|Part 2: Featuring: Jim Maxey
| by Bob Talmadge
contact: [email protected]
"When directing a small group of staff at his office, including a couple programmers and myself to write a piece of code to his liking, it could be either "great and perfect," or it was worthless or inept or both".
Jim would show us how to do it, how he wanted it and it became apparent his words were correct. Before he walked out of the meeting room he told us "you don't listen or think so what the hell good are you anyway?
Then he took off leaving the majority of us muttering to ourselves with a bit of guilt. Maxey wanted perfection and he paid his staff, each one of us nearly double what we could get elsewhere. And he paid all our medical insurance."
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A couple SysOps I’ve read about seem to feel a BBS should have been free and offer mostly message forums and support files to download. A BBS SysOp interviewed by Jason Scott who directed and edited his quite impressive “BBS: The Documentary”, naively said, “…the minute you started charging money (for a BBS), you lost them. You made it uncool.”
Maxey did not post “bulletins” on his BBS. It was more like a popular website, vast, intriguing, fun and globally popular.
TEACHING ENGLISH STUDENTS ELS & IELTS
Maxey taught at ELS and Acedemic IELTS at university with a master's in English Education, and lately tutored students wanting a high grade on the IELTS (International English Language Testing System).
Jim did not post “files or bulletins” on his system. His system was more like a popular website of today but innovative, vast, intriguing, fun and globally popular.
TEACHING ENGLISH STUDENTS ELS & IELTS
Jim taught ELS and Academic IELTS at university with a master's in English Education, and lately tutored students wanting a high grade on the IELTS (International English Language Testing System). He told me recently his teaches English at his home when not working at his regular job. Amazing.
Just as when the web took hold, a few webmasters and callers thought everything should be free. Sir Tim Berners-Lee credited for inventing the World Wide Web, believes “internet users should have access to free information across the board, but they should also be given the opportunity to make a moral decision and pay for what they listen to.”
It’s the way of a burgeoning industry. It was easy for some in this field to selectively forget or ignore how innovative Jim was; beyond offering images to callers, he first started with astronomy and was hugely popular; a complex online game, unique in its simplicity and challenged your knowledge and imagination. It describes the edge of a gigantic black hole in space and once entered beyond the "even horizon", not even light could escape; hence the term black hole. Movement through the black hole was achieved with keyboard arrows in any direction. The mouse did not exist on the PC at that time. The screen was black until you blindly ran into some hidden object. Then one had to answer a question, often scientific. If your answer was correct, you moved forward to the end goal and the winners list. However, if you answered incorrectly, you may need to pay some kind of penalty or end up in the black hole jail, called, The Singularity for 1 to 3 days. Back then that idea was simply amazing and it was singularly Jim Maxey's idea and written in dBase III by Jim (I discovered later). And the game was as educational as it was an adventure.
Maxey also created the online experimental game, "The Wall" (a kind of prelude to the video game ‘Doom’ created by John Romero and John Carmack), a revolutionary online game ‘Escape From Languor’, and ‘Voyager III’ an offline educational game back in the 90’s. I was a user, a caller and I know the online game areas were free to play for 30 minutes each day. Paid customers had no limits. Thousands of users took advantage of this free offer. How easy it is to ignore or forget as this link should demonstrate.
There’s lots to write about Maxey I found on his Facebook page. But not just Maxey. I write about other notable BBS operators here on bbsdays.com here, SysOps who deserve huge credit for their dedication. The hard part is finding their photos or concrete information about them to share on my blog or here. That’s a huge problem. But I keep searching and asking. However, many former SysOps simply want to be left alone.Sad for history.
I will get to our meeting but I’d like to share with you how it happened in Colorado back in 1993.
I was born in Idaho but when I turned 18, I lived in a small rural area just south of Colorado Springs, Colorado on Cheyenne Meadows Rd. We had two chickens, a dog named Turd, and an old apple tree that had ceased producing. Okay so it wasn’t a farm. At one time we considered a garden but we never planted anything because the only usable space was at the end of our septic tank's drainage path.
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The Day I first saw Jim Maxey in person
It was August 26, 1993. I was on my way to my first BBS Convention held so conveniently at the Broadmoor Hotel within walking distance from my bedroom! It was perhaps the only time in my life, up to that point, that the universe opened and smiled at me. My world was about to change.
The Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs hosted the BBS convention
As I walked to the hotel grounds, I was excited; I had pocket money and a $20 bill in my shoe. The morning was young like me. I thought about my girlfriend Connie who lived in Cimarron Hills just east of downtown. She had no interest in Bulletin Boards and often said I was a goofy nerd. But I was lucky living so close to where the BBS convention was being held. I mean, what were the chances of my dream coming to me? I had my ticket and it was time to get inside the huge resort, this time as a paid guest.
Near the entrance of the hotel, masses of excited guests wore bright colors and pleasant faces. It was a madhouse outside. As for me? I was looking for a famous SysOp.
Yeah, I was a BBS Groupie.
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The person who owned and operated a BBS was called a System Operator (SysOp). They were mostly amateurs who dedicated their home computer to invite callers to their BBS using a modem on the other end.
This may sound simple but it was the beginning of the true online world. Using phone lines or the internet — BBS or WEBSITE — the basic result was the same: Online.
SysOps were the first online pioneers and offered their callers free computer software, chat rooms, general messages, forums, and to download and share images and even play online games.
Ward Christenson was the first BBS pioneer in 1978 who called his BBS: CBBS (Computerized Bulletin Board System).
As a teen, I was fascinated with the new online games in the 1990’s. There was no usable internet for such things and only slow modems and no mouse, just the keyboard arrows.
Honestly, I had no desire to create my own BBS. I was happy just getting into it. As well, I love reading about mountain climbing but I’m a wimp with heights over 30 feet; Acrophobia. Funny that riding in an airplane doesn’t bother me.
Calling BBSes long distance could rake up a large phone bill playing online games. It was new and exciting and I paid my share of the phone bill with my allowance and extra money I earned at Albertsons grocery store and The Broadmoor. I was into everything that had to do with a BBS, electronics and photography. And girls.
I had read the news in Boardwatch Magazine about the next BBS convention in Colorado Springs — my home! OMG! There could be hundreds of BBS Sysops I wanted to meet.
The biggest BBS names would be there but no one was sure who would show up. I wanted to meet Bob Mahoney of Exec PC or maybe even Boardwatch editor Jack Rickard and many others.
Back to ONE BBSCON at The Broadmoor Hotel
I had paid for my entrance ticket so I strolled around a bit getting lost within all the noise and shuffle. There was lots of chatter, some laughter, swirling lights, camera flashes, and in the distance were loud speaker announcements mixed with hotel music. A multitude of BBS and computer oriented vendor booths were more or less scattered between decorative support pillars that stretched high overhead to the exhibit ceiling. The place was full and difficult to move around. But it was exciting and I loved it.
I glanced at faces and booth exhibits but I couldn’t recognize anyone. There were guys wearing personalized logo ads with stenciled on t-shirts. Some guys looked like rebels or outlaws and I guess that was the plan. There were foreigners speaking different languages, even Far East Operators with wives or mistresses following. And there were also female operators (I discovered later), and maybe a total of a 500 or more in this exhibit hall and many more in different rooms. I read later that more than 3500 people attended.
I asked an older man if he had seen any big time Operators. He looked at me, smiled and confided that he ran one himself. I told him I would like to call his system later. He seemed disappointment and walked away. I needed to show more tact. But I had little time to mingle with people who may have been operating a single line hobby system. I wanted to meet them but maybe later. I had to find a big name. Then I could relax. Was that so bad?
I was ready to go into another area when behind me the usual crowd chatter dramatically decreased. I turned to see throngs of people moving aside to make a pathway for three men walking in my general direction. Even though most could not see the sudden entrance of these men they nevertheless made way. That was odd for people known as rebels.
I know this will come as a cliché but the scene was like from a TV show or movie. Who the hell were these guys? I did not recognize them.
Then as they approached, the crowd parted where I was standing and a few walked up to the lead man. And to my surprise, some were asking for an autograph of the guy in front.
Then I recognized him. It was Jim Maxey. He carried himself with confidence and a slight a smile which looked to me like “What the hell?” Maxey isn’t tall but attracts attention.
Remember that I was young and a bit obsessed. It was surreal I must admit, seeing someone you feel you already know, in the news, TV, magazines. But I was just a bit disappointed. I imagined Jim Maxey was tall. And even with his entourage, the only thing overly impressive about him was the attention he was getting. I mean, nothing negative just not a superman.
Maxey looked a little bewildered as I was. Maybe he never expected this kind of attention. Supermen don’t act like that. Yeah, just a man. I knew that. But suddenly I did not feel much like a Groupie. It's a strange feeling.
What the hell did I expect? A rock star? Maxey had no long hair, no guitar, no screaming girls following him, just other BBS SysOp asking for autographs, smiling and showing their admiration. Was I jealous? I don’t know. I was confused and for that I am still embarrassed. Others in the great hall held back and kept their distance for strategic reasons; not enough room, too shy, too jealous, too much nonsense to ask for a dumb autograph, not to give attention to Maxey, etc. Who knows? I'm only guessing.
Anyway, like some goofball, without thinking, I fell in step behind Jim Maxey with a dozen others. I could have interrupted Maxey and asked for his autograph - but I didn't want his signature; I wanted to know more about him, have him look at me. So there, that was it. Hell, still a Groupie.
As the chatter in the huge room resumed, I was confused about my own feelings and what I had seen. Not that I dwelled on it that much until much later.
Still following close behind then made my move as Maxey suddently stopped. I kind of jumped directly in front of him like an eager dork. He looked at me and smiled. My God, he saw me. Then a man I knew only from his Boardwatch publication, the man in charge of the ONE BBS Convention, said something to Maxey I couldn't understand. Maxey looked a bit puzzled, and I think rolled his eyes then turned and followed Jack Rickard out of the exhibit hall. What the hell?
I had lost a good opportunity. I should not have hesitated. God, I felt stupid. Connie was right. Would there be more such entrances? I turned and waited, looking around for a couple minutes. Nothing. That was it. And Jim Maxey of Event Horizons BBS had disappeared. The only consolation is that I had seen the guy who was responsible for creating The Black Hole, my favorite online game at that time. It felt like some kind of accomplishment. How stupid and lame could I get?
What to do now? There was always Mahoney or others. Suddenly I thought about being back home; I could walk down the country road to see my girlfriend Connie. Then just as suddenly, I felt inept, small, ineffectual. Poor baby! So many confusing feelings. That may seem silly but my world was BBS at the time, just as many teens go through such things. I was a late bloomer. And somewhat of a dork. Okay, maybe a nerd as well.
I sat down and opened a small bag of barbecue potato chips and scribbled into my diary notes. I usually write my thoughts as they happen, when I have an opportunity. Believe me; I get teased by friends who called me "Notepad". Not too endearing but it never stopped me from including my notes into my diary.
As I wrote about Maxey's entrance, negative feelings drifted away just as they had manifested. "Why the hell was I here?", I wrote. My dad was right. They’re all just people like everyone else. Of course I knew that but I felt like a neophyte who had just come to grips with an important lesson. But I was too lame to figure out what the lesson was - not until later.
I was here, now and I should enjoy whatever happens because I felt somewhat lifted again. They were just people like me. Some my own age. Duh! (continues part 3)