Net Buzz

BOSTON (05/23/2000) - Even thoughtful letter writers can't resist tossing a haymaker at the columnist's chin before getting down to their rebuttal. Take this example generated by a column decrying the advent of Internet voting:

"I can understand how hard it must be to fill a column each week, and that some half-formed thoughts are bound to make it to paper," Doug Blair writes. "I assume this is the explanation for your Internet voting article."

Pardon me while I rub my chin. . . . It's true that splotches of white space would pepper the opinion pages of newspapers were it not for the camouflage afforded by half-formed thoughts, but Blair actually had better arguments to support 'Net voting.

"The real reason for Internet voting is that voting, like nearly all other forms of information exchange, could be enormously simplified and improved by the judicious application of technology," he writes. "To say that the technology is immature is fine (and true); to make arguments suggesting that Internet voting will never be a good idea is silly."

As for security issues raised in the column?

"Internet voting requires a robust, universal and secure authorization/authentication infrastructure," Blair writes. "We don't have that today, but the building blocks are coming together."

It should come as no surprise that columnists get more complaints than kudos .

. . which makes the latter all the more pleasurable.

"You got that right!" says John Gorentz in reply to a Buzz suggestion that the U.S. Department of Defense stop posting military secrets on public Web sites before Congress passes any new laws governing online privacy. "You have no idea how refreshing it is to hear from someone who has his head screwed on right."

Which dovetails nicely into this next batch of letters: A number of readers have chastised Buzz recently for letting political views seep into an Internet column. For example, Nathaniel Curry offers this retort to an item that poked fun at President Clinton for reacting with wonderment upon seeing a snazzy screen-saver.

"It bothers me greatly to continue to hear and read the vicious and vile comments directed toward the President of the United States," Curry writes.

"Your commentary in the March 6 issue of Network World about Bill Clinton has absolutely no place in this type of media."

Let's make a deal: This Internet columnist will stop writing about politicians the moment politicians stop meddling with the Internet. But here's a more telling observation about these baseless "separation of church and state" complaints: Those who say political comments have no place in a technology column invariably disagree with the substance of those comments. . . .

Coincidence?

An item suggesting that an online insurance company called eCoverage could free us from the evil clutches of insurance agents brought this reply:

"Although I'm not in the insurance business (I once was), I believe that many people assume that buying insurance is like buying cheap socks: One size fits all," writes Lowell Kebschull. "An intelligent purchase may require either a good deal of research or the guidance of a professional human being."

That makes perfect sense until you ask this question: What's the likelihood that any insurance agent would put my best interests ahead of his bottom line?

A Buzz bit earlier this month pooh-poohing the e-business potential of Web-enabled cell phones included a gratuitous slap at the all-American city of Grand Forks, North Dakota, and prompted this good-natured comeback:

"Hey, Paul! I just read your Net Buzz from May 8th where you dis Grand Forks, North Dakota (in fun, I know, but still!)," writes Patricia Lewis. "I'm from Fargo, sister city to Grand Forks, and it's not that boring!"

Chamber of Commerce slogan: "Visit Grand Forks: It's not that boring."

Do your part to restock the in-box. The address is buzz@nww.com.

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