Three Days of mIRC

While spending a weekend at Hopkins Marine Station, where my girlfriend is studying this quarter (it’s a bit of a drive!), I was introduced to Rurouni Kenshin, an incredible anime series. The weird part was that we didn’t watch the episodes on a TV. We watched them on her housemate’s computer.

When I asked to see his collection, he showed me something on the order of 100 CD-Rs, each of which contained 12 anime episodes. It blew my mind. He told me that he had got all of this with late-night sessions with Mirc, an IRC chat client. I returned home that week, determined to see what I could find.

I installed Mirc, and spent that day checking out the networks. You see, with IRC, groups of servers are clustered together over the Internet. If you connect to any server in a given cluster, you can talk with anyone who’s connected to any other server in that cluster. Each of the major server clusters has different rules and runs different server software. The one that I found to have the most people and information was DALnet.

On the DALnet anime channels (just look for channels containing the word “anime”), I saw several chat bots: participants that weren’t people, but intelligent scripts, periodically posting information as to what kind of files they had available, a “trigger”, and how many people were currently downloading files from them. They all were using an Mirc script known as Polaris, which helps you set up and run a file server. At any rate, when you’d see a server that looked like it might contain some interesting files (like, say, the first year of episodes of some anime series), you’d type in !trigger – if the trigger was luv that anime, then you’d type !luv that anime – kapiche?

The chat server would then request a DCC (Direct Client-to-Client, namely a conversation going directly between you two instead of through the IRC servers) Chat session with you, at which point you are presented with a DOS like interface to the server’s files. You can type “dir” to list the files in a direction, “cd” to different directories, etc. The other interesting commands are get filename, which requests a given file; sends, which shows what other clients the server is currently sending files to; and queues, which shows the users that are queued up to grab files after the sends complete. If the queue is full, you can’t request files any more. You’ll have to find another server.

After another day of lurking around on these channels, I scored several Kenshin episodes, Princess Mononoke, a Japanese subtitled version of American Beauty, and the first year ofRanma 1/2 (a story about a guy who can change into a girl; some fascinating gender commentary!).

I setup Polaris on my own (it was a little complicated!) and started serving on those channels. I was instantly noticed by an IRC bot on the channel who upped my status to “+v” (voice mode), and several people messaged me to ask to exchange other files. I only ran the server for an hour and a half, after which I saw that I had transferred over a gigabyte of information from my computer to other people. Wow.

I was amazed by the sheer quantity of video content available on IRC. Napster is great for audio, but I had generally assumed that it would be very difficult to find video content; my excursions with Hotline had not been very successful; the servers all wanted me to join porno mailing lists just to access their content (this is how they’d make money!), but I obviously didn’t want to sign up for porn spam! I also have issues with people profiting / restricting access to the distribution of material that they obtained for free.

Although the initial learning curve is a bit steep (people aren’t happy if you take up too much of their time or say stupid things on a channel), within 3 days I went from never having used Mirc to being an active server on the network with several hundred megabytes of files for trade. It’s pretty amazing what’s out there; IRC has been around for decades. If agencies think that by shutting down Napster they can control the distribution of information, they haven’t even begun to see the tip of the iceberg.

Sexiest Geek Alive

Okay, I’m dying over here. Just for fun a month ago, I saw a posting on a contest for the “Sexiest Geek Alive.” Giggling, I went to their page and filled out an application. I laughed and didn’t think about it again.

Then on February 20th, I got this letter, which began with:

Congratulations! Out of 16,709 entrants to the "Sexiest Geek Alive Contest," you have been selected to be one of the Top 500 Sexiest Geeks. We had a difficult time choosing among the 8,742 men and 7,967 women who filled out our questionnaire...

I laughed and sent the message to some of my friends and mentioned it on my mailing list. Two days later I was notified:

A reporter from Industry Standard may be contacting you about the Geek contest. We're narrowing the Top 500 down to a hundred and she wanted to interview my favorites. I added you to that list because I had read your Playboy Online feature and told her you were an "MP3 warrior."

I started to wonder…sure enough, the next day (today; the 23rd), I received the following letter, beginning with:

Congratulations again! You have made it on to the Top 100 of the Sexiest Geeks Alive.

I’m not sure what to do at this point; I think it’s hysterically funny, but am not quite sure what to make of the whole ordeal. I’ll post more information here as it comes in…

UPDATE — Uh oh. I just got the following letter, whose first paragraph reads:

Guess what? You've made it to the Sexiest Geek Alive Top 24!

I’m a little nervous now. It was pure hysterics at being part of an anonymous top 500, but now it’s starting to get personal; if I am selected for the next round, it looks like they want me to go down to the South-by-Southwest (SXSW) festival in Texas mid-March. The main problem with that is that I have finals at about that time! Aie! Something in me hopes I don’t make it any further…

UPDATE (@4:37pm 2/25/00) I’ve dropped out of the contest for personal reasons and while I was told that I had made it to the next round (top 12), I would have had to have gone to Texas in the middle of finals week.

Turning On a Compaq

WARNING: This is a bit of a rant. You may think I am an idiot after reading this.

I’ve been playing with computers since I was five. This fact should not particularly astound anyone who’s even remotely familiar with my generation or those younger than me, but I mention it just for reference’s sake. Why? Because I’m having a particular problem that is usually only prevalent in those who have never touched a computer in their life.

I can’t turn my computer on.

That’s right. I program computers; I even teach other people how to program and use computers, but I still cannot turn my computer on. Specifically, every once in a while when I turn my computer off and then try and turn it back on, then fans will start a whirring but the monitor will stare blankly at me and the hard drive / floppy access lights which churn so happily after a healthy boot stay ominously quiet.

I called Compaq technical support, and was absolutely humiliated by the guy on the other end of the line. Once I had explained the problem to him in detail

(“Yes, I have the monitor plugged into the back and turned on.” “Yes, the monitor is functioning perfectly on other computers.” “Yes, the computer is plugged into the wall.”)
, he walked me through “The Power Tutorial.”

The Power Tutorial is a step-by-step guide to turning on your PC. Now maybe I’m just getting old fashioned and stuff, but I think that a big honking rocker switch is really the best possible thing. “CLICK” and it’s on! “CLICK” and it’s off! Why a power switch needs to be any more elaborate and less functional than that is absolutely beyond me. At any rate, the instructions weren’t that bad. If you hold down the power button for 10 seconds, your computer turns off. If you press it briefly, it turns on. Keep in mind now that I’ve been using this computer for the last four months.

I stepped through each part of the Power Tutorial and still it didn’t boot successfully. At this point the support guy suggested that I take it to the nearest Compaq service center. I was dismayed to hear that I’d have to take it anywhere (being without a car), but delighted to
hear that it wasn’t my fault. Or so I thought.

I asked him what he thought was wrong. He said. “At the service center, they can show you how to properly turn your computer on and off.” In fury I bid him a good night and hung up.

Now, there very well may be something wrong with my computer. If there is, the representative should have been less hasty to classify it as user error; but if there isn’t anything wrong with my computer, good lord — the maker of the Compaq Power Supply should be dragged out onto the streets and shot.

Turning on a computer should be easy. Yes?

I’ll sit here and fume next to my blank screen. (I’m typing this from my roommate’s computer)