Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The considerate host

A decade ago I was much into IRC chat, of a sort. The first network I encountered happened to be MSN and that was a side effect of installing a beta of Windows 95 in April of 1995. They included free access to their network for the duration of the beta. Given that the average dial up access was about 6 bucks an hour at the time it was hardly surprising that I opted for the freebie.

Of course, come the big release day, Thursday August 24th 1995, when it all became chargeable, at 5 bucks an hour, there was considerable incentive to become a host on MSN and get the free account!

As a host it was my task to monitor the chat in real time and keep an eye on 'troublemakers'. Some were easy; anyone who used certain proscribed four letter words. Not that I mind those words all that much in context; I use them myself when appropriate. For example, yesterday when biting into a mouthful of steak with a tiny piece of unexpected bone. When I bit down and that 'crunching' sound exploded inside my head I fear that the WTF phrase escaped my lips.

On the other hand, I imagine we've all known the kind of person who seems incapable of holding a conversation without dropping an 'expletive deleted' every third word. I don't know if it's unique to Australia or not but there are people who take a word, split it down the middle and insert an expletive in between. Inbloodycredible!

Morgan does it with our old friend the F word. She was doing it when I arrived here in the family and a gentle remonstrance along the lines of 'if you keep saying it you'll make it a habit and after a while you won't even know you're doing it; but everyone else will notice' didn't dissuade her. Guess what? I'm certain she doesn't even know she's using the word; for her it's become the 'ah um' of conversation.

As for why I don't spell it out? Not sure. On the one hand it feels a trifle disingenous to say 'the F word' but on the other do you really want to see me write fuck? There, I did it! Won't do it again I promise!

Back in the MSN world the users of profanity were relatively easy to deal with. Unfortunately the MSN chat world, not based on IRC, lacked the ability to kick or ban. The best we could do was impose the 'specs', which meant they could not send chat into the room. They were still there but the icon changed from 'chat' to 'spectacles'. The other thing that MSN chat lacked was any kind of control on how often you could enter a chat room. Once we'd specced a malefactor there was nothing to stop said malefactor joining a second time. At least the second, and third, and fourth, inherited the attributes of the first which is to say that once specced, always specced, until the host lifted em! The specs endured for a number of hours; disconnecting and reconnecting didn't return the victim to 20/20 vision!

Thus, an early DOS attack! If the specced party felt sufficiently aggrieved they'd fill the room with chat connections and keep others out.

One night someone came in with the nickname of '1800-BlowJob'. I had to admit it was creative even as I followed the routine. First ask em to change the nick or moderate the language. Three tries and if they didn't change fit em for eyewear! Naturally, they didn't change the nick so I specced. And you guessed it, I found myself presiding over a chat room containing 43 instances of '1800-BlowJob'! :-)

Early in my career as a host I encountered Chris, the chatter from hell. As far as I can guess I'd say he was a teen though he could just as easily have been the prototypical boiler maker in his 50's. Who can tell across the net?

Chris loved to push the envelope. I'd go so far as to say that he was the most talked about subject between hosts which was probably one of his goals. He seemed to take particular umbrage at the fact that I, an Australian, would presume to tell an American, on an American network, what constituted acceptable behaviour and so I became his especial target.

Not much of a problem; I had the tools and the hosting passwords, he didn't. Nonetheless, in such a public environment a host must be seen to be playing fair. So Chris would push at the edges and I'd push back. If I'd known then what I know now I wouldn't have played his game, but I didn't know it. And so every night, as I started my shift, I'd find Chris ready to bait. And every night, 15 minutes into the shift, Chris would be specced. 20 minutes into the shift there'd be as many instances of Chris as there were empty slots (most chat rooms on the part of MSN that I worked in had a limit of 50 participants).

After a couple of months I had a web site dedicated to me. It was called the 'UltraMaroon is an asshole' site. Quite the compliment. You understand that I'm talking mid 1996 and it's long gone. I've done the odd search recently in hopes that it exists in some google cache but I can't find it. A pity. The level of invective aimed at me was almost poetic in it's vehemence!

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