Back to previous post: Open thread 162

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Things You Can’t Talk About At Making Light

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

August 6, 2011

Happy 20th anniversary —
Posted by Patrick at 05:48 PM * 93 comments

to the World-Wide Web.

Still a pretty good thing, despite everything. Thanks again, high-energy physicists!

Comments on Happy 20th anniversary --:
#1 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 06:05 PM:

Thanks for the trucks full of... um... tubes! And all that technical stuff.

#2 ::: Wendy Bradley ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 06:09 PM:

Ah yes, I remember Compuserve. And my first meatspace use of the Internet in 1994, when someone posted advance warning of Hamlet tickets going on sale on and I telephoned London-Winnipeg to buy my ticket... Tell the young people today....

#3 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 06:54 PM:

It's like an information superhighway.

#4 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 06:55 PM:

I remember snailmail.

#5 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 07:01 PM:

I remember "bang" addresses. With Bitnet and the like mixed in. I can live without that.

The Eternal September is kinda rough, but that's adulthood for you....

#6 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 07:53 PM:

Garrison Keillor mentioned it this morning on the "Writers' Almanac".

Kip W #1: Thus do we remember the late Ted Stevens, senator from Alaska.

David Harmon #5: I'm with you on those points.

#7 ::: marc sobel ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 07:59 PM:

I remember how that Dr. Guttenstein's movable type thing was going to destroy books.

Of course, I also remember books.

#8 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 08:11 PM:

I remember having a Mac II on my desk at a former employer ('89-'90). It had this thing called "Hypercards" in its OS. Unfortunately, there were no manuals available for that machine, nor were there any other machines (all Mac Pluses, not even SEs!) which had that software.

Thus I had no clue what I might be able to do with those nifty graphical representations of index cards.

#9 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 08:32 PM:

That was Hypercard (no S). It was awesome. It was missing only one critical ingredient: the idea that your document could link, not just to other documents on your Macintosh SE, but to an unlimited number of other documents everywhere else in the world.

According to rumor, the designer of Hypercard, Bill Atkinson, was a serious acidhead. This adds to the evidence for TNH's old observation that it's probably just as well that the age of lysergic conversation and the age of the first flush of the global WWW didn't actually happen in the same years. (Of course, I only agree with this proposition based on what I have read in Magazine Articles. Very very detailed Magazine Articles.)

#10 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 08:46 PM:

Yeah, Hypercard goes up with the Apple Lisa, as an example of something that was well ahead of its time. If it had lasted a decade or so longer, it would have been the World Wide Web. (Which would have had script viruses from day 1, but that's a quibble... ;-) )

#11 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 08:58 PM:

A year later, Patrick showed me Mosaic. You clicked on stuff and went places. He accessed a big image of the Dead Sea Scrolls. That was cool. Then he had to go do something.

When he came back, I was reading a thread about saints and foot fetishism in the online archive of a medieval history mailing list. He looked perplexed. "How did you get there?" he asked.

For the first of innumerably many times, I had to admit that I didn't know, beyond vague memories of clicking on stuff that looked interesting ...

#12 ::: Roy G. Ovrebo ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 09:03 PM:

It'll never catch on, you know. There's no practical use for it.

#13 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 09:06 PM:

A guitar's all right, but you'll never earn your living by it.

#14 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 09:08 PM:

Hypercard was big fun. It let you write scripts that did cheerful useless things like play "Come Ye O'er frae France" in breaking-glass noises, or send an animated banana moon farting a trail of stars across the evening sky.

#15 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 09:16 PM:

As drivers of social progress go, the ability to make computers do ridiculous things is seriously underrated.

I generally think of the Macintosh SE that my parents bought us in 1988 as our first computer. But in so doing I slight the Commodore Vic-20 we had in 1981-82, on which I figured out how to use the CASSETTE DRIVE to make the little stick-figure man dance. Of these achievements are civilization made.

#16 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 09:37 PM:

I remember when there was a party at Worldcon, limited to people with at-signs in their names. (I think that was Boston in 1980.)

#17 ::: salixulon ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 10:16 PM:

Ah, the World Wide Web!

It rescued us all from the wonder that was Gopher.

#18 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 10:22 PM:

I worked out a way to animate in Hypercard. A background card for reticles or key drawings, and then draw your stuff on the foreground cards, one by one, and finally you flip the deck.

I excitedly wrote to Whole Earth Review with my discovery, but they didn't think it would appeal to a lot of people. On the plus side, I think it was a postcard from Jay Kinney (one o' Mah Ideels).

#19 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 10:30 PM:

Patrick #15: Oh yeah, I remember my Commodore PET. Playing Space Invaders was fun, but the real kicker was being able to issue a POKE to switch the characters used for the invaders and make them look all weird. (I later got a Commodore 64, with sprite graphics....) It's a shame Commodore hosed themselves with their non-ASCII character set; their Amiga was better than the Macs of the time, and in color.

#20 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 10:50 PM:

In 1984 we looked at a Macintosh, and I was favorably impressed. I went along with the decision, though, to get something with a solid backing and a future: an IBM PCjr, complete with the little running dipshit in the hat that came up if you hit the right couple of buttons.

We stuck with that computer for years, upgrading it as possible: two floppy drives, a modem, a Koala tablet, and enough stuff inside to equal a bottom-rung PC. I used to go on CompuServe with that thing.

Call me sentimental. It's in a couple of boxes in the house even now. It's the only computer we have slow enough for me to play Xonix on, and every few years I put the whole mess together and give it a shot until I'm bored with how the game always seems to hang up after a little while.

#21 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 11:11 PM:

Kip W, 20: Oh good grief, a PCjr was my family's first computer too. With Cartridge BASIC and a Brother daisy-wheel typewriter for a printer. I mostly used it to type my homework; I don't remember anything about the word processor we had, except that the cartridges had blue labels with red and white words on them. The best thing about it was Ctrl-T, which let you transpose the last two letters you typed. (This was before "teh" was accepted usage, you understand.)

#22 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 11:38 PM:

Teresa @ 11... a thread about saints and foot fetishism

...aka being ensoled?

#23 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2011, 11:57 PM:

We watched "Contact" tonight and I feel a twinge of nostalgia that it showed people using the Netscape browser.

#24 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 12:24 AM:

I can honestly say that the Macintosh SE and HyperCard changed my life.

For the better.

I've been playing with Basilisk, a PPC emulator. It's very odd to look back at those early HyperCard stacks, published ones and the ones I made just because I could.

And my first effort at an ebook, which like my first laser printed document, apparently required me to use every conceivable font simultaneously.

#25 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 12:51 AM:

Serge, I'm using SeaMonkey. That's pretty much Netscape with a different logo on it, still alive and well (despite the tacky things some web pages say about it when I open them on it).

#26 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 01:18 AM:

There are still some running applications using Hypercard and its progenitors out there. I looked seriously at building a Hypercard emulator running on Mac OS 10.6 Intel machines a year or so ago, and decided there wasn't enough documentation of the final state of Hypercard to be sure of getting it right. I've been down the path of having products rejected by customers because they didn't properly emulate the bugs of products they were supposed to replace, so I decided it wasn't worth my time, and started something else1.

1. To be revealed to the world in the next few months, I hope.

#27 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 01:20 AM:

I was a moderate user of BBS systems since '86 or so, and played with gopher and such when college classes allowed me access to computer labs.

I was aware of Mosaic and the web way early, but didn't have the resources to play. Man, was that frustrating!

What was really frustrating was trying to get people to pay attention. I worked for a company that made multimedia PC software, but they didn't get it.

I remember finally getting a chance to demo the web at work. 14.4 K modem, WinSock, expensive subscription to a provider. I showed weather maps, some nascent commercial sites, that sort of thing, to the office's "ground crew." When I had a chance to demo to the sales folks who were the movers and shakers, there was one of those all-too-common network outages.

One sales guy, an aussie who moonlighted as a Handsome White Guy in Japanese advertising, walked away in disgust. "This Internet stuff is a buncha rubbish!"

Another guy, in charge of corporate development, angrily dismissed my suggestion that we get a web page. "There's nobody on there but a bunch of nerds and dweebs."

I'd really love to find these guys and rub their noses in it.

#28 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 01:37 AM:

P J Evans, #16: IIRC, there was also an @! party at ConFrancisco in 1993. Or it might have been at Chicon V -- somewhere around that time, anyhow.

#29 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 02:22 AM:

To this day I have a Classic emulator on my Mac just in case I find a copy of "The Well-Tempered Gentleman" Hypercard stack. It was a computer simulation out of a sociologist's classes at Stanford or one of the other ACC schools (briefly available through Kinko's) where you played a gentleman in 18th Century France deciding on the best way to flatter, toady, and sleep your way up in Society...

#30 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 02:29 AM:

Lee @28: There was definitely an @! party at ConFrancisco -- I remember getting to it briefly. May have been one at Chicon as well.

#31 ::: Don Simpson ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 02:50 AM:

There was a fun way to animate in Hypercard by making a bitmap font with animation cells as characters and looping text replacement. There was a bitmap font editor called Fontastic that I used for such purposes, as well as making a bitmap Tengwar font. I'd love to have Hypercard back.

#32 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 02:56 AM:

And thanks so much to the US government, which used our tax dollars to fund research into the ARPANET*, and paid to improve telecommunications capabilities to connect research institutions using it. Government dollars funding the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign gave us the first browser, Mosaic.

Go government spending!

*With a thoroughly militaristic goal for that network, but it seems to have found some civilian applications, too.

#33 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 06:03 AM:

I have happy memories of wandering around the early, tiny Web of the autumn of 1994. I had no browser but I could use the public-access gateway to the web at by telnet in a VT220 session. Text-only, but I was used to that from reading the American Mathematical Society's pages at (not a web site yet, you had to telnet to it to read it). I was soon spending half the day reading the Web; I wondered why I'd been struck with this special sort of madness, not knowing that I was Patient Not-Quite-Zero of a disorder that would soon infect everyone in the world.

How come it was only literally today that I learned Ibsen said 'To live is to war with trolls'?

#34 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 07:56 AM:

My first computer was a Coleco Adam.

And I owe the Internet big time. I met my husband of 17 years via a BBS.

#35 ::: Emma in Sydney ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 08:02 AM:

1993, I remember using Gopher to get to Usenet threads. I was organising a trip to give a paper on the history of quilting in Australia at a conference in Maine, and managed to find a quilting Usenet group. In days, I had contacts and accommodation in California and people to talk to in Maine, most of them NASA or military people, who had both access to the internet and mad quilting skillz. It was totally amazing for a girl from Sydney to find these kindred souls so far away and yet so near. How lucky are we to be living in the future!

#36 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 10:52 AM:

Lynx. Now *there* was a browser.

#37 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 10:59 AM:

I missed the boat when I didn't take that BASIC class at my high school in 1972-3. It wasn't too long after that that Gordon Garb was showing me printouts of jokes, some less hoary than others, that he'd gotten from guys on other university computers far away, so I guess my first exposure to the nascent internet would have been maybe 1976 or so. I was punching cards myself a couple of years after that, but they only went to one of the CYBERS on the CSU (CO State) campus.

#38 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 11:25 AM:

Michael Weholt@36: "Lynx. Now *there* was a browser."

A browser that is my normal choice for reading blogs, and which I am using to post this comment. So mind yer past tense thar.

#39 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 11:31 AM:

Michael Weholt #36: Lynx is still part of Ubuntu's standard distribution (and getting bug fixes, too).

Who else remembers "ASCII Express"? (Apple-based dialup chat -- to host one, you needed a number of phone lines equal to the number of people you wanted to have online at once!)

#40 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 11:41 AM:

TexAnne #21: ⌃T to transpose is available nearly everywhere in Mac OS X. And Emacs, but who uses that?

#41 ::: Joy ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 12:07 PM:

I remember having a Commodore 128 with a "word processor" on it that had to run in "64 mode." On this word processor, you could only see half the screen--the right half or the left half. I wrote my college admission essays on that thing. It's wonder I got in anywhere at all.

#42 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 12:13 PM:

Kevin, 40: Woot! Thank you!

#43 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 12:47 PM:

I had a job in high school teaching the staff at a particular county agency how to use Mosaic.

I was passionately loyal to Mosaic, long after it stopped making any sense at all. But I did love their homepage...

#44 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 01:12 PM:

Kevin Reid #40: And Emacs, but who uses that?


#45 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 02:07 PM:

Steve with a book at #33:
Indeed! Just wondering, how did they manage mathematical notation if they did it text-only over Telnet?

#46 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 03:08 PM:

Erik Nelson #45: IIRC, they used the same markup notation as for printing the equations -- I forget if the notation was native to TeX (later LaTeX), or an add-on macro package.

#47 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 04:02 PM:

Erik Nelson@45, Dave Harmon@46: I think Dave's right, it was just some variant of TeX markup, so πn2 would have appeared as \pi_{\rm n}^2 or some AMS-specific variant of it. Even back then I think everyone had defaulted to TeX as a standard representation of maths on Usenet and e-mail. Presumably the AMS were just running TeX files through some sort of clean-up script and then loading them to the server.

Display of maths on the web is still not as great as it could be... sigh.

#48 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 04:07 PM:

I notice in the initial post from 1991 that Tim Berners-Lee says he's going to get the WWW working with usenet RSN.

I wonder how that's coming along.

#49 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 05:00 PM:

Kevin Reid@40: Wow! I never knew that! That's likely to come in handy.

#50 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 06:27 PM:

Jo Walton #48: I'm pretty sure Google has something to that effect, and I occasionally hear about BinSearch. I'm sure there are others as well.

#51 ::: JM ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 06:38 PM:

I wish my reminiscences of those times weren't so limited to being a teenage jerk all over various Compuserve fan forums.

#52 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 08:06 PM:

Kevin Reid #40:

And Emacs, but who uses that?

I have both XEmacs running on XQuartz (X11 windowing for Mac that plays nicely with the Mac OS window manager) and Aquamacs, which runs on native windowing. I can't imagine having a computer that doesn't have some form of emacs on it; I've been using it since 1983, I think.

Steve with a book @ 47:

Wolfram has just recently announced their new open document format, CDF (Computable Document Format), which allows simple math typesetting and live, interactive diagrams (and more). It looks kind of neat, even if the only thing that generates it just now is Mathematica (there is a free downloadable player, of course; they're going to get us with the razor blades :-)1.

1. Disclaimer: I worked for several years with the guy who designed the mathematical notation user interface for Mathematica and with his wife. They're good people, and good engineers as well.

#53 ::: Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 11:13 PM:

I was using local BBSs through the early to mid 1980s, and subscribed to GEnie in 1987 (where I met our lovely hosts) and hung on to it until they pulled the plug in 1999.

#54 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2011, 11:58 PM:

I caught a podcast in which Sir Tim Berners-Lee said something so lovely I wrote it down:

"It's so difficult to explain to people who are used to the Web why, before the Web, it was so difficult to explain to people what the Web was all about."

This should be in a song.

#55 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 12:01 AM:

PNH writes:

Thanks again, high-energy physicists!

You're welcome, Patrick.

(Not that I had anything to do with it. But my lab was the fourth institution to have a Web site.)

#56 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 12:39 AM:

Regarding @! parties, for quite a while there was a party every Worldcon. Certainly in 1991 and in 1993. I don't offhand know when they started, or who started them.

They were also known as "@ parties;" the door guard's question was "What's your At-Sign?" An e-mail address was an acceptable answer. So was "I don't have one." People who answered "What?" were turned away.

I daresay that somewhere in Google's old Usenet postings, one could find discussion of At-Bang Parties throughout various years. Someone would bring a terminal and modem and each attendee would sign in with his or her e-mail address.

At some point, when people with e-mail addresses no longer constituted a small group within SF fandom, holding a party for Net users began to seem pointless, so the @ Party faded away. Welcome to the world the geeks made.

This seems to be my night for contributing sayings from sigfiles-- these days I don't have as much occasion to post sigfiles as I used to-- but please indulge me if I can't resist quoting Evelyn C. Leeper:

I made a proposal that those of us around when people still used "!" paths should form "F!rst F@ndom."

#57 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 12:43 AM:

I remember some professor raving about it at my girlfriend's graduation in 1994. I had no idea what it was, nor did I care. Students putting up web pages about obscure British authors? What's a web page?

On the other hand, email and IRC kept me and that girlfriend together for years of being 6000 miles apart. We're married now.

In that time the web has changed a lot. It's now responsible for me earning a surprisingly comfortable living doing things I can't explain to my parents.

Email and IRC, on the other hand, have changed very little.

#58 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 02:37 AM:

I remember finding Usenet in September 1993 (the actual month), and reading through all of news.answers in order before terrorizing for a short while.

(Some years before that, I remember playing Lode Runner on my Apple ][e - nobody's mentioned those yet...)

--Dave, a short while later I wrote a FAQ...

#59 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 03:47 AM:

I remember seeing the newgroup message for posted -- I was there when it was sent out. (It may be that this is a false memory, but at the very least I know the guys who did it, and hung out with them at the UC Berkeley Open Computing Facility at the time they did.)

I got onto the net in September of 1988. I saw some people referring to bang paths, but by 1988 they were already by and large obsolete. When I first posted to Usenet, I got a message suggesting that I read the messages in mod.announce.newusers; I dutifully tried to do this and was bemused when the machine informed me that mod.announce.newusers didn't exist. (The Great Renaming had made that message obsolete -- what I actually should have been told to read was news.announce.newusers, but nobody had updated that particular message.)

#60 ::: A. J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 03:51 AM:

What, nobody's said it yet? Next year the Web will be old enough to drink!

(In the United States at least. Abroad, it's been sloshed for years.)

#61 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 07:03 AM:

David Goldfarb #59: Oh, yes, the Great Renaming... for my first few years on USENET, the newsreader was still advising that I post my messages to the narrowest possible distribution -- and if I insisted on "world", warning me sternly that whatever I sent would be seen by hundreds or thousands of people around the world!

#62 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 08:11 AM:

David DeLaney @ #58:

And a few years later, I believe I turned that very FAQ into HTML (and mailed you to ask permission, as well, I believe).

#63 ::: David O. Engelstad ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 03:03 PM:

When I got into Graduate school in 1992, I got my first email address. In order to get it, I had to explain to the professor for whom I worked a)why it was a good thing, b) why I needed it and c) why she should be using it more. I'm still waiting to see how that last one worked out.

A year or so later, I was involved in setting up a new computer lab in the UW-Madison Memorial Library and one of the students talked me into putting this new software called Mosaic on all of the PCs. Unfortunately, a week or so later I was called in to explain to the management of the library in just what way this so-called "web" thing might be of use in research.

#64 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 04:35 PM:

The WWW project was started to allow high energy physicists to share data, news, and documentation. We are very interested in spreading the web to other areas, and having gateway servers for other data.

Haha! Physics! The gateway data!

#65 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 04:55 PM:

Remember, kids, physics may look like fun, but it leads to hard data.

(This has been another installment of Spell Out the Implied Punch Line, or SPOIL.)

#66 ::: Arthur D. ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 05:50 PM:

I got on the net in the early 90's, when I was a bored lab attendant at the University of Minnesota with nothing to do but explore the computer accounts I had been given with the job. And thus I discovered email and usenet and WAIS and other wonderfully obscure services before Gopher came out as a curious Hypercard stack that was abysmally slow, yet more connected and easier to navigate than swimming through Archie and FTP archives.

Performance soon improved though, and its status on campus rose from someone's unauthorized and unsupported side project to 'The Next Big Thing', with on campus conferences with developers from all around the world from organizations like the New York TImes, and the U selling server licenses. And then bang, Mosaic showed up, and interest in Gopher dried up. The last big thing I remember was TurboGopher 3D or VR, where the links were represented like slabs in a virtual Stonehenge. Stimulating, but too little too late.

#67 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 05:50 PM:

A.J. Luxton at #60: "old enough to drink"

Apparently it's already old enough to read porn, use credit cards, and get a mortgage.

#68 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 06:50 PM:

I think Mr. Kip, he is on a roll today....

#69 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 06:55 PM:

Jacque (68): With butter?

#70 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 08:04 PM:

I found a Usenet thread discussing the @! party planned for Conadian in Winnepeg, in which some correspondents were expressing concern that the party's days were drawing to an end, and Brad Templeton advocated killing the thing. (He had hosted the party three nights running in San Francisco in '93.)

Apparently the first @ Party was in Boston in 1980. I don't know when the last @! occurred. Was there one in Glasgow in '95? If so, did I attend it?

#71 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 08:17 PM:

Ingvar @62: Yes! Waves To Friend! And it's been lurking in various places on the Web ever since, quietly.

(If I'd known what _all_ the various consequences involved would be, I might not have started. So hooray for naivete, because now we have a snapshot of The Time Before Spam... Odd how many of those loons and phenomena are still around.)


#72 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 08:25 PM:

“For the record, ‘Emacs, but who uses that?’ was a joke,” he said humorlessly.

Wolfram has just recently announced their new open document format, CDF (Computable Document Format), which allows simple math typesetting and live, interactive diagrams (and more). It looks kind of neat, even if the only thing that generates it just now is Mathematica (there is a free downloadable player, of course; they're going to get us with the razor blades :-).

That player is, of course, the Mathematica engine in a read-only wrapper — the format may be technically “open”, in that it is documented, but when the content (the programs written in the Mathematica language) is only usable with proprietary software, that doesn't seem particularly relevant — implementing the language is by far the more complex part. As far as I know, there is no free CAS that uses the same language as Mathematica.

(After much poking around to find an actual statement of what the CDF format is, given their claim that it's open, it turns out that it's just a text file containing a Notebook[...] expression. Thus, the problem of making use of a CDF precisely reduces to the problem of interpreting the Mathematica language. One could certainly write software which works with a subset of the language to support simple documents, but...)

(For my own computations-in-a-document purposes I currently use the open source wxMaxima; while Maxima is still one-implementation-one-language, it is free and going to stay that way, and has a long history. And I have small needs.)

#73 ::: Zora ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 09:05 PM:

Went online in 1988. Usenet, which scared me. GEnie, which was still challenging, but less red in tooth and claw. Patrick was there and of course, Yog Sysop.

Remember my first sight of the web in 1993, I think it was. Very few websites then. I clicked randomly and found a Dutch agricultural college that had put a porn collection online. Fascinated - repelled - fascinated - etcetera.

Porn speeds the adoption of new technologies.

#74 ::: Jon Lennox ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 09:20 PM:

I recall one of my first Arisias -- would have been either '92 or '93 -- there was a note on the message board asking whether there was an @ party, with the reply "Arisia is an @ party."

#75 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 10:12 PM:

Day before yesterday, I tossed my carefully stitched @ badge from the days of RCTN* with my then-current email address on the back. No-one here will be surprised to learn that I made it in purple.


#76 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 11:00 PM:

for a snapshot of the time when some people had email addresses and some people didn't know what they were.

#77 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 11:02 PM:

Wired magazine was incubated in a magical time when you could bullshit your way in with an angry-salad of wow factor. So was R. U. Sirius's Mondo 2000 magazine.

#78 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2011, 11:51 PM:

Does anyone remember Prodigy? I think it must have been '90 or '91... my uncle installed the software on our home PC and told me you could "dial in" and find any information you wanted to know on the computer. It was completely text-based. No pictures. He insisted it was going to replace the encyclopedia.

I asked him if he could find me lyrics to Elvis Presley songs; after about fifteen minutes we found ourselves in a chat room... here, faceless, bodiless souls typed out rough approximations of "Hound Dog" and "Blue Suede Shoes."

#79 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2011, 01:23 AM:

DanR, I still use a email address most of the time (but not here).

#80 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2011, 02:22 AM:

David Harmon@61: I still get that warning.

#81 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2011, 08:54 AM:

In the very early 90s, I remember trying to figure out how to get e-mail access for the little not-for-profit for which I was the research director. I read about how to become a node in this or that, all of which was way beyond our needs or means. Before too much longer we got a company AOL account with addresses for the 3 or 4 of us who needed them. Dial-up, of course.

I was also working on some statistical software for a Macintosh at that point, and sharing code with a colleague by 2400-baud modem, the kind you put the phone receiver into. Took about 20 minutes to transmit the program, as I recall.

I got started for personal pleasure and information in the mid-90s, when I connected up with listservs and such for issues related to my daughter with special needs. Reduced the isolation enormously, there.

#82 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2011, 11:20 AM:

TexAnne (75): I was on rec.crafts.textiles.quilting for a while in the mid-90s*. I never made up the quilt block we designed for the group, though.

*I'm a late-comer; I got online in April 1996, when I purchased my first computer.

#83 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2011, 11:24 AM:

TexAnne @75: Did you stitch a block for the Internet Memorial Quilt for OKC?

#84 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2011, 11:33 AM:

My first computer was the original Mac, which eventually went up in smoke while my wife was using it to write a romance novel.

#85 ::: SarahS ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2011, 11:57 AM:

Serge Broom @ #84

Sounds like it was one *heck* of a romance novel!!

#86 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2011, 12:36 PM:

SarahS @ 85... Indeed. It even inspired someone to do a comic-strip about the whole affair. It can be found here.

#87 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2011, 01:17 AM:

I've been off the net for two weeks, while changing ISPs. (No, you don't want to know the details. Growl.) No e-mail, no browsing, no Google, no Making Light. Work severely curtailed. It's been -- interesting. I've been doing a lot of reading, and a lot of walking.

Yes, it's great to be back.

#88 ::: John Aspinall ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2011, 12:27 PM:

P J Evans @16 : Yes! I was there. And since 1980 is pre-Internet, an "@" pretty much meant ARPAnet.

#89 ::: Naomi Kritzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2011, 01:20 PM:

I first saw the WWW in the summer of 1993, when a friend showed it to me. I was working as a technical writer for my college as my summer job, and I thought it was nifty but kind of pointless.

By the fall of 1994 I was teaching classes on how to use it, which essentially meant rounding up a group of 20-30 college students who had heard this "information superhighway" talk but were intimidated by computers, showing them how to launch Netscape, directing them to, having them type some subject of interest in the search bar, and explaining how you clicked on a link. The class was officially an hour long, but by 20 minutes in I could have just said "OK, see ya" and left.

My futurism skills sucked ass, though. I remember saying that the Web had great potential as a marketing tool, but no one would ever BUY things over the Internet, because who'd trust computers with their credit card number? I think was starting to make a killing even as I was saying this.

#90 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2011, 06:34 PM:

Nope, Amazon was kinda dinky and way in the red at least as far as 1998 and probably way beyond that.

#91 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2011, 08:26 PM:

#32 JanetL "With a thoroughly militaristic goal for that network, but it seems to have found some civilian applications, too."

Don't want to be a "someone is wrong on the Internet" person, but what really motivated ARPA was that they had spent millions on computers at various labs around the US (and most of them were working on utterly non-military research: this was before Proxmire and the Mansfield Amendment) and the computers were IDLE for most of the time they were up. They figured they could save umpty-millions (remember, this was the 60s, when that was money, and computers less powerful than your iPhone cost millions) by enabling people to use up that idle time remotely. All the military justifications came later.

Justifications > permission. Keep in mind that Zork/Dungeon was justified as natural language research and MazeWars as shared-environment research. Not to mention the beer mailing list and the LGBT mailing list (which latter ended ARPA's tolerance of "frivolous" mailing lists, alas). And then there was the first spam email...

#92 ::: David Goldfarb sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2013, 05:38 PM:

It involves a video game that coincidentally my dentist mentioned yesterday and I'd never heard of before.

#93 ::: Mary Aileen sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2014, 06:55 PM:

#93 is word salad spam

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.

(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.