Internet Memories #

An Accidental Tech Podcast episode from a few months ago had some reminiscing of the ways to get online in the mid-90s (most notably, the X2 vs. K56flex debate). I thought I would write down some of my earliest recollections of Internet access¹.

The first (indirect) Internet access that I recall having was in the spring of 1995². My dad had access to an FTP-to-email gateway³ at work, and had discovered an archive that had various space pictures and renderings. He would print out directory listings and bring them home. We would go over them, and highlight the ones that seemed interesting. The next day he would send the fetch requests, the files would be emailed to him, and he would bring them home on a floppy disk. In this way I acquired an early International Space Station rendering and a painting of Galileo over Io. I recall using the latter picture as my startup screen, back in the day when having so many extensions that they wrapped onto a second row was a point of pride, and the associated multi-minute startup time necessitated something pretty to look at.

A little while later, my dad found an archive with Mac software (most likely Info-Mac or WUArchive). This was very exciting, but all of the files had .sit.hqx extensions, which we hadn't encountered before (uuencoding was the primary encoding that was used in the email gateway). .hqx to turned out to refer to BinHex, which Compact Pro (the sole compression utility that I had access to⁴) could understand. A bit more digging turned up that .sit referred to StuffIt archives, and the recently released (and free) StuffIt Expander could expand them. We somehow managed to find a copy of StuffIt that was either self-expanding or compressed in a format CompactPro understood, and from that point I was set.

In the early summer of 1995, almost at the end of the school year, my school got Internet access through the 100 Schools project⁵. It would take until the fall for the lab to be fully set up, but as I recall there was a server/gateway (something in the NEC PC-98 family running PC-UX) connected to 3 or 4 LC 575s (see the last picture on this page). Also at the end of the school year a student who had graduated the year before came by, and told wondrous tales of high-speed in-dorm Internet access. At this point I still didn't have Internet access at home, but I did have a copy of the recently released version 1.1 of Netscape. I learned a bunch of HTML from the browser's about page​⁶, since it was the only page that I had local access to.

Sometime in the fall, we got a Telebit Trailblazer modem. The modem only had a DB-25 connector, so my dad soldered together an adapter cable that would enable it work with the Mac's mini-DIN8 “modem” port. This was used to dial into local and U.S.-based BBSes, at first with ZTerm and later with FirstClass

A little while later, we finally got proper Internet access at home. I had read Neuromancer over the summer, and it left a strong impression. Before dialing up to the ISP I would declare that I was going to “jack in” and demand that the lights be left off and that I not be disturbed, all for a more immersive experience.

In the spring of 1996 we upgraded to a Global Village⁷ Teleport Platinum, going from 9600 baud to 28.8Kbps⁸. Over the summer, the modem developed an annoying tendency to drop the connection without any warning, with no obvious trigger. It eventually became apparent that this was correlated with the air conditioning kicking in. The modem was a U.S. model, designed for 120V. Japan runs at 100V, and though most U.S. electronics worked at the lower voltage, the extra load caused by the air conditioning (on the same circuit) turning on was enough to briefly reset the modem. The problem was solved by a (surprisingly large) 100V-to-120V step up transformer.

Over the next couple of years there was my first domain name, an upgrade to ISDN (a blazing fast 128Kbps when going dual-channel!), a Hotline phase, etc. However, this part is less interesting, both because it became increasingly common to have Internet access, and thus the stories are more alike, and because it's better documented.

I don't expect the contents of this post to have been all that interesting to anyone else. It was still an interesting exercise, both in terms how much I could remember and how much I could reconstruct given my personal archive and what's on the Internet. Given the advantages of digital storage that I had, I'm that much more impressed that memoirs manage to achieve any reasonable level of accuracy.

  1. Also as a way of testing Quip's new link inspector/editor.
  2. To give a bit of context, I was in middle school and living in Japan at the time. The Japan bit is relevant given its lag in Internet adoption.
  3. Some people use the web in this fashion even today.
  4. Despite using it for years, I dutifully clicked “Not Yet” in the shareware startup nag screen every time. Sorry Bill Goodman!
  5. Based on this list of domain names the domain name was activated on May 26, 1995.
  6. As I recall, it was more than just a wall of text, it used both the <center> tag and tables.
  7. For reasons that I still don't understand, Global Village initially had the domain name
  8. Later firmware-flashed to 33.6K

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