The Kinder Gap: Boys in the Virtual Attic

  1. The Kinder Gap
  2. English Addicts and Saudi Gamers

The Electronic Frontier Foundation Presents

the Aerosmith World Tour of Cyberspace!

You can meet and talk with the members of Aerosmith--Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Tom Hamilton and Joey Kramer--live online, from Dec. 4 through Dec. 7, 1994, at Prodigy, CompuServe, America On-Line, or any of a number of Internet sites. To participate in this first-time-ever event, log in to one of these online services, and proceed to the appropriate forum or virtual auditorium. (?)

I have friends in the real world who are real carpenters and technical directors. Compared to them, this is a piece of cake. Hell, one of them even continued to work after chopping his thumb off. All I’ve got is a broken elbow.

Aerosmith is on a four-day electronic world tour. The fourth day is the infobahn. We’re hooking together a zillion MOOs in order to handle the zillion people expected to show up. MOOs are ‘virtual worlds’, services on the infobahn that look real except that everything has to be described by text. MOOs have people (instead of accounts) and rooms (instead of directories) and objects (instead of programs and files). Each Aerosmith MOO houses a special auditorium and tower. The auditorium is where people sit and watch as the band types responses to electronically-submitted questions.

Row B
Down and over the seats and railing in front of you a deep grained redwood
 podium and conference table dominate the main stage.  A huge Aerosmith Cyber
 Tour ‘94 banner serves as a backdrop.  A striking EFF Logo and blue green
 SenseMedia Globe hover above the two huge projection screens flanking the
 main stage.  You can see balconies from many MOO’s extending away and across
 from you.

A sign on the wall reads “Beach Volleyball Score: 0”.

lynn, Joe, Michele, and yduJ are here.

There is one obvious exit, Out.

Guests enter via the ‘Main Balcony’ after ‘telnetting in’ via the Internet. (!)

Main Balcony
The curtained balcony entrance leads down carpet covered cement steps.  Each 
 step leads to a row of synthetic crushed velvet auditorium seats.  A blue
 polycarb railing edges the side of each row and the front of the balcony. 
 Please don’t sit on the steps.  

There are two obvious exits here, out and down.

If you are having any trouble, just type HELP AEROSMITH

Local_Admin, Gutenberg, and Aerosmith-3 are here.
Please enter a row, A through K, and take a seat.
There are numerous MOO Channels set up for the event:
-----------------------------Languages available:------------------------------
Speaker                                 Espanol-Questions
English                                 Francais
English-Questions                       Francais-Questions
For each language, there is a channel to listen to, and a channel to send
 questions/comments to. (The latter has the extension -Questions)

Participants send their questions to the appropriate -questions channel, depending on whether they speak English, Spanish, or French. They listen to the appropriate other channel to hear the response. Or at least, that was the original plan. In the end, lack of resources meant that everyone just had to listen to the Speaker channel to hear the band, and, as near as I could tell, only the ‘English-Questions’ channel was monitored for questions to the band.

Each MOO had one or more moderators: moderators listened to ‘English-Questions’ and re-sent appropriate questions to the audience channel, which only moderators could see. From the audience channel, central moderators chose appropriate messages for the band themselves to see, and responded on the Speaker channel. What’s an appropriate question? I overheard this conversation between Uncle_Salty, Kenny, and Fasteddie, and it pretty well sums it up:

Uncle_Salty says, “did they see the question or does it get moderated first”
Kenny says, “Moderated.”
Fasteddie says, “it gets moderated first”
Uncle_Salty says, “ahh”
Fasteddie says, “if its stupid it probably won’t get there”
Kenny says, “Like: Do you see the end of the band coming you basterd”
Uncle_Salty says, “rofl”
Fasteddie says, “see, a question like that won’t get thru”

Yeah, no shit, sherlock. Fasteddie’s a fast one all right.

At noon on Wednesday I shut down Valhalla, our regular MOO, and set up the MOO auditorium which was specially prepared for the Aerosmith tour by volunteers working with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The auditorium works fine. I make a few changes (in the time since the auditorium was released to the net, they’ve found some bugs, so I have to fix these bugs (?) by hand), create a ‘moderator’ person, and make sure that outsiders can come in as ‘aerosmith guests’. Works great. I’m impressed with the ‘Conferencing Feature Object’--their fancy name for the channeling system. I realize that I’m going to have to do a lot of typing. Well, my bike was sideswiped by a car on Tuesday. My elbow is broken. I can’t spend all night typing, not without major pain reliever. I send off a message to the event coordinators asking them to please find a moderator for our site, and then go to lunch.

When I come back, I do some work: I do actually do things for the University that don’t involve playing in the infobahn. The event coordinator has responded to me: he knows no one; grab a local to help you, and thanks for supporting us! None of my coworkers are enough of an Aerosmith fan to help out.

Four in the afternoon. I return to the auditorium to see if I can spruce it up a bit, add some special ‘Valhalla’ touches.

I can’t connect. The auditorium is gone. It ‘crashed’ a mere hour after I started it.

So I bring it back. And I have to type in the ‘bug fixes’ again. This time, I save the changes so that, if it crashes again, I at least won’t have to do all this typing.

It crashes during the save. I try it again. It crashes again: in the same part of the ‘save’ as before. The problem is that ‘saving’ it crashes it. And it automatically saves itself every hour: that’s why it originally crashed an hour after I started it. I send a panic mail message to the folks at MOO central asking if they’re aware of this problem. Nope, it’s limited to my site. Hope you can fix it in time. Just set the MOO so it doesn’t save except after an obscene amount of time.

So no problem, I set the ‘save’ delay to 0 seconds. That’s supposed to disable the ‘save’ function of MOO worlds. It is now about five fifteen. The event starts at seven (10 pm Eastern Time). I disconnect and make some last minute attempts to find someone else to take over the moderation for me.

I fail. I have a bit of dinner, not because I’m hungry, I’m too tense for that, but because I want something in my stomach to buffer the two vicodin I’m going to take to type non-stop for the next hour or so. There’s no end time given for the event. Just that it starts at seven.

At six-forty, I re-connect.

It’s down again. For no apparent reason, it ‘checkpointed’--attempted to do a save--one hour after it started up. It ignored the change I’d made. Or maybe, I think in my panic, maybe I’m not as experienced as I thought. Maybe a zero doesn’t disable the save function. After all, Central told me to set it to a high number.

I bring it back up, right about at seven o’clock, and set the delay to 90,000 seconds. In 26 hours, I don’t care if it crashes, the event will be long finished.

The vicodin is not taking effect. Probably my adrenaline is counteracting it. Never mind, type anyway.

Or not. It turns out that we’re not connected to the central site: we’re not receiving anything the band is saying. I use my special moderator channel to hopefully inform Central about this. I rush out to another site that is connected and send the same message, just in case the special moderator channel isn’t working either. I shout across the auditorium the address of this other site, so that everyone who has come to Valhalla can get in on the event by going to a site that’s actually working. (!)

And within seconds of making that announcement, we’re up. Stephen Tyler practically cuts me off as I’m telling people to leave:

Local_Admin shouts, “You may want to go to port 5000; we’re not
 hooked up yet, due to capricious fate. Go ask Gutenberg or me (in the
 balcony) if you don’t know how to get there.”
[Speaker] Steven_Tyler: and hope to be in the studio by july. new record by
 this time next year.

It works! Bwah hah hah! The guests start spewing questions like nobody’s business. I type frantically to keep up, queuing their questions towards the central moderators.

At eight o’clock, the entire auditorium crashes again: one hour after it started. The MOO is completely ignoring whatever changes I make to the save delay.

Okay, maybe it’s checking the delay as soon as it starts up. So my change won’t take effect until the second save attempt, which of course never happens because the damn thing crashes on the first. Well, I know my way around VI. I edit the damn auditorium’s code by hand before I even start it up; I edit the MOO’s database file that describes the auditorium and once more set the save delay to 90,000 seconds. And then I start it up again.

Does it work? Yes! Are we connected to Central? No! Wait... Yes! They didn’t cut us off this time! We even get a few people coming back for more punishment, I mean, to use this site to watch the event.

At eight thirty, the event is finished. Done.

[Speaker] Paul: You can’t go home, but you can’t stay here..
[Speaker] rocker: and thankyou for joining us at The SenseMedia Venue!
[Speaker] rocker: please check out the aerosmith web site
[Speaker] Edge: We have a full list of all the E-Mail addresses of everyone
 who logged in everywhere for the event. We’re selecting random numbers
 tomorrow to hand out door prizes - you’ll receive an announcement and a form
 in your mailbox soon. (you may already be a weiner!)
[Speaker] rocker: and feel free to stay and browse the exhibts as long as you
 would lilke!

Well, that’s nice of them to volunteer my site to stay open. But at this point, I don’t care. I disconnect (but I leave the auditorium running so that the guests can wander around the exhibits) and I re-enter the real world: I go outside and pick up my real-world mail, which probably arrived at four or so, but I’ve been too busy with the net. I take two more pills and go to sleep.

In the morning, I restore the regular Valhalla MOO. I don’t need to bring the auditorium down: it had crashed at nine o’clock, an hour after I started it up from the hand-edited database file.

The Internet is getting more and more like the real world every day.

  1. From the announcement by [aeroinfo owner] at [], received via electronic mail, December 7, 1994.
  2. Depending on whether or not they let me keep it up after reading this book (Aerosmith concert indeed. Are they Catholic?) you can take a look at a MOO by ‘telnet’ing to, port 4444 . Say hello to capvideo while you’re there.
  3. A ‘bug’, in case you’re not hip to geek programming slang, is a part of a computer program that doesn’t work right, or (more likely) doesn’t work at all. A misplaced semicolon, for example, might mean that an interplanetary probe ends up crashing into the sun instead of dancing lithely between the planets. Computer bugs, like bugs in the real world, skitter and multiply like mad. Squash one, and its mommy and daddy come down and squash you.
  4. Incredible thanks go to yduJ, for informing me of another site that was, in fact, working.
  1. The Kinder Gap
  2. English Addicts and Saudi Gamers