Old Geek Humor — “Top Secret Microsoft Code” (from Tek Thots vol. 2 issue 6, 1997)

Scott Holstad
8 min readOct 11, 2022


Retro header for Tek Thots Email Newsletter vol. 2, issue 6 (1997)

Back in 1996, I started an email newsletter I called Tek Thots. If you’ve ever seen my LinkedIn profile, you know I’m intrigued by and pursue many interests. At the time, I was working progressively longer hours at a growing tech company that would become the country’s second largest Internet Service Provider behind only AOL. (AOL was technically a Commercial Online Service so I’ve often argued EarthLink was actually the largest ISP in the country, not AOL. But semantics, yes?)

In 1997, I worked in the engineering division at EarthLink Network. Engineering fell under the umbrella of Ops and thus my shirt

I was also teaching at a couple of schools on the side (one a tenure track associate professor position). I taught an odd mix of classes ranging from Composition, Creative Writing and Twentieth Century British and American Literature to what evolved into web development, software development (and a rare class on computer hardware). I was also writing and publishing, traveling for business and pleasure, giving seminars with additional odd projects on the side that could become time and labor-intensive.

Still, I had many geek interests, in part stemming from my involvement in the computing world since the 1970s, my first home computer in 1982 (C64, of course), email, modems (my first use of a modem in 1980!), my first programming classes, security, BBS’s, protocols such the OSI model, TCP/IP stack, etc. Spending my time working in the biggest data center on the west coast thrilled me to no end and I was working toward an engineering degree at UCLA. Of course I loved gaming, helping out newbies, research into still little known tech issues (anyone remember VRML?), tracking down “bad guys” with some others, typical geek humor, etc.

Tek Thots surprised me by turning out to be pretty influential. I published erratically, had no help and did everything myself, but met some great people from around the world. If you’ve read my short LinkedIn entry on it, I note it migrated to a greater emphasis on security, privacy, cryptography, info warfare, etc., and I was engaged with many professionals around the globe and people seemed to appreciate the (free) newsletter’s growth. At one point I know Tek Thots had subscribers from over 50 countries, including the US, Belgium, New Zealand, Sweden, UK, Israel, Canada, Australia, Germany, Chile, Finland, Norway, UAE, Italy, South Korea, Denmark, Iceland, Poland, Switzerland, France, Netherlands, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Africa, Russia, Spain, Latvia, Thailand, Portugal, Mexico, Japan, Romania, India, Austria, Bermuda, Nicaragua, Brazil, Malaysia, Ireland, Czech Republic, Romania, Slovak Republic, Croatia, Greece, Cypress & Estonia. Moreover, many were in education, government and military fields and the majority of US subscribers often had email domains ending with .edu, .gov, .mil and .arpa extensions.

This beauty is likely very rare. EarthLink’s slogan was about “It’s your Internet…” Great for the AOL deserters EarthLink was acquiring. However, Engineering had a reputation for being a bit snarky, so we had this shirt made up to reflect our opinion concerning all of the ghost, nonexistent services and products hundreds of account execs were promising everyone while never checking to see if it was literally technologically feasible AND if we would or were going to be implementing such things. “It’s your Internet — YOU fix it” summed things up nicely for us — and only added to some resentments. Good times.

The purpose of this article actually is NOT supposed to be a full history of Tek Thots. Rather, I wanted to post a snippet of one of the issues as an introduction to my new project to put up an informal site where anyone can access the issues I still possess from between 1996–1999. I’m missing quite a few, but I still have over 15 and I think some are interesting because I made a lot of observations, predictions and forecasting and it’s been interesting to see how accurate I turned out to be. Also I encouraged reader engagement, not all of which was glowing fan mail. Those who are honest will surely admit that techies are among the first to rip into each other if they think a person is wrong. They have no compuctions about proving that person stupid. Fortunately, I rarely had to deal with that, but I did receive many messages from people contesting some of my observations or assertions — good naturedly — and I’d often print a few (with their permission) and respond in the following issue. I came across one such a few weeks ago from the first year of the newsletter and I wondered whatever happened to the young lady who wrote me asking questions and offering a small challenge in response to some things I’d written in the previous issue. I knew nothing about her but decided to see if I could find her and to my surprise, she’s on LinkedIn! I haven’t contacted her because despite a positive relationship, that WAS in the previous century and who knows if she ever remembers this. My typical strategy is to tag a person and hope they see it, which I would do except since I haven’t spoken to her, I don’t know how she’d feel about me identifying her by name — even via just a tag — on this platform, but I’ll worry about that another time.

So Finally! I’m finally at the place which this intended-short article was to be about. I apologize for the lengthy intro but I wanted to explain the purpose and context, especially since what I’m about to post was typical nerd humor in the 1980s and ’90s, but as far as I know, may no longer be appreciated these days because it seems so many people have lost their sense of humor, a pity. But I have one more longish piece of information to provide, largely for those not familiar with the old hatred of Microsoft.

One of the frequent things found in engineering divisions (and elsewhere) back in those days was forms of humor ranging from pure geekfest to stuff that probably wouldn’t pass the current PC barrier and that was true even for many female colleagues working in these environments. We made fun of a lot of famous people and companies and there were so many to trash. However, if you’re old enough to remember those days, you should get this, and if you weren’t around at the time, you should probably know this so as to have any needed context. The two tech companies that stood out for criticism with a little brutality were Apple and at #1, Microsoft. I’ll skip Apple for now. Microsoft was hated by nearly everyone for nearly everything. In no particular order, they made horribly inferior products, and that was in manufacturing, because both by confirmation and strong assertions and beliefs, Microsoft never actually MADE anything! [This URL provides good and once common examples of the complaints people had about Microsoft: https://www.quora.com/What-made-Microsoft-deserve-the-moniker-of-Evil-Empire.] Apple may have put some stinkers out there but they were innovators. Microsoft was known for stealing most of their offerings from other companies, or buying companies solely for a product they wanted to sell but couldn’t/wouldn’t make themselves. While Gates did create DOS for IBM (though even that concept is challenged), legend has it Gates, et al, toured the incredibly innovative Xerox PARC where they’d already invented most anything worth a damn (a GUI display, a mouse [originally wooden], Ethernet, laser printing, a great text editor, the alleged first actual personal computer, user friendly programming languages and much more). Many young tech stars famously went to Palo Alto to tour the lab, yet many sources assert Gates stole his idea for a GUI OS interface, a mouse and more while there. (Steve Jobs and Apple were accused of the same thing and it seems very likely they both were guilty.) Additionally, Gates bought SQL from a small company and has made massive profits, as well as Windows servers and their IE browser from a small company they (metaphorically) roughed up. Nothing original, yet even then, products that were largely crap in quality. Unfortunately, users had no recourse because for one thing, Apples cost so much more, UNIX wasn’t a viable reality, and you couldn’t buy a PC without the new Windows on it, so Microsoft had a monopoly (which they abused) that was considered so “evil” that the DOJ went after them and forced a massive fine on them for various anti-competitive crimes.

To cut to the chase, though, the real problem was Bill Gates. He was simply an asshole. By then Microsoft was called “the evil empire” by many and Boardwatch Magazine published an issue so infamous that they had merch made up and I still have the shirt that features Bill’s head with some sci fi contraption over one eye and the title “BillGatus of Borg,” which basically went viral. I not only still have the shirt, but the poster too.

The greatest nerd shirt of the 1990s, if not one of the greatest ever.

One known example is when AOL was under the impression they were going to have a partnership with Microsoft. On the assigned day for talks, Gates and his team apparently walked into AOL’s conference room, Gates sat down, looked at Steve Case and said “I can either buy you today or destroy you today, your choice.” (Recollected quote from book I read some years ago, so not likely ver batam.) Unlike most companies, Case threw the Microsoft group out of the building. So It wasn’t until Bill retired, got married and tried to resurrect his image with numerous interviews and much philanthropy, and also other Borgs arising, that Gates was finally able to become … not nearly as toxic to many Microsoft haters. [As a personal aside — having nothing to do with the many hundreds of friends, colleagues and connections I have there — I’ve been impressed with the fact that over the past decade or so, Microsoft has done two things they never did — innovate and vastly improve most products so that now before the 3rd version of whatever it is, it’s long been stable and usable. So kudos to them!]

So I have gone on far too long and I’m finally going to get to the original reason for this article. I’m posting an example (bad, fuzzy — sorry) of some subtle (not really), funny, sarcastic nerd humor from Tek Thots vol. 2, issue 6, published on June 13, 1997. This was typical of many different goofy things we’d exchange and occasionally post in between pieces of hacking and hackers (Mitnik), viruses, espionage, human trafficking, Russia’s illegal purchase of SGIs, geopolitical armaments, etc. Between the jokes and the computer game reviews, had to keep things a bit lighter at times. One last note on this issue. I called this issue my “Spamford Wallace” issue. Long story, but I gave out his physical address and some 400 domains, IPs, invoices, etc., when it appeared most have difficulty locating him. In any event, here finally is the code. I can’t improve on it so I hope it’s readable and if so, I hope you enjoy. For my friends at Microsoft, please realize this is a harmless joke from over 25 years ago, so hopefully we can all have a chuckle without any ill feelings. Thanks!

Originally published at https://ivebeendead.blogspot.com.



Scott Holstad

Polymath. Writer. Analyst. Researcher. Geopolitics. E/SE Asia. Historian. Antifascist. 40+ Books. Pearson. HarperCollins. AAN; RUSI; AOC. 22K LI Followers