The Internet and immortality

May 23, 2012

During my daily news consumption, I bumped into a cute story that seemed a bit familiar. The story was a suggestion to switch to an 18 cent coin. I found it by way of Hacker News, for my money ($0), the best news aggregator for the tech set. The article was a fairly typical blog post, a summary of a longer paper, which simply ran the math and determined that the average number of coins you get from a cash register will be 4.7 coins. But the addition of an 18 cent coin would drop that to 3.89.

The story itself is nice, since I like this sort of thing. It’s quirky. It’s math. It speaks to the stupidity of pennies (and increasingly nickels). It makes me think about government inefficiencies, and the very human affection for little hunks of metal that are actually really inconvenient and clink in my pocket. But I couldn’t get past the familiarity. I backed up and re-read the article a lot slower and realized why.

First, the story was originally written in 2003. This is a little odd for Hacker News which usually is pretty current, but a story like this is sort of timeless and prone to random resurgence. But then I realized the reason for this particular resurgence: The by-line was Roland Piquepaille, and you don’t forget a name like that.

Roland was incredibly active on Slashdot for many years. His submissions were often just like this 18 cent coin piece: a little off the beaten path, but often interesting. His nickname on Slashdot was “rpiquepa” and his account is number 5 on the all time submission list with a pretty amazing 477 accepted stories.

Why did I care? Roland died Jan 6, 2009.


(Bigstockphoto)

He died, but his work lives on. And apparently this week somebody searched online for something or other, landed on a story nearly a decade old and written by a man who had been dead for over 3 years. And that content hit the Internet again just as effectively as if it were written yesterday. A trivial but fun little story has a bit of immortality attached to it.

Roland took a lot of garbage from Slashdot readers over the years. He was incredibly effective at what he did, and his name appeared on the site a lot. A community has a nasty habit of being a little extra hostile towards anything extreme, and Roland often submitted stories on the fluffier end of the news spectrum, and he succeeded a lot, which made him a target. That always made me a little sad.

But I’d like to think he gets the posthumous last laugh. He found fun stuff that we enjoyed reading. I hope that the traces I leave behind after I’m gone are still good for the occasional laugh as well. I’ll never write the Great American Novel or direct the Oscar Award Winning Film. But the Internet lets all of us live forever.

The author is the founder of Slashdot.org

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