modemwld.txt

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  The Modem World, by Charles P. Hobbs of the Blue Cafe
   
  In The Beginning . . .
  
   Ever since I got started in computing in 1981, I was certainly aware
   of telecommunication services such as bulletin board systems (called
   "BBS's" or "boards"), commercial time sharing services (Compuserve,
   The Source, etc.) and even this mysterious thing called "Usenet". And
   of course, a modem on my very own personal computer would be really
   handy at college....no more crowded computer labs at 3 a.m., just dial
   into the system from the comfort of the dorm!
   
   However, modems at the time were expensive and slow (remember 110 and
   300 baud, anyone?), so I never had any personal experience with one
   until mid-1985. I was at a meeting of the Santa Barbara Apple Users
   Group, in a computer store at the Loreto Plaza. At that night's
   meeting, representatives were demoing a terminal program called "Ascii
   Express". We called two or three boards that evening (if I remember
   correctly, they had names like "Citadel" and "Noah's Ark"). Seemed
   like something I'd like to get involved with...if I could afford a
   modem.
   
   In Fall of 1985, a friend had a NEC 8201A (one of the early laptops,
   with a tiny, 8 x 32 character screen). It had a built in modem as
   well. I helped him set it up so that it could dial-in to the UCSB
   Computer Science VAX. I even wrote a termcap entry for it. After
   fooling around with the VAX for awhile, I dug out a list of local
   BBS's (courtesy of the SBAUG). We were able to log on to several local
   boards, download text files and print them out, either onto a local
   dot-matrix printer, or, by capturing the files into the 8201A's memory
   and uploading them to the VAX, on the Computer Science line printer.
   
   I visited my friend (and his modem setup) about once a week, until we
   went off in different directions and I didn't see him so often. This
   effectively kept me away from BBS's for most of 1986.
   
  Return to the Scene
  
   Around February 1987, I got back into the SB BBS scene when I bought
   my own modem (an Avatex 1200 for about $150) and connected it to my TI
   99/4A computer. This setup wasn't the best (the 99/4A's terminal
   software would only operate at 300 baud, and sometime I had to whistle
   into the phone in order to get the modem to connect properly). But it
   did enable my long awaited return to calling BBS's.
   
   The original Citadel had discontinued operations in Summer 1986, but
   several new boards had sprung up to take its place. (Many, if not all
   of the boards in Santa Barbara back then are described in the essay I
   wrote for the Santa Barbara BBS Nostalgia Page back in 1995. However
   most of the goings-on described at that site took place after I left
   Santa Barbara in 1987. I supplied them with a lot of the content from
   1987).
   
  Southern California...hundreds and hundreds of BBS's...
  
   I returned to the L.A. area in June 1987, and replaced the TI 99/4A
   setup with a new Amiga 1000 computer. Although phone costs were high,
   I did attempt to call one or two Santa Barbara boards after that
   (Bowhead Whale, mostly). But I also wanted to get into the Southern
   California BBS scene as well...
   
   I remember a few boards out in the Inland Empire area: Vaxholm.....are
   a few names that come to mind. There was even a Diversi-Dial (a
   multiuser BBS consisting of an Apple with up to seven modem cards in
   it) out in San Bernardino named "Twig Tree", but it was a long
   distance call, so I didn't get involved with it.
   
   It as also about this time I signed up with an online service calle
   PeopleLink ("Plink"). Plink was attractive to me at the time, because
   it was inexpensive, and you could pre-pay with a check, rather than
   worry about running up a credit card by using too much online time.
   Also it had a a pretty good Amiga file section (the AmigaZone, which
   is now a web based service). Occasionally I'd even get into an online
   chat or two...Plink went out of business sometime around mid-1989, if
   I recall correctly.
   
   In September 1987 I moved to West Los Angeles and started calling
   boards out there. I started with a few FIDO-net and RBBS boards (one
   was called "Microsource", I think"). I even became a remote sysop of
   one or two boards for a while.
   
  World War IV breaks out!!!
  
   WWIV was a popular BBS system in parts of Los Angeles, particularly
   the South Bay. (names of wwiv boards) Around 1988 or so, "WWIVnet" was
   developed, allowing WWIV boards across the country to be linked
   together. Some sysops even developed ways to connect WWIV to other
   networks, such as Fidonet or Usenet. Since the source code was readily
   available, (I recall a WWIV mutation called "Epic" that allowed
   multiple users to sign on and even chat to each other).
   
   Most WWIV sysops were much younger than FIDO-net or RBBS-net sysops,
   and it often showed. In various parts of the country (including
   Southern California), "modem gangs" of kids would do things like crash
   boards, upload viruses, and make prank phone calls.
   
   Around late 1991, I quit calling most WWIV's because of all of the
   garbage. There were a few exceptions, though. "Soapbox" was a
   WWIV-based board in Long Beach that catered to 18 and up only. (No, it
   wasn't that kind of "adult" board...just a place where one could go
   have a reasonably serious debate without having to put up with the
   "cool warez" kids and their antics.
   
   Soapbox also had monthly user meets, usually at a pizza parlor in Long
   Beach or Lakewood. (Other boards did too, but I'd generally be 10
   years older tham most people there. Soapbox had mostly older users
   (40+, I was about 22 a the time), so it was a refreshing change. (We
   could have beer with our pizza as well!) I went just about every month
   until about August 1992, when I got distracted by a new job and other
   pursuits.
   
  More "big boards"--Genie and Delphi
  
   I became a member of Genie (a commercial service run by General
   Electric) probably around Fall 1988. This was the service where one
   typed in three "H's" to log on, right? I kept my Genie account until
   late 1993, but I had quit using it much since 1992, favoring Delphi
   because of its better selection of downloads.
   
   I subscribed to Delphi in late 1990. Along with the usual file
   downloads, bulletin boards and chat rooms, it had some powerful
   features, such as access to Dialog databases (which would have been
   much more expensive if I had to get them directly through Dialog), and
   starting around late 1992, direct telnet access through the Internet.
   Of course back then, Gopher was king, and the World Wide Web was still
   a text-only collection of academic papers. I kept Delphi until late
   1995, since I had obtained Internet access by then.
   
  Internet and Usenet
  
   Until 1994-1995, "real" Internet access (defined as access to e-mail,
   ftp, telnet and similar services plus Usenet newsgroups) was hard for
   most average users to get. When I was at UCSB (1983-1987), Usenet was
   only available on the "Research VAX" (for faculty and special projects
   only), and off-campus e-mail, or even interdepartmental e-mail, was a
   convoluted exercise in finding out the "bang paths" required by uucp.
   Things were a bit better at UCLA (1987-1990); BITNET was available
   then, making inter-campus mail much easier. Still no Internet or
   Usenet access (Internet was strictly limited to special research
   projects until late 1989), but BITNET did allow limited file transfer.
   In late 1989, I discovered the UCLA Computer Club, which had one
   machine with limited Usenet and Internet access.
   
   There were also lists ( Nixpub, Pdial) of public access BBS's that had
   some limited Usenet content, but they tended to be all long-distance
   calls, or so it seemed. Yuck.
   
   Occasionally one could find a university campus dial-in number that
   had open telnet access. Eventually the campus computing centers would
   get wise, and start requiring passwords on the dial-ins, though. I did
   have an account on the Cleveland Free-Net, and a couple of other
   campus- based systems; these could be easily accessed via local campus
   dial-ins. (or via telnetting from Delphi, when that service started
   allowing access from the Internet)
   
   Things started to improve, at least in terms of local Usenet (not
   Internet) access, around early 1993. I moved out to the San Fernando
   Valley and started using a system called "Quake" (quake.sylmar.ca.us).
   It had a pretty decent selection of usenet newsgroups, but it was a
   pay system.
   
   About a month later I discovered a free Usenet BBS called
   "Pro-Palmtree" (part of a network of Apple-II based boards with
   limited Usenet and e-mail access) and started using that.
   
   There was another San Fernando Valley based board named "Support.com",
   which I started using in late 1993. It was a Fidonet board with Usenet
   newsgroups, and it was best handled with an off-line reader. This
   system also requested occasional donations from time to time.
   
   OK. So far, up to around April 1995, I have Usenet (and in some cases
   Internet) access from the following systems
     * Palm (I'm not quite sure when that system faded away)
     * Toronto Free-Net (telnetting in via Delphi)
     * Occasionally, Cleveland Free-Net (it had gotten horribly busy and
       slow by then)
     * Support BBS (it got into trouble around February 1995, though I
       had stopped using it by late 1994)
       
   In early 1995, people were starting to talk more and more about the
   "World Wide Web". Graphical browsers such as Mosaic, and later,
   Netscape, started becoming real popular. To work, these browsers would
   require a mysterious something called a "TCP/IP" on both the user's
   computer and the system being dialed into; the simple character based
   dial-ups were slowly becoming a thing of the past.
   
   While reading about the Internet, Mosaic, etc. in Boardwatch magazine
   (which now probably should be called Internetwatch, but it isn't) I
   vaguely remembered that UCLA had a Macintosh computer running Mosaic,
   tucked away somewhere. So, around February 1995, I rode down to UCLA
   from Van Nuys, and spent a few weekends surfing the Net. There wasn't
   all that much out there, mostly academic and research stuff and a few
   student pages.
   
   Eventually, I knew I had to have my own setup. I went to the computer
   store and bought "Internet-In-A-Box" or something similar. It featured
   Internet access through CERFnet--at about $50/hour. Yikes. I tried to
   ration my time, but I knew I would need something more economical.
   
   In March 1995 I got an account with Primenet (now Frontier
   Globalcenter or something like that), and kept it until mid-2000, when
   I moved all my pages to lerctr (the machine you're reading these pages
   on now). Currently I get most of my net access through the Road Runner
   cable modem service, so soon dialup through Primenet may be a distant
   memory.
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