Back to the world-wide-web

Back to the world-wide-web

It was 1993 or 1994, maybe, and I had just seen my first web site –it was the Canadian Astronomy and Data Center’s (CADC) front page. I was in Canada, studying for my Masters’ degree at UVic’s astronomy department. I can even remember the first image I saw on the web – it was a picture of the Hubble Space Telescope, hosted at the CADC. 

Of course, I was already known at the department as an internet hacker, always interested in searching out obscure materials hidden in the deepest corners of internet. But in those days, that meant logging into libraries in Saskatchewan and seeing if they had the latest novel from Kurt Vonnegut or not. And of course everything in those days was text only — although I remember one particularly interesting episode where I found wax cylinder recordings of the World’s Most Evil Man, Alastair Crowley, and played them through the telephone-audio quality loudspeakers we had on our Sun workstations. In the middle of the night, I think? Anyway. But this world-wide-web thing was something else. Right from the start, there was a ton of content. Not only could you look at web sites — but you could also make your own! With a friend in the department, Luc Simard, we downloaded the apache web server and installed it on a server in the basement, and set to work creating the astronomy group web site.

Those were simpler times — no CSS, just plain HTML. We found a picture of the astronomy dome and stuck it on the front page. With another friend,  James Overduin, I went to the library looking for suitable pictures we could use  (remember of course there was really no Web at this time so any pictures you wanted you had better scan them yourself). We found a picture of some cave-men building Stonehenge and put that on the Grad student page, and wrote at the bottom ‘At work on the next generation of telescopes’.

I wrote most of the text. The front page was simply picture of the astro dome, along with three or four paragraphs of text interspersed with links (which, in those days remember, were blue). I resisted innovations. I approached it a bit like telling a story.

The front page is still there, actually, linked to from the Astronomy department’s front page.  Some of the words that I wrote almost twenty years ago are still on that page. Looking at the source file I was amused to see the date of modification/creation was 16 November, 1994, and the user was one “Howard W. Cambell”: assiduous students of American literature will know just who he was (answers on a postcard…) Those pages lasted a long time because they loaded so fast and contained most of the information you needed. Today, of course, they look terribly dated. 

But it was funny — in those early days, I was the only Henry Joy McCracken on the internet searches (people interested in the other Henry Joy hadn’t yet heard about the world wide web) and I even got a few emails about my little personal web-page telling me that such-and-such a link was broken, etc. I never made another web page again, for various different reasons. But …. now, here in the 21st century, I’m obliged for other (professional) reasons to make one again. And I am obliged to write this blog post, because if the link is not out there, Google will never index it (and the best chance of them indexing it is if it’s on one of Google’s own pages, i.e., here). So, here it is:

So yes, I admit that this blog post was an advertisement. But, at least there was at least a small story in there somewhere.

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