Rumors & Muck

Volume 6 no. 3 (March 1988), page 11

Write about what you know, they tell young writers. Use your own life experiences; your words must ring true. And it’s normally darned good advice. Yet here I sit, a writer, knowing something about which I don’t want to write: Rumors. Gossip. For computer user group members it is the insider trading that provides sauce for the sometimes otherwise dry business of computerdom. For computer junkies it provides the fix they need to lunge forward another day, devouring all computer-related information in their paths.

Did you hear that MacWhatsit is not going to ship next month (as was widely reported six months ago they swore it would)? Did you hear that Apple and start-up firm MacHine are putting the finishing touches on a CD-ROM product that runs under HyperCard version 2.3, and that their top secret in-house demo disc is 600 megabytes of interactive pornography that supports the full 256-by-256 bit palette in the long-awaited color LaserWriter 3 (a friend of a friend said he talked to someone who had seen something that could have been an early demo)? Did you hear that Speedco is pre-alpha testing their new add-in board for the 128K Mac that is so powerful they gave it the code-name Deathstar (a guy I know grew up as best friends with the president and he’s going to try to get one next week to play with)?

Okay, maybe I’ve resorted to a little hyperbole. But don’t think you can stay away from the LAMG BBS for more than a couple days and expect to log on without having to wade through a tangled spaghetti of similar messages. And there we sit in front of our Macs, staring into the screens with eyes that, if capable, would be making the equivalent of slurping noises as we suck up every untidy morsel. Rumors, ah, rumors.

You needn’t go looking for them, either. They will come to you, more than likely. I was working at home the other night when the phone rang. On the other end was a long-time acquaintance of mine who now works for a software publisher. As is typical of our conversations, we talked about Macs and Mac software. And although he would occasionally intersperse his conversation with, … but I can’t talk about that and … but that’s top secret, I knew that if I made pleasant noises at the correct intervals he would eventually get around to sharing all kinds of juicy stuff with me, always after eliciting a promise that I won’t tell anyone else. After all, he values his job.

Later on I cast my mind back over everything my friend had told me in the course of our casual chat, and realised that I was the possessor of some pretty potent scuttlebutt. My first impulse was to call Vicky Jo Varner and spill everything. That woman goes through First Edition Rumors the way most people go through microwave popcorn.

Then a pang of conscience hit me. I had promised to keep the Software Confidential under my hat. A moral dilemma, indeed. There must be some way to justify betraying a confidence if the payoff is that you come out of the deal with an excuse to call Vicky Jo and give her something she craves.

When that didn’t feel right, I thought to myself, Why not at least write everything down so that in a couple months you can start sprinkling out details and background information when others finally get wind of these rumors through other channels? This, however, seemed like a lot of work, and there was no guarantee I would remember (or care) that I had a suppressed information list up my sleeve.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised that even though I held the key to rumor-monger heaven, none of it really mattered. So what if testing is set to begin in four months on a new double throw-down spreadsheet that may soon be bought by another firm and marketed by yet a third? What difference does it make when the next version of MacLayout is supposed to ship? Who cares if three of the top programmers at Premonition Ware have split to start their own company?

My time is too valuable to worry about things that more than likely won’t impact me in the least. I don’t use pre-alpha software, I use post-release software. I don’t postpone deadlines I have now on the off-chance that the next version of my software will be nicer than what I already have. I don’t lie awake nights dreaming of the moment I finally get to buy another expensive word processor. I don’t allow myself to become paralyzed with the fear that the new Laser Perfect Professional will no-lie absolutely really for sure this time be the all-in-one package that makes all my present software obsolete (when it ships, that is). I don’t play the market, venture capital, or head-hunt, either.

Call me boring, but I rather enjoy using plain old software and hardware, stuff you can get at Businessland, or Egghead, or Computer Terminal. Stuff you can see and touch with your very own hands and stare at the box it comes in before you buy it. The approach I prefer is almost Zen-like except for the amount of work I get done, which at times borders on the progidous.

So now when I find myself confronted with a juicy rumor I’ll be happy to listen politely and make the appropriate noises, but don’t ask me to recount the details later. No longer a candidate for computer therapy, I have come to enjoy computing in the here-and-now.

Besides, how can anyone be expected to worry about some ethereal piece of future software when the hard drive is already full?