Staff List: Dial-Up Memories

The Bureau Staff recalls the days of 56k modems, complete with imitations of the dial-up noise.

When I was in fifth grade, my dad made me my very first screen name on his AOL account. He picked TinyAlice for me for three reasons, and I’ve never felt the need to change it. I was literally tiny — very short and skinny. My mom’s name is also Alice, so we were constantly confused on the phone, in mail, in person and had to be called “Big Alice” and “Tiny Alice.” Also, my dad thought it would be cool to reference an Edward Albee play via screen name.

Back then, I had a definite routine with my hour of computer time:

  1. Check my email — usually from one of the other three girls who had AOL in 1999. “Hey Alice! It’s so kewl we can e-mail! We are kewler than everyone!!!!! LOL! –KeLlY!”
  2. Check if any of the three girls were online to chat.
  3. Type in AOL keyword “Nick” for Nickelodeon and see if anyone had posted anything interesting on The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo chat room.
  4. Make sure my AOL Hometown profile referenced inside jokes with hotties to make the other three girls jealous.
  5. Watch the hamster dance for the remainder of the hour.

My routine was the same until 7th grade, when I began the new ritual of having 40 AIM conversations at once. — Contributing Writer Alice Stanley

Alice’s Dial-Up Impression

I remember my first website, which I built in the fourth or fifth grade using Microsoft FrontPage. For reasons I can’t remember, it was called Isle Net, and it was supposed to be the fake homepage of a tropical nation who had declared war on its neighboring rivals, Island Net. The background was bright yellow, all of the text was set in Impact, and it was almost made up entirely of military-themed clip art in tables.

My dad spent a long time on the phone with Mindspring tech support (an ISP that would later merge with Earthlink) while we tried to figure out how to upload Isle Net to our family’s five megabytes of webspace. By the time we had gotten everything up, I had become so enchanted by the idea of making websites that I had decided that I wanted a real domain name. Back then, domains cost $50, and I’ll never understand why my dad spent that money and still let me pick — Editor Kevin Nguyen

Kevin’s Dial-Up Impression

In middle school, three friends and I decided to see who could build the best website. Armed with an Angelfire account and barely enough understanding to insert a couple of <blink> tags, I spent my days after school coding, perfecting, and learning how to incorporate frames into my modest HTML perch.

I named my site Timo’s Pad and created a title graphic to display at the top of the page. I had just learned how to install new fonts on my computer, so I decided to show off and display the site’s name in a Harry Potter-themed typeface called Parseltongue. It was badass.

The only actual content I remember including was a giant photoshopped jpeg of Natalie Portman’s head on the body of Slave Leia. I was so embarrassed of my parent’s reaction should they find the image that I buried it deep within the site’s intricate menu system, probably under an innocuous heading like “Stuff” or “Star Wars Things.”

There was never a winner declared in the competition, and I eventually deleted Timo’s Pad to ensure my parents would never discover the scandalous Star Wars bikini pic. But I lost the photo along with the website, so from time to time, for years afterward, I would scour the fan-art section of forums, hoping. — Contributing Writer Tim Lehman

Tim’s Dial-Up Impression

I got my first email address when I was eleven or twelve. I actually still use it on occasion to sign up for things when I don’t want spam in my Gmail account. Since it’s still active I don’t want to reveal it in its entirety, but let’s just say it included a number and “”

Facebook wasn’t on my radar until 2005, but I was social networking long before then. I didn’t use the internet for anything in junior high except chatting on AOL and MSN instant messengers. That was the place to be for new boyfriend-girlfriend developments and gossip of any type. I think the only other site I frequented was the Disney Channel because I didn’t know where else to find free games. The flash games took the whole afternoon to load properly and they were all awful. — Writer Caitlin Boersma

Caitlin’s Dial-Up Impression

I owned a Super Nintendo, a Playstation, and maybe even a Nintendo 64 before I found my first foothold on the internet, but it was my early days on the web that solidified my love of videogames. I learned how to (not) resurrect Aeris on the Gamefaqs message boards, I looked up Smash Brothers secrets on (remember those days? Before the site devolved into bile?), and I scoured any site I could think of for someone who had found redeeming qualities in Yoshi’s Story. (To no avail; I still consider it the most disappointing sequel of all time. Yes, worse than Episode I.)

But because my browsing time was limited by my parent’s inexplicable need to use the telephone, downloads were more valuable to me than any single site. Actually, since I too used the languid Mindspring service, what I really wanted was small downloads. And you know what that means: ROMs and MIDIs.

On the legendary ZSNES Emulator (which still brings me waves of nostalgia when I boot it up today), I caught up on all the classic SNES titles I missed: Super Contra, Super Metroid, Super Castlevania… Chrono Trigger. I turned over the darkest corners of Altavista results pages to find these gems, then returned once more to the breach for low-quality, low-bitrate renditions of the music I had just fallen in love with in those games. Something about mastering F-Zero on horribly awkward keyboard controls and then reliving the glory with just plain horrible “Big Blue Theme” MIDIs was so perfect, a fitting entree into my long and ongoing affairs with retro games and casual piracy. — Editor Nick Martens

Nick’s Dial-Up Impression

Like Kevin, when I first started on the internet, I wanted to create my own webpage (that term sounds so outdated) using Microsoft FrontPage. I created a fairly elaborate site — I think I called it Visions of Grandeur — and I recall the logo being a swirling gust of wind (no, it didn’t mean anything). I put my own stories and poems on there (no, I will not let you read them).

After several months of working on my project, I decided I didn’t actually know how to put it online, so I just saved it on a CD (CDs!!!) and filed it away. Then I discovered porn and haven’t been working on anything since. — Writer Jordan Barber

Jordan’s Dial-Up Impression Instead of a dial-up noise, I think this perfectly sums of the slow, anxiety-inducing tedium that a 56k modem creates.