Friday, July 15, 2011

Russell Brown, get down

 
In the early 2000s I had a writing gig doing a music and technology column for Real Groove magazine for a few years. In the October 2000 edition, I did an interview with one Russell Brown. I just found it floating round my archives. When Russell started using the internet (in 1994), it cost $12 a megabyte.

The photo above is Russell featured in Stamp magazine, from the early 1990s - I found it cos the flipside of that page has a photo of me and my Picassos band mates (incl a butt-naked Johnnie Pain) snapped with our manager, Lisa van der Aarde. That's a photo for another day tho.


Russell Brown, get down.


Recently labelled as 'Hot' by Metro magazine for Hard News, his incisive weekly political commentary slot on Radio 95BFM.

Russell Brown started out as a newspaper journalist on the Mainland, before moving to the Big Smoke to take up the post of Assistant Editor at Rip It Up. He lived and worked in the UK for several years, before returning here with partner Fiona Rae in the early nineties, working first as Editor of Planet magazine, then moving into writing about computers and the internet for various publications such as the Listener, Computerworld and Unlimited. I emailed Russell a few questions to find out a few of his favourite surfing moves. Hang ten, Russell.

How long have you been surfing the net?


Since 1994. I bought a 14.4k modem from Iconz at the beginning of 1995 and was kind of own my own after that. It was pretty unfriendly - you logged onto a shell account on their Unix machine and you were expected to know an array of arcane Unix commands just to handle your email.

Why did you start using the net?
I had begun writing the Computer column for the Listener and so it was an obvious thing to do - but there was quite a bit of resistance to me writing about it as much as I did. Some people thought it was all hype and that consumer CD-Roms were what I should be devoting my attention to. I think I was right. One of the key reasons I was so keen to explore it was because I was a freelancer and I was conscious of not having access to the same resources as people who worked in big offices. The Internet seemed like the way to get those resources for myself.

What's the main changes you've seen since you first started using the net?


It's gone from a difficult command-line interface to a place to watch movies. My typical download speed now is about 1000 times what it was in 1994. Back then, traffic cost $12 a megabyte - at those prices my current usage would cost me $18,000 a month. Those changes have helped the shift from it being a fringe pursuit to being almost pervasive. We have very high rates of Internet usage in New Zealand. It's been interesting seeing it go from being dismissed by business to basically determining the future of business.

Has your use of the net changed over time?


It got very boring and functional for a while, because it's a tool of trade for me. I try now to remember to use it recreationally too - sites like ifilm.com. I spend less time in newsgroups than I used to, but I'm still ona good little mailing list where we argue about rugby. Our household uses it for information all the time.

What sites do you and your family visit regularly, for entertainment, information, and fun?


I news edit IDGNet NZ (www.idg.net.nz) so I'm there a lot. I read all the local news sites: the Herald, Scoop (which hosts my Hard News bulletin), NewsRoom and, lately, the horribly-named Stuff. Ifilm.com, The Guardian Website and Arts & Letters Daily less often. Macintouch, Macsurfer, and MacOS Rumors, Slashdot, Wired.

Fiona replies: I use television sites for looking up stuff about telly progs for work, such as Zap2it.com (horrible name, it used to be ultimatetv.com), epguides.com, rickontv.com, bbc.co.uk or the American network sites, like abc.com - anywhere I can find info I need about a show (often find good fan sites). Also look at my favourite, guardianunlimited (especially filmunlimited - fantastic). News, I look at Herald, INSIDE, Ain't It Cool News. The kids like FoxKids, cartoonnetwork.com, disney.com, lego.com, squirt.co.nz - basically, anything with good games! I browse occasionally at Flying Pig, and have bought books, but sometimes prices aren't that comparable. Also do most banking online - I can make transfers between accounts really easily, rather than farting around with bits of paper at the bank.

How much time on an average day do you spend on the net?


Overall, including publishing to our Website and doing email, 2-8 hours a day. If I've been in front of computer a lot during the week, I might avoid it at the weekends, or just do a quick email check. I'm not one of those people who can't be away from it for a day.

Is there fierce competition to get onto a computer in your house? Do you monitor where the kids visit? (Netnanny or similar software, or good old fashioned 'adult supervision')


I've wondered about some kind of netnanny thing for our more adventurous 6 year-old. It's faintly possible that he could accidentally click his way to something offensive from a games site or something, and he has a right to be protected from that for a while. But our computers are right by the living area, so it's not like they're tucked away. The kids like us to sit down with them anyway.

What's it like watching your kids grow up with computers as part of their natural environment (something that perhaps wasn't so prevalent in your own generation?)


Their whole relationship with media is quite different to ours. When I was a kid, you basically caught something when it was screened on TV and then it was gone. Our kids were born after the VCR and they fully expect to be able to copy and repeat anything they like. So already they're coming into the Internet with interesting expectations about control of media.

Could you live without the net/email, and what’s the longest you've gone without touching a computer (ie on holiday)?


I'd live, but life would suck without Internet access - apart from anything else I depend on the Internet for news more than any other medium these days. I've gone a couple of weeks without, when away on holiday - and come back to an absolute mountain of email.

3 comments:

Russell Brown said...

Nice one, peter.

Funny thing is, the dates I told you in that interview are wrong. I actually started using the internet in 1993 and got my modem in 94.

I checked my Listener column, bro.

Robyn said...

The great thing about this is how so much of it still applies today. The internet, as a thing, has become a bit boring, and it's more what we do with it that counts.

Jeremy said...

$12 a megabyte, how far we've come. Now if only mobile internet could join us in the modern era - if I go over my mobile data cap today I will pay $20 a megabyte! (Aust mobile)