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ATPM 6.03
March 2000



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Apple Cider: Random Squeezings from a Mac User

by Tom Iovino,

Which Router Wood You Take?

You know, the life of a Public Information Officer isn’t as glamorous as you may think.

First, there are the endless meetings you have to attend to fulfill the obligations required of the many committees you sit on. Then, there is the drudgery of being creative every single day as you write speeches, news releases, and articles. Finally, there is the frustration you feel explaining to the fast food counter worker that yes, you do appear on the local government access TV station from time to time, but no, you don’t normally give autographs.

It’s enough to drive a relatively young man such as myself crazy.

So, to battle back and maintain my sanity, I am required to find some interesting and exciting diversions. Sure, some diversions I have chosen in the past weren’t all that good for me. After all, smoking all of those cigars and drinking all of that beer really didn’t help me all that much in the health department.

So, I have simplified my life, re-examined my priorities, and whittled my list down to two diversions that are relatively benign and, in some ways, beneficial.

First, I closely follow my favorite men’s college basketball team as it marches on towards its first NCAA Division I championship.

I can only hope.

My other diversion is woodworking. After years of watching my idol build furniture in his Massachusetts-based workshop that has about every gadget and tool you could imagine, I figured I would try my hand at this art. My first attempt went well—I built a cedar chest for my wife. Hey, you think that was easy? I was just using a hand saw, a couple of chisels, and a power drill—hardly a professional workshop. And, I’ll tell you, trying to cut all of that lumber with a hand saw can really work those arm muscles. Heck, I was able to cancel my gym membership and still keep my buff physique!

My wife’s first reaction the day I unveiled my creation was, “Wow! I can’t believe you didn’t mess that up as badly as I thought you would.” This was followed by a very pointed question, “Just where did you learn how to do this?” Lately, the most indispensable tool in the woodworker’s arsenal isn’t the table saw, the router, or the drill press—it’s the Internet. What the Internet has done is taken the knowledge that would have stayed with professional craftsmen and given it to the masses—even more than books or TV shows. After all, you don’t have to buy a book, check one out at the library, or set your VCR to tape a particular show. Instead, you can access plans, techniques, and tips whenever you want. Experts in the field sponsor sites which go into great step-by-step detail on such advanced procedures as hand cutting half-blind dovetail joints. The beginning woodworker has the option to go back an unlimited amount of times in order to examine project plans in detail and really absorb what he wants to study.

Well, I say an unlimited number of times, but is that necessarily true? Believe it or not, some sites are having trouble keeping their Web presence up and running due to the rising costs of being on the Internet.

A perfect example of this is one of the sites I referred to frequently while I was learning to build furniture— Amateur Woodworker.

This is actually one of the best laid out woodworking sites I have seen on the Net. It offers a selection of free woodworking plans, a primer on wood selection, tips on how to make clean joints, and other information that has proven to be quite valuable as I learn this craft. And, the best part: it’s a great site for beginners like me, not the folks who have fully bedecked workshops. Amateur Woodworker’s philosophy is simple:

At Amateur Woodworker, we believe that woodworking should not be an expensive hobby. Sure, if you want to spend thousands of dollars on the latest table saw gizmo then you can. But the point is that you don’t have to in order to make our projects.

The only problem is after three years of providing this service to woodworkers free of charge, Amateur Woodworker is now considering some major changes.

What’s the reason for these changes? Well, it is becoming more expensive to have a site hosted on the Internet. To explore the challenges facing people who offer such sites, I interviewed the site’s editor, Eddie Hold. Back in early 1997, Amateur Woodworker paid $100 a month to have the Web site hosted. But, as the number of hits rose—nowadays, it registers over two million a month—the hosting costs rose too. The original plan to fund Amateur Woodworker was to raise money by luring advertisers to the site. Unfortunately, advertisers haven’t yet made the commitment to sponsor the site (Hey, Black and Decker, the advertising cost is a measly $500 a month! You may want to look into it!), which means the cost has been coming out of the editorial staff’s pockets. “We’ve been concerned about the problem for the past year,” Eddie says. “The overhead of running the magazine—time, materials, hosting and so on—have simply become too much to justify.”

While this doesn’t seem like a whole lot of money, it’s a very generous service to provide strangers who are looking for information on how to create heirloom furniture pieces. I’m sure the local Vo Tech school isn’t as generous with its cabinet-making classes.

So, what’s the answer? Well, Amateur Woodworker has recently suggested that perhaps it would start charging a small user fee to get access to the site. “So far the readership response has been great. We’ve had a couple of no’s but most people seem open to the idea of a small fee,” Eddie says. But, he also points out one of the shortcomings of this idea. “Of course, there is obviously going to be a big difference between those that say ‘yes’ and those who actually send cash! But we have our fingers crossed. We’ll leave the letter out for about a month to get a better idea before we make any decision one way or another.”

What is happening to the promise of the Internet being open to everyone so they could get their word out—a free exchange of ideas? Even if you can’t afford to produce a TV show, there is still Public Access TV in most communities, which would allow you to get your viewpoint to the public. And, why is it that such sites that offer some redeeming value have trouble staying online, but you can find so many sites devoted to something as prurient as pornography? Heck, a search for the word “woodworking” on AltaVista found only 128,265 pages, but a search for the word “sex” found 8,796,565—over 68 times the number of pages.

Unfortunately, we seem to be coming to a crossroads in the life of the Internet. A certain type of economic censorship is at work—if you want to increase the number of folks who come to your site, you had better be prepared to charge for your service or work very hard to get some committed advertisers.

But, wait, wouldn’t that make your diversion a real job?

apple“Apple Cider: Random Squeezings from a Mac user” is copyright © 2000 Tom Iovino,

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Reader Comments (1)

Gregory Tetrault · March 3, 2000 - 01:01 EST #1
Sex: a fun, interesting, exciting, sometimes risky activity that is contemplated by nearly everyone and enjoyed by many. Woodworking: a somewhat boring activity for carpenters and a few hobbyists. Is anyone else surprised that the AltaVista hit ratio was ONLY 68 t

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