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Cover image for Learning from the Past: The Internet Guide to New Users #1

Learning from the Past: The Internet Guide to New Users #1

justsharkie profile image /*Sharkie*/ ・4 min read

In this field, we are always learning. Always. It never stops.

But normally, we're moving forward. We're learning the newest technology, the newest way of doing things... we never look behind us because there's no point. Everything back there is basically obsolete, things have changed.

But what if you end up with a massive stack of old tech books? Do you just chuck them in the fire? Or do you start a blog series digging them apart bit by bit?

Background

So at an old theatre job of mine (not tech related at all), I got talking to a man who started his tech career back in the 90's. It was a lovely chat, we just talked until the play started and then it was done. I didn't think much of it.

Fast forward to the end of the season, and he arrives with a massive box of old tech textbooks. He said he had no use for them, and thought they would help me in my future career. And me, being the nice Canadian I am, I put them in my car, thanked him profusely, and threw them in the darkest corner of my closet.

I haven't even looked at them in ages. There's books with the title Turing, books about C++ (a language I don't know and have never known), the HTML Web Publishers guide (which came with a CD-ROM!) and many, many more.

And now? I've decided I'm going to do something with them.

I'm going to go through them and write blog posts on them. Because that sounds like it could be fun, and then they aren't just massive wastes of space. And I don't have to throw them in fire (yet!)

What to Expect From This Trash Fire

My witty humour, lots of old school tech info from the 90's, and me probably laughing. A lot.

But hey, maybe we'll all learn something along the way.

The Actual Content

The book we'll be starting with is... drumroll ......

The Internet Guide for New Users by Daniel P. Dern!!!

(Link to buy the book.)

This book proudly claims that it isn't confusing and is "written for regular people... with an interest in what the Internet has to offer..." (from the Foreword by Cheryl Currid). So that means it should be a nice, easy starting point for me to begin this journey. Which is probably a good thing, because this is going to be a massive undertaking and easy is what I like.

Cheryl also states that "it may well be the only book you'll need to ever read" (in regards to the internet). I honestly love reading about people who didn't thing the internet would ever actually change. Because they were so wrong. But I love them anyway.

And hey, maybe Cheryl is right and this book with teach me a lot about the internet!

Preface

I thought we may as well dig right in and get to work! The preface gives a nice overview about the book and what we should expect inside, so I'll just pick out a few points I enjoyed.

Let's start with the fact you could access the internet for a dollar a day, which was the same price as a cup of coffee AND the morning newspaper! If only it was still that price, holy wow. I want dollar a day internet. And dollar a day coffee. And dollar a day newspapers!!

This book was published in 1993, so... yeah. Prices have inflated yada yada.

Just from the general gist of this preface, I believe it's going to be a lot about emails. Or I guess I should call it "electronic mail", because it wasn't called email back then. There is also things like accessing the WorldWideWeb to look for articles about software and things like that. And then...

"Recognize and use 'smiley-faces' like :-) and :-[" (Preface, page xxii). Now that's some valuable information. I mean, you can't get that information just anywhere. And it's VITAL.

I joke. It just made me laugh. Way too much. Even the fact they have noses just makes me think of the past, now we just use :) and :P. But even those are getting old and it's all emojis and WOW THINGS CHANGE QUICKLY.

I can't wait for that section. I really, really can't.

Conclusion

Well... this will be fun.

The preface wasn't very interesting, and involved the author going more into sentences about buying a radio station. Either I'm too young to understand that, or it really is something to be confused by, I'm not sure.

But I'm excited. It'll be fun learning about the past of the internet and what it was like. Maybe it'll make me a more rounded developer because I know the basic principals the web was founded on!

Or maybe it'll be just plain fun.

Discussion

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kenbellows profile image
Ken Bellows

I'm pumped for this series! I love old tech books, and especially the very specific genre of books about the Internet from the 80s and 90s.

One of my all time favorite books is The Cuckoo's Egg by Cliff Stoll, a true first-person account from the late 80s of tracking international hackers through the UC Berkeley university network as they used it to pivot into connected military networks. (It's a ton of fun and everyone interested in this stuff should read it!)

My favorite quote from that book shows just how much our attitudes toward network security have changed (or maybe not?). When working out how a hacker was getting admin access once they got into a box, Cliff says this:

OK, how do you become privileged? The obvious way is to log onto our computer with the system manager's password. We hadn't changed out password in months, but nobody would have leaked it. And an outsider would never guess our secret password, "wyvern" -- how many people would think of a mythological winged dragon when guessing our password?

This was in the days before dictionary attacks and botnets, so he was probably right, but to a modern ear, that's such a horrifying attitude for a computer expert to have!

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justsharkie profile image
/*Sharkie*/ Author

Ooo I'll have to see if I can get my hands on that! It looks ridiculously interesting, and equally horrifying. The internet really has changed, hasn't it?

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kenbellows profile image
Ken Bellows

It's honestly so good. I'm not typically into memoirs and true crime stories and such, but this was an exception. It's written like a hacker/spy thriller, in a super engaging style, rather than being an autobiography. It was actually a New York Times bestseller in its day I guess.

Side note: I happen to be a math and numbers nerd, so I love the Numberphile YouTube channel, and Cliff Stoll has done a bunch of NUmberphile videos about pretty deep topics, often using his own hand-blown glass bottles for visual demos. I knew him from those videos long before I ran across his book; he's a super zany guy, but very fun to listen to. He did a podcast episode with the creator of Numberphile about his backstory, and he talks a bit about the book and the story behind it.

Anyway... definitely read the book! It's so good!

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justsharkie profile image
/*Sharkie*/ Author

Okay, now I have to grab it. It sounds amazing!

And you mention math and hand blown bottles - I'm running off to YouTube to check this out. I can't not!

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anonjr profile image
Mark Bussell Jr

I think I still have my college RPG IV book, and maybe the COBOL book too... :)

I was somewhat surprised to be learning those even though it was the early 2000s - though in retrospect COBOL was great for learning some fundamentals, and RPG was great for learning I never wanted to work on an AS400 ever again.

I could go on about VB6, but I already feel old enough.

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justsharkie profile image
/*Sharkie*/ Author

Hey, sometimes you've gotta learn the fundamentals to really get a grasp of new stuff!

And yep, definitely had some things I've looked at and well "hahaha NOPE". That's also valuable. 😂

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awelle profile image
Awelle

This sounds exciting! It sure would be fun and super cool to know what it was like back then, plus I love the way you write! This sounds like some spooky, adrenaline-packed tech adventure into the past. Can't wait!

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justsharkie profile image
/*Sharkie*/ Author

I'm a dramatic person, I like making everything sound like a massive adventure when it's really just me reading a book with a bunch of sticky notes. Makes things more interesting!

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bbutlerfrog profile image
Ben Butler

I had a book about C++. It's the textbook I used when I learned it in college. I really wish I was making that up. :-) (Yep, he still has a nose). :-P

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justsharkie profile image
/*Sharkie*/ Author

WE'VE MOVED PAST NOSES NOW

Now we've just got adorable cartoon faces. 😊

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bbutlerfrog profile image
Ben Butler

Jeez, next you're going to want me to start using memes.

Eye Roll Meme

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justsharkie profile image
/*Sharkie*/ Author

Looks like you've already started. 😂