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© St. Petersburg Times, published May 1, 2000

No movie rights

Being the master of one's own work hours plays tricks on the mind. I've been toying with the idea of doing a computer book, since I've convinced myself there are enough hours in the day to make a living and to write a book. Those in the know have warned me against such a project because it will wreck my personal relationships, drain my meager finances, stop my chickens from laying eggs and make what little hair I have left fall out. So rather than taking the advice of friends, I took to the Net in search of answers and found this gem. If this site's content, a sometimes hilarious tale of authoring a technical book, wasn't enough to put a person off, then masochism must be in the blood. If you enjoy Philip Greenspun's style after reading this page, there's a bonus: a free electronic version of his work.

Abuse of trust

Security guru and well-known computer author Simpson Garfinkel kicks off a thoughtful column on Web-mag Salon touching on unsolicited e-mail from companies one should trust. If you've had an e-mail address for any period of time, you've almost surely been spammed, the term for these unwanted invitations, and asked to visit seedy Web sites, join get rich quick schemes or buy CD-ROMs containing millions of valid e-mail addresses (so you can spam them, no doubt). A worrisome trend that he points out is that companies seem to think they can collect e-mail addresses and then subscribe them to any internal list they see fit. How many times have you ordered a product online, given your e-mail address and then been bombarded by mail you didn't want? My personal solution is to create a mail alias for each vendor I use.

Captive market

Pagers, cell phones and now elevators, oh my! Just when you thought it was safe to take a quick 30-second rest between meetings, it looks like vertical people movers are going to bombard you with ads and other "useful" information. By the looks of the company, it targets the most salubrious high-rises. Should you walk into the elevator and notice polished marble on the walls, you might want to bolt for the stairs before the doors close and the brainwashing begins.

They're on to something

Here's an idea that could turn into a useful addition to the complainer's arsenal. If nothing else, it's a central collection point for customer service and support information. This site helps you put together a coherent complaint, compliment or suggestion. It contacts the vendor on your behalf. If it doesn't receive a response within seven days, it will write again. It's sort of like your own, free nagging agent. Most of the big boys are there -- Apple, Microsoft, GE -- but others are missing. However, you can sign a petition to muscle any large company into participation.

Geek of the week

This is a site for the geekiest of Web geeks and one I find myself using almost daily. PHP is a Web-oriented programming language that's equally at home on a Windows computer as it is on a Unix box. It's free and is surprisingly easy to learn, even for accidental programmers. If you're itching to add some whizzy server-side goodies to your Web site, it's well worth a look. My favorite part of this site is the annotated manual where people post tips and tricks.

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