Usenet Archives

Once again confirming the saying that you can't outrun your past, I have searched some old Usenet groups that I may have haunted during my college years.

The Usenet was the place to be before blogs, back in the day when a thing called the "web" barely existed, and Mosaic was an interesting little piece of freeware that let you browse graphical pages in something called "hypertext markup language." Usenet groups were threaded, non-moderated discussion boards. Instead of a particular person having their own group (although there were a few who did), each group centered around a topic, and anyone was free to start a thread or continue one already on the board.

In college, besides logging into the Cleveland Freenet via a telnet session, or ftp-ing files and games from sites or back and forth with friends, there wasn't a whole heck of a lot to do on the Internet except chat. And in those days (oh boy here I go), we actually conversed in whole sentences online, for the most part.

I remember discussing an experiment with paper ketchup cups (the kind you get at some fast food restaurants where you have to pump your own ketchup), where I started unfolding the flaps of the paper cup one at a time and measuring the change in cup volume. It turns out the volume increases slightly, before dropping off to zero once all the flaps are undone. The silly notion started when I was tired of having to fill two paper cups with ketchup for my french fries (imagine the horror of having to fill two whole cups). I realized that opening up the cup a notch or two gave me some extra space to pump a little more.

Anyway, that thought actually had a home on the Usenet. I posted about it on alt.mcdonalds.

That's right, you see each Usenet group had a name, like alt.comedy.british (where I could interact with the few people in America who knew what Blackadder is), or alt.sex.clergy.kitchen.utensils (where I could, well, never mind that my lad).

You could read the newswires on the Usenet, and download pictures, so long as you had the UUDECODE software to translate ASCII text back into a gif.

What I was a little surprised to find is that people still inhabit the Usenet. Google, in another maneuver that doesn't seem to generate revenue on its face, allows users to create new groups for others to discover. Yahoo has their Groups and forums as well. But they seem to lose something in a web browser in Windows.

There was something so Wargames about a Telnet session. There was so little between you and your computer, and even less between you and what was then the Internet. Of course, there was a lot less out there, and the Internet was a much less scary place.

Fifteen years ago, Umberto Eco wrote that the Mac is a Catholic computer, because it required the church of OS to communicate with 'God.' PCs therefore, were Protestant, because DOS was a direct line to the kernal, no need for an intermediary.

He didn't write how the Internet changes this theology. It is the equivalent of changing from a geocentric to a heliocentric model of planetary motion. God isn't etched on the silicon chip in my machine. Its out there.

Anyway, after a couple crazy weeks of travel and lack of posting, I am back. Hopefully, this week will provide some breathing room to have independent thoughts. I am leaving for Chicago tomorrow, and have to start packing up our belongings for our move in a few weeks, but I'm sure there will be time.

Anyone up for a good old-fashioned "flame war"?


Anonymous FS said...

Criminy, don't remind me of all the time I wasted on Usenet (rec.arts.sf.written and alt.folklore.urban, mostly).

Also time wasters-MUDs (MUSHes, MOOs, whatever). The hours I spent playing the DuneMUSH over a 2400 baud modem....

12:42 PM, April 11, 2005  
Blogger B.V. said...

I found some entries you made in alt.cult.movies, and rec.games.mud.lp.

I played hour after hour of one MUD in particular. Our campus had Ethernet connections in each dorm room as early as 1993, so things were pretty fast. I remember some people writing little programs that would let you use shorthand keystrokes or clickable dialogue boxes to perform complex or lengthy instructions. These people could really kick some tail on a MUD because they could move very rapidly, and execute a variety of spells in an instant.

I also remember the day the first edition of DOOM was released and it bogged down the entire university's network, since so many packets were flying around. For a couple weeks, anyone caught playing Doom online would have the internet connection severed from their room. Eventually, ID software released a fix that allowed people to play online without swamping the system.

For those few weeks, we would unplug our machines from the network, and hook up two machines back to back (connecting the Ethernet cards) in our common area, so people could play one-on-one deathmatches. We were very popular, for that short period of time.

3:18 PM, April 11, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, yeah, I think you two had a vastly different college experiece than I did. I did get "online" in college to do some e-mailing to FS, but other than that my time was spent at parties and such.

OK, to be fair I spent a lot of my time at the student newspaper, which is just as dorky as playing doom, but just in a different way.

- Ms. FS

7:32 AM, April 12, 2005  
Anonymous FS said...

Basil thoughtfully emailed me one of my 1994 postings, which caused me to take a look and see what else is out there. Pretty much the same feeling you get reading a paper you wrote in high school.

Worse, actually, since I was involved in flame wars. Mostly with this guy.

6:49 PM, April 13, 2005  

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