Saturday, March 12, 2005

The year the modem was put to rest... 

It is funny how difficult change can be at times. Personally, I'm a fairly nostalgic person and my memory also isn't all that great. The combination makes me tend to be a packrat, fearful that losing an object will lose the memories as well. I think my digital camera will help with that eventually, but today's topic is about something a bit less physical. I'm finally moving away from my old ISP, losing my old e-mail and website in the process. It may not sound like a big deal, but check out how I got to this point:

[Note: I'm using the wonderful Wayback Machine for links that are gone or might be soon.]

Way way back I was part of a local Bulletin Board System called the-SPA! (Springfield Public Access), run by Linda McCarthy and Matthew de Jongh on TBBS. They were always one of the larger systems in the area, I think eventually getting up to a capability of 64 simultaneous users. I'd tried one BBS for like a week before that, but SPA was really where I found my home and got exposed to the concept of "online". This was still before anyone but people at universities or large companies could use the internet, and no one else knew was really even aware of it. Check out this article which looks back on BBSs and fidonet in the area and talks to Matthew about the SPA.

At first I just went in and downloaded some files. I got an image viewer and it was really the first time I experienced photos on my commputer. These days it is hard to imagine the huge shift that represented. I mean why would you have a photo viewer when there was no real way to get photos? No digital cameras, scanners were really expensive and mostly b&w, printers were b&w dot matrix, etc. But now on the BBS there were all these cd-roms of interesting pictures and programs. Back then I was on a 2400 baud modem, so a 640x480 jpeg took something like a half hour to download.

I believe I may have also grabbed a MOD file player and some songs, which was some of the first high-quality music I'd hear on the computer (along with the awesome Tetra Demo that came with my Sound Blaster, which was a tracker, though I didn't know that at the time). See Mindcandy for more on the demoscene.

Eventually I started talking to people in the chatroom. For a shy kid of around 15? or so, it was a pretty liberating experience to talk with local people from all walks of life. We went to a SPA picnic and some parties and people's houses. I got involved in a MUD called Illusions, which was a really cool experience to play online with other people and also roleplay a character. In later years I'd even have my first relationships based off of meetings on that BBS and even know of some people who got married who met on SPA.

SPA always had Fidonet, which I believe was hooked up to Usenet. I never really got involved in that, but later SPA would get e-mail. You could always send messages to other people on the board, but this was something new. About that time, more people were starting to talk about the internet, though most still weren't sure exactly what it was. I actually went to the library and found the book Zen and the Art of the Internet. Not only did it explain things like ftp, gopher, and the www (which was still mostly text-based at that point), but it gave some addresses and also my way into the big time.

That way was ftp by e-mail. You see, some people had created special gateways so that people without ftp could still download files. I'm sure there are still a couple of them out there somewhere actually. Basically you'd send an e-mail with your instructions and it'd spit back the result. So if I e-mailed something like:

ftp ftp.sunet.se

It'd then e-mail me back the directory listing. You'd mail back go into one of the directories and list it again. When you finally got to a file you wanted, it'd send back a series of e-mails with the file converted to text. Back then I had an offline reader for the BBS and it let me save e-mails to disc. One of the CD-ROMs on their system also had a program to uudecode back into a file.

Back then I was homeschooling and one of my things was to learn some Pascal. I didn't have a lot of money, so I decided to try to download one online. I ended up finding an ftp site with it and using the mail-to-ftp which sent me back something like 5 e-mails. After saving and decoding, I got a zip file. I downloaded an unzip program off the BBS and it unzipped! It is hard to explain just how amazing it was to go through that convoluted process and have it actually work...

Now, eventually SPA got a shell account which let you use ftp and gopher and lynx. It'd download the file to the BBS, and then I could download it to my computer. That was a big exploration period, and you also started to see things like the Internet Yellow Pages in bookstores so you could find good sites to go to.

Eventually SPA started up a real internet service. I remember going to classes that they held to help educate people about the internet. I actually knew a decent amount by then about the net itself works, but having graphical tools in windows was new. I started off with an early version of Netscape which didn't support background images yet. Lots of gray in those days..heh. Started getting involved in usenet. Eventually I'd put up my own website, complete with rainbow dividers in January of 1996. That version isn't online, but you can look here for October '96 (Wayback doesn't store background images unfortunately).

I'd also fulfill a bit of a childhood fantasy. Back even before the BBS days, we had a paper catalog where you could send away for software and they'd send you back a floppy disc with it on it. In the catalog was a program that I never did end up getting at the time, but whose description made an impact on me. It was POV-Ray, a program that'd let you make 3d images on your computer, along with a screenshot of I think it was a train. Once I got active on the net, I was able to grab that program and start exploring 3d, which was a great time. Actually, I may have downloaded a version off of the BBS at one point, but my computer was really too slow at the time. Anyway, I'm still proud of the 3d mechanical pencils I created using entirely a text editor.

By and by, the internet would slowly kill off the BBS. First you'd use the e-mail go to the internet for files. Then you might see all the MUDs you could telnet into. I think what really nailed it in the end was ICQ. Once friends that met by chatting on the BBS stopped going to it even for that, there wasn't a whole lot left. Still, I can't help think that something was lost when you stopped having that center of community which was location. Of course that's been starting to come back lately in various ways, but that's another story.

So, since that time I've been plugging along using the internet with my trusty USRobotics 56k modem. I've had the website for almost 10 years now, and the e-mail address for probably close to 12? Despite my e-mail address being flooded with spam (I get lots of e-mails from people I don't know, so I'm scared of filters) and moving a lot of personal correspondance over to gmail. Despite finding other web hosts in various places and leaving the old site as mostly a relic. It is still hard to let go of that after so many years.

A couple of weeks ago, SPA announced that they'd merge with the biggest local ISP: Crocker Communications. The advantage of this would be that I could keep my e-mail and website address. However, calling several times to ask for information got met with tech support which was too busy. The service was also $10 a month more than Verizon for the same features. Plus, as I thought of it, this wouldn't be the same anyway. Matthew and Linda aren't running it. Dan Berger won't be creating cool images of the roman corporate mascot Sparky.

[As an aside, Dan is a great artist and was one of highest scoring MUD players as King Hell. I haven't talked to him in ages, but last I checked he did work for Mirage Studios and produces his own comic book called Gutwallow.
Matthew recently got married, but I do wonder what Linda is up to?]

I've prided myself on keeping this connection to the past, but it is probably just time to move on now. It is too late now to waffle anyway.. the router and modem will arrive on Monday. I'll make sure I have the old site backed up, move all my mailing lists and logins over to gmail. In the practical sense, it'll barely make any impact on my dailing life at all, but in my mind it feels like the end of an era. Hopefully the start of an even better one...

For anyone who has actually read this far, here's a couple more things:

Lastly, let's take at what was on my site: the the latest version [Wayback link]

Check out my bio page. The funny thing about the picture of me is that it was taken when I was 17. Now that I've lost weight and shave, I actually look younger now than I did then! And check out this quote:

I also enjoy looking at other people's artistic work. I've always loved Fantasy/Sci-Fi art, and have a lot of books and cards on the subject. I got into it origionally by interests in Fantasy literature and comic books. Speaking of comics, I used to collect them before they got too expensive, and I enjoy the somewhat related Anime/Manga genre when I can.

Who'd have thought comics and anime/manga would become such a big part of my life again these last couple of years? I also had a brief spell of going nuts downloading a ton of Jpop, hence my name-dropping of Glay, etc. I seem to be getting back into that lately as well.

I was always a person of many hobbies. It is really too bad that particular Rubik's Cube site isn't around anymore. Had cool 3d illustrations. I think I printed it out somewhere though. Aparantly some people are still making KiSS dolls, which is good to see. Hmm.. I never did figure out how to pick locks..

A fun relic was my technology tv guide. Do you remember C/Net Central, Computer Man, Future Watch, New Edge, Next Step, The Site, CNN Computer Connection and the rest of those technology shows that were out during the 90s tech boom? I hear Beyond2000 is still being made, though I don't think we can get it here. That used to be one of my favorite shows...

I'll be very sorry to see my old POV-Ray Utilities List go offline. I based it off of another list that got abandoned. Unfortunately mine would suffer the same fate. A lot of pages still link to it, though, so it'll be a shame to move it. The same goes for my old yo-yo site, where I first took a my message board post about how to loop and put it on my site, eventually becoming something quite larger.

Since we're on a nostalgia kick, I'll end with a couple of old yo-yo posts. My first post back in 1997, hailing my official entry into yo-yos as a more serious hobby. My trip to Nationals in California in 1999. People actually did a fundraiser so I could fly out, which was an amazing experience. Lastly, my trip to Worlds in florida in 2004. It seems my end of blogging never really came to be did it? I think I've found a bit of a balance for it now...

Sorry for such a personal post. I just really wanted to have a record out there for that part of my life and also try to get it all out of my system. Is it weird that most of the important events of my life have been catalogued online? Such is the world we now live in, I guess. :) If you're a kid or just weren't involved in technology during that time, I hope you follow some of the links in this post and this list of tech-related documentaries. It is good to know how we got to this point.

So, moving on...

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