Don’t click on that gift horse

An episode at work which I recently wrote up brought an old story to mind.

I have an acquaintance who was one of the founders of Flooz, a 1.0 startup which offered a virtual currency that was accepted at participating websites. Many folks remember it because of its silly name and because Whoopie Goldberg was their celebrity spokesperson and appeared in a lot of advertising.

Flooz came to an unhappy end – organized crime allegedly figured out a way to use Flooz in a money laundering scheme, and it was shut down abruptly, with most people who held Flooz losing all their currency.

I was aware of this, and as things came to a head I happened to be reading, which was a site insiders used to come visit to trade war stories about the dot.coms as they imploded during the original collapse in the late 90’s. One of the posters claimed that he had discovered the method the criminals were using to exploit the system, a backdoor url anyone could use.

As I was reading this my girlfriend at the time had come home. I clicked the link, thinking that while it was unlikely, I might discover something of use to my friend. My girlfriend came into the room shortly after I clicked.

What happened after I clicked is my browser went berserk and began spawning pop-up windows with photos of explicit gay sex.

I should mention that our relationship at this time was on the rocks. It was already clear to me that things were coming to the end between us, but we hadn’t had ‘that talk’ yet. I had taken to sleeping on the couch a lot though, a prelude to the impending separation.

My girlfriend freaked out. What the FUCK is that!!! was her basic reaction. Is this why you’re sleeping on the couch? What the fuck! And so on.

Explaining things was harder back then because pop up advertising was brand new and most folks weren’t really web savvy – this included my girlfriend. She was no dummy, but she also basically didn’t understand what I did for a living and had only a nominal sense of what the web was – she had been exposed to it, and used it occasionally, but it’s not like today where it’s a common experience with a shared vocabulary. Also bear in mind that this was over 10 years ago – computers were slower and browsers were more fragile. My machine’s reaction to this accretion of popup windows was…to……get…………..ever……………………slower, ultimately ignoring mouse input and other attempts to stem the tide of new images. Why it didn’t occur to me to just flip of the monitor instead sitting their frantically clicking close boxes as I tried to stammer out an explanation for what was happening on the screen I’ll never know, but that just made the explanation seem flimsier at first.

I did talk my way through it and calm her down, but man was it embarrassing. Ultimately we recovered, as did the machine after a reboot. For years after this I kept this to myself, but nowadays it’s fodder for cocktail hour story time when I’m looking for a laugh and the audience seems right.

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