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15.8.08
<-- This photograph changed my life (click for larger version).

It all started in about June 1993. I was half way through my second year at UNSW, studying for a degree in science, majoring in biology. Jurassic Park had just been released (or was about to be released) in the United States, and the media was full of stories about dinosaurs and genetics. Then I saw this article on channel 7 or 9 news. Geneticists had taken the luciferase gene from a firefly and inserted it into a tobacco plant. This meant that when the plant was fed with luciferin the result was a plant that glows in the dark! This completely captivated me. This looked like the kewlest thing in the world to be able to do, and I decided then and there that I wanted to study genetics.

I changed my major and some subjects for my next semester and happily studied genetics for the next year and a half. At the end of third year I then had to decide what honours project I would do. I had a choice between two - one in the School of Biochemistry and one in the School of Community Medicine. I was having trouble deciding between the two, but my decision was made for me when the supervisor from biochemistry told me he had forgotten he had already promised the position to someone else months earlier.

So I lived in Community Medicine for a year. During that time I met Luc Betbeder who had setup a small computer lab that had internet access with news, web, and IRC access. For a few months I didn't pay any attention because I was busy with my project. Then I saw an article on Beyond 2000 about news groups. This looked interesting, so I subscribed myself to a couple - Quantum Leap, Star Trek, and TV groups. My first ever posting to a newsgroup was answered by Elwyn Chow (and we have been emailing each other ever since). Newsgroups had me hooked for several months. I spent probably 2-3 hours each day reading the newsgroups and saving interesting messages.

I was not the only one that spent time in the computer room. Medical students would also come to use the lab, and their main activity was IRC. One day, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. I fired up WS-IRC and did a channel listing, and joined the channel #loiscla (remember the tv show Lois and Clark?). On my first or second day on this channel someone there told me how I could get myself a free email account (UNSW was scummy to their undergraduates in those days, and you needed to be studying computer science to get an email account). So now I had email and a growing collection of people to talk to online. I was well and truly hooked.

Next came the world wide web. I was studying a general studies subject and wanted to get some government statistics for an assignment. I just thought I'd have a look on this thing they called the WWW and see if I could find anything. Two days later I came away from the computer, I think with the statistics, but also with sense of "hey this thing is *kewl* !!" So in the second half of 1995, with IRC and the web (news groups faded in interest after discovering the web) I would spend 5-6 hours a day on the computer. I'd get to uni at 8am and play for an hour, then have an hour at lunch, then after 5pm I'd hit the net for another 3-4 hours before going home. I'd even come in from 9-6 on Saturdays to surf away in peace without anyone else in the lab. I had a blast.

In August, I thought it might be fun to have a web page of my own. I had nowhere to host it though, so I asked Elwyn if I could have some space under his account at Melbourne Uni. He said that was fine. So on August 30, 1995 I put up my very first homepage. It's address was a very ugly http://www.ecr.mu.oz.au/~eydc/karen/home.htm I kept this address for three months. Then Luc found some web server software for windows 3.11 and put his desktop computer onto the internet. Shortly after that he got the uni to register his IP address as javelin.commed.unsw.edu.au. In December I moved my pages to his computer, giving me the address http://javelin.commed.unsw.edu.au/karen/

Javelin itself has now been about half a dozen different computers (edit 15.8.08 - probably about 8 or 9 by now), as Luc moved to another office with a different IP address, so I continually had to find new machines to host the web pages. It was on one of the lab computers for a while, then when I started research work it was on that. Eventually we moved the files onto Luc's new computer and got the DNS reassigned. It moved in June 1997 to the unit's NT server where it has been ever since. (edit 15.8.08 - it's still on the main medicine web server, a 2003 IIS server. Luc still works there and has ties to it, but there's no guarantees a personal site will stay there forevermore).

At the end of 1995 I borrowed a modem. A quick installation of trumpet winsock and Netscape and suddenly the internet was in my room at home. It was just fantastic. I was using Luc's Uni internet account. This gave free access on a pool of 16 14.4k modems. It was always full, and I always had trouble getting on (the longest it took on redialling every second was 1.5 hours). Once on, however I had no problems. Luc used his supervisor's account which meant we could both be on together without the uni chasing us down.

I got my own modem in early 1996 and then went on a quest to find an internet service provider, as my time at the uni was drawing to an end, with my thesis just about complete. There was huge variation in prices. I decided I did not want any hourly charges (or charges for the hits to my web pages - I was getting a megabyte of transfers per day on my jurassic park pages). But even the monthly charges varied - up to $50/month for unlimited. Then one night in April 1996 I had trouble with some cached pages in my browser and jumped onto IRC to get someone to check out my site. I met a man named Vic there who owned his own ISP that had all of what I was looking for at the right price. That chance meeting changed my life as much as the photo above (the story from here on continues here).

So if you hadn't put it together yet, if I hadn't seen that photo that night I would not have had the same experiences at uni, and I wouldn't have discovered the internet in quite the same way, so my homepages would have taken a lot longer to come into existence, if at all.

The other thing is, which you may be wondering about, is am I still interested in genetics now? Well the answer is yes, I still am, but the problem with genetics is that to get to study and work on anything really interesting you really need to do a PhD and years and years of boring research work. It was just something I really didn't feel like doing. Computers and the internet were much more fun *now* so had more appeal. Mind you, at the beginning of 1996 I was looking for *any* job. I didn't have any formal experience in computers but a first class honours degree in genetics, so I was applying for both computer and research jobs. In the end it was OzEmail that offered me my first job.. another story altogether which I don't know if I could be bothered telling, but it did give me good experience for my next jobs. Who knows, maybe I'll end up with the skills to do both - such as work on something like analysis of data collected for the human genome project...

 


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