For the first time in a long while, I am observing the rollover at home, from the comfort of my desk chair. Normally, I spend New Year's Day recovering because I worked New Year's Eve, cleaning up the mess left after other people stayed out late partying. Sometimes it's busy, sometimes it isn't, but I am almost never at home for this event. This year, however, it's different. This year, I'm nursing a pain-in-the-ass cold that slammed into my sinuses around three in the afternoon and made me scurry around looking for something, anything, to make it go away -- including naturopathic remedies. I figure allopathy has nothing to offer the cold sufferer; naturopathy can't possibly be any worse. (There's a rant in here, don't worry.)
Anyway. I'd like to kick this year off on a positive note. Wired has this list of 101 things you can do to save the Internet, but unfortunately, most of the suggestions are for saving an Internet I probably would have preferred to see die. Some of the suggestions are damn stupid, and a few are downright impractical. Some of the ideas aren't very radical, and some smack of ineffectial civil disobedience. And some of them represent exactly everything that is wrong with the net. Be skeptical -- very, very skeptical -- of anything Wired is hawking.
In the same but slightly more pragmatic spirit, Matthew Skala has come up with a very nice list of 52 other things you can do to save the net. I'm going to resolve to try to do more of these things (to the extent that I don't do them already), and since number 51 on his list is to make a similar list, I'm going to offer a few of my own, and the justifications for them. I can't promise you'll agree with them, and some of these ideas are damned impractical for ordinary people to implement, but here goes anyway.
- Share your bandwidth, if you can. Sometimes it's not
possible. But I'm starting to believe that if you have the capability,
you might want to seriously think about sticking an open access point
on your network somewhere. Security-conscious users will no doubt
immediately spot the hole, but there's a larger principle at work
here -- bandwidth is, for the most part, pretty cheap these days and
ubiquitous bandwidth is incredibly cool.
In the same vein, if you come across a wireless network that has disabled SSID broadcasts or enabled WEP, respect the choice of the network owner and don't try to break in.
- Start or participate in a metropolitan wireless
Wireless is probably the best example I can think of off the top
of my head -- it's a neat concept and a great way to build something
without necessarily having to expose your own machines or your own
bandwidth. I think we sometimes forget that networking can have value
even if that network isn't connected to the Internet. I'll let you
imagine what kind of uses a metropolitan Intranet might have, but
think about the possibility of having ad hoc LAN parties (to take a
particularly lame example). This is probably the single neatest and
most revolutionary idea I've come across in a long, long time.
- Form a bandwidth conspiracy. (Tip of the hat to Abbie
Hoffman.) If you can, get together with like-minded folks in the same
geographic area, and buy a real Internet connection -- not cable, not
DSL, but an honest-to-god commercial-grade connection. Then use it in
as many ways as you can see fit. Don't forget the WiFi access.
- Run Mozilla. Moz is simply the best browser out there, and
will make your life infinitely easier and happier, excessive wait
system calls notwithstanding. File bug reports when something doesn't
work right. You will wonder how you ever lived without it.
- Create a Web site. It doesn't matter what's on it, what
matters is that you too can be a content provider. Everyone knows
something really well -- figure out what it is that you can teach or
tell or show the world, and put it out there. Be fearless -- if you
don't want to publish under your own name, you don't have to. But when
you write for the Web, a little piece of you goes out there, into the
ether, and will live on forever.
- Register a domain. Use Dotster or one of the other
non-Verisign registries. Matthew suggests getting a geographical
domain and that's not a bad idea, but if you can think of a good name
in the Big Three that hasn't already been snapped up, you might want
to do that before someone beats you to the punch.
- Rediscover old network services. If you use the right news
provider and hang out in the right groups, Usenet can be a damn
interesting place. It's strange, it's eccentric, it's opinionated and
frequently loud with little substance -- it's the Internet crack. And
it's the only place you'll find some absolutely brilliant people
talking about subjects that would make your head spin. gopher servers
still exist out there. See if you can find a MUD somewhere. Or, if you
can, run one.
- Use the right tool for the right job. e-mail is not a bulk
binary file transfer mechanism. Neither is NNTP. Stop using them for
- Understand your platform's security model, and make sure it
can't be exploited by malicious people or software. You might, for
instance, make sure your virus definitions are up to date, and
consider switching to a new mail client if you've been using
Outlook/Outlook Express. Or you might decide to hit your box with some
security testing software and lock down the unused ports.
- Learn to write clean, standards-compliant HTML by hand. If
you can't decipher the W3C's specification documents (and I don't know
many people who can), at least learn how to write simple HTML by
hand. Don't rely on crutches like FrontPage or Dreamweaver.
- Don't publish stuff in Word or PDF unless you really have
to. If it can be published as straight HTML, it probably should
- Consider SSH. The security model of the Internet these
days is focused on the Web, and that means SSL, but I'm starting to
think that SSL was the wrong way to go, and we should have thought
about using tunnelled SSH. This won't mean anything to 95% of you out
there, but those of you who know what I'm talking about, and have a
choice, might want to consider changing.
- Send thank-you notes. If you're not inclined to hit the
tip jars of your favorite Web sites (and some folks are averse to the
whole idea of tip jars), at least send a note thanking the site's
author for their hard work and dedication. It's free, and it goes a
long way to encouraging people to continue generating content.
- Buy original merchandise. If a site sells something
original -- not that Cafe Press stuff, but actual original creative
work -- and you like it, consider buying it. (hint hint.)
- Get a real ISP. Better yet, buy your connectivity from a
network provider and run your own Internet services. You can learn a
lot from running your own e-mail server (just make sure it's
configured properly). At the very least, get off Hotmail/Yahoo or any
of the major free Webmail services.
- Move your blog to a real domain, and/or new blogging
software. It's not hard to roll your own, and Movable Type is really
simple to install and ridiculously powerful. Besides, think of how
smug you can look when blogspot goes down.
- Don't be careless with other people's comment
sections. Don't put up with people who are careless with yours.
- Praise other people publicly. Send traffic their way. The
publicly accessible bookmark list is so 1994, but that doesn't
mean it wasn't a good idea.
- Learn how to program, even in a basic scripting
language. If I can do it, you can, too.
- Do not listen to people who believe that an operating system
is a moral choice. Yes, Microsoft products suck,
technically-speaking, and there may be good reasons to not use them,
but at the end of the day, your computer is a tool. What you run on
that tool is a very personal choice, and if you like Microsoft, it's
nobody's business but your own. I encourage you to experiment and try
other tools for yourself, but if you like your OS, and it does what
you want, ignore anyone who tries to criticize that position. Running
an operating system is not a moral position any more than downloading
MP3s from Kazaa is a moral position.
- Read up on the network's history. Do not read Where the
Wizards Stay Up Late. Read Peter
Salus's book instead. Also read Neal Stephenson's amazing story
- Leave ICMP traffic alone. A lot of network operators are
turning off ICMP traffic because of its role in DDOS
attacks. Unfortunately, a number of valuable debugging tools depend on
ICMP. Please leave it on.
- Build a Linux distribution. Thanks to tools like syslinux, this is now
really easy. Armed with a syslinux-based distribution and an 8 cm
CD-R, you can create nifty little toys for your friends to play
- Read Groklaw. Understand the
implications of this case, even if you don't use Linux.
- Join the IETF. The Internet
Engineering Task Force sounds really cool and scary, but it's
really just a bunch of people trying to solve problems. (Sometimes not
very successfully.) If you have the patience to wade through
mind-numbing technical details, you too can have a say in shaping the
technical future of the Internet.
- Pay attention to the stuff ICANN does, even if they won't
listen to you.
- Run a BBS. Practically no one will call it, but that
means you don't need to spend any time maintaining it, right?
Alternative: Run a telnet/ssh-based BBS.
- Have a secret identity. Pseudonymity isn't the same thing
as anonymity, but it's a good start. Use your secret identity only for
good. Do not use it to pick fights on bboards.
- Write so you can be understood. The Internet may just be
the most radical and most valuable tool for training people to write
well. Your words are the only metric we have for evaluating you as a
human being. You cannot be taken seriously if you write like a 14
year-old girl on Instant Messenger, so don't.
- Get rid of your IM client or, if you must use IM, use
something that isn't made by Microsoft or AOL. Trillian is an
- Find an old 1200 baud modem and spend a day in the slow
zone. That goes double for anyone who is a Web designer. Remember
that most of the world still looks at the Internet over dial-up
- Read cryptography
Use cryptography to keep your private life private.
- Join a civil liberties group, and not just the EFF/EFC. There's lots of scary stuff going
on out there in the world of politics; civil libertarians are fighting
to protect your right to be left alone. The ACLU is an obvious choice, but not all
of us are American.
- Do not perpetuate the war on straw. To paraphrase Rich
Lafferty, the biggest danger to the Internet these days is that all
these strawmen lying around might catch fire. Argue with actual
positions said by actual people, rather than caricatures of positions
held by hypothetical people. (This is a new year's resolution here at
Under a Blackened Sky.)
- Support your local musicians. Go to local shows and buy
their CDs. They'll thank you for it. You'll thank yourself for it when
they make it big and you can tell stories about seeing them play at
the pub down the street.
- Go outside. There's life beyond the network. Have one.
Epilogue: This is not the snark you were looking for. Move along now.