Looking back, ten years ago,

A bit of history: the post I made to mark ten years on usenet

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From: Penny Gaines <pe…@gaines.plus.com>
Subject: Ten years on usenet
Newsgroups: misc.kids
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Date: Sat, 05 Jul 2003 17:54:37 +0000
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It is ten years ago today since I posted my first usenet message.

I’ve been here since the days when usenet was almost exclusively for
universities and high-tech firms, when my company was unusual for using
email, and even techies didn’t know what the www in certain URLs stood
for. Back then the accepted wisdom was no-one could archive every news
posting, but even then the pre-curser to the pre-curser of google was
saving them. I can’t tell you what the web was like, because it was
still being invented.

I’d found newsgroups, not by using a newsreader, but by looking at
different files on the computer system of my new job, and wondering just
what were these files with names like /var/spool/news/misc/kids/1546.
(Worth noting that the employees of this company were expected to do
this sort of thing: anyone who would only use the proper software
to look at a file would not have a job there.)

My first post was about vi, the unix text editor, which I still use by

I didn’t post to misc.kids until December that year, when I was pregnant.
Back then, mk was the only group for pregnancy, breastfeeding and

The posters on mk really influenced my parenting. For instance, I knew
“breast was best” and I like the idea of exclusive breastfeeding, but
I thought it wasn’t something ordinary mothers like me could do. But
there were ordinary women in mk who had done it, so I learnt I might
be able to. And I did. The biggest thing I learnt was that every child
is different, and I was given the confidence to trust myself, not the
experts who had written books.I hope I’ve been able to help other, newer
parents just like I was helped myself.

I’ve got the t-shirt (my yougest still just fits into her “I’m a misc.kid”
one), and a photoalbum, even a fridge magnet.

The great thing about mk is it survives and adapts. It is a different
newsgroup now to what it was them, but thriving in a different way.
It has gone downhill at least twice, sufficiently badly for me to either
unsubscribe, or nearly unsubscribe. And both times it has re-vitalised
itself. I love it for being so open: it wants new people to come along
and wants to adapt to them. I hope it continues to adapt, continues to be
aviable newsgroup.

At one particularly low spot for mk, I got involved in the creation team
for mkm – a group that has developed into yet another different newsgroup.
I’m very proud of what I helped to create (although it is the moderators
who are doing the hard part now: merely creating it was relatively easy.)

So, I suppose I’m an old-timer now (but to me old-timers were around
before the “great renaming”, not before “the endless September”). I just
hope I don’t start saying “in my day, things were better”, I hope I
continue to see that people who have only just started on the internet
may have good ideas and ways of doing things that are better then the
old ways.

And I hope I’m still on usenet to post my twentieth anniversary message.

Penny Gaines
UK mum to three
PS I wanted to crosspost to mkm, but my system is playing up, so I’ve
had to send two copies.

First Usenet post

Twenty years ago, I made my first usenet post:

Newsgroups: comp.editors,alt.fan.warlord
Path: gmd.de!newsserver.jvnc.net!howland.reston.ans.net!spool.mu.edu!uunet!pipex!uknet!root44!penny
From: pe…@root.co.uk (Penny Gaines)
Subject: Re: Demystifying vi one step further..
Message-ID: <C9p2ux.7JA@root.co.uk>
Organization: UniSoft Ltd., London, England
References: <1993Jun29.163526.19829@Celestial.COM> <37929@castle.ed.ac.uk> <1993Jul01.161714.15055@Celestial.COM> <1993Jul2.210933.17371@ucsu.Colorado.EDU>
Date: Mon, 5 Jul 1993 13:59:19 GMT
Lines: 24

In <1993Jul2.210933.17…@ucsu.Colorado.EDU> cro…@ucsu.Colorado.EDU (Matthew Crosby) writes:

>Ok. Why is dd delete line? Wouldn’t dl be better? Is it just because dd is
>fast to type? Does anyone know.

>-Matt cro…@cs.colorado.edu

dl will delete to next character left, but most people use its fast form, ‘x’.

In commands that process text that character twice acts on the whole line –
hence dd, cc, yy.

In vi you can combine any command that processes text (e.g. c,d,y)
with any command that moves the cursor (e.g. l, M, w).

Once you realise this (i.e. so you can use it without thinking about it), you will
realise one of the reasons why vi is so powerful. For the record, when deleting
the stuff in your posting I used d} and d4L, to delete most of the extraneous stuff.

Penny Gaines

It was almost a throwaway comment

It was almost a throwaway comment, but sometimes even throwaway comments cause ripples.

In an article on HS2 for Engineering and Technology magazine, I concluded

One option would be government support to decarbonise the electricity industry. Many people think that a better use for the money would be to build a world-class digital infrastructure in Britain. If it’s transport the government wants to build, we could start putting in place the infrastructure needed to make electric cars – possibly driverless – a real option.

But for all their romance, modern railways are essentially updated versions of 19th century technology. So, I’d say, cancel HS2 and build new infrastructure that looks forward to the future, not back.

As far as I’m aware, no-one else had previously suggested electric cars as a HS2 alternative, but in some ways they are very obvious.  They clearly need an infrastructure network, but that is appearing already, with supermarkets putting in charging points, as well as car parks in places like Milton Keynes.

As to driverless cars, again that is being discussed at length, mentioned on BBC Click, and in other places as well.

Having been first to mention electric cars as an alternative to HS2, I was gratified to see Allister Heath’s article in the Telegraph today: HS2 is already obsolete, David Cameron should be preparing the UK for self-driving cars. It would be nice to think that Allister read my article, allowed the ideas to permeate, and then wrote the Telegraph article.

Or maybe it’s just the zeitgeist of the times.

Read my article for E&T magazine here

The real digital revolution is yet to come

A post on Next Gen journal – Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25 – crossed my radar recently. The title summarises the viewpoint of the article: that unless you were a teenager when Facebook began, you are way too out of it to be a social media director.

She’s wrong of course: social media is about the social side of things, not the medium. People are people, whether they are using usenet, or the latest incarnation of facebook. It is in some senses rather amazing that what I learnt about internet debating on usenet, using text based programs like tin, are the same skills that I use when debating from a tablet computer on Twitter.

She’s also wrong, because she can remember when she heard about Facebook: it’s not always existed for her. So some of her ideas about relationships were already set when she signed up for her first social media account.

She is also wrong in thinking that social media is all about her (generation). Of course it isn’t: older people use it, and not just as a way of communicating between businesses and youth. The ways a 40-something will interact with another 40-something may be just as relevant to a social media director, as how two teenagers interact. And lets face it, many people – whether a grandparent in their 80s, or a 40-something like me – use social media tools to connect socially.

But she’s right to have seen that the way people think will be different in the future.

Of course her generation will change things a bit: I’ve said in interviews on a number of occasions that by the time HS2 is due to open in 2026, the teenagers who grew up with facebook will take those ways of working into their careers and expect to interact with business associates completely differently to present day managers.

It won’t be her generation though who “can best predict, execute, and utilize the finest developments to come”, and possibly not even the sixth graders who “know nothing other than Timeline”.

It’s going to be the people whose mums used twitter to announce their pregnancy and whose dads first showed their baby pics on Facebook. They won’t remember first encountering the internet, it will just have been around their entire life.

A thought on the Granny Tax

There has been much said about the so-called Granny Tax.

But all the commentators I’ve read have failed to mention is that there was already a ticking time-bomb with age related allowances.

Currently, the age related personal allowances kick in at the same time a man can get their state pension – currently 65. However, that state pension age is not fixed, and will gradually start to rise in a few years time. If it’s your 58th birthday today (22nd March) you will reach the state pension age on the 6th September 2019, when you are 65 years, 5 months and 15 days old.

So would you have got the age related allowance for nearly 6 months when you were working? Or would you have had to wait for state retirement age?

Both options would have been messy for calculating tax. And both options would have had some inherent unfairness.

It was probably sensible for the chancellor to announce something sooner rather then later, but whether this was the right option is an entirely different question.

On the other hand, if you are a women in your forties, your state pension age has increased several times over your working life. And the date you can start to receive private pensions – where you invested your own money – has also increased.

Jane Austen, on blogging

Jane Austen didn’t actually predict the rise of the internet and blogging. However I was struck by the following discription of letter writing, from her novella Catherine:

‘Why indeed, Mrs Percival,’ said Mrs Stanley, ‘I must think that Catharine’s affection for her bower is the effect of a sensibility that does her credit. I love to see a friendship between young persons and always consider it as a sure mark of an amiable affectionate disposition. I have from Camilla’s infancy taught her to think the same, and have taken great pains to introduce her to young people of her own age who were likely to be worthy of her regard. Nothing forms the taste more than sensible and elegant letters–. Lady Halifax thinks just like me–. Camilla corresponds with her daughters, and I believe I may venture to say that they are none of them the worse for it.’

These days, the equivalent is blogging, effectively a letter broadcast on computers

These ideas were too modern to suit Mrs Percival who considered a correspondence between girls as productive of no good, and as the frequent origin of imprudence and error by the effect of pernicious advice and bad example. She could not therefore refrain from saying that for her part, she had lived fifty years in the world without having ever had a correspondent, and did not find herself at all the less respectable for it–.

I’m sure I’m not the only blogger who has encountered the attitude of “why write a blog?” When I was first telling people about the Stop HS2 blog, quite a number of people couldn’t see the point – and yet it is a vital part of the campaign.

Mrs Stanley could say nothing in answer to this, but her daughter who was less governed by propriety, said in her thoughtless way, ‘But who knows what you might have been, ma’am, if you had had a correspondent; perhaps it would have made you quite a different creature. I declare I would not be without those I have for all the world. It is the greatest delight of my life, and you cannot think how much their letters have formed my taste as Mama says, for I hear from them generally every week.’

‘You received a letter from Augusta Barlow to day, did not you, my love’ said her mother–. ‘She writes remarkably well I know.’

‘Oh! Yes ma’am, the most delightful letter you ever heard of. She sends me a long account of the new Regency walking dress Lady Susan has given her, and it is so beautiful that I am quite dying with envy for it.’

Fashion blogs. Need I say more!

‘Well, I am prodigiously happy to hear such pleasing news of my young friend; I have a high regard for Augusta, and most sincerely partake in the general joy on the occasion. But does she say nothing else? it seemed to be a long letter–Are they to be at Scarborough?’

‘Oh! Lord, she never once mentions it, now I recollect it; and I entirely forgot to ask her when I wrote last. She says nothing indeed except about the Regency.’ ‘She must write well’ thought Kitty, to make a long letter upon a bonnet and pelisse.’

Actually I’m more partial to the craft blog

Turbalance Ahead

Seth Godwin recently published a post about Unexpected Turbulence

It’s hard to summarise a post that’s only four sentences long, but the final sentence struck me as being very relevant to the HS2 proposal:

If your plan will only succeed if there is no turbulence at any time, it’s probably not a very good plan (either that or you’re not going anywhere interesting.)

Unfortunately, the HS2 proposal was originally dependent on very high levels of growth, higher then any other industry prediction. Eventually HS2 Ltd reduced the growth rate, but simply extended the forecast period – which was already longer then would normally be used in forecasting – until they got to the magic ‘doubling of passenger numbers’ that they needed to make HS2 a proposal that would not be rejected out of hand.

Things I wrote

During 2011, Stop HS2 made a number of submissions to various inquiries as well as producing numerous leaflets. Although I didn’t write everything we published (although at times it felt like it!), the following three reports were written by me.

Transport Select Committee Inquiry into HS2:
Stop HS2 TSC Submission May 2011

Labour Party Policy review:
Stop HS2 submission Labour transport review

London Assembly Transport Review:
Stop HS2 submission London Assembly July 2011

They were proofread by others of course and a number of people made suggestions about topics that needed to be added, or removed. But as to the actual words on paper, it was my own work.