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I Am an Internet Urban Legend From the 90s, Ask Me Anything!

letmypeoplecode profile image Greg Bulmash πŸ₯‘ ・2 min read

I am the most famous employee McDonald's never had.

I started a humor blog in 1995 before the word "blog" was coined. In 1997, one of my jokes, a snarky job application (with my name on it), was posted to a mailing list (not by me) with my intro stripped and the claim it was real added. It blew up.

The joke has its own Snopes page. A few years ago, George Takei posted it to Facebook, claiming it was real. The joke reached drinking age last year, but still pops up now and then.

In the 90s I was also the technical editor of "Marketing Online for Dummies," wrote a snarky "where are they now" column that ran on the Internet Movie Database with tens of thousands of readers, and even ran the Internet Movie Database's homepage for a while.

Then, in the aughts, I taught myself to code and had more adventures in tech as an SDE, Developer Content writer, and Technical Evangelist. I also founded and run the Seattle chapter of CoderDojo, which puts on free meetups where kids learn STEM skills.

I have appeared on tech conference stages talking about how to tell a robot to shake its booty, doing a puppet show about being trolled by a broken knock-knock joke bot, and reading a fairy tale about how a wily merchant tricked a king out of his army using a recursion algorithm and the king's willingness to over-optimize.

Ask me anything.

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Greg Bulmash πŸ₯‘

@letmypeoplecode

Urban legend, former IMDb editor, conference speaker, Seattle CoderDojo organizer. Teach kids to dev and devs how to do cool stuff. My opinions are mine alone and I do not speak for my employer here.

Discussion

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Holy smokes.

The ents are appearing everywhere. πŸ”₯

Welcome.

Imagine an Internet where there literally wasn't enough to look at & you basically waited for cool stuff to appear on a tiny pixelated screen, when it worked, without being cut off. If you happened to hear about it somewhere & could tell how to find it. That's the approx context.

 

Imagine the internet where you browsed the web in a terminal using Lynx. My first year online was through a shell account at Netcom. I joined Earthlink in 1995 to get graphical access and 100k of space in which to publish my own site.

 

What do you mean you are not using telnet & "electronic mail"? I am still scared of IRC & Slack is just the ICQ logo. 🀣

"Got a CompuServe disk" but it am not sure if it is working.

zefrank.com/invite/swfs/index2.html rick roll 1.0 in a flash but stay away from rotten.com

So old the superhighway was a dirt track the first time I gibson/d
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minitel

Good to see you Greg, let's have a new email list. Like the old one, but new.

youtube.com/watch?v=dudJjUU9Nhs
Nearly every CD on earth.

techcrunch.com/2010/12/27/aol-disc...

These are things of Greg's era (trying to trigger memories).

My question: What is the worst thing about IMDB?
πŸ˜³πŸ˜ƒ

"What is the worst thing about IMDB?"

Most of the content is fan-submitted, and at least in the early years, it wasn't edited for grammar, spelling, or punctuation. I can't call out any off the top of my head, but there are some plot summaries and biographies that make my inner English major cringe.

Lol. I can imagine you wishing it away.

I vaguely remember. They seem more agent/team/pro now. The detail is insane, I don't see the chance of another site breaking that moat.

Do you see IMDB moving in to online video as a core focus? (maybe it has already).

I left in 2005 and the closest I come to insider info these days is reading their founder's posts on Facebook.

But they did recently start an online streaming service called FreeDive.

imdb.com/freedive/

Thanks, That's a while, its refined but not big changes from what I have seen.

How are you finding life as AWS? πŸ˜ƒ

 

How did information travel around the web in the 90s compared to today? When the rise of Twitter etc. started happening, did you see it as an evolution on "going viral" as you had experienced it?

 

I'm pretty sure someone could do a doctoral thesis on the evolution of virality. :-)

In the 90s, viral content mostly propagated by email and usenet newsgroups.

Web content got punches in the arm with the help of some big "site of the Day" sites, like Cool Site of the Day and some of the larger magazines. In 1997, I got a huge short-term traffic boost when my entertainment column got recommended by Newsweek, People, and Wired in the space of a month.

That gave way to social link sharing (and discussion) sites. Back in the day, traffic from being at the top of Slashdot could create an unintentional DDOS. I feel Reddit's the evolutionary successor of Slashdot, but some might argue it.

What's interesting about Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. is how the network effect influenced virality. They weren't the first, but they were better than their predecessors at building their influencer communities and cascading the popularity of a link or post through friend and follow connections.

In 1997, an piece of content propagated through a mailing list, then someone might forward it to a few friends, but they'd actually have to enter the addresses or manually build a multi-email alias in the mail program they used. Virality has gotten bigger, I think, because sharing has become so much easier.

 

The early "viral" sites in my internet life were Slashdot and Fark.

Bash.org (top) was also a great source of early-meme material.

 

I have so many questions for you Greg:

Minecraft

I noticed on your Linked In you show how people to Mod Minecraft with Javascript. My interest is because we run our own Modded Minecraft server and use it as a way to teach our interns how to start using AWS cloud computing services in a fun way. We even made a talk about it.

I have dabbled with writing mods for minecraft but that was with Java. I would love to know more about Modding with Javascript and the limitations around it. It could be a cool way as an extension of our teaching platform maybe for front-end devs.

Retro Video Games

I have a strong interest in retro video games and trying to code games under the same hardware is something I find fun to do when I have time. So, for example, I picked up an i386 so I could attempt to code Wolfenstien and Doom using the Game Engine Black Books

http://fabiensanglard.net/gebbdoom/

Have you come across any other codebases or resources that go in-deep to any old retro video game engines?

AWS/Amazon Evangelism

I was going to ask what does an AWS/Amazon Evangelist do but you already answered it in detail in your LinkedIn. So my next question is how do we get AWS Evangelist involved here in Toronto for events? I'm part of three different meetup groups but uncertain about how to attract Evangelists for talks. I really want to run an online conference specific to AWS and would like to build a list of speakers.
Any suggestions?

90s

Before the advent of Google which was your primary search engine? Mine was HotBot.

 

Lot to unpack there. I'll try to answer in order.

Minecraft

For Minecraft modding, I used a server-side mod called ScriptCraft to introduce kids to JS in Minecraft.

Not a lot of people realize it, but since the 90s, there has been a JavaScript interpreter built into the standard Java JRE distribution. A few years back, Walter Higgins worked out how to expose the Java APIs in a Minecraft server to the JavaScript interpreter and built a huge helper library of JavaScript functions with the intent of helping kids learn JavaScript.

Sadly, as happens with many OSS projects, he hasn't had time to maintain it as of late and it's starting to age.

Retro Gaming

Aside from teaching kids how to recreate some retro games in JavaScript with Phaser, no. I haven't run across a lot of resources (or didn't remember them) since I was focused on teaching a modern library rather than going full-on retro.

AWS Evangelism

I was actually an evangelist for Login with Amazon, which is an identity API within Amazon's consumer organization. They're focused on helping our developers/customers leverage Amazon consumer identity (the account you use for shopping, Prime, music, video, Alexa, etc.). I built some content around integrating that with AWS identity services and tools like Amazon Cognito, but they're actually separate things.

I'm now in the AWS developer documentation group, not the evangelism group. And since I'm not a part of that group, I doubt I know enough about their workings to advise you well.

I would follow some of the amazing AWS evangelists on Twitter like Randall Hunt and Alejandra Quetzalli. Engage with them and they would be much more likely to be able to connect you to the right people/resources for those interests.

90s

I used Hotbot, but when I transitioned to Google, it was from Altavista. :-)

 

Hey Greg,

Being a millennial it is sometimes tough to understand the whole concept of how a internet connection was established (the use of dial-ups, gprs based connections) and how they contrast to maybe the new ways in which we use the internet these days (FFTH, High Speed Broadband .etc)

I have had some experience on this being born in a technology lovers' home, but would love to know how the system worked and how you used to work on such systems?

P.S: My father would actually love to share a conversation with you because you both seem to have pretty similar experiences :) .

 

In the mid-80s I ran a BBS on my dad's fax line (after business hours) with a Commodore 64 and a 300bps modem that could accommodate one user at a time. I got a 1200bps modem for my Mac and accessed some BBS systems in the late 80s.

I was mostly offline during the early 90s until a friend gave me a 14.4 Kbps modem in 1994. My dad had been using Prodigy for years, but I wanted real internet access and got a shell account via Netcom. That graduated to EarthLink for PTP access and a 28.8 modem in 1995.

What a lot of people don't know is that a plain telephone line had an upper limit of 64Kbps, and because of required overhead, the 56 6K modems were as good as it got.

Faster broadband like ISDN and T1 were achieved by binding multiple T-zero (regular lines) together.

Never got either of those. And it was fun to be living in Los Angeles near Burbank, where some of the first cable systems had been wired, watching my dad in an area that had just been wired for cable like 15 years earlier get a high speed cable modem while I was stuck on dial up.

When I went to work for IMDb, I had a dedicated fax and data line in addition to a voice line. Finally got an always on connection a few months after joining IMDb. 384/128K ADSL in my apartment home office (I worked remote my first 14 months).

Got gig speed service a few months ago, making my current service about 2,500 times faster than my first always-on broadband service 20 years ago.

I've had always-on broadband in my home pretty consistently for 20 years... Except during the time Excite@Home went bankrupt and the customers of the co-branded Comcast@Home service got disconnected while Comcast scrambled to get service going again. I think I was back on dialup for close to 2 months.

All of that was wired until I bought my first WiFi router in mid-2003.

My children have never known a home without WiFi.

 

What do you think about the internet regarding how we use it today and what was it created for?

And do you think it has been censored, or do you think it should be censored or what do you think about internet censorship?

Regards!
Keep rocking!

 

I think there are some amazing uses, like this site right here. The sharing of technical know-how is awesome.

As for censorship... No matter what I say, no matter how thoughtful or nuanced, someone is likely to get upset because it's a topic on which people have strong feelings. I didn't do this AMA to upset people, so please forgive me if I keep that opinion to myself. :-)

 

Hey Greg, any fun stories from your time running the IMDB homepage?

 

Actually, in the day, it was pretty tame... movie of the day blurb, quote, trivia question, birthdays.

Probably my most memorable story comes from later, when I was building up and managing the photo collection. When we started cropping movie stills and event photos to provide thumbnails on the filmographies of popular stars, we created a default "No headshot available" graphic that automatically got put in that space for the filmographies of people who didn't have one yet. Then someone pointed out how that graphic looked on John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln's pages.

I'll give you a moment for that to sink in. It's like the worst unintentional groaner pun of my career.

 
 

Personal preference... Duck. Definitely.

 

For the people who might not know the reference... The question refers to: "Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or 1 horse-sized duck?" It has been asked in many an AMA (including President Obama's) and even Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

My reasoning is that I'd rather fight a single larger opponent I could keep in front of me than 100 smaller opponents who could swarm me from all sides.

 

What's the thing you most miss of that time? Technologically speaking.

 

I'd have to say all the editors I fell in love with and then left behind when they either made a distribution model change, UI change, or just discontinued.

My first HTML editor love was Nick Bradbury's Homesite.

After that, I was a dedicated user of Arachnophilia. Paul Lutus is still developing it, though.

Then Crimson Editor, which stopped updating in '08.

Currently my faves are Notepad++ and Visual Studio Code. I use Notepad++ for quick edits and VS Code for when I sit down to code.

 

Your opinion on how the web has evolved from the 90's to present?

 

My opinion is it's evolved magnificently.

I love how far design has come since back when I was waiting for Netscape to support nested tables.

I love how the browser has progressed as a platform, especially through the use of web standards. It has rough patches at times, but overall, it's defied every pronunciation that it was obsolete and keeps getting better for developers and consumers.

I love how the web has become a platform for personal expression, not just for the tech savvy, but with a point and shoot ease, exposing new voices to the world that might otherwise have remained constrained to small geographies.

I love how instead of just linking library catalogs, it's grown to encompass entire libraries and made free or inexpensive learning materials available to people who wouldn't have had access before.

There are some dark corners and dark uses, but I think the benefits of the web for art, culture, knowledge, technological progress, and cooperation vastly outweigh them.