Observation Dome: Back From The Dead

SHORT VERSION: A number of us here on G&T used to run a site called Observation Dome. Having been offline for over ten years, I’ve finally restored a backup and it’s now back. Never to be updated again… but as an archive, and a record of a certain time in Dwarf fandom.

LONG VERSION: Read on.

Back in 2004, G&T wasn’t the joyous group effort it is today. Instead, a certain Mr. J. Hoare and Mr. I. Symes ruled over all, like a couple of malevolent dictators. But even that didn’t stop the site’s community thriving, and a few other fansites sprung up as part of a new wave of Dwarf fandom. (Exactly like the French New Wave movement, but more important.) Sites like Jonathan Capps’s The White Hole and Seb Patrick’s Fuchal were launched. Even more worryingly, friendships were being formed.

I had an odd idea.

From: John Hoare
Date: 15 November 2004 at 00:52
Subject: An odd idea
To: Ian Symes

Do you ever think something about Dwarf and go “Oh, that’s interesting; but it wouldn’t make a news story/article?” I have it all the bloody time. I wondered whether it might be an idea to set up some kind of Dwarf Blog of sorts (with a clever name, obviously, and completely seperate from G&T) and give ourselves, Cappsy, Mr. Flibble, Seb, Austin, and anyone else intelligent who would want an account to post to it. Just silly stuff like production errors that we’ve only just noticed, or odd thoughts about episodes. Almost like a forum in some respects, only we (and Cappsy etc) control the topics.

I don’t think it would damage G&T in any way; a lot of the stuff would be things we just wouldn’t post on there anyway. It might even improve it in a lot of ways – it’d get rid of a few of the really silly stories that don’t deserve a G&T article and look slightly odd when we mention them.

What do you think? Tell me if you think it’s a stupid idea.


John Hoare
http://www.ofla.info/

Maybe it was a stupid idea. But we did it anyway.

*   *   *

The result – yes, called Observation Dome, a name which me and Ian both came up with independently at the same time to the minute – was an awful lot of fun. We often had multiple posts a day, with topics ranging from whether “Does mouse shit roll?” is a Dwarfy line, to how to introduce your partner to the show, to some old nonsense about Chicken McNuggets. Some things were a few paragraphs long, others were just a single line, but the site felt alive. Looking back at those archives, it often feels like Twitter before Twitter.

And the height of all this was the VII fan film competition. In January 2005 the competition was announced, and the OD team decided to enter as a group; in June 2005, it was announced we were one of the winners; in November 2005, the VII DVD was released, with our winning fan film on it: The Movie: Yeah, No, Yeah, No. Whatever else I achieve in my life, this will always be one of the most fun things I’ve ever been part of, and I think the same goes for all of us.

It couldn’t last.

*   *   *

In 2006, things came to a head. We all began to have a few too many things going on in our lives – hey, we’d launched another brand new site together the previous year – and updates on all our sites suffered. Even worse, the distinction between OD as a group site, and all our individual sites seemed to be getting ever-more blurred.

I found myself sending the below email. An email I never thought I’d write.

From: John Hoare
Date: Fri, May 26, 2006 at 1:10 PM
Subject: This whole G&T/OD malarky
To: Observation Dome Admin

Right. This whole OD/G&T thing that’s come up recently. Me and Ian have been discussing it, and we’ve come up with a idea:

Dump OD. Make G&T a group site.

It solves a hell of a lot of problems in one go. On the G&T side, me and Ian haven’t had enough time to do things properly on there for ages – so if everyone got involved, then the news and articles would be a hell of a lot better. On the OD site, it gets rid of the feeling that the Blog isn’t important enough to have on a separate site, and the general confusion about the distinction of OD and G&T.

As for why we should dump OD, and call it G&T – it’s a simple matter of branding. G&T is still better-known than OD – it wouldn’t make much sense to get rid of the best-known brand. Just imagine the new G&T as a Dwarf version of NTS (although it would need a completely different layout – we’ll still need to distinguish between News and Site Updates) – and we can all see how well that’s been working recently.

None of us have *really* had time to update our Dwarf sites much recently – if we all concentrated our efforts on one site, then we could make it *huge*. I mean, really, really big and popular. In a way that none of our sites are at the moment.

Me and Ian would *not* still be in control – it’d absolutely be a group site, exactly how NTS and OD are run.

There’s only two requests I’d make. Firstly, it’d be nice if we *all* joined in and put our Dwarfy efforts into the new site – we could transfer all our existing content from our sites onto the new one. Secondly, I’d quite like to do the new site design for my portfolio – with everyone’s help and approval, of course – exactly how NTS was done.

I stress again – this would *not* be all you lot giving up anything to come and work for mine and Ian’s site – this would *absolutely* be a group thing.

Thoughts?


John Hoare
www.ofla.info | www.ganymede-titan.info

We went for it.

*   *   *

The final days of Observation Dome were mired in a little unpleasantness, and I don’t plan to go into all of that here. Suffice to say that we combined Observation Dome’s archives into G&T – a little roughly, it has to be said – but sadly, lost control of the observationdome.org domain, due to a bit of a tiff with one member of the group. No matter. We ploughed on with running Ganymede & Titan as a group, and ended up producing some of the best stuff the site has ever done. It’s difficult to feel too bad about how things turned out.

But I’ve always had a bit of a regret that OD as it was just… fell offline. And now I’m writing stuff about the history of the web – especially when it comes to pieces like this – the sheer weight of my own hypocrisy just got a little too much. Combined with the observationdome.org domain becoming available again, and a plan began to form in my mind. Could I actually rescue a piece of Dwarf fan history – however small it might be in the grand scheme of things?

A quick boot up of my ancient Mac Mini, and I came across a file labelled backup-observationdome.org-7-31-2006.tar. And some quick server config, and some rather more painstaking restoration later… she lives.

*   *   *

Ah, but “restoration” sounds a little suspicious, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, there are no missing ray gun effects or anything. But some things just needed a little rebuilding here and there. For instance: all those feeds on the front page relied on scripts which weren’t accurately working any more. I had to manually rebuild those, guessing what the stories would have been back in July ’06.

I’ve also taken the decision to convert most of the links to various sites on the front page to Wayback Machine links, to approximate how those sites would have looked 10 years ago. There are also some missing graphics recreated here and there (for instance, I had to create all thumbnails for the TM:YNYN gallery again from scratch), and I’ve added a little disclaimer to the top-right page. All the links to various TM:YNYN extras are now pointing at files hosted on G&T, rather than leaving them as dead links. Sadly, the Wiki hasn’t returned – I have a backup here, but to restore it would take longer to do than I can currently justify, especially to do it safely. But most of the site is exactly as it was just before it was pulled offline. You can finally see the TM:YNYN gallery again for the first time in ten years!

Unfortunately, the comments for the first couple of months of the site are gone forever, due to a ridiculous mistake I made back in 2005. Luckily, that doesn’t include the single best comment thread on the whole internet.

So there you go. A little piece of the web, restored… mostly. And a stupendous moment in our own personal history is back from the dead. We’ll never update it again, but browsing it will hopefully bring back some fond memories for some of you. It certainly does for me.

Now, when is Red Dwarf World coming back?

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27 Responses to Observation Dome: Back From The Dead

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  1. I need a lie-down after the adrenaline of that McNugget thread. Not even being sarcastic.

  2. She Rides!

    Now all we need is someone to resurrect the Pile O’Smeg website and we’re cushty.

  3. Excellent work, John. Perusing it is a genuine blast from the past.

  4. This is before my time of coming across you lot. I loved the fan film but didn’t start reading G & T until Back To Earth. Great work as always John!

  5. G&T Admin

    Ah, thanks everyone. Glad it wasn’t just a waste of time to get it back up and running!

    Oddly enough, I was thinking about Pile O’Smeg the other day. A real shame that just disappeared.

  6. I miss having access to Star Trek/Red Dwarf crossover fanfiction and the latest news from Red Dwarf VII.

    Still, this site is still available. It does contain the amusing fan VII script ‘The Old and the New’, where they encounter a hologram of the David Ross Kryten. And my favourite piece of Red Dwarf fanfiction, ‘The Last Temptation of Kryten’. set after the ending of Red Dwarf XXVII.

  7. Could you provide a direct link to the movie yeah no yeah no photo gallery. I want to indulge in 2005 nostalgia.

  8. G&T Admin

    It’s 34 which gets me.

  9. > Luckily, that doesn’t include the single best comment thread on the whole internet.

    Oh for fuck’s sake…

  10. 06. First rehearsals

    That was rehearsed?

  11. It amazes me that there are people for whom the non-broadcast version of Terrorform is the normal version. As a kid I only ever had the off air version on VHS and so when I finally got my first official version of it I always noticed the changed music. It still doesn’t sit right with me despite the fact I’ve watched the new version many times more now.

    I am happy to see the broadcast version is on YouTube.

  12. The fan film was, indeed, epic and still funny to watch. :D It’s so weird to think, back in the hazy days of 2005, no new Dwarf in sight, and the distinct possibility that there would never be any new Dwarf again… the old sites (and indeed G&T) were something to cling to, and very entertaining to read, as well as doing a brilliant job of keeping Dwarf alive.

    While I don’t outright despise FB, Twitter et al…sometimes you get the feeling we’re heading toward the death of unmoderated opinion (a LONG way off, yes, but still), including the removal of any platform that isn’t ‘official’ in any way, or part of the massive corporations that see most online traffic. Fan sites and ‘dangerous’ personal blogs could even be a casualty of that, so we could be looking back in 30 years at fond memories of being able to visit more than 5 entertainment sites, the Web over.

    Anyway, the history of G&T, OD and all connected Dwarfdom is awesome and a perfect example of all that’s bloody awesome about the internet. So thankyou, the lot of you, for all your hard work on it!

  13. Yes, social media is definitely replacing all but the most robust of fan sites and forums. I check on a few music ones still, but they don’t get half the traffic they had ten years ago (despite many of the bands being just as popular as they were then). And you’d have to be mad to think that FB and Twitter are remotely a replacement for them in terms of quality. The Golden Age of the Internet* is well and truly over.

    *2001-2006, before ubiquitous broadband and Facebook, obviously.

  14. The days of Zip disks and a pound a pint…*openly mourns*

  15. Great job, John. Shame those NOTBBC links in the “Mc” thread aren’t working, and their search function’s fucked atm.

  16. Ah nice one. I’m thinking it must have been via NOTBBC that I found G&T in the first place actually. I was at least lurking here before the Observation Dome days.

  17. *sigh* and now I discover CAS has, indeed, been axed… They’d better have something decent to replace it with, otherwise the BBC1 sitcom lineup is basically non-existent. Has Citizen Khan also gone?

  18. Not Going Out is still around, that’s been recommissioned for another two series.

  19. *sigh* and now I discover CAS has, indeed, been axed… They’d better have something decent to replace it with

    The day the cancellation was announced, BBC One’s comedy output that night was a double bill of HIGNFY? repeats.

  20. > Not Going Out is still around, that’s been recommissioned for another two series.

    Didn’t it basically end 2 years ago with a special? Maybe the Beeb begged Lee Mack to do more?

  21. I’ve still only seen up to series 5, despite it being pretty much my favourite programme for a while. Probably shows how out of touch with comedy I am these days (I used to watch literally every UK comedy programme when it came on). I’m aware of that special though. No idea if it was intended as a finale or not, but it’s intriguing that it’s been recommissioned since then. Probably a good paycheck for Lee Mack though.
    That said, I thought the first series had a lot of potential to go down the character-based plot arc route, but since Kate left the plot has always been secondary to the jokes so I suppose it’s not such a big deal.

  22. G&T Admin

    I was in playout when the 2015 Not Going Out Christmas Special went out. The serious nature of some of the threatened violence in it felt a little uncomfortable, with the joint combination of it being Christmas and the Paris attacks the previous month.

    There was some discussion as to whether it should be pulled from the schedules, although it obviously never got that far in the end. I didn’t have a problem with the episode per se, but the timing felt a little odd.

  23. We were hugely uncomfortable with it, I have to say. The (unique for NGO) absence of a laugh track made it a million times worse. It kind of ruined my day at the time.

  24. Even in the fantastical world of sitcom, I’ve always found “Lee Mack marries Sally Bretton” to be a particularly far-fetched storyline to get on board with.

  25. >Didn’t it basically end 2 years ago with a special? Maybe the Beeb begged Lee Mack to do more?

    It came back for another series earlier this year, having bizarrely flashed-forward several years into the future with Lee and Sally Bretton’s character now married for several years and with three kids alll at school-age It’s kind of been re-formatted, but is much the same in terms of comedy (or occasional lack thereof).

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