Early Days of the Zets

by nrt

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Hey all,

I saw the postings that talked about how the Zets came to be, and I thought I'd add my own perspective to the history. Before the days of CISUNX, there were only PDP-10s and VAXen running VMS being used by the Computing Center (before they became CIS). The only UNIX systems around were in the CS department and over in Information Science.

As UNIX started to become more widespread, there was a need to get people together. We formed a U. of Pgh. Unix Users' Group, which involved myself, Lee Sailer (a former professor from the Anthropology Department, now teaching Information Systems at Penn State - Erie Campus), Gail Carns from the CS department, Bob Hoffman (keeper of the CS department machines), and others.

One day, Gail tells us about CISUNX...it would be the first UNIX box run by CIS. He invited some of us to take accounts on the system to shake it out. Lee got the account with the userid "sailer" and I got "nrt". We had a lot of fun. As others came on, they were given userid's such as "334641" relating to the old project-programmer numbers. Since we, the small handful had both UNIX experience and "real" userid's, folks used us as volunteer user consultants.

The original Zets started using the simple "news" facility of UNIX to post messages to each other. Since this was publically readable, some of the more conservative folks questioned this usage. One of the Zets got in touch with me and I suggested the mailing list. This started off real well, but as it grew, the mail overhead became more intense until one day Dave Lithgow (dpl) told me how it brought the system to a virtual halt with all the mail spool files waiting to be processed.

One of the really useful (at the time) thigs I did was install a package from Usenet that allowed folks to chat with others in these "windows" interactivly. It wasn't real fast, but it did work and I even used to check in and chat with people often.

During this time, many folks began to know me as an "answer" person for UNIX questions. Also, since I knew the CIS people but was not a member of the CIS staff, I'd be asked to intervene whenever one of the Zets would "stray off the straight and narrow". :-) :-) It came to the point that more people at Pitt knew me as "nrt" than by my real name (no kidding, I went to a Zet party just before I left Pitt and someone introduced me by my real name...no one knew me until my friend mentioned that I was "nrt".

As the Zets grew, I was spending more time getting ready to graduate and find a real job outside the University. Finally, I left the University to take a job with IBM in Research Triangle Park, NC. Most of the Zets never heard from me again until one day Jeff Carpenter sent me a note asking about my "alias" on CISVMS and CISUNX (so mail could be forwarded from those machines to my home UNIX system).

Thus, I was not really that active as an "insider" Zet, but I did play a role in their creation and direction. As to what I do now, I am with IBM's T. J. Watson Research Center doing AIX (IBM's flavor of UNIX) support. I run IBM's internal UNIX electronic conference and also work on pieces of other rather diverse projects (I'm currently getting into computer security). So, it's true that there are those connected with the Zets now out in the real world. By the way, I never wear a suit or tie to work...generally, it's jeans and a T-shirt, sport shirt, or hockey jersey.

If any of you make it up this way, drop a note or give a call to stop by and visit.

Take care - NRT

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