Thank You #1 – That Guy in the Library

I keep thinking back to key moments in my life and it dawned on me that often, they are peppered with individuals that, through a random act of kindness or even just a small polite gesture, have drastically altered the path of my life. Considering I am quite happy with where my life has led me, I feel that perhaps a thanks to these individuals might be in order.

Additionally, it dawned on me that this could be a perfect example of why small moments of thoughtfulness could be important. It makes me wonder just how many people I have influenced without ever having known my name. So, here goes – my first “Thank You” installment.

Thank you to the stranger in the San Diego North Clairemont Public Library. My estimation puts the year at between 1994-1995, but there’s no way I’d be able to pin it down any more specifically than that. There were computers in the Library that I liked to use, but I primarily stuck with the Macs running KidPix and Where in the World is Carmen San Diego. I wound up popping over to the PC because the idea of this newfangled emerging technology called “The Internet” intrigued me.

I used it for a while with the help of the Internet Yellow Pages and found it interesting, even if it did confound me some (design back in those days was basic at best and the general protocol was lost on me – I thought “Waiting for Request From Server” meant that someone was on the other end letting people in selectively.)

So this guy comes up to me and starts talking to me about the connected world of computers.  He shows me this nifty protocol called “Telnet”, and further astounds me when he uses the Telnet client to connect to a MUD (Multi-User Dungeon).  He shows me around the text-based world and I am floored.  I’ve done peer-to-peer and even LAN games before such as Oregon Trail in Middle School, but this was worldwide.  After seeing how I reacted to this, he smiled and wrote down on a piece of paper a server name, a port, a username, and a password.  He gave me his character.

He said that he was looking for a new game anyway, so if I wanted, this one could be mine.  I was beyond grateful and he left.  I never did much to advance the character, but I did use it to explore a lot and ultimately, it did three things for me.

  1. It improved my reading and writing skills.  In a MUD, the world you are in is defined only by the text on the screen.  The faster you read it, the faster you can achieve your objectives.  The better you read it, as in with better reading comprehension, the more detail you will get out of it.  If you simply get by with reading the basic bits of text, you can do quite well, but to become truly immersed and let your imagination wash over you, an above-average grasp on the words is a necessity.
  2. It greatly improved my typing skills.  You live and die by the commands you enter into the Telnet client.  There is no click to attack, you must precisely and with an unforgiving syntax, tell the computer in no uncertain terms what you want to do and how you want to do it.  Too slow?  You’re dead.  Inaccurate?  You’re dead.
  3. It got my ass in the Library.  This is never a bad thing.  Often, I walked in and the computer was already taken, so I either sat down and read a book or I left and rode my bike around the neighborhood – both of these are better than sitting at home and on the offchance the computer was free and I could play for half an hour… elation.

Considering how important reading comprehension and quick, accurate typing are in my professional life right now, I have no doubt that this was one of the first steps toward developing my strongest skill-sets.

I never saw you again after that day you handed your hard-fought character over to me, but for opening my eyes and inadvertently improving my life, Mr. Stranger MUD In The Library Guy, I offer my sincerest “Thank You.”


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