Archive for the 'Paleo-nerd' Category


Hacking Bob’s One-day Fundraising Number

It came out last week: similar to myself when I was a younger Robert, Bob “Beto” O’Rourke was once a hacker.

I’m not a political supporter of Bob’s White House run (Bernie all the way), but I was inspired by this revelation of our shared experience back in the early digital days of modems and BBS systems. So I spent some time last night in the old familiar hacker mode, exploring and re-acquainting myself with a big information system: the FEC’s campaign finance databases.

Partial records of Texas Dems accepting a big pile of cash from Beto For Texas. Why and where did it go after it got there?

I found something, but I’m not yet sure what. Maybe it’s nothing.

I can show that Bob’s Senate-race campaign committee, the one that raised $80M, did something that at least to me appears a little unusual. The Senate campaign did transfer, over a set of ten or so disbursements across late 2018, about $5.8M from itself to the Texas Democratic Party.

I’m not in the know as to why this was done. It could be reimbursement. The Texas state party could have spent a bunch on behalf of Beto’s run and was getting paid back per some agreement between the two.

Based upon other campaign financial research I’ve done, it does strike me as odd that about 7.5% of the cash raised for Bob’s Senate run appears to have gone unspent directly by the campaign committee on beating Cruz, but I’m not familiar enough with the possibilities to commit to saying that it means it actually went unspent on beating Ted. As I mentioned, maybe it’s reimbursement for things the party had paid for in the effort to get Bob elected Senator.

But I can say: when the 1Q FEC filings arrive next month, if we find sizeable sums on or near Day 1 going FROM the Texas Democrats TO Beto For America (that’s his White House committee)…or, alternatively, if we can tease out a money trail beginning with the Texas Dems that moves through intermediate committees to ultimately land at Beto For America in that time frame, that would indeed say something nasty about Bob’s big $6.1 mil one day fundraising announcement. The record-setting dollar figure would almost certainly be shown to consist in part of donations from his old campaign, aka himself. It would also explain why the sources and number of donors in his Day 1 success went unreported.

And that would land Bernie right back on top in with the first-day fundraising record among the field.

I’m not saying this is the case, because the jury’s still out. The April reports aren’t here yet. I don’t yet know where or if the Texas Dems actually put what they received from the Senate campaign anywhere.

I’m only saying 1) a stage is set 2) that six mil from the Senate race has gotta land somewhere.

Did it land in the headlines?


When Servers Blow Up (As In Actually Explode)

In 1990s Chicago, old friend Greg Dunlap and I had a 4th of July tradition where we served sweet explosive revenge to all the computer equipment that had given us grief that year. There was never a shortage. Pizza box PCs with flaky mobos, monitors on the blink, maddening mice, PC keyboards whose backslash keys were broken (think about that for a minute, DOS users), stubborn routers: each was queued and dispatched with extreme prejudice using the finest explosives the neighboring State of Indiana could offer.

Greg has since moved to Sweden, a nation where displays of a less militant sort are commonplace. For example, rather than use gunpowder to take out frustrations relating to living in the Arctic, Swedes instead gather in the darkness to construct idealized models of a society that while intricate and delicious, would not survive a serious coffee spill.

You can take the software engineer out of the US, but can you take the US out of the software engineer? Is it unreasonable that Greg, upon facing this year’s hardware irritation, might feel just the barest twinge of homesickness for the recreational (and other) explosion capital of the world?

Of course it’s not unreasonable. Which is why the fine people at Data Center Knowledge put together this awesome video Gallery of Exploding Servers available with merely a click.

Assuming the mouse works, I mean.


The Price Of Technical Correctness


Recently, I had this client who sought me to do some SEO copywriting on a website.  The client was in the business of putting their clients’ products on the web, and they wanted someone who understood how SEO works to look at the copy on their website, write some new copy and edit the existing stuff for SEO.

So I took a look at it, and gave them the estimate that they asked for.   But I didn’t stop there.  To stop there would have been dishonest and technically incorrect.

Because they had a problem. The site was implemented in Flash (I love Flash, don’t get me wrong), so no matter how I changed their copy, no search engines would have noticed.  The reason is search engine indexing software can’t read into Flash files, which means that if you use Flash and don’t provide your copy outside of the Flash files, Google, Yahoo et. al. will not understand what the site is supposed to be about.

And this is surely what was already going on.  After one year on the web, the site’s top page had a lowly Google PageRank of 1 and when I was done with what they wanted, they would have ended up with a PR of…1.

So, separate from but attached to my estimate for the SEO copywriting work, I explained to them why the work would not O the site with any SEs.  In very brief, plain, nontechnical, helpful English, I explained the situation and let them know that I could help them with fixing their problem as well as doing the SEO copywriting.

Readers experienced in business are smiling right now and already know how this story ends: my technical correctness cost me the project.  By not doing exactly what was asked of me, and by failing to pretend that what I was doing would have an effect at the search engines, I threw a wrench into the works and scared people.  Had I simply shut up and okey-doked and pretended that what I was doing was changing something, a payday would have resulted.

This is far from the first time this has happened to me. You could say it’s a long-running theme.

Years and years ago, along with a partner, I owned a web development company called Automatic Media Group.  Our domain name was the portmanteau, and we pitched web projects as early as 1995, back in the days when a VP of Marketing would actually ask you “how will anybody see this website?”

As a company, we did okay, but not great, and it was my fault.  It was my first business and I thought our value was in knowing how to fix problems that people didn’t even know they had.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  What was wanted from me was not evangelism, or solutions, or wisdom.  What was wanted was service, and not in terms defined by us, either. Thus were we regularly hobbled by my technical correctness.  I had little understanding of client relations and strove for elegance and profound change instead of closing deals.

Given today’s SEO story, you’d think I have no more understanding now.  But the fact is, this time I knew very well I was taking a risk of losing a payday by being technically correct. I knew the risk and I did it anyway.

I did it because for better or for worse, I still believe toiling away on nonsense that isn’t getting anybody anywhere is better done by people who don’t know any better.  There are plenty of them out there, and I shouldn’t take away their livelihood.  If that seems glib, so be it.

Consider it my Christmas gift to the economy.  A small sop to ethics as we wade in the cesspool of the free market’s meltdown.

Sure, it’s similar to hanging an air freshener in a sewer, but as with the Christmas tree: he who smelt it, felt it.

Merry holidays.


User Documentation? Hey, It “Worked” For Testing


You’re not going to believe this, but there was a time, before the omnipresent internet, when commercial software makers held back product releases while they rigorously, expensively tested their products.  This didn’t eliminate bugs, but it did tend to push software makers harder to at least aim for perfection before they got the release out the door.  The fixed costs in issuing patches by snail mail, to say nothing of the user grumbling could really hurt a publisher.

To say the least, the aim is lower now.  Today’s testing budgets are smaller even if the user bases are bigger, because the paying customers, all of whom are internet-connected, have been enlisted to do more of the testing.  All those patches released one after the other for download contain fixes discovered by anguished complaints from paying customers as well as by the maker.  Under these conditions, the pressure to reduce testing budgets for consumer software is obvious and growing.  Is software documentation headed in the same direction?

Consider YouTube’s recent call for user documentation videos of YouTube’s own site features.  While user input on documentation is absolutely de rigeur for many if not most open-source software projects, is this the direction the commercial software world is headed?

Yeah, probably – but only as long as the software in question is 1) fun to use 2) not filled with embarrassing bugs that will make embarrassing videos.

In other words, the bulk of the market for traditional documentation isn’t going to disappear.


Tool Of The Manuals


In honor of my joining the Society for Technical Communications, it’s time to debut a new RW370 category dedicated to technical writing: RTFM. I took on a couple of projects for some hardware engineering outfits to develop installation guides, manuals, supporting animation and video too.  W00t.

There’s no point in a category without a payload, so dig these awesome relics of instruction courtesy of Wired.


The Atari 2600 Cartridges That Weren’t

It is, in fact, fucking checkers

I think I was eleven or twelve when childhood pal Alan Buchbinder left on vacation with his family for a week and let me borrow his Atari 2600 while he was gone. I played that thing until I made myself sick, and that’s not an exaggeration. I flirted with epilepsy, dehydration and starvation, and that was only the first day.

Why so obsessed with the 2600? Well, somewhat due to the exciting cartridge packaging. These were always painted tableaus of drama, espionage, military conflict, dragons and kings – hilarious already since the games themselves were rendered in flickery 8-bit boxes you shoved around using a joystick.

Apparently, this guy has a different, considerably more awesome recollection of the game titles.

(Thanks to Andy Lester)


Arthur C. Clarke, 1917-2008

Arthur C. Clarke and Friend

We are lucky that Arthur C. Clarke, inventor of the geostationary orbiting satellite and author of genre-defining science fiction works such as Childhood’s End, Rendezvous With Rama and 2001: A Space Oddysey was born when he was. Had he been born later, it is possible that some of the finest works in SF would have been snowed under, rendered indistinguishable from the slush pile left by the online blizzard of typing we today navigate. Be thankful that his words met their paper medium in a forceful collision of metal and ribbon. If he were blogging instead, would he (and we) have recognized his ideas as indelible narratives of the celestial frontier? I doubt it.

So long, Sir Arthur.


Internet 2: Electric Boogaloo

The Cat Pictures and Naked Ladies Hole!

Before the internet, we had the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), and back in the late 1970s, it worked this way: my alcoholic Uncle Todd would, from time to time, pick up his telephone and call the telephone in my house. This created a circuit between us. The PSTN was/is a circuit-switched network. That means that my uncle’s slurred speech and off-color jibes came to my amused young ears via a dedicated pathway – a circuit between his phone and my own. The circuit lasted the duration of the call – it was born as soon as he successfully dialed (undoubtedly after a few tries) and the circuit died as soon as either of us hung up. (Usually, it was him.)

The biggest reason the internet exists today is that circuit-switching poses real problems in mass emergencies. The net is a solution to the problem that begins with the fact that my uncle and I took up one whole circuit between us the whole time during the call – nobody else could use that circuit while we were using it. He and I were tying up a whole pathway – all the wire between my house and the Joe Dano’s Bucket-O-Suds bar payphone. Since there are a limited number of pathways (pairs of wires) in the telephone network, we can’t have too many people using it at once. Reason: if everybody is using the circuit pathways at the same time, or somehow the circuit pathways are cut, new calls can’t get through.

The 1950s was the short period in US history when the Military-Industrial Complex had not yet completed the transition from its WWII war-effort origins to its current state as, uh, the current state. It was during this time when the Pentagon, through its research arm named DARPA, noticed that the PSTN and its circuit-switching had troubling implications for wartime – and wartime then meant “nuclear wartime.” The PSTN was (and still is) a huge number of wire pairs running between cities, carrying conversations on temporary point-to-point circuits. And that was the weakness of the PSTN: if the Russians were to attack the US by, say, detonating a nuclear warhead over St. Louis, point-to-point telephone communications between, say, Colorado and Washington, DC would be badly impacted, fomenting chaos. All of St. Louis’s wires would be “in use” (knocked out by the nuke) and new calls headed through there couldn’t get through there. There was more at stake than just one very weird, pork-steak-obsessed, hyper-Christian midwestern city – no less than the nation’s strategic communications were at risk. DARPA started researching the problem and ultimately the internet was the result.

The basic design goal of the internet was to replace the circuit-switched PSTN with a new packet-switched network. Unlike circuit-switching, where remember, a whole wire pair is dedicated to my uncle’s slurring, packet-switching takes advantage of digital communications technology’s ability to be instantly re-routed. All communication on the internet is, invisibly to you, broken into a very large number of very small pieces of information called packets before it is sent on its way. And for the benefit of those readers who have remained awake thus far, let us merely say that packets, unlike circuits, can and do flow around the burned-out husk of St. Louis because they can find their own way around. In packet switching, there’s no single circuit (or group of circuits) restricting flow of information. Packets are pretty cool, they brought you this page, they didn’t come to you in order, and they took a whole bunch of different routes to get to you. Packets rule, circuits suck.

So now you can imagine my nerdly shock when I checked out Nate Anderson’s piece in Ars Technica about the next-generation internet, named Internet2. Like our internet once was, Internet2 is found only on campuses, linking about 200 universities together at serious speeds.

Guess what Internet2’s newest feature is? Circuits.

The main network remains IP-based and connects more than 200 universities, in addition to limited connections to government and industry facilities. Each network segment now features a set of 10 10Gbps links, each running on a separate wavelength of light, for a total of 100Gbps of bandwidth. And that’s only the start; Internet2 says it can scale each segment to handle up to 100 wavelengths in the future. That’s… a lot of star charts.

Most intriguing is the network’s new Dynamic Circuit Network feature, which will allow researchers to set up dedicated, 10Gbps point-to-point connections across the network for short-term data transfer. The service will go live in January 2008, but it already works. In a demonstration today, Dr. Carl Lundstedt, of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, set up a connection between his school and the Fermilab research park in Batavia, Illinois. With bandwidth provisioned, Lundstedt then transferred one-third of a terabyte of data between the two places. It took five minutes.

And you thought rock and roll was the only arena where yesterday’s discredited approaches show up in new packages.


Vint Cerf: TV will melt down before Net does

Vinton Cerf, no relation to Bennett

Internet godfather Vinton Cerf is not worried about video traffic bringing the net to its knees in an oft-predicted technical meltdown. Instead, at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival he warned that TV, and not the net had better watch its ass as it approached its own “iPod moment.”

Distinctly unlike most techno-pundits, when Cerf starts mumbling threats or using weird new phrases or conjunctions, it really pays to listen closely and unpack what he says. There is little chance that Cerf crafted his words to fulfill some kind of lecture-circuit deliverable, some meme-for-meme’s sake nonsense phraseology standing in for insight. This is a guy who got up from his terminal one day having built IP, which you just used, are using now and will use again in the next ten seconds; there isn’t much he can say about the internet that isn’t insightful.

From the August 27 2007 Guardian:

Dr Cerf, who helped build the internet while working as a researcher at Stanford University in California, used the festival’s Alternative McTaggart Lecture to explain to television executives how the internet’s influence was radically altering their businesses and how it was imperative for them to view this as a golden opportunity to be exploited instead of a threat to their survival. The arrival of internet television has long been predicted, although it has succeeded in limited ways so far. But the popularity of websites such as YouTube – the video sharing service bought by Google in 2005 for $1.65bn (£800m) – has encouraged many in the TV industry to try and use the internet more profitably. Last month the BBC launched its free iPlayer download service, and digital video recorders such as Sky Plus and Freeview Playback allow viewers to instantly pause and record live television.

Dr Cerf predicted that these developments would continue, and that we would soon be watching the majority of our television through the internet – a revolution that could herald the death of the traditional broadcast TV channel in favour of new interactive services.

In Japan you can already download an hour’s worth of video in 16 seconds,” he said. “And we’re starting to see ways of mixing information together … imagine if you could pause a TV programme and use your mouse to click on different items on the screen and find out more about them.”

Some critics, including a number of leading internet service providers, have warned that the increase in video on the web could eventually bring down the internet. They are concerned that millions of people downloading at the same time using services such as iPlayer could overwhelm the network.

Dr Cerf rejected these claims as “scare tactics”. “It’s an understandable worry when they see huge amounts of information being moved around online,” he said. But some pundits had predicted 20 years ago that the net would collapse when people started using it en masse, he added. “In the intervening 30 years it’s increased a million times over … We’re far from exhausting the capacity.”

16 seconds? That’s a lot of time to wait for Bambino!


Why RW370



Long before the internet was turned into a dorky TV channel, certain customs and norms were observed by those who inhabited it. One such custom was the NIC Handle. I have a NIC handle, even though I have not explicitly used it in many years. My NIC handle is RW370. This alphanumeric sequence identified one as a domain registrar (someone who registered internet domain names such as or

NIC handle naming convention also identified something interesting. The sequence is made of the person’s initials (RW for Rob Warmowski) followed by a serial number (370). The rules of NIC handle creation were such that the number part of the handle was in fact a serial number. Meaning that RW370 was the NIC handle of the 370th person of initials RW to appear in the NIC databases.

This means that I am the 370th RW to register domain names on the internet. There have since been tens of thousands of RWs, a statistical necessity of the appearance of millions upon millions of domain registrars. These numbers were, uh, not in evidence at the time; I was way in the front of the line.

Some might say too far in front: I obtained my NIC handle in 1995. That was the year that I first laid eyes on the World Wide Web and almost immediately founded the Automatic Media Group, a web development and online presence consultancy. In that and following years, I would visit business executives and field questions such as “so how will people see this web site?” and “how much does an internet cost?”

A better businessman, given such a position in history, would probably be writing this entry not in a blog but in a manuscript for an autobiography for which he received a seven-figure advance.

Discovering you are a terrible salesman right after you discover you are a seer is not an experience I recommend to anyone interested in paleo-nerd bragging rights: this blog post is about all I got out of the process. Well, almost all. I do have the power to tell boring stories about Gopher, Archie, WAIS, Delphi and BBSes too. Nerdery, while a persistent theme, has been but one dimension to my story. I’ll do what I can to keep you awake.



rob [at] warmowski [dot] com

@warmowski on twitter

Rob’s Bands

Rob Warmowski entry at Chicago Punk Database
1984-89: Defoliants
1991-94: Buzzmuscle
2001-05: San Andreas Fault
2008- : Sirs
2008- : Allende

Rob at Huffington Post

July 2020