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> A Blast from the Web 1.0 Past; One of My Old VTV articles
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EricBarbour
post Tue 17th March 2009, 3:25am
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I wrote this article at the end of 2000, just as the dotcom "revolution" was crashing. Written at the behest of Vacuum Tube Valley owner Charlie Kittleson (R.I.P.), who wanted to make bold statements about forum nerds who were attacking him at the time, it ran in VTV issue 14 in 2001. Audio Asylum was the worst of the bunch at the time, and still hosts comments that are potentially libelous (and wide open to Google searches).

The point: human stupidity never changes, especially the online anonymous variety.
See if any of this sounds Wiki-familiar:

QUOTE
Editorial Comment:
Internet Lies
by Eric Barbour

Why do people use the Internet? Because it can, indeed, be a valuable tool for finding information. However, we have had so many of the Internet's limitations pointed out to us, that we felt our readers should be warned.

The major issue at VTV is with the "advice" passed out to novices in public chat areas. This includes the old Usenet newsgroups (rec.audio.tubes and alt.guitar.amps being two that relate to tube audio directly), some private bulletin boards on websites (such as Audio Asylum, Enjoy The Music, the Fender Discussion Board), and private mailing lists or "reflectors", which are like bulk-email remailers. All of these forums tend to be unstructured, unmoderated and "free", except by mutual agreement of their users.

Seriously, though, beware of any advice you get from the users on such forums! Because we have seen outright garbage, and even blatant sales pitches, posted as responses to user questions. "Free" usually involves hidden costs.

The problem is one of human nature, not of the medium's structure. As I discovered many years ago, all you do is put up a public computer chat room, and it starts to attract a broad range of personalities. Unfortunately, a small number of them inevitably hijack the chat room, and force the other users out, or have them serve as sycophants to their own egos. I have seen this happen so many times that I've lost count. Before the Internet was opened to the public, I observed the same behaviour (and was a victim of it) on local private BBSes put up by computer hobbyists. The Internet has simply displaced those BBSes, and become the leading digital sewer for irrational behaviour.

Look at any such chat area. Regardless of the subject matter or the type of format used, if the area is popular, it becomes a haven for a few sick minds. Inevitably, the bulk of the message traffic is generated by the same hard core of nerds. Always male, usually white, usually between the ages of 25 and 55, and usually numbering only five to fifteen individuals.

Something about a chat area for a hobby seems to bring out the alleged experts; the "legends in their own minds". Because rec.audio.tubes is popular, it has been hopelessly poisoned by idiotic banter between rival factions, with their violent intolerance of outside opinions. I don't have to name any names; just access the recent messages and sort them by postername. You will find that 90% of the messages came from the same few infantiles. And guitar-amp forums have a few hardcores who, coincidentally, just happen to be service technicians or parts dealers trolling for business. Call any of them on their blatant self-promotion, and you'd better have an asbestos suit. Not only will they "flame" you back, they will have a few supporters to help out.

Mailing lists enjoy all this, and more, because membership usually requires the approval of the listowner. The famous "Joenet" mailing list, being very private, has managed to purge itself of all second opinions, leaving certain bratty regulars free to talk about how they found GOD by listening to their crude single-ended amps and junkyard horn speakers. To each other, even while they try to flog their own related products--to each other. (Yes, many of them are OEMs with products to sell. And newcomers are not always aware of this.)

It's even worse on two lists I watch regularly which deal with analog music synthesizers, Analogue Heaven and Synth-DIY. Say anything on these about vacuum tubes (or me, for that matter), and watch certain equipment-manufacturer-cum-list-regulars fall all over themselves to criticize you and attack you. Same thing: a few dorks have hijacked these "free" forums, and are squelching all discussion that they disagree with. (For some pathetic reason, these particular lists have come to regard tubes as nothing but overpriced distortion generators--primarily thanks to the presence of a few old-fart engineers with big egos.) Analogue Heaven has attracted lots of attention; yet I don't know any prominent electronic-music people who can stand to read it. All of them seem to have subscribed to it in the past, and found the maunderings of the resident nerds too much to take.

Sound familiar? It reminds me of a nature documentary about gorillas. The dominant male ape screams, slaps, bites, and hurls dung and rocks. If he keeps it up (and isn't challenged effectively by another ape), he gets the best bananas and the right to mate with all the females. The other male apes are reduced to second-class status.

And worst of all, some such net-monkeys have been making big money off the Internet craze. Recently the news channels have been inundated with hysterical reports about the NASDAQ and its many hi-tech stocks going in the toilet. And about time too. Understand, I live in Redwood City, the heart of dot-country. You have to personally witness the asinine behaviour of people in the dot-com business to understand the face of real, uncontrolled human arrogance. Go to any restaurant on the peninsula during weekday lunch hour, and watch the yuppies shout at each other, wave cell-phones around, complain to the staff, leave a mess, and finally roar away in their huge SUVs, which are always driven as aggressively as possible. And worst of all, these brats think the good times will roll forever.

This rancid attitude carries over into the commercial uses of the Internet. A major reason Netscape became such a big deal when they went public: their browser was the first to offer advertisers such "features" as cookies and animated GIF playback. This opened the door to aggressive firms wishing to use websites for banner advertising, involuntary marketing surveys, and research.

Cookies are small packages of text information about you, which the browser program maintains on your hard disk at the direction of a given website. A cookie can be very privacy-invasive, especially when combined with "client-side scripting", which allows the website-viewer's computer to run a special program in the background, invisibly to the user. (This is usually in JavaScript, the most common form. Another form, used in Microsoft's browser, is called VBScript.) Such a script can rummage around on the computer's hard disk, looking for personal information. Most likely, this is the base reason for the investment-community hysteria surrounding the Internet today.

Remember, there are dot-coms whose business models depend upon surreptitious gathering of personal information by these means. Such methods were being used by DoubleClick and Real Networks (the former via scripts and cookies, the latter via special code buried in their RealPlayer multimedia plugin) until their "harvesting" of personal information was uncovered by privacy experts. And those may not be the only examples.

It can be difficult to catch such "data mining" in action, since cookies are so often used to hold information such as passwords or other data. Plus, the mined information may be encrypted before it is sent to the harvester's server.

Every time you buy something or fill out a form on a website, the seller is probably building a database. This database, being in easily-read formats, can be marketed to other firms, or to government agencies. All this happens without any signal or warning to you! The only way to use many commercial websites, while maintaining your personal privacy, is not to use those websites at all. You might also support some of the websites dedicated to online privacy, including www.anonymizer.com, www.zeroknowledge.com, and www.freedom.net.

A major reason that Internet hype has been so effective: many assertions by "visionaries" that online shopping will put all "brick and mortar" retail establishments out of business. Such hallucinations are based on the idea that a dot-com can have its warehousing and order fulfillment anywhere, thus lowering overhead, and allowing them to undercut the prices which storefront retailers must charge. How many average people are going to change their habits, and let an online grocer choose their produce for them?
Or buy a car online, based only on grainy JPEG photos of it? Online shopping can be a boon for shut-ins and the disabled, but it's still nothing more than electronic catalog shopping. The retailer gets to save the cost of printing and mailing catalogs, yet he still can't demonstrate the product to the customer in person.

Why don't I get in on the dot-com "gravy train"? The only people who really make money during these "gold rushes" are the insiders. Because I did not go to Stanford or an Ivy League university, and because I do not play racquetball with the "right people", I am unentitled to a piece of the riches. Most likely, neither are you. Don't believe all those vulgar stories about instant IPO millionaires; they are still a tiny minority of the computer-industry population. They knew the right people, that's all. Most high-tech startups are failures--even the dot-com variety.

Finally, here are some simple suggestions for protecting your tube amp and your personal privacy.

1) if you ask an "expert" on a public chat area for help, get second and third opinions!

2) beware of chat area malingerers, they often do not know what they are talking about.
Check the past messages on the area--people who post more than once or twice a day should
be avoided. "Advice" from such fools has caused people to mis-repair amplifiers, resulting
in explosions!

3) boycott dealers who "troll" newsgroups and chat areas for business. If they do not
clearly identify themselves as dealers, don't patronize them, and advise your friends
to also avoid such individuals.

4) go into the "preferences" menu on your web browser, and disable cookies, Javascript,
and any other client-side script controls. If a website demands a cookie or Javascript
to function, avoid that website in the future. Also avoid websites that use proprietary
multimedia software, such as RealAudio or RealVideo. Real's software is VERY intrusive.

5) avoid filling our forms or surveys on websites. And do not leave personal information
on public chat areas or newsgroups.
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Cedric
post Tue 17th March 2009, 3:58pm
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That article sums up rather well why there had to be a dot com crash. That sort of sociopathic greed and arrogance is not the sort of thing that leads to a sustainable business model. It seems to me that people have this "gee whiz" factor that blinds them to rationality when it comes to something that employs new, or relatively new, technology. They develop a blind faith that it is The Great Panacea™ that mankind has been waiting for all these millennia. Rather like what happened in the late 19th Century when electricity was first commercially exploited.

As you state in your essay, it really comes down more to human nature than the technology. While there are some problems with wiki technology, when Wikipedia finally crashes and burns it will have far, far more to do with its dysfunctional governance (both in design and practice) than it will to do with the technology. The lessons of the both dot com crash and of Usenet do not appear to have been learned.
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Jon Awbrey
post Tue 17th March 2009, 5:22pm
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QUOTE(Cedric @ Tue 17th March 2009, 11:58am) *

That article sums up rather well why there had to be a dot com crash. That sort of sociopathic greed and arrogance is not the sort of thing that leads to a sustainable business model. It seems to me that people have this "gee whiz" factor that blinds them to rationality when it comes to something that employs new, or relatively new, technology. They develop a blind faith that it is The Great Panacea™ that mankind has been waiting for all these millennia. Rather like what happened in the late 19th Century when electricity was first commercially exploited.

As you state in your essay, it really comes down more to human nature than the technology. While there are some problems with wiki technology, when Wikipedia finally crashes and burns it will have far, far more to do with its dysfunctional governance (both in design and practice) than it will to do with the technology. The lessons of the both dot com crash and of Usenet do not appear to have been learned.


The latest economic crash has shown us that all the big national leaderships ignored the lessons of the Great Depression — pari-mutuel betting on derivatives being nothing if not "buying on margin" taken to the n^th degree.

The road that Wikipedia and Web Duplicity are currently leading a whole lot of gullible folks down will eventually lead to a Credibility Crash that makes the Credibility Gap of the '60's look like a Frodian Slip. I just hope it's sooner rather than later, while the forces of knowledge yet exist to pull society from the pit of ignorance — the mess to come will only get worse the longer we stay on this road.

Jon Awbrey
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