in the penultimate sentence to avoid having two links in the same line. I almost did the same thing again.)

Cathy encouraged me through the learning process. She told me of her excitement that her Web Site and award were to be featured on a major television network news magazine program focusing on seeing eye dogs for the blind. She had offered to validate the program's web page, which was to describe that week's program, so that she could award it the ribbon and gain some recognition for the speech friendly concept. I eagerly tuned in to watch the show, which was fascinating, but made no reference to her award.

I can only guess at what internal jealousies had caused the network's web designers to refuse to submit their page for consideration, but a quick look at the page showed why. The page, although looking amazingly clean, used HTML tricks to accomplish its looks and was anything but speech friendly. Instead, as a sop to the blind, it used "Real Audio" techniques to make it possible for a blind surfer to hear the contents. But I have no idea how a blind person would be able to navigate such a page to find the Real Audio link. The network was very proud of itself and an opportunity was lost.

Still, what I was learning fascinated me. I wondered if there were other individuals with disabilities whose special needs could be met in web page design. I decided that this month's column would focus on those needs. I sought out newsgroups related to disabilities and posted inquiries in all of them. In a three week period I received only four responses, and one of them warned me that I would be disappointed -- that there were many web pages dedicated to disabilities, but that many were rapidly orphaned by their creators. That seems to have been the case. And perhaps I am guilty as well.

But I have not learned enough to write on the subject this month. I did learn that in addition to speech synthesis there are also braille readers which work best with clean HTML , but I have not learned whether there are special requirements for coding for such machines. I also received a suggestion that the content Real Audio and other sound materials be made available visually for those with hearing disabilities. I guess turn about is fair play. Interesting, that using clean HTML without multimedia add-ons is effective and helpful for those with disabilities in hearing and in vision. One stop shopping.

Additional references on disabilities and access:

But the battle for clean HTML is being waged on another front. In the HTML related newsgroups, partisans are lining up and shouting at each other with religious fervor. The purported battle lines are between those who side with design and layout control (which I call fixed formatting) and those who believe in markup languages and user control of appearance.

The camps shout loudly across the abyss. Some of the HTMLers formerly known as purists now style themselves "pragmatists" while others seem unwilling to recognize that there are valid reasons for assuming control over precise layout and design. Those from the desk top publishing world or those who are used to the print medium insist that the HTML group are Luddites wedded to a mark up language that doesn't suit their needs for artistic control.

I resist using the term "pragmatists" for the HTMLers because, pragmatism always serves a purpose. When money speaks, it may seem "pragmatic" to give up accessibility for control if that is what the market wants. And commercial interests may be more comfortable with fixed formats, just as they are with image maps, and sound and video -- all features that interfere with accessibility.

A recenty suggested title for what I consider the enlightened view is "fundamentalists." But although that term has some merit and may be more descriptive than "purists" and "pragmatists." it carries some baggage as well. Still, the term may be more appropriate than 'HTMLers," which I have used, since good design and accessibility do involve more than HTML, as we saw with regard to speech friendly issues.

People in this camp are now strongly advocating cascading style sheets (CSS). I have not had the opportunity to experiment with style sheets, but apparently they give the Web author much more potential control over the page while leaving the viewer the ultimate decision as to whether to implement the style decisions chosen by the author or to turn them off. Unfortunately, very few browsers support CSS at this time. Apparently style sheets are simply ignored by browsers without CSS capability, This seems a very sensible solution. For more on CSS go to the Web Design Group pages.

As a writer for WindoWatch Magazine, which appeared in PDF format, I find myself between a rock and a hard place. I will go out on a limb and state my preferences: Unless there is a very special reason, I believe that information on the web should be presented in the most generic and accessible format. I am grateful that selected articles from the WindoWatch archives are now being made available on line in HTML.

However, PDF is great for presenting graphic material. The screen shots and other graphics appearing in WindoWatch are good examples of this use. But I don't know many other reasons for storing material in that fashion. One example does, come to mind, I needed an IRS form this weekend. I logged on to the IRS web page and found the form in PDF format. I downloaded it and then viewed it in my Acrobat reader, which I obtained jut to read this mag. It looked great. Just like the real McCoy. But I couldn't get it to print. The print dialogue box opened and then ..... nothing.

It would still be hanging there if I hadn't rebooted. In the meantime, my wife had returned from the library with a photocopy.

But it does demonstrate that there are appropriate uses for fixed format pages. Still, PDF is not capable of being indexed by the Web Robots and I don't know whether there is any speech synthesizer which can read a PDF file.

So for the most part, I side with the fundamentalists.

The biggest fight seems to be not over the right to use fixed formatting. The fundamentalists do recognize anyone's right to publish in any format they want to. Heck, if David Seigel wants to publish a page in black text on black they won't object (they might even applaud). What they rightly object to is recommending and teaching others to use fixed format design.

I concur. If people want to limit the accessibility of their pages, that is their right -- even if it is a real pain when my browser hangs on one of their masterpoeces at 3:00 o'clock in the morning. But just as my home page bears a blue ribbon for free speech, so to do I value accessibility. Fixed format sites, proprietary extensions, RealAudio and RealVideo - - all of these are like great potholes on the information highway. Unfortunately there is no way to get sites that use these features to post warnings where they can be seen in time to slow down. Some of the more "enlightened" sites have taken to using browser detection software. Unfortunately, if that software makes a mistake, the users get stuck. Why not use a generic opening page with selectable options? Surfers still can think for ourselves. We are not robots... Are we? ?

New Year's Revelations, January, 1997


It is hard to believe that this is the beginning of the fifth year in which I have periodically been committing my random ramblings to cyberspace. I suppose when I began I thought I was just joking when I first called myself the "ModemJunkie." Maybe, I thought, if I used the term myself, I could deflect the accusations of others that I had become hooked by the online world.

And that was long before I discovered the Internet. Back then, I was limited to the Syslink BBS, and GEnie and Compuserve. Every year began with resolutions to cut back but every year my involvement grew greater. I certainly didn't anticipate the exponential increase in online time I would spend once I discovered the Web.

So this year I didn't wait until New Years Eve to make a resolution. A few weeks ahead of time I simply promised myself to try not to log on between the time I go to bed and the time I get up in the morning. I thought that would be easy. And I really could use a full night's sleep.

I was making progress. Some nights I made it all the way through. Others, I got up at 2 or 3 o' clock, but I only checked e- mail. Occasionally there were relapses, but I was doing better. But then something happened.


Lately Web pages seem to be getting more complex and take longer and longer to download, even with faster and faster modems. Sometimes I get so fed up, I angrily click on the stop icon and go on to something else.

However, a couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine received an award from theWeb Design Group (WDG) for excellence in Web page design. She has another excellent, and amusing page, "The Care and feeding of Web Pages. A link there will take you to her award winning home page.

WDG represents a revolution in Web thinking. It is grounded in the idea that bigger is not necessarily better. It is grounded in the radical concept that information presented on the Web should be easily accessed by the largest possible audience.

This is a concept closely related to principles that regular readers know I have long held dear. It militates against planned obsolescence. For years I held out against Windows and hung on to my a 286 machine. Only when I wanted full internet access, did I bite the bullet and move up to a 386 and a graphical interface.

Good design does not have to be boring. And good design does mean that any specific tool must be excluded. It does mean that coding must be accurate, and it does mean that pages should be validated to the strictest standard capable of displaying the information to be presented. Utilizing these principles means that countless viewers will still have access to pages and won't get rude warnings announcing that the page requires one specific browser or plug in or another. In other words, by adhering to good design I could foster the same principles I had been defending, long before I became a Web author.

So I decided to try myself. This meant meticulous editing of my web pages. It meant submitting them to on line "validation" which checked the formal coding of my pages for technical accuracy. (There are many collections of validation tools. One of the best is maintained by Harold Driscoll of the Chicago Computer Society) My time on line was going up -- not down. I submitted two of my pages for the award.

An then, during the last few days of the year, I received notice that my home page, Notes from a ModemJunkie, had received the WDG Award. I even discovered the added bonus that my page is quite comprehensible using Lynx, a text based browser which does not require high powered machines or color monitors, making my ramblings available to countless individuals who can't afford to keep up with the Gatses.

Now I can slow down, I thought. But I also received a critique of the other site, The Gropper Windows: Genesis in Glass. In addition to some technical errors which were easily corrected, the page had nearly 80 k of graphics. It took nearly a minute to fully load. It seemed faster on my own machine because all of the images were already cached. But the first time viewer must share the same frustration I feel on reaching some of the more complex, graphic intensive, sites.

Even though the page is dedicated to celebration of graphic images, couldn't I do something to bring my page within acceptable limits.

So I looked carefully at the page. I rethought the concept. I quickly realized that there was a whole section of the page which could be separated and presented on its own. A click on the index item will take the viewer directly to this section. The page will appear to the viewer almost exactly as it did before. Only now the home page loads in slightly more than 24 seconds instead of just under a minute. I don't know whether that page will receive am award or not, but by the application of good design principles I have made it more accessible and inviting to the casual viewer. Further information about the WDG award can be reached by clicking on the is available on the WDG page

Last month I discussed Opera, the new browser from Norway. The downloadable file is less than one meg. The other day the long awaited Netscape Communicator 4.0b made its debut. The complete package downloaded at just under 10 megs. That's TEN megabytes. That's nuts. (Note: You won't find a link to Netscape here.)

There is a revolution going on. We can't hold back the tide. But as one portion of the Web devolves into just another corporate media extravaganza, dedicated Netizens are uniting to foster good design and accessibility. As AOL slows and the bandwidth fills with noise, there will be those who continue to raise their voices for reason. WDG and others recognizing basic principles should be recognized and applauded.


In all of this, I reconize my own overindulgence. Now that the major renovation of my pages is complete, I will not promise to log on in the middle of the night. But I will try to use my time more carefully. If I can slim down my pages, I can slim down my surfing as well. Wish me luck. The odds are good. I did shed more than 20 lbs last year. But that's another story.

Don't Wait for the Fat Lady, December, 1996

Includes review of the Opera Browser

[Latest update: January, 2001: Opera 6.0 is now available. See my review and additional comments in the January 2001 edition of the ModemJunkie]

[Update: January, 2000: Opera 3.61 is now available. This amazing software continues to improve. Now handles many plugins, Java, Javascript, CSS and much more. ]

[News Update 8/14/97 10:40:08: The long awaited Version 3.0 of Opera is due to be released shortly. You can take advantage of the old price by registering v 2.12 before 3.0 is released. Go to the new Opera Software home page for more information.]

My original review follows:

A few weeks ago I decided I needed to slow down. There was simply too much input. Too much in my face. I read the NY Times every morning and scan the virtual NY Times before I go to bed. I log on to the Internet and check the Reuters news several times a day and sometimes during the night. I listen to NPR in the morning and sometimes listen to News Radio 78 every on the hour in the late afternoon.

But then last week I found an opera I that really satisfied a need. It restored my faith. It gave me hope for the future. Was this a masterpiece by Mozart?? or some sublime Bach? No! it was Opera, the software. This new browser from Norway is amazing proof that software doesn't have to get bigger, fatter, bloated. If you are running Windows, this is worth your while.

The compressed file is less than one meg. Smaller than even the early editions of Netscape. The software still has some bugs but it offers a lot of promise. It is thoughtfully designed with a host of features left out of Netscape and Internet Explorer. In addition to nearly full keyboard control, it has an amazing zoom function which lets you control the size of the text AND images on the fly. You can reduce the page as much as 50% or increase it by 400%. A distinct advantage for the visually impaired (and bleary eyed nightsurfers). It also permits turning on and off image loading in an instant and is customizable in many other ways.

You can get further infomation about Opera and download the latest evaluation copy on their home page and find more comments on mine. Don't wait for the fat lady to sing. This Opera is slim and trim. Grab a copy and evaluate it as soon as you can. If you have problems be sure to send tech support a note. There is a link on their page. The creators of Opera deserve our support. As long as independent writers create software like this the big boys will have to stay on their toes. Opera may never achieve the market share or a Netscape or IE, but, hopefully it will find its niche.

As the holidays fast approach (Hanukkah will have passed before you see this), thoughts go to what new toys are on the market for computer junkies. Although the reports are barely in from Las Vegas (Comdex) as I write, it seems as though there are a few innovations around the corner. A new series of chips from Intel. 56 kbps modems. But these won't be here until at least January. And the changes they represent will be incremental.

It doesn't seem as though there is much new for the holidays. Last year we went to multi-x cd-roms, added Internet access, new speakers, zip drives. This year each of those have improved slightly but there is not much in the way of really new toys for us to play with . . . and things are getting smaller.

The hottest thing coming out of Comdex seems to be the new pocket sized PIMs (personal information managers) or PDAs (personal digital assistants) The press talks about great leaps forward from last year's Zaurus and Psion machines. Most of them are running on Microsoft's new CE software. The amazing thing about this is that the software is described as a "stripped down" Windows 95. Until now microsoft never stripped anything except my wallet.

I even participated in a focus group for Texas Instrument's new pocket machine. It was fun to see the actual advertising that hit the papers a week or so ago. It seems they were actually listening.

But I can't get really excited. The PIMs might make great stocking stuffers, but spend my own money... nah!! That's easy for me to say. Last year I went berserk trying to decide, during the Federal Shutdown, whether to buy a Sharp Wizard (I even bought it - returned it- and bought it again). I got it at a great price from a forsale newsgroup. I just had to have it. Every month I attend a meeting of community volunteers. And everyone pulls out their PIMs and sets them in front of their seats on the table.

I loved it at first. I practiced taking notes, typing with my thumbs. But where am I supposed to carry it? It fits, barely, into my inside jacket pocket, but the effect is worse the heavy pocket radio I insisted on carrying in the early 80s. I remember the worn linings in my suit jackets. And where do you put it if you don't wear a jacket?

Women can carry them in their purses. I have tried carrying a little leather pouch. But I haven't been trained to remember it. So now it sits in a brief case dedicated to community affairs and I see it once or twice a month.

The other watchword now, more than ever, is speed. Speed SPEED!

For those of us who were doing quite well with 12 megahertz 286s just a few years a go, the idea of 200 MHz clock speeds seems dizzying. But, of course since the new software has to do so much just to put a character on the screen, we really don't see much improvement.

The other night I was visiting a friend who is using a 486/66. I wanted to show a new feature on my web page and logged on using his new 33.6 modem. Surprise, the pages loaded more slowly than they do on my old 386 pawnshop special. The difference: configuration and RAM.

The lesson: If you are running a 386, this may be the time to move up (although I intend to hold out a little longer). Go straight to a Pentium, the cost differential is becoming minimal. If you are already at the 486/66 level it might (just might) be worth moving to a Pentium, but if you are on a budget, look into adding memory on your old machine. If you are already running a Pentium, look to adding RAM before even thinking about getting a faster chip. RAM is cheap right now. I thought it was cheap when I added 8 meg last summer, now it costs about half as much.

The only problem is RAM doesn't look very impressive under the tree.

OTOH, Perhaps you can convince your significant other to give you some, if you promise NOT to sing, "Thanks for the Memory."

For more on speed, see my earlier article, "The Corner Garage "

Multimedia Interactive Multitasking, October, 1996

A few years ago I thought multitasking was rubbing your stomach while patting your head, but Gerald Ford was defeated and since then we have all had to learn to do more than one thing at a time.

The other night I walked into my study to find my daughter sitting at my desk, telephone pressed between her shoulder and her cocked head, keyboard clattering as she chatted with strangers on America On Line. The radio was on. I think she was listening, I am not sure. She was also chewing gum. What an example of multimedia interactive multitasking. These three words have become the watchwords of the web: multimedia, interactivity, multitasking.

I confess, the addition of 16 meg of RAM has made it possible for me to keep a number of applications open which makes editing my web pages much easier. I can keep open the HTML editor, Netscape and my FTP client. I can also keep Eudora running in the background. So I have at last been dragged into the era of multitasking. I no longer question the utility of being able to do all of these things at once.

I also recognize the joy of hearing chimes on the hour or downloading a few bars of a new piece of music. Indeed, listening the sound track on the Myst CD is a wonderful way to relax, so much so, that I've never managed to play for more than 15 or 20 minutes without falling asleep.

I guess my computer qualifies as multimedia, although there are those who would snub their noses at the garage sale boom box connected to my sound card -- the quality is greater than that on most speakers designed for use with computers. . . and for $15, how could I resist?

It's the term "interactive" to which I draw my attention today. It seems to me that the more interactive our media become the more passive we really are. For the interactivity hyped by the media is not true engagement but involves primarily choices among entertainments -- soporifics to lull us.

Learning is interactive. A good argument is interactive. Watching television is passive. With all the emphasis on interactivity, the real effect is to convert the interactivity that used to exist between the hacker and the computer into passivity of the couch potato.

As web pages become filled with animation and scripted activity, the creative energy that used to be associated with the online experience becomes just one more form of passive entertainment. Yes, we may be able to give input and interact with the screens but to what end?

I lean back and click on link after link. My mouse scrolls around the pad as I bounce from site to site. What a pain if there is a field to fill in. I have to sit up at the keyboard...maybe even find my glasses. I might even have to think.

No, better the clicking interactivity. Pop up an *.avi file, watch an animated banner. Listen to the opening bars of Beethoven or the Grateful Dead. Watch a slide show. It becomes lulling and deadening.

As developments in flat screen technology increase I visualize families sitting in the living room, gazing dully at the large screen before them.. Who will control the infra-red mouse? Who will get up and get another bowl of popcorn. Sega and Atari writ large. These screens will be interactive. But will they stimulate or merely sedate.

I don't doubt that interactive computing can be more than that. But the web is becoming commercialized, if for no other reason than to pay for the massive increases in infrastructure that will be necessary to provide the bandwidth to handle the transfer of multimedia entertainments to hundreds of millions of homes impatient with server delays and pipeline bottlenecks. Mae West doesn't just want us to come up and see her some time, she wants a new structure to handle the load. And with commercialization comes the need to reach larger and larger audiences.

I am thrilled my home page has had some 10,000 hits but that only happened because it became known as a source to download a free HTML editor. It is great that my community resource pages may have four or five hits a day or a week. But if I had to rely on advertising, who would sponsor an in depth treatment of a set of stained glass windows? Who would pay to list the activities of a community interfaith counsel or a combined adult studies program? I could place banner advertising on the page, but could they hold their own in the marketplace.

Just as the Oprahs and Renaldos and sitcoms have driven out drama and real news, will the common denominator drive out the creative, informative uses of the web? In mid October I heard for the first time serious discussion of the creation of an alternative high speed Internet for serious scientific purposes. How many nets will be necessary? Will there be gateways between them? Will there be second class users? Will we have to pay for access to the basic informational sites that dominate the web only two years ago.

I try to keep my web pages as simple as possible, so that they load quickly and are accessible by the widest possible audience. But as my equipment improves, slowly and imperceptibly I "improve" my pages with features I no longer realize won't play on older equipment.

Slowly, I was tempted into adding colored backgrounds to some of my pages and, horrors, a tiled background on another. They look great on my machine. While I am careful to use ALT= statements for all of my images (I have a friend who can only view my pages through a text browser), i t never dawned on me that there are thousands of users who don't have the latest video cards, who can't really appreciate my pages.

Indeed, the other day I tried to look at my pages on a machine in a government office. Although these machines are Pentiums, with 16 meg of RAM, they have cheap monitors and video cards. My pages were almost illegible. The backgrounds obscured the text. My magnificent images were reduced to little more than monochrome. I care. But do I want to go back. Probably not. Heck, government workers shouldn't be spending work time looking at my pages any way.

My point is that I, too, have been seduced into increasing the non-informational content of my pages. One more drop in the flood filling that pipeline to overflowing. But I digress.

I don't really object to true interactivity -- to interaction which simulates the mind. My objection is to pseudo-interactivity -- the interactivity which says "Click here and let me entertain you." The "feelies" of the nineties. I listen to AOL say "Hello" and "Good Bye," to my daughter (I may get rid of the boom box x, after all. My mother's car says "A door is ajar." I can never resist responding, "No a door is a door, a jar is a jar." But no one laughs any more.)

My favorite interactive tool has become the search engine. There my input results in something new -- not someone's pre-scripted response to my stimulus. HotBot leads me to new sites and new discoveries. Or answers my daughter's homework questions or leads me to discover the geniuses who have linked my pages.

But real interactivity is quieter. It is pen on paper (or fingers to keyboard). The creation of something new. I have mentioned before that I have taken to staring at my navel -- that is looking at my own web pages. At first it was just to see how many hits I have had. But then I dropped the counters and substituted htmlZine a sophisticated logging tool which lets me know where my viewers are coming from and how they got there. But eventually I wanted more.

Eventually, I wanted to improve my pages. Not make them glitzier.. but make them more useful. My original home page doesn't get much attention. It is the pages I have done for local community organizations which give me the most pleasure. For there the interactivity is real. <

/P> There are people out there who benefit from those pages or at least are affected thereby. Some leave notes of appreciation in my guest books. Some leave complaints. Some ask stimulating questions about what I have done or about something my page made them think about. I have also heard from strangers who were once part of our community and from the grandsons of people whose work is featured on my pages. Linking the generations. Closing the circle. That is a meaningful form of interactivity.

Pass the mouse please.

Triangulation - Then and Now, September, 1996

Computers are amazing. Every day we are impressed by the number of things we can do with computers that we simply couldn't do before.

For example:

Wait a minute. That next sentence should have come easily. Each day there are stories in the news papers about the computer industry. The stock markets follow closely the latest news in the browser wars or chip development. Yet, finding something really new eludes us.

There was a story in the New York Times the other day about a small company on the east coast that was proving invaluable in sorting out claims of various purported eye witnesses to the TWA Flight 800 disaster. According to this story, there is a gap in the information provided by Air Traffic Control and by the flight crew itself during the last few minutes of a flight as the crews prepare to land and the final runway decisions are made. Because of these delays, ground crews could be unable to prepare for the actual landings and support services could be severely delayed.

However, it appears that this small firm has found an answer using information provided by transponders on each plane which are required by the FAA. Using computers it is able to use a form of triangulation to identify each plane and give ground crews much more accurate information as to the location of each plane and to provide much more accurate estimates of actual landing times than is available from other sources. In the case of the TWA crash the data provided precise information as to when the engines on Flight 800 ceased operation, while conventional radar continued to show the path of the jet, even after the explosion.

In addition this ability proved particularly useful in analyzing eye witness information surrounding the crash of TWA Flight 800. By reviewing its records the firm was able to determine the precise position and path of each plane in the area at the time of the crash. Using this information, crash investigators were able to evaluate the quality of the eye witness information provided by crews and passengers in the vicinity at the time.

This information is recorded at a number of airports around the country and except for the firms, like United, which have contracted for the information, few people are aware that such records are kept. The firm has become a silent monitor for a number of airports around the country. This time, the information they quietly stored was available for a quite unintended and unexpected purpose.

How amazing I thought. Where would we be without computers? Then I read "Snow Falling on Cedars" the magnificent novel I referred to in last month's column. In that novel, a young Japanese-American is accused of a maritime murder. The prosecutor has everything: motive, opportunity, weapon. Everything but a witness to the act itself. The reader knows something isn't right. But in the face of such overwhelming circumstantial evidence, how can this young man possibly be acquitted? The novelist carefully develops the character of the major figures. The reader doesn't want to believe that the young man is guilty. Yet the overwhelming evidence seems to convict him. If only there were some independent evidence to corroborate or contradict the circumstantial evidence.

Well (I hope I am not ruining this book for anyone; it's been out in paper for years), there was a silent witness that night too.

It turns out that at a lonely lighthouse on this island off Puget Sound, a Coast Guard employee regularly made a manual log of the soundings made that foggy night. The logs would reveal just which boats were in the ship channel that foggy night and how close to one another they passed. One way or another they would reveal the truth.

No one had ever looked at those notes. They were just silently filed away. At the last minute, a major character in the novel discovers these logs and presents them to the court. Compared to the sophisticated transponders and computer analysis used in the crash of Flight 800, these manual logs were decidedly low tech. But the technique was essentially quite similar.

Unfortunately all of our modern technology hasn't provided the answers to the crash of Flight 800, at least not as of this writing. But it is comforting to know that there is truly nothing new under the sun.

Summer Reverie Edition, August, 1996

I really don't know if it's just the time of year, but it's happening again. There are actually moments when I think I have been freed of this addiction. I actually went 10 days without touching a keyboard. Granted, I was in New Mexico on vacation. But I had taken my Sharp Wizard along in case I needed a quick fix and I never touched it. Never even unpacked its modem.

And since I've been back my time on line has definitely declined. I check my mail, peek at a couple of newsgroups. But some days I don't even look at the Web. What could be happening? In part it may be the Olympics. And I was reading a great book (Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Gunderson). Maybe, too, it's the cumbersome cast on my broken leg. There is no way to sit comfortably at the machine.

Maybe also its is the memory of the majesty of the mountains, the wonder of the colors, the fresh air, the exhilaration and the shared time spent with my wife instead of up here alone in my study.

But maybe it's also something else. As everyone gets online, maybe the uniqueness is wearing off. And as the Internet becomes more and more a commercial, multimedia, infotainment extravaganza, perhaps it is really not as interesting or as useful.

On the other hand it is becoming ubiquitous. In spite of the fact that only a small percentage of the population is online and that many of those who are haven't the slightest idea how to get their AOL software to work or to make use of it, it seems impossible to find a bill board or a t.v. ad without the mandatory "http://......" line at the bottom. If I could only get that Spinal Tap IBM Olympic promo out of my mind.

And although I never touched a keyboard in New Mexico, I discovered that virtually every business person I met either had a web page, or a connection to one (someone else listing his product or service) or intended to do so in the immediate future. This ranged from a company providing specialized telephone systems for prisons to Native American artists.

But many of the pages could be useful, many companies are being talked into including the latest, flashiest graphics and other new features on their pages. What are they paying for this flash and why?

When I want some information, I really don't want to spend online time downloading swirling globes, flashing marquees and figuring out how to manipulate frames. There are appropriate sites for such flash and bombast but as the judge said to me when criticizing my closing argument in a mock trial many years ago, "Some day you may have a case worthy of that level of histrionics, but I doubt it." The other day I found a notice that the once popular MPEG Movie Archive site had been closed permanently. It is in brilliant color with blinking type. It took more than a few seconds to load. What was the point. If you are going to close a site, don't make the surfer wait forever for the information. The same applies to price lists, product catalogs and so much more.

One of my sets of pages is devoted to images of stained glass windows. Of necessity, it includes a large number of images. But, even there, I have reduced the size of the images, and even separated the site into a number of pages to make viewing easier. For those who are interested, I have made many of the images available in higher resolution and larger size files, but I have given the viewer the choice. (By the way, you may enjoy the site: (http://lgrossman.com/gropper.htm).

From the 50's to the 90's we became a nation of couch potatoes. The attempt seems now to turn us into mouse potatoes. I hope it doesn't happen. The computer is essentially a solitary activity. The its an advantage as well as disadvantage. It provides time out, separation, individual possibility. But there is also need for flesh and blood community.

If you think the battle for the channel remote is vicious now imagine what will happen when multimedia computers with wall size flat panel screens dominate our living rooms. With 50 million pages already, who will control the mouse? But that is a nightmare for the future.

Oddly, because of the time I spend up here online, I find that when I choose to watch t.v. I enjoy it more. It is a chosen activity rather than a habit. And often it is a shared experience, which computing will never be.

Now... Where will I stay when I go back to the mountains? There is that Taos website. Let me check their recommendations...

Comdex in a day, June, 1996

I'm zooed....absolutely zooed. That's the only word for it -- or is it zoned? I still have to give lip service to the priorities of my day job, so I was forced to limit my attendance at this year's Comdex/Windows World to one day. But I am an experienced trade show junkie. I can handle this, I thought. Well, I'm absolutely zooed. I sneaked out today and crammed a week of booth hopping into six hours.

Then I got back to my office and found a brand new copy of PCWeek with a lead editorial "Trade Shows: Who needs them?" Since PCWeek's parent company owns Comdex, it's no surprise that they conclude we all do. But the question is a good one.

I arrived by packed shuttle bus just before 10:00 a.m., presented my preregistration and waited for security to release the impatient hordes. (I especially liked the guy with a walkie talkie or cell phone in each hand. . . He had a certain country panache as he allowed exhibitors to pass but sternly stopped any mere "guest" from entering the "promised land." At last they relented and we descended upon the waiting exhibitors.

Since the first bus stop was on the Windows World side of the street, I stopped there first. I figured I'd spend an hour and a half there...maybe two tops. I used my experience . . . I began at a fairly leisurely pace. I don't have to visit every booth. I don't need that many ball point pens and my daughter has outgrown buttons and pins.

At first, I found the exhibitors and staff more knowledgeable than in the past. I actually found that some even knew something about their products and could answer questions. As usual, I found the side shows the most fascinating.

As a kid I always liked the side shows at the auto show. You know -- the isle where they sell the wax stick that you rub on your car window and you can see through the fog . . . and those great knives that never need sharpening.

At computer shows, this is where you find the memory resellers, the off brand mother boards and security systems.. and a few genuinely interesting products. I found something called "Wordix 1.0, your Personal Browser."

It takes great courage to try to sell a product labeled version 1.0. but there it was. And it looked fascinating. It appears to be a sophisticated text search engine with a number of excellent features. When I mentioned my beloved Magellan, the owner seemed curious. Several others had mentioned it to him this week but he had never seen it. After we talked for a while and I told him about this column, he agreed to give me an evaluation copy so I could review it. That will have to wait until later this summer, after I clear off a few meg from the pawnshop special. But I felt like a real pro. It was going well.

But then I looked at my watch... it was already after 11:30 and I still had several isles to go before I could cross the street and enter Comdex itself. I picked up my pace, scurried by the booths and only glanced in the direction of others. My early savoir faire was beginning to break down. as I talked to an exhibitor, I discovered I was tongue tied.. already sensory overload was hitting me.

On my way out I found a pizza stand, bought a large slice cheese and ate it crossing the tunnel/bridge to the other building of McCormick Place. When I got to the other end... There was a coke machine,, only a dollar-- not counting the quarter which rolled under the machine . . . Then off to the next set of exhibits.

Comdex itself was divided into two major sections on two floors. The first level focused on Multimedia and the Internet. Super bass subwoofers pounded and vibrated, assaulting me from the moment I walked through the entrance. But here was the online stuff. Netscape dominated. And here the demonstrators grew a little weak. They knew the current product but couldn't remember back to version 1.22, much less 1.0. All I wanted to do was ask how to do something in the new version 3.04b that worked well in 1.x. But they didn't know what I was talking about.

Hey!! Version 1.0 came out in November, 1994 (a week after I got my first Internet account). I know computer time moves fast. But 18 months isn't a lifetime. Then I remembered-- The New York Times had a cover feature in its business section the other day. It focused on something it called "Netscape Time," referring to the incredible pace at which new versions of software appear. The Netscape staff proved that the authors were more accurate than they knew.

Anyway, I found something special on this floor as I surfed the net with different browsers in machines with giant screens, T-1 lines and huge amounts of memory. My own pages look better than I had imagined using my creeping 386. The Gropper Windows were amazing---loading in an instant. Even the huge downloadable files popped open in an instant. This was fun. There was even a cybercafe, with free coffee (although the plain had a hint of hazelnut--yecch!) and a slew of Thinkpads for surfing.

I looked at my watch. It was after 2:00 p.m. and I hadn't even set foot on to the main exhibition floor. Well, the assault of the interactive games was getting to me. I gave up on gaming years ago.. How many times can you shoot so many villains. Aside from Myst, has there been a really inventive game in all these years. The graphics and sound have become incredible. The deep bass explosions filled the room. Avid gamers tried thier hand at the latest with an intensity I didn't see anywhere else in the show. But I had to move on.. Thank God!!

Up the escalator to the main floor. It was late and I was just beginning the real Comdex. In the bright light the spaciousness of the main hall beckoned. There in front of me was the main IBM stage. I'll pass, I thought-- even though the grand prize drawing was a Thinkpad 350. I've learned that the most interesting demos aren't those with the big prizes and I've never won any way.. so off I went to see the real stuff.. Oh, I threw a few baskets and "won" a couple of circular mouse pads and a great cap with my initials on it. (I'd never heard of a company called LG Semicon before.) And the blue and lavender slinky looks great on my desk.

Suddenly, I realized I hadn't seen Phil Katz yet. Phil is always at these shows and I always say hello. Phil Katz is the PK of PKZip. And we all owe him a lot. It's different in these days of huge hard drives. Heck, I just deleted 60 meg of zipped files from my machine last week. But boy did we need him when a huge drive was only 40 meg. It hasn't really been the same since version 2.x came out and was no longer compatible with Magellan but I've found ways to survive. Just yesterday a friend needed to sneaker net a 2 meg file. PKZip spread that file over 2 disks and then restored it with no problem.

Then I found his booth. Not nearly as busy as in the old days. And there in the back was Phil. Looking a little tired. But he always looks a little tired. I waved. He has no idea who I am of course. I tried to tell the young kids handing out his stuff how important he had been to all of us. But we live in Netscape time and version 1.10 was light years ago to them, I guess. The same product. The same trinkets. Not pens but one of the most useful gifts at the whole show. A little round plastic container containing a sponge and a shoe polisher. It was strange. But he has given those away for years. Just like he gave away PKZip. Did any of us ever register it? The show was almost over.. The kids gave me a handful.

I was tired and disoriented. There was no way I could cover all the rest of the show in the 35 minutes I had left. I came past the IBM pavilion again. The chairs were empty. I sat down for a minute. A few others sat down and then a small crowd. The last show of the day was about to begin. Maybe I'll try for that Thinkpad door prize after all. That way I can just sit for a while before I have to leave.

Then the deep bass voice of a professional announcer began an introduction. I couldn't believe it. There in front of me was a member of the 1984 Gold Medal winning U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team and he was doing a demo. He looked great and fit. And he had some young kids with him to demonstrate the hard stuff. Really young. Half my daughter's age, it seemed. They didn't live in Netscape Time...or did they? From the right, on the MacIntosh stage, a song and dance review competed for our attention. Giant speakers filling the room. I was getting dizzy. A pitch for the Olympics . . . song and dance . . . sounds from other stages began to whirl. I looked up at the young kid on the uneven bars.

What am I doing here? I thought. What does this have to do with anything? I suppose its better than the huge T&A show CA Associates used to put on at these events. At least it's more politically correct. But it made no sense. I politely waited for the kid to finish his routine. I got up.. crumpled my application for the drawing, left it in a garbage can and headed for the shuttle back down town. I could get another hour in at the office.

I checked my mail. There was PCWeek. Absentmindedly I skimmed the table of contents. "Trade Shows: Who needs them?"

Then I looked at the headline on the editorial itself: "Trade Shows Do Evolve - Will You?" Yes, I thought, but into what?


In Memory of Arthur, May, 1996

My day began as usual this morning. Before I went down to the shower, I ran a script that logged on to a local bbs and downloaded the waiting messages from the RIME conferences to which I subscribe. When I came up, the messages were waiting. I scanned them for anything of particular interest. Then I logged on to Chicago Syslink, read my mail, checked for anything new and as I do every other day, while I pulled on my socks, I played a trivia game or two.

Then, like every other day, I logged on to the Internet. As my family were getting ready to leave the house, I checked my mail, read a few newsgroups and looked at my home page just to see that it hadn't changed (that's a strange habit I will have to talk about another day).

As I was logging off the phone rang. It was shocking news. As I listened in stunned silence, I closed Windows and watched my screen return to black. The c: prompt sat alone in the top left corner.

I listened in near silence as tears worked their way down my cheeks. My wife came in the room, impatient to begin our day. I waved her away with one hand and stared at the screen as I listened to more details. She stood there stunned and looked at me as I typed these words: "Arthur is virtually dead."

This is not the place to talk in detail about Arthur or the difficult life he had. Nor the place to talk about his moments of brilliance, his huge heart or so may other things. The things we shared in the 40 years since both our fathers died. Nor is this the place to talk about the details of his death. A proper memorial will have to wait-- wait until I can think more clearly and remember the emotion in greater tranquility. Arthur is virtually dead.

What is appropriate to say here is to think of all the time spent at this screen and to vow to dedicate just some small portion of that time to the living-- to conversation with flesh and blood.

It is easy to become convinced of the importance of everything in the virtual world that appears before me on the screen. I religiously answer the e-mail of total strangers, I seek help in creating better web pages. I tout the wonders of the Web to total strangers and friends of lesser acquaintance. But when was the last time I called Art? When was the last time I tried to break into his strange isolation..or out of mine. Arthur is virtually dead.

Those words haunt me...This morning Arthur's body clung to life. But, Arthur was virtually dead. The irony of those words struck deep as they stared out at me in the phosphorescence of the screen.

It is too late to call him up again, to take another walk along the lake or fly another kite with him.

Under ordinary circumstances, I would spend a little while longer here before the screen writing my column, but I need to be with people tonight. I need to celebrate life. I have asked the editor to leave a little blank space at the end of this column. A little space reflecting the time I will spend tonight with the living. If it isn't there imagine it. It bears this dedication in my heart:

This blank space


to the Memory of

Arthur Joel Sondler



A World Grown Smaller . . . April, 1996

The Internet is changing the ways we think. Categories that once made sense are losing their meaning. Sometimes that is a gain and sometimes a loss. Thinking about the last six years on line, I remember the excitement of communicating with someone from Europe or visiting an online friend while on vacation in Washington, D.C. I remember a wonderful dinner in my home with friends from Brooklyn, Utah and the Midwest, all of whom met online.

Part of the excitement was learning about each other. Then the other day something happened. Regular readers know that I am always looking for new software that doesn't require new hardware -- applications that are conservative in their use of resources, so that end users with other places to put their money (like the mortgage or their children's educations) can continue to take full advantage of the expanding opportunities.

A week or so ago I spotted an announcement about a new HTML editor. I sent the author an e-mail and he sent me a copy of his latest beta. It was small, fast, opened like lightening, and left memory available to run other applications while it was open -- even on this old 386/40. The author mentioned in a note that at the moment he didn't have access to a web site and he wondered if I could put a link to his file on my home page. There was a good trade off -- he would have a way to distribute his file and I would get increased hits on my page from people wanting to download his file-- some of them might even glance at my page before clicking on the link.

I asked the author to send me a short paragraph about the file and another about himself. He did so and I made the necessary changes to my home page, including a reference to his place of birth and his current home -- both of which happen to be half way around the world, more or less.

Soon, I got another e-mail. The author said that he thought nationality was not relevant on the Internet and would I, please, remove the biographical information. I did as he asked. And I understand the point. Since a simple click takes me from Chicago to Tokyo and then another can jump me to Israel, what difference does it make where the author lives or comes from. I really do understand. But isn't something lost as well?

When Washington's birthday merged with Lincoln's and became President's Day, when Columbus Day was moved to Monday, I began to mourn the loss of meaningful distinctions -- each became just another three day weekend. Are we not about to lose more as we take away the wonder of just how marvelous the Internet really is? Or am I just hopelessly old fashioned?

By the way, the editor I am referring to, DiDa, is available on my home page , Try it out. The author keeps sending me updates and improvements.

. . . and Software Grown Bloated

One of the reasons I need a small HTML editor is that I frequently want to run it while Netscape is open and, sometimes, while I am online as well. If other applications were as conservative with resources it would not be a problem, but Netscape is growing so fat so fast it is frightening. When I first downloaded Netscape it was a little over a meg. By last winter Netscape 2.0 had grown to over 2 megs. Now the preview of Atlas, the latest Netscape beta is out. Its over 6 megabytes. _SIX_ !! Forgive me for shouting. Netscape is in a battle with Microsoft and others to maintain dominance in the browser wars, so they think they have to add every bell and whistle to every version. It should be called the Netscape Suite, by now. I understand the current version even has an HTML editor built in. When will they add a spell checker and a Diet Coke dispenser

I understand: make a full featured application, but do it with options. One of the biggest jokes is Netscape's built in news reader. Click and my whole machine slows down as a giant news reading application sucks resources like a starving pig (sorry, Babe). And its not even a good news reader. The news groups related to browsers are full of questions as to how to do this or that under Netscape's new reader. The most common response is a recommendation to use another reader. This has been going on since last summer, but Netscape doesn't seem to be able to take the hint.

Like many others, I do use another news reader-- News Xpress. But the old simple, and generally inadequate news reader in Netscape versions 1.x did have some good features. It let you bookmark a particular news group and open that group directly with a single click. That was my favorite way of browsing. I clicked on News:comp.infosystems.www.announce and began my late night surfing seamlessly from there... Can't do that with Netscape 2.x And you need 2.x for all those new Netscape features-- frames, moving banners, coffee (oh, I mean Java).

Well, I thought, I'll just keep two copies of Netscape on my machine--1.x for surfing and 2.x just for sites (and there are more and more of them) that demand 2.x or better and even tell you so in strong language if you don't have it. But Netscape is particularly nasty about coexisting with earlier versions. It can be done but it is anything but seamless . . . and if you surf late at night one false click will destroy your preferences or your carefully acquired bookmarks. So for now, I'll skip the Java. See you later, I'm going down for another Diet Coke.

A ModemJunkie tries HTML-IN HTML!! March, 1996

"H T T P: / /" The characters stare down from giant bill boards, stretch across full page adds in the New York Times. and appear, with seeming significance in t.v. commercials. Radio announcers struggle with pronunciation: "Aitch tee tee pee colon forward slash forward slash . . ." Everyone who is anyone seems to have his or her own Web page. So, after a year and a half of surfing it was time for this ModemJunkie to try his hand at HTML himself.

Actually, its all Mike Scher's fault. It was about a year ago. I was experimenting with my internet service. I had heard there was a way I could upload my old columns to a directory on the server at MCS and the public could use FTP (the File Transfer Protocol) to access and download them. So I played around and uploaded a few. I even announced their existence in a couple of internet newsgroups. No one ever asked me how to get them. I promptly forgot all about it.

Then a few weeks ago I was playing around with a new search tool, AltaVista. Modest though I am, I searched for my own name. There were lots of hits with "Leonard" or "Grossman." But one surprised me. It linked to a site maintained by Mike called "Chicago Internet Attractions." I clicked on the URL (Universal resource locator), http://www.tezcat/web/chi-internet.html, and there was a description of my columns and a highlighted link. I clicked and there appeared a list of the filenames I had uploaded so long ago. I clicked on one and !POW! There on the screen before my eyes was an article I had written three years ago. Mike had taken advantage of the fact that the FTP protocol can be used as a URL and linked like any other web address. (BTW: Lately I've heard "URL" pronounced "yourl." I don't think its much of an improvement over U-R-L, said quickly. What we really need is a short hand for "http://")

Now I could tell my friends to go to Mike's page and click. There was only one problem. Due to a limitation on MCS' server (I don't remember whether it's hardware or software), only 36 simultaneous anonymous FTP requests can be processed ant any one time. With over 8,000 accounts, there are many times when it was impossible to reach the files through that route. I left Mike a note and he suggested I set up access using the HyperText Transfer Protocol (now you know what "http' stands for). With a few suggestions from MCS users -- one even sent me a few lines of HTML (hypertext markup language) which could be used as a template for the index -- I was on my way.

I quickly realized I was actually creating my own web page. I got carried away. I decided to add an introductory paragraph. Then I decided to talk about syslink and CACHE and Nicol. Then I went to Harold Driscoll's page and pirated the language necessary to incorporate the blue ribbon from the Campaign for First Amendment Freedom. (When I did that i didn't know it was being offered to anyone. A few more steps and I was ready to upload the files to the server. I entered the URL in Netscape--NOTHING. A few quick lessons in Unix permissions form helpful MCS regulars and WOW!! My primitive first page appeared, the collected "Reflections of ModemJunkie." Just a simple introduction and a list of file names but it was a start.

The blue ribbon didn't appear but a broken image icon did. (Readers: Is there a name for this) I clicked on it and it took me to the page sponsored by the groups that have come together to oppose the anti-obscenity provisions of the new telecommunications bill. There, available for download, were several images I could incorporate in my page. A few more steps and the blue ribbon graced my page.

I soon realized that this was just an index, however. Not something worth reading in its own right. But now I was hooked. I began creating a real page- one with links to other places, search tools, news groups, even eventually, a counter that shows how many "hits" my page receives. I got indexed by AltaVista. Search on ModemJunkie and you'll find about 40 references to my stories, with the first 25 words or so of each appearing on the screen. Click and you are reading my past.

Another addiction.. Now I walk around planning pages. But I am not very patient and creating a page takes patience. everything must be right or it won't work. And of course what looks good on my browser (Netscape) may not look so hot in Mosaic. And I am learning about the philosophy of HTML. Should I use a plain text editor or one especially configured for HTML... and if so should it be WYSIWYG or not (reminds me of the old arguments between DOS and Windows). For the time being I am doing it all manually--so that I can learn what I am doing. I suspect I'll be using one of the more advanced editors before long, however.

There are even debates about form. White backgrounds vs undefined, preformatted text vs allowing the text to flow in the document. Even political correctness. It is considered bad form to say "click here" on your page. Arguments about this rage in the newsgroups. There are sites where you can have your page "validated." Mine passed all but the most stringent tests but, in my opening paragraph I indicate that my columns, the "_Reflections_ _of_ _a _Modemjunkie_ are collected _here_." Both "Reflections of a ModemJunkie" and "here" are links to the index page. The validator solemnly informed me that this was bad form. Tough, I say. There are times when convention makes sense and times when it does not.

Editor's Note: The older columns, February 1996 and earlier, use a different format. The column of type is narrower.

"To See Oursel's As Others See Us!" February, 1996

 Oh wad some power the giftie gie us 
To see oursel's as others see us! 
It wad frae monie a blunder free us, 
And foolish notion.  
 Ah yes.. from way back in the recesses of my mind these
words of Robert Burns have come back to haunt me in recent weeks. 
Actually, the exact words didn't come to mind, but I wanted to
get it right. So, I logged on to the Internet and checked out
Bartletts Quotations.  In a few seconds I had the exact quote.
Cut and paste-- click-- and here they are.
 But the power of the Internet as a search tool isn't my
topic, today.  Today's subject is rather more personal.  For
several years I have written columns under the title,
"Reflections of a ModemJunkie,"? without giving the full
implications much thought.  I have joked about my online
"addiction."? But never _really_ understood what I was saying. 
 Then, the other day, there was a post in a general chat
newsgroup on the Internet asking if there were any Internet
hobbyists out there, individuals who spend a significant time on
the net, who would be interested in discussing the Internet with
a reporter from Channel 7, the local ABC outlet.
 I responded and shortly later was given a number to call at
the station.  I spoke for quite some time to a reporter, Sylvia
Jones, who seemed genuinely interested in the Internet.  I talked
at some length about many of the things I have discussed here
before--E-mail, news groups, the Web.  I talked about its use as
a research tool and as entertainment and about my daughter's use
of the Net as well.  It seemed that the station was planning a
feature on the Internet.  When could they come out and do an
interview Would my daughter be available Whose ego can say,
 The following Monday was a holiday. At the appointed hour a
beat up Chevy arrived with a camera man and the reporter.  They
squeezed into my study.. For the next hour they interviewed me
and, in turn, my daughter.  
 I waxed eloquent about the glories of the net.  I didn't
catch on when they asked if I were addicted.  I joked about the
name of this column and about a twelve step program for modem
junkies that doesn't work because you have to log on.  This
discussion was two or three sentences in more than twenty minutes
of tape.
 My daughter isn't as slow as her dad.  When they asked her
if she were addicted she replied with a forthright, "NO!"? Asked
if she would feel bad if I wouldn't let her use the computer, she
said, "Yes. But I'd feel bad if they closed the library, too.
They are both tools I use."? She talked about her chat line and
about how the Internet helps her with her homework.
 We learned that the feature was to appear a week later on
the 10:00 news.  I eagerly awaited the news.  I turned on the set
a few minutes early.  I put a blank tape in the machine and got
ready to start recording.  But before I could even start, before
the end of the previous show, there was a promo-- I recognized
myself and then a great shot of my daughter typing away.  As the
voice over said, "Stay tuned for our Special Segment, `Terminal
 My heart sank... Was I going to look like some helpless
nerd, with no social skills, stuck at this keyboard with no other
life.  After all, the Special Segment often deals with terminal
illnesses of another kind.  Were we just another piece of fodder
for news as soap opera as it seems to be, lately.
 Of course, the only quotes they used were the two sentences
about addiction, and they left out my daughter's spirited
defense.  But although I thought I looked quite old and tired,
the program did put its negativism in some context and compared
modem addiction to t.v. watching couch potatoes quite favorably. 
And my daughter looked great.  
 Still, it was a lesson in ego and perception.  Over the next
few weeks, many friends mentioned having seen me.  Only a few
razzed me about my addiction.  I even heard from a student from
my teaching days in the 70's.  Most told me how good I looked. 
Old ladies told me they were proud of me.  I wondered how much
they had understood.  Being on t.v. creates a minor thrill of
celebrity.  Some people actually acted a little shy around me for
a day or so, as they approached to say the saw me. 
 The congratulations amazed me. This was a show about
confessed addiction, even if it was good natured.  Would some
people still have congratulated me if it was about wife beating
or cheating on my income tax or alcoholism?
 The strangest thing was all of those who told me how good I
looked.  I saw this old tired, somewhat overweight, guy. (The
twenty pounds I lost since last summer seemed to have been
restored by the camera).  But then I realized something.  I don't
see myself as others see me.  
 In my mind's eye I still see a younger man.  I see the kid
who was so skinny he thought he'd get sand kicked in his face at
the beach.  But my friends see me as I am.  They were not shocked
by what they saw.  They were not comparing me to some ideal but
to the guy they know. That test I can pass.  And for that I am
 Perhaps it would be a great gift to see ourselves as others
see us...or not.

"Whither are We Drifting?" January, 1996

"Think about the future," the editor said.  But nothing came
to mind.  Then I thought about the immortal words of Maynard G.
Krebs, who, when asked to write an essay entitled "Whither are We
Drifting?" as a high school assignment, responded, "I don't
know."? (Krebs was a "beatnik" character on the 50's t.v. show,
"Dobie Gillis." If you were born on the cusp of the baby boom you
will remember.) Krebs got an "A."
 Even though Congress has granted me excessive time to think
about this and other weighty matters, I don't know either. 
Whether we are talking about the online world or computers in
general, this is a period of flux.  Patterns and trends are hazy.
 For more than 20 years I have attended the same New Years
Eve, party.  For the last half dozen, I have swapped computer
stories all night.  It was after midnight? when I realized the
subject hadn't even come up.  Finally about 1:00 a.m. one of my
once a year friends asked, as he always does: "What new toys did
you get this year."? I realized there was nothing exciting.  Oh
yes, during 1995 I did add a few meg of RAM to the pawn shop
special and I convinced NEC to replace my single speed CD ROM
with an upgrade, but other than that nothing much. (I'm not
counting that tape backup I so desperately had to have and which
stares at me from its bay inducing guilt but not prompting me to
take action).  
 But even if I had made a major upgrade, would it be that
exciting.  Yes, things would be faster...and I have recently
begun to d/l shareware which snootily informs we that it requires
a 486 when I try to install it.  But there is nothing I need to
do that I can't do right now.  In the face of the federal shut
down, and the payless furloughs expected when we do get back to
work, I can't really justify any major expenditures at the
 At a meeting of NICOL (The Northern Illinois Computer Owners
League, the first week of January, about 25 to 30% of the members
were using Windows 95.  More anticipated moving over in the near
future but a few, like me, had already deleted it from their
systems.  The trend seems to be reluctant acceptance of Win95,
not enthusiasm.
 We did watch a demo of Word Pro from Lotus run under WIN95
on a blistering IBM ThinkPad, and projected overhead.  Even on
this P150 or whatever it was with 20 meg of RAM, things seemed
slow to me.  (But then I quite happily compose on Word Perfect
5.1 for DOS.  If I need to do something fancy I import the file
in WPWIN and slog on from there.  Most of what I write, aside
from legal documents when the government is open, gets
transported to editors, each of whom publishes in a different
format.  Nothing beats ASCII for this purpose.  That way everyone
can use my stuff and I don't have to remember the preferred
format of each publisher.  Why compose in Windows fonts if I am
going to save it in ASCII in the end?) The demonstrator did
point out that the default is now to single space rather than
double space after a period.  "Sez Who?", we wanted to know. 
There was no answer.  One mavin suggested that the difference was
because Word Processing with proportional spacing is more like
print than type, but who knows.  
 Word Pro does offer some exciting features, but Lotus (IBM)
seems to be risking the same fate that hit Word Perfect.  The new
app makes significant changes in the interface.  Whether Ami Pro
fans will find it worth while to learn a new app, and if so
whether the one they choose will be Word Pro, is an open
 The most fascinating thing about the demo was the opening
WIN95? screen.  After complimenting the demonstrator on his fancy
wallpaper, a sharp eyed member of the group noticed one shortcut
icon not far above the START button.  All it contained was the
letters "MG."? Sure enough, this tried and true Lotus
demonstrator, with all the latest file management tools at his
disposal, could not bear to get along without that great Lotus
orphan, Magellan, only a single click away.  Be still my beating
heart...maybe there is hope yet.
 At the same NICOL meeting a show of hands was asked with
regard to CPUs. A large percentage of the group were on Pentiums
and 486s. Virtually all of the Pentiums were running at least 16
meg of RAM.  None of the 486s ran less than 8 meg of RAM.  Only a
few retrogrades like me were still running 386 machines. No one
admitted using 286s any more, at least as primary machines.  
 (Even my government office replaced 30 286 and 386/16
machines with P90s just before they locked us out.  They were
486s upgraded to P90, but that's another story.  One lawyer
complained that he was one of only two in the office upgraded to
only a 486.  I noted that when we laplinked his data to the new
machine there was nothing there--not a single document created by
him.  "Does it make a difference whether you don't use a 486 or
don't use Pentium," I asked.  He seemed to think so.)
 So, clearly, the trend to faster and faster and more and
more RAM. Not much new in that.  Even Netscape can't escape the
syndrome. As it continues to work out the bugs in its 32 bit and
16 bit Netscape 2.x betas, it has left behind it's simpler 1.2
version, which while no longer a beta, and preferred by many
users, still had some flaws.  Following Microsoft's bigger is
better, all or nothing approach, the software has gotten fat-- 
and as the corporate management uses the funds generated by the
amazing response to its public offering to purchase other
companies, I just hope it hasn't forgotten it's original vision
and just what made it so popular.  Bill Gates has Netscape in his
sights-- the next year will be interesting.
 Not everyone is arguing that bigger and faster is better. 
The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune recently featured
stories hyping the $500 terminal connected to the Internet-
happily downloading applets but keeping its operating software on
servers somewhere out there and storing users files out there as
well.  OTOH PC Week included a box on its cover page, week after
week, in which it insisted that the concept of the $500 machine
is dead.
 In my view we had the $500 machines and abandoned them
because we wanted more.  And we won't be going back.  Even if the
software and transmission problems could be solved, there is a
greater obstacle to the dumb terminal approach.  The recent
experience of Compuserve users as a result of German censorship
and AOL's embarrassing "breast" incident, combined with the
proposed telecommunications bill's prohibitions on "indecency"
raise significant issues of personal privacy.  Quite simply, I
don't want my thoughts stored "out there."? Even more important,
I don't want my computer habits to be so easily discovered by
others.  My addiction is my own business.
 Last summer I said this was the Golden Age of the Internet.
As censorship and commercial interests change the way we use it,
it will never be the same.  The online culture has changed
drastically in the past year.  Now, the Newbies are the Net. 
What will the future bring Why are you asking me Heck, I
predicted Congress would never shut down the government. 
Happy New Year.

"All I want for Christmas . . ." December, 1995

In the words of the great Oliver J. Dragon, " All I want for
Christmas is . . ."? 
 The holidays are upon us so its time to begin my wish list. 
It should be easy.  There are so many new toys out there.  A P5
with 16 meg of RAM would be nice, at least a gig hard drive and
multimedia of course.  Make sure the modem is a 28.8.  Better
throw in a flat bed scanner so I can upload some graphics and so
I can fax forms and docs through the machine.  While I'm at it
why not an ISDN line until the cable modems hit the market. 
 Of course, that's only for the house, then I need a laptop
with an active matrix screen, no less than 8 meg of RAM, a 28,8
PCMCIA modem. Then I can take the Internet on the road.  
(Cellular modem - No that can wait until next year) Don;t
forget the extra batteries.
 And for the family, there are great CD's out there: cook
books, planners, graphics, prep programs for the SAT.  An e-mail
box for my wife (my daughter, Sarah's already got her own).  Of
course when I get the P5 Sarah gets the pawn shop special. So, in
a way, she benefits form the P5, too. Maybe we need a 3rd phone
line or possibly a 4th.
 And we still don't have cable.  While we're at it, How about
a big screen t.v.--with surround sound.  Of course, that'll mean
new speakers--better get new book cases for the living room...and
a new sofa. 
 Wait a minute.  Something is missing here.  Maybe Ollie had
a point.  I don't need my two front teeth, but maybe we need to
be a little more personal.  Maybe there are other values at this
time of year.
 Maybe we need to listen to each other a little more.  Maybe
we are beginning to live in virtual bubbles.  This on line time
is isolating.  Communicating with the world but not each other.
The t.v. is better, at least there are some shared activities. 
But it still is lacking.  How about a walk in the snow.  Let's
make angels.  And then good conversation over hot chocolate or
steaming cider.
 And let's slow down and smell the coffee.  What do our loved
ones want besides gift certificates to the Gap and Nordstroms. 
Can we learn to hear them better? Can we learn to hear ourselves
a little better, too What do I want for the coming year? Or
even for the next 5 minutes.  What do I _really_ want Does all
this technology warm me inside Or does it sometimes keep me
from looking too close.
 All I want for.... Oh I want a lot.  And don't get me wrong,
the techno stuff is nice . . . and I hope we all upgrade and
update and download to our heart's content.  But let us also face
this season with resolve to listen to our hearts and the hearts
of those around us.
 Midwinter festivals are bright and sparkling to dispel the
gloom of the shortest days and longest nights.  And shiny toys
can help.  But let us also remember that technology should serve
people. It's not the other way around.
 Let me wish you and yours a happy holiday season and the
brightest of new years.

Faster FASTER F A S T E R!! Up to 28.8 - November, 1995

I've been thinking lately, perhaps I should change the name
of this column.  I talk about other things from time to time: 
New software, the state of the world.  And besides, I thought,
I'm not really addicted to this thing.  And then something
 I did a little outside work and had a couple of hundred
dollars burning a hole in my pocket.  After all, I only had a
14,400 modem. (A proud possession only a short time ago--Was it
that long ago that I upgraded from 1200 to 2400 bps?).  So after
doing a little (but probably not enough) research on line, I
began my search for a new modem.  I went to Computer Central in
Dupage.  But they didn't have anything under $200 (except from
vendors from Cleveland... (After being burned before I have rule:
Never buy mail order and never, NEVER buy from a Cleveland
 I was determined to buy external modem (I'm lost without
those lights).  My choices were between the USR Sportster, the
Supra and the Cardinal.  Calling around, I found CDW had the
Sportster for $199.  So off I went.  None were on the shelf.  The
sales person said they were out of the Sportsters and offered me
a "great buy" on a USR Courier (of course it was well over my
budget).  After a few minutes, (when he saw I wasn't going to
jump at the Courier, he looked at his computer screen again
(interesting how the customer can see the screen through the
class in the counter, but its too blurry to read from the
customer's angle.)? "I must have been looking at the Macs, I do
have a Sportster."
 I didn't know there was a difference between modems for the
different platforms.  I have switched my old modems between Macs
and Pcs with no problems.  But it wasn't until I got home that I
thought I might have just escaped being a victim of a bait and
switch.  Anyway, he knocked a dollar off of the price and I took
the Sportster home for $198 ($2 below budget.)? (Perhaps the
difference is in the free software in the box not in the modem...
Would it really have made a difference if I got Mac disks for
America Online, C$erve, Genie, and Netcom?)
 As soon as hooked it up, I logged on to the Internet and
found the comp.dcomp.modems news group (something I should have
done first).  Guess what That afternoon USR announced a
firmware upgrade for the Sportster (V.34+ 33.600).  I quickly
learned I hadn't asked the right questions either. I had asked if
the Sportster was upgradable, I didn't specify flash rom.  So
here I was with a brand new modem.. and already it was out of
 USR was making the new chip available for $25 and shipping. 
I called first thing Monday morning.  Tech support hadn't even
heard about it yet, but assured me they could ship overnight.
They wouldn't let me pick it up at the plant in Skokie.  "Let me
think about it," I said.  After all, with shipping it would now
be $30 over my budget while later purchasers would find the new
chip installed without being required to pay extra for the chip. 
And besides, some contributors to the usenet group had already
found that they had purchased boxes with the new chip off the
shelf-- there is no way to tell from the box.  I felt rooked. 
But I gave in.. after all I wanted the latest and the fastest.
 So I called back.. 40 minutes to get through (that's what
speaker phones are for), only to learn that the overnight
delivery had now turned into at least a 30 day wait.  Heck, I
could return my unit and wait a month and probably buy it off the
shelf by then.  So I said no.  I'll stick it out.
 Most of my connections seemed to be at around 21 or 24 k.
Even though throughput never reached 28.8, transfer rates were
going much faster.  (I was also learning just how much time on
the Internet is spent waiting for something to happen on someone
else's server.  Faster modems can't change that.  (Remember how
you floppy drives seemed to slow down as you got faster
processors The faster transfer rates just exaggerate the
waiting time on the Net).  
 For a week I played and tuned, trying different
initialization strings to see if I could get higher connections
with greater frequency.  I determined to go back to the store on
Friday and trade for a new machine.  (Maybe by then the new
faster chip would have reached the shelves).  
 Friday morning I made one more change to my Telix
communications program setup. Voila!! After 5 years of
uninterrupted use of Telix, I had blown the config.  It would no
longer connect. Sometimes it wouldn't even dial.  What had I
done (I still don't know but that's another story.) 
Frustrated, I went back to CDW... But they didn't have any
Sportsters in stock.  The didn't have the Supra either (due in a
week).  But there was the Cardinal for only $164 and it was flash
rom upgradable. (BTW: CDW was very cooperative on the trade
in...I may have to take back those thoughts about the bait and
 So I have $38 in my pocket (including refunded tax) and the
Cardinal is hooked up.  It is flash upgradable, but there is no
sign that Cardinal is going to go upgrade again at this time. 
The unit I bought already has the latest upgrade.  So what good
does the flash do me 
 Unfortunately the Cardinal uses a slightly different version
of the Hayes command set so I have spent several days trying to
find the right modem string.  My? Slip connection to the Internet
is fine but I haven't been able to get Telix functioning yet. 
Fortunately, George has something called Banana Com online for
quick download. Its a simple com program--already configured to
dial Syslink.. So I can get through again and play BBS King (and
upload this column). But its been frustrating.
Should Powell have withdrawn Should Gingrich and Clinton
be taken to the woodshed for they poker game they played with the
budget I don't know.  There are more important questions in the
world.  Should I have waited for the upgrade chip.. or saved my
money for the Courier, or waited for the Supra with the helpful
external display These are the earth shaking questions.
 Did I say I was thinking of changing the name of this
column? Maybe I was premature. And did I tell you My last
connect was a 28,8!!.  Now if only I could make that
constant...and if only I could get Telix connecting again.
 See you online.

Looking Back...A Year on the Net, October, 1995

Well. its almost exactly a year since I sold my Dell stock,
walked into a pawnshop, and bought this screaming 386-40.  A lot
has happened since then (aside from Dell increasing in value by
more than 100%).
 Regular readers may remember that I had resisted Windows for
as long as I could, but that my online addiction demanded that I
get access to the internet and that my poor typing skills
demanded that I use Windows clients for most of that access.  So,
when I saw this sleeping beauty on the counter and the dealer
accepted my firm (almost joking) offer of $300, I made the move.
 Within a few weeks I had my first internet account and
discovered I was using it so much that I had to find an untimed
ISP.  It was almost at exactly that time that Netscape hit the
scene.  So, although my first provider had supplied me with
Mosaic, it was only a week or so before I began the regular
process of updating Netscape.  
 Although it was slow on my machine, I quickly overcame most 
of my objections to Windows (I even stopped spelling it Windoze,
after I found four more megs of ram on sale at a swapfest).  I
found it was true: The learning curve in Windows is incredibly
fast compared to that in DOS.  
 Although I had tried dozens of times to use the internet
from the command line, I just couldn't get the hang of it.  I
didn't know where I was.  Commands that seemed to work one day,
didn't the next. I was lost.  But with Windows clients I was up
and running in just a few days, even though there were so many
things to learn...and even though each client had a different
interface.  Before long I was using Netscape, Trumpet News
Reader, and Eudora several times a day.  Within a couple of
months a major newspaper had written a feature article about my
use of Gopher techniques to help my daughter with her homework. 
I was FTPing files with abandon.  (I had to triple my available
hard drive space within just a few months. I even discovered it
was faster to grab files from certain sources on line than to
find the right CD and grab them from there.)
 What made this possible Two things.  1.  The ease of the
point and click interface.  2.  The availability of help on line.
 The online world is an incredible resource for the newbie
and the tyro.  Between local bulletin boards, such as the great
Chicago Syslink, and BBS networks with magnificent resources like
the RIME Windows conference (and Bob Miller, Jim Gunn, Greg
Hommell and more) and usenet news groups, there was always
someone to help, especially, after I learned to bear the heat of
the flames.
 Actually, the BBSs were very hospitable.  However, a year
ago, many regulars on the internet newsgroups were openly
inhospitable to newbies.  We threatened their culture.  I have
seen less flames of that type recently.  Today, if I ask a
particularly dumb question I am more likely to be ignored.  We
have taken over.
 In the months after the change to Windows, I quickly became
confident.  I upgraded to Windows for Work Groups, added
WordPerfect for Windows (although, I still maintain that for
simple text creation, nothing beats WP 5.2 for DOS).  Then I made
the plunge!! I popped for the Final Beta.  What fun when that
disk arrived.  In preparation I finally got that 420 meg tape
backup I had wanted for so long (the extra space rendered
temporarily useless by those #%&@%^* long filenames) installed
the larger hard drives, put the Win 95 CD in the machine and
began the install. 
 Over the next few weeks I played and worked, configured and
reconfigured.  I spent hours online, seeking answers and
providing some too.  In the process I learned more and more about
Windows, about my machine and about the internet.
 Eventually, I decided that Win95 wasn't right for me or this
machine. (See my previous columns for some of the reasons why.) 
Some day maybe, but not right now.  When the surprise package
with the Final Final Beta arrived, I left it unopened.  I never
even tried the new MS Office suite demo.  I had gone back to W4WG
and was happy.
 And I still am.  I don't feel left out.  I don't hunger for
more multitasking.  But something is missing.  I hadn't realized
how much of my time at the screen, and particularly, online, was
related to discovery about computers, software and
telecommunication.  I still spend far too much time on line.  But
now most of it is reading the news or simply surfing.  
 The driving purpose is missing.  Everything I use seems to
be configured optimally, even if Netscape still GPFs (crashes)
when it's time for me to go back to bed.  Without the challenge
of something new, the need to solve a problem, the Net can be a
vast wasteland.  As Lois Laulicht pointed out in WindoWatch
Magazine, last month, the Net is in danger of becoming
trivialized.  Slowly, I find less and less reason to log on.  Not
that I spend much less time, mind you.  But its not as exciting
any more.
 OOOPS!! I spoke too soon!! I couldn't sleep last night.  So
I FTPd (downloaded) the long awaited next generation the
Netscape, Version 2.0b1, at 4:00 a.m.  Still couldn't sleep so I
installed it over the previous version. Big mistake! Images
don't work.  They look like something from the 60's. Other
problems , too. 
 Quick, log on to the Net!! What is everyone saying Others
are having the same problems.  Sharing ideas.  What would I do if
I couldn't find the answers, or at least company to share my
misery, on line!! 
 So, I guess I'll keep my account--at least until I figure
this out...

Some first Impressions of Netscape 2.0 and Related Great Thoughts

 As I mentioned above, I installed the new version of
Netscape today.  Like my waistline in recent years its growing,
nearly 2 megs compressed.  And it tries to do everything.  It now
includes a full mail reader, a full featured news reader, and
much more.  Earlier versions relied on the user to set up helper
applications to perform these functions.  Now they are included
in a supposedly common interface. This is not necessarily an
improvement, however.  
 One of the advantages of Windows clients for the internet is
the ability to choose your favorite apps to perform different
functions.  Each can be configured for your own needs.  But
Netscape, like other browsers, seems intent on doing it all.  In
the process, some good features were lost and so was some
 I had the same thoughts at PC Expo, as I watched a lengthy
demonstration of Emissary, a full featured commercial browser/
file manager/jack of all trades.  Yes, it does wonderful things. 
But I like freedom of choice.  What if there is an upgrade in an
alternative news reader What if there is a new mail program out
there? Do I have to have multiples of everything with browsers,
too That is how word processors got so huge.  They have to do
every thing today.  But do they really.  Why buy a suit (or a
suite) when all you need is a pair of pants.  It takes up room in
the closet (and on your hard drive).
 BTW: I solved my Netscape problem for the time being by
reinstalling the previous version and will wait to see how things
shake out before I upgrade again.  I must be getting old.
 Speaking of PC Expo.  I did manage to sneak out of the
office for a few hours the other day and head over there. They
must have been desperate for attendance-- on the Monday before
the show, they faxed me a comp admission, without a request.
 But it was a good show... far more enjoyable than Windows
World this summer.  A few minutes after entering the door I came
upon a booth with a large crowd around it (and I'm not talking
about the Adult CD-ROMS, they're in the back).  It was the Casio
booth.  They were demonstrating a new digital camera.  
 It was truly amazing. It stores images until they can be
downloaded into your PC.  All of the images can be viewed from a
large view screen on the back of the camera. they can be edited
in the camera and shown directly on a t.v screen or a computer
with the cables provided.  It is even possible to prepare a show
on your computer and use this little hand held device to make
your presentation on your customer's t.v.  No need to carry a
computer or have special equipment.  
 The stored images printed quickly on a special color
printer, which is also available. The images were incredibly 
sharp (but somehow, my hair looked thinner than I remembered). 
Not only was my full face image perfectly focused, but the face
of a woman who must have been standing 10 feet behind me peered
over my shoulder in perfect focus as well.  The depth of field
was amazing (perhaps the lens is a bit wide angled, which must
explain why appears why my hairline appears to be receding in the
closeup).  Suggested street prices: Camera about $700, printer, a
little under $500.  Not cheap, but wait 'til next year, Cub fans.
 At about 2:30 there was a sudden announcement on the P.A. 
The show would close at 3:00 p.m. instead of 4:30.  Ostensibly
this was to enable exhibitors to have extra time to get to O'Hare
because of the increased security measure, but it may have been
because of the thin crowd as well.  
 I had thought I had plenty of time to cruise the show, but
with an hour and a half cut out I had to scurry, I finally made
it to the MCS booth just in time to see Kim Denninger packing
things up. I'd missed a chance to talk to her husband, the
legendary operator of one of the fastest growing ISPs in the
country, but I did get an large handful of pens and key chains. 
Why else go to computer shows And I was glad to See Virginia
manning the CACHE exhibit across the isle, right down to the
final wire right opposite MCS, which was the only local internet
service provider at the show.
Well, I've got to finish this so I can log on and see whether
anyone has come up with a fix for Netscape 2.0. See you on line
or at CACHE.

Starting Place, September, 1995

One of the wonderful features of Netscape and other popular
browsers for the internet is the ability to "bookmark" favorite
sites with a single keystroke so that you can return to a recent
discovery without having to remember the URL (Universal Resource
Locator) or address of the site. (Note: In this discussion URLs
will be enclosed between < and >.  Do not include those symbols
when typing an address.)
 Several months ago I began to write a column about surfing
the Web.  At that time I as shocked to find that I had already
"bookmarked" over 130 or 140 sites on the web.  I thought I'd do
an update today.  I now have bookmarked over 500 such sites--
nearly six single spaced pages of listings (with addresses it
would be double that).  To be sure, some are marked out of mere
curiosity-- sites I just may want to look at again--maybe I
didn't have time when I first found them, but others are places
to which I return over and over again.
 Keeping track of these is a pain but better bookmark editors
are being developed.  A new by the makers of Netscape is called
SmartMarks.  So far it is slow and buggy I have returned to using
the editor which comes in recent versions of Netscape. It isn't
speedy, but it does let me organize sites into folders
("subdirectories" to us old DOS users).  I have a long way to go,
but my list is getting organized.
 The other night I gave a 3 hour surfing demo to a friend. 
The joy of the Net is that no two such tours could ever be the
same, but let me take you on a short virtual tour right now.
 We'll begin, as I usually do, at a site called
comp.infosystems.www.announce.  Strictly speaking its not a Web
site, but a Usenet newsgroup.  But it is readable in Netscape and
provided a fascinating starting point.  Every day or so new sites
are announced on this page.  Although the announcements are
screened for technical format, they are not censored, so far as I
can tell, and unlike may other so-called "Hot Lists", it does not
represent the viewpoint or prejudices of the compiler.  It is
simply a list of new sites- a mixture of commercial, private,
educational and other pages, in no particular order.  A click on
a listing brings the reader to a fairly detailed description of
the page.  A double click on the URL and BOOM (or is it
SHAZAAM!!) you are looking at the new page.  If it interests you,
click on "Bookmarks" and add it to your list.  If not, move on.
 A recent discovery here was the Encyclopedia Britannica
OnLine.  This site is free at the moment but, soon, it will
require a paid subscription.  If you would like to try it out go
to Pathfinder <http://www.pathfinder.com> and look around.  One
of the links will lead you to a page where you can sign up for
the rest of the free demonstration period.
 The Encyclopedia Britannica Online itself is a vast
improvement over the nonsense found in Encarta and the other
multimedia circuses and resource hogs.  It is a fast, easily
searchable tool.  Much more useful for homework than any of the
CD encyclopedias now available for home use.  While Encarta and
others like it are frequently discounted under $100.00, the
Britannica is intended for libraries and, on disk, will cost over
a thousand dollars at last report.
 Which brings me to another improvement on the Web.  One of
my top folders is called "Search and Research".  In addition to
the Encyclopedia, it also contains a number of "search engines." 
Entry of a search term or two into the form which pops up on your
screen quickly leads the user to a collection of Web sites which
discuss or utilize the requested term.  
 The other night, using Lycos,
<http://lycos.cs.cmu.edu/lycos-form.html> we searched for "Frank
Lloyd Wright."? Within a few seconds we were staring at beautiful
images of Talliessen. My friend exclaimed with amazement, "I
stood right there!!" as he pointed to the image resolving on the
screen.  There are a number of such forms, each useful for
different kinds of searches.
 The amount of news available on the Web is gradually
increasing. The text of Voice of America news broad casts has
long been available at <gopher://ftp.voa.gov/11/newswire>. Now
there are many other sources as well.  One of the most recent
additions, and free fore the moment, but I'm not sure for how
long is Reuters.
 There are may other news sources on the Net. Among them are: 
The Daily News On-line - Electronic
Electronic Telegraph? (England) <http://www.telegraph.co.uk>? 
Chicago Tribune <http://www.trib.com/news/news.html>? 
CBS News: UTTMlink? (Up to the Minute) <http://uttm.com/" 
(useful in the wee hours of the morning.)
 There are dozens more, but these should get you started.
 Another convenient place to hit on the Web is
<http://www.nnic.noaa.gov/weather/cities/LFPCHI.TEXT>.  This site
contains up-to-date weather forecasts for the Chicago area. 
There are many other fascinating weather sites, including some
with satellite weather maps and even motion.  Try searching
"weather" in Lycos and see what you come up with.  Or try typing
the above URL, but leave off everything after ". . ./weather/. 
 A recent discovery that fascinated me was
<http://www.ai.eecs.uic.edu:8001/GCM/GCM.html>, The Gary-Chicago-
Milwaukee Transportation Information Center.  This site as all
kinds of up-to-the-minute information about Chicago traffic:
travel times, tie-ups -- even pages showing, intersection by
intersection, the speed at which cars are travelling along the
various expressways.  Now I really need a satellite internet feed
to a laptop in my car!!
 Another great advantage of the Web is the availability of
all kinds of software, at the click of a mouse.  Whether you are
looking for an enhancement to Netscape, a driver fore your video
card, or a computer magazines latest recommendations in
shareware, you are likely to be able to find it on the Web.
 Among sites you may want to try are the following:
<http://www.acs.oakland.edu/cgi-bin/shase/Form> Virtual Shareware
Library Search Form;
sandra/clipart.htm" Sandra's Clip Art Server;
 <http://www.microsoft.com/> Microsoft Corporation World-Wide-Web
<http://www.fagg.uni-lj.si/SHASE/>Shase Virtual Shareware 
<http://www.acs.oakland.edu/oak/SimTel/SimTel-win3.html> OAK
Repository - SimTel Windows Primary Mirror Index
 The list could go on and on.  But my point is, really, you
don't need a list--just a starting place.  Then the joy is in
searching and surfing on your own.  So I'll conclude with just
two more recommendations:
 For an excellent four part series on the Internet see: 
<http://www.chicago.tribune.com/articles/internet/index.html>? A
four part series by Jim Coates called Orbiting the Net.
 And for informed discussions of hot Internet and computing
matters see WindoWatch Magazine, featuring Your's Truly, The
Modemjunkie himself 
 Come on in!! Water's fine !! Surf's Up!!


Win 95 --A Revolutionary Approach, August, 1995

Today's focus: The real problem with Windows 95. A
revolutionary approach.
 Last week I got a real shock.  I happened to look at a
notice from my bank.  The details aren't important but it was
really scary.  I've never paid more than $4,000.00 for a car.  I
bought my computer in a pawn shop.  I make a decent salary.  How
can things be that bad I began to take stock.  The process
isn't over but some things are becoming clear.  I don't do
anything unreasonable.  I just do too many reasonable things. 
Something's gotta stop.  How do I get off of this train 
 Windows 95 is reasonable.  Only about $89.  Why not get it
and be right on the cutting edge So I may need a little more
RAM Only 40 or 50 bucks a meg A bigger hard drive Everyone
has heard the traitorous phrase: "Storage is cheap these days."
Remember when a 40 meg drive cost over $200 bucks.  I can
probably get a gigabyte for that today.  At that little computer
shop in down the street I can get a 486 motherboard with CPU and
one of those cute little fans for under a hundred bucks.  So why
not jump in?
 Why not? Indeed!? Because it never ends.  Because it is so
seductively reasonable.  It's not just computers.  Its been going
on for years.  From fins in the '50s to full access to the net. 
Its all so reasonable.  And we have to have it now.  Whatever
"it" is, it just always costs a just a little more.  Well, I have
to stop somewhere.  And Win95 is my line in the sand.  Thus far
and no farther... at least for now.
 Don't get me wrong.  I wouldn't buy a new machine today
without Win95 on it.  But before upgrading the OS on your current
machine, I suggest asking yourself a few questions:
 Do you have trouble operating Windows 3.1?
Do you really multitask?
Why do you need it?
 The principle advantage of Win 95 is that the interface is
easier to learn--if you don't already now how to operate a
computer.  If you are reading this that probably is not an issue. 
In fact, you will have to unlearn a few tricks and habits to get
comfortable with Win95.  
 It won't be hard.  You may even like the interface.  But it
won't really be easier for you than your current OS.  On the
other hand if you are really about to learn a completely new
application, it may actually be easier to learn under Win95, just
as my learning curve on internet applications was greatly speeded
up by the use of the Windows interface.  And if you are buying a
computer for a someone completely unfamiliar with computers it
may well be worth the jump.  But this is about you and me, not
about tyros and noephytes.
 The second purported advantage the improved ability to
multitask.  Those in the know say Win 95 can't compare with
Windows NT or OS/2-Warp when it comes to real multitasking.  For
the sake of argument, though, lets agree that it multitasks
better than the existing Windows operating systems.  But how much
multitasking do you really do Look at a spread sheet while in
your word processor Play solitaire while waiting for your e-
mail on the internet? (I caught my daughter doing that last
night.)? If that's all you are doing, Windows for Workgroups is
quite sufficient.  OTOH, if you are seriously into heavy
multitasking. Win95 may be the answer for you.
 Conservation of "resources" while multitasking is one of the
hyped advantages of Win95.  That's really just the test for
whether you really multitask.  Its true, at least it seemed to
me, that things worked better on the internet when I ran with a
number of open apps under Win95.  But they work fine under W4WG. 
If you are rarely running out of resources under Window 3.x, you
don't need Win95.
 I concede that WordPerfect for Windows seemed a little less
starved under the new OS.  But how much time is really saved? 
How many lock ups prevented Even on my pawn shop special -- not
much--not many.
 Oh yes.  You can use true 32 bit applications.  How many do
you have now How many do you expect to buy in the immediate
future Here's the trap.  If you think you need Win95, then
you'll want to run out and buy the 32 bit version of every app
you run.  Will your checkbook balance any better at 32 bits Oh,
each upgrade won't cost that much. Most of them will be
reasonable, just like Win95 itself.  It's all reasonable.  Only
there are so many reasonable things.
What can you do with Win95 that you can't do now Do you
really need to do it I resisted Windows altogether for years. 
Only when I found something that I couldn't do under DOS did I
make the leap.  The advent of Windows clients for internet access
combined with repeated failure at the unix command line to
convince me to make the move.  I am glad I did.  But I'm also
glad I held off.
 So, when something comes along that I can't do under Windows
for Work Groups, I'll take a good hard look at it and decide if
it's even something worth doing.  Only then will I make the leap. 
And in the meantime I won't have that MSN (MicroSoft Network)
icon staring me in the face, tempting me to log on every time I
boot up. (See, I did bring this month's column back to
communications, after all.)
 Join the revolution!! Stop doing reasonable things!!

This may be the greatest moment in online . . . July, 1995

 This may be the greatest moment in the history of online
communications.  Right now internet access is relatively cheap
and, for those who have enough interest in computers to read this
newsletter, it is relatively easy.  And it may not last.
 Basic internet accounts range upwards from $10 a month for a
shell account to slightly more than twice that amount for full
access.  With the advent of new software utilities like Slipknot,
which enables Web access even from a shell account almost
everyone can afford to get online.  And right now the internet
remains, for the most part the relatively _open_ system that has
made it such an efficient and effective means of sharing
information and infotainment.  But both cheap access and the very
openness of the system are under attack.
 In addition to the local and national internet access
providers like MCS, InterAccess, Netcom, WWA, the older large
commercial online services like Compuserve, Prodigy and America
Online (AOL) are really getting into the act. The competition is
hot.  On some usenet groups the current joke is that some of us
have received enough promotional discs containing the front end
software for America On Line (AOL) that we could back up Win95
(or even OS/2).  It seems a new disk is in the mail every few
weeks.  Every few days one of the major services announces
additions to its internet services.
 Why are the older providers working so hard to hook us now?
Because Win95 is now scheduled for release on the 24th of August
of this year.  Whether or not it is actually released on time its
release will be one more factor in the great sea change in the
world of online communications which will occur in the next year
or so.  Just as almost every machine sold today has Prodigy or
AOL already installed, as well as DOS and Windows, within a few
months every new machine will contain Win95 and with it the
online software for the Microsoft Network (MSN).  When you boot
up Win95, the MSN icon will be waiting on the desktop. Just click
and you can register online (be sure to have your credit card
 The advent of MSN will provide incredible competition to the
old providers.  But, how will all this effect delivery of
services First, the major services do not yet have wide
availability of fast modem connections.  Second, the big services
charge by the minute or by the message while most access
providers charge by the month or even longer periods except for
the most basic accounts.  Even if you can get high speed access
to one of the big boys you are not home free.  Compu$erve charges
even higher rates for higher speed access.  
 On the other hand, with the major service providers, the end
user doesn't have to do much more to get her machine ready than
to install the provider's access software and log on.  The
options will all be on the provider's server.  With direct access
it's usually up to the user to assemble a suite of software that
will do everything the user desires.  This method offers greater
freedom but can be fraught with frustration.  
 Loss of freedom is what is really threatened by the
encroachment of the major providers and MSN.  The user is forced
into their selection of internet clients, their interface and
their options.  But there are two greater threats to the
 The big threat everyone worries about is censorship.  With
Congress pandering to the lowest common denominator and the
squeaky wheel, there is real risk that in an attempt to prevent
the one or two percent of the online world who are children from
access to pornography, or to silence the distribution of
unpopular and perhaps even hateful literature and ideas, it is
possible that the net itself will be destroyed.  The entire
concept of the net is open architecture and easy access to
systems and servers.  
 Every firewall, every barrier, every "protection" built into
the system reduces its effectiveness as a medium of
communication.  What a pleasant surprise to hear Newt Gingrich's
comments on this issue.  (I feel better, now, about that
"NEWT" icon appearing on my screen every time I load Chameleon.)
 Here, my objections to the big providers may prove to be
wrong headed, for if they can provide front end software which
will permit the end user (read "parents") with the ability to
restrict access on the user end, we may have the best of both
words.  Open systems with user control.  Ahh fantasy land.
 But the real threat to the system isn't from the censors but
from a new breed of on line entrepreneurs.  After all what, they
say, is the net for if not to make money.  That last statement
would have been anathema a few months ago.  Remember the outcry
when a lawyer spread his advertising over the net.  That seems
long ago indeed.
 Just a few months ago, virtually (no pun intended) every
site on the World Wide Web could be easily accessed.  Just click
on a URL (Universal Resource Locator) and within a few seconds
you were connected.  It was fascinating.  More amazing was the
number of commercial publications which offered free and
unfettered access.  Time Magazine, Ziffnet, the New York Times.  
 But slowly that is changing.  It seems they were just
getting us hooked.  While few sites actually charge for access,
there are a number of sites which require registration and
passwords.  No longer can I merely click.  Now, to read the NandO
Times, an excellent source of national and international news, I
have to get down my little card file and look up my user name and
password.  At least I didn't have to provide a credit card number
like I did for MSN.  (There is no charge yet.  I guess they just
want to be ready.) 
 Commercial charges for online information are nothing new.
Lexis and WestLaw have long charged outrageous sums for access to
what is essentially public information.  But now there are
commercial sites on the Web itself.  Paid subscriptions required.
 There is no free lunch, but for the moment there is a very
inexpensive ride.  Who knows what it'll be like next year.
 It's a gorgeous summer day.  Temperature in the 70's. 
Gentle breeze blowing.  It's time to let the modem cool off and
get some fresh air.  And I'm sitting at the keyboard writing this
Actually it isn't that bad.  We just returned from a 5 day
weekend in Michigan -- early breakfasts, long hikes before
lunch.  Long naps in the afternoon, with a good novel to fall
asleep over.  And then a walk on the pier or a good dinner in the
evening. No keyboard, no modem.  Just good conversation and
that novel by one of my favorite authors, Richard Powers, whose
"Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance," blew me away a number of
years ago.  
 I should have been forewarned.  Even the dust jacket makes
it clear that the new book, "Galatea 2.2" ((Farrar Straus
Giroux, NY) involves a confrontation with a computer--an attempt
to enable a computer to compete with real students in a "Turing
Test" and pass a master degree exam in literature.  Real danger
lurked when I read the words with which the book opened, "It was
like so, but wasn't.  I lost my thirty-fifth year. . . ."? 
Within a few pages we learn that the narrator had free access to
what he calls the world web.  I've lost at least a year that way
 Just published, the book is set in that time, seemingly
light years ago, but really not much more than a year, before the 
advent of the graphic browser, but still the author/narrator's
excitement mounts as page after page he describes the addictive
delights of connecting to machines all over the face of the
earth.  "The web: yet another total disorientation that became
status quo without anyone realizing it."
 The novel is much more than technobabble, it is a
fascinating tour of the subject of intelligence, literature and
love.  Logoff, pick up a copy and a tall cool one.  Sit out on
the deck and enjoy.

"The Corner Garage " June, 1995: My Favorite Piece

 This month the ModemJunkie initiates a new feature, "The
Corner Garage."? In this article, he sets forth the history of
the Corner Garage. In the future he will visit the garage from
time to time for the latest news.
 It was the Winter of my 13th birthday.  My mother,
brother and I moved to a strange new neighborhood which seemed to
be at the end of the world--near Cumberland and Forest Preserve
Drive.  I didn't know anyone.  The winter passed slowly as I
learned the neighborhood.  I stayed at my old school, nearly two
miles away, but I found a corner gas station with a mom and pop
grocery store attached-- only a block from the house.  I could
hang out in the store and buy red licorice and "pills" but
there were no other kids there.  I could hear sounds coming
from the garage.  The revving of motors, loud exhausts, the
clang of metal. But what went on behind those closed doors I
didn't know.
 Then Spring came.  The doors opened.  There was a whole
new world.  In that little garage was a crew of regulars, covered
in grease, tuning their old jalopies. Black '52 Fords... an old
 Chevy or two.  Hour after hour these guys worked on these old
 beasts.  Boring heads, replacing cylinders, adding lakers.  So
 they would sound sweeter and go faster.  There was one tall
blond guy, hair greased back in a classic D.A.  He was the
king--he had a '54 Ford convertible.  The hours he spent on that
 machine. Polishing the blue and white finish.  Taking it apart,
 putting it together.  Stopping every once in a while to light a
 new Lucky from the pack rolled up in the sleeve of his T-shirt.
 I was learning a lot.  I wouldn't drive for three more
years, but I was learning a wholly new vocabulary that no one at
home would understand: "Turbo," "cylinder," "head," A whole new
jargon.  Of course, there were other words I couldn't repeat at
home either.  But that's another story.  It was a world in which
power and speed meant everything.
 Every day, someone had a new gizmo or gadget-- something
new to make the cars look better.. go faster.  Then one day a
question occurred to me.  Where could they drive these powerful
machines The Edens wasn't even built yet.  Much less the
Kennedy.  Cumberland was a good drag strip for a couple of
blocks.  Why did they need all that power?
 But then I heard about somewhere new-- Lawrence Avenue,
West of Cumberland where it made the long curve into Dee Road.
Actually, I think it was the other way around.  The long left
turn from Dee into Lawrence mimicked the left turns of the
great speedways.
 Of course, I'd only heard about that. I was still too
young to drive. But then one day, after I'd handed the King a
wrench, he said, "Let's see what she'll do.  Jump in!" He'd been
tuning it for weeks.  He'd bored the cylinders, put in
oversized pistons.  And added shiny exhaust pipes, with laker
plugs that let him control the back pressure and the rumble (I
remember a finely tuned Ford seemed to sound like a percolator
when it idled.) It was the first test after a major
upgrade...and he was taking me along.
 Down Cumberland we went.  Top down.  Sun in our faces.
He could barely restrain the power.  Down Higgins and left on
Dee.  We stood stock still. He revved the engine, louder and
louder--let the clutch slip and there was the screech of rubber
as we shot toward that left hand curve.. he just continued to
let it wind faster and faster.  "When will he shift?" I
wondered.  Will we make the turn And then the awful explosion
as the piston blew!.  Steam everywhere.  The car spinning into
the bushes and sliding to a stop!.  Long scratches on the right
side.. but we were safe... We walked back to the garage to get
a tow.  I was shaken.  But a few days later, I saw the car
again.  The King was there, covered in grease, using rubbing
compound to smooth the surface.  And the guys all pitched in to
help.. Each had his own theory about why it blew.  One day it
would ride again.  And he could dream of a '57 Chevy with
anodized aluminum in the fins.  But that was more than even he
could afford.
 Well, I never got a '57 Chevy or even a '54 Ford.  But
for a long time I had a lowly screaming 286. I found a couple of
good garages (one called NICOL and one called CACHE), where I
learned a new jargon no one at home even wanted to understand.
"Turbo," "cylinder," "head." It was a world in which power and
speed meant everything.
 I added a math coprocessor, upgraded the video, stacked the
40 meg drive.  Constantly I tuned it. Stretching it to its
capacity.  But where could I go with all that power.  All I
needed to do was run Word Perfect and Telix.  Still every month
something new.  Over and over it crashed as I pushed it beyond to
do more and more.  And then I heard about a new highway. . . an
information superhighway.
 And for that I needed power.  But I couldn't afford that
'57 Chevy either.  So I found my pawnshop 386.  And I souped it
up too.  Windows for Work Groups, 32 bit disk and file access,
Chameleon, a SLIP connection for full access to the internet.
Its carried me to Israel and China, from Germany to Japan.
 Its still a little slow off the mark, a 28,8 modem would be
nice.  Netscape can make it crash. But then, I have had lots of
experience with crashes. You don't have to have the latest and
the fastest to go a long way.  I don't really need that Pentium.
Really, I can wait a while and get a P-6 when the prices come
down.  Believe me!! (But, when, WHEN!! will my WIN95 preview
disks arrive?).
 Working on computers is a lot like working on cars...only
you don't get so greasy.

Slowing down (I came home and didn't logon), April, 1995

A strange thing happened this week.  In fact it happened three
times in a row.  I came home from work and didn't rush up to my
study and check for E-mail. Now, I don't want you to think I've
never done that before.  I spent five days on the Isle of Jersey
a few years ago and didn't log on once.  And I didn't check my
mail while I was camping in Door County with my brother last
summer, either.  But this was at home. I just didn't log on. 
Don't get me wrong.  I did check my mail the next morning.  And I
haven't given up midnight sessions on the Web. But it is a change
in my habits.  I came home and just didn't feel like logging on. 
Now that's happened before. But in the past, like an alcoholic, I
logged on whether I felt like it or not.  Does this mean I am
getting control of this habit.  
I hope so.  This electronic world is exciting but I was beginning
to feel it controlled me. Now I am regaining the feeling of at
least some choice.  If that is true, it can become a real tool
and not a master to which I am slave.  Sessions at the keyboard
will regain some joy which I fear had been lost.
I am writing this on April 2, the day we set our clocks forward. 
The day all of my relatives were wakened early in the morning by
phone calls from a well-meaning friend who wanted to know if they
had seen Jim Coates' article in the Sunday Trib.  Today he
published the third installment in his excellent series on the
Internet.  What made it special to my Mother was the subject of
this installment-- her son on the internet. It is rare that I
have been accused of knowing exactly what I was doing, but that's
what Coates said [blush].  Which brings me to another subject.
E-mail is too easy.  Its too easy to send a message without
thinking it over-- without time for reflection.  Even though the
Coates article was totally flattering and my ego was bursting, I
found it necessary to send him a quick note quibbling with a
minor point.  As soon as I had done that I realized that under
the circumstances that was quite ungracious. I wished there was a
way to recall an e-mail message like you can cancel a posting in
a Usenet Newsgroup.  But I didn't know hwo and my attempt to
clear up the point was more of a muddle. Because I couldn't wait
to send that either.
Flame wars are common on the net because of this. But even more
important, we have lost a certain precision and clarity in
thought and expression.  Again-- how to slow down How to take
control of this medium.  I'm working on it.  In fact I'm going to
wait a while before I upload this. Just in case I have second

Getting "Stoned" and an intro to my favorite sites, March, 1995

 Between Federal holidays and a brief period of medical leave
(not serious), I have had way too much time to fool around with
this machine.  And of course the more time to play the more time
to screw up . . .  meaning more disasters . . . meaning less time
to sleep than if I had been at work each day.
 To make a long story short, in the midst of all the changes
and reconfigurations, somehow I acquired the Stoned virus, which
had me entirely puzzled.  But things appear to be working now and
I have purchased a 420 meg tape back up to save me from my
midnight deletions.  
 The Internet remains a wild and wooly place.  Flame wars
between local providers plague the local newsgroups (although
Karl Denninger is on his honeymoon as this is being written so
things should calm down for a while).  But the infinite variety
of the net continues to amaze me.
 One of the nice features of the Netscape browser is that
when you find a site that interests you, you can add it to a list
of "bookmarks" with a click of the mouse so that you can go back
again without having to remember the URL (Universal Resource
Locator or WWW address).  I thought I would discuss my favorite
places so I printed out my bookmarks tonight.  Imagine my
amazement when I discovered that my list was more than three
pages long. Over 130 sites. And as you will see, many of them are
lists of lists.  There is no way I could discuss them all here,
but I will highlight a few.
 The first group tools for further surfing.  Among these are
search forms.  These are places where you can enter a term and
search the Web for sites of interest.  I find the Lycos form the
most useful but there are may others as well.  Then there are the
lists.  There is one called All Topics and another called
The Whole Net at Your Fingers, even one called Fun Stuff and
Multimedia.  A favorite of mine is Today's News, a collection of
on line news sources, including the Voice of America, the
Electronic Telegraph (London) and the St. Petersburg Press.
 Getting beyond the surfing tools, there are the home pages
themselves, the actual destinations of Web Surfers.  Many of
these are created by individual users and include arcane
information as well as more, often eclectic, collections of
lists. Among the more useful of these is Harold Driscoll's page
which is a collection of useful tools and addresses.  But pages
span the gamut from, a fascinating tour of the Louvre, to a brief
display of famous works at the Art Institute. You can download,
view, and even [sacrilege] edit the great masterworks and then
print them out on your color printer with a few key strokes.  
The entertainment world is well represented on the Web,
especially alternative music.  But Prime Time T.V. holds its own.
My daughter Sarah's favorite page is dedicated to saving
"My So Called Life,"? a now defunct T.V. show.  With a click, I
was able to download the entire opening sequence of the show.  I
was warned it would be a large file... Even so, I did not expect
nearly 20 megs. It played for all of 60.2 seconds.  
Last week I printed out thumbnail pictures of the cast in
black and white.  Sarah stared at the tiny picture of Jared Leto,
who plays Jordan Catalano, the bad boy teenage idol on the show. 
"Couldn't you find a color picture of Jared?" she implored.  A
few minutes later he smoldered from a full page color print still
wet from the Deskjet.  And Sarah was jelly.
 On a more practical level there are sites which connect you
directly to software collections, such as CICA.  Don't bother
buying their CD-Rom-- its all available free on the Net.  And
Microsoft? Did you spend ten bucks to by the DOS 6.22 stepup? 
Its available free on the Net--just click.  
 To come up for air for a moment, the Dupage Computer Central
Show was a mob scene in February. The long lines snaking around
the gymnasium lobby and out into the open not deterred by the
signs posted on every door.  "Adult Material Not Available, by
Order of the College of Dupage."? Heavy duty porn is disappearing
from the Net as well.  Some providers refuse to carry certain
newsgroups, not out of propriety but out of fear of litigation. 
And the fear is related to copyright as much as obscenity. 
Formerly popular X-rated sites on the Web are also
disappearing, victims of their own success.  Demand was so great
that servers were being tied up by lechers in the night. One site
in Finland limits full access to natives.  Another only allows
one video download per week.  A recent R-rated site with some
swimsuit shots was closed by the computer ethics committee of the
university where it was posted.  Still, if you are desperate,
there is the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit page with stills and
videos and if you really can't sleep, the Cindy Crawford
Concentration Game.  Try to match all of the swimsuit poses.  At
the end you'll even get a compliment from Cindy. (BTW, You can
capture the images and convert them to any graphic form you
want).  On a more sophisticated level there is an online magazine
called Urban Desires, with sensitive articles and more. (My wife
says this paragraph sounds like a lament, but the research was
conducted solely in the interest of science.<g>)
 On a more serious level, there is the Zimmermann Legal
Defense Appeal page, dedicated to assisting the genius who
invented a major method of public encryption, who has been
indicted for violating domestic laws regarding the sale of
certain types of encryption software overseas.  The Internet has
destroyed geographic boundaries.  The consequences are not yet
clear and the solutions are not easy--no matter what Mickey
Cantor did in China.  
Finally, another kudo to George Matyazek, who is in the
process of completing a major upgrade of Syslink's BBS software. 
Sometimes the Web is too big.  When I need a driver or a special
file, its much easier and faster to search George's board first.
He remains truly responsive to user suggestions and complaints. 
Thanks again, George.

Life before the InfoBahn, February, 1995

 As I watched my daughter struggle with a traditional research
assignment and her frustration with the fact that needed books were
missing from the library, I got to thinking how ubiquitous
computerized research has become.  At work, I use Lexis.  At home,
we use a CD-ROM Encyclopedia (Groliers) and a number of other
computerized sources.
 I am quickly learning how to find information through the
Internet as well.  The world is changing fast.  Perhaps one day we
won't have to worry about books being off the shelves.  We'll just
log on and download what we need. I was just thinking about this
when the following fantasy appeared in the mcs.general
newsgroup on the Internet. 
>"Grandpa Andy, tell me about life before the Infobahn!"
>"Well, it was pretty rough.  We used to have these things called
>'newspapers', and they were like newsgroups, except that they were
>printed on paper! And we had books.  They were like big FAQs, but
>also on paper. 
>And there were these library things, where they collected these
>books and newspapers..."
>"Kind of like a big FTP site?"
>"Yes, Johnny, kind of like a big FTP site."
 The vignette was written by Andy Lester a regular who also has
an interesting home page at http://www.mcs.net/~alester/? 
 This glimpse of the future made me truly appreciate Jim
Coates' suggestion for new P.C. owners in his New years Day column
in the Trib.  After they spend a month intensively breaking in
their new computers and trying out all of the multimedia features,
he suggested that they should "Find a quiet place somewhere else 
in the house and curl up with a nice old-fashioned book."
 Sounds great.  But I think there is some e-mail waiting and a
new WWW page on micro brewing and another to save "My So-called
Life," and another . . .  and George just added a new game and . . 
I guess that book will have to wait until next month.
 But just when I think the world has been overtaken by
cyberspace something happens that brings me back to Earth.  The
other day I had a discussion with a friend who is a professor of
mass communications at a State university. He told me he has never
been on the NET or used an online service.  He is going to teach
about electronic media next semester.  Go figger.
 Something else brings me back to Earth. We are moving very
fast and neither the software nor the hardware nor the support is
up to all of the hype.  Those of us read this newsletter have some
experience with computers.  We enjoy tinkering with hardware and
software.  Yet we all know the frustration of trying a new
peripheral or some new software and trying to make it work. 
Sometimes it takes a little patience-- sometimes a lot of patience
and cash, too. 
 But what must it be like for those who are not so addicted. 
Americans are used to buying toasters and televisions and plugging
them in and expecting them to work right-- the first time.  The
multimedia world is far from that day. No two CD-ROMs use the
same interface.  The set up programs are frightening even to those
of us with experience.  Last week a friend bought a new 486-66
multimedia machine. When he plugged it in all he got was a c:> 
prompt!! Another brought home her new machine and the monitor
blew out in five minutes.  Another's simply refused to boot at all.
The home user isn't alone in his frustration.  A government
agency recently received a shipment of 50 new machines. The CMOS
had been set to the wrong parameters by the contractor.  To save
time a tech will be sent out to replace all of the CMOS chips and
to reformat all of the hard drives.  That's alright.  There was no
rush. The network they were to be used on hadn't yet been upgraded
to work with the ethernet cards in the new machines anyway.
 The Internet is even farther from ready to wear.  The
software we use is experimental.  Alpha and beta releases.  Regular
GPFs and disconnects are not unexpected.  Indeed, the other day, I
saw a posting in which someone was praising a new configuration
which only crashed after a few hours on line.  Today I helped a
friend set up his Internet software.  I still see "Can't Locate
Host" flashing before my eyes.  
 And the Internet world is far from hospitable to newbies.  In
recent days I have seen angry flames trashing those with the
temerity to ask for help or to suggest that the newcomer be given
greater warnings that some of the software is experimental.
 Another poster blasted this writer for using terms like
"infobahn" and "cyberspace".  Well, to long time users of the
Internet who struggled along at the Unix command line we must seem
like spoiled brats with our point and click interfaces.  But the
old timers are reacting as though we were a massive wave of
foreign immigrants.  Perhaps they are right in this one sense. 
There is a new wave of immigrants brought on by new software and
media hype.  And like any immigrants as we become absorbed into a
culture, the culture will change.  But even though the French
Academy laments the incorporation of English into French, the
French still shop at Le Drugstore and Le Supermarchet in increasing