Cult of Personality 2.0

Years ago, I first discovered how there can be a cult of personality in a small online community. Programming in assembly for 32-bit versions of Windows was being developed by a few individuals, by delivering a toolset, some libraries and some tutorials. These people would communicate in chatrooms on IRC, and they had set up an online forum.

One of these guys went by the nickname of hutch or ‘hutch—’. He maintained the MASM32 library and toolset, which was one of the most popular tools for writing Win32ASM. He was around most of the day, to help ‘newbies’ on their way, answering their questions. So far so good…

He was very nice and helpful to these newbies, and the newbies would look up to hutch. They thought he must be a very knowledgeable programmer. In fact, many of them actually mistakenly thought that hutch wrote the MASM assembler and tools included in the MASM32 package. This is not true, since these are tools written by Microsoft, which Microsoft has made freely available. Hutch merely bundled these tools with some of his own utilities, such as a simple text editor, and the MASM32 library, and various code examples, contributed by various members of the community. I had actually contributed one or two examples to MASM32 myself, wanting to do my small bit for the community.

Hutch however never bothered to set people straight on this misunderstanding. In fact, it actually served him quite well, because it gave him more status in the community. And, as we later found, he was more interested in status and serving his ego than in programming and the community itself. This became apparent when some more experienced programmers discovered the community, and would find some bugs in the library, or would suggest some optimizations.

Instead of accepting the friendly help and assistance, hutch would flatout deny any problems, or would make bogus claims about how the optimizations wouldn’t work. He would have a lot of supporters, people who weren’t really able to make a good judgement of the discussion itself, so they just supported hutch on blind faith. As time went on, the debates became uglier, and hutch would just attack people personally, and insult them post after post, spreading lies about them (claiming they were involved with virus programming for example)… and the forum staff would just continue to support him. He basically set the whole community up against that one particular person he had an argument with… even though that person had a valid point, and just wanted to help out by improving the MASM32 code. Apparently hutch was a very nice guy, as long as you agreed with him, and he had the idea that you looked up to him. But if you ever disagree with him, he’ll tear you down. He is the absolute god and holder of wisdom in his world, and don’t you dare oppose him in any way.

But ofcourse as time went on, and hutch made more and more enemies, eventually he would start to rub some of the moderators the wrong way, and he slowly but surely started to lose his support. He now had to fight some of the moderators directly, behind the scenes of the forum. I can only be amazed at how long it took, and how much filth these moderators put up with until they finally made the right decision, and ‘rebelled’ against hutch. Ofcourse this didn’t really stop hutch. No, he just started a new forum of his own… But that alone was not enough. No, he kept his forum squeaky-clean, while at the same time continuing to derail threads on the old forum, and also attacking people in alt.lang.asm on Usenet. What was left of his following, followed him to his new forum, and he brainwashed them into thinking that the old forum was evil, aimed at virus writing, and all that.

If you want to read some of the actual discussions with hutch, see this page: http://www.asmcommunity.net/hutch/

Now, when I had met hutch, I thought I had seen it all. I didn’t really expect to ever meet an ego of those proportions ever again. I was wrong…

This time it was a guitarist… I should have known the moment I saw his nickname, which was something like “Magic Hands”. But at the time I just frowned a bit, and didn’t really pay much more attention. Like hutch, he was often around on various forums, trying to help the ‘newbies’, and being very nice to them. And as a result, he had developed quite a status as ‘guru’, much like hutch.

I didn’t really catch on initially, perhaps because nobody ever disagreed with him on anything (perhaps because with music things aren’t as black-and-white as with programming. Where a bug is undeniably a bug, in music most things are very subjective). What did strike me however, was that he loved to talk about himself. When he answered questions, he’d generally write longwinded posts, rather than just answering to the point. Another thing was, when he was in the chatroom, he would often tell the same stories. I’ve not been in the chatroom more than a dozen time perhaps, but I had already heard the same stories 2 or 3 times. He had probably been telling them for years, and continues to tell them today. One or two times when he had left the chatroom, and I was still around, other people said how they were getting a bit tired of him talking so much and telling the same stories over and over again. So I guess it’s not just me. Another thing is that he was being disrespectful to Jennifer Batten at one time, saying she looks ‘homely’ now. I had a problem with that, because I respect Jennifer Batten as a great musician, and what she looks like is of no relevance. We all get older. He also had comments on Greg Howe, saying he did that ‘slide vibrato’ way too often. Well excuse me.. but I think Greg Howe is one of the best guitarists in the world, and that is HIS thing, which he applies in a tasteful and musical manner. Perhaps it was a bit of jealousy shining through there?

Oh well, we all have our flaws, I thought. Other than that I never had a problem with him. We had roughly the same style of music, sharing many of the same influences and examples, mostly 80s guitarists like Gary Moore, John Sykes, Eddie van Halen, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and so forth. I have no problem admitting he’s a better guitarist and musician than I am as well. He actually had two CDs out, and I bought both of them… I’ve never before bought CDs from someone I only know from the internet.

Anyway, at some point there was someone who asked for some help with his Pod, naming some examples of the sort of sound he was looking for, with “Magic Hands” being one of them. Well, to Mr “Magic Hands” this apparently meant that he had the *exclusive* right to answer this question (I’m not making this up, those are his exact words to me, ‘exclusive right’). Well, in all my innocence I had already given the guy some tips (since I have a similar sound and style and I am experienced with programming sounds for modelers), not knowing that His Royal Highness wouldn’t accept it.

No, according to him, it was not possible to get his sound out of a Pod. No, the guy would just have to buy the same unit as he used, a Digitech GSP2101. I felt this was rather poor advice. Firstly, because in my opinion you can get quite close to pretty much any sound out there with a Pod, and secondly, the guy specifically said in his question that he wasn’t really interested in buying new gear at this point, but just wanted to get the most out of his Pod. So I figured I’d try and convince the guy to give the Pod another try first, before splashing out on a GSP2101.

But no, then ‘Magic’ started telling me that a Pod is useless, and you needed tubes to get his sound. Funny, since the GSP2101 isn’t a true tube amp anyway, it’s a hybrid amp. There may be tubes inside it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it sounds great. In fact, see what this guy has to say about it:

“I’ve used this as my main preamp for a long time, but I’m glad I’ve got the Mesa/Boogie Quad preamp now. The preamp sound of the 2101 is not very good. Although it uses tubes, there is not much dynamics or tone that is affiliated with sound of tubes. I guess they use the tubes primarily to color the sound and use op-amps to create the distortion, like Marshall does since the JCM900 amps. But changing the tubes has some effect on the sound. The stock tubes are very (read: extremely) poor Chinese ones. So I changed them for one Sovtek 12AX7WXT (for more high gain on the clean setting) and a Ruby ECC82 for less gain in the high gain mode. And this worked out pretty well. It gave the 2101 a better sound, but still not good. The preamp lacks definition, clarity, tone and dynamics. It always sounded like a big mush. While the Quad preamp has such a beautiful tone and no matter how much gain you use, you can always hear every single note.”

So in short, not exactly the greatest tube sound in the world. In fact, ‘Magic’ usually recorded the unit directly anyway, with the speaker emulation. This always gives it a bit of an ‘artificial’ edge, that modelers like the Pod suffer from anyway. So if anything, a Pod would be a better candidate to get his tone than a real tube amp. He would also insist that his piercing harsh pinch harmonics are a special characteristic of tube amps, while anyone with half a clue will know that it’s exactly the opposite.

I tried to carefully explain him that his idea of ‘tube tone’ may be just a tad out-of-the-ordinary… But ofcourse his reply was predictable. He would start bashing my tone. According to him, my tone sounded like a transistor amp, and I wouldn’t have the knowledge and experience that he has, so I wasn’t in a position to really form a valid opinion (again, his exact words). Well, that’s where he really overplayed his hand. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I do happen to have a tube amp, and it’s not just any tube amp, but the Marshall 6101 30th Anniversary. It’s widely regarded as a great-sounding amp, and it sure has that classic tube tone.

Well, he was pretty much out of actual arguments by then, so he just continued to insult me and hack away at my credibility, much like how hutch does with people who disagree with him. And just like hutch, this guy could get away with murder on a forum with lots of ‘followers’. So I would just have to give up. I tried to contact him in private, to see if we could settle the matter… but what he did then, went even beyond my wildest imagination. He would just continue to tear into me in private… and in the most shocking way of all: He just flatout told me how much better he was than me, and how I must be jealous of him. Right. I respected him, but I didn’t look up to him, and certainly wasn’t jealous of him. Needless to say that at this point I no longer respected him either. I was disgusted with him. With his massive ego, his backstabbing, and his apparent lack of knowledge of tube amps and tone in general.

But I figured I’d get him back. I took two samples, one of his and one of mine. Then I posted them on a forum where he wasn’t known, didn’t tell them whose clips they were, but simply put up a poll, asking them which they thought sounded most like ‘tube tone’. Not really surprising, the majority of the votes went to my clip. After all, that IS a tube amp, recorded the traditional way, with a microphone in front of the speaker. Even better were some of the responses:

“but the first is smoother, and the second has a bitey pick attack.”

“I went with the first option. It sounds warmer.”

“The first few licks on the first one have that “Glassy” sound to it….”

“I also think the first one has more of a tube feel to it. It could obviously just be the production but it seems like the second clip has a slight harshness to it. Like some EQ spike that adds a kind of digital layer over the whole sound.”

“Anyway, I think 2 sounds like Sansamp. 1 sounds a little more like a real amp, or Line6 recorded exceptionally well. Either way, whoever recorded 1 did a much better job on his tone”

“There’s a harmonic in the descending run of the 2nd mp3 right near the end of the clip that sounds very ‘Line-6’ to me”

So basically people pick the harshness, the bite as reasons that it’s NOT a real tube tone, and sounds more like a modeler, just like I said. And they think my sound is a tube sound because it’s smoother, warmer, more glassy. They even seem to think that it’s generally ‘a much better job’ of recording. Funny, because he is the professional, with the big mouth about how he knows everything about tone, and I just recorded my amp at home by putting a cheap microphone in front of it. It’s by no means a great recording, done by an amateur with very modest means. He just got beat, fair and square. But he’ll never admit it. His ego is far too inflated to be bothered by anything such as reality.

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One Response to Cult of Personality 2.0

  1. Pingback: Why technical forum discussions don’t work | Scali's blog

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