In Internat Use of Pancakes, Greg describes how his brain tried to interpret an IHOP sign with burned-out letters. I’ve experienced that kind of thing myself. When we see abbreviations (and a sign with burned-out letters is an abbreviation, albeit an accidental one), we fill in the missing information according to what we expect. And if we’re Internet geeks, that dictates the kind of information we fill in.
When I was working on Wake Forest Road, my daily commute took me past a sign that indicated the direction of Raleigh Community Hospital. But the sign didn’t have room for the entire name, so it said RALEIGH COM HOSPITAL. Inevitably, my brain parsed this as “Raleigh.com Hospital”, which makes no sense — but that’s how my brain insisted on interpreting it. I guess a lot of people had this problem, because the hospital eventually gave up and changed its name.
I can’t say that an IHOP sign has ever made me think of the Internet, but there was a time when I reacted that way to every Waffle House sign I saw. This was a decade and a half ago, when even dial-up Internet service was not widely available, and the World Wide Web didn’t exist. But things like e-mail and Usenet newsgroups did, and if you knew what you were doing, you could access them from your home computer. I learned how to accomplish this using a shareware application that was designed for running a BBS, but could also be used as a single-user newsreader and e-mail client. For reasons known only to him, the creator of this application named it Waffle.
Waffle included a UUCP program, which enabled computers running Waffle to exchange data with each other over dial-up connections. This meant several Waffle users could share the cost of a single dial-up connection, with one computer serving as a local hub that downloaded the e-mail and Usenet traffic for all of them. The other computers would then call the hub machine to download their data (and upload any outgoing traffic). It was slow, but it worked and didn’t cost very much.
For several years, I was part of a small community (about half a dozen) of Waffle users in the Triangle area of North Carolina that used this system to access the Net. I was using Waffle every day to check my e-mail, so you can imagine what kind of conclusion my brain would draw every time I saw a Waffle House sign. And that’s not the worst of it. There is a restaurant in Dunn called Triangle Waffle that made me do a double-take every time I drove by. (My local UUCP network of Waffle users didn’t hold meetings, but that would have been a good place to do it.)
All of this came to an end when the first ISPs began appearing in the Triangle. I dismantled my Waffle setup almost a decade ago. But when I saw that Greg was writing about Internet use of batter cakes cooked on a griddle, those memories came flooding back . . .