I Made History And I Wasn’t All That Nervous

One of our neighbors, an approximately 10 year old one, had an assignment to interview someone and write a report that included, among other things, material from the interview. It was for a Weekly Reader essay contest. Yes, there still is a Weekly Reader. His was looking for someone who had made his mark on history against great odds through heroic deeds of selfless courage. So, naturally, he (and his mother) decided to interview me.
But first, he needed to make sure that I was the best fit for his project. Before the formal interview he dropped by to ask if I’d ever been involved in anything that changed history. I said that I had indeed. His excitement grew.
“What was it?” he asked.
“Dialup modems,” I replied.
His enthusiasm seemed to wane. “What are modems?”
“Things that let computers and fax machines talk to each other,” I answered.
“Before broadband technologies, modems were the way people got on the internet,” I continued.
“Oh, what are broadband technologies?”
“Any one of several ways you likely get on the internet now,” I answered.
Mercifully, his mother offered help, “Why were modems important?”
I happily answered, “As their size and cost declined and their speed increased, more and more people could access the internet and download what they were looking for. This enabled the internet to grow to what it is today”
“That is really great,” his mother said. “What was your role?”
“I was the Director of Marketing for the largest modem chip manufacturer in the world.”
With my credentials as a person of historic proportions now established, a date was set for the formal interview.
My neighbor arrived at the appointed time with tape recorder in hand. We went through his prepared questions. “Why were modems important?” “How long did it take for them to catch on?” “What was your role in the history of modems?”
I was doing well until he asked, “Were you nervous?”
My mind raced. Should I tell him about the times I was worried I’d be late for a meeting? The morning traffic was often horrible. Should I tell him that I occasional worried that my fly was open? Should I tell him about the times I thought the plane I was riding in might fall apart? Should I tell him of my worry that one of my traveling companions might be killed crossing a street in Tokyo. Even after multiple trips to Japan and many near misses, this guy persistently looked the wrong way before launching himself into a busy street. Should I tell my neighbor that a couple of times I was worried that I might lose my job for negotiating agreements on terms that had not been preapproved? I didn’t lose my job. Finally, I told him that some of the business deals involved very large amounts of money and that that much money always makes people a little nervous. He seemed somewhat disappointed. I think he wanted to hear about my experiences with modem pirates. There were and are modem pirates. But they are even more boring to a 10 year old than the modems they pirate.
This morning he showed me a draft of his report. It is very good. I hope he wins the contest and that waiting to find out doesn’t make him nervous.

6 thoughts on “I Made History And I Wasn’t All That Nervous”

  1. Duane,
    That is very cool.
    I was a total computer geek in junior high (I tried to write my own word processing program in pro-dos on my Apple IIc) and I well remember saving up for the newest modem. First, it was upgrading my 300 bd to a 1200 bd. Then it was getting that oh so sweet 2400 bd. I would wait until midnight, when the long distance rates dropped, and call BBSs all over the country. I can’t remember why, but I do remember my buddy and me being almost obsessive about it.
    Now I know who cost me all that money and lack of sleep (which prepared me well for academia, I must admit).

  2. I hope you were able to imitate for him the distinctive sound of these “dialup” “modems” of which you speak.
    Here’s a related question I’ve been saving up: when news anchors and commercial spokespersons invite viewers to “log on” to some web site or other, is that language—”log on”—completely anachronistic at this point, or do we (in some fashion) still actually “log on” when we visit a web site? I don’t mean sites with user names and passwords. I mean like when I visit you, or any other regular blog or web site.

  3. Aydin,
    You’re welcome 🙂
    Yes, that and much worse.
    Glad to be of help. 🙂 2400 bd, those were the days.
    Really, anytime computers establish a communications link there is a sort of login process. With the TCP/IP protocol, computers exchange quite a bit of information about each other, including stuff like the IP, routing information, some system capability information and so on. The exact info varies by service. Email (SMTP), HTTP, FTP, etc, all have some unique elements. Of example, when servers exchange email via SMTP, by far the most common way, they say HELO (HELLO) to each other and call each other by name. Very polite these computers. HELO is both a request and part of the identification process. They also tell each other if the sender and recipient are OK and when and how to send the data. HTTP applications often exchange a shocking amount of system and navigation information. If the link is secure, encryption info is exchanged. In addition, at least the server and sometimes the client keep logs of these transactions. In that sense alone, there is a login. So I don’t think it is just an anachronism to say “login” even when you login to Abnormal Interests or I login to Anumma.
    I did let him hear the modem on my fax machine train. I’m not very good at multiphase multi-tonal sounds myself.

  4. Duane,
    Your association with the early development of the modem is very interesting. But think about it: for that young man, the use of the modem was ancient history.
    Claude Mariottini

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