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they simply forgot about it
March 14, 2011 11:28 AM   Subscribe

How a handful of geeks on Usenet defied the USSR.

From the French Digital Journalism site OWNI, who are presenting some of their content in English in honor of being down in Texas for SXSW.
posted by Potomac Avenue (39 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
If you click on the various links in the article, you'll find more material. For instance, this is an archive of information on the coup, including more USENET postings, a few small images of scenes in Moscow during the attempted coup, and in-depth analysis articles from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Very keen stuff!
posted by filthy light thief at 11:43 AM on March 14, 2011


they simply forgot about it

classic
posted by caddis at 11:43 AM on March 14, 2011


shhhh! comrade... there are no cables.
posted by clavdivs at 11:53 AM on March 14, 2011


You mean to say they brought down the Berlin Wall strictly for the lulz?
posted by jonp72 at 12:06 PM on March 14, 2011


I knew it! The Russians invented Twitter too!
posted by sfts2 at 12:07 PM on March 14, 2011


…Usenet, which is the grandfather of chat-rooms and is capable or surviving without the Internet.

Can someone explain the highlighted part to me and how I might access usenet in North America without internet access?
posted by furtive at 12:16 PM on March 14, 2011


capable of surviving without the Internet

The internet depends on high-speed always-on networking links to operate.

Usenet can be (and has been) run over intermittently connected dial-up lines.

To gain Usenet access in North America without internet access, you need a location with a working phone line,a modem, and a computer that is running UUCP or equivalent.
posted by zippy at 12:24 PM on March 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


hate to derail or nit-pick, zippy, but one of the basic design principles of TCP/IP is that the network will be inherently unreliable.
posted by mbatch at 12:46 PM on March 14, 2011


Thanks for posting this. The archives are really interesting!
posted by goneill at 12:49 PM on March 14, 2011


Can someone explain the highlighted part to me and how I might access usenet in North America without internet access?


Wikipedia: "Usenet was originally designed based on the UUCP network, with most article transfers taking place over direct point-to-point telephone links between news servers, which were powerful time-sharing systems. Readers and posters logged into these computers reading the articles directly from the local disk."

Now, you might argue that NNTP is fundamentally part of the Internet, so in that sense it's ridiculous to say that usenet can be used without the internet.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:54 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


furtive: Can someone explain the highlighted part to me and how I might access usenet in North America without internet access?

From the article:
In August 1990, Relcom partnered with EUnet, the ancestor of the Internet Service Providers. This small soviet project, rendered viable by Glasnost, was then accessible to the rest of the world. It connected to an office in Helsinkis, which exchanged information once per hour.
Emphasis mine.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:58 PM on March 14, 2011


Actually it wasn't just Usenet that covered the coup. IRC did too. I remember being glued to my monitor as people came on to announce they were in Moscow; one guy made periodic forays out to where Yeltsin was standing on his tank & then came back to report to us. But there's probably no logs of it as IRC tends to be more ephemeral, without a default persistent logging state.
posted by scalefree at 1:35 PM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Now, you might argue that NNTP is fundamentally part of the Internet, so in that sense it's ridiculous to say that usenet can be used without the internet.

NNTP is not necessary for UUCP-based Usenet, only if you require TCP/IP client & server access.
posted by scalefree at 1:50 PM on March 14, 2011


furtive: "Can someone explain the highlighted part to me and how I might access usenet in North America without internet access?"

And that right there is the tecnology generation gap.

GET OFF MY BBS.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:54 PM on March 14, 2011 [12 favorites]


where Yeltsin was standing on his tank

I think that moment started my love of politics. One day, I sez, one day I'ma gonna tank surf to the nation's capital.
posted by LD Feral at 1:59 PM on March 14, 2011


Similarly, we were on a campus with some extraordinarily restrictive access policies with regards to the rest of the Internet, strange for the United States. Administration would close one telnet gateway, we would find another. Eventually, we wardialed the campus and found a forgotten phone number in the math department. (The computer science department was still budding off of math). Enter username or REMOTE for remote host access*. And we were out.

That's how I was able to talk to my friend in Romania, via IRC, who told us how her revolution was going. She also had some access via an overlooked channel of communication. She had some hair-raising stories, including an ill-advised, youthful subway ride, stopping at quite the wrong place.

In the midst of a revolution, there's a lot of holes to plug.

* Terrible movie, but that moment in The Lawnmower Man where Job is frantically searching for open ports trying to get out of the system in which he is trapped and that feral roar as he locates an exit, I could relate.
posted by adipocere at 2:05 PM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I was unaware of this and it really warms my cockles. I love the internet. I kind of hate the web.
posted by polyhedron at 2:05 PM on March 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


this is pretty cool trivia
posted by HGH at 3:36 PM on March 14, 2011


"which were powerful time-sharing systems."
...
"NNTP"


Oh man... I know why you made that mistake, but man does that make me feel old.
posted by anti social order at 3:36 PM on March 14, 2011


Furtive - look up Fidonet on Wikipedia. Large parts of the world were communicating online via what amounted to dial-up relays.

(I'd provide the link myself but ironically it's too inconvenient right now from this phone.)
posted by ardgedee at 3:38 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'll see your FidoNet and raise you Relay & XYZZY on BITNET. No...IRC was not an original idea.
posted by kjs3 at 5:39 PM on March 14, 2011


zippy writes "Usenet can be (and has been) run over intermittently connected dial-up lines.

"To gain Usenet access in North America without internet access, you need a location with a working phone line,a modem, and a computer that is running UUCP or equivalent."


qxntpqbbbqxl writes "Now, you might argue that NNTP is fundamentally part of the Internet, so in that sense it's ridiculous to say that usenet can be used without the internet."

Not only do you not need the internet you don't even need a phone line. Many sites in the heyday of Usenet were served by physically moving tapes. Admittedly most of those sites were one way (IE: the NSA might get a feed via tape but no one was able to post from that site) however I spent time at a remote location where the Usenet feed came in twice a week on tape by boat and outgoing messages were sent back on (actually floppy) floppy.
posted by Mitheral at 6:26 PM on March 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


I sometimes think of disaster scenarios when knowing how to run Usenet off-net or set up ircd will come in useful again. The idea of fundamental communications tools being decentralised makes me much more comfortable than having to hope Twitter stays up, for instance.

Then I recently read a report of what happened when Egypt severed its international internet connections, leaving the internal infrastructure mostly intact. The head of an ISP there also thought of irc, then realised he didn't have any clients or servers handy -- he'd just always assumed he'd be able to download them.
posted by bonaldi at 7:21 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


bonaldi, thanks for the wakeup call. I have been procrastinating on setting up my own independent internet server-verse.
posted by polyhedron at 7:29 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cool story. Thanks for posting this, Potomac Avenue.
posted by homunculus at 7:45 PM on March 14, 2011


My brother was studying at QUT in Brisbane when this was going on. He came home for the holidays with printouts of IRC sessions he'd had with another university student in Moscow who had been giving him updates on the coup. I was about 11 at the time and thought that this was amazing. Blew my mind.
posted by joz at 9:57 PM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


@bonaldi: fundamentally, UUCP and other early mail and file transfer protocols are store-and-forward protocols that allow a "update whenever you can connect" mechanism, down to and including "here's a tape from across the country". IP based protocols don't allow that.

All the mechanism exist. What needs to happen before the canonical "disaster" is that there is an agreement on what will be used. IP was designed to reliably route around network failures (not so much "unreliable links"). But if communications consists of "whenever I can establish a shortwave DX" or "whenever I can get a phone call through", IP flat don't work.
posted by kjs3 at 11:39 PM on March 14, 2011


One implication of those protocols is that Usenet, unlike most of what people are now used to on the internet, is asynchronous. People receive messages in different orders. So you might see the reply to a message hours or days before you saw the original message.

Imagine if Metafilter worked like that. It would make even less sense than it does now.
posted by Justinian at 3:08 AM on March 15, 2011


I was once jsb@panix.UUCP, connected by dialup to cmcl2 at NYU. I wonder if I'll have to become him again sometime soon.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:33 AM on March 15, 2011


I was once jsb@panix.UUCP

Dude! I was pashdown@slack.UUCP with my Amiga 1000, two floppy drives, and UUPC.

Yep, I remember the tanks in Moscow Usenet message and hearing about the Olympic results before they were broadcast on TV (Tonya Harding crying at the judges booth). Thems were the days, thems were the days.
posted by pashdown at 6:04 AM on March 15, 2011


All the mechanism exist. What needs to happen before the canonical "disaster" is that there is an agreement on what will be used.

Yes, this is my point. We have all the tech we need thanks to the dark days of unreliable or sneakernet connections. But if nobody is prepared (and all the people you want to communicate with have to be prepared too) then when the time comes it won't mean anything because nobody will be able to download the servers and clients they need.
posted by bonaldi at 6:06 AM on March 15, 2011


First rule of Usenet, dont talk about Usenet!
posted by gallagho at 6:08 AM on March 15, 2011


In the absence of a telephone line, Usenet can be run over HAM radio.

I don't know precisely how this works.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:18 AM on March 15, 2011


Yeah, AFAIK they use Packet
posted by gallagho at 7:12 AM on March 15, 2011


First rule of Usenet, dont talk about Usenet!

Actually I believe the first rule of usenet is "Asking in a wrong group is not guaranteed to result in flames only; you will also get wrong answers." This comment posted in accordance with Aahz's law.
posted by Justinian at 10:58 AM on March 15, 2011


Crossposts this to soc.culture.china, rec.arts.startrek, adds misc.test ...
posted by zippy at 10:50 PM on March 15, 2011


and alt.dev.null, for my dead homies.
posted by Justinian at 12:34 AM on March 16, 2011


So a MetaFilter BBS? Who's got a bunch of spare phone lines?
posted by furtive at 7:08 AM on March 16, 2011


I was once "...!gatech!weasel!ken". I remember the ucbvax, the before the UUNet times and the cf-files the other things that are long forgotten.

@bonaldi: Yes, this is my point.

So what do we need to do to come to that agreement?
posted by kjs3 at 8:49 PM on March 20, 2011


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