dial-up experiences (was Re: question aaout ISP's)

Dennis Boone drb at msu.edu
Fri Aug 8 11:13:57 CDT 2008

 > But the Couriers just kept on working until I closed down the BBS (still
 > have the hard disk with NT 4.0 and Auntie on it--it might be fun to boot
 > it to see what the message log has in it).

I worked for a real estate software house in the mid-late 80s.  We were
doing online photos of listed properties starting in the '85-'86
timeframe.  By modern standards the images were tiny, maybe 160x100 and
4-bit greyscale, but at 2400 baud, the 15 kBytes would have been a bit
painful.  We were out at the bleeding edge of higher-speed dialup from
the beginning of the product.  Display was accomplished by a "dumb"
board we added to the Esprit terminals.  It was a marble machine --
looked for the correct control code (just one character, sigh) then
clocked in the next 15 k bytes.  It could overlay either one quarter of
the screen or the whole screen with the image, since it was inserted
into the video circuit as well as the serial interface.  Once it started
loading an image, it ate all bytes coming in until it had counted far
enough, so errors or spurious modem noise was very troublesome.

The first installation used Motorola/UDS 208A/B modems, 4800 baud half
duplex units that could be strapped for two wire or four wire
operation.  We used the EC100 error-corrector units with them.

After that first site, we went through a whole series of v.29 9600 baud
modems: Fastcomm, Data Race, eventually Multi-Tech when they finished
theirs.  v.29 was half-duplex on the wire, so we called these devices
"ping pong" modems.  (There were other nicknames: Fastbroke, Rat Race,
Multi-wreck, etc.)  We looked at other (better) things too, but didn't
sell them because they were too expensive.  For a while, we had two
Telebit Trailblazers, one in answer mode in the computer room, and the
other connected to my SB-180 at home (_really_ nice!).  We looked at
Couriers too.  But the v.32 modems won, so it was Multi-Techs, Practical
(Pregnant) Peripherals, etc.

The host computers were Prime minis, which were notorious for crappy
handshaking, so we spent lots of time fine tuning buffer sizes and modem
setups.  We had the Data Race folks on site in South Bend for a couple
of days at one point figuring out why stuff was getting lost (hysteresis
was too large for the modem's buffer).

After I left the company, a buddy called me for troubleshooting help.
Could I call x-and-such number and see how fast I could connect.  My
personal Courier locked at max rate.  Drove him nuts, as the units they
were selling, being cheap junk, couldn't do it.  Couriers rocked.  Still
do, if you still do dialup.


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