Sax dot com

Thanks to Clair, who probably just wanted to relax after a long day of work last Thursday but instead endured an expletive-laden phone call about DVD players and why the $&*@ would they put two red holes in the back when there is only one &@@!@& red plug and what kind of moron wrote that worthless piece of &@!$ user manual anyway.

Fortunately, all is now well in digital video land, and I’ve already watched Ghost World, one of my favorite movies, and Citizen Kane, a library loan.

About being a Luddite–I wasn’t always this way. I joined my first dot com in 1992 and was sending e-mails under the influence while some of you were still in nursery school.

The early nineties were dark years at James Madison University. Students had to write papers using Word Perfect 5.1 for DOS and dot matrix printers. To communicate electronically with friends on campus, you had to find student computing services in the basement of Miller Hall and request something called a VAX account*. There were rumors that you could send these electronic messages to people at other schools, but no one really knew how to do it.

During that time, I unknowingly used the Internet by joining a King Arthur listserv, experimenting with IRC, and stumbling across Gopher, a hierarchical repository of every document imaginable. I exploded a friend’s VAX account by using Gopher to send him the Old Testament, screenplays for the Star Wars trilogy, and the complete works of Shakespeare.

But none of this would have been possible without Instigator B, a fellow saxophone player in JMU’s marching band. In the fall of 1992, Instigator B told the saxophone section (around thirty people) to sign up for VAX accounts. He made a list of our user IDs and turned them into, a command we could use to send messages to the entire group. It was an amazing technological feat. took off, and soon we were using it to arrange party carpools, finalize the shopping list for band trips, and propagate the latest chain-letter hoaxes about stolen livers and Neiman Marcus chocolate chip cookies. We didn’t have stock options, but we were bleeding edge dot commers.

* “I have to check VAX” was a common phrase around campus.

UPDATE: Do you remember your first e-mail address?

29 responses to “Sax dot com”

  1. Scott

    I remember my first email address ( I got it upon enter Lehigh in the Fall of 1995, and when I first checked it I thought ‘Who would ever use this? What a waste of time!’ and now I can’t think of a world without email. Of course in those days I used kermit to dial into Lehigh’s UNIX email servers. I could finger with the best of them (if you don’t get that, don’t worry, it isn’t dirty).

    I also remember the first time I went on the ‘Interweb.’ It was the summer of 1995, I had just graduated highschool and I knew I was going to Lehigh. My friend Glenn took me to a computer lab at Iona College and I checked out Lehigh’s website, which wasn’t so impressive.

    Ahh, those were the days.

  2. Becky

    Ha! I could finger too, but my favorite command was phone, a precursor to instant messaging. Strange, because I never use IM.

    By my senior year, Mosaic was installed on most campus computers, but I had no idea what the hell that was. It wasn’t until 1996, at a class in Grand Rapids, MI, that I used a graphical web browser.

    Does everyone know their first e-mail address? (

  3. Blankbaby

    First Email Address

    In post over at Good Grief! Becky raises an interesting question: What was your first email address? Mine was, and yours? Oh, and in the comments of Becky’s entry I related my first exposure to the Internet.

  4. very metal

    I believe my first email was “”. After a couple of semesters I got kind of embarrassed having to give that to professors, etc., and switched to the more “grown up” emccoy@yadda… address. I can remember associates at the time were incredulous that I was giving up “han.solo” — oh well, we all get old and boring sometime.

  5. Becky

    I’m incredulous that you could just pick out your own e-mail like that.

  6. megan

    Oh my. I was using VAX back in the late 80s/early 90s too. I remember using ‘talk’ to chat with my best friend at another college – I forced her boyfriend to get an account and give me the login information so she and I could chat! What a lovely trip down memory lane. 🙂

  7. very metal

    What can I say? I remember it being a relatively easy thing when we signed up for our computer lab accounts — you just filled in your desired name in the box provided, and you got it if it wasn’t already being used. I can almost remember my 6-digit user name… IVX something-something-something, maybe. Ugh. Now I’m going to have to spend the rest of the day trying to remember it.

  8. Eric Wilner

    I remember having an e-mail address of (consults Usenet archives) sdcsvax!sdccsu3!ee163cz back when I was in college. (There was an earlier one, ee161mumblemumble, but I don’t recall what the mumblage was.) In high school, I was PA394.PALY2, but we didn’t actually have any sort of e-mail back then.

    And we carried our bits in a bucket,
    And our mainframe weighed nine hundred tons,
    And we programmed in ones and in zeroes,
    And sometimes we ran out of ones!
          — Frank Hayes, “When I Was a Boy”

    Oy. And every silly thing I posted to Usenet during my college days is archived, for all the world to read, years later… well, I’m not really planning to go into politics. And now there are blogs, and blog comments, and Google caches, and the Internet archiver, and I have so many opportunities to make a fool of myself in public, and have it recorded in perpetuity!

  9. richard

    Hmmm… I can only find a pair of my old addresses now – I know that there was another, earlier one from 1990 or so on the college VAX… was my main email address between about 1992-1994 and EMONK+Richard_Murray@ACDM.RDC.AB.CA for 94-95 when we started getting sick of reading it on the VAX and hooked up a PC based bulletin board so that we could do offline reading of usenet from home.

    Around 1995 I picked up a frame relay connection and registered my own domain of… all downhill from there…

  10. ropeboy

    the first email address i used was my dad’s at UC Riverside that I used when I spent the summer away from home to tell them how I was. That was 1995 and it was all about PINE, but then I got an account ( of my own. that was in 1996 but i feel like i had something in between the two. I can’t remember. oh well.

  11. Becky

    dcsvax!sdccsu3!ee163cz? EMONK+Richard_Murray@ACDM.RDC.AB.CA? Those are outrageous.

    Megan, I was curious about the difference between TALK and PHONE, so I consulted the soulless office park midrange guys. It sounds like PHONE is only for other people on the same system, and TALK is to contact people on remote systems. I wish I had known about TALK in college (not that I could’ve gotten any of my friends to do that).

  12. Becky

    Oops, I was wrong about TALK and PHONE. Midrange guy just e-mailed:

    Actually, you can talk to other machines with PHONE via DECnet, ie: NODENAME::USERNAME vs username@hostname for TALK vi IP.

    Er, right.

    Re: usenet archives. I have a past e-mail address that shall never be revealed because it is associated with some pretty stupid posts.

  13. bankrupt artist v.3

    Geek nostalgia – what was your first address?

    Good Grief has a bit of a thread growing about what people remember as their first email address. While I don’t imagine that I have anyone beat, here’s my bit.

    Hmmm… I can only find a pair of my old addresses now – I know that there was anothe…

  14. richard

    Yeah, with the EMONK one, we were running a PC based BBS, and filtering all of the user email through one account on the vax… If I recall correctly, the VAX ignored anything between the + and the @, so we had one vax account; EMONK on ACDM, and we filtered email on the BBS based on what came after the +… a very odd system, but worked great.

  15. Becky

    Should I lie and be like, oh yeah, the old VAX account for the BBS filter workaround, or should I just stop pretending that I understand these comments?

  16. molly

    I still have my original e-mail address, one of the first, kinda like this:

  17. richard

    I just figured I’d add a bit of detail to explain why it was so goofy… EMONK was for that automated believing machine; The Electric Monk, which automatically believed all of our email. Makes more sense if you’ve read Douglas Adams.

  18. Derek

    Back in 1989, I was Here’s the whole story about how e-mail to and from that address wound its way to the Internet (floppies were involved at one time).


    My first email experiences

    Becky over at Good Grief writes a delightful story about her first experiences with email, and it made me wax all nostalgic.

    Way back when I was in college at St. Ben’s, during the years 1989-1993, I noticed these strange computer-looking things in…

  20. Penmachine words music comment

    The impersistence of memory

    So I was — that was my first Internet e-mail address. When Steve started working at SFU, he moved the Internet connection there, so I became At one point, Steve even experimented with a wireless conne…

  21. irc

    i think i’m a tad younger than you lot — so no early university account for me. but thanks to a dad who worked at hp and then sun microsystems i always had at least a vt100 and a modem and line into a wall full of supercomputers. it was all about the bbs for me in ’91. my first email address: — a radical idea that you could give anyone an email address for free, not just the ones paying tuition. and thanks to the power of i can (embarrassingly) look back on the all my juvenile usenet posts. right back to possibly the first post i ever made. i can still remember olga‘s original interface: the email request bounce. and the static in the server room at hp where there were row upon row of washing machine sized disk drives and gigantic reel-to-reel machines. and now i create massive software that harnesses compute power barely imaginable in 1991 and i think daily: what is it all for? i might count myself among the luddites out there, give me a few more years to really hone my bitter edge.

    – the good grief! lurker, irc

  22. Debra Hamel

    Some of you guys are youngsters. My first for-real email started in 1990 with a yalevm account. I was hamdebl@yalevm(, I assume, but don’t really remember), and it got so I’d answer to the name hamdebl in real life. I remember being somewhat upset about eventually leaving yalevm because I’d become so used to the arcane commands you needed to use with it.

    But before that I was introduced to the concept of email in college. I think I sent a note to the friend who’d shown me how to use it, and that was it. There were, as someone above said, rumors that you could mail outside the university, and also rumors that it was somehow frowned upon. (People nowadays can never know how hard it was back then to just get a paper written on a computer if you didn’t own one. Trekking back and forth across campus, from lab to the printing center, to pick up print outs; the first attempts inevitably formatted wrong.)

    But the big thing I remember about the old days is how few people knew about it. I was responsible in the early 90’s for introducing some friends to email, but back then you couldn’t assume anyone else would be checking theirs. You’d have to impress upon them the importance of checking the mail if they wanted to use it as a genuine system of communication rather than a novelty. It’s a bit like blogging now. You stop people on the street and ask them what it is, and the majority still wouldn’t be able to tell you.

  23. deblog

    The Good Old Days

    Becky over at Good Grief! has an interesting thread going on e-mailing in the early nineties. Check it out, and check out her blog in general, as it’s one of my favorites.

  24. Glenn

    My first email address? Hmnn.

    I have to say the first one I actually used (which I still do – sometimes) is my glennfrank at excite account.

    I did have one before that – 1990ish at my highschool and had

    Now, to those of you who are wondering why I would have Logan as an email address, when it is not part of my actual name and has absolutely no relation to me whatsoever – The answer is I wanted to be like Wolverine from the X-Men comics of course! I thought it would be ‘Rad’. Even as a sophomore in highschool I kinda realized this was stupid after I set it up and never, ever, used it.

  25. yoko

    My first e-mail address was in grad school, which was longer when I first got it and shorter by the time I left. I’ve discovered that if I Google it, you’ll see it connected with some silly bulletin board posts, so I’m not giving it out here.

    My sister had vax, and I used to e-mail her a lot. Our school started using Pine in my last year, and had some then-new network thingy– Cerberus?

    Gads. Now I have 4 e-mail addresses. Insane.

  26. Clair

    20 posts and no comments about my amazing phone support skills? It ain’t easy dealing with a ranting, swearing woman who thinks if she crosses wires the TV will explode.

  27. Becky

    You make a valid point, Clair. Who’s worse for phone support–me or your dad?

  28. IT Security Dude

    My tale of eWoe began in the Spring of 1993. My Government professor
    had this revolutionary idea to send and receive our homework via some weird thing called email.
    I remember thinking “What the hell is email?” I dutifully found out and set up my first account: I never found FirstinitialLastname01, but once upon a finger,
    followed by an ntalk, I found out FirstinitialLastname03 was a friend of mine in the real world.

    From the UNIX labs of my fair university, I discovered MUDs. I went to the lab one night (about 6PM) and
    decided to MUD for a minute or two before writing a paper. At 4 AM the next morning I realized I hadn’t
    started my paper. No more MUDs for AFS ID: FirstinitialLastname02!

    Imagine my surprise when I got out of school into the business world, and LS no longer worked.
    I had to do this DIR thing? Ugh. I eventually sacrificed my ^^@|) UNIX $|{!77$
    to the malign gods of Microsoft in the interest of self preservation. My first professional email
    address became Not a very exciting transition, but at
    least now I needed no number appended as a unique identifier. Perhaps that is because
    I was among 10,000 undergrads in college, but among only 10 employees in a young company
    that had daringly hired an Anthropologist-Environmental Scientist as a computer consultant.

    Those days seem so archaic…

  29. Clair

    Well, my dad just blames my brother for everything, not curse a thousand deaths upon the *#&%ing sh*%-for-brains *@#$er who wrote this stupid &%*@ing manual.