Daniel McMullan Cover Sheet
File #:#45, cycle 3
Place of Interview: Lakeville Methodist Church
Date:July 27, 2018
Summary of talk, Background, Hotchkiss, Lakeville Internet, Small Fish, fiber optics and future plans.
This is file #45, cycle 3. Today’s date is July 27, 2018. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Daniel McMullan who is going to talk about his computer background, the Lakeville Internet, Small Fish, and anything else he wants to talk about. But first we’ll start with…
JM: What is your name?
DM: Hi there, my name is Daniel McMullan.
JM: How did you come to the area?
DM: My family moved here in 1978. My parents got a job at Hotchkiss on the campus.
JM: What did your father teach?
JM: Your mother?
DM: English as a second language
JM: You had a couple of interesting experiences at Hotchkiss. One had to do with an IBM mainframe computer. Tell me a little bit about that.
DM: Correct it was a PDT 11, a digital product. I think I mentioned IBM, I am not quite sure now that that is accurate. I was told it was donated by a family that worked for IBM. In any case it was main frame set up where each of the computers that one sits at was a terminal machine, in that they didn’t have any “smarts”. They just communicated to the main brain. It is much like how the internet is set up today. We all have “stupid” machines that talk to the servers on the Internet. The first programs I wrote were on yellow ticker tape where you punch holes through the tape; each series of dots form a pattern which the main brain reads.
JM; Then you were pretty much self -taught?
JM: You also had a very different experience with Cliff the Baker.
DM: Being at Hotchkiss I worked in the cafeteria as a dish washer. At some point they put me on as Cliff, the Baker’s assistant. I would bring him lots of weighed out flour, this that and the other. He showed me the brick oven. I would stand up on a milk crate to reach in and rotate all the bread. It was a huge brick oven. It was quite an experience. He did all the breads and all the baked goods for the entire campus, for a generation or two.
JM: This would have been late 1970s or early 1980s?
DM: I started working there probably about 1981, somewhere in there. I started working on the computer in 1978 when I first got there. (He was 12 in 1978. Ed)
JMN: It is nice to be different. You have done some other things too. You worked in construction for a while.
DM: Yes, I helped a bunch of crews build a couple of houses. I did a lot of roof work, chimney work, but I was always part of a crew.
JM: Was this for Habitat for Humanity?
DM: No, it was regular construction, not even around here. I worked in Ohio, Vermont and other places.
JM: Where did the idea for the Lakeville Internet come from?
DM: From 1993 and 1994 I was getting on the Internet through AOL which was long distance dial-up through Hartford, which was the closest junction for phone usage and Internet. They were charging on a per hour basis to get on the Internet. I set out with a buddy of mine to figure out how we might eliminate the cost of long distance dial-up at the very least to get on the real Internet, not through AOL. We sort of hacked away at that project for a couple of months and we figured out how we could do that, from the point of view that it would be pretty expensive to run a phone line dedicated to the internet. We started looking at business models to bring in a T1 line to the closest place which would be Boston at the time. We had a dedicated pair of twisted copper T1 line on the phone poles all the way, just for Lakeville Internet; no one could use the lines but us. But it would only work if we got our neighbors involved. That opened up a dial-up service so everybody could take advantage of getting on the Internet and not having to pay for long distance costs which were included in the cost of AOL. So we started a dial-up company, Lakeville Internet.
JM: Did you have a staff or just a partner?
DM: I did not have a partner actually. It was a sweat equity project. He wasn’t able to quit his day job and I would have quit mine to work on this full time.
JM: But it was something you were really interested in and you wanted to pursue it.
DM: Yeah I really thought that up here in the Northwest corner of Connecticut we were getting ripped off by a call long distance in order to get on the Internet. We knew that that AOL had at least 500 users in the area because they used to publish that information. We thought it was a pretty smart idea to charge $20 to $25 a month to share the cost of that T1 line to get on the Internet faster.
JM: Were you working at another location or in your own home?
DM: Yes, we started in basement of our house on Farnam Road. Then I started working with Connie Brown at the Riga Mountain Roast. It was like a coffee house in Lakeville before Joe Jaklitsch took it over.
JM: In back of the pharmacy in Salisbury?
DM: That is where Joe wound up, but no, that actually started in Lakeville where the White Gallery is now. (342 Main Street, Lakeville. Ed.) That was the Riga Roast Coffee House. Connie had gone off to a coffee conference on roasting beans out in California where she witnessed an Internet Coffee House. This was never heard of on the East coast. She came back and was talking about it. I was telling her about how I was working on this thing in my basement. There were a couple of missing pieces, but I was pretty confident that it was all going to work out. We kept on talking and then she was really keen on being the first coffee house internet café on the East coast which she actually was. We became partners and I set up the equipment in her basement of the coffee house and we strung up some computers so customers could get on line right from her coffee house.
JM: That is fascinating.
DM: We just started advertising and we were hoping to get 333 customers to break even or make the costs. We succeeded three years later.
JM: Wonderful l you succeeded. These customers were using the Internet Café or were you just designing websites for them?
DM: Yeah it was a little bit of both in that we had a rack of modems that people could call into so using their local line they could call our local modem to get onto the Internet. That way they did not have to call Hartford to get onto the Internet. So people from their homes could get on the Internet, sharing this T1 line that we had from Boston. Without a bunch of equipment we also had the capacity to have websites so we got into a program to design websites. That is how that took off.
JM: Who were some of your customers for these custom -made websites?
DM: Early on Harney Tea, (See File #58, cycle 2, Michael Harney) Elyse Harney Real Estate, (See file #5, cycle 2, Elyse Harney) Skip Barber Racing School, (See File #94, Skip Barber) the race track, Sharon Hospital, there were other real estate companies. We had over 100 individual businesses, small Mom & Pop shops.
JM: They needed the benefit of what you were doing.
DM: The Harney Tea Company really pioneered a lot of stuff and they took a chance with this Internet thing. They were absolutely super and that helped their company as well as mine.
JM: How many staff did you have at Lakeville Internet?
DM: Through the course of the years I trained 34 different people, half of whom were working for me the last 6 months of last year. We also started a computer training center across the parking lot called “Point and Click”. We had a dedicated staff for that as well. I want to mention the first groups of innovators that helped me with Lakeville Internet. People like Dave Haver who legally changed his name to Beanbag Amerika for real. He was my first employee and really became the backbone of the company. We developed a lot of firsts with him. There was Kris Spinka, Reggie Lamson, and Robert Schaufelberger, Lou Kosak. We also had Mark Frasca. He is a real nice guy. We also had Mark Miles who is Marshall Miles’ son. They were part of the second wave of super smart kids that we had. Then we branched out. We tried everything to help out and stay in business. With Lakeville Internet we had a little school center, we had a repair shop, we had the dial-up company, but our main focus was websites.
JM: Did you advertise at all?
DM: We advertised in the very beginning, just to get the word out. No I don’t think we advertised after the first 6 months. We had Q103 as one of our clients, so Marshall Miles (See file #10, cycle 2, Marshall Miles) would talk us up and that absolutely helped Lakeville Internet grow as David Maffacci. He had his Apple shop back then. Now he has Visionary Computer. He was done very well there. He helped us grow: he sent all his Apple customers to us to get on the Internet.
JM: Did the Lakeville Internet morph into Small Fish or two separate businesses?
DM: They were separate. Lakeville Internet was basically running until 2000. The Internet bubble was growing. A lot of money was poured into our competition. The rest of the world was not quite as advanced as we were at the time. I folded the company. It was hard to keep up with the rapidly changing technology as a small company working on a slim budget. The website design continued.
JM: What did Small Fish do? When did it start?
DM: Small Fish started in 2014. We focused on custom websites for local shops, Mom & Pop shops. It was not just the public based website, but also a private tool set of the company to manage their data. Websites are such an inexpensive way to build customized tools: it made sense to access art work though an Internet connection anywhere.
JM: Where were you located?
DM: 325 Main Street, Lakeville.
JM: Did you have a staff?
DM: Yeah Small Fish started off with just a couple of people working from our homes before we got the office space in Lakeville. We were working on our code a whole years before we actually got office space. We had a handful of clients as we built our own platform to be able to efficiently create these tools.
JM: What did Small Fish actually do? Did they design websites?
DM: Yes our partner Small Fish Technologies designed websites.
JM: In simple terms how do you design a website?
DM: Anything must be considered. It takes a while to really understand the business and what they are trying to accomplish. It is about speaking to their audience specifically. We build tools that are easier for their clients to use and understand. Part of that is being found on the Internet through search engines so the business and client connect. There are a lot of tools that prove to be ideal for search engines, as well as social media, and/or marketing. If you know about a website, getting to your website and staying with your website, you become a member of the company. As a customer or a repeat customer you want all those tools to be easy to use.
JM: So you would talk to your client, determine what it is that they want to promote and then create website that would do that for them.
JM: Do you still run Small Fish or have you dissolved it?
DM: Yes I sure do. We have 50 plus web clients. Even though we shut down the office space on Main Street, we are working from our home.
JM: You are really customized.
DM: There are just a couple of us now.
JM: Who are some of your customers now?
DM: Salisbury Forum, we built a custom wine inventory system for the Woodland Restaurant and their website. We are working on a registration system for them. My Scholarship Key is another client. That is a business that helps people find scholarships for college.
JM: You have used your technical skills when you taught a SOAR class. What did you teach there?
DM: There is a wonderful drop and drag program called “Scratch” that allows kids to start out understanding basic building blocks with programming.. We taught two courses on that. That was real fun. Kids get involved with the Internet; it is all web based so kids can share the things that they have done.
JM: They pick it up a lot faster.
DM: Yeah this one girl built an amazing sort of education on zoo animals and shared it with the rest of the kids. It was a beginning and all the kids created some sort of a game or program. It is great when they get so involved. I taught chess as well.
JM: That was my next question. Why did you start the chess club?
DM: I have always been interested in chess. I have been playing chess my whole life and it is a wonderful tool for kids.
JM: It is good strategy and planning ahead.
DM: It teaches all these great skills and there are lots of skills in chess.
JM: Who taught you?
DM: I was self- taught.
JM: Did you use books or did you watch people play?
DM: A math teacher introduced me to a chess book and the chess book was more or less fascinating to me than playing the game.
JM: With end games, middle moves and opening gambits, rank and file?
DM: Yeah just all the possibilities; it just fascinated me. I can’t memorize the moves but I know the concepts. There are so many possibilities that you form in your head. There is clarity. When your opponent makes his/her move, then that opens up a whole new line of variations. It is the same with programming.
JM: It is the same thing; logic, strategy and mathematics. You have to have that kind of a mind in order to have it work well.
DM: You must have it all in your head to really decide which is the best path? Then if you get stuck, you have all these alternatives to explore at hand. I could try that or I could try this.
JM: I want to ask you about future plans for the Internet. Where do you think it is going to go?
DM: That is a good question. The world is phasing in fiber optics right now.
JM: What is fiber optics?
DM: Fiber optics is the medium in which the data travels so instead of phone lines, instead of cable coaxial medium those the lines on poles now going into people’s homes, fiber optics is a thin thread of glass. It literally moves at the speed of light. It shoots light through this glass. You can imagine data flies at incredibly quickly through a fiber optic network. The world is changing over the last 20 years, but it has not come to the consumer level until recently. There are projects all over the country where residents are enjoying the speed of light communications. Typically the rural areas are the last to receive this sort of attention. We just don’t have the population density for big companies to make it worth their while. They are going to make their money in urban areas.
JM: Isn’t there an advantage to not being in the forefront in that they get a lot of the bugs worked out other places.
DM: Yes definitely there are pros and cons in that niche. It depends on the right timing which is hard to predict. Fiber optics is solid and it is now all over the world in Asian countries. It has been there actually for the last 5 or 10 years commercially and in most of our cities now. We have had fiber optics running down Main Street since the 1990s for the Lakeville Internet. It is coming and it is so important for our growth; business will not settle in our area if we don’t have fiber optics. I could list 20 reasons why it is so critical. To not have fiber optics we will not enjoy the entertainment reasons for multiples TVs running at the same time. We as a community will start to experience brown –outs much like other towns if we do not have fiber optics. The capacity just isn’t here running down Main Street. Comcast cannot handle all the customers. The things that we will be doing with Internet connections health monitor systems are found all over the world. They can’t run from home in our area because they are not hooked up to fiber optics. There just isn’t the capacity. That is one small reason. People are moving away from this area to get the health monitoring systems that are in other areas. The things that our chamber can do over the Internet are limited by that capacity. Within the next 3 to 5 years for sure there will be things that our children can’t even participate in.
JM: You will probably start another business that will help them do that.
DM: I don’t know about that yet. I have been really focused on creating awareness and getting the right people in place to focus on the importance of fiber optics. I am working with some of these people in our area now. The future of the Internet is definitely a fiber optics structure with more processing, more data handling.
May I tell a quick little story? We moved here in 1978. It was so kind of funny that you could dial any 4 digit number locally: you did not have to put in the area code. You did not even have to put in 435. Why is that? The phone company didn’t bother bringing in the newest equipment out here. This is literally an example of us being behind the curve, even though it was convenient to a few. It just goes to show that we will continue to be last served and even today while we are served, we are underserved. My company was often paralyzed without fast Internet connections. Back then a couple of hours here and there or even 15 minutes every week, there was some sort of hiccup where my employees could not do their job. We will see more and more of that until we all have fiber optics.
JM: What about A. the equipment goes down and you don’t know how to make change because you can’t run the cash register or B. hacking? Is there not a place for knowing an alternate way of doing things?
DM: Yeah the alternate is paper and pen which I appreciate to a large degree. The dependence on computers is crazy, but yes you can have redundancy. There are ways to compensate that.
JM: I am thinking you go to a store and they can’t check you out because the computer isn’t working. But didn’t you learn basic math?
DM: I have cash and can I just pay for it?
DM: There is a control system for inventory to help know when to order more. There are all sorts of things that you are buying.
JM: Yes I know because I used to work in a shop where they did the inventory by hand. You listed what was on your sales ticket. Somebody would have to open a ledger book and check off the item sold. You had 3 now you have 2.
DM: It is hard evidence of these things. Another person would go through and double check it. On the computer they ae really trusting that it is accurate.
JM: You trust the computer. My computer eats things! It doesn’t really, but I want a paper trail. I want a back-up.
DM: Believe me I have one foot in old school where I work with pen and ink.
JM: I will get you converted! Fat chance! Is there anything you would like to add to this interview before we close?
DM: No I think we have covered it.
JM: Thank you so much.
DM: Thank you.
Property of the Oral History Project: The Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library, Salisbury, Ct. 06068