Some quotes from the Usenet days

I’m sad to hear Terry Pratchett has died. I would write “it is not fair” in all caps, but that might get misinterpreted.

I had the pleasure of meeting Terry Pratchett at a book signing in The Netherlands when “The Last Continent” was released. I was getting the book for an Australian friend of mine whom I was about to visit in Australia. She had told me she refused to read Pratchett because all her friends read his books and he was just “too mainstream”. I told Terry this at the book signing when handing him The Last Continent. He thought for a moment and wrote “Carol, Don’t read this one either”.

I greatly enjoyed his books, but also at the time in the late nineties, his postings on Usenet in He was the first celebrity that I saw that talked to his fans without a publisher in between. You got to talk to the real Terry. Of course, a lot of talk on was about whether or not that was really Terry Pratchett. You could tell from the writing though. It was him.

Below are some of the quotes I saved from, hopefully someone can grab the entire usenet archive from Google before it is lost forever……

on Cuba
I would like to confess that I know my books have been read by a Cuban. At least, I think he is Cuban. Certainly he’s got Cuban relatives. Or knows someone from Cuba. Or knows someone who smokes cigars, at least.

I realise this may put the upcoming US tour in jeopardy, and throw myself on the mercy of the courts.

On the use of IMHO
Oh, as a naturally democratic man I use the simple and common net usuage; it means ‘In my pompous and unwarranted opinion as a person who, despite an apparent intelligence level somewhere between that of a clam and a line-dancer, won’t hesitate to pronounce definitively on any damn subject under the sun.’ Of course, I might have got it wrong. It was just based on long observation:-)

On a hedge
You’ve got to remember that no hedge is ‘natural’; the whole point of cutting and laying the traditional quickthorn is to make a living barrier that even a sex-crazed ram isn’t going to be able to push through.

On Tomb Raider
> Same here, maybe I’d like her more if she didn’t look like she was made of plastic.

Never mind about Lara. The Tomb Raider games are the only games where I’ve shot someone because they were getting in the way of the scenery. Who will forget the brown trousers moment with the T-Rex in TR1? And in TR2 I spent some time driving the snomobile and the boat just for the sheer heck of it…

On Doom
“Over the centuries, mankind has tried many ways of combating the forces of evil…prayer, fasting, good works and so on. Up until Doom, no one seemed to have thought about the double-barrel shotgun. Eat leaden death, demon…

On Doom at a con in NZ
At a con in NZ they had a number of machines hooked up and four kids were playing Doom in co-operative mode with the superb Aliens-TC patch, which was incredible well done. They were advancing through the nest, and I explained to them that the only way they’d survive was with some sense of military discipline. Hah, they obviously thought, was does *he* know?

Whereupon an alien stepped out of the corridor wall behind them.

Whereupon they all turned around and fired like Hudson on speed…

Whereupon the guy who had been at the *front* of the line shot all three of his colleages who had been in single file behind him…

…whereupon the alien ate him.

On receiving emails from fans
But in reality people often aren’t writing because they want that information. They want to write an email to a favourite author, and they don’t want to sound too fanboy, so asking a real question gives them, they feel, a reason. This is fine. It’s just that there’s so many :-)

About people posting ideas for DiscWorld in
You tell *me* what to do, folks. My view is that a) I’m not intending to nick anyone’s suggestions b) I’m not intending to quit reading afp c) if there are ever problems, I can afford really expensive lawyers:-)

On vampire ideas
> I am talking about the carefree use of informal language such as “nicked”,
> “stolen”, even “plagiarised”, and of course the ever popular “it is clearly
> obvious that…”, when referring to things which are, in the end, usually
> entirely unconfirmed references or resonances we *think* we may have
> spotted in PTerry’s work.

A sort of moderating comment…(but best to add some spoiler space)

Probably no other fictional monster has been so written up, filmed and played as The Vampire. I read my way through a shelf of stuff while writing CJ and *of course* there are scattered through it references to the general vampire mythos — as I’ve said elsewhere, there’s little in there about vampires that I had to make up. Vampires didn’t begin and end with Dracula. There were even high-class, Lestat-type vampires in 19th Century fiction. There are *lots* of references in CJ to ‘Dracula’, both the original book and the various influential movies that have been made of it, because they’ve largely defined our image of the vampire (which, before ‘Dracula’, was quite different). And it wouldn’t be DW if I couldn’t take the pi– poke some fun at the Anne Rice wannabes who think vampires are so cool…

Of course, everyone in Transylvania — oops, Uberwald — has a servant called Igor. It’s practically compulsory. Does Igor show Count Duckula a picture gallery anywhere in the series? I don’t know, and I don’t care much — because I can recall ‘pictures of ancestors’ as minor background in vampire movies generally (sometimes the eyes move, and sometimes, ‘hey, did you know you look *just* like the girl who died 300 years ago and here’s her picture?’ Generally, of course, the vampire in the pictures always looks remarkably like the one doing the showing…) And I can’t quite bring myself to believe that ancient retainers grumbling that the new people aren’t a patch on the masters he used to have was invented by Cosgrove-Hall.

I can hardly object to annotations, but I did spend my youthful Satuday mornings watching endless bad (and good) vampire movies (it got so I could *recognise* that bit of road by the dark lake where, in Hammer Horror movies, the coach *always* loses a wheel) and before I wrote CJ I read of lot of historical and reference vampire stuff (as have most modern writers of fictional vampires). We all mine from the same seam. That’s why most vampire movies are remarkably similar — the only suspense is working out which *new* way of killing a vampire is going to be demonstrated this time.

Skytech and Dawson College versus Ahmed the kid

In case you had not heard it, the information of about a quarter million Canadian students was compromised in a security incident last week. These kind of breaches are so common place now, I hardly take notice of them any more. But an article about this case appeared in the National Post, “Youth expelled from Montreal college after finding ‘sloppy coding’ that compromised security of 250,000 students personal data

It turns out 20 year old Ahmed Al-Khabaz found a flaw that was trivial. He reported it to the vendor. The data was not leaked online on pastbin – at least, not by Mr.Al-Khabaz. But others before Al-Khabaz could have come in, copied the data, and left.
According to the article,

After an initial meeting with Director of Information Services and Technology François Paradis on Oct. 24, where Mr. Paradis congratulated Mr. Al-Khabaz and colleague Ovidiu Mija for their work and promised that he and Skytech, the makers of Omnivox, would fix the problem immediately, things started to go downhill.

Two days later, Mr. Al-Khabaz decided to run a software program called Acunetix, designed to test for vulnerabilities in websites, to ensure that the issues he and Mija had identified had been corrected. A few minutes later, the phone rang in the home he shares with his parents.

It was Edouard Taz, the President of Skytech, the company who wrote the Omnivox software. Taz threatened to report Al-Khabaz to the RCMP promising six to twelve months jail time unless Al-Khabaz agreed to immediately meet up and sign an NDA. It goes down hill from here. Dawson College expelled the student for a “serious professional conduct issue”. Fourteen out of fifteen professors in the computer science department voted in favour to expel Al-Khabaz. And the result is that a smart young kid, who did the right thing, and made a little mistake out of curiosity, is facing serious long term effects of not being able to get a college degree. And with him having nothing left to lose, the NDA they forced him to sign became useless, and Skytech lost as well because we all now know how crappy the security of Omnivox is. Edouard Taz shot himself in the foot. It’s just too bad he had to take down Al-Khabaz with him.

And the vulnerability? We don’t know we can assume it was something as trivial as manually editing the URL in the address bar, or some simple SQL injection attack. Something that in any other industry would be called “gross negligence”, but for some reason IT companies get away with delivering cars with faulty breaks and calling the slippery road an “Advanced Persistent Threat”. And companies like Skytech, with the assistance of an ill-informed Computer Science department at Dawson College, take it out on a young kid who honestly tried to do the right thing. Security through bullying. The response of both Skytech and Dawson College was over the top, and counter-productive to everyone’s interest.

Compare this to the response of my old university, the Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen. A 19 year old kid spent all his money on a 1200 baud modem (half duplex) and uses it to login to a university LAT-TCP server to connect to something called “the internet”. He uses “ftp” and “sz” to download files, “nn” and “telnet” to read news and chat with people all over the world. He did much worse then Al-Khabaz, although he too was careful not to do any accidental damage. And like Al-Khabaz performing his scan of Skytech, this person knew he was a trespasser. An assistant professor known as “Sparky”, notices that a student who had not been active at the university, started logging in very regularly. He becomes suspicious that the account might have been compromised. So he sends a Unix Talk request to her (see man talk). The two briefly chat online. Sparky confirms the account is compromised. But instead of screaming and threatening like Mr. Taza, Sparky asks the hacker how he got into the account. The hacker tells him he used ypcat to get /etc/shadow, then ran a cracker. Sparky then tells the hacker he has two days to get his stuff from the account and leave, and not to come back using any other accounts. Three years later, our young hacker has actually enlisted with the university to study CS, and in his second year he becomes friends with Sparky – and even gets an account on the university’s historic PDP-11. He confesses the whole affair and both have a good laugh. The student later on starts an ISP, becomes a security consultant who speaks at Black Hat, and is part of a group that writes VPN software in use all over the world. And the young-hacker-turned-sysadmin also has to deal with hackers himself. One time he logs into an irc channels to tell a group of file sharing hackers that they overstayed their welcome and should not have filled up the disks, and that it was time to go – and probably stop stealing movies and ISP resources. The circle of not threatening kids who make mistakes continued.

I can’t imagine how my life would have turned out if Sparky had hunted me down and had threatened me with jail time or that he would have kicked me out of university when I was 19. I learned a lot from Sparky, and I’ve passed along the same treatment to others. I wish Mr. Al-Khabaz all the best. He deserves much better then the treatment he received from Skytech and Dawson College. Don’t we all make those mistakes when we are that young? The real mistake here, is that Omnivox is a product with severe security flaws, that could have resulted in identity theft of 250,000 Canadian Students. Perhaps Mr. Taz should focus his bullying at his own security department?

EarthCalm EMF Protection Technology (USB or Ethernet)

There is almost nothing that gets me more mad then pseudo science. There are those who are just completely self-absorbed and believe in their quackery science, such as the “vaccinations causes autism” people, who are now responsible for an increased infant mortality in the western world. That upsets me and frustrated me, but there is another group that actually infuriates me. Those frauds trying to sell people bracelets, stones, crystals, and as it seems like now, usb drives filled with stones or a variation powered by non-PoE ethernet connectors. Note that Earthcalm is aware of lawyers, so their website states:

Disclaimer: The products and/or technologies listed on this website are not FDA-approved and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, mitigate, or prevent any disease. Please consult your physician or health care practitioner for any questions about EMFs and your health.


Instead of spending $179 on these gutted USB drives, please consider this $49,90 bargain Possible Health Effects of Exposure to Residential Electric and Magnetic Fields instead. Or spend nothing and read its summary:


Public concern regarding possible health risks from residential exposures to low-strength, low-frequency electric and magnetic fields produced by power lines and the use of electric appliances has generated considerable debate among scientists and public officials. In 1991, Congress asked that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) review the research literature on the effects from exposure to these fields and determine whether the scientific basis was sufficient to assess health risks from such exposures. In response to the legislation directing the U.S. Department of Energy to enter into an agreement with the NAS, the National Research Council convened the Committee on the Possible Effects of Electromagnetic Fields on Biologic Systems. The committee was asked “to review and evaluate the existing scientific information on the possible effects of exposure to electric and magnetic fields on the incidence of cancer, on reproduction and developmental abnormalities, and on neurobiologic response as reflected in learning and behavior.” The committee was asked to focus on exposure modalities found in residential settings. In addition, the committee was asked to identify future research needs and to carry out a risk assessment insofar as the research data justified this procedure. Risk assessment is a well-established procedure used to identify health hazards and to recommend limits on exposure to dangerous agents.


Based on a comprehensive evaluation of published studies relating to the effects of power-frequency electric and magnetic fields on cells, tissues, and organisms (including humans), the conclusion of the committee is that the current body of evidence does not show that exposure to these fields presents a human-health hazard. Specifically, no conclusive and consistent evidence shows that exposures to residential electric and magnetic fields produce cancer, adverse neurobehavioral effects, or reproductive and developmental effects.


The committee reviewed residential exposure levels to electric and magnetic fields, evaluated the available epidemiologic studies, and examined laboratory investigations that used cells, isolated tissues, and animals. At exposure levels well above those normally encountered in residences, electric and magnetic fields can produce biologic effects (promotion of bone healing is an example), but these effects do not provide a consistent picture of a relationship between the biologic effects of these fields and health hazards. An association between residential wiring configurations (called wire codes, defined below) and childhood leukemia persists in multiple studies, although the causative factor responsible for that statistical association has not been identified. No evidence links contemporary measurements of magnetic-field levels to childhood leukemia.