(2003 to 2005)

My First Modem. By John Elliot.

Thu Sep 16 21:15:00 UTC+1000 2004


Telleth a tale of a wee Scottish adventure.

My first 'real' computer was a Hewlett-Packard 486. I'd had bits and pieces, and used other computers, and been into electronics for a long time, so I wasn't really a stranger to computers when the family finally purchased it.

I remember 'politicking' (i.e. complaining, begging, throwing tantrums, etc.) my Dad for him to buy it for a long time.

One day we were at Kmart in Katoomba, and there was a packaged computer for sale there. It was a clearance sale type of thing, and the only one left in the entire shop was the demo model on the floor. I put Dad on the spot, and we got it.

When we got it home, I ran downstairs and set it up, only to find that when the guy at the shop had repackaged the demo model (i.e. the one that was on display in the store) he'd failed to put the power cords in the box. If you can believe it, we didn't have a single power cord in the entire house that would fit. I looked at every single appliance I could find, but we didn't have a kettle or anything for me to get power for this thing.

Waiting for those power cables to arrive was possibly the longest couple of days in my life.

At any rate, eventually they did. So, I figured out Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, World Book Encyclopedia, QBasic, how DOS and Win3.1 worked, what autoexec.bat and config.sys were, and so on. I got DOOM running. Life was good. For a while.

Eventually I *needed* a modem. A few of my mates had modems. I asked Mum and Dad, but they wouldn't have a bar of it. “What about the phone line, John?” they would say. “How much will it cost?” they would say. And then, “No” they would say.

For months, I begged. I pleaded. I tried being good. I tried being bad. Nothing got me anywhere.

Eventually it was time for me to take matters into my own hands.

I had a job delivering junk mail (i.e. I was a low-tech spammer. Ironically, perhaps ;) and having walked countless miles delivering the bloody things for months, I had finally saved up enough money to buy a modem. I'd asked permission, but I'd been told “No, no, no.” Clearly, I had only one option.

One day, Mum took me and my brothers and sister to Penrith Plaza to get new school shoes. I never went to the shops without my parents, so this was the only opportunity I had. I had taken with me $400, *all my money in the whole world*. As we got out of the car and walked toward the shoe shop, I lagged behind my family the tiniest bit. We walked past Tandy Electronics, and I bolted in to the store. I only had a few seconds, my Mum could turn around at any moment to see if I was still there.

I ran to the back of the shop, and saw where they were selling modems. There was a couple there. I had *no idea* what I needed. But I didn't have time to ask for help either. I looked for the most expensive one that was still within my budget of $400, figuring that was going to be the best I'd be able to do. It turned out that was a 14.4kbps external modem for $399.99. I grabbed it, put it on the counter, gave the guy my money, stuffed the big box into my backpack and ran out of the store to catch up with my Mum.

I got away with it. I had redefined shopping efficiency, and done men across the world proud as I set a new benchmark, to be feared and aspired to by all. In and out in 30 seconds.

I spent the rest of the day waiting to get home. Something about shoe fittings, something about food. Who cares. I had a *modem*!

When I got home, I rushed to set it all up. I couldn't tell Mum and Dad what it was, but that didn't matter. They were technophobes, they wouldn't know what a little black box next to the computer was. I kind of hid it under some paper. I made myself a telephone extension cable (being a long time electronics buff, making a cable was a snap). I had to wait until no-one was home, or my parents were in another room, and then I could operate my modem.

I remember the first time I got it to dial out, I hadn't been able to figure out how to turn the volume down, and as it connected it made the loudest 'modem noise'. I thought the jig was up when that happened. But no-one heard -- I got away with it. Emerald BBS answered.

After a while, I couldn't handle waiting until my parents were out to use it. I used to wait until they were in bed, then sneak out and install the cable, and dial out. THB, Phrack, LoRD, MODs, Bree, Pr0n, all these people with bad hacker aliases that I could talk to, you name it. Having a computer without a modem was like not having a computer at all.

The computer was in the family room, right outside my parents' bedroom. I knew if 'they' came out I could be in big trouble. But that didn't stop me. A few times, they did actually come out, and they'd rouse on me for being up late, and yell at me to get off the computer and go to bed. I always said “OK. OK. Just a minute.“ Usually they would leave, and then a minute would turn into hours. Luckily though, they never noticed the cable.

Eventually, I just took the computer to my room. I was the oldest child, which basically meant that I had the political clout to do this. There was griping, but I got away with it. Possession is nine tenths of the law. Unlucky Tim. Sorry. ;)

For a while, I used to install the cable at night time and run it through the house to my room. After a while, I just left the cable there and told my parents that it was so I could have a 'phone' in my bedroom. Again, it wasn't terribly unusual for me to be wiring the house up with weird contraptions, I'd been doing stuff like that with electronics since I was 10.

Then the day came. “The conversation.” Every child who had a modem in that period has been through this. It starts with that dangerous calmness that means you are in seriously big trouble: “John, we need to talk about this phone bill..”

Oh, was there some fighting.

And that, my children, is the tale of my first modem.

The End.

p.s. It all worked out in the end though right? I mean, just look at me today! ;)

Copyright © 2003-2005 John Elliot