Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Gail Williams (gail) Sun 3 Apr 05 19:28
Slip one is perfect! Shady! Let's try for the other two. Maybe Satinwood expreses the fine, smooth part of WELL discourse and cultural impact, versus Sauerkraut, the sour and esoteric treat that outsiders have to work to get used to. After Saint Stupid's day on Friday, where a good WELL contingent took part, Wavy and Weed perhaps point to another cultural thread. I do say that in a totally non-tie-dyed way, of course.
Ramon Sender Barayon (rabar) Sun 3 Apr 05 20:47
Yes, I think your interpretations for Slips Two and Three have much merit, Gail! Ever think of giving it all up to sit on a tripod over a gas vent at Delphi on Mt. Parnassus? Superior fumes, I'm told... "A recent study, reported in the August issue of Geology, reveals that two faults intersect directly below the Delphic temple. The study also found evidence of hallucinogenic gases rising from a nearby spring and preserved within the temple rock..." http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/08/0814_delphioracle.html
William Dell Wisner (wisner) Mon 4 Apr 05 04:03
In 1993 I became the WELL's system administrator. I was 22 years old, still a bit snot-nosed and had dropped out of college and moved to the Bay Area only a year earlier. But in matters technical I really knew what I was doing; <mo> saw that and gave me the job. That I was (relatively) cheap helped, I'm sure. I didn't know much about the political and personal tumult that preceded me. I knew that I had just been given my first real dose of professional responsibility - for when it came to keeping all WELL systems running smoothly, I was the buck's final terminus. If I made a mistake that took the WELL offline, it went directly to the company's bottom line. I don't think I would have found many other companies willing to give me, at that time and at that age, responsibility for literally all of its revenue operations. I am the better for it. I made mistakes - thankfully, minor ones - and I learned from every one. Oh, did I. And I had one huge milestone: I personally retired the old Sequent server and transplanted the WELL onto its new Sun SPARCserver 1000. Considering that project's critical importance to the company, it remains on my resume to this day. (The choice of what sort of new server to buy was eventually narrowed down to the Sun and a Data General AViiON. I strongly favoured the Sun; I think Mo leaned toward the DG. Sun has since become the world's leading UNIX company; the AViiON was killed off at the end of the nineties. DG/UX? Dodged a bullet there.) This coming-of-age story is personal, too. Never the world's leading authority on meeting people and making friends, the WELL handed them to me gift-wrapped. I made friends and enemies and mistakes and inroads into social realms I would never otherwise have encountered. I was abused by local celebrity Jon Carroll. I provided technical support to international celebrity William Broad. (Look him up.) I appared on CNBC half of one of my allotted 15 minutes. I read the Whole Earth Review. A lot of the Whole Earth Review. I discovered the world best General Tso's chicken. I explored, I learned, I grew, a couple of times I got stupendously drunk. I am the better for it. After a year and change I moved on. It was the right thing to do professionally. The first vague glimmers of the dot.com explosion were becoming visible on the horizon. I joined a young, vigorous Silicon Valley company, I got a great big raise, I broadened my professional scope and (in realisation of a long-held dream) I eventually got transferred overseas. I'm not so certain it was the right thing to do personally. When I move on I move on, and when I left the WELL I left the WELL. The connections, the friendships, the fascination and the fun didn't survive. I've had to look for new ones. The old ones, some of those I still miss. And I miss Gate Five Road.
David Gans (tnf) Mon 4 Apr 05 07:23
Nice to see from you, Bill. Where are you now? And Ramon! And SHADY!!
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 4 Apr 05 08:04
Wisner! wow, excellent to hear from you, Bill.
William Dell Wisner (wisner) Mon 4 Apr 05 09:27
Thanks. I'm in London now, looking for the next big (or little) thing.
Cliff Figallo (fig) Mon 4 Apr 05 11:03
Bill, you may have been cheap to hire, but you were brave. And smart, too, to go with Sun. The Sequent installation was the result of many days of amateur research, looking for a rig that without the VAX's shortcomings. I went for the multi-processor system even though it had it's own bizarre version of UNIX. It made sense to me that if we needed to handle more and more multi-tasking situations with multiple users on the system, more processors was better! Given the choices in the late 80s, it's hard to say whether anything else would have been better. The technical world was figuring out how to convert from mainframe mentality to micro-server mentality. There were still other OSs with credibility besides UNIX. There was no Windows NT. Thank God that was not one of the choices. We were ideologically convinced that UNIX was the way to go, but there was no generic hardware to go with BSD that had the balls to keep up with our traffic. When I arrived in 1998 to take over Table Talk for Salon, they were running WebCrossing on an NT system. It was a big mess until they replaced the entire technical staff and we converted to Linux. I'm glad I don't have to make such choices anymore. I was in over my head, but grateful for all the informed opinions I got from experts in the community. And to Mike Wilens, too. He would spend the time to research my choices and make recommendations.
John Payne (satyr) Mon 4 Apr 05 11:53
As I remember it, an unusual sort of financing scheme was used to help pay for the Sequent. Members were asked to voluntarily make advance payments on their accounts, which were recouped as monthly and connect-time charges accrued. I think I kicked in $100, which was a lot of money for me in those days, and then wasn't billed for the next two or three months.
Bryan Higgins (bryan) Mon 4 Apr 05 12:20
<scribbled by bryan Mon 4 Apr 05 12:21>
Runcible Spoonerism (bryan) Mon 4 Apr 05 12:22
Nice to hear from you, wisner. I have good memories of the quality work you did here.
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 5 Apr 05 10:25
How cool to be making a life in England! Reminds me of a young Englishman who got into the WELL, moved to California and is now making a life here. A few months ago Howard said something that stuck in my mind. He mentioned somet thing to the effect that while the WELL may be an elite or esoteric reference to a lot of Americans, it's strongly appreciated and known in other countries. Allowing for the selection bias of people who want to meet Howard around the world, that's still fascinating. Only about 10% of WELL members are from outside the US. However, you will indeed find members in London if you seek them out and befriend them, just for example. Why has this little place, "the Bolinas of cyberspace" as it has been called from time to time, with no publicity budget and a membership with a mixed reaction to evangelizing the services to those "NOTW" or Not On The WELL, remained so famous in Europe and Japan, especially?
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 6 Apr 05 14:13
Something else that occurs to me about The WELL is that we haven't talked much about surviving all the ownership changes. The auster3e but golden era of the Figtex days were the Neti/Point shared ownership days. Then Bruce Katz was recruited as a friend with deep pockets, as I understand it, to buy out Neti. Bruce -- actually Rosewood Stone Group -- bought half, and then bought the other half. I haven't said much about the experience of working with Bruce Katz, because I both found him incredibly tough to work for at times, and abundantly enthusiastic. He used to come up with new plans and toss them out partially formed. My way is to be more cautious, and to think through the implications. I found it helped me to take all of Bruce's ideas as proposals that needed testing in a a small, controlled way first. It kept me from feeling threatened by proposed changes, and after all, I might be wrong. I felt that a simple test would send him in another direction if his idea was not workable, so that kept me grounded. He did manage to make some significant errors in dealing with the community, particularly around how he thought growth would work, and he failed to take my advice at the times I disagreed with his impulses. The reactions to Bruce were sometimes so disproportionate that I ended up feeling as bad about the predictable backlash as about his proposal of the week or a human relations gaff. I found that time incredibly stressful emotionally. I felt I couldn't go if I could help prevent disaster, but that I was seldom listened to. This made a lot of unnecessary stress and I was tense and difficult with some of the development people Bruce brought in. I apologize to all the people I was snarky with. I also found I couln't socialize with my WELL friends much during that time because I was peppered with angry questions that had no answers. It felt like work, and the vilification just seemed excessive. I appreciated Claudia and later Maria for dealing so gracefully with Bruce and being able to remind me that the Web interface development he was funding had to be done by somebody in order for the WELL to survive. I'm still thankful for that lifeline. I don't have hard feelings towards Bruce, but I understood many of the concerns and hard feelings that were expressed to and about Bruce's plans. That was so isolating, and it was hard for me to figure out what I needed to do to make things work for everyone. Ultimately, handing off to Maria and then eventually selling to Salon turned out to be good moves on Bruce's part. I haven't said much about that time.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Wed 6 Apr 05 15:39
Yes, that was stressful for a lot of people. In retrospect, it was the idea that the WELL could be owned that was most traumatic. Of course it HAD been owned, but Larry Brilliant and Stewart Brand were benevolently absentee landlords. Bruce's enthusiasm about changing the WELL met with resistance in large part because of his failure to communicate effectively with the old guard, and in large part, the resistance was triggered by the shock of realizing the WELL could be owned. I often wish that Bruce has been effective in selling the community on his schemes for expansion. It would have been good for social cyberspace as a whole if the WELL had proliferated. Claudia tried her best. It wasn't her fault that nobody -- myself, certainly included -- managed to establish good communications with Bruce.
Cliff Figallo (fig) Wed 6 Apr 05 17:16
I agree with Howard and the perception that we were owned but that we'd been set adrift to find our own course if we could just figure out how to support ourselves. That seemd to be consistent with the mentality that many of us brought to the WELL. I can't put my finger on it, but I always sensed a shared attitude that we were getting away with something cool. Speaking, if I may, for many of the early WELLers, we'd spent most of our adult lives in anti-authoritarian mode (even those who had been in the military) and appreciating any opportunity to occupy liberated territory, whether it was mental, physical or electronic. Of course, such idealism was destined to bump up against harsh realities like cash flow and depreciation. The WELL's owners and absentee founders didn't take into account, for example, how fast the VAX would depreciate in its capacity to support the growing community. NETI had loaned us $90K at the outset. LOANED, I said. And that just barely got us to the break even point around the time when the VAX was about to blow its mind trying to keep up with all of 15 or so simultaneous users. With our member's generosity, we were able to jump to the Sequent in the nick of time, but it, too, was straining under the load by mid-1990. So by the time Bruce came calling at Stewart's behest in early 1991, I was predisposed to overlook any reservations I had about the imperfect personality match. It was crunch time. Ironically, Bruce really wanted to be associated with a free-thinking community. He thought of himself as one of us in that way. He was an anti-authoritarian guy - didn't like to take orders. But not everyone takes gracefully to the kind of collective opinionating that the WELL generates, especially if you are identified as the authority to be questioned. (Take it from ME!) We needed a financial savior at that point in time, and no one else had come forward. I know there were meetings happening among a small group of WELL members to cook up alternative ownership or management schemes, but there was little leverage there. I could have performed more due diligence regarding Rosewood Stone's readiness to kick in more cash for immediate system and staffing upgrades but, well, beggars can't be choosers. Having at least one of the owners with a bankroll held the potential of an eventual cash infusion. I wasn't around to see it. (Can I get off the couch now, Doctor?)
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Wed 6 Apr 05 20:59
The very idea that hardware costs would be the primary bottleneck for a relatively small community forum is just boggling today. It was another era.
Dennis Wilen (the-voidmstr) Wed 6 Apr 05 21:32
As we all know now, bandwidth expands to fit the waste available.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 6 Apr 05 21:49
I remember visiting the WELL on a trip to SF - actually the aforementioned FringeWare Bay Area visit - and learning from Sumser that he'd just closed the deal to sell the other half of the WELL to Bruce. I didn't know quite what to think. Still don't.
OZRO W. CHILDS (oz) Wed 6 Apr 05 22:55
When I joined, most of the silverbacks were still active. I spent days reading through the more interesting conferences (true confessions was my favorite). It's wonderful to see how many who are either gone or seldom post have come back here to reminisce. Especially good to see Josh, always one of my favorite voices, and Ramon Sender, whom I met at a hosts party -- at the Arboretum I think.
*%* (jewel) Wed 6 Apr 05 23:16
The first WELL gathering I attended was a meeting called a "deadhead town council" in September of 1987. We met at a bar before a Grateful Dead show at Shoreline. The meeting was called to see if we could come up with a way to solve the Well's technical problems, as I recall. I remember <wheezer> saying it was not worth it to put a new front end on the VAX, whatever that means. I remember looking at each person and reconciling the image with the one I'd been holding in my head since May. Back then, I had a 1200 baud modem but the WELL would hang, and hang, and hang. I drove us nuts. We'd press to continue, and wait, and wait. So we were all anxious to get the WELL moving smoothly. I have no idea if anything that happened at that meeting contributed to the problem being solved. As I recall, it was when we got the Sequent everything was finally smooth. I remember being all excited and then all happy to see a new screenful any time I wanted.
*%* (jewel) Thu 7 Apr 05 09:16
Town Meeting. Not Council. Council is another welltale entirely.
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 7 Apr 05 11:03
Great tidbit. We're into the last 24 hours of this as a featured interview, summit and/or nostaliafest. If you are not a member of The WELL you can email a question to inkwell- firstname.lastname@example.org for the final lap, or join and ask on your own behalf. I have a couple of questions to throw out, but this has been the very definition of drift, a sort of rolling history open-mic. Wonderful posts!
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 7 Apr 05 11:25
I do want to put one story on the record. This is for David Gans and Cliff Figallo. When I first came to work at The WELL I was trying to learn UNIX and figure out the mysteries of how it all worked. I had read the host manual cover to cover more than once, joined the "Deeper" conference where dhawk taught UNIX tricks, and was fascinated by how tools make rules, and vice versa. Cliff asked me if I knew vi yet, and I did not. He compensated for my weakness by contracting with David to do the technical things I couldn't do yet. And he gave me the opportunity to commission some work on the PicoSpan conferencing software from Bryan Higgins. I like Bryan and David, so this was a treat. I began jamming on learning vi so I would be able to go full time and do all the functions John Coate, my beloved predecessor, had done so well. And I began to be frustrated by the inability to do things myself when needed. I didn't really want to be asking David for things or telling him what I wanted to do for a minute longer than was needed. So at some point we had a consultant in, a business consultant who'd worked with Clorox Inc out of Oakland, who burned sage or incense during the session, I believe. She asked for confidential wishes, suggestions, requests & complaints. I told her I was ready to do the job myself. I didn't go directly to my boss, Cliff, or to David, my colleague and a friend. I don't remember exactly what happened next in sequence, but the next big WELL flap was David being pissed at Cliff for having his contract dropped, as I got to take on more or the responsibilty I'd expected. For whatever reason, David did not expect to have his contract end, and there was a lot of dark murmering about why ever would Cliff fire David, and had Cliff lost it? At the time I said nothing, but I think that was chickenshit. I think it was my fault, but I let Cliff play boss. I was quiet, and worked on my projects and my simple UNIX chops. I've been on the other side of those dynamics for years now, and been loathed for things I didn't initiate, but I feel terrible about having created bad blood, even briefly, between two community leaders and people I admire, so long ago. I hope you will both forgive me.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 7 Apr 05 13:01
I see now that I was temperamentally unsuited for that position. I remember making <jewels>' life miserable by managing to scream at him in email, and I remember saying something really nasty to <slf> at that time, too. It made perfect sense to kick me off the staff - seriously. I have contributed a great deal to this community over these 20 years, but an appreciable proportion of it was on the negative side of the ledger.
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 7 Apr 05 13:18
I'd completely forgotten about how there was a point where we had it so requests of our then sysadmin <jewels> were supposed to go from David through me, and I would rephrase them to be neutral in tone, and than add friendly PS messages from me saying thanks for taking time from whichever big emergency project of the day. Thanks. We've each grown and changed in so many ways.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Thu 7 Apr 05 13:41
That was courageous of you, Gail. And yeah, I don't think David would have been happy in the position in the long run. A long ways upthread, Gail mentioned the WELL's reputation. I guess I've been around the world a couple dozen times since The Virtual Community was published -- I put in 150,000 miles on UAL last year alone -- and I'll certainly vouch for that. In many ways, I think the WELL's fame is the result of Stewart's marketing genius -- no budget for advertising, but free accounts for journalists (that's how I got here, via a MicroTimes article). The folks who made the Media conference a central watering hole for technology-minded journalists should share that credit. Certainly, this isn't the oldest community (Metanet, for example), and with 100,000 newsgroups and uncounted listservs, message boards, chat rooms, online gaming communities, the WELL is far from the only one. But with all the changes, a continuity of intellectual tradition is worth applauding -- there's still plenty of wit and wisdom, irreverence and lore, intellect and smartassery, and, yes, community spirit to be found here. We used to fear that the WELL would die. Having been through the deaths of a couple of communities in the past decade, I now know that you couldn't kill the WELL if you tried. If the servers turned to lime jello tomorrow and/or Salon went under and/or any other doom scenario, I am willing to bet that software, server, and (bickering) organizing committee(s) would be on the case within minutes. I have no doubt that the WELL will outlive all those whose words are here now. You there in the 22nd century -- am I right, or what?
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