Retrotechtacular: Before the Internet: MUDPIE

It is easy to forget how disconnected computers used to be. There was a time when sites with similar computers would do a tape rotation where a tape (or whatever media) would arrive in the mail. You’d spend some time looking at what was on it and then add anything interesting that you had to the end of it before sending it on to the next person. Eventually, the tape would come back to you, presumably loaded with more things. Late in 1967, Dr. James Peters started a newsletter called MUDPIE — Museum and University Data Program and Information Exchange. The newsletter would wind up with 26 issues over five years and while it started out with as few as 25 members, it would grow to over 250.

The newsletter was a real hardcopy newsletter, because as Dr. Peters put it:

MUDPIE represents an attempt to keep everyone up to date on the development of time-shared computing in museums and universities engaged in systematic research. Several individuals receiving this first copy had written asking the same questions, and this is a quick way of answering them. There was a tremendous temptation to set it up so that it could be received only through the teletype and computer — but that proved to be a little too advanced for the present!

It is sobering to read in the first issue: “To our knowledge, there are now three installations in the United States with teletype connections to time-shared computers.” There were also six programs from the Smithsonian available, all of which calculated statistics on data sets. The newsletter mentions: “Anyone wishing tapes of these programs should first call J. A. Peters… and arrange to call on the teletype number…”

By 1972, there was talk of the National Science Foundation computer network and government grants to set up specialized databases that would be accessible. They also mentioned several nascent computer networks at places like the University of California, Irvine and a library of available programs from the Naval Ordnance Laboratory.

Mudpie was a true “mailing list” without the e-mail. It started the kind of organization that would eventually spawn Usenet, list servers, and forums. You can only wonder what Peters would think of the Internet today. He died in 1972 and the MUDPIE newsletter died with him.

Honestly, it is doubtful you’ll read the 26 scanned newsletters and get anything directly of use to you today. But it does provide a glimpse into how computing was in the early 1970s and how users wanted to connect and interact but had to wait for the network technology to provide them with a good mechanism.

If you want to look at more Internet history, there are some videos around. Of course, we’ve talked about early attempts at remote computing with Illiac before, too.

8 thoughts on “Retrotechtacular: Before the Internet: MUDPIE

  1. Then came the BBS, and from the BBS, came Diversi-Dial.
    Then the ability for Diversi-Dial stations to link together. There were 80 stations at one time.
    From Diversi-Dial came the first expensive online service Compuserve.
    From there, GEnie, and then the dreaded company that polluted the planet with billions of free
    floppy disks and CDs, AOL (America Online). This is just a rough history, but man it was a blast.

      1. I ran BBS’s in the 80’s. I recall when 2400 baud modems came out. I recall getting my first USR high speed modem. My bbs was the first in the area to offer access to internet newsgroups and internet mail. The coolest piece of tech back then was my Telebit Trailblazer modem. The system used UUCP to transfer data to and from my upstream provider and it was an awful protocol, waiting on remote acknowledgements. The trailblazer spoofed the remote modem in software, providing the acknowledgments, while using MNP to deal with any actual errors over the link. The trailblazer was quite a marvel of technology. The first ones I got were so good at working in adverse conditions (you could literally pick up the phone and shout over the modem hiss and it would just slow down, but not stop) they would linger on hissing and beeping for sometimes extended amounts of time if the remote end suddenly disconnected. The had to come out with a new set of eproms to help with that.

        Customer facing I had USR modems. The first generation of the 9600 baud HST’s, than the 14.4’s, followed by the first generation of dual standards with the V32 board, literally two modems in one package, and then the DSP based dual standards. They were neat because you could buy the less expensive HST modem and flash the ROMS with the code from a dual standard and have a dual standard, sans the V32 connect LED on the front panel. Back in the day my eprom programmer did not do EPROMS that big, It required bending the top two address pins out of the socket and using clip leads to cycle through them, making 4 smaller passes to both read each of the EPROM and to write each of the EPROMS.

        It has been a long time since I have thought about any of that..

        At work we belonged to the a HP computer users group and they would send out tapes. The problem was they would send out things on 9 track tapes and we did not have a 9 track drive. We had a 1/4″ cartridge drive. In the early years if I wanted to get anything onto the HP it required going to friends lab and copying the files onto cartridge tapes that I could read. And back than dependencies were not handled quite so gracefully as they are now. I recall having to get a few recursive packages to kermit built. That was the big one for the lab. After that no more schlepping tapes around to get data from remote computers. The massive 141 MB HDD crashed on that machine. HP sent out a team of techs to unbolt the gigantic can, and carefully drop a new one in. The can weighed over 100 pounds as I recall.

  2. MUDPIE,
    sort of like the Hackaday box that person would receive in the “mail” (DHL, FedEx, whatever) maybe remove an interesting item, insert one item of their own, before shipping it to the next person on the list…

  3. There was DECUS, too. They’d collect user-contributed programs and every year or so they’d mail out a big tape to their members. “Steal from your friends!” I’m pretty sure they weren’t the only vendor-specific user group that did that. (this is how most universities managed to have a copy of the same ADVENT and so on.)

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