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A columnist resigns
October 16, 2003 1:47 PM   Subscribe

Why was I still writing for these clowns? Charlie Stross wrote the Linux column in UK magazine 'Computer Shopper' for over sixty months, until a regime change started to impinge on his editorial freedom. The last straw came when he submitted a column regarding weblogging tools for the Linux platform only for it to be bounced because the tools weren't actually part of the operating system ... so he produced this column for himself and emailed his resignation. Part of his decision was based on declining quality and sales. Does anyone still actively buy computer magazines anymore? [thanks Sore Eyes]
posted by feelinglistless (22 comments total)

 
I have fond memories of MacUser from ten or fifteen years ago, but the idea of actually buying a computer magazine hasn't even crossed my mind in years. You just don't need them, now that you can get more information than you ever wanted about anything on the 'net.
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:01 PM on October 16, 2003


When I was moving house I found stacks of twenty year old PCW magazines I rescued from school ten years ago, with their pages of machine code in the back (this was the days before cover tapes). I remember going through the soul destroy task of entering all these hexadecimals, running the mini checksum programme and the programme not working. Then checking through the thing carefully three times and not seeing anything wrong.

Then reading in the magzine the following month that one of the pages was a reprint of a section of a programme which had appeared the month before and in that context utter gibberish. They apologised for the error. I wanted my twelve hours back...
posted by feelinglistless at 2:15 PM on October 16, 2003


How can a real geek not actively buy computer magazines?

PC Magazine
maximum PC
Photoshop User
Computer Games

Plus many others that I buy at the news stand.
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:18 PM on October 16, 2003


The last straw came when he submitted a column regarding weblogging tools for the Linux platform only for it to be bounced because the tools weren't actually part of the operating system .

Computer shopper was right. The author was wrong.

Mr. Stross refers to slashcode as 'a Linux program'. slashcode is open source code that can run on many platforms, MICROSOFT Windows, FreeBSD, Mac OS X.

'Linux' is a rather limiting topic. Open Source is not. Calling Open Source 'Linux' shows a lack of knowledge.

posted by rough ashlar at 2:34 PM on October 16, 2003


I find magazines a waste of money. There's nothing I can't find out about on the Web.

I used to have a subscription for Yahoo Internet Life magazine. Even though people made fun of me. I didn't care. I sincerely enjoyed the zine. There was something novel and eerily cool about a dead tree periodical reporting about cyberspace. Roger Ebert. Angela Gunn. Great features. Old Way versus Net Way. A monthly summation of the Web. It wasn't about which operating system was best, but it worked for me.

Then somewhere around the summer of 2001 I had to consolidate my spending due to unemployment. The YIL subscription was one of the first things to go. I still have a check somewhere for like seventeen dollars or something from YIL. I'd lost it at a time when I really needed it, and when I found it again it was too late to cash it in (after 90 days the check became null & void). Now I don't have the heart to throw it away, since the zine itself is no more. It's like my own private Babe Ruth baseball, though worthless to everyone else, it's priceless to me. Maybe I should get it framed..?
posted by ZachsMind at 2:54 PM on October 16, 2003


See Charlie's response to this post. Perhaps we should have some fast-track system of signing up new members who have a special interest in MeFi (e.g. when a post is about them)?
posted by adrianhon at 3:15 PM on October 16, 2003


Having just read Charlie's response: Amen :)
posted by kaemaril at 4:10 PM on October 16, 2003


FYI, the column I wrote for Shopper went through a couple of name changes, but ended up being called "Linux Expert" because, bluntly, that's what those members of the public who aren't familiar with the minutiae of the Eric Raymond/Richard Stallman open source/free software love-in think in terms of.

And who's fault is it you perceive the public 'only' knows Open Source as 'Linux'? Why not raise the bar and EDUCATE people that while GNU/Linux is a small set of the Open Source Set.

With a remit to cover BSD, MacOS/X, and commercial UNIXen, it might have better been called the UNIX column -- but as the then editors decided, that'd have put off those readers who've heard of this free thing called Linux and want to learn about it.

And so you didn't advocate to make the column broad enough so you could have plenty of topics to write about? (you make a point of mentioning the Mac columnist and his freedom)

Instead, you choose to accept the mandate of 'writing about Linux' where 'Linux' was defined as "Not any program that runs on top of the GNU/Linux os environment - just the GNU/Linux environment" After talking about Kernel config, shells, sed/awk/grep, regexp, and how a file system is layed out....you are kinda light on topics.

Who knows, Computer Shopper might just read this thread and realize that GNU/Linux is a small part of Open Source and you might be able to write articles that show Mozilla on Windows, Open Office on Mac OS X, and GNOME on FreeBSD rather than keep perpetuating the myth about Linux 'the public' is under.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:26 PM on October 16, 2003


When did Richard Stallman join?
posted by inpHilltr8r at 4:36 PM on October 16, 2003


No kidding. Earth to rough: The average Unix geek knows that a Linux column may be applicable to his OS. The average Computer Shopper reader might not know that a Unix column is applicable to his OS.

If anything that runs on multiple OSes can't be covered in a Linux column, such as Slashcode, you're left with almost nothing to write about.

Though Slashcode is cross-platform by nature of being implemented with Perl, there are far more people employing it on Linux than Windows or Mac OS by virtue of its origins on the world's most popular Linux advocacy site. Anyone who wouldn't cover it in a Linux column is being a pedant.

Which, of course, makes you well-qualified to be an editor. And I say that as a pedant who has been one.
posted by rcade at 5:17 PM on October 16, 2003


The average Computer Shopper reader might not know that a Unix column is applicable to his OS.

Per the 2nd link:

readers who've heard of this free thing called Linux and want to learn about it.

If the column goal was 'to learn' about "linux", how is calling 'anything that runs on Linux Linux' "educating" anyone?

To think 'the public' can't understand Open Source and just call everything Linux sells the public far short.

Though Slashcode is cross-platform by nature of being implemented with Perl, there are far more people employing it on Linux than Windows or Mac OS by virtue of its origins on the world's most popular Linux advocacy site

Do you have actually numbers for this? Or do you just 'feel' this is the case because the corporate masters used to be called VA Linux? It may well be true, but I'd perfer to see actual data, otherwise it is a claim similar to "there are more Linux desktops then Mac OS desktops". Provide proof please.

In addition, /. lists itself as "news for nerds, stuff that matters" not 'linux advocacy herein.' /. has a BSD section, an Apple section and a Mircosoft section. Rather odd for a 'linux advocacy' site. But the Mircosoft section does echo Charlie's "evil empire" comments.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:53 PM on October 16, 2003


Besides, Rough, if your mission (should you choose to accept it) involves advocating Linux via a magazine column, presumably the question of "what can you do with the damn thing" will come up eventually. (And I wouldn't be surprised if one or two Linux distros come with blogging tools available already--a quick search through gentoo's site offers up "snipsnap" and "twiki", a couple of wiki packages that can be adapted to blogging.)
posted by arto at 10:12 PM on October 16, 2003


I won't be a computer magazine columnist any more. I'll be a full-time novelist.

The novel will be about this dude who writes computer columns by day, but by night, fights vampires in a post-apocalyptic war zone. (At least, I hope it will be.)

The last computer magazine I bought had the word "Amiga" in the title. I can't remember how the rest of it went. It was sometime in the early Mesozoic era when I got it. I think it was good, though.
posted by Ljubljana at 10:21 PM on October 16, 2003


From a later post:

I'll be writing one more column for Shopper; I don't like leaving any job unfinished or on bad terms, and they need a bit of breathing space to find a replacement.

I hope he submits this column and that they refuse to print it. It would just about vindicate all the reasons he's leaving. I would be marvellous if they do print it. Especially the clown moment... 'Hello Charlie!' by the way ...
posted by feelinglistless at 10:36 PM on October 16, 2003


The novel will be about this dude who writes computer columns by day, but by night, fights vampires in a post-apocalyptic war zone. (At least, I hope it will be.)

Charlie mostly writes singularity and postsingularity SF. His (good) novel Singularity Sky is out now, as is a short story collection, and The Atrocity Archive is due soon.

Sort of like Vinge, but with more references to other stuff and where the singularity is more likely to go sour. The unholy love child of Vinge and Lovecraft.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:21 PM on October 16, 2003


Computer Shopper (if it's the same UK Computer Shopper we get here) is the biggest steaming turd of a computer magazine in the world. I think ads account for about 75% of it's pages, while the content is just reviews of harware. It's terrible. And really not worth arguing about.
posted by PenDevil at 1:05 AM on October 17, 2003


I still buy computer magazines, but I haven't bought Computer Shopper in years.
posted by mmoncur at 1:42 AM on October 17, 2003


After BYTE was kicked off this mortal coil I quit buying most pc mags... not just because online is superior in terms of speed, but quality of content in most of the pc mags out there seemed to drop off a cliff at around the same time... dumbed down to a "whats the hot new stuff our advertisers want to sell you now" level.

I do however buy every issue of Edge Magazine. Games, not general pc mag. Good writing, thoughtful reviews, and glossy double-page spreads of hot pixel-on-pixel action. Consistent high-quality graphic design. The layout makes 3D shooters look like the high art they can/will be.
posted by i blame your mother at 3:18 AM on October 17, 2003


I like magazines. I read magazines more than I read books, I think. You can't take your computer with you wherever you go ... especially the bathroom. (Or, if you do, you're a bigger geek than I am.)

I still buy Wired, even if it isn't as good as it used to be, it's still pretty good. And PC Gamer, and Photoshop User, to name a few.

But I never bought Computer Shopper, even when it was still relevant.
posted by crunchland at 4:20 AM on October 17, 2003


PenDevil: that's what the American Computer Shopper is for! It's supposed to be 75% ads. I'm vaguely in the market for a new pc, so I picked up a copy to get a sense of prices, what savings could be had by building it myself, what prices are too low to be true, which chipsets are common, which new companies seemed worthwhile enough to check out further on the net, and so on.

It's like a bridal magazine, or an auto shopper. The ads are the whole point.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:07 AM on October 17, 2003


crunchland: I like magazines. I read magazines more than I read books, I think.

Portion of "Magazine" by Jesus Jones:

All the things i read come from magazines
My concentration never was what it might have been
And i know that i'm impatient but there isn't really time
To have all these ideas going through my mind

Magazine
For your survival
Magazine
There's no modern rival
Magazine

Choose what i want to read so i'm never bored
All the time i save i use to read more

Magazine
It's just like the real thing
Magazine
But better looking
Magazine

I'm not saying anything, crunchland, your comment just reminded me of the song is all...
posted by jaded at 10:20 AM on October 17, 2003


I read charlie's column for many years. In fact it was the only reason I bought the magazine many months.

He talked a lot about what to call the column and why. Whatever the name it always used to reflect the kind of intelligent use of computers I wanted to be part of.

I remember when he said that everything he had dreamt of in computers had come true. referring at the time to 32bit operating systems and global email (not long before compuserve had made a surcharge for external email). Its what I always tell people when they ask why I'm into computers.
posted by ollybee at 1:50 PM on October 17, 2003


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