Getting to Know Gary
Once Gary wrote software. Now he writes about software. As a freelance writer on tech, he specializes in preservation, file formats, security, and making difficult concepts understandable.
Gary’s background is very heavy in computer technology.
Degrees in computer science from MIT and Purdue led him into developing software for the publishing industry at several companies in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Later he became a developer at the Harvard University Libraries.
JHOVE, a software tool for identifying file formats, validating files, and extracting metadata, is still heavily in use more than a decade after he started writing the code for it. As a developer, he took pride in writing high-quality documentation, and that has served him well as writing has become his main focus.
In a sense, Gary has always been a writer. He started writing paid pieces for various magazines soon after he was out of college. Look through early issues of Byte (one of the first computer hobbyist magazines) and you’ll find his name on articles.
In 1984 Compute Books published his Compute’s Guide to Adventure Games, and around the same time, Analog published two science fiction stories by him (under the name Gary McDonald). In 2013, an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign helped him publish the ebook Files that Last: Digital Preservation for Everygeek. In 2015, he did the same with Tomorrow’s Songs Today: The History of Filk Music.
In 2016 he decided to reboot his career as a full-time writer. After getting practice with some content-selling sites, he expanded into more challenging assignments on serious tech. For him, the constant learning is the best part of the job. He says he’s more up to date on technological developments now than when he buried himself in writing code.
Our Interview with Gary
We asked Gary about his long background in computing.
Windows, Mac, or GNU/Linux?
I’ve been mostly in the Mac camp, but as Apple tightens its control over what we can do, I’ve been moving increasingly toward GNU/Linux. I’ve used Windows when necessary, but you won’t find a computer in my house that runs it. Whatever operating system I’m using, I make heavy use of the command line.
What languages do you know?
My native language is English. In high school, I took three years of French and at one time could read whole books in it. Since then I’ve learned German, which seems to have pushed most of the French out of my head. I can read books in German and get around Germany without switching to English. There must be a dozen other languages where I know a dozen words.
Are you working on any cool projects?
My next big non-tech writing project is “Yesterday’s Songs Transformed,” a free-wheeling survey of how people have recycled, rewritten, and rebutted existing songs to make new songs. It’s got me chasing down song histories through colonial days and earlier, and I think the results will be fun.
Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Trek, of course — by which I mean the real thing, not J J Abrams’ fanfic. Trek looks toward a better future. Even when it’s silly, it’s optimistic. Star Wars is fun, but it looks toward the past, long ago in a kingdom — er, galaxy — far away. The best spoofs of Star Trek are Galaxy Quest and The Orville, because behind the laughs they stay true to that positive spirit.
What are some of your favorite books?
The list keeps changing. The Fountainhead, for its portrayal of someone who pursues his career with integrity. The Neverending Story (in the original German, of course), for exploring the need for imagination. The Lord of the Rings, the definitive world-saving adventure tale. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, with a fun-loving computer that leads a lunar revolution.
When did you first use the internet?
I’ve been using the internet since before it was the internet. In the seventies, I worked at MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science, which was connected with academic computers around the world through ARPANET. Meanwhile, the people across the hall from me were developing Zork.
What is your favorite music?
I’m a dedicated lover of the classics. Give me Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Spohr, and Brahms. (Yes, I said Louis Spohr, who’s shamefully forgotten.) Show me a list of this week’s hits and I won’t have any idea what you’re talking about. They might be great. I just don’t know. In addition, I’m a huge participant in filk music. Filk is the folk music of science fiction and fantasy fandom. I go to Germany for the filk conventions. Filk invites everyone to participate; it doesn’t matter if your skills aren’t the best. At least you’re making music and not just absorbing it.
Code from scratch or use a CMS?
Tough call. I love writing raw HTML, and I still maintain a couple of websites that way. But I have to admit that it’s not the most efficient use of my efforts, so these days I go with WordPress when that option is open to me. I still love to dig into the construction of the page and keep as much control as possible.
What’s the most important thing to you in writing?
I’ve done my job only if the reader can learn something from me. Even when I’m paid to write something frankly promotional, I do everything possible to present the case by giving the reader real, useful information. If there’s no way to present a positive case honestly, I’ll turn down the assignment.
Selected WhoIsHostingThis Writing
Gary only started writing for us in 2017. But he’s already become an important member of our team. He’s not only written for WhoIsHostingThis.com, but for our sister sites like Digital.com and HTML.com. Here is a small list of his work.
How to Be a Hacker: everything you need to get started on the path of being a white hat hacker — the kind of person who knows everything about computers and uses those skills to improve all of our lives.
How to Stay Up-to-Date on Security: computer threats are always changing and it can seem impossible to keep yourself safe with these ever-evolving threats. This article provides you with tips for staying safe and ways to keep up-to-date on the newest threats.
Coding Bootcamps Throughout the US: if you want to break into programming as a profession, coding bootcamps are probably the most straightforward way to do so. This article provides the coding bootcamps that are available in the 34 biggest cities in the US. Even if you don’t live in one, you doubtless live close to one.
BigCommerce Hosting Review: one of many expert reviews Gary has done for WhoIsHostingThis.com. If you want to know if BigCommerce is right for you, you’ll find the objective information you need here.
Elsewhere on the Web
Gary can be found elsewhere on the web:
Learn more about the WhoIsHostingThis authors and editors here.