Re: How you were using the Internet in the 1991-1995 and 1995-2005?

Published by Beto Dealmeida on

Looking back at my early days on the internet

A reply to How you were using the Internet in the 1991-1995 and 1995-2005?.

1993-1995

My earliest memory of the internet is from 1993, when I was 15. I was living in Brazil, and my dad brought back 2 modems from a trip to the US. The modems were 14.4 kbps, and I don't remember them having a manual or a brand. I also had no idea how to use them.

I had an older friend who was in college studying computer science, and he had a special phone number to access the internet. The number was different from any other phone number I've ever seen, with 20+ digits. He gave the number, the login ("alunos", meaning "students") and the password: "alunos93".

He shared the login with me so we could play a multi-user dungeon (MUD) together, connecting via telnet. That's all I remember doing on the internet back then. I was hooked, and spent hours connected. I remember I was worried about the phone bill, so I called the phone company and asked how much it cost to call the number.

"Sir, this number does not exist", was the response.

A bill never came, so I kept dialing every day, for hours, and playing the MUD.

In January 1994 I was no longer able to log in. I tried the password "alunos94" and it worked.

In 1995 my dad got a new job and we moved to a new city. My friend's connection no longer worked, even after trying the obvious password "alunos95". I was desperate for internet, but there were no commercial providers in Brazil back then, and I was still not in college.

It was at that time that I discovered bulletin board systems (BBS). I signed up for a few BBSes in my new city. It was fun an exciting: there was software to be downloaded, games to be played, and I could exchange messages. I was surprised to discover that messages could even be sent between different BBSes, though it could take days.

I even ran my own BBS back in 1995, with a friend who was younger but had more experience than me.

But what I really wanted was to use the internet again. I could use it at my dad's company, and I remember reading books on how to connect to the internet. I would try configuring my computer using internet settings that were made for the US, hoping it would somehow work.

Eventually I was able to get internet access via my dad's company. I would visit websites by guessing their URL. I remember visiting the Louvre and looking at art, as the images downloaded slowly over my dial-up connection. I also remember visiting the Brazilian space agency, mesmerized as I downloaded satellite images showing the large scale weather patterns!

I applied for college at the end of 1995. I don't remember using a Gopher a lot in this period, but I used it to access the university and check the results from the entrance examination. That's how I discovered I was going to college: via Gopher.

1996-2000

In 1996 I moved to a new city for college. The city had no commercial internet providers, but a few months later one opened. I was one of their first clients. It was nice being able to keep in touch with my dad via email. I remember daydreaming about the day when everyone would have an email address... "you'd meet someone and exchange email addresses!". It felt like it would never happen.

In college we used mostly dumb-terminals for email, library, and other student activities. At home I was using Netscape Navigator. I remember friends making fun of me because I would check my email after waking up, or because I would read the news online before going to college. "Such a nerd!", they would say.

Little they know.

During this time I made my first website in Geocities, talking about climate change. I learned Java so I could write applets. One of my first applets was a simulation of James Lovelock's Daisyworld.

In 1998 I started using Linux at home, and eventually set up a server at my university for the students. We had an FTP server so we could share studying materials, a forum, and an email server. By 2000, my last year in college, I had set up a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) server with a friend, teaching about oceanography (our major) and hosting mailing lists for oceanographic projects.

2001-2005

In 2001 I went to grad school, and continued building websites on a LAMP stack. I also started a blog, the first of dozens. My first blog used an engine called b2, and over the years I ran WordPress, PyBlosxom, Blogger, Blogspot, and a dozen of inhouse engines. I was jealous of the people using Movable Type, a commercial blog engine written in Perl.

There was a small community of bloggers in Brazil back then, and I met a good number of them. I'm still friends with a few. It was a nice community, something that I've only recently rediscovered with Gemini.

In 2003 I moved to the Netherlands for 1 year, for my PhD. I signed up for an amazing provider called "XS4ALL", a bore-bones ISP that would provide a connection, a real unblocked IP address, and take your money. It was a hacker's dream.

The most amazing thing from this period was Skype. I remember using Skype to call my family back in Brazil, and it was mind-blowing to be able to use the internet to talk with someone on the other side of the world like that. The quality was incredible and you couldn't beat the price: free.

In 2005 I participated in the first Google Summer of Code. I was already programming in Python back then, so I submitted a proposal to the Python Software Foundation (PSF) to work on a scientific data server that I had developed. The proposal was accepted, and I was paid to work for 3 months on an open-source project, being mentored by Paul DuBois, the creator of Numeric (a predecessor of Numpy).

Participating in the Google Summer of Code was one of the critical events that changed my life. I had learned about free software on the internet, learned how to program, and was using it to develop my own projects. A decade later I would become a software engineer, and for the last 4 years I've been working almost full time on free software.

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