First Contact (Internet at 50) – Computerphile


So I came to Nottingham in 1980 to do a physics degree and Worked through that but towards the end of it I got very interested in computing and fact, I ended up doing physics with computing that’s where I met Dave and the other people who were setting up the early computer science group and Then he said after I’d finished that I’ve got a bit of spare money. Would you like to work on some typesetting stuff? There’s all sorts of interesting things happening So I did. I worked on that for a year, I think, with Dave doing various things including this connection for the exams machine and all that interesting stuff Never mind said Julian quite rightly. So, we’ll keep the lower level And then I got really interested in networking us as that was just starting to come about and I worked with another lecturer called Hugh Smith and he had contacts with UCL and so we got into this sort of Internet and ARPANET and Early connections to that and I started working on email software to try and make sense of all this stuff that was going on get rid of all these exclamation marks in your routes and things like that and Just try and make it simpler It was quite early on so it was about 1984 or three I think I got involved in it. At that time The the internet was well, it was all just ARPANET. So it was the American connection and we had a very very tenuous connection we had some friends at University College London, and they had a satellite link to the ARPANET they’d had for a while and we were in the maths building which is where we are today and We didn’t actually have a connection to the outside world But (the) Psychology (department) did. So you could connect across to Psychology’s computer and dial up London Log into one of London’s nodes and then you could use the internet Very very slow. And of course it was going across satellite So you connect to… I don’t know, there weren’t very many sites, but there were a few places you can pick up software So you’d log into those? but because it was going over a satellite you typed a letter a and it would take about three seconds for the a to come back and so You’d start typing and then you get very confused halfway through and have to delete it all and this was all painfully slow But we thought it was wonderful at the time So it was about you know, 20 minutes or something to get onto the Internet from here But but we did manage it. Alongside that at the same time There’s sort of a more anarchic network called Usenet, which was just – that was machines That you were friendly with. You talk to other machines and and a whole grouping came out of that so we also have that so you could use that alongside it so you could Send email to somebody and say do you know a good site I can go to to pick up software for? this, that, or the other and they’d send something back over that but it was all very very disconnected so, I remember we connected to Lancaster and then Lancaster connected to Kent and Kent connected to Amsterdam and Amsterdam was the European gateway. They could then connect – and er, at a very early stage you actually have to work out your route so if you wanted to email somebody you’d say right so go from Nottingham to Lancaster to Kent to Amsterdam to Seismo to Rutgers to something other and you could eventually work out where to go and how it would get there So it was So much fun We had email in the department for a long time and then as psychology and other places got connected. We sent it around campus. I can’t think who I would’ve send the first one to probably somebody at University College London because we did a lot of work with them early on and eventually had some Connection which is how we got connected to the Internet I do remember desperately trying to get in contact with Brian Kernighan and Sending email after email along these different paths – via Amsterdam and Seismo to… It was called “Research” – Research Everybody’s Name was just their computer name So “Research” was the AT&T computer node, so and eventually I remember it was late on a Friday night I was watching the logs and suddenly saw an email come in. It was from Brian Rushed down to Dave Brailsford, and said look, look, we’ve got a connection here’s the route that you need to use and he scribbled it down and From then on we had contact there very soon after that. We started sort of collaborating. So I was working with somebody in the California and we were working on software that got switched around so I’d be working on it during UK time and then he’d be working on at Californian time and then he’d send me changes and Yeah, that was mostly done over email we didn’t need Very much Because in the UK we were still we weren’t using tcp/ip. We were Told we had to use x.25 at the time But we cheated and we ran some tcp over x.25 and we ran strange protocols that allowed us to Connect to the Internet and we did actually even managed to have a sort of talk System where you could type a message and it would appear in California and vice versa That was a great day when that first happened I guess that was about nineteen eighty six or seven when that we managed to cobble together enough protocol to get that all to work SEAN>And you mention email the instant thing you think of these days? It’s probably webmail or a client email with attachments just being dealt with for you. Can you talk me though that? You couldn’t do attachments at all though, you could sometimes because it was all just text so sometimes you could wrap them up in interesting ways and There was particularly one self-extracting It was called a shar archive self-extracting it was actually a small shell script program for UNIX and so Your message arrived and you just ran the contents of the message as a program and it extracted itself and you could send files that way but That was fairly late on because we had very little bandwidth at the time. So it was more very quick short emails and This is a place to pick up a file from we would try and get the file somewhere near nearer to the person So that they could pick it up with a reasonable speed. So this is a message I’ve saved from 1987 and this is the path you can see here So it starts off over here. This is the person and then this is all the places It’s been through, Seismo was a popular place in I think it’s in Virginia or somewhere like that But it had great connectivity to lots of other places and then down here We have MC VAX, which is the European node And then it trickles across the UK to get to us from here So, you know That was kind of one of the early messages and you had to remember these paths and write them down so that you you could Get back to them and this is kind of the route it took it jumped around in Europe a little and then left over across the Atlantic and then rattled around there until it ended up where it went to and this is just a, This is the Sat net that was So this bit here is all of the US and there’s a connection here coming over the satellite to Goonhilly Down in Cornwall and a landline up to UCL I remember when they finally got to upgrading that they went to a transatlantic cable or something TAT 8 or TAT 6 Transatlantic telephone cable 6 when that was laid down. Suddenly. We had more bandwidth than we ever knew what to do with Until about two months later when we fully utilized it all That’s the way it goes That was what a lot of the internet was for and that’s still what the Internet’s for actually, serving very little purpose but you know back then they took it to a to a different leveland we’d have to go to this really dark room and The computers were green littleI had an Amiga computer, right? This is like an Amiga 500

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