Harken back to the late 1990s with this re-creation of the dialup Internet experiencevar abtest_1824715 = new ABTest(1824715, ‘click’);

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We all figured out our strategies to deal with the pandemic in 2020. biomedical engineer guff liu likes to tinker with technology—especially older technology—and decided he would try to recreate it for connecting to the Internet via dialup in the late 1990s. He recorded the entire process in painstaking real time, with occasional commentary.

People of a certain age (ahem) remember well how it used to be: even just booting a computer required patience, especially in the first half of the decade, when someone One could take a shower and make coffee in the time it took to boot. One’s computer from a floppy disk. An Internet connection requires a dedicated phone line, as otherwise an incoming call could disrupt the connection, forcing the individual to repeat the entire dialup process again. Browsing the web was equally time-consuming in the salad days of Netscape and Microsoft Explorer.


A lot has changed since then, as the Internet has turned from a curiosity to a necessity, reshaping our culture in the process. As Liu wrote on his blog:

The Internet has become an important part of our daily lives, but the way we experience it now through broadband high-speed connections was not there in my childhood. In the late 90s to early 2000s, I was dialing in from my Pentium 133MHz non-MMX machine equipped with 48MB of RAM running Windows 98SE (and later, Windows 2000 Professional). This experience was, in itself, reflective of the fact that “always on” Internet was not considered a necessity or a generality—again, “TTT”, short for “talk to you tomorrow”, was a thing.

youtube/guff liu

The beginning of the video shows Liu booting up the Takeaway Endeavor II computer (circa 1995), free of commentary for best dramatic effect. Tongue-in-cheek “credits” offer basic specifications: an Intel Pentium I 100MHz CPU, 32MB of RAM, and a Fujitsu 2.6GB hard drive, augmented with a Sony 3.5-inch floppy disk drive and 65k voice modem. Featured software includes Microsoft Windows 98 SE, Netscape Communicator 4.8 and Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5.

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Then there are the telltale steady sounds of dialing in to connect to the Internet, and voila! We’re ready to start surfing with your great 31.2k connection. (As Liu points out, “56k is not possible due to the analog nature of the connection.”) Here things get interesting. It’s not really possible to go directly to most modern websites because changes to the https protocol make it impossible to negotiate a common cipher. So Liu uses a miniproxy, which connects to the site over https, downloads the content, and sends it back to Liu’s computer with all the links rewritten so they can go through the proxy.

It took 3 minutes 27 seconds to download an executable file.
youtube/guff liu

It takes a while to download a sample page from Slashdot, as the status bar at the bottom provides updates on our progress. “Web browsing technology has advanced quite dramatically over the years, and so have with HTML standards; things like CSS and certain types of JavaScript weren’t around at the time of Navigator so the site loads, but it’s a lot of how You’ll experience it in a modern browser today,” says Liu.

The rest of the trip consists of the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology (which still uses http), google.com, wikipedia, xkcd (“we’ll wait a while for this comic”), and others, with everything loaded into one. Travel is involved in real time. It takes a full 3 minutes 27 seconds to download an executable 120kb file for a simple software update. The full video will make you grateful for all the technological advancements over the past 20 years—especially for the comparatively large amount of bandwidth we enjoy today. Kids today don’t know how good it is for them to have it.

YouTube/Gough Liu . image listed by

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