A Menagerie of Outspoken Opinions on Science, World Politics, and Geek Culture

Monday, December 27, 2004


I’ve always been a magnet for eccentric personalities and odd coincidences. I once responded to a newspaper ad concerning kittens that were up for adoption; instead of discussing kittens, however, I found myself on the wrong end of a tirade about unfaithful men and why they shouldn’t bother their ex-girlfriends. Kitten Lady, you see, was utterly convinced that I was her recently-dumped beau – pitifully disguising my voice in an attempt to see if she was “sitting home by the phone” – and proceeded to harangue me for about five minutes on the virtues of loyalty, honesty, and not spying on your ex. I was simply too stunned to effectively protest my innocence – or, more correctly, my complete non-involvement – or even hang up. I just sat there in gape-jawed amazement of the proceedings. I also found that I agreed with her about quite a lot of it.

She ended all this by slamming down the phone, and I never got my kitten. This sort of thing happens to me a lot; it'd be a little scary if it weren't so amusing.

So it came as little surprise when I got an e-mail from reader Phil the other day, asking if I understood the history of the name “sandor at the zoo”. I responded by telling him that Sandor was a character from a Vernor Vinge novel; he was the online representative of a militaristic but fair-minded interstellar consortium called “Arbitration Arms Intelligence”. The character served as the voice of reason throughout the first two-thirds of what I consider to be one of the best sci-fi pieces of the late 20th Century. When I needed an online handle for a couple BBSs I was posting to – boards of venomous, accusatory debate on religion and politics which I tried my meager best to mediate – “sandor at the zoo” seemed like a natural choice. It later became my nom de blog, and The Zoo took its name from the handle as well.

It turns out, however (however, however, there is always a however) that Vinge’s character was based on a real person – a Canadian software developer and sometimes-space-expert who was active for many years on Usenet groups like sci.space and comp.lang.c. I have no idea how he chose the moniker, but I’d sure like to hear the story.

In any case, I find myself an unintentional imposter. I don’t like it. I’m considering changing my online alias back to “aliestar”, which is what I used in the years before argumentative BBSs and blogging became part of my life. Other changes are happening here at The Zoo soon anyway – my focus in 2005 will be much different from 2004 – so now’s probably a good time.

More on all this tomorrow.


Oh, and many thanks to reader (and fellow blogger) Gus for alerting me that the URL for the political compass quiz had changed. The BPCP page has been updated with the new link, so anyone who was trying to take the test but couldn't find it should be able to do so now.