John Houlker – Sector Manager, ICT, New Zealand Trade & Enterprise

“That was a special day. It had been a huge struggle to get there – funding it, all sorts of issues – and a particular piquancy to the day was that we had been sent equipment by NASA. You know good on them. Not only were they paying for half of the international link, they supplied equipment for it as well which we couldn’t afford. However, part of that was the Proteon router. The difficulty was that there was no service for it in New Zealand; we couldn’t get it maintained. Some months before that, I’d asked if we could have a Cisco router instead. They looked very practical, they had the whole range of features, but crucially, there was local support for it. Any time I mentioned this, the folks at NASA and the University of Hawaii would give me a list of things that the Cisco didn’t do but the Proteon did and I researched these things one-by-one and found out that the Cisco did do these things. After a period of time, the folks at NASA said, “Look, our operations staff are used to Proteons so that’s what we’re sending you”. Some while later, I remember thinking that instead of spending all this time writing all those letters and doing all that research, if I’d bought Cisco stock, I would have been retired a couple of years later and made the point. We were paying 5500NZ$ a month for our half circuit. It’s hard to believe now but that was a huge hurdle at the time. It was going to be really important that this thing started working as soon as we started paying that fee. So I was very worried that this thing wouldn’t work. It was sent to us by Torben Neilson who ran the project out of the University of Hawaii, all pre-prepared, pre-configured and he said, “Whatever you do, don’t touch anything. Just plug it in and turn it on”. He didn’t even send a manual. So it arrived. It was a Sunday that I was connecting it up, that the circuit became live. It seemed to be very hot for that kind of year but I guess it was the stress of it. So I plugged it all in, plugged in the wires to our local network, plugged in the Telecom wires to our connection, turned it on... and it didn’t work. So I spent some time de-bugging it and eventually came to the conclusion that the interface had been incorrectly configured. So I was talking to Torben Neilson in Hawaii and he finally agreed that he had sent it misconfigured. He had to read me the manual about how to change the configuration over a speaker phone which meant opening the box up and moving a chip. So I had the box open – I didn’t have the right gear for taking the chip out so I was using a screwdriver. I was sweating and there were drips of sweat dripping into the box. I pulled this chip out and sure enough, I bent a pin. And I thought, “Oh my God, after all this effort, after years of talking to CSNET and getting the universities and everyone to agree to pay half of it, we’re going to go down in a ball of flames on the first day. Anyway, I gradually straightened out this pin on the chip without breaking it, pushed it back, put it altogether and it worked. So that was a great relief. But then a little while after, one of the first things I did was send a ping. It seems a silly thing now but back then the idea of sending a packet to somewhere else on the Internet and getting a response was different. You couldn’t do that on the CSNET system – the dial-up system. And soon after that, I tried tracing packets to see where they went and used an early application called Telnet to connect to a machine. So it was five or 10 minutes in and I was Telnet-ing to some address I had found to see what it was and a big message came up on the screen, in ASCII then, saying ‘Nored’ (4:43). And I thought, “I’ve got through this. I’ve straightened the pin. I’ve got this router going and here I am, 15 minutes into Internet connection and I’m going to have the Feds onto me because I’m hacking in to their military apparatus”. And then I thought back, “Wait a minute, the trace route I’ve done can’t have got far. So I gradually back-tracked and finally I saw that this was a completely innocuous name server at NASA. And what it was, was Marlin Madine (5:21), the Head Engineer for NASA Science Internet, he goes through themes where he adopts the vocabulary from some sector of industry, the economy etc, as lexicon, and at the time he was working with military terms. I think he may have coined the term ‘demilitarised zone’. And he had chosen to call his server ‘Nored’ (5:46)! That was another tense moment!”


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