Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Images that give pause

Sometime in 1996, while working at Netscape on the browser software, I received an email message from Michael Lopp, also a Netscape employee who managed the test automation team, if memory serves. The message was titled innocuously enough: "Welcome Drury to knobs!" I noted that the message had an attachment but opened it without hesitation, and was horrified to see a large, screen-filling image of a completely nude male, likely a full-frontal scan from PlayGirl or the like. It was just the sort of visual surprise that causes one to lunge forward, reflexively, to block the view of one's monitor (never mind that I was alone in my cubical) while simultaneously trying to decide if iconifying the email application would be a quicker way to remove the offending image than, say, by bringing a browser window forward, all in a split second.

Over the coming weeks and months I would learn that the "knobs" email alias at Netscape comprised something of a select group. Its members included all the founders except Jim Clark and Marc Andreesen, as well as many of the earliest employees. I think I earned my invitation to the alias based on some posts I'd sent to the internal mcom.bad-attitude newsgroup at Netscape, but no one ever passed on the reason, so I may never know. In any case, knobs appeared to have two unwritten rules:
1) Once on the alias one could never be removed
2) Messages sent to the alias should shock or offend, or do both
Much of the knobs traffic included graphic, often disturbing images, possibly with a caption from the contributor, one that frequently associated the image with an alias member and sought to ridicule that member in the offhand manner of nerds at play. Most of my contributions to the alias were prose rambles that are not fit to reprint, but suffice to say the general tone of knobs was as unprofessional and un-PC as can be imagined, which is probably why everyone enjoyed it as much as they did.

Knobs is still alive today, and is being hosted by one of Netscape's founding engineers. It gets far less traffic now than it did in 1996, but occasionally an image arrives in my Inbox that takes me back to the reckless days of '96 and '97. Such was the case a few weeks ago when I recieved the image linked below, one that arrived with the simple but adequate message title, "WTF? W T F !" Please don't open this image if you are offended by nudity. I have no explanation for what this man is doing in the image, much less why he is doing it. Perhaps the high cost of gasoline of late combined with the low miles per gallon the featured vehicle surely gets drove this poor sod in ladies finery to get more from his SUV than basic transportation. You've been warned -- now you be the judge.


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