One Man’s History of Web Design: Episode I

In 1990 I commandeered my parents Hi-8 Video Camera and created a “media empire” in my bedroom with my best friend Joe.

We built a television show set out of old furniture in my basement — we hung Christmas lights everywhere, covered unfinished walls in Batman bedsheets and used shipping palettes as a riser. We named our new TV show and sent my dad on his way to figure out how to get this thing on Public Access TV. We hadn’t actually filmed anything yet, but we had a name, logo and a set.

Palette of Fun was born.

The good news was my dad found out that short of illegal activity just about anyone can be put on Schenectady’s public access station. Now we just needed to film stuff.

I don’t think my parent’s ever touched their camera again.

Palette of Fun consisted of skits filmed in my basement and short movies filmed around the neighborhood. For a few years it wasn’t uncommon to find us playing basketball in our mother’s dresses, or running around the neighborhood with toy guns filming police chases. Such was life on our street. Every day we filmed something. Sometimes a story, other times a screen test trying to recreate special effects with our lame gear. One time in particular we wanted it to look like Joe was disappearing. He crawled into a maggot infested garbage can, closed the lid and we cut the camera. He jumped out gagging and we threw a blue smoke bomb inside to finish the shot. Joe turned to smoke. Genius. Our show was on Schenectady public access twice. In our heads people were into it — people were watching. Fact is, it was probably on at 3 in the morning and watched by one or two manic depressive insomniacs. Mission accomplished.

Eventually, the internet became my “Hi-8”. Ever the early adopters, my family was on Prodigy and Compuserve by 1993 so my dad could send answerless emails to Rush Limbaugh. I had been on dial-up Bulletin Board Systems via a 2400 baud modem since 1990 but this was the first time you could consume actual content by real writers and news publications — Multimedia content! Encyclopedia CD-ROM’s packed in with your computer even had video. You could watch JFK ask what he could do for his country any time you wanted to.

Putting this awesome power to proper use, Joe and I downloaded a picture of a woman in a bikini from Compuserve. It took 15 minutes to complete the photo… line of resolution by agonizing line of resolution. When it was downloaded we shrugged: “Oh, ok, yeah that’s a bikini alright”. Downloading a simple JPG felt like magic. Slow, anticlimactic magic. Our ho-hum reaction to the photo aside I knew: The internet was my way to publish creative work. We can actually reach people. Have fans. Get rich. Retire at 16.

Not long after I bought an issue of Wired magazine. It would change my life forever.

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