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Profile: Gary Hammer- by Doug Glenn

What does one do after years of running a BBS? Does one hang up the towel one day when reaching burnout? Usually there are many reasons for shutting down. Many do so because the fun has gone out of it. Others get burned out by the relentless demand to constantly improve, buying newer hardware and software in the endless upgrade cycles that seem to voraciously curse the BBS world.

BBS sysops (system operators), the ones who have done it for years, are not known for their ability to chat on-line, or to write lengthy posts. By their second year, even new sysops begin to develop the habits of short concise answers to the sometimes lengthy diatribes they occasionally come across. And on-line chat? Ho boy, that gets rather old after the first year or so.

I've been fortunate enough over the years to develop the acquaintance of one such individualist: Gary Hammer. Over several years I watched him take his system down twice to move and rebuild his following at each new place. Around the time of his second move, he began to go on about the Internet. Since I was still in a rural setting myself, I mostly wished he'd find something else to chat about. In '95, this individual moved again and I never heard anything else from him. Or so I thought.

I moved as well, this time to a more metropolitan area and found an ISP and began to discover the Internet myself. Being the OS/2 lover that I am, I began to search out OS/2 sites looking for that perfect utility or file that would do what I needed done. I hit the jackpot.

Hmmmm, "OS/2 Must Have Utilities", just what I was looking for. When I clicked the link I thought I had reached a section of heaven. Then down there, at the bottom of the page was a name. Not just any name, but the name. Doggone, so this is where he ended up! Gary had graduated from his BBS to the big time of the Internet.

I managed to interview Gary recently over several days, via e-mail and telephone. Like most old time sysops, Gary is not very verbose via e-mail, but like most, will wax eloquent over the phone. I listened to him talk about how he got started, the trials and tribulations of running a popular web site, and found he is still very much the sysop at heart.

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OS/2 e-Zine! : What motivated you to create your "Must Have Utilities" site?

Gary: I saw a niche and I filled it. That is the short and sweet answer. Really, over the years in the newsgroups there were constant, "Where do I go to get this?" or, "What is the best to do that?" questions. So I started creating a list of files, and where people could get them. After a while, I created an FTP site where people could come and get them because often Hobbes and CDROM were down or the files had moved. Then I found HTML...

OS/2 e-Zine! : Why not use a BBS?

Gary: I was tired of moderating user fights on the system, or the requests to place adult material on it. The Internet is international. I get to do what I like most, provide files that are useful to people, and to help people out. I've run a BBS overseas, in Fairbanks, Alaska and in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And none of these places allows me to reach the audience, or provide a needed service like the Internet does. And I don't have to listen to someone complain that their modem will not connect to mine while it works for everyone else on the system. There are no fights and not near as many glitches in the system to worry about.

OS/2 e-Zine! : I'm told that you donated a system to your ISP for the site.

Gary: Yeah, they called me one day and told me I was sucking up too many resources, that my site was generating too much traffic. So I had to come to a decision then, whether to pull the plug or fix it. I had a Pentium 90 system sitting here, so I plugged 32meg of memory in it and a one gig SCSI drive, and drove it over to my ISP. They plugged another SCSI drive in it along with a network card. We loaded the software and files, then plugged it in, and that's what is running the site today. This was several months ago. I wish that memory was this cheap then!

OS/2 e-Zine! : I see that you've gotten a corporate sponsor now. How did that come about?

Gary: Well, my ISP called me again, and said, "Gary, you're moving 1.5 gigs of files through your site per day, and you're going to have to buy another account". Well, my wife didn't buy that. I'd already given them a computer and was spending over 20 hours a week maintaining the site. Needless to say it was crunch time again. It was fine when I was using my own account. I was going to spend that money anyway. But the line had to be drawn somewhere.

So I sat down and e-mailed all the authors on the site. Almost every one of them offered me support. But I decided that choosing a few of them wasn't fair to the authors. So I sat down again and wrote IBM and SofTouch, two companies I had a lot of respect for. IBM called back and said they liked the idea, but it had to go through a committee. Rick Jones, President of SofTouch called. We spoke for 45 minutes, and the next day I had what I needed to keep the site on-line for a year.

OS/2 e-Zine! : What effect does this have on what you put on your site?

Gary: None. Luckily, I use the SofTouch apps that are available on my site. And those apps were there long before they became my sponsor. It's not going to influence what goes on there. I've not "sold out" if that is what you're asking.

OS/2 e-Zine! : What do you think is better then, Shareware or Commercial applications?

Gary: That is actually a pretty easy call. Shareware. Don't get me wrong, I've got plenty of commercial OS/2 programs. But let me put it to you like this: I have AmiPro for OS/2, I have this nice idea for a feature, or I have a bug with it. I write Lotus and let them know. Am I going to get an answer back? Am I going to see this neat feature added in my lifetime?

Then you have the shareware author. You have the same neat idea, or a problem. More often than not, you will have an answer back the next day, and the feature in the next release. No, in some cases there is better shareware than commercial stuff, and the support is far better. Nowhere else can you get that personal touch that comes from shareware authors.

OS/2 e-Zine! : What criteria to you use to determine what goes on your site?

Gary: There are several. "What are the things I have to have?" is one. However it mostly comes from suggestions sent to me, or what people are looking for.

  1. If I have to figure out how to install it, or configure it, it's not going on. It has to be easy to install and well thought out.
  2. It has to be what I consider "Best of its Class". I've been using OS/2 since version 1.3 and I've seen a lot of software, and some software stands out above the rest with ease of use, power, or simplicity.
  3. They have to have a downloadable version. This is a must. I don't care if its functional or nonfunctional, but they must allow a person to download it and be able to evaluate it.
  4. It has to be suggested by the users. If the author has to write and ask that I post it, then chances are, it's not really something that someone needs or will need.
  5. And there is the subjective "I know it when I see it" feeling about some programs, that this is something that I, or someone, will need. You know what I mean? Some programs just have a, well, "Must-Have" feeling. Sorry, but could you please describe the color blue?
I run all the programs myself to review them and get a feel for them. I get roughly 50 suggestions a week and try as many of them as I can. You will notice that some programs on the list undergo a revision or two, then they just don't meet the needs anymore. Sometimes you can fiddle out with what made it unique in the first place. There are some that are unique and fill a niche no other program does. I have one program there that is ancient by Internet standards. It's not supported or updated anymore. However it still does exactly what it was originally designed to do.

OS/2 e-Zine! : What do you say to those who want more from your site?

Gary: Hey, if they feel they can do it better, go for it. It's much like all those that used to say things about the BBS. They can go out and buy the software, take the time and money to do it, what's stopping them? It's easy to talk. I mean, I'm not stopping them from doing it. Who am I to disillusion them? Just use your own ideas when you do. Don't rip off my ideas, layouts, and stuff.

OS/2 e-Zine! : What did you use to create the site?

Gary: It's all done by hand, using Boxer/2 text editor.

OS/2 e-Zine! : What type of traffic do you see?

Gary: I subscribe to an audit service to determine how many hits I get. It averages about 150,000 or so per month. I run a statistics program on the server just to see what files are the most popular so I can make sure to pay closer attention to the needs of the visitors to the site.

OS/2 e-Zine! : What is it you like most about running your site?

Gary: I get to do a lot of the same things I did when I was a sysop, without the hassles. No message bases. No user fights. I still supply files, still provide a service, and I still get to help people. Now don't get me wrong, if it has to do with OS/2 itself, I am generally pretty good about figuring it out, or finding out the small details. But if you're wanting to know about printing problems with a Xerox, forget it, you're going to have to ask Xerox.

OS/2 e-Zine! : OK, to change the topic, what's this I hear about you and Stardock?

Gary: Well, you know, I just got irritated with seeing what I considered misleading posts about OD (Object Desktop) and Merlin. It may be the neatest thing since sliced bread, but you DON'T have to have it. There are other utils that can be used to get most of the same functionality for lesser cost or free. Anyway, we went a few rounds over it.

OS/2 e-Zine! : I understand that's settled out now.

Gary: Well, we took it to e-mail. I mean, it's kinda stupid for two high profile OS/2 advocates to be battling it out in public. I like OS/2. I've been an advocate for a long time, and the whole thread was getting nasty. So, I asked people to drop it. It served no purpose for anyone.

OS/2 e-Zine! : I take it you got a lot of e-mail over it.

Gary: Yeah, a few hundred. Some supported my side, and some supported Brad's. I will say that after mailing back and forth, neither of us is gonna invite the other over for a beer. But Brad has some legitimate points, and may not be the Devil incarnate (grin). Actually a pretty good guy.

OS/2 e-Zine! : What would you say to those that think you're somewhat, err, bellicose, or short tempered?

Gary: You know the deal. Just how much time can you spend answering tons of e-mail? Just because someone else has the time to wax eloquent over something does not mean I have the same luxury. I've got a dozen more to answer as well. I simply don't have the time to write a long answer if a simple yes or no will do. It's short and to the point. What's more, they do get an answer. I can't help it if they might get irritated because my prose did not meet their eloquence standard. Let them try to do this and see how well they fare after several years. This is my hobby, not my job. My family has demands on my time as well, and you have to prioritize.

OS/2 e-Zine! : I understand that you found a way to get off of mailing lists.

Gary: (Laughs.) Yeah. Microsoft has me targeted as a big OS/2 supporter. Not too long ago they put me on their mailing list. Well, I followed the directions for unsubscribing without any success. So I wrote to the postmaster at Microsoft, and they basically told me that I could just delete them when I got them. Well, I wanted off. Deleting messages is NOT an option. So I sent them 5 messages in one day containing a core dump from a Unix workstation. That's 80 megs worth. Per message (sounds of a chuckle emanate from the phone).

The next day my ISP called me and asked me what I had done to piss off Microsoft. It appears that got their attention and they were demanding that my ISP remove my account, kill my access, etc. Well my ISP doesn't like Microsoft either, he's a Unix type of guy. So he told them, "I guess Mr. Hammer wants off of your mailing list. He has been a good customer and I am not removing his access, so I guess you better take him off your mailing list." I don't get any more mail from Microsoft.

OS/2 e-Zine! : Hrrrm, I don't think I would recommend that for everyone.

Gary: Better have a good relationship with your ISP if you do.

OS/2 e-Zine! : So do you use OS/2 at work?

Gary: Not at all. We use Unix and some very proprietary software. I work in the communications industry. I use it at home, and that's were I get all my OS/2 experience.

OS/2 e-Zine! : I understand that you have ISDN at your house.

Gary: Yeah. I put in my order, and they said it would take a month. A month went by and no line. So I called them up and was told it would be another couple of days. So I took off that day, and about 2pm called the office and asked them what the deal was. I was told that they had trouble with the cable, that it would be another 3 weeks, and gave me the engineer's number.

So I called up the engineer and he told me they had problems with it. "Well," I said, "I'm a communications engineer myself, so how about telling me what the problem is." It turns out that the aerial line they had to install for the ISDN was getting too much inductance (inductance being resistance in an AC circuit, and ground lines had too much inductance to be used for ISDN). Our area is growing so fast that the power company had installed new lines in the area that were under the buffer zone and creating interference with the phone lines. So they had to have the power company come out, put in 6 new poles, raise the power lines above the buffer zone and restring their own cable before I got it. And because they did not meet their deadline, the install was free.

OS/2 e-Zine! : I understand that you've been invited to a on-line discussion by ZD Net on shareware and the Internet.

Gary: Yes, I got e-mail from Ed Passarella of Yahoo Computing, the Ziff Davis guide to the best Web sites, inviting me to a one hour live IRC chat with several others. They have rated my site four stars, their highest rating.

(editor's note: Gary Hammer was featured on Yahoo Computing on Wednesday, Aug. 28)

OS/2 e-Zine! : What IRC client will you use?

Gary: GTIRC from SofTouch. A real nice client with a lot of handy features. And, no, not because they are my sponsor. Because it works.

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Doug Glenn is a Notes/LAN administrator by day, and an avid OS/2 supporter by night. He has written one shareware app for OS/2 and has been a sysop since 1989. He may be found on the #os/2 IRC channel as Kyfho.

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