Monday, March 01, 2010

Reply hazy, ask again later.

Someone's crystal ball was on the fritz that day:
Then there's cyberbusiness. We're promised instant catalog shopping--just point and click for great deals. We'll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obselete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? -Clifford Stoll, making bold intarw3bz predictions in '95.

Of course, he probably also thought that DOS 6.22 was the bomb diggity shizznit. I especially like the way he brings up the mall; I think it's been at least six months since I set foot in one of those.

Incidentally, this was about the time that the office in which I worked received new Pentiums with Windows 95, replacing our DOS boxes running proprietary software. It was my first experience with an always-on, fat pipe internet connection. I helped our IT manager set them up, since I was at the height of my gamer geek grrl days. As we booted up the one on my desk, I noticed the Exploder icon and double-clicked it.

"Um, do you realize that this thing is live? I mean, I just clicked Exploder and I'm surfing and... Damn! This thing is fast!"

"Yes, it's just the standard install."

I blinked. "You mean all the machines in the office have a browser icon on the desktop?"

"Yes," she replied.

"And a fat pipe right to the Web?"


"And this seems like a good idea to you?"

How innocent we were in those days...

(H/T to Neatorama.)


Anonymous said...

I doubt he imagined $3.50 a gallon gasoline either.


Billy Beck said...

I recall a discussion on the DIALOG! BBS (exclam point mandatory) in Atlanta, about 1994, during which one daring participant sneered with real style at the very idea of "multimedia" computing. For anyone who never staggered along at 150 baud, that refers to anything but ASCII text. Still images, video and audio were never gonna make it to the average desktop, and certainly not over the 'net. Fuggetaboudit.

"And this seems like a good idea to you?"

That's pretty funny.

genedunn said...

Yeah... "Cuckoos Egg" was absolutely AWESOME (hence the autographed copy on my shelf). Cliffy's other work... not so much.

For better technical crystal-ball-gazing of that era, try "Accidental Empires" by Robert X. Cringely. Now, that is good squishy.

dave said...

I actually had dinner with him about that time (sat right next to him at the Dayton Hamvention banquet). His skepticism was a good counterpoint to the "irrational exuberance" of the time. Yes, we are now ordering our airline tickets and making dinner reservations online, but a lot of sales deals are still brokered face-to-face.

Let's not even get into such things as online grocery sales.

Yes, the network has been utterly amazing, bringing people together and tearing them apart (are you listening, Mr. Rather?), but it still hasn't destroyed the brick-and-mortar store; if anything, we're moving away from the hyper-connected days and into a much more reasonable compromise.

(...he said as he completed his online order of heirloom seeds over at Seed Savers.)

Jeff the Baptist said...

"Of course, he probably also thought that DOS 6.22 was the bomb diggity shizznit."

Stoll is or was a Unix sysadmin. A Cuckoo's Egg is all about his adventures in that area.

He is correct in some areas however. While simple commodities are cheaper online, I'm never going to be comfortable shopping for clothes or shoes there. I want to try them on and see if they actually fit before the other guy has my money.

Joanna said...

All I can say is thank God I've got a connection at work. I'd have chewed a hole right through my cubicle by now if I didn't.

Rob K said...

I remember reading that when it was published. As a reaction to the head-in-the-clouds euphoria of that time... it's not so bad. It would be greatly improved if he'd added the caveat "with hardware and software as they are today".

And as Jeff the Baptist pointed out, Stoll, as a Unix guy from the home of BSD, never would have thought DOS was "the bomb diggity shizznit." In fact his extensive experience on the `net probably really colored his perceptions and expectations of what could be expected from the net. Gra'ma couldn't use the internet he was used to.

Tam said...

True, and it's a lot easier for me to be snarky with the benefit of hindsight.

I mean, I said some pretty similar things myself at the time. (But that's not funny.)

Matt G said...

At that time, I worked at Xerox. We were part of what was then thought of as the "backbone" to the interweb. Hell, I was impressed at what we could do on WinDoze 3.11 with fatpipe. Network gaming was a new level of kewl. Deep nights on Help Desk were times for bored techs to get their game on.


DeltaBravoMike said...

Heh. I actually left a company, in 1995, when they decided to refocus their development efforts on their DOS product lines. The CEO decided that "Microsoft Windows was just a fad."

Rabbit said...

To bastardize a famous bumper sticker commonly seen in the Texas oilfields:

"Packets feed my family and pay my taxes."

I've got boxed distros of DOS 2.0 up to 6.2.2 and WFWG 3.11 and in my office, just to keep me humble.


John A said...

When I first broke down and bought a PC, I got DOS 3.0 to run on it. Now, at the time I wondered aloud if I could use my TV as a monitor, and was told by a knowledgeable co-worker (several college courses in Electronics) that it could never be because the PC was digital while the TV was analog. Six months later, I bought my first TV card (an ATI All-in-Wonder) and started using my 42" TV as a monitor...

Hypnagogue said...

In February of 1995, he was exactly right. There was no SSL, and Internet commerce at the time was completely throttled by the fear of passing credit card numbers unencrypted. PGP was in wide use, but was using trust models that didn't directly apply to the secure commerce problem.

Back in the late 80's and early 90's, USENET sentiments were decidedly anti-commercial, and the com TLD was almost unheard of (edu, net and org were more common). I was frankly surprised by how quickly the tides turned.... as soon as SSL was introduced.

staghounds said...

"Yes, New York to Boston, maybe Washington D. C. But Morse is crazy to expect to put one of these telegraph stations in EVERY town!"

Gator said...

My first look at the web was when a co-worker show me this thing called a browser (Mosaic) and "it's connected to the world wide web and these hyperlink things here bring up other pages when you click 'em", to which replied "Yeah, that'll never take off, now if you'll excuse me I have to go crimp BNC connectors on some coax cables for these new IBM dumb terminals" or some such malarkey.

Gator said...

Note to self: Proofread before publishing comment, lest the Internet will think you're an IBM-coax-cable-crimping moron.

Anonymous said...

"Let's not even get into such things as online grocery sales."

That actually works pretty good near me, decent delivery schedule, etc... But if you are mobile and are not burdened with small children, and are pretty near the market, it's faster to do it oneself.

On the other, had I'm loving the UPC gun which lets me checkout before the check out.

NMM1AFan said...

Yep, in college I had to learn Fortran on a smeggin' VAX. Now I don't go a week without buying something on the web...

reflectoscope said...

6.22 was a noticeably good version of DOS, and was therefore the last. But anyway...

Windows was a toy until '95, and has been hit and miss since.

I'll bet a dollar I'm the youngest person here who has used a 300 baud modem and was thrilled when 1200 came along. (Never mind that 14.4 USR madness!)

Come to think of it, I was just thinking of selling off the parts of my now deceased laptop, and I reflected on the fact that 512MB SODIMM would be worth a king's ransom in 1992, and is now barely worth the trouble of mailing.

As for digital commerce, it is great for some things (iTunes, 10 billion downloads, et al) but I'm ok with actually shopping for some stuff, too.


Ken said...

"And this seems like a good idea to you?"

Hey, what could go wrong?

Dixie said...

I've got boxed distros of DOS 2.0 up to 6.2.2 and WFWG 3.11 and in my office, just to keep me humble.

I have an old IBM running Win 3.11 still around for the same reasons. Having problems getting Win XP or Win 7 to do something? Go work on Win 3.11 for a while...

Joel said...

Hah! Our office dumped dumb terminals about the same time, sometime in the early '90's, and I remember railing against putting "that internet thing" on every machine.

"Well, can't you take Explorer off them or something? My writers will never get anything done again!"

God, that seems a long time ago. Years later, after my career collapsed and I became a cubicle rat for fear of starvation, I'd definitely have chewed holes in my cube if it weren't for the 'net.

Borepatch said...

The scene: Friedman Auditorium, deep in the bowels of NSA. Stoll's giving a talk, the place is packed, and the front row is reserved for the guys with bad suits with stars on them.

I don't think that Stoll owns socks. Or knows that we have these people called "barbers".

He paces back and forth, talking about working with the FBI, NSA, Deutsche Bundespost, et all, and then stops mid-rant and points at the Generals.

"Do you know what I HATED about working with you," he asks?

You could have heard a pin drop. Oh god oh god oh god, they're going to shoot the hippie ...

"Your people would always talk about 'the adversary'. 'The adversary was connected last night.' 'The adversary has been traced to Hamburg.' He wasn't 'the adversary' - he was breaking into my computer! He's A BASTARD!"

Standing ovation from the grumpy generals. True story.

randy said...

I had an experince similar to Borepatch's at Electronic Security Command HQ. Lots of neat details that never made it to the book or NOVA episode. They gave him a stylized model bi-plane and he had a ball playing with it on the stage.

I also worked with him (as a bookstore employee)at the Dayton Hamvention and various book signings. Cliff was a master of adjusting his spiel for the audience (emphasizing tech stuff and using Ham terms for the geeks, toning down the tech talk and emphasizing educational and community conerns to the mundanes).

He's a genuinely nice guy, and I think he raised valid concerns about the pace and direction of the interwebs, even if his assessment timelines were off.

Kristopher said...


SSl was what catapulted Netscape.

NCSA's and Microsoft's voluntary compliance with the NSA demands for a 64 bit encryption limit nearly killed Internet Explorer, and deep sixed Mosaic.

Geodkyt said...

What is this "mall" thing you speak of?

Dr. StrangeGun said...

I have two boxen I use daily. One's super-duper of last year, 2 gigs of ram, dual core multi gigahertz warmness, SATA, etc. It's set up like an everyday box anyone else would have, extensions, attachments, etc. etc. etc.

The other is a (relatively) ancient Dell single proc P-IV with a gig and a 40Gb SATA drive and baseline AGP graphics. Little 'business desktop' thing that needs half-height cards, you know the deal.

Machine 1 is agonizing to use sometimes. If one particular piece of software lights off automatically I'm locked off my email app for a good 2-3 minutes while it sorts itself out. Surfing is ok for the most part, but starting the browser needs a visit to the coffee machine some days.

Machine 2... is lightened. I stripped out indexing, anything made by Adobe, and several other unnecessary items. Same OS as 1, mind you. Comparatively? It's *blistering* fast. Granted I don't have any office apps on it, but for poking around and researching... *click* BANG it's open.

Response has little to do with performance and much to do with how much of the performance reserve is left, and background processes slaughter reserves. Neat, clean, and wrinkle-free wins the day... and the total image size on machine #2 is small enough to back up on a midsize (modern mid-size, that is) thumb drive, easy peasy.

Last night I fired up a live CD on my ANCIENT armada M500 to play around with a drive image in an editor. No perceptible lag for anything... from a P-III 600Mhz with a blistering 128Mb of RAM. Graphical boot, too.

ROFL, capcha is "tryinat". Yes, yes I am.