From The Erbo Files
Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Longtime observers of the blogosphere will be saddened to hear of the passing of Steven Den Beste, author of the acclaimed USS Clueless blog.

Steven, an engineer and a gifted writer, was among the most influential of the early bloggers of the 21st Century.  He was named as one of the "Four Horsemen of the Ablogalypse," along with Glenn Reynolds, Charles Johnson, and Andrew Sullivan.  (Johnson and Sullivan have since gone insane, leaving Reynolds as the only one of the four still carrying on.)  Big-name bloggers such as Bill Quick and Bill Whittle have cited him as a profound influence on their style.  I think his writings ultimately influenced everyone that read his words. Including me.  I know I've referenced his words many times, here on From the Erbo Files as well as on Electric Minds.

After 2004, he stopped writing at USS Clueless, due both to health issues and the endless pestering of Internet trolls.  He redirected his efforts to his blog Chizumatic, which focused primarily on anime.  Even here, his writing was always a cut above that of his peers, and he continued to influence many people in the process.  I first learned of the Angelic Layer series through him, and both Sabrina and I loved it.

His last entry, of October 14, was written just before a storm approaching his home in the Portland area, which he expected might cut off his Internet service and other communications temporarily.  After the storm passed and he might have been expected to come "back on the air," he didn't resume posting.  Fans of his feared the worst, and contacted both his family and authorities in the area, which led to the discovery of his death.

He may have died alone, but he did not die unappreciated.  He will be sorely missed by many, many people around the world.

The archives of Chizumatic are still available, but USS Clueless was always hosted on his own personal server at the domain, a Cobalt Qube which was beginning to show its age.  With his passing, it appears that that server has also gone the way of all hardware.

Back in 2004, at the time Steven quit writing USS Clueless, I suspected something like this might happen, and I didn't want his words to be lost forever.  At my request, Steven E-mailed me a complete archive of the site, and granted me permission to host it on the Electric Minds server.  He even put up a note to that effect:

20040917: For what it's worth, Electric Minds has put up a mirror of this site (with my permission).

(The above note can be verified by searching the Internet Archive Wayback Machine for at or shortly after September 17, 2004.) 

The text "a mirror" linked to  That URL is no longer in existence, of course, but I still hold the domain, and I was the administrator of the site at the time.

I still had the original ZIP file he sent me of the content, so I uploaded it to my personal server and have made it available once more, at  I changed one image file to put a little "In Memoriam" note on the content, but have kept the rest of the text intact from what he sent me.  He never rescinded the permission he gave me to mirror the content, so I consider it to be still in force.  (The pages also include text notes indicating that they are snapshots, and when they were taken.)

Besides, I think he would have wanted it this way.  God knows it's the least I can do, for everything that he ever gave to me and to the rest of the world.

Godspeed to you, Steven Den Beste, Captain of the USS Clueless. The First Officer of USS Gabriel salutes you as you head off, if I may switch metaphors, to go exploring beyond the Rim. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

So, John Scalzi got this weird idea to put each letter of the alphabet into his Web browser and see what Autocomplete came up with for each letter. Hmm, wonder what happens if I do that?

A - Agony Unleashed, an EVE Online corporation that specializes in training people to fly PvP. That's one thing I can't do; I may need the class...

B - This is probably related to that news story I put in Quick Hits about Def Leppard.

C - I ran across this advice site via Scalzi, in fact, and it made some interesting reading.

D - Divine Ascension's web site. I'll be wearing one of their T-shirts to the Nightwish concert. Their lead guitarist, Karl Szulik, was the one that mailed it to me all the way from Australia.

E - Wikipedia (from the "en." at the beginning of their domain name meaning the English version). Come on, you know you get sucked into this site, too.

F - Facebook.  Love it or hate it, you can't ignore it.  Zuckered again...

G -  I think this beat out Google because I was trying to check something related to my login there.

H - Ham Radio Outlet's Web site.  There's a store not to far from where I live. Last thing I bought from there was a power supply for Sabrina's dad...

I - Second Life's OpenID Web site,  Don't ask me why...

J - Jamie Zawinski's web site.  Old time hacker turned nightclub impresario.  Also in the blogroll.

K -, makers of fine high-grade Oregon catnip toys for your cat.  Penny loves it.

L -, a site with essays about C.S. Lewis.  Includes keys to obscure references found in the Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength).

M - My Coke Rewards.  This must be its way of guilt-tripping me into entering the codes from all those bottle tops, right?

N - Nightwish's Web site.  No explanation necessary. \m/

O - Optical Masters, the office where I get my eye exams and contacts.

P - Popehat.  Though I haven't put it into bookmarks, I still visit it frequently...and even blogrolled it.

Q - Quora.  Amazing, the mileage I've gotten out of some of the answers I've given to questions there...

R - The Raspberry Pi Foundation.  Unsurprising, since I've been visiting it regularly since I decided to plunk down the $35 and get a Model B.  This will no doubt make for some blog material later.

S - Subversion's Web site at Apache.  This stems from the "setup" post I did, where I wanted to get everything linked.  Oddly enough, a friend of mine used to own the actual domain...she used it for advertising her goth club, called "Resurrection."

T - The Oatmeal.  Funny as hell, and awesome as hell for raising a shit-ton of money to build a Nikola Tesla museum on the site of his Wardenclyffe laboratory.

U - The Setup (  They put my aforementioned "setup" post in their "Community" section.  They are awesome; check them out.

V - The old Web site for the Venice Web Communities System at SourceForge.  I really, really, really need to rewrite that one of these days...

W - Wil Wheaton's Web site.  He's just this guy, you know?  Oh, and don't be a dick.

X - XKCD.  I agree with Scalzi here, stick figures ARE awesome.

Y - "You Didn't Build That," a Tumblr site devoted to mocking a certain infamous quote from a certain Hussein al-Chicago.  It seems to have languished recently, though.  Guess the joke has gotten old by now.

Z - ZeroHedge, one of the two sites I depend on for the real lowdown on financial news.

Try it for yourself!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

This evening, I sent out a couple of tweets that I send out from time to time:

Periodic Tweets

This prompted some responses from my friends, like "Or are you?" and "Wow, you learned Turkish fast!" (No, I didn't, that was Google Translate.) But it occurs to me that I haven't adequately explained why these periodic broadcasts are necessary. Hence, I shall elaborate.

[Read More]
Sunday, May 6, 2012

Out for a quick raid on a Serpentis complex...but what's that other ship doing there?

Read about it in "A Chance Encounter," on the Ralpha Dogs' corporate blog.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Recently, I was asked to answer the question posed in the subject line on Quora, and I figured I'd repost my answer here for reference by readers of this blog who don't get onto Quora much.  The original poster said:

I like the idea of USENET, especially the fact that it's decentralized. So I'd be interested to know if people are still using it for discussion, and if it's worth exploring it.

My reply is:

My first inclination was to dismiss this question with my usual statement about Usenet these days, which is, "Usenet is a sewer." But, upon further reflection, I realized this would be a disservice to both Quora and the fellow who asked me to answer the question. So, I strapped on my pith helmet, shouldered Google Groups, and took a skim through some recent Usenet activity to better judge the current state of things there.

I confined myself to groups from the original "Big Seven" hierarchy, and omitted moderated groups, as they're likely to be of higher quality than most anyway. (My old college roommate used to be moderator of comp.sys.amiga.announce. Haven't heard from him in awhile.)

So here's what I found:

  • comp.os.linux.advocacy - Flame wars galore. OK, this was an "advocacy" group, I should have expected this. Bad example.

  • comp.lang.fortran - One decent discussion, about the best way to use certain extensions for linking to a C routine from FORTRAN (both standardized and compiler-specific), and a whole lot of threads marked as "flagged for abuse."

  • comp.lang.javascript - A mixed bag of technical information and flame wars, with, for some reason, an awful lot of spam about pharmaceuticals.

  • comp.lang.c - Much like the previous group, except the flame wars tended to take the form of overly pedantic discussions, in some cases quoting chapter and verse from the specification. So a bit more technically inclined, perhaps. (At least once, a citation to Stack Overflow was made, indicating that there could be some crossover to Web-based discussions.)

  • comp.protocols.time.ntp - Plenty of technical information here, a lot of it having to do with GPS (since GPS makes a good stable time reference for NTP servers). Little in the way of spam.

  • - Another mixed bag of decent material, spam, and "abuse." One poster complained "does nobody read this group anymore?" and a responder said "yes, but I only check it like once per day, the traffic isn't what it used to be."

  • rec.arts.sf.written - Surprisingly high signal-to-noise ratio here! Not very much flamage or spam at all. It was the kind of discussion I could visualize taking place in a consuite.

  • - Spam galore, as well as a couple of jerks trolling about Whtney Houston's death. Maybe one thread I could see with any worthwhile discussion. I suppose it's hard to come up with new material for a newsgroup about a band that's been disbanded for over three decades, and of which only half the members still survive.

  • - Except for a couple of reposts of bulletins from elsewhere (such as from ARRL), this group was nothing but spam and flame wars. As a ham myself, I am disappointed.

  • - NANAE has been ground zero for discussions about E-mail spam for decades now. As such, the discussions can get pretty heated, but one might find good material here still. Virtually no spam here, and only a few threads flagged for abuse; I expect someone's actively working to keep it that way.

  • sci.physics.relativity - The discussion seemed less heated in general, and more technical. Some of it gets hard for me to follow, it's so specialized. As for the spam, there was little, and even it tended to be on a "higher level" (advertising solutions guides for science textbooks, for instance).

  • talk.bizarre - This group was as WTF as I remember it being from my college days in the late 80's. I guess some things never change...:-)

So, to summarize: Is it still being used for discussion? Undeniably yes. Is it worth exploring? As long as you go in with your expectations set at the right level, probably. It's clearly seen better days, but it refuses to die, despite all the posts about "Imminent Death of Usenet Predicted" over the years. I would advise you to pick your topics carefully (Usenet was a big time sink for me back in college!) and read a lot before posting; your post may not cost "hundreds or even thousands of dollars" to propagate around the world anymore, but the group's regulars will thank you. (Am I tempted, like I was back in college, to set up my own news server and get a feed from somewhere? Not really, but I can see dipping in via Google if I needed to research something.)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

farmville.jpgAnyone who's friended me on Facebook knows that sending me a request from inside one of the many games that are offered on that platform generally results in that request disappearing into a black hole...usually because I've blocked that game, or, if I hadn't previously blocked it, it's damned well blocked now. I've put up a note on there to the effect that "it's nothing personal," I just don't care to partake in what I've referred to in conversation with Sabrina as "those wanky-wank Facebook games."  I have to tell you, I was mightily disappointed when I saw Google+ start to offer games, too; there went my hopes of a games-free social networking haven...

And yet a lot of people play those games; so many so, in fact, that Zynga, one of the biggest makers of Facebook games (even if they just steal most of their ideas from competitors) was able to pull off a gigabuck IPO on the strength of their revenue from these games. (Their stock price took a nosedive initially, but, according to the charts, has been steadily appreciating recently.) Facebook, seeking a huge IPO of its own just months from now, in turn, depends on Zynga for a bunch of their revenue...and other game makers contribute their share, too.  Heck, for awhile there, Sabrina was pumping money left and right into games like Farmville and Frontierville; it was all the begging she did for me to get her more prepaid game cards, in fact, that finally made me just get her a prepaid debit card from Walmart into which I load more money each time I get paid.

Obviously, these games appeal to a lot of people, to the point where they could be considered addictive, as one of Cracked's famous "list" articles will tell you.  And they pretty much all have a "premium" currency that you can only get by paying real money (such as "FarmCash" in the case of Farmville), which you can use to get all kinds of goodies that aren't available any other way, or "short-circuit" some quest or task and get to the rewards faster (TV Tropes calls the latter "Bribing Your Way To Victory";).  And here's where I start doing one of two things:

  1. Start singing (to the tune of a famous French folk song), "Monetization, all across the nation, monetization, let's all make some cash!"

  2. Go "Damn! Why didn't I think of this shit? I coulda made a fortune!"

Because these games really aren't all that complicated, when you come down to it.  (Mostly they're written in Flash, with some server-side components somewhere.)  Ian Bogost proved that when he created the Facebook game Cow Clicker, purely to spoof the Zyngas of the world.  The game was so friggin' stupid as to make Farmville look like EVE Online by comparison...and yet it garnered fifty thousand users and actually earned money.  There's a moral to be drawn from this story... (Hint: What did P.T. Barnum say was "born every minute"?)

wizard-101-elements.jpgSabrina's latest game addiction, Wizard 101, is kind of like what would happen if Blizzard and Zynga had a one-night stand and wound up getting pregnant with a "kid-friendly" MMORPG.  The game uses a lot of the standard World of Warcraft-style tropes, and it purports to be the story of a young wizard in a magical academy (yeah, stop me if you've heard this before). The combat system involves playing "spell cards" like a simplified version of Magic: The Gathering, and there's a crafting system, and pets, and quests (both the "FedEx" type and the "kill ten rats" type).  But where it gets all Zynga-like is the fact that there's, you guessed it, a "premium" currency, "crowns" as they're called, which is only purchasable with real cash and is the only way to get certain things like henchmen to help you win battles.  (This is on top of the monthly subscription fee you pay to get into any areas of the game beyond the initial one, even though the game is allegedly free-to-play.) And, boy, does Sabrina bite...not only blowing much of her biweekly money allotment on crowns, but begging me to get her their prepaid cards (some of which come with bonus goodies).  Since the game's publisher, KingsIsle Entertainment, is privately held, I have no idea what their financials look like, but they claim 20 million registrations and 12 million unique visitors per month, so I gotta think they're doing pretty well.

And now the "Zyngaization" meme is starting to affect even other established MMOs; a case in point is EVE Online, with its "Noble Exchange" and its new premium currency (Aurum), that has generated plenty of backlash from the player base but also has to be earning CCP at least some money.  I wouldn't put it past, say, Blizzard to do much the same thing, if not in WoW itself, then maybe in Diablo III when it comes out.  Like it or not, game companies are scrambling to make money, and if they think this will help, then they'll roll it out without a second thought.

Just try to keep the presence of mind to block it out once in a while. 

Copyright © 2012 Eric J. Bowersox, All Rights Reserved.
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