24 Oct. 2006
SETI League
PriUPS Project

Baudy Vignettes

2007(?) 50 megabits per second

I took me and my MP3 player for a walk the other day.  I do this as often as I can, and more often than not it is a solitary venture.  I wear earphones instead of those little things that are almost invisible in your ear, and rarely engage neighbors in more than a mouthed "good <daypart>."  They usually respect my solitude, often because they're afraid that if I speak the way I sing, they're better off not hearing me.

But a few days ago I spied a Verizon truck on the side of the road, with its driver puttering with some wires nearby.  I put him to the question: 

"Is that Fiber?"
"When will we get fiber?"
"Sometime next year," he thought and said.
"Thanks!"  (Earphones back on.  Galumphing resumed.)

2006 - 30 MB/s downstream, 5MB/s upstream

I got a postcard in the mail offering a "digital cable box shipped to me at no charge."  It seems that my cable company is migrating one of their movie offerings to digital, and they don't want me to miss it, hence the offer. I called them, totally uncharacteristic behavior for this non-telephonic person.  But "shipped to me at no charge," which I recognized as the equivalent of "do nothing and get something for free" was sufficient impetus.  Why says "reading comprehension" isn't a critical skill? 

In a lengthy conversation, which included a cable company guy saying "No" and this writer confirming that I was actually told "No" and demanding to "speak to a supervisor," which means "take that 'No' and stuff it in your write-only-memory," I discovered the following:

They really did mean "No."  It seems the offer was only for people who don't already have a digital cable box.  Of course the card didn't say so.  Not wanting to waste that week's telephone call, I kept whining until Mr. Supervisor told me that I could double my internet speed by getting something called "Boost."  $15/month.  The equivalent, in speed at least, of a handful of extra T1s.

2003 - 15 MB/s

Just as a local organizer is trying to get a critical mass of people interested in a broadband internet connection, maybe wireless, for my local suburb, the cable company finally came through with internet over cable.  I don't even remember what it cost, since the mailbox was stuffed with all sorts of introductory offers.  It may even have been free for a while!

Mid 1990's - From 56kB/s to T1

I remember the excitement!  Our first dedicated line.  Not some silly dialup, but a full 56 kilobit per second always-on connection!  I remember the half-day I spent talking to UUNET support, finding out that "." was "dot" and not "period" and that a "!" was a "bang."  Professional data communications, here I come!  Setting up a Unix computer as a server was a bit of a challenge, too, with the "Nutshell" books going from one incomprehensible tutorial to another, and with "Yes, but just tell me what to put in the file" oozing from my alleged brain.  I loaded something called a "Netscape Browser" into the Unix computer.  I found and downloaded the complete list of issued domain names, which took up almost a megabyte of storage.  I didn't think for a moment that maybe I could personally buy "GM.COM" and "COKE.COM" just in case somebody might be interested in them later on.

As the 90's progressed, this connection, which I suspect was already a crypto-T1, kept getting upgraded, usually with a decrease in the price.  I will spare you the details of my brief at-home flirtation with a disastrous ISDN connection.  I tried to use it for a year and seemingly spent half of that year logging in and getting disconnected. 

1980's - 1990's - 300baud to 28kB/s

I had just traded this old clunker of a radio, a mint R390URR, for a modem, and a 300 baud one at that!  All one had to do was put the telephone handset into a cushioned cradle and data would go through the 'phone line!  Wow.  Sadly, I never got it to work - nobody to exchange data with except Compuserve, and it just wouldn't play.  Oh well, after mastering the R390 mechanical autotune system where I could go from one frequency to another automatically in less than a minute, I had gotten tired of playing with the radio, and at least the modem took up less space.  I did manage to use my HP Series 80 computers with their modular modems to talk to Compuserve.  I remember one particularly poignant evening when I decided to download a whole forum's worth of data to see if I could get an answer to a certain question.  At 300 baud, one can visually read the data as fast as it comes in.  I was part of the computer for an hour or so.

Later on, the internal modem wars began, as ever less complicated ISA cards became ever faster as well.  A local company purported to offer 56K service at the end of this period, but I could never get anything faster than 28K to work from my house, then as now at the end of a long central office loop.

1960's - 60baud

Back in the 60's, tree nuts were legal, parents didn't realize how dangerous (or how much fun) mercury was, and teenagers played with high voltage without the presence of an adult as a rite of passage.  I had somehow managed to obtain a Model 26 Teletype.  (I coveted a Model 15, of course, but couldn't obtain one for reasons of cost and, probably, transportation.)   Other than listening to it whir, however, I could do little with it until I built a modem.  I don't think they were called modems then, and you certainly couldn't buy one, but there were plans in the ham magazines.  One day I was just sick enough to stay home from school, but not so sick that the soldering fumes (lead vapor and who-knows-what organic volatiles) would discommode me.  While the parents were out doing whatever parents used to do, I found all the parts, including the correct vacuum tubes, put this thing together, and was copying CQ CQ from a local ham.  Not many days later I got it hooked up to the transmitter and we were typing back and forth.


It's interesting to reflect that, during the entire lifetime of any given Model 26 Teletype machine, it would perhaps handle as much data as a modern internet connection can transfer in a second or less.  There are a lot of other interesting reflections I could offer, having lived through an entire era of which this blog is only a pallid sketch.  But I've written enough already, and I have other memories to contemplate.

Richard Factor

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