These pandemic times.
We never planned on marketing software. Our colleagues at work weren't too interested. We were only 2-3 who were interested in PCs, and those using similar systems struggled along with the tools they were given, never thinking of developing more powerful tools of their own, instead regarding what they had with a shrug of the shoulders.
Yours truly moved to the Granta because he was tired of commuting to London. Cambridge became one of several options, an option Agneta insisted she'd already mentioned by the Monday of our week-long searching. We'd somehow ended up in the horrific Slough which we saw only on a very rainy day when the skies could not be seen. I'd started to have my misgivings by Thursday, when I asked the cute receptionist at our Mayfair hotel what she knew about the place.
'Nothing', she said. 'Only that we have to roll up our windows as we drive past. The place smells terrible!'
That was enough for me. We talked to some others and they advised to try Cambridge.
'That's what I said on Monday already', cracked Agneta.
'Did you? I don't remember.'
So we set off early on Friday morning, from the bus station in Victoria. A chap from the US military told us about the place and insisted on showing us Kings College when we arrived. Which he did. And when I first saw that street open up past the Corn Exchange, I had to sit down and collect myself. It's that impressive. It was probably designed to get people to react that way.
Agneta and I met Paul at a realtors later on. We told him what I needed, and he seemed to take it all in stride, complacently. After a while, we got the impression he thought our business was concluded for the day, so we pushed on a bit.
'Oh you mean you want to find a place NOW?' he asked.
'YES', we told him.
The first two places he showed us were filthy. Agneta turned up her nose. The third place was better. 'This one is clean', she declared. Full approval. Being Swedish, she has a high standard and an good eye for cleanliness.
I signed the contract with Paul back at his office and got the keys. Agneta and I immediately set off to city centre to buy a television. We picked up a used one for £85, then carried it to the taxi stop. Whilst waiting in line for an available cab, we began chatting with a lady from the US also in the queue.
'Things are strange here', she told us. She was over with her husband, living in Milton, north of the Science Park. Her husband had been brought over to shake up a British subsidiary.
'So my husband looked the company over, realised nothing was being done, and called a meeting for all upper management. He told them he needed status reports from each of their departments, on his desk, first thing.'
'Then he waited. No reports were forthcoming. He waited a week. So he called a new meeting for ten days after the first. He asked them about their status reports. There was a shuffle of feet, then one of them spoke up.'
'Oh - you meant that you wanted those reports RIGHT AWAY?'
'That's how things are over here', the lady said.
The History and Technology of the Internet
Agneta had to get back by Monday. I got to work on my next home assignment, a huge course called 'The History and Technology of the Internet'. It was to be based on bits and pieces of Swedish courses from the same company, but this time in English and this time organised into a cohesive whole. When I was finished, Agneta was back in town and we took the train to Kings Cross and then scooted crosstown to the firm's London offices to deliver. On bakelite diskettes.
I still didn't have an Internet connection. And frankly I wasn't that interested. There were a few people back home who were interested in my work. I'd completed a project for Ericsson. And so forth. But I wasn't updating things that much.
John came to visit somewhere in there. Before my move to Cherry Hinton. Something between him and Tracy. Not sure what. But it wasn't good. It perhaps wasn't bad either. Perhaps they needed a break. But he wanted to stay around. He'd ultimately find a place near the Grafton and Footlights, where some of the Monty Python got their start. A mother and her daughter were going to Africa for half a year. He took their place.
The place was ghastly. They called it 'art deco', whatever that means. The walls were purple and green - purple for the lower half, yellowish green for the upper half. You can't imagine.
So one day John pops over in the early afternoon. Clare Danes is on the telly in a repeat of My So-Called Life, which the critics say should be good. John goes over and sits at the computer, starts thumbing through my new course binder on The History and Technology of the Internet.
'So you wrote all this', he asks.
'How long did it take you?'
'Three days. But I had some notes to work from.'
'But the notes were in Swedish.'
'Yes. And they wanted a different organisation, so that took a fourth day.'
'And how many words all told?'
'In three days.'
'Yep. Then a fourth day to reorganise.'
'And you made all these charts and diagrams?'
John closed the binder, thinking how to pose the obvious question.
'And you did all this - this course on the history and technology of the Internet - AND YOU DON'T EVEN HAVE AN INTERNET CONNECTION?'
I got up to make some late lunch. John started up the computer. After a while he came into the kitchen.
'Give me your credit card', he ordered.
'BECAUSE I'M GOING TO FUCKING GET YOU ONLINE!'
And he did. The company he chose was already on the desktop, thanks to Microsoft Windows. I later opted for two ISPs, the first one was not to my liking, yet it took over half a year to cancel their contract.
Agneta flew into town now and then. John was over almost daily. One day he's sitting at the computer, now browsing with Dial Pipex, and he finds something he doesn't like.
* DEPENDANCY * (sic)
What the fuck is this, he mutters. It's a Windows utility, available through ZD, from a company known as:
* ESCHALON SOFTWARE * (sic)
Seriously, what the FUCK is this, he mutters, this time louder. I go over and take a look.
'Dependancy' gives you, for any EXE, a list of the DLLs it uses.
That's it. There is no more. That. Is. It.
Shareware. $25 to buy. ZD record 50,000 downloads.
'But that's like your Tool utility', John says.
X-tool, the original, was based on the developer 'toolhelp library'. It does a lot of things. The 'dependencies' are listed in the 'Modules' panel. Then you have the Blocks panel, the Heaps panel, the Threads panel, the main panel where you can kill a process, refresh, and invoke Memview to look closer at memory use in the program's address space.
'You're giving all that away and no one notices', John said. 'And that jerk writes one shitty program and gets fifty thousand downloads?'
We did some quick arithmetic. 3% saturation of 50,000 downloads at $25 a pop...
Suddenly we were on a crusade. Both of us.
'But how does he get noticed?' John wondered.
There were a number of download sites popping up. (This was the winter 97-98.) 'So you could submit your stuff to these', John said.
'But I'd want to spiff things up first. And there are 80-90 utilities there. That's too much. I'd want to whittle it down. To about 30 or so.'
'No. Freeware. I have no time to market stuff. I've got courses to both teach and write. I don't want to be online that much anyway.'
I'd picked up this hack from a Microsoftie back in town (Stockholm). On how to display monster icons in About boxes. The code was MFC but I'd converted it and tweaked it. Now I wanted the icons even bigger. I wanted bigger than Microsoft.
'This product is licensed to:' and 'Organization:' - Microsoft had that too. I wanted that as well. I had to devise a cost-free way to store this in the Registry, perhaps provide a program so this could be inputted... And then we could possibly contact the download sites. I was finished two days later, and John helped getting out the word.
I still hadn't understood what I'd got myself into, discovered the Big Blooper...
Friday 9 April 1998. Or thereabouts. A letter turns up in the inbox. From someone called Pirillo. Who has a news bimonthly called the Lockergnome.
'Congratulations! You're to be featured in this coming Friday's issue of the Lockergnome!'
(1) Extreme Power Tools v4.86.1381 [602k] 9x/NT4 FREE
'Look no further, this is the Swiss army knife of shareware downloads. In such a small amount of space, you'll find over 30 different programs with 30 different functions. Some utils are for novices, and others are for pros: memory monitor, process manager, animated cursor & icon editors, system stats viewer, resource monitor, screen magnifier, performance monitor... and that's just the beginning. I'm surprised that the author could pack so much power in such a tiny package. Register free for more updates - give your PC the edge!'
That was it. It set off complete pandemonium. But what we did not know at the time was that our original site, at Demon Ltd, was already offline for having generated too much traffic. We have no idea to this day where the stir came from. But it was massive.
In a few short weeks, we had three of the top five downloads at Beverly Hills Software, the biggest of them all. We were beating out WinZip, Paint Shop Pro, Netscape Navigator, and flagship Microsoft products. And we kept those positions for months.
And now of all times Tracy comes to town and takes John home with her. And I'm stuck alone with the mess.
Mess? Yes mess. That blasted About box. Licensed to and so forth.
It was also Pirillo's 'register free for more updates'. You have no idea how much of an effect that can have.
As both Chris and I had discovered the original URL at Demon Ltd was offline, he suggested he run us as premiere download the next time too. I got the domain up and running in a fortnight.
'Speaking of server problems, some of you wanted to download the Extreme Power Tools but ran into an error. Have no fear! Here's the URL you want: http://radsoft.net If you didn't get them last time, swing by and get them today. No PC is complete without them. And yes, they're free!'
And it started all over again - for us on 1 May. Agneta was back in town. The Internet went crazy. I'd moved by now to Cherry Hinton. I opened the Netscape mail program, clicked 'New Messages'. It was dialup. About ten new messages would drop in. That took about ten seconds. Or one message per second. Then I'd click 'New Messages' again and the same thing would happen.
Chris wrote that weekend. 'Norton should be shaking in their boots.' I showed the letter to Agneta. 'Do you understand what this means?'
1 May was a sunny day as we remember it. 'Fuck this', I told Agneta. 'Let's drive into the country and get a nice lunch.' So we did. A favourite watering hole with the unique name Red Lion. A lovely place in the country - in the woods - dating from the 1700s with very low ceilings and a fireplace inside the front doors. And the family mother made the best cheesecake in the galaxy. New fruit at bottom every week. She used Philadelphia.
And no computing for a few days. I audited a course for my British contractor, then went out for early dinner with some of the other teachers.
'I dread Fridays', said the one over drinks. 'You get home, you just want to relax and have a drink, but you have half a dozen emails to answer!'
I almost choked on my drink. 'Half a dozen?' I exclaimed. 'That's bad? I'll have over a thousand tonight - 150 per day!'
The others seemed startled, looked in my direction.
'WHAT DO YOU DO?'
As if I could explain. 'You see, there's this About box...', I might have begun. But it's not worth it.
'Register for free updates', Pirillo had promised them. So I had to keep track of email addresses. So every one of those 150 every day had to be stored in a database - amongst other things.
A cute girl in Stockholm who worked for Microsoft gave me a Windows 95 mouse pad. Remember those? I had that pad in Cherry Hinton. I got burn sores on the heel of my hand from using the mouse. Burn sores. It was pure pandemonium.
Then the inquiries. Has anyone ever told you the world is full of 'remarkable people'? No?
- I got inquiries from university students who were taking courses in Visual Basic. They wanted me to write support DLLs for them - for free of course - so they could link to my code and so pass their exams.
- I got inquiries from other students who asked how I could write such compact, such powerful code. They said they suspected Radsoft had access to SECRET APIS that only Microsoft and a chosen few knew anything about.
All the Radsoft code did was do it right. Nothing more. We had an inside track in Stockholm, but only to Cutler's nightly builds. No code. And no secret APIs.
- I got one letter from a VERY angry elderly lady who accused me of being an outright FRAUD. Why? Because the blurb promised '39 free MODULES' but she only counted *38* free APPLICATIONS.
I talked to Chris about it. 'I got a nastygram too, once upon a time', he told me. 'I talked to my roomie about it.'
'How many subscribers do you have?' he asked me.
'160,000. And you get one nastygram. What's your problem?'
That made sense, but it still hurt. The general unbridled insanity of it hurt.
Then there were the phone bills. Once I got a call from Cambridge Cable. 'We just want to make sure you're alright', they said. 'We're not two weeks into this new month and your phone bill is already £2600.'
I'd also canceled classes to keep up with the email. Each class represented £5000 (for a single week) and I couldn't cancel any more classes.
Yet I felt a responsibility to those asking questions, wanting to be kept in the loop. I needed a way out. A secretarial service? How would that work?
Somehow I found a company called '[Something] Ambry'. I have no idea what that means. The Ambry people kept talking about restructuring the minimal Radsoft site etc. I just wanted someone to take care of the bloody mail!
Enter Chris Faris. He rang at all hours. From Minnesota. No cheap calls back then. His company heard about me and they really wanted me. Chris sent cheeky pics of Bill and Hillary groping each other naked.
I didn't want to sell anything. I wanted to get back to work - to teaching, where the real money was - without letting anyone down.
It was REALLY COOL that people from all over the globe appreciated what I'd done. But I had to get back to work!
The train got derailed, one might say.
Chris Faris was a salesman for Digital River. Digital River: what a strange name. But they were already a colossus by then. When I finally agreed to sign with them, Chris walked out the door, so to speak, a bit of a shock to say the least. His job was done. I knew nothing about the rest of them, save that they reputedly had a real sadist in charge of vendor relations. And they totally fucked over our first sale ever, from Doctor Gerry as I remember, who'd wanted to buy himself a birthday present.
I was on the phone all weekend long, trying to reach someone at Digital River. I talked with directory assistance in Minnesota. They couldn't find anyone at Digital River who'd pick up either. Digital River closed for the weekends, fuck it, even if the Internet was still open. Either they were stupid or they didn't care. (It was a mixture of the two.)
Linda Ortiz. At NetSales. Oh her - and them, Chris told me. They're always going through our client lists, trying to steal people.
But perhaps NetSales can offer acceptable service? I get home from teaching all week and those jerks at Digital River fuck everything up and I'm stuck cleaning up their shit? Anybody can do better.
Linda is sweet and accommodating. They're going to make a sales page for me. Except it looks like shit. I tell Linda. And show her what's wrong. It's not a matter of style - it's a matter of functionality. And basic HTML errors.
'This is shit', I tell Linda. 'And it works like shit too.'
'Well I'll send it back to the engineering team.'
'Why? Look - all they have to do are a few small HTML fixes here, here, and here.'
'Well I'll tell them.'
'But we can fix this right now! It takes under one minute!'
'Yes but they like to do things their own way.'
And so forth. Most important was to get away from Digital River. NetSales was a secondary consideration. I got to know Trevor Black at Reg.Net who had some incredible stories to tell. His site, his own making, looked antiquated, but it worked. Trevor taught his staff to always sign off customer replies with 'please let me know if there's anything else I can do for you'.
REG.COM, Reg.This, Reg.That - tried them all. I needed NetSales gone and I needed a new backup. The only problem was Digital River.
Digital River? Yes Digital River. Their CEO Ronning. He ran his company like Bernie Ebbers ran WorldCom. Internally his company was an utter mess, but he used his profits to buy up - eat up - the competition. Soon there was almost no one left.
Kagi. Kee Nethery. They seemed OK. One of their chief reps was a good friend. Sydney and I sent him a bottle of Bowmore's 29 Year Old for Xmas. Just because. The stories he'd tell! Anonymous weirdos ringing up all day and offering Meg Ryan's home address for $50. WTF?
But Kee's admins were very sloppy and Kee didn't cover chargebacks. We got purchase notifications like the following (yes really).
Name: FUCK YOU NAME Address: FUCK YOU ADDRESS
And then the bank would issue a chargeback and we had to pay $25. Each time.
We finally opted for SWREG. Oldest in the business. But they hosted Evidence-Eliminator, so we were wary. But things worked out OK - until, of course, Digital River's Ronning decided to buy them up too.
Sydney would take care of our running bills each month using the deposits for software sales. She'd always drive to the bank to make sure the account balance was OK, then top it up if needed.
Suddenly Digital River write to tell us they're trying a new routing system next month, but everything should be OK. And it was. Then a typical Digital River genius had a moment of typical Digital River inspiration. He thought he'd found an even cheaper way to route money to Europe. Except he didn't tell anyone.
We'd been planning our move for months. I was already paying for a new Internet connection in the new place even if we'd not yet moved in. I picked what I was sure was an even better ISP.
Our new place was in one direction, our bank office the opposite, so Sydney reckoned 'oh the money always arrives, it's always enough, it'll be OK'.
Except it wasn't. The Digital River genius fucked up. Nobody got any money that month. But the real genius move is the one that followed. By the CEO himself.
For instead of reverting to the old routing from the month before, and writing to everyone and warning and apologising, Joel Ronning of Digital River decided to - do nothing.
Only those vendors who rang up to complain were reimbursed.
Joel Ronning. Digital River.
Our Internet connection at the new place was down. It took five weeks of running around the countryside to get things back in order. Any comments from Digital River? From the inaccessible Joel Ronning? Of course not.
Digital River ended up buying up both Reg.Net and SWREG. Our strategy to keep disparate companies for payments was again for nought - and we were stuck with the one company we'd been running from all along.
The company that closed down at the weekend. The company with the clients relations manager who replaced the wonderful Terry and proceeded to write letters to vendors and tell them that vendors are pieces of shit. (We never got one of those nastygrams but we heard from others who did.)
Trevor sold to eSellerate, not one of our favourites either - they leave spyware on your machine. But then Digital River bought them too - and then suddenly Digital River gets rid of it all. Or something. And all our payments route through a company in Germany. Where the Internet’s only open Mon-Fri 9-5 and no one knows gar nichts.
It's all taken care of ‘automatically’ - we’re not advised or asked, we’re ‘informed’ - in characteristic fashion. Nothing works. We ask the new rep to please help - and she announces she's away for five weeks. On VACATION. No backup of course.
But Joel Ronning - or his successors - lurk somewhere. Tim Cook of Apple wants us gone. For we've exposed the Apple scam. Worth $80 billion per year. After twenty-four years of fleeing Joel Ronning's Digital River, he's bought up them all and there's nothing left.
Digital River is a private company that provides global e-commerce, payments and marketing services. Digital River is headquartered in Minnetonka Minnesota.
Joel Ronning was CEO from the company's founding until stepping down in November 2012.
Ronning was ranked as the most overpaid CEO at a public company in Minnesota.
- Everipedia, Infogalactic, Wikipedia
'Most of us have grown weary of Digital River's acquisitions and are no longer shocked when the announcements are made. How many of us have considered the implications involved in the volume of 'takeovers'? - Sharon Housley 2004-01-05
Joel Ronning Wins J/70s Long Island Sound Championships at Cedar Point Yacht Club's 2015 OneDesign Regatta
‘Ronning was ranked as the most overpaid CEO at a public company in Minnesota.’