Those Golden Days of Usenet

“On the Internet,” the saying goes, “nobody knows if you’re a dog.” But they do know if you’re a jerk, and thanks to the fine people at Google, evidence of your jerkiness is now preserved for humanity. The complete film Metropolis no longer exists, but miles of flame wars about whether the Enterprise could defeat a Star Destroyer are preserved like insects in amber.

I got my start on the internet in Usenet, a series of newsgroups that have largely been made obsolete by internet forums and web sites. On Usenet, there are a myriad of topics that can be discussed, but not that topic, because it’s already covered in the FAQ and not by you because you’re not part of the in-group. I got frustrated with Usenet and the obnoxious propeller pedants that inhabited it, so I only seldom attempted to discuss legitimate topics there, electing instead to lie and ridicule. Lying with the purpose of making others believe ridiculous crap is called “trolling” and I used to do it quite often.

One of my big targets was the group for the card game Magic: the Gathering. There were a lot of folks there who were either “Pro” players or wanted to be, and mixed tales of their “killer beatdowns” with hilarious gangsta rap slang, making them the illest thugs that ever swung a Llanowar Elves. This bunch was ripe for satirizing.

Here I am lying about a sixth color of card to be introduced to the game:

It’s a well known fact that 5th edition will introduce a new color.
I have here a bit of a transcript of an interview with a reliable inside
source:

Source: That’s right, you’ve heard this rumor for a while, but this time
we’re really doing it. We’re bringing in a new color.

Me: Won’t that upset the balance of the game?

Source: Hey, you’re talking to the people that came up with phasing!
Trust me, the new color will integrate seamlessly into the set.

Me: But Won’t there be a small amount of cards of that color and a
jillion of other colors? It will be grossly outnumbered.

Source: Will it? (smiles enigmatically)

Me: So what’s the new color?

Source: Green.

Me: There’s already Green!

Source: This is a different Green.

Me: In what way? A different shade of Green? Like Mint or something?

Source: You’ll see. And this is a fact, by the way. The rules team has
already written the sentence that will go into the 5th edition rulebook
to explain the new color and how its special powers are used.

— end of transcript —

So you see, a 6th color is coming, and it sounds as though they’ve really
thought it out this time.

In this completely innocuous message, some people took umbrage at my second sentence:

Despite this newsgroup, I don’t think that the average MAgic player is a
moron.

What? What?

Somehow this thread got no replies at all!

Ouch! Dave Lartigue, the Unknown Magic PLayer Who Will Surprise You (TM),
has now been the first player to suffer from the DCI’s new policy
regarding cheating and unsportsmanlike conduct in tournaments.

At a Sanctioned Type 2 tournament, Dave’s opponent called a judge over to
rule on a questionable card Dave played. The judge took a look at the
card, which was not so much a card as a crude drawing of a Spinal Villain
on looseleaf paper with the casting cost changed, and ruled that Dave had
cheated. Dave defended himself by arguing, “I thought it was a Forest.”

The DCI took advantage of this opportunity to test out its new policy on
cheating and unsportsmanlike conduct. For those who may have missed the
announcement, here it is in summary (full text can be found on the WOTC
home page):

First Offense: Player can no longer use “Disenchant”.
Second Offense: Player can no longer use white cards at all.
Third: Player can no longer use Blue Cards and nonbasic lands at all.
Fourth: Player can no longer use Green or Artifacts at all.
Fifth: Player can no longer use any Red cards except Dwarven Song.
Sixth: Player can no longer use Dwarven Song.

Dave’s comment was, “Doesn’t matter, Disenchant is overrated anyway.
Besides, my killer Bog Imp deck doesn’t use them, so I’m still okay,
unless the DCI finally decides to ban the incredibly underpowered Imp.”

The DCI judge confiscated the Spinal Villain and WOTC has said that if
Dave wins the ’97 Pro Tour (as he is favored to do) they will photocopy
the card in a special non-playable version and offer it for $125.

Sorry if you don’t find it funny. I realize there are a lot of jokes in there that are only going to appeal to Magic players, and many that will only appeal to Magic players at that time on that newsgroup. So let’s move on.

I also hung out a lot on the newsgroup for people who collect Star Wars action figures. Although there were plenty of scalpers and idiot collectors to mock, most of the humor came at the expense of Hasbro, the company making the figures. In this post I’m making fun of the “Special Edition” Jedi Luke given out at movie theaters showing the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi:

Act now to get the Super-Special Edition Jedi Luke exclusively from me!
This Super-Special Jedi Luke is just a regular Jedi Luke with the words
“Super Special Edition” written on the card in marks-a-lot.

This is an incredibly rare card! I know, because I’m only planning on
marking up about ten or so!

Take advantage of this unique offer! For a mere $500 you can have
something few other people have!

This offer will not be repeated! Act now!

Thankfully, no one took this one seriously:

Everything must go! Here’s my collection. Except where noted, all are MOMC.

1) Jedi R2-D2 with long saber.

2) Naked Obi-Wan Kenobi. That’s right, Obi-Wan accidentally molded
without his clothes. Anatomically correct.

3) Mis-boxed Leia. I found this rarity at TRU. It’s Princess Leia, only
not only is the card a card for a Hoth Han Solo, the figure is actually a
Hoth Han Solo as well! If the sign above the rack hadn’t said “Princess
Leia”, I might have skipped right over it. I bought all 20 of them!
What a coup!

4) Three-headed C-3PO.

5) Yoda in Hoth Gear with Speeder Bike.

6) Gay Probe Droid. A little know fact is that in an effort to diversify
the Star Wars line, Kenner decided to introduce a gay character, namely
the Probe Droid. Christian fundamentalists found out about this and
protested, and the plan was nixed, but not before a small amount of gay
Probe Droids were released.

7) Mis-priced Chewbacca. Would you believe that K-Mart had Chewie for
sale with a price tag of only $1.99? I snagged this sucker up in a
heartbeat! I haven’t seen Mr. Bacca for sale for less than $4.99, so
this is extremely rare! I won’t accept less than $200 for it!

8) Non-Luke’s-Father Darth Vader. Boy did someone at Kenner screw up! I
have an ultra rare Darth Vader that ISN’T Luke’s father. From what I’ve
heard, this was a prototype from back when the original Star Wars movie
was released, that has been re-released by accident. I have no idea how
rare it is, so any info is appreciated.

Please email if interested. Serious inquiries only.

The newsgroup for Vertigo comics was another haunt of mine. Comics fans might nod in agreement with this one:

I submitted a script to Vertigo and got back the following rejection letter:

Dear contributor,
Thank you for your recent submission to Vertigo comics. We regret that
we are unable to use your material at this time, because it fails to
meet the following Vertigo needs:

1) Sex. You have only two mentions of sex in your book. This confused
our editors, because they did not know that it was possible to create a
book that didn’t revolve around sex. We here at Vertigo believe that sex
is so amazing and wondrous that every single facet of it should be
explored in excruciating detail. Our appetite for stories about sex is
adolescently ravenous, so any non-sex story (if such a thing is possible)
is merely in the way.

2) You have a character who is a lesbian and does something
questionable. At Vertigo, lesbians are only allowed to be presented as
the most pure and natural beings on earth, far superior intellectually,
emotionally, and spiritually than any other beings, with the possible
exception of transsexuals, who run a close second. Male homosexuals, on
the other hand, are best left alone.

3) You have a certain male character in the story who doesn’t do
something obnoxiously male specifically so a female character can gripe
at him for being “such a male” or “thinking like a male”. In the Vertigo
universe, it is the man’s role to perform an action and a woman’s role to
chide him for it. Under no circumstances, however, is it ever to be
revealed what the man could possibly do to not be male! Neil Gaiman
nearly gave away one of the solutions, so we made him stop doing
Sandman. [Author’s note: I have heard rumors that the secret Neil gave
away was for the man to get a sex-change operation and become a woman.]

4) Your story features a priest who honestly believes in his god. This
priest did not rape children, have sex with a demon, or any of various
other acts which would make him a suitable “Vertigo Priest”. He was, in
fact, a likable character, which we both know would never work in one of
our comics. We have standards to maintain.

5) You have a British character whose dialogue is far too understandable
for our tastes. Garth Ennis has scripted a clever handbook which
translates American English into Tedious British Slang. I am enclosing a
copy. [Author’s note: This pamphlet gave “bollocks” as the translation
for every American word except “shite”.]

6) You have a homeless person who really is schizophrenic and not just in
tune with a higher plane of existence. Do you take us for fools, sir?

7) Finally, your story seems to have what we in the business call
“structure”. That is, it seems to have a beginning, a middle, and an
end. These are devices better left to the professionals, don’t you
think? All of our beginning writers are required to just ramble on and
lollygag around their comic for about 10 issues or so, until they “get a
feel” for the book. This is called, in the business, “deconstructionism”.

We hope you will consider Vertigo in the future, and keep these points in
mind.

Sincerely,

Karen Berger, Executive Editor, Vertigo

I was also a staple on the X-Files newsgroup. There’s no point in reposting any of my messages here; just imagine me bitching about any random conspiracy episode while true believers tell me that it will all make sense in the end.

Whenever I trolled the Star Trek: The Next Generation newsgroup I felt kind of dirty. Getting Trekkies riled up is about as challenging as making teenagers depressed. You had to come up with new tricks to amuse yourself, like this one, in which I am talking about a rumor at the time that Michael (Worf) Dorn was going to play O.J. Simpson in a TV movie:

Is it true what I hear about Michael Dorn being the spokesman for
orange juice? Will he be in his “Geordi” character or will it be him as
himself?

Unfortunately, the problem with trolling is that nobody takes you seriously when you want them to, such as when I was insisting that the universally-beloved episode “Darmok” was in fact a load of kack.

I’ll close this little trip down memory lane with this, a reply to a common spam at the time:

In a previous article, y…@somehost.somedomain (Allen) says:

> THIS IS A REAL OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE MONEY

> GET RICH QUIK

Mmmmm…Rich, Chocolatey Quik!

>for Markus Valppu, he has made $ 57,883 in FOUR WEEKS!! Dan Shepstone says he made $52,664 within
>a month.Here are FOUR steps to convert a $5.00 investment into upto $50,000 return in only
>FOUR weeks:PLEASE PRINT THIS ARTICLE FOR YOUR REFERENCE AND ACT NOW!!!

Wow! With this much money, you could buy a LOT of Quik!

>STEP 1: Invest your $ 5.00 by writing your name and address on five separate pieces of paper
>along with the words, ‘PLEASE ADD ME TO YOUR MAILING LIST”.You are paying for a legitimate service.
>FOLD a $1.00 bill or money order inside each paper (for safe delivery cover the dollar bill in
> the paper), and mail it by standard mail to the following five addresses:

nononono…Step 1 is to fill a glass with cold milk.

>STEP 2: Now remove the top name from the list, and move the other name up. This way, #5 becomes
>#4 and so on. Put YOUR NAME in as #5 on the list. You can use your real name or any other name
>but make sure your address is right. You can do this by simply retyping this article or
>reposting it to other newsgroups with the edited address.

This is all wrong! You’ll never get Quik this way, rich or otherwise.
Step 2 should be to add 2 heaping teaspoons of delicious |Quik.

>STEP 3: Post the revised article to about 300 newsgroups. There are atleast 17,000 newsgroups.
>Try posting to as many newsgroups you can. More posting means MORE CASH!!!

You clearly know nothing of Quik. Step 3 is to stir well.

>STEP 4: Your are now IN BUSINESS FOR YOURSELF, and should start seeing returns within 7 to 14 days.

No….NOW you are enjoying rich Quik, savoring the cold chocolate goodness.

Next episode: Get Tasty Spaghetti!

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