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Lifestyles

August 27, 2011

There's a lot of good that can be found through the Internet

I have a story to tell. A true story.

It began about 40 years ago, on the State University College at Oneonta campus, up on the hill. It's not about technology itself, but rather about how I used technology to bring about what I consider to be a happy ending.

Back then, I was a student at the college. Of course I had met many friends there, but like everyone, certain people become closer friends.

I had a roommate like that, Bob.

We were put in the same "quad" when we showed up as freshmen, and eventually roomed together for almost all the four years we were there.

In this case, the college did a good job matching up people to be roommates. We had a lot of common interests.

We did a lot of things together, and shared many friends. He was a swimmer on the college swim team, and I was the swim team manager, the term "manager" being generous ("gofer" would be more like it).

We had a lot of fun, and all kinds of experiences together. At one time or another we both traveled to each others' homes and met parents. You know, we were pretty much best friends. He was even the best man at my wedding.

Of course, college comes to an end at some point, and that happened to us. We went our separate ways after that, and over the years, we didn't keep in touch. Neither of us were letter-writers, and we were both pretty much busy with the activities of beginning our "real" lives.

Remember, this was before the Internet existed. People didn't even have personal computers back then. Heck, most businesses didn't even have computers back then. Hard to believe, but true.

Once in a while, I would get a call from one of our common friends, and they might ask, "Have you heard anything from Bob?" The answer was almost always "no."

Mostly, I knew that he had gone to grad school, got a public administration degree, and went to work for the state.

A couple of times in the early years after college, we did get together to go fishing, but as time went on, contact with him faded and then disappeared.

So that's the way it was, until a few months ago.

Now, I mentioned we were both on the college swim team. During that era, the team was really, really good. We had meets against the other state colleges, and we always won. As a matter of fact, I was "undefeated" in my whole four-year swim team management career.

One night, I got a call from the head coach of the old team. The college had asked some of the swimmers back to Oneonta to honor them for their accomplishments. Guys came from all over, even a couple of them who now live in Alaska.

The coach, who still lives in Oneonta, invited me over to his house, where they were getting together. I had already made a prior commitment, and couldn't go, but I did, of course, talk to him for a while.

During the course of the conversation, I asked if Bob was going to be there. His answer was no, that no one knew how to contact Bob, knew where he was, or anything like that.

Now, in all modesty, I consider myself to be pretty good at searching the Internet.

When someone comes up with a question about something, almost anything, I can usually whip up a search and come up with an answer.

So, I made up my mind to see if I could find out about Bob, and mentioned it to the coach.

Later that night, I began. I started with a simple Google search for his name. Not much of anything of real value showed up. As is often the case, he was not the only person in the world with his name.

Bob was a "junior," and I found reference to his father, in Florida, but nothing about him.

Next, I tried his brother's name. Found some reference to him, near Buffalo, which was Bob's home town. Close, but no cigar. Not yet, at least.

Of course, a Google search usually results in loads of result links. Thousands, and sometimes millions. I kept looking further down the result lists of my searches on his name. Nothing which seemed right.

Then I tried a search with his name in combination with "NYS," for New York state, as I knew he worked for the state.

This time, among the results, I found a link to a document that listed names of state workers who had retired. Keep in mind that we're both old guys, after all, and I have already retired once (from The Daily Star).

I found his name on the list, and it was from a state facility out near Buffalo. And the best part was, it listed an address.

Now, I could feel I was getting close. I began searching phone number websites, for his name in conjunction with the name of the town where he lived.

Bingo! One came up. I couldn't help but smile. "Google knows everything," as my son Josh says.

Uncertainty about what may have happened in his life over the course of so many years made making the call kind of a jittery thing. But I was resolved to see this through, so I had a beer, and dialed the phone.

A woman answered. I asked if Bob was there, and used his last name, of course. She said, "Yes, who's calling?" I gave her my name and heard her repeat it to him, with a question in her voice.

I could hear him say in the background, "Yeah, I'll talk to him," and he answered.

After that we were almost giddy. We both were so tickled to be talking to each other again. It was great.

I told him about the swimmers getting together, and we did some quick comparing of notes about the last 30 years.

He told me he hadn't been into computers or technology much over that time, as I suspected after the difficulty of the search.

He is one of those people who are lucky enough to live out in the country (he has a grape farm now), but unlucky enough to not have any decent Internet connection.

But he did have a cell number and a Gmail address, which I got.

After that, I called the coach and told him I found Bob, and gave him the phone number.

Since then, we've been in contact, and I went out and visited him and his wife on his farm. We've decided to keep in touch, and he's looking forward to going on my annual fishing trip to the Adirondacks this year.

All this is entirely true. I've not used Bob's last name, just for privacy purposes. There may be a few of you out there who can figure it out, and that's OK, too.

Really, I just wanted to relate a story I consider to be a very good example of one of the Internet's great strengths. It's not all about malware, advertising and pornography, after all.

The Internet has its good points, too.

Bruce Endries is former systems manager at The Daily Star. He can be reached by e-mail at techgp@thedailystar.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/techgp.

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