What kind of webbery is this?

A couple of my internet amigos have a mysterious art project webpage, the enticingly titled I Wrote This For You, with the even more enticing URL pleasefindthis.blogspot.com.

It consists of daily posts of a lovely photo matched with words of wisdom, such as this one:

The Far

Cute cat up a tree.

You got yourself up there. You can get yourself back down.

At a glance, it seems like cut ‘n’ paste fodder for emo LiveJournallers and miserable housewives, but when you look deeper, are the edges a little frayed? Is the author a font of wisdom or is he secretly looking for answers just as much as we are? And when the author says, “I wrote this for you,” is the correct response, “I read this for you”? Or is that reading too much into things?

Nonetheless, this is what the interweb was made for.

Tales of the Old Skool 2: The Horseboy Email

The final part of Tales of the Old Skool, brings us an incident even older than my webpage. This goes all the way back to 1995 and involves a hobby horse, Marcus Lush and an email.

Remember Newsnight on TV2? It was a late-night (10.30, usually) news programme that was broadcast in the mid-90s. The first half was the serious news section hosted by Simon Dallow and Lorelei Mason (later Alison Mau), then the second half was the entertaining part hosted by Marcus Lush.

Among the many entertaining things in the Marcus section was the appearance of a hobby horse that was named Horseboy. I think Horseboy had been rescued from outside someone’s house at inorganic rubbish collection time.

An excited viewer had written in with news that they had a Horseboy too, so there was much merriment at the news of two Horseboys.

Then on another episode it was announced that Newsnight had one of those newfangled “email address” things, and Marcus invited viewers to email him. (See, back then, email was a novelty. Its power had not yet been harnessed.) My brother and I decided that we should take advantage of Marcus’ offer, so I wrote a poem about Horseboy:

Horseboy is more than a toy
He fills the screen with love and joy
He’s more than a head on a pole
He fills up television’s empty hole

I would like to take Horseboy for a spin
Lots of fun would soon begin
We could gallop down the street
I think that would be really neat

I like Horseboy’s fuzzy blue face
He travels at a moderate pace
Horseboy is a very nice thing
A good use of old bits of string

Horseboy’s friend has got a mohawk
That must make the neighbours talk
Now that Horseboy has a friend
It seems the fun will never end!

So off it went to newsnight@tvnz.co.nz and lo and behold, a reply came:

brillianty. we will brodcast it. we have put it in out
shrine

lush

And then on the Newsnight of 7 November, 1995, Marcus mentioned that they had received a viewer email, and said something like that is was even more exciting than the viewer faxes on Holmes. It was jokingly called “email of the week”.

The email was shown on screen, including my email address, and the poem was read out on air, which was awfully thrilling.

I wrote in my diary at the time:

On Newsnight, Marcus read out the Horseboy poem. He said something like it proved that not all interneters were geeks.

The next day I got an email from some guy who’d seen the item, scribbled down the address and thought he’d email it to see if it was real. I was excited that he’d emailed me, and he was excited that I’d replied. Such was the excitement of the ‘net back in those days.

So I don’t know for sure, but I think this may point to me being the author of the first email ever read out on New Zealand television. Excellent.

Update – 11 April 2009

Thanks to the magic of the internet, I have recently had the opportunity to see this episode of Newsnight, and have taken a few screenshots of the historic poem reading.

Marcus Lush reading the email:

horseboy1

And the graphics of the email:

horseboy2

horseboy3

horseboy4

horseboy5

horseboy6

horseboy7

Ok, I know what you’re thinking – “Why is the emailed signed Herman Afrodyte??!?!” Well, that is another story for another time.

Update: here’s a video of the segment itself.

Tales of the Old Skool 1: The David Hasselhoff Experience

While I’m doing this celebrating-10-years thing, I though I’d better tell the tale of the David Hasselhoff Experience, lest it be lost to the interweb forever.

My website had been up and running for a month and I was bored. I’d learned this new HTML thing and wanted a new project, so I decided to make a fan site for David Hasselhoff. It’s not that I was a fan of the Hass, but rather I saw his cultural significance.

I went to some search engines and gathered all the Hasselhoff-related links I could find, grabbed a few images and made a website called The David Hasselhoff Experience. (Readers may recall the New Zealand rock group The Hasselhoff Experiment. Hm, I wonder where they got their name from.)

One of the first things I did was submit The Hasselhoff Experience (or DHX) to the then hugely popular Yahoo directory. There was no Entertainment/Actors/Hasselhoff_David, so I had to request that Yahoo create it, and they did. A few years later, this became the most popular Yahoo category.

Within a few hours of the listing going up, I had a massive 50 hits. Soon, my Hasselhoff website became more popular than my personal site. It was a hub for all things Hasselhoff. I was even contacted by the guys who ran the official Pamela Anderson website saying they were going to link to me.

I started getting emails. The senders were either people who, despite disclaimers, thought they were emailing David Hasselhoff and wanted autographs, photos or to express their undying love; or people who thought I was somehow mocking David Hasselhoff and making money from it. (Note: This was in the days of the interweb bubble, where it was somehow logical to think that someone could make serious cash from a David Hasselhoff fansite. If only!)

Occasionally – very occasionally – I’d get an email from someone who understood the intent of the DHX. It was the same spirit that’s fuelled the ‘Hoff-mania that’s recently swept Australia, the popularity of the Hooked on a Feeling video, and Mr Hasselhoff’s ability to bring added value to a film with a mere cameo appearance.

But eventually I got sick of the DHX. The crazy fans were still emailing me (“Dear KttnLvr45. I am not David Hasselhoff. Regards, Robyn.”) and I was getting sick of it. I’d found direction with my own website and wanted to work on that, so the David Hasselhoff Experience came to an end.

I didn’t get any emails of complaint. Hasselhoffmania continued on the internet without my help. It seems to be a force more powerful than even Mr Hasselhoff himself.

Stay tuned! On Thursday I bring you the tale of the Horseboy email. It goes all the way back to 1995 and involves a hobby horse, Marcus Lush, and a historically significant email.

10 Years

Right about now, mid-June, is the 10th anniversary of… actually, I’m not sure what of. What I do know is that in mid-June, 1996, I uploaded the very first version of my website.

I’d got online in about September 1995 and I’d been an admirer of the websites of people like Justin Hall and the dudes at Suck.com. I’d just switched to a new ISP – Wave – that offered 20MB web hosting in its pricing plan. HTML seemed pretty easy, so I decided to make one of those web page things.

I furiously tested it; checking each and every link to make sure everything worked before I uploaded it. Finally “Robyn’s Page of Various Assorted Stuff” was ready to go. The URL was something like www.wave.co.nz/pages/rhg

In the first few months, I kept redesigning the website. As I got to know more HTML, I was able to make it look how I wanted. I kept changing the name too. “Robyn’s Page of Various Assorted Stuff” became “Summer”, then “Disco Bitch”. (Shut up. I was only 21.)

I had a section of my website called The Secret Passage where I kept stuff I’d written. It was so named because originally it was a secret part of the website, with hidden links. But I liked the name, and renamed my website “Robyn’s Secret Passage”. No sexual innuendo intended – I just didn’t want to hide under a pseudonym. Eventually I got tired of redesigning, and “Robyn’s Secret Passage” stayed.

After about a year I moved to Ihug and transferred my website there, and crash.ihug.co.nz/~rhg was my new home. In 1998 I decided to get a domain name. secretpassage.com was taken, but secret-passage.com was available, so that became my new web address, and eventually hosting was moved to wibble.net.

I just kept adding to it and culled very little. Back in the early days of the web, there was a vogue for “under construction” graphics on websites, showing that the site was incomplete; that there was still more to come. But I read someone saying that a good website should always be under construction; it shouldn’t be a complete, static, never-changing experience, so I kept that in mind.

I redesigned my website a few times, but it got trickier to do. In the beginning I’d have only a dozen pages to change, but as my HTML empire grew, it was dozens of pages that would need updating.

In late 2002 I started writing stuff at LiveJournal. It hadn’t really been my intention to switch to LiveJournal as my place for online writing, but it was just so much easier than the old system of uploading stuff by FTP, and people could comment on and discuss my posts. I knew something had changed when people started linking to my LiveJournal site over my old website.

So I guess I’m celebrating 10 years of writing stuff and putting it on my parts of the internet.

Sometimes it feels a bit lonely writing online, but every now and then I hear from people who say they were inspired by my website to go and do their own thing. Y’know, there weren’t a lot of New Zealanders out there doing stuff online in the early days. I even had some of my writing used as course material in a first-year English paper at Auckland Uni. Not bad for a non-graduate.

It’s been a choice 10 years. Here’s to 10 more.

Hooray for Suck

Automatic Media, the company that owns Suck.com has run out of money and has put Suck on hold. This is very sad because Suck has been around for about as long as I’ve been on the internet, and in that time it’s been dearly admired and very inspirational to me.

There’s that saying that only 1000 people bought the first Velvet Underground record, but everyone of them started a band. I think Suck is a bit like that as far as web sites go. Or, at least that’s how it was for me.

The first version of my web site was pretty dull. It wasn’t quite your average run-of-the-mill personal web site, but it was pretty close. All I had to inspire me were the personal pages of a few geeks that I knew, and little else. Then I started paying more attention to what Suck was doing, and everything changed for me.

Suck was this web site where every day someone would write a few hundred words about something. Sometimes it would be too American for me to understand, but other times it was really good, often funny stuff. I had one of those lightbulb moments.

I didn’t have to write about the same old stuff that everyone else wrote about! I didn’t have to write one neat little page about my likes and dislike, or have my CV online. Instead I could write about whatever was pissing me off or making me happy at the time. That felt liberating.

And if Suck could write about things that only really meant something to a person raised in America, and it didn’t leave me feeling too alienated, I figured I could write about New Zealand-based topics without fear of alienating non-New Zealand visitors.

Suck also learned me a few things about design. I realised that I didn’t need a coloured background or nifty icons or animated gifs to make my page palatable. Just a narrow, easy to read column of text was all that was needed. If the written material isn’t good enough to hold the interest of a reader, than an animated gif isn’t going to help.

Suck became part of my weekly web surfing rounds. Wednesday was the best, ‘cos it was Filler day. If Suck disappears, it will be Polly Esther’s words and Terry Colon’s pictures that I will miss the most. Filler, most of the time, consisted of dead-on observations about people my age and the rad, sad and bad things they do. I never really liked the crack-smoking Canadian rabbit, though.

So unless a whole lot of money (or love) comes the way of Suck, it looks like it might cease to suck. I feel a bit guilty – I used to always drag the banner ad frame down so I couldn’t see the ad. But then, banner ads are dead (or are they?).

It’ll be pretty sad if Suck goes away forever. But six years of Sucking is pretty good, especially in internet years. But enough moping, it’s not quite time for boo-hoo-papa-smurf mode yet. Hooray for Suck, whatever its fate is.

Folk Dancing

I’ve never felt compelled to do a web site review before, but after seeing kellybrown.co.nz I just had to. It’s like a BWE site for guys who want to know “what women want” and think they can find the answer on the Internet.

The site is hosted by a person, who I assume is female, called either Kellybrown or Kelly Brown, depending on where you look. The mysterious Ms Brown doesn’t have a photo on her web site, but then neither do I, so we’ll just give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she (and me) is not really a man. The page that follows the link titled “Who is Kelly Brown” manages to avoid revealing anything specific about her.

Kick-starting the site on her welcome page, Kelly wastes no time using the buzz words du jour when she says she’ll be offering “solutions” and that the site will deal with “issues”. Yes, another online solution provider.

Then it’s onto the page which purports to answer the age old question of the dude who’s failed to score at the pub, “What do women want?”. The answer? “Everthing[sic] of course!!!” Right, let me note that down in my notebook of important stuff.

To elaborate on this Kelly Brown hands the virtual mike over to “single and free” Rachel. In a getting-to-know-Rachel questions and answers session, she is asked, “Do you drink?” and answers, “does a bear shit in the woods…Lindeuar[sic]”. I assume by that she means Lindauer, but she also spells it “Lindeaur”.

Rachel then goes on to throw down her vital stats. She’s 24 and has been dating guys for 10 years, averaging 5 boyfriends a year, but she’s only been in love with one, and on top of this, she’s had 10 one night stands. What gets this single and free millennial girl “in the mood”? Why, “Lindeaur,” of course.

We are then treated to Rach’s opinion on men and women. She comments on how as well as their being the slut/stud double standard, that society also deems it unacceptable when a group of girls go out and get drunk. How inconvenient. Kelly promises us the perspective of a another woman next week.

For any guys who want to express themselves, Kellybrown has conveniently provided a forum. Read as angsty guys ask things like “When do you know a woman is interested in you ???!!!” and make observations such as, “it looks really tempting having a girl, having someone around all the time, but I think its more work than it is worth”. The ever vigilant Ms Brown is there to remind posters that it’s not kewl to make fun of people with mullet haircuts. Heaven forbid the target audience should feel alienated.

Then it’s on to Kell’s list of rules of dating. She asks if dating is maybe “just a lot of American hype?” as if before America was discovered unmarried men and women didn’t socialise together. The rules of dating basically boil down to the guy not being a dick and being nice to the girl. That’s nice.

Next is Kellybrown’s sample date. She provides nine steps, which when followed may end up leading to “horizontal folk dancing”. Oo-er, Vicar!

The site also has a store which allows the potential wooer to order breakfast in bed, “delivered in a classy cane basket that she can keep”. The idea being, I think, that after the successful nine step date and a bit of horizontal folk dancing, the next morning the happy couple can enjoy breakfast together. That is, of course, if the lass isn’t puking up from all that “Lindeaur” she drank the night before.

Flowers can also be purchased, including a lovely potted sunflower which is described as letting you “fill her day with sunshine and she might fill your nights with folk dancing.” Not the aforementioned “horizontal folk dancing.” Just plain folk dancing. Yes fellows, if you play your cards right, she might do the Gay Gordon with you. Perhaps that’s where the site’s self-rated R16 classification comes from?

The gifts section offers a French perfume called “Dr Original”. It comes packaged in a lovely brown box with a big ribbon. Ooh la la! The other gift item is an “overnite” bag which includes a pink razor (apparently for her to shave him with) and three condoms. The description says it’s to “take away any excuses she may have.” I assume this is in reference to folk dancing – horizontal or otherwise.

One thing that caught my eye is what appears to be a banner ad at the top of various pages which reads, “How to deal with a… psycho”. However, there’s no link attached to it, so it just sits there, as if maybe Kellybrown is that psycho.

I had a lot of fun viewing the Kelly Brown site. It’s a classy piece of work. Will it help single guys get girls? Possibly – but not all girls respond to flowers and g-strings.

I’m off to polish up those folk dancing steps I learned when I was at primary school.