My Brother, the Prescient Presner

BBS. If this acronym means something to you, you might also remember the screeching sound that used to herald the modem’s connection to the pre-web online world.

BBSes with multiple phone lines often provide chat rooms, allowing users to interact with each other. Bulletin board systems were in many ways a precursor to the modern form of the World Wide Web, social networks, and other aspects of the Internet.

(cc) Wikipedia

Bulletin board systems were a way of chatting, playing games, and performing a limited range of other early online pastimes. My mom, brother, and I were all part of the late 1980s/early 1990s BBS scene (the family that BBSes together stays together?), and my brother Jeremy was an avid reader of Boardwatch, a print magazine devoted to this early online world.

Jeremy recently dug up a couple of 1993 letters to the magazine’s publisher Jack Rickard, which I find fascinating.

Internet People

Hi Jack.

Just checked out the April 93 boardwatch.. not bad! a lot of useful information packed into a well-put-together magazine, albeit traditional.. (3-columnns standard typefaces, etc.). but the national bbs listing is nice {I like the horizontal lay-out}..

I was wondering if you would consider devoting more pages to Internet stuff and Internet related message bases/irc channels/telnet and FTP stuff.. I’m sure the 10-15 million Internet users out there would appreciate it, as would I.. I really liked Kevin Savetz’ article on the Oracle; I just checked it out today and am awaiting a response.. Few magazines are able to discuss something and have the reader go out and do it right after reading a(b)out it, but this one has some practical things in it..

Anyway, keep up the good work, and I hope you consider my suggestion.

Ciao for now.

-Jeremy Presner-

And the publisher’s somewhat unconvinced response:

I’m going to guess that there are a little over 4 million actually ON the Internet with sufficient IP connectivity to do telnet and ftp. Internet people have a habit of subsuming everything they touch when touting statistics. But it is a growing force that I think holds the seed for a future of common connectivity. And we’ll be covering it in some detail. One of our main goals with each story is for our readers to be able to go contact the service and find out for themselves.

Jack Rickard

And another missive to the magazine from the same year:

An Interface for Internet

Is it possible that there is a product out there that services as an interface for Internet? I’m looking for something that will mask the unfriendliness of Vax-systems and let me wander around Vnews and FTP and Telnet sites by clickin on icons or pulling down menus.

If y’all know of such a program, can you send me some e-mail telling me where I can get it? {ie if it’s a program in the public domain, is there an anon-FTP site where I can pick it up? Thanks a lot.

Hmm, a more visual, user-friendly way of navigating the online world. I guess Jeremy was just a few years ahead of his time.



I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy lately.

You can express empathy in different ways – with words, gestures, or even a caring look in your eyes, as your brow furrows while listening intently.

You can share the password to an online streaming service so I can veg out on TV, when I’m not in any shape to do much else.

You can reach out to take my hand, while riding in a taxi that you let take me home after dropping you off, “Don’t worry, it’ll just go on my account automatically.”

You can say kinds words like “I’m so sorry you’ve been struggling” or “Sending hugs. I hope it gets better.”

You can send an emoji. 💜🤗😿

You can invite me over for dinner and a movie. Or sweets and adult beverages. I know we wouldn’t have to say much, just being together would be enough.

Expressing empathy is not hard to do, but it’s not something that comes naturally to everyone.

For some people, empathy is a deep part of their soul. Sometimes it feels so intense that another person’s pain can leave you aching inside. I’m not sure this is necessarily a bad thing.

Personal Technology WordPress

Women of a Certain Age

11:30am – Two “older” women enjoy their crepes (one savoury, one sweet) and caffeinated beverages in the downtown Chocolate Restaurant.

12:15pm – They pull out a couple of knitting projects, and peer through glasses while one repairs the other’s dropped stitches and gets her Scarf That Took Over Five Years to Finish back on track. (Maybe 2020 will be the year it’s actually completed?)

1:30pm – The brunch table is now strewn with a PC, a NexDock 2, a Mac, and a Raspberry Pi serving up the Ngnix server software. WordPress back ends are loaded up on multiple screens, and there’s talk of choosing Gutenberg blocks, creating child themes, programming robots, and using Raspberry Pi to block web ads at the network level.

Zero idea what the restaurant servers thought of us, but I do hope we defied at least a few stereotypes today.


The original version of this post mentioned two PCs, but my friend has clarified that there was only one PC, with the other being a NexDock 2.


A Language Epidemic

I watched French television and enjoyed it. There, I said it.

Now this may not seem like a surprising admission to most, but as someone who’s lived all my life in Montréal, it sometimes still shocks me how divided the anglophone (English-speaking) and francophone (French-speaking) worlds can be, especially when it comes to entertainment and pop culture. Someone will mention the name of a Québec celebrity, and my face will be completely blank. And I’ll have to admit that I’ve never heard of the super-famous “vedette” in question.

Some of my favourite online language tools: Linguee and Bon Patron

I went to French immersion schools in the English system, and came out of high school “sort of bilingual.” My friends are a mix of anglo and franco, but mostly anglophone. I watch English TV, go to English theatre and storytelling shows, and read English books, magazines, and websites.

My French is pretty good. Good enough to live in French in places like restaurants, stores, or services, but not good enough to express complex thoughts or emotions to a friend. Good enough to answer WordPress support questions in French, but not good enough to read a French novel comfortably.

Épidémie - photo of doctor wearing face mask

But when my friend Marie-Josée recently mentioned being hooked on a Québec-made TV show called Épidémie (Epidemic), I was suddenly intrigued. For some reason, I’m drawn to shows about viruses and pandemics, and despite the eerie timing, I thought it could be fun way to improve my vocabulary. I started watching it with the closed captions on and inhaled the first four episodes, looking up terms I didn’t recognize. I can now say stretcher, ferret, ignore, trigger, and sneezing in French. And I’ve been introduced to fabulous expressions like: “passer dans le beurre” (to go unnoticed) and “te traiter aux petits oignons” (to take good care of you). I can’t wait for new episodes – dang network TV with its weekly releases!

Speaking of languages, last week I was lucky to be in Panama City with my team from Automattic. It was my first time in Latin America, and I was surprised at how much Spanish I could understand, considering I last studied it 30 years ago, and never put it into use after that. While I was thrilled to be able to make myself understood in a few casual situations like restaurants, I was also very grateful to have three Spanish speakers on my team, who kindly did a lot of translating for us.

The trip did make me want to travel to more Spanish-speaking countries. When I took two years of Spanish at university, my thought at the time was that with English, French, and Spanish language skills, I could get by comfortably in many countries. While that level of travel never panned out, what I’ve learned in the last couple of years is that it’s never too late for almost anything, so we shall see what the future holds.


Twenty Twenty in 2020

New theme, who dis?

I’ve finally done it. As a chronic late adopter it did take me forever, but I finally changed themes on this site, which is now running Twenty Twenty, the latest WordPress default theme. It’s going to take me a while to get used to – I’ve been running my beloved Writr since first launching the blog in 2013 – but it was overdue, so here we are.

I also switched over to the block editor – aka Gutenberg – another embarrassingly late move to the modern WordPress world.

It’s been a good “empathy exercise.” As a full-time Happiness Engineer helping users build and customize their sites, it’s so easy for me to tell someone, “Go ahead and switch themes, it’ll be fine!” or “Oh yeah, activate the block editor, you’ll love it!”

Doing it myself is another story.

But… it’s been alright so far. No, really! OK, I’ve already encountered two small visual bugs that I’ll report when I’m back at work, but that’s what dogfooding is for, isn’t it?

Speaking of bugs, if you spot anything amiss, do feel feel free to let me know. In the meantime, I hope you like the new look.

May 2020 be good to you all, whether you decide to shake things up or not.