gregbo (gregbo) wrote,

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ba.ambition, 1988 style

I've been meaning to comment on siderea's comments on Paul Graham's Cities and Ambition. While the SFBA of the 1980s was not the economic juggernaut it is now, there were still quite a few people around who aspired to create successful companies. Some even did, such as Len Bosack and Sandy Lerner of Cisco (I should write "cisco").

It just so happens that this is (roughly) the 20th anniversary of the 1988 Usenix that was held in SF. While it may not have seemed to be much of a big deal, this was the first Usenix that was "online" – connectivity from/to the Internet (such as it was) was provided by Cisco and SRI, actually. I took pictures at this Usenix; unfortunately, they're not digitized, or else I'd put them up. (I have a picture of andybeals and another of r_wolfcastle. I thought I had one of liralen but I do remember seeing her at the Exploratorium which was part of the con entertainment.)

I did want to point out some of the ambitious folks I knew back then, however. Dave Taylor wanted very much, back then, to have his own business; he has accomplished that and more. Another guy I mentioned before, Dan Heller aka argv (author of mush), wanted to develop user-friendly email client software. He eventually started his own business as well. Another couple I knew ran a large computer (by 1980s standards) in their home. They made it seem like a big adventure – weekend work was mixed in with occasional trips to Great America. At the time, (this was actually 1985), I was still pretty new to the growing world of computing, and not even living in the SFBA yet (I was out on an interview when I met the couple in person, although I'd known them via email for some time), and was excited by the possibilities.

But the person that stands out most in my mind is John Gilmore aka gnu, who was employee #5 at Sun. Back then, that was a big deal – Sun was up there with Apple and some of the other up-and-coming valley tech companies. I have to admit, I didn't know him very well – we'd exchanged email and usenet articles. So I was a little shy about going to the Toad Hall party, even though other people I knew were going, such as Dave Taylor, who encouraged me to go. I wound up having a good time at the party, having a chance to talk to gnu and admire his home LAN setup. This might not seem such a big deal now, but this was 1988, when you couldn't just run down to your local mall and buy a wireless router and/or Cat5 cable. Of all the people I knew back then, he had the most elaborate home networking setup. I remember thinking back then how cool it would be to have a home LAN. (Funny, sitting here typing, twenty years hence, with an array of LAN technology at my disposal.) BTW, according to some email I read, I met agedwiz in person at that party, although I'd known him for a few years earlier from his usenet posts.

I would be remiss if I did not mention some other ambitious folks pursuing their dreams, some outside of the computer industry. figmo was very passionate about broadcasting even back then – I remember going to one of her KFJC remotes. slfisher wrote articles for BYTE about the emerging online world. Then there was Tim Pozar, who was an engineer at KKSF when I first met him. He went on to help develop FidoNet and is now an über-geek. (I actually didn't know him very well. I met him through Dave Taylor. TP came to kabuki-west one night, I think. DT had just recently met him through The Well, which he was starting to prefer over usenet because it was more of a community with less flaming, etc.)

So, there were a lot of ambitious geeks running around the SFBA way back in the 1980s. The Internet was just starting to take off, but there wasn't much of a tech press to cover what the geeks were doing. You had to have net access of some sort to follow what the geeks were up to – fortunately, some sites like The Well had sprung up to offer accounts to people not fortunate enough to work somewhere with net access or have it in their homes.
Tags: internet history

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