#1[T1:Starfire) Chat Room Drama

I know, two entries in two days – either I must be bored on the train or this week’s book is boring and I’m tired of sleeping through stations. Fact is that I wasn’t planning on another Rant so soon, but as usually, life throws a curve ball when you aren’t looking forward. Better a curve than a sinker or a slider, but still, it’s the randomus-interruptus that makes the world go round. Last night it was a chat room.

Now stop rolling your eyes! Let me give ya some background on my history with online chat. I’ve been doin’ the shit for about 17 years now. At least I think so. When it goes back more than half your life, the specific time line gets fuzzy. Suffice to say that my first chat room was AOL, except it wasn’t called AOL at the time. In the mid-80’s, there was a smattering of different types of computers in addition to the PC and MACs that are commonly found today. CompuServe was the “premium” service, catering to mostly PC’s and dumb terminals, and for the most part, they were so expensive, with their per-minute charges, that only businesses (and pheakers and hackers) ever bothered with it. Prodigy wasn’t around yet – they came about in the late 80’s. Enter QuantumLink. Q-Link, as it was commonly called, focused on the Commodore 64/128 line of computers, which were in many homes at the time – Q-Link is also the long lost grandfather to AOL’s service, many platforms and name changes removed. Q-Link offered most of what AOL does today, actually: online content, online real time chat, and online gaming. Instant Message wasn’t around yet; hell, even “normal” services like online chat weren’t exactly the same as they are today. With the older versions of chat, while you were typing in a message, the ongoing conversation on your screen wouldn’t move because of the slow and single-tasking processors of the day. So while you typed out your message, time stood still for you and your screen – when you hit Enter (or Return, as the case may be) you had to wait to see your message pop across the screen, while the screen caught up with the backlogged conversation. Sometimes this was seconds, sometimes minutes. And people wonder how I got to typing 120 words a minute – you had to if you wanted to chat in “real time” in those days!

My tenure at Q-Link survived exactly three cycles of my parent’s Visa bill. At $3.60/hour for the Q-Link service ($0.06/minute,) and the nature of 300 baud modems (0.30 Kbps for those of you that know terms like 56.0 Kbps for modems,) and well… let’s just say I was talkative at all hours of the day and night. Anyway, shortly after being threatened with bodily harm and a cancellation of a college fund, I hung up Starfire5, which was my first screen name – yes, this is where Starfire Software and my current pseudonym of “sf” comes from. I was 13-ish at the time; what did I know of money, much less Visa interest rates? After leaving Q-Link, I discovered the marvelous world of local BBS (Bulletin Board Service) sites, that were run by local users both younger and older than myself. BBS’s were of interest because you could post messages (not real time chat, but still interesting,) play online games (who could forget Empire?), download files, etc., but all will local interest in mind – you have to remember that since a direct phone call was used, if you called outside your immediate area, you racked up toll charges. Personally, this would have been just as offensive as the robust Visa bills for Q-Link, so I always called local BBS’s. Since you used your modem to dial into the BBS’s modem, there was only one person allowed at a time. You would also find a lot of ASCII art too, because this broke through the platform barrier – anyone with a modem terminal could call in to these sites so ASCII art was a great way to “enhance” your site for all users. It was from these BBS’s that I found that kids in my own school were highly respected members of a not so highly respectable group of users, but what did I care? I was still online and got along with most everyone; what these other people did with their Black and Blue Boxes (much less Sprint and MCI) was none of my concern because I wasn’t involved. It was also via these friends that I discovered d-DIAL.

Diversi-DIAL, known to all users as d-DIAL, was a remarkable piece of software for the Apple //e. Not 2-E or ][e. //e. See, the //e was another “state of the art” machine at the time as it had 256KB of memory (I think my sneakers have more than that now, but that’s not the point – stop scoffing the memory amounts!) and seven expansion card slots; if you filled the seven slots with seven 300 baud modems, you could host seven different dial up session on the same box, offering online chat again. Neat, eh? It was pricey as you needed seven separate phone lines with a roller-over from the first one to the other six. Again, this was local people only, unless you wanted to ring up long distance charges. On a good note, however, you could link different d-DIAL servers together, so on occasion, you would have a d-DIAL server in CT linked to TX, or CA, or even Canada, provided the SysOp (System Operator) could handle the long distance cost – this happened more often than you would think. For the most part, much like the local BBS’s, we weren’t in it to talk to “long distance” local people anyway. At the time, the LD zones in CT were a bit of a pooch-screw, so even neighboring towns could be costly. Not only that, but think of it this way: at 15, you have no car, no cash, no sight outside of your own high school, so this was decent. About once a month, you’d meet in public too. That was always a hoot – talk about eclectic (or freaky)! You’d have a group of people at a mall, or rink, or arcade (hah!) from age 15 to 25 of all different backgrounds and experiences. Invariably, there was always the “you wouldn’t say that to my face” idiot-induced fight, with the this same idiot not showing at the last minute – no fight online ever got physical offline. There were also SysOps on d-DIAL as well: SuperOps, Ops, and Users, and all the problems that go with it. “Why did I get kicked?” “That’s not fair, just because you have ops!” “This is a free country!” “Why can’t I have ops?” All of it was there, in a self contained universe, in Shelton, CT.

It was d-DIAL that made my chat room mind and persona what it is today. There were many, many dramas and comedies played there, some of them even internationally. There was even a period when a group of about 14 people decided that CT couldn’t go on without a d-DIAL presence, so the 14 of us bought the hardware and software from the old SysOp of “The Three Ring Circuit, d-DIAL #9” and set up shop on our own; the system was called “Tri-Con” and it went on for a little while. It was learning experience that ended by 1991, with the death of the last d-DIAL server in CT. More or less, PC’s took over, AOL was now around, Prodigy was on the scene, and CompuServe had dropped in price. Also IRC (Internet Relay Chat) was already active and free and internationally reaching, which I started messing with in 1995. Online chatters never really “leave” no matter what they say – they just fade out for a while and are reborn some time later. If you last more than a month in a chat room, you’re a chatter, and you’ll never leave entirely.

So what did d-DIAL do to me? Well! It taught me about Ops. Ops is ridiculous. Remember that “Ops” gave some users the ability to kick out other users. On d-DIAL you had a < instead of a [ in front of your name. On IRC, you get a @. It’s 8-bits. One fucking byte. It means nothing. This is what d-DIAL taught me. Why is this important? I chat on MSN Chat now – where “hosts” get a “hammer” in front of their name – and the same exact arguments happen. So much for the on-going evolution of humans. “Why did I get kicked?” “That’s not fair, just because you’re a host!” “This is a free country!” “Why can’t I get to be a host?” I never asked for host rights on MSN – I just always end up with them. I don’t run the Connecticut room on MSN, but I do host and built/maintain the website to support it – so what? I don’t set policy. I’m just another user on the system, one that doesn’t shut up granted, but I’m just me. Lemme go on to dispell some of these arguments right now:

Why did I get kicked? – Probably because you were being an idiot. Being a host means that you sometimes kick a user out because you feel it’s needed and/or in most cases because another user requested it. Either way, you were being an idiot, and who cares – you just re-join and if you got banned, go get another account or go to another room. No one makes you stay in the room you got kicked from – that’s your choice.

That’s not fair, just because you’re a host! – Fair? It’s a chat room. A virtual gathering of bits and bytes. Is it fair that OJ didn’t go to prison for murder? Is it fair that the residents of South Central LA burned their own town because they didn’t agree with Rodney King’s verdict and they never got arrested? Is it fair that people in the WTC were innocently drinking coffee with a jet flew into thei building? These are injustices. These are unfair things. Being a regular user in a chat room while other people are hosts? I’m not even typing another word about that.

This is a free country! – Yes, it is a free country, and with great freedom comes great responsibility. You cannot go into a mall and scream “fire”. You are free to do so, but you are free to get arrested too. You have the right to bare arms but you are not free to fire them at will or carry them everywhere you go. There was a woman not too long ago that got tossed off a plane while at an airport because she asked if “the fly boys were sober today” – since the FAA is a wee touchy these days, they chucked her. Oh, and by the way? While MSN Chat is a free service, in the terms of cost, it is still a private system. It allows access to the public, but they own everything on it and about it. So it is in fact a private system that the public can join. They have a Code of Conduct that they are allowed to enforce and the “individuals” that run the non-MSN hosted rooms can enforce it at will. You’ve agreed to follow it by clicking the “Join” button to get into the room, whether you knew it or not. So yes, it’s a free country, but there’s no Bill of Rights online.

Why can’t I get to be a host? – Hosting is something that is done on a trust basis. If you’re new, in most cases, you will be told to bugger off. You might be tossed out on your bum, in fact. But, why do you care? It’s the same thing as always – an extra 8 bits to stick in front of your name. Nothing else. There’s no power, there’s no rightousness. Hosts do have the ability to enforce their ideals on other users true, but the user can always close the window, and if one host gets out of line, s/he gets tossed as well. It’s a simple system – anyone can be kicked and that’s that.

Anyway, what caused this babble? Last night’s Chat, for the first time in a long while, was not fun. I went into my regular room – my task bar lit up like a christmas tree. We had two users that were engaged and then recently broke up, and now one of the two seems to keep on starting shit in the room because s/he is bitter still. We also have an ignorant and childish 50-year old that will whine, bitch, and moan about all four of the things above. He won’t shut up because he doesn’t like the current management, and yet he keeps coming back; he even has an attitude because MSN lets PC users do things that WebTV users can’t do yet I some how get blamed for that too – obviously he’s a WebTV user, so it’s a selfish thing; he doesn’t care about the other users and what they may or may not be able to do. The couple in question is an easy situation – if you can’t leave your shit offline, like adults can and should, then you will be booted eventually. I went through a broken engagement, ending a 2 1/2 year relationship – maybe I’m naive, but I don’t recall getting this petty nor idiotic about it andd I expected most adults to be the same. Go figure. The whiny guy… well, he’s just a waste of bandwidth. He’s got no good arguements, at all; some people that have argued one or all of the issues above had done it well and at least made their points. This guy ignores everything you say to him anyway, getting stuck in his own rhetoric. He believes his own press, plain and simple – no logic at all. He just keeps shaking his rattle until he gets his way, whatever that is – but no one knows what that is! There’s nothing much I can do for him except ignore him, which I usually do – usually? Yes, because would you believe the ass starts shit all the time with me? Not the brightest bulb in the box, but I guess it takes all types, right?

Anyway that’s my two cents (or two-fiddy) on chatting. It can be fun – most times it is for me even these days, but I got m’panties in a bunch today. I still like talking to people in other parts of the world; helps to add perspective on your own life, when you realize that living in Belfast means living between bomb explosions. Or that living in Australia means that your commodes flush counterclockwise. Or that you’d have to go to Italy to get an Audi A3, whatever that is. It’s a big world, to be sure.

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