by Joe Barr
One place that's been SLIME'd is Canopus, the forum on CompuServe that had become my regular online habitat. At one time it was a bastion of independent thought, consisting of contrary but industry-wise regulars who were never afraid to criticize the powerhouses in the industry, be they IBM or Microsoft or anybody else. Will Zachmann, the WizOp, sought to keep it from becoming simply another fluff PR site for anybody, regardless of their affiliation.
He requests only has been that those with an industry affiliation make it known in their posts. It is a call for polite, ethical behavior, so that readers of the messages can be aware of the potential for bias towards one's own. Forum participants are widely known for challenging the crap that passes for "knowledge" elsewhere.
The participation of Phil Payne, industry analyst with Sievers Consulting, added not only an international flavor but an authoritative voice with an amazing archive of Canopian messages. Just the fact that he had the archives, and would produce messages from one, two, or three years ago when needed to support a point or defrock a scam kept the signal-to-noise level much higher than normally found in cyberspace.
In most online haunts, supporters and users of niche products like OS/2, Mac, or whatever, are drowned out by jeering proponents of Windows. Canopus used to be a refuge from that sort of crap. Stress the was. Canopus today is a far different place than it was when I first started hanging my hat there in '92.
I think the change began about the time Win95 debuted. For one thing, honest debate and sincere conversation began to decline with the arrival of Arnold Krueger. Whatever it is that brought him to Canopus, or keeps him there, it is definitely not honest discourse. Arnold is a one-man propaganda machine, boosting Win95 and dis'ing everything else. He is the kind of guy who belongs in one of the comp.os.___.advocacy newsgroups. And no where else. Since the first day he arrived, his message has been simply this: Win95 is it, if you don't use it you are stupid, if you computer won't run it, it's a piece of crap.
Pointing out fallacies in his arguments or contradictions in his statements or outright lies in his messages does no good at all. He has admitted that he is there only for one reason: to bring grief to those he calls "Warpies." What's worse is that he has become the most prolific poster in forum. Even when you recognize him for what he is (he is also the most twitted participant in forum history), he is still a huge negative presence that drives people away. Will Zachmann and I have opined openly that his real mission may be to do exactly that. Since Krueger's arrival, other changes for the worse have taken place. When you look at all of them in perspective, Will Zachmann's public departure from the OS/2 camp and his swim back towards Microsoft don't seem to come as much of a surprise.
Another big negative for those seeking a refuge from the Windows Uber Alles mentality is the attitude and behavior of Bruce Biermann, who is both a Microsoft employee and one of Will's forum sysops. The change in his online behavior is dramatic. In my column on the forum (Canopian Embrace, Tech-Connected, April, 1995) I commented about the wonderful trio of sysops Will had gathered, including MS employee Bruce Biermann. His behavior recently hasn't earned him any such accolades.
Several on the forum, myself included, feel that Bruce's change in online manner centers around a very nasty online run-in with MS booster Bill Mattox. Mattox, if you will recall, was responsible for a Canopian term: TDNBW. TDNBW is an abbreviation for "This does not bode well," which was Mattox's conclusion about every event that transpired with regard to the future of OS/2. As a result of the Mattox/Biermann dispute, Mattox tried to have Biermann fired from Microsoft, evidently because he felt that Biermann was not active enough in promoting and/or defending the Redmonian way.
That effort failed and Mattox began staying away from Canopus a lot more than participating. But since then, Biermann has begun acting a lot more like a biased MS booster than an evenhanded Canopian sysop. He denies that Mattox incident had any influence on him, but I'm certainly not the only observer to note the swing in attitude before and after the Mattox incident. Biermann became arrogant and rude, much more rude and much more often, than he had ever been before. Not only did he become an active defender of Microsoft's business practices, but he began to defend other MS employees who were posting in the forum. In short, he stepped down from the high ground and began wading through the mud.
An example: one day an IBM employee came into the forum and asked why the message threads were handled (mangled?) in such a way as to make it impossible to follow from beginning to end. Biermann came down so hard on the IBM'er that he never returned. Biermann, an accountant by the way, claimed it was ignorant to come into a forum and after only a day or two to know more than the sysops about how to handle threads.
What he didn't know was that he was talking to a programmer responsible for handling threads on IBM internal systems, a programmer whose scope of knowledge about the topic towered above Biermann's like the Shaq towers over Truman Capote. To flaunt his ignorance even further, Biermann later speculated that the IBM'er had asked the question only because of his (Biermann's) MSFT affiliation. A small event, perhaps, but typical of the change in Biermann. And in the forum.
Speaking of Biermann's MSFT affiliation, the refusal of a fellow MS employee to include mention of that affiliation in his posts has turned into one of the longest running, nastiest battles in forum history. The battle itself has further reduced the value of the forum.
Richard Shupak works for Microsoft, but he refuses to identify himself as an MS employee when he posts, this in spite of countless requests by forum regulars and a number of direct requests from Will Zachmann himself. He seems to enjoy flaunting his unethical behavior and abusing the lax forum "rules."
One unfortunate reality of Microsoft's reputation for dishonesty is that its employees can immediately gain credibility by claiming not to be MS employees. Steve Barkto and Bill Diamond are two of the best known examples. Of course, Shupak does admit that he is an MS employee when he is asked directly, so it's not like he is pretending otherwise. The point is that if people read his messages without knowing that fact, they are not going to know it after consuming whatever bit of spin he is putting on the current topic.
And spin he does. He is easily the most gifted liar the forum has seen. He is not a buffoon-like bozo like Arnold Krueger who puts out so much crap that it is laughable. No, Richard Shupak does it with style. He mixes truth, fact, and bullshit in amounts calculated to bring the most believability a spin-doctor can hope for. He uses inuendo like a scalpel. Almost always his goal is to deceive.
Shupak works for Microsoft Research, and according to the information on their Website works on RAD (rapid application development) tools. Technically, he is very savvy and he uses double-dweebspeak to deceive.
One example: the well-known lack of performance of Win95 on Intel's Pentium Pro processors because of the amount of 16-bit code in Win95. Shupak attempted (still does, actually) to convince people that 16-bit code in Win95 is not the reason for its poor performance on the Pentium Pro. If that were the case, he argues, OS/2 would run even more slowly because it has even more 16-bit code in it than Win95. You have to give Shupak credit for brass balls. His brazen lies about this issue reveal the arrogant swagger that accompany most of his disinformation. He genuinely seems to revel in his dishonesty the same way he loves to flaunt the disregard for forum policy. This arrogance runs rampant at Microsoft: from Gates down to the mailroom, they feel they are above the law.
And look at how he packaged this crap. He went to the trouble to show how many bytes of code exist in 16-bit chunks of OS/2 and Win95 in order to support his argument. Remember now, Shupak works in MS research, he is not completely stupid. He knows that the statistic he presented is completely meaningless. The only thing that counts is how much 16-bit code is running, not many bytes of 16-byte code exist. You could add ten meg of 16-byte code to either operating system, and it wouldn't influence performance on a Pentium Pro one iota, unless it were executing.
Why does Shupak go to such bother over this point? Because the slowdown (yes, Win95 runs slower on a Pentium Pro than on a Pentium) is not just a black-eye for WinTel, it draws attention to the fact that Microsoft was lying about an "all new, all 32-bit" operating system from day one.
The magnitude of his lie is shown in the relative performance of OS/2 and Win95 on the Pentium Pro: one 32-bit OS/2 app has shown performance increases of over 100% on the Pentium Pro. The best any 32-bit Win95 app has done is run at about the same speed. Most run slower.
More recently, Shupak returned to this topic by referring to Intel benchmarks showing Win95 gains over 20% in performance on the Pentium Pro. That benchmark has been openly rebuked by PC Magazine, who pointed out how it was rigged and how you would never see that gain in real life.
So professionally done is Shupak's spin-doctoring that many began to openly wonder if his job at Microsoft were not to do exactly what he was doing in Canopus: blowing smoke and dis'ing the competition. Richard insists otherwise. Though his posts almost never venture into any area more personal than Win95, he claims that his presence on Canopus is strictly personal. Why then, someone asked, is he participating with a sponsored account? That's right. This MS employee who refuses to identify himself as such, who spins faster than a Craftsman 1/4" drill, who never talks about anything except MS products and their competitors, who participates in Canopus for personal reasons, does so on an account paid for by CompuServe. Why indeed.
When I made it known that I was going to write an article about the behavior of MS employees online, and specifically about Shupak's, who else but Bruce Biermann steps into the fray. Rude, bullying, using intimidation of every kind, trying to belittle me in a number of ways, Biermann revealed himself to be a jerk of the highest order.
Threats? How about lawsuits. For weeks he talked about it. Every time I logged on Biermann was there with another warning that I had better consult my attorneys, because he is and he is going to file a libel suit. Remember now, all this talk was about a column I said was going to write. He hadn't seen it. Nobody had seen it. He had already decided it was libelous. When someone pointed this out to him, his story changed. He begins revising history in the finest tradition of Microsoft and started talking about suing me for statements made online instead.
Clearly his intent, and Shupak's, who has happily joined in, is to intimidate me so that I won't write the story. Just as there was a tradition of stealth-PR work at Microsoft, attempts at intimidation of critics also has a place in their online history. USENET posters, for example, who posted messages from government accounts were threatened with dire consequences if they didn't stop being critical of MS.
Biermann began to make insulting, slanderous, petty ad hominem attacks on a daily basis. He wanted to compare financial statements between the Dweebspeak Primer and Microsoft. Just as if the size of a bank account, or cash flow, is a valid measure of an individual. Tell that to Mother Theresa and the Columbian drug cartels. He refers to me as a "dishonest reporter." He attempts to belittle me for being a recovering alcoholic. All of this activity, the constant attempt to discredit me by whatever means he can think of, is the most damning indictman of his own character possible.
In the middle of all of Biermann's threats, attempts to belittle, and other displays of his ignorance and lack of values, new facts about Shupak's participation come to light. Acting on a tip received by another forum participant, I checked the user logs of an OS/2 related forum: OS2AVEN. This forum is dedicated to OS/2 vendors like OS/2 magazine. I found that Shupak visited that forum every time he visited Canopus. From as few as three or four times a day to a dozen or more. It is obvious looking at the times of his visits that he is using an automated reader to visit CompuServe. For almost every visit to one forum there is one for the other, often within seconds of each other.
Strangely enough, I found no evidence that Shupak ever posted or received messages in OS2AVEN. He only lurked in the shadows and downloaded message traffic. Even more curiously, when I looked in a few other OS/2 fora, I found similar entries in the user logs for PSPBETA, where OS/2 and OS/2 related products from IBM are the topics of conversation. One of those would be BART, which will be a direct competitor to the RAD tools that Shupak works on for Microsoft Research. Again, there was no evidence that he ever sent or received messages. But every time he appeared in the user logs for Canopus and OS2AVEN, he visited PSPBETA as well.
For personal reasons? Right. On a sponsored account. When I asked Shupak about this on Canopus, he continued to claim it was for personal reasons. That was enough for Phil Payne. Resenting the fact that his payments to CIS each month were funding the sponsored account Shupak uses to spin in Canopus and spy on OS/2 fora, he said goodbye.
Well, like restaurants and other trendy things, haunts in cyberspace rise and fall in popularity. Zachmann spends more time posting on the internet lately than he does in Canopus. Who can blame him. These days it's only a safe haven for MS spin-doctors, not for critics or independent thinkers. Online thugs, dimly lit cyberjerks who use the foulest imaginable language on anyone who disagrees with them, male or female, roam free. I recently reported the foul-mouthed William Beem to both CIS and the police for making threats. Other vermin contribute nothing but content-free ad hominem, including one pathetic munchkin who openly wishes me a horrible death. Me? I'm following Payne out the door. The stench on Canopus is more than I can bear.