Digital Nostalgia

This evening, I participated in a Tweetchat about online social networking. One of the first questions was about when people started networking online. I mentioned Usenet back in 1982 when I was working at Bell Labs. Yes, if you know where to look, you can find stuff I wrote back in 1982 still online. I believe I first used Minitel at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris in 1983 when I was hitchhiking around Europe.

I had also visited bulletin board systems in the 1970s, but they weren’t particularly connected. Later, when Fidonet came along I was on that for a bit. I can’t recall if I ever accessed Minitel or Arpanet via Fidonet. Latter, I had accounts on ATTMail, SprintNet, and Compuserve. I also believe I did a little bit on GEnie in the late seventies, but I pretty much used it to access some programs that I translated to run on calculators, and never really used it for networking. Also in the seventies, I had been on Battelle’s computer network, and used to play Star Trek there. For other games, in the evenings at Bell Labs, I used to play Rogue on their computers. At times I’ve had versions of these programs that ran on my PCs.

One of the challenges back in the day was to send emails across multiple networks. My connection to Usenet back in 1982 was via UUCP, and addresses were of the form machine1!machine2!...!user Of course, these days, everyone knows the SMTP email addresses, user@machine However, the user part could be an address on a different email address if the host machine was a gateway, so I regularly sent email through a machine called ucbvax. It took several UUCP connections for me to get to ucbvax, so my email address was something like machine1!machine2!machine3!machine4!machine5!myid@ucbvax I don’t remember if the was in use at the time. For me to send an email, it would go to machine4!machine3!machine2!machine1!ucbvax!user@othermachine.

There were also ways of connecting to Decnet, which used two colons to separate a userid from a machine name, bitnet, and of course X.400. X.400 addresses were long an complicated /C=US/ADMD=Att/PRMD=attmail/ou1=somethine/ou2=somethingelse I think Sprint used semicolons instead of slashes. Many of the networks had gateways, and if you knew the gateways you could email many different places.

One place I used to email to was FTPMAIL. You could send FTP commands via email to a machine that would grab a file and send it to you in small pieces that you put together and decoded to get your file. Another person on the mailing list mentioned XNS, but I never used that. Someone else mentioned PROFS. PROFS ran over RSCS which is what Bitnet used, so I never was on PROFS, but I had access to it via Bitnet and various RSCS programs I wrote.

Then, there were the speed issues. The first device I used had a 110 bps connection. Bps is bits per second. Now, people talk about megabits, or in somecases gigabits per second. I later used a 300 bps modem, a 1200 bps modem, a 2400 bps modem, a 9600 bps modem, a 14,400 bps modem and then moved over to ISDN which would allow 56K.

Enough for the early digital nostalgia. Maybe this will stir memories for other digital aborigines out there.