|THE DOT COM ANT FARM|
|By Eric Gillin||
AUGUST 8, 2002
After three years of empty talk, drunken hype and daydreaming, I purchase the rights to the BlackTable.com domain name for one year. Amazing that after years of nonsensical site names, Blacktable.com, which doesn't sound ridiculous in the slightest, is cold chillin' in full effect, ripe for the mooping. It costs $35 from Yahoo! Domains. In true dot com fashion, I charge it to my credit card and BlackTable.com has debt before it even has a home page, logo, contributor or fully articulated reason for existing. Somehow, I block out the fear that it's a big mistake to party like its 1999 in 2002's economic climate.
Item: Blacktable.com Domain Name
The Foreman Grill is perfectly searing the salmon when a telemarketer calls. "Do I want DSL?" they ask. Feeling guilt for having bought the domain name, but having done nothing else, I answer yes, ending two decades of unresponsive politeness to telemarketers. Now that I've finally bought something over the phone, I feel an odd pang of disappointment when the voice on the other end sticks to the script instead of screaming for joy. Oh well. Now I have Verizon DSL high-speed Internet access. After stressing how the first month is free and the next two months are $30, the telemarketer begins talking at warp-speed, muttering something about $50 a month, every month, for the rest of my life, in perpetuity. Distracted by thoughts of unlimited pornography and illegal music downloads (Oh! And the eventual creation Blacktable.com, of course!), I zone out until the voice hopes I have a lovely day.
Item: DSL High-Speed Internet Access
It's amazing the things you'll buy when bored, sweltering hot and hung over. It's 108 degrees out, and after drinking 13 beers and sleeping for two hours, I decide it's the perfect time to buy a laptop. I wander around New York City, sweating in a wide variety of consumer electronics stores before staggering into the Circuit City in Union Square. There I meet Cee, who sells me the Compaq Presario 732 computer, signs me up for the Circuit City credit card, enrolls me in the 12-month payment plan and consoles me at the register when I start weeping at its massive price tag. "Hey man, this is a great machine," he says, offering to throw in a free laptop bag, five blank CD-RWs, two crappy external speakers and a mouse, if I'll simply stop scaring away the other customers. "Don't worry, dude. It has a $200 rebate."
Item: Compaq Presario 732 Laptop Computer with
a 14.1" Screen, 1.2 Ghz Processor, 20 Gig HD, CD-RW, Ethernet Connection
and 256 Meg RAM.
It's been three months since I've spent any money directly related to BlackTable.com, which is good because it shows how much you can get done on the cheap. A notable downside is the site hasn't launched yet, because I don't know how buy Web hosting. Finally on the road to launching, I decide to throw it up to the fates and choose a brand name company whose customer service department picked up in the fewest rings. After pestering Corporate America for three hours, I ended up with DellHost DSL, a joint-venture of Dell and Sprint PCS. Their service guys picked up after two rings and shot me over to the sales department, which began kissing my ass, desperate for the business. "BlackTable is a great name!" said Jim from DellHost, who had my credit-card information, social-security number and home address before I gave it to him. "I can't wait to see it!" Me either, buddy.
Item: Web hosting package, including 300 Meg
of site space, some email accounts and 20 Gig of transfers a month.
For our first official meeting, I wanted to be ready. And to me, nothing says readiness like a massive pad of newsprint and permanent markers. The thought was that we'd brainstorm story ideas and have fun, but it was really an excuse to shop for office supplies. While the meeting never really came off, the purchases came in handy the next night, when we used the supplies to play a rousing game of Pictionary.
Items: Five pack of Pilot ball point pens, 12-pack
of Sharpie markers in assorted colors, an 18-by-24-inch pad of newsprint,
and a calendar desk pad.
JANUARY 18, 2003
It's probably telling that the very first purchase the Black Table made as an actual going concern was $40 worth of beer. In order to write "The Big Ol' Black Table Beer Run: 20 Cheap Beers Reviewed," I went to our local bodega and bought 28 different beers, much to the joy of the counter-person, who had to ring them all up individually and began cursing me out when we mixed in the good beers with the malt liquor. As you can see from the story's title, we only wrote about 20 beers. This is because we got too drunk to coherently cover the remainder and while I'm personally disappointed that we didn't weigh in on the difference between Dos Equis Amber and the Dos Equis Green, it was all money well spent.
Items: Twenty-eight individual bottles and cans
of beer from various manufacturers.
We had big plans for our week of Super Bowl coverage. After two weeks of publishing on a daily schedule, we were finally ready to up the ante and start publishing more adventurous fare from a number of new writers. This would be our true debut -- a coming out party that would put the world on notice. "Look here, world!" I wanted to yell. "When it comes to the Black Table, I am officially no longer totally full of shit!"
As luck would have it, my laptop stopped working the very day this was supposed to happen. In a panic, I called the Hewlett-Packard help line and threatened to kill them all, instantly reversing any karma points I might have gained from being nice to the telemarketers at Verizon back in December. I did all the technologically savvy things I knew to do, like mashing the power button a dozen times and carefully plugging the cord in and out. Nothing worked.
So for two weeks, the Black Table abandoned a daily schedule in favor of a costly thrice-weekly schedule, paying the Web2Zone Internet café a whopping $9 an hour just so we didn't lose any momentum after the launch. When my laptop finally returned after two weeks of dealing with the unfriendly geeks who worked at the Zone, I promptly downloaded as much pornography as I good and didn't leave the house for a whole weekend.
Items: Approximately 12 hours of Internet access.
Blender Lamps may be cheap, but they're definitely not free. In order to write "It's a Blender! It's a Lamp! It's a Blender Lamp!" I needed some unusual bits of inexpensive hardware, all of which are easy to find in one Home Depot. Even better, it requires you to venture down of one of those aisles you never go down, where there's no hot tub to ogle, no paint swatches to look at and nothing to play with.
I needed the wire caps, the wire cord, the electrical tape, some lightbulbs, the lightbulb socket and the blender. All told, the hardware was about $20 -- $8 for the cord, $3 for the socket, $1 for the caps, $2 for the tape and I blew $6 on lightbulbs. The blender was $5, at the local Salvation Army, plus this old issue of Time that looked rad. Later on, I got bored and gussied the thing up with a picture of Oppenheimer I found in it.
Items: Wire caps, wire cord, electrical tape,
some lightbulbs, a lightbulb socket, an issue of Time and a used
It just occured to us. We don't really have any clue how many people are checking this thing out. DellHost sends us these horrible raw log files and the data make no sense. There's no "unique users" on these things, for starters, and there are no pretty pie charts, like there should be. After spending 15 minutes cruising the Web for the best deal, we landed on SiteTracker.com, where we promptly splurged on some serious tools.
Honestly, this the single best purchase we've ever made. Even more than the computer. We are gods now! We can see who is linking to us, how many people are coving every hour and even what search engines we're number one in. Ah, thank you SiteTracker. Hey world! The Black Table is number one in ball shaving and we're never dropping the strap.
It ain't safe no more.
Item: One year of the "Professional Stats
Package," including all the bells, whistles and fireworks.
For the last three months, give or take, we've been using Microsoft Paint for last-minute edits to our pictures when Jim Cooke was unable to properly Photoshop them in advance. Sadly, the marathon editing sessions -- fixing individual pixels, one-at-a-time, painstakingly cropping and smoothing out puny, simple photos for hours -- has sent me into a state of near-blindness. Using Paint to do anything is like building a house using a butter knife to cut the wood and the back of a spoon to bang in the nails.
Finally, the Black Table has taken a step into the 21st Century by purchasing a photo editing package that can actually, like, edit photos and stuff. How bad did we want a new program? So bad we didn't even steal it over Kazaa. We just walked to the nearest software store and asked for Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0, a less-than-fully featured version of what Jim Cooke has at home. Good enough. I can feel my sight returning already.
Item: Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0.
Sometimes, the voices that never stop talking keep imploring you to drink every beer in the supermarket. Finally recovered from the hangover we got doing the first beer run, we listened to the voices, and returned to the various merchants in our neighborhoods to gather every single beer we could for $50. This time around, we ended up with 36 different beers cutting across the wide spectrum of brew -- from obscure malt liquors to $3 bottles of fruity crap. Sadly, our master plan to do a second and a third beer run at the same time a/la Back to the Future II & III failed horribly and we could only write 23 reviews before we were too drunk to type. You can see the first 20 up there now.
Items: Three dozen unusual, random, mostly putrid
cans or bottles of beer.
It's funny. You bought that $99 1.8 Gighertz cordless phone because it was more convenient in your very cramped apartment. It was an easy rationalization: one of those twisty corded jobs would knock over beers and ashtrays and get tangled up in the other thirteen trillion wires you have going on already. So you bought the expensive cordless phone. And you liked it, even though it goes dead when you leave it off the cradle for just one night and picks up the neighbor's phone conversations, too. But then one day, you say, "Hey! Hey! I'd like to call 311 and ask the operator whether I need a permit to go ice fishing in Central Park!" And you realize that you can't record a damn thing off that super convenient cordless that's currently dead and somewhere under the couch. And you break down and sob, realizing that you're about to put on your coat and head off to K-Mart for a $10 corded phone, turning the clock back to 1982.
Item: Touch-tone phone with cord, in white.
Ever wonder where all that dot com money went? So do we. That's why the Black Table set up the Dot Com Ant Farm. Accounting doesn't get much more transparent than this.