A few weeks ago, Szczezuja asked the GeminiSpace community: How you were using the Internet in 1991-1995 and 1995-2005?

This may be a bit longer than asked for, and I thought about breaking it into smaller pieces, but I decided it would be more appropriate for a Gemini post to be one single unit.

1991-1995: Discovery

By 1990 my family had moved on from Atari’s home computer line to what was then known as an “IBM Compatible” PC. I missed out on the BBS era, except for one time we had to download a software patch. My first taste of being online came through walled gardens during my last year of high school:

Prodigy, which I seem to remember having a GUI frame around a mostly text interface (except for banner ads in the frame). I think it even ran under DOS. I remember looking at some message boards about theater, but that’s about it.

AOL, which at the time was much friendlier to use, ran on Windows, and had its own system of message boards, email, etc. But again I don’t remember much about what I did with it until later on.


Then I got to college and discovered “Mosaic” at the computer labs. This web thing was really cool! There was a database of movies that I could search, I could find all kinds of sites on this collection of categorized links called Yahoo!, and people were posting things like fan pages collecting all of the Animaniacs cultural references!

Egad! Keeper’s Cartoon Files is still online!

There was a campus-wide Unix network that you could connect to through a dial-up terminal app, or the WYSE terminals scattered around campus. Windows and/or Mac computer labs at major departments. The engineering, computer science, etc. labs also had bullpens full of graphical UNIX terminals (I think they were the classic Sparc “pizza boxes” running SunOS and later Solaris), which was how I first encountered Mosaic and Netscape.

Back at my dorm, though, I had to dial up to a terminal. I could use text-based applications like Lynx for web browsing, or PINE for email. Sometimes I’d check my email (a string of auto-generated letters and numbers based on my major at a fourth-level domain based on the department that handled student email) at a text-based terminal in one of the computer labs or scattered around campus.

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You may have noticed elements of the 1990s creeping back into comics, music, movies and TV. There’s a reason for that: pop culture seems to be obsessed with its past on a 20-year cycle, and the current love affair with the 1980s has passed its peak.

I go into more detail — including thoughts on some of the implications for the 10-year and 30-year troughs in the cycle — at Speed Force in Return of the 1990s.

The Station Fire burning through the Angeles National Forest north of Los Angeles is expected to reach the summit of Mt. Wilson sometime tonight. In all likelihood it will damage or destroy the communications towers and the observatory complex. The Mount Wilson Observatory is an active observatory, and is also of historical importance because of discoveries made there over its 105-year history. In particular: Edwin Hubble’s* observations with the 100-inch Hooker telescope (shown at right) indicated that universe is much larger than was previously thought, and that it was expanding — observations that revolutionized astronomy and led to the current Big Bang theory.

People listening to a talk, lots of pictures of the sun printed out on the wall.I’ve been to the observatory once, on a tour my family took on August 8, 1992. We’d just come back from a trip to Florida where we visited Disney World and Cape Canaveral during the summer I was 16. I really wish I could remember more about the trip…but I took pictures and labeled them (though not in much detail). With the observatory threatened, I thought I’d dig them out and scan them**. You can see all eight on my Mt. Wilson Observatory Tour 1992 photoset on Flickr.

Forested mountain valley with a hazy white sky.The Observatory’s website is apparently hosted on the grounds, so the fact that its fire status page is still responding indicates it’s still there and has power. The latest update says that they’re setting up a backup info page, but it’s showing a 404 error right now.

*As in the Hubble Space Telescope.

**Scanning them was not a problem. Digging them out? That was a problem. I knew exactly which photo album they were in, and thought I knew where the album was. As it turned out, it wasn’t there. It was in an unopened box shoved at the very back of the long,narrow hall closet, such that I had to move 3 other boxes, several bags, and an unused CD rack just to see that it was labeled “photo albums” on top. Edit: And, oh yeah, the trail of ants along the wall, going after the long-forgotten bag of Halloween candy. The wall I kept brushing up against. How did I forget that part?

That’s the missing piece that makes the classic phrase more than a simple tautology. It’s not just that it’s in the last place you look. It’s that it’s in the last place you want to look.