Exactly twenty years ago today, on the 12th of August 1990, I posted my first online writing — under the distinctly odd title the Toxic Custard Workshop Files. Being well before the Web, it went to a handful of people at uni via email.
As I later wrote (in 1997):
Well, back in them days of ’90, I was in the second year of my course, a Bachelor of Pretending Cobol Is Structured, failing Photocopying 215, and me and me mates had just discovered the Internet. We suddenly realised that there was more to computer networks than just using Phone and Talk to annoy people in the next room, or sending Mail to tell people to meet you for lunch and Tetris at the corner shop.
I was messing around with my mate Bw.. err Brian Smith. Hi Brian, if you’re reading. And another pal of ours, Ray Chan, who was in an Electronics, Robotics And Other High-Tech Stuff course, came up with an idea for an electronic magazine, called “The Serial Saga”. Hi Ray, if you’re reading. We thought this was great, and immediately mugged him in the corridor and stole his idea. Ray never actually wrote anything, but did manage to create a monster robot which went berserk the next semester, and killed 5 lecturers due to a faulty diode in its corduroy detection circuits.
Ray actually vanished completely, at least from where I’m sitting. I’m still in regular contact with Brian, though he went crazy and emigrated to the USA about ten years ago.
The wacky title dated back to my last year of high school in 1988, when Mark Bainbridge and David Holicek and I planned to do an amateur comic sketch video show. It never actually happened.
My early writing drew on inspirations from uni, as well as some recycled material from high school, with a good dose absurdist Pythonesque influence. Some of it was fairly juvenile. As was I.
The Internet as we know it today — an unparalleled worldwide high-technology time-wasting device — was in its infancy. I recall frequently having to explain to people the concept of this new-fangled “email”.
Over the years my writing slowly matured and moved from the surreal into the real world, the humour that was deliberately infused into everything was gradually toned-down, and now the blog has taken over just about completely.
I dabbled in a lot of technologies as they came along — never the first, but often early: the web site came along in April 1995, and shortly after that the first diary/blog entries. Tried what is now known as podcasting in 1997. Blogged the 1996 election. Issued an official screensaver in 1998. Online video? 1999… originally in RealVideo format, which probably nobody can play anymore, so here it is on YouTube:
Most (all in fact, I think) of my old pre-blog absurdist writing is still online.
And even now, I occasionally meet people who tell me they used to read the Toxic Custard list, or Usenet posts, back in the 90s.
Some of my favourite Toxic Custard highlights:
- Shakespeare — kicked off with Romeo and Juliet in October 1990, which made it into rec.humor.funny, the best postings from Usenet group rec.humor
- History of the World — based on a condensed world history I found in a 50s era compendium, from June 1994
- Ron and Jeff — inspired by Bottom, from March 1994. I still chuckle at my Red Shield Appeal gag.
- Doctor Who: Revenge of the Unrealistatrons — my Doctor Who spoof from May 1993, based heavily on the 1984 DW story Warriors of the Deep.
- The Year 2031 — an attempted sci-fi story, from January 1998.
- VCR destruction — in August 2001, Josh, Cathy and I went and systematically destroyed a troublesome old Sharp VCR of mine, by putting food and detergent into it, letting kids use it as a skateboard, smashing it with hammers, dipping it into a lake, attacking it with an axe and a crowbar, running over it with a car, and finally blowing it up. And yes, there is video.
- Your taxes are paying for this: This blog, archived at the National Library — “World Wide Web diary/weblog of: Daniel Bowen, a computer programmer in Melbourne. His web diary is a straightforward account of his daily life. The website includes numerous photographs, information about the author and links to his home page and to the weblogs of other diarists. It also includes an archive of the diary from its inception in 1994. Recent entries feature the comments of readers.”
- An early Usenet post (TCWF 6, 5th September 1990. The man referred to at the start, Ewen G MacPerson, was based on a lecturer, Ewen D McPherson.)
- Debate over whether Toxic Custard should have its own newsgroup (January 1991)
So, happy birthday, Toxic Custard.