Online, fun and immortality

Posted: June 04, 2012

I recently bumped into a cute story that seemed familiar. It suggested a 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. It was a fairly typical blog post: a summary of a paper that ran the math and determined that the average number of coins one gets from a cash register is 4.7. But the addition of an 18-cent coin would drop that to 3.89.

I like this sort of thing. It’s quirky. It’s math. It speaks to the stupidity of pennies. It makes me think about government inefficiencies and the very human affection for little hunks of inconvenient metal.

But I couldn’t get past the familiarity. I reread the article and realized it was originally written in 2003. Hacker News usually is pretty current, but a story like this is sort of timeless and prone to resurgence.

Then I realized the byline was Roland Piquepaille, and you don’t forget a name like that. For many years, Roland was incredibly active on Slashdot, the news website I founded. His submissions were often like this 18-cent-coin piece: off the beaten path and interesting.

Roland died on Jan. 6, 2009. Apparently, last week, somebody searched online for something or other and landed on a story nearly a decade old, written by a man who had been dead for more than three years; it 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 habit of being hostile toward 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 an Oscar-winning film. But the Internet lets all of us live forever.

Rob Malda is chief strategist and editor at large for the Washington Post’s WaPo Labs team. Under the pseudonym "CmdrTaco," he created the "news for nerds" website Slashdot.org.

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