Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Sometimes the past is past. (or, How to put your behind in the past)

Sometimes, no matter how great the past was, it is the past and it's gone forever.

Back in the day (WAY back in the day) my high school had what would now laughably be called a computer lab. We had about 25 Atari 8-bit computers (a mix of 400 and 800 models) that we used to learn how to type, budget, write, program, and (though they didn't know it) play games. This isn't about those computers. I still have a working Atari 400 and a working Atari 800 (and countless other older computers) This is about the other thing in the lab. 

I am trying to remember if it would properly be called a Teletype, a Teleprinter, or a Terminal. I seem to recall it being a DECWriter terminal though. It was a huge beige 80-column printer with a keyboard attached and an acoustic coupler modem that we would use to call into the local community college's mainframe and connect to it to write programs or to play games like The Oregon Trail (from what I can remember, the 1975 edition) and Hunt the Wumpus. 

Now, don't get me wrong, this was a HORRIBLE way to program or play games since every line was printed on paper or you couldn't see it. There was no screen at all for it. A single game of The Oregon Trail would use hundreds of sheets of that wonderful green bar pin-fed paper I miss so much. This was the early '80s though and such was the way of things. 

My point though, was not to get all maudlin about paper and type terminals. However, when I am done here, I am going to scour eBay for a box of green bar paper. No, my point was to talk about a great service that is no longer around that gave you a taste of what this was like, for a little while at least.

There was a virtual HP PDP11 server online that you could telnet into at Once you had connected to this server it was like being back in the '70s or '80s again and you were computing old school. It was just like being on that old DECWriter. Well, except for the small forest of trees that was the cost of using the DECWriter. 

You could run games and explore the OS just as if it were real, which I mean, I guess it was. Still, you know what I mean. I really enjoyed using this service while it was online, though, for the last few years, I have not used it as regularly as I had previously. I went to connect to it the other day and it was not available. I tried every day for a few days before deciding it had finally gone down for good. I do have hope it will come back, in 2018 it was down for a while and then came back online. But honestly, it is likely gone at this point.

Playing these old games and using these old systems the way they used to be is something special and I am going to miss it, even if I hadn't used it recently. 

The older I get, and the more complicated and intrusive that technology gets the more I long for the simpler times of long ago. It's not like I am a troglodyte, Luddite, or even a Philistine. I am a network engineer by profession and work with cutting-edge tech all the time. Still, there is a reason I keep analog watches and read physical books. I do not want to get completely cut off from the analog, from the simple. Yes, I have e-readers, too many of them really, and I use them. But sometimes, it's nice to light the oil lamp, grab that dog-eared copy of, for example, The Hobbit, and sit down and enjoy the experience of it. 

Using was like that, though obviously still digital, it harkened back to a different time when words were what games were made from and graphics were, at best, very crude. I will need to look for some other way to scratch this particular itch, perhaps I will try to build my own virtual PDP11 computer, I may even find a DECWriter, connect it to my in-house PBX, and connect to the VM that way (I have a few old modems lying around here someplace.)

Oh well. enough mourning the loss of a digital friend for today. If you have any suggestions for a replacement, please let me know in the comments, and enjoy the day. I am going to go and grab a book off the shelf and give my Kobo dirty looks. 

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