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WTF is dial-up grandpa?

Today is my birthday. And although birthdays can be great for the gifts and attention, they are also a reminder of years gone by. In my annual birthday chat with my mom, I was telling her how my work was going and we started reminiscing of the challenges I faced when I was doing internet work in my teens. I thought I’d share.

In 1997, we had one computer (a Pentium 90 with MMX!). I have two brothers and of course we had to share. I wasn’t very good at sharing. In fact, I hated it. But when we got the internet, the situation got a whole lot worse. With the internet, not only were we sharing a computer but a phone line as well! That’s right, dial-up. Times were tough.

I had learned how to hand-code HTML in school.[1] Eventually I learned about MP3s and created one of the first music download web sites. Running a music download site back then was a pain. Never mind the controversy over whether or not it was legal. Bandwidth was very expensive. No web hosts allowed music downloads for cheap. It just didn’t exist. If it did, they probably would have went out of business anyway. Instead, I would sign up for a web hosting account, upload all the music, use it for a few days, maybe a week, then they would cancel the account. I would move on to another host and do it all again.

This sounds pretty frustrating. But remember the time. I was uploading a 2-5 MB songs over a 33.6 Kbps modem, so about 15-20 minutes to upload each song. Then factor in the internet disconnecting because someone picked up the phone, my brother (who loved to talk on the phone for hours at a time) pestering to use the phone, or the upload failing for no apparent reason. It’s a wonder I didn’t give up.

Eventually I figured out that using a pool of free web hosting accounts (Geocities, Virtual Avenue, etc) with a couple of songs per account was the way to go. Not only did it take quite a while for them to identify and shut down an account, but when they did, I only needed to upload a couple of songs.

After a couple of letters from the CRIA to my physical address, I decided to hand the site off to someone else and pursue building more legitimate web sites. Ironically, I started a web hosting company a few years later and had to deal with the trouble caused by punks like my younger self. To make amends to the music industry, I have consistently gone to live shows and recently started to buy music direct from the artist’s web site and through Zunior.com.

The End.

Have any stupid geek stories from your youth you’d like to share?

1 Our teacher actually organized a series of field trips to a nearby C@P site. Maybe because we didn’t have decent computers at our school, maybe because there wasn’t anyone at our school capable of teaching HTML (probably both). In any case, I thank Industry Canada for starting the Community Access Program and my teacher Calvin Peters (who I have thanked in person) for going above and beyond the responsibilities of a grade 10 teacher. If it wasn’t for C@P and the field trip, it’s possible I wouldn’t have a career I love today.

  • Gavin Uhma

    Totally forgot that I had to get off the internet when someone wanted the phone haha