Sunday, December 12, 2004

Broadband … and I Don't Mean "Heart" or "The Go-Gos"

Far out in the unchartered backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Georgia/Eastern Alabama area lies a small unregarded yellow house. In case you missed my very first posting, it's only fair to tell you that I have had the pleasure of reading all five books of Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" Trilogy. Yes, I know: five books in a trilogy just isn't right. If you don't understand, don't ask. Anyway, now that I've risked the wrath of Mr. Adams' estate, let me get back to what I was saying. I live out in the middle of nowhere. Really far away from everything. I've got to drive miles just to get to a Dollar General, much less a Wal-Mart[shameless link - buy stuff]. So, for years, the only Internet access here was dial-up.

As a bit of background, I was one of the first -- if not the first -- in my family to use a personal computer. After high school, a friend of mine was taking classes at a junior college in the next county over. And he somehow ended up taking computer classes. You got to keep in mind, this was the 1970s. Computers were something we saw in Star Trek and such, and they always malfunctioned and called the starship captain "dear" or killed all the astronauts. But, my friend had actually seen and touched a REAL computer. I thought that was cool. So, anyway, I got up one morning and rode with him over to the college. Since no one was around, he showed me how to get on the computer. Get this: you picked up a black dial phone (all phones everywhere were black back then, because it was a law or something) with a dial (not buttons). Anyway, you dialed a number and placed the handset in the coupler, and then threw a switch. This was considered normal behavior. It was a different and amazing world back then.

As I was saying, you threw a switch, and the teletype would "ka-chunk" and type a letter or symbol or something. Then you'd press a key-combination really fast, it would "ka-chunk" back, then start typing stuff. And then you were logged on. I hope you've been paying attention and noticed that I said that it typed. On paper. There was no screen. If you can't imagine that, well... you can't imagine it. But, that's how it was. Anyway, I was hooked. So much so, I eventually enrolled and took a computer course. Got a whole 5 quarter hours credit.

Anyway, later, my friend bought himself a computer. A Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer. With 4K of RAM. And the old "chiclets" keyboard. I was impressed. Naturally, he upgraded it. I was more impressed. So much so, I finally got my own: a Tandy Color Computer 2 ("CoCo2"). It had 32K of RAM. Actually, 64K, but only 32K available for BASIC. Still, it was great.

One weekend, I got tickets to see Georgia Tech and Tennessee play, so my brother-in-law and I drove to Atlanta. After watching the Jackets get beat, and listening to that blasted "Rocky Top" played again and again by the visiting band, we left and stopped by some mall somewhere near Atlanta. The mall had a Radio Shack. And the Radio Shack had a modem in stock. 300 bps. For $99. Really. I bought it. The wife (now ex-wife) was pissed! She couldn't understand why I'd buy such a thing. Especially since this was the early 1980s and there was nothing local to connect to. But, that's why the Good Lord -- or was it Alexander Graham Bell? -- invented long distance.

Anyway, she was not the only one who didn't understand why I would want to connect to other computers. No one understood. I was roundly criticized by everyone in the family. To be fair, I'm not sure I understood, either, why I was fascinated, but I was. And it was addictive. But, I had it under control. Never had a phone bill larger than $300 during any one month. Really. It wasn't all long distance, either. You got to remember, there was no AOL or Internet to connect to. At least, nothing I knew anything about. But there was CompuServe. It was expensive. That's why it was referred to as Compu$erve. Anyway, that's what I dialed in to and posted messages and sent electronic mail and such. It was great.

Fast-forward many years. Local Internet access was finally available, and I connected at 9600 bps. After leaving the Army, I moved west, clear across the state. And dial-up was all that was available there (actually, now it's "here").

In the mean-time, others in the family found out about this "Internet thing." They all got hooked. Some were the same folks who were criticizing me earlier. Except for the ex. She still doesn't get it. Anyway, some of them, particularly two sisters, plus others like my aunt & uncle, had fast access. I was happy for them, but when they'd go and send me 10 MB e-mail that locked up my computer for half-an-hour, only to be the poem "Footprints" and some large audio playing "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," I experienced, shall we say... frustration.

I did say something about it to them, in my own gentle manner. I think I might have hurt their feelings. Not my intent, but I got the point across. Hey, they got over it. Remember, all I had was dial-up. Not because I'm cheap (I am) but because although high-speed access was available to others in the area, my particular area wasn't in anybody's high-speed coverage area. Until this year. The local cable company finally upgraded our area and offered fast Internet access. My wife (new one, not the old one) actually was in favor of it. So, we connect at 1.5 mbps. That's the good news.

The bad news: Now I don't have an excuse to ask them to not send me large files of poems playing "Just a Closer Walk with Thee."

The other good news: They spend all their time sending each other pictures, poems, alerts about missing children that don't really exist, offers from Microsoft to pay for e-mails being forwarded, and essays incorrectly credited to George Carlin or Andy Rooney. They're too busy to read my blog. So they don't know about my broadband connection.

Let's just keep it our little secret.


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