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   Undertoad  Tuesday Apr 12 02:15 PM

4/12/2005: A piece of Philadelphia ISP history



The time frame is 1994-95 - ancient history, when it comes to the Internet.

The Cellar was (roughly) the first system in Philadelphia to offer access to email and Usenet newsgroups, but Netaxs became the first system to offer actual IP services, first via the SLIP protocol, then via PPP.

The sudden first wave of demand for these things meant that Netaxs grew quickly from a hobby into a business. And therein lies the problem; somehow this growing beast wound up in the basement of Mark Thomas's rented twin in Wyndmoor. That's Mr. Thomas and his basement in the picture.

As long as phone company Bell was willing to run wires and equipment into that basement, Netaxs could expand and expand. In those days, running an ISP meant connecting voice lines ("plain old telephone service") into banks of modems. The consumer modems were the cheapest, so sometimes a growing internet provider would answer demand by getting Bell to run a bunch more phone lines, and then running to the nearest CompUSA and buying a cartfull of US Robotics modems off the shelves. It seemed reasonable, for a while, to construct wooden shelving for everything. And what's a few more cables here and there?

Around about this time, I visited the Netaxs basement - the Cellar needed a new card that Mr. Thomas graciously sold to me, and he offered to show me the place. Along with the water heater, about 5 feet away from all this was a washer-dryer and utility sink. I became very, very frightened indeed for the 2000 or so subscribers that they had built up by that time. But Mark and Netaxs owner Avi Freedman were good guys, and were shortly to improve the situation, so I never spread the story of how Netaxs was one broken water pipe away from cutting off over half of residential Internet access in Philadelphia.

It took several years for the equipment manufacturers and the phone companies to innovate standards and better ways to accomplish all this.

Today, every company involved in communications in any way is struggling to provide the same thing that this basement started providing back then.



wolf  Tuesday Apr 12 02:21 PM

Wow, awesome picture. These kids today, they won't believe this, though, and they won't belive that we walked uphill both ways in the snow to get to a store where you could buy software, either.

I was one of those early netaxs subscribers ... and only dropped my account after they sold out to fast.net and I could no longer access my email.



capnhowdy  Tuesday Apr 12 05:25 PM

Looks like someone shopped a pic of my desk- from behind.
Great image!



AstroJetson  Tuesday Apr 12 08:02 PM

Blast from the past

I was also a subscriber. I was getting a newsgroup feed from them that I put in to a Waffel BBS system that I ran out of my house for a few of my friends.

Ahh the good old days...



The Mad Hatter  Tuesday Apr 12 08:06 PM

I, too, used to get my 56k dialup connection from Netaxs. I remember when they still had the blinking text, "The cat is NOT dead," on their web site at the bottom. But when they were bought out by FastNet, the service plummeted quickly and we left. Now I'm happy with my 3Mbps/768kbps DSL.



xoxoxoBruce  Tuesday Apr 12 09:00 PM

I love to listen to you codgers talk about the questionably good old days.
When you did get hooked up what were the topics? Technical stuff? Politics? President Truman?



SteveDallas  Tuesday Apr 12 09:21 PM

I was never a Netaxs customer (I had my own internet service from work), but I was keeping an eye on them closely, primarily via the occasional second- or third-hand comment from UT and others on The Cellar who had dealings with them. My first internet experience was in 1986, and the concept that any person (who wasn't affiliated with a university, like me, or high-tech company) could just buy intenet service, and that it was being done not by the usual suspects like Compuserve or Delphi, but by (literally!) a couple guys in a basement, was radical in a way that's hard to remember today.



wolf  Wednesday Apr 13 01:43 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by AstroJetson
I was also a subscriber. I was getting a newsgroup feed from them that I put in to a Waffel BBS system that I ran out of my house for a few of my friends.

Ahh the good old days...
Astro!! Great to see you buddy!!!


glatt  Wednesday Apr 13 09:12 AM

Since I'm not from the Philly area, I never had anything to do with these guys.

I was first on-line in about 1980 or 1981. My dad was/is a prof in a small college in New England, and the mainframe there was connected to the mainframe at Dartmouth Univeristy. We had a Heathkit terminal at home that my dad built from a kit, and we/I would phone in to the local college computer with a 300 baud modem with the rubber cups that grip the handset of the phone. Talk about slow. You could see the words slowly fill the screen one character at a time at about the same speed that you could follow them with your eye and read them. We had a separate phone line for the computer so we could get calls when someone was online. Once connected to the local college, we could connect to Dartmouth and join the chat room they had. We weren't connected to the rest of the world, just Dartmouth, but you could always chat with someone there. I was a junior high kid who would talk to the college students at Dartmouth and try to act like I was a college student too. I don't think I fooled anyone.

They also had the Adventure word-based computer game, so I would play that sometimes too.



wolf  Wednesday Apr 13 10:53 AM

I played Adventure and Star Trek on a paper terminal when I was in high school, so that would have been 1978 or 79. I considered it important training for college, which, in fact, it turned out to be.



glatt  Wednesday Apr 13 11:02 AM

Star Trek, I forgot about that one. At the time I thought it was good, but in hindsight...



wolf  Wednesday Apr 13 11:05 AM

Before the Hard Drive Crash of 03 .... I had a copy for windows. I probably still have it on a floppy here somewhere, but with my luck it's a 5-1/4 ...



York  Wednesday Apr 13 01:35 PM

Cool pics! To be honest, ive never seen it before! I only remember commodore64 and Atari, but they wer another type i guess



And  Wednesday Apr 13 02:54 PM

My first machine was a t-1000 (not the terminator. It was from Sinclair, I think.) with a membrane keyboard. Modem? What was that? We had enough trouble just trying to get the cassette tape to download a 50 line chunk of code.



OnyxCougar  Wednesday Apr 13 06:27 PM

The first computer I remember having was the Timex Sinclair 2000.



lumberjim  Wednesday Apr 13 06:46 PM

that dude has a LARGE noggin. makes him look like a little kid that hasn;t grown into it yet. probably really friggin smart, and loaded by now, too.

ps, that wooden shelving is 'sten' from ikea. high tech.



wolf  Thursday Apr 14 02:10 AM

It worries me that you know that.

We had the first Ikea in the country. Their stuff was geek chic.



blase  Thursday Apr 14 04:01 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by lumberjim
that dude has a LARGE noggin. makes him look like a little kid that hasn;t grown into it yet. probably really friggin smart, and loaded by now, too.

ps, that wooden shelving is 'sten' from ikea. high tech.
no, I have the same thing from Target


vsp  Thursday Apr 14 04:29 PM

I'm STILL a Netaxs -> Fast.net -> US LEC customer, though it's about to be migrated to a new server and I'm waiting to see how that'll work before I re-up again. I still find it handy to have a UNIX shell that I can use as a mail dump and hosting source for files and access from anywhere, and I have no idea what other ISPs (if any) would still offer such a beast.

Yes, I know about gmail et al. The unix shell lets me run scripts and perform procmail fu. (My netaxs account IS virtually overrun by spam despite that, but it has been out there for a decade.)



skateboard  Wednesday Apr 27 03:34 PM

So lets see the current pic

So, how about a current photo, so we can laugh again in ten years?



mrnoodle  Wednesday Apr 27 04:52 PM

I used to go with my dad to his electronics lab at the university and play on the green-screen terminal that was attached to whatever kind of network they had. all of them had the kind of modems that you had to put the phone handset into so it could hear all the squeals and buzzing. Which is something else I don't understand, but anyway.

I didn't know what any of it was for, but I liked making all the directories and stuff scroll by. I also remember thinking that we had entered a brave new world of technology when you could also get monitors in amber, and not just green.



Undertoad  Wednesday Apr 27 06:21 PM

The current photo would be pretty boring... just a bunch of equipment in a rack, and hardly any blinky lights, even. The idea is that most of this kind of equipment should be boring: you set it up in the back room and if you're lucky it runs for 5 years without any hardware worries.



lumberjim  Wednesday Apr 27 06:44 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Undertoad
The current photo would be pretty boring... just a bunch of equipment in a rack, and hardly any blinky lights, even. The idea is that most of this kind of equipment should be boring: you set it up in the back room and if you're lucky it runs for 5 years without any hardware worries.
don't believe the hype. it's just that the 'cellar' has his underwear hanging off the corner of it, and a half bag of fritos propped against it right now.


xoxoxoBruce  Wednesday Apr 27 10:26 PM

He got his hand covered with those sticky orange Frito's crumbs...and took off his underwear? STOP...I don't want to hear anymore....fingers in ears.....La La La La La La.



wolf  Thursday Apr 28 02:04 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by mrnoodle
I also remember thinking that we had entered a brave new world of technology when you could also get monitors in amber, and not just green.
We used to fight over the black and white CRTs. There were two at West Chester State College.

The green monitor was the really fancy one. It was connected to a 1200 baud modem!! It was actually a vector graphic display device, and only those schooled in it's arcane ways knew where the sweet spot was that you had to punch when the text started getting wobbly on the display.

One day, one of the computer center staff got a new terminal. It was amazing. Not only did it have a green text display, it was hard-wired into the mainframe so there was no wait-time for a modem to connect. And, to top it all off, it had a (ooooh) floating keyboard. You could sit with the keyboard on your lap with your feet up on his desk and type in a semi-reclined position (If you broke into his office at night, that is).

Hah! We would so laugh at those who were forced to connect with the 300 baud modems on the dot matrix Decwriters!


tw  Tuesday May 3 12:28 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Undertoad
The current photo would be pretty boring... just a bunch of equipment in a rack, and hardly any blinky lights, even. The idea is that most of this kind of equipment should be boring: you set it up in the back room and if you're lucky it runs for 5 years without any hardware worries.
Appreciate how much maintainence was necessary for all those computer control panels with lights. Those lights would burn out in as quick as every three months. Constantly replacing light bulbs. Remember that computer on the TV show "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea"? What a maintenance nightmare - all those little bulbs that had to be constantly replaced - if it was a real computer.

All those bulbs first replaced with LEDs at about $10 per bulb. Then we moved all that information to a screen. It no longer looks impressive. But the screen that replaced those big impressive panels report so much more useful information.

Incidentally, one problem in Three Mile Island was how events were reported. The DEC spooler was something like three hours behind in reporting events on the printer. Computers back then were not expected to have to report so much so fast.


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