The Talon Digest

A Brief History of Grind

This is not your father's Oldsmobile

My first car was a 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon. It had a 305 V8, but was so crippled by poor smog design that it put out less power than most late eighties four-bangers. Just how far could you go with a carburetor and a smog pump?

So its the summer of '89, I'm done with college, and I've got a job that pays alright. Time to look for new wheels. My friend had picked up one of the first Ford Probe turbos, and I was pretty impressed with what a turbo could do for a small engine. However, I was looking for a car that would handle well without me having to worry so much about losing control. Basically, I wanted a car with a suspension more competent than my driving. I started thinking about the 1983 Audi Quattro Coupe I had seen in brochures at the dealership while waiting for my Mom to pick out a 4000S. Turbo and all-wheel drive - now that's a combination that can't be beat!

I started reading my roommate's old Car and Driver magazines, but became frustrated in my quest because most manufacturers were adding AWD as complete afterthoughts. Audi was still in the game, but producing high-priced wanna-be yuppie mobiles. There were things like the Toyota All-Trac, but reviews were not great and neither was the price tag.

Then I stumbled across the Ten Best list. The Eagle Talon Tsi and its siblings, the Mitsubishi Eclipse GS and Plymoth Laser RS, had all made the list. And that was just the front-wheel drive turbo version. C&D hadn't had time to review the AWD version for the Ten Best, but had managed to sneak in a preview review in that very same issue anyway. Wow! After ogling over the pictures and reading the review and checking out the incredibly reasonable price tag, I just knew I had to get myself one.

That turned out to be the difficult part. Flash forward to January, 1990. The AWD had just started to show up at local dealerships the previous month. It was the first car worth buying since 1985, and was selling like hotcakes. I had trouble finding the car in the Santa Barbara-Ventura area - finally ended up going all the way down to LA to get the deal I wanted. However, I would have to wait a month for it to come in.

On February 8th, 1990, I picked up my red (gray interior) Eagle Talon Tsi (every option but leather) and drove it home. Man, what a feeling! A completely different car than I was used to - a car that would actually respond when I opened the throttle, when I chopped the steering wheel, when I got on the brakes.

After I became familiar with the car, I found that I wanted to start upgrading the suspension and engine. However, I had never done anything major to a car before. Maybe could help? Probably not - even way back in 1990, the signal to noise ratio in those unmoderated newgroups was pretty poor. I knew what I had to do - start a mailing list!

Birth of a Digest

I don't know quite when the digest actually started. The earliest posting I kept was from August 15th, 1990. However, I'm fairly certain that I started the list in April. Anyway, I had been involved in the Internet since about 1986 with my AT&T Unix PC. I had a friend who worked for various networking companies in Santa Barbara, and he was more than willing to give me an email and newsgroup feed. UUCP via a 1200 baud modem! (, in case you are wondering... also source of the original newgroup message for asb)

Initially, there weren't that many of us on the list, so I just hand forwarded every message to a group list I had set up under ELM. Some days, there wasn't even a single post that would go out - imagine that! That system worked pretty well until there were about 75 of us and things started picking up. I decided to go to a digest format in late 1991 so that I would only have to forward one message per day.

Since I was always bumming a net connection, I was always at the mercy of my friends' generosity. I ended up getting feeds from two different Santa Barbara networking companies, UCSB, Stanford, and a Silicon Valley computer company. Yes, I was paying for two short long distance calls nightly to send and receive the digest... but at least I had upgraded to 2400 baud! In spite of all this, there was only one month when I was truly down. The UnixPC consumed its harddrive, and we were just starting up UUCP email service here at work (using a PC clone version known as UUPC) over a 14.4k modem.

The Digest Format Forms

In July of 1993 (the missing month), I developed the trademark look to the digest - all of the authors and subjects in a single line format with indexing numbers along the side. I believe I was the first to make digests in this manner (most were multi-line indexes or lacked indexing numbers). Since our email was PC based, I wrote some scripts in the Brief Editor macro language so I could produce the format with the touch of a button. That took care of a lot of work - however, I was still handling all subscription requests by hand (no daemons running around in MSDOSland!).

By 1994, I was seriously falling behind on subscriptions. The PC couldn't really quite keep up with the digest, either. Luckily, I got the go-ahead to start getting our company truly on the net. I got a Linux box up and running, learned some Perl, and set up sendmail and Majordomo (the mailing list software). I really like the flexibility of Majordomo/Perl - it didn't take very long for me to convert that Brief macro script into a Perl script. On December 15th, 1994, the talon-digest was up and running on a "real" Internet system, and has been every day since then.

For about a month on the new system, we experimented with a "live" feed in parallel with the digest. It turned out to be a disaster. People were having conversations across the list during the day. People on the digest never got a chance to respond because the question was asked and answered in one day. Also, the number of messages per day went from under 20 to over 30, causing a lot of people to complain about the extra long digests. Well, those were the good ol' days, eh?

The Web Accelerates Growth

Once I got the Linux box running, I started adding service after service to it. Right after getting Majordomo running, I got the CERN httpd server up. Sometime in mid-January, 1995, "Welcome to the Talon/Eclipse/Laser Home Pages!" went live for the first time.

It was at this point in time that the Web starting getting tons of press, and everyone and their dog was getting online. I saw the subscriptions go something like this.

Year (June)Subscribers
[If you have better data,
let me know.]

During this same period, I have seen the volume of the list go from a few messages per week to a few messages per day to 10, 20, 30, 40, and now over 50 messages on a Monday. Mondays are also regularly racking up 80k sizes - however, the usual amount is about 40k now (the digest is not published over the weekend, so it is really 3 days worth of messages). This is why we don't allow live feeds - the Quattro List has fewer members, but sometimes puts out three 80k monster digests in a single day because of their unmoderated parallel live feed.

Our web pages have been behind the curve in all this growth. This is largely my fault for not keeping on top of the Web site. The more information in the Web site, the less questions asked over and over again on the digest, and the more useful the digest becomes for more serious and new problems. Several list members have contributed a fair amount of time to producing some top quality FAQs and How-To guides for new users. June 1996 was the first serious re-organization and rewrite of the site, heavily using frames to make the pages more navigable.

Notable recent events

June 30th, 1996