Sun, 17 Feb 2008

The Phoenix and the Packet-switched Carpet

At Cambridge in 1978-79 I was njl2 @ phoenix. Phoenix was the interactive timesharing scheduler and command language on the Cambridge IBM 370, and very good it was.

Occasionally, people from the USA used to log into Phoenix from across the Atlantic. Either that or their chat sessions were very good Turing tests. No Eliza really in Cambridge could have passed so convincingly. One particular Eliza (I forget her actual name) on the Modular One system would eventually repeat user input from adjacent teletypes, which could be a harmless source of student amusement ...

One American who I chatted to used the guest 'epss' Phoenix account, which was provided for public access via EPSS, the Post Office's own pre-X.25 packet switching network. I've always assumed that the guy was coming in on Transatlantic packet switching from a US PSS network, but he claimed no knowledge of the technology, and since then I have never read of such a link.

This was advanced telecommunications for the period and for me it began a lifelong interest in telecomms. I later achieved dial-up access to Phoenix, using primitive Post Office modems and a minicomputer "glass TTY" emulator in my first workplace ! But with the cost and reliability then of transatlantic phone calls, I doubt anyone could have run a terminal session over international dial-up.

I'm still curious to know what US network was likely to give UK access in 1978-79 and what the routing was to Cambridge's IBM370 ? Would he have been hopping in from some other site, perhaps on SERCnet PSS ? Email me, thanks :-)