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"This system is hard to use, but it is cool. Were looking at world communication, thousands of Amiga files, and unlimited access time for free. Amazing."
- Me, October 9th, 1992, Age 22
Around 1991, I bought an Amiga 500↗, my third computer after my Commodore64 and TI-99/4A. In the late 1980's, I was a BBSer↗ on my C64, and for a few days, I tried running a color BBS called All American BBS↗ to distribute my "Fast Boot Menu" program (which I think only one person downloaded). Later, I actually programmed my own BBS system in BASIC using a machine language "Punter" protocol subroutine that I extracted from another BBS. One of my friends had a "Quantum Link" account, an early subscription-based, online service for the C64, which later became the famous America Online, but my family could not afford such monthly subscriptions, so I frequented the local BBS systems "leeching" files from them, which is what it was called back then since I was not a contributor. In the 1980's, most BBS systems could only host one person at a time, and if you didn't contribute by posting or uploading while you were connected and keeping the phone line busy, the site became stagnant and was not as lively. Later "leeching" simply became known as lurking↗, and today is it simply called "surfing" the Internet, since there are so many people contributing content, this is not a problem. But today, I'm trying to return energy to people in the form of this web site.
I was aware that networks such as Fidonet existed, but these networks were store and forward↗ systems, not real-time networks like the Internet, of which I, nor anyone I knew, had ever heard.
In 1988, I had read about Public Key Cryptography in Scientific American, trying to implement algorithms on the C64.
At the University of Missouri-Columbia, I found that I could e-mail my mechanical engineering friend over at the University of Missouri-Rolla, since the school's computer networks were connected. At Columbia, I managed to get a work-study job at one of the university's data centers by their steam power plant (housing their mainframe, large reel data tapes, high speed line printers and plotters), but they would not let me sit in the data center or type on the terminals and instead gave me the title of "delivery driver" and had me deliver paper printouts and plots in an old, white van across campus to different computer labs, such as the physics building. I went to college to study computer engineering, was a computer fanatic, computer whiz of my high school class, and I was finally close to that wondrous "mainframe" that I had enjoyed watching in old movies.
I tried asking staff for information about the university's computer system, and finally one lab assistant directed me to a giant book several feet in width, the VM/CMS IBM mainframe manuals, which were bolted to a desk at the front of the computer lab. The impracticality of this was an insult, so I managed to configure my C64 to act as a VT52↗ mainframe terminal which I accessed from my dorm room, but without any information about the system, other than that gigantic, shackled tome, I lacked knowledge of the system commands. I knew almost everything about the C64, but I had almost no information on these large, multiuser systems. I thought that perhaps this knowledge was gained though some kind of computer club, so I went to an Association of Computing Machinery meeting on campus one evening, quietly entering the dim auditorium from the back, sitting in one of the many empty seats, lurking again, but after listening to a few older men drone on in a bureaucratic, technical language that was layers of abstraction above the microcomputer jargon I was familiar with, I left never to return. They had drained the energy out of computing, becoming more systematic than the machines they studied. They did not seem interested in me or care that I was there.
What I had encountered at that time, but didn't know it, was a hidden monastic world, an ivory tower where the high-priests of the Mainframe guarded the door closely and spoke in tongues, hiding their knowledge in plain view, especially from an 18-year-old microcomputer fanboy. It was a barrier that nobody would let me cross, a line of condescending and patronizing monks that stood shoulder-to-shoulder.
So when I switched to the field of Communication in 1991, I studied communication and media, and it was theorized that mankind would soon create a global information network, a media convergence device, although nobody knew what form it would take. Nobody mentioned "The Internet" as a possible medium for this kind of network, and I believe that my professors (of the Arts) had never heard of it. In fact, even after the WWW was widely known to everyone, nobody knew for sure if it could or would replace television and telephony, as TCP/IP was not designed for real-time streaming, and television bandwidth requirements were orders of magnitude greater.
In the meantime, I decided to take matters into my own hands and built my own communication network.
While I was attending the University of Missouri-St. Louis, my Amiga 500 was my first computer powerful enough to allow me to generate and visualize fractals, and I built an interface to allow me to use my old 1200 baud C64 modem (Model 1670) so that I could again connect to the university's mainframe terminal. I experienced the same ivory tower over at this university.
Some of my instructors wanted me to complete assignments in Microsoft Word and Excel. I did not own this software, since I used an Amiga, and I could not afford a PC-compatible computer or Microsoft software. The Amiga's sound and graphics capabilities also surpassed the PC at that time and it was my computer of choice.
So I was forced to spend a lot of time in those monotonous labs, using their crude Windows machines to type up my papers. I applied for a job as a lab technician in those very labs, hoping to finally get a job where I could work on computers, but they would not hire me. During my time in the lab, however, I noticed one of the lab instructors use a "GET" command and strange 4-octet, dot-decimal number which he called a "node number" (which today is simply known as downloading a file over FTP from an IP address). I asked him from where he downloaded the file, and it was from a system outside of the university's network. He later gave me a list of "node numbers" for various universities around the world.
This blew my mind. It meant that all of these universities were interconnected in some way. It was the golden key.
That was how I discovered the Internet.
I began experimenting with FTP commands and "node numbers" and my college friend also probed the lab assistants for more of this unbelievable information. I discovered an amazing repository called Aminet↗, and much of it had strange "GPL" licenses, which I saw for the first time. I used VT100↗ and Kermit↗ to transfer files to my student home directory on the college mainframe and then downloaded them to my Amiga at 1200 baud. I noticed that the speed from mainframe to mainframe was extremely fast compared to the 1200 baud Kermit download. I later discovered that while I was in the lab, I could FTP my downloaded files at high speed to a floppy disk in MS-DOS format and later, when I got home, I could convert them to AmigaDOS format and decompress them via Lharc↗.
I did not know anything about DNS back then, and one day I hit the jackpot when I printed out a giant list of "node numbers" and began to connect to servers around the world. There was no WWW at this time. I found that many of the systems I connected to ran something called "UNIX". I then found a colleague that used this strange UNIX, and he helped explain the directory syntax.
The golden key got me into the first floor of the ivory tower. Inside the tower, I downloaded and read the writings of Phil Zimmerman, reading about advancements in cryptography.
Then, around 1994, my friend's mother gave me her old PC-compatible, and by 1995, I purchased a 14.4K baud modem and installed Windows 3.1 with "Trumpet Winsock" (a TCP/IP stack) and, connecting to my university's modem bank, I downloaded, via good old FTP, Cello↗, my first web browser, and discovered my first search engine called EINet Galaxy).
That was how I discovered the World Wide Web.
I tried to convey to others the importance of my discovery, but I was ignored until the web became heavily commercialized years later, and ironically, like Quantum Link vs. the BBS, history repeated itself with America Online vs. the World Wide Web, since most people I knew were obsessed with America Online, something I could not afford. They did not understand the importance of the World Wide Web itself, the world outside of their walled garden.
So after years of trying, I finally had access to a world of information about computers and networking and got my first job in computer networking and was allowed to freely walk the tower. I discovered Linux shortly thereafter and began my journey to decode the knowledge of the UNIX magicians. I later worked in system and network administration for a different university and finally saw what was inside the tower. And after the start of the millennium, I discovered Web 2.0.
I knew how important those early days were, so I saved my logs of those early e-mails that I sent to my college classmates (excerpts are below). The naivete in my choice of words (and spelling) is amusing, but is shows the evolution of our world of information that is profound.
============================================================================ Date: Thu, 08 Oct 92 00:30:40 CDT From: @UMSLVMA To: @UMSLVMA Subject: Hi Eric. Hey Eric, I am just trying out the bitnote function. Let me know if you receiv ed this letter. Lee ============================================================================ Date: 9 October 1992, 01:49:55 CDT From: Lee Djavaherian at UMSLVMA To: Subject: You amaze me Eric. I typed receive and noticed that a file from you was in my reader. I can't beleive you learned how to use this system so fast. Isn't thi s the most user-unfriendly system you have ever used? It is vastly powerful, h owever. There is this thing called FTP (file transfer protocol) that allows us to access files in computer systems around the world. Tonight I was in the Un iversity of Michigan system looking at Amiga files. Amazing. I was also in a Finland computer system earlier as Brad showed me how. Have you used th e TELL command? You can talk to other users online (even in places like Rolla). And the commands Q Users and Q Name tell you who is online. Have you used t he NAMES command to give me a nickname? This system is hard to use, but it is cool. Were looking at world communication, thousands of Amiga files, and unlim ited access time for free. Amazing. See you later. =========================================================================== Date: 12 October 1992, 22:25:31 CDT From: Lee Djavaherian at UMSLVMA To: Subject: FTP Hey Brad, I used GET to receives some Amiga files from Switzerland via ftp and the files (which were originally over 100K, were truncated to only 8192 bytes o n my disk A. I had it in binary mode also. Do you know what the problem is? =========================================================================== Date: 13 October 92, 00:52:55 CDT From: Lee Djavaherian at UMSLVMA To: Nevermind about the last letter, Brad, I noticed that the 8192 wasn't the size of the file, but the block size was. Sorry about that. Oh, by the way, I just got a Kermit program and am attempting to use it. I'll let you know how it wo rks out. =========================================================================== Date: 13 October 92, 02:06:06 CDT From: Lee Djavaherian at UMSLVMA To: Hey Eric, I just got an amiga smurfs game from a Switzerland system, and was ab le to download it to my amiga with a new Kermit program I just got. I'm going to try to decompress it. If it works, then that means we will have access to t ons of software. Amazing. =========================================================================== Date: 14 October 1992, 02:47:18 CDT From: Lee Djavaherian at UMSLVMA To: Subject: Just a note. Brad, I just got a VT100 program that supports Kermit from a local bbs. I am u sing it now and have just completed a file transfer to my Amiga disk. It is a small game I got off a Switzerland system through ftp. It didn't lharc at firs t, and I found out that not only did the ftp transfer have to be in binary (lik e you said) but the Kermit program running on cms also had to be set to binary mode manually. It was even so user-unfriendly as to start sending me the file immediately, bef ore I had a chance to set up my system. A command SET DELAY has to be set firs t for this. What cheezy programming! Anyway, for me, this ftp and Kermit is a breakthrough in that I can now access Amiga files from around the world . Thanks for showing me how to use it. Oh, yeah, by the way, I was reading up on the .Lha compression format. It is s trictly an Amiga format. The Lha decompressor will compress standard .lzh file s like that of MS-DOS, but files ending in .lha are specifically designed to op timize the Amiga's architecture. =========================================================================== Date: 14 October 92, 09:49:13 CDT From: Lee Djavaherian at UMSLVMA To: Subject: ohs.hit I sent you a file called ohs.hit. It should be in your reader. It contains a list of node numbers for ftp. You must type receive to transfer the file from your reader to your disk. =========================================================================== Date: 15 October 1992, 15:10:21 CDT From: Lee Djavaherian at UMSLVMA To: Subject: Eric, I found out that many ftp systems have text files that contain the whole directory listing AND a FILE DESCRIPTION! The one I got is larger than that 2 1 page ftp listing I gave you. Remember, to get a text file, set it to TYPE A first. That will put it in ascii transfer mode instead of binary mode. It strips carriage returns to make your text look better. =========================================================================== Date: 20 October 92, 13:47:58 CDT From: Lee Djavaherian at UMSLVMA To: Subject: Bradmail And Kermit? It's working fine (if you like to wait for years for a 1200 baud modem transfer 7-bit data words over the phone), so I like to use ftp to trans fer the files to the 3 1/2 inch floppy because it is much faster, and when I ge t home I use a MS-DOS reading program to convert it into Commentsformat. I also got my system disk space upped to 8 cylinders. I've have this problem, though, of transferring large compressed files to the A miga, because I only have one floppy drive, 1 megabyte of ram, and no hard driv e. A decompresser such as lharc needs memory, the MS-DOS conversion progra m needs memory, and so I am splittin and juggling files between ram and disk to get these things into workable form. I am going to try to use the systems up h ere to split them up on their hard drives before I copy them to disk. Oh yeah, I wanted to ask you what Telnet was. Do you ever use it? ============================================================================= Date: 2 March 93, 20:58:27 CST From: Lee Djavaherian at UMSLVMA To: Subject: Have you ever seen the movie Sneakers? It was a great movie and dealt with the subject of cryptography. The guy who wrote PGP said that the encryption functions on archivers such as pkzip, lharc, and various wordprocessors is very weak and there is even a company who sells a software program to decrypt these formats. Anyway, the program is real ly cool. It was originally written in unix and ms-dos, but I have the amiga ve rsion. Also, I was playing around with my ms-dos emulator. It is pretty fast if you think about it. If I had a $150 accelerator board, I could run ms-dos at a bout the same speed as an 8088. That's pretty good for a software emulation th at multitasks with amigados and uses only 1meg. Anyway, I'm thinking about rea ding up on IBM systems and ms-dos so I will be able to get jobs easier. I appl ed to 7 computer jobs through the newspaper, sent them cover letters and resume s. Hopefully, some of them will call for interviews. Lee =============================================================================