Master of This Domain


Friday, April 25, 2008

I have watched the first 3 episodes of the BBS documentary by Jason Scott (whose blog has become required reading for me as of late) and it got me thinking on a subject that has been gnawing at me for some time now. In a nutshell, the film devotes itself to the world of bulletin board systems in the that ran from the mid 70's until the internet incorporated all. The details of the demise of the BBS are not yet known to me as I have not yet finished the documentary. Now I remember these days. In the 1987, after I had finally managed to get my parents to splurge on a sparkling new Commodore 128, I immediately went to work on them to spring for a modem. A modem eventually materialized. I wish I could remember which model it was but I can only remember that it was 300 baud and that it was blue. I still have it back home but home I am not so digging the thing up will have o wait. In any case, I remember starting off accessing "Quantum Link", a BBS service that was designed to run only on C64s and C128s. From there I started playing around with the local BBSs that were by that time quite ubiquitous. Much of that time online was spent waiting for the 300 baud blue beast to finish downloading a sentence. However, it was magical. It was indeed a secret world that required a good amount of know-how and a whole lot of patience to access. For a kid of about 11 with no T1 lines to compare it to, the speed, or lack thereof, was never really an issue. It was a world inhabited by, real or imagined, incredible experts who in my imagination were modifying chips, integrating boards into reel to reel tape decks and altogether performing technical wizardry. When one looks back, the technology was really quite primitive but god damn if these people didn't squeeze every last bit of power out of the machines they were using. I mean, a C64 had 64k of memory and ran at 1Mhz. 1. 64 k will play a couple of seconds of an MP3; barely enough to hear Geddy shout "Thank you! Good night!".

And for me, that was the fun of it. Making the most of the thing. Fighting and struggling and tweaking to make it do some semblance of what you wanted it to do. The process engendered creativity. The act of creating content required such creativity that I and many others were loathe to put all that effort towards something unworthy. I remember putting together a computer newsletter when I was about 12. Most of the time was spent laying out the pages and banging my head against the wall to make the 2 columns stay as two columns. Fonts and font sizes were chosen meticulously, as was clip art. Articles were trimmed or expanded to make them fit into their allotted space because it was simply easier to take out or add a few worlds than it was to reformat the ENTIRE thing to fit the world "incredible" when "amazing" had three fewer letters and would therefore fit the whole article on the page where it just had to squeeze into. In short, the barrier to entry was high. There were little victories and defeats that one experienced in the act of trying to accomplish most anything on these machines. I had a copy of "Beach Head II" that really didn't like the C128's 1571 drive. It simply wouldn't load up. Of course This had to be figured out. I remember borrowing a friends 1541, hooking it up and before I knew it (4 minutes later), I was lobbing grenades at the cannon and engaging in the boomerang match of death - look the game up. The sense of victory was twofold. Firstly, I was able to play the game and secondly, I had succeeded in ascertaining and dealing with the problem myself. This is of course a minor example of such an occurrence but it is the first that springs to mind. I really loved "Beach Head II".
Now everything is all so easy. Now, that is surely a good thing, no hell, a great thing, but a certain vibe is gone. That could of course be because these modern times are no longer wrapped in that warm glow of youth and all its wonder. Perhaps the youth of today will look back fondly on their Youtube video discussions with a similar fondness and remember the effort and time it took to edit their videos the way they wanted them and so on. They probably will. In twenty years we will inevitably look back at today's quad-cores with something akin to a snicker as well.
In short, the old systems have a feel of still being of the analog age to me. I have further thoughts on this in regards to audio equipment and media that I will get to in a post soon. Until then, go read some Garfield minus Garfield.
posted by Kermit at 4/25/2008 09:28:00 AM |

The Triumphant Return 

I'm here, I'm not queer and you're probably used to it. I think it's time to resurrect this old beast. Stay tuned for input.
posted by Kermit at 4/25/2008 08:47:00 AM |

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Egg City Radio

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Book in progress:



LTI: The Language of the Third reich

By: Viktor klemperer



By: Neal Stephenson