Before the dawn of the 21st century, sometimes you had to visit the more skeevy portions of the internet in order to find what you wanted. It was fraught with danger, but only if you didn’t know the traps to look out for before you began.

In 1999, Paul and I lived in an apartment complex near Holmes Lake in Lincoln, Nebraska. We didn’t have a car, so we relied on the bus system or our feet to get us to where we needed to go. Our weekly shopping trips involved walking to the closest, and more expensive, grocery store, Hinky Dinky. We purchased only what would fit in our two backpacks and could carry during the mile trek back home.

Cable internet was available, but we could only afford dial-up. Every penny was stretched as far as possible to make it to the next week. Our lack of cash flow meant getting creative if you needed a program to use, especially if it was for Paul’s college classes. A website using a similar spelling to the AltaVista web search engine was the place to go to find cracks, hacks, and key generators for nearly every program and game available. It was also shady as hell.

The site looked like AltaVista as it was also a search engine, but there was a major difference. There were always pictures of naked women on the site, advertising porn, erotica, sex toys and the like. On sites like these, you expected such ads. I hated ads of all kinds, but was not yet using an ad blocker.

I had obtained the program I wanted to use, but the crack wasn’t working. Fortunately, this site held and archived nearly every alternative you would need. I was used to seeing the static ads of naked or scantily clad women on the site as well as the pop-ups enticing users to go sign up to their [insert type of porn] website. At most you would have to close three to five pop-ups before accessing what you wanted.

I typed “dreamweaver” into the search bar and watched the new page begin to load. On this day, however, a new, an more insidious, pop-up had arrived. As I hit the X to close the pop-up, three more appeared. The more Xes I hit, the more pop-ups appeared.

“You clever bastards,” I said. I thought for a moment about the best way to beat this program. My idiot brain thought I could outsmart a computer algorithm. I convinced myself if I could click the mouse fast enough, I could get all the pop-ups closed.

The women in these pop-ups advertised a variety of things from sex toys to porn. There were pictures of sex toys, body parts, half-dressed women, and naked women. In less than 30 seconds my screen was covered. I couldn’t get out of the website to open another tab to figure out how to stop it. The back button didn’t work. I couldn’t even find the X to close the browser.

After panicking for several minutes, I calmed down and remembered one vital clue. In order for more pop-ups to pop up, they needed to be told to do so. There had to be a small program running telling the pop-up to open more windows when you hit the X button instead of closing it. Without the signal, it couldn’t execute its program.

I dove under my computer desk and reached for the phone cord. I pulled it out of the wall and physically disconnected the link to the internet. I started to breathe a sigh of relief, confident this would work. Then, I heard the apartment door open.

“What the hell is that?” Paul said. He stood in the doorway staring at the computer screen.

“Wait,” I said. I gestured my left hand toward him while still crouched under my desk. “I can explain everything.”

“Uh-huh,” he said. “Is that the site Ivo taught you about?”

“Yes,” I said. “But, the crack for Dreamweaver didn’t work, so I was trying to find one that did.”

“Uh-huh,” he said. Paul put his backpack on the couch and went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea.

I sat down at my desk, hoping unplugging the phone cord trick would work. It took more than two dozen clicks to see if it was successful. Finally, I saw part of the website. Twenty-five minutes later, all the pop-ups were gone.

I cleared my cache, closed my browser, ran a virus scan, and restarted my computer. I climbed back under my desk. I shoved the phone cord back in and reconnected to the internet. After laughing at me for several minutes, Ivo got me the crack I needed and I installed Dreamweaver.

A couple of days later, I was using my first ad blocker. I will never go back to viewing ads, but that is a story for another day. I have seen fewer ads on the internet since 1999 than most people with no ad blockers in 2021 see in a day. And that’s okay.

Note: If you still aren’t using a wide-spectrum blocker, I recommend uBlock Origin.