Jøhnny Fävòrítê (johnnyfavorite) wrote,
Jøhnny Fävòrítê

the travelling blogger

i had such a pleasant experience at bongo java (see previous entry) that i have decided to hit as many wifi-enabled cafes as i can. a bit of googling turned up this list, compiled by the local isp that has set up most of these places. good for them. i picked the closest one, only three miles from where i live, called perk central. apparently it doesn't have a website i can link to, but bongo java does, and i updated my previous entry to include it, so go look at that instead. their site has a picture that shows that bricked-up fireplace i was talking about.

so here i am blogging from PERKCENTRAL@BUTLER.NET. i'm starting to think about places in terms of their wap ids. sad, isn't it? i am sitting facing a window, and it is snowing cats and dogs. this place is okay, i guess. they've got the blonde hardwood furniture that is du rigeur for this sort of establishment. they've got a few couches and end tables and plants, which makes it somewhat cozy. there are ansel adams prints on the walls. they're playing a jazz station. the latte and bagel i got were good and cheap. now for the down sides: it's in one of those very uncool strip malls with four or five small businesses in it. that makes it hard to get excited about the couches and blonde hardwood furniture and plants and jazz. it's like a guy with a combover: who do you think you're fooling, pal? i am the only customer here. a couple of people have darted in briefly to get stuff to go, but i am the only one using this place as if it's actually a cafe. dang.

BUT ANYWAY. i've got other things to write about. a few seconds ago, my order fulfillment service e-mailed me yet another paid registration for my newsreader. that's just insane. i haven't updated the damn thing in years, other than minor bug-fixes, and people are still trying to stuff money in my pocket for it. it's almost embarrassing.

i told this story from a dozen different angles back in my usenet days, but i don't think i've ever spoken about it to you, my lj-friends. so, here we go again.

once upon a time, along about 1990, there was this bigshot who worked at apple named jean-louis gassée. steve jobs brought john sculley in as ceo, possibly the stupidest move of jobs' entire career. sculley managed to stage a coup and threw jobs out of the company. sculley and jlg didn't see eye-to-eye, and jlg was out also. it was the beginning of apple's long, dark pepsi era.

jobs, thinking he could make lightning strike twice, started a very apple-like company called next. a bunch of apple employees loyal to jobs jumped ship to work with him. they created an entire computing platform from scratch, hardware and software, just as apple had done a decade earlier. unbeknownst to most, jlg did the exact same thing at about the same time, with his own loyal cadre of ex-apple employees, and his company was called be.

jobs had made many millions of dollars in his apple days, so the design of his next computers was very lavishly funded. he had his hardware guys design lots of new and different stuff from the ground up. the resultant computers were extremely chic and cool and futuristic and black. they were prohibitively expensive. jlg wasn't quite so well-funded, so his bebox computers were not quite such a radical departure from the pcs of the day. beboxes were largely made from off-the-shelf parts from the pc world. if you saw a bebox today and didn't know what it was, you'd probably guess it was a no=name clone built by some mom-and-pop pc vendor. it was radically different under the hood, though. beboxes weren't all that expensive, about in line with what you'd pay for a wintel box of that era.

next and be both toiled in relative obscurity for around a decade. next had a few big design wins. tim berners-lee, father of the world wide web, wrote the very first web browser on a next box. id's doom, the 2.5d game that virtually created the first-person shooter genre, was almost entirely written on next boxes, then ported to pcs. be didn't have any big visible showcase wins like that, but they had a small, devoted following of users.

both next and be discovered that you simply can't compete in the hardware world without billions of dollars and decades of trying. both companies discontinued their hardware and re-purposed their operating systems to run on other people's hardware. nextstep was ported to several unix hardware platforms and also to wintel boxes. beos was ported to macintoshes and wintel boxes.

apple had been struggling for a decade to write a successor to macos, the most godawful ugly operating system to ever grace god's green earth. it was pretty and user-friendly on top, a junk heap underneath. a patch on a kludge on a hack on a bag, an accident waiting to happen. i considered jumping ship from the windows world into mac-land several times during the nineties, but my casual investigations into what it would take to program for macos always made me run screaming in the opposite direction.

along about 1998, sculley was out. apple's long dark pepsi era had ended. the people in charge of the company finally admitted to themselves that their corporate culture was such a shambles that they would never complete a decent macos replacement in-house. they bit the bullet and decided to buy something from a third party. the only two serious contenders for the title were nextstep, from next, and beos, from be.

it was a close race, but nextstep won. apple bought next. jobs returned to the company he'd founded all those years ago. be and jlg decided to keep slogging it out as an independent company, searching for some sort of business model that would keep them afloat.

now is about the time when your humble narrator enters the story. i'd had all i could stomach from gates and co, the scourge of the northwest. i've been involved in computers since i was a teenager, and made my living from them for pretty much all my adult life, and i have no problem at all saying that microsoft has done more to discourage innovation in the computer industry than all other companies combined. the very thought of those people turns my stomach. i thought long and hard about getting out of computers altogether, such was my disgust. sadly, i'm not really qualified to do anything else, so that idea was out.

linux was starting to get really hot back then, so i gave it a whirl. i can sum up my months of trying to make peace with it thusly: no fun. no fun at ALL. i thought about having another go at the mac, but macosx was not yet viable, and there was no way i'd saddle myself with macos classic. the next thing i tried was beos. version 4.0 was current at the time, so i ordered that from the be website. i had a little trouble getting it to play nice with the video adapter i was using at the time, but after i got over that small hurdle i was in LOVE LOVE LOVE with beos. it was cute and small and fast and easy to understand and work with. modern-day ms windows had gotten to be such a chore that i had completely forgotten i got into computers in the first place because they were fun. beos brought the fun back.

i do not come from a family of high achievers. when i was growing up i heard a lot of adults pay lip service to the idea that you can be anything you want to be, and then i'd have a look at what they were actually doing, and the much louder message i got was: as matter of fact, you actually can't be whatever you want to be, you'll be lucky if you can make it through a week of work without having your soul crushed. good luck, pal. and so it wasn't until my late thirties that i finally convinced myself that i could be world-class, if i made up my mind to do so.

i set myself an absurd goal. i wanted to get a job writing beos software. at the time, there were only four companies of any size that were in the beos business: beatware, adamation, gobe, and be itself. the entire worldwide market for beos programmers was perhaps 100 to 200 jobs. the competition for those jobs was insane. i told no one what i was planning, since i didn't want to get laughed at.

at the time, i was very active in usenet. there were no good usenet newsreaders for beos, in my opinion. so there was my opening. i started in mid-1999 and didn't get finished until mid-2000. and thus pineapple news was born.

pnews became very popular in no time. it was downloaded so frequently that my isp shut down my website. that turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because that's how i met the guy in sweden who's been hosting me for free ever since. i used pnews as my résumé when i applied to be, and that got me hired. that and nothing else, i feel obligated to add, because i totally flubbed the interview. i bet the people i interviewed with wondered if a fumble-brain like me could have actually written such a thing. i moved from florida to california to take the job in late 2000.

so that's my story, folks. that's how i managed to get hired at my absolute first choice employer, a company infested with monster-brains who were good enough to have held key positions at apple. i somehow found myself fraternizing with the l33t3st of the l33t.

unfortunately, be went out of business seven months after i started working there. after a protracted legal battle, the remains of the company managed to extract a 24 million dollar settlement from our arch-nemesis microsoft, due to their competition-stifling behavior. microsoft wasn't the only reason be went out of business, but they were a very big part of it.

all the monster-brains i had worked with were quickly snapped up by other companies. they are actually good programmers. me, i got in because i spent a year writing a really good résumé. i never got a chance to prove i could be a generally good programmer instead of a beos-specific programmer, so i got kicked out of the inner circle.

sigh. always a bridesmaid, never a bride. that's the story of my life. looking back on it now, i guess it would have been smarter to ignore the siren call of beos and get myself a next box instead. the shiny metallic portable i'm typing into right now is running an operating system that is really nextstep under a different guise. but it could have so easily gone the other way. if apple had chosen differently, then this portable would be running something that was really beos under a different guise.

i almost made it into the big-time, but then i didn't. my own dad dying didn't hit me as hard as getting kicked out of the inner circle of l33tn3ss. i'm still not over it. i guess i never will be.

UNTIL I DO IT AGAIN. i am smarter now than i was when i wrote pnews. the worldwide market for macosx programmers is small, but not nearly as small as the beos market was. i am not very smart, compared to those guys i used to work with, but i am the most tenacious son-of-a-bitch who ever walked the earth. i can keep hammering away at something absolutely forever, until i get what i want.

so there's my little pep talk for myself. yvette's battery has held up valiantly for the hours it's taken me to type this, but she's about to fall asleep. i guess i better post this and get the hell out of here.
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