|Part 4: Featuring: Jim Maxey
| by Bob Talmadge
contact: [email protected]
Event Horizons BBS began in 1983 but it was years before success allowed Jim Maxey to consider serious advertising, mostly it seems with PC-Magazine. Apparently, Event Horizons BBS had no competition in the entire BBS market for more than two years. Maxey used interesting and daring ad concepts, which seemed imaginative for the time. But it worked.
One headline ad seen here, claimed, “WORLDS MOST EXPENSIVE BBS. LET US SHOW YOU WHY”.
For the 13 year history of Event Horizons, Jim Maxey continued to use TBBS (The Bread Board System) software to run his BBS, creating online games and other entertainment areas.
Jim Maxey Interview — by Nick Jones, July 19, 2003 (not me)
(Nick Jones has placed this interview in the public domain)
(The following interview was conducted by Nick Jones and has been updated and edited in 2023 correcting a few mistakes and minor additions for clarity.)
A shorter version of this interview was originally published in COMPUTER LIFE. We now reprint the story in its full version, transcribed unedited from the author Nick Jones' original audio tape.
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Associate professor Jim Maxey with "Victoria", one of his teaching assistants in the 1980's. He left the university without making tenor to go on to crearte the worlds most succcessful BBS business of it's kind.
by Nick Jones:
The first time I saw Jim Maxey was August 19, 1994 while I was covering the happenings at ONE BBSCON, an online convention of Bulletin Board System operators held in Atlanta.
Update: Maxey seems to have turned away and moved to Vietnam after visiting there. Or maybe there’s another reason unknown to me. He has a four year old daughter as of 2022 as he mentions her often on his FB page. That in itself is a story you can find on his Facebook page. Just type Jim Maxey anywhere and you’ll easily find him.
August 20, 1994–9:35pm
That night Jim Maxey agreed to sit with me for a half hour or so for an interview. We had to move to a private room to avoid sysops wanting to listen.
Jim Maxey wasn’t as tall as I had imagined but impressive the way he looked right at me in an engaging, unpretentious manner. He was open, ready and it seemed willing to answer questions. And that's what a journalist hopes for.
Nick: So, Jim, how did this all start?
Maxey: You mean, computers, me, what?
Well, would you start somewhere in your past, maybe an important event that got you started?
Okay. Ah, well, I guess I could say some of it started after I was shocked by 12,000 volts.
It was a utility power pole running though our property in Cloverdale, Oregon.
You were shocked? You mean electrocuted?
Yes. My heart stopped beating and …
Just a minute. Can we slow down just a bit? We’ve been at this for only a few seconds and so far you’ve already been killed. And …
Okay. Sure. (big grin) I needed an antenna for an old radio in my upstairs bedroom. I found a long length of wire outside in the garbage or somewhere, I don’t remember. But the insulation was worn off, not that insulation would have helped.
And you were how old?
I was a teenager, just 16. It was July in Cloverdale, Oregon. I was in my slippers and the garden had been watered that morning. My idea was to run a long piece of wire up and into the top of a 30 to 40 foot fir tree, tie it to the top then run it all the way to the upstairs bedroom through the window and hook it to my radio for better reception.
Maxey continues: So, after climbing the tree and tying the wire around near the top of the trunk, on the ground again, I pulled the wire away from the tree to take out the slack.
Maxey continues: What I had not noticed until later, at all, was that there was a high voltage power line, a 12000 volt line, two wires, one on each side of the tree. When I pulled on the copper wire hooked to the top of the tree, the wire pulled up and touched the power line. (photo is the area where Maxey was electrocuted a few days after this photo was taken.)
Nick: So what happened?
I knew instantly, without any doubt that I couldn’t survive it.
What do you mean, survive it?
I mean I knew I was dead, or about to be, in an instant. A person in that sort of situation knows this pretty well, I guess. Of course I was wrong. But not far off.
What was it like? Being shocked like that I mean?
Well, it was the most horrible pain you can imagine. Total annihilation. In a second, a fraction of a second.
Then what happened?
Well, about two weeks …
No, I mean what happened to you? Did you see a white light or … ?
No. No white light. I remember dreaming I was standing in the middle of a road somewhere and being hit by a large Mack truck. From what I was told, a neighbor heard the crackle of electricity and after making sure the wire was not touching me, he checked for a pulse, found none, then gave me CPR until my heart began beating. Then ..
So this guy saved your life?
Yeah. I owe my life to him. I was in the hospital for nearly a month, in a coma for quite a spell. The third degree burns took nearly a year to heal. You can see here (Maxey indicates scars on his thumb and fingers) and here where I was burned. Same on my feet. Difficult to see them these days but when I was a teenager, it was kind of debilitating. Maxey rolled his eyes.
So you got over it okay?
No problem, he shrugged. Just one of those things.
So how was life after this time?
Well, when I was in my early 20’s, I’ve been a TV repairman. You know, studied electronics as a kid and loved it all. I was good at it but it wasn’t a career, you know what I mean?
Did you enjoy that kind of work?
Well, I enjoyed the challenge I guess. And I always loved electronics.
Kinda odd after being electrocuted.
I guess. I don’t know. I remember a year or two before being shocked, remember seeing a detailed electronic schematic of an AM radio. I was hooked. The schematic did it. I wanted, well dreamed of some day to understand exactly how radios worked, all the theory, everything, how television transmitters and TV stations worked so I could take them apart and back together or build my own, even though I didn’t think I’d ever do it. It seemed impossible at the time.
Did you ever build a TV transmitter?
No. But I did build my own AM radio transmitter. Now this was not from printed circuit boards. This was back in the 60’s. I designed the whole thing on paper, drilled the holes for the tube sockets in the chassis, soldered all the capacitors, resistors, etc. And it worked. I was able to broadcast my voice across town to my 15 year old girlfriend, about four miles away. The signal was very weak but she could just make it out.
That’s impressive. Four miles?
Yes. You should have seen the antenna! Then, in South Carolina I got a job as a disc jockey, country station, then a rock station. I liked that best because the girls would come to the station after hours and that was lots of fun.
Tell me about it.
No. You want to get me into trouble.
Hey, I just ask the question. You can say anything you want. Where’d you go after the disc jockey years?
Well, during that time I had been studying to become a broadcast engineer after I finally passed my FCC 1st Class Radiotelephone License. I was slow and not that bright so it took me many years. It had been a dream ever since that first radio schematic.
In 1982 I produced and hosted a television series in Ventura, California called “Video Ventura”. The series was cancelled and I accepted a job as a television reporter in Killeen, Texas
How long did the TV series last in Ventura?
It was cancelled after about, let’s see, about three or four months, I believe.
“You mean why was it cancelled? Well, mostly my fault, I suppose. I tried to do everything and without much of a budget, I relied on my goofball ideas that …”
Ideas not fully developed. I guess I was having too much fun and didn’t take it too seriously. It was crude. The series started as a semi-serious community affairs (program) but soon turned into a poorly written version of Saturday Night Live. Which is strange I guess because there was no writing, just ideas we had and went for it. Man on the street with microphone, you know. Silly stuff really, not really meant for serious TV. But we …
So you packed up for Texas and became a TV reporter?
Well, eventually. That’s about it. The reporter TV job was central Texas coverage and I was an outsider, a Yankee. I got bored quickly, didn’t impress anyone as I thought I would when I did a seven part series on Astronomy for the local station. They wanted more “man in the street” stuff but I went for the big names in Astronomy, got the interviews but no one but I was impressed. At least no one ever said so. I should have done better.
Where did you go from there?
I had bought my daughter a computer for video games. And I got interested, but not in the games so much, but about something I had read about called a Bulletin Board System, BBS for short.
When was this?
Hmm. Either late 1982 or early 1983. I just jumped in, read a few things about becoming a Sysop. That’s System Operator for short. The idea of operating a computer where people logged in, where they were your audience, a chance to, well, I guess a chance to entertain, to make them think. Early on I thought of the idea, the idea of running a BBS, synonymous to operating a television station. Well, after about a year or so …
What year was this?
Ah, must have been late 1982 or early 83. I’d been looking around for something different. The Fort Hood Army base was next door and there was an opening for a media director to work with Human Factors Engineers. My job was to make training …”
Right, basically psychologists with PhD’s. We set up tests for the Army’s M1 tank, its thermal imaging site…”
You worked with M1 tanks?
Well, yes I did. But I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t drive them. Well, I did once but for only a quarter mile or so. Don’t tell anyone. Mostly I just followed the good doctors around as they scribbled notes and had the army enlisted guys to drive the tanks. My job was to select amateur actors from the enlisted men and direct them with our script.
Sorry, I’m a little confused. You worked for the army and these were army psychologists?
I gathered the video on broadcast quality equipment the Army purchased. I spent lots of time learning about black hot and white hot thermal imaging. As much as I needed anyway. The idea of course is that heat from human bodies gives off a thermal image. So does the tank of course. Each tank when hot, gives off a characteristic pattern. We had to train tank operators to correctly identify those patterns. It wasn’t easy, for us or for them.
Did you like the work?
Honestly? No. But I guess it’s important to note that because this is where we began to use digital video processing. I didn’t work for the Army directly but for a private Human Factors Engineering firm, Essex Corporation. They were hired by the Army Research Institute. ARI was responsible for hiring someone to make the training films in regard to thermal imaging techniques. From what I knew, ARI had no experience in Human Factors, that is, how people operate or interface in the work environment or with machines. Essex crews were all civilians, including myself of course. Damn great bunch of people too. They were the brains. I was just the media guy who made the films. ARI was typical army stuff you know, Lieutenants and Captains, most trying to be Majors or Colonels, up the ladder.
So you made training films. Was that on Fort Hood on the …
On the base, on Fort Hood. Actually, the media lab was 300 yards inside a high security tunnel, a small mountain. My job was to run the media lab and make instructional video films. I’d be handed a concept and dialogue here and there. We cast army types in the films as that’s all the budget allowed. We couldn’t hire outside people of course. And I generally had only a few days to shoot a script and sometimes the end result was, well, less than award winning on my part. But the general loved it.
One of the stars of two of the training films was a full bird, full Colonel. He commanded the main base hospital, one of the largest in the world but he really wanted to be an actor. He played a Colonel in one production called Training For Combat but I had trouble getting him to be blood and guts.
What do you mean?
Some of the generals thought he was a bit effeminate, or at least, being the commander of a large hospital, they thought he didn’t quite look the part of a field commander, which is the part he was portraying. And I guess they were right. I tried like hell, in the three days we had to shoot the film, to get him to sound more masculine without telling him so directly. But his gestures were all wrong and half way through the script I had second thoughts about casting him. But he was a very nice guy and it worked out pretty well.
So it all turned out okay?
(I discovered later the name of this film was "Training For Combat") directed by Maxey - Nick)
Yes. Identifying the enemy was important. The brass, ARI directors and generals, wanted to be sure their men didn’t kill each other. I used computers to digitize 35mm slides of mock-up M1 Army tanks. This was a basic MS-DOS system with one hard drive. It was called an XT. This all took a long time to develop because there were too little software or hardware systems that digitized in color. And remember, in 1983, 1984, people didn’t associate images with computers. In fact, the PC could only display an image at in CGA mode, 640x200 in two colors, black and white, or, if I remember, 320x200 and four colors.
So this is where history was being made …
Well, you know, [curious point] (not certain of this phrase — ed). While in Texas a few years later I went to a Siggraph Conference and kept …
Siggraph? What’s that?
Ah, let’s see. Siggraph. I believe it stands for Special Interest Group on Graphics. Anyway, here I was, no one knew me and I knew no one. And understand that the computer or at least the PC was not known for imaging or video, not unless you used a specialized video add-on board such as Revolution Number 9. Companies were digitizing then, yes, but the standard or even non-standard user had no good way at all to use images with the MS-DOS operating system. Early on it was CGA with four colors, then EGA with 16 colors, then finally in 1987 256 colors out of a palette of 250 thousand colors. That was a big leap. Get back a few feet and the color looked almost photo realistic.
Nick: This is fascinating but let’s be sure we keep some kind of continuity here. You made training films for the army. When did that end and what did you do from there?
Maxey: For a few years I taught English at a university, perhaps some of the best years of my life. I was not married and I could concentrate on teaching (English). But I don’t want to get into that now. It’s a very personal story I will tell one day.
Maxey: The contract with ARI came to an end, had been with them for the most part of two years. I could either try to follow Essex Corporation back east and attempt to work with them if they needed a media director, or return to my home state of Oregon and get a job there. I had sent video tapes of some of my work to Oregon TV stations, hoping to get a job but I had no offers when Essex left Fort Hood and had made up my mind to go home to Portland, certain I could get a job with the experience I had over the last few years.
I had full custody of my daughter and I wanted to raise her in Oregon, the state I loved. I had a good bundle of money saved so we took two weeks to get to Oregon, stopping here and there on a mini vacation.
Yes. Pulled a big trailer. It was great. When we got to Portland we stayed with my aunt. I hit the market, TV stations for interviews, jobs, possibilities, etc. No job offers. About a half year later we moved into an inexpensive apartment, I mean really inexpensive, because my savings had all but gone and I was worried. Remember, I was a single parent with a six year old girl. No one was hiring. At least not me.
That happens to most of us.
But then, maybe they just didn’t like me. I don’t think they saw me as a real potential team player. And if so, they were probably right.
Maybe you should thank them for that?
Well, later maybe but at the time I was scared. And really disappointed. What I expected would happen didn’t pan out at all.
What did you do?
I became a teacher for low wages. It was difficult but I loved it. My daughter and I moved into an inexpensive apartment. Real cheap like and I decided to see if I could make money with the BBS.
So what made you think you could make money with a BBS?
Well, honestly I don’t know. I’m not as smart as I thought I was and as I get older, that’s pretty humbling.
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Credit to Greg Simmons, Gloria Fevornio, Bob Fisher, Larry Wood, Arnie Kolonski, Bill Fritz, and Michael Zont for sharing information and imagery.
End of Nick Jones interview
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Hopefully the above interview is not confusing. It was conducted by Nick Jones, not me. Nick is the professional. We are two separate people. I am not a journalist at least not a good one, just an enthusiast.
I’m still searching for Nick’ second interview of Maxey but I can’t find it so not sure if it was ever published. But I have a lead so stay tuned.