If you’re still out there Barry, this one’s for you.
The journey started a long, long time ago, in a place not too far north of here (Townsville, North Queensland actually).
The first computer that I owned with was an Amiga 2000, a hulking great beast of a machine compared to the Amiga 500 and 1000, its siblings. They all shared in common the Motorola 68000 CPU with the other brethren of the day, the Macintosh 128k and the Atari ST. Not too many years before it the same CPU would have been that of a commercial grade workhorse, now I think it’s been consigned to tasks as menial as figuring out which buttons of your washing machine have been pressed and how long the spin cycle will last.
Not the first computer I’d used, but certainly the first that I could call my own. 4096 COLOURS! What an amazing thing to behold in a time of green-screen. Previous tinker-toys had been a multi-user VAX terminal and an Apple II something-or-other.
Though anyway, I digress. I was still at school, and a precocious young lad at that (NO, really!?!). With the above mentioned Amiga came a modem. I believe it was a SimpleModem 2400 or some such newfangled technology. Whatever it was, it was blindingly fast compared to a whole lot of other tech around at the time (1200 bps was still common). There was no Internet, it was still a bit of a pipe-dream at NCSA, however there was FidoNet which was an late 80’s/early 90’s precursor to what we know of the Internet today.
Blurrr-whaaa-bleeep etc etc. If you had a dial-up modem you’ll remember those tones. Anyways, I had become quite familar with them and could probably recite the training sequence almost tone for tone. FidoNet Bulletin Board Systems (or BBS’s) were the name of the game, and users would dial up to their nodes nearby (local call rates) to them, and you could exchange mail between those nodes, although it wasn’t instantaneous. The store-and-forward nature meant things would get packaged up overnight and exchanged via STD (long distance inter-capital) and IDD (international) calls in a tightly arranged sequence of events overnight when load was not an issue.
The operators of these bulletin board systems were known as System Operators (strangely) and referred to as SysOps. They didn’t talk like SysopsBorat does today for some reason or another (maybe in Kazakhstan, who knows). The operator of my local node (3:640/702 for those who are keeping track – more on FidoNet addressing and other nodes in a post for another day) was a gentleman by the name of Barry Taylor.
Barry was the local school computer guy. He taught computers, but I think he enjoyed tinkering with them more. It wasn’t called IT, or ICT or some such fancy titles in the day, nor did I actually study with him as a student. Barry was almost due to leave the school for greener pastures or retirement, or both, though he didn’t really know what to do with his pride and joy, the FidoNet BBS that he ran.
To cut a long story short, I ended up with the key to the computer room at the school. Here I was barely in my teens and I had in my pocket a key to a world of discovery that hadn’t yet even been invented, or perhaps even really that broadly thought about at the time. Of course this made me popular with the girls, which was of course a secondary (sure) thought in a young teenagers mind. Actually, no it didn’t but I didn’t really care. I was still mesmerised by the blurrr-whaaa-bleeep of the bits flinging themselves over the telephone line.
Thanks Barry, wherever you may be… You kicked off this journey of discovery and inspiration, and I don’t even know if you realised it. You just wanted your baby to go to a good home. Hopefully I made you proud.