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Foreword

Foreword

I was asked to make this personal, and that's what I've done.

When I told an associate I was writing an introduction to a book by John C. Dvorak, I was told, “Good choice. Neither one of you started with any journalism background and you're both crusty old curmudgeons who don't give a rip what anyone else thinks.”

Which, if perhaps a bit extreme about me, certainly describes John to a T. Remarkable how much insight some readers have.

John and I have been writing opinion columns about computers and technology since the 1970s. We started at about the same time, and for a while we both wrote for InfoWorld, although our overlap was very brief back when Maggie Cannon was editor. We have very different styles. I tend to write the “Field and Stream” column—rambling accounts of what I did and what happened next, interspersed with observations on trends and how the world is going to hell (or not). John writes formal essays and short, very terse opinion columns. I hate to admit it, but what he does is harder than what I do. On the other hand, I write novels and he doesn't, although spies tell me even that's about to change.

We also used to host the best-known computer parties the world has ever known—the Pournelle-Dvorak-Hearst Party at COMDEX. It was famous because you could come to the party only if you could find it, and we got pretty clever at hiding the real party while steering people to a large, faked one that neither of us visited for more than 10 minutes. There are still plenty of people who think they went to the party who actually never found it.

The name of that party got shortened over time to “the Dvorak Party,” and I think I know who was responsible. Dvorak openly bribed people to vote for his chili at one of the COMDEX chili cookoff contests and even paid to have pretty girls go out and rope people in to his chili booth, so my guess as to who had the colossal egomania to “shorten” the name of the party—which, incidentally, neither of us paid for (that was done by Will Hearst)—should be pretty obvious.

It wasn't as though he could have paid for it, either. I remember back at the first CD-ROM conference in Seattle. I invited John to dinner at the Pink Pig. I brought my BYTE technical editor. John showed up with five friends, and when it came time to pay the check, it was bigger than his expense account would handle. I never had that kind of problem at BYTE while McGraw-Hill owned the book, so I paid it. Then I realized this was my tech editor's first BYTE trip, and the bill was large enough—thanks to single-malt Scotch—to scare him. So I hustled and commissioned two technical articles about CD-ROM, and I wrote one on how CD-ROM was the wave of the future and ended up on the cover of The New Papyrus, saying prophetic things. It made me look pretty good, and I suppose I ought to thank John for sticking me with a check so big I had to work hard to justify spending that much money.

We started writing about computers and related technologies at the same time. We also got connected to what became the Internet very early on, back in the days when it was all a big adventure, and text adventure games such as Zork were an important part of the experience. Those were the days when electronic mail came in at 300 baud, and you could read a newspaper while waiting for the entire message to print. Even at 1,200 baud (no one called it bits/second then), you could read the text as fast as it came on screen. Even so, it worked, and because neither John nor I like working in someone else's office, we both learned to use the new capability so that we could file our stories from home or anywhere else.

At least he learned. I now have a confession.

I know John has been to Brazil and to Finland north of the Arctic Circle, because we went there together. On both of those trips, he was able to establish communications with his home base—we didn't say things like “get online” in those days because that's not quite the way it worked—and I couldn't. He also had a wealth of local information, including currency exchange rates and the best bars in Helsinki—the ones that served single-malt Scotch—which he had managed to find. This was back well before there was anything like Google or AltaVista or, for that matter, an Internet. I could usually get better technical information than he did because BYTE's BIX had the most sophisticated readers in the world, but it was hopeless asking them about Helsinki cab fares or Springbank single-malt Scotch.

So. It's probably fitting that John writes a book about the Internet experience and how to use it and getting connected. He's always been pretty good at that. Sometimes better than I am. Of course, he wrote a book about OS/2 back when I knew far more than he did about it. I actually had three OS/2 systems working and interconnected and able to share a CD-ROM drive, and believe me that wasn't anything like easy in those days. I know Dvorak hadn't done it, but there he was with a book on the subject. But when I read it, I realized he'd done it again: I might know more about OS/2 than John Dvorak, but I sure didn't know more about it than his collaborators. He had the head of Team OS/2 as a co-author. And I have to admit, John has always been very good at getting people who know more than he does to write with him. And when he does that, you can rely on the result. I do.

So here's John Dvorak writing about being ONLINE. Recommended.

Jerry Pournelle
Studio City, July 2003

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