Your free mouse is waiting

Here in Australia, Atomic: Maximum Power Computing is a foolishly-named but actually-rather-good magazine for which I write.

I do occasional features, and two regular columns. One of those is the "I/O" question-and-answer letters column, which I reprint six months later on Dan's Data.

Allow me to share with you a secret about that letters column.

Hardly anybody sends in any bloody letters.

This certainly isn't the result of an actual lack of people with questions to ask. My interminable series of Dan's Data letters columns is evidence enough of that.

People just don't send questions in any more.

Seriously - there are, like, two letters a month to, and on average about 1.2 of those letters fall into the HELO WUT IZ DA BEST GFX CRD PLZ??!? category that gets them swiftly despatched to my "Atomic lousy letters" folder.

About 0.6 of the remaining 0.8 letters will describe, often at great and depressing length, some computer problem about which all I can think to say is "yep, your PC is really badly screwed up, all right".

This falls somewhat short of the high standard my readers have come to expect.

You might wonder, at this point, how it is that the I/O column keeps running in Atomic.

It keeps running because

1: People like reading it, and

2: I get tons of questions sent to me @

So I just skim the most "Atomic-y" of those letters off the top - yes if it's someone asking about using mercury as CPU coolant, no if it's someone asking about cheesecake - and use them to bulk out the I/O column.

I still e-mail my reply to the questioner as well as include it in the Atomic column, of course. So it's not as if a question from some guy in California falls silently into a magazine in Australia which he will never read.

Since the only misrepresentation involved in this is that it gives the impression that people who sent questions to one e-mail address actually sent them to another, I don't feel very guilty about it. Many of the people whose letters are repurposed probably do not actually read the magazine in which their letters and my answers will then be printed, but that's no big deal. Certainly not by the standards of letters columns in general.

The dirty secret of the letters pages of local - and not-so-local - newspapers the world over is that it's perfectly normal for them, like me, to not get enough interesting letters to fill the space.

Since they, unlike me, have no other source of material, they then just make stuff up.


Sometimes there's something juicier, like one of the newspaper bosses forcing his partisan letter in under an assumed name or something.

But usually they just have a few beers and then make up something entertaining to fill the empty space.

I have never been driven to doing anything like that for the Atomic column. But one problem does remain.

The best I/O letter each month wins a prize. For ages now, it's been a shiny new Logitech G5 mouse.

But only "genuine" letters to the I/O address, from people who help to pay for the whole enterprise by buying the darn magazine, are eligible for the prize.

And, worse yet, I've a personal rule that if you've already won the prize once, you can't win it again for a very carefully calibrated period of time most elegantly describable as "however long it takes for me to forget your name".

Since so very few decent letters are coming from actual readers of the magazine, the I/O prize is at this moment very easy to win. Just send a good question to, and you'll be in the running.

"Aha", I now hear many devious people saying who live on the other side of the planet from Australia and have no interest at all in buying Atomic. "I shall send a letter, and win the prize, and nobody will know I'm not really a reader!"

Well, no, nobody will. But you won't know you've won, either, because (a) I won't tell you (I suggest a winner to the Atomic editorial team, but it's not up to me to actually definitely decide who gets the prize, and my Dan's Data column reprints won't tell you either), and (b) the Atomic prize-sending department tends to be a bit on the slack side. They often only actually send out the prize when the lucky winner reads the mag, lets out a happy cry and then sends an e-mail with his or her address in it.

(This means that some poor sucker has probably failed to buy that month's magazine, or something, and missed out entirely.)

If you go to all of the trouble of setting up a devious scheme involving an Australian friend who subscribes to the magazine and will tell you if you win and, I don't know, on-ship your mouse to you so nobody gets suspicious about some guy in Anchorage who isn't on the subscriber list winning the prize, then I say you deserve your plunder as much as any Australian.

Actual Antipodeans who actually read Atomic, though, should bear in mind that asking me things at rather than may be unexpectedly profitable.

7 Responses to “Your free mouse is waiting”

  1. Chazzozz Says:

    Well, it makes me feel good to know that I've only ever sent you genuinely off-beat tech-related questions that I probably couldn't get answers to within ten minutes on the Atomic forums.

    But, it also explains why even though I've offered some really good ones (IMHO) I've only ever won the mouse once. Maybe I'll change my name or something...

  2. DeeKay Says:

    Well at least i know it wasn't only the magazine that I worked on that got no letters!

    Being assigned the letters column used to make me shudder every month when I was a full time staffer, there was just no content that came through the mailbox that was ever of much use.
    On the plus side though it allowed me to have some pretty amusing arguments with myself over the years, which were eventually made all the more amusing by the fact that real people started responding to my imaginary arguments.
    To think that all those years ago when one of my own scratchy letters got published I was straight onto the forums with a scan to brag about it. That kind of lost its magic though when it became my job to invent them later on.

    Never actually had many people claim their prizes either

  3. Mark Cocquio Says:

    I too have shared the letter page pain - in my case I wrote for The Australian. You'd think a few people read that...

    On a good week I'd get about 2-3 emails. On a really good week one of those would be good to write up.

    The plus side though is that one can easily answer that many emails, even if they're not interesting enough to make it into print, which does make you some friends amongst the less-IT-savvy crowd.

    The other plus side is that if you do have to make something up, you can make it something you already know about, rather than something needing extensive research. Like whatever problem you solved on your Dad's pc that week. :)

    Oh and have a few beers? Never! ;)

  4. ming_of_mongo Says:

    Well, this explains Dr. James Wright's Q & A column in most weekend papers. Questions such as `I am 15, and I notice some tenderness around my nipples` did seem a little contrived...

  5. loseweightslow Says:

    Dan, I think you are going to way too much trouble to make sure people can't get a prize for providing the magazine with free content. Does it really matter that they dont buy the thing when they are still proving the magazine and the readers with the content. Is Logitech G5 mouse so expensive that you need to conserve them?

  6. James Says:

    I'm totally the guy from California.

    Even if I'm not, I don't care if you use my letters or not. :) Consider this my super official totally legal-binding approval.

    I want a mouse.

  7. Bastard Child Says:

    I'm one of those that loves reading your letters section. I don't care where they come from, just keep 'em coming Dan.

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