The best of Verity Stobb

Last week I received two copies of the book, The Best of Verity Stob from Apress (ISBN number of 1-59059-442-8 for those Internet Explorer users that have AutoLink enabled). I was technical reviewer for the book, though in the end, I became more of language expert than a coding one, pointing out which of the British terms in the book could cause confusion for American readers. Half-way through I suggested a “Glossary of British Terms”, and am so glad I did, because it is absolutely hilarious–as is the rest of the book, which is geek humor at its best.

If you don’t know Verity Stob, you learn much when you read the section in the book, About the Author:


Verity Stob has been a programmer for 20 long yeaers, and has extensive experience in many disciplines of the profession. Programming languages known in-depth include C++, Delphi, Visual Basic, plus scripting languages such as JavaScript, PHP, and–in a real crises–Perl. Can bluff her way in C# and Java, but there again, who can’t, eh? Ditto UML, XML, HTML, and any other -MLs you care to lob at her. Except for ML, itself, of course. Mostly Windows, bit of Linux at a push, Mac no way. (I’ll bung in a few methodologies later, bulk it up a bit.) Although currently living and working in London, prepared to be flexible…Definitely a team player…Very many good hobbies…Sorry, who is this for again? When’s the interview? I tell you, I’m not going if they use those damn Microsoft quizzes.

The book features the best of the Verity Stob column from EXE, Dr. Dobb’s Journal, and The Register, and includes, among other gems, several poems dedicated to technology, such as the following, which is destined to become popular with webloggers far and wide:

The Lincolnshire Poacher

When I went out contracting
in rural Lincolnshire
I’d fix the locals’ websites
by bosky broad and mere;
I’d fix them on my laptop, boys,
but my mobile bills were dear.
Oh, ’tis my delight when the bandwidth’s right
and the signal strong and clear.

The cost of getting on the ‘Net
was bleeding my firm dry.
And then I met a geezer
who told me of Wifi.
He told me of war driving
and was I glad to hear!
For ’tis my delight when the bandwidth’s right
and the signal strong and clear.

I learned to spot an access point
by chalk marks on the ground.
It seems that open networks
are scattered all around,
Right here I can surf happily,
but I did not tell you where.
Oh, ’tis my delight when the bandwidth’s right
and the signal strong and clear.

Good luck to fellow poachers
who do the chalky prep,
Bad luck to secure standards
and the threat of rolling WEP,
Good luck to dozy sys admins
who don’t protect their gear–
Oh, ’tis my delight when the bandwidth’s right
and the signal strong and clear.

Then there was the Antarctica firm that was infected with Visual Basic:

I was standing, hands in pockets, with the pilot of the rescue helicopter as he looked around the burnt-out ruins of the dome, shaking his head in disbelief.

“There’s one thing I don’t understand about this, Ms. Stob. How come you didn’t get infected?”

“That’s easy to answer. The thing is, I know that it’s possible to build anything–even an operating system–just by dragging and dropping a few controls onto a form. No, it’s all right–”

The pilot had taken a pace back in alarm.

“It’s OK, I was just kidding. Now, hadn’t you better go and get ready for take off? If we stay here any longer, we’ll all freeze.”

“OK, Ms. Stob.”

As he walked away, still suspicious, I took my right hand out of my pocket and looked at it. It had grown into a hideous, misshapen claw. Useless for typing, but fine for grasping the mouse and clicking things…”

The book is a wired, whimsical delight; the writing a unique representation of that dry, sophisticated, barbed British wit that can only arise from a people that have lived, crammed onto a little bitty island for centuries. But to return to my glossary, my favorite definitions are those for blimey, fag, monkey-juice and, of course, marmite:


A pungent slime made from a yeast. That this item does not occur in the text, apart from here, I regard as a failing on my part.

The reviews for the book have been very positive; among them is this from Andrew Orlowski. I picked this one out specifically, because Andrew is so near and dear to our little bloggy hearts.

An interesting fact about Verity Stob is that her face has been kept hidden after lo these many years of writing for several publications. This still remains true regardless of the book cover photo, shown below, at Bookpool–because that’s not the cover of the book I received. And no, as far as I know, the photos shown are _not_ Verity Stob.

Regardless of hidden faces and mystery pasts, the book is a good read, well worth breaking your piggy bank to buy.

Diversity Technology

Guys Don’t Link

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

The Better Bad News folk did a take on the AutoLink fooflah, which is worth a chuckle, though not necessarily a guffaw. However, what I found more interesting about the page is the *list of webloggers that the BBN folks referenced:

1. Opt Out Petition
2. Dan Gillmor
3.The Scoblizer

4. Dave Winer
5. Cory Doctorow
6. Time
7. Mark Jen
8. Steve Rubel
9. Kas Log
10. Tim Bray

with sonic support from Plastikman

Aside from the Time article, which is actually written by a woman, and the petition, all of the webloggers linked were men. Every single one.

This matched closely what I found at Doc Searls, in his post on AutoLink. He references the following bloggers:

Steve Gillmor
Tim Bray
Dave Winer
Dan Gillmor
Fred Von Lohmann
Craig Burton

ubermostrum at kuroshin

Again, all guys.

Point of fact, if you follow the thread of this discussion, you would see something like Dave linking to Cory who then links to Scoble who links to Dave who links to Tim who links to Steve who then links to Dave who links to Doc who follows through with a link to Dan, and so on. If you throw in the fact that the Google Guys are, well, guys, then we start to see a pattern here: men have a real thing for the hypertext link.

Well, huh. How about that. Not being a guy, I couldn’t understand this male obsession with the link, so I decided to call on an expert on gender roles about the issue: Lawrence Summers, Harvard’s current President.

“Larry,” I said. “What is is with guys and links?”

“Well Shelley, statistics–now, don’t worry, I won’t show you any actual values because being a women and all, we know that you can’t do more than count your ten fingers and toes–anyway, statistic show that guys are linked more than women, and link to each other more than they link to women. And when one guy links to another guy, a whole bunch of other guys come along and link them both, and then start linking to each other.”

“I’m aware of the behavior, Larry. But what causes it?”

He beamed at me, patted me on my head and chucked me under the chin. “Why honey, it’s because the male brain is wired for linking!”

I’ll have to admit, I was taken aback by Larry’s response. I mean, it didn’t make sense that a guy’s brain could better handling linking, especially since women also use the link.

“Larry, are you sure that linking isn’t a pattern based on cultural and social similarities, rather than gender-based differences in the brain? Guys are linked more because our current society and most cultures still see men as ‘authorities’, regardless of demonstrated capability?”

Larry just smiled, somewhat sadly and shook his head.

“All too often we think that guys are linked more than women because of social patterns, but that’s really not the case. Look, there are three reasons why men are linked more than women, and I’ll take them in the order of importance.”

He held up the index finger on his right hand. “The first reason men are linked more is based on interest and time. Women just aren’t interested in weblogging as much as the men, and don’t have the time for it, even if they are interested. You ask both men and women the question, ‘What’s more important: your families or your weblog?’ and I bet you’ll find that women, overall, will pick their families over their weblogs.”

He held up the middle finger on his right hand. “The second reason is aptitude — men and women’s brains are different, and men are more equipped to handle the complexities of the link, as compared to women.”

Larry then held up the third finger, almost indifferently and said, “And then there’s the social issues, but I don’t want to get into this because anything having to do with social issues means folks like me have to change, and we don’t want that.” He quickly lowered his third finger. “And I don’t want to get into time and interest, because I’m running out of time and the topic has little interest.”  And with that, he lowered the index finger, leaving only the middle finger raised.

“And that leads us back to men and women’s brains being different, and men being better equipped to handle linking.”

At that point, Larry noticed the stunned look on my face, my mouth opened in astonishment. He said, “Seriously, I think it’s important to focus this topic on the hard wired differences between men and women, virtually to the exclusion of any other discussion.”

“To take an example I discussed previously, when I gave weblogging tools to my twin little girls, and they are Daddy’s good little girls might I add, it wasn’t long after I showed them what a link was that they were calling them ‘Daddy links’, ‘Mommy links’, and ‘Baby links’. Leaving aside that all the television they watch features ads with little girls playing house and pretending to be mommies, how else can you explain this behavior other than the female brain perceives the link in a different way from the male brain?”

The conversation continued from that point, but I don’t remember much of it as my brain was in a red haze–I imagine that Larry would say it was because I am a woman and we were, after all, discussing links. Later that day, though, not feeling overly satisfied with his answers, I sought out the one fountain of wisdom I always returned to, again and again, whenever I was troubled about gender issues: Mags the bartender down at the Bushels of Beer Bar & Grill.

When I got there, business was slow and Mags was wiping down the counter. Her hair was steel gray, though strands of golden blonde appeared here and there–she always did miss a few when she colored. Peering out at me from behind thick, fake glasses, she smiled broadly, easily re-cutting the lines long creases into her cheeks. She was a lovely woman, though she spent a great deal of time trying to live this down.

“Shelley! What are you doing here on a fine afternoon! I thought you walked during this time of day?” she said, reaching under the counter at the same time to get the mixings for my usual margarita.

“Skip the drink today, Mags.” I said, heavily, as I plopped down on the stool. “What I want from you is advice, not booze.”

I then proceeded to tell her all about Google’s new AutoLink, and my own findings on men and links, and the conversation with Larry the Harvard President. She nodded from time to time, as if nothing I said was unexpected. When I was finished, she looked at me a moment and then did something she rarely did — come out from behind the counter to sit on the stool next to me.

“Shelley, I’m not surprised by anything you’re saying. But you might be surprised when I say that I sort of agree with your Harvard President — men do think differently about links than women.”

I was surprised, and showed it.

“Oh, I don’t mean that men and women’s brains are wired so differently that men are naturally more adept at linking then women. No, the difference between men and women lies in how men perceive links, not their ability to use them.”

She leaned closer to me, even though no one else was in the place.

“You see, guys see links as an extension of themselves. ”

Extensions of themselves? Extensions? Slowly, understanding dawned.

“You mean…”

“You always were a bright girl, mores the pity.” She said, winking at me. “You got it in one. To you and me, a link is just a link. To a guy, however, a link is something special, a part of himself. The most,um, important part of himself.”

Time for plain speaking. “Mags, are you telling me that guys equate links with their dicks?”

Mags just smiled, patted my hand one more time, and then got up and moved back behind the counter.

“Shelley, to a woman, a link is a way of connecting and being connected. To hearing and being heard. But not so for a guy. Guys see links as power, and therefore something precious, and to be protected. They hold on to their links as tightly, and as lovingly, as a thirsty drunk holds onto a bottle.”

At that moment I had a mental image, of a male weblogger I know, carefully adding a link to his post, bright, feral grin on his face, manic glaze to his eyes. But instead of typing into a keyboard he was…oh, that’s disgusting!

I shuddered, world twisted upside down. “Surely, Mags, not all guys think this way!”

Mags shook her head. “No, this attitude isn’t universal among men. There are many guys who see a link as nothing more than a way of inviting a conversation or passing along useful information. They link without regard to the consequences, and the most they hope for is that it might spark an interesting discussion.”

She stopped wiping the counter and leaned closer to me, lowering her voice. “The power-link guys have a word for men who link just to link,” she whispered. “They call them linkless.”

At that point, a couple of people entered the bar and Mags hurried off to do her job, leaving me to think on our extraordinary conversation. The more I thought on Mags words, though, the more I could see the truth in them. Much that has confused me about this environment is explained if one considers for a moment that some men think of links as some form of virtual penis.

For instance, ‘nofollow’ wouldn’t just be a misuse of HTML and a way for Google to solve the weblogger pest problem: it would be way of increasing the power of one’s link– literally a hypertext version of Viagra. As for Google, it becomes both the hand and the condom, enabling and protecting at the same time.

Sites such as Technorati become the internet version of a locker room, where the guys can hang around, comparing themselves to each other. Those that come up short look at their better endowed brothers with both envy and admiration; sucking up in order to increase their own stature.

When we women ask the power-linkers why they don’t link to us more, what we’re talking about is communication, and wanting a fair shot of being heard; but what the guys hear is a woman asking for a little link love. Hey lady, do you have what it takes? More important, are you willing to give what it takes?

Groupies and blogging babes, only, need apply.

And the phrases, “circle jerk” and “Google juice”, take on new depth and sudden meaning in light of this discovery.

I wandered home from the bar, in a daze of comprehension so strong, it literally staggered me. I thought back on what started this all: the AutoLink. Now, I could understand the concern: it was all about protecting the Link.

What I see is functionality that can only be used in one browser, in one operating system, and only when the weblog reader pushes a button; when pushed, the tool only autolinks a few items: addresses and ISBN numbers and a few other innocuous odds and ends. To me, this is no big thing, but to those who run afeard of this technology, if we treat this service indifferently, other tools will take this as a sign of easy compliance and do truly evil things with the link.

We could then have ‘neocon’ and ‘progressive’ linking toolbars, that automatically link words such as ‘patriot’ to either Michelle Malkin or Atrios if the reader pushes a button. Or syndication toolbars that convert the word “Atom” to a link to the RSS 2.0 specification. (Resulting in such fine combinations as: “RSS 2.0 and Eve” and “Water is made up of two RSS 2.0 of hydrogen and one RSS 2.o of oxygen.”)

Why, some toolbars might even link terms to Wikipedia entries, and modern civilization, as we know it, would collapse into tattered heaps of folksonomic trash.

But not all guys saw AutoLink as the damnation of all mankind. No, a few anarchists in the crowd are always looking for opportunities to rip open the constraints and just let it All Hang Loose.

Yes, so much is explained now. Where I saw AutoLink as a relatively uninteresting and innocuous innovation, to some guys it was a way of dropping their pants and swinging what they got, while to others, it was a big metal Zipper, just waiting to catch the unwary.