Eric Greene
March 16, 2002
Atlanta, GA
Part of 150 mile round trip
3 hours

Mr. Greene was a personal triumph that turned into a huge asset for the documentary as a whole.

When I set off on the BBS Documentary project, there were a bunch of people for whom I held a special admiration or knowledge. In many cases, it was simply because in my early days as a pre-teen using BBSes around 1981, I was blown away at the magic of the BBS and wondered how these wizards were able to make these computers do these things. In other cases, I simply saw people's names a lot and thought they must be the most important folks in the world. Among these idols was the name GREENE. All I knew him as was GREENE of the GREENE MACHINE.

In the late 1970's and early 1980's, BBSes were a weird enough and rare enough occurrence that you really could list them all in a pretty small file. While I don't have firm figures, I'll definitely commit and say they numbered in the mere hundreds at best (of those that didn't go up for a week for an experiment and disappeared forever). And of those hundreds, there were only a dozen or so BBS packages that got passed around and used by people beyond a bunch of one-offs. Programs like ABBS, Apple-Net, R/CPM, CBBS and BULLETIN 80 were about all you could find. And among them was GREENE MACHINE, written for the TRS-80 home computer.

Like the early days of the car industry, nothing was out of bounds; every program had a different way of dealing with the world, everyone was sharing ideas (or borrowing them, they might say) and you really didn't know what you would get coming down the line at you once you called a BBS. And I knew that whoever wrote the GREENE MACHINE would be in the middle of it.

I also knew that a "regular" BBS documentary would never, in a million years, think of trying to track down the author to talk to him, let along know what part he played in the early days. I was really hot at the time to prove that "my" BBS documentary would be different, and so it was a personal goal to find whoever made the GREENE MACHINE and interview him.

It took some interesting jumps of logic and research using the Google Groups resource, but I was able to determine that someone named Eric Greene in the Atlanta, Georgia area was a past TRS-80 user, did some work with message bases, and that he'd moved from where the Greene Machine BBS seemed to originate from. Since the era of the Greene Machine ended before the Usenet messages really took off, this was one leap after another. But when I got a hold of Mr. Greene, it turned out that yes, in fact, he'd written the Greene Machine 20+ years ago! And he was very, very surprised someone would want to interview him about it. And he was fine with me doing so!

I was in Atlanta for a party, and drove to where Eric now lives and engages in his big hobby, astronomy. His house had a nice greenhouse, which I took a photo of, and we ended up conducting the interview in his basement, where all his computers are now located. It's obvious in the photos but not the shot that there are large trays with plants getting UV light in the same room as his computers.

The setup for this particular scene was a new try for me; I ended up using only one light to light the whole shot, and let a combination of natural and ambient light do the rest of the work. To my surprise, this was very effective, and from this point on I tried to do "less is more" kinds of setups so that the room did the work, not my lights. Of course, I used lights liberally when the room itself was very dark. People commented during some interviews how they didn't know how dark their homes were before I came in with my bright lights.

We covered the Greene Machine's genesis (it was a rewrite of another BBS program) and the early days of using BBSes, but it also turned out that Greene had been a phone company employee for many years, and so the interview quickly forked into a discussion of phone phreaking and hacking and how it was percieved from the phone company's side. This was an unexpected but great bonus.

With a clear voice and a sharp memory for those early times, Eric Greene has turned out to be one of the staples of the BBS documentary, and appears in a large portion of the episodes. He was, as I said at the beginning, one of the true jewels of the project, and one I am most proud of bringing about. How many other great minds are hiding out in the world, with a great story to tell, waiting for someone with a camera to just ask them a few questions?