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Public Access Internet

Nyx Net ( / dialup access 303-409-1401, Denver, Colorado, local dialing area) the oldest free public access ISP offers a text-based (Unix shell account or menu system) interface providing unrestricted access to a full, uncensored newsfeed, email, web access (through Lynx), and user webspace hosting. Nyx Net is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and is supported entirely through voluntary tax-deductable contributions and is for noncommercial use only. (It's also located conveniently right here at the treehouse.)

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Read all about the fixing of Nyx 1999!
and the adventures of moving Nyx (part 1)

Fall of '98 saw Nyx celebrate its 10th anniversary. It's tricky to pick an exact date to call Nyx's birthday, but a little more than ten years ago, Professor Andrew Burt, then at the University of Denver, put some unused computers to use by setting them up, first as a BBS, soon thereafter as a gateway to the net, and opened them up to the general public--a pretty radical concept at the time. I picked "Halloween 1988" for the official "Nyx Birthday" because Nyx was operational then and it seemed appropriate to both the "Spirit of the Night" theme and the way that the net itself allows us to don the textual costumes that can either serve as a different identity--or maybe more of our own identities than the everyday world generally gets to see. You can jump straight to Nyx's main page by clicking on the logo above; you'll find a lot more information there--this page is intended only as a few comments from my own perspective and recollection.

When 1997 began, Andrew was in the process of leaving DU to pursue projects in the more lucrative and less political world of private industry. Though Nyx had long been operating with hardware and funds donated by its users and paid for its use of DU's facilities, it was technically still under the University of Denver's organizational umbrella. Andrew, the indefatigable Darlene Cypser , and other volunteers set about turning Nyx Net into an independent legal and financial entity.

I'd met Andrew on my first day of college at the University of Denver--I think it was a fortuitous meeting, since I'd started my college career with a stack of awards almost as tall as I was from academic contests and organizations, and was familiar with the various scholarships available through DU, having gotten enough that they actually paid me a modest sum to go there. We'd talked about the wonders of DU's financial options and, being reasonably academically impressive himself, he was able to get on one of the programs I was on before the day was out.

My involvement with Nyx was largely as a user, though I'd provided some of the hardware and helped locate and purchase things like hard drives and memory for upgrades and repairs over the years. When Andrew moved on to greener pastures, I ended up becoming the president of Nyx and one of its first board of directors, which was rounded out by Darlene Cypser and Mike Beaty. Most of the first year of Nyx Net's organizational existence was devoted to an exciting series of legal and logistical misadventures, with more bizarre and unlikely stumbling blocks appearing almost daily. There are more than a few entertaining stories there, but that can wait for another time.

Since then, most of the equipment has been replaced or was added as tasks were divided up amongst more machines, and all but one of the remaining machines have been upgraded in at least one way or another, generally with surprisingly few headaches or disasters. There have been a few experiments along the way that didn't quite work out as well as had been hoped or planned, but that's all a part of trying to get as much performance as we can out of the resources we have available. What's important is that we've had a steady improvement in the quality and quantity of services offered.

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, contributions--cash or equipment--are tax-deductable and may even be elligible for matching funds from your employer. I think it's a good cause, and I think it's quite an accomplishment to keep an ISP running and providing the services we do, using only volunteers (no one does or has received a salary or compensation for working on or administering Nyx) and donated funds and equipment. Just the fact that one can put together a team of capable and dedicated volunteers willing to devote the time and skill needed to keep a system like Nyx going is encouraging all by itself.

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Nyx Net

Nyx Net provides twenty-four local (Denver metro area, now with local access for Longmont) dial-up lines, most of them currently supporting up to 33.6kbps. Our log-in machines are also available via telnet, and most of our users access their accounts that way. We provide shell accounts, email, access to the web through Lynx, personal webpages, and a complete and uncensored newsfeed. Graphical browsers, SLIP, PPP, and similar services are not supported because our resources could not keep up with the demand that would generate and still be able to provide an acceptable level of service--our goal is not to compete with full-service GUI-intensive commercial ISPs, but to provide complete and free access to news, email, and the web to the community and to users worldwide who might otherwise not have access to the net and all its resources, information, and services.

Even if you have an account through a commercial provider, feel free to sign up for a Nyx account--besides getting a "backup account," you'll get a stable email address that'll continue to work even if you change your commercial provider, move, or it goes out of business, and we have no fees or charges. Nyx is happy to accept tax-deductable contributions, but they're not required. If you're mostly using it to forward mail or otherwise not using it often, be sure to log in at least once a month so your account doesn't get aged off.

Nyx Outreach

For almost fifteen years now, I've been in the habit of collecting, rehabilitating, and distributing semi-obsolete, discarded, or cheap computer hardware. Initially, this meant dumb terminals and 300 baud modems (usually acoustic couplers). That probably sounds unimaginably primitive to most computer users today, but it did the job, and I think being able to access the world of electronic communications at all was enough to make a difference in at least a few people's lives over the years.

Nowadays, by the time you've managed to separate your new computer from its packing material, it's already halfway down the short road to obsolescence--even if it was state-of-the-art last week, by sometime next week there will probably be some new software out that needs more memory and a faster processor just to be able to show its beautifully drawn "starting up" singing-and-dancing logo on your screen. In recent years, I've been finding leftover computer parts dirt cheap at garage sales and, with the speed that the resale value of a computer plummets these days, being able to donate--and deduct--your old computer can be a very attractive option. We can use parts, too--especially modems, monitors, memory, and hard drives--as well as software and manuals.

It seemed a natural extension of my own informal and small-scale "connect the world" program and Nyx's "free public access" goals to start distributing computers that could be hooked up to the net and educating people in their use. We now have additional volunteers to help assemble, configure, and test computers for this purpose, and volunteers to help people get them set up and learn how to use them.

The budgets for Nyx's operation and the Nyx outreach program are kept entirely separate; no funds or equipment from one are used to support the other. Norwest Bank recently donated a stack of 486 computers as they were phasing them out; Nyx users have donated a variety of computers, computer parts, and software; and I continue to collect what I can from garage sales and from companies I work with. We're currently working with United Cerebral Palsy and other groups for the disabled and disadvantaged to place the computers we put together where we hope they'll do some good.

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