I was spending some time reading Computer Stupidities, a fun little web site. Unfortunately some of the time you find yourself being more sympathetic to the poor “victim” of the story than the narrator because the narrator was being arrogant and not understanding of natural confusions that people new to computer might have.
One of the stories put me in mind of something that happened to me, and rather than submitting it there, I thought I’d put it here.
I was at Sun’n’Fun 2002, a large Experiment Aircraft Association (EAA) fly-in in Lakeland Florida. A local Florida ISP had put some computers that you could use to connect to the internet, with a time limit and no chairs to keep the line short. Not a bad idea, and best of all it was free. In 2002 I had a laptop, but no wireless card, so a wireless hotspot wouldn’t do me any good – this was my only access option.
Now as an aside, I should mention that I’m a bit of a dinosaur. I’ve been using email since the late 1980s, and as far as I’m concerned there are very few reasons to use HTML in email – I don’t care what font and colour you think your words should be, I’ll judge them on their content thanks, and I certainly don’t want to activate web bugs or see your spam. So accordingly, I use a plain text email client on my home machine, which I access through ssh or telnet. Pure text, fast as hell, and I can use extremely small and dumb clients like a vt100 emulator on a PDA.
So every day that I was at Sun’n’Fun I went into this area, fired up IE which was the only icon available, and typed “telnet://xcski.com/” which brought up the Microsoft Telnet client. I’d log in, read my email in less than the time limit and maybe also fire up my text-only newsreader and read a few newsgroups, log off, and leave.
The second last day of the fly-in, I was finishing up and about to leave when the guy running the booth that day came over and said “I know what you’re doing. And I want you to get out of here.” I asked what he thought I was doing, and he said “You know what you’re doing.” “Yes,” I replied, “I’m using mutt to read my email on my home server.” “You need to leave now.” “Why?” “You know what you’re doing.” “Yes, but evidently you don’t.” That’s when he threatened to call security. Since I figured Rent-a-cops would know even less than him about what you can do on the Internet that doesn’t look like Hotmail, I left. He must have seen a plain text window on the screen and somehow thought I’d gotten into the MS-DOS shell and was trying to do something on his screen, but trying to show him that I was on a different shell on a different system just didn’t register with him.
After I got home, I told my story on a newsgroup I participate in. One of the other participants used to work for that same ISP and asked me if it was “this guy” and sent me a link to a page on that ISP’s site with a bio and picture of their sales manager. I confirmed that it was. He said that while the bio on the ISP’s web site said he had 8 years experience with the Internet, it was more like 2 months experience 48 times over.