Sunday, March 4, 2012

John Lucas

John Lucas with his wife
Dr. Teresa Turner
In the spring of 1989 Dr. William P. MacLean, the Vice President of Academic Affairs at UVI, decided that it was time for the University to become part of “BITNet” (Because It's Time Network). He had become aware of wide area networking and its benefits at off-island conferences and meetings. I was then one of three members of “Academic Computing” and volunteered to find out what it would take.

I had come to UVI in 1986 from Oregon State University. OSU was connected to both BITNet and NSFNet so I knew exactly which brains to pick at OSU. After a postponement for Hurricane Hugo, I took a flight back to OSU to confer with Bill Ayers (their network engineer), and John Sechrest (their computer science lab manager). I had used the NSFNet previously at OSU and I quickly came to the conclusion that UVI should connect to the NSFNet (which became what is now called the Internet) rather than the proprietary BITNet (a project of IBM).

Upon return to UVI and convincing Dr. MacLean that we should join NSFNet rather than BITNet, I volunteered to write a National Science Foundation grant to establish UVI's connection to the Internet. I wrote the grant proposal and the Director of Academic Computing (Dr. Lynn Rosenthal) was the principal investigator. The grant was awarded, but we had a problem in 1990 that we don't have today: there were no Internet Service Providers in the Virgin Islands. At this time connection was restricted to educational institutions and defense contractors primarily.

Circa 1978
The grant proposal was based on connecting through the University of Puerto Rico. I had worked with UPR on an agreement in principle for our connection. Unfortunately, between the time of submitting the proposal and the grant award, Puerto Rico had an election. This resulted in the key personnel at UPR changing. The grant did not have sufficient budget for any available alternative connection. 

I was in a tight spot, and UVI was still not connected to any outside network. Eventually I received a phone call from a project manager from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) “Very Large Baseline Array” (VLBA) project: ten observatories in a circle across the northern hemisphere. NRAO was in the process of building one of these radio telescope observatories on the north east coast of St. Croix. They needed Internet connection to control the St. Croix observatory and wanted to share the cost of the connection with UVI. With this help we could now afford our NSFNet connection. The result was that in April 1993 became part of the Internet. This was the first Internet connection in the Virgin Islands!

Since retiring from UVI in 2005, John Lucas has done volunteer work at a number of schools in the Virgin Islands. Dr. Turner continues to teach marine biology at UVI.

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