I've always had a great interest in reference material. My first conscious reading memories were not See Sam or Dr. Seuss, but this kiddie encyclopedia I inherited from a cousin. I pored over the volumes of the 1960s-era books with great interest until the spines fell apart and my mom repaired them with duct tape. It's no surprise that almost thirty years later, my all-time, desert island, single book list would be The New York Public Library Desk Reference, or maybe a good World Almanac. I love any form of information that's arranged from A to Z that I can open to a random page and learn something I didn't know. Books like Jane and Michael Stern's Encyclopedia of Pop Culture, my highly outdated Army Times Encyclopedia of Modern US Military Weapons, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, a well-worn printout of the CIA World Factbook, and the Cliffs Notes Mythology glossary all spend some serious time on the shelf next to my bed, where I can easily grab a book and read three or four pages before falling asleep. Nothing beats the good old Farmer's Almanac for bathroom reading, and a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records has always made time dissolve for me, be it a 7th grade study hall or a plane trip across the country.
The internet has taken this to a new level, now that everyone from government agencies to bored teenagers feels a great need to document and publish every action of theirs in great detail for the world to see. I spend a lot of time reading knowledge bases and FAQs; as a technical writer, it's my job to create these things for companies, and I own a ton of geek toys that require me to spend too much time RTFMing. I also do a lot of documenting my own life, with a long-running web journal and various pieces of online writing, plus a 700-page book that fictionalized a summer of my life. I've always spent too much of my time thinking about the past, thinking it needed to be saved, archived, captured, documented. And a lot of my writing has the habit of exorcising these memories from people that have long forgotten the time that Ray Miller's dad cut off three of his fingers with a table saw and then didn't want to go to the hospital. Or whatever.
One day in early 2002, I stumbled upon this glossary by a guy called "The Gus", now at http://www.asecular.com/bigfun/ Gus documented a slice of the mid-1990s in a house in rural central Virginia, nicknamed the Big Fun. His A to Z presentation told of the adventures of a group of slackers drinking excessively, chugging Robitussen, staging punk rock concerts, creating anti-art, and synthesizing this lexicon of inside slang that captured everything perfectly. I showed this to a few people, and found out that pretty much everyone I knew found this page years ago, but it still fascinated me. I became enamored with the Big Fun glossary because it reminded me of the times I spent in Bloomington, Indiana during college, and it made me wish I could create such a tight and intense youth culture again. It made me sad that I probably wouldn't be able to do this again without the magic formula of a college campus. And even if I went back to school as a grad student, I'd probably be juggling a real job and be "the old dude", nothing like the time in 1989 when I first set foot on campus. But, the glossary did make me think that someday, I should document my own life in a similar way. Books were fun, and I'd already written tons about my life, but I wanted to do something in hypertext, something that captured the randomness of my brain.
I largely filed this away in the "when I have way too much time" category of my brain and shuffled along. About a day later, as I clicked around Gus's links, I found that he had created free software for anyone to make your own glossary, at (the now defunct) www.vodkatea.com. His solution was rudimentary, using a database with a web-based method of adding new entries and linking things together. It lacked some features I wanted, but it would be much more efficient than actually writing something by hand or rolling out a glossary by hand with plain HTML. I instantly signed up for an account and started a brain dump of terms and terminology.
I struggled with a name for the glossary after it started to become a serious project. I quickly stuck with The NecroKonicon, which is a combination of two things. First, my last name is Konrath, and a lot of people call me only Konrath, and some call me just "Kon". Second, there's a thing called the Necronomicon, which is a much-argued piece of fact or fiction (depending on who you ask.) It's essentially a book of the dead, a history of things past, and maybe a method of summoning these lost souls. Some claim that it existed thousands of years ago, but then Aliester Crowley dabbled with it a bit, and HP Lovecraft used it as a fictional construct, but was much more popular than others with it. At the very least, a lot of people know it from the Evil Dead movies. If you take the two things and mash them together, you get the NecroKonicon, the book of history and things past in my life. It's also somewhat fitting, in that I spend a lot of time in the glossary documenting stores, people, and locations that have long since passed.
As the glossary grew, I realized one huge flaw: I didn't know where to start or stop. The Big Fun was bounded in a single year, when everyone lived in the same house. But I essentially had a Big Fun for every year of college, plus a bunch of stuff from high school, and that doesn't even include my post-college time in Seattle and New York. I decided that in order to keep things manageable, I would have to limit things from high school to when I left Bloomington in the summer of 1995.
Another major issue was that many people read the glossary and loved what memories I'd preserved on the pages. But, some people freaked out when they put their name in a search engine and found me writing about what they did fifteen years ago. Although I wanted to originally have a lot of the extended cast and characters of my life in the glossary, I eventually found that people were more interested in reading about the places and things that they never thought they'd find again. That slowly made me rethink the writing, and either edit or drop entries while I added many more.
The glossary grew, but I only told a handful of friends about it. Larry Falli was immensely helpful in the early stages, and bugged me to write more entries. I set small goals for myself, trying to get up to 100, 200, 300 entries. Soon, I had more entries than anyone on Vodkatea (about 325) and I started to think about how to get this stuff onto my own server.
After I got past 300 entries, I got very nervous about having this giant piece of writing on another server. I liked Gus's setup, but I wanted a more static site, with the ability to drop in photos and change page layouts. And I was kicking around the idea of making a printed book of the glossary. Most importantly, I feared that his entire server would vanish (which it did years later.) I started looking for an easy way to make the big move.
Unfortunately, there wasn't one. The tool had no export facility, and since it was a bunch of tiny pieces in a big database, I couldn't just grab the HTML. Instead, I had to do a "scrape", and pull a snapshot of the HTML with wget. That left me with all of the text in each page, but the links and internal guts were completely devastated. The process of repainting the links took at least a week, and taught me stuff about emacs search and replace that I never knew previously.
As I write this (10/13/02 and counting), I'm editing the entries. I've added a few new ones, but I'm mostly fixing old ones, improving the layout, and patching mistakes. There's still a good chance that this will become a printed book, but I need to fix a lot of things (especially photos) before that happens. And I just published a book, and I started another, so I have a lot on my plate these days.
One great thing about doing this is that a lot of people are putting their past into search engines and finding it on these pages. Last I checked, these pages are pulling in more hits than any of my other stuff, except for my Vegas pages. And I love to hear from people who ate at Garcia's or remember the Village Pantry or the Milwaukee Metalfest.
LAST GASP (10/14/07): Wow, it's been five years. I ended up publishing this as a book, and about two of you bought it. I also maintained the glossary web pages for a long time, getting a lot of comments, a lot of corrections, and a lot of shit. Anyway, this project's run its course, and I pulled the old web pages; I got constant shit about corrections and additions, and I'm too busy with other things. So, buy the book, thanks for the input, and I appreciate those of you who enjoyed it.
I think that's it. Please feel free to contact me with any additions, suggestions, corrections, or if you just want to say you enjoyed it. Thanks!