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A Blast from the Past

Date:  30th September, 2004


I was rooting through my "bits" cupboard for a SATA cable when I came across a piece of hardware I'd long forgotten about: A US Robotics Courier 28.8K modem.

US Robotics Courier Modem

This was my first modem, not the first I'd used, but the first I owned. This was the modem that my Commodore Amiga A1200 and I went online with when I convinced my wife (I was married back then) that I "needed" to use the Internet from home.

Just holding that modem brought back a rush of memories...

“surprisingly, the 28.8K modem was perfectly adequate for the web”

I remember days of frustration as I struggled to get a TCP/IP stack up and running on the Amiga. This was back in the early days of AmiTCP, when you had to understand the mechanics of TCP/IP and be prepared to get your hands dirty in order to bring the stack up. AmiTCP later became a much more sophisticated and elegant application and, as it became more simplified, Amigans connected to the embryonic Internet in increasing numbers.

I also remember that web-browsing was just about pointless with the software available at that time. Back then, the Internet was used (in the Amiga community at least) for email, FTP and IRC almost exclusively - although a few brave souls also played around with WAIS and Gopher.

It wasn't long before the web became accessible though, iBrowse appeared and suddenly a whole new world opened up. Even so, the aforementioned services remained the primary reason for my Internet connection.

Then I discovered MUDs and wasted countless hours (even days) exploring mythical worlds, joining crusades and fighting wars in an entirely text-based environment.

However, the Web became more and more pervasive, slowly at first, but with exponentially increasing momentum. It was impossible to ignore. In time, I found I was using the old text-based services less and less - the Web began to dominate my online time.

Surprisingly, the 28.8K modem was perfectly adequate for the web back then. Web pages were mostly textual and bandwidth-consuming entities like Flash and banner ads didn't exist. Of course, we didn't know then how lucky we were!

My connectivity didn't come cheap. The incumbent telco, British Telecom, charged by the minute and our telephone bills grew bigger every month. BT eventually offered a weeked package where each minute of connectivity was charged at just one penny - this made a huge difference to my Internet usage (and my cost of living).

Around this time (1996 if I remember correctly), I created my first ever website - an Amiga fanzine called, for some reason, "The Lair!". Unfortunately I have no archives to share with you, but The Lair! enjoyed considerable success - mostly because the mainstream press began to abandon the dying Amiga in favour of the increasingly popular PC, so online sources of information enjoyed growing audiences. At its peak, The Lair! had just under 22,000 subscribers on its mailing list!

Throughout all this, my USR Courier remained a solid and reliable accomplice. Mesmerising front-panel LEDs blinked continously as I explored the brave new world. Of course, I eventually outgrew it - making the massive leap from 28.8K to 56K without any of the interim upgrades.

In 1997, I turned "pro", incorporating Digital-Word Ltd. to focus on developing Internet applications and the rest, as they say, is history - and it all started with that humble little modem!