Reflections of a ModemJunkie

July, 1999

Presents Tense

by Leonard Grossman

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.

[2009 Update] Thanks to Jorn Barger's now static RobotWisdom Weblog (about which more later), I long ago discovered Ellen's pages. Every day, Ellen used to amaze and surprise with a new image at Most often these were graphic images that pushed the art of the animated .gif to new extremes. On other occasions it included 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.

StupidGirl Every day was fresh and many are now accessible at an archive she maintains. One of my favorites is an outstanding mixture of animated gifs and background from an earlier period, called Stupidgirl. One day recently I needed a rest and came to this page and discovered the link was broken. Ellen had long ago moved the Stupidgirl page to a new address but thanks to Facebook, I found her and the links here will once again lead you to her work.

She called herself, Ellen, Architect of Change. She changed my daily routine. I used to log on over and over until her daily update was in place. A breath of fresh air, a bit of a breather, a smile on my grouchy face.

More recently Ellen has been involved with a "personal world of Warlock blog, and a blog about Scritti Politti

Thanks, Ellen, for the Presents. I miss your daily updates.

[End of Update]


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 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.

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Copyright 1999 Leonard Grossman, update 2009

Send your comments or questions to Len @ Lgrossman dot com

My essays regularly appear in slightly different form in WindoWatch Magazine which contains a wealth of fascinating information.

Back to my home page The ModemJunkie's Portal

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Created with DiDa! 7/5/1999 8:46:30 AM Updated 8/15/2009.

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