The Very Last Straw | Everygamegoing


The Very Last Straw

Published in EUG #62

As an editor of EUG who is not "passing the torch" the way Will and Gus did, I am in the position whereby I could simply give thanks and say goodbye. And I've done so in the dedication. However, despite all the earlier articles I have written about EUG, the full story is yet to be told and, if EUG really is bowing out forever, it's probably the last chance I have to expose the previous Gus administration. If only to let me get it out of my system, here are some final thoughts as to what happened "behind the scenes" during Gus' handover to me.

First, let me take you back to "the first handover" at EUG #14 when control of the magazine moved to Gus. There was an immediate change of style as Gus encouraged opinion not just on the BBC machines but on anything and everything. He saw EUG, he said, not simply as a computing community but as a forum for discussion and debate. Our "Practical Ideas", varying from bathroom installations to error-prone automobiles, could be discussed within its pages. In many respects this was a runaway success for a while. Many readers sent in personal letters introducing themselves to the User Group. Gus employed an editorial policy of not editing any of these. They were simply *COPYed from the submission disc to the new magazine disc. But gone were the days of informative articles devoted exclusively to BBC/Electron programming and hardware. Perhaps not gone but more submerged in a sea of irrelevant first person text.

I, and some others, found this a real disappointment. It wasn't that I didn't understand what Gus was trying to do. As I have indicated numerous times, getting submissions from the EUG readership is the real chore of running it. If you have a readership that can write about themselves instead of technical subjects which they are unfamiliar with, there will be more input. Yet I now accuse Gus of inconsistencies and contradictions quite apart from what editorial policy he employed and which may even now be attributable to the closure of EUG.

Gus always admitted he knew little about programming and relied on Richard Dimond for a flexible menu system which he could simply insert the appropriate filenames into. He frequently missed files, spelled or attributed them wrongly. He did not know enough to appreciate to what value PAGE should be set before the menu, or any file, was loaded in.

During his reign, he would *COPY across everything on a submission disc without checking whether all the files were essential. He would copy files across to the new EUG disc beginning "Please do not publish this note". He would copy letters which simply read "Thanks for the last issue. Please find enclosed a cheque for £1.30 GBP for the next."

He would also bang on, the same way Will had done, about how any contribution, no matter how small, was important to keep the group going. He would stress that his own skills were limited, so if he did make a mistake, it was important to let him know about it. But if anyone did, he would dismiss their complaint without real investigation. If there was a mistake with the menu, he would blame Richard Dimond. In the original release of EUG #21, there was a whole file missing from a RUBIK'S CUBE game that Richard Dimond had strived to create for EUG. Gus forgot to *COPY across that file. I realised why and that it was an easy mistake to make when EUG, and its original submission discs, was passed over to me. Yet when the complaints flooded in in EUG #22, almost specifically worded "There was a file missing", he chose neither to reply to the point nor to publish the missing file.

It was therefore, only a few issues before I began to despair of Gus' leadership. This was but one example of a serious undermining of his own policies. It was also evidence that he was not checking the discs before sending them out. EUG was no longer the pleasure to receive that it once was. You had to hold your breath to see if your submission would actually appear in all completeness. Yet nothing could have prepared me for what he was to do with Sunday when it was completed and sent to him.

As we all know, Sunday is a huge game. It contains over 150 separate files, fills three discs and took me over three years to write. Happily, the sorry saga of Gus' ludicrous incompetence in putting it into EUG is hidden by simply not including it in the re-mastered versions of EUG which are now available. He planned to release it in dribs and drabs; by putting a certain number of files on each subsequent issue of EUG. Why he chose such a complicated means instead of just bundling one disc at a time with three subsequent EUG discs escapes me. But choose this alternative he did.

First he published 15 files accessed serially in the original EUG #31. But he altered the very final file so that the message "Insert Disc 2" appeared. Of course he didn't have the progamming skills to actually follow this message with the appropriate star commands to MOUNT a new disc so any game could be continued if the user did insert disc two. But he wrote his own very confusing instructions to go with the files saying all users should format another disc and *COPY across all the Sunday files.

In EUG #32 he published another 16 files which led on from the first. He put similar documentation alongside them. "Copy them to the same formatted disc as the earlier fifteen files" he said. "This will complete the first side of disc 1." Already the game was a mess. The alteration he'd made meant that halfway through playing this created Sunday disc, a message would appear saying "Insert Disc 2" when inserting another disc was completely unnecessary.

By EUG #33, he'd completely buried himself. "Depending on whether you're using ADFS or DFS, you will need to change the appropriate file [by inserting lines] to turn the disc over," he waffled. But how were readers supposed to know which of the 31 files was the 'appropriate' file? "I am having some problems and am going to have to write to Dave and ask for help." he continued.

With this disc, indeed, came a letter to me saying "I cannot work out where some files go." I was exasperated but, with a heavy heart, wrote a very long letter saying: the file he had altered had to be changed back to how it had been, and; setting out exactly what files should be on what side of both the ADFS and DFS versions of the disc. In EUG #34, my letter was acknowledged but Gus: "I'm still stuck. Hopefully I will figure it out in time for EUG #35."

When neither he, nor any readers, ever mentioned Sunday again, it was obvious it wouldn't see the light of day in EUG now and anything more complicated than a text file about The Beatles was too much for Gus' tiny mind to get its head around. All immensely frustrating considering all the time I'd put into it, all the times Gus called out for submissions and, in particular, all the extra effort I'd made to "fit in" with the stupid way he'd decided it should be published!

Over the next seven issues, EUG's distribution was most eractic, betraying the fact Gus couldn't really be bothered with it any more. I had become a hardened collector of Acorn Electron software and hardware in the meantime and the EUG discs were, to me, a vital part of that collection. Yet more and more of them arrived not working because, by now, Gus was also using very unreliable discs for duplication. Frequently the only response to a SHIFT-BREAK was a Disk Fault message. My complaints to him were met with a year's silence at a time - then vague replies that my drive was probably to blame. I had four 3.5" drives by this time which all worked perfectly. When I took over EUG later, Gus sent me the remaining spare blank 3.5" discs he had been using. All failed during simple formatting. I ended up throwing every last one away!

Whilst Gus was in charge of EUG however, and betraying such a dismissive attitude to anyone who dared ask for anything better than what he was providing, there was very little I could do except keep contributing. I wrote for EUG #44 that I was hoping to establish an on-line database of Electron software sometime in the future and looking for any contributions. Bearing in mind that I was by now used to waiting over a year for any response, I should have been altered that Gus was planning his piece de resistance by the speedy response he gave to it.

He wrote "EUG has a large amount of software, most of which was donated by members... How would you like to take over the whole running of EUG? It would be yours to do with as you pleased." The implication was, of course, that a large amount of software was part of the EUG 'package' and (to me) worth taking over for that reason alone. Of course quite apart from that, my delight at getting hold of original submission discs and straightening out all the back issues of the magazine filled with Gus' mistakes meant it was always going to be more a "makeover" than a "takeover" from where I was standing.

I did want that software though and Gus was very aware of it. So aware, in fact, that I am now convinced the software he offered me only existed in his imagination. Hang on tight for the final dealings with Gus, more infuriating than the Sunday story and which I have suppressed for almost three years now in order to keep the magazine on a positive note...

Gus never sent me any software. His whole offer was a trick and, once I'd said yes, the "second handover" of EUG occured almost overnight. Gus sent me a huge box which included about 200 dusty 5.25" discs I didn't dare put in a drive and 500 3.5" discs which I did, but which all, as I said above, turned out to be dodgy. He didn't even write the readership a letter of goodbye and, indeed, even originally forgot to include the list of readers! He noted in his original offer that there was an essential DFS "Catalogue Splitter" program for use with EUG which he would make sure to include. He forgot it but sent me every last submission disc he had ever been sent, many of which he had forgotten to include in the EUG magazine and some of which demonstrated some appalling arrogance to his readers. I had derided him via the Mailbag page several times for his lack of correspondence to my requests for a replacement copy of EUG #29. I found discs in the archives labelled "If you do not return this disc, I will not write again." He had kept these discs too! And even sent them on as a huge advertisement of how shamefully he had run things!

Not surprisingly, the lack of software had me back onto Gus via e-mail. With a sad predictability, he said he was making a list and would send it to me in time. I made up my mind to e-mail a request for it every three months and stuck to it. Time after time came back Gus' response that he hadn't started the list yet but he would get around to it. I continued with EUG for two years (and, as we all know, it boomed for the first year). Just as EUG #59 was about to roll off the presses, he wrote back:

      "I don't really have that much Electron stuff any more. About two
      months ago I tipped a load of it to save some space in my garage
      and gave a lot of it away to a local Charity Shop. I also tipped
      a bit more of it last week. I have one box left which I am think-
      ing of sending to you."

After all the apathy surrounding EUG at that time, this was absolutely the very last straw for me regarding both Gus and EUG. I typed out the articles prophecising EUG's demise that evening. I didn't even reply to Gus although I terminated his honorary membership on the principle that the words "honorary" and "Gus" shouldn't even be in the same sentence.

This is a particularly stinging criticism that is cowardly to include in this final EUG. But I have to stress what you have read here are merely my own true horror stories of the Gus Donnachaidh Customer Service Department. Many more are out there, forwarded to me by existing and ex-readers alike. I even suspect that Gareth Babb, when sounding off about how EUG had deteriorated, was mistaking my "grubby hands" for Gus'.

To try and redress the balance in Gus' favour, the obvious accolade is that he did keep EUG going, which means he did use much of his own time for the benefit of us readers. He typed up countless articles, letters, replies and programs. He was, at the time, the only man for the job. Without him, EUG would not be here now. The thirty issues he produced (aka "The Gus Issues", now structured into the standard EUG menu system) are just as informative as any of those by other EUG contributors and I can't find a single complaint by him as to all the effort running EUG involved.

Nevertheless, his behaviour after he'd handed over the administration of EUG to me leaves a very bitter taste and, as I said, it was instrumental to me winding EUG up. If the software existed, his actions were plain mean. If it didn't then there's no excuse for such lies; I would have taken over the User Group without them. Plus I feel sure that he knew that I was greatly interested in software (After all, everyone does!) and think he purposely strung me along hoping I would simply give up asking for it.

So now everyone (Yes, all eleven of you!) knows about one of the stories that went unreported in the News And The Internet columns. At least from my side. That is not to say, though, that it was not on the cards that EUG would close before Gus' e-mail was sent. Nor that I made the decision rashly and felt too proud to go back on it. There really was no way that EUG could continue for much longer than EUG #62. But the ultimate decision to close the magazine did follow a spiral downward. Gus' virtual confession that he had tricked me into running the User Group was not just a part of that sprial. It was the very last straw.

Dave E