As Microsoft buyouts go, the announcement Thursday that the softwarecompany everyone loves to hate was buying the computer game company FASAInteractive raised few eyebrows. But to anyone familiar with the history of FASA, creator of the beloved Battletech franchise -- in which clans of giant man-operated robots battle for supremacy in the far future -- the acquisition did strike a disturbing note.
From its earliest days as a paper-and-dice board game tosuccessive (and successful) incarnations as virtual reality games and astring of computer-game battle simulations -- most notably the hot-sellingMechWarrior -- BattleTech has always benefited from a thriving, passionatefan base. Long before most of the world had heard about the Internet,BattleTech fans were posting their fan fiction on Usenet and joining up tobattle rival clans in text-based MUDs and MOOs. But now, suddenly, theirobject of worship is part of the Microsoft empire. It's as if a Jade FalconMechWarrior defected to the Federated Commonwealth, for crying out loud.
Rett Kipp, director of marketing for FASA Inc., FASAInteractive's parent corporation, said that "given that Microsoft will beputting a lot of money behind this in terms of advertising and everythingelse, there will be larger exposure overall and broader market share forFASA." And former FASA president Sam Lewis noted that FASA's founder andchief creative director, Jordan Weisman, is joining Microsoft to oversee theoperation, which should ensure continuity.
"That attention to detail," said Lewis, "that linkage with the propertyis still going to be there."
But the fans, whose loyalty and fervor have made BattleTech a cultphenomenon, aren't quite so sure. What's the point of having a cult anyway,if as soon as it starts to make some serious money, Microsoft buys it?
"You better believe I have qualms about the deal," says Camille Klein, anardent BattleTech fan who runs a mailing list devoted to the game. "This hascaused a big shakeup. I'm dealing with screaming and howling fans who areconvinced that Bill Gattus of Borg is going to assimilate FASA."
-- Andrew Leonard
SALON | Jan. 8, 1999
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Call it the little joke that could. In November, the New York Times erroneously printed as true a satirical list of movie titles translated into Chinese -- "Leaving Las Vegas," for example, supposedly translated to "I'm Drunk and You're a Prostitute" in Cantonese. The Times (and other publications that reprinted the story) were soon enlightened that the comical titles were invented in August 1997 by members of TopFive.com, a daily humor Web site.
But while most of those publications have since publicly admitted the mistake, that didn't prevent Peter Jennings from recirculating one of the jokes on ABC's "World News Tonight" Tuesday evening. Jennings closed his report with the now familiar line, "And finally, the new title for 'Babe' reminds us that in China the Communists are still in charge. 'Babe' is now 'The Happy Dumpling-to-be Who Talks and Solves Agricultural Problems.'"
Although TopFive fans have been calling ABC News reporting that the tidbit was also from TopFive.com, ABC is refusing to admit that it made a mistake. Eileen Murphy, spokeswoman for ABC News, says, "We knew about the fraud ... We knew the New York Times story said it was all made up, but we went to our people in Beijing and Hong Kong and they confirmed it all to be completely accurate." It's likely, she insists, that TopFive merely slightly embellished an already-true Chinese translation of "Babe's" title.
But Chris White, founder of TopFive.com, says that he has double-checked with the contributor who offered the "Babe" translation in the first place, who confirms that he invented the submission and has never been exposed to any real-life Chinese movie title translations. White's response: "My guess is ABC is just trying to cover their ass."
-- Janelle Brown
SALON | Jan. 7, 1999
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From 300 to 1200 to 2400 to 9600 to 14.4k to 28.8k and beyond: Anyonewho has worked with personal computers for more than a few years willrecognize this numerical sequence. It's the evolutionary chart of theanalog modem -- which started trading bits more than phone lines over twodecades ago at a turtle's crawl, and today pumps Web pages and e-mails tomost home Internet users at speeds hundreds of times faster.
On Tuesday, Hayes -- the company most closely associated with thosenumbers -- announced that it was shutting down.It had filed for bankruptcy last October. (An executive of Hayes in theUnited Kingdom told ZDNet late Tuesday that though U.S. operations had shut down, the company was still seeking a buyer and not liquidating.)
Founded by and named after Dennis Hayes, the inventor of the PC modem, the company spearheaded the rise of the modem and standardized the code --called the AT instruction set -- that all modems use today. As competitionfrom overseas drove modem prices down, Hayes tried to establish itselfas a premium brand and kept its prices high -- and struggled to survivethrough much of the '90s.
The disappearance of the Hayes-brand modem serves as a reminder of justhow volatile the high-tech marketplace remains. Inventing a product doesn't give a company a permanent lock on anything -- just a brief opportunity to make a name, and possibly a fortune, before some competitor figures out how to sell the product better or cheaper.
SALON | Jan. 6,1999
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Here's a millennial question: What was the most important invention of the past 2,000 years? John Brockman, |ber-agent for science and technology authors, posed the question to his online community of scientists and scholars and posted the provocative and cantankerous list of responses on his EDGEWeb site.
Some nominations were obvious: the printing press, the contraceptive pill, the atomic bomb and the computer all received multiple votes. Suggestions ranged from the concrete (the battery, the steam engine, hay) to the abstract (calculus, quantum theory, evolution, double-entry accounting); from the world-historical (religion, the city, democracy) to the quirkily mundane (the eraser, reading glasses, plumbing); and from the physiological (anesthesia, DNA sequencing, aspirin) to the philosophical (the scientific method, "the idea of an idea").
The list makes for an enjoyable read -- if you can get over the participants' utter inability to remain within the question's 2000-year bounds. Suggesting that the most important invention of this era is the spirit of rebellion against arbitrary rules.
-- Scott Rosenberg