The internet can be a good place

I have had an internet accessible email address since 1984.  Yes, I was 13.  I was a high level member of Navarone Junction, a popular BBS, which had internet access.  I wrote a Talk client in 1990, and surfed the web when there was one web page.

I’ve seen a lot.  I’ve attended weddings and funerals.  I’ve been party to births and suicides.  I’ve seen businesses flourish and wither.  When the Oklahoma City Bombing occurred, I ran for a terminal, and contributed 200 lines of Perl to a site in order to keep the news feed updating.  On 9/11, I helped administrate a message board 24x7 for days, waiting at  home until Gabrielle could make her way back from Chicago, where she had been on a contract. As someone who has started near the birth of the contemporary Internet, and has never left it since , I can hardly be surprised anymore.

One community has surprised me in the post dot com boom – Reddit.  I have been a member for 5 years, putting me ahead of all but two of the current staff.  Reddit is amazing.  They had a secret santa where thousands of people who don’t even know each other send amazing, thoughtful and unique gifts to each other – just for fun.  They helped save a number of small businesses, but the one closest to my heart was Soapier, a Florida handmade soap manufacturer.

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Anyway, enough history, on to my story.  Most of the readers of this blog probably know of my son Adam (above, nekked, with Reddit Alien Soap), a precocious 5 year old who has a bent for getting into trouble and breaking things.  Anyway, one day, he broke my Reddit bobblehead.  This thing wasn’t a toy, but I would let him handle it occasionally.  One day, of course, he broke it, and I set it aside to fix.  Several days later I tried, but couldn’t make it look good, so I tossed it.  Such is the way with things and me.

Recently, Adam asked where it was, and I was surprised.  It had been a year since I threw it away.  I was sure he had forgotten about it.  I told him that I had tried to fix it but couldn’t and had thrown it away.

The waterworks started and could not be stopped. He bawled.  I showed him pictures, and told him it was a simple thing. He persisted in telling me that the Alien was his ‘little guy’ and he was so sad.  I got the tissues.

Then something amazing happened. He said “Ask the man with the little guy picture if he can help.”  I won’t exaggerate when I say it took me a full 30 minutes to figure out that he meant Alexis Ohanian, aka Kn0thing, the original alien artist.  The reason he came up with this description was the icon that Alexis uses on his twitter feed, which is often on my desktop at night before I put Adam to bed.  He has seen it, and noticed, and remembered.  Astonishing.

Alexis is an amazing character.  He was one of the post-boom startup kids who came out of the Y-Combinator and made good.  He helped build Reddit, helped sell it to Conde-Nast, took his winnings and invested it in Kiva.  Can’t say that about too many people.

Shocked at Adam’s observation skills and persistence, I messaged Alexis and told him of the meltdown.  After some correspondence, Kn0thing came through and a package of swag came from Reddit HQ! (Or BreadPig HQ, actually.  Close counts.) 

It’s been a while but finally Adam and the alien were reunited and we decorated his room with the swag.

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He was rather pleased with the USB drive.  It has a place of honor next to his computer now.  Thanks, Mr. Alexis!

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The Reddit poster was a hit.  It’s the Reddit Alien as a baby!!

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That now is the cornerstone of the room.

It’s a little thing, but it all teaches an important lesson.  Often you’ll hear someone put blame on ‘the internet’ or ‘people on the internet’ for some trouble or another.  Fact is, the internet is a collection of individuals.  Yes, the remarkable history of the computers makes it a weird place with a long, long memory, but it still is a collection of people, some drawn together with a common purpose and some singular in their effort.

More than anything else, if you look hard and participate in the right communities, like Reddit, or Homebrewtalk, or Lockpicking101, you find that there are genuinely good people in the netverse, and it restores your faith in humanity. 

Or, at least it did mine.  Your mileage may vary.

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Bill Sempf

Husband. Father. Pentester. Secure software composer. Brewer. Lockpicker. Ninja. Insurrectionist. Lumberjack. All words that have been used to describe me recently. I help people write more secure software.

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