I had a great time this weekend at an annual science fiction conference named Baycon. Heather and I were staff in their first terminal room, sponsored by Red Hat, LinuxCare, and VA Linux Systems and it was a rousing success. Other SF conventions are looking forward to doing the same.
Good news: Heather, my wife and principle editor, will be taking over the Answer Blurb. She's refined her 'lgazmail' PERL script to the point where she can take up the slack and has graciously agreed to take over responsibility for the monthly blurb as well.
Long time readers may recall that early Answer Guy columns had no blurbs. They also had no HTML formatting. The URLs weren't even wrapped in links! I'd been frustrated by this for some time --- from about the time that I realized that Marjorie (then the editor of LG) was publishing my responses as a column, (and that she had dubbed me with as "The Answer Guy" --- a title that still makes me nervous).
Heather agreed to step of to the plate and do the formatting. She tried a few mail-to-web utilities like MHOnArc, and John Callendar's Babymail, etc. Then she decided to derive her own from a Babymail source. So her script reads "Jim's e-mail markup hints" and converts it to reasonable HTML.
Heather also designed and drew the new Answer Guy Wizard (TM?) with its distinctive Question Crystal Ball and Answer Speak Bubble --- which visually refer to the question and answer speak bubbles throughout the column. (She's also added the pilcrow bubble for editorial comments).
In other words, Heather went way beyond just "wrapping the URLs in links" and completely overhauled the visual look of our column.
I should also note that Heather is no slouch technically. She has often helped me find answers to questions --- including the answers that I've published here.
When we did that overhaul I also decided to add the "blurbs" The idea was to say things of interest that were not in response to any questions. (I suppose I could've use a shill to jury rig the desired questions, but that would be cheating!).
The blurb has sometimes been editorial (commenting on the Mindcraft/Microsoft fiasco and the wonderful Linux community anti-FUD response). Sometimes it's been a summary and commentary on the sorts of questions we got in the previous month, feedback that we got from my answers, and any trends that we were seeing, etc.
For awhile I tried to identify a specific person and forum every month --- to recognize them with the "Answer Guy's Support Award." I wanted to point out where other individuals were providing lots of technical support in more specific forms of support in various fora. For instance in May I wanted to recognize Ben Collins of the Debian-SPARC mailing list. He seems to respond to most of the questions that show up there. (Unfortunately I was too much of a flake to keep that up for long. It's hard to dig up a really good new selection every month).
Of course there have also been the two April Fool's hoax blurbs and a few others that weren't really there.
The sad fact is that I don't have enough time to conceive and compose articles for this column every month. It is much easier for me to answer questions (react) than to write from scratch. (I tend to digress enough when there IS a question at hand. I'm a regular attention deficit train wreck when left to my own devices!).
Let me reassure everyone that I'm not leaving the "Answer Guy" column. I'm somewhat compulsive about answering technical questions, and I used to make a hobby out of USENet netnews before the advent of LG ensured that I get a 100 or so diverse Linux questions every month in my inbox. I sometimes still make it out to USENet --- though I dropped the uucp netnews feed that used to fill the disk on antares on a semi-regular basis! (Now I just telnet out to a shell account at my ISP, or use my $NNTPSERVER environment setting to get to his news server).
I'll also probably still insert a few comments to supplement Heather's.
Hi everybody. I suppose I don't have to introduce myself now. I will also be taking on some deeper organizational features -- in the next few months we'll see a revamp of how Tips, the Mailbag, and Answer Guy messages are formatted -- though I think they won't look all that different.
Also, we'll have more Wizards joining us. Jim had from the early days conveived of this as The Answer Gang -- he was just helping an editor with a few technical notes, a role which anyone can play. The Mailbag and Tips is popular and more gurus are around, now. If you'd like to join The Answer Gang as a regular, let us know what your specialties are.
I'll have something more "Blurb"ish next month. On to the answers!