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14 Classic Distractions for the Internet Newcomer

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Every once in a while, I run across an old article, video, or link of some kind and think, "Oh yeah, that was awesome! Too bad it's so old," because my job is to post the newest and hottest links every day. If I post something more than a couple of months old, I'll get complaints. However, it's not really old to someone who hasn't seen it. After all, there are young folks who only use the internet for Facebook and Wikipedia, and more older folks are going online for the first time every day. I put some of those links together as a list of old hits that everyone should see sometime, that could be used as a way to introduce new users to the wonders of the internet, at least the fairly tame yet funny parts. Here are a few suggestions for freshman surfers.

1. Mark Longmire's Romance Novel Covers

As many times as I've seen (and used) Mark Longmire's Romance Novel Covers, they never fail to make me laugh. He's got some other old but wonderful features at his site.

2. Nose

Pick your nose online? Well, just tweeze the hair, OK? This was so nonsensical that everyone loved it. Some folks say there is something satisfying about plucking nose hairs, and artist Jogchem Niemandsverdriet gives you a way to do that without the anticipated pain. Oh yeah, he has a lot of other weird stuff online for you.

3. Red Square

Games are getting more sophisticated by the day, but if you've got an idea that is simple to comprehend but hard to master, you've got a classic. The Red Square game will drive you crazy no matter how many times you try it. All you need to do is survive. Hold the red square and avoid being hit by the blue squares. I usually last about ten seconds, but I have to go back and try again a few times.

4. Viking Kittens

Joel Veitch created the flash animation Viking Kittens in 2002 which became such a bandwidth hog that it is no longer hosted at his Rathergoood site. There are several other sites that host it, but they have appeared and disappeared over the years. If the linked site stops hosting, you can search for another. Or see it on YouTube. Jonti Picking's Badgers is another flash sequence everyone should be familiar with.

5. The Worm Within

Do you have a strong stomach? There are no photographs in the story The Worm Within, (just some cute illustrations) but it is a long, gross read about a tapeworm Vincent Eaton encountered in Belgium. Click to advance to the next page. It is followed by 27 pages of submitted personal parasite stories.

6. Amateur

Young Norwegian filmmaker Lasse Gjertsen charmed us all with his video Amateur in 2006. He is not a musician (or was not at the time); this was all done by video editing. Gjertsen became the internet's golden boy for a while. All his videos are worth checking out.

7. Zoomquilt

Warning: this link may make you lose track of time. The Zoomquilt is a beautiful example of infinite zoom, constructed in 2004 as a collaborative art project. Since then, The Zoomquilt 2 has been added. After you click start, use your mouse and mouse button to zoom in at your own speed. Or out.

8. Backstroke of the West

Although it has just a little NSFW text, Backstroke of the West became a classic because 1. it was real, and 2. it was ridiculous. And still is, seven years later. It's a simple look at how bootleg videos get mis-translated more than once, resulting in nonsense subtitles. Therefore, Revenge of the Sith somehow became Backstroke of the West. This subtitled bootleg movie was the source of the Do Not Want meme.

9. The Singing Horses

The Singing Horses are both cute and fun. Click each horse to make it sing or stop. The French site Incredibox works along the same lines with human singers, but is more involved and sometime a bit more difficult to figure out. But you can do it!

10. The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook

October 4

Still working on the omelet. There have been stumbling blocks. I keep creating omelets one after another, like soldiers marching into the sea, but each one seems empty, hollow, like stone. I want to create an omelet that expresses the meaninglessness of existence, and instead they taste like cheese. I look at them on the plate, but they do not look back. Tried eating them with the lights off. It did not help. Malraux suggested paprika.

The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook was originally published in a Portland alternative newspaper in 1987, but survives for everyone everywhere to read on the internet. It never would have reached such a wide audience otherwise.

11. Instants

Need some sound effects for your life? Instants is a soundboard that has everything you could possibly use to punctuate your conversations. I drove my kids crazy with this for a couple of days and then forgot it. Since then, the sheer size of the collection makes it slower to load and more difficult to use than it was a couple of years ago. But now they have subgroupings, and the effects I used most are in the "Real Life!" category, which I would recommend to anyone. Warning: if you don't recognize the label, the sound effect may turn out to be NSFW.

12. Daft Hands

Daft Hands is a 2007 performance piece by Austin Hall to the song "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" by Daft Punk. The original video now has 53 million views, but comments indicate that people still see it for the first time every day. This video inspired other versions and parodies, particularly on the comedy theme of "Daft Bodies." The original hands video was done in one take with no special effects.

13. iDaft

If you like that song, you'll love the iDaft. It's a sound board constructed from the parts of "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger." Punching the buttons makes you feel like you have some musical talent even if you don't.

14. Samorost

Samorost is an intricate adventure game by Amanita Design. It was created by Jakub Dvorský in 2003 while studying design in Prague. There are no instructions; you have to figure out what to do on your own, but the challenge and the artwork make it very worth your while. Samorost 2 followed a couple of years later, but only the first chapter is available free.

Of course, this list only scratches the surface of the rich pickings for a new internet surfer. Are any of these sites new to you? What are your favorite "internet oldies"? What games, videos, art, and articles hold up well over time? Do you have other suggestions of classic web entertainment that everyone should see sooner or later?

See also: 6 Founding Members of the Internet Zoo and 10 Landmark Moments in YouTube History.

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Computer Users, Rejoice: You're Finally Allowed to Create Easy-to-Remember Passwords
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To keep your personal data secure, it’s important to craft a strong password—and for nearly 15 years, savvy computer users have heeded the counsel of Bill Burr, the man who quite literally wrote the book on password management. Now, The Wall Street Journal reports that Burr has admitted that some of his advice was flawed. While working as a manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in 2003, Burr wrote a primer—officially known as “NIST Special Publication 800-63. Appendix A”—that instructed federal workers to create codes using obscure characters, a mix of lowercase and capital letters, and numbers. For security purposes, he also recommended changing passwords on a regular basis. At the time, however, Burr didn’t have a ton of data to rely on, so he ended up using a paper published in the mid-1980s as a primary source for the manual. Burr’s primer eventually became widely used among federal workers, corporate companies, websites, and tech companies alike. But in hindsight, experts say that Burr’s directives didn’t actually improve cybersecurity: The NIST recently gave his primer received a full overhaul, and they opted to eliminate the now-famous rules about using special characters and switching up codes. These rules “actually had a negative impact on usability,” Paul Grassi, the NIST standards-and-technology adviser who led Special Publication 800-63’s rewrite, told The Wall Street Journal. They make it harder to remember and type in codes, plus those parties who did change their passwords every 90 days typically only made minor, easy-to-guess alterations. Plus, research now shows that longer passwords—a series of around four words—are ultimately harder to crack than shorter combinations of letters, characters, or numbers. (And at the end of the day, computer users ended up paradoxically choosing the same “random” passwords used by millions of others.) The NIST now recommends long, easy-to-remember passwords (not the “#!%”-filled ones of yesteryear) and for people to switch codes only if they suspect that their existing one has been stolen. In short, it's probably time to change your password—and this time around, you might even have an easier time remembering it.
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Hacked Rotary Phone Demonstrates How the Internet Works
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Untangling the inner workings of the internet gets complicated fast, partly because the World Wide Web isn’t a single entity. Rather, it’s a vast network of networks in communication with one another. To demonstrate this complex process at work, a group of students from Copenhagen reduced it to something most people are familiar with: a rotary telephone.

As Co.Design reports, the Internet Phone looks like an old-fashioned telephone with a rotary dial, but students at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design have modified it to function like a web browser. To use it, callers dial the IP address of whichever website they wish to visit. When the call is answered, a voice reads the text aloud as it would appear on the webpage.

If a caller wants to hear the raw HTML, they can switch the phone to “developer” mode. There’s also an “article” option for skipping irrelevant content and a “history” mode for redialing the last five IP addresses that were called.

It may be hard to connect the act of calling a website on a rotary phone to opening a site on your smartphone, but the two aren’t that far apart. The students write in the project description:

“Each step in the user experience is comparable to the process that a browser takes when retrieving a website. Looking up the IP addresses in a phone book is similar to how a browser gets an IP address from DNS (Domain Name System) directories. Dialing the twelve digits and waiting for the phone to retrieve the HTML content mimic how a browser requests data from servers. The voice-to-speech reading of the website is comparable to how a browser translates HTML and CSS code into human understandable content.”

After watching the reinvented phone in action, check out these other practical uses for retro technology.

[h/t Co.Design]

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