Frequently Asked Questions

about Travels with Samantha by Philip Greenspun

Who is Samantha?

Dawn. Missoula, Montana Samantha was a Macintosh PowerBook 170, whose name is explained in Chapter II (as well as in the Dramatis Personae).

Samantha served me well for over two years. Apple's rigorous engineering procedures and quality assurance programs resulted in a laptop so rugged that ... every single piece failed. The motherboard ($700). The daughterboard ($400). The power adaptor ($100). The floppy drive ($250). The keyboard ($125). The display ($700). The 40 MB disk drive presumably would have failed but I replaced it with a larger one.

Thousands of dollars shoveled into Apple repair parts were enough to keep Samantha cheerful but then, in May 1995, someone broke into my minivan in Boston and stole a backpack, which contained Samantha. She is presumably running Chop Shop (a parts inventory program for car thieves) right now.

[Note: Samantha gets at least a couple of emailed propositions every week. I'm presuming that these come from guys who haven't carefully read Travels with Samantha and/or from guys who haven't read my guide to picking up babes on the Internet.]

Ali and Michelle, Australians visiting Glacier National Park On the deck of an Alaska Marine Highway ferry.

What happened to the minivan?

The 1993 Dodge Grand Caravan that I drove to Alaska and back was starting to rattle in 1997, so I gave it away to an animal shelter from my Web site (and bought a new Toyota Sienna minivan off the Web).

Where can I find the "real book"?

There is a hardcopy edition with lots of four-color photos. It was published in July 2000 and is available from

How long did it take to write?

The Interstate heading south towards Salt Lake City, Utah. I spent perhaps half an hour every evening working on my diary for the whole summer, then a few hours every week refining the diary into a chapter. A few months later, I spent a couple of more days editing the manuscript, then several weeks converting it to HTML, adding photographs, feedback scripts, etc. [For what I've learned about Web publishing, see Philip and Alex's Guide to Web Publishing and Software Engineering for Internet Applications.]

How many people read Travels with Samantha?

About 5,000 people per month read at least a chapter or two of TWS on the Web. Readership was higher in 1993 when the book was first published on the Internet, maybe because there was nothing else to look at.

What kind of machine and software do you use for the server?

Sorting salmon.  Petersburg Fisheries, Petersburg, Alaska. You are reading files from a pizza box Linux machine. To facilitate discussion, the machine is running the free open-source ArsDigita Community System.

I wrote the original in Microsoft Word and it took me about three days to get all the text and pictures up on the Web, using RTF_to_HTML, Emacs Lisp, HPCDTOPPM, and the PBM tools (all public-domain). Subsequently I went back and redid the photos consistent with my new religion for scanning and personalized presentation.

How come the pictures look so good?

The pictures look better than much of what you see on the Web because they were transferred from the original slides onto PhotoCD rather than scanned from prints. Everything I know about photography is somewhere in

(They would look a lot better if I had ever had enough time to edit each one individually in PhotoShop; what you see on-line now was batch-converted automatically.)

How come the pictures look so bad?

There is no standard for gamma or colorspace among computers. Windows, Unix, and the Macintosh all have different ways of displaying RGB colors specified in a JPEG file. This could have been standardized by the folks who developed and maintain the Web standards, but they chose not to.

What is that big waterfall doing at the top of this page?

If you lugged a 50 lb. Rollei 6008 system down to the bottom of Tower Falls in Yellowstone National Park, you'd want to show off the results too.