Sometimes you have an interview so interesting, so vital to telling
a part of the story that you make some pretty out-there decisions to
get them. Afterwards, you laugh, but when you're deep in it, you
start to wonder what you were thinking.
Such was the case interviewing the Sysop of OSUNY (who was in fact
named "Sysop" and nothing else when he ran it).
See, I'd arranged for there to be interviews in both San Francisco
and Los Angeles while I was in California. A logical, thinking
person would say "Fly to SF, interview, fly to LA, interview, then
fly out." But Sysop was in San Luis Obispo, which is directly in
the MIDDLE of LA and SF. Too far to just jaunt out and back while
doing the other interviews, but (I thought) perhaps close enough
to drive down and interview, then keep on driving all the way to
Like I said, I look back now and think I was INSANE. I ended up
driving over 230 miles south from San Francisco in the morning,
interviewing Sysop, then driving another 200+ miles south to LA
to interview poor Rob Swindell at midnight. Four hundred miles
in one day! This makes Sysop far and away the longest that I have
driven for a single interview.
Now, not to say the drive wasn't spectacular... I happen to have
a great personal affinity for California, and driving down highway
101 for hours, along the coast, with the radio blasting and seeing
mile after mile of incredible views and interesting landmarks...
well, you can't really beat that. It's part of why I went for this
documentary in the first place: to see the country for real, not
just build up little shorthands about places I'd never been to.
The interview was held at Sysop's workplace. On the phone he
referred to it as an office building; in fact it was this really
cool house-like structure deep inside a neighborhood, which was
built to house his company's testing labs and workspace. I don't
really know how much they want people to know about their product,
but it's centered around increasing performance for cars. So it
had car-testing areas, and neat equipment scattered around.
We ended up using the built-out but not moved-in part of the
building, which provided some unwanted echo but gave a really
neat separated aspect to where he was sitting. Sysop had one of
the original machines that housed the OSUNY BBS, which we set
up next to him, and had him talk about it.
The interview was really great, not just because of his work
with OSUNY, but because of an extended talk we had about the
"old-style" (1980s) aspects of hacking which are rapidly lost
to a newer generation. While there's lots of history before
the 1980s, there was this sense of hacking specific to that
early time... and Sysop covered it perfectly. I hope I can
use a lot of it.
Sysop wrote to me first, and volunteered his time for the
interview; I appreciate that a lot when it happens. It means
someone believes in what I'm doing, and you learn to treat
those feelings like gold. This was a harkening back to my own
main era of BBSes, and I enjoyed every second.