Twenty Years and Counting

Every now and then I am blessed with a work trip that makes my career choice seem absolutely brilliant. For example, I just got back from a five day sojourn to Honolulu. The flying was easy, the weather perfect, and to top it off I was able to meet up with fellow pilots from a company I worked for a few years ago. Those trips are made sweeter by the knowledge that most everyone around me has paid big bucks to be in Hawaii, yet I’m there enjoying the island’s amenities and getting paid for it.

The night before we flew back to California, I was sitting by the pool at the Outrigger Reef Resort in Waikiki and for some reason kept looking at the date displayed on my iPhone’s lock screen. It seemed significant, but I couldn’t figure out why. It wasn’t until halfway across the Pacific Ocean on the flight home the next day that it hit me: this month, February 2015, marks the twenty year anniversary of my web site.

Two decades might not sound like long time — and truth be told, as a forty-three year old guy I’d much prefer if it wasn’t — but on the World Wide Web, that’s darn near an eternity.

It's ironic that world's largest and most expensive piece of high-tech machinery looks like a sewer main.
It’s ironic that world’s largest and most expensive piece of high-tech machinery looks like a sewer main.

To the best of my knowledge, the first web page was built by enterprising individuals at the fussy-sounding Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire. Today, CERN is best known for the Large Hadron Collider, which accelerates things to the speed of light and then smashes them into each other to see what happens. Speaking of awesome jobs, that’s gotta be one of ’em right there. Well, right up until the world explodes (“Don’t cross the streams!”). But hey, you can’t make a nuclear omelet without breaking a few eggs, right?

Anyway, the very first web server was connected to the internet in the fall of 1991. It was announced on the alt.hypertext newsgroup on the August 6th of that year. And by August 7th, spammers had already sent 4,000,000 unsolicited emails.

Okay, maybe not. For what it’s worth though, that web page, while nothing much to look at, is still very much alive. There’s a lesson there, kids: think twice before posing on the internet, because in cyberspace everything is immortal. Photos, comments, and pages are archived in perpetuity. I’d go so far as to say that your online activity will form the majority of future generation’s knowledge and opinion about you. Perhaps those drunk Instagram-fests and Twitter flame wars aren’t the best idea after all…

Catching up with an old friend on Waikiki Beach.
Catching up with an old friend on Waikiki Beach.

Were you using the Web in 1995? Probably not. I’d wager 99% of my readers didn’t even know what hypertext, “the Web”, or a browser were back then. For decades the internet had been the domain of scientists, academics, and the military. Outside of government employees and university computer science students, those who were online typically got there via a 1200 baud modem connection to Compuserve, Prodigy, or America Online. Me? I connected via a civilian bulletin board network called FidoNet. Fido relied on a hub-and-spoke system of telephone modem connections (many of them part-time, as mine was) to pass messages along. Users of a particular BBS would have to call in to that system via landline, and most operators had only one phone line. If a user was on the system, nobody else could connect. You’d get a busy signal (remember those?).

It was the year O.J. was acquitted, the West Bank was turned over to the Palestinians, and Timothy McVeigh blew up that building in Oklahoma City. From a technological standpoint, at least, ’95 was a simpler time. Few people had cell phones or truly portable computers. The first use of URLs for advertising was still a year or two away. I remember the day I saw a Uniform Resource Locator address on the side of a truck and how amazed I was. Who on earth was going to know what that was or how to use it? Few people would even ask if you had an email address. Today nobody asks if you have one — they just want to know what it is.

Early that year I started the House of Rapp, more out of curiosity than anything else. What could I do with HTML? Well, I could make it blink! Even back then, it was annoying. Nobody wants to read text that appears and disappears over and over again.

The first iteration of the site is long gone. I remember what it looked like, but at the time the idea of “saving” a design for posterity was ridiculous. It still is, come to think of it. The earliest version of the site was so old that even doesn’t have a copy.

On the ramp in Honolulu.  Time to head home!
On the ramp in Honolulu. Time to head home!

The domain name was registered about 18 months later, and I’ve been tormenting the online world ever since. I wonder what I’ll be doing with the House of Rapp in another twenty years. Will it still be around? Will I? Perhaps my son will be running it while I ride a Light Cycle in some Tron-like matrix. Probably end up there because of a malfunction at the Large Hadron Collider…

If you want a longer history with some statistics about the House of Rapp, that’s certainly available, as are a collection of screen captures from the early days of the site.

In ’95, this was one of the more substantial personal web sites on the internet. There were about 23,000 sites in existence that year and the House of Rapp was enough of a novelty that the Wall Street Journal actually wrote an article about it. Today there are 400 million web sites out there, making this is a very small fish in a massive ocean of data.

I don’t know why people keep coming back, but to all my readers: thank you.

  23 comments for “Twenty Years and Counting

  1. Graeme
    February 18, 2015 at 3:22 am

    Wow! And you keep it going with regularity. I remember logging onto to the Irvine Exchange BBS in 95. I had AOL but the banner always said “world wide web” coming soon

    • February 18, 2015 at 3:28 am

      I remember the Irvine Exchange. Wasn’t a regular there, but I did have an account. My regular haunts were Legends (Irvine) and Old Codger’s (Orange). It took the large online services a long time to develop web portals. And even then, they were plagued by non-standard browsers which diminished the experience. They tried to bend the web to their desires. Didn’t quite work out the way they planned…

  2. Graeme
    February 18, 2015 at 3:27 am

    Actually. look when the House of Rapp came to being and then look how recently the word “BLOG ” came around. talk about being a pioneer……
    I think BLOG came to mainstream around d 2002

    • February 18, 2015 at 3:30 am

      That’s right. I used to call the blog an “online journal”. The word “blog” never sat well. Reminds me too much of the sound a person makes after a long night of drinking. 🙂

      • graeme
        February 19, 2015 at 8:39 pm

        actually, I was meaning the IDEA of the Web Log or Online Journal…not so much the word itself. Could your Blog be one of the first….and if not, could it be one of the first…thats still around and active today?

        • February 19, 2015 at 10:37 pm

          It’s probably one of the earliest blogs that’s still running, yes. I wonder how one would go about researching that…

  3. February 18, 2015 at 3:56 am

    Well I for one hope to be reading about your low-orbit global business flying, and insights therefrom, in 2035. Happy Birthday and congratulations.

    • February 18, 2015 at 2:17 pm

      I wouldn’t object to that. “Low-orbit flying” does have a nice ring to it. I hope Airscape will be around for decades to come as well, as it’s one of those rare publications I literally can’t put down.

  4. February 18, 2015 at 4:03 am

    Ron, congratulations on 20 years of continuous on-line presence! That’s really impressive.

    Aside from using Prodigy as a college student, my actual introduction to the WWW came in 1994 via a UNIX mainframe running Lynx, a text-only browser. Remember that? Shortly afterward, I was introduced to Mosaic and Netscape Navigator was released soon after. In the five years I was in graduate school (1994-1999), the web went from a novelty to a critical research tool. We used it to find amino acid sequences for various proteins we were studying in the early days of proteomics (it seems to me that one of those sites was affiliated with CERN as well, but don’t quote me on that).

    I think I established my first webpage around 1997. It is long deceased, which is no big loss to the world at large.

    As for your “online journal”, if you keep writing ’em, I’ll keep reading ’em!

    • February 18, 2015 at 2:24 pm

      Sounds like a deal, Chris!

      I do remember Lynx — it’s still around. I have it on my Macbook Air, though I’d be lying if I said I use it very much. It’s more out of curiosity to see how sites like mine look in a text-only format. I understand Lynx is still popular with visually impaired people.

      Amazing how the Web transformed life in the mid-late 90s, isn’t it? Your connection to CERN is interesting. The “six degrees” effect at work!

  5. Jim
    February 18, 2015 at 6:06 am

    I remember the amazing speed of the 56k modem, fixed banner ad images, and crappy blinking text. How far we’ve come in a relatively short time! My “web pages” have lived behind corporate firewalls since I moved over from engineering a few days after Y2K.

    Now that I’ve joined the pilot world, I look forward to another 20 years reading your site. Lose that splash page and the new design is a knockout!

    • February 18, 2015 at 2:30 pm

      Thanks, Jim. Yes, the splash can be a bit of an annoyance. I’m hoping to make it smaller so the content appears above the virtual “fold”. I’ve also got a problem with the infinite scroll function causing the sidebar data to effectively disappear on mobile devices — it moves them to the bottom of the page, but with infinite scrolling, there IS no “bottom”.

  6. February 18, 2015 at 8:20 am

    Wow, Ron, what a virtual pedigree you come from! I had no idea you were one of the first–you must know Al Gore personally! (sorry couldn’t resist!) And I’m sure you’re right: 4 million spammers in the first 24 hour period LOL!

    Man, I’d love to see that WSJ article about your site if you can dig it up from the archives–you’re a piece of history–and I’m not talking about your age! 😉

    One techno-nerd factoid I must correct (it’s like a pebble in my shoe): CERN accelerates those suckers to NEARLY the speed of light!

    Happy 20, my friend!

    Eric “Cap’n Aux” Auxier

    • February 18, 2015 at 2:34 pm

      Good catch. If they were able to accelerate particles to the speed of light, some major laws of physics would have to be re-written. As for the WSJ article, I’m a subscriber to The Journal, but can’t find a good way to search their archives that far back using the iOS app. I’d love to find it though.

  7. Karlene
    February 18, 2015 at 9:28 am

    Ron, I am in awe! I think it was 7 years ago someone said, “You need to get a blog!” I asked, “What’s a blog?” Then they said, “You should be on Twitter too!” My response, “Twitter who?” Yes… time flies but you were light years ahead of me. But then…when those questions were fired at me I was already in that old school realm well into my mid 40’s. Enjoy your youth! Happy 20!!!

    • February 18, 2015 at 2:46 pm

      On the other hand, just think of all the years you were out enjoying the sunshine and interacting exclusively face-to-face with people while I was staring at a computer screen! In that regard, your later entree to the online publishing world is to be envied. Social media and the like can trap you in a series of computerized devices like some sort of digital prison if you’re not careful.

      In fact, a very well known blogger recently announced he was quitting in order to get back into the real world. Bloggers do that all the time. The difference here? His site has 30,000 paid subscribers and brings in about $1 million per year.

  8. Charlie Mike
    February 18, 2015 at 11:02 am

    Mazel Tov Ron! Wow, 20 years online! You truly are older than I thought you were. I consider this place a beacon of light amongst the madness of misinformation overload that flood my senses on a daily basis. This House has continuously provided interesting and relevant articles that educate, inform and encourage friendly, thought provoking conversation. This House has provided safe harbor for aviation geek and jock alike to safely intermingle and debate who is who. Thank YOU Ron for building and maintaining this top notch House!

    P.S. No offense to the rest of the Blogging in Formation Mafia is implied, insinuated or otherwise endorsed.

    • February 18, 2015 at 2:52 pm

      You’re most welcome — and thanks for the ringing endorsement! I’m glad to know so many people enjoy the content here. The nice thing about aviation is that much of the material is timeless. Posts on spin training, aerodynamics, career insights, instructional techniques, travel stories, etc. should be as relevant in 10 years as they were when I wrote them. At least, that’s the idea.

      Hope the Norcal flying scene is treating you right!

  9. February 18, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    Excellent post Ron! Really interesting. You’ve been talking about aviation for 20yrs?
    Btw, in 1995 I was 3, well until 4th of July I was 2 (feeling old now? Jeje)
    Keep it alive and kicking!

    Regards from Argentina

    • February 18, 2015 at 2:55 pm

      Not quite that long. In the early days, it was mostly personal observations, creative writing, and stuff about the performing arts. When I started getting into flying seriously in the late 90s, the content started to reflect that. I’d say the last 15 years or so has been almost exclusively aviation-focused.

      And yes, I’m definitely feeling old. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

      • February 18, 2015 at 8:13 pm

        Well, 15yrs is still a lot of time! Oh and sorry for that 😉

  10. Rob
    February 18, 2015 at 9:16 pm

    Ron, you are truly an inspiration. 20 years is a long time to be blogging. I’ve only been at it for a couple of years and have thought many times that I might be making my last post. Keep the great content coming – it’s an honor to be associated with you!

    • February 19, 2015 at 12:25 am

      Thank you, Rob. I’m honored — and I very much empathize with your “last post” comment! Writing regularly over a long period of time can be challenging, especially when you’re dedicated to producing high quality material and have as busy a schedule as someone like yourself.

      What helps me is to think of it as a marathon rather than a sprint. The key to reaching the finish line is to pick a pace you can sustain over the long term (easier said than done!). Since you’re defending the country, nobody would blame you if Tally fell by the wayside for a while, that’s for sure. But I do hope you’ll continue, because yours is a truly unique voice. There are plenty of corporate/GA pilots with blogs, but I don’t know of any other active duty fifth-generation fighter pilots who write. 🙂

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