March 17th, 2014

krazy koati

The day they knocked down the Palais

I talk a bit more about the Chuckletrousers Incident over on my humor blog, since it was funny at the time and binds me in a way to a bunch of funny people. But the essence of it is this: Dave Barry accidentally delurked, by posting something embarrassing, in alt.fan.dave_barry, twenty years ago today. I was just exploring Usenet at the time and got to join the group just as it was superheated from the explosive news that the person they were there to talk about was there, listening. It's almost required today that anybody who has a fan base be in regular quasi-personal contact with them, but two decades ago, it was a strange and weird and almost magical thing. We mere normal folk had grown up thinking there were these little channels for making contact with someone we celebrated, usually sending a letter to their employer, and might get back a postcard or something like that, and that was that. To have one just pop in and talk felt revolutionary.

As I say this was on Usenet, which was on the rise, for the good reason that it made it very easy for critical masses of people to get together and talk about what they liked. Usenet would build and peak about five years later, and while it's still there --- we just passed September 7500, 1993, this past Friday --- it's been a long and sad decline since then. There's only a handful of the groups I ever visit that have any life in them, and even those are evaporating. I've been lucky to live at a time when I could see two major computer revolutions, and be old enough to appreciate them yet young enough to be part of them, the first where people got computers at all and the second where people's computers got to be useful. Usenet is something different; it's a thing I got to be part of as it was becoming big, and as it passed back out of the cultural life. It feels like being one of the folks who was with the golden age of radio, from the first experimental programs to the end of dramatic scripted programming.

And because of it, I understand some in-jokes that run through Dave Barry's writing.

Trivia: By Rutgers' 1916 reform of the academic calendar, a major required six hours of work in one subject through two years; a minor, two related subjects carried through two years. Source: Rutgers: A Bicentennial History, Richard P McCormick.

Currently Reading: Up Ship! A History of the US Navy's Rigid Airships 1919 - 1935, Douglas Hill Robinson.