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May 7, 2014

My BIX Adventure, Part I

Filed under: Main — admin @ 12:01 am

Back in the mid-1980s, BYTE magazine started up an online service. It was called the BYTE Information Exchange, or BIX for short.

BIX was a dial-up service; it pre-dated the Internet. Like BYTE magazine, BIX was topical, with various forums related to all aspects of personal computing, hardware, software, programming, and so on. You had to pay for a monthly account, which was about $13 or so.

I didn’t have to pay for my account. A friend of mine was an editor at BYTE. He signed up a bunch of his online buddies to be moderators. We each got the chance to manage a specific forum or topic on BIX in exchange for the free account.

My topic was the BASIC programming language. At the time, I worked as a writer for a computer book publisher. One of the titles I researched was the BASIC Handbook, which documented all the different dialects of BASIC. I even spent a week in England going over European computers and their implementations of BASIC. So I was considered more-or-less an “expert.”

On the forums I had a lot of fun. I ran programming contests, wrote up some documentation on obscure BASIC functions, and generally had a good time. I figured my role was more of a motivator than a moderator, so my little part of BIX was pretty popular. That was until Mr. Pournelle weighed in.

Now I really like Jerry Pournelle. I’ve met him dozens of times, attended school with his son Alex, and I’ve read probably all of his books (including the novelization of Escape From The Planet of the Apes). His column was a highlight of BYTE magazine, often the only thing I’d read. He even ran a favorable review of one of my books a long time ago. Anyway.

Jerry didn’t know who I was at the time, or how I got to land the plum role of moderator for the BASIC forum on BIX. He used his influence to remove me as moderator and replace me with someone else. He even wrote me a wonderful drunk email, which I wish I still had. He tried to be nice about it, writing something like, “I don’t know who you are, but . . .”

I complained to the Editor-in-Chief of BYTE, a great guy named Phil Lemmons. He basically told me that Pournelle had a lot of pull and there wasn’t really anything anyone could do about it. I was gone as the moderator of the BASIC forum. Phil kindly offered me a choice of several other forums. I declined. I was upset and wondered whether I’d be pulled off those as well. So I quit.

Now I confess to not going quietly into that /dev/nul night. I was disgusted. I wrote a long diatribe on BIX explaining just how I felt. It must have been pretty nasty, based on what happened next — which you’ll read about in Friday’s blog post.

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