"What colour is a chameleon on a mirror?"
JUST A BOX OF RAIN
by John Weller
Hello, and welcome to Rainbox, the latest addition to ST NEWS.
This is a personal column that used to appear in STEN (the
British ST Enthusiasts' Newsletter), and was left homeless when
the disczine came to an end. Richard, being the kind person that
he is, rehoused it and it now sleeps in a corner of his room and
So what is it about, and why should you read it? Why should you
be interested in one ST user's rants, raves and day-to-day
enthusiasms? Particularly when they aren't necessarily computer-
related... Well, let's just say that life isn't made up of neat
compartments, and neither are computer users. We all have our
own sets of interests and obsessions, and part of the fun of life
is in trying to share them, and spark the same enthusiasm in a
Rainbox covers the 'alternative' and off-beat sides of life and
computing, but it can only be done with your help. If it strikes
a chord in you (or if you need more information about any of the
items) then get in contact with me and we'll have a chat. My
address is in the 'Data' section near the end of this column.
"But why is it called 'A Box of Rain'?" I'm glad you asked me
that. It's a quote from an old Grateful Dead song ('Box of
Rain', from the album 'American Beauty', 1970 or thereabouts):
"For it's just a box of rain, I don't know who put it
Believe it if you need it, Or leave it if you dare,
For it's just a box of rain, Or a ribbon for your hair,
Such a long, long time to be gone, Such a short time to be here."
And that just about sums it up; serendipity, an openness to
anything life might bring, and a need to share my experiences and
make a small (but significant) mark on the world.
The STEN Rainboxes contained anything from falconry and ferrets,
through to hard drives, raising squirrels, favourite utilities,
and Anarchism in action; there was literally something for
everyone. This born-again edition contains 'I was a Postal
Junkie', 'Tales from the Bournemouth Bestiary', 'Revenge Skills
for Advanced Users', and an alternative chainletter for spreading
worldwide weirdness. Oh, and there might even be some serious
computer stuff in there...
CONFESSIONS OF A MAILBOX JUNKIE
Why is it that so many computer users are also compulsive letter
writers? Is it due to the solitary nature of computing, or
perhaps a simple need to talk about your current enthusiasms and
discoveries? Whatever the reason, I've spent a lot of the last
eight years writing to other users and confirming what I already
knew; that you're the most interesting and friendliest people
But, like so many things, letter writing can get out of hand.
You find a PD utility that you like, so you write to the author.
You come across an intriguing letter in 'ST Applications' and
write to the author. You hear about a new disczine and send off
for it - and then it's only polite to send them some feedback...
And so it goes until all you ever do is write letters, copy discs
and mail printouts. You end up with no time for your own
projects, and a stack of letters that have got to be answered.
So why do we do it? Why do we commit ourselves to more
correspondence in a month than a sane person would write in a
year? Because we're Mailbox Junkies. We need our daily fix of
letters and packets and - who knows what today's post might
bring! There might be discs, or perhaps graphics, a long letter
from an old friend, a disczine, or a magazine. But whatever it
is, it's always welcome. There's no better sound than the
postbox rattling, and half a dozen letters and packets hitting
the carpet with a satisfying "ThuummPP!" I don't know about you,
but some days that's the only sound that can pull me out of
But let's stop for a second and think about the logistics of
letter-writing. If it's a long-running and particularly
interesting correspondence, then it'll take perhaps two to three
hours to write a letter, but only ten minutes to read the reply.
There's always a slight feeling of "It's not fair!", but you know
that what really matters is the sum of the correspondence;
watching it develop and getting to know someone who lives
hundreds of miles away - someone you would never have met under
'normal' circumstances. And that's what makes it worthwhile.
And then there's the eccentricity of typing a letter on £800's
worth of high technology, but sending it via a hand-delivered
postal system that's 150 years old. But it works, and that's all
that matters. I know that we're all meant (according to the
expense account journalists) to be frantically logging onto the
Net and zipping our messages around the world-wide web, but the
bottom line is that we still can't afford the phone bills.
'Snail mail' is very different to email: it has a physical
quality that's missing from an electronic message, and a sense of
distance travelled. It might be fashionable to sneer at 'snail
mail', but when was the last time you enclosed a newspaper
clipping, or a cartoon or flier with your email message? The art
of correspondence is still very much alive.
Ah! Back in a second - the letterbox just rattled....
Tales from the Bournemouth Bestiary
Our local radio station, 2CR, has us listed as being willing to
rescue any lost bird or ferret that their listeners might 'phone
in about. It can be a lot of fun (and you get to meet some very
strange people), but it has its bizarre side. Let me explain...
It was a wet and a windy afternoon when Liz and I heard the
call, and headed out for suburban East Howe. A buzzard had
escaped from its aviary and was rumoured to be hanging around. We
stopped, we listened, we scanned the rooftops and looked for a
big bird. "Holy Mackerel! Do you hear the crows, John?" "I hear
them, O sister of the soil." "Then follow them crows!" And sure
enough, there she was, perched in an oak tree behind some
bungalows, and being mobbed by corvids.
Now, the first lesson in catching an escaped bird is, 'Show no
Shame'. Just pretend that it's the most natural thing in the
world to be standing there, unshaven, scuzzy, in the pouring
rain, on a suburban road, squinting through a pair of binoculars.
Look innocent and the neighbours might not 'phone the police.
We'd sighted her, but we now had to get closer. And there our
troubles began... We rang all the doorbells, but no-one was home.
"To the next road, Ferretman!" "Shit! Do I really have to?" "You
can stand here on your own, if you want to..." Time passes and
we're now at the foot of a garden, still in the pouring rain, but
with all the family staring at us. But it's fractionally better
than standing in the street and waiting for the police to arrive.
We look up at the buzzard, and she looks down at us: impasse.
Liz waves a chick at her. She ignores it. I clean the rain off my
glasses and think about hot soup. The buzzard doesn't fancy hot
soup either. Off to the nearest phone, to tell her owner that
we've 'found' her, and please will he come and collect her before
she buggers off again. Time passes, slowly.
The owner's at work, so his wife turns up to help us. The only
problem is that she's deaf.... and knows very little about hawks.
To cut a long, and very wet story short, we left the bird to
roost when it got dark, and her owner called her down first thing
in the morning. And if I had a £ for every suspicious look I'd
been given, then I wouldn't be working.
REVENGE SKILLS FOR ADVANCED USERS
"Brothers and Sisters, the sermon for today is taken from my
forthcoming book, 'Don't Get Mad, Get Even!'. You (and that means
YOU) have a duty to kick against the pricks of this world! And
now I'm going to tell you how..."
* Unsolicted mail: check for a return address, replace your
address with the sender's, and secure it to a heavy object.
Leave it on your local post office counter, and picture the
delight on the recipient's face: "A parcel, for little old
me! And only £2.00 excess postage to pay - what *could* it
be?" Increase the weight of the object every time they send
you junk mail.
* Troublesome neighbours: take a sturdy paper bag and insert a
turd (human or canine) into it. Place it very quietly on
their doorstep, pour lighter fuel over it, ignite, and press
the doorbell. Retire to a concealed position. Now, what
would *you* do if you found burning paper on your doorstep?
You'd stamp on it. Childish, yes, but very satisfying....
* Chainletters asking for money: 'phone Directory Enquiries
and ask for the telephone number for the last address on the
list. Ring it during the daytime and ask for that person.
They generally won't be there, but the odds are that someone
else will be. Go straight into your prepared speech: "Does
Mr xxx xxxxxx live there? No, I don't need to talk to him at
the moment. My name is Detective Superintendant xxxxx of
xxxxx Police Station, and I'm just calling to confirm that
the person does, in fact, live at that address. We've had
several complaints about postal fraud and may need to
interview Mr xxxxx in the near future. Thank you for your
co-operation." Replace handset and smile as you imagine the
confusion and panic at the other end of the line. (NB: this
is for informational purposes only as it is a criminal
offence to impersonate a police officer.)
* Anyone who sends you 'money-making offers': Find an
Executive Book Club offer in a magazine, choose the four
most boring (or expensive) books on offer, and complete the
form with their name and address. Alternatively, obtain a
Church of Scientology 'Free Personality Analysis' sheet and
complete the 200 yes/maybe/no questions in their name. Don't
forget to include their telephone number! They will then be
contacted to arrange "a convenient personal appointment for
the results". This one will run and run. Blank
questionnaires can be obtained from: The Hubbard Dianetics
Foundation, Dianetics Centre, East Wing, Jolliffe House, 32
West Street, Poole, Dorset, BH15 1LA, UK. Tel: 0202 670535.
These are just a few ideas that could be useful. I want to
compile a booklet of similar hints, tips and hoaxes, so if
there's any nice tricks or techniques that you know of, then set
them down in a letter to me. All contributions will be credited
(or not, if you prefer) and printed in a future Rainbox.
If any of the above tips amused you, then send for a copy of the
'Hoax!' zine. This contains a wide range of articles detailing
hoaxes, set-ups, phone pranks, scams, billboard alterations,
newspaper cuttings of planted stories, and lots more! The current
'Monster Issue' (#3 = 60 packed A4 pages) can be had for £1.50
(securely wrapped cash or a postal order only - no cheques) plus
a stamped A4 self-addressed envelope to: AUX, 64 Beechgrove,
Aberhonddu, Powys, Cymru, LD3 9ET, UK. Alternatively, the Slab-o-
Concrete zine distributors will send you a copy for £1.90, post
paid. Add some more $$$ if you're ordering it from Europe or the
States. Contact: Slab'o'Concrete, PO Box 298, Sheffield, S10 1YU,
UK, and ask for their zine list while you're about it.
HIGH WEIRDNESS BY MAIL!
When I ran the Enthusiasts' PD Library, I often received
chainletters. They ranged from the crass to the stupid, but what
most of them had in common was the promise that I would soon be
rich beyond belief, if only I sent money to the addresses on the
list. Perhaps I'm too logical, but it's strange how resistable
these offers were... On a good day, I'd tear them in half and
throw them in the wastebin, but on a bad day, they'd get a reply.
I'd slip in phrases like, "Trading Standards Office", 'Fraud
Squad' and 'The Data Protection Act", and question their sanity,
logic and commonsense. The last name on the list would be the
lucky recipient, but if it was a particularly bad day, then I'd
take the chainletter and my reply, wrap them up with a brick, and
leave it (post unpaid) in my local post office. You'd be amazed
how much excess parcel post costs...
The strangest chainletter I received was one asking me to pray
to St Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. Good luck would
befall me if I passed it on, but woe betide me if I ignored it!
Apparantly St Jude needs regular prayer and adoration if he is to
continue as a semi-divine being, and a shortfall makes him
tetchy: death, illness and bad luck would soon come my way if I
ignored him. I filed that one under 'I' for 'Insane'.
You'll now understand how pleased I was to receive the following
chainletter from a zine contact. No pleas for money or prayers,
just the opportunity to join in a worldwide outbreak of mailbox
madness. Read on, enjoy and, if you like the sound of it, print
it out and send copies to all your contacts. But don't miss my
name off the list! Not unless you want St Jude to come
An Alternative Chainletter
* This is a chain letter, but one with a difference. It isn't
for money or other bullshit - it's so you can get really
cool stuff in the mail from all over the world. Please keep
* INSTRUCTIONS: Send a magazine, 'zine, cassette, comic, work
of art, found object, bizarre advertisment, weirdness, or
whatever (the choicer and stranger the better), to the first
person on the list. Then cross off their name and address,
and add yours to the bottom of the list.
* Make at least 10 copies (more if you like) of this letter
and send them to people who might be interested in this free
international alternative cultural exchange.... You'll soon
be getting weird mail from all over the world.
* It's so cool! If you send them within a week, it will make
ev'ryone happier, sooner, including your own sweet self. If
you're not interested, then could you please pass this on to
someone who might be. Thanks in advance!
33: DAVID MORENO, AA 56385, BOGOTA 2 DC, COLUMBIA.
34: MICHAEL NOVICK, PO BOX 1990, BURBANK CA 91507, USA.
35: YIANNIS ZARKALIS, PO BOX 31427, 100 35 ATHENS, GREECE.
36: LEE KENNEDY, 58, DURRINGTON TOWER, WESTBURY, WANDSWORTH
ROAD, LONDON, SW8 3LF, UK.
37: PAUL SCHROEDER, 11a, LYME STREET (basement), CAMDEN,
LONDON, NW1 0EH, UK.
38: LAWRENCE BURTON, BM INDEFINITE, LONDON, WC1N 3XX,
39: KEV BLAKE, 33, CLARINA STREET, LINCOLN, LN2 5LZ,
40: JOHN WELLER, 51, ST LUKES ROAD, BOURNEMOUTH, BH3 7LR,
"SO WHO *IS* THIS JFW GUY?"
Name: John Francis Weller.
Physical reality: Technohippy (German variety). 5'8" tall, thin
and wiry, with long, long hair tied back in a
ponytail. Black jeans and sharp shirts.
Jungle issue army boots.
Mental reality: Intense, intellectual, egocentric and
Address: 51, St Luke's Road, Bournemouth, Dorset, BH3
Marital status: Happily married.
Family: My wife, Liz (the Human Spellchecker),
seventeen ferrets, a red-tailed hawk, a hand-
reared grey squirrel, seventeen long-tailed
fieldmice, a bank vole and fourteen Siberian
hamsters. Who needs children when you can
have *proper* animals?
Writing, photography, reading, music, graphic
design, art, computer history and folklore,
hawking and ferreting, natural history,
philosophy, history, the Green movement, and
writing. Did I mention the writing?
Current computer/s: 4 meg STe.
A 48K Sinclair Spectrum, with a modem and
discdrive jutting out of the back. On a good
night, it'd only crash once, but usually when
you were logged onto a BBS or Prestel. Those
were the days!
An 84 Meg Seagate hard drive (connected to
the ST via an ICD The Link <SCSI - DMA>
interface), an Atari SM 124 mono monitor (the
best you can buy - razor sharp, no flicker or
eystrain), an HP Deskjet 500 (bliss!), a
Zydec 100 - 400 DPI handscanner (rebadged
Daatascan - the same hardware and software,
but £10 cheaper), a Golden Image Mousebrush
(over-priced, fragile crap), an 8-bit Atari
trackerball set into the desktop (oh yes!),
and a STOS Maestro audio digitiser (thanks
But what is it used for?:
Writing, wordprocessing, mono graphics, image
processing, newsletters, and 300 DPI A4
Favourite application software:
MegaPaint for mono graphics; That's Write 2
for snazzy letters; FirstWord Plus for
straight text entry and writing; PicSwitch
v1.01, Studio Photo and Tms Cranach for image
processing; GEMview for picture conversion;
Imagecopy for graphics printouts; and Calamus
Favourite games software:
"Games? What are 'games'?" OK, I admit it; I
like the screaming frenzy of Llamatron...
Bang goes my credibilty.
Artweird (for garbling long text files in
creative ways); GEMview (converts from
virtually any picture format - including .SUN
workstation, VIDAS and other weirdness);
PicSwitch v1.01 (superb mono dithering and
printing from colour pix); Superboot v8.0
(the essential boot-up utility); Selectric
for a proper file selector; the Rubrik
screensaver; Fast Copy III for disc copying
and formatting; RAMbaby for easily set-up and
taken down RAMdiscs; Fprint for speeding up
output to the Deskjet; too many others to
Hardware turkeys: "I'm honoured to be here tonight and would
like to nominate the Golden Image
Mousebrush." It's cheap and nasty, overpriced
@ £20, and according to the instructions,
"should be returned to Ladbroke Computing
whenever the mouseball needs cleaning - do
not attempt to do this yourself as the
plastic cover is easily broken".... Yep, it
sure is: it broke within a day of buying it.
Software turkeys: Where do I start? How about the Datel OCR
software that didn't OCR? No way, not at all.
(But at least we got them to refund our
£50...) Or good old Flair Paint, the £25 art
programme with icons that were so bizarre
that you needed the manual permanently
alongside you, just to work out what they
Favourite books: Far too many to mention... 'Lolita' by
Nabokov; any of Patrick O'Brian's beautifully
written Napoleonic naval books; 'The Face of
Battle' by John Keegan; 'Storming Heaven: LSD
and the American Dream' by Jay Stevens;
'Revelations' and 'Genesis' from the King
James Bible; 'The Essential Guide to Growing
Marijuana in the British Isles' by Anon;
'Accidental Empires: How the boys of Silicon
Valley make their millions, battle foreign
competition and still can't get a date' by
Robert X. Cringely; 'Moments of Reprieve' by
Primo Levi; 'Squire's Companion to the
British Pharmacopoeia, 1899'; 'Photography:
Art and Technique' by Alfred A. Blaker;
Collins English Dictionary; anything by
William Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, Raymond
Chandler or Richard Brautigan; 'In Patagonia'
and 'On the Black Hill' by Bruce Chatwin;
'Anarchism' by George Woodcock; 'Eye and
Brain' by R.L. Gregory; 'Computer Lib' by Ted
Nelson; 'Altered States of Consciousness'
edited by Charles T. Tart.
Books to avoid: Anything written for money, rather than out
of love, or the need to say something:
bonkbusters, Jeffery Archer, diet and
lifestyle books (get a life, suckers!). 90%
of anything is crap, and books are no
exception; the trick is to find the 10% that
you really need to read.
Favourite music: Grateful Dead, Ry Cooder, early Nick Lowe,
Jefferson Airplane, New Riders of the Purple
Sage, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and all
those sweet experimental sixties sounds. The
Wailers (before they became Bob Marley and
the Wailers), roots reggae, Dylan, Tom Petty
and the Heartbreakers, Lou Reed, Velvet
Underground, John Cale, jazz, blues, Bird,
MJQ, Roger Water's 'Radio KAOS', Shostakovich
string quartets, J.S Bach's Well-tempered
Clavier, Monteverdi, medieval dance music,
Morrocan drumming, The Clash, original
rockabilly, TexMex and Cajun music, Scarlatti
harpsichord sonatas, John Martyn, too much to
Music to avoid: Anything written for money alone. Anything in
any chart. Anything that "don't mean a thing,
'cos it ain't got that swing". 90% of
anything is crap...
Favourite films: 'Casablanca', Truffaut's 'The Man Who Loved
Women', 'Paris, Texas', 'Leningrad Cowboys Go
America' (pure black humour), 'Dark Star'(the
best SF film ever), 'Terminator 2' (for the
SFX only), Ridley Scott's 'Bladerunner'. Far
too many to list, but just about anything
made with wit and intelligence.
Films to avoid: Those Oh So Tasteful Merchant Ivory films.
Hollywood product. Any film tied to
merchandising. Any film where the accountants
and suits took over. Any 'cut for TV'
Favourite TV: TV? Jeez... OK, natural history programmes,
the occasional documentary or history slot.
TV to avoid: All Sky channels, MTV, TV news (slick
graphics and no depth), sitcoms, 99.999% of
anything beamed through the idiot box. You
know it makes you go blind?
Favourite food: Liz's Rabbit Molé - freshly caught rabbit
cooked as a Mexican casserole with chocolate,
chilli and limes. I'll be eating it in five
Ultimate ambition: To walk away from an increasingly mad world,
move to mid-Wales and live our own lives. We
don't need much in the way of material goods
or money, but we do need land and space to
breathe and think in. "Without land, a man is
CUT, CLOSE, EXIT
It's time to draw my ramblings to a close. It's 09:02 on the
30th of October, and I promised Richard that he'd have this
column by the 20th July.... Sorry! I hope you found something
here that was new to you, and perhaps even enjoyed it. Any
complaints, crticism or winges should be sent to Richard at the
usual address. Any constructive comments, feedback, suggestions,
or tightly-rolled banknotes should be sent to me at the address
above. And don't y'all be strangers, ya hear!
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.