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Thread: How did we do it before the internet...

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    How did we do it before the internet...

    (If you have to make a joke, please go to "I'm so old that..." in Fun & Games.)

    So, how did we do it before the internet? Let's document it here. It's not that long ago, and I notice that I'm starting to forget how I did things before the internet. So let's give each other some insight based on concrete examples from everyday life.

    -Computer hardware and software. I used to buy computer magazines or read the one they had in the library. Those showed me a) which new hardware and software existed and b) reviewed and/or compared it. That way, I had at least some data and opinion to go by. Mind you, reading multiple opinions tended to be too expensive as one magazine = one opinion. And those were editor reviews, quite possibly sponsored so not very neutral. Forget about user reviews unless someone you knew had the thing. Those magazines, by the way, used to come with a CD-ROM with demo versions of games and software. That was an excellent way to get to know software. However, those magazines were quite expensive. But as I said, the local library had one of those magazines but the CD wasn't included when you took the magazine home. The librarian kept those CD's in his desk. And guess who was good friends with the librarian.

    OK, so now you knew what you wanted. But where to buy it, and where to buy it for the best price? At best you got an MSRP from the magazine or an advertisement of some shop that may or may not be near your place. Then you just went in whatever shop you knew, asked if they had it, and what it cost. And then you just hoped you were not being ripped off. Sure you could call multiple stores but that cost time and money. So you just had to try and figure out which shop had good prices. Remember this part for a bit further down.

    But what if you wanted to get information on hardware or software that was a few years old? No new magazines wrote about those, and old magazines were hard to find. Well then, let me introduce you to a big pre-internet concept: being blissfully unaware. Yes. Just like paying a certain price in a shop without knowing whether or not you payed a good price, you just tended to do what you thought was best without having all -or any- information when buying older hardware or software. Point in case: we bought the newer Sega Master System II game console, which we believed was better than Sega Master System 1. It was newer, and looked more modern after all. The games predating the II also looked way worse than the newer II games. True, but decades later the internet taught me that actually the I could do all the II could do and then some. But back then, you simply didn't know and that had its charms too. No nights spent/wasted on reading reviews, comparing webshops, Trustpilots, Quora's etc.

    Oh I nearly forgot. For a few years, our local community library used to borrow out PC games, and they had a decent catalogue. My youth was saved! I can't remember if you had to pay for it. I think not, and if you did, certainly not a lot. I will neither confirm nor deny we had a CD-ROM writer at home.

    Speaking of CD-ROM writers: there was a time where typically only a small handful of kids at school had one of these at home. And at least one of them would have a printed out Excell list of software you could buy from him. Piratebay on paper, and not even free. And then there were CD-ROMs with multiple hacked games on them, usually full games but lacking the music and cutscene video's. Things like the Twilight CD-ROMs. If you bought one of those from The Kid, you had multiple games at once. And an overly full hard drive. Real Friends were kids who let you borrow their official games for a few weeks for free. Just like with vinyl records: as long as you return them unscratched. And then there was this one kid who knew our PC only had a 3.5 floppy drive, so he copied a CD-ROM game onto 17 installation floppies for us.

    And if you have to ask: multiplayer games were split-screen on a single computer or LAN networks, drivers came on floppy or CD with the product, microtransactions or DLC was not a thing, and Windows couldn't perform updates even if they had wanted to. On the bright side: no computer slowdown as the years went on. And cookies were what you ate while waiting for DOOM to load.

    For clarity: my post was computer related, but I'm equally interested to read how you figured out when to do what in the garden, what the rash and fever of your child could be, where there was a restaurant or gas station in another town, etc before the internet. And please, a bit more details than "we went to the library and now get off my lawn!" to keep it interesting. Or anecdotes of things going awfully wrong or accidentally right due to lacking access to the collective knowledge of every fool and then some's opinion on the internet.
    With sufficient thrust, water towers fly just fine.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nicolas View Post
    For clarity: my post was computer related, but I'm equally interested to read how you figured out when to do what in the garden, what the rash and fever of your child could be, where there was a restaurant or gas station in another town, etc before the internet. And please, a bit more details than "we went to the library and now get off my lawn!" to keep it interesting. Or anecdotes of things going awfully wrong or accidentally right due to lacking access to the collective knowledge of every fool and then some's opinion on the internet.
    Well, I really did go to the library often. So there's that.

    TV shows and radio music were on when they were on, until VCRs came along. Then we rented from Blockbuster or recorded grainy movies off cable. Saturday morning was for cartoons. The closest thing we had to social media was letters to the editor in newspapers. And Sunday meant the comic strips were in color.

    Consulted encyclopedias (non-Wiki, remember them? A shelf of books that were outdated after six months) As far as getting medical information, we called the doctor; my Mom is a nurse, so we had resources there that most folks did not. To find out where restaurants were we got maps from AAA or the rest stops or just drove around. Even with maps I got lost driving a lot. A LOT.

    Pay phones. Phone books.

    Generally things were less convenient and more time consuming. And heavier.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nicolas View Post

    -Computer hardware and software. I used to buy computer magazines or read the one they had in the library. Those showed me a) which new hardware and software existed and b) reviewed and/or compared it. That way, I had at least some data and opinion to go by. Mind you, reading multiple opinions tended to be too expensive as one magazine = one opinion. And those were editor reviews, quite possibly sponsored so not very neutral. Forget about user reviews unless someone you knew had the thing. Those magazines, by the way, used to come with a CD-ROM with demo versions of games and software. That was an excellent way to get to know software. However, those magazines were quite expensive. But as I said, the local library had one of those magazines but the CD wasn't included when you took the magazine home. The librarian kept those CD's in his desk. And guess who was good friends with the librarian.
    PC Computing (magazine) - never had a subscription, but read it pretty regularly (bought a copy or the library)
    Used to like browsing computer stores or just chatted with people for recommendations.

    Even further back - first year in college (1976) needed a good, scientific calculator. There was an area in mid-town Manhattan (New York City) where there were a whole bunch of discount electronic stores in a one or two block area (think diamond district, but for electronics - there were similar ones I frequented for camera equipment and model railroading). Spent an afternoon going from store to store, comparing what they had, prices, etc. Finally figured out which one I wanted (it was a Texas Instruments, but I don't remember which model), and bought it.
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    Ah the Big City, one step closer to an internet experience. We didn't have to ask "which stores has this town" but "which town has a store".

    Come to think of it, I did go to the library a lot too. Didn't stay off the lawn though. I didn't go there just for the PC games, but I also used to pick out books on things like woodworking or hobbies, to get inspired and find some tutorials. Model railroading books and magazines were a goldmine on that front.

    But some things were simply not found in the library. Like that one time we bought an old second hand slot car track with butchered up wiring. Nobody in our inner circle knew anything about electronics, so it was a lot of trial and error (and very forgiving passive electronics) to get the cars running in the right direction with speed control. This decade merely adopted the "just send it" attitude, we were born in it.

    The general feeling that things were less convenient, more time consuming and heavier is shared here. Simple stuff like buying a second hand Lego set without the instructions. Big problem back then, trivial now. Never mind running low on fuel in unknown territory...

    Speaking of second hand stuff, selling it was rather easy. Get yourself a spot on a carboot sale, ask next to nothing, sit and wait. Buying specific stuff though...a good thing that the prices were so low because the search could take years. People who sit on carboot sales today and ask internet prices fail to see that difference. Sure there were magazines with wanted ads, but again living in small towns they only had so much effect.
    With sufficient thrust, water towers fly just fine.

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    A lot of home study courses in basic electronics from Heathkit. I also picked up the basics in HVAC, appliance repair, television, radio, automotive, and just about anything I could get my hands on. Libraries were a steady hangout.

    If I wanted to meet someone, I would walk next door, knock, and introduce myself, usually to offer someone use of one of my many tools or to borrow one of theirs. Nice way to form a bond.

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    I noticed that I got stuck at a certain level of knowledge/skill much more than today. Things like programming. If it wasn't in my book, it was unlikely I would discover it. The importance of a good explanatory book was so important. These days I look up examples and tutorials until somewhere in the endless stack of resources I find something that suits me.

    That said, today still a good reference book can be such a blessing. Not just for programming. I recently bought one for metalworking, and if I could find a good one for electronics I'll certainly buy it. But it's hard to find the "practical electronics" kind of books that spend enough time on things like why/which caps to place over IC's, what kind of values are better/worse to use when making voltage dividers, etc. Things a senior colleague would tell you.

    Point in case: the manual you got with a Commodore 64 was an excellent starting point for BASIC. You don't get that kind of manual if you buy a computer these days.
    With sufficient thrust, water towers fly just fine.

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    If I wanted to see how my family and friends were doing then I called them on the phone.
    If I wanted to learn about a new restaurant then I read the newspaper (ditto sports scores, news, opinion, marriages, deaths, births, etc.).
    If I wanted to get from A to B then I used a physical map.
    If I needed to look up a phone number then I used a directory.
    If I needed clothing then I went to a store.
    If I wanted to learn about PCs then I read Byte (I liked Jerry Pournelle's column).

    Or is this not what you had in mind?

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    Well we can't all be MacGyver.

    We still have way too many bookshelves with city guides, travel guides etc. Outdated by the time you went on holiday, extremely outdated by now. But I do remember that my parents did use them back in the day: when traveling, every evening literature would be studied to determine what to do the next day. Though I must add, the travel books had a lesser role in that. On day 1 of your travel, you went to the local tourist office to supply yourself with recent folders and you used those. So yeah, why did we all fall for travel books?
    With sufficient thrust, water towers fly just fine.

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    Quote Originally Posted by schlaugh View Post
    If I wanted to learn about PCs then I read Byte (I liked Jerry Pournelle's column).
    Byte magazine was great. It predated the IBM PC and was more about general computing than any specific computer family. I was reading that before I had any home computer (pre Apple II plus). I was able to answer a job interview question that helped me get a job because I read about it in Byte. Pournelle’s column was fun to read, though I didn’t take his opinions too seriously. Ciarcia’s Circuit Cellar was also fun. Of course they didn’t last after advertising fell off. All the many mail order stores would advertise in magazines because that’s the only way you would find them, but that went away post-web/internet. Later magazines were half the thickness of earlier ones.

    I also got a PC Magazine subscription starting around the time I bought a PC clone. Very good for PC specific material. It was thick with ads pre and early web/internet. And occasionally, when I was looking into buying hardware, I would buy a copy of Computer Shopper. These things were huge, essentially bound rough paper like a newspaper, and were nearly all ads with some mostly forgettable articles.

    Magazines were really the key way to keep up with the industry. These days, I just look around on the internet.

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    On libraries: I think I mentioned before in another thread, but when I was in high school my sister worked at a local university library. Sometimes during summer break I would go with her and browse the stacks. They had more magazines and books than public libraries, including interesting things like JBIS (Journal of the British Interplanetary Society), Scientific American when it was pretty good (and still popularized enough I could usually understand it) and lots of other things. I would wander around that library much like I wander around the internet today.

    At a regular public library I would pick about a dozen magazines (you couldn’t check them out, just read them there) and take them back to one their reading areas. Computer magazines I didn’t subscribe to would be a focus, but also news and general science along with whatever looked interesting. Again, similar to what I do today but with paper.

    "The problem with quotes on the Internet is that it is hard to verify their authenticity." — Abraham Lincoln

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    The changes have been so incremental yet profound that I had to think a minute before making my first post. The Internet and specifically the World Wide Web has become a pervasive part of modern life, to a degree I would have found unbelievable in my youth.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    My first computer was a large room in the university Chemistry department, we learned to punch holes in cards for Algol. Next was a lovely analog computer with valve amplifiers , used to design Concorde wings and stuff like that. Then, dial up modems and smart calculators. My boss bought the first, maybe, Apple computer into the UK, and when I went independent I invested in a ll with floppy discs and a tractor printer. The internet came later. One huge difference with today is that after university I lost contact with all my friends through not thinking to get telephone numbers, and I still regret that. Would not happen today with the internet. I think I see the internet as a passing phase, like empires. Interesting but I try to hang on to to other, older networks too.
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    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
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    Quote Originally Posted by schlaugh View Post
    If I wanted to see how my family and friends were doing then I called them on the phone.
    If I wanted to learn about a new restaurant then I read the newspaper (ditto sports scores, news, opinion, marriages, deaths, births, etc.).
    If I wanted to get from A to B then I used a physical map.
    If I needed to look up a phone number then I used a directory.
    If I needed clothing then I went to a store.
    If I wanted to learn about PCs then I read Byte (I liked Jerry Pournelle's column).
    Most of this still applies to me. No paper directories any more, so I do have to search on-line for phone numbers. And "learning about PCs" now consists of searching for "[text of error message]" + "Windows 10" with tedious frequency.

    I still buy physical travel books, too, because life's too short to wade through whiny nonsense posted by idiots on-line.

    I also used to turn up at a car park, put my money in a machine, and leave to go about my business.
    Whereas now I usually seem to have to download an impenetrable app on my phone, fiddle around for five minutes, then give up and drive somewhere else. (Though often I can just skip the fiddling part, because I don't happen to have my phone with me.)

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    One huge difference with today is that after university I lost contact with all my friends through not thinking to get telephone numbers, and I still regret that. Would not happen today with the internet.
    I was quite happy to lose contact with everyone I knew through university--unfortunately, the internet has let them find me again.
    It was pleasant, back in the day, to intermittently hit "refresh" on your life, and I think people nowadays are obliged to drag around a sort of comet tail of ancient social contacts they've grown away from and find vaguely irritating, but can't quite muster the determination to formally sever contact with.
    On a similar theme, anyone who brought a camera to a party in my youth was considered to be only one step away from vermin, and I more than once saw someone punched in the face for taking photographs of others who were going about their party business. But now people have their sweaty-faced indiscretions preserved for all time, to haunt them through future relationships and job applications.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Before the internet I used to use Frost and Sullivan market and status reports, I think my employer had a monthly account. It is very hard to get that quality using search engines. But I must admit my current small business would not be possible without a website and email contacts. My impression is that small businesses everywhere have been helped by their good or bad websites but large companies tend to fail to be useful on line. But then they have those chat bots.

    Design has changed hugely, I spent years with an A0 drawing board, working from general arrangements toward parts with tolerances. Now it is all 3D with direct to machine connection, tolerances are inside the programs, not taught. This has made complex curved consumer goods and cars, very hard to specify before. Car design for example was done on full sized wax models with great skill.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    I was quite happy to lose contact with everyone I knew through university--unfortunately, the internet has let them find me again.
    It was pleasant, back in the day, to intermittently hit "refresh" on your life, and I think people nowadays are obliged to drag around a sort of comet tail of ancient social contacts they've grown away from and find vaguely irritating, but can't quite muster the determination to formally sever contact with.
    On a similar theme, anyone who brought a camera to a party in my youth was considered to be only one step away from vermin, and I more than once saw someone punched in the face for taking photographs of others who were going about their party business. But now people have their sweaty-faced indiscretions preserved for all time, to haunt them through future relationships and job applications.

    Grant Hutchison
    Good point, but I recall the medics were in the adjacent building, I even slipped into some lectures, my sister also chose medicine. The parties were indeed better not recorded for posterity, nor witnessed by future patients. Meanwhile the engineers drank beer in moderation. Of course some memories of those days are lost like my contacts. The forever nature of recorded student days now, must be a worry for those who choose to become responsible.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    Meanwhile the engineers drank beer in moderation.
    Really? The engineers at my university were second only to the divinity students for their massive alcohol consumption. They had a "song" (more of a chant) that went:
    "We are we are we are we are the engineers.
    We can we can we can we can drink many many beers."
    That was it ... it just went on and on and on forever.

    Back on topic--I agree that small businesses have benefited hugely from the internet, as have customers who are interested in niche products. Getting the two together used to be a hit-or-miss process. Finding a copy of an out-of-print book, for instance, has been transformed beyond all recognition, to the mutual benefit of seller and customer. Though I still (until the Current Unpleasantness) spend as much time as ever browsing the physical shelves of second-hand book shops, because the books you never knew existed are still an essential part of life.

    I do notice that the nature of second-hand book shops has changed somewhat, however. It used to be that you could walk in and talk to a knowledgeable and engaged owner, who could tell you immediately if they had a book in stock, or could lead you to the exact section you needed to search. Nowadays it's more common to discover the physical shops staffed by bored youths on minium wage scrolling through their phones, because the shop is a minor part of the business--the owner is in the back office fulfilling orders from the internet. Or, of course, the physical shop has closed entirely--there used to be an entire street of second-hand book shops in York, and not a one now remains.

    Grant Hutchison
    Last edited by grant hutchison; 2021-Jan-18 at 02:44 PM.

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    I do hope books survive. Especially those unpopular ones that will not get digitised or read aloud. I find I use the ubiquitous dictation button (not this time) instead of typing, a skill which the internet brought back. It seems once acquired, reading persists like muscle memory, but you have to get over the hump where it becomes a pleasure. I admit to another naughty internet pleasure, I put in mistyped vague words into ebay and see what comes up. I have a few antique instruments from doing that, irresistible bargains like my Russian made binocular microscope, I wonder where that got to? In the past I hovered at auctions to buy boxes of miscellaneous. But I got over that, thanks to the internet.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    I occasionally wonder how I used to waste all this time without the internet. Then I remember I had a job!
    Cum catapultae proscriptae erunt tum soli proscript catapultas habebunt.

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    Back in some previous century I was looking for books about games in the card catalog at a library. When I came to the end of the games section I started finding books about game theory. That was much more interesting than games. If I search for games on the Internet I'm not likely to come to the end of the games section.

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    But if you look for games on the Internet using Bing, likely the first result will be on game theory and the second on hunting. Somewhere near the end of the result will there be something about playing games.

    I do hope books survive. Especially those unpopular ones that will not get digitised or read aloud.
    I have very recently encountered the opposite problem. I was looking for the physical copy of a book, and it is no longer in print because there exists an ebook version now. Bummer. I want all my music, books and games as physical copies.
    With sufficient thrust, water towers fly just fine.

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    As an outsider to dating and finding people to date, I notice that I've seen it go from entirely offline, to mostly offline with dating/matchmaking sites as a fringe which people would be ashamed to resort to, to the latter becoming more common & ordinary, to the former now being the one that people increasingly avoid and recommend avoiding.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nicolas View Post
    I want all my music, books and games as physical copies.
    Even I, a confessed and confirmed Luddite, have moved beyond that. The problem was just the physical storage space.
    Cum catapultae proscriptae erunt tum soli proscript catapultas habebunt.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Trebuchet View Post
    Even I, a confessed and confirmed Luddite, have moved beyond that. The problem was just the physical storage space.
    Exactly. I’m not much of a music listener, but decades ago I dealt with the record organization and storage problem. Then when I bought an Apple II+, I dealt with the floppy disk problem. Sometimes I would have stacks near the computer that would fall over when they got too tall. Each one only held 140K. Then when I bought an AST IBM clone, I was able to deal with the floppy disk problem to a great extent by using a hard drive. I made a point of getting a 40 mb drive when most were 20 mb because I was so tired of floppy shuffle. It was fantastic, for a time. Then the CD-rom problem began and I was back to shuffling disks again until hard disk capacity caught up. Then I moved onto the DVD and DVD-rom problem. Even when disk capacity caught up, copy protection has been a big issue there.

    There also was the parallel book problem. I really like ebooks, as long as they aren’t copy protected or if it is easy to break it. I avoid them if I can’t, since for me the entire point is to be able to access them on whatever hardware I have, now or twenty years from now. Copy protection defeats the purpose.

    Incidentally, years ago I named my 18 TB redundant disk NAS “Memory Alpha” after the Star Trek reference. It has backup and is used to store video, audio and ebooks. But hopefully there aren’t any dangerous aliens about.
    Last edited by Van Rijn; 2021-Jan-19 at 01:46 AM.

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    So, as an addendum, part of my issue isn’t just space, but access and organization. Space sure is an issue with books, though, and I end up storing some of them so they are hard to get to again.

    "The problem with quotes on the Internet is that it is hard to verify their authenticity." — Abraham Lincoln

    I say there is an invisible elf in my backyard. How do you prove that I am wrong?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Delvo View Post
    As an outsider to dating and finding people to date, I notice that I've seen it go from entirely offline, to mostly offline with dating/matchmaking sites as a fringe which people would be ashamed to resort to, to the latter becoming more common & ordinary, to the former now being the one that people increasingly avoid and recommend avoiding.
    Wait. Are you saying that meeting a person in the real world, discovering a mutual affection, then arranging to spend time together to see what happens, is something people recommend avoiding?

    Grant Hutchison

  27. #27
    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Really? The engineers at my university were second only to the divinity students for their massive alcohol consumption. They had a "song" (more of a chant) that went:
    "We are we are we are we are the engineers.
    We can we can we can we can drink many many beers."
    That was it ... it just went on and on and on forever.
    At a nearby university the engineers had a saying engineers rule the world or ERTW and also they had a pub that cloud only be used once a month in their building.
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  28. #28
    At that university was my first introduction to the internet. The dorm I was in only had a terminal down in a room the basement it was only a green and black monitor. Some of us had computers I think one or two had internet connections. There were rooms called computer labs, now that everyone has there own computer they probably don't exits anymore. They were located throughout the university, some of them were windowless rooms others like one we eventually got in the physics building looked directly at the old arts building, the oldest university building in use in Canada and then out to the other side of Saint John river. Spending time in these sometimes packed like sardines, mostly doing work of some kind like Fortran programming or other doing other programming, taking part of Calculus or an EM course online, or trying to figure out how to download an interesting image from the net. The second place I went had computer labs as well but we also got ethernet connections to each desk in one dorm, I figured out how to transfer photos form the telescopes computer to a central server and then using a ftp client to download my computer in my dorm room.
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Wait. Are you saying that meeting a person in the real world, discovering a mutual affection, then arranging to spend time together to see what happens, is something people recommend avoiding?
    Yes. Whether the odds of that going wrong have shifted or not, the stakes when things do go wrong seem to be perceived as much higher now than before. The idea is that these days a rejection or argument or breakup or such can too easily mean not merely being temporarily frustrated or irritated or embarrassed but facing an explosion of hatred & hostility, which not only is a lot more emotionally & socially harmful but can even lead to deliberate damage to one party's whole quality of life by the other party (particularly when the former is male and the latter is female)... especially at work or at a college/university, which happen to be the two main settings where adults meet other adults in-person. Even trying it is described as dangerous.

  30. #30
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
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    Norfolk UK and some of me is in Northern France
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Backroad Astronomer View Post
    At a nearby university the engineers had a saying engineers rule the world or ERTW and also they had a pub that cloud only be used once a month in their building.
    Ha! Rule can have more than one meaning. I guess they serve moon beer there. In my day I was slow to learn that the wine club offered free or cheap wine served by students taking Spanish degrees . Most of them were Spanish women from wine producing families. I was OK at engineering lectures but way behind on some life rules!
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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