Thursday, October 1, 2009


I did not begin to use computers till the early 1990's. My first experiences where at UALR [wikipedia], using a VAX unix system and text only internet. In 1995-6, the World Wide Web exploded into wide use, and I was in a place with 24/7 access to a computer lab. My life, and the world, were changed forever.

From 1996 on, I began using a Unix command prompt for access to email, web pages, and a shell prompt [wikipedia]. I felt immediately at home on the command line. And let me add a qualifier: on an inter-networked command prompt. In the early 90's I had used DOS, and the concepts and ease of use did not flow so well. Once I got on Unix, and the shell prompt had an ubiquitous internet connected to it, then the operating system made sense. On the other hand, DOS, especially if one cannot get to the internet from the command prompt, was too useless to make sense.

I've attributed my ease of "grokking" Unix and the Internet to a very odd and rare experience as a child. In 1972 I was in fourth grade, enrolled at Wakefield Elementary School in Little Rock Arkansas [map]. I was very much into reading, I spent many summer days riding the bus downtown and hanging out at the main library. Our little elementary school library was a favorite place also. One day I noticed a book in the math section: Networked Computers. I had just seen 2001: A Space Odyssey [wikipedia] in the theater, and knew computers could control a whole spaceship, talk with humans, plot to kill, et cetera, so I checked this cool looking book out to find out how they did that. The book turned out to be WAY over my head. It was not a simple howto book for children nor even an average college student. It was an honest to goodness technical science book on the inter-networking of computers.

What was bizarre about this book's existence is the date and location. By date I mean the internet was not invented till 1967, beginning as a DARPA project at five colleges in the western USA. By 1972 networking was certainly still only for government and business. So, what was a technical book on one of the most advanced technologies in the world doing at a children's library in the working class side of an Arkansas town?

I finally made a pretty good guess a few days ago, 36 years later, on that question. My answer (which is still just a guess) is the book was donated by someone who worked at the Teletype plant, which was about one mile away. I believe some eccentric engineer wanted to blow a young person's mind by the Gestalt method of teaching -basically by overwhelming the person with an intense exposure of a concept.

...and it worked, to this day I can remember one diagram in the book of computer terminals, a line depicting networking cable connection, and their numerical addresses printed underneath. Text on the page explained the routing. Below is my own re-creation of the graphic from memory:

The Teletype plant was not solely about technology to me, I played on the construction site on the weekends when no work was being done, and us kids called the woods between the plant and 65th Street the Teletype Woods.

Website for the Little Rock Teletype Plant.

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