Been around the block a few times

It kind of came to me this morning, as I sat on the #2 heading down 17th Avenue. I’ve been on the internet for over 15 years. Rapidly approaching half my life online. I’m that old fart you see sitting in the corner, greying, cane-in-hand, wagging a crooked (permanently bent from using a mouse for over two decades) cackling:

“When I was your age, you little whipper-snappers…”

I’m sure there’s a self-help group for this.

I first went on the Internet (it was capital “I” back then) either in late 1991 or early 1992 (I’m actually not sure which — either way, over 15 years), at the University of Waterloo. My friend Marshall directed me to this thing called “E-mail”. (We would over the years conduct many pointless email conversations, often over the course of several days, which would reconstruct the French Taunter scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, solely from memory. It’s UW’s official favourite movie.)

Not long afterwards, I discovered Usenet newsgroups. Most of the people who read this blog have probably never heard of these. They were the blogs before websites were even a consideration. A non-stop barrage of text messages arranged in threads. Signatures were sometimes bigger than the messages. (One of my personal favourites was alt.pave.the.earth.) Spam was met with a storm of flames, usually causing the poster to remain offline for weeks at a time. Even then, the commercial writing was on the virtual wall.

I first used VT220 terminals. Text-only. There were some XWindows systems in nearby rooms, but only one room with colour (HP-UX). If you weren’t on a UNIX system, you needed to have a terminal emulator, and those were (at first) hard to come across. One of the best was from KEA Systems, called KEAterm. (PuTTy was just a long-yet-to-fire neuron in Simon Tatham’s brain at that time.)

It wasn’t until I’d been at university for a year that external access was provided via a modem pool. If you were lucky, you got one of the few 19.2k lines. Otherwise, it was a toss-up between the 14.4k and 9600 lines. (You could see text pages refresh. That was the blinding speed.) After a couple of years, you were lucky to get a line at all — redialling was often set to one second.

I have no idea how I’m going to explain this to my kids.

When Mosaic was released, the odds of getting a GUI-based terminal was reduced from hard to near-impossible. You could see “homepages” (typically because it was only one page) in glorious grey, with black Times text, and blue links. Okay, nothing exciting by today’s standards, but remember that we were viewing the fledgling web through Lynx using amber-on-black text monitors.

I remember the excitement the day Netscape was released. The big, pulsing “N” was something else. Even better was the day Netscape 2 was released — we could build things in tables! Images! Actual colours! Oh my, the memories…

My introduction to HTML was from Professor Neil Randall, who taught my English 209 class — introductory rhetoric. It started with “you will never enjoy anything ever again” (his actual statement on the first day) to where we could submit our assignments using a website, er, homepage. (This was 1992 — maybe 1993, after all.)

Yes, my early homepages had spinning logos. Once we figured out how to use the Compuserve GIF format to make them, anyway.

Eventually, I managed to talk Shelley, owner and operator of the Movie Poster Warehouse, to put up a website to expand her business. This was 1995 — the year a lot of interactive agencies point as their year of formation. Most people had only recently become aware of the ‘net. You could still get domain names for most things. I worked for posters. Not my most lucrative job, but certainly one of my most fun. And educational.

I had an ADSL line in 1997. Something faster than 19.2k. Then a cable modem (on the @Home Network) when I moved to Vancouver in 1998. I had a partial T1 line at my work. Speed.

Google was this new search engine that had a simple interface, and was a lot faster than Yahoo. It beat the pants of the now-dying World Wide Web Worm. Google was popular with the geeks I worked with, because it wasn’t flashy.

Then I moved to Calgary. I suppose it was almost inevitable that I would one day work in the internet (note the lowercase “I” now), given how it all started. It’s been a long slog to get here, and it’s interesting to see how it’s all developed.

But, man, am I starting to feel old with all these kids running around. I can only wonder what Vint Cerf must feel like…

4 Replies to “Been around the block a few times”

  1. How dare you profane this place with your presence! I command you, in the name of the Knights of Camelot, to open the doors of this sacred castle, to which God Himself has guided us!

  2. Oh man, I lusted after a NeXT. Badly. They had them on sale in the computer store on campus. They let you play with it. Ohhhh, it was so beautiful. The blackness of it all. Even the greyscale UI was 1,000 times more gorgeous than Windows. So what if you couldn’t run barely anything, it was enough to say you had one.

    But being a student, I couldn’t afford it. So all I could do was lust. And lament, the day I heard NeXT was closing its doors. But at least NeXTStep lived on to see another day. Truly a cat with nine lives…

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