October 3rd, 2005


who I am and how I came to be

Way back in the dim and distant past of 1992, when most of you hadn't been born, and the rest of you didn't really appreciate it, I got my first account on an internet bulletin board.

This was not the kind of flashy, web-driven bulletin board you get now (although the web did technically exist, I didn't even hear about it for another 2-3 years), but a text-only system accessed via telnet (a now little-used program that used to be the main method of connecting from one computer to another over the internet). It did, admittedly, support both Bold and Italic text, as well as different colours, but anything more complex was completely out of the question. It was, however, a miracle of its time, and I spent vast amounts of time talking to all sorts of new friends I found through it. It's name, for those interested in historical detail, was Monochrome, and it was based at City University in London, where it was constantly in danger of being shut down for allowing dangerous things like discussion of sexuality and intermittent flamewars - some things clearly never change.

Anyway, my first task when introduced to Mono (as it was affectionately know) was to choose a username. This was the first time I'd ever been able to choose my own, and I had no idea what to choose. I was advised to choose something that appealed to me - make sure I was happy with a name that would be associated with me for the rest of my time on the board.

It was 1992. I was a huge comics geek. I was madly in love with Neil Gaiman in general and Sandman in particular. I chose "Morpheus".

Thankfully (very, very thankfully), the name was already taken. But for the fact that someone else had got there first, I'd have been marked as a goth weenie for the next 5 years.

Annoyed that someone else had come up with my genius idea, I thought for a moment, and then went through every variation of names that had been used for the character. Again and again, praise the Lord, I was thwarted by those geekier than myself.

Eventually I plumped for the name of a minor character, mentioned as their name only once. It was nicely esoteric and fulfilled my general criteria for naming characters "unlikely to be known by other people" and "not entirely nice" at the same time. Neil Gaiman lifted it from rabbinical sources - the jewish books that intersect with became the old testament, and it's also mentioned in the kabbalah and other mystical texts. The name was "samael". For those who never read Sandman, or those who weren't paying intense attention to the whole thing, this is a more personal name for...the devil.

Yes, I know. I'm hanging my head in shame _right now_.

At the time, however, it appealed to me quite a lot, and I happily hung on to it for years afterwards, despite other people frequently mistyping it as "Samuel". I even went along to a few Mono Meets (much like an LJ meetup, insofar as everyone called each other by their Mono names and you could spend half an hour talking to someone before you realised you actually knew each other quite well). Whenever I signed up for a new bulletin board or discussion site I used it as my login name. It very much felt like my online identity. It still _is_ my Slashdot identity (I'm damned if I'm throwing away all that karma).

Eventually, however, the web got big enough that I started encountering other people using the alias. I'd try to sign up for a website and discover that someone else had gotten their first. I did a few searches and discovered that there was now a Black Metal band with the same name. It was going to have to go.

It was around this time that I set up my own domain - I'd become fed up with friends losing their email addresses whenever they moved ISP, and at that point people were moving ISP a lot, as new tariffs came out on an almost daily basis, and business models came and went before breakfast. So I sat in front of the computer and started typing domain names into a registration site, to see what was free.

After about half an hour I rounded up the various flatmates and passers-by that were in the flat and we _all_ sat there suggesting names. Eventually we had a game going, where two people would simultaneously suggest a random word, and then we'd put them together and see if _that_ domain was free. When domains like "FruityElephant.Com" have already gone, something is seriously wrong with the world.

And then I remembered a conversation I'd been having about Zen a few weeks before. A koan about how a student was trained by their master, who whenever they suggested something, said "This is not Zen." until they were enlightened. Which is how I ended up with www.notzen.com.

And, getting back to the original story, how I ended up with the username notzen on kuro5hin.org. Which worked for me quite well, but was somehow still not right. There was nothing _wrong_ with it, but I didn't feel it summed up who I was - it just didn't feel like _me_.

Which gave me my answer of course. I no longer felt like I had to hide behind a false identity. I was comfortable being myself, and indeed somewhat defensive of my right to be myself, and not have to play a game of masks (voluntary games are, of course, fine).

Which was sometime around the end of 2001, just as I was introduced to LiveJournal.

Which is why my LJ ID is my name.

Any questions?


Straight from my hindbrain

I just checked - and my original Monochrome account is still active. I even remembered my password! Not only that, I seem to still remember the really horrible navigation system, and the keyboard shortcuts.

I want those parts of my brain back!