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The kid.

I guess you could call me an early adopter…

I was a physics student when Tim Berners-Lee brought The Web online. My first browsing experience was with Mosaic on a Nottingham University Physics Department 386DX40. We did other fun things with those machines like building Lego robots controlled by QBasic* but it was the web that got me in the end.

The first thing I searched for was… You will never guess so I shall just tell. I typed in “ferrets” and already then there were tens of pages. I knew I was onto something. Not the ferrets. I was not and never have been especially interested in the creatures but I was testing you see. I knew back in early ’93 that this was going to be massive. I felt like Case from Neuromancer just looking at the furry little fellas. This is cyberspace I thought. This is the future in a beige box.

My colleague here Cats like to blog about transformative technologies but I just knew this was something else, something astonishing. The web is truly transformative. Aldous Huxley was wrong by a few letters. The Brave New World is not symbolised with a “T” but a “TCP/IP” and a “WWW”. I was there at the start of the latter and it made me feel like…

Well, when the Wrights launched Flyer I from Kill Devil Hills, NC they got whoever was about to spot the ‘plane and that included the local lifeguards and “a curious teenager who was passing by”… I was that curious teenager looking up “ferrets”. That’s cool.

Sometimes we take-off and it’s good just to be there. It is impossible to understand what it felt like to be Orv or Will when they conquered the skies but we can be that kid and we can be ever thus. I hope so.

To see the centre and know it is not you but still to see…

*I still love QBasic. I must compile some of my cutsey math/physics programs and stick ‘em up here some time. Some are quite fun. The only reason I haven’t is that I was thinking of manually porting them to FORTRAN on a Linux installation and getting them to truly rip but that seems like work. I will do it because I have an ace algorithm for taking piccies and turning them to ASCII – much cleverer than any I’ve seen – I once produced a wall-sized picture of Debbie Harry.

17 Comments

  1. El Draque says:

    I remember Sputnik 1. I must have been six years old but it made an impression as it remained a memory.
    But the space travel of the “Eagle” comic (Dan Dare)never arrived as fast as we thought. The world was transformed by satellites in ways we never dreamed would happen, that’s why it was a transformative technology nevertheless.

    Sir Tim’s invention is probably better named as the “Web” than his original idea of calling it “TIM” for “The Information Machine”. He baulked at the immodest idea of naming it after himself and we got WWW instead.

  2. Kinuachdrach says:

    “The web is truly transformative.”

    For sure, none of us would like to go back to a web-less world. Although arguably the mobile phone has been more transformative than the web. But since the mobile phone and the internet have now merged, that argument would be pointless.

    Probably the real transformation started back in the 19th Century with the development of the telegraph. It is truly difficult for us even to comprehend a world where all except the most basic forms of communcation were limited to the speed at which a man (or a carrier pigeon) could travel. The kingdom lost for want of a horse-shoe nail.

    One of the other things that is interesting about the web is its decades-long gestation period. Berners-Lee stood on the shoulders of the giants who had conceived hypertext as far back as the 1960s, to say nothing of the developers of the required hardware. Makes one wonder — what arcane sub-specializations today will dominate the world 20 years from now?

  3. NickM says:

    Well Kinuadrach,
    Yes, up to a point. To be honest I’m not a mobile phone geezer. I know people who are but it never really floated my Astute class sub off the shingle bank. Nah, it’s the Web for me. Obviously, as a blogger, I would say that.

    As to the jobs nd stuff of the future… If I went back to see me twenty years ago and said, “You will blog”. My 17 year old self would probably attack me, “Yes, obviously I sometimes have thoughts of a sexual nature but that !!!“. Get out you preverted older Nick! Be gone. It is very true that in a way we can measure our progress by the incomprehensibility to the elderly of what we do*. I don’t twitter but if I did and told my younger self that we’d have a sort of reverse Grandfather Paradox going on. And if I said I’m into Wii there would have/is/will be such a fight. I was a naive Amiga driver back then.

    ED,
    I have a tale to tell. If you’re still reading this drivel on December 17th you might hear it. It’s one to give us all hope of owning shares in Nick’s Asteroid Mining Inc (incorporated on Ganymede for tax purposes).

    *One of my Gran’s phrases was, “Oh, he’s got a hell of a job in computers”. This meant anything from data entry to being a vice-president of IBM.

  4. Sam Duncan says:

    Do not get me started on Amigas. I could bore for Britain. Still used one as my everyday machine till 2005. In fact, maybe it’s because AmigaOS 3.x didn’t have a decent browser that I’m more of a “wider Internet” kind of a bloke, and still don’t have a blog of my own. Because really I didn’t get properly online until quite late on – ’97 or ’98 – and should by rights know nothing but Sir Tim’s Web of Lies (as James May has it).

    Twitter just seems absolutely barking mad to me. The whole HTTP/HTML/Javascript/browser stack (leaning tower, more like) for 40-character messages that could go over SMS? And to a central server? Am I missing something here?

    I still can’t fathom why Usenet is sitting on street corners begging for small change. It’s awesome. So’s IRC. Why are there live chat apps written in Flash* that fry your CPU if your machine’s more than a year old? Why?

    Still, yeah. The web’s pretty damn cool. Most of the time.

    *Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh! Die! Die! Die!

  5. RAB says:

    I remember the night Kennedy was assassinated.

    There was no 24 hour rolling news back then. No Satellites, the film of the shooting and commentaries didn’t turn up until the next day, having to be developed and sent on a plane to the UK.

    So the Satellites were the big breakthrough for instant global communication.

    In 1967 there was a programme called Our World, with contributions from round the world live! Wow! we all stayed in and watched that, well until the Beatles had done All you Need Is Love as our contribution, then we pissed off down the pub.

    The web though is awesome! I have only been on since 2002, know absolutely nothing about computers as you all already know, but I now do almost everything via it. Magic!

    But I dont Twitter or Facebook. As for mobile phones, well I have one obviously, but only 6 people have the number and I dont know how to text even.

  6. NickM says:

    Sam,
    You got a berth here if you want. The good Kitty Kounting Ship always needs folks to man the rigging.

    RAB,
    In the early ’70s my parents were working in Zambia and the BBC flew out ASAP the film of the FA Cup Final. Zambian TV managed to get the reels confused and showed the second half first. They also used to get bugs in the camera lenses and my mum jumped off the sofa in deference to our insect overlords. An African bug that close to the camera looks huge. They also had (my folks still have the front page) an outbreak of cannibalism on the Congolese border (natch) and The Times of Zambia ran with the headline, “Gobblers Strike Again!” They also showed the Zambian Space Program which consisted of rolling likely lads down a hill in a barrel. They were quite dizzy when they got out. There doesn’t appear to be that much meat on Bono but…They are welcome to him and also to whatever The Edge keeps under his hat.

  7. RAB says:

    Sam,
    You got a berth here if you want.

    Seconded.

    Over to you Sam.

  8. Lynne says:

    My first PC was a Dragon 32. Followed by an Atari. Followed by a 286-SX. I have fond memories of all of them but there’s no way I’d ever go back.

  9. Lynne says:

    Sam, I remember Sputnik too, just about. I also remember my mum moaning about the Kennedy assassination news replacing that evening’s Emergency Ward 10 episode. My Dad did what he always did during such a minor crisis – he went to the pub. Sadly I’d have to wait 12 more years to join him…

    Those were the days, eh? ;)

  10. Kevin B says:

    If we’re going for first memories of communication milestones, mine was the coronation live on TV. I also remember Raymond Baxter wetting himself with excitement when the first crackly sattelite pictures from the US came in at Goonhilly Downs.

    I’ve probably already mention that my start in computers was plumbing in the bootstrap code on the front panel switches of a PDP-8, since I tend to bore people with my “When I were a lad we had none of this keyboard and screen nonsense. Paper tape and line printers were good enough for us!” routine.

    I also built up a respectable pr0n collection on usenet, but sadly my learning curve flattened out and these days I’m a dumb user rather than riding the bleeding edge of technology.

    What is amazing to me is how quickly it all becomes routine. “Moving Pictures live from the Other Side of the World!” Yeah, but the quality’s crap though. Or are all those speckles meant to be there.”

    (Or, “Moving Pictures live from the Other Side of the Galactic Arm!” Yeah, but the quality’s crap though. Or are all those speckles meant to be there.”)

  11. Kevin B says:

    So having commented about Raymond Baxter I checked on Wiki to see if my memory about him and Goonhilly was accurate, and reading his page I’m reminded of what a great life he had.

    Wartime Spitfire pilot, rally driver, commentating on everything from Winston Churchill’s funeral to episodes of Mornington Crescent and presenting Tomorrow’s World in an age where tomorrow’s world was going to be a huge advance in man’s capabilities rather than a massive disaster brought on my man’s hubris.

    I also vaguely remember that when he left the Beeb it was because of this sort of change of attitude, but I may be making that up.

    Great guy.

    (I also noticed that the yanks named their stuff things like ‘Telstar’ while our boys at Goonhilly named their dishes ‘Arthur’ and ‘Tristan’ and ‘Isolde’. Is this them looking forward to a bright new future and us looking back to an imaginary past?)

  12. NickM says:

    I leave this thread for five minutes and Four Yorkshiremen seem to have taken the stage.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xe1a1wHxTyo

    You do have a point Kevin. What happened to the future and where’s my fucking jetpack?

    I’m gonna half-inch part of your post. I’m not supposed to be in a shed in Cheshire. I ought to be in one on Titan checking the polarity of the dilithium crystals, tipping back the space helmet and saying, “It’s gonna cost…”.

    I think you meant “by” not “my” there. At least that is what I am running with.

  13. Captain Fatty says:

    For God’s sake don’t muck about with fortran. It’s an abomination, created by a committee. Need I say more?

  14. Kevin B says:

    Nick, I had to read my comments five times each before I picked up that ‘my man’. I also noticed that I can’t spell sattylight anymore. Age, I guess.

    Speaking of which, are the kids these days really taken in by all this ‘man destroying poor Gaia’ crap or do they still want to build things and then blow them up, like what we did. I know the scolds have taken over but in my day we said stuff them, and the ladies bike with the basket on the front they rode in on. Are kids today still that rebellious or are they all safety clones?

    (Mind you, I’m not sure that my age group’s rebellious youth was entirely good for our society, though I was reading somewhere that the true hippies were, and are, libertarians, and the pretend hippies that invented greenism are lefty control freaks. Not that it takes a lot of nous to see that.)

  15. NickM says:

    I really don’t know. I am a ’73 model so I have a penchant for Debbie Harry and blowing stuff up*. As to the new lot… God knows. What I do know is that a lot of kids these days are literally pissing themselves in fear of the time when Big Al comes around. Apparently about 1/3 of British schoolkids have nightmares about Global Warming. It’s like wanking in 1895. It’s child abuse.

    *Including on at least one occasion… Ah, the heck with that tale. When I was about 8 I used to go round the neighbours and collect trash to burn. Me and me little pals had a proper pit (we dug it out as a nuclear fall-out shelter – we even borrowed a dog to help) and we had fires there every Saturday. Now this area of waste ground had loads of trash on it. We worked our way through. I (future scientist and all) figured somehow that roofing tar and asbestos exploded if put on together. So we jumped over the fire pit with this mix ablaze. Well I was fine but my mate Steve, in mid-leap, got it right in the knackers. How we laughed! Well, not him obviously. He was rolling on the ground and howling in agony.

    I loved my fires.

    Last I heard Steve had a decent job and was a noted lady’s man of the parish so it couldn’t have done any long term damage.

    I still love my fires but nearly thirty years later I get more stick for them than I did when I was a kid. Childhood is so bloody structured these days and so is being 37. We built tree houses and got shot at by farmers and then there was “Ali mixture” and we watched “The Evil Dead” on VHS and looked at porn (found under bushes – its natural habitat – who does wank under a bush? – don’t answer that) and I fail to recall any great moral panic (except about Boy George and “gender-benders”) which struck me as silly even at the time. I suspect kids nowadays don’t have the same freedom. Maybe I am the last generation but then who doesn’t everyone think that?

    I shall not even mention the “Watchies hut”. That was something else.

  16. Bod says:

    Y’all gonna get me started soon.

    It won’t be pretty. Pneumatic nailers with the safties disabled comes to mind. Spectrum ZX81′s with relays hooked up to them. I ain’t saying what the current on the mains side of the circuit was used for.

  17. David Gillies says:

    I were a physics undergrad in ’89. The transformative experience for me was a) learning SVR4/C/C++/FORTRAN/ADA/Modula II/SQL/Berkeley Sockets/X Windows on a SparcStation b) seeing Victoria Principal’s Playboy spread on an alpha version of NCSA Mosaic. “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/But to be young was very heaven!”

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