A squareish hand-painted metal sign with the words 'Coffee,' 'Espresso' and 'Wifi' stacked vertically. The letters and border are black on a bright yellow background. The sign hangs from an ornamented wrought-iron-style stand above a planter and is viewed diagonally from above. Between 'Coffee' and 'Espresso' there's a drawing of a cup and saucer with steam rising from it.

When I took this photo back in 2016, it was a combination coffee/Chinese food restaurant: they sold coffee in the mornings and Chinese food for lunch and dinner. The owner had previously run a separate coffee shop (The Bean Counter, IIRC) in the same shopping center, then combined the two businesses to save on rent. It was one of our go-to Chinese takeout sources, and I’d sometimes grab coffee in the mornings if I was in the area or on my way somewhere in that direction.

The old coffee location sat vacant for a few years until a bakery (with coffee on the side) moved in. Amusingly, the bakery — with is still there today — also chose a pun-based name: Redondough (as in Redondo Beach).

In early 2020 — and I mean early, either January or February — they were offered a really nice buyout price by someone who wanted to turn-key convert it overnight to a Hawaiian restaurant. I imagine when mid-March rolled around and the initial Covid lockdown started, they were extremely relieved to have accepted it!

I never did get around to trying the Hawaiian place, even for takeout. Eventually it was taken over by a Hawaiian-style fast food chain.

Photo taken February 27, 2016 and originally posted on my Instagram account a few days later with this title, but no commentary.

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.

Continue reading

Sign on a pillar proclaiming "Internet WWW Access."

Update: Oddly enough, I did find gopher access down the block:

Gopher on iNaturalist

Close-up of a light-brown gopher's head, sticking up out of a hole in light-brown sandy ground with a few twigs and dried leaves around it.

Update May 2024: Coffee Cartel still has the sign outside, though of course they’d already switched to WiFi long before I took these photos. Come to think of it, I have no idea whether they ever did have a computer for guest internet access, though they’ve been around long enough. Despite all the other changes (and coffee shops) in the area, they’re still the kind of local place you want to hang out at, not just a trendy spot with walls that echo every chair movement.

(To be fair, I haven’t actually been to the Hi-Fi Espresso across the street, only the other location in Hermosa Beach, and the CBTL that used to be around the corner felt a bit more like someplace to stay a while than the Starbucks across the street or, and was bigger than the Peet’s across the other street. And last I was down this way, Offset Coffee around the other corner hadn’t opened yet.)

Plus Coffee Cartel has outdoor seating within range of that WiFi, which is more important now than it was in 2019.

At a tech training session, I wanted to get access to some of my class-related email on the training computer. But I didn’t want to log into my primary email on an open network, or on someone else’s computer at all. I have no idea what they’re logging, whether they’re doing SSL inspection, whether there’s a keylogger on it — probably not, but who knows?

Heck, I didn’t even want to use my own device on the hotel Wi-Fi without a VPN, and that was at least secured by WPA2! (then again…)

I ended up forwarding the extra class materials to a disposable email account and logging into that one. No risk to other accounts if it got sniffed, at any level.

But I remembered how we all used to get at email when traveling back in the early 2000s, before smartphones, and before every laptop and every Starbucks had Wi-Fi:

Internet Cafes.

We’d walk into a storefront and rent time on one of their computers. Then we’d go to our webmail site and type in our primary email login and password over plain, unsecured HTTP without TLS.

I’d never do that today. Admittedly, I wouldn’t need to in most cases — I can access my email wirelessly from a device I own that I carry in my pocket. (Whether that’s a good thing remains up for debate.)

But more importantly, we know how easy it is for someone to break into that sort of setup. Even if your own devices are clean, someone else’s computer might have malware or keyloggers or a bogus SSL cert authority on their browser to let them intercept HTTPS traffic. An HTTP website is wide open, no matter whose device you use. And an open network is easy to spoof.

So these days it’s defense in depth: If it needs a password, it had better be running on HTTPS. If I don’t trust the network, I use a VPN. And I really don’t want to enter my login info on somebody else’s device.