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What’s the Internet? (on 1994's Today Show) 262

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the how-do-you-pronounce-at dept.
kkleiner writes "In a hilarious video segment from January 24th 1994, The Today Show morning anchors Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric stumble over the identity and jargon of the internet technology that has come to define the past decade. Gumbel is unclear how you pronounce "@", Katie Couric suggests "about", and no one wants to say "dot" when they read ".com". Confusion with lingo aside, The Today Show cast has to ask a crew member to clarify how the internet works. Do you write to it like mail? Is it just in Universities? Does it require a phone line? This was less than two decades ago, and it's a wonderful reminder of how unprepared the mainstream media was for the innovation that was about to sweep the globe. As the crew member says of the internet, "it's getting bigger and bigger all the time." What a delightful understatement."
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What’s the Internet? (on 1994's Today Show)

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  • by wideBlueSkies (618979) * on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @03:02PM (#35070964) Journal

    You can't exactly blame these guys for not knowing. The information superhighway was new or unheard of to about 95% of people at that time. Heck, AOL and compuserve hadn't even peaked yet.

    You could probably have blamed their producers or research people though.. for not giving them the 5 minute education beforehand.

    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @03:09PM (#35071072) Journal

      You could probably have blamed their producers or research people though.. for not giving them the 5 minute education beforehand.

      I might point out that the format of these daily TV shows seems to encourage uninformed people to learn with the host(s). We work day jobs so we don't see this anymore but I think what appeals to my grandmother about Regis is that he acts like an average guy just trying to figure stuff out ... and she can identify with that. Note that I said "uninformed" not "stupid." I would posit that the American people would rather embark on a learning adventure than be lectured ... I think this is why Bill Nye (yes, I know he wasn't the original) appealed to me so much as a kid.

      I agree I didn't find this very funny, I did not have a computer at the time and spent the majority of my free time reading, bailing hay, playing trombone and walking endless up and down acres of field collecting rocks baseball size or larger. Had you asked me about any of the technologies they addressed here, my answer might have been just as hilarious and even more clueless. Oh well, gotta start somewhere.

      I found it cute or quaint at worst. Cute to recall the time when we didn't have this powerful force dictating and providing so much.

      • >>>I agree I didn't find this very funny

        I think it's funny but not in the "haha you're stupid" vein, but more like how you laugh when a child is first learning to walk or write. My niece wrote "I hat you" on my laptop and when I read it out loud, she started laughing at herself.

        I like to watch old videos from the 80s era. People are even more ignorant. "You call this a keyboard?" Um... yeah that's what it be called. Just like a typewriter.

      • by Smauler (915644)

        I personally basically exclusively used the internet for porn back then. alt.sex groups, etc, with text editors and uuencode/decode. Loads of posters used non-standard starts and stops, so you had to manually edit them. This was back when I was 14 or so.

        I didn't use email, because no one I knew was on it.... the web was listless generally in its infancy. I only really loved MUDs, and I discovered them when they were on their wane. Everything since has become everyday for me...

        On a seperate but similar

      • by mmarlett (520340)

        In 1994, I was editor of the third daily online newspaper in the world (the Kansas State eCollegian). This not only wasn't funny, but really, really common. I had conversations with people like this all the time for at least a year. Mostly alumni calling over the phone, trying to find out how to read the college newspaper. And it was way more difficult to try to tell someone that, no, having a subscription to AOL is not Internet access but a closed BBS. And Prodigy. And whatever other service you're about t

    • It's not funny that they don't know what the Internet is, they just serve as the face of society when few people understood what the Internet was. Although I'd bet a majority of society still doesn't know, it's funny to look back on how we reacted to learning about it?
    • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @03:18PM (#35071178)

      1994 was the year I first got internet access myself. And my access consisted of an email address, telnet, and gopher. Almost no one had WWW access then (though Cello and Mosaic were around). It would be another 1995 before I would get a SLIP account to access the web directly (and this was at a major university). So, yeah, I don't really fault them either for not knowing.

      • by mikael (484)

        Same here - most companies and colleges had internal E-mail systems, but getting access to any national network (JANET) required being involved in research. Demon Internet was the first ISP residential service provider in 1993/4 and provided USENET/E-mail access using just a V.34 modem, PPP, and a TCP/IP on DOS.

        E-mail and web addresses were common on the side of vans or shop windows until around 2000. It's funny to see them engraved on metal and concrete manhole covers, metal tape and

      • by MPolo (129811)
        Hmm... In 1989 I got to Graduate School, where I had email, telnet, gopher and news. After leaving school, around 1993 or so, I had a dialup account with Steve Jackson games with the same sort of all-text access (presumably I could have used lynx, but I didn't really know about the WWW at that point). Would that I had kept an email address at io.com! They were offering home SLIP connections, but they cost more than I was willing to pay (and needed a more able computer than I had at the moment). If you order
      • by Jason Levine (196982) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @04:41PM (#35072256)

        I had only gotten Internet access a year prior. I remember hopping onto gopher and being wide-eyed as I went from "site" to "site." Then I stopped at an entry titled "Middle East." Suddenly, I worried about getting in trouble for causing long-distance charges to my school so I signed off. I quickly learned that you didn't incur long distance charges online, though and clicked away next time.

        Of course, not too long later, I dialed in from home and was downloading some freeware from a "far away location" (i.e. another state). My father heard what I was doing and got upset that I was costing him long distance fees. He didn't understand either at the time.

        Now, we semi-regularly use Skype to video chat. (Lets them talk to my kids who do better with a "video phone" than a normal phone. Kids don't quite understand that the other person can't see what you see.) How technology's changed in just 17 years. Imagine what it will be like in 2028! ("What do you mean you had to type things out? With your fingers? Why didn't you just use thought-2-computer tech?")

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Actually it is bad because they did so little research. It is interesting because it was so early. This predates Netscape, Yahoo and the other internet startups.

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        Yeah, but the @ and .com stuff is basic Internet stuff that predated even the web.

        While 1994 was early for the consumer Internet, the net was still around then and used by Universities.

        Universities... where journalists come from.

        • by LWATCDR (28044)

          If a Journalist at that time ever got close to a computer hooked up to the internet. Those journalists probably graduated in the 70s or early 80s. Internet and even computers access for liberal arts majors wasn't common.

    • by eln (21727)
      It's interesting to contemplate how much things have changed since then. In 1994 I was a junior in high school and had to give a presentation on some sort of computer-related topic to my CS class. I chose the Internet, which I had been on for about 5 years by then, and nobody else in the class had even heard of it. To assist in my research, my teacher lent me a copy of O'Reilly's "Whole Internet User's Guide and Catalog" (first edition). That book, at around 420 pages long, told you basically everything
    • by siddesu (698447)

      Well, it depends.

      The @ symbol, for one, isn't from teh Internets, it has been in use as "at" for much longer in business accounting.

      As in

      20 apples @ $0.85 = [left as exercise for the reader]

  • by Toe, The (545098) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @03:02PM (#35070978)

    Even today, a lot of people are pretty dang confused about what them there internets have on 'em.

    • by h00manist (800926)

      Even today, a lot of people are pretty dang confused about what them there internets have on 'em.

      And how to drive a non-automatic transmission vehicle, switch the AV setup from cable to watch the dvd, calculate their interest on the credit card, what's the relationship of pounds to kilos and meters to feet, read a map... Basic everyday activities. The internet did improve this, but education still could use a revolution.

      • by EvanED (569694) <evaned@ g m a i l.com> on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @03:58PM (#35071644)

        Basic everyday activities.

        The problem is that some of those things aren't really "basic everyday activities." Most dramatically, it certainly isn't a basic everyday activity for most people to drive a stick shift -- because most people don't have stick shifts. When are you going to drive one? There have only been a couple times ever where I've even really been in a situation in which I might have driven a stick if I knew how. (I'm not speaking from the authority of age here, but I have been driving for over a decade.)

      • Unfortunately, calculating the interest on a credit card is not basic!

        Take a deep breath, here we go!

        "Interest" is a fee. "Fees" are also fees. So let's group all the fees. $29 account fee + 0%*(4/12) aka 90 day interest free promo + (17.5%*(1/12)PerMonth compounded for 8 months) - (1% 'cash back' on purchases per actual interest month rolled into the compounding) + UnTouchable Amount that triggers credit score penalty for "too close to limit" as effective hidden fee + %expected risk of penalty rate of 23%

        • by c6gunner (950153)

          Why bother. Just know they're evil, and save like hell to pay it off.

          I prefer the "don't spend more than your next paycheck will cover - otherwise, get a line of interest" approach. Haven't paid a penny in interest on any of my CC's in roughly 7 years now.

    • ...a lot of people are pretty dang confused about what them there internets have on 'em.

      You mean besides the porn?

  • by suso (153703) * on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @03:05PM (#35071014) Homepage Journal

    Isn't Bryant Gumbel the same guy that asked that stupid question at the Transmeta press conference?

    Oh, and the @ sign was there long before the Internet. Where do they get these people?

    • by sznupi (719324)
      @ was there, but I think not really in daily use by common folks. Just be glad you're not stuck with a word which means "monkey" or "ape" (yes, I know the difference in EN, but in my language it's much less delineated) - can you imagine how stupid this one sounds in serious situations?
      • My preference is in italiano: "chiocciola"--snail. It's rather fun to get to refer to your email address as "sysiphus snail wind.it" (etc)
      • by Freultwah (739055)
        Jó napot kívánok, uram. Az e-mail címem elnök majom társaság pont hu. Something similar?
    • by mikael (484)

      1993/1994 was the time the first TCP/IP stacks became available for PC's - you could run SLIP or PPP through a standard dial-up modem and your PC was "a node on the Internet" with it's own static IP address.... then by default you had your own mail server and even have the ISP dial your PC to run an HTTP server, or pay extra for an ISDN line.

      There were so few E-mail addresses and they changed so infrequently that some companies came out with white-page E-mail address books sold in the local bookstores.

  • by alen (225700) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @03:05PM (#35071020)

    what's a phone line? my telephone works through time warner cable or the air

    • by blair1q (305137)

      telephone? don't you have IM or twitter or facebook?

    • by Nadaka (224565)

      Silly. A phone line is the gesture used on the iPhone to launch the default phone app.

    • >>>what's a phone line?

      It's the twisted-pair copper that carries my internet (upto 50 Mbit/s via VDSL2).

      Speaking of phone lines, can my 56K Dialup modem be made to work through my cellphone? I'm thinking of an emergency use, like with the egyptians who have lost internet. The challenge would be connecting the POTS line from the modem to the cellphone's input. (Maybe this cable would work - http://www.thinkgeek.com/gadgets/cellphone/7830/ [thinkgeek.com] )

      • Re:phone lines? (Score:4, Informative)

        by uglyduckling (103926) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @04:01PM (#35071696) Homepage
        No, you can't use your 56K modem over your cellphone... I'm not entirely sure if you're asking a real question or not, but if you want to know the answer - voice traffic over cellphones is compressed in a way that makes sense for voice - mostly the system ensures that everything arrives in the right order, and that there are not significant pauses. Voice communication is pretty tolerant to small gaps in the signal, so generally the network will just drop short segments because that it more natural in conversation that having pauses etc. in the middle of works while the network catches up. For baseband data (i.e. encoded on an audio signal, like an analogue modem) you want the system to _never_ drop data and never pause, you want it to just worsen in quality, and the modem will negotiate down on the rate until it can keep a reliable connection.
      • by MBGMorden (803437)

        Speaking of phone lines, can my 56K Dialup modem be made to work through my cellphone? I'm thinking of an emergency use, like with the egyptians who have lost internet. The challenge would be connecting the POTS line from the modem to the cellphone's input. (Maybe this cable would work - http://www.thinkgeek.com/gadgets/cellphone/7830/ [thinkgeek.com] [thinkgeek.com]

        Not sure if it applies to all Android devices, but my Fascinate has software built int to allow you to use the cellular capability as a modem for the purposes of a data connection. You'd need a dial-up ISP to connect to, but the capability is there.

  • like when if you wanted to watch TV you had to wait for the right time for a show to start and you can't pick your episode in case of re-runs

    or if you had a game console you had to buy strategy guides if you got stuck. you couldn't just go to youtube and find a walkthrough

    or you couldn't carry your phone around with you every you went

    or look up prices on products right in the store

    • by sznupi (719324)

      like when if you wanted to watch TV you had to wait for the right time for a show to start and you can't pick your episode in case of re-runs

      Huh? We certainly had VHS... many units even could be set to record something at designated time & date (I once left mine unattended for almost a month, to record successive episodes of ... Sea Quest; ehhh, good old days indeed... but who will build it now that Bridger is dead? ;( )

      • I think he means you can get any show whenever you want, not the fact you can record one and watch it later. Having VHS didn't eliminate the need to have to wait for a show to start.

      • VHS was nice, but it got painful to find a tape you were willing to tape over, remember to set the timer and then when watching the show, fast forward past programs other people in your household recorded to get to your shows. (You could have your own tapes, but that meant switching them out between recordings. Not practical if two recordings were close together.)

    • by Anrego (830717) *

      I remember when putting a video on the internet was a _big deal_.

      Anyone remember realplayer?

      Seriously, say what you will about youtube.. but what it's done for the internet is astounding.

      Also wikipedia! Remember when finding information about something took effort! I remember spending hours trunging through a valley of geocities and angelfire pages and a minefield of ads .. now it's just there, and despite critisism, is usually accurate enough for casual purposes.

    • by hduff (570443)

      or you couldn't carry your phone around with you every you went

      Yes you could. It was the size of a brick and expensive as Hell, but yes you could.

      • Sure a few people could, but the inconvenience and cost made it unavailable to the general population.

  • And at this point, I'd been working on the "Internet" i.e., traditional but including Bitnet, for 7 years.

    It's not like it wasn't out there to find. I even had a website online.

    Of course, Archie and Veronica were pretty popular alternatives back then. So maybe they just didn't know what to use or where to look...

    • Re:Sigh... (Score:4, Informative)

      by timeOday (582209) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @04:06PM (#35071776)
      They wouldn't have been doing anybody a favor by reporting on Bitnet, gopher, or Archie, since those never did catch on among Today Show viewers.

      Very, very little of what now makes the Internet valuable to people existed at that time.

  • In 1994 I was in high school, and I spent the summers of 1994 and 1995 teaching elementary and middle school teachers in my district how to browse the web and use email*. Many of our schools had just obtained net access and newer computers capable of more than just Mavis Beacon and Wordperfect for DOS.

    Oddly enough the biggest issue I had in all that time was with the more 'senior' teachers almost all suffering from severe arthritis. Many couldn't grip a mouse well enough to use it effectively, particularl

    • by Nadaka (224565)

      By '94 I had real internet at home on a 14k modem and my older brother had been dialing BBS's for over a decade on a 300 baud modem.

      • by Vrallis (33290)

        Pretty much the same here. I'd been on BBSes for a few years at this point, and had an email address via one of them for a while. By 94 I'd say I'd spent far more time on Usenet than the web though since the web could barely be considered even infantile at that point.

  • Why are we making fun of people for not knowing what the Internet was 17 years ago when the /. summary doesn't even capitalize it properly?

  • I was watching Wall Street last night and Gordon Gekko pulls out a portable black and white television about the size of an military field radio and says something to the effect of "See that? It's got a 2 inch screen. I tell you, we're going to a new age, pal!"

  • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @03:23PM (#35071228)
    1994, when you carried around spare bits in a glass jar and calculated bandwidth with a slide rule. I could tell you more, but my Alzheimer's is acting up.
  • You mean...I don't NEED a phone line to access the internet!? I called AOL and they assure me that I do. I think these TV guys don't know what they are talking about.
  • by wideBlueSkies (618979) * on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @03:30PM (#35071318) Journal

    Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently:

            violence@nbc.ge.com

    Technical details of permanent failure:
    DNS Error: Domain name not found

    ----- Original message -----

    MIME-Version: 1.0
    Received: by 10.103.246.22 with SMTP id y13mr9555665mur.76.1296588457799; Tue,
      01 Feb 2011 11:27:37 -0800 (PST)
    Received: by 10.102.211.39 with HTTP; Tue, 1 Feb 2011 11:27:37 -0800 (PST)
    Date: Tue, 1 Feb 2011 14:27:37 -0500
    Message-ID:
    Subject: test email
    From: XXXXXXX
    To: violence@nbc.ge.com
    Content-Type: multipart/alternative; boundary=001636765baf7278a3049b3d8653

    Hello 1994... ;)

    • by kenrblan (1388237)
      It makes sense that you got a delivery error. NBC is owned by Comcast now. Did you try violence@nbc.comcast.com?
  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @03:31PM (#35071338) Homepage

    Back in 1983, I was at "jbn@Ford-wdl1.ARPA":

    Date: 15-Jul-83 14:03:40-PDT
    From: jbn@FORD-WDL1.ARPA
    Subject: Outstanding TOPS-20 TCP bug remains in v5.2
    To: ICCB@BBN-UNIX.ARPA, Paetzold@DEC-MARLBORO.ARPA, CLynn@BBNA.ARPA, Tappan@BBNA.ARPA<br/>
    Cc: MRC@SU-SCORE.ARPA

    For some months now, we have observed that the BBN TOPS-20 implementation of TCP does not perform the TCP close handshake properly. This problem has been documented and reported to the appropriate people as shown below.

    Crispin at SU-SCORE has just installed a new TOPS-20 monitor (5.2) and this outstanding problem has NOT been fixed.

    The effect of this problem is that when a system which correctly performs the handshake is talking to a noncomplying TOPS-20, and the TCP close is initiated from the non-TOPS-20 end, the non-TOPS-20 end will hang in the close and eventually time out. This tends to cause STOR operations in FTP to TOPS-20 sites to fail. It also has the annoying property for us that every time we get mail from a TOPS-20 site, our TCP logs a protocol violation.

    Larson at SRI has located the defective code in TOPS-20 as shown below. The messages below are the previous ones relating to this problem.

    As we at Ford Aerospace do not run any TOPS-20 systems, we do not directly have this problem, but our users who need to communicate with some of the TOPS-20 sites find this a continual annoyance. Because of the former importance of TOPS-20 in the ARPANET community, there has been
    an informal tradition that the TOPS-20 implementation has been considered the ``standard'' with which others were expected to interoperate. For this reason, it appears that considerable effort has been expended in some of the newer implementations (such as the 4.2BSD systems) to interoperate with TOPS-20 despite this problem. (Elaborate FTP strategies regarding data connection establishment are a means of getting around this problem).

    Other implementors should be aware of this problem so that such wasted effort can be avoided.

    John Nagle
    Ford Aerospace and Communications Corp.

    This was back when Berkeley's TCP implementation was new and barely working. (Yes, kiddies, TCP/IP did not come from Berkeley.) Ever wonder why FTP uses a different data connection port for each transfer? That's how it started.

  • In 1994, Word 6 didn't know the word, "Internet." It suggested, "internment."

    (Jokes about being held captive by Word are left as an exercise to the reader.)

    • by spongman (182339)

      in 1994, the Internet at Microsoft was a shell account on a Xenix box called 'wingate' you could telnet into then telnet/ftp from there. there was a directory on it that was shared internally over IPX (IP wasn't routed back then) so you could copy files back to your machine. they also had a couple of nntp servers. an unofficial PPPoE connnection showed up hosted by the NT networking team, but the service was spotty...

  • Board Member 1: What if you tire before it's done?
    Board Member 2: Does it have rules?
    Board Member 3: Can more than one play?
    Board Member 4: What makes you think it's a game?
    Board Member 3: Is it a game?
    Board Member 5: Will it break?
    Board Member 6: It better break eventually!
    Board Member 2: Is there an object?
    Board Member 1: What if you tire before it's done?
    Board Member 5: Does it come with batteries?
    Board Member 4: We could charge extra for them.
    Board Member 7: Is it safe for toddlers?
    Board Member 3: How c

  • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @03:47PM (#35071498)

    Not to mention all that computery stuff was, eeewwwwww, the province of geeks and nerds! Eew eww eww! The two of them could have just completed a three week course giving a concise yet detailed overview of the Internet and they would never admit to it. Little Katie could never face her Delta Delta Delta sisters again if she admitted computer knowledge. Besides, they were millionaires even then. WTF did they care?

  • by sunking2 (521698) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @03:48PM (#35071524)
    It only took 17 years for slashdot to pick up this story.
    • by medv4380 (1604309)
      Is Slashdot even that old?
      • No. Slashdot is about 11 years old. They had a big bash about it turning 10 last year.
      • by Wyatt Earp (1029)

        Slashdot went up in September of '97, I came across it at the end of September or early October '97. Back when the tag line was Chips and Dips and then pretty soon it turned in News for Nerds, etc and so forth.

        I think Hemos and CmdrTaco were in Wired in the spring of '98 after /. got big with the post Columbine traffic and Jon Katz being here.

    • Don't worry. The Dupe will appear in only 8 more years.

  • by monoqlith (610041) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @03:58PM (#35071648)

    I was wondering where John Boehner got that orange hue. It turns out he's been in 1994 this entire time.

  • I remember even from grammar school that @ is the "commercial at" and is shorthand for "at"

    Like, 3 @ 50(imagine the cent sign here - & cent ; does not render on /.)

  • The worst was the first few awkward years where everyone on TV or radio pronounced the "http://" as "h-t-t-p colon slash slash" every time they read a URL out loud. I do not miss those days.

    • by RPoet (20693)

      Even today, people force themselves through the painful pronunciation of "double you double you double you dot" when it's completely unnecessary for almost all sites.

      • by Opyros (1153335)
        It's rather a shame the English language dropped the letter wynn [wikipedia.org] centuries ago (although it did look a bit too much like a "p"); "wynn wynn wynn" would be much easier to say!
    • by Kozz (7764)

      The worst was the first few awkward years where everyone on TV or radio pronounced the "http://" as "h-t-t-p colon slash slash" every time they read a URL out loud. I do not miss those days.

      ... but I've heard somewhere that every time someone pronounces "/" as "backslash", God kills a kitten.

    • by rimugu (701444)
      You may be young and not be aware that are other things besides http.
      Back in the day ftp, telnet, gopher, where common stuff, you had to specify to avoid confusion.
      Right now," www" is not even necessary in most of the case.
      Have you ever wondered why this site has the name it has? It is because of the slash slash and the dot (in those days there were more .edu and .org than .com assuming .com was not your first assumption)
      • by loshwomp (468955)

        You may be young and not be aware that are other things besides http.

        Oh, I'm plenty aware of that, but in the late 90s when this was going on, none of the above mattered. The announcers read the URLs out with painful completeness because they themselves did not even understand what they were reading--people actually using the web understood perfectly well how to use their browsers.

    • Sadly some still do this.....

    • by 517714 (762276)
      Half of the browsers and/or DNS's required that the URL be entered in its entirety. Few users would know why they couldn't get to the desired website if they failed to enter the full address.
  • by ChrisCampbell47 (181542) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @04:40PM (#35072228)

    January 1994 actually WAS kind of early to understand the internet. I myself only caught on to it in summer 1993, with Mosaic running on Suns and Macs in the Georgia Tech computer labs. I could rock command-line FTP though.

    Yes yes, some of you all had internet access / addresses well before then, and hooray for you. But in Jan 1994 it was still extremely new for average mainstream folks, like people who watch (and host) major network morning news shows.

    Give the perma-snark a rest. And you kids get off my lawn!

  • It is a series of tubes! :P

  • It was called "The Internet Directory" or something like that, and was nothing but a list of Usenet newsgroups. That's exactly what some people thought it was.

  • I don't know exactly why I get this impression, but was the guy on the sofa wearing the worst fake tan in all of human history?

  • In 1995 I was circulating a book proposal to publishers for a directory of literary resources on the web (it became The Book Lover's Guide to the Internet). Even then, most editors had only a dim sense of what it was all about, and Random House finally went for it only because the editor who read the proposal was in her 20s (and smart). But the publisher insisted I spend the first half of the book giving readers a crash course in how everything on the net worked then, including usenet and gopher, and how to

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